Abrazo has a sterling record of helping children and parents since 1994– but we are not in the business of “rescuing kids.” And we’ll be the first to tell you that all too often, those who brag about rescuing kids are doing precious little to actually “save” children.

That came to mind as a disgraced former Washington state representative, Matt Shea, was found in Poland with 60+ Ukrainian orphans (four of whom he reportedly hopes to adopt, himself.)

There’s no question that orphans need people to care about them. It’s indisputable that millions of Ukrainians have fled their country because of war. It’s tragic that people of all ages are losing their lives as a result of Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

But for anyone to pick this time to exploit that hardship for personal gain is gross. And mining a war-torn country for traumatized children to export for American adoption is utterly reprehensible. (Especially since the Ukrainian government announced a halt to any and all orphan adoptions until after the war, to ensure that children are protected.)

It brings to mind the rush to obtain Haitian orphans, after the huge earthquake there. Some Haitian adoptees and their birthfamilies are still suffering the effects of that misplaced American generosity, sadly enough.

Adoption Opportunists & the Damage They Cause

What is an adoption opportunist? It’s someone who preys on the widescale devastation of others and makes an organized effort to permanently deprive them of their children at all costs for personal gain (be that money, fame, power, prestige, parenthood or even personal salvation.) Adoption opportunists don’t care how detrimental their actions may actually be to the children involved as long as they achieve their own ends.

Matt Shea is reportedly associated with an unlicensed Texas enterprise called Loving Families & Homes for Orphans, out of Plano. (The same nonagency also registered a business in Florida recently, but is not certified to offer adoption or foster services there, either.) These are not people who have professional training in child-placement. Yet they are involved in the moving of very vulnerable kids both across state lines and even international borders. That should be cause for alarm all across the globe. Yes, Shea divorced his wife to marry a woman from the Ukraine, so maybe he’s obsessed with that part of the world, for some reason? But right now, everyone’s focus should be on helping Ukrainians restore and reunite their country– not dismantle it child by child, by exporting them overseas forever.

Americans have a troubling habit of rushing into disaster-struck regions and trying to help ourselves to their natural resources, which all too often includes the children. We do this in times of war, in times of famine, in times of earthquake or storms or other crises, yet without really assessing whether we’re offering the best help they need most, or seeking most to help ourselves best. (Anybody remember the thousands of Irish babies shipped to America’s shores in illegal adoptions in the last century? Or the Operation Babylift and the 2k Vietnamese kids America “rescued” years ago?)

It’s happened stateside, as well, though. It happened when we raided the Indian reservations of their children, shipping them off to white-run boarding schools and “good families” to save them from their native culture. It happened when we loaded New York street urchins onto orphan trains to turn them into Midwestern farm laborers. It happened when disadvantaged Marshall Islands mothers were lured into illicit infant adoptions by unsavory actors. More recently, it happened when a yet-clarified number of unaccompanied minors and undocumented refugee children from South America were remanded to American foster homes, many of which never returned them to their rightful family’s care.

How Can We Really Help Ukrainian Children Best?

Currently, there is a political push to lift child welfare protections in the USA to enable exportation of “orphans” being “rescued” by those who do not have bonafide child welfare credentials. This is in clear violation of the Ukrainian government’s order that all adoption efforts be temporarily suspended for the protection of its children and their families, since not all the kids identified as “orphans” in time of war truly have been orphaned.

Please contact your senators and write your representatives and urge them to protect children in global crisis by not promoting child exportations for adoption purposes in times of global unrest. Direct them to this reading, Misguided Kindness, from Save the Children’s Resource Center. Write a letter to the Secretary of State Antony Blinken, 2201 C. Street NW, Washington, DC 20520 urging him not to permit unlicensed child-placement planning done by those operating under the guise of American hosting visits. And send donations for Ukainian orphan care only to the most reliable of charities, like UNICEF and Save the Children.

Finally, to learn more about the problem of people rescuing kids with the best of intentions but the worst possible means and the most inappropriate timing, check out Kathryn Joyce’s book, The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking and the New Gospel of Adoption. Because here’s the thing: not every kid without a home needs parents, and not every parent without their kid wants someone else to permanently adopt them.

Friends, we’re all for adoption, when it’s done properly and when it’s truly needed. If you know Abrazo, you know that already. But there are far better ways to help orphans in crisis than through rushed adoption proceedings in which the laws meant to protect children have been ignored or suspended by those who claim to be rescuing kids.

Rescuing kids the right way means putting their needs first, causing the least trauma possible, and honoring their culture and connections– so they need not lose everything and everyone that’s precious to them solely in order to be safe and secure.

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