American Babies Exported for Adoption

Give me your tired, your poor… the homeless…
and I will give you mine.

Tens of thousands of babies, toddlers and young children are adopted across international borders every year, according to UNICEF, with most going to the US and Western Europe. The numbers began to decline after 2004, but in 2009, the last year for which reliable figures are available, 24,839 children were redistributed from their native land to the top five adopting countries. Half of these, some 12,753, went to the United Sates making the US the number one recipient of internationally adopted children. Approximately one-fifth to one-sixth of all non-related adoptions in the US are of foreign-born children.

With thousands of Americans eagerly adopting and more vying to adopt, why then are American-born babies – shockingly ­– being placed out of the US by American adoption agencies?

The United States is one of a very few nations, including Great Britain, Canada and Mexico, that both imports and exports babies for adoption, or in the parlance of adoption is both a sending and receiving nation. In 2009 the US ratified the Hague Convention on International Adoption. The treaty, completed in 1993, is the first-ever international agreement designed to govern the adoption process and protect children being adopted across national boundaries. For countries bound by the agreement, the Hague establishes safeguards to ensure that transnational adoptions take place in the best interests of the child and with respect for his or her fundamental rights as recognized in international law to prevent the abduction, sale of, or traffic in children.

The Hague specifically states that each nation “must consider national solutions first.” This is in keeping with the United Nations, UNICEF and other NGOs working with children in need worldwide who have long called for international adoption to be a last resort utilized only when homes cannot be found within the child’s homeland, even in the case of disaster.

Statistics?

While data is not available to determine the effect The Hague has had on the practice of adopting American children from the US out, a study released by Ireland’s Minister for Children revealed that 17 children were adopted by Irish citizens from the US in 2011 – two years after the US ratified the Hague. A number that while small, is more than during the nine years from 2000 to 2008. Irish Central reports that Irish couples are “flocking” to Florida to adopt. It seems that one adoption agency in Florida has found it lucrative to make it easy for Irish citizens who can fly there easier than to the West Coast, to adopt.

Family Helper, a Canadian based website for infertility support and information, has ranked the US between 5th and 7th place for children placed in Canada between 1999 and 2001, following China, Russia, Haiti, India and VietNam or the Philippines with the number of placements ranging between 53 and 102 for each year.

In April 2009 the Dutch government, another recipient of American children, initiated stricter regulations in order to control the number of American babies being adopted by their citizens. Of a total of 767 international adoptions in the Netherlands, 56 were American children – the third largest national supplier for international adoptions in the Netherlands after China and Haiti. The Dutch government noted that inasmuch as “small children can easily find homes with American families….[t]here appears to be no necessity to place these children outside the United States” in violation of the Hague which, calls for a preference for children to be adopted within their own country. Additionally, adoption from America violates Dutch law that allows mothers 60 days to revoke their decision to relinquish, whereas America allows for pre-birth matching and a short, if any, revocation period for mothers in crisis making such a difficult decision.

The total number of adoptions involving the emigration of American born children, while far from enormous, is a bit illusive. The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute (EBDAI) is a national research not-for-profit organization “devoted to improving adoption policy and practice.” In an undated EBDAI Fact Overview on International Adoption, under the heading: “Number of U.S. Children Adopted Abroad Not Officially Recorded” it states: “While the exact number of U.S. children placed for adoption in other countries is not reliably reported, adoption experts put the number at 500 annually a decade ago.”

Thomas DiFilipo, president of the Joint Council on International Children’s Services in Virginia, in a 2008 article, puts the number at “(a)pproximately 800 American children a year [who] find a home and a family with citizens from other countries such as Canada, Mexico and France,” adding that Irish families who wish to adopt privately from the US are also free to do so.

The State Department Annual Report on Intercountry Adoptions, May 2009, gives a far more modest count:

The number of intercountry adoptions involving emigration from the United States, regardless of whether the adoption occurred under the Convention, including the country to which each child immigrated and the State from which each child emigrated.” The Department refers to these adoptions as emigrating (outgoing) adoptions.

Between April 1, 2008 and September 30, 2008, 25 children emigrated from the United States for the purposes of adoption. Of these children, 17 emigrated from Florida, and two each emigrated from California, Indiana, New York, and Pennsylvania.

How can the numbers be so disparate within just one year of one another? Is it just two dozen or several hundred? Either way, it is a very small number in comparison to the thousands of children adopted into the US, but the question remains why there should be any at all.

In order to answer that, it is important to understand that infant adoption in the US is privatized and adoption agencies and practitioners – for profit or not-for-profit – are entrepreneurial ventures that do what is best for their bottom line. Even those with a non-profit tax status have salaries and overhead costs that are paid for by the fees of completed adoption transactions with no regard for where the adopters reside. As in any other industry, adoption businesses serve the needs of their paying clientele, which in this case are those seeking children. Despite our staunch cultural belief that all adoptions occur in “the best of interests of the child,” even home studies are conducted by private contractors paid for by the prospective parents. To say there is a conflict of interest is a misnomer as no one is protecting the interests of anyone other than the paying customer, least of all the rights of the children whose lives will be irrevocably changed and forever impacted by the transaction. They are relegated to commodities in a demand-driven marketplace.

State Laws and Adoption in the Lone Star State

American adoption has been described as a patch-quilt of adoption agencies owners and employees, attorneys and facilitators, most with no social work training, all subject to their respective state laws. In regards to adoptions out of the country, some states require the family to return for the finalization while others do not. In Texas a family can finalize within 90 days, while in California it is 6 months, and incredibly, in Oregon the finalization usually takes place within less than 10 days. All families are required to have a home study with FBI cleared fingerprints

America has also earned the reputation of being an “easy” nation to adopt from. Cassandra Jardine, writing for The Telegraph in 2007, estimated that 20-30 Brits were adopting from the US annually. American adoption, she writes, is “especially attractive to [UK] parents who want to bond with a child from birth” noting the US practice of matching prospective adopters with expectant moms, creating a situation wherein the mother who is seeking to place a child for adoption is treated “almost as if she was a surrogate carrying a donated sperm and/or egg” the article notes.

For Americans, Jardine continues in a most unflattering description:

There is no shame in treating babies like any other purchase in America, where the adoption industry is largely privatised and run by firms that promise to bring together pregnant women and adoptive families, deal with all the legal niceties and ensure there are no hitches along the way….

There are certain American websites currently offering mouth-watering incentives to would-be buyers. “Delivery within four months”, “Discounts of up to $19,000″, they proclaim.

If it were cars they were selling this would not seem odd, but it’s babies that are for sale – bright, smiling newborns to tempt the childless into parting with about £20,000.

Right now, there is something of an ongoing sales push: November is National Adoption Awareness Month, which aims to get more Americans to choose adoption, both as buyers and as sellers. The rash of Hollywood stars who adopt has reduced what little social stigma was attached to adoption.

This is how we are viewed from across the pond: a nation that allows children to be treated like automobiles, caring mothers treated as commercial surrogates, all in a culture that makes it easy and attractive for anyone who can afford a current price tag averaging $40,000, to come here and obtain one of our children. As far as fears that the mother might rescind her decision, Jardine assures readers that American agencies do everything short of offering “a money-back guarantee.”

Adoption policies within Great Britain, where only 3-4,000 children are adopted a year, Jardine notes are “very different, aiming to keep babies with mothers wherever possible or to find a placement within a family so that only six per cent of children are adopted before their first birthday.”

Texas Cradle Society places between 10 to 20 percent of US children who come through their doors for adoption out of the country. American children are also placed out of the country through The Gladney Center of Forth Worth, Texas. Race is very much a factor in the direction of child placements in and out of the US. Texas is said to be a favorite spot for wealthy Mexicans who prefer white babies while American infants of color are exported to Germany, France and the Netherlands with the justification that it is more difficult to find homes for non-white children within our borders. This despite the fact that Americans are adopting from Central and South America as well as Africa, and paying exorbitant amounts of money to do so that they could save if they adopted from foster care.

The story of one German family’s adoption of an African-American child born in Philadelphia is documented at the website, Emmas-Adoption-in-USA.de/. The Google translation reads in part “several families who had adopted the black babies in the U.S. after a relatively short waiting times… We went in June to two contact adoption agencies in the U.S. (Children of the World and Adoption ARC) … The social workers were not against a foreign adoption, particularly positive.”

Americans will adopt older children including those with physical or psychological disabilities from overseas, ironically, while not wanting a child from foster care for fear they are “damaged.” In fact, there is an effort in the adoption community to have children who spent their early years in orphanages declared “special needs” for the purpose of government subsidies and support to aid them in paying for their care, adding yet more burden to tax payers who already foot the bill for a tax credit – more that $13k per adoption – for adoptions, mostly private or international, despite being initially provided to encourage special needs adoptions from state care.

Another inexplicable irony of American adoption is that while we allow children to leave the country via adoption, we make it extremely difficult to impossible for willing and able families to adopt foster children across state lines.

FamiliesOnline.UK writing about adopting from abroad in 2003 states:

If adopting from the States it is very important to check that the agency you use is licensed. You can do so by calling the State Adoption Office in the State that you are interested in. Many Transatlantic adopters have used the agency Gladney Centre in Texas. At the time of going to press it is believed that The Gladney may only deal with ten British families per year, however readers may find that this situation has changed at the time of making their enquiry. While Families South West does not recommend any agency in particular, the people interviewed spoke highly of their experiences with this particular organization…[emphasis added].

The UK goes article goes on to reflect a lack of regulation in American adoption practice.

There is a chance that as a prospective adopter you may be the target for con artists. Some people are very unlucky and have this misfortune more than once. Sometimes the officials in the country they are dealing with are corrupt with painful and costly consequences. Another story from the USA concerned the birth mother being in on a scam, offering her child up for adoption to a number of agencies then pocketing the expenses paid by adopters before doing a runner.

No wonder, when Adam Pertman, Executive Director of the Donaldson Adoption Institute, which conducts research, education and advocacy to promote ethical practices and legal reforms, told a Chicago Times reporter that US adoption was “like the Wild West. Stuff is happening out there that no one is moderating, regulating or paying attention to.”

The webpage for Forth Worth, Texas-based Gladney Center for Adoption confirms that through its association with Trans Atlantic Adopters they “promote” European adoption of American born children:

Trans Atlantic Adopters is a European-based organization that acts as a support group for families living in Europe who adopted children born in America. We are not an exclusively “Gladney” group, though we do fulfill the requirements for a Gladney Association, meaning we promote adoption in Europe, we offer support for families whose lives are touched by adoption (from pre-adoption through to post-adoption), and we fund raise (as much as a group spread across Europe can) on behalf of Gladney. Nor are we an exclusively U.K. organization; many of our families indeed live in the U.K. but we also represent families living in Ireland, France and other European countries.

Texas was also the starting point for a case that cast us as not just an easy nation to adopt from, nor one in which scams can occur, but also as inept and careless in protecting the rights of children. In November 2000 the British press reported the case of “Baby J” who was adopted at two days old in Texas and immediately taken home to the UK. Seven months later, the baby was ordered returned to the US because the court found that the US social worker’s report was completed by an independent operator, reportedly with no qualifications. The residency requirement for adopting couples in the US was waived, ignored or never raised and British social services had apparently not been informed of the adoption being in process. Social services in Britain “believed there were compelling reasons why the couple should not be regarded as able to provide a safe and secure home for J”.

One of Britain’s senior Family Division judges reportedly said:  “I do not think anybody could begin to believe this was a proper way of deciding the future of a human being.” The court ordered the return of the baby, per the Hague Convention, stating: “It might be that this is a thoroughly bad example of the way things happen in the US.”

In 2007 another adoption from the US to Great Britain made headlines. It was the second US adoption in less than three years for British Foreign Secretary David Miliband and his wife who reportedly scooped the infant up straight from the delivery room.

Miliband’s wife said: “It was just like doing it myself without having to go through the whole pregnancy and labour… It was a perfect scenario – an easy and pleasant experience” once again illustrating the ease of foreign adopters to obtain children from America. The Miliband’s only complaint was that it was “very, very expensive”

The British press reported that this adoption revealed the existence of “a much darker side to adopting…in the U.S. that means big business for the thousands of private adoption agencies, which can easily procure a newborn for those prepared to pay up to $40,000.” Another report  said that the Miliban’s “decision to use a US adoption agency highlights the massive gulf in the UK and US systems, and the ease with which anyone with a large wallet can obtain a swift adoption there.”

Allegedly, the Foreign Secretary and his wife met the mothers of both of their adopted sons beforehand. The mother of their first adopted sin, now five, reportedly agreed to risk a cesarean birth so they could fly in and be present for the birth, and signed an irrevocable relinquishment of her parental rights within hours of the surgery. They then paid to “fast track” paperwork with the British Consulate in the US to fly home with the newborn. In 2004, the US adoption agency used by the Miliband’s was averaging approximately 40 adoptions annually, five or so of which to Britain each year.

The Daily Mail noted that “in the UK, the purpose of adoption is clearly defined as being to help children in need of a secure and stable home. In the U.S., the emphasis has been turned on its head, with many private adoption brokers twisting the procedure into a lucrative way to satisfy the demands of desperate childless couples…. On the rare occasions that a baby is available for adoption in the UK, it cannot be adopted before it is six weeks old [emphasis added].”

David Holmes, chief executive of the British Association for Adoption and Fostering shares the pride Brits take in their adoption practices, noting that: “There’s a strong imperative in [British] law to support families and keep them together as much as possible and to make decisions for each individual child. The welfare of the child is at the centre of everything.” Thus Brits who can, adopt from the US where babies are made more readily available for adoption.

Clearly, the cases illustrated herein are not consistent with the pro-adoption lobbyists claim that outgoing adoptions only occur when a child is being placed with family overseas.

More Questions Than Answers

Why does any American child need to be taken from his or her culture to a home in a foreign land? Is it ever in a child’s best interest or are they simply commodities being transplanted because of the greed of adoption facilitators or agencies who cannot turn down any opportunity to secure a fee of tens of thousands of dollars?

While the numbers, by all counts, are relatively low, each represents the life of a child who will grow into an adult severed from his homeland: a prosperous fully functioning democracy, not a third world country or a nation in political upheaval as are many of the sending nations. How do those adopted out of the US feel when they understand their placement effectively meant that no one in their nation of birth wanted them?

How can we rationalize this practice while America is the biggest recipient of children from other parts of the world? How do we condone sending our children overseas when we justify international adoption as “rescuing” children from lives of desperation, languishing in orphanages? Are any American children in need of being “saved” by those outside our borders as American missionaries do in places of hardship such as Haiti? Are American children ever in need of medical care that cannot be provided here, another reason given for Americans adopting from overseas?

Do we want to be seen as a nation who buys and sells children? What kind of reputations are our adoption practices giving us in the world arena in terms of how we think about family ties and the rights of mothers, fathers and their babies?

Do the mothers who are entrusting their children to these adoption practitioners know and willingly allow their children to be taken out of the country where they’ll likely never see one another ever again?

The State Department is responsible for transnational adoptions into and out of the US. The Intercountry Adoption website of the Bureau of Consular Affairs, US Department of State says:

Reasonable efforts must be made to actively recruit and make a diligent search for prospective adoptive parents in the United States before an outgoing adoption of a child can be approved. Exceptions can be made to this rule if birth parents have identified the prospective adoptive parent(s), but only if an adoption service provider or its agents have not assisted the birth parents in identifying the prospective adoptive parent(s).

Only outgoing adoptions to Convention countries are covered by the Convention and its implementing regulations. However, new reporting requirements (in 22 CFR Part 99) apply to outgoing cases to both Convention and non-Convention countries.

Yet, the State Department website lists, currently, as of press time, 20 agencies and practitioners in 15 states that facilitate “outgoing” adoptions. All are accredited to do so by the COA, the Council on Accreditation or the Colorado Department of Human Services.

Why are more than 20 agencies accredited to arrange the allegedly small number (25 a year according to the State Dept.) of outgoing adoptions? Is either COA or the State Dept. monitoring to see that the above standards are being adhered to in every case, even those facilitated by non-accredited service providers? What defines “reasonable efforts”? While accreditation is merely internal policing not unlike a business being registered with the Better Business Bureau, why are non-accredited facilitators allowed to arrange any such adoptions?

While each case represents a human life rerouted, are we even keeping correct tabs on the number of outgoing adoptions?

These are some of the many unanswered questions in this very questionable – and little-known – practice that seems to supply a niche demand with little, if any, regard for the best interest of children being shuffled about hither and yon.

Mirah Riben is an activist/author/lecturer. Read other articles by Mirah, or visit Mirah's website.