Saturday, February 26, 2011

Adoption, Ethics, and child trafficking

Kind of a depressing topic… But I’ve had several responses to my comments in our adoption timeline about my FREAKOUT about the ethics and issues surrounding international adoption. In all my reading and research about adoption, it wasn’t until we began the process that I was exposed to and began to seriously consider 1) the loss every adopted person has experienced 2) the major ethical concerns you need to be aware of as you approach international adoption. All I’d ever seen (and this could have been totally because of my own blindness) was a happy Christian perspective, “I rescued this child, they are thankful, we are happy forever.” I mean…praise GOD for adoption, it is a picture of our relationship with Him, and a beautiful thing. But there IS an ugly side.

Obviously, we’ve decided to move ahead – despite the issues, there are children who need loving families, and we believe God has called us to answer by bringing one of those children into our family. But we want to be aware of the depth of loss we’re bringing into our family, and prepared to walk with our 3rd child through those losses. And we want to be EXTRA careful as we proceed, making sure to the extent we’re able that we’re communicating and working in ethical ways.

Since I know several of you have asked the same questions about ethics, I thought I’d share a couple of things I’ve come across that have been VERY helpful for me (and just good for anyone to read who’s concerned about the orphan crisis.)

The first is a blog post on the Idea Camp blog. Idea Camp is happening this weekend in Arkansas, and focuses on brainstorming ideas for how the church in America can address the orphan crisis. I’ve been so encouraged to see that they’re including voices from all sides, not just “adopt a child, save a life, be happy forever!” And the focus is not only adopting children in need into western families, but also doing something to help the millions of children who are not adoptable, or who are starving despite having families. They are talking about doing something about what is CAUSING the orphan crisis.

If you’re interested at all in these issues, you should read A Dad… And an Advocate. It’s written by an adoptive father who is also president of an organization working to end trafficking. It’s a great summary of the issues I’ve been working through.

To read the whole thing, click on the link above. Here’s just a snippet:

I get concerned when I see an approach of “finding children for families” within the adoption world. This only increases “demand”, and demand fuels the trafficking and exploitation of children. Our approach instead, must be one of finding families for children. And this needs to include extended family or foster/adoptive families within the child’s own country. While I believe that most intercountry adoptions are ethical and not corrupted by child trafficking, the issues still exist and must be addressed.

I think often times we are much better at dealing with the consequences and results of these systemic issues than we are at preventing them. Building more safehomes is not the answer to ending child trafficking, just as adoption is not the solution to the growing number of children who are orphaned. These responses are compassionate, loving and effective acts made necessary by the above causes.

William Sloane Coffin Jr. said; “To show compassion for an individual without showing concern for the structures of society that make him an object of compassion is to be sentimental rather than loving.”

It’s been so helpful to me as I’ve wrestled through these issues to see that others are thinking and wrestling through these same things (and there were days when I thought I was going to have to give up the dream of being an adoptive family because of these issues – I just didn’t know if we could proceed in good conscience.)

I was so encouraged to see the following anonymous post on one of the Ugandan adoption groups I’ve joined. It’s basically a “how-to” guide for making sure you’re proceeding in an ethical manner.

It’s kind of long… But I’ve had so many people privately email or message me that they’re working through these same issues (or that, like me, these issues may keep them from considering international adoption), I thought I’d go ahead and share it here. The Idea Camp blog is good for anyone to read, just to be aware of this world that we live in. The following will probably be most helpful for others who are considering adoption…

I wanted to write a little bit about ethical adoptions in Uganda. I'm not prepared to put anything on my blog yet, so I thought I'd keep it here among "friends" only right now. I’ve been getting LOTS of emails lately talking about this. I’ve also been getting a ton of interest in adopting from Uganda. With everything going on in Ethiopia, we should be prepared for a new rush of interest in the UG program. Which is on one hand, good. Because there are a lot of children in Uganda that need families. But here's the problem. The majority of families are interested in adopting an infant. I can say that about 95% of the families I talk to are only interested in adopting babies. This scares me for the UG program. Because I’ve seen how quickly this can get out of control.
One of the reasons I was initially drawn to the Uganda program was that while we wanted to adopt a child under age 2, I didn't want to contribute to the unethical behavior, the "supply and demand" feeling I got from certain other countries. I knew that in Uganda there were babies actually sitting in orphanages, eligible to be adopted. From what I can tell, this isn't really the case now. There are now lines of families waiting and waiting to adopt infants from Uganda
Yes, there are infants in Uganda that need adoptive families. But there are far more families wanting to adopt them then there are ADOPTABLE* infants in Uganda.
I have continued to hear disturbing reports from Uganda of people in the slums "looking" for babies that can be adopted. Every-time I hear people tell me they are asking an attorney to "find them a baby" I get really really nervous. We should not be finding babies for families or asking others to do so! This is opposite of how this program should work!
Find families for children in need, not children for families that “want”. (I heard that somewhere, can’t remember where but it is true!) I understand wanting a baby quickly - I really, really do. But folks, this is going going to end up just like the other countries that have been shut down - Cambodia, Guatemala, Vietnam, etc. if we don't demand ethical adoptions with the priority on children waiting for families.
So, I'd thought I'd write up some of my ideas of how we can encourage ethical adoptions in Uganda. What do you tell families asking you? Any more suggestions?
1. Only adopt from a registered and approved baby home. Don't ask attorneys or people in Uganda to "find" you a baby. This will get out of hand very quickly (it's already started). If you are adopting from an unregistered home, why aren’t they registered? Make sure nothing illegal is going on. There have been people in UG offering Americans children from orphanages that don’t even exist. Be aware that scams happen.
2. Be prepared to wait for your baby. You don't want people in Uganda to feel pressured to produce a referral for you quickly, you want a child that truly needs a family to be matched with one. Sometimes this takes a while, especially if you're working with a registered and approved home. They often have waiting lists. After babies come into homes, once the investigations are done and everyone is SURE international adoption is the best thing for this child, they are cleared for adoption and they will be matched with the next eligible family. This can take time as you make your way to the top of the list.
3. Obtain an independent background investigation of your child's background. Hire someone else to do this, not associated with your attorney or the orphanage (some agencies already do this). The attorney and orphanage WANT this child to be adoptable, find someone who is not directly involved or profiting from this adoption. Better yet, go investigate the background yourself.
3. Talk to the PO (probation officer) or police officers that have dealt with this child's case. Talk to family members and guardians. Do they understand what adoption means? Make sure there is no confusion, find a good translator to make sure they understand. Was an advertisement put in the paper asking relatives to come forward? Did it run for long enough and was in the area the child is from? Is there a Ugandan family willing to adopt this child
4. Ask relatives/guardians why they want the child to be adopted. Is it simply because they are poor? If so, if a sponsor was found for their family would they want to keep the child? Try to keep the family together if at all possible.
5. Consider branching out of your originally requested age range/request. Can you consider a child slightly older? With medical needs? There are so many beautiful children just sitting in orphanages waiting for families.
If you’re with an agency I’d ask the following questions:
1. What is your focus - do you only place infants or do you place waiting children too
2. What orphanages do you work with? How are children referred to your agency
3. Who does the child’s background investigation? Who explains adoption to any relatives or guardians?
4. Are families relinquishing their children given any other options for keeping their family together?
5. What does your agency do to encourage family preservation?
6. What humanitarian aid do you offer in Uganda?
7. Do you have someone traveling to Uganda regularly to check on things
8. Are you Hague approved? If not, was it denied?
9. What attorney do you use in Uganda (research them too even if you’re using an agency!)?
10. Why is your wait for a referral so much shorter than other agencies (if this is the case).
Any other suggestions for ensuring ethical adoptions in this beautiful country? I’d love to hear them!
*Not every baby in a babies home can or should be adopted by foreign families. Many have families who will come for them some day. Some can be adopted in Uganda. Some have relatives who don't want them but won't release them for adoption (which makes me so sad).

If you’ve read this far, thanks :). And I’d love to hear your thoughts if you’ve asked similar questions.