The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption, concluding our discussion of the controversial new book by journalist Kathryn Joyce, which takes readers inside the evangelical Christian adoption movement.
Last week we spent three days covering the first half of the book:
- Part 1: God's will and the moral imperative to adopt
- Part 2: Domestic adoption and the rebranding of adoption via specific language
- Part 3: Orphanages, deception of adoptive and original parents, and coercive tactics employed by the adoption industry
Today, we talk about attachment, abuse, and the beginnings of reform. We invite you to join the conversation in the comments at the end of each post.
Mila: I've noticed within the Christian community, one of the criticisms of Joyce's book is that she uses only anomalous examples (If you actually read the book, this is not the case. She does present a larger picture. But she uses anecdotes to exemplify and demonstrate the larger picture and to add a personal element so she's not just relaying empty statistics.) What is it going to take for people to realize that unethical practices are not just the exception but rather a part of the fabric of the current adoption system? And perhaps one of the most extreme cases was the example of the Campbells and Allisons adopting the children from Liberia. But I believe the reason Joyce chose to highlight this group was of course because their publication, Above Rubies (with was it 300,000 followers?), was basically responsible for the adoption rush in Liberia. Out of the 1,200 that were adopted, 1,100 were adopted in direct correlation to the Above Rubies publication promoting adoptions from Liberia.
Karen Pickell: This chapter (chapter five) was just horrifying to read. The abuses endured by the Liberian children the Allisons adopted amounted to slavery. This is like the orphan trains all over again—kids being obtained to do work for the family. Some of these kids weren’t even taught how to read. One was told, “Black people don’t go to school in America.” I do feel that this is an extreme example of what can go wrong in adoption, but unfortunately the Allisons aren’t the only abusers. Joyce recounts quite a few examples of children who died at the hands of their adopters. Yes, this may be rare in terms of the percentage of total adoptions in the U.S., but how many dead children are too few to care about? To me, even one dead child is too many. These examples point to deep flaws in the process of vetting potential adoptive parents for their suitability to adopt.
I was also deeply disappointed at the reaction of local agencies that were approached by concerned neighbors of the Allisons, who were repeatedly brushed off while the Allisons were protected. It’s disgraceful that this movement’s power in their local community trumped the welfare of those children. If these had been white, American children being abused rather than black, African children, I wonder how different the response would have been.
Julie Stromberg: A few themes rose to the surface for me from chapter five. At the very highest conceptual level, I was shocked by the willful naiveté of adoptive parents such as the Allisons and others featured in the chapter. I say willful because it is my feeling that "but I didn't know" or "I didn't realize" are not adequate reasons as to why the Allisons and others were so horrendously uninformed about the realities of the Liberian civil war and inept at caring for children from Liberia. This is the digital age. The information was readily available.
To be quite frank, perhaps the Allisons and adoptive parents like them should have been reading a little less of Nancy Campbell's Above Rubies and doing a lot more online research on the realities of life in a war zone. Good intentions and fringe Christian dogma are not enough to adequately care for children who have witnessed and experienced the most horrendous of atrocities. The Allisons and others like them went into Liberian adoption either purposely uncaring, blinded by their religious beliefs or willfully ignorant of what they were agreeing to take on. They were severely negligent and horrifyingly irresponsible. As were the facilitators.
Karen, I, too, feel that one adoptee rendered dead or abused at the hands of the adoptive parents is too many. With all of the "rehoming" and RAD treatment of Liberian children that went on in Christian adoptive homes, one has to consider if the problem originated with the traumatized children or with the grossly unprepared adoptive parents and the facilitators that deemed them fit. Obviously, I would lean toward the latter.
Rebecca Hawkes: I agree, Julie, though I actually think the problem goes beyond merely being unprepared. The issue was not only that they lacked the tools and knowledge to deal with children with severe trauma histories but that they were applying the worst possible tools! The combination of harsh, attachment-therapy techniques and a spare-the-rod-spoil-the-child parenting philosophy was the equivalent of trying to heal a wound by banging on it with a hammer. Also, if you start with the belief that the child is flawed or sinful and needs to be corrected/saved, you are going to take a very different approach (and reach a very different destination) than if you start with a belief that the child is hurt and in need of healing. I agree with Karen that chapter five was horrific, and it was also deeply personal for me because I, too, was the mother of a child with a trauma history and a pattern of extreme behaviors. My daughter wasn't in a literal war zone but she had been fighting her own person battles in the U.S. foster system when she came to me. She raged, she cursed, she threw things, she hit. And her behaviors stimulated fear-based return aggression in my biological child, so then I had two aggressive children! I don't at all claim that my husband and I did everything right, but I am absolutely certain that if we had tried to "correct" our daughter, or bring her to submissive obedience, instead of focusing on supporting her in healing from the trauma of her early life, the outcome would have been disastrous.
Karen P.: I think we probably all agree that extreme therapies like those touted by Michael Pearl or the Evergreen method pertaining to RAD (reactive attachment disorder) only inflict more damage on already traumatized adoptees, but I've also seen discussions in which the very idea of RAD is questioned. Some feel that an adoptee's inability to attach to his/her new family is actually a normal response to being separated from biological relatives and that the adoptee should not be treated as if there is something wrong with him/her. What do you all think about RAD? I particularly appreciated Joyce pointing out that many times adoptive parents equate attachment with obedience, with disastrous results.
Mila: Karen, I think attachment = obedience is a very damaging approach, and ultimately has the opposite result, making it more difficult for the adoptee to attach. Trust must be established—meaning trust that the adoptive parents are going to love the adoptee and stick with the adoptee no matter what. You cannot develop that kind of trust through such harsh discipline. Attachment does not come through formulas and models. Attachment is an emotional trust that can only develop over time with sincere and loving efforts on the part of the adoptive parents. Adoptees tend to "test" the love of their adoptive parents, yes? I know I sure did. Whether via disobedience or through temper tantrums or through lashing out, etc. And in particular, when you're dealing with children who have no idea what they're feeling or why, expecting them to be able to just set aside that emotion and "attach" to some strange set of people is unrealistic and insensitive to say the least. Again, it seems to focus more on the parents' needs rather than on the adoptees' needs. Heck, I'm going on 40, and I still catch myself exhibiting these kinds of "testing behaviors" with my husband and other loved ones—most often at a subconscious level, not even totally aware until I've already acted out. But harsh discipline and getting me to submit is not what has helped me, obviously. We live in a society that seems to think science and finding just the right method, model, formula can fix anything. But humans are not robots—there is too much complexity, especially when dealing with adoptees and their very unique and individual situations and emotional needs. It is definitely not one size fits all.
Julie S.: When properly diagnosed and treated for what it actually is, I'm sure that RAD is a very real challenge for some. When a RAD diagnosis is instead used as an excuse for why extremely traumatized children do not respond to the sort of obedience and conformity demands of Christian adoptive parents like those featured in chapter five, then I see a major problem.
The Liberian children had witnessed severe violence and experienced sexual abuse. They watched their loved ones and friends die during a horrific civil war. Then they were taken from their country of origin and culture. And these parents were shocked that the children were not responsive to physical discipline and expectations of blind obedience? Sorry, but I don't buy that for one second.
This is tough area of the book for me to address, because it is my feeling that the child rearing methods promoted by Michael Pearl and Nancy Campbell involve physical and emotional abuse. Others might disagree with me but these are my feelings.
According to Joyce, Pearl's book To Train Up a Child sold seven hundred thousand copies. In this book, Pearl apparently promotes "strict physical discipline starting when children are less than a year old." Additionally, he recommends what he feels is the best material (flexible plumbing supply line) for spanking children. He also "compares proper child rearing to training a mule."
Similarly, Campbell teaches her followers that "it is amazing how peaceful and happy a child can be after they have received a good spanking." She also published a guest essay stating that children are "little bundles of depravity."
It is my feeling that anyone who follows the child rearing advice of Pearl or Campbell should not be allowed anywhere near a child from another country and culture who has already been beaten, raped, and witness to extreme violence. These children will not "attach" to people who are intent on continuing this cycle of abuse or who consider them to be depraved and in need of obedience training like a mule. A RAD diagnosis takes the responsibility off of these parents and instead blames the child for having some sort of condition.
I would guess that the Liberian children had extreme Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) along with a whole host of other psychological issues that required intense support and treatment, which they did not receive. Their inability to "attach" is purely the responsibility of the adoptive parents, their abusive parenting techniques and the facilitators who deemed them fit to parent traumatized children—not RAD.
Mila: Julie, yes, I totally agree! I was appalled at the approach the Allisons took in particular with Engedi and trying to break her attachment to CeCe in order to get her to attach to Serene. "If she went to CeCe . . . the Allisons would spank her [Engedi] until she wet herself . . .The Allisons broke the bond not only between Engedi and CeCe but also her other siblings as well, forbidding CeCe from braiding Cherish's hair, as she had since they were young." Again, I know the Allisons are an extreme case, but as Joyce demonstrates in her book, other followers of Above Rubies (and also Michael Pearl) applied similar disciplinary tactics. As you stated, Julie, this is no way to address children who have been traumatized by war. And I personally believe that this is no way to treat any child.
Julie S.: Exactly, Mila. I am extremely sensitive when it comes to children who society feels are automatically getting a "better life through adoption" ending up with people like the Allisons. As CeCe said, "We went from Africa to Africa."
Lynn Grubb: Julie, I completely agree with you. I don't feel your position is extreme at all. There is no doubt in my mind these examples amount to child abuse and neglect. Locking a child outside of the house all night? That is neglectful and abusive. Forcing adoptees to work like dogs instead of allowing them to have a carefree childhood? If any kids deserve a carefree and happy childhood, it's children coming from war-torn countries. I believe that attachment disorder is extremely tough for parents to deal with. I don't know enough about the therapies to judge them; however, I do know that as Mila mentioned, it is about trust and time to build trust. If trust is not built (and clearly, that is the adoptive parents' job), then don't be surprised if a kid does not attach. That is an expected outcome to being mistreated.
|K. Dahlquist & R. Bangert|
I also think Craig Juntunen's popularity among adoptive parents and advocates is once again indicative of the willful ignorance that dominates current American adoption culture. He seems like a nice guy with a good heart. I don't doubt his sincerity, and he genuinely seems to believe that what he is doing is best. But again, this exemplifies the American viewpoint that America knows what is best for other countries and their children—who cares about their culture and what they want, America knows best. I also find his entrepreneurial approach and attitude of "we need to make this happen" very presumptuous and sanctimonious, while it also disregards the rights that countries have to take care of their children and families. And of course, his approach oversimplifies the complexities and realities of international adoption. Okay, so all the above stated, how do we get folks like this to see the flaws in their thinking? How do we reach people who sincerely have good intentions but are completely misguided and misinformed? How do we get them to listen?
Karen P.: Mila, I agree with you 100% and had many of those same thoughts as I read chapter six. It’s no wonder other countries around the world have such a negative view of America, when people like Juntunen advocate doing anything and everything to override these countries’ own laws, not to mention international agreements like the Hague Convention, in order to accommodate would-be American adoptive parents. Once again, this drive to adopt has nothing to do with helping children and everything to do with the business of adoption and the furthering of Christian political power, not only in the U.S. but throughout the world. Harvard law professor Elizabeth Bartholet even had the gall to call other nations “misinformed” for asserting “rights to hold onto the children born within their borders.” Misinformed? Are you kidding me? If another country wanted to adopt children out of the U.S., how fast would these same adoption advocates swoop in to prevent that from happening?
Mila: Bartholet's statement is the epitome of American entitlement. And it's sickening and disturbing. As I've quoted a fellow Korean adoptee before, I'll quote her again, "Helping another country does not mean helping oneself to its children."
Another quote from the book that addresses the way American entitlement influences current adoption culture, as expressed by Johnson of the National Council for Adoption ". . . many adoption agencies are marked by an 'imperialistic colonialism' that rationalizes improper adoptions with their belief that 'to be an American or to be prosperous is better than to be poor and in another country.'" Basically, many Americans can't imagine why anyone wouldn't want to be adopted to America, even if that means losing your entire family, people, culture . . . because America is God's greatest, biggest, bestest gift to the world. Anyway, I'm belaboring the issue. But the American Savior complex really irks me, and even more so that so many Americans are completely oblivious and clueless to how condescending and arrogant this attitude and worldview are.
Julie S.: Like Karen, I wondered while reading chapter six about what people like Juntunen would be doing if there was a religious-fueled movement in another country demanding that the United States hand over its "orphans." And Mila, you have touched on so many key observations regarding the sense of entitlement exhibited by those involved in this American Christian adoption movement. Chapter six, however, also brought us some examples of those who are thinking differently.
Jedd Medefind told Joyce that he "thought the movement had misstepped in emphasizing adoption over other forms of orphan care." He commented on the "'continuum of care' needed to address children's varying needs—international adoption for some, local adoption for others, family preservation for most." I would definitely like to see this more holistic view take hold in the Christian adoption movement.
Joyce also highlighted the work of organizations such as Embracing Hope Ethiopia, which started a day care center for women who needed to work. She also mentioned the work of The Ethiopia Aid Mission Network (TEAM) comprised of several Texas-based Baptist churches that is focusing on in-country development projects instead of orphanage staffing. Again, these are the sort of actions that would be best served by Christians wanting to make a difference in the lives of children.
David Smolin made a very poignant observation when he said that "a truly just orphan-care movement would be a poverty alleviation movement." I would challenge those in the Christian adoption movement to consider Smolin's words. It is entirely possible to help the people of a country in crisis without taking the children and leaving the rest to fend for themselves.
Mila: Yes, I was glad to read of a few of the prominent figures in the adoption movement acknowledging the need for a more mature and holistic approach. However, I also share David Smolin's apprehension that "these efforts to shift the discourse remain private discussions that are not being adequately reflected in the public presentation of the cause, in which adoption leaders still frequently dismiss more holistic development goals as insufficient and in which a foundational problem in the movement's mission continues to corrupt its charity." Everyone in the adoption community has heard of Both Ends Burning, but who has heard of Embracing Hope Ethiopia? Who has heard of Reunite Uganda? Of course, I am so encouraged by the progress being made and the increasing support for family preservation and domestic solutions. But the voices of people like Juntunen and mainstream adoption leaders still seem to appeal more to the masses. I am hopeful that the shift is beginning to gain traction. But as Joyce wrote, according to Smolin "even as many adoptive parents in the larger adoption community are becoming attuned to the issues of corruption that his family encountered, the root problem remains the same: the unwillingness to recognize that the need is less children requiring adoption than poor families desperate for support.” And directly quoting Smolin, "I think behind the scenes people understand that most orphans aren't adoptable . . . but that's not what the majority voice of the movement is saying . . . They're responsible for what people are hearing and the majority message is really still focused on the theology of adoption, which makes people feel that adoption is at the center." I think more and more are beginning to see the reality behind international adoption, but still ultimately believe that international adoption (to America specifically) is the best answer. It goes back to the ideology of American entitlement and superiority.
To be continued . . .
Part 5: cultural influence on adoption in Rwanda and Korea, and the silencing of adult adoptees
To be continued . . .
Part 5: cultural influence on adoption in Rwanda and Korea, and the silencing of adult adoptees