The English wing of the Arab news network Al Jazeera produced a piece last month about international adoption on their “Inside Story” program: “Guatemala Adoption Scandal” aired on 13 August 2007. The program featured two interviewees who went head-to-head on inter-country adoption: Tom DiFilipo, President and CEO of the Joint Council on International Children’s Services (JCICS), and Louise Melville, a Care and Protection Adviser for Save The Children.
This piece came to my attention not because I’m a regular Al Jazeera watcher, but because Carolina Hope is a member of JCICS, which advocates for international children’s welfare and supports international adoption as a legitimate option for providing permanency to children in need of homes.
I’m dividing this topic into two posts because the television program is available on the internet in 2 segments (and I only have time to blog about one of those today!) You can watch the first clip below, and (if you’re interested) you can read my commentary below the interview. If you cannot see the interview below, you can go to the interview on YouTube.
(If you click on the main box, you will be taken to the YouTube website. If you simply click on the play button at the bottom of the box, you can watch the video right here.)
[09/07/07 update: You can now view and read about part 2 of this interview here.]
Now for my own summary of the inteview’s key points, along with some additional comments of my own:
The Role of Inter-Country Adoptions
In part 1, the interviewer asks Tom and Louise about the role of inter-country adoption in the broader spectrum of solutions available for children in need of a permanent home. Tom and Louise agree that preventative measures should come first: communities should work hard to help families so that they are not forced by circumstances to relinquish or abandon the children born to them.
Astonishingly (and Tom points this out), Louise goes on to say that inter-country adoption should be a last resort, and she neglects to even mention institutionalization in her list of potential outcomes for vulnerable children. This omission is an important indicator of the mind-set that many international aid organizations have on international adoption: even though they know that institutionalization is typically the worst option for relinquished or abandoned children — and in spite of the widespread use of orphanages as permanent solutions in the world — these aid organizations will not place institutionalization and inter-country adoption side-by-side and concede that finding a stable, permanent home in another culture is always better than placing a child in an orphanage within the child’s birth culture.
Furthermore, I think that many would argue (and I, for one, would argue) that adoption into another culture (i.e., international adoption) is typically better than foster care in one’s own culture because international adoption — in spite of its disadvantages — provides permanency and security in a way that even stable foster care cannot. Louise mentions foster care as preferable to inter-country adoption.
The Effects of Inter-Country Adoption Bans
Another key issue discussed in part 1 is the effect of bans on international adoption within particular countries. The interviewer brings up the oft-cited case of Romania, which banned international adoptions in 2004. Louise (again, showing a clear prejudice against international adoption) suggests that such bans can focus a country’s attention on providing internal services (though she notes that Save the Children’s official position does not call for such bans). She also suggests that when international adoption is taken off the table as an option, families no longer have that incentive to relinquish their child.
She neglects to mention that the 2004 ban in Romania has done nothing to help children in Romania, and Tom brings up the fact that Romanian hospitals have been filled with abandoned children. Tom doesn’t have the chance to mention this, but reports from the ground indicate that children abandoned in hospitals are often completely ignored, they receive little or no interaction from caregivers, and they often die.
To demonstrate that bans on inter-country adoption are not necessary for the promotion of domestic alternatives, Tom mentions China as a country which has a strong inter-country adoption system but which is simultaneously working hard to provide internal solutions to the high abandonment rate. Though Tom doesn’t bring this up, Korea is also an excellent example of this. Due to carefully-crafted domestic policies, Korea has been able to reduce relinquishments and abandonments, increase domestic adoption, and reduce inter-country adoption — all without increasing the number of children who are institutionalized long-term. (If someone knows of statistics to the contrary, please add a comment or let me know.)
In summary, this interview reveals that inter-country adoption is attacked not just by ill-informed nationalists who have little regard for children’s welfare; it is also marginalized and opposed by well-meaning child-welfare organizations like Save the Children and UNICEF — both of which, incidentally, should be applauded for their relentless work for children. (It should be noted that UNICEF is not univocally against inter-country adoption. However, their advocacy work tends to marginalize inter-country adoption and raise harmful barriers to children’s placement into permanent homes.) We value JCICS for its continued work on behalf of children around the world. JCICS understands the realities of inter-country adoption, and they employ a common-sense model that other organizations would do well to adopt.