Ever since the case of Artem Justin Hansen made the news last week, the adoption industry has feared a moratorium of adoptions from Russia.
The National Council for Adoption (NCFA), the trade association of Christian adoption service providers, was quick with their response, publishing a statement within 24 hours after the case made the news.
The Joint Council on International Children’s Services (JCICS), the trade association of not-necessarily-Christian adoption service providers, was equally eager to make a statement, followed a couple of days later by a campaign, arrogantly called "We are the truth".
Yesterday, Elizabeth Bartholet, scholarly mouthpiece of adoption service providers, presented her view in the New York Times.
The arguments used by these representatives of the adoption industry are pretty much the same, and they have been used each and every time an incident of abuse or abandonment makes headlines.
The response usually starts with a statement along these lines: "abuse in adoptive families is rare and without minimizing the tragedy we should look at how well adoptive families are being screened and consider that the vast majority of children adopted end up with loving parents that treat them well"
Last year, we made an analysis of this particular statement, in our post The common response to abuse in adoptive families, and demonstrated abuse in adoptive families is not particularly rare, adoptive families are not being screened all that well, and it remains to be seen if the vast majority of children do actually end up with loving parents that treat them well.
After having made a statement that downplays the importance of the incident, the industry's response then usually focuses on the issue of a possible suspension of international adoption with a given country. This makes perfect sense, trade associations are there to protect the industry they represent, and business will certainly be hurt by a possible moratorium.
Trade associations of regular industries are usually open about their self-interest, and that is accepted practice. With adoption, however, things are not that cut and dry. Adoption service providers and their trade associations usually don't speak about their own self-interest. After all, adoption is officially not a means to make a living, but is to be regarded as something charitable, no matter how much money is being made by executives. Instead, trade associations of adoption service providers dress-up the interest of children, to cover up their own self-interest. Instead of saying: "we lose business because of a suspension", the trade associations of adoption service providers speak of the need of children in foreign countries that now miss the opportunity to be adopted.
This disingenuous response seems to work really well for the adoption industry, and they repeat it ad nauseum, because it works in their favor. However, upon scrutiny, not much remains of that statement.
First of all, the dire conditions of so-called orphans is usually overstated, but since this claim is made by most adoption service providers, most would never know it. This appeal to heart-felt concern and emotion helps drive the demand for adoptable children from foreign countries, and is the back bone of many agency's marketing strategy. The message to prospective adoptive parents is: If you don't adopt this child, it will suffer and languish in an orphanage and be turned into the sex industry, (or face some other miserable fate no moral-minded person would ever wish to inflict upon a poor innocent child stuck in a harsh land filled with corruption and poverty).
As most successful marketing strategies, this one is based on the desire of the customer, not upon any reality in the outside world. Many prospective adopters want to see themselves as saviours, because it helps cover up the idea they are buying a child, through a business entity.
In reality, prospective adopters are actually buying a child, and the agency is the shop where the purchase is made, but since that is a taboo, it has to be dressed up. Transforming the prospective adopters into saviours of otherwise doomed children, provides that required cognitive short cut. The money paid to purchase a child is transformed into a charitable donation, and the demand of a child is transformed into the supply of a family, creating a fairy tale image, in which adopters are no longer demanding products, but genuine heroes who selflessly save a poor child from pending doom.
The marketing strategy works really well, and every year thousands of adoption applications are processed, bringing adoption service providers a steady income. It works so well, there are far more prospective adopters than adoptable children. This is not only true today, but has been the case for over a century. For each adoptable child, there are several couples willing and able to adopt it.
The arguments against a suspension, using the child's need as a cover, don't hold, exactly because of this excess demand.
Suppose Russia effectively suspends adoptions to the US as they seem to be contemplating. The effect of such an action would be more non-Americans will get a chance at adopting a Russian child. You see, the United States is not the only importer of Russian children. Approximately half the children adopted from Russia end up in the United States, while the other half is adopted in countries like Canada, Australia, and several European countries. In these countries, the demand for children is just as much in excess of supply as it is in the United States; the waiting lists are just as long. So if Russia decides to suspend adoptions to the United States, the children that would otherwise be adopted by Americans, would be adopted by Canadians, Australians and Europeans, instead.
Given America's track record in treating foreign adopted children, a suspension would certainly be in the best interest of Russian children. Since 1996, 18 Russian children have been killed by their American adoptive parents, while only one such case is known outside of the US. So adoption by Americans is 1800% more dangerous than adoption by non-Americans. Given the fact that all adoptable Russian children can easily be absorbed by countries other than the United States, there is simply no argument that supports the belief that a suspension will not be in the adoptable child's best interest.
Of course the opposition against a suspension is not really based on the best interest of the child, it is only cloaked as such. The true opposition against a suspension lies in the fact that adoption service providers will lose business, and American prospective adopters will have less chance of adopting a child from the foreign country of their choice. This is what the action We are the truth, in proper adoption double-speak, is really all about. Adult demands, dressed up as the child's best interest, presented as the truth, while in reality Russian children are better off when Americans are no longer allowed to adopt children from abroad. The adoption system in the United States is simply not solid enough to deal with the needs children in foreign countries really have, and ignoring this truth puts more and more foreign (and domestic) children at risk.
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