Happily Ever Adopted

It never ceases to amaze me how easily otherwise-rational people buy into the myths of the American adoption industry. Fighting the good fight to reform the child protection system, many activists speak out about children abused in foster care. However, few seem able to acknowledge that adoption, rather than a happy ending, is nothing more than additional abuse carried out by a system that should instead protect helpless children.

Anyone familiar with the family court system knows that the phrase, “best interests of the child,” is often used in the evaluation of custody arrangements. The idea is that every decision made should first and foremost be concerned with providing the best outcome possible for the children involved. However, years of overuse have turned “best interests of the child” into a manipulative catch-all used by case workers to trick the courts into doing whatever it is the state finds profitable. Frequently, that means adoption.

Don’t let yourself be fooled; adoption as it is practiced in the United States is never in any child’s best interest. It is rather profitable for the state (to the tune of $4000-6000 a kid), and sterile couples who adopt are often satisfied with their precious little acquisitions (at least until said acquisitions grow up and want to know their real families). But adoption has little to do with the rights of the child.

There are a copious lot of myths surrounding the adoption of a child. Perhaps the first and most wide-spread is the myth of the grateful adoptee; the idea that all adopted people should be forever grateful to the people who “saved” them after they were “abandoned” by their real families. This myth ignores the fact that adopters are human beings, not saints or saviors, who are at least as capable of abuse, neglect and plain old bad decision-making as true parents are. It also neglects the fact that most adoptees were never abandoned by their families; most were taken by force or coercion. Why don’t we ask the boys found starving in the Collingswood, NJ home of their adopters how grateful they are to have been “abandoned” and “saved?”

Even in the absence of outwardly abusive adopters, adoption is damaging. Consider for a moment, if you will. How would you feel if you were suddenly taken away from all that you knew – from friends and family members you loved, from familiar sights, sounds and smells – and transplanted into a new world, expected to start over with new friends and a new, pretend family? This is a question an adopted friend of mine frequently poses to people who think adoption is wonderful. Ironically, they almost always answer that they would be miserable, confused and hurting. That is precisely the reality of adoption for the children involved, whether they are adopted at birth or years later.

Joe Soll, an adoptee with 20 years of experience counseling adopted adults and exiled parents writes, “You may encounter many adopted people along the way who will tell you that being surrendered for adoption hasn’t affected them at all. The adopted individuals might even say they are glad they were ‘given up.’ This is denial of the highest order. . . it is impossible for a baby to lose its mother and not be severely wounded.” (From Adoption Healing: A path to recovery for mothers who lost children to adoption, by Joe Soll, CSW and Karen Wilson-Buterbaugh).

Child “protection” practices completely contradict the real-life experiences of adopted children. It doesn’t really matter whether ignorance or plain old greed is to blame; every time a case worker recommends that a child be adopted s/he is making a decision that does not suit the child’s needs.

Certainly, there are cases in which children cannot be returned to their families – extreme cases where, despite much assistance and support, their parents and extended family members are unable to care for them safely. But these children do not deserve the trauma that is adoption. Instead, they need a home where they will be treated with respect; where their loss and pain will be acknowledged, and where their heritage will be honored. They deserve caregivers who will love them for who they are as individuals, without the pretense that they can replace the child’s real and natural family. Only then can these children begin to recover from their painful experiences.

Adoption is not a happy ending, by any stretch of the imagination. It is a sorrowful beginning, sure to be followed by more emotional suffering. And it can be prevented – in the true best interests of the children.

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