Thursday, January 31, 2008

When There’s No Place Like Home

Below is the full Newsweek text on the impact of UNICEF on international adoptions...

Some advocates blame the decline in intercountry adoptions over the past three years on a single surprising source: UNICEF. The United Nations Children's Fund may be known worldwide for helping underprivileged children obtain better health care and education, but when it comes to finding homes for orphans, they argue, the organization places misguided emphasis on maintaining cultural and geographic ties rather than on the child's overall well-being. That's true even when there is little chance of domestic adoption and virtually no public programs to provide care for abandoned children or struggling families. "National boundaries should not prevent abandoned children from having families," says Thomas Atwood, president of America's National Council for Adoption. "UNICEF's exclusive focus on domestic programs amounts to an obstacle to international adoption and prevents untold numbers of children from improving their lives through international adoption."

There is no argument over the need for adoptive homes—UNICEF estimates that there are 143 million orphans in the world—or the unprecedented interest among Westerners eager to adopt. And children's advocates of all stripes agree that when possible, children should be raised by their own families and in their own cultures. But there seems to be a discrepancy over what qualifies as "when possible." Rather than promote research that demonstrates the beneficial effects for all types of adoption, critics say UNICEF plays up rare cases of abuse and corruption and actively discourages developing countries from making more abandoned children available. "UNICEF and some foreign critics have encouraged countries to look at international adoption as a form of colonialism," says Dana Johnson, director of the International Adoption Clinic at the University of Minnesota and an expert on global adoption trends. Critics compare such policies to those promoted in the 1970s by black American social workers, who argued that only African-American families could ethically adopt black babies. As a result, many minority children spent most of their childhoods in state care.

UNICEF argues that intercountry adoption is not the only—and certainly not always the best—option for the world's orphans. Alexandra Yuster, a senior adviser in the child-protection section, claims the organization advocates the inclusion of international adoption in the mix of potential solutions for countries seeking homes for orphaned children. But it is much more focused on helping birth families get adequate support from their governments so they can take care of their own kids. "That's our priority because that will help a much larger number of kids—as will promoting domestic adoption," she says. "It's not that we're against intercountry adoption; it's just not a main focus for us."

In part, that's because UNICEF fears financial profit is the driving force behind many intercountry transactions. Because few healthy infants are available for adoption in Western countries, she says, the amount of money prospective parents are willing to pay to complete adoptions of healthy babies has increased. And corruption inevitably follows the money. UNICEF is especially concerned about poor countries like Guatemala, where private attorneys largely control the process and charge upwards of $35,000 per child—almost twice the going rate in countries like China and Vietnam, where government agencies oversee programs.

That kind of profit margin creates a market where one didn't exist before. "We're concerned with the commercialization of vulnerable children," says Yuster. "It gives an incentive to intermediaries to look for the kind of children these families most want to adopt." Some poor mothers are tricked into relinquishing healthy babies, while disabled and older children living in state institutions are left out of the foreign adoption loop because there's no profit incentive to match them with families. "Adoption is supposed to be about finding homes for children, not finding children for families," she says.

UNICEF is equally wary of the less expensive and more transparent programs in such countries as Ethiopia, China and Vietnam, where a portion of the adoption fees charged by the government is used to provide protective services and better living conditions for the orphans who remain behind. "We think this is a slippery slope," Yuster says. "If the child-welfare system becomes dependent on children leaving, countries may do less to seek domestic placements or work to keep children with their own families."

Critics charge that UNICEF's obsession with preventing corruption at all costs often results in countries adopting such restrictive regulations that foreign adoptions are reduced to a trickle. "Forces at the very top are making international adoption more and more difficult," says Harvard Law professor Elizabeth Bartholet, who has written extensively on the subject. "What this means is that fewer kids are getting adopted, more children are required to spend time in orphanages, those who get out are of older ages, and are more likely to have developed serious disabilities that make them hard to parent."

Yuster insists that UNICEF never pressures countries to tighten their adoption regulations, and in fact gets involved only when asked. That was the case in 2006 in Liberia, when the government requested an investigation after intercountry adoptions began to rise. Of the several hundred adoptions done in a year, she says, they identified 50 that qualified as "relinquishments under false pretenses." In some cases, unsophisticated parents were led to believe that they would lose custody only temporarily, or would one day join their child in the West. Without good data, she acknowledges, it's hard to know how common such abuses are globally. But "unfortunately, they are not rare, and there seems to be evidence that they are on the rise," she says. "When the surface is scratched, violations can often be found."

With Washington set to begin implementing the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption this spring, some experts think that such violations will decrease, allowing UNICEF and its critics to find more middle ground and common goals. "All of these groups want more ethical practices in adoption," Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, an independent research and policy organization. "But we all need to keep our eye on the prize: finding homes for children who really need them." Wherever they are.


"For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more."
--Luke 12:48

Bad news sucks

So this morning I'm filled with sadness, a bit of anger, and still a sense of purpose. A few weeks ago I got what was, in my little world, a devastating result for Gwenn's neuropsych testing: permanent brain damage. But today everything is moved into perspective quickly with the results that one of my best friends, Lorna, received on the health of her daughter, Penelope.

Penny was also adopted from China, and since coming to the US has had numerous issues with her health - starting with a funny limp when she came home at two. At first there were unusual ideas of what occured - polio in China (confirmed), in uetero stroke (not), hemiplegia (nope) and many others. But in the last year a new diagnosis was floated around: mitochondrial disease.

I didn't know much about mito when Lorna first told me about it, but what I learned let me know that it was no good. Well, today Lorna got the news that she was expecting, but still not ready for - that Penelope has a very serious form of the disease. Actually, of all the scenarios, it was the worst case.

So I've been wondering - between this news and what I had heard about Gwenn - why these kiddos are so often ill, and is it worth it. It hasn't taken long to answer the last questions, hell yes, it's worth it. There are so many kids who need homes, and all are worth it. I'm not sure if I'm going to make a difference, but for one child, it is an impact and a life-changing event.

I don't think it's because the Chinese, or any other country, treat their kids in institutions badly. I think it's just that kids don't belong in institutions. They don't get the touch and attention that they so badly need in order to thrive, not just survive. So often these kids come, and their brains haven't developed. They can't form attachments correctly, since they were never held. They may have medical issues that led to their being abandoned, or simply were abandoned due to the one child policy, pressure for a girl or a "perfect" child. The one thing I've learned in life is that there is no perfect child, no perfect adult - and it's our differences and faults that make us what we are.

I'm sure I'll write more later, but I still need to digest this latest news.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Urgent Care and ER

If everything else wasn't enough, Lucy had me running all over this weekend. I wound up with a sick little girl who is thankfully doing better now. But, we spent a nice day yesterday in the local ER having CT Scans, etc. Thankfully she slept through much of it, and is back to her normal crazy self today. I, however, have still to recover.

Neuropsych Eval

Well, we have had the evaluation about 2 weeks ago, and about 10 days ago I got the results of the testing... and have been absorbing it and thinking about it since.

Basically, Gwenn has something that is called static encepalopathy - static (not changing) brain damage. It's something that is there, it won't get better, and probably won't get worse. She has severe frontal lobe issue, which regulates a significant amount in her brain, as well as right hemisphere issues. The doctor believes that her left hemisphere is compensating where it can, but it's been a long week trying to let it sink in that what we thought were just learning issues would now be serious, life long implications. And that my daughter does have significant issues with her brain. The bummer in most of this is dealing with the fact that this most likely came from neglect in the orphanage, or abuse, but most like neglect - which isn't really neglect, it's just a lack of one on one care that can be given to the large number of kiddos in the orphanages. But, it was avoidable.

So now it's trying to find what Gwenn can do well - she is persistent, charming and wants to please everyone. And we'll balance with what really won't ever work well - she will probably never be able to manage complex tasks and lifeskills, learn more than concrete thinking (no philosophy for Gwenn, but that is probably OK), and will have many issues to overcome as she continues to mature.

I guess the good news is that I can go back to the school district - again - and remind them that Gwenn's issues are not behavioral, but rather medical as I've shared before. And I'll have more information to share with them on how Gwenn needs to be taught in school, and we'll work more closely on building an IEP that is more reasonable for her and what she can and cannot accomplish.

Next step is the school meeting - I'm working on that right now.

I think right now I'm still in a bit of denial. I'm still crying, as I should. I am sad for what Gwenn may not grow up to be, and the things that she could have accomplished. She is the same girl she was before we got the diagnosis, but now that it is in black and white and it's so concrete and final, it's been hard. I've learned to say that I have a special needs child, but now I really do have a special needs child. And it's not something that will go away in time and get better, and that has been very hard to absorb. My sense of humor is starting to come back, so that must be a good sign, but it's been a very hard week. I would have written about this sooner, but I just haven't had the energy to deal with it - or to put it in writing. That would make it too real.

Heath Ledger is dead!

OK. So, now you are going to learn something about me. I'm a huge Heath Ledger fan. Not only is he a hottie for a 28 year old, but I have enjoyed his acting in great teen and tween movies, as well as in more serious stuff like Brokeback Mountain. The NYTimes just reported his death, aparently in one of the Olsontwins apartments in NY. I'm going to have to dig into oldies such as Brokeback, 10 Things, and Knights Tale....

Ni Hao, Kai-lan

Coming soon to our local TV is "Ni Hao, Kai-lan" from our friends at Nick! With over 100,000 American students now studying Mandarin (BSD, please add to your foriegn language list!) there are many who are interested. As the producer notes, it also doesn't hurt that Americans have adopted over 60,000 children from China.... Should appear by August, 2008.

Newsweek Article: Baby corruption in China

Well, I've heard about this in the past, but Newsweek has just published an article outlining some of the issues surrounding wealth, priviledge and the one child policy in China. It's interesting that China is now considering adding additional, illegal kids to the corruption rules when dealing with party members. However, what to do with all of their new, wealthy and yuppie urbanites who have the money to defy the rules? Can China continue to police this law, and hundreds of others, when the system that they have allows for the wealthy and party members to circumvent the laws. Instead of being a party for the people, it seems that the only ones to come to the party are the political establishment and wealthy.

While I'm no fan of China's political system, it is apparent to me that this cannot last. The people will not tolerate exceptions based on the size of the bank account or political strings that can be pulled. As this issue, and any issue dealing with the wealthy v. the masses, continue to gain press and notariety, it seems that another revolution may come. It may not be bloody, but I'm curious to see how China reacts and what they will decide to do with their country in the future. They may soon be both one of the wealthiest countries, and one of the poorest countries in the world. And, I believe, they will get nowhere without a moral ground that they can stand on.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Outsourced Wombs

There is an interesting article in the NYT today about women, mostly from America, heading to India to hire surrogates to bear their children.

Am I supposed to be upset at wealthy westerners, getting the surrogacy deal of a lifetime? Do I think that they are crazy pursuing this perfected dream of reproductive motherhood? You know - those types.. they have conquered the business world so they will conquer their wombs? Excpet they are definately not conquering their wombs, they are renting space in another. But is it just for reproductive issues? What happens when a busy, wealthy woman (or couple) want a baby, but are too busy to go through the hassle of pregnancy? Is this type of surrogacy another option?

And for the women who are surrogates - are they being taken advantage of? Are their lives now controlled by these western women for whom they bear a child? What rights do they have? What if they decide they want to parent the child they bear - especially if they donate an egg? But are they just mindless wombs for rent? Or is this a fantatsic ticket out of abject poverty for them? I have to admit, if someone offered me a million or so (10-15 years salary) to bear a child for them, I'd be all over it. Why not? It could open new financial doors that weren't open before.

What really has me concerned is if these women are protected who are providing surrogacy options, what the international laws are regarding children born through surrogacy, and what happens when wombs are now rental options, like a storage unit or a cabin in upstate NY. I think I need more time to ponder this one. This is one aspect of outsourcing I did not expect.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Bill's last day?

What happens when computer nerds have too much time.

We've been enjoying these for years - some get public, like DaDaDa below, even in low quality it's still fun...

Neuropsych Eval

Well, after 5 hours of testing yesterday, Gwenn completed her neuropsych eval. I'm pretty excited. By tomorrow we'll have initial results from the doctor and have an idea of which direction we should be heading. Exciting!