International Adoptions Back in the News {sigh}

Dawn Davenport


The front page on the New York Times online this weekend: A Family, for a Few Days a Year.

The story is painfully familiar. Prospective adoptive parents unable to get their child out of a country due to the suspension of international adoptions. In this case, the country is Guatemala, the family is the Carrs, and the child is 6 year old Geovany. But it could have been the Smiths, Jones, or Johnsons; the country could have been Camboida, Vietnam, or Kyrgyzstan; and the child could have been Chanthavy, Anh, or Dimitre. The Carrs started the adoption process in Dec. 2007, but adoptions between the US and Guatemala were suspended in January 2008.  Approximately 4,000 adoptions were underway when the program was suspended. Of the original 4,000, only 150 remain; the others have either been adopted or the parents have abandoned the attempt. In the five years since this nightmare began, the Carrs have made nine trips to Guatemala to visit Geovany, bringing toys and clothes, and trying to resolve the impasse. As with any article about international adoption, the comments are full of admonishments that the Carrs should have adopted one of the thousands of waiting kids in the US. Even though these comments are infuriatingly predictable, they always make me want to scream because of their ignorance about US foster care adoptions.5012653417_a67a9cdbc5_n

The Realities of Adopting the Thousands of Waiting Children in the US

Very few babies or toddler are legally free waiting to be adopted in the US. The average age of a child waiting for adoption in the US foster care system is eight. Adopting an eight year old is a fantastic way of building your family and these kids deserve homes as much as any child. An eight year old adopted from the US foster care system is not much different from an eight year old adopted from a foreign orphanage, except the adoptive parents will likely:

  • have more information on the child (medical and background)
  • pay nothing for the adoption
  • receive a monthly subsidy and Medicaid benefits.

But, and my friends this is a big “but”, older child adoption is not for everyone, including most of the people leaving these ignorant comments. Younger children are sometimes available for adoption from foster care, but usually through the “foster to adopt” program where they are placed with prospective adoptive parents before birth parent parental rights have been terminated. Adoptive parents run the very real risk that the child may not ever become available for adoption. The goal of our foster care system is to heal the birth family. This is as it should be, but prospective adoptive parents have to be willing to help with the reunification process and accept that the child they care for and love may not be their forever child. The foster to adopt process is not for everyone. It was not for the Carrs.

What is Wrong with This Story

The Carrs chose to adopt from Guatemala because they wanted a younger child, and they didn’t want to foster a couple of children before eventually being able to adopt. This was a reasonable decision, EXCEPT that when they decided to adopt Geovany, every single nonprofit adoption organization (including ours), the US State Department, and most reputable adoption agencies were warning against adopting from Guatemala at that time. We knew with almost certainty in December of 2007 that the US would suspend adoptions from Guatemala. It was posted on the State Department site, Creating a Family was doing shows on it, I was posting on it. We were all but shouting it from the rooftops. There is simply no way that the Carrs did not know that this was an extremely risky adoption. The dangers we were warning about are exactly the dangers the Carrs are facing—prospective parents not able to finalize the adoption of the child that has been assigned and children being left in limbo in Guatemala. How I wish it felt better to be right. I know I may be sounding callous, and I don’t mean to. I feel for the Carrs, I really do. I feel even worse for this child. It sounds to me like all efforts have been made to find any biological family that might want to raise this child. I agree that keeping Geovany in a Guatemalan orphanage while he has a loving family in the US is barbaric and inhumane. When I began this blog I thought I would end it with something along the lines of “if people would only listen, they could save themselves a lot of trouble” or “they should have known better”. (Of course, I would have said it in a much more diplomatic way.) But, honestly, that really isn’t how I feel. Yes, the Carrs would have been spared much anguish and the State Department officials much gray hair, but if they had listened to us five years ago, Geovany would still be one of thousands of children who will probably grow up in one of hundreds of Guatemalan orphanages. At least now he stands a chance of someday having a family, and I applaud the Carrs for their tenacity. P.S. You can go to the story in the NYT for a great, albeit sad, video of the Carrs with Geovany on their last trip to Guatemala.


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11/12/2012 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog | 4 Comments

4 Responses to International Adoptions Back in the News {sigh}

  1. Avatar Dawn says:

    Just read a very interesting article just posted in the New York Times somewhat related to the article I addressed in the blog: An Adoptive Parent Won’t Take the Blame By JESSICA O’DWYER. ( Jessica is the author of the great book, Mamalita, about her adoption of her first child from Guatemala. I reviewed Mamalita at

  2. Avatar Jessica says:

    Dear Anon: Like you, and so many others, I understood little about Guatemala’s adoption system going in. My hope is that if enough people care, write about, and call attention to it, someday reform will come. As you say, it’s just so complicated! Thanks for reading my article.~ Jessica

  3. Avatar Anon says:

    I really enjoyed Jessica’s article as well! It can be easy to assume that sending countries operate under the same cultural framework for adoptions, but in Guatemala at least, well, I had no idea that some practices in international adoption were so long standing. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t change. It’s just so complicated.

  4. Thanks so much for posting the link to my NY Times essay, Dawn. I feel honored to add my voice to the dialogue around this important subject.

    Just wanted to note one more reason why the Carrs chose to adopt from Guatemala, despite the warning signs. According to the NYT article, the Carrs already had adopted a daughter, Samantha, from Guatemala; the article states Samantha’s adoption “had gone without a hitch.” When their agency assured the Carrs their second adoption would be a “clear-cut case,” the couple probably believed it.

    Thanks again for posting the link to my essay, and for all your great work.

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