If you do a google search, a blog search, a twitter search….any kind of search…on the topic of international adoption, you will get thousands of hits on feel good stories, blogs, books and even youtube videos that will make you tear up (oh yes, I have one of those too!) and that will inspire you to adopt. There is no shortage of feel-good adoption material available to anyone looking.
What you won’t readily find are the stories of international adoption gone wrong. They are out there but they are hard to find. Embarrassment, humiliation, a rightful desire to shield our adopted children or protect ourselves and our families from the (even far-reaching) possibility of losing a child we love, fear of lawsuit and contractual gag orders all work collectively to keep parents quiet. Those that speak out are often attacked, viciously, by people who want badly to believe this doesn’t happen and will go to any length to discredit those who threaten that perception. Even in this age when big players in the international adoption business – Guatemala, Cambodia, Vietnam, Liberia – have halted programs due to lack of transparency and corruption; even when award-winning articles such as The Lie We Love that have gone viral throughout adoption communities; even when prime time media is daring to ‘go there’ and expose adoption corruption in countries previously considered ‘clean’, such as China, international adoption still has the reputation of being the Safe Choice.
Ask any group of adoptive parents why they chose to adopt internationally and you will undoubtedly hear many answers that involve this perception of safety: the birth mother won’t change her mind, the birth mother won’t try to reclaim the baby, the birth family won’t live nearby so contact will be a non-issue, the children will not come with the damage of abuse and neglect so prevalent in the US foster care system and you are guaranteed a baby, eventually.
Add to that the perception, even in the face of massive education efforts to rise above such thought processes, that we are saving a child and you have a whole new set of reasons why international adoption is the Safe Choice. They won’t grow up in a disease-ridden, impoverished state. They won’t grow up having to work the field at 7 years old. They will have an education. They will not have to live in an orphanage. International adoption seems like the safe choice for adoptive family and adoptee.
For those of us who have lived a different truth either through international adoption directly as a member of the triad, through volunteering at a third world orphanage and being witness to corruption first hand, through investigative journalism or simply by keeping eyes and ears wide open to the possibilities and balancing information against the source, we know that the fallacy that international adoptions exist as the Safe Option is alive and well in this country.
I’ve been reading, with interest, the reaction to EJ Graff’s reporting on adoption corruption including her most recently posted adoption slideshow. Of most interest to me is the label loosely slapped on her by adoptive parents and perspective adoptive parents: anti-adoption. This is a label we at VVAI and other adoption advocacy groups are no stranger to. We hear it all the time, most typically from waiting parents and those who somehow make their living off the perception that international adoption is not only the Safe Choice but a vast need. Our opinions are a threat. Exposing the myth of the Safe Choice is a threat. Therefore the conclusion must be that we are anti-adoption.
But I think it’s time to set the record straight: adoption advocates and those who work tirelessly to educate, expose corruption and work for reform are not anti-adoption.
We at VVAI are all adoptive parents who have experienced miracles through our adoption experiences. Most adoption advocacy groups are filled with members of the triad – those who have direct experience with the issues they advocate for. Sometimes it’s important to look at the motive of those whose voices we hear: What would possibly be the motive for being “anti-adoption”?
On the contrary, the benefits to us all from exposing corruption and working for a multi-pronged solution for children in need are far greater than the benefits from pretending it does not exist or misrepresenting the need for international adoption as greater than it is.
- By exposing corrupt agency practices as well as players overseas, we empower parents to be aware and avoid falling victim to these same practices during their own adoption process. The result is that more families complete successful adoptions.
- By advocating for humanitarian aid and domestic adoption programs before intercountry adoption, we reduce the likelihood that any given country program will collapse under the weight of demand-driven corruption that so often follows high-traffic international adoption programs.
- By advocating for a clear, transparent process on all sides, we pave the way for our children’s histories to arrive with them, intact, and gift them with the opportunity for greater understanding that is lacking so often in international adoption.
The irony here is that the very people who often are considered to be the biggest threat to international adoption are often the ones working the hardest and doing the most to try to preserve adoptions. We want every child to have a family to love them. But perpetuating the myth that most children in orphanages do not have loving families, that most children in need of homes are healthy infants or that international adoption is the only or the best solution has directly contributed to the destruction of the very adoption programs we all held so dear – including the program in Vietnam.
I believe we share some truths even with our readers who disagree with us the most:
- No one intentionally hopes for or pursues an unethical or corrupt adoption.
- We all think child trafficking and child buying constitutes unethical practices
- We do not believe a child should languish in an institution if other options are available.
- We believe international adoption to be among those options and believe that ethical adoptions can happen.
- We know the closing of a country shuts the doors to true orphans with no other options within the community.
As long as we continue to report or convey international adoption as the Safe Option we will be negatively impacting the very goals we share. Being honest, reflective and open to the difficult information as it is shared will only help – not harm – the future of international adoption.
Advocacy and reporting of the tough stories does not invalidate the personal experiences each of us may have had. We have had comments on this site from people claiming we are trying to make them feel guilty or wrong for having chosen adoption. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is ok to be joyous over your adoption experience while open to the harsh realities of others’ experiences. It is ok to be thankful for the blessings in your life while advocating so that those blessings can continue for other families and children WITHOUT the cloud of corruption, questionable practices, exorbitant fees and lost histories surrounding them.
There will always be beautiful adoption stories at our fingertips to bring us to tears. But it’s time to be real, to talk about the risks to all members of the triad in international adoption and to acknowledge that exposing those risks does not make anyone “anti-adoption”. In fact, the future of adoption may very well rest in the hands of those who care enough to speak out against the wrong-doing so the right-doing can continue.