OUR REPORTING ON INTERNATIONAL ADOPTION

Corruption in international adoptions

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VIETNAM CASE STUDY
NEPAL CASE STUDY
POLICIES FOR FAIRER PRACTICE
THE LIE WE LOVE: ORPHANS & INTERNATIONAL ADOPTION
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COUNTRY BY COUNTRY: REPORTS FROM AROUND THE WORLD
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Experts Respond to
  "The Baby Business"


The Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism asked a number of experts, practitioners, and advocates in international adoption to respond to “The Baby Business,” Democracy Journal, Summer 2010.

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Kathleen Strottman, Executive Director,
Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute

I want to begin by stating that I agree with every one of the eight reform principles outlined by Ms. Graff. Each of the reforms outlined is based on the following three basic notions: that facilitating an adoption should be a human service, not a business; that there is not only a role but a need for government oversight of adoption; and finally, if given access to the right information, adoptive families can and most often will use the power of their “consumer choice” to weed out corruption. At CCAI, we work hard to educate federal policymakers about both the strengths and weaknesses of our current international adoption system and ways they might act to increase our areas of strength while decreasing our areas of weakness worldwide. I am hopeful that some of the reforms outlined in this article will be taken up by Members of Congress and the Administration who are interested in continuing the momentum toward reform.

Facilitating an adoption should be a human service, not a business.
That being said, I would like speak to four of the eight suggestions in particular. First, I think that cash transfers of any kind should be banned during the process of adoption. As was suggested in the article, cash transfers only lead to relatively large sums of money changing hands in non-transparent ways. The global banking system is more than sufficient to support these transfers electronically. Similarly, I support stronger reporting requirements for fees associated with adopting internationally and limits on what can be paid to certain individuals and for certain services. Thirdly, I support the provision of an appropriate amount of dedicated federal funds for activities associated with the federal oversight of the accreditation process. As was described, these additional funds could be used to promote random surveys of families about their experience and in-country field investigations. Finally, I fully support strengthening our criminal laws and civil penalties so that corrupt practices are more clearly illegal and there are real consequences for those who violate them.

I support stronger reporting requirements for fees associated with adopting internationally and limits on what can be paid to certain individuals and for certain services.
I also agree with Ms. Graff’s assertion that debunking some of the fundamental myths surrounding adoption is an important first step toward reform. One such myth is, however, perpetuated by Ms. Graff’s statement that “fewer Westerners are prepared to take in the older, ill or more challenging children.” This statement is based on the misperception that adoptive families are only looking and therefore only willing to adopt healthy infant children. According to a 2007 survey of 600,000 women considering adoption, 351,600 responded they were open to adopting a child between the ages of 6 and 12, 185,400 said that they would adopt a child over 13, and 181,000 said there were open to adopting a child with a disability (Survey on Family Growth). Similarly, the National Survey of Adoptive Parents (also from 2007) revealed that only 24 percent of the children adopted internationally were under the age of five and 46 percent of children adopted through all sources (domestic and international) were over the age of ten. Another harmful myth is perpetuated by the commonly publicized debate over the meaning of the word “orphan.” Ms. Graff is right to point out that the 163 million children estimated to be orphans by UNICEF does include millions of children who are single orphans, having lost just one parent. Therefore, these statistics cannot and should not be offered as an estimate of the number of children in the world who need homes through international adoption. But at the same time, it is important to acknowledge that these definitions and statistics also do not tell us how many of the world’s children—whether they are statistically identified as having one or even two living parents—are not living with these parents, but rather in the care of an institution. For too long, some in the community have failed to acknowledge that the world’s “social orphans,” children whose parents have placed them in an orphanage because they cannot afford their care, are in no less need of interventions because their parents are alive. It is not sufficient to cite the existence of family as some sort of presumption of stability or well being. In fact, 100 percent of the 550,000 children in the U.S. foster care system have living relatives, and yet these children and their families are without a doubt in need of family reunification, guardianship, or adoption-related services.
Governments and non-governmental organizations do a lot of things well, but raising children is not one of them. Sadly, in most every country where there are significant numbers of orphan children, the only interventions in place to serve them are institutions or intercountry adoption.
Finally, I believe that if we are going to truly answer the call to protect the safety and well being of the world’s children, then we have to do more to help them realize their basic right to a family. Governments and non-governmental organizations do a lot of things well, but raising children is not one of them. Sadly, in most every country where there are significant numbers of orphan children, the only interventions in place to serve them are institutions or intercountry adoption. It is no wonder that in these systems international adoption is not used as a last resort, because it is rightly viewed by desperate parents and under resourced governments as the only resort to a life in an institution or on the streets.

The U.S. has both the human capacity and the resources to provide underdeveloped countries with the technical guidance and financial support they need to create a child welfare system that takes greater action toward preventing parents from feeling forced to abandon their child. We have fifty-plus years of experience in providing at-risk families with the services they need to be reunified with their children. And finally, we have the lessons learned from our successful promotion of over 50,000 domestic adoptions a year out of our own foster care system. In addition to the international adoption reforms outlined above, the U.S. needs to use the benefit of our domestic experience to play a more active role in developing family-based systems of child welfare worldwide.

To illustrate this last point consider the following quote from a recent article about the conditions for orphan children and their families in Haiti following the January 2010 earthquake:

The United Nation's Children's Fund set up a toll-free hotline in February for abandoned or lost children who had been separated from their families during the quake. The call center has registered 960 children so far. UNICEF gave the hotline number only to agencies and aid workers—not the public—for fear of an avalanche of calls from desperate families trying to unload their children.

Be it a 1-800 number, an institution, or the promise of a better life through international adoption, loving and desperate families will turn to whatever they are offered as a way to protect and provide for their children. We can, and should, do more to help them.

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~ Kathleen Strottman comes to her role as the Executive Director of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI) after serving for nearly eight years as a trusted advisor to Senator Mary L. Landrieu (D-LA). The Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to raising awareness about the millions of children around the world in need of permanent, safe, and loving homes and to eliminating the barriers that hinder these children from realizing their basic right of a family.

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NOTE: This page from the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism website offers documentation of and background about serious irregularities in international adoption. For the systemic analysis of corruption in international adoption, please read “The Lie We Love,” Foreign Policy magazine, Nov./Dec. 2008, and visit our webpages dedicated to international adoption. For ideas about fairer policy solutions, please read “The Baby Business,” Democracy Journal, Summer 2010.


© 2008-2014 Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA, 02454. All rights reserved.

Last page update: February 22, 2011