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Looking beyond the demons of adoption


Two days ago we started the nominations for the Annual Demons of Adoption Awards for the fourth time in succession. As much as we like that we do this every year, and how much we love to point out the "bad guys" in adoption, it's also important to realize that the adoption system itself is most evil of all and that pointing out a few "bad guys" is not going to solve the ethical problems related to adoption.

The Demons of Adoption awards started four years ago in response to the congressional Angels in Adoption, annually awarded by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI). What is presented as a means to promote the adoption of children, in fact is an adoption industry love fest. Among the recipients of the award, we do not just find families that opened their doors for children from foster care, but also couples whose only "merit" is that they adopted through Bethany Christian Services of Virginia. Many of the other recipients are insiders in the adoption industry. Among the recipients are many adoption lawyers, whose "merit" only exist in the fact that they make a living preparing the paperwork for an adoption.

That is to say, at best they only make a living preparing the paperwork for an adoption, there are many adoption attorneys whose work far exceeds the handling of legal issues of an adoption, but who work the supply chain as well, targeting pregnant women for the supply and prospective adoptive parents for the demand. Running an actual adoption boutique is not uncommon for adoption attorneys.

Some adoption attorneys are deeply involved in the politics of adoption, such is the case with Larry S Jenkins, an attorney from Utah, involved in many law suits where father's rights are successfully disputed, and member of the Utah Adoption Council, an LDS-church controlled organization involved in the politics of adoption in Utah. Ironically, Larry Jenkins is the recipient of an Angel in Adoption award.

One could make the point that CCAI as a coalition of members of congress makes political nominations, and since Utah is an LDS-theocracy, Utah will nominate recipients the LDS-theocracy approves of. This is certainly the case for Orrin Hatch's nomination of Larry Jenkins, but it doesn't explain the nomination of Hannah Wallace, former president of Focus on Adoption (FOA), a lobby group of adoption agencies, strongly focused on keeping Guatemala open, depite evidence of unethical practices. It doesn't explain the nomination of Keith Wallace of Families Thru International Adoption (FTIA) or Susan Soon-Keum Cox of Holt International Children's Services. It doesn't explain the fact that Bethany Christian Services received an award three times.

The Angels in Adoption Award gala is an adoption agency's love fest with all the pomposity of congressional allure. It openly shows the intimate embrace of special interest groups and federal government, more so than in any other field of business.

There is no congressional Angel's in Petroleum Award, or an Angels in Financial Derivatives and Collateralized Debt Obligations Award. There is not even an Angels in Army Technology Award. With all these branches of business, members of congress have to at least presume a certain distance. Even when a member of congress is actually in bed with a certain special interest group, a pretense of independence is maintained.

Congress doesn't consider adoption to be a business, and from their perspective that is understandable. Even though adoption is a billion dollar industry, its economic value dwarfs compared to the money involved in Wall Street, the oil industry, insurance, the pharmaceutical industry or even manufacturing. So do the potential campaign contributions of adoption agencies and adoption attorneys.

While tens of thousands of people make a living through adoption, no single agency is a mass-employer, nor are agencies heavily unionized. The labor importance of the adoption industry is peanuts compared to the number of people working in retail or even mining, teaching or nursing.

For members of congress the political value of adoption is not economical, but sentimental. Members of congress like to present themselves favorable towards their constituents. They do so by bringing home pork, but also by illuminating their virtuous side or their charitable side.

Of course not all that glitters is gold, when scratching beneath the surface of the image of a "family man", one can easily find an adulterer. When scratching beneath the surface of a "patriot", one can easily find a war-profiteer. When scratching beneath the surface of an "environmentalist" one can easily find business interest under the pretext of good-doing.

Adoption is very much a business interest under the pretext of good-doing too. Washington doesn't see that business interest, because its overall financial impact is insignificant, but the pretext of good-doing has a lot of political capital. 

The Angels of Adoption Awards shamelessly shows the exchange of this political capital for the business interests of the adoption industry. Members of Congress get the opportunity to demonstrate their pro-adoptionism, and the industry gets Congress's seal of approval, translating in minimal federal regulation of the adoption industry. Federal regulation is even so loose that the accreditation of agencies has been delegated to a private agency (Council on Accreditation) founded and controlled by child welfare organizations. A typical case of Washington making a fox guard the hen house. 

When we created the Demons of Adoption, it was of course a well deserved parody of the Angels of Adoption, and that it still is. At the same time the Demons of Adoption, like their counterpart, the Angels of Adoption, only highlight. No agency or attorney is as angelical as Members of Congress want us to believe, but neither are the demons of adoption so exceptionally evil. For every nominee there are several others equally guilty of unethical practices. The Demons of Adoption Awards show us the darkest corners of adoption, but don't tell us much about the darkness of the adoption industry as a whole.

Only when we learn to see the "bad guys" in adoption as the most depraved examples in a pool of depravity, does it all make sense. Business methods, used by the worst agencies of our time, are the same business methods used by "demons of adoption" a century ago. Coerced relinquishment, fraudulent paperwork, the use of a jurisdictional maze, illegal payments, all of that is not a recent invention, but have been part and parcel of the adoption business ever since its introduction.

No matter how CCAI tries to polish a turd, the trade in children remains a dirty business. Some organizations may stink more than others, and therefore deserve special attention through our Demons of Adoption Awards, but that doesn't mean other organizations don't produce a similar stench. Only when we see the systemic rancidity of the adoption industry and its incestuous relations with policy makers, will we be able to change the system in a way that finally the best interest of children is served, and not the business interests of those involved in the trade of children.

by Kerry and Niels on Thursday, 02 September 2010