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Saturday, 30 January 2010

My Sentiments Exactly - International Adoption, Attachment, Etc.

The orphan situation in Haiti has generated much discussion and action in the adoption world. While I absolutely stand behind anyone who advocates to ensure that all children to be adopted meet the necessary criteria, have the appropriate documentation, etc., I am concerned by more extreme lobbying to stop or slow adoptions unnecessarily (I know, those advocating these measures would not say they are unnecessary).

My concern is not specifically about Haiti - which is a complicated situation right now, to say the least - but more generally in regard to the idea that it is better for orphaned children to stay in their home countries, raised in foster or institutional care, than to be adopted internationally into permanent families. This is not about political correctness, or cultural competence, but about a core value which in my opinion transcends culture, race, and politics - a fundamental need for a child to be part of a family as early in life as possible - build, and learn how to build healthy, fulfilling relationships, and to have a pretty good chance at the kind of education, social skills, and social network required to build a safe and healthy life for themselves when they leave home (which, for many orphanage-raised children, is questionable, and happens far too young). While the goal is most definitely for countries to be able to make this happen, international adoption has to be part of the picture, at least for now. The following quotes do a great job of explaining my position, and providing a little food for thought in regard to one of the big reasons children need to be in families - attachment. We have a social responsibility NOT to increase children's risk of lifelong difficulties as a result of delaying or neglecting to find them families, wherever those families may be. Have a look:

The Role of International Adoption:


"...orphaned children deserve a chance at having permanent homes and families. International adoption is not a perfect solution to the problem...but it saves lives, gives children a chance, one adoption at a time.

Of course, most would agree that international adoption should not be the sole answer to poverty faced by nations around the world. No rational person would think so. International adoption should be seen as a stopgap emergency measure taken while the United Nations, human rights groups, humanitarian organizations and the governments of these underdeveloped countries seek answers to the abject poverty, high birth rates, AIDS epidemic, malnutrition, lack of education, lack of women’s rights, and massive unemployment which lead to parents making these hard decisions about the future of their offspring. International adoption is one temporary cog in the wheel. UNICEF and other detractors and critics of international adoption have continually failed to recognize the vital emergency role of international adoption and how compromise and middle ground solutions could serve the orphaned and abandoned children."



"Attachment can be defined as the ability or capacity to bond emotionally with another person."


"[A child's ability to form attachments with others starts] with pre-natal care, then moves on to the conditions at birth, conditions in the orphanage, the staff/child ratio and the natural resiliency of the child. Any infant who is neglected when she cries can be at risk for Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). RAD can develop within the first few months of life...the longer a child is exposed [to risk factors, including institutional care], the greater the risk [of attachment disorders], so there is some correlation between RAD and age at adoption."

Arthur Becker-Weidman, Ph.D., Centre for Family Development, Williamsville, NY

Subtle Signs of Attachment Issues:

1. Sensitivity to rejection and to the normally attuned connections between mother and child.
2. Avoiding comfort when the child's feelings are hurt, although the child will turn to the parent when physically hurt.
3. Difficulty discussing angry feelings or hurt feelings.
4. Over-valuing looks, appearance, and clothes.
5. Sleep disturbances, not wanting to sleep alone.
6. Precocious independence. A level of independence that is more frequently seen in slightly older children.
7. Reticence and anxiety about changes.
8. Picking at scabs and sores.

The longer a child is in alternate care, the more these subtle signs become pervasive.

Specific Difficulties Related to Attachment Issues:

1. Superficially engaging and charming behaviour, phoniness
2. Avoidance of eye contact.
3. Indiscriminate affection with strangers.
4. Lack of affection on parental terms.
5. Destructiveness to self, others, and material things.
6. Cruelty to animals.
7. Primary process lying (lying in the face of the obvious).
8. Low impulse control.
9. Learning lags.
10. Lack of cause/effect thinking.
11. Lack of conscience.
12. Abnormal eating patterns.
13. Poor peer relationships.
14. Preoccupation with fire and/or gore.
15. Persistent nonsense questions and chatter.
16. Inappropriate clinginess and demandingness.
17. Abnormal speech patterns.
18. Inappropriate sexuality.


"In a 6-year study of post-institutionalized children adopted from Romania by British couples, researchers found that children who were 6 months or younger when they were adopted had higher IQs and experienced fewer attachment disorder behaviors than children who had spent more time in orphanages."

www.nacac.org/adopttalk.orphanage experiences.html

"Probably our most important finding was that there was a lot of variation in how well children did three years after adoption. The early-adopted children generally had few serious problems, and as a group looked very much like children born in Canada. Of the children who spent eight months or more in an orphanage, some resembled children born in Canada, but others had many problems and were still very different from their Canadian-born counterparts."

(Discussion of research on Romanian adoptees, conducted by Dr. Elinor Ames)

"All orphanage children were developmentally delayed when adopted. The longer they had spent in orphanage, the more delayed they were.

Before signing off, I do have a quick nod & disclaimer: I enjoy reading about groups and individuals who have taken their love and concern for orphans, and have put it into practice internationally by establishing child-focused and success-oriented models for group living, such as small-group family-style care, and programs focused on education, skill development, and long-term outcomes - any such effort plays an important role in ensuring the nurturing and health of children who need it!


Ruth Branson said...

Wow, Joy, really well written and thought through. You nailed the issue, from my perspective. I completely agree.


Ce Eshelman said...

I appreciate your thoughtful expression. I couldn't agree more. Furthermore, I think all adoptions need to be carried out in the most expedient way as possible. Research is on the side of "the sooner the better." Best wishes to you on your adoption.

elsie hiebert said...

Joy, I have always thought that you have a way with words and I agree with everything you have written. Let's continue to fight for these kids.