Worldwide Changes in Adoption

11:02 AMHeather

Adoption.  It first touched my life long before I was even born.  It's a rather complicated storyline--rather like a Hallmark movie--but my father was adopted and raised by a family member.  I wasn't told until I reached the magical, predetermined age of twelve.  It wasn't a big deal.  Yet it was.  Because everyone in my family knew but me.  If it's no big deal, then why wait to tell me?  It didn't change my feelings about the precious lady who raised my dad.  But, it did spark something in me. 

This is the root of my now twenty year career in adoption.  Over my years, I have seen crazy stories where truth is stranger than fiction.  I have seen first hand--and been the bearer of it--the bad news and heartache that can be attached to the adoption process.  I have experienced the inexpressible joy of placing an answer to prayer into the empty arms of a waiting couple.  I have watched the anguish beyond words of birth parents making the best choice they know to make for their child's future.  I have watched forever families being woven together across cultural lines, racial lines and from around the world.  

And the one thing that I always know to be true is that adoption is a profound and beautiful and brutal thing.  It's brutiful!  It's a joy born from loss.  It's a hope for better days.  It's an answer to prayers.  It's a completion of emptiness.  

It is, in fact, the stuff of heaven come to earth.  Because God himself adopts us.  The Bible repeatedly paints this word picture of God adopting us as sons and daughters.  Adoption is no accidental term.  It doesn't just happen.  There's intentionality.  There's deliberation.  There's heartache and waiting and wanting and love that motivates a parent to make a stranger their own family.  And it's a gain born from an initial loss.  We know that God had to allow the loss of his Son for us to gain our adoption.

I could fill pages with facts and thoughts and feelings about adoption.  Because I fall in love with the idea every time I see a child come home and hearts being knit together.  

Adoption is a wonderful thing.  People have always been intrigued when I tell them what I do.  I've heard everyone's adoption story, from their sister's brother's best friend's cousin who was adopted to their own life experience with adoption.

Lately, I find myself thinking new thoughts about adoption and facing new realities.  And I think it's a story that needs to be told.

First, adoption isn't always the answer.  It's not a path for every potential adoptive family.  And it isn't the easy fix for vulnerable children around the world.  In fact, adoption can become the thing that unnecessarily rips apart struggling birth families.  We can sit in our pretty American dream and think every hungry child on the brink of disaster in a third world country should be swept up and raised in our blessed country of America.  Or, that here domestically, every struggling mother or father should have their child taken away and placed with better qualified parents.

But, it's not true. 

It's not our job to take children from biological parents and give them to better parents.  It's our job, in fact, to stand beside struggling parents and equip and empower them to be the parents they can become.  Yes, adoption can be a fast or "easier" solution for vulnerable children.  But, that doesn't always make it the best answer. Who's to say that our wealthier nation has better resources for a child from another country?  Wealth and resources don't justify the permanent cut of biological binds IF the biological family might become the parents they need to be with a bit of a helping hand.  

I used to think reunification with biological parents was of the devil.  That's when I saw babies and children more as commodities for infertile and capable parents.  Now, I see a broader picture.  I see that not every potential "orphan" should be adopted.  Maybe well meaning and willing and teachable but limited biological parents simply need a boost to keep a family unit intact.  The truth is that adoption is not a one-size-fits-all answer for all dilemmas and struggles within biological families.  

This is why I'm falling in love with the work of organizations like The Abide Family Center in Uganda.  Or Help One Now in Ethiopia.  Here's the humility I've gained.  Who am I--a middle class white social worker with an Americanized ideal--to decide that adoption is the only answer?  What if I had been born in a poor country and I loved my children with every ounce of my being and I just needed a leg up to be the mom I could become?  

THIS is why the work of organizations around the world who look within the culture and the biological family for answers are an amazing precursor to the idea of adoption.

Because children aren't commodities and adoption isn't always the only solution.  

Now, there are instances where children are genuinely orphaned and without any parents or without any capable parent or biological family.  Yes, adoption is the beautiful weaving of a child who has experienced loss with an adoptive couple who are ready to pour themselves into the healing and lifelong process of parenting through adoption.  

Adoption doesn't take away the pain or the past or any of the trauma from the places from which orphans come.  But adoption can be the most amazing picture of a child with brokenness coming into a family with brokenness and somehow working toward wholeness together.  

SO, in this place, in this fork in the road--I can't advocate adoption enough.  If you want to know more, just leave a comment.  Because I have lots to say.  

But, again...let me say that adoption is complicated.  And there are so many reasons why children who need families can't always be connected with families who have adoption on their hearts.  

Unfortunately, in my twenty years in this field, I've seen trends and ebbs and flows.  And I've been hesitant to proclaim or declare this, but I simply can't NOT tell the story now.

Well-intentioned legislation to guard against illegal and immoral adoption practices, such as the Hague Treaty, have actually been more counter productive than productive, in my humble opinion.  Love the idea.  All for compliance and regulation and accountability.  But, how does this play out?  It plays out in countries struggling to find answers for their children who now also need to find a way to abide with and oversee complicated legislation.  

Then there are the bad adoption cases.  The REALLY bad adoption cases.  Like the child sent on a plane alone back to Russia by a really messed up adoptive mom.  Or children seriously injured or even killed by sick and ill prepared adoptive parents.  Or couples seeking to adopt who sneak around the country's rules, deciding to write their own rules for adoption rather than complying with the country's standards.

These are all horrible and grievous stories to me.  It makes my stomach churn.
Yet, you know who loses?  Yes, the first layer is the adoptive families that I work with whose adoptions are suddenly stalled or stopped altogether.  That stinks.  It's a grief and a loss like a death when dreams are killed or delayed. Of course, it's a necessary step when things go wrong.  We all have to figure out a better way to make it right.

But the real losers are the children.  The ones whose futures are now uncertain.  The ones who will be raised in orphanages, which can be anywhere from dehumanizing and unfit for any human being, to loving and caring and the best available choice.  

And here's one thing about adoption that I need you to know.  When children become political pawns or even become the unintentional victims of good intentions, they lose.  

There are no winners there.  You have children living on the streets, either "aged out" of state care or simply out of the reach of orphanage care.  You have bureaucrats and politicians behind closed door, considering their own political gain or other such muddying factor, completely out of touch with the reality of children sitting hungry in an orphanage or making their own way by shining shoes and begging to survive on the streets.

The truth of it is...the harsh reality that I am that children are losing all over the world and we have no concept of it.  We don't know their stories.

But the brief experience I've had with learning some names and faces and stories tells me that if we only knew, we'd do something.

Because what we are doing isn't good enough.  Adoption is not a one-size-fits-all solution to the plight of children around the world. We gotta rethink this whole thing. Because from where I sit, we have a whole generation of vulnerable children who may never be adopted.  Who may never know a mom or dad or what a family looks like.  

Here's some suggestions.  From an adoption social worker whose eyes are being opened.

Some biological families got what it takes to keep their family together if and only if, we can help them fill their gaps and find their own way and be empowered to keep their children with them.  They need sustainable income and access to schools and medicine and training for parenting and for jobs.  They need a partner who believes in them.  Someone who can move them from a place of vulnerability where we think taking their kids away is the only solution and to a place of problem solving other solutions.  

Which means, we need to throw our weight and our resources and our money and our talents and our time behind organizations ALREADY doing this work. Places like Abide Family Center in Uganda and Help One Now in Ethiopia.

And, if there are children with no family who cannot be adopted due to a country being closed or adoptions being stalled or a lack of adoptive families, then those kids need better solutions.  They deserve even more than the best an orphanage can offer.  They need the ability to live in a home environment with house parents and a clean bed and running water.  

If they can't have a forever family, then they need a family of sorts.  They need the type of thing offered by organizations like Hopewell House in Belize (where I'm going in just over two weeks...more on that later) or the kind of support that One Together, Inc. offers by funding local feeding programs, schools and group homes in Ethiopia and Uganda.  

Sponsor a child through Compassion or Food for the Hungry or One Together, Inc. I know I may be losing you now as I sound like a late night informercial.  But, here is the truth.  

For about $30-$40 a month, you can literally change the life of a child.  You can help a child move from the brink of disaster to getting plugged into a school, a home, feeding programs, and community empowerment that can change their future 180 degrees.

The bottom line is this.  Yes, I am passionate about this with a growing fire within me.  

But it's not optional.  It's not just for adoption social workers.

It's for every single person who calls themselves a follower of Jesus Christ.  It's for the church, world wide, to care for the orphans and oppressed.  It's for every single person with our first world problems to make a choice to swap a luxury so that they can meet a need. 

The world of adoption is changing.  But the needs of the children are not.  

Consider yourself informed.  And maybe bullied.  Definitely challenged.  To do something.

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