This month on the 4th the Department of State's Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs Michele Bond issued a statement on the occasion of National Adoption Month, which is celebrated every year in November. She writes: "I want to highlight that maintaining intercountry adoption as a viable option for children in need throughout the world is a top priority for the Department of State." And then she writes: "We are advancing new initiatives for intercountry adoption and strengthening our relationships with the adoption community. We appreciate hearing from you about ways that we can continue these efforts." There is no doubt in the Department of State that intercountry adoption is good thing, a child welfare measure that not only has to be supported, but even has to be promoted.
Where the Assistant Secretary talks about the communication with the adoption community she assumes that the whole community shares State's positive take on adoption. She is wrong. For sure: adoption agencies, adoption lawyers and many international adopting parents, who are all depending on the successful transfer of kids from foreign countries, see adoption as great way to help children in need. But the adoption community consists not only of mediators and adoptive parents; the main and most important constituencies are first (or birth) families and adoptees, people without whom the community just not exists. Many of the latter adoptionland denizens are not so much in favor of intercountry adoption: first mothers and fathers suffered under the loss of a child and adoptees have to deal with the trauma of abandonment and displacement; many have observed or experienced as well fraud, corruption and child trafficking in their countries, countries that seldom have a reliable infrastructure to protect them from the power of western currencies.
Many countries where the State Department supports and promotes this peculiar kind of welfare, are also not in favor of intercountry adoption either. A report from a pan-African conference on child welfare in 2012 called for "a reversal of the current trend of resorting to intercountry adoption as an easy and convenient option for alternative care in Africa, and for giving absolute priority to enabling all children in Africa to remain with their families and their communities.' Grassroots organizations, not only in African countries like Uganda and Congo, but also in countries like Cambodia and Haiti are working indeed hard and successfully to find an alternative for intercountry adoption by supporting families, extended families and communities to take care of their own children. It is not hard, and should not be hard for the Department of State, to choose this way of helping children in need, as the preferred way.
Michele Bond's Happy National Adoption Month statement asks for answers to some burning questions, which are implied above. Here they are:
1. Would it not be appropriate to include the other denizens of adoptionland, who don't see maintaining intercountry adoption as a 'top priority' and who support other ways to help children in need, in your communications, and ask them at your table?
2. What is the size of State's annual budget for intercountry adoption, and what is the number of international adoptees entering the US?
3. Can you give an indication how many children could be helped in-country with the current 'adoption'- budget? In a rough calculation, published elsewhere, my sources in Uganda estimated that social workers need an amount of $500 per child to succesfully reunite a child with his family or community for the long term.
Let's hope the Department of State will surprise us with serious answers in this month, which is not a happy one for all in adoptionland.