[Note: I originally wrote this piece for The Huffington Post after it approached me to draft it. Huffpo decided it to was too edgy. Do you think it is?]
There are two statements I need to make before I begin talking about my thoughts about adoption fundraisers. First of all, contrary to what many within the adoption community believe, I’m not “anti-adoption,” which by the way is a rhetorical wedge used by the multimillion dollar adoption industry to shut conversations down with those who question adoption practices. From my perspective, adoption should be one of several options, just not THE option. In fact, it should be the last. Second, I’m not an “angry” adoptee, which is a label used by the adoption industry, some adoptive parents, and even members of the media to delegitimize the thoughts, experiences, and expertise of “critical adoptees” who “are a new voice that seeks to reframe the issues and approaches.” Nonetheless, this won’t stop many of you from labeling me as such as I list off the Top Seven Reasons why adoption fundraisers are problematic.
Shall we begin?
1. Adoption fundraisers make no financial sense.
Simple economics dictates, if you can’t afford it, don’t buy it. In other words for the present context, you need to rethink some stuff if you know you can’t afford the $8,000-60,000 to adopt right now, but then decide to do it anyway because you feel like it. There are costs after the adoption, like the hundreds of thousands of dollars you’ll be spending raising your kid. Why put yourself in that financial burden? Better yet, why put your would be adopted child into that financial burden? And if you truly are compelled to adopt, why not look into the foster care system where you actually receive financial subsidies? Or, if you have “just enough” to adopt, but not enough to buy the most desired in adoption, why not take your eyes off of those cute White babies in the US and Asian kids from Korea, China, and Vietnam, and instead consider giving your heart to the amazing Black children in the US, who cost less, so that they don’t get exported to Canada? (By the way, the fact that it’s cheaper to adopt Black kids is totally racist, and it’s absolutely horrific that this institutionalized form of racism happens with minimal pushback from the general public.)
2. Adoption fundraisers are tacky.
By the time most prospective adoptive parents start adoption fundraisers, they’ve already received a seal of approval, i.e., homestudy, from their social workers. The homestudy includes information about finances, and in order for would be adoptive parents to receive clearance to adopt, they must show financial stability. In short, homestudy approved parents can afford to adopt. Thus the question needs to be asked: Why are so many going online, writing deeply personal stuff about themselves and often times the children who have been referred to them, and asking for money from friends, family, and totally random strangers? As an adoptee mentioned in the Land of Gazillion Adoptees Facebook page about this very subject: “From my adoptive mom… People do fundraising for adoption? That’s just tacky.”
3. Adoption fundraisers allow people to financially “double dip”.
For those of you unaware, there’s this nifty little thing called the adoption tax credit. It was originally set up to encourage families to adopt from the foster care system. However, the people who have used the tax credit the most since its inception have been adoptive parents who’ve opted for the more expensive route — domestic private and international adoptions. (Why buy a Kia, when you can buy a BWM?) The credit, which initially started at $6,000, is now nearly $13,000. Maureen McCauley Evans, an adoptive parent who worked in the adoption industry for years, writes that the adoption tax credit has doled out to mostly middle and middle-upper income families billions of tax payers’ dollars. Nice, right? Especially if you’re a parent who raised tens of thousands of dollars through an adoption fundraiser. Especially if you’re a privileged parent who could have afforded to adopt anyway without a fundraiser (see point 2) but nevertheless convinced a ton of folks to give cash. Per Amanda Transue-Woolston.
“Adoption fundraising reinforces traditional hierarchies of power and privilege by giving money to the already-wealthy to receive a child into their home, rather than placing vital resources with the original families and original communities that would prevent children from being placed in orphanage and for adoption in the first place… When poverty is the underlying factor in an adoption, those in the position to receive a child into their home, as opposed to surrendering a child from their home, are on the privileged side of the equation. I do not say this to criticize those parents, but because those of us with privilege have a duty to be aware of how privilege impacts marginalized people and communities. Not just be aware of it, but to take action to secure social justice.”
4. Adoption fundraisers are disrespectful of the privacy of adoptees.
The adoptive parent community tends to overshare their children’s histories, and it’s something that needs to end. Adoptees’ personal stories, as well as those of birth parents/first parents, should not be shared by anyone but the individuals who have experienced them. Would adoptive parents appreciate it if a bunch of former adoption social workers got together and wrote an expose about all of the familial dirt, financial problems, marriage tensions, messed up family histories, trials and tribulations of infertility, etc., that they have witnessed? I don’t think that would go over well. Apparently this tendency to overshare sets in early for adoptive parents. Remember when that family who wanted to adopt their second child got a helping hand from Humans of New York? The response was off the wall crazy, and all who saw the fundraiser now know the origins of “Richard”, the adoptee, and also, through their donations, own a piece of his story, too. It remains to be seen what “Richard” will think about his family’s fundraising effort. However, based upon how many adoptees are coming forward these days to claim their right to their histories, he’ll probably feel a little something.
5. Adoption fundraisers are anti-Christian.
Do the Google thing by using the following terms: adoption, fundraiser, God and adoption, fundraising, God. You’ll get a ton of results, which shouldn’t be surprising because Evangelicals have been on an adoption crusade for quite sometime. What is surprising, though, is the language used by would be adoptive parents: they are compelled to adopt because God told them to; it’s God’s will for them to have an adopted child; and God has given them their child through adoption. Of the adoption fundraiser I’ve seen, the sentiments expressed by Evangelical Christians are amazingly narrow minded, self serving, and anti-Christian. There’s no regard for the fact that in adoption someone (i.e., adoptive parents) always gains something through the loss and suffering of another. What about the mothers, father, grandparents, and other extended family members who lose their children? What about the birth parents/first parents who are forced to relinquish rights to their children because of social, financial, and familial pressures? What about the parents who have their children stolen from them for international adoption? Is the Evangelical Christian God comfortable with all of this? Is s/he all about giving into the whims of mostly White adoptive parents who wish to “save orphans”? And if Christians are bent on the idea of doing a fundraiser, why not raise money for the hard, yet fulfilling and important work of establishing “long-term investment in developing nations so that families there can afford to raise their own children” as Jill Filipovic suggests. My Lutheran upbringing taught me the virtues of caring for your neighbors who are near and far, instead of giving into your own desires. As Filipovic notes:
“It is not nearly as satisfying to deal with complex realities of colonialism, exploitative evangelism, poverty and misogyny as it is to talk about the plight of orphans, donate money for a friend to adopt or perhaps adopt a cute kid yourself. But while addressing the issues that create both orphans and unethical adoption practices takes work and the willingness to humble oneself, doing so is necessary and moral. And it saves children and families.
6. Adoption fundraisers reflect white privilege.
The adoption industry is a very White business. Most of the folks working in the industry are White. Most adoptive parents, i.e., the true clients in adoption, are White, and they are part of middle, middle-upper, and upper income families. In adoption, White parents hold the power, not those of us who are considered “Brown”. I mean, really, do you see Black, Asian, Latino, and Native parents lobby members of congress, engage various parts of the federal government, use the media, etc., to get countries, such as Vietnam, reopened for international adoption? No. Do you see Black, Asian, Latino, and Native parents use their connections, technological savvy, and so forth to fundraise for adoption so that they can adopt White babies? No. Per Laura Briggs of the University of Massachusetts:
“Stranger adoption is a national and international system whereby the children of impoverished or otherwise disenfranchised mothers are transferred to middle-class, wealthy mothers (and fathers). The relative power of these groups, and the fact that stranger adoption almost never takes place in the opposite direction, sets the inescapable framework in which adoption is inserted.”
And as the University of Pennsylvania’s Law School’s Dorothy Roberts states in Gazillion Voices magazine:
“[W]hen you have both domestic adoption in the U.S. and internationally, it’s always the people from the most privileged group, by and large, with rare exception, who are adopting children from a less privileged group. It is not as if this is a truly racially equal process. You do not find African Americans who are sometimes even allowed to adopt a child who is white… So, by and large, if you look at transracial adoption at the macro-political level, both domestically and globally, it is a process where children are transferred from the least privileged to the most privileged. And that means something. That involves power arrangements.”
7. Adoption fundraisers are tools of Colonialism.
Adoption is an extension of good old fashioned colonialism. Don’t believe me? Ask the Native community what they think of the history of the US state and federal governments’ practice of ripping/forcibly removing Native children from the tribes:
“There was a time in this country when thousands of Native American children were forced from their homes by public and private agencies, then sent to boarding schools where the school founder’s motto was “Kill the Indian, Save the Man.” This practice wiped out cultural ties and traditions from an entire generation on which tribes depended to carry on their legacies.” (source)
Still don’t believe me? Ask yourself: How many times have you seen parents from “third world” countries host adoption fundraisers — now a tool of adoption — so that they can come into the US to adopt our children? You’ve never seen that because in adoption, an arm of colonialism, the colonizers — the White adoption industry and White adoptive parents — wield the tools that allow them to obtain what they desire.
~ Kevin H. Vollmers
About Kevin H. Vollmers: Kevin is the founder of Land of Gazillion Adoptees, LLC, executive director of Gazillion Strong, and editor in chief of Gazillion Voices magazine. He is a regular contributor to Entertainment Weekly’s The Community and the host of Gazillion Voices Radio.