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Reuters investigation into re-homing

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[Photo by Samantha Sais for Reuters]

A few weeks ago, Reuters journalist Megan Twohey's in-depth investigative report about rehoming in adoption was big news in the adoption world, particularly for those interested in intercountry adoption. The five part series included:

For those of you who have never heard of the term "re-home" it refers to when an adoptive parent decides they cannot parent their adopted child and seeks to have the child placed within another adoptive family. Often times the "re-homing" is facilitated by an adoption agency, but unfortunately there have been times when this action is done without agency or legal oversight and the Reuters report focuses on those types of re-homing.

Many adoptive parents were angered by the report by Twohey, which focused on the use of internet forums such as Yahoo groups and facebook as places where adoptive parents sought other families who would take on their adopted child. The report focuses on the cases where such re-homed children were abused by their next adoptive parent and called for oversight and regulation. Not all families, of course, seek to "re-home" using these methods and many adoptive parents have used agencies and ensured that the family that was going to adopt or take guardianship of their adopted child had been adequately screened and supervised.

As with any family issue, re-homing is a complex story. While many people, particularly adoptive parents and adoption agencies, have been distressed by the Reuters investigation, it is nonetheless a practice that everyone involved in adoptions must know clearly and squarely where the gaps are so that children and families can be supported and practiced. Most of the families who choose to re-home have attempted to seek help and have found post-adoption supports lacking, unaccessible, or inadequate to help the family. Rehoming as a practice is not new; but the attention toward it is relative new. One aspect of this story that needs to be highlighted is that many adoption agencies did not know about this practice.

The lesson to be learned from the Reuters report is that the more we know that these issues exist, particularly unethical re-homing practices, the more responsibility adoption professionals and child welfare/adoption agencies must take in finding responses that reduce as much as possible the trauma that a re-homed child will suffer, and provide adequate support to adoptive parents. While in adoption, the saying "forever family" and "permanency" is a goal, it is sadly not always the reality. As the media hype over this story subsides, what must remain is a commitment to better prepare and support adoptive families and of utmost concern is to reduce the trauma to a child that has already experienced rejection and abandonment. Any re-home or placement must be done with the concern of the child through the transition into their next placement with care and appropriate support.

White savior complex in international adoption

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This guest blog post was written by Salma Hussein.


I recently came across an online article titled "Outrage, sadness as Americans barred from adopting Russian children," on worldnews nbc website. The article was dated March 30th, 2013 and written by Jim Maceda who is based in London.
[Photo by NBC News]

The strength of the article is that it strives to bring various individuals who support international adoption in Russia. Having someone who is a native Russian and who has worked in orphanages for thirty years admit that Americans are more likely to take in children with special needs than native Russians was a strong point. However, just quoting her alone I saw it as being negative because it is solely her own opinion and that alone. It would have been much more powerful if the article had other individuals who thought otherwise. The article did not do a fair job of reporting both sides of the issue, it appeared to push the idea that Russia is abandoning adoption not because they wish to protect children but influenced by geopolitics.

I think one way that the article promotes myths about permanency and adoption is the whole idea of Americans going into other countries to save children. Two families are mentioned in the article the England family and the Preece family who both adopted children with special needs. From my view, the article appears to communicate that Americans are more willing to adopt children with special needs and it inhumane for the Russian government to make it difficult for Americans to continue adopting and rescue these children who are unwanted by native Russians. A child psychologist by the name of Valentina Rakova who is said to have worked in the Bryansk orphanage for 30 years is quoted supporting the notion that Americans are more likely to take in children with special needs than Russians. This is problematic because she is the only person quoted other than government officials. Yes, the government may have other motives for complicating and putting a hold on international adoption, or maybe they want to ensure Russian natives take in their orphaned children. Children are taken outside of institutions where they are labeled as yet another abandoned child, but they also lose their country of birth and culture when they are moved completely to a new country. Why the article only quoted two white families from the Midwest is puzzling, but I hope that reporters can try to be unbiased in their reporting. We cannot continue to go on writing all other countries and their special practices as being insufficient, while not critically examining our own ways using the same lens.

To read the article in full click here.

This guest blog post was written by Vincent Loera.

Steve Gutterman (March 2, 2013) of Reuters wrote an article depicting a Russian rally in support of the U.S. ban on adopting Russian children. The rally was also a call for Kris Shatto a Russian adoptee to be returned to Russia after his brother, Max, had died in the care of his Texan parents. Like the rally, the article uses the tragedy of Max to explain the relationship of the U.S. and Russia. Russia banned U.S. adopted of its orphans after the US called Syria, a Russian ally, human rights violators due to the treatment of rebel prisoners. Russia's response to the U.S. was that of a 'kettle calling the teapot; black.' Russia and more appropriately, Putin, argued that the U.S. has violated all kinds of human rights to their adoptive children. Russian adoptees are more at risk than other international adoptive children and the article cites 20 deaths in the last 20 years. The article attempts to dispel myths that the U.S. treats adoptees poorly and that the Russians are using the Shatto brothers as a tool to install nationalism.

While the article does a great job explaining the rally, a sense of Russian nationalism, and the hypocrisy of Putin decrying that the U.S. treats Russian orphan adoptees poorly; it fails to look at the real losers- those who have been victimized by poor human rights. Syrian freedom fighters, Russian orphans, and those in the U.S. foster care system, Russian or otherwise, are all equal losers in this abusive triangle. Yes, Putin's decision to ban was a sassy and inappropriate and uses vulnerable children as pawns; but it doesn't make it any less true. It is a terrible thing to be an orphan anywhere in the world and a Russian orphanage or U.S. foster care system is the last place an orphan ought to be in.

Some may want to argue; "oh yes the U.S. system has its faults but it is nowhere as bad as a Russian orphanage." I wouldn't bore this person with statistics or facts or sad stories of children being lost in the American system. Instead, I would respond by telling this person that that minimizes the issue and does nothing to fix the victimization here in our own borders. How disgusting it is to A) use another orphan's suffering as a benchmark for how well we treat our own orphans and B) have a smug sense of superiority over this orphan's suffering. To be honest, if I had to pick a loser to be; I would rather be a Syrian freedom fighter. At least then I would feel connected to something, a family, a culture, a cause, a sense of being a part of something bigger than myself. Whereas an orphan in Russia or in the U.S. is waiting; simply waiting.

Evanston couple must give up Korean baby

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This guest blog was written by Erin Bachaus.

Black, L. (2013). Evanston couple must give up Korean baby. Chicago Tribune.

chi-photo-evanston-couple-must-give-up-baby-girl-20130304.jpeg [Photo by Abel Uribe/ Chicago Tribune]

An Illinois couple who adopted a newborn daughter from South Korea are now being forced by the South Korean government to return the child to her native country due the family's failure to abide by South Korean adoption laws. The couple, Jinshil and Christopher Duquet report that they "followed bad legal advice" in the adoption and had every intention of following through with a legal private adoption. South Korean officials say the couple did not use a licensed adoption agency, a requirement of all South Korean adoptions. The case originally received attention from authorities when Jinshil flew back to the United States with her newly adopted daughter and was told at the O'Hare airport in Chicago that she lacked proper adoption documentation for the child. The Duquets have one other daughter, a ten year old who was also adopted from South Korea. The now nine month old adopted child will not return to her biological parents, as her mother and grandmother relinquished their parental rights and do not want custody of her; she will instead be placed with an adoptive family in South Korea.

The article tells both sides of the story well, explaining that the reason these strict adoption laws exist is to prevent the trafficking and abuse of children. However, the author could have included more information as to why giving the family a second chance to go through with the adoption while following all the proper guidelines was not an option. It was also unimportant to include the biological mother's living situation, highlighting that she is homeless and has another child, which just perpetuates stereotypes of single mothers and their use of adoption to take the easy way out by abandoning their responsibilities. The author provided enough information about the biological mother simply by stating that she gave up her parental rights and did not want the child back, making the additional information unnecessary. The situation was very unfortunate for all parties involved, however the article promotes the myth that adopted children can be taken back, even after the adoption has been finalized, which is every adoptive parent's worst fear. The article does help to dispel the myth that international adoptions are faster and easier than domestic adoptions, however. Though the explicit purpose of the article is not to encourage adoptions within the United States, it certainly cautions perspective adoptive parents about the possible complications of international adoptions. The article was well-written and clear. Questions surrounding the financial implications for the Duquets and the consequences for the lawyer that advised the family still remain unanswered, however and would provide more detailed picture of the situation.

Reforming International Adoption Practices in Guatemala

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This guest blog post was written by Erin Lysne.

OB-WF197_Amcol2_G_20130203171524.jpeg (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

The Wall Street Journal published an editorial on February 4th 2013 by Mary Anastasia O'Grady called Guatemala's Inhumane Adoption Law: A U.S.-backed policy bars thousands of children from being given homes in America. In the online version of the article there is also a video segment called "Cheating the Orphans" where the O'Grady is interviewed by James Freeman. O'Grady critiques the Guatemalan government for suspending international adoptions in 2008 due to reports of kidnapped children and the unusually high rate of Guatemalan children being adopted internationally. To give this perspective, Guatemala's population is 14 million yet in 2006 it ranked as the third highest country in number of international adoptions finalized (China ranked 1st, followed by Russia). O'Grady goes on to criticize The U.S. Department of State and UNICEF for supporting the Guatemalan government's decision to stop international adoption while making reforms.

O'Grady makes an appealing argument for the need of children to have permanent families instead of institutions. A permanent family of your own is extremely important, but the situation is more complicated than O'Grady portrays it. While O'Grady is upset with the U.S. for backing the halt of international adoptions, the U.S. is obligated to abide by the Hague Convention . The purpose of the Hague Convention is to create standards for international adoptions to protect children and their adoptive parents. By The Hague Convention standards Guatemala was not compliant and both Guatemala and the U.S. agreed on the need for reform to stop the corruption.

One of the strengths of O'Grady's article and video is the criticism of the Guatemalan government for moving at a very slow pace at processing the remaining adoptions of Guatemalan kids who had already been matched to adoptive families prior to 2008 and were therefore "grand-fathered" in. Numbers differ, but around 100-200 children are in this limbo stage waiting to be cleared for adoption for five years now. The adopted families in the U.S. that they are matched with think of them as their children, but they don't live in the same country.

O'Grady's argument promotes the myth that families in the U.S. are noble rescuers for adopting a child from a developing country and saving them from a terrible life. In the video O'Grady uses language such as "rescue", "international escape route" and "prison sentence" to describe the plight of Guatemalan orphans. The Guatemalan government says that 85 children previously in limbo have either been adopted within Guatemala or reunited with their biological families . O'Grady doesn't seem able to see past poverty and recognize the benefits to a child in potentially being reunited with family or relatives. However, O'Grady is absolutely correct that it is inexcusable that Guatemala is taking so long to process the remaining adoptions of children in limbo: five years may not be long to an adult, but to a child it's their whole life.

To view the video click here or view below:

For more information on finalizing the adoptions of Guatemalan children already matched to U.S. adoptive families:

For more information on The Hague Convention:

Investigation of Russian adopted child's death

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This guest blog post was written by Kari Torborg.

041B6153-1496-484F-80EC-45544EAF0BF9_w268_r1.jpeg [Photo of Max Shatto (Maksim Kuzmin) who died on January 21.]

The article which is the focus of this blog assignment is entitled "All eyes on Texas town at center of Russian adoption drama". It was published on February 22, 2013 by Richard Solash with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. The topic of this article is of adoption. Most notably, the story of a young child recently adopted from Russia who died in January and is now the subject of an international media frenzy.

The strengths of this article include that Mr. Solash provided necessary and unbiased background information regarding details available about the child's death, communication with the police department and medical examiner's office, and about the family who adopted the young child. Mr. Solash detailed both positive and negative character descriptions of the adoptive mother and did not paint a picture of her character that would lead the reader to be persuaded either that she was guilty or was not guilty of her son's death. Mr. Solash also provided available information confirming that the adoptive mother completed necessary steps of the adoption process but also included the factual detail that child protection has since become involved.

The limitations in the article include the inherent negative connotations in regard to the information provided which related to the accusations from the Russian officials. Although the information coming from Russian officials appears to be potentially prejudiced and perhaps unfounded, Mr. Solash's communication style could leave the general audience feeling as though the Russian officials were defiant, oppositional, or unreasonable. Also, Mr. Solash only briefly mentioned (in one sentence) the current ban on Russian adoptions by U.S. citizens with respect to this case. The general population would benefit from additional information regarding the federal law signed into law on January 1, 2013 banning adoptions from Russia to the United States.

A common myth about adoption that was mentioned in this article was described in the following statement by the county sheriff, "I understand they think these things get covered up, get thrown under the rug, and nobody investigates, but this is not investigating a Russian kid. This is investigating a Texas kid that has died" (Solash, 2013). This statement speaks to the myth of cover ups and the subsequent or anticipated mistreatment of adopted children. This statement dispels the myth that internationally adopted kids are seen perhaps as unworthy of due process due to their status as someone originating from another county. What the sheriff is trying to say is that this child who has lost his life, although he is from Russia, he was adopted in the United States and the jurisdiction is on Texas' authority to investigate. This article also encourages the myth of adoptive children who have the potential to be exploited in the media. It also brings up the question and common misperception regarding whether or not biological parents are able to get their child back after an adoption. Although the article does not take a stance on this topic, it does present the information that the child's biological mother is asking that her surviving son be returned to her care.

This article provided very useful information regarding the current state of this case, the United States and Russian response, and future implications depending on the outcome of the investigation.

To read the article, click here.

Does Russian adoption ban hurt kids?

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This guest blog post was written by Linda Gross.

This link is to an opinion article found on CNN dated January 17th, 2013, written from the perspective of a University of Minnesota woman who, in the process of trying to adopt a girl from Russia with her husband, has negatively experienced the recent ban on adoptions imposed by Russia.

The author explains the emotional grief of waiting unknowing as to whether they will be able to adopt the 2 year old girl they have met in person and already waited many months for.

While the author brings the unique and real experience of sharing the emotional tolls many uncertainties of the adoption process can bring, international or non, there are aspects of the political and social issues both between Russia and the United States, and surrounding international adoptions in general that could be served to investigate further.

First the issue of international adoptions as a lucrative source of economic trade should be brought to the forefront of critically exploring this current event. Many of the current news articles regarding this recent ban focus on the suggestions that Russia has imposed this ban in response to a recent blacklisting by the United States towards any Russian human rights violators (Penny, 2012). While the truth of this may provide insight into the "childish" behaviors of each country, I believe other details to be more important. First, in regards to Russia's decision, if their focus is to prevent the mistreatment of their adopted children by families in the United States, I am curious as to why they are currently not a Hague-Convention country, which would work to provide more legally-supported assurances towards the safety of children against the profits sought about by middle-man adoptive agencies, in turn to assure adoptions to be in the best interest of the child (Penny, 2012). The ethical values of being a Hague Convention country, include examples such as ensuring proper efforts have been made first for the child to be adopted within their home country, and that adoptions are only processed through service providers who have been accredited at the Federal level, and receives proper documentation for each child. Second in regards to those in the United States who cry out that these children should not suffer as the result of petty international retaliation, it is worth noting, that while the United States is banned, other countries are not and international adoptions will still be regularly occurring in Russia, just not by us.

Second the societal interest in international adoptions versus adopting any of the thousands of waiting children in the United States also needs to be addressed. It should not go unsaid that the motive for seeking international adoption, though most families seek international adoptions as an act of philanthropic good-will, is also quite self-serving. While it seems taboo to mention, it must be acknowledged, as it comes at the expense of our country's own children awaiting adoption, that the preference for young white babies by middle and upper class families who can afford them is a key desire underlying at least some outrage over this recent ban. This must be acknowledged, as it plausibly jeopardizes the health and well-being of international children (see baby-farms and other international atrocities), and contributes to the continued "less-desirable" children in long-term foster care, awaiting adoption and never receiving hope of families willing to take them on. Evidence suggests this lack of adoption relates to most of these children being older than the desired age and primarily African-American and Latino.

This enters in a key ethical and moral dilemma of how a governing body could possibly impose to tighten or relax the parameters parents are allowed to set in regards to their future adopted child. Currently, I personally believe it would be impossible to impose strict guidelines that would mandate parents to "be happy with whatever child they get". Some may argue this is exactly what happens to biologically-expecting parents; however I would argue that a powerful societal value of childbirth lies in knowing that the child uniquely possesses the physical characteristics of exactly yourself and your partner. While biologically-expecting parents may deliver a child with unexpected health and mental needs, the intrinsic nature of the child being "your own" exists. If parents are unable to biologically produce a child in their likeness, or a likeness they could suffice to find equally appealing, is it unethical for them to try and achieve this during the adoption process? On a further related note given the rapidly developing field of genetics research, if made available to hone the genetics of their unborn child to possess certain physical or temperamental traits, is it unethical to do so, or is it the future of scientific advancement to genetically modify the next generations?

Regardless, it could be detrimental to the well-being of children to place them in homes of unwanting parents even if just by temperamental goodness-of-fit, let alone physical characteristics, hence the need for trial stays and the laborious process of ensuring positive connections between parents and child during current adoption processes. In the adoption process, it must be the well-being of the children which demands first priority over the desires and wish-lists of hopeful adoptive families. With that being said, I believe it is the skill and extent to which workers provide a carefully-planned and strongly-supported match between the two, that demonstrates the crux of building successful adoptions for both parties.

See Also:
Russia's Ban on US Adoption Isn't About Children's Rights
Understanding the Hague Convention from the U.S. State Department

Russians march in support of ban on adoptions in US

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This guest post was written by Shannon Johnson.

Russians march in support of ban on adoptions in US

This article was published on The Guardian website on March 2, 2013 and written by The Guardian staff. Russia recently placed a ban on adoptions of Russian children by people from the United States. This ban was put into Russian legislation due to a recent death in Texas of a 3 year old Russian adoptee named Max Shatto. There were suspicions of child maltreatment causing his death and an investigation was initiated. This death was ultimately ruled accidental by the courts, however it has not stopped Russia from banning Americans from adopting Russian children, nor has it changed the opinion of Russian citizens. The announcement of the ban and ongoing tension between Russia and the United States sparked the rally of about 12,000 people in Moscow in support of the adoption ban. In the past 20 years about 60,000 children were adopted by Americans from Russia with approximately 20 deaths of those children post-adoption in the United States. There is no information on whether this ban is time-limited or if it is permanent.

This article gives some good statistics and factual information on what has happened in Russia leading up to this ban and the event that sparked the ban to be put into law. Another positive thing about this article is that it gives a nice picture to the reader about why Russians feel so strongly about this ban and it is clear and concise; it gets straight to the facts and relevant information. There are also some limitations this article has as far as the amount of information provided by the authors in several areas. First, there is little information on the actual ban of American adoptions in Russia and all of the events that led to the community outrage. Second, there is little information given about what will happen with the 650,000 orphans in Russia and how Russia will reform their child welfare to meet the needs of these children. This article also does not discuss any of the consequences of this ban on the children, Russia or America. Overall, there is a lack of in depth information and leaves the reader asking several questions.

It seems this article is promoting myths/misconceptions about adoptions in the United States in that adopted children "get abused" and does not show the picture of most adoptions in the United States that are safe and healthy. Also, it paints a further "ugly" picture of foreign adoptions and does not help American citizens' outlook for international adoptions in the future. Finally, it does not help Russia in that it points out how many orphans are currently in institutions and makes it seem like Russia is not taking care of their children.

For a video on the impact of the ban, see the video below:

This guest post was written by Kristin Struss.

05MODERN_SPAN-articleLarge.jpeg [Illustration by Brian Rea for the New York Times]

What could be one of the most stressful moments of an adoptive mother and father's existence? This moment could be when they meet their child's birth mother for the first time. What adds even more stress? When you are the one who has reached out and invited the birth mother into your lives. Is it the right choice? Are they making a decision too early in their child's life? Will their lives forever be altered in a negative way because of this choice? This is why I chose the article, "Untying a Birth Mother's Hands." This article was written by Elizabeth Foy Larsen and was featured in The New York Times on August 2, 2012.

This article succinctly weaves through the story of Elizabeth and her husband, Walter and their adopted child. They had heard that their daughter's birth mother had loved her very much. They had heard all the statistics that open adoptions are healthier for the families and most importantly the adopted child. They made the choice to find Helen (birth mom) in Helen's native country of Guatemala and hoped to include her in their daughter's life. They brought their daughter to see Helen when she was two years old and again when she was six and asked to go back.

There are many strengths to this article. Larsen tells a beautifully honest story about the fears of their own decision. They had questions about how they were going to navigate a relationship with someone they did not know. They worried that they were "inappropriately imposing our own Oprah-style enthusiasm about the healing power of truth onto a culture that didn't accept or even want it" (Larsen, 2012)? They understood that part of the culture was that some Guatemalan people distrusted white Americans and believed that white people only wanted Guatemalan babies for their organs. Larsen discusses what her own fears are, but is also able to step into Helen's mind and worried about how she was feeling as a mother as well. "I'm inconsistent about writing letters to Helen about our daughter and who she is becoming; I worry about how reports of tennis lessons and spring breaks in Hawaii will distance her from her first family. Sometimes I think I take my time because it's overwhelming for me to acknowledge just how much Helen's loss is my gain" (Larsen, 2012).

I really enjoyed this article and did not feel there were many weaknesses. If I had to pick out something, it would be that it left me wanting more. I wanted to know and understand every detail of how both meetings with Helen and her mother went. I would also love to read an article from Helen's perspective explaining what impact this has had on her life.
I believe this article really did a fantastic job of dispelling the myth that adoptive families want to take their adopted children and run far away from any tie to the biological family. Many adoptive families are curious and want to know their child's biological family and think about what it would be like if biological family members could be involved. Larsen did a thorough job in explaining how motivated she was to find her daughter's biological mother and how that motivation scared her more than anything. I believe many adoptive families could read this article and relate.

The Baby Sehwa case

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This guest blog was written by Jill Melaas.

korean flag.jpeg

Lisa Black, a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, has been following a court case for the past few months involving an Evanston, Illinois couple and the country of South Korea. Christopher and Jinshil Duquet went to South Korea to adopt Baby Sehwa a few days after her birth. The child has been raised by the Duquets ever since, and now at 9-months old, the court has decided that the baby must return to South Korea.

The reporter did a good job chronicling the case and presenting the details that led to the court's involvement. Christopher and Jinshil were accused of circumventing South Korean adoption laws. The couple decided to use a private lawyer instead of a South Korean adoption agency to complete the adoption. Years earlier the couple had adopted a daughter from South Korea through an agency, but were told they were now too old under South Korean law to follow the same procedures. However, South Korean law requires that children be placed through a licensed adoption agency. The couple reported that they received bad legal advice and believed they were participating in a lawful adoption. Jinshil is a South Korea native who moved to the United States as a child and heard about Sehwa through a pastor with connections to her family. Jinshil proceeded to contact local immigration lawyers, who put her in touch with a South Korean lawyer who said he could arrange a private adoption. The Duquets claimed they did not realize there was a problem with the adoption until they returned to the United States with Sehwa and were told by officials at O'Hare International Airport that she did not have the appropriate adoption paperwork.

The Duquets were unsuccessful in attesting that, despite their error, it was in Sehwa's best interest to remain in their care. On February 28, the court sided with the South Korean government and determined that the child must be deported. Baby Sehwa returned to South Korea on March 6, where she is to be placed with a South Korean family for adoption. The Chicago Tribune article lacked further detail on how the court came to its decision.

The articles chronicling this case provide a tragic example of the complications that can arise with intercountry adoption. Intercountry adoption can become quite complex as it incorporates family law, criminal law, and immigration practices of both countries involved in the adoption process. Numerous countries have attempted to alleviate these complexities by creating a treaty with other nations that establish common provisions regarding intercountry adoption. The Hauge Convention (or is a treaty agreement that establishes safeguards and a standardized approach to guarantee that intercountry adoptions take place in the best interests of the child. While the United States is a signatory to the agreement, South Korea is not. If South Korea had been a signatory, and the adoption had followed the Hauge Convention's provisions, Baby Sehwa may not have been subjected to this unfortunate situation. Either way, this case illustrates the importance of obtaining advice from specialists in intercountry adoption and understanding the laws of both countries involved before proceeding with an adoption.

[Photo of Betty with her biological father and cousin, courtesy of Loes Zuidervaart for Voice of America]

An unprecedented case involving the revocation of an adoption in Ethiopia was won by a 14-year old who wanted to have the adoption dissolved. Betty Lub was adopted by a Dutch family when she was seven years old. Lub was abused by her adoptive parents.

Lub's documents were falsified for adoption, including information about her birth parents and Lub's age. With the Ethiopian courts ruling that the adoption is revoked, Lub is able to change her name back to her Ethiopian surname. She is also attempting to have her adoption revoked in Holland.

Ethiopia has been the center of scrutiny in the past few years due to allegations of widespread fraud and illegal adoption practices.

For more information, read about Betty's story at Voice of America.

Russia bans international adoption to U.S.

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To the distress and dismay of many Americans, it was announced at the end of December that Russian president Vladamir Putin signed a law banning international adoptions to the U.S. This act is being considered retaliation for the Magnitsky Act passed by U.S. Congress in response to Russia's human rights violations.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for 23adoptee-graphic-articleInline.jpeg [Graphic from the New York Times].

Many are calling this a political move using children as political pawns, amid concerns about the fate of the thousands of children currently in Russian orphanages. Although the numbers of Russian children adopted by Americans have declined in recent years, last year just under 1000 children were adopted to the U.S. according to the U.S. State Department.

Although Russia named the ban after Dima Yakolov, a Russian child adopted to a Virginia family that died in their care, and state this ban is driven in part by the 19 deaths of Russian adopted children and the return of Artyem by adoptive parent Torry Hansen, the ban ends the bilateral agreement that the U.S. and Russian recently implemented that would provide for greater protection and oversight of Russian adopted children.

In reading the many news articles, op-ed articles and blog responses to the ban, I had the following thoughts:

  • While this ban is directed toward the U.S. and means that children will no longer be able to be adopted by American families, this ban is not a wholesale ban on international adoption. Russian children will still be able to be adopted by families in other countries. Some are mistakenly stating that these children will be considered "unadoptable" - they are not, they will no longer able to be adopted by Americans but they can still be adopted by others.
  • Russia has been working on improving their domestic adoption programs and while they have many issues they need to address, they are at least working on it. They are - like the U.S. - trying to figure out how to encourage their families to adopt children that are older, part of sibling sets, and who have disabilities. While the U.S. is right to be concerned about these Russian children, we should keep in mind that there are over 100,000 children waiting for adoption in the U.S. foster care system that are older, part of sibling sets and with disabilities. Globally, we ALL need to improve our domestic adoption programs.
  • Some are saying the ban on U.S. adoptions is in violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Russia has ratified. That may be true, however I think it is interesting because the U.S. has not ratified the UN CRC.
  • Global adoption programs are constantly changing. In the future it might not be unexpected if other countries close their adoption programs as well.
  • Russia needs to put resources behind supporting their domestic adoption programs if they want to increase adoptions and reduce the number of children in orphanages. As with the U.S. and other countries that have large numbers of children in care, we also all need to work on the underlying issues that cause children to be in care in the first place.

To read more about the ban:

Adoption bill passes the Senate

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This story did not make national headlines, but the story is an important one to understand for anyone working in international adoption.

On December 7th, 2012, the Intercountry Adoption Universal Accreditation Act passed the senate. The bill was sponsored by Senators Mary Landrieu, John Kerry, Dick Lugar and James Inhofe in a bipartisan effort to increase the accountability of adoption agencies facilitating international adoptions.

Currently adoption agencies who facilitate international adoptions do not have to be accredited, leading to inconsistent practices and opportunities for misuse and fraud. U.S. agencies that work with Hague countries (that is, those countries that have signed the Hague convention) must be accredited; however many small agencies work with non-Hague countries and are not accredited through the Council of Accreditation (COA) in the U.S. The new legislation will require that all adoption agenices facilitating international adoptions will need to be in compliance with the accreditation requirements necessary for working with Hague countries even if they facilitate adoptions with non-Hague countries.

The Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption is an international treaty that aims to protect children involved in intercountry adoption from abduction, kidnapping, sale, exploitation and trafficking for the purpose of adoption.

For more information see Senator Landrieu's site here.

For a list of current Hague-accredited agencies, see the Department of State's website here.

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A current University of Minnesota student wrote a first-person account of her experience as a Korean adoptee.

Student Leah Lancaster describes her experience as being in "No man's land" for the Minnesota Daily.

"What is distinctive about being an adoptee is that you are virtually thrown into a cultural No Man's Land," writes Lancaster. "Supposedly, you have no "roots." It becomes difficult to disentangle who you are from who you're supposed to be. You become a blank canvas for other people's expectations. Many adoptees that I know, as well as myself, have felt alienation from white culture and even more from Korean culture. We simultaneously occupy small areas of both these spaces, but find we do not belong in either. The struggle between these cultural realms is quite possibly the defining feature of the Korean adoptee experience."

For the rest of the article, click here for the Minnesota Daily site.

When adoptive parents target adopted children for abuse

Photo of two adoptive parents who targeted their adopted children for abusePhoto by Chris Wilson for the Journal Sentinel

The abuse of children who have been adopted by their adoptive parents is particularly tragic, considering that adoption is supposed to be the safe haven for children who have already experienced the traumatic dissolution of their birth families.

A recent case of the abuse of internationally adopted children born in Russia and adopted to a family in Wisconsin has increased the tensions between Russia and the U.S. when it comes to the welfare of Russian adopted children. At least 18 Russian adopted children have been murdered by their American adoptive parents and many more Russian adoptees have been abused.

According to reports, the adoptive parents in this case targeted their adopted children for abuse and included their biological children in the abuse.

Below are a selection of news reports about this case.

The University of Minnesota has some amazing scholars researching adoption. Here is a presentation by Megan Gunnar, Department Chair and Regents Professor at the Institute on Child Development here at the University of Minnesota, presenting a keynote address on the developing adolescent brains of post-institutionalized adopted children at the 2012 Rudd Adoption Conference, New Worlds of Adoption: Navigating the Teen Years.

For more presentations from this conference, visit the Rudd Adoption Research Program's YouTube page.

Fewer international adoptions - behind the numbers

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AsGirl_000004802916Medium.jpgFull Disclosure: I have been asked to appear on MPR to discuss international adoption, in part as a response to criticism that the discussion on Monday was not inclusive enough of adoptee perspectives. This post was written earlier this week and scheduled to publish yesterday. More information will be provided about the show and where you can listen in.

Since the State Department released its report on international adoption, there have been a lot of news stories about the fewer numbers of international adoptions occuring in the United States. In Minnesota, the news that one of the oldest and best known adoption agencies, Children's Home Society and Family Services, had merged with Lutheran Social Services due to the economic ramifications of this decrease in international adoptions, created quite a shock in the local adoption world.

Over the past month, several local news stories focused on the topic of fewer international adoptions. In the StarTribune article published July 2, 2012, reporter Jean Hopfensperger details the merger between Children's Home Society and Family Services (CHSFS) and Lutheran Social Services (LSS) as a result of restrictions and/or closures on the part of sending countries and implementation of the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in respect of Intercountry Adoption.

On the Minnesota Public Radio Daily Circuit show that aired on July 9, representatives from CHSFS and LSS reiterated those two factors, as well as the emphasis on in-country care that many sending countries are focusing on, such as domestic adoptions and domestic fostering programs.

This blog post is a critique of how the media writes about international adopton. In all these articles or stories aired or published in the past few weeks, the decline in international adoptions has been framed as an "Oh no, the sky is falling!" As a result, the reader is set up to believe that any decrease in international adoptions is a bad thing.

For example, Tom Weber, in the MPR story, kept referring to the "precipitous drop" and "huge drop." The StarTribune said international adoptions were "crashing to its lowest level in 15 years" and called it a "precipitous decline." And Madeleine Baran in her MPR report described international adoptions as having "plummeted."

However, this rhetoric conceals the whole story. Yes, the numbers are declining. Unfortunately there is a lack of emphasis on examining why this may actually be a good thing.

For example, on closer inspection we learn that part of the reason for the decline in numbers may actually be attributed to positive things—for example, that countries are now building and supporting their own domestic adoption programs, or are working on family preservation. In other words, some part of the cause of the drop in children available for international adoption may be as a result of better care, better support for families, and better interventions for children in their home countries. Why would better care, supported by stable families and communities, be a bad thing for children?

Second, we learn that many countries have shut down, restricted, or postponed their adoption programs in light of unethical practices that have harmed birth families and children. By now most of us know that there have been many instances in which chlidren were unethically or illegally taken from their birth families for the purpose of international adoption. International adoption programs in a country that is poor and has no self-governing infrastructure to manage the care for their children and families in need often provide an economic benefit to that country. As a result, children may become commodities because of the money that international adoption brings to an impoverished area.

As both Ms. Harpstead and Ms. Warren stated in the MPR report, the "re-set" on adoption in light of responding to these unethical and illegal adoption practices in many countries is a good thing. Compliance with the Hague Convention is necessary for the protection of children. Again, a good thing.

Yet, articles in the media continue to portray these delays and/or closures as burdensome on waiting adoptive parents, and as evidence of government bureaucracies infringing on the rights of adoptive parents. The articles rarely look at the issue from the point of view of the adopted child, or what it would be like to be a child who learns they were illegally placed for adoption by these unethical adoption agencies. In fact, the point of view from the adopted individual altogether is almost never included in these stories (as a result of the response by adult adoptees on social media networks about the lack of adoptee perspective on the MPR piece, on July 10th MPR added a new section to their website asking for adoptee feedback. The responses that adult adoptees left in the comment section reveal the frustration that many adoptees feel about the lack of inclusion in the discussion).

Finally, what we learn when we dig deeper is that there are still many children who actually still are in need of a permanent home. These kids are typically older, may have a disability, or are part of a sibling group. Those children still exist; yet they wait. If all those children were to be adopted by families in the U.S. would the numbers of adoptions be so low? And what about all the children in this country who are waiting for adoption? And why don't any of these reports discuss that the U.S. is a sending country, not only a receiving country, and those numbers of U.S. children adopted by families in foreign countries have been fairly steady for the past five years?

I can't help but wonder if the "Chicken Little" language so often used (i.e. "the sky is falling") in stories about international adoptions actually reflects a more unpleasant reality—that international adoption is actually a business based on supply and demand. Rhetoric in media stories that reflect on such hyperbolic descriptions of dwindling supply (of adoptable children) in the face of still heavy demand (by adoptive parents) should be looked at more closely.

Overall numbers of international adoptions should not matter; what should matter is that the quality of each and every international adoption that takes place is ethical, in the best interest of the particular child, and is done with the utmost care and concern for that child's well-being. The numbers of international adoptions, however, do matter if money is attached. And that's one of the most problematic aspects of the adoption profession: that as much as we want to think of it as a service, in many ways it feels like a business.

When it comes to adoption, there are two clients: prospective parents and children. Many of us working in adoption have a very clear understanding of this. Adoption is supposed to be about finding families for children - not children for families.

Adoption is complex. Like all other areas of child welfare, it is fraught with complicated ethical dilemmas at all stages of the process. Adoption is not merely about the adoptive parent's burden; at heart, it is about a child in need of love, safety and security.

Today the Star Tribune published an article by Jean Hopfensperger highlighting the changes that adoptive parents wanting to adopt internationally are now facing. These changes include increases in older children, sibling groups, and children with disabilities available for adoption, and a trend toward open adoptions, once considered impossible and/or improbable (even if desirable) a few years ago. In fact, you still often hear that the reasons people choose to adopt internationally rather than domestically from foster care is because adoptive parents want younger, healthy infants, and without siblings and/or birth family contact (in other words, closed adoptions).

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

However, times are changing in Minnesota and throughout the rest of the United States.

Minnesota has long been a leader in adoptions, including intercountry adoptions, currently holding the title as the state with the highest per capita rate of intercountry adoptions in the U.S. And as countries shut down, halt or slow their intercountry adoption programs, prospective adoptive parents and adoption agencies search for new areas of the world from which to adopt.

This Star Tribune article features a family that adopted from the Marshall Islands, where in the past there have been questions about ethics by adoption agencies and facilitators who misled or coerced parents into relinquishing their children for adoption by American prospective parents (for more about this, see links below).

The concept of openness in international adoptions is a new practice. Relatively few open adoptions occur. This family is bucking the trend against open adoption with children adopted internationally.

For more information about adoption in the Marshall Islands, see these links:

Weekly news round-up

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Each Friday on the Stability, Permanency and Adoption blog we will provide a selection of news from the past week that you may have missed.

Today's news round up:

An article published in Pediatrics by Jones et al (2011) assesses the impact of missing or altered birth and medical information on internationally adopted children's health care in the United States. Among the chief concerns mentioned in the report is the tendency to alter the birth certificate once the child is in the United States based on American pediatric assessments, which doesn't always allow for time for the child to "catch-up" on developmental delays that result from pre-adoptive experiences. MedPage Today describes the report here. To read the article abstract, click here.

The Arizona Daily Star published an interesting article on how family courts struggle to respond to "changing definitions of family." From the article, ""We're redefining what constitutes a family," said McGeorge School of Law professor Larry Levine, an expert on sexual orientation and the law. "It's a whole new way of thinking about this." Read the full article here.

A perennial discussion in child welfare permanency is whether children are better off in relative placements or in a foster home where they have formed attachments to their foster parents. The Tampa Bay Times published an article that discusses one family's story and the tensions between two families when case workers do not do a diligent family search for placement. Read the article here.

World AIDS Day

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Cross-posted from the Child Welfare Policy Blog.

World AIDS Day 2011 provides some glimmers of hope for children with HIV/AIDS worldwide. HIV and AIDS related deaths for children under age 15 have dropped 10 percent since 2005 and the number of newly infected children has dropped by 24 percent in the same time period. Still, nearly 10 percent of the globe's orphans have been left without a family due to HIV/AIDS.

What does this have to do with adoption?

Read more here.

2011 Intercountry Adoptions report released from U.S. State Department

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The Annual Report for 2011 Intercountry Adoptions is now available through the U.S. State Department, which oversees intercountry adoptions for the United States.

Some of the interesting highlights from the report:

  • Total adoptions to the U.S. was 9,320, a decrease from 11,058 in 2010.
  • The top sending countries were China (2,589), Ethiopia (1,727), Russia (970), South Korea (736) and Ukraine (632).
  • The top receiving states were California (676), New York (549), Texas (570), Illinois (434) and Florida (398).
  • The number of outgoing adoptions (that is, children born in the U.S. and adopted to other countries) rose to 73 from 43 in 2010. Most of these children went to Canada (31 children) and the Netherlands (27 children).
  • 5 adoptions were disrupted (meaning the child was placed into the pre-adoptive home but removed prior to the finalization of the adoption) and of those, 4 involved children from India
  • 33 adoptions involving 41 children were reported dissolved after finalization occurred during 2011.