Tuesday, May 20, 2014

We Can Do Better: A Call to Move Beyond Adoption as We Know It

There was a time in history when children without parents or extended family members to care for them ended up in poor houses, orphan asylums, or baby farms, all of which were pretty horrid places. One could certainly argue that the societal shift from viewing unattached children as potential sources of labor, as in indentured servitude, to viewing them as children to be raised as one's own offspring represented a clear improvement. But the horrors of the past do not excuse us from looking critically at the institutions of the present. We can focus on moving forward, rather than back. We do not have to accept the status quo as merely "better than before" or "good enough." We can do better.

Let's take a clear look at adoption as it exists today. Is it an institution that truly exists to meet the needs of children who lack parents or other family members to care for them? In the foster system there are certainly a number of children who are in need of the love and permanency that adoption can provide, but there are also many who might not have ended up there in the first place if our social structures were different. Many at-risk families could benefit from family preservation/strengthening services early on, before kids come into state care, but this is not an area where our society chooses to place funds. Also, many of today's adopters are not drawn to adopt the older, traumatized children found in the foster system.

Instead, they want babies--and the current domestic infant adoption system can hardly be said to be primarily about finding parents for children who need them. There are far more prospective adopters than there are available infants. This situation has led to an industry rife with corruption and coercion. The desires and dollars of prospective adopters, combined with cultural biases against young parents and a societal structure marked by an ever widening gap between age of sexual activity and age of financial stability, have led to an untenable situation. These are not the orphans of yesteryear. These are "orphans with parents," who also happen to be valuable commodities. Unethical adoption agencies, rather than serving the true needs of children, have become have become agents in the creation of "parentless" children, at times using highly questionable methods to separate children from living parents and place them (for a substantial fee) with others.

In inter-country adoption, it can be nearly impossible for prospective adopters, however well-intentioned, to distinguish true orphans from those whose biological families did not give full, informed consent and even from those who were outright kidnapped. And even in situations in which the child's parents are actually deceased, the complete separation of the child from his or her culture, language, and birth identity is an extreme measure. Is this truly in the best interest of the child? (Many adult international adoptees would argue that it is not.)

Are there some children who are helped by adoption? Are there some who end up in situations that seem better than what they might have otherwise experienced? Are there agencies that are more ethical than others? Are there adoptive parents who are compassionate, moral, and committed to supporting their adopted children as they process loss and find their way in the world as members of more than one family? Yes.

Does any of that excuse us from the responsibility of looking at the flaws in the current system and seeking ways to move forward to something better? Absolutely not.

Stuart Miles www.freedigitalphotos.net

This post was originally published at Sea Glass & Other Fragments.

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