Can an Adopted Child Be Returned?

from: The New York Times

Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2007
By Peter Ritter/Hong Kong

Every child is a gift, as the saying goes. But in a case that has stoked outrage on two continents, a Dutch diplomat posted in Hong Kong has been accused of returning his eight-year-old adopted daughter like an unwanted Christmas necktie. The story, which first appeared in the South China Morning Post on Dec. 9, began seven years ago, when Dutch vice consul Raymond Poeteray and his wife, Meta, adopted then-four-months-old Jade in South Korea. The couple, who also have two biological children, brought Jade with them to Indonesia and then to Hong Kong in 2004, although Poeteray never applied for Dutch nationality for the child — a curious oversight, given that he worked in a consulate. Then, last year, the Poeterays put Jade in the care of Hong Kong's Social Welfare Department, saying they could no longer care for her because of the girl's emotional remoteness.

In an open letter that appeared in the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf on Dec. 13, Poeteray explained that Jade was diagnosed with emotional problems when the family moved to Hong Kong, including a "severe form of fear of emotional attachment." Adopted children are sometimes diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder, which manifests as a debilitating inability to form normal emotional bonds. According to Rene Hoksbergen, an adoption specialist at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, even very young children can be affected by the disorder when their needs are disregarded or they are shuffled among caregivers. Poeteray claimed that, despite intensive family therapy, Jade did not seem to improve. "On the advice of known medical specialists, professionals from the adoption organization Mother's Choice and the social services of Hong Kong, it was decided that in her interest she should be placed in a separate house and we would not be allowed to have any contact with her," he wrote. Hong Kong-based Mother's Choice and the Social Welfare Department both declined to answer specific questions about the case, but Fernando Cheung, a Hong Kong lawmaker who has been in contact with the Welfare Department, says he does not believe social workers advised the family to give up the child. "I don't think that's true," he says.

According to a spokesman from the South Korean consulate in Hong Kong, the family also said that Jade did not adapt to Dutch culture or food. "They said she had not adjusted to a new home, that there were some problems," he says. But some specialists are skeptical of that explanation as well. "My gut feeling is it's just an excuse," says Law Chi-kwong, an associate professor of social work at the University of Hong Kong. "That only happens when the adoption took place when the child is already six or seven years old. It would not happen to a child they raised for several years, raised in the family."

Media reports have raised questions about just how well integrated into the family Jade was. The South China Morning Post quoted a babysitter who looked after Jade while the family was in Indonesia as saying that the girl was cared for by nannies. "She was rarely in her mother's arms," the babysitter said. "I also found it strange that she was so quiet." A babysitter told a Dutch newspaper that Poeteray's wife did not treat Jade as a "real daughter."

While it is illegal to abandon a child in Hong Kong, says Law, children are sometimes ceded to the Welfare Department: "if for very difficult reasons, you can't look after a child, you can sign off your rights." Cheung says he believes the Poeteray family is in the process of doing that. "From what I understand," he says, "they're ready to relinquish their rights to the child."

While uncommon, it is not unprecedented for an adoption to fail and a child to be returned to foster care. According to The Times of London, an estimated 10% of British adoptions of children under 10 ultimately fail. International adoptions, which may involve children suffering from neglect or deprivation, can be particularly difficult, according to a U.K. government advisory quoted in the article. According to a 2005 study in the American Journal of Psychiatry, young adult international adoptees in the Netherlands were much more likely than native-born adolescents to develop mood disorders and substance abuse problems.

It is impossible to know the details of what happened in the diplomat's household. In his letter to De Telegraaf, Poeteray appealed for sympathy and privacy, saying that, despite what has been written in the media, "We are Jade's parents and we feel responsible for her well-being." Sympathy hasn't been forthcoming in the Netherlands, though; the paper accused the family of discarding the child like "a piece of household rubbish."

Jade's case has also attracted particular attention in South Korea, where international adoption has often been a fiercely debated social and political issue. In the past half-century, more than 150,000 South Korean children have been adopted internationally. More than 2,000 were adopted by overseas parents in 2005, although the government has taken steps to reverse this trend. Some lawmakers have argued for restrictions, or even a ban, on international adoption — and particularly on private adoptions, which may not include rigorous vetting of prospective parents.

As for Jade herself, Cheung says she is now living with an English-speaking foster family and attending a Hong Kong school. "She's living rather happily, and she seems to be a normal little girl," he says. A spokesman for the Social Welfare Department says that the government is working on making future arrangements for her care. Cheung says that he believes the girl will be allowed to stay in Hong Kong despite the fact that she is a South Korean citizen. "The part that I think our government can do is respect the wishes of the child." That will ensure that Jade has a city, if not yet a family, to call her own.



"Poeteray claimed that, despite intensive family therapy, Jade did not seem to improve. "On the advice of known medical specialists, professionals from the adoption organization Mother's Choice and the social services of Hong Kong, it was decided that in her interest she should be placed in a separate house and we would not be allowed to have any contact with her," he wrote. "

Here some more about Mother's Choice, set up by Gary Stephens - US :

In 1993, Mother's Choice began an adoption program to help waiting children with special needs in Hong Kong.  The program was first named “Overseas Adoption Service”.  As Mother's Choice began to provide more support for prospective adoptive families and families with adopted children living in Hong Kong, the program changed its name to “Adoption Services” on April 1, 2006.

Over the years, Mother's Choice has continued to work closely with the Social Welfare Department of Hong Kong Government in recruiting permanent families for these children who vary in age and special needs.

Mother's Choice works with two partner adoption agencies in the United States of America: Bethany Christian Services and Family Connections Christian Adoptions.

When an adoption gets dissolved


Publication Date: 12/23/2007

Adoptions tend to make headlines when celebrities like Angelina Jolie and Madonna decide that an exotic child from the wilds of Asia and Africa would make a nice adornment to the family.

Thousands and maybe millions more take place every year, and hopefully work out for all concerned. 

But once in a while an adoption comes unstuck and all manner of stories fly around, raising serious questions about whether the best judgment has been exercised by do-gooders who presumably wanted to give an abandoned child a new start in life and enrich their own lives too.

The case of the Dutch couple which hit the headlines and was analysed in angry and indignant tones in chat rooms around the world illustrates how things can go so badly wrong.

One Raymond Poeteray and his wife Meta gave up to Hong Kong Social Services a Korean child they adopted seven years ago when she was only four months old. 

They claim the girl had serious ‘‘bonding problems,’’ couldn’t adjust to Dutch food and basically didn’t fit into their culture.

There are a few troubling issues about this account. How do you decide that a child you’ve raised since she was an infant suddenly doesn’t adjust to your food and culture? Presumably she was subsisting on non cultural-specific milk and baby cereals at the beginning and then, like most other children, graduated to more solid stuff.

To suggest that for the seven years they’ve raised her she has never ‘‘adjusted’’ to their food defies logic. 

This is where the stories by the baby sitters begin to shed some light, if they’re true. One woman said that the girl was raised by Asian domestic helpers, one during the day and the other in the evening, which is not unusual in itself.

More worrying is the claim that ‘‘Meta did not treat her as her real daughter’.’’ According to the child-minder, the child was rarely in her mother’s arms; ‘‘there was no love there’’. That is quite an indictment in itself. 

It also shows how apparent failure by the parents to get her accustomed to their cuisine and assimilated to their lifestyle might explain why she might have developed an appetite for Asian delicacies presumably prepared by the helpers.

It has also been reported that the girl was adopted in the first instance because the couple believed they couldn’t have children. They went on to have two children of their own later, a factor that has sparked off the accusations of wilful neglect and what have you.

Commonsense suggests that though a phobia of bonding is not unusual amongst adopted children, it shouldn’t manifest itself beyond early childhood. 

Something must have gone terribly wrong, and maybe the whole story will never be told.

Outraged Dutch people writing to newspapers talk about being ashamed and disgusted that their own, who happen to be diplomats, can abandon a child like an unwanted toy, or in the words of one Dutch newspaper, like ‘‘unwanted household rubbish’’. Others call it a crime against natural justice. 

Strong words, strong emotions and serious concerns about the ethics of dissolving adoptions. A blogger described it as ‘‘band aid solution to infertility problems’’.

It is not the first time a case like this has been reported widely. A few years ago, an Irish couple returned an adopted child to an orphanage in Indonesia claiming the child didn’t ‘‘fit in’’.

These sorts of things give a bad name to what is an otherwise noble undertaking. Maybe one positive outcome of this whole Dutch saga is that authorities will be more vigilant about how the process is managed and how the suitability of potential parents is vetted.

These things tend to be rushed, especially where money or big names are involved. 

And sometimes there’s more than a little doubt about whether the right procedures have been followed, or whether the right people have given their consent, as in Madonna’s adoption of a Malawian boy, which remains mired in controversy.

Authorities in Asia are in the spotlight, and will remain so, because in some countries foster parents from the West are still seen as the most viable for the millions of unwanted female children waiting for a new life in orphanages and unable to find a home amongst their own countrymen.

In societies where boys are prized over girls, adoption by foreigners is often the only hope. Most are probably well-meaning. 

But some seem to be wholly unprepared for the challenges of a culturally or ethnically-blended family. And, sadly, a minority fail to go that extra mile, and forget that a child does not come with a love-by date. 

When monks and the militia in Cambodia clash as they did again this week, the scenes are ludicrous in the extreme. 

You have on the one hand, men who are supposed to be the peace-loving, pious guardians of the nation’s moral consciousness.

On the other hand you have a different breed of guardians altogether, gun-totting, hardened men who are taught to protect the regime ostensibly to maintain law and order. 

When the two come to blows and kung-fu kicks, it is a sad reflection of the extent to which a country can degenerate, accusations of who started it notwithstanding.

Pound Pup Legacy