The Underground Market for Children–Adopted or Otherwise?

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?

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7 responses to “The Underground Market for Children–Adopted or Otherwise?

  1. The way that adoption currently works is horribly unfair. People should be permanently responsible and accountable for the offspring they create and adoption should function more like guardianship with varying levels of permanency depending on the individual situation. So the adopted person always remains part of their own family rights fully intact, while simultaneously becoming eligible as a dependent of their adoptive parents. The reality is the connection between parents and their children was created by the parents themselves and can’t be pretended away, it’s permanent and the connection between adoptive parents is created by their desire to raise the child and the approval of the courts. If their desire to raise the child ends they should be able to have their connection terminated by the courts and then it should once again become the responsibility of the parents to find suitable care for their child. If that means raising them themselves because time has passed and they are up to the job, fine. If it means the state has to step in and find foster or adoptive parents for the child again, fine.

    The motivation to get kids out of foster care and into adoptive homes is financially motivated by the State. They don’t want financial responsibility for troubled children. That’s how people wind up with adopted kids they can’t handle and there is not that permanent connection for them to be willing to bear it. Honestly if adopted people knew that they were still members of their own families and retained their own names and identities and knew that their mothers and fathers had to provide financial support as soon as they were able and that they would have to participate in their lives as soon as they were able and that the goal of placement in an adoptive home was not to make them someone else’s child, they might be more relaxed and accepting of the situations they were placed into. They might bond with their adoptive family more easily if it did not feel like they were betraying their own families. Like “I’m your mommy now because I take care of you and that is your birth mother” or “no you call me mommy and you call her Carol, that nice lady that gave birth to you.” or “those are your biological’s, the word family describes people you live with”.

  2. When I unpack some of Marilynn’s proposals it seems to come down to the following:
    Because there are some instances in which adoptions fail (I believe a relative minor percentage), we should slash the whole system by a). not allowing involuntary termination of parental rights; b). not allowing voluntary termination of parental rights; c). not allowing adoption at all, i.e. a legal change of parentage; and d). perpetual foster care for a large group of children.
    But consider Julie’s comments, with which I agree:
    “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.”
    And
    “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?)”
    The fix to this system is the support available to adoptive and nonadoptive parents. Rather than tearing down the whole system (and 50 states have enacted some form of this adoption mechanism); let’s take a look at the services available to impoverished parents and to former foster care children (now adopted or otherwise).
    If we outlaw adoption, as Marilynn suggests, do we really believe that will stop the exploitation of children or kidnapping of children? It might have some measurable effect on the less than .1% of all adoption cases about which the media is focusing its attention. But for the other 99.9% we will have taken away a valuable mechanism for real and lasting permanency.
    Here are some sobering statistics: In 2007 US, State and local child protective services (CPS) investigated 3.2 million reports of children being abused or neglected (From US Dept. of Human Services, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Child Maltreatment 2007). CPS classified 794,000 of these children as victims. Approximately three quarters of them had no history of prior victimization (I’m quoting from “Child Welfare Law & Practice, 2nd Ed. Page 5). My same source says that in 2007, nearly one in five or 18% of U.S. children lived in poverty. I wonder how many of these children were adopted before they met a CPS case manager? I wonder how many of these children lived in poverty with an adoptive parent. I’m guessing that there were a small number of children who experienced maltreatment after adoption, but this has nothing to do with adoption and everything to do with poverty, parenting ability, and maltreatment itself. Most of these maltreating adults were the biological parents or their paramours.
    Thankfully, adoption remains a viable permanency option to many, many children who cannot be reunified with their parents. Thankfully, the 50 states and most countries on Earth do not share Marilynn’s extreme minority view. Thankfully the US Congress and the President did not share that view when they enacted the Adoption and Safe Families Act in 1997 or when it was amended in the next decade.
    Let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water. Keep adoptions! Address poverty and drug abuse which are the true root causes of child maltreatment in the US.

  3. I was horrified by the Reuters story. My suspicion is that these families went into adoption as a means of “rescuing” children, doing a good deed, and not necessarily out of a genuine desire to parent. I consider this outcome to be a follow-up to the Christian adoption expose that Mother Jones covered several months ago.

    • It is interesting that you say that because I think that adopting out of a desire to become a parent is a really bad sign of a misguided person who does not understand that the child already has parents, they just cannot for whatever raise them to adulthood themselves. This idea that adopting a child makes a person a parent rather than an adoptive parent, sets them up for all kinds of problems not the least of which is thinking of someone else’s offspring as their own child that they can rename and reshape as if in their own image; the person they adopt has to live as if they are the adoptive parent’s child, complete with a new name. The adoptive family is their real family and the family that they came from takes a back seat, no longer real, no longer legally recognized, no longer documented and accessible to anyone as kin to their own kin. The adopted person has to live life as if the family they descend from is not as important as the family raising them, they’ll call the adoptive Mother Mom and they’ll call their Mother Sally or Bio-Mom. The amount of time spent visiting their family will be less than the amount of time spent visiting the adoptive parent’s family, again reinforcing that the adoptive family’s relatives are more important than the adoptive person’s relatives. People will assume that they are the biological child of their adoptive parents and they will be coached to allow those assumptions to stand uncorrected because ‘not everyone needs to know everything’ and so they go about daily life in a state of inauthentic existence knowing other people get to exist as who they really are with no lines to read between and no subtext unless they choose it themselves. Would they have been willing to adopt a child whose name they could not change? Would they adopt a child who would never call them Mom or Dad but instead call them by their first names the way adoptive parents frequently encourage adopted children to refer to estranged parents by first names absent parental title.

      I’ve seen a whole lot of reunions and am of the opinion things would go much more smoothly for everyone if nobody were under the illusion that adopting a child made them a parent and turned parents into bio parents or nice ladies who gave birth to their children. People should just be who they are and let their relationships stand for themselves, After all the fact that their parents are absent and their adoptive parents are present is not something any kid is going to forget when it comes time to form bonds that last a lifetime.

      • I disagree with you, but that’s OK. Let’s say for the point of this discussion that what I really mean is that I’d rather the adoptive couple go into adoption with a desire to form some sort of genuine relationship with the child and not out of a desire to save or rescue children because of some dogma they’ve been told.

        • That’s fair. A genuine relationship can be what they are hoping to achieve from adopting a child. My concern or rather my observation is that they might believe that they are owed that or that they bought that or contracted for that. That they adopted with the expectation of getting something in return rather than doing it because they wanted to help a child from a family in crisis. I think a while back the politically correct view of adoption shifted from “you should be grateful we saved you” to “you don’t have to be grateful to me I did this for selfish reasons to become a parent”. Well, that’s fine except that the person they adopted already has parents already has a family. No they are not a good responsible loving productive family, but they do exist and the reality is that even if they suck you can’t really replace the parents by adopting their kid. You are becoming adoptive parents and rather that leaving it at that there is this expectation that the adopted child is now “their own child” and they are the child’s “real family” and the child’s family is the family that takes the back seat and gets qualifiers like birth or bio. The adoptive parents won’t spend as much time fostering and growing relationships with the child’s relatives as they will with their relatives and it just becomes like they bought the genuine relationship, they are owed it. The kid has no choice but to give them what they paid for.

          Its different when it’s your own family and you have no choice because they did not buy or hustle their way into the relationship with lawyers and agencies etc. It’s just who you are in relation to who they are and having no choice in your identity is just a function of reality or genuine relationships. Adoptive parents chose themselves into the situation, often at great financial expense. Parents gain their relationship without paying for it and so it’s ethics and authenticity can’t ever be in question, even when the bio parents are wretched people that aspect of their parenthood is always going to be at the very least ethical and obligatory.

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