There was much talk at this year’s NCFA conference in DC about the forced family separations and the need for family reunification, but the elephant in the room was clearly the gathering storm being fueled by a growing adoption backlash.
Those with a Hallmark-shaded view of adoption may be completely blindsided by this. “Adoption is all about saving children and that’s a good thing, right?” reflects the perspective of this population. They tend to think of adoption as a happy saga in which parentless children are lovingly welcomed into picture-perfect homes by grateful new parents. The children in these stories are so appreciative of their new families, they quickly forget their old ones, and everyone lives happily ever after… no questions asked. Yet this is not how most adoptions come about, and it’s not a true depiction of how adoption impacts the lives of the people involved.
The American way of adoption has been ripe for reform for many years now, and those who remember what they thought adoption used to be like (operative words in italics) have fought long and hard to prevent that needed reform from taking place. They tend to be adoption professionals, who have come to enjoy the power and control (and yes, revenue) that comes with being “in charge” of adoption, and adoptive parents, who fear that their authority may be threatened by proposed reforms (such as original birth certificate access for adopted adults, or legally-enforceable post-adoption contact agreements, or permanent conservatorship in lieu of adoption.)
Those who argue for adoption reform (or the abolition of adoption altogether) tend to be adoptees, who have borne the brunt of adoption’s shortcomings, and birthparents, many of whom were traumatized by adoption losses that changed their lives forever. There are also some progressive adoptive parents and adoption professionals who campaign for adoption reform, of course, but their motives and involvement are often questioned by those who see them as being part of the problem and therefore disqualified from joining in the effort to generate new solutions.
Adoption has come under new scrutiny in recent years, with the “Flip the Script” campaign waged during National Adoption Month each year in November, and growing social media outcry about the proliferation of adoption marketing and predatory adoption practices in both domestic and international adoption. However, the recent involvement of one of America’s largest private adoption agencies in the care of refugee children involuntarily separated from their parents at our nation’s border has set these debates aflame, potentially fueling the adoption backlash to come.
The Bethany Debate
Bethany Christian Services is a large, well-funded national adoption agency with lucrative foster care contracts with the federal government and a well-established program offering services to refugees and immigrants. Contrary to online gossip, Bethany is not owned by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos (nor by her family,) although the DeVos family has provided hundreds of thousands of dollars in support to said agency, and Betsy DeVos’ husband’s second cousin is a senior vice president at Bethany in Michigan. And whatever you think of their multi-million dollar budget, Bethany has done a lot of good for a lot of folks, over the years.
Since the zero-tolerance standard was enacted, enabling immigration officials to seize the minor children of immigrants entering the US to request asylum, countless young refugee children involuntarily separated from their parents have been shipped across the nation to be placed in Bethany’s foster care, as well as in other facilities. This has led to a public outcry by those who suspect that these foster care placements are part of a strategy to free/steal these children for adoption, rather than to reunite them with their rightful families.
Is there any truth to these rumors? Avoiding any personal commentary on the politics at hand, we concur that Americans have ample reason to question our government’s commitment to family reunification. We understand why the public assumes that agencies like Bethany may have a fiduciary interest in refugee children becoming available for private agency adoptions, especially given the shrinking availability of American children for domestic adoption these days. There is a legal possibility that panicked immigrants being denied asylum might voluntarily forfeit parental rights, in hopes of gaining their children American citizenship through adoption. There is also the risk that some minor refugees’ parents cannot be identified or located, or that the length of time the naturalization process could take may constitute a sufficient delay to meet the legal standard of abandonment, thus enabling foster families to seek permanent custody through adoption.
However, Bethany has issued public statements that clearly confirm its intent to facilitate family reunification wherever possible, and it has likewise taken the rare and courageous position of dissenting from the Attorney General’s misuse of Scripture to justify forced family separations.
We’re not naive; we understand the concerns here. And we don’t have any “dog in the hunt,” as we say in Texas, since Abrazo does not work for or with Bethany nor are we handling any cases involving refugee children, nor do we plan to. But as citizens of this country, Abrazo condemns forced family separations; we are concerned about the welfare of these children and their parents; and we trust that a long-established Christian organization such as Bethany Christian Services is not the enemy about which Americans should be most concerned at this time— no matter how much money the DeVos family may donate to their cause.
At present, Bethany appears to be serving as a convenient target for the public’s fury about the refugee children as well as the collective sins of adoption industry as a whole. The adoption backlash tidal wave, it seems, is still rolling towards the shore, and it threatens to wash all in its wake.
Strange bedpartners? Not at all.
Some might be wondering if it is counter-intuitive for the adoption community to genuinely support family reunification for the minor refugees? After all, how can we say “family connections matter” if the adoption work we do eradicates family connections?
At Abrazo, our answer is this: the best of voluntary adoptions honor family connections, all across the lifespan. At Abrazo, we don’t place children whose biological parents are ready, able and willing to parent them; children with ready, able and willing parents are not in need of adoption services, which is why we feel so strongly that refugee parents who wish to continue parenting their children must be supported in this goal. For children to be involuntarily separated from loving parents is traumatic, and all of the adoptions done at Abrazo are voluntary placements in which there is ample counseling available for all parties, before and after adoption.
Beyond this, though, all of Abrazo’s adoptions are open adoptions, because we know how much continued family connections matter, and we want all of the children we place to grow up knowing and loving their family of origin– and being forever known and loved by their first families and their adoptive families, in return.
Adoption reform is still much-needed, there’s no debating this. And family reunification for the refugees will require ongoing effort on the part of the professionals, as well as continued scrutiny by the public, to ensure that it comes about as promised. There is still an adoption backlash brewing, and it is going to impact both the biggest of agencies like Bethany as well as the smaller nonprofits like Abrazo. But if the adoption backlash helps expose the sins of the past and brings about needed corrections, the adoptions of tomorrow will only be better, as a result, and that will surely be a good thing… for everyone.