I’m plowing on ahead here–another post without taking care of comments. I’ve got this feeling I need to keep moving and, what with getting classes started and all there isn’t time for both activities. So on we go and please, if you’ve commented, bear with me.
There’s been an ongoing series of articles on Reuters (also picked up on NBC.com) this week. It’s headlined “The Child Exchange: Inside America’s Underground Market for Adopted Children” and to say that it is harrowing is the understate things. It’s way more than harrowing.
It’s about instances where people adopt children and then, when they are confronted with overwhelming difficulties, hand off the children to other people. Perhaps you could say this is instead of outright abandoning the children, but clearly in some cases the kids would be better off just being abandoned. The parents end up turning to a loose network of people who privately “re-home” adopted children. Maybe this sometimes works, but what the article focuses on is the instances when it is disastrous–where the children end up in unimaginably horrible situations with people who should NEVER have access to children.
I’m quite sure we can all agree that the stories told here recount terrible failures (on multiple levels) of systems that are supposed to protect children. I’m sure we all recoil in horror. And it’s easy to call for the shut-down of the unregulated websites that promote re-homing.
But two other (and I think larger) things also strike me. First off, the problem here is not really the websites (though I don’t know that I want to defend them.) The problem is more complicated there’s plenty of blame to spread around.
Start with children who are raised, sometimes through their formative years, under wretched circumstances. Maybe a fairly heartless state institution. Maybe a war-torn country, separated from family and support. The world is, sadly, full of places where it is terrible to be a child. Being raised under some circumstances yields lasting harm–children who are injured in ways that may not always be visible. And perhaps we all bear some responsibility for accepting a world where this is the fate of too many children.
Then there are adoptive parents, who perhaps do not know/are not prepared for what they are actually getting into. It’s laudable to be willing to adopt a young child–not an infant–from a far-away land. But it might bring with it many challenges. How good is the counseling adoptive parents get? (I know the answer–it depends.) The truth, I suspect, is that some people are up to it and some are not. And it would be a lot better if the ones who are not realized that sooner rather than later.
Then there’s the question of the support available to the adoptive parents. Many of them want to do well with their children. I’m sure that’s the norm. But they face extraordinary and (see above) unanticipated challenges. What’s their back up? I’m fairly sure there isn’t adequate support (and again, don’t we all bear some responsibility for that?)
And if the situation is really unbearable–given whatever support is available–then what? There are trained professionals (lawyers and counselors, etc.) who can plot that course. Who can help the adoptive parents find a good solution. But they may be hard to find, or too expensive, or too few. For whatever reason, sometimes the internet becomes the answer. And there, we can see, lies trouble.
All of which is to say I think it is too simplistic to demonize a few terrible people and the internet and not see the larger systemic issues. You could take away the internet and if you don’t address the underlying conditions there will still be problems.
The other thing that strikes me is that this isn’t really about adoption. It’s about parents who find themselves way beyond the zone of what is bearable. It may be that this situation arises more with adoptive parents. (I’ve never seen statistics, so I don’t know, but it would not surprise me if people who adopt older children from abroad are more likely to get kids who have some fairly serious issues.) But it happens with biological parents, too.
The bottom line (to me) is that parenting (as in bearing that responsibility for a child) can be overwhelming and, without support and without preparation, bad things can happen–things can go badly out of control. And that’s true no matter how you get to be a parent.
What does that mean? Should we screen all prospective parents to see if they’re up to the task? This is something I’ve thought about and mentioned a few times. Maybe not a bad idea, though rather impractical. At the very least, maybe we need to be better about providing education–so that people can be as ready as possible–and support services. I bet a commitment to do that would have a much greater impact that closing down the websites, don’t you think?