May 30, 2012

What do you mean?

My post yesterday was an attempt to look at a horrible situation - the kidnapping of a child from a mother who desperately wants her back – from the perspective of that child.

I think I made a dog’s breakfast of it, at least the comments tell me it caused some confusion. My focus yesterday was on the how, not the if, of Anyeli’s return to her family, which certainly may have given the impression that I was equivocating on the subject of whether or not she should return to Guatemala. Today I’d like to clarify a bit by saying what I didn’t say or say clearly yesterday.

To cut to the chase: Anyeli should be returned to her family in Guatemala. She has a human right to be with her mother, father, brothers and extended family. If I didn't say that clearly enough in yesterday's post, I apologize and say it now.

She has, however, lived for four years with a family she now considers Mom and Dad, following two years in which she was moved around in Guatemala. I believe her relationship with her adoptive parents should not and cannot be ignored, not in deference to them, but out of respect for her. She has suffered a lot of insecurity and trauma in her young life, and it simply seems inhumane to me to return her to her family in Guatemala without careful preparation, support and access to the people she now believes are her parents. I truly believe another abrupt change would harm her more than she has been harmed already.

I do not acknowledge Anyeli’s relationship with her adoptive parents to justify their efforts to keep her. I also do not mean to diminish the crime against Loyda Rodriguez when I suggest she help her daughter through the impending transition. I simply believe that everyone, including the adult victims, needs to focus on Anyeli, the greatest victim of this crime, and her needs. No question that it's pie in the sky, and is certainly not going to happen.

There were a couple of comments that I also would like to respond to here.

In response to my suggestion that Anyeli’s adoptive parents should have a role in her transition, an anonymous commenter asks this:
Why do they [Anyeli’s adoptive parents] have to be "present throughout her life"? Her mother never agreed to have her daughter adopted. They have no business in any of their lives, aside from a possible occasional update. They should have returned this child as soon as they discovered she was kidnapped. They chose not to do this and STILL garner public AND government sympathy. This is astonishing to me and speaks volumes about entitlement because one party is perceived as being "better" or "wealthier" than the family in Guatemala who have been victims of this crime against humanity. Their daughter has as well.
To clear up a detail: I’m not sure where the presumption came from that I believe the adoptive parents are “entitled” to Anyeli because they are “better” or “wealthier.” I didn’t say it and don’t believe it.

As for any future role of Anyeli’s adoptive parents: yes, commenter, you are right, they don’t have to be in her life, nor should they have ever been. But they are, which is as important to Anyeli as it's distasteful to pretty much everyone else. Anyeli can be brought back to Guatemala and told – well what? That they’re dead? That she’s just not allowed to see them anymore? That they’re bad people who stole her from her family?

What does that do for Anyeli’s future trust of adults? Far better in my opinion for everyone involved to come together for Anyeli's sake, and with the help of support from mental health professionals competent in this type of trauma, prepare her for the transition in a way that doesn't destroy her trust in all adults.

You are also right that the adoptive parents have made choices that are morally reprehensible, particularly continuing with this adoption when they knew Anyeli's DNA test had been falsified. If they have acted illegally or in collusion with an agency that knowingly committed fraud, then I hope they are charged and tried in a court of law. Right now, I also hope they do right by Anyeli, and also hope the system recognizes they are still needed to do right by her.
AquaticNote asked a similar question:
An adopted child can never have two legal sets of parents. If both sets of parents are in her life, one set would end up being a "visit" but not intimately involved as if they were living in the same household as the child in question.
I am not suggesting a co-parenting role, but rather access until Anyeli has made the emotional transition back to her biological family. She needs to be allowed to continue some type of relationship, even something as simple as phone calls, skype sessions, photo exchanges, and possibly visits, until she, with the guidance and support of mental health professionals, chooses to end it.

The likelihood is that it wouldn’t be long. Watch Wo Ai Ni Mommy and consider how long it took Fang Sui to forget her foster family in China to see what I mean.

AquaticNote asked one more question that gets to the core of what I tried to say yesterday:
If the decisions made on her behalf are reached based on an analysis of who legally “owns” her, she is doomed to suffer.

What do you mean?
Human beings aren't objects to be owned. Decisions in child and family law, however, sometimes made following rules of personal property ownership, which places the rights of parents above those of children. Many of the comments I've seen in reaction to this story have followed this reasoning in the way they focus on righting the crime against Loyda Rodriguez above all by returning Anyeli to her. If this reasoning is applied in Anyeli's case, I fear her needs will not be fully explored, understood or met.

May 29, 2012

Forever: family or child?

If you hang out in the online adoption community, you have undoubtedly heard of the story of Anyeli Hernandez Rodriguez, the little girl from Guatemala who was kidnapped from her mother at the age of 2, adopted by a Missouri couple and now is at the center of a legal battle that will ultimately decide her future.

The link above is one of a gazillion, most of which are followed by comments either demanding her immediate return to her first mother or urging that she remain with her adoptive parents to avoid trauma.

No one involved in this situation will come out of it intact, least of all little Anyeli. One would think that her helplessness and the emotional trauma she faces would elicit reactions that are sensitive to her needs, but no. It is amazing how many of the comments, from the adoption savvy and adoption ignorant, treat everyone concerned as a party to a business transaction, and Anyeli as an object of barter.

Adoption is a business transaction, whether you accept the fact or not.  Money in adoption, even when justified in terms of fees rather than price, leads to situations like Anyeli’s. But the ultimate resolution for her, her mother and her adoptive parents lies far from the purview of chattel law.

Right now, everyone is hurting in this situation except Anyeli. Young as she is, she is probably unaware of the nightmare on her horizon. If the decisions made on her behalf are reached based on an analysis of who legally “owns” her, she is doomed to suffer.

I think the only thing that will help Anyeli live through her future intact is for the adults involved to put aside their feelings of “ownership” and look to Anyeli’s needs. I honestly believe that if they do that, they will come to the conclusion that Anyeli’s place is with the mother who gave birth to her, but only following a careful transition, and with her adoptive parents present throughout her life.

Everyone will need to sacrifice.

Anyeli’s mother must recognize that, horrific as the crime against Anyeli and her may be, it happened. Anyeli calls two other people Mom and Dad, and somehow their role in her life must be acknowledged, respected and continued as long as Anyeli wants it to be.

Anyeli’s adoptive parents must recognize that a legal adoption doesn’t “entitle” them to this child.  They have the hard task of accepting that they have been victimized by a broken system, but separating Anyeli’s needs from their own desires.

Everyone needs to recognize that a transition from one family to the other will take time, attention to Anyeli’s ability to understand what has happened and will happen to her, her emotional needs, the challenge of language and more.

It has taken me a long time to write this post because I honestly don’t know how I would have reacted or what I would have done, had I learned that one of my children had been kidnapped from parents seeking his or her return. Would I have staked my claim and vowed that I’d protect my child at any cost? Would I have been able to step back and look at the situation objectively and rationally?

I’m honestly not sure. When I think back to when my children were Anyeli’s age, I don’t know if I would have had the strength to let them go, even if my head told me it was the right thing to do. The possibility simply never entered my mind.

Adoption disruption happens, but the vast majority of adoptive parents receive no preparation for it. Agencies aren’t likely to provide it, because to do so would be to admit the possibility of failure or flawed practices. Adoptive parent post-adoption groups and organizations focus on parenting, and are also unlikely to address it.

The impact of adoption disruption on children in cases like Anyeli’s should be a part of every adoptive parent’s preparation. We may debate the frequency of its causes (from coerced surrender to kidnapping and trafficking) but it happens, and when it does, the victimized child has to be the primary focus. Yet thousands of adoptions happen every year from countries known for corruption, with adoptive parents completely unprepared for the possibility. (This, of course, begs the question why we allow adoptions from countries known for risky adoptions, but that's another debate and another post.)

In Anyeli’s case, I hope everyone involved is focused on her. I hope everyone can get beyond the myth of the "forever family" to focus on the needs of the actual child. What is really forever are the outcomes of today's actions on Anyeli's behalf, which she will take with her into the future, forever. Her ability to live a strong, healthy life depends on it.

Note 5/30/12: In reading online today, I found the a series of posts about the Anyeli Rodriguez case on the website of Erin Siegal, author of Finding Fernanda. Ms. Siegal states the following:
The Monahans’ adoption was a slow, tangled process that began in 2006. By July 2007, a failed DNA test revealed that a fake birth mother had relinquished “Karen Abigail.” According to emails the Monahans sent to Guatemalan private investigators, they were distressed and confused. They’d already waited seven months for the adoption to move forward, with almost no progress.[i] On August 1st, Jennifer Monahan wrote in her personal timeline of the adoption that agency head Sue Hedberg had planned to ask LabCorp, the primary DNA testing facility in the US used for adoptions, to “bury” the results of the mismatched test. But “LabCorp can’t do that anymore,” Monahan noted, because of newly tightened regulations. She’d grown suspicious about what was unfolding in the adoption, and took careful notes of everything that transpired, including, her notes say, recording conversations with Sue Hedberg.  When Monahan asked Hedberg what could be done after the child’s failed DNA test, aparently seeking alternative ways to push the adoption through, Hedberg responded that Marvin might bring the child to an orphanage, where she might eventually become declared abandoned. Or, Hedberg said, Bran might dump the girl “somewhere where nobody could find her.” In subsequent emails, Monahan said she was “terrified.
This fact wasn't in the CNN article that prompted this post. That article instead says the following:
Guatemalan authorities say the adoption agency falsified documents to make the girl eligible for adoption, something that the adoptive parents in Missouri apparently didn't know.
Rodriguez says she now hopes to go to court in Missouri to get her daughter back.

The adoptive parents were unavailable for comment, referring CNN to their lawyer in Washington, who declined to comment.

Last year a family representative said the adoptive parents would "continue to advocate for the safety and best interests of their legally adopted child. They remain committed to protecting their daughter from additional traumas as they pursue the truth of her past through appropriate legal channels. 
If the comments on Erin Siegal's website are in fact true, it puts a different spin on the Monahans' role in this adoption, and to a lay person appears to be something that could ultimately render it illegal and would be a chargeable offense.

It doesn't, unfortunately, change the fact that right now, in the midst of this crisis, Anyeli sees them as her parents. Her separation from them remains a challenge I hope those who assist with her return to her family in Guatemala handle with care.

May 14, 2012

Important distinction redux

I vented my frustrations with the "Christian adoption movement" here. I clarified that my beef is with the movement, not the faith, here. A few comments I've received offline are struggling with what is perceived to be my backing away from deserved criticism - a softening of the blow, so to speak.

This is not the case.

I've noticed recently on some adoption reform lists and groups to which I belong that criticism of this phenomenon is stretching beyond the movement itself to criticism of Christians in general, particularly conservative Evangelical Christians and Catholics. This makes me uncomfortable for several reasons.

First, it's personal, and I will not apologize for this. By now you've figured out that I'm Catholic. In the adoption world and in general, my faith is pretty well beat to a pulp every day, for things I, too, condemn, like the way Catholic leadership is addressing the priest abuse scandal or the nonsensical crackdowns on freedom of thought - think the Pope's recent smackdown of U.S. nuns.

In adoption, the criticism starts by pointing out the corruption or failure of Christian religious institutions relative to adoption: Catholic "homes" for unmarried pregnant women that served primarily to relieve them of their children; Christian orphanages cum adoption mills; Evangelical promotion of adoption to "save souls." I'm right on board with these.

I'm not on board with what typically follows, which is a broadening of the criticism to say Christianity and Christians in general are bad. Beyond the pure ugliness of religious discrimination, I personally don't believe these attitudes do much to get the mainstream to understand how dangerous it can be to treat adoption as charity.

Second, it smacks of the same small-minded bigotry we saw after the attacks of September 11, when Muslims in general were ostracized and worse for simply being Muslim. That's just plain wrong.

There are individuals out there, not generally part of the online adoption reform community, who understand the dangers of the "call to adopt" and are speaking out. I found a couple today:
I don't agree with every point in these or any other posts on these blogs, nor am I necessarily comfortable with their particular religious views. But these people clearly are cognizant of adoption injustice and are willing to speak out about it. We should welcome their voices into adoption reform circles, not slam the door in their faces.

Maybe if that happens, more will gather the courage to start speaking their mind, which will interject a more realistic message about adoption from within these faith communities.

If you know of other Christian bloggers who are speaking out about adoption injustice in general or the Christian adoption movement in particular from the point of view of their faith, let me know who they are in a comment or an email. Thanks!

May 11, 2012

Distrusting the movement, not disdaining the faith

As much as I want to see and end to adoption injustice, it's difficult to write posts like the one from the other day about the Christian adoption movement. Calling out Christianity, which is so closely aligned with this movement, feels like bashing. I've been wondering if I'd write the same way about it if it were the Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist or Hindu orphan care and adoption movement, and have decided that I wouldn't. I think one reason I feel I can criticize the movement openly is because I'm a Christian myself. But as a Roman Catholic, I also know there's a chasm between me and my conversative non-Catholic sisters and brothers. To you, my criticism may therefore feel more like I'm throwing stones at your faith.

I'm not. I know that those of you who promote the Christian adoption movement believe, deeply, that you have been called by God to help the world's children and families. I respect your your ability to hear God's voice so clearly and to respond to it so readily. I'm frankly a little envious of you.

Still, we have to remember that when we help others, it's also possible to do harm. Shoddy and unethical adoption practices and corruption aren't imaginary; they hurt the bodies and spirits of real live people. Even though my faith is flawed, I know, without a doubt, that God does not want anyone to ignore these dangers. He wants us to stop them.

So please understand: although I distrust and dislike this movement, I do not disdain the faith that fuels it. I respect it, and respect its commitment to children. I in turn want proponents of the Christian adoption movement to respect those of us who seek to protect children and families from unethical adoptions.

I'm praying that someday our paths merge.

May 8, 2012

A few thoughts on Christian orphan care and adoption

There's an interesting thread at the Adoption Truth and Transparency Network Facebook page - find Desiree Smolin's post starting with Live from Saddleback Orphan Summit VIII ... and read on.  If you haven't yet, also read Dr. David Smolin's article on the Christian orphan care and adoption movement and his posts about the Summit here, here and particularly here, where he points out five serious errors in the Summit's adoption message.

The Christian adoption movement has always made me uncomfortable. With all due respect for readers who may support it, I perceive the movement to be pretty Evangelical and have to admit a general discomfort in Evangelical settings. I say this in the spirit of full disclosure; undoubtedly, my opinions have been influenced by my feelings, and you should know it.

You should also know that I have not followed any of the movement's organizations or attended any of its events, including the Summits. My unease is based in what I read about the movement online, in particular in the mission statement and core principles of the Christian Alliance for Orphans, the movement's organizational leader. Here's the mission statement from the front page of their website:
The Christian Alliance for Orphans unites more than 100 respected Christian organizations and a national network of churches.  Working together, our joint initiatives inspire, equip and connect Christians to reflect God’s heart in caring for orphans in adoption, foster care and global orphan care initiatives.  Through the annual Summit, the Orphan Sunday campaign and an array of other initiatives, we seek to help grow communities in the local church known for “defending the cause of the fatherless” (Isaiah 1:17) 
This mission statement sets the stage for the principles, which in turn set up a hierarachy of care that places a traditional Christian two-parent family above all other child welfare options, including preservation of original families. This unabashed pro-adoption stance suggests that preserving a small or broken family is less desirable than placing a child with a traditional Christian family, and almost feels like a way to justify adoption in questionable situations. There is also clear direction to care for the "whole child," meaning feed the child's body and spirit, too - with Christianity, of course. Religious charity has always come at the price of conversion.

There is also the ubiquitous reference to God's adoption of humanity as the mandate to adopt. I've said this before, and think it bears repeating: the Biblical word used to connote "adoption" is the Greek word huiothesia. It appears something like half a dozen times in the entire Bible, and theologians still debate its meaning: some use sonship rather than adoption to convey its meaning. It does not refer in any way, shape or form to an act remotely similar to child adoption as we know it, it refers to God's spiritual adoption of humanity.

What is missing from the Christian Alliance for Orphans' principles is any prominent mention of the seriousness of adoption, of the challenges and pitfalls that exist with it, or of any obligation to support the special needs of adopted people, the families from which they are separated or of adoptive parents, who may pursue adoption unprepared for its challenges. A few examples of things I'd like to have seen there:

  • A commitment to protect children's and original families' human and civil rights, integrity and dignity
  • An understanding of:
    • The impact of loss of family, country, culture, language and heritage on adopted people and a commitment to provide lifelong support
    • The impact of family separation on adopted people and their original families and a commitment to provide lifelong support
    • The special demands of adoptive parenting
  • Recognition of the dangers of trafficking, child selling and coercive adoption practices and a commitment to prevent them
  • Respect for the people, cultures, languages and faiths of countries placing children in intercountry adoption
Ignoring these inconvenient truths doesn't make them go away, nor does it help families and children. Every agency, organization and program working in adoption should devote serious consideration to them.

There is one more message I took from the Christian Alliance for Orphans site, a sad, pervasive sub-text: Orphans are "others" who need to be saved from their own circumstances. To do that, we must make them more like us. Adoption, of course, fits this approach perfectly, right to the obliteration of culture and heritage, as Summit speaker Russell Moore recommended.

Jesus always did exactly the opposite. He became us, and offered us love, comfort, care and truth, right to His death. Truly Christian orphan and child care programs will lead by that example to services that put children and families before ideology.