Monday, November 5, 2007

The Rights of a Child?

I fear we are entering a time in which international adoption will become less and less possible.


Well, its certainly not because there are going to be fewer children needing loving families. If that were the case, we'd all be only too delighted to see IA decrease. In fact, it is likely that the numbers of orphans will increase in coming years in some countries- particularly those in sub-Saharan Africa, as the devestation of AIDS leaves families destroyed in its wake.

Rather, the reasons for the increasing endangerment of IA are political and have nothing to do with providing families for children.

On the international stage, big players like UNICEF are using their clout to discourage IA. Their concerns for the "rights of the child" focus on the child's right to his or her heritage, to his right to remain in his country of origin instead of being relocated to another culture.

This is certainly something to consider. Children do have a birthright to their heritage and their culture... few people would argue with that. But, here's the thing: a child raised in his culture in an institution (or on the streets), without a sense of permanency, is impacted for life. And I mean that quite literally. We are learning that a lack of early nurturing results in physiological changes in a child's developing brain. Without the stability of becoming part of a permanent family, these changes can become a proverbial "cross to carry" for rest of the child's life.

Cultural knowledge or a sense of heritage do not, and cannot, make up for the neurophysiological impacts of being raised without the individualized attention that children get from parents. It does not matter how much of a "model" the institution is, or how good the social services and support programs designed to help these kids are. Children need the consistent care and love of at least one adult in their lives. Children need parents. Children need to be part of a family. There are no substitutes for family- whether the family is formed through birth or adoption.

This doesn't mean that IA is the answer for all kids in all situations where they cannot be raised by their birth parents. But it is the answer for some. Maybe, for many.

I would wager, though, that the total number of IAs in North America will begin to decrease, as there are already (temporary?) closures of programs like Guatemala (which has accounted for a significant number of US adoptions), as the referrals of children from large adoption programs like China slow down, and as there is an increasing tension domestically for prospective parents to adopt children born in their own country.

In several provinces in Canada, we are seeing the Ministries responsible for approving adoptions discouraging families from adopting outside their home province. This is completely ironic, since there are huge waiting lists of families trying to adopt children in most of the provinces, and the average wait for a healthy infant is somewhere around a decade! Some officials have actually spoken publicly to encourage families to adopt domestically instead of internationally (e.g., a recent interview in BC), while, in other provinces, the pressure is a lot more subtle. But there is little doubt that adoptive parents are facing more than their fair share of obstacles on the way to forming their families through IA in many provinces. My own included.

I hope that I'm just being pessimistic, and in the way that most things in life wax and wane, attitudes about IA will become more positive again. But as IA parents, I think we need to be on our guard, and be ready to stand up to the giants like UNICEF as well as the decision makers in our own provinces and states.

The rights of many children to grow up with the love of a family are at stake.

For an excellent article about the closure of Guatemala's IA program, read this Washington Post article by Elizabeth Bartholet, called Slamming the Door on Adoption.


Cavatica said...

Nice post. Thanks!

Tracey & Mike said...

Great post Carolyn. The events of the last couple of months in several Canadian provinces are indeed troubling. It can only get worse with the "big players" getting involved. We are so fortunate that so far ON has remained very open to IA and WC. The last line of our provincial letter of approval says it all "Ontario welcomes the child from China." I pray it stays that way for the many families that are still waiting.

Wendy said...

Holy Cow I hope Not.. but you are correct that the future looks bleak at times.. I would like to post that artical in my blog if you don't mind.

Carolyn said...

Tracey, that is a great thing to put in your provincial letter of approval! Yay, Ontario!

Carolyn said...

Of course, Wendy!

redmaryjanes said...

Very interesting. I am going off to read that article.

Doreen said...

Excellent post! I find your words echo my thoughts. That is also an excellent article, thanks for sharing that. Sometimes you just have to shake your head in disbelief.

Beverly said...

Great post. I agree with you and it is so sad to think that culture is becoming more important than families. It is important but having someone take care of a child, love a child and teach that child about life and love are so much more important.