Step away from the ideology

One of the reasons I don’t write much about adoption anymore is that it’s pretty much impossible to have any sort of discussion about the issues that are now important to more without setting off a firestorm. Online “dialog” doesn’t lend itself well to gray, which is where my head is at on a couple of key adoption issues right now.

Not citizenship, unfettered adoptee access to original birth certificates, adoptive parent responsibility to protect their children’s legal status and ethnic and genetic heritage, for-profit adoption or “pregnancy counseling” by adoption agencies, to name just a few things that I still see in black and white. These, in my opinion, are non-negotiable, and critical to correcting the injustices that exist in adoption - just want to make sure they don't get lost in the mush of what follows.

What has been occupying my adoption related thoughts recently is simply whether or not adoption should exist. Some of you may believe there is no justifying adoption in light of current and past injustices, and that institutions - orphanages, group homes, etc. – are better for children than adoption, intercountry or domestic, presuming they offer nurturing care rather than just warehousing the children. Much better for kids to grow up in their countries in a community of other children just like them than to be sent away to strangers.

There are certainly instances in which I would agree with this. When I hear from intercountry adoptees who are struggling with parents who ignore their racial, ethnic and genetic identities, or who demand gratitude and withhold love when it isn’t delivered, it’s hard not to question whether adoption was best for that individual, harder still to come to any conclusion other than it wasn’t.

But what if adoption agencies were able to weed out parents like this? What if respecting a child’s heritage was as important during a homestudy as having a safe house and economic resources? What if adoption agencies could weed out the people who saw adoption as their right but signaled that they were to ignore their responsibilities?

I expect a reaction to this along the lines of That's impossible, agencies are more concerned about revenue, so the risk of placing children with families who care nothing for their identities is too great.

There is an at least equal risk that group care facilities and foster care will fail to nurture children at all, however. It bothers me that this seems to be getting lost in the debate.

I believe the following are pretty accurate statements:
  • There are good and bad children’s homes. There is no global oversight of child welfare practices. Some children who enter these systems are therefore at risk.
  • There are good and bad adoptions. Global standards for conducting adoptions (e.g. the Hague Convention) aren’t universally accepted or followed, and there is even less agreement on what it takes to adoptive parent successfully. Some children who are adopted are therefore at risk
If this is correct, then everyone who is concerned about children should be working toward several, ostensibly competing, ends: stopping as many of the controllable circumstances (poverty, attitudes toward single mothers, and many more) as possible that make orphanages, foster care and adoption necessary; improving group child and foster care for every child that must receive it; and focusing adoption on the needs of individual children, including competent adoptive parenting, rather than on filling the demands of prospective adoptive parents.

I don’t write much – at all, really - about my kids here anymore. They’re grown, and they deserve their privacy. But I want to share one thing that has challenged me as a parent as well as my interest in adoption reform: When I look at the facts regarding our children’s Korean parents and the circumstances of their adoptions, I can say that in a perfect world neither adoption should have happened, but in light of each situation that adoption was better than the alternative for one, and not necessarily for the other. Neither believes their particular situation is a model for all adoptions. In a way, my kids' adoptions are a little microcosm of the adoption debate, and consideration of their circumstances deserves a whole lot better than knee-jerk ideology.

If anyone else out there gets what I'm trying to say, please comment or contact me. It would be good to know there are others – adoptees, adoptive parents and first parents – who are struggling with the same conflicts and would like to have some un-ideological dialog about it. Maybe we can find a place to do that.

Comments

danielibnzayd said…
I don't think you can get away from the ideology, Margie. I know I can't. (And I know everyone knows I can't, so I won't belabor that aspect of it...too much.) Suffice it to say, we need to tease out a few things.

One is how children are taken care of by and how they fit in to a society. There is no global here, and this fact brings up some of the dissonances when we start comparing "here" and there".

Two is the supposed right to have children, and pushing this further, the likewise place for childless adults in a society; what their role is culturally or otherwise. Again, this is not a universal, and the incentives and pressure to be a First-World nuclear family are rather unbelievable—yet no one questions them.

Finally, what are the economic and political uses of adoption within a particular society? This is where ideology comes on full force, because these outweigh by any measure any concept of family creation. There is a mythology here, that also ties into mythologies of immigration, nationality, empire: How Americans got "there", what they are willing to do to "make it" there, whom they are willing to bring there or force to leave in order to keep this—sorry—ideology intact.

How is this tied to economics, politics, foreign policies, and governmental actions? I'll stop here. My point is that this is not a context-less space we are working within, and so it is not possible to be objective and removed from it.

In European left-wing theory these days there is a lot of talk about "décroissance"—decreasing, if you will; spiraling down the economy. Meaning, we've reached the limit. The economy is not infinitely expandable. Thus on some level it makes about as much sense to ship a child halfway around the world as it does Granny Smith apples.

Where has the local gone to? In terms of everything—agriculture, towns, media, culture, language, etc. When we come to terms with this, and focus on the local again, things might change for the better. The wonders of globalization are actually hell, both in the cores of and on the periphery of Capital (sorry). It is hell on the streets worldwide, except for those who have the luxury and privilege to remove themselves from this.

When First World families start thinking about community and society as opposed to family and individual as much as most of those in the Third World do, then we might get somewhere. I'm trying not to sound polemical, but it is not easy....please know I'm stating this as facts and propositions and not accusations....part of me returning has been to "step down" class-wise. It isn't easy. But it is possible, and more and more, I believe it to be necessary.

Two questions to ask ourselves: What is it about American acculturation that forbids debate, even if it should be rancorous and rowdy? And what is it about American empire that forbids discussing alternatives thereto? Just some food for thought. PS: My talk in October (inch'allah) will be on this subject.
veggiemom said…
I tend to have moved much more towards being completely anti-adoption...well, as it is currently practiced. I know there are kids out there who really need adoption. Unfortunately, they are rarely the kids being adopted. I have one daughter who never should have been adopted and one who's adoption is questionable (mom made the decision but life circumstances should be different so the decision wouldn't have needed to be made). It sucks. I love my kids but they should have been able to remain with their families. I am very pessimistic about the current state of adoptions or that anything will ever really change. Too many decisions are being made based on how adults benefit (financially or through parenthood) and too few based on how children benefit.
Anonymous said…
I very much like this particular statement:

"In a way, my kids' adoptions are a little microcosm of the adoption debate, and consideration of their circumstances deserves a whole lot better than knee-jerk ideology." -

I believe this to be true for my kids as well.

I definitely agree there are those "non-negotiables" - the ones you named for sure, and maybe some more, that need to be addressed.

Too bad all too often, so much energy is getting lost along the way if this is done via internet.

Some of my believes and convictions have shifted a lot since I first began to think about adoption matters. Going through that process of learning, re-defining and trying to figure things out has been immensely inspired by online discussions.

Still, I believe in the end, the exchange of opinions and positions often has a tendency to move in circles.

For myself, I refuse to accept ready-at-hand "verdicts" - neither do I find it ok being called anti-adoption for being critical of certain practices or structures, nor do I find it ok being reprimanded for being an adoptive parent in the first place. Both seems to be happening in regular intervals, and I really wonder why.

In my currently very pessimistic view, some very painful and negative aspects, such as polarizing and becoming personal, taking statements out of their proper context, writing or publishing comments that contain personal remarks on a level beyond any decency will probably never dissappear in online debates on questions related to (Intercountry) Adoption.Is it really a concequence of ideological boxes, is it a strategy, is it just human weakness? I don't know.

All this makes it hard to step foreward and ask: Is reform of the current adoption system possible?
Can forming a family by adoption be seen as an acceptable and beneficial way of raising children?

Thank you for stepping forward and asking these questions.

B.
(of International Adoption Reader)
Kris said…
This post is very thought-provoking and I am probably not going to be able to get across what I am thinking.

My daughter's adoption (from Russia) was only necessary due to social circumstances and poverty. Meaning it really wasn't necessary at all. I struggle with that all the time. I feel guilt knowing our money fed the very broken system in Russia. If I knew then what I know now, I would not have adopted. I really mean that, yet it is not a statement I would ever want my daughter to read or hear. It is not a statement on her. It is a statement on adoption.

I don't know what the answer is. I do think adoption is necessary in some (very few) circumstances. Like it or not, there will always be children who are true orphans or who have parents who are truly incapable of caring for their children. I tend to believe that in most cases a family is a better place for children than an institution (there are always exceptions, but I am speaking in generalities.)

In order for adoption to change, there has to be a whole shift in the way adoption is viewed and in the way it is conducted. Is that possible? I think it is possible but I think it will be slow in coming.

Although I love my daughter with all my heart, adopting is not something I am proud of and wish I could go back and undo. Am I anti-adoption? No. But I am anti-adoption the way it is now. I don't blog about adoption. I feel that much of what I say gets taken out of context or misunderstood online. I do appreciate blogs like this and others so I can learn about what my daughter is likely to feel and experience as she grows up an adopted person.
Anonymous said…
I'm a lurker here who absolutely sees things in gray. Anyone who thinks that institutions/group homes/foster care are always better that an adoption knows very little about what too often happens to kids in those places.

My child was sexually abused in an orphanage by another older child. This is not a rare thing.

We need greater protection for kids in ALL settings -- orphanges, foster care, adoptive homes. Eliminating adoption won't protect kids. People who think it will only care about their ideology.
Sunday Taylor said…
"I know there are kids out there who really need adoption. Unfortunately, they are rarely the kids being adopted." So true!
danielibnzayd said…
I would humbly suggest that the problem is not those with an "ideology", but those who claim that they have none when in fact they are swimming in it. I agree with the notion of this not being a binary; that this is a complex issue. This is very very different from saying there is no middle ground; no objective remove; no non-ideological stance.

I feel obliged to point out the insinuation here, which we often hear, that somehow we "don't care" about children (we want to see them rotting in orphanages). This is exactly where our "ideology" comes from. We are those children. I live in a poor neighborhood in Beirut. Shall I describe how often and how long I cry every day for what I witness in terms of the children in my neighborhood, many of them working as slave laborers, constructing the buildings that will house those of the class who have no problem exporting children from this country? I would gladly take on the suffering of every child I come across on a daily basis if I could.

Do I think adoption is the solution to this problem? Absolutely not. Please explain to me how to react to this without resorting to what is being derided here as ideology.

To me it is a question of degrees. There is a fire. There are self-appointed firefighters spraying gasoline on a blaze that they are complicit in having started. How do we react? Take away their matches? Turn off the hose? Help those in danger of being burned while the gasoline rains down on us? All short-term solutions that actually exacerbate the problem. Or do we analyze and deconstruct the entire scenario, go to its source historically and otherwise, and determine that there are, in fact, better ways of dealing with this issue systemically? A long-term solution that requires of us a fundamental rethinking of what it means to be a member of society.

If we as adoptees are able to plumb the depths of the depravity that was our trafficking, why can't adoptive parents do the same thing? If I am able to handle the truth, why can't you?

I ask this in all seriousness.
Tina said…
Daniel - I don't know that there is any ban on debate - even of the roudy sort - I personally don't mind a loud passionate disagreement - on the topic. What I deplore is the current tendency to insult and degrade the people involved in the debate. It seems like we, as a culture in the US, have lost the ability to debate a topic. Any attempt seems to quickly devlove into attacking one another personally to the point that the topic of the debate is lost.

I think that is what Margie is trying to avoid, not a lively discussion of different views on a subject.
Tina said…
Margie-

I have a long experience with adoption. (although NOT as an adoptee!!) 4 of my 5 siblings were adopted and as you know I have adopted my husbands daughter and we together adopted a son internationally. In addition my grandmother was adopted, one of my aunts placed her 4 children out for adoption and my ex husband was adopted.

Looking at those 12 adoptions I can say that the majority happened only because of social circumstance and thus should not have been necessary. Social pressures or stigma and lack of social and cultural support for the families and / or poverty were the direct cause in 6 of the 12. Looking at the other six, four (my aunts) I believe were absolutely necessary. My aunt was mentally ill. Even with round the clock in patient care she was not capable of caring for herself and would not have been able to care for children. She spent her teens and all of her adult life in and out of facilites and in the end committed suicide. All 4 of her children had different fathers and one was the result of non - consensual sex. One man was cabable of supporting and caring for his child. When my aunt chose to relinquish he and his new wife adopted the child. Two others were placed in kinship adoptions one of which worked out reasonably well one of which did not. The last was adopted in a stranger adoption. Learing the truth of her origin (rape) was horrible for her when she chose to search.

The remaining 2 are not clear cases. (one of my brothers and my son) Their families of origin were abusive and deeply enmeshed in drug and alcohol abuse but was that due to poverty and other social circumstance? Could good social support have made retention in their original family possible? I just don't know. Can all drug use / addiction ever be prevented and or "cured"?

So I see adoption as complex and highly individual. There are abuses in the system and the majority of adoptions are not necessary - if we can work on the cultural and social issues that force them to happen. But to say all adoption is bad, or only kindship adoption works, or really to make any other catagorical statement seems to me to be as willfully blind as saying all adoptions are good.
Anonymous said…
Margie, you wrote: What if respecting a child’s heritage was as important during a homestudy as having a safe house and economic resources?

The problem is, what does it mean to respect a child's heritage? Cook fried noodles for dinner? Steam dumplings for lunch? Watch Chinese movies? Learn the language along with them but never use it on a daily basis because you yourself never learned enough?

How do you reinforce that which you yourself do not know?

People don't adopt to learn a language and respect a heritage/culture (although I'd be rather scared to learn respect of *any* culture isn't an immediate basis for raising/interacting with a non-white child, much less one that will be adopted by white parents). They adopt to raise a child. If they learn Korean it's because they feel obligated, not because they genuinely wanted to learn Korean prior to adoption.

Hence my statement here: The interest of heritage/culture *because of the child* is a byproduct and cannot be precisely duplicated. So what does it mean to "respect" the child's heritage/culture?

Kris, you wrote:

My daughter's adoption (from Russia) was only necessary due to social circumstances and poverty. Meaning it really wasn't necessary at all. I struggle with that all the time. I feel guilt knowing our money fed the very broken system in Russia

But if you know the social circumstances favor the poor ("due to social circumstances") and that poverty prevents families from keeping their children, why not start a group or some sort of community where you can focus on improving that? If one actually knows for a fact what factors and/or influences the majority of adoptions, why not work towards changing that?

I'm not saying you *as an individual* have any power to change anything, but look at what's happening in Korea. People are working towards social and systemic change. Sure, it's complicated. But they aren't saying "I don't know what to do." They are fighting for change. They are thinking of solutions. They aren't saying "It's too complicated, while we are deciding what on earth could - or should - be done, adoption is still necessary."

They're doing it.
Anonymous said…
Elaboration:

"although I'd be rather scared to learn respect of *any* culture isn't an immediate basis for raising/interacting with a non-white child, much less one that will be adopted by white parents"

I am not certain readers/lurkers will understand what I mean. Let's say I'm into Vietnamese culture. Let's say I'm not from Vietnam, never grew up in Vietnam, don't have any Vietnamese heritage or family there.

It's purely an interest. Let's say I like Vietnamese music and watching the occasional Vietnamese show, and say that I "respect Vietnam."

Why *shouldn't* I respect Vietnam? Why *shouldn't* I respect its culture and language and music? Should I respect all these things on the basis that I genuinely like Vietnam? Does this mean I get to disrespect Japanese culture if I don't like it? What about Korea, if I think the language sounds "funny", should I make insulting remarks about Korea?

Of course not.

So if I plan to adopt a child from Vietnam or Korea, shouldn't I be *expected* to respect the culture? Shouldn't that be a given? Shouldn't I have a genuine interest in liking the music, the food, the history behind the country, etc?

What does it mean to "respect" a child's heritage? I mean, is that really a "requirement"? Why isn't it a given?
Anonymous said…
Quote: "If we as adoptees are able to plumb the depths of the depravity that was our trafficking, why can't adoptive parents do the same thing? If I am able to handle the truth, why can't you?"
There is always the question: Whose truth? Things would be a lot easier if there was anything like "the truth" for everyone.
To listen to those who share individual experience, without trying to reinterpret it, criticize or reject it, is certainly the prerequisite in creating improvement and reform. Listening to and honoring personal experience, however, and being ready to learn from it is not the same as accepting another person’s individual conclusion as my “truth”. Personally, I consider being asked to do so the ideological approach in its most basic sense of the word.
I want to make it clear that I have no difficulty respecting when people, be it because of their convictions, or their experience, or because of both, believe ICA, or adoption, should be shut down entirely.
I do not share this conviction, though.
How can it work out for someone to agree with most of the criticism of how ICA as handled today, and still believe "adoption is worth fixing"?
There are multiple, and very different answers, some determined by logic, others by experience.
Let me try to give one:
Most would agree that the care for children who do not live with their parents, for a variety of reasons, is generally in need of improvement.
I have no reason to believe anyone would romantizise childcare in institutions and seriously mean to create an alternative "Orphanage in country of heritage" vs. "ICA" in a way that the first necessarily is the best option in every individual case. It is well known how vulnerable children in institutions often are, and no one would deny that there are many children who are desperately in need of improvement in quality (and supervision) of care.
Consequently, the focus of many who are concerned with reform is how the system of childcare in general can be improved. One assumption I would qualify as "ideological" in this context is that ICA must necessarily and in any case interfere with that process of improvement of child care.
I believe the following could be widely agreed on:
There is no denying that there has been a supply-demand structure in many cases of "boom-countries", where orphanages came into existence to satisfy demands.
If business interests (money) were taken out of adoption, and if there was a clear separation between "social work" and "adoption agency" work to avoid conflicts of interest, wouldn't that interrupt this circle?

There are many more assumption on my list, and I could add many things from the emotional and personal experience side. Instead, let me repeat: Yes, I would like to see a broad area of gray, and a lot more space for individual experience, rather than the habitual exchange of ideological views, e.g. “child saved from the gutter” vs. “child trafficked, because adopted.”
Anonymous said…
Excuse me - forgot to sign, - B. (International Adoption Reader)
Margie said…
A quick comment to say thank you to everyone for commenting - and please feel free to keep it up, because this is EXACTLY the kind of discussion I've been wanting.

It deserves more than a work-break response, so more soon, here and in another post.
Sunday Taylor said…
And this is where I jump in and say I spent over 7 years in and out of institutional care, while the powers that be attempted to reunite me with parents who had no desire for kind of inconvenience. While I certainly wish that my parents would have grown up and parented, adoption was never on the table for me…there are MUCH worse things in this world than growing up in a well-run and well regulated institution. Like say, being neglected and abused by people who have no interest in protecting or taking care of you in one’s own home, this I know first-hand. So while not many people will line up to say “let’s keep kids in orphanages and institutions,” I for one and not actually against it…and having grown up that way I think I know of what I speak.
Certainly there are ways to improve our institutions, as well as adoptions; there are benefits to keeping kids in institutions. The stability of wakening up in the same bed day after day is huge for one. There is safety in numbers. No new religion, with each frequent move. clear expectations, and discipline…on and on. And seeing that once a child reaches the age of 9 in the US foster care system, their chances of actually ever being drop to slim and none, our time and energy would be better spent looking for ways to improve institutional care and preparing kids for a lifetime of Self-sufficiency than chasing the fantasy of a cure-all “attached” “forever family,” that doesn’t exist for MOST of our US foster kids.
Sunday Taylor said…
And yes, I do feel the same way about over-seas orphanages as well, the fantasy that we wonderful westerners are going to swoop in and rescue rotting kids is what allows such horrible conditions to continue in the first place. It we looked at institutional care as a given and adoption as the longshot it is, we would be more willing to make long term chances that directly affect the quality of life for those unlucky bastards who will age out waiting for their “forever family” to show up.
Margie said…
Sunday, I'm glad you commented, because you are someone I would like to hear more from. What those of us who haven't had experience or contact with the foster care system or child care institutions know about it has probably been influenced by sensational news rather than fact.

If you have any posts you can point people to that share your experiences and offer your perspective on this, please add the links here. I would like to read them, and I'm sure others would, too.
Anonymous said…
AS an adoptee i believe that the focous should be on preventing families or women from getting to a situation that adoption is needed,family planning!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

adoption hurts...........so if we get there lets do it in the most humane way to the adoptee and the birth family.

Adoption was never intended to be the way it turned out to be.
Anonymous said…
It's great to hear from Sunday and I appreciate that she's shared her experience. Well-run institutions can provide a positive for many kids. But overseas orphanages aren't getting filled up with kids because of the false promise of Western adoption -- most of these orphanages don't do adoptions of any kind. They are filling up for many of the same reasons kids go into foster care in the US, plus pressures of extreme poverty, disease, disempowerment of women and more. In India, for example, suicide is the leading cause of death for women -- and the despair driving that statistic has a huge impact on children, especially girl children. Kids end up in bad situations for all kinds of complex reasons. We have to address the root causes and work at eradicating poverty, empowering women, providing support to families and more. In the meantime, many kids need help right now, and sometimes the right help for a particular child is adoption.
Mei-Ling said…
"But overseas orphanages aren't getting filled up with kids because of the false promise of Western adoption -- most of these orphanages don't do adoptions of any kind."

Interesting. I've heard from other people that while adoptees are working for change, orphanages *keeps* getting filled up.

Could you name some overseas orphanages that aren't?
Anonymous said…
Mei Ling, there are thousands of ad hoc orphanages all over the developing world. I have visited this one in South Africa that doesn't do adoption, and has no plans to:
http://www.seetrust.com/?page_id=480

I visited a place near Hyderabad, India also but can't remember the name. When I tried to Google, I got a lengthy list of orphanages; none are listed as placing kids for adoption:
http://www.justdial.com/Hyderabad/Orphanages-For-Children-%3Cnear%3E-MIYAPUR/ct-703132

At the place I went to in India, kids were AIDS orphans, or father had killed mother, or family had alcohol problems etc -- the kind of problems that lead to foster care here

IF you search on Delhi, a list or orphanages comes up that are not adoption centers:

http://www.justdial.com/Delhi-Ncr/Orphanages-For-Children/ct-1000694677

For an example in Europe, consider that SOS CHildren's villages has 4 facilities in tiny Portugal, which doesn't do international adoption:

http://www.soschildrensvillages.ca/where-we-help/europe/portugal/pages/default.aspx
Christie D. said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Christie D. said…
Is there a way to erase the above link, and this comment, too? I didn't mean to link the comment to my blog, so I had to erase it, but the link remains there..
Sunday Taylor said…
WOW, Just wow!
The removed comment about a poor family who didn’t speak English having a sick child, the state not paying for home health care in the child’s home but not only paying for it in a foster home BUT paying the foster mother to take care of him as her JOB so that could stay home with him (as opposed to baying his natural mother to enable HER to stay home with him). IS TRAGIC! And the embodiment of everything that is wrong with CHILD welfare!
OMG MY HEAD IS SPINNING!
Sunday Taylor said…
WOW, Just wow!
The removed comment about a poor family who didn’t speak English having a sick child, the state not paying for home health care in the child’s home but not only paying for it in a foster home BUT paying the foster mother to take care of him as her JOB so that SHE could stay home with him (as opposed to paying his natural mother to enable HER to stay home with him). IS TRAGIC! And the embodiment of everything that is wrong with CHILD welfare!

OMG MY HEAD IS SPINNING!
Anonymous said…
No matter how many nurses they try to send, there are times when a nurse can't be sent for some reason. So there has to be someone living *in the home* who can take care of the machinery, I think. What do you do if there is a snowstorm and no nurses can make it? There have actually been many times when no nurses could come, for various reasons. If he were living in a home where no-one could operate the machinery (at times when nurses are a no-show), then his life would be greatly endangered every time that happened. The alternative is living in a hospital full-time. Many children have to live in a hospital full-time, not with their own families. This one is lucky enough that he can live in a family home situation, as long as there are people around *24/7* (no exceptions) who can operate the machinery. It is very sad that he can't live with his real family, but he was dealt a hard hand in life. Luckily, he is thriving. Foster parents are indeed paid by the state to take care of foster children. However, from what I have seen, the state makes every effort to put foster children back with their own families or relatives, unless their lives will be endangered, as in this case. He has already had one very close call, and probably wouldn't have made it if he weren't living where he is, with trained care 24/7 (NO exceptions).

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