Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Corrupting Influence of the United States on a Vulnerable Intercountry Adoption System: A Guide for Stakeholders, Hague and Non-Hague Nations, NGOs, and Concerned Parties

The above-titled draft article by one of our bloggers, David Smolin, is posted and available for free download on his bepress site linked below.  

The article analyzes the corrupting influence of the United States on the development and present workings of the intercountry adoption system.  A context for this corrupting influence is provided through a careful analysis of the theoretical and practical vulnerabilities of the intercountry adoption system.  The distinctive approaches of the United States to social work, adoption, human rights, children's rights, constitutional law and humanitarian intervention also provides further context.

The article is designed to be practical in providing proposals for those interested in reforming the United States' approach to intercountry adoption and related matters.   The article also seeks to provide relevant information for governments, NGOs, and others in nations who interact with or consider interacting with the United States on these issues.While the article provides a clearly defended point of view, it seeks to also take account of diverse viewpoints, both within and outside of the United States.

The article goes beyond the author's prior analyses of the distinctive problems of child laundering/child trafficking in intercountry adoption, to provide a rigorous analysis of both the global effort to construct a viable, safe, reliable and ethical intercountry adoption system, and the roles of the United States in relationship to that effort.

This is a draft version in advance of forthcoming publication in the Journal of Law and Families Studies and the Utah Law Review, so there will be some errors.   The article is also very long!   Comments are welcome below in this blog's comments section.

Friday, September 06, 2013

The Liberal Roots of the Modern Adoption Movement

Two of our Fleasbiting bloggers--David and Desiree Smolin--were asked to write one of the three "cover stories" for the second issue of a new online magazine, "Gazillion Voices."  (We'll soon be posting more about Gazillion Voices--an effort we enthusiastically support--in another blog post)

Our finished liberalism and adoption piece is titled, "The Liberal Roots of the Modern Adoption Movement."

Here are the first few paragraphs.  (To read the rest of the essay, please click on the link at the end.  It will take you to Gazillion Voices.)

Please leave any comments you might have either here or at the end of the article in Gazillion Voices.


by David Smolin and Desiree Smolin


            Gazillion Voices provided us with the assignment of writing something about liberalism and adoption. We accepted the assignment largely because we agree with the purposes of Gazillion Voices to provide a platform for “adoptees and their allies” and to provide topics and content that will “reframe and reshape the conversation about adoption.” We like to think that we are among the allies! Nonetheless, the topic is awkward for us for several reasons. First, as long-term critics of adoption systems, we have tried to appeal to legal rules or broadly shared values, rather than to a narrow set of values that appeal primarily only to a specific group. The primary exception, our work on the evangelical Christian adoption movement, involves us as evangelicals critiquing evangelicals, using the religious beliefs we share with that group as a common basis for communication. Second, while we would characterize ourselves as political moderates, it would be more accurate to say that most of our adult lives have been spent in difficult spaces between political and other contesting groups. Unfortunately, in addressing the subject of liberalism and adoption we are stepping into new territory likely to make even more people unhappy with us. 

            Adoptees, of course, like all people,  run the spectrum of political, cultural, and religious perspectives. Nonetheless, much activist adoptee discourse critiquing various aspects of adoption has employed popular or scholarly language that is progressive, liberal, or “left” in rhetoric, reference, and tone. Added to this tendency has been the new wave of largely progressive critique of the recent evangelical Christian adoption movement. Further, activists addressing the long history and current circumstance of Korean adoptions are often reacting against elements of American and Korean culture and practice that are variously religious, conservative, and traditionalist. All of this can give  the impression that disputes over adoption, or specific aspects like transracial or intercountry adoption, are primarily left-right disputes.

            We argue, to the contrary, that the modern adoption movement has become embedded in all major streams of American culture. (In referring to the “modern adoption movement,” we are focusing on the popularization and expansion of adoption in the post-World War II era, including both intercountry adoption and domestic adoption.) Indeed, liberal and progressive thought is at the center of the modern adoption movement. Thus, any attempt to “reframe and reshape the conversation about adoption,” as Gazillion Voices and many others seek to do, must address the liberal roots of the modern adoption movement. We further challenge activist “adoptees and allies” who identify themselves as progressive, liberal, or left politically, to take the lead in critiquing the role of their own self-identified cultural/political/religious paradigms in the modern adoption movement. Adoption discourse that merely reinforces religious, political, or cultural identities and prejudices will become swallowed up in the broader fragmentation of cultural and religious values, and will do little to actually reform adoption.  


Politics, religion, and culture have become embedded in intertwined identifies defined in opposition to stereotyped images of enemy others. One such polarization is between secular liberals and evangelical Christians, who  so often  vilify one another. Yet, as to adoption, secular liberals and evangelical Christians fundamentally agree and, indeed, have agreed for years. This agreement is sometimes hidden by differences in vocabulary and justifications, with each side using rhetoric that the other may sometimes find repugnant. The agreement across this polarized divide is a part of a broader American consensus on adoption, from which each group draws. Americans share a common understanding of what adoption is, a common belief in the “facts” of adoption, a common view of themselves and the “other” in relation to adoption, and a common undifferentiated belief in adoption as the best solution to many child welfare problems. This American understanding reflects a naive blindness to the roles of self-interest in adoption, a disinterest in the power/privilege/gender inequality/class/wealth-differentials that drive and have always driven adoption, as we understand it, and a common ignorance of the history of the institution of adoption.

Friday, August 16, 2013

The "Baby Veronica" Case and the Abuse of Adoption

Amidst the conflicting claims regarding the actions and character of the parties contending for custody of almost-four year old Veronica, it is the undisputed facts that seem most significant.  Dusten Brown is Veronica’s father.  Dusten Brown has fought for Veronica from the time, when she was four months old, that he became aware that Veronica’s mother wanted to place her for adoption.  (There is much dispute about what happened during the pregnancy and in those first four months, but no substantive dispute about what happened since then.)   The adoptive parents had the opportunity to let go then, at four months, with comparatively little trauma to Veronica, but instead fought in court against Dusten, delaying  the handover of Vernonica to her father until she was 27 months old.   It is further undisputed that Dusten, along with his parents and wife, form a loving and successful family environment for Veronica, and that she has thrived with them for the last 19 months.

Whatever the law may say, ethically the result is clear:  Veronica should remain with her family.   This is true not only because it would be traumatic for her to be moved, again, although that is certainly relevant.  More fundamentally, Veronica should remain with her father and family because adoption should never be used to take children away from a loving family.

Remember when adoption was supposed to about providing families for “orphan” children, or for children from abuse or neglect so severe that, after reasonable efforts to rehabilitate and preserve the family, there was no way to make the family a reasonably safe place?     Unfortunately, adoption all too often has become about the desire of adoptive parents to parent, rather than the needs of a child for a home.   There is nothing wrong with wanting to parent a child, but everything wrong with taking someone else’s child to do so.  

The Veronica case is distinctive because of the issues surrounding tribal citizenship and the Indian Child Welfare Act, but the basic scenario of adoptive families fighting to wrest or retain children from original family members is all too commonplace.   It is very unfortunate that the law too often is structured to side with adoptive parents in these settings.   However, it is even more unfortunate that adoptive parents who have a child for a few days, weeks, or months before becoming aware that the original mother or father want the child, feel justified in fighting to keep what they deem as “their” child. 

In this case, it is particularly unjust that the adoptive couple have sought, and the South Carolina courts granted, an order taking Veronica from her father and family, without even a best interests hearing.   It is ironic that the adoptive parents make the argument that the transfer should be done quickly for Veronica’s sake, when in terms of Veronica’s best interests there is no indication that the transfer should take place at all.   Indeed, if the adoptive couple had wanted to minimize Veronica’s trauma they would have returned the child to her father as soon as he sought it, when she was four months old.   This case has become a revealing illustration of the determination of adoptive parents to obtain, take, and keep children, regardless of whether those children indeed have a parent and family who love and want them. 

Others have noted a certain religious backdrop to this case, related primarily to organizations supporting the adoptive parents or involved in the adoption who claim a religious purpose or affiliation---specifically Christian.    Without claiming to evaluate those ties, my belief as a Christian is that, regardless of what the courts decide as a matter of legal right, the adoptive parents should allow Veronica to remain with her father and family.   Perhaps they can work out some access to Veronica, perhaps not:  but they should honor Veronica’s family relationships.  Indeed, one wonders whether the determination to wrest Veronica from her father could be viewed as a kind of coveting of another’s child, and if successful as a kind of child stealing:   violations of the 8th and 10th commandments. 

The Christian community—and especially the Christian adoption movement-- should see the Veronica case as an opportunity to establish several fundamental principles, without which adoption becomes exploitation and sin.   Adoption should not be used as a means to take children from their original family when that family loves and wants them, and is able to provide a positive and safe environment for them.   In regard to the tribal aspects of the case, it needs to be made clear that the Christian community has no desire to use the power of the state or law to wrest children away from their original communities for the sake of “Christianizing” them or separating them from their birth cultures, as was done so often in the past.   This case is an opportunity for the Christian adoption movement to clearly repudiate the shameful history of the use of adoption and other means to accomplish a kind of cultural genocide.   This case is also an opportunity to make clear that there is a strong priority for children to be raised, whenever possible, by their biological parents, and that therefore biological parents have priority over prospective adoptive parents.   Once these priorities are established, then adoption can be reserved for those instances when it is truly needed for the benefit of children.

In regard to the fate of Veronica herself, of course, I lack access to all of the facts.  I know nothing except what is in the public record.    I can only hope and pray that the courts and all of the parties will ultimately be guided to a just result that will truly be in Veronica’s best interests.   It has been immensely saddening, however, to see how willing so much of the media has been to ratify as normal the sense of entitlement to Veronica that the adoptive parents are expressing, and so unwilling to consider the claims of a father who has for so long sought nothing more than to raise his own daughter.   There is something amiss in our cultural concept of adoption that is begging to be corrected.

David Smolin