Today we continue our discussion of the new book by investigative journalist Kathryn Joyce, The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption.
If you missed the previous installments in this series, you can read them here:
In this installment, we focus on orphanages, deception of adoptive and original parents, and coercive tactics employed by the adoption industry. We invite you to join the conversation in the comments following each post.
Karen Pickell: Let’s talk a little more about these orphanages, and particularly about the situation in Ethiopia, which is covered in chapter four. Joyce points out how the demand for adoptable children spawns new “orphanages” that do not even exist before U.S. adoption agencies descend on these impoverished countries searching for kids to send back to waiting American families. I was saddened to learn of the Ethiopian government‘s role in perpetuating the criminal activity of procuring children to be sent overseas by demanding humanitarian aid from the adoption agencies, amounting to $3.7 million annually. There was such a strong financial incentive to keep this business going.
Yes, Karen, and also a financial incentive for agencies to try to stay in business, even if that meant hopping from country to country and engaging in unethical practices. “’Corruption
skips from one unprepared country to the another—until that country gets wise, changes its laws, and corrupt adoptions shift to the next unprepared nation,’ wrote journalist E. J. Graff, who researched international adoption corruption for several years at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism
at Brandeis University.” There’s a huge money factor, and it comes into play in so many ways.
Lynn Grubb: I was quite shocked to learn of this, Karen. But it makes sense. Families hear the rumors that the neighbor’s kids are going to the U.S. for an education and other families jump on the bandwagon and put their “orphans” in “orphanages” for opportunities. Sadly, they don’t even fully understand that they are relinquishing their rights forever. That is so wrong to me.
Rebecca: I’d also like to highlight the point that the book makes about prospective adoptive parents’ wish lists (wanting a young child, a female child, etc.) driving demand, creating an underworld in which children are procured to fill the orders. It’s chilling to think of it this way, but the money coming into poor countries from U.S. adopters and agencies is a huge influence. Corruption is bound to happen in such circumstances.
I agree, Lynn. So wrong!
Susan Perry: The money factor drives the business, and adoption is a subject, unfortunately, that can easily be misrepresented and simplified. Who can argue with the assertion that “every child deserves a loving home?” People don’t want to look at the unsettling truths behind the business, either overseas or here.
And then there are the people like the Bradshaws
, American adoptive parents who spoke out about the corruption and lies they encountered and faced strong retribution, almost losing their own bio kids as a result of speaking out. Scary.
Lynn: Yes, Rebecca. I recall somebody receiving death threats as well. Big money in adoption.
Rebecca: Chilling. This book has certainly stimulated a strong sense of outrage in me!
Karen P.: Lynn, this truth that our western idea of adoption is not understood in these countries is pointed out repeatedly in the book. How awful that parents are sending their kids off thinking they’re getting a chance at a good education, only to later learn that they’ve lost their children forever? As I read about Haiti back in chapter two, I kept thinking, “How do these adoptive parents live with themselves once they learn what they’ve really done?” I was pleased to find Joyce interviewing adoptive parents of some of the Ethiopian children in chapter four. One mother, Jessie Hawkins, says, “Finding out that you have someone else’s child simply because you happen to have been born in a country where you’re more privileged than they are? You want to throw up, you don’t know what to do.” Many of these adoptive parents are also being scammed by the agencies. I was a little confused, though, by the story of the Bradshaws, who discovered their adopted children were not really orphans and wanted to return them to their family in Ethiopia, but couldn’t for some legal reason that wasn’t clearly explained. I do wish Joyce would have made it clear why these children could not be reunited with their families. I was left wondering whether the Bradshaws really did everything they could have to get these kids back where they belonged.
Yes, Rebecca, the way their agency turned on the Bradshaws was very scary.
Carlynne Hershberger: I questioned that aspect of it too, Karen. She says several times that it would be illegal for the child to be sent back. How can that be? The whole idea that people would mislead a family to think they’re simply giving their child an education opportunity while all along taking the child away permanently just sickens me to the core. I don’t understand a human who could do that.
Rebecca: You make a good point, Karen. I got the sense that they were stuck—financially, legally, and otherwise—but that aspect wasn’t fully explained.
With you, Karen, on the confusion over the Bradshaws’ situation. The adoptive mom in Tennessee sent Artyom back and “Criminal charges were never filed, but the adoption agency she used, the World Association for Children and Parents, which is based in Seattle, sued her last year for child support
Karen P.: And knowing what they did, why did the Bradshaws change the girls’ names? Maybe it’s a small point compared to everything else in the book, but this whole idea of renaming children—especially older children—bothers me. It seems so much like a way of taking ownership of them.
Mila: Karen—yes! I was very perturbed by the Bradshaws’ decision to insist upon changing their names.
Rebecca: I suspect there was an “emerging from the fog” process for the Bradshaws. Some of the confusion is around sequencing. At what point did they know what? I’m not sure, but the adoption appears to have been finalized months before the children were brought to the United States, which seems a questionable practice in and of itself.
Mila: Good point, Rebecca. Hadn’t thought of it like that . . . .
|K. Dahlquist & R. Bangert
Lynn: One theme I noticed in the adoptive parents who later learned their children were not orphans by any means, was that they were under so much pressure by others in the adoption community to not speak up, to not post the information on message boards warning other parents, to just go along with the program. Kind of like, “You have your kids now be quiet and let the rest of us get ours”. The adoptive parents who later discovered the truth were in this “don’t ask, don’t tell” position and the only thing that mattered to the other prospective adoptive parents was getting children—orphans or not.
Karen P.: It’s frightening, isn’t it, that there are so many prospective adoptive parents who do not want to hear about any negatives prior to adopting? As an adoptee, I find it very hurtful, because I know they do not have the best interest of their future children in mind if they don’t care to learn about the reality of living inside of adoption. In this age when so much information is available 24/7 via the internet, there is no excuse for not knowing what’s really going on.
Mila: Karen—I have had personal experience with this. A friend had contacted me expressing she wanted to hear what I had to say about adopting from Ethiopia because she and her husband were seriously considering it—and basically already had begun the process through an agency. I shared a ton of links and resources with her that discussed the complexities and warned against adopting from Ethiopia. She responded by distancing herself from me after telling me that she had never heard a perspective like mine (even though it wasn’t solely my perspective). Now she sends me requests for money to help maternity clinics in Ethiopia, which is great (their adopted children’s mother died in labor—although their father and full siblings are of course still alive and it does seem that the father did not have a full understanding of what he was doing when he brought the newborns to the orphanage out of desperation for their lives). But of course, she’s doing this AFTER she and her husband adopted from Ethiopia—again, back to your point, Karen, that they didn’t want to face the truth until they were able to get the children they wanted. That may sound really harsh and judgmental but dang it, that’s sure the way it seems. But on the flip side, another friend who contacted me for the same reason—wanting to learn more about adopting from Ethiopia—responded by actually deciding not to adopt from Ethiopia after researching the links, resources, and info I emailed to her.
Karen P.: Those are two very powerful examples, Mila. And this is why we need to keep speaking and educating as many people as we can about the truth of adoption.
Lynn: On an unrelated topic on page 89, I like how the author paints a picture of the Baby Scoop Era and was interested to learn that “many were pressured to deny that they knew the fathers of their children” and “it was so traumatizing that many do not remember the births.” This is true for my own mother, I suspect, who did not remember my birthday.
Carlynne: One other part I wanted to mention was the comeback of the maternity home. So many times when I discuss this issue and how I was treated as a mother I get the instant reply of “that was then, it doesn’t happen anymore.” It’s interesting that so much of the funding coming from programs like “choose life” license plates goes to help CPC’s and homes but only if the woman chooses adoption. The story of the girls in Utah who felt they had to resort to assault to escape one of these homes and keep their babies, should be evidence that coercive tactics are alive and well.
Forgot to mention that was in 2007.
Karen P.: Yes, Carlynne, the Baby Scoop Era may be over in terms of the great number of women who were forced to relinquish, but unfortunately the tactics from that era haven’t completely been eradicated. It angers me that there are people who believe, as Joyce makes the point, that it is God’s will that one family should suffer to make another family happy.
Rebecca: Karen, you wrote above “As an adoptee, I find it very hurtful, because I know they do not have the best interest of their future children in mind if they don’t care to learn about the reality of living inside of adoption.” This hits on something about the God’s-will, rescue narrative that is particularly challenging for me. The adoptee is assumed to benefit, but little to no effort is put into determining if the adoptee actually does get the “better life” the adoption promoters are so certain about. To the contrary, when adoptees come forward to say “Hey, our experience wasn’t actually all that great,” we are dismissed. If an adoptee’s actual experience doesn’t fit with the established framework, it must be the adoptee who is flawed—hence the stereotype of the bitter, ungrateful adoptee who is viewed as an aberration who can be disregarded. Where is the space for corrective feedback? Where is critical thought and reevaluation of the framework itself based on its impact on the very people it is supposed to benefit?
I sometimes think that adoption is a big, crazy experiment in which no one ever checks the results. Rather, the experiment just goes on and on. This book has reinforced that perception for me.
Carlynne: Totally agree Rebecca. As an adoptee and a natural mother, this book not only gives me that impression but it fills me with such rage that our lives could be so manipulated for so many decades with so many people just seemingly to not care or just want to look the other way for the sake of profit.
To be continued . . . Please join us next Thursday, May 23, when we will begin discussing the second half of The Child Catchers, starting with chapter five.