The release of Kathryn Joyce’s excellent book couldn’t be better timed. Using James 1:27, “Visit Widows and Orphans”, as a spiritual mandate the US adoption movement seems to have a one-way ticket to ‘orphan saviour heaven’ but routinely ignore the real issues and unethical, even criminal, practices of the orphan care movement. Kathryn, through excellent investigative journalism and eyewitness accounts, has managed to capture perfectly what is really going on and exposes where the whole ‘orphan care’ movement is going wrong.
Countries like Uganda, with developing child protection systems, are purposely being targeted by unethical agencies and adoption ‘middlemen’ in order to ensure there is a ready supply of children to meet the demand being generated from Pulpits across the US. I see it everyday. US adoption agencies are establishing and funding orphanages in order to control the demand. This is completely contrary to the Children’s Act of Uganda and is making domestic welfare reforms for children without parental care eminently more difficult than they need to be.
The great irony is that adoption agencies promote orphanages as 'bad places' for children (which we agree they are) and yet they have a co-dependency relationship with orphanages which results in more children ending up in orphanages. In Uganda we have many orphanages funded and being established by adoption agencies which are now recruiting children - many of whom won't be adopted thus leaving, between them, 1000's of children in institutional care. Adoption agencies *need* orphanages in order to peddle their own message and promotion of International Adoption. Interestingly when International Adoption programmes close the number of orphanages being established decreases. Kathryn manages to communicate these paradoxes eloquently with sound research and facts.
I know that some in the ‘pro-adoption’ movement will dismiss some of the stories in ‘catchers’ as extreme and not representative of the ‘greater good’ of international adoption, but I challenge them, come to Uganda and see what we see everyday, come and speak with the growing number of birth families who realising the ‘actual’ consequences of international adoption, come and see the level of corruption in the economy being created around international adoption, come and see the growing number of institutionalised children as a result of international adoption and agency funded orphanages, come and see the shady ‘middlemen’ who a find children for well-intentioned US citizens. Come and see.
If James 1:27 is the mandate for the ‘orphan care’ movement then let me, just for a moment, climb into a pulpit and preach the rest of the verse “and to keep one self from being polluted by the world”. It seems that much of the orphan care movement is rooted in deception, lies, egos and criminality. People are misinterpreting the scriptures and doing far more damage than good.
For those of us on the ground this book offers us hope that the Evangelical Movement can mature rapidly and start taking concerns and issues with international adoption seriously and instigate the necessary reforms.
Its so important not to dismiss this book as many will try to do, claiming Kathryn is being negative, has an anti Christian or anti adoption agenda. We live in the middle of an intercountry explosion in one of the fastest growing programmes in the world. We know that unfortunately, the way that international works is "difficult country, same problems". Kathryn could be talking about Uganda in the many stories she shares and we hope that people will be open minded enough to read this important book and keep reminding themselves that this book is fact not fiction.------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
On the eve of her highly anticipated book release we caught up with Kathryn Joyce the author of "The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking and the New Gospel of Adoption" in New York to ask her a few questions about her book. We wanted to thank Kathryn for taking the time out of her busy schedule to answer our questions.
I’m a U.S. journalist living in New York City. I write a lot about religion, reproductive issues and women’s rights. My first book was Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement, published in 2009, about a community of U.S. Christians that believes in having as many children as God gives them and adheres to rigid gender roles. My second book, The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking and the New Gospel of Adoption, has just been published by PublicAffairs press.
Why did you decide to write this book?
I came to write about adoption for two reasons. The seed for this book came from my reporting for the first. In 2007, as I was reporting on Quiverfull families that already had numerous biological children—six, eight, 10 or more—I began noticing that many were beginning to adopt as well, and adopting multiple children at a rapid pace. I, like many people, associated adoption most with couples or individuals facing infertility, so I was surprised to see families that were evidently abundantly fertile turning to adoption as well. Though I didn’t know it at the time, my curiosity was leading me to a number of people involved in the Christian adoption movement that was just starting to get organized.
I was also motivated early on by my uneasiness with the way adoption and abortion politics were being linked, and how adoption was promoted as a quick solution to that very divisive debate in the U.S. Looking more into the ways that some anti-abortion groups in the U.S. promote adoption introduced me to a huge number of American “birthmothers” or first mothers or families of origin who felt they had been coerced to relinquish children for adoption, whether they were victims of forced adoption during the “Baby Scoop Era” in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s, or women who face subtler forms of coercion today.
How long did it take you to write it and was it difficult to get people to share their experiences.
I started working on the first story that would lead to this book in 2008, investigating the experiences of U.S. women who relinquished for adoption. In 2009, as I was reporting, I found that there were more women eager to share their stories than I was able to speak to. When I found myself crying as I listened to these mothers explain what had been for them the defining loss in their lives—something many were still in mourning for decades later—I realized that the project was growing much larger than one article.
Originally, I thought the book would mostly concern domestic adoption issues, but as I dug in, it became evident that it was imperative to understand the international adoption realm. And when I began looking at that, I fell down the rabbit hole.
Getting to talk to people for this project was a mixed experience, as it is for most reporting projects. Some people—especially people who feel victimized by abusive adoption practices, and who feel that their stories have been repressed or silenced—were very eager to talk. Others were more reluctant, and of course some refused. Within the Christian adoption movement, there was some of both: movement leaders who ignored interview requests, and leaders who devoted a generous amount of time to talking with me, engaging in thorny debates and even soliciting my feedback.
What do you think the reaction of the evangelical movement will be to your book?
It’s hard to say what it will be in the long-term. I’ve had some encouraging feedback already from Christians deeply involved adoption reform or in children’s welfare and family preservation work in many different countries. Among the latter group, I’ve heard from some early readers who have come to recognize first-hand that the good intentions of the Christian adoption movement are leading to some serious systematic problems: children being wrongfully institutionalized so they can enter the adoption pipeline, Western money creating incentives for corruption, mothers and families being reduced to the source of a product in an industry driven by supply and demand.
In the past week, before the book was published, there were also a couple quite negative responses to the book by evangelicals who had not read it, including adoption agency affiliates. In essence, their response was one of dismissal: that sure there are some bad stories, but they’re rare, so it’s more important and fairer to focus on the positive. What strikes me in these responses is that, in the rush to defend agencies and the adoption movement as a cause, the experiences of yet another group of people badly harmed by abusive adoption practices go ignored. Unfortunately, that response is very familiar. Time and again, no matter how many stories of wrongful adoption practices pile up, some adoption advocates will dismiss them as the mistakes of a few bad apples that people shouldn’t dwell on. In my opinion, that dismissal is exactly how systematic abuses in the adoption system get ignored, year after year.
Your book outlines some heartbreaking situations but what one story were you particularly struck by?
There are a lot of heart-breaking stories, and while I was reporting and writing, I think whichever one I was working on at the time seemed most poignant to me. I come back time and again to the experiences of the U.S. mothers who relinquished for adoption, perhaps because it was their pain and the courage of their advocacy that opened the door to the entire project for me.
Most people you interviewed or engaged with in the book seemed genuinely lovely, regardless of their viewpoint, but did you receive much negativity (or worse) during the research?
Not a lot. I heard the argument I talked about above recited many times, and I think in many quarters there is a lot of defensiveness around any criticism of adoption, since it centers on such a primal and powerful set of relationships—the love among parents, children and families. But I did not encounter the intimidation, threats and worse that some adoption reform advocates have.
Adoption Agencies, quite rightly, get a rough ride in your book, but hey, offer us some hope here.. did you find an agency that was particularly helpful or progressive?
I did. In a few cases, I was heartened by the frank discussions I had with some adoption agency directors about the problems they’ve seen and the steps they’ve taken to address them. A few agencies that have really dedicated themselves to a progressive standard of informed consent helped me understand a basic and helpful frame for all adoption issues: that the problems begin when the birthmother (or, by extension, larger family) is made invisible.
One thing that bothers me is that when countries have an international adoption programme the number of children in institutional care goes up and yet adoption agencies use anti-institutionalistion of children as a reason to internationally adopt….. SO the very thing they are against they also need (and have very unhealthy relationships with) to supply children! De-institutioanlisation and community based programmes will result in less children available for IA… so do you think agencies ‘really’ care about the damage of institutional care when they are essentially ‘in bed’ with orphanages? Have you come across this and what are your views?
Yes! I think that paradox is such an important part of the discussion. As a UNICEF staffer in Ethiopia explained to me, there’s a common pattern that whenever orphanages are established in a region, they will be filled. But when inter-country adoption is not a part of the equation, many of those same orphanages would close. The inter-dependency of the institutions is concerning, and has been something that U.S. government reviews have looked at a little, but should investigate more. I’m sure most agencies deplore the damage that institutions can do to children’s development, but until the framework shifts to actually prioritize family preservation and sustainable development, it seems like the problem will continue. That’s why I’m so glad to know of the work that Reunite is doing on the grassroots level to address this issue, as well as the larger deinstitutionalization programs happening in different countries.
Like me you seem to have a huge respect and fondness for ‘adoptees’, especially Koreans, am I right in saying that what the Koreans have done in terms of their advocacy for change etc offers us hope for other adoptees from other countries to make similar progress?
I think there are a lot of incredible people doing really important reform work from all positions and perspectives on adoption, and that absolutely includes adoptees. One of the interesting things that is happening these days—and for at least the past decade—is the growing involvement of adult adoptees in the discussion. Too often, adoptees’ perspectives have been omitted, or adoptees are spoken for and are treated as perennial children—a sort of generic “orphan” who is still being advocated for by adoptive parents, and can’t speak for themselves. Korean adoptees are the oldest generations of inter-country adoptees to the U.S., since inter-country adoptions began there in significant numbers in the 1950s. So it follows that, now that some of those adoptees are in their 30s and 40s or older, many are leading the fight for various reforms in the U.S. and in South Korea. Here in the U.S., adult adoptees are networking their peers from diverse backgrounds around issues like adoptee citizenship rights and ethical reforms. And in South Korea, adoptee reformers have formed an historic coalition with groups of birth mothers as well as Korean single mothers who are taking the radical step of raising their own children despite overwhelming societal condemnation. Together, these groups have the potential to change the culture that pressures many women in this wealthy nation into relinquishing for adoption in the first place. It’s remarkable.
Finally, what are hoping to achieve with the book?
I see this book as an important corrective to the dominant narrative about adoption, especially in the U.S.: that it is an unqualified good that justifies using whatever means are necessary. There are many times that adoption is a good and beautiful thing, but that is the story that we hear most of the time already. Adoption can also be a tragic thing and a deeply unjust thing. Those problems are broader than the current Christian adoption movement, but the movement’s relentless focus on adoption as rescue and the purest form of charity is pouring new energy into flawed old ideas, and creating new collateral damage every day. If people come away from reading with a broader understanding of how adoption connects to myriad other social issues—women’s rights, poor people’s rights, race and ethnicity, religion, different cultural understandings—and how those can’t be separated from the child intended to be saved, I’ll feel that the book has succeeded.
You can order the book from all good bookshops including Amazon here.