What About the Kids?

What About the Kids?

People — smart, well-read people — have looked at me in surprise when I say that there are tens of millions of orphans in the world. “I don’t understand,” they say. “It took my friends two years to complete their adoption from…” Fill in the blank — Russia, China, Romania. “I thought that parents had to wait because there are more parents who want to adopt than there are kids who need to be adopted.”

So not. There are long waits because governments and international aid organizations obstruct international adoption.

Why? Here are some of the anti-international-adoption arguments and my responses:

—  Children have a “right to their cultural heritage”

china line of kidsI’m not sure how you define cultural heritage, but a life of institutionalization, mental illness, sex trafficking, crime and early death is not a worthy cultural heritage. And certainly not a life we should impose on a child in the name of some greater heritage-value. This argument is predicated on the assumption that a cultural heritage is not a gift, a meaningful set of ways to orient us in life, but our owner, who has the right to lock us up for the sake of its own honor. The same people who would NEVER claim that  DNA is destiny, claim precisely that in the case of voiceless children. If you are born an “untouchable” in India, does that caste, or caste system own you? Are you morally obligated to  remain in that culture? We would never tell an adult that he was bound by cultural norms — imagine insisting that a gay Iranian stay in Iran and suffer the consequences in the name of cultural heritage? In our liberal western ideals (of which I am very much a part) adults are not expected to  sacrifice themselves on the altar of racial, cultural or sexual identity. Why should children?

There is a paradigmatic story in the Torah — the Five Books of Moses — called Akeidat Yitchak — the Binding of Isaac. Abraham is called to take his son, Isaac, to a mountaintop and sacrifice him on an altar to God. Abraham packs up the stuff he needs — the fire, the wood, the rope, the knife, and takes his son on this journey. What could Abraham do? He was called to by God and God’s purpose for the future nation of Abraham, to sacrifice his son. Abraham fastened Isaac to the altar and raised the knife above him when an angel called down to stop him. “Abraham! Abraham! Do not raise your hand against the boy!”

Are we willing to bind our children to the  altar of of “cultural heritage” — especially when they are extremely unlikely to benefit from the good of that culture?RomaniaOrphans-241x150

— Adoption “robs countries of their most precious resource”

This assumes that children are the property of the nation, culture or religion into which they were born. We certainly do not make these claims for adults. If an adult wants to leave a country, religion or culture, would anyone tell them they are obligated to their old ways? “You were born an ultra-Orthodox Jew and you may be a woman who wants to become a rabbi but you are obligated to stay in Crown Heights and cover your hair and have ten children  — you are their most precious resource!” Why are children different? Elizabeth Bartholet challenges us to a thought experiment. Imagine if children could speak for themselves, regardless of their age, and they were asked if they would prefer an institution or the streets in their country of birth over a family outside their country of birth. What does our empathy, our imagination, tell us? If God forbid our children were ever orphaned, what would we want for them?

— International adoption is corrupt

Abuses in international adoption do exist although they are not at all widespread. Child abuse, however, is rampant among unparented children — not by people who want to protect and love an raise them, but by people who want to use their bodies for sex and crime. Any corruption in adoption should be punished. But we should punish the perpetrators, not millions of innocent children.

Professor Barthoet writes:

Institutional care often kills children, and it systematically destroys the life potential of those who live. Children who graduate from institutions or grow up on the streets are the ones who are at serious risk of abuses in the form of child trafficking for sex and other slavery, and exploitation as child soldiers. There is no evidence that international adoption serves as a front for any of these forms of serious exploitation.

The common response to law violations in the international adoption area is to shut down such adoption through temporary or permanent moratoria, and to impose increasingly severe restrictions that effectively if not officially shut down such adoption. For example, alleged baby selling was used to shut down Guatemala’s international adoption program entirely for two years, and to help justify the strict new law that Guatemala boasts will limit such adoption to some two hundred children annually, as compared to the several thousand previously placed annually. Alleged abuses have helped justify bans on private intermediaries throughout Central and South America. Since these intermediaries served as the lifeblood of such adoption, these bans have effectively shut it down.

This response makes no sense as a way of addressing adoption law violations. It punishes unparented children by locking them into institutions and denying them the nurturing adoptive homes they need. It puts children at far greater risk of true trafficking and exploitation.

The response to adoption abuses should be the same as in other areas of law violation — enforce existing law, strengthen that law as appropriate, and punish those violating the law. Biological parents often violate the laws against abuse and neglect of children. Society does not respond by telling parents they can no longer take their newborns home from the hospital because henceforth all children are to be raised in institutions to protect against parental misconduct. Instead society enforces and sometimes strengthens the laws against parental misconduct.

Some say that it is hard for poor countries with limited infrastructure to enforce laws prohibiting baby selling and other adoption abuses. This may be. But it is also hard, indeed impossible, for these countries to guarantee nurturing parental homes for all their children. Even if adoption law violations occur, the harm such violations cause children and birth parents is minimal compared to the harm caused by shutting down or severely restricting international adoption.

The chocolate we eat (unless it’s fair trade or direct trade) is often the product of child slavery in cocoa production. In Ghana the fishing industry is “manned” (“childed?”) by small children who’s fingers are thin enough to work the fine underwater netting.

young boy on fish boatThese kids are bought, stolen, and tricked away from their parents into forced labor, often death (have you ever gotten caught in an underwater net?). Yet no one demands to stop all chocolate production. No one is erasing fish from the menu at their favorite restaurant. Why would we stop all international adoptions?

Leaving millions of children without parents is a reasonable trade for stopping the perceived abuses in an adoption system, but giving up chocolate? Well, that’s asking too much.

It’s confounding to me.

— Adopiton is merely colonialism wrapped in a humanistic package

We all want a world in which no one group dominates or colonizes another. A world in which cultures and individuals grow, become and create in environments of well-being, justice and peace — adults, teens, children. Everyone. Does prohibiting, or slowing down, international adoption increase egalitarianism in the world? Does it raise the power and potential of developing countries? If the answer is no (as it is, by the way) then the question becomes: what the hell are we doing? If the answer is yes (which it’s not), then the question is, “do we sacrifice children in the name of fixing grown-up sins?”

The biblical flood story describes the generation of Noah as so evil that God decided to destroy the world and start humanity over again. There is a rabbinic story that says that the waters did not fall as rain but instead came up from the earth like geysers. What did the generation of Noah do? They took their babies and stuffed them into the holes to plug the water flow, to try to save themselves. That is this anti-international-adoption argument. Let’s use our children to stop the flows of injustice we adults have created. Those immense social ills must be addressed and remedied as much and as soon as possible. But we don’t use children to do that. Especially not when using children as tools creates the exact kind of suffering we want to end. 

— Nations are ashamed of their high orphan-rate and the correlating inability to care for the children, and are even pressured — as Romania was in order to join the EU — to make the orphan crisis “disappear”.

On a micro-scale we would never condone hiding child abuse to save face. But on a macro-scale very few people care.

Ellen Zemel helps her 10-year-old son Laib Zemel, from left, in a symbolic lighting of a menorah in honor of the eight days of Hanukkah Sunday Dec. 14, 2014 during a party for parents and children of the Project Esther: The Chicago Jewish Adoption Network of the Jewish Child & Family Services at the Elain Kersten Children's Center in Northbrook. (Michael Tercha/Chicago Tribune) 2415851 - ct-multi-ethnic-jews-hanukkah-met 2

(Michael Tercha/Chicago Tribune)


Saturday morning services have ended at Temple Sinai and the congregation is gathered in the recreation room for lunch and socializing. The table is covered with bagels and cream cheese, as well as Ethiopian injera and sauces. The children are running around, playing cards, hiding behind the curtains on the small stage at the back, sneaking soda, and negotiating play dates.

Among the children are a dozen or so from orphanages in Addis Ababa. They are of the eight families of Temple Sinai who have adopted in the Second Nurture framework. Their parents had shared the adoption journey from the beginning: from learning about the orphan crisis to home studies and paperwork; matching with and traveling to bring their children home to on-going support of each other and the children via classes and discussion groups.

In clusters of conversation they watch their children play. They share meaningful glances that say it all: thank God they are here, with us, our children. Fellow congregants who are part of the new cohort of adopting parents – still in the home study stage — join them in a cluster, excited and nervous. They grasp the hands of their birth kids and say, “Soon your brother or sister will come home from Ethiopia, too!”

Many of their friends in the synagogue, adoptive families and not, are now involved in supporting sustainable technologies in a village outside Addis Ababa that enables mothers to pump and filter water at home, raising their children more healthfully and safely.

Tonight, Temple Sinai is holding an Open House for Second Nurture. The members are excited to welcome families from the Sikh Temple, since only Indians can adopt from the very high orphan population in India, as well as families from the nearby Unitarian church and the city’s community center.

This scene is supported and promoted by Second Nurture in dozens of religious and secular communities around the country.

Bring your child home & finalize adoption.

There is acute experience, like Homecoming Day, which is often followed by a Honeymoon Period. There will also be a stretch of time, until the finalization of the adoption, where there will be official social worker visits for both monitoring and support.

“I picked up the manila envelope we had received from an adoption agency, and Yosef put down his newspaper. I hadn’t opened it yet, hadn’t yet been willing to enter some ass-kicking reality: once the forms were complete, our file would join hundreds of others on the desk of a bureaucratic matchmaker—a faraway woman at a desk, surrounded by stuffed manila folders or clear plastic sleeves in binders. Half the files would be filled with information on prospective parents like us. The other half with photographs, biographies, and medical records of children. For Papa, make him a scholar! For Mama, make him rich as a king!

Maybe Xue the Matchmaker sits in an old Soviet-style office building in Beijing sipping bubble tea, and Sunita the Matchmaker drinks lassi in a Gothic structure in Mumbai, and Mio the Matchmaker sits in Hong Kong sipping yuanyang, and Yihune the Matchmaker savors muddy coffee in Addis Ababa, and Regina the Matchmaker tosses back a shot of Russian vodka. And maybe Xue’s bubble tea spills on one of the two piles of forms, and in cleaning up the spill she puts the top document on the windowsill to dry, and staples the second document to the first document from the other pile, and instead of Mei Ling going to Esther Goldberg on the Upper West Side of Manhattan she goes to Erin and John o’Malley in Boston.

And maybe that was meant to be.”

Prepare for your child & get organized.

The length of time between being notified that you have been selected as the adoptive family for a child or sibling group and receiving the physical placement of them in your home is dependent on many factors. Just as you will need time to prepare both physically and emotionally for the placement, so too does the child with the help of their caseworker, foster family, and others. Activities such as goodbye visits with the child’s birth family and others will not only help you to be patient for placement to occur, but will also help you to respond to the child’s mixed feelings when placement does occur. Weighing other factors, such as timing placement to happen during summer vacation, holiday break, or at the end of a school semester will be help them transition more smoothly from their current placement to your family. Pre-placement visits with the child in your home, the child’s foster home, or a neutral location is important. When and where the visits happen, and how many will occur, are customized for each adoption and take into account the child’s age and developmental stage, child and family calendars, distance, and other factors. You will also have preparations to make such as school arrangements, medical insurance, and legal processes. Second Nurture and our partners – your partners – will guide you through it.

I rifled through the forms. Three stapled sections were held together by a paper clip. The pages were photocopies, black type on white paper, the text askew. I paused at the page of medical conditions, like the health history form you complete at a first doctor visit. But instead of checking off the ailments you had, you checked off the ones you were willing to have—in a child:

HIV, Clubfoot, Blindness, Deafness, Cleft Palate, Spina Bifida, Hypospadias, Hemangioma

Each mark, whether a “yes” or a “no,” felt significant. Would a certain pattern of yes and no marks somehow lead us to our child? How could I divine these markers on our path, like constellations in a desert sky? And who was I to have this kind of power? God lifted the veil of creation, just a little smidge at the corner, for half a second, and showed me a glimpse of its inner workings. “Now,” the still small voice said, “take a step toward your child.”

I reviewed the column of blue Xs I had drawn. I had responded honestly, as honestly as possible. This was a partnership between my Bic pen and the cosmos.

Our National Social Service Director, Mary Beth King, MSSA, tells us about the Home Study Process in North Carolina:

In NC, a total of 3 home study visits are typically required. For married couples or if there is more than one adult living in the home, this usually extends to 4 visits. The first visit is generally with both partners: discussions related to why you’ve chosen to adopt, what you anticipate your life will be like as parents (or with additional children in the home), addressing any major concerns related to the process, the child, the overall adoption and what it means for your family in particular.

The next two visits are with each partner individually; we’ll talk about your childhood, your own experiences with your parents and what sorts of traditions and parenting norms you want to continue or see change with your own family. We’ll talk about your best memories and some of your hardest memories. Your relationship with your siblings and extended family. We’ll go over your time in school, your career, what it’s been like to be a parent so far (if you already have children) or what you anticipate parenthood will be like (from an individual standpoint). Talk about your partner and how you expect your relationship will change once you have children (or more children!).

The last visit is a general wrap up – go over anything that needs additional clarification or may have been missed, address any questions that have arisen throughout the process.

At some point, we’ll do a house tour. I’ll open closets, but I won’t rifle through them! I don’t care if your house is clean or if your pets (or children!) are freshly bathed. You do not need to have a room prepared for the child to be adopted (rules are different for foster care); you only need a rough idea of where he/she will sleep. Without a doubt, everyone says this is the most nerve wracking part of the adoption process – but it really shouldn’t be!

Note: International Adoption demands additional steps related to the US Department of Homeland Security, legal and court procedures, and US State Department immigration. Throughout, we will help you bring meaningful cultural paradigms to the process.

Getting the word out.

  • Write an article about Second Nurture for your newsletter with a description of Second Nurture and a link to our website.
  • Ask your clergy person or other community leader to speak about adoption (we are happy to provide her/him with content)
  • Invite a member of our staff or one of our partners to join you in presenting Second Nurture.
  • Invite interested community leaders, potential adoptive families and others to an informational gathering. Download our Sample Letter here.
  • Read Casting Lots: Creating a Family in a Beautiful, Broken World in adult education, book, or other groups, Use the Readers’ Guide.

* We are here to help you develop the best content for your community.

Unparented Children Abroad.

No one knows how many orphaned children are in the world or the circumstances of their care. In 2005, UNICEF estimated that there were 13 million children who had lost both parents in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. Due to the AIDS pandemic and other factors, that number has surely grown. Many of these children are being raised by extended family. Many are in orphanages, on the streets, or in child-headed groups. Many are trafficked into sexual and other criminal and military activities. Children living outside of family care are far less likely to have access to adequate shelter, nutrition, healthcare and education. They are far more likely to be subjected to disease, child trafficking, hazardous labor, physical abuse and sexual exploitation. They are also more likely to die from preventable and treatable diseases stemming from malnutrition, AIDS, inadequate sanitation, poor water, malaria and diarrhea. Remember the 276 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in Nigeria? There’s one reason the world has paid attention to them: They have mothers. Recent medical research and cross-cultural studies confirm that institutionalized children are susceptible to a wide array of psychological and developmental and emotional challenges. www.bothendsburning.org

Children in the US Foster Care system

According to the most recent federal data, there are currently more than 400,000 children in foster care in the United States. They range in age from infants to 21 years old. The average age of a child in foster care is more than 8 years old. Children and youth enter foster care because they have been abused, neglected, or abandoned by their parents or guardians. All of these children have experienced loss and some form of trauma. In other ways, foster children are no different from children who aren’t in foster care: they are learning and growing, like to play and hang out with friends their age, and need the love and stability a permanent home provides. The median amount of time that a child spends in foster care is just over a year. More than half of the children in foster care will be reunified with their parents or primary caregivers, and nearly one-quarter will be adopted, many by their foster parents. Each year, approximately 20,000 youth will age out of the foster care system when they turn 18 or 21, or when they finish high school (depending upon the state in which they live.) These children are at increased risk of poor educational outcomes, experiencing homelessness, and being unemployed. (From AdoptUSKids.org)