by Peter Leppanen, Strategic Advisor to Both Ends Burning
Last week I was invited to a lecture discussing international adoption at a prominent law school. During the Q&A session after the lecture, one of the students prefaced her question by saying “I don’t think I support international adoption…”
As an observer, it wasn’t my place to answer her question, and the lecturers did a great job of doing so. From her body language, I think their responses may have changed her mind—at least I hope so. Like many, I suspect the student had no firsthand knowledge of children’s issues or international adoption and was thinking from an abstract policy perspective.
But when I heard her preface, I wanted to jump out of my chair. This is obviously a very bright young person who might someday be in a very influential position in setting public policy. Could she someday be in a position to stand between a child and a loving family?
I wanted to bring her to an orphanage and ask her what fate she would propose for just one child living in that orphanage? Should we give the child the opportunity to be raised by an adoptive family or should we leave her to struggle with the abuse and neglect of institutionalized care?
It also got me thinking about what right anyone, particularly a government official, has to stand between a child in need of a family and a family willing to adopt that child. Yes, the proper role of government is to make sure that adoption is done ethically, that the placement is in the best interests of the child and that the prospective parents are truly suitable to adopt. But any role greater than that seems both unnecessary and harmful. Can we use this as a standard to measure the performance of our government and foreign governments in the international adoption process?
For example, I can’t rationalize the US government’s different approaches to Nepal and China. In Nepal, the US government has shut down adoptions of abandoned children, claiming that the information on these children is unreliable. This policy persists despite the fact that over 60 cases that the State Department turned down were ultimately approved upon appeal and further investigation. However, the State Department says it is still willing to process cases of children who were relinquished by their families in Nepal, as those cases should be verifiable.
But in China, it’s somewhat reversed. The State Department is reluctant to approve relinquishment cases, but thousands of abandonment cases have been processed expeditiously.
Something just doesn’t add up. I suspect more is at play in these decisions than the best interests of the child.
This helps me to frame one of the greatest challenges facing Both Ends Burning: encouraging both US and foreign governments to restrict their roles to what is necessary to ensure ethical and appropriate placements through the international adoption process. If we can succeed at that, not only will we help more children find permanent families, but we will also reduce the time children are stuck in the adoption process.