Friday, February 5, 2010

International adoptions

As I was reading the Des Moines Register on Tuesday I came across an interesting article that made me think about El Salvador and the children there. The article was called, “Arrests sharpen debate over foreign adoptions”. It was about the 10 Americans arrested in Haiti for trying to take children out of the country. At first glance I thought the story was about some crazy people that had randomly picked up these 33 children and decided to take them to the US. But I didn’t want to be too judgmental before I had a chance to read the article and hear both (or multiple) sides of the story. I also read other articles about what has been going on related to the Americans trying to remove the children. I saw two points of view represented in the Register article regarding international adoption. One side supported the idea of Americans adopting children from “third world” countries. The other side believes the meaning behind foreign adoptions is patronizing.

I think both sides represented in the article have valid arguments. On one hand, I understand that there are millions of orphans all around the world who either have no family left or their family isn’t able to take care of them. Similar to the situation in Haiti, there may be parents who want their children to be adopted by US citizens in hopes of giving their children a better life.

When people adopt children from other countries their foremost intention is to help. They want to do their part to support the global community and ensure that every child has a home and someone to love them. Many children that are adopted from outside the US live in destitute conditions or in orphanages where they may receive little affection. Adoption may be the last chance many children have to start a new life before they turn 18 (or other age) and become adults, responsible for taking care of themselves.

The only possible exception I can think of is some celebrities and political figures who adopt children from other countries to put on display. But that is another blog for another day.

On the other side of the debate, I agree that every effort should be made to keep children in their own country with their own family. I think it is healthier for children to continue living with their own family or at least their own culture. Working to keep children at home reminds me very much of the current trend in social work to keep children in their home and out of the foster care system. Fellow social workers: please feel free to correct me on this point if I’m mistaken.

Additionally, the idea behind foreign adoption could be seen as ethnocentric and derogatory in that some people believe middle-class Americans can provide infinitely better lives for the children solely because of the luxuries afforded to them. I agree that having that notion seems condescending; as if it is the parent’s fault they can’t take care of their children instead of the families being victims of greater social and economic injustices.

I further believe that in disaster situations all efforts should be made to first reunite children with their parents or other family members. Only after all other options have been exhausted should adoption be considered. I wonder how people in the US would feel if other countries, such as places in Europe, adopted American children. While the US certainly isn’t considered to be a developing country, there are many children here who go without food, a home, and a family.

I think for myself, the key issue is what can be done to solve the underlying problem of children with homes and families. What I believe needs to be done is to ensure that children don’t lose their families or homes in the first place. For me, that means supporting programs such as Heifer International, SOS Children’s International, World Fair Trade Organization, and Our Sister Parish which help support people and provide them with the means they need to support their families. Right now international adoption may be part of the solution, but I don’t think it’s a be-all-end-all solution.

All of this being said, I want to be clear that I am not judging people who adopt children from outside the US. Not being a parent myself, I don’t think I can begin understand the great love and compassion adoptive parents have for their children. I have many friends and family who’ve adopted children from outside the US and I know their intentions are nothing less than sincere devotion. And I’ve often thought about what it would be like to adopt a child from another country.

I think, and hope, that people debating the pros and cons of international adoption remember the reason they’re having the debate and not focus on differing religious, political, or social opinions. I hope people don’t lose sight of the goal in this debate: to put the children and their needs above everything else.


Meredith said...

Alisha, I absolutely agree! I would much rather see a child get to stay with family if it is AT ALL possible. Growing up in West Des Moines, I have seen what money can do for a family...unfortunately, I have also seen what it can do TO a family. I think if a third world family can scrape together the bare necessities, the child would be much better off with them than they would be with many of the rich families I have known. Not to say that all rich people suck at raising children, I know this is definitely not the case. But expensive toys and a big house cannot compete with truly loving parents who understand that time spent together is what the child really needs and wants. I love this post and I'm excited for you and what you will get to experience on this adventure!

*erynia* said...

You're right on about the foster care system focusing on keeping kids in their homes, or reuniting when possible with their bio parents. The most recent trend, which I'm really excited about, is working to find relatives from their family of origin who can serve as foster parents and guardians. There are just so many benefits of connecting the kids to their family members. It seems like an obvious route, but often we find ourselves getting trapped in the same justifications you mentioned above. Maybe their aunts/uncles/grandparents don't have all the money and luxuries that another foster home might have, but if we can find ways to provide supports for them to remain with family members, the long-term benefits far outweigh any financial deficits. Stengthening their connections to their family of origin provides them supports that will last throughout their life.