Updated 2013/04/20 at 8:27 pm – scroll to bottom of post to read update.
Journalist Kathryn Joyce has a new book out called The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption about (guess what) the Evangelical Christian adoption movement. It’s a fascinating read, enlightening even for those of us who thought they knew something about the problems with the adoption industry. I interviewed Kathryn for Buzzfeed; here’s a bit:
One of the most striking things about your book is how many people use adoption to add to already large families, and adopt multiple children — perhaps more than they can handle.
A big reason Christians are adopting is because in a lot of Evangelical churches the idea of the “orphan crisis” is compelling a huge amount of advocacy. That’s the idea, commonly held in these churches, that there is a global crisis composed of hundreds of millions of orphans. There are a lot of reasons why that number is really misleading and has confused people about the actual status of orphans around the world — to start, many of those children are not orphans as we think of the term, but live with a parent or extended family. But in a lot of these churches that idea, of many millions of orphans in need, has led to the assumption that it’s the Christian mission to take these children in, that this best reflects the Gospel. Families hearing this message start to have the idea that children are in incredibly desperate circumstances and adoption into any family in America — but especially to a Christian family — is going to be a vast improvement over their current situation. So families with the best of intentions start having this approach to adoption that amounts to, “We have room for one more.” And they have room for one more whether they have three biological children or whether they have ten biological children. If you are casting the orphan crisis in these very stark terms that there are hundreds of millions of children who are bereft of family and hope, it does become this argument that anything you can give them is better than what they have. A shared bedroom with four other children is going to be an improvement.
However, one of the criticisms from adoption reformers is that these families become so large that they are sometimes replicating an orphanage setting. It’s been proven many times over that children growing up in institutions suffer serious developmental delays because they are not getting enough attention and stimulation. But when some families grow to fifteen or twenty kids, arguably they start to resemble orphanages themselves. There have been some ridiculously oversized families, like one with 76 children in the Pacific Northwest, and there has been some commentary that these families are turning into de facto institutionalized settings. These adoptions may be undertaken with good intentions, but sometimes they’re based in a misguided savior mentality. They’re not based on the needs of an individual child, but driven by a sense of mission. People can end up adopting way more children than they are perhaps capable of properly caring for.
Some of these multiple adopters who spend enormous sums of money and energy on adoption, even depleting their savings and retirement funds to grow their families into the dozens, frankly strike me as child hoarders. When people adopt large numbers of animals they can’t properly care for, authorities and public health officials step in (or at least are supposed to). What’s the role of adoption agencies in all of this? Do they have an obligation to cut people off when they’re adopting children in double-digit-sized families?
Adoption services and providers do home studies of families that are trying to adopt children either domestically or overseas. There has been a lot of criticism that the agencies and service providers that are doing these home studies are not always thorough enough in looking at whether these families are qualified to adopt children, especially if the children are coming with serious health issues or traumas. Sometimes in these extremely big families, children can enter outside of formal channels. Children can be adopted from failed adoptions from other families that didn’t work out. There have even been stories of families that failed their home studies, which is pretty rare to begin with, adopting by taking children from other families whose adoptions were disrupted or dissolved. Both of those things show some serious loopholes in the protections that are currently in the law.
Some families with double-digit numbers of children have been cut off by the state. It has happened. I don’t think we want to get into the business of saying that families can’t have the number of children they want to have, either biologically or by adoption. But home study agencies should be more attuned to the ways that adoptions have failed before in some of the same communities, and be more alert to the risks.
What’s needed even more than that, though, is a little more reflection from the people who are doing the adopting themselves. There are some serious and real stories of children who have been abused by adoptive parents, but a lot of the time even in the worst cases, parents entered into this with good intentions. But good intentions are not equivalent to being adequately prepared to adopted traumatized children or take huge numbers of children into their families. The thing that needs to change at the root is the mission-driven mentality that is driving lots of these adoptive parents to think that they are automatically qualified, without training, to take on adoptions that would be challenging to any parent.
There has been a lot of emphasis on the orphan crisis, and Christians have been called so forcefully to get involved that there hasn’t been enough attention given to whether people are actually prepared to do this. And overwhelmingly, these are children who could have been helped in ways other than adoption. Many of them are coming from poor families or families not given adequate support or families that are being misled about what Western adoptions actually are. These are families that need help, but it’s not always the help of taking poor children away from their communities. What’s needed is helping children have stable and more successful communities.
The full interview is here.
UPDATE 2013/04/20 at 8:27 pm : all comments on this post are now being filtered into the moderation queue, so further comments may take some time to appear. The moderation team thanks you in advance for your patience.
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