On many websites I see advertisements for jewelry or knit hats whose proceeds in part will support an adoption (mostly international). Other websites or blogs simply have a giving link for fundraising. I am well aware that adoption costs are very high; it’s something that many prospective adoptive parents would like to see lowered and drives many of these fundraisers. While it’s easy to gripe about the costs involved, I think it is important to remember, though, that those fees do have a purpose. Social workers, case study examiners, and translators need to be paid. Donations to the orphanages have been used in China to improve the safety and living conditions of the institutions. And in the cases of older children being adopted, the money given to the orphanages is often comparable to the amount of money feeding, housing, and funding multiple surgeries for a child would have cost over the years.
That said, money handling is one of the largest problems in international adoption. The exchange of money has allowed Korea to profit from being a sending country of children and creates incentive for child traffickers and for cutting corners. The Atlantic cites Brian Stuy, who estimates that “fraud or trafficking is involved in more than three-quarters of all adoptions from China.” If money is to be involved, I think no adoption agencies should be for-profit organizations, and I think the costs of adoption need to be examined in light of what is reasonable for prospective adoptive parents in current sending countries to pay. Looking at international adoption as an industry, the market is driven by wealthier Western consumers whose dollars can’t compare with the people in the children’s home countries who might be equally loving of parents. If adoptions were affordable to people in country, perhaps more kinship adoptions would be possible which would allow children to stay in their home countries and stay connected to their biological roots. Of course, prioritizing in-country adoption in this way would mean that fewer children would be adopted into the United States – and a declining number of adoptive children seems to terrify many people here.
So what about people in the United States who can’t afford adoption costs? Is fundraising a suitable answer for them? I would strongly argue against it. The truth is raising and supporting a child is very expensive. Between piano lessons, enrichment programs, and possible medical concerns, I think it’s a bad sign if parents must fundraise in order to cover the costs of adoption. Moreover, a great concern lies in how many fundraisers are conducted. In order to get audience appeal, many times these children’s stories are shared publicly either through a tear-jerker story of “saving a third-world child” or with specific details including names, photographs, and institution addresses. I strongly believe that adoptees should have the right to keep their stories private, and holding fundraisers in this fashion violates that right before they have even arrived in the country.
Another concern is that fundraisers are conducted to support multiple adoptions in a humanitarian aid project effort to create either an “ultra liberal rainbow family” or a conservative Christian family comprised of “orphans of God.” I think both of these ideas are misguided and have led to extremely large families of a dozen or so children. While there is definitely some value in big families, when it reaches that size, can children receive the one-on-one care in their adoptive family that is so criticized of being lacking in institutions?
A final concern is fundraising done by specific organizations in which the money collected is granted to individual sets of prospective adoptive parents. Some of these organizations make it difficult for non-white couples to adopt or accept the applications of only Christian parents. I take particular issue with Steven Curtis Chapman’s organization whose mission statement is to “provide a child with the knowledge of God’s plan for his or her eternal life with a forever family called The Body of Christ.” This seems to send a message of saving the pagan, Godless children of China rather than trying to provide them with the best care possible whether that be with families domestically or abroad. Since these Christian fundraising organizations have the most money, a righteous image of adoption is propagated. Treating adoption as a “really wonderful invitation to experience God in a profound way by being a part of His sovereign plan for His precious children,” makes it seem as though adoption is a natural piece of divine intervention, and not a repercussion of faulty systems and political strife. Keeping the discussion of adoption at a “divine” level, and ignoring the actual political issues surrounding it ensures that the problems which drive adoption will continue. Keeping parents in situations that forces them to abandon their children does not seem like a very holy or Christian act.
I think of how I would have felt if my parents had fundraised or relied on an outside organization’s fundraising efforts in order to fund my adoption. When I was young, I may have fed into the “we worked so hard to make you ours” mantra and felt “special” by that. I remember in my elementary school years, though, not feeling special, just different when people would try to convince me of otherwise. I know I absolutely would not have wanted to be the face of some charity project and would be horrified if little buttons and fliers with my face on them existed. Additionally, I think fundraising cheapens adoption into even more of a consumer/provider relationship, with even more unnecessary exchanges of money. I want to be a daughter in a family, not a commodity to be bought. Fundraising for adoption emphasizes the brokenness of the international adoption system, prioritizing money and idealizing Western education/culture/thought. Why are people fundraising to take children out of their home countries? Where are the people fundraising to keep children with their first families?
UNICEF reports that “of the more than 132 million children classified as orphans, only 13 million have lost both parents . . . UNICEF’s ‘orphan’ statistic might be interpreted to mean that globally there are 132 million children in need of a new family, shelter, or care. This misunderstanding may then lead to responses that focus on providing care for individual children rather than supporting the families and communities that care for orphans and are in need of support.” Knowing that many of the children being adopted (especially from China) are not truly orphans in the Western connotation of the word (the reason adoptee searches and reunions can happen), I believe that the only ethical fundraising in relation to adoption is family preservation. There are groups that sponsor children to stay with their parents or other family members if the parents are unable. There are organizations that raise money to cover the costs of surgeries for children whose families can’t afford the necessary care and would otherwise feel forced to relinquish the child for adoption. Family preservation isn’t exclusive to these already existing, family focused organizations. Promoting family preservation is supporting the development of countries, which typically reduces reproduction rate. Promoting family preservation is educating women, which reduces the fertility rate, and allows them to work and provide an income for their families. Promoting family perseveration is educating women about contraceptive and reproductive health so they don’t have children they can’t afford to raise. Promoting family preservation is eradicating gender preferences. Promoting family preservation is challenging the social stigmas of single motherhood, questioning governmental family planning policies like the One Child Policy, and establishing welfare systems that mothers can rely on for support instead of facing these challenges alone. Promoting family preservation lies in community building, recognizing that a non-Western education and life is not necessarily a lesser one, and prioritizing children over our own desires. Though these systemic societal issues cannot be conquered overnight, these are tangible steps we can take to make sure that in the future, international adoptions are cheaper and rare.