Conference call on Guatemalan adoption, 3/31/11

I just hung up the phone from the U.S. State Department conference call on the status of Guatemalan adoption and I’m in awe of the composure of the other people who were on the line. Not the State Department employees, who are doing their best and are trained to remain composed. But the parents who have been waiting for their children for more than three years–the group known as the Guatemala900. How did those mothers and fathers not shriek with outraged fury–My child is growing up in an orphanage without me! My kid needs a loving family! Does anyone care about the fate of our children?

I’m afraid that’s what I might have done.

The first thing we were told was that the call was “off-the-record” for journalists. I doubt anyone considers my blog “journalism,” but in case they do, I’ll respect that caveat. Besides, there is little new to report since the 12/21/10 conference call. Guatemalan working groups continue to review cases. The universe of cases seems to remain around 385. The ones in PGN are staying in PGN; the ones in CNA aren’t moving from there, either. The pace is still slow. Excruciatingly so. Six cases per week, on average. At that rate, we’re looking at another year and a half to two years, minimum, for large-scale resolution.

I understand how important it is to remain positive. But the more I read articles, books, and other blogs about international adoption, the more I realize that emotion, and not reason, often seems to drive the decision-making process.  Take adoption from Ethiopia. Recently, the government there announced that due to “irregularities”–real or perceived–only five cases a day would be processed. A spate of blog posts followed, pro and con, including an excellent overview at Creating a Family. In the Comments section, “abiye” wrote this: 

“Most Ethiopians are not happy in what’s going on in the Adoption dram[a]. Ethiopians, particularly in Addis Ababa, get angry seeing white people coming into their country and leave with a child – as if that child is a pet. This is/was a talk of the town for last few years & the government knows it that at any time the anger can reach a boiling point.”

I posted in response: 

“As an adoptive mother to two children from Guatemala, I admit there are problems in the system that must be fixed. However… From my observation, some of the controversy around international adoption stems from th[e] anger [abiye describes]. If that’s the case, perhaps no level of reform will ever be perceived as satisfactory.” 

In a February 17  blog post, I wrote about the Kyrgyzstan 65, a group of adoptive parents in the U.S. whose pending adoptions have been hung up for years.  Yesterday, March 30, an article titled Bishkek Lawmakers Reluctant to Lift International Adoption Freeze appeared on  

In 2008, responding to local rumors that foreigners were adopting babies to harvest their organs, the Kyrgyz government imposed a moratorium on international adoptions. Since then, American families… have been waiting to bring home 65 children whose adoptions were in progress when the freeze was announced. According to the Ministry of Social Protection, 30 of the 65 orphans have special health conditions and need regular treatment that is difficult to find in Kyrgyzstan. Two have died. Families in Kyrgyzstan have adopted only four.

Could it be that, around the world, unreasonable delays are happening because, bottom line, some people really don’t want these adoptions to be resolved? That, for reasons of their own, a nation would prefer their children live in orphanages than go to the United States? Recently, I was asked to participate on a panel about adoption from Guatemala. In preparation, the question arose about domestic adoption in Guatemala–that is, Guatemalan families adopting children who are not blood relations. How many such adoptions have occurred, now that adoptions are closed to outsiders? If an answer exists, none of us could find it, including a Guatemalan national with close ties to adoption. “Domestic adoption first” is held up as a solution, the better way to provide permanent families for children who need them. Wonderful. But in the three years since the December 2007 shutdown, few, if any, families in Guatemala have stepped up to adopt orphans.

Meanwhile, the families on the phone line today continue to wait.


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9 Responses to “Conference call on Guatemalan adoption, 3/31/11”

  1. heather says:

    Seriously…I am tears about this (the situation of the Guatemala 900 & shutdowns without resolution everywhere) and it just seems so hopeless. Who would want these children to suffer, to grow up without a family, to die…it makes no sense!!!!!! My daughter came home in November of 2007…I cannot imagine being one of the families who weren’t so lucky.

  2. sjbj says:

    You are exactly right–there are many who totally oppose inter-country adoption, in any way, shape or form. If domestic adoption is the solution, they need to provide DATA that this works.

  3. Jessica says:

    Heather, me too. Agree with everything you say. How do these families get through the day? I’m also in tears, just imagining it.

    sjbj: I cannot understand why many are so opposed to inter-country adoption, but they are. That principle seems to trump the long-term well-being of thousands of children. I also would love to see data on domestic adoption. So far, none is forthcoming.

  4. I believe you are correct that there is no solution short of stopping adoptions to the US that will make everyone happy. For a variety of reasons, some informed and some not so informed, it seems that “losing” their children to the US is never a comfortable thing. Children remaining in orphanages are easier to ignore than those being adopted by white faces apparently. It makes me sad that arbitrary borders make it unacceptable for someone to want to love a child but I can understand their point of view a bit too.
    I often wonder if another country suddenly started adopting large numbers of children from our foster system if we wouldn’t become horribly uncomfortable and do our best to stop it despite not having a better solution. (Obviously not a danger if anyone has ever looked into the difficulty of adopting from our foster care system.)

  5. Jessica says:

    Thanks for writing, Michelle. Children in orphanages ARE easier to ignore, unfortunately. I like the way you put this: “losing their children to the US is never a comfortable thing.” For anyone, anywhere, adoption is not an easy decision, and for a country, adoption to the US may signify one more “imbalance of power.”

    I appreciate your wondering about another country suddenly adopting large numbers of U.S. children. Thankfully, our country commits the resources to caring for children in foster care, and does a lot to keep families intact, through welfare, food stamps, public education, community health clinics, and societal acceptance of single parents. If this weren’t the case, would I believe it’s better for children to grow up in orphanages here than in a loving home somewhere else?

    I hope not. Based on personal observation of the many children I know who have spent months or years in foster or institutional care–and witnessing their ongoing struggles and challenges–I know I would choose for those children a loving, permanent family over institutional care, the sooner the better. And then I would work hard to improve the situation in my country, first, so that families can remain intact–beginning with education for women and children–and second, so that a viable system to adopt children domestically is implemented. Unless those elements are in place, it seems cruel and inhumane to sentence a child to 18 years spent in an orphanage.

    I try to see both points of view, but for me, on this issue, it’s becoming harder and harder. The solution of shutting down adoption is so permanent and final. Entire lifetimes spent without a mother or father. It’s impossible for me to see how that can be good.

    Thanks again for writing.

  6. Deborah says:

    I thank God and the universe that I was able to fly down and receive my
    daugthers in arms within 6 and 8 months respectively, from the date they
    were referred to me through the agency I worked with to become a family.
    I pray there is resolution for all those who are awaiting their children.


  7. Sveta says:

    As a native of country that has a large number of children in orphanages as well as its own intercountry adoption controversy, I have heard my share of negative comments from my fellow Russians regarding this issue. I think that behind all that “loosing our children to Amercans” sentiment, there is a deeply veiled sense of shame and embarrasement for the country’s inability to take care of its own children. The anger at Westerners is actually a misplaced anger, frustration, sense of ther own shame and helplessness. Somehow they feel they are retaining whatever little is left of their national pride by just not letting the adoptions happen, it’s almost like a deep denial and inability to deal with the problem. Brings us back to Michelle’s point – children in orphanages are easier to ignore, perpetuating this denial.

  8. Carri Kern says:

    Thank you for posting this! I am a waiting parent. I was on the call, but muted myself because I did not think I could hold my tongue. This has been such a long and hard journey, but we are able to make it through the day knowing that it is all worth it. The love we have for our sweet son is more than I could ever imagine and we will NEVER give up on him.

  9. Jessica says:

    Deborah: Yes, and yes. And what a beautiful family you are. Thank you for reading.

    Sveta: I really appreciate your sharing your perspective. In addition, I’m thinking about how, historically, the very concept of “adoption” has been veiled in shame; until recently, families didn’t “tell” their children they were adopted unless they found out; and even now, “adoption” is considered somehow “shameful” in a way reproductive choices such as “terminating a pregnancy” or “single parenting” are not. Maybe a general shift in the way adoption is viewed would help a country realize there is no shame in providing a loving home for children, wherever that loving home is.

    Carri: You and the other waiting parents were impressive! Not sure I could have stayed so controlled. I believe you when you say you “will NEVER give up on him.” There are many of us out here rooting for you and the other waiting families. Onward.

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