The Chronicle of Philanthropy recently posted a podcast on “Corruption in International Adoption.” The segment, produced by Amy Costello, featured an interview with Jennifer Hemsley, an adoptive mother who was so concerned that her intended daughter had been kidnapped from her Guatemalan birth mother that she halted the adoption. Hemsley later discovered the girl had not been kidnapped; the child was moved to an orphanage, and ultimately placed in permanent foster care in Guatemala. Amy Costello also interviewed Erin Siegal, author of Finding Fernanda, a new book about corrupt practices in adoptions from Guatemala.
Unlike some of the reportage I read about international adoption, I found Costello’s interview to be thoughtful and well-researched. At the same time, I felt she was presenting only one side of a very complex issue. Thus, I engaged with Costello in a dialogue on yet another blog, China Adoption Talk. You can listen to the original podcast and read our conversation by clicking on the China Adoption Talk link.
Below are excerpts from my comments:
As everyone agrees, corruption in international adoption must be identified and weeded out, a monumental task to be sure.
But I think it’s important to view the subject of “money” in international adoption within the context of all adoptions, as well as within the context of the often-overlooked but related fertility “industry.”
I’ve spent the past year speaking to groups of parents about a book I wrote about adoption from Guatemala. Many folks tell me our international adoption was “cheap” compared with their private domestic adoption, and/or fertility treatments, and/or payments to donors and surrogates, both here and abroad.
One physician said he thought the high cost of international adoption could be linked to the high cost of fertility treatments in the US. Something to consider.
None of which excuses corrupt practices in international adoption. But it seems as though international adoption often is reported in a vacuum, when in fact it’s part of a wide spectrum of ways to create a family, most involving money that changes hands.
As a fellow adoptive mom with children from Guatemala, I feel deep empathy for Jennifer and her family’s struggles. Her responses definitely resonate for me, as they probably do for others who have adopted from Guatemala and spent any time there. As my lawyer once told me, “This is not Paris. This is not Argentina. This is Guatemala. Things are different here.”
A number of adoptive parents have shared with me their nightmare paperwork stories, including false names or addresses, or a boilerplate social worker report. This is especially hard because many APs with children from Guatemala want to connect with birth parents, and inaccurate information makes that impossible: children will never be able to trace their biological roots, and birth mothers are unable to be found. I consider that a tragedy.
However, for me, false paperwork is a far cry from kidnapping or coercion, although they are often all lumped together as “corrupt adoption.” (In California, where I live, for example, tens of thousands of residents are undocumented and use fake ID, but we don’t consider them “criminals.” Again, my opinion only.) Jennifer’s experience is a case in point: although the date on the DNA was wrong, the baby was not kidnapped. Yet the adoption is labeled “corrupt.”
Like you and others, including “orphan doctor” Jane Aronson, I absolutely support the idea of family preservation in-country. In addition to funds donated by “ordinary families around the world,” it would be great if governments of countries could step up efforts to assist their citizens by earmarking funds for family planning services, food, housing, and education.
That said, there will always be situations where a woman cannot or chooses not to parent her child. In those instances, international adoption can be viewed as one option.
Will international adoption ever be fully transparent? Maybe if enough people make enough noise, it will. In a country such as Guatemala, adoption of non-blood-related children is rare, so without international adoption, the alternative is a lifetime spent in institutional care. Jennifer’s account of her daughter’s orphanage experience was chilling, and unfortunately, not unique.
I’m grateful to Amy Costello for caring about international adoption, and for listening to what I had to say. Thanks, too, to Malinda at China Adoption Talk for giving us the space to air our thoughts.
If you have an opinion you’d like to share, please comment here or on either of the other two websites.