Adoption Hype

Media Misrepresentations and Accepted Myths

  • Adoption is a win-win that matches children in need with those longing for a child.
  • There are millions of starving orphans languishing in orphanages or begging in streets that need homes.
  • It’s unfair that after struggling with infertility, those who adopt then have to endure evasive and expensive careful vetting in order to adopt when anyone who is able can simply have a baby.

Who amongst us has not heard these assumptions about adoption and accepted them as fact? And, perhaps the saddest of all, that there are not enough babies to go around for those who want one, even though this complaint contradicts the one about millions of starving orphans.

The recent ban on adoptions from Russia – which had been the third largest source of children adopted by Americans according to the media reports – has resulted in a dearth of dramatic human interest articles focusing on heartbroken would-be adopters left with empty waiting nurseries. Headlines have called the ban “misguided,” “politically motivated” and “cruel.”

Focusing on would-be adopters’ disappointment, reports of the ban omit the years-long history of failed negotiations between the U.S. and Russia including demands and the U.S. government’s broken promises to follow-up on adoptions as a result of 19 children adopted from Russia who were murdered at the hands of their American adoptive parents. Additionally, untold other Russian adopted children endure abuse or have been abandoned or sent to the ranch in Minnesota. Instead of properly researching the issues that led to the ban, it sells more newspapers to create shocking headlines such as USA Faces Critical Adoption Shortage, which appeared in newspapers nationwide including USAToday.

“It’s been a cataclysmic implosion of intercountry adoption,” said Tom DiFilipo of the Joint Council on International Children’s Services (JCICS), one of the two major lobbying organizations for the adoption industry, whom the media are quick to quote as “the experts” on adoption. Adoption is a mega-billion dollar industry and the JCICS, the National Council for Adoption (NCFA), and the Academy of Adoption Attorneys are the lobbyists representing those whose livelihood is dependent upon the redistribution of children.

Quoting these industry insider sources and none others in a discussion of adoption, presents a one-sided view that is catamount to seeking a balanced view of the gun control issue by quoting only Wayne La Pierre, executive V.P. and spokesperson of the NRA. The adoption industry’s feigned concerns for the best interest of children in need are as sincere as mortgage bundlers caring about home owners. One of the ways adoption agency business owners, employees, adoption attorneys, and their spokespersons lobbyists stoke the fires is by intentional inflation of the number of orphans by including “half orphans” and “social orphans” – in other words, children with living parents who are in orphanages for temporary care, education or medical care.

To achieve a balanced perspective on the issues, the press should be interviewing people like Roelie Post, author of Romania: For Export Only and founder of of ACT – Against Child Trafficking; Jane Jeong Trenka, author and president of the organization Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoption Community; and David Smolin, Professor of Law, Director, Center for Biotechnology, Law, and Ethics, Stamford University and expert on child trafficking for adoption need to be included. Statements from adoption experts such as these, with no financial gain in adoption, would have ensured, for instance, that reports on the Russian cessation of adoption included the fact that the ban followed similar bans from other nations such as Guatemala and Nepal because of widespread corruption as a result of the tens of thousands of dollars “desperate” people are willing to pay to adopt.

Critical Shortage?

Adoption was a social solution to a socially created dilemma caused by a puritanical society labeling mothers who birthed babies born “in sin” as unfit by virtue of age, marital and financial status. Over the past four decades, reproductive rights have increased American women’s access to birth control and pregnancy termination. These factors, combined with a lessening of the stigma on single motherhood over the last four decades, dramatically decreased the number of American women shamed into relinquishing babies born “out-of-wedlock.” At the same time there has been a steady increase in infertility, added to by same-sex couples also vying to adopt.

The result has turned the supply and demand ratio upside down as adoption practitioners scramble to fill orders. This reversal led the UN Commission on Human Rights to note:

“Regrettably, in many cases, the emphasis has changed from the desire to provide a needy child with a home, to that of providing a needy parent with a child. As a result, a whole industry has grown, now add to the demand now add to the demandgenerating millions of dollars of revenues each year . . .”

The “critical shortage” article quotes Jennifer Doane of Wide Horizons for Children adoption agency expressing concern that “options are far fewer for [adopting] families,” as if those seeking to adopt are “entitled” to a vast menu of children in all colors and ages to choose from. There is no shortage of adoptable children right here in America. There are, in fact, more than 100,000 children who could be adopted from a total of half a million children in foster care. The cost to adopt from foster care is minimal, yet many prefer to pay baby brokers fees averaging $40,000 to procure babies elsewhere believing they are somehow less emotionally “damaged” coming from intuitions than from foster homes; less troubled born in nations like Russia with high rates of fetal alcohol syndrome than children born to mothers who may have used drugs.

The article notes as disturbing that “U.S. infant adoptions (about 90,000 in 1971) has fallen from 22,291 in 2002 to 18,078 in 2007.” Chuck Johnson, president of the National Council for Adoption, which represents its adoption agency business members, expects the number has remained fairly stable since 2007 as a result of “efforts to promote adoption.” What he really means is efforts to promote relinquishments which make children available for adoptions, as there is no need to encourage people to adopt; there is only a “need” for more parents to be unable to care for their children. More mothers who can provide safe care for their own children is a problem for those whose livelihood depends on the transfer of children to those waiting to adopt. Current policies, which allow expectant mothers to remain in school, and which provide more support for working mothers, require adoption agencies to employ more aggressive methods to convince them to let their children be placed with someone longing for their child.

Imagine if you will, homeless shelters – fearing their funding will be cut – soliciting people seeking employment, telling them of the comfy cots available if they remain out of work. It is equally absurd to promote family disruption in order to keep adoption agencies in business by meeting a demand for others’ children.

Today the social problem at the crux of the demand for babies is infertility, much of which is preventable and could be reduced by including education on its prevention in sex education classes. Instead of teaching that delaying childbirth decreases the ability to conceive and increase risk for mother and child, the media glamorizes women having babies past forty giving false hope to generations of women who are encouraged to complete their higher education and become stable in their careers before considering childbirth. In addition to age, weight – either too high or too low – also adversely affects the ability to conceive. Multiple terminations and STDs also increase risk of difficulty to conceive or carry a pregnancy, as does smoking and environmental contaminants. These facts need to be part of school health curriculum in order to resolve the root of the adoption crisis which is too much demand, not too little supply.

Media Distortions Proliferate and Public Opinion

The demand-driven market that caters to the wishes of the paying clients is fed by maintaining the old stereotype of do-gooders adopting out of selfless charity. This image remains firmly intact and helps industry lobbyists succeed in obtaining passage of legislation that, year after year, increases the adoption tax credit while making no distinction between those who adopt special needs children from U.S. foster care – whom the bill was intended to support – and those who do not, even including those who adopt gray and black market babies that may have been kidnapped and trafficked.

Truthout’s recent coverage of the headline grabbing case of “Baby Veronica” speaks directly to media bias in adoption. Media Failures Lead to Flawed Understandings in Cherokee Adoption Case by Michal Corcoran admonishes “the media’s one-sided coverage” which “conveys the heartache of the intended adoptive parents, with little regard for opposing perspectives.” Corcoran points to headlines claiming the child in the midst of this tug-of-war is in need of being “saved” from her own father, Dusten Brown, a decorated veteran of the Iraq war.

Corcoran exposes the media’s reprinting of false claims made by the Capobiancos, the prospective adopters who had custody of the child, without checking their truthfulness, as well as misrepresenting the facts surrounding the details of the child’s father’s relinquishment of paternal rights. Similar inaccurate and slanted coverage was repeated on television by Dr. Phil and Anderson Cooper. All the reports contained serious inaccuracies about the Indian Child Welfare Act. But the issue of pro-adoption prejudice is far bigger than ICWA.

This is merely the most recent example of the coverage of every contested adoption since the 1971 Baby Lenore case, with public outcries of “how dare she” in reference to Olga Scarpetta, the natural mother who attempted to revoke her relinquishment and reverse the adoption. All such cases are heavily laden with language describing children being “torn” from “the only family they’ve ever known.”

In every contested adoption the would-be adopters have used this bias and public sympathy to their advantage, as well as postponements and delays hoping that in the end judges would decide in their favor based on not disturbing the status quo of the child’s life. Too often these devious tactics work in their favor, even in cases where the judges cite fraud in severing the natural parents’ rights utilizing deceit or coercion.

In disputed non-adoption custody cases, however, where a child is snatched by a non-custodial parent or grandparent, the facts are reported without any sympathy for the party in possession of the child – even though they may likewise be “the only family the child has ever known,” and who have cared for the child lovingly and well. Why is the time with the family of central focus in one instance and not in the other?

The answer appears to be that once the word “adoption” enters the equation those intending to adopt become shrouded in a saintly halo while the child’s natal parents who are contesting are demonized. So powerful is the myth of adoption that it overrides and launders the means of obtaining the child, even whitewashing kidnappings. The Monahans, for example, are painted as victims being asked to hand over “their” child, despite having been ordered by the Guatemalan government to return the child to the mother the child was proven to have been kidnapped from.

This issue is far from an “Indian” or tribal issue. Fathers’ rights are too easily and too often disregarded by over-zealous adoption practitioners and, as a result, are often in the forefront of many contested adoptions. Many fathers such as John Wyatt, Jake Strickland, Cody O’Dea, Ramsey Shaud, Robert Manzanares, Christopher Carlton, Ben Wyrenbeck have fought long and costly legal actions to gain custody of their children after being deceived by adoption practitioners especially in Utah, where the mothers of their babies were sent, some while the fathers were overseas in the military.

The latest is Drill Sgt. Terry Achane, U.S. Army. In every case would-be adoptive parents challenged these fathers’ constitutional right to raise their children while garnering public sympathy. This case is a classic example of the press calling those attempting to adopt “adoptive parents” when they are not and also classic of delay tactics used at every step to interfere with rightful custody of a child.

Adoption: Image versus Reality

Adoption – a social construct that was created to provide homes for children who are orphaned or have no one to provide safe care for them – has been turned on its head. The emphasis needs to return to the best interest of children who instead have been regulated to commodities. Fewer children in need of extra-familial placement is a good thing, as is Russia and other countries concentrating on ways to help children of their citizens remain in their own culture by encouraging more domestic adoptions and improving conditions for children not adopted. The U.S. likewise needs to concentrate on improving the care of the half million children in our foster care system and those who age out.

The public is repeatedly subjected to distorted media reports that keep alive a fairy tale belief that adoption “saves” exaggerated numbers of orphans and “rescues” children believed to be “unwanted” and those who adopt as noble, altruistic and charitable. At the same time, those who consider placing a child for adoption, or who have been deceived by baby brokers, are portrayed with suspicion and viewed as “other,” and generally seen as less worthy or deserving often simply for being less financially able to wage a prolonged legal battle and hire top-notch attorneys and public relations teams, as is done regularly by would-be adopters in contested adoptions.

Add to this the reliance of the media on “experts” who represent only one side of adoption with no one representing the interests of the already marginalized natural parents. Their voices are silenced, their rights – and the rights of children to remain with kin – are extinguished.

It is as if the end – adoption – justifies the means by virtue of moving children from lower to higher social economic status and providing them material “advantages” they might not otherwise have access to. The problem arises, however, when this romantic view of adoption is applied to children who are neither orphans nor unwanted such as Baby Veronica who has a capable father who is willing and able to care for her.

Would there be outrage if homeless shelters and soup kitchens were closing their doors because fewer unemployed and disenfranchised people needed to rely on such services? When we examine this “cataclysmic implosion” in a less hyperbolic manner, we see that it is only so for adoption agency businesses, many of which are closing, as well as agency employees staff, adoption facilitators and attorneys who will suffer a loss of income.

When we put the interests of children first, we see that surely less children needing to find homes is something to celebrate, not despair over.

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