Thursday, September 6, 2012

A Response to International Adoption Concerns – Part 1

by Joy Casey
Executive Director
Adoption Ministry of Youth With A Mission

Joy Casey started Adoption Ministry of YWAM as a result of her many years working with YWAM’s maternity home, New Beginnings*. Ten years ago, Adoption Ministry was licensed as a child-placing agency in Washington State. The focus of the agency has always been on birthmothers/fathers and children. YWAM finds families for children, not children for families. There are no agency fees for domestic adoptions and all agency services are provided free of charge for both the relinquishing birth parent(s) and adoptive family. Joy has also been a partner in starting the first ever maternity home in Ethiopia called Living Hope. Living Hope is on the cusp of opening the first crisis pregnancy center in Ethiopia (complete with ultrasound machine) and there is a vibrant ministry to single mothers who choose life for their babies. Adoption Ministry has established four Widows and Orphans Homes in Ethiopia, three of them in very remote areas where there have never been any social services. Some of the children in these centers have been placed for adoption. Adoption Ministry 1:27 has also been developed to focus on orphan prevention and family restoration in Ethiopia.
*Over thirty years, 85% of the women living at New Beginnings single parent their children and 15% choose adoption.
What I want to accomplish more than anything else in discussing adoption concerns is to give a broader view of the dynamics of adoption. If one is diametrically opposed to adoption altogether, most likely nothing I say will ring true. If the reader is a mom who has had a less-than-stellar experience adopting a child overseas, she will naturally have a view of adoption based on her personal experience. Others have been dramatically influenced by media that conveys innuendos and allegations that may have slight elements of truth but are sensationalized and do not give an evenhanded picture. I have read many reports that simply were not factual and it was quite obvious what the agenda was: to cause alarm and make people afraid of adoption. Bear with me over the next couple of days as I attempt to bring some measure of balance to a subject that has become contentious. I will take a few statements that I have read and will talk about their implications.    ~Joy Casey

Part 1 of 5

My oh my, but there are a lot of words floating out there about adoption, and to my utter amazement many of those words are questioning the ethics of adoption in general and specifically international adoption. What really pricked my curiosity was that many of the words I have read come from great adoptive moms! That grabbed my attention and I have attempted to really listen. I have two adopted children from the United States and have worked in adoption (domestic and international) for thirty years, so I admit to having a bit of tunnel vision when it comes to adoption. It has been more than interesting to read articles by well-meaning moms espousing their opinions about adoption.
My tendency would be to read their ideas, analysis and solutions and to just store them up in my heart. But many voices are being raised saying that adopting internationally is wrong at its core and an anti-adoption climate is building because of it. Is this a good thing? Some would say that yes, it is; adoptions should be stopped. Others say that adoptions need to be limited only to children who have no living parents or extended family. It has been suggested that a birthparent’s circumstances should not play into an adoption decision, which would mean that if a woman gets pregnant, she should step up to the plate and parent no matter what.
I would like to respond with my own perspective based on my experience with adoption both domestically and in Ethiopia. I feel it is important to comment on a burgeoning philosophy that many are promoting about adoption ethics, birth parents and extended family members that I feel could use a little more input. I realize that I am stepping into an arena that is highly charged politically and emotionally right now and that some of my experiences and observations might be different than the emerging world view of adoption.
Say What?
I have read alarming headlines that accuse the “international adoption trade” of being fueled by America’s greed for children; in other words, international adoption exists only to satisfy an itch in the western world. This premise would be disgusting if it were true; however, with approximately 178 million children in our world needing families and only a small percentage of those children adopted into U.S. families, it is hard for me to reconcile that statement with the facts*. I also recall some of the fantastic families that have sacrificed so much to offer a home for a child and are working incredibly hard to provide love, stability and a bright future to “one” of those millions of children, and I simply cannot take such a jaded view.
As any adoptive parent will tell you, adopting internationally as well as parenting a child that has not been with you since birth is not a walk in the park. It is hard, it is expensive, and it is not for the faint of heart. It is true that there are many families in America that want to adopt either domestically or internationally and there are always more families that would welcome a child in their home than there are children available. But having worked extensively with adoptive families for decades, my experience has been that the motivation of most are altruistic and it is the big hearts that American families have that lead them to embrace the less fortunate. I count it a privilege to walk alongside such selfless and dedicated couples, and I am glad that my fellow countrymen want to embrace children here at home and abroad.
*9,319 children from other countries were adopted in 2011; or, 5 out of every 10,000 children who needed families received homes in America.

You can read Part 2 here.


Jen said...

Thank you for taking the time to address this very important topic!! There is so much sensational information being tossed around and I believe some balance is certainly in order.

Barbra said...

I am looking forward to your series of posts. I believe you have a perspective that needs to be heard. I am concerned about this from you blog post "With approximately 178 million children in our world needing families...."

Is that accurate?? I am so confused about this issue. If 178 million refers to the number of orphans does it also equate the number of children needing families??? If an orphan is defined as a child with one parent then certainly not all of the children with only one parent need a family. Some one-parent-only families are "making it", though, I have certainly seen with my own eyes the orphaned and at-risk status of children with only one parent in some areas of the world.

I believe that international adoption is still a good option for some children. I am in the middle of an intl. adoption right now, myself.

It has been my experience that facts are somewhat hard to come by in this messy world of orphan care. But the fact that this is messy does not allow me to give up on these kids! I do think, though, we owe it to the children to get the facts as close to right as possible.

Please do not feel that you must post this comment...this is really a question to you...someone I respect in the adoption community.

Su said...

Thank you Joy for the time and heart you have given this post and the posts to come. I look forward to your series.

I am proud of you. God has put you in this role. . at this time. . with 30 yrs experience. . . for a reason. I am proud of you for not shrinking back. I am proud of you for being bold. I am proud of you for being a "good steward" of all the gifts, positions, and experience God has given you. This is just one more way for you to be a voice for the voiceless. Do know that these blog posts are not a waste of time or energy. Be bold. I will be praying.

Becky - Adoption Ministry of YWAM Ethiopia said...

From Joy...

Thanks for your thoughtful replies! The actual number that UNICEF puts out is between 143 million and 210 million orphans in the world... I just went in the middle of those two numbers with 178 million (which is also quoted by several other agencies/organizations). UNICEF and other global partners define an orphan as a child who has lost one or both parents. A large majority of these children are living with extended family or others. Statistically, 95% of these children are over the age of 5. (still leaves 3.5 million children under 5) Another bit of statistic that I did not include is that every day 5,760 children lose one or both parents. Every year in Africa, 2,102,400 children become orphans. I use UNICEF data because they are the only organization big enough to be able to do this kind of research. I think the misconception is that all these children need families. That is not the case as other people in their country of origin take in a huge majority of these children … but the point I think worth making is that there are a lot of children who are stuck in orphanages throughout the world or who are living on the streets who need a family.

Perhaps “With approximately 178 million children in our world identified as orphans” would be more accurate instead of "needing families." I appreciate so much you pointing this out, Barbra! I think the premise of the argument remains the same though. What we have to keep in mind is even if half or ¾ of the children are absorbed into the fabric of their country, that still leaves a huge number without any safety net.

Barbra said...

Thank you, Joy, for clearing up that point!

Sara said...

Thanks for clarifying that Joy! I think this is one of the big misconceptions as we think about this issue. I'm a writer and a Christian adoptive mama working on a book about these issues. Relatively few of the world's orphans need international adoption. Most of the world's orphans have one surviving parent - I believe UNICEF estimates a total of 17 million double orphans? And then many of these orphans live with loving relatives or other families in their communities. In many countries around the world, domestic adoption is becoming more common as well. So while children may need new families, they might be able to find them in their countries of birth. This is true in China and Korea, for example. Still there are hundreds of thousands or maybe millions of children who could benefit from international adoption. And you are right, most of these children are older or have special needs. Also, many of the children who do need new families through adoption are not technically "orphans" who have experienced the death of their families but they are the "fatherless" who have been separated from their families as a result of abuse, neglect, abandonment, social reasons, etc. It's such a messy, hard issue. Thanks for taking time to share your heart on this!

Becky - Adoption Ministry of YWAM Ethiopia said...

From Joy...
I am glad to have this statistic from UNICEF about the # of double orphans - I was unable to find such a statistic. Thanks! One of the problems I face in Ethiopia is the inability of extended families to take in even one more mouth to feed. Ethiopians love their children and traditionally the extended family has absorbed children whose parents and died or left, but after the AIDS epidemic that left so many children in this precarious situation and literally wiped out much of the caretaking generation (the fathers and mothers of these children), it became impossible for this society to care for all the children. It is like this today; we are seeing more and more grandparents bringing their grandchildren to the government because they can no longer feed them. We see well meaning neighbors agonize because they cannot absorb the children of their neighbor who died because economically they can barely eat themselves. This is one of the areas we address in our Adoption Ministry 1:27 program. Because of the Christian influence in Korea, this is an upturn in their society. Culturally, Asians as a whole are not jumping into adoption because the huge emphasis on the bloodline. South Korea still has an international adoption program, but hopefully that solution will not be needed in the future. China is working on domestic adoption, but the need is still huge, and domestic adoptions (from all I have been able to ascertain) is still miniscule. It is a hopeful trend!
Sara, you said "Still there are hundreds of thousands or maybe millions of children who could benefit from international adoption. And you are right, most of these children are older or have special needs."
I will throw in my own personal bias here. Babies who are abandoned or whose mother refuses (for a myriad of reasons) to keep them, I think should be a priority to get into stable families. It is the first 12 months of brain development that is crucial, ie., stimulation and nutritious food, bonding …. If they cannot be given a stable, loving home quickly, those children languish. And, in Ethiopia, many of them would die because they are born so malnourished. Also, formula, milk and bottles in the countryside are impossible to acquire, so a baby whose mother has died or left will also die. It is rare that another woman will nurse a child not her own. Of course there is institutionalized care, so good some not, but it is not the highest for any child to be raised in an orphanage. I know, because I run them! I am passionate to get very small children into permanent families. If this can be done domestically, all the better, but a family outside the country is better than no family inside the country.
"Also, many of the children who do need new families through adoption are not technically "orphans" who have experienced the death of their families but they are the "fatherless" who have been separated from their families as a result of abuse, neglect, abandonment, social reasons, etc. It's such a messy, hard issue."
You are right! This is an extremely messy, thorny problem and has been a problem since the fall of man.

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