If intercountry adoption were viewed as an industry (a controversial supposition), it would be a declining industry losing market share to higher tech alternatives. The numbers of children coming into the US are down from the 2004 high of almost 23,000, to 11,000 to 12,000 children last year (depending on whether you count the 1,000 or so children paroled in from Haiti). Consequently, the number of U.S. adoption agencies is declining. Adoptions to most other receiving nations are also declining in numbers, so that global intercountry adoptions are down considerably from the high of approximately 45,000 reached around 2004. Some of this “lost market share” is presumably going to various assisted reproductive technologies, the more “tech” orientated competition. (More on these high tech alternatives in later posts….)
If intercountry adoption were viewed as a humanitarian practice (a controversial supposition), it would be one of many such interventions that become mired in unintended consequences, incompetent execution, and ideological controversy. The humanitarian premise of the intercountry adoption movement has been one of providing families for orphans. The reality has too often been one of manufacturing orphans; needlessly separating children from families. Consequently, intercountry adoption has left a trail of needlessly destroyed and separated families sprinkled throughout the developing world. Further, intercountry adoption has all too often approached the delicate task of transplanting deeply traumatized special needs children across families, languages and cultures with all of the skill, competence and care of a drunk teenager high-jacking a car for a joyride. Consequently, intercountry adoption has also produced a significant degree of wreckage amongst adoptive families.
It is important to make the link between the disastrous record of intercountry adoption as a humanitarian intervention, and the declining numbers. A humanitarian intervention (or industry) with a deserved reputation for corruption, incompetence, and scandal will eventually decline.
Amidst these declining numbers and this unnecessary human wreckage, I think it is past time to start an accountability project. Intercountry adoption agencies and “advocates” have for too long gotten away with shifting the blame and maligning the messenger. Yet, it is precisely the adoption agencies and advocates—and the governments that have all too often capitulated to them—that are responsible both for the declining numbers and for this unnecessary human wreckage.
The obstacles to such an accountability project are clear. If you name names, you may get sued. If you name names, you may leave the mistaken impression that the problem is a few bad actors. Because of these limitations, my own work has not been about naming names, but rather about identifying systemic problems with the intercountry adoption system.
Nonetheless, without concentrating on individuals, I think it is essential to lay the blame squarely where it belongs. The worst enemy of the intercountry adoption system has been—and continues to be—the intercountry adoption system itself. Like a spoiled child that has manipulated his/her parents into allowing him/her to eat only sweets with the predictable result of rotten teeth and stunted growth, the adoption industry has been allowed to grow into an indulged, cosseted, undisciplined, and darling, yet self-defeating monster that only succeeds in destroying and harming itself by getting what it wants.
My intent is to never let the people and institutions responsible forget the harm they have done and are doing! And I hope that many of you will continue to join me in this accountability project!