Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Journal of Christian Legal Thought Issue on Adoption: Hopes for a Mature Dialogue

The Journal of Christian Legal Thought, a publication of the national Christian Legal Society and Regent University School of Law, allowed me to help put together an issue on adoption.  Thanks to Mike Schutt, the editor, for his courage in publishing what may be seen as a controversial issue, and for his trust in giving me flexibility in recruiting a diverse group of authors. 

The adoption issue of the Journal of Christian Legal Thought is available online in e-mag format; click on the following link:   Journal of Christian Legal Thought, Vol. 2, No. 1, Spring 2012.    

(The link above first takes you to the abstracts of the articles as viewed in the print version; to read the full article click the link at the end of the abstract---for those with a longer version.)

The issue contains three articles on the theological controversy (myself, with responses by Jedd Medefind, head of the Christian Alliance for Orphans, and Dan Cruver, editor/author of Reclaiming Adoption); two adult adoptee voices (Mark Diebel and JaeRan Kim), a personal story by a first mother who lost her child recently and writes here under the pseudonym of Clara Daniels; and an historical article by E. Wayne Carp, a leading historian of adoption, on Jean Patton, a Christian, adoptee, and early critic of the closed records system. 

One message I would hope this issue sends to the Christian world is that adoption is controversial, and for good reasons.  The Christian adoption movement has naively recapitulated the rhetoric of orphan babies and children being rescued by unrelated Christian adoptive parents, putting a false veneer of Biblical rhetoric over it.  (I say false veneer because the Bible itself does not tell any such story.)   Instead, any fair narrative about adoption must begin with the conception and birth of a child to a particular mother, father, family, and community; once this true beginning is acknowledged, it becomes clear enough why adoption is controversial.   Immediately the questions emerge:  was a separation between the child and her family really necessary?   What is the relationship of the adoptee to their original family (not just parents, but also siblings, extended family, grandparents, etc.) ?  What is the relationship of the original family to the adoptive family?  

Once a legitimate controversy is acknowledged, what is the way forward?

The answer is:  Dialogue, dialogue, and more dialogue.  

From that perspective, I hope this issue of the Journal of Christian Legal Thought furthers this necessary process of dialogue. But it is only a beginning.   I hope that we can encounter one another with respect as fellow human beings made in the image of God---and for those of you who share my Christian faith, as brothers and sisters in Christ.

I know some of you may find my rhetoric strong at times.   But please consider:  every day of my life I live, within my own family, the long term impact of deeply exploitative and sinful practices conducted in the name of adoption.   Nearly every day of my life I encounter those same impacts in the lives of many others, through personal communications, reviewing new reports of abusive practices, and continued research.   Then, when I enter the rhetorical world of the Christian adoption movement I encounter what appear to me to be a fantasy-land of lies and misleading inducements which continue to harm many.   I recognize that most involved are well-intentioned and worthy of respect---but the actions and rhetoric remain deeply hurtful.  So it my role to seek to burst the bubble of the adoption fantasy. 

So do not confuse strong words with disrespect.

I am quite good at listening---indeed, I’ve been listening to pro-adoption rhetoric for longer than the current Christian adoption movement has existed.  Indeed, I fell for that rhetoric at one time in my life, and so I understand it deeply.   And if you have something to say as well which I have not heard before, I am eager to hear that as well. 

Do not confuse apparent “negativity” with a lack of positive prescriptions.  I have plenty to say about what should and could be done to fix the problems.  And indeed in my articles I’ve made very specific proposals.  But I know that my solutions will not be palatable until and unless the scope of the problem is acknowledged.   

So happy reading, and let’s keep the dialogue going!

David Smolin

Journal of Christian Legal Thought, Vol. 2, No. 1, Spring 2012

Monday, May 07, 2012

Saddleback Church Orphan Summit: Five Reasons Why Rick Warren and Kay Warren Got it Wrong on Adoption and Orphan Care

Rick Warren and Kay Warren both spoke on the second day of the Eighth Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit (May 4, 2012), held at Saddleback Church.  
They got so much wrong---left out so much that is critically important---that a response is necessary. 
I intend this response to be respectful---from one Christian to another.  The response is public because their stance, statements, and activism, both on May 4th and previously, are public, and go out to extremely large numbers of people.   I invite a response and discussion, whether from them, anyone else at Saddleback Church, or indeed anyone at all!
Before I get to the five reasons they got it wrong, two observations based on listening to the conference via the official web stream:

1. For Saddleback Church, Orphan Care Means Adoption:   Kay Warren made this very clear:   their goal is for every one of the purported 163 millions orphans in the world to be placed in a permanent family through adoption.   Rick Warren, in response to Kay Warren’s passionately pro-adoption speech, summarized it something like this:  “When we say orphan care, It’s adoption first, second, and last.”

2. The Summit’s Focus on the U.S. Foster Care System is Positive; the Summit’s Treatment of a Global Orphan Crisis and International Adoption is so Distorted as to be Harmful
The Orphan Summit gave significant attention to the 400,000 plus children in the United States foster care system, and especially focused on the 100,000 plus such children eligible for adoption.  The Summit promoted the need for foster and adoptive families for these children.   The Summit also promoted Safe Families for Children, a church based approach that attempts to provide temporary families for children in the hopes that the original family ultimately can be preserved.    Safe Families for Children thus includes an aim of ministering to the entire family and seeking to restore and preserve the original family.    (The only reference to family preservation efforts I heard at the Summit was the discussion of the Safe Families for Children program.)    In addition, the Orphan Summit provided useful information on the special needs of traumatized children and how to parent and assist them, which would provide critically important context for those who parent children in/from the foster care system.   Finally, the Summit emphasized the need of the entire church to minister to families who take on the care of traumatized children.   

From my perspective, these emphases on the United States foster care system are positive.  If the current Christian adoption movement was restricted to reaching out to children and families in the U.S. foster care system, or creating alternative interventions to that system, I would most likely be a fan rather than a critic,  I can embrace the practical goal of providing excellent  and safe family-based care for children removed from their families due to neglect or abuse of the movement, even if I still have reservation about the movement sometimes downplaying certain difficult issues.    In addition, my impression is that the theological innovations to which I object come primarily from those in the movement who have been focused on international adoption.   

Unfortunately, Rick and Kay Warren, and indeed the entire Summit, were very much focused on international adoption.  The constant refrain of the Warrens, and many other speakers, were the purported 163 million orphans in the world.   It was in the context of this “global orphan crisis” that Rick and Kay Warren set forth the goal of placing all of these 163 million orphans into families through adoption.   Indeed, it was stated that the math was “easy,” given an estimated 2.4 billion Christians in the world:  more than enough Christians to adopt all 163 million orphans.  Rick Warren stated that Saddleback Church had set and surpassed a goal of 1000 adoptions by Saddleback Church members, and the goal specified that half would be international adoptions.  The pre-Summit “intensive” on the “Global Orphan Care Revival and the Korean Church” was focused on using the missionary reach of the Korean Church to promote adoption both in Korea and globally.    It is in the context of the movement’s focus on international adoption, as reflected by the Summit and by Saddleback Church, that the movement is doing more harm than good, and leading the church in the wrong direction.   And it has generally been those emphasizing an global orphan care crisis and international adoption, and/or whose experiences come from international adoption, who have been most active in creating innovative  Biblical interpretation and theology I view as erroneous and unbalanced. 


1. The figure of 163 million orphans in the world is entirely misleading in relationship to adoption, as 90% live with a parent, and many of the rest live with extended family.
The international adoption movement in the United States, secular and religious, has repeatedly used statistics claiming well over 100 million orphans globally.  For example, at the Joint Council on International Children Services (JCICS) annual Symposium in April, an adoption agency ad in the program referred to reaching “the 132.2 million orphans worldwide who are in need of permanent homes.”    Similarly, the Saddleback Church orphan has publicized varying numbers of orphans, in the range of 143 million to 168 million, with a range of 163 million to 168 million repeatedly provided at the Saddleback Orphan Summit.

The international adoption movement, secular and religious, has repeatedly indicated that the estimated 132 million to 168 million “orphans” are children lacking a family and hence in need of adoption.   This was done at JCICS in April and at the Saddleback Orphan Summit in May.  

This is total bunk.   These global orphan estimates comes from UNICEF, which is using a broad concept of “orphans and vulnerable children” which includes children who have lost one parent but are living with their other parent.   90% of these “orphans” are living with a parent, and thus certainly are not in need of a family through adoption, for they already have a family.    Of course some of these 90% of orphans and vulnerable children may be in families that could use assistance of one kind or another to alleviate poverty or other vulnerabilities; taking away the children of the poor however, is neither a Christian nor a humane intervention. 

2. The Movement Ignores and is Naïve Concerning Abusive Adoption Practices in Intercountry Adoption, and Thus Promotes the Involvement of Christians in Child Trafficking and Other Abusive Practices

Incredibly, at the Saddleback Orphan Summit, and in the broader movement, there is virtually no discussion of the child trafficking that has permeated international adoptions from many nations, including Cambodia, China, Ethiopia, Guatemala, India, Nepal, Samoa, and Vietnam.   There is virtually no discussion of the fact that intercountry adoptions to the United States are in severe decline, from a high of almost 23,000 in 2004 to 9300 in 2011---in large part due to child trafficking and other abusive adoption practices.  There is little or no discussion of the pattern by which new nations are opened up to international adoption, the numbers rise, and then corruption and abusive practices overwhelm the system, leading to moratoria, slowdowns, and closures.   In the rare instances where abusive practices are discussed, it is to provide false assurances that such could be avoided by following governmental rules or using good/Christian agencies.

The end result of this kind of extreme naivety about the current state of intercountry adoption is to send Christians into adopting internationally like lambs to the slaughter, unaware of the dangers they face.    Christians are adopting children with falsified paperwork who are not true orphans, in Ethiopia and elsewhere, and therefore unwittingly participating in child trafficking.  

For documentation of these difficulties, see my various articles on Child Laundering, Child Trafficking, and Abusive Adoption Practices, which themselves provide many other sources:

Or view the following documentaries on Christians adopting from Ethiopia using a Christian agency:

3. The Movement Relies on the Wrong Experts on Intercountry Adoption, and Therefore Promotes False Assurances and False Information

Ambassador Susan Jacobs, Special Advisor for Children’s Issues, United States Department of State, was the primary expert on international adoption presented at a Plenary Session of the Saddleback Orphan Summit.   Incredibly, Ambassador Jacobs claimed that in a Hague country we have never had a problem with fraud or misrepresentation.    I will give two counter-examples for this patently false statement, although many more could be provided:

a.  India ratified the Hague Convention in 2003, but the notorious scandals associated with Preet Mandir, one of the most popular orphanages in all of India for international adoption, dragged on for many years thereafter.     See, e.g., Arun Dohle, Inside Story of an Adoption Scandal, Cumberland Law Review, available at: .

b. China ratified the Hague Convention in 2005, but significant reports of abusive practices continue.  See, for example:    

Of course, even if adoptions from Hague nations were all free of abusive practices, it would not solve the problem of abusive practices, since the majority of the adoptions to the United States are not from Hague countries, and some of the most popular countries from which to adopt (such as Ethiopia) are not Hague countries.  And of course Christians influenced by the movement have been particularly active in adopting from non-Hague countries, such as Ethiopia.    

Susan Jacobs is typical of proponents of international adoption who repeatedly minimize the extent and significance of abuse practices, and thereby keep the system from correcting itself.   The result is the decline in intercountry adoption, and a constantly expanding pool of victims from a system shot-through with abusive practices.  While relying on this kind of expertise may make the movement feel well connected, it is deceptive.  These kinds of experts will flatter and reassure the Christian adoption movement, and in turn the Christian adoption movement will flatter them with attention and praise.  I would suggest the movement expand and diversify their pool of experts to those who will challenge them with difficult truths; write to me and I can give you quite a list!

4. The Biblical Interpretation and Theology of Adoption Put Forward by Rick Warren and the Broader Movement are completely erroneous

If you actually read the Bible for what it says, rather than the meanings we put into it, it is apparent that the Bible neither portrays  the people of God adopting unrelated orphan children, nor recommends that the people of God do so.   It just isn’t there, in either the Old or New Testaments!   Nor are the kinds of adoption practiced in the United States (closed-record “as if” adoption that pretends that the child was born to the adoptive parents and that the child never had and never will have a relationship to their original family), compatible with the Bible.  The Bible, instead, assumes that the original identity and biological lineage of the individual remain as important and true facts.  

Of course the Bible teaches that we are to provide for all kinds of vulnerable persons, including widows and the fatherless (orphans), the poor, the stranger, etc.   And yes, there are five mentions of a word that can be translated “adoption” in the Pauline corpus----although there are no uses of the word adoption in the rest of the New Testament.   But none of this adds up to anything like what the movement claims.  In fact, the only way to have a Biblical “orphan care” movement would be have a “widow and orphan” movement---in the context of a poverty alleviation movement---because in the Bible and in the contemporary world, the vast majority of so-called “orphans” are living with a parent or extended family, and the Biblical call is to assist the "orphan" and other family members in staying together.    Thus, the interventions for the “widow and orphan” which are portrayed in the Bible are those which help the widow and the orphan to remain together.   Yet, you almost never hear about family preservation programs or widow alleviation programs at the movement’s events or in their literature.    The net result is that the movement exploits the very people it claims to assist.  Taking the children of the poor and the vulnerable for adoption is neither a Biblical nor a humane practice.    And even in the circumstances where some kind of adoption would be appropriate, the movement fails to apply Biblical understandings of what adoption is and should look like. 

For a fuller explication of the Biblical issues, you can read my article, found here:

An abstracted and full version of the article, plus rebuttals by two Christian adoption movement leaders (Jedd Medefind and Dan Cruver) will be out within a month; see the web site of the Journal of Christian Legal Thought or this blog for updates!

5. In the Longer Term, it is a Reality-Check That Will Demonstrate that Rick and Kay Warren, and the Christian Adoption Movement, Are Wrong about Adoption.

Rick Warren is a marketing genius who has reached tens of millions of people with his best-selling book, The Purpose Driven Life.     The adoption and orphan care movement has within a few years succeeded in permeating the American church with their message.   If you compare their combined reach with that of the Christian critics of the movement, it would seem that we are hopelessly outmatched.    But none of that will matter in the longer term:  it is reality that will continue to bite back at the Christian adoption movement, and it is reality that will continue to prove the critics right and the Christian adoption movement wrong.   In this way, it will happen for the Christian adoption movement just as it has been happening for the broader international adoption movement.  For years the international adoption movement ignored their hopelessly outmatched critics, only to be constantly brought down by reality:  scandal after scandal, closed countries, steeply declining numbers.    At some point, rhetoric gives way to reality.

Already the gap between the grandiose rhetoric of the Christian adoption movement, and the realities surrounding international adoption, invite a reality-check.   It is almost comic to listen to this grandiose talk of adopting 163 million children, in a time when international adoptions to the United States have declined to 9300 in 2011---and international adoptions globally to perhaps 25,000.  It is a kind of absurd theatre to listen to the movement’s rhetoric of adopting 163 million “orphans,” when over 90% of those purported orphans are children living with their biological family.  This is a movement that can’t even bring home 9300 children for international adoption, without wrongfully participating in child trafficking, visa fraud, and production of falsified documents---and they are going to save 163 million?

I agree with Rick Warren that the church has a mission in regard to church planting, poverty alleviation, education, and medical care/healing.   I agree that the church’s mission includes special actions on behalf of the widow and the orphan, the poor, and the stranger.  I just pray that this tragic/comic international adoption detour will not undermine these fundamental tasks of the church. 

The reality-check will come sooner or later---I pray it will be sooner, before there are too many more victims of this zealous but misdirected movement. 


Thursday, May 03, 2012

Saddleback Orphan Summit: Heritage, Race, Identity, and the Costs of Adoption Naivety in a Young Movement

While the Saddleback Orphan Summit formally represents the 8th Summit of the Christian Alliance for Orphans, the evangelical adoption and orphan movement care movement has really only come into prominence in the last four years or so.    One of the problematic aspects of this young movement is the way it rushes forward in relative ignorance of many of the hard-won truths about adoption.  

Among these hard-won truths is the significance to adoptees of their origins:  everything from their original family, to the nation, culture, race, and group from which they come.  We know that while many adoptees may express little interest in these subjects at some stages of their life, at other stages they become, probably for most adoptees, subjects of great interest.     Related to this truth is that certain issues, such as loss, grief, anger, and identity, come with the territory of adoption, and are likely to emerge at various points in time in the life of adoptees. 

Incredibly, one of the major leaders of the movement and one of the major speakers at the Saddleback Orphan Summit, Dr. Russell Moore, in his influential book, Adopted for Life, was completely dismissive of the significance of origins for his own adopted children.  The passage has become either famous or infamous, depending on your point of view: 

               “As Maria and I went through the adoption process, we were encouraged by everyone from social workers to family friends to ‘teach the children about their cultural heritage.’  We have done so."
               " Now, what most people probably meant by this counsel is for us to teach our boys Russian folk tales and Russian songs, observing Russian holidays, and so forth.  But as we see it, that’s not their heritage anymore, and we hardly want to signal to them that they are strangers and aliens, even welcome ones, in our home.  We teach them about their heritage, yes, but their heritage as Mississippians…..” [Moore is referring here to people from Mississippi or more broadly the American South.]   (pg. 36)

Moore’s defiance of the received adoption wisdom about the significance of heritage is clear enough here.   Tragically, he is setting up an impossible dilemma for adoptees, who are required to permanently repudiate their original heritage in order to be considered fully a part of their adoptive family.   The heart of the movement as reflected by Moore is not big-hearted enough to truly love Russian, Korean, or Chinese children----those heritages and aspects of their being must be airbrushed out of them, so they can be washed clean in the waters of the Mississippi---baptized into Americanism----before they can be completely accepted or loved by their adoptive families.    Of course for those whose origins include a racial identity differ from their adoptive parents, it will prove impossible to remove the bodily reminders of their heritage, no matter how hard they and their adoptive families try to ignore it.    For how can an Asian or black body become that of a European-descent white person?  (Tragically, some may attempt the impossible, as illustrated by Deann Borshay Liem’s famous adoptee film, First Person Plural, in which she, as a Korean adoptee, underwent cosmetic surgery on her ears to look more like her white adoptive sister.)    Would Moore have his followers say that a Chinese child’s heritage is not Chinese, but Mississippian---and what would that even look like when the child goes into the broader world and inevitably continues to look Asian to the wider world?    

This kind of error comes from anointing as an expert on adoption an adoptive parent of still young children, who is arrogant enough to ignore the received wisdom when the mood suits him.  It is also characteristic of a movement whose leaders are often adoptive parents---and especially fathers---of still young adopted children.   Such parents have not yet lived enough of the adoption life-cycle to understand what characteristically happens as adoptees become teenagers and adults.   And with a mindset that is often dismissive of any wisdom from outside of the church and prior to their movement, they may be unwilling to make up for their gaps in lived experience through reading and listening to others.   In short, the Christian adoption movement too often reflects a kind of willful ignorance of what has come before them in the wider history and world of adoption.  

The theological justification Moore provides for his dismissive approach to the original heritage of adoptees is incoherent.  The passages are too long to quote, but in short, Moore goes from waxing poetical about his own heritage as a Southerner, and how this Southern heritage is now the heritage of his adopted children, to talking about how the Christian’s heritage is found in Christ and not in their natural family heritage.   Somehow, Moore never seems to realize that if this principle is indeed applicable and accurately stated, then it would demand that he be as equally dismissive of his own Southern heritage as he expects his adopted children to be of their Russian heritage. 

Beyond the incoherence are numerous theological problems.    In brief:  the Bible certainly does NOT teach a doctrine of adoption whereby orphan children, or indeed ANY of us, are required to be dismissive of our original family, nationality, culture, or race.   Quite the opposite----in the very rare cases where something like an actual adoption of a child occurs in the Bible, the adoptee’s original family identity and heritage are preserved, and the loyalty of the adoptee to that original identity is positive and decisive to the story.  (Think Moses and Esther.)    In addition, to the degree that the New Testament even mentions adoption---the five Pauline references----the only plausible reference is to the Roman practice of adopting young adult males---and in that practice the original family name of the adopted person was usually incorporated into their new adoptive name, and the adoptee was expected to maintain a relationship with their original family.  Of course these young men anyway usually weren’t orphans---adoption was a social promotion and an honor for a strong, talented, and promising young man, not the provision of a family to a helpless orphan child.   Of course one of the difficulties the Christian adoption movement has is that the practice of adopting unrelated orphan children is not something done by the people of God at all in the Bible, since there is no such law of adoption in the Old Testament, and the New Testament never mentions anyone in the New Testament Church ever adopting an unrelated orphan child.   For a fuller explanation, see my paper:

For all Christians, there is a call to choose God over our family ties, where there is a conflict between the two.    But that is no excuse for uniquely de-valuing the original family ties of adoptees, and there is absolutely no Biblical indication that such is expected or required. 

In private conversation, participants and leaders of the movement often will disagree with Moore’s assessment of adoptee heritage.    I would guess that Moore himself most likely will come to a different assessment as his children grow up, if he has not already done so, for I assume that he and his wife truly love their adoptive children, and will reevaluate their stances as they learn from the changing needs of their children.   But a lot of damage has already been done, as reports indicate that some adoptive parents influenced by the movement are largely ignoring issues of racial identity and cultural heritage.   Since it takes a lot of effort and thought for typical white adoptive parents to successfully navigate the issues involved in transracial adoption, and since addressing the issue adequately may require adoptive parents to change things in their own lives, providing excuses for not doing so is, practically speaking, very harmful. 

On May 3rd, in the first morning session of the Summit, when adoptee Ryan Bomberger was interviewed, the questions and answers reflected the truth that race and origins normally do matter to adoptees.   Just having an adult adoptee present and speaking improved the approach considerably over that found in Moore’s book.  Unfortunately, there still was a certain defensiveness in how the subject was addressed, as the conversation was primarily about whether or not to ever permit transracial adoption, with no discussion of how to do transracial adoption.   Perhaps that will be addressed in the relevant breakout sessions.    Ryan Bomberger made clear that he had been in some very difficult places emotionally at certain times of his life, but the relationship of those difficulties to issues of race, origins, and adoption was left unclear.   Thus, the only named adult adoptee speaker at the event seemed to be there to affirm transracial adoption, and to give an anti-abortion message, rather than to explain how to navigate these adoptee and parenting issues.    The discussion is ending where it should be beginning, which is largely a consequence of failing to include critical adoptee voices who, outside the confines of the movement, have for many years been usefully addressing these issues.  

I am hopeful that the movement is in the process of circling back to the hard-won truths of the wider adoption world regarding the centrality of issues of origins, search, loss, and race, and of how important it is to parent transracial adoptees with an eye toward the inescapability---and goodness--- of the racial identity and cultural and family heritage provided by their original family.  

In the meantime, the movement too often celebrates the racial diversity being produced in mostly white churches by transracial adoption, as though that represented a positive achievement for the church.   To the contrary: a strategy of achieving racial diversity in churches through adoption is an admission that Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous observation that  Sunday morning is the “most segregated hour in Christian America,” remains true.  It is still true that most adults choose to attend churches characterized by the overwhelming predominance of people of their own race:  white churches, black churches, Korean churches, etc.  To the degree that representing racial diversity within the local congregation is a goal, this represents a significant failure; to the degree that one believes there are good reasons for having congregations such as “Korean churches,” this should be acknowledged, and its cost to the ideal of a multi-racial local church accepted.      In neither instance, however, is there any reason to celebrate racial diversity in white churches produced by transracial adoption, for this unfairly puts the costs of achieving diversity upon vulnerable children, while failing to provide the true benefits of diversity, in which people of different races are required to treat one another as equals.   A church in which most or almost all of the non-whites are children is hardly a place where those lessons can be learned:  at least by the adults!   It is well known in the wider adoption community that black, Asian, and Latino transracial adoptees adopted into white families and growing up in churches, neighborhoods, and schools that are overwhelmingly white have their already-difficult struggles with identity, loss, and discrimination exacerbated by the stress of being the diversity in the environments in which they grow up.  It is hardly a brave thing for white adoptive parents to bring their transracial adoptees into white churches.  As at least one transracial adoptee, JaeRan Kim, has challenged, why instead don’t white adoptive parents of transracially-adopted children attend churches where the race of the child predominates?   (If you adopt an Ethiopian or African-American child, attend a black church; if you adopt a Korean child, attend a Korean church.)   Even if such is not always the best or most practical course, it illustrates the point well---if the parents would find this difficult, why do we expect the black or Asian child brought into a white church to find it easy?    Why are we so willing to achieve diversity by putting transracial adoptees into difficult situations?   Again, the costs of adoption naivety are borne by the adoptees upon whom this movement experiments, in willful ignorance of the hard-won truths of adoption.

One can expect the Christian adoption and orphan care movement to mature over time; for the sake of those whom it is impacting, one can pray it happens sooner rather than later.   Such wished-for maturity will happen sooner if the movement is less defensive and more willing to learn from those, Christian and non-Christian, who have gone before in living and engaging the inevitable and recurrent issues intrinsic to adoption.


See JaeRan Kim, Some Children See Him:  A Transracial Adoptee's View of Color-blind Christianity (forthcoming Journal of Christian Legal Thought 2012).   This issue of the Journal of Christian Legal Thought will be available in about a month on the Christian Legal Society web site, and will be announced also on this blog.  

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Saddleback Orphan Summit: Can't the Church Do Better Than This?

What could be better than this?  Stephen Curtis Chapman.   Francis Chan.   Rick and Kay Warren.   Another all-star cast of evangelicals supporting adoption and orphan care at this year’s Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit VIII. (Saddleback Orphan Summit)

Indeed, what could be better than this?

As a Christian critic of the adoption and orphan care movement, I’d say that getting it right about the Bible and adoption would be better.   Warning Christians about the prevalence of abusive adoption practices would be better.  

There are two basic truths that the movement has yet to engage in a meaningful way:

The first is that the Bible does not support the movement’s claims.  The movement claims that American-style adoption of orphan children is a central and Biblical representation of the gospel, and the primary Biblical metaphor for understanding our relationship, as redeemed sinners, to God.   The movement claims that the Bible teaches a mandate to either adopt orphans, or assist persons or organizations in doing so.     If you want to understand why I claim that the Bible teaches no such things, you can read my article, "A Scriptural and Theological Critique of the Evangelical Christian Adoption and Orphan Care Movement" and judge for yourself: 

The second truth is that abusive adoption practices have haunted adoption for a very long time, and continue to haunt it today.    Child laundering scandals over the last ten to fifteen years permeating adoptions from Cambodia, China, Ethiopia, Guatemala, India, Nepal, Samoa, and Vietnam, remain unaddressed, with new abuses emerging in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Uganda.   Adult adoptees from South Korea researching their roots commonly find that the information in their paperwork is false.  Recent revelations of babies falsely declared dead and then sold in Spain are just now coming into public view.  The baby-scoop era of coerced adoptions from unwed mothers, with echoes surviving to this day, is an international phenomenon, impacting Australia, Canada, Ireland, the U.K., and the United States.   The infamous Georgia Tann baby-selling scandal in Tennessee, which focused attention in the mid-twentieth century on the problem of baby-selling, led to new legislation but failed to clarify the line between legitimate and illegitimate uses of money in adoption.    The butter-box baby adoption scandal, operating between Canada and the United States, focused attention on profiteering at the expense of the lives of infants, a theme repeated in the Cambodian and other more recent adoption scandals.  Abusive adoption practices have impacted hundreds of thousands of people, at a minimum, over the last seventy years, and yet the Christian adoption movement seems to have collective amnesia on this topic, usually only providing vague admonitions to guard against corruption and pick a good agency---vain precepts when abusive adoption practices have been endemic in adoptions from licensed and legitimate agencies, including those that are explicitly Christian.

Another hard truth neglected by the movement:  the entire way our law and culture conceptualizes adoption in the United States---the “as if” sealed records system that pretends that adopted children were born to their adoptive parents and never had or will have any other family---is NOT Biblical and is contrary to the way that many cultures understand adoptive relationships.    Yet, the movement does not seem to have even begun to address the differences between Biblical models of adoption, and the forms of adoption in which the movement uncritically participates.

I’m putting this out there as a challenge, ahead of Saddleback.  Prove me wrong.   At least teach (rather than ignore) the controversy on adoption and the Bible.   Include detailed and honest briefings on how Ethiopian children with intact families are being adopted as purported “orphans” into the United States.   Explain how adoption agencies have frightened and shamed families into silence about malnutrition and maltreatment in the orphanages in which they work.   Talk about the cases of children kidnapped from their families in Guatemala and then adopted into the United States, and the wider context which have put ethical and legal question marks around over twenty thousand Guatemalan adoptions.   Help participants understand the complexities of adoption from China, and the increasing evidence that orphanages have been buying babies since at least 2000.   Describe how American dollars have corrupted adoptions in country after country, and then explain why the adoption movement continues to resist enforceable limitations on the financial aspects of adoption.   Talk about the role of churches in manipulating, pressuring, coercing and forcing unwed mothers to give up their children during the baby scoop era and sometimes beyond:  and include some such mothers as speakers.   Include as speakers adoptees who are critical of adoption practices, and who explain from personal experience the identity, loss, and anger issues many of their fellow adoptees face. 

From reviewing the conference topics, one can see that there are some suitable warnings at Saddleback.   Based on the workshops offered on attachment, mental health and medical issues, I presume that many will hear about the severe difficulties often involved in adopting post-institutionalized children and other special needs children.   I presume that many will learn that adoptive families who adopt from the foster care system, or adopt older children from anywhere, are likely to need special help and support.  Hopefully the movement has learned not to expect adopted children to be happy little angels grateful for being “saved” by their adoptive parents.  Yet, the movement’s theology that positions adoptive families in the place of God  within the vertical/horizontal adoption redemption analogy, while by contrast positioning the pre-American lives and connections of adoptees as analogous to slavery or the old sin nature, may make it difficult for adoptive families to understand why adoptees express loss and fail to be suitably “grateful.”

I am grateful for the effective “orphan care” ministries that really have nothing to do with adoption; I am grateful that the movement is getting much broader than its roots in adoption.   I appreciate that some adoptions really do take some children from desperately bad situations and place them into loving families.   But the fact that adoption and orphan care can sometimes be done well is not an excuse to gather together and collectively ignore so many of the hard issues and hard questions. 

Finally, I am grateful that a Christian dialogue about the Christian adoption and orphan care movement is beginning, as will be reflected in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Christian Legal Thought (links will be posted on this blog when it is published).   I just wish that this dialogue was already something occurring within the movement itself as represented by its keynote events.  Promoting adoption naivety at major Christian adoption conferences suggests either that the leaders themselves remain naïve about some critically important issues, or else that they think it is best to keep their followers such.   Instead, my suggestion is to trust the movement and the members with the controversy and with the true difficulties involved in doing orphan care and adoption well and Biblically.


Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit VIII, Saddleback Church, May 3-4, 2012

Of Orphans and Adoption, Parents and the Poor, Exploitation and Rescue:  A Scriptural and Theological Critique of the Evangelical Christian Adoption and Orphan Care Movement, David Smolin, bepress, publication forthcoming in Regent Journal of International Law, Vol 8, No 2, Spring 2012.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Aftermath of Abusive Adoption Practices in the Lives of Adoption Triad Members: Responding to Adoption Triad Members Victimized by Abusive Adoption Practices

The above-titled presentation was given as a plenary presentation at the Annual Symposium of the Joint Council on InternationalChildren’s Services (JCICS) on April 18, 2012.   Below is a link to watch a slightly modified version of the Power Point slides we used at the presentation.  We corrected some typos and made some editorial adjustments, but  this is 99% the same as what was used at the event.    Unfortunately the event itself was not taped, so there is no audio.

It is important to note that the original context for this presentation is Intercountry Adoption to the United States.   Some of these points may also be relevant to domestic adoption or to Intercountry Adoption to nations other than the United States--for example, to Canada, Italy, Spain, etc.
Especially at the event itself, with our own commentary added, this was a presentation not just on abusive adoption practices, but especially on how the intercountry adoption system, as shaped by the United States government and United States adoption agencies, is “designed for failure.”   Abusive adoption practices thus are not merely problems in themselves, but they are also symptoms of a system that chronically produces abuses and breakdowns in the system:  a system that fails to self-correct and thus is self-defeating.   

Further, the point was made that these features of the current dysfunctional system were not necessarily inevitable, but have arisen from specific choices made by the U.S. government and by U.S. agencies during the construction of the system.  The governing rules they advocated for, and chose, created the dysfunctions that have doomed the system to continuing cycles of abuse.
This is very much a presentation about the inestimable human costs of those failures for all those impacted by adoption:  not only adoption triad members, but also siblings, extended families, communities, and even nations.  It is also a presentation about a system that fails to assist or recognize its own victims. 

This presentation was a joint project,:  David and Desiree each wrote about half of the material, and each critiqued the other’s materials.  The process of converting material into PowerPoint format was done initially by Desiree, although again the final product was reviewed, modified, and critiqued by both.   Overall, the concepts and information presented represent years of working together to analyze adoption systems.

Comments/questions can be directed in the comments section herein.  Or, if you prefer, our email addresses are listed on the powerpoint itself.

We certainly do not expect everyone to be happy with these materials and critiques may come from all sides.  Please keep in mind that the powerpoint cannot embody all that we said; also please keep in mind the original audience and occasion for the presentation.   We had one hour in which to summarize our information and so we couldn't say even a fraction of all that needed said; things were necessarily simplified. 

Finally, we do NOT presume to speak for the victims of abusive adoption practices.  Victims must and should speak for themselves.  In fact, we urged the attendees to seek out the victims' own writings, memoirs, blogs, films, etc.   What we hoped to do here was to give a small glimpse into the kinds of problems and reactions that such practices cause.  We speak as victims only for ourselves as adoptive parents of children illicitly sourced and given false information. 

We welcome vigorous and respectful dialogue, from which we hope to learn, as so much of what we do know to this point in time is due to the many people who have shared their experiences and thoughts with us.

So here, without further commentary, is the link to our Powerpoint presentation.  We tried to upload it to the blog in a box, but the translation through Google documents couldn't handle some formatting issues:

David and Desiree Smolin

Monday, February 20, 2012

Elizabeth Bartholet & David Smolin Debate International Adoption

Fleasbiting is excited to announce a written debate between Harvard Law Professor Elizabeth Bartholet and Samford University Law Professor (and our own Fleasbiting blogger) David Smolin.  The debate will comprise a chapter in the upcoming book, "Intercountry Adoption: Policies, Practices, and Outcomes" edited by Judith L. Gibbons (Saint Louis University) and Karen Smith Rotabi (Virginia Commonwealth University) to be published by Ashgate Publishing in June 2012.  

The book can be pre-ordered online for a discount at Ashgate Publishing.  Frankly though, at a discounted cost of $108, it is priced more for serious research and university libraries than for personal or public libraries....which is why we're excited to have permission from the publishers to post the debate on-line where we can all read it.  I'll get to posting the link in a minute.  First things first....

Terms of the Debate:

Professors Bartholet and Smolin were each given the same three questions to answer independently (apart from each other, not knowing what the other's answer would be), and then one opportunity to respond to the other's answers.  Strict space limitations were enforced for both answers and responses.

This strictly controlled debate makes clear the two law professors' starkly different perspectives on the law, policies, and facts relevant to intercountry adoption.

I imagine that most readers of this blog will be familiar with Professor Elizabeth Bartholet.  She remains one of the more active, vocal, and well-known advocates for intercountry adoption (ICA)   Her many writings on intercountryadoption are either cited or else available for free download on her facultyweb page.

Likewise, most readers of this blog are likely familiar with Professor David Smolins' writings on international adoption.  Some can be found here on Fleasbiting; but most of Professor Smolin's writings on intercountry adoption are available for free download on his bepress webpage.

David Smolin says about the debate:  

The debate illustrates my argument that advocates for ICA, such as Prof. Bartholet, unintentionally undermine ICA by denying and minimizing the abuses and resisting necessary regulations on money, intermediaries, and agency accountability that could reduce those abuses.  Some ICA advocates (like Professor Bartholet) also minimize the significance of the losses and difficulties for adoptees of the trans-racial, trans-cultural, and trans-national nature of ICA, as well as the trauma to family and child of the loss of relationship between child and original family.  Although purportedly pro-ICA, I think this approach is contributing to its destruction.
By contrast, Prof. Bartholet classifies me with anti-ICA forces whom she sees as destructive of the best interests of children.   She perceives ICA as under assault from such forces.
In the midst of this debate are questions about the numbers and characteristics of “unparented” children (or orphans) in “need” of ICA, the extent of abusive practices, the significance and interpretation of the subsidiary principle and of relevant international law, and the nature of interventions short of full adoption.     

I look forward to comments (I hope respectful even if passionate!) on the debate or the issues it raises. 
And so without further ado, here is the link to the debate.  It will take you to the bepress site page for the debate.  To read the debate, click on the button to the left of the photo that says "download."  This will allow you to download the debate file (in pdf form) to your computer where you can read it:

Elizabeth Bartholet & David Smolin Debate International Adoption

Enjoy!  And again, as David said, comments and debate on the issues it raises are welcome.  Please post those comments here as there is nowhere to post comments on the bepress site.


"The Debate" between Elizabeth Bartholet and David Smolin, currently pre-published on the internet by permission of the book publisher (see below) at bepress: Selected Works of David Smolin .

"The Debate" by Elizabeth Bartholet and David Smolin, to be a chapter in the upcoming book,
"Intercountry Adoption: Policies, Practices, and Outcomes" edited by Judith L. Gibbons (Saint Louis University) and Karen Smith Rotabi (Virginia Commonwealth University) to be published by Ashgate Publishing in June 2012.  The book is to include chapters by the following, many of whom are well known scholars, thinkers, and stakeholders in the field of adoption:  Peter Selman; Jonathan Dickens; Kathleen Ja Sook Berquist; Karen Smith Rotabi; Cristina Nedelcu and Victor Groza; Kay Johnson; Kelley McCreery Bunkers and Victor Groza; Kelley McCreery Bunkers, Karen Smith Rotabi, and Benyam Dawit Mezmur;  Femmie Juffer and Marinus H. van Ijzendoom; Laurie C. Miller; Monica Dalen; Elizabeth Bartholet and David Smolin; Judith L. Gibbons and Karen Smith Rotabi; Thomas M. Crea; Jesus Palacios; Rhoda Scherman; Hollee McGinnis; and Judith L. Gibbons and Karen Smith Rotabi.  The book is can be ordered online for a discount at Ashgate Publishing. Frankly though, at a discounted price of $108, it is priced more for serious research and university libraries than for personal or public libraries.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Finding the Truth & Returning Stolen Children: Journeying through Schizophrenic Interpretations and Confusing Realities in an Adoption Myth-Saturated Society

This post is a little different from others on Fleasbiting because it deals with a personal question.   One that we get repeatedly these days. 

While we don’t owe the world an explanation, I do think that explaining the situation that we negotiated is instructive for understanding just how difficult these situations are and why reform is necessary both to keep them from continuing to happen to other families and to show the need for better help for families when they do happen.

I’m NOT going to tell our adoption story here on this blog.  For those who don’t know it, the broad outlines of the story can be found in a July 14, 2007 interview withSteve Inskeep at NPR:  “An Adoption GoneWrong.”   The story of how the girls that we adopted ended up in the adoption stream is also here:  “An Indian Adoption Story:  Stolen Children.”  (the story is on several pages, so to keep reading click “next page” at the bottom of each page)

So here, in its latest guise (a comment from our latest post which had nothing to do us & our story but was about Chinese adoptions and the US government), is the question we’re most often asked (Please note that I didn’t called the question a dumb question, but that the asker herself wrote “dumb question.”)

Dana’s Question :

Dumb question:  If you know your girls were stolen, surely they have adoption in India:  why did you not facilitate your girls’ parents adopting their children back?
I don’t get it.  You know they were obtained illegally even though you yourself were innocent of criminal intent.  So your answer to a wrong being done is…to perpetuate the wrong by continuing to keep this couple’s daughters far away from them for most of the year?
It’s like that adoption scandal in Fiji where children were also outright stolen.  As far as I know not one American family who adopted those kids has bothered taking them home and getting the adoption overturned OR paying for the natural family to adopt back their own children.
It’s nice you’re writing a blog about this stuff.  But it’s easy to write a blog.  If a wrong’s been done thought, and you could have fixed it and you didn’t, that’s not OK.


We did NOT know for sure that the girls were stolen.  It took six years to confirm the fact. 

And as for returning the girls to their the time the facts were confirmed it couldn't be done.  Even by their younger falsified ages, one was by then a legal adult, and the other was on the cusp of legal adulthood.  Legally and ethically, you cannot return adults to their parents.  Adults are their own persons, who belong to no one and who make their own legal decisions.  And by then, of course, these adults were culturally American and had become accustomed to a lifestyle very different from that of their mother’s rural Indian village, where women are not taught to read, are not schooled, and are married off at 14; these adults had also lost their first language by then.  What we did was take each of the girls to India for a reunion with their family.  The choice of what each did next in regard to their family and their lives was entirely theirs.  As for ourselves, we have remained involved with the girls’ original family since then.

You could still ask why it took six years for their allegations to be confirmed.  I'll try to explain that too.

Because they had been threatened and were told never to tell us the truth, the girls hid the truth from us for the first six weeks they were in our home.

Once we learned of their allegations we immediately contacted our placement agency and requested that they investigate the girls' allegations to confirm or refute them (yes, at first, we naively believed that our agency would be as concerned as we were and that they would investigate).

It took several months for us to realize that the agency felt no great urgency in the matter; soon too there was another Indian adoption scandal and the excuse that it was "too dangerous" to investigate.   Later we’d be told that the truth didn’t matter, but only what the girls believed was the truth.  Our agency over years refused repeated requests to investigate.

Busy that first year and a half with the girls' day to day emotionally disturbed behavior, rage, and terror, we also contacted the local mental health professionals our home study agency recommended (this was the only help we’d get from them).   The mental health professionals told us to come back in a year after the girls were through the "initial adjustment to adoption" and had learned English. 

It became quickly apparent that we were very much alone in analyzing the situation--both in determining the truth of the girls' allegations of being stolen children and also in determining what connection, if any, their emotionally disturbed behavior had to the possibility of them being "stolen children."  Without professional help to find out the truth and to set the girls’ behavior and allegations in a normative context, we had a hard time knowing how to understand both the truth of what the girls said and the meaning of their behavior and attitudes.


The only ones willing to help us think through these things and make these judgments were other adoptive parents, and the consensus among these other adoptive parents both privately and publicly (on adoption support lists) was that the girls’ allegations were almost certainly NOT true.    

Remember that this was 1998.  Adoption corruption was NOT very much in the news and so the possibility that our daughters were illegally sourced seemed unreal and remote. 

In terms of the girls’ behavior and attitudes, the consensus (indeed, the assumption) was that our daughters’ behavior was at the extreme of the normal range, but normal nonetheless.  (Knowing what I know now, I would beg to differ and see their behavior as indicative of stolen children struggling to come to terms with injustice and a stolen life).   

As new adoptive parents we were very much in the sway of the adoption myth belief system and very much within the fold/peer pressure of adoptive parents who passionately believed in the adoption-myth, the trustworthiness of the international adoption system, and the commitment and competency of the involved governments to adequately regulate and police the adoption system.  

In other words to even entertain the possibility that what the girls alleged was true, one had to doubt or reject a very strong belief system reinforced by a strong community that represented our only help at that point.  1998 was not 2011, or 2008 or even 2005 in this regard.

[Note that almost all adoption corruption--whether coercion of first parents to relinquish, persuading non-infertile folks to become adoptive parents, or persuading the general public or anyone in particular of the absolute goodness of international adoption in spite of facts to the contrary--involves persuading people of a strong belief system (whose foundations have been laid for decades in our popular culture) and then reinforcing that strong belief system.  This belief system  is often at odds with other knowledge, emotions, and values and often requires the suspension of the usual protections of questioning assumptions, and using research and critical thinking to evaluate truth claims.]

I’m not saying that we didn’t seriously entertain the possibility of the girls’ allegations being true and suffer many sleepless nights as a result, just that it was much harder in that context to believe that they could be true without concrete confirmation.   Getting that confirmation or refutation proved to not be easy or even advisable.  Who could confirm or refute it?  Who was willing? 

In the meantime we were told there were many reasons we should NOT believe the girls.  And many other circumstances/contexts that made our quest more difficult if not ill-advised.  

Firstly, we were told that such claims (of being stolen children) were not uncommon among adopted children; the claims represented an inability on the part of the child to accept the truth of her situation and were essentially wishful/magical thinking used to explain away a mother's betrayal. 

Secondly, we were told that the claims might actually be true from the girls' point of view even if they weren't really true, as relinquishing parents sometimes staged scenes to make it appear to children as if the parents didn't have a choice in relinquishment so as to save face in the eyes of the their children. 

Thirdly, if their mother HAD relinquished the girls and gone on to establish a new life and a new identity ditching her children in the process (as we were told was common in India), then we (or anyone who didn't understand the culture enough to make inquiries discretely enough) could actually endanger the mother's health or even her life (outing her past to a new husband who would then beat or even kill her in retaliation).

Fourthly, we were told that the likelihood of the girls' stories being true was low because older children are hard to place and no orphanage director in his right mind would seek out hard to place children, steal them, and then get stuck with them (bad business, we were told).

Fifthly, the girls themselves were ambivalent about us finding their parents.  They refused to tell us why this was so; we could only guess.  My guess now years later is that it had to do avoiding the local custom of being married off a year after puberty (overdue & imminent in their cases). 

Sixthly, in terms of us dropping everything and running off to Indian ourselves to research things (which seemed impossibly difficult and ill-advised), it would have been nearly impossible.  We had no extended family to help us.  We were the parents of 5 biological children ages 2-13.  We were the new adoptive parents to two extremely emotionally disturbed children.  It was literally a full-time job just to keep the girls alive and moving forward.  We also had to earn a living.  There is no way one parent could have done everything while the other went off to India.

Seventh, we needed help in India.  We did not have an address; the name of the village was not on any maps we could find; we did not speak the language.  We did over a number of years ask individuals in the local community with family in the relevant state for help, but always the family members back in India would refuse to do anything.  No middle class Indians we could find wanted to wander around rural India looking for the girls’ parents, knowing that a broader adoption scandal in the state had rendered the situation potentially volatile.   It took us years to find a local Indian census map detailed enough to contain the name of such a small village; it took years to find the activist for the poor willing to go into a poor rural village, and with sensitivity make the right inquiries.   And even then her initial inquiries were rebuffed by those in the village; it took persistence and the right approach on her part to get the people to admit they knew the people involved.    We could have never done this alone. 

Eighth, the girls’ accusations, while extremely serious and deserving of immediate investigation, left a lot of critically-important, unresolved questions:  questions that could only be resolved by finding the family and discretely obtaining the truth.  There was literally no way for white Americans who didn’t speak the language to go to a tiny rural village and discretely make such inquiries, for our very presence in such a place would have created a sensation.  Again, without help of the right kind, we were helpless.   

Finally, perhaps most ironic of all (as I write this to explain why we did NOT immediately hop on a plane and head to India to search for the family) is the fact that there was considerable pressure from the adoption community to NOT take the girls allegations seriously.  We were literally told that continuing to consider the possibility that the girls’ allegations were true meant that we were evidencing a lack of commitment to our new daughters—that we were BAD parents.  We were told that we should simply buckle down and parent these kids.  We were told that there was “no way back for these kids” and therefore the sooner we came to terms with that, the sooner the girls would get beyond their emotional disturbance and settle in.  And so, ironically, for years and years the accusations against us were exactly the opposite of your accusation against us.  We were castigated for taking our daughters’ allegations seriously and—horrors!—the unmentionable, unspoken implication in the back of others’ minds: that we might even consider returning the girls if they had been stolen.    That’s what you call damned if you do and damned if you don’t.   The victims of the crime get blamed more than those responsible for the crime.

We were encouraged  by the adoption community during this early confusing time to interpret what the girls said as the opposite of face value.  If they said they hated us and missed their parents, we were to interpret that to mean that they loved us and really wanted us as parents but were afraid of rejection.

This is one reason why I speak of the adoption myth belief system.   How could anyone judge what is true or false in anything when presented with this kind of double-think?  And how could a child who actually WAS stolen ever be heard when everything she says must be subject to reinterpretation?  And when returning her to her parents is seen as immoral?  Three years into our adoption a psychologist actually told me that she could not be involved in our case if indeed we were to find out the girls were stolen, that returning the girls to their parents was even a remote possibility in my mind.—and I hadn’t even broached the subject.  The psychologist’s mind was just racing along the implications of finding out the truth.

Where is the normative information against which to judge whether particular behaviors and levels of emotional disturbance are outside the normal range and therefore might warrant setting aside reinterpretation strategies?  Are reinterpretation strategies ever correct?  Mostly correct?  Never correct?  Sometimes correct?  Who judges?

Are original families unfit to parent their own children if they live in societies that disrespect women?  Where does one set the bar?  Who’s to judge?  By whose standards?

So, Dana, you see, there were no easy answers.  There were only struggles.  And confusion.  And trying to pick between interpretations when we had little to no basis on which to do so.

If we had received the help we needed in 1998/1999, things would have been very different.  The family should have been found, the truth ascertained, and children returned, right then, at the beginning.

It isn’t easy to write a blog about this stuff.  It’s hard.  It’s about the search for justice when society doesn’t care.  It’s an attempt to get society to CARE by exposing the cruelty and injustice and ugliness of that which tries to pass itself off as good.  It’s an attempt to try to break the hold of the adoption myth on our society.    It’s an attempt to get people to wake up and extend the same human understandings of emotions, of a child’s love for her parents, and a parent’s love for her children to everyone—even and especially to first mothers and their children.    The wrong that was done against the girls’ parents cannot be fixed.  It could only have been fixed in the first year or two. 

Of course, it’s not OK that we didn’t fix it.  We bear the guilt for that even if we aren’t strictly speaking morally culpable (and had no criminal intent in adopting—we didn’t. We were the patsies).  And we live with it every day.  We were ignorant.  We were naïve.   Though we were looking for answers diligently, we didn’t find the answers in time. 

We are dedicated to ensuring that society is no longer naïve and ignorant about these things. 

We are dedicated to learning and understanding more about these things and sharing that knowledge with others.  Truth is an elephant surrounded by blind men.  I want to understand the perspectives of all the blind men and synthesize them into a holistic understanding.  I’m tired of the perspective of one blind man (the adoption industry) being presented as the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  And I don’t want to substitute another blind man’s truth for the whole truth either.  I want to listen to all and synthesize them into an ever-evolving, ever-learning, ever-refined, complicated understanding that can then be used to help control this elephant of adoption so that it stops hurting people and is harnessed and trained and modified (and the more I learn the more I think it HAS to modified).


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Vacuous US Government Assurances Regarding China & Child Laundering: Do They Really Think We’re This Dumb ( Or Are They This Dumb)?

The following notice about adoption from China appeared last August on the US State Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs Intercountry Adoption page for China:


August 15, 2011

Notice: Concerns About Information on the Background of Children Adopted from China

The press has reported allegations that in 2005 local family planning officials in China, in the name of enforcing the “One Child Policy,” seized children from their birth families and sold them to orphanages. Embassy Beijing has been in touch with China’s Centre for Children’s Welfare and Adoption (CCCWA) about the allegations mentioned in the articles and CCCWA has promised updates on their investigations when they have further information. We are not aware of any intercountry adoption by a U.S. family that has been confirmed to be linked to these alleged actions.

In response to these concerns, we would like to remind adopting parents that verification of a child’s eligibility for intercountry adoption is an integral part of the intercountry adoption process. If there is evidence that documents may have been falsified or are not accurate, then officials at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate conduct an investigation before the visa is approved. If you wish to get more information on your child’s background, we suggest that you contact the adoption service provider that assisted you with the adoption.

If you have any further questions about this notice please contact the Office of Children’s Issues at: 1-888-407-4747 within the United States or 202-501-4444 from outside the United States.

More than 37,000 children were adopted into the United States from China during the boom years of 2000 through 2005. During that time, most (including myself) thought that the Chinese adoption system was almost completely free of child laundering---free of practices that illicitly obtain children through purchase, fraud, or kidnapping. (Of course, there has always been the underlying issue of the role of coercive population control policies as a significant factor in abandonments.) Since then, there has been an unending and growing series of revelations indicating that by 2002, and probably beginning by 2000, there was systematic misconduct in how children were obtained for intercountry adoption. It has now reached the point where these concerns and revelations have become publicized even within China, and where many adoptive parents have become aware of these difficulties.

This places those who adopted from China during these years in an enormously difficult situation, and sets the stage, as this generation of Chinese adoptees grows up, of a generation of Chinese adult adoptees wondering whether they were purchased or stolen children.

In this context, one might have thought that the governments involved would feel some sense of responsibility and ownership, given that every one of these adoptions was approved by both China and the United States. Instead, one sees an enormous face-saving set of denials. Given the authoritarian nature of the Chinese government, one may have expected that in China. For Americans, however, it is embarrassing to see our own government similarly engage in face-saving denial, for it indicates a government more concerned with saving its own reputation than in the best interests of the children and adults whose lives were directly impacted.

Consider the most recent U.S. Government public statement on this issue, posted on the official State Department adoption web site in August 2011, and linked and copied below. Notice the use of meaningless assurances, which one does not have to be a lawyer (as I am) to spot. For example, we are told that various parts of the Chinese government are involved in responding to these allegations and conducting investigations. While it has been true that sometimes the Chinese government conducts face-saving prosecutions that do go so far as to prosecute some individuals, we also know that the Chinese government tends to issue denials that any of the trafficked children ended up being placed overseas for adoption, and tends to minimize the scope of the scandals they investigate, due to their concern with maintaining the positive reputation of their adoption program. Is the United States government really telling us to trust that the Chinese government would tell us if they discovered that large numbers of trafficked children had been adopted into other countries? Do the U.S. government officials who wrote this really themselves believe that the Chinese government would publicize such facts if they discovered them?

Then, the U.S. government tells us that they are “not aware” of any U.S. adoptions which have been “confirmed” to be linked to a specific subset of these wrongs: the seizures of children by population control officials. A key word here is “confirmed.” The reason such has not been confirmed is that the Chinese government would not admit it if they had confirmed such a fact and the United States government does not itself investigate such allegations once the children have arrived in the United States. Without adequate investigation, such cases can never be “confirmed.” You cannot confirm what you do not investigate.

I will use my own experience as an example. We adopted two older girls from India who turned out to be laundered/trafficked children wrongfully taken from their family. We informed the United States government and the government of India. Yet, neither government ever conducted any investigations of these cases. Thus, even though we have done reunions with their family in India and have documented in detail that the children were adopted without consent and with false paperwork, in an official sense, these remain “unconfirmed” cases. And, of course, our own actions in informing the governments involved and conducting our own confirming investigations is relatively rare. In most instances where adoptive families suspect that the children may have been trafficked or laundered, they are far too frightened to either inform the government s involved, or investigate. And even among the minority of families that carry out their own independent investigations and confirm the wrongdoing, only a smaller minority ever informs the governments involved of what they have themselves discovered.

So, in short, it is entirely cynical for the government that fails to conduct the investigations necessary to “confirm” such cases to issue vacuous assurances. It would be like a government claiming that the crime rate is down after they systematically decide not to prosecute crimes.

The state department further assures us:

Verification of a child’s eligibility for intercountry adoption is an integral part of the intercountry adoption process. If there is evidence that documents may have been falsified or are not accurate, then officials at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate conduct an investigation before the visa is approved.

These assurances are similarly misplaced. First, the visa approval processes the government mentions here occurred before the children arrived in the United States; in terms of China before 2005 there were few suspicions that there was any wrongdoing, and hence presumably no such individualized investigations were conducted by the U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Second, in China relinquishment of a child is illegal, and hence adopted children were all officially “abandoned,” generally without any paperwork identifying their original families. This makes any after the fact investigation extremely difficult. Third, the normal processes for intercountry adoption would involve the United States government simply reviewing documentation of the child’s status as adoptable as provided by governments or others in the country of origin. Where the child is obtained through force, fraud, or funds, false paperwork is provided indicating the child was properly abandoned or relinquished, and then everything proceeds based upon a review of the false paperwork. Child laundering scandals in numerous nations, including China, as well as Guatemala, Cambodia, India, Vietnam, Samoa, and others, have indicated that this normal review of documents process is totally ineffective in screening out children who have been illicitly obtained.

So why does the government provide us with these disingenuous set of false but vacuous assurances? Presumably, the government believes that they can get away with it, and can appear to be responding to the publicized scandals in a purportedly responsible way. It is up to the diverse adoption community---adoptees, adoptive families, agencies, scholars, and original families (although usually powerless and voiceless) to let the government know that we are not fooled---nor are we amused---by this verbal sleight of hand.


Notice: Concerns About Information on the Background of Children Adopted From China, US Department of State, 15 August 2011