My Review of “The Child Catchers”

Dawn Davenport


Review of the book "The Child Catchers"I interviewed Kathryn Joyce, author of The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption on yesterday’s Creating a Family show. I’ve been doing the Creating a Family show weekly since 2007, and I seldom get nervous before an interview, but I was just a little nervous about this show.  I had strong feelings about this book, mostly negative. I always can find common ground with just about any guest, and I believe my job is to ask questions in such a way to show my thoughts, but allow them to express theirs. I had so many disagreements with this book, that I knew I needed to be careful about my tone. After all, anyone on the show is a “guest” and should be treated as such.  I think it went well, but you listen and tell me what you think. I touch on a few of my disagreements below.


Download  RSS Feed  Itunes

Ethical Issues in International Adoption

I always appreciate a good discussion about the ethical issues in international adoption. I spend more time than I’d like to admit thinking about these things, and it is always nice to have someone to bounce ideas off of who has also thought deeply about the issues. Although Kathryn did a good job of highlighting some of the issues, she dropped the ball, in my opinion, after she pointed them out. In her mind the ethical issues could be neatly piled at the feet of the orphan care movement, and that’s where her analysis stopped. In her view all the thorny problems of children being raised outside of their families would go away if we did away with international adoption.

Although international adoptions bring with them a host of problems, shutting down adoptions creates a host of other problems, not the least of which is what happens to the children. Do they go back to live with family? Do they grow up in institutional care? Do they end up on the streets or worse? Does international adoption have a place in international child welfare? Thoughtful minds can and do disagree, but Joyce didn’t even attempt to engage in the discussion.

Reliance on Anecdotal “Evidence”

As most of you know, I’m a research geek. I realize, honestly I do, that research doesn’t answer all questions, and that points can often be made more strongly through example than with statistics. Even I, the world’s greatest egghead, appreciate that a book needs to be interesting to be read. However, if you are writing about issues such as the prevalence of adoptions disrupting or the difficulties of transracial adoption, wouldn’t you think a brief mention of how adoptees and adoptions are faring as a whole would be helpful. Individual stories are great and make for better reading, but it helps to anchor them in reality.

Adoption is All Gloom and Doom

From my vantage point as an adoption educator, I truly see it all. I hear from unprepared families hitting the wall of reality with a thud once they bring their child home. Most of these families find their footing with education and support, but a few fall apart under the strain and fear.  I spend my work days thinking of ways to better educate and support people considering adoption so that they are able to decide if they should adopt, or if they should adopt this particular child. And once they have their child, Creating a Family tries to educate and support them to be better parents to that particular child with those particular needs. But I also see the amazing and happy success stories. These stories are hard not to see; in fact, I’d go so far as to say you would have to try very hard not to see them since most adoptive families are a success. Perfect—no; ultimately successful and satisfying to parents and kids—yes. In all of The Child Catcher, I don’t remember a single happy adoption story that got more than a passing mention.

Joyce said she wanted to show “the other side of adoption” since most media only cover the hearts and butterflies part. I’m not sure she’s right given the coverage of international adoption fraud and struggles, but I can appreciate someone seeking a more balanced coverage.  Doesn’t she, however, need to put the horror stories in perspective? Her portrayal was unbelievably one sided and bleak, and simply doesn’t reflect the reality of adoption that I see or that research supports.

An Agenda

It felt to me that Joyce went into this project with an agenda that she wanted to prove (the evangelical orphan care/adoption ministry is hurting children and adoptive families), and she included only the “evidence” that supported her position. She said in the Creating a Family interview that most journalists have a predetermined agenda, and that her book was not intended to be an even-handed assessment of adoption or religion’s place in encouraging adoption. Fair enough, I guess, but I ended up feeling that The Child Catchers bent so far in one direction that it was warped beyond usefulness. It’s a shame because a well rounded discussion about improvements to orphan care and adoption ministries would be welcomed.

I really encourage you to listen to the podcast. Although we disagreed on plenty, we did so in a respectful and productive way, which is a rarity in the world of talk radio. We can continue the discussion here.


Image credit: Libby

04/07/2013 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog | 29 Comments

29 Responses to My Review of “The Child Catchers”

  1. Avatar Pat Irwin Johnston says:

    Bravo, Dawn! I agree with your review!

  2. Avatar Rosalie P. says:

    I just listened to the podcast and Ms. Joyce says she does not actually blame the evangelical movement for corruption in IA. However, in her interview on Fresh Air, I distinctly recall her positing that it is this movement that “created the demand” for (younger?) children thus leading to corruption. Am I remembering this correctly?
    While I am no fan of adopting for the purpose of conversion and while I do believe this evangelical adoption movement requires some scrutiny, I don’t see how it creates a “supply” of orphans. I suppose the takeaway could be to recognize that a religious “agenda” leaves one vulnerable to the problems that come along with eschewing a full range of research and education. However, ironically, her book seems to suffer from the same problem. Much like the movement she criticizes, she ignores data that does not befit HER “agenda”. And, Dawn, I agree with you; that while it is important to hear the stories of corruption and other challenges that have plagued in IA, we contextualize these – and all stories – responsibly. Even my first year college students learn quickly that anecdotal evidence within a critical piece can serve to illustrate but not make a point.

  3. Avatar Debbie Carr-Taylor says:

    I’m looking forward to listening to the podcast. I agree with you that as an IA parent, I feel very strongly that I have to shine my light on all aspects of IA, including the ones that make me uncomfortable or that I don’t 100% agree with. Better I wrestle with it internally, talk with fellow IA parents, and adult adoptees than have it lobbed at me by my child someday, be completely blindsided and handle it poorly.

    Happy, well-adjusted, well-parented, successful adult adoptees can and do come to similar conclusions as the author. Feelings about adoption evolve throughout a lifetime and I’m hoping I’ll be part of the discussion with my daughter when she’s a young adult and beyond, even if what she thinks and feels are hard to hear.

    This discussion makes me think of this article forwarded to me to read by a friend who is an adult Korean adoptee. I’m very glad she felt comfortable sending to me and I’m looking forward to hearing about it from her perspective, if she’s willing.

  4. Avatar c says:

    “But I also see the amazing and happy success stories. These stories are hard not to see; in fact, I’d go so far as to say you would have to try very hard not to see them since most adoptive families are a success”

    The above is irrelevant. The process must be done correctly. It doesn’t matter how happy the families are if the method they got to that family is not above board.

    I would say that many adoptees from the 60s/70s have had happy lives with their adoptive families. That doesn’t mean that it’s OK if their bparents were coerced, does it?

    “One of my favorite things that I took from the book is the challenge to care for “widows and orphans” as a unit and not simply the children. We need a broader definition of “widow” to include women in crisis pregnancies, single mothers, fathers wanting rights to their children, grandparents and great grandparents raising children, and extended family caring for children.”

    Well said, whole child.

    One thing also that is important is that all counselling should be objective not directive. Too many women are still being “sold” adoption as an option and they are not being honestly counselled. There are some good agencies in the US – others I find truly appalling. I read adoption blogs and am astounded that even when many prospective adoptive parents are trying to adopt as ethically as possible, they are finding that their agencies aren’t quite as willing to go along with them.

    • C, I don’t disagree that the process of adoption MUST be above board and that protections need to be in place to make sure that it is. You are right that one of her criticisms of the Evangelical orphan care/ adoption ministry movement was that the process of international adoption was flawed. I think she has a valid point there. Not sure that the religion of the adopters is at fault, but to the extent that the orphan care movement is promoting international adoption (and they promote far more than just international adoption), they should also be on the forefront promoting ethical adoptions and reforms that ensure a better process.

      The statement of mine that you quoted [But I also see the amazing and happy success stories. These stories are hard not to see; in fact, I’d go so far as to say you would have to try very hard not to see them since most adoptive families are a success] was directed at a different criticism of Joyce’s of the orphan care/ adoption ministry movement. She implied in other chapters of her book that the evangelical families that adopted were a failure for child and parent alike. While she didn’t say that outright, in the entire book, she gave no examples of successful adoptive families, leaving the impression that most were struggling or failing. When asked during our interview, she acknowledged this, but said it wasn’t the intent of her book to show the full picture since she was writing about the failures. (That’s my paraphrase, so listen to the show itself in the above blog to get a better feel for her thoughts.)

  5. Avatar Nolo says:

    While I haven’t listened to the podcast yet, I have read the book. My take is that it was a journalist’s explanation of the increase in international adoption. She makes the claim that a shift towards “orphan care” in some evangelical Christian communities has lead to an increase in international adoption that has repercussions for all involved in international adoption, Christian or not. (In my extrapolation of that idea, it is analogous to the impact Wal-Mart’s decision to enter the grocery business has had on products available at all grocery stores. Whether or not you shop at Wal-Mart, the buying decisions of the company can impact supplying firms’ decisions to produce a product. So, regardless of where you shop, Wal-mart has had an impact on the availability of products for everyone.) She also provides examples of people who take a simplistic, un-nuanced view of “orphan care” that has some serious and negative impacts on children and their bio-families. The book, like adoption, is too complex to say definitively it is ‘good’ or ‘bad.’

    After reading the book, I read her earlier one (Quiverful, referenced in an earlier comment). Taken together it is easy to see how she segued from the Christian Patriarchy movement to a focus on “orphan care.”

    • Nolo, I have not read her first book, Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement, but when I read The Child Catcher it felt very much like a sequel to the first book and was based on the same premise. I hear your analogy, and it’s fair. I’ve also thought that a fair criticism of any group that promotes adoption, especially adoption of older kids who may have experienced trauma, is that they have the power to set the stage of what is expected. And what I think should be expected is educating before adoption that raising children who come from hard places is different from raising children born to your family. The orphan care/ adoption ministry movement, especially at the beginning, did not do a great job of this, in my opinion. I do think that they have improved.

  6. Whole Child, YES! [One of my favorite things that I took from the book is the challenge to care for “widows and orphans” as a unit and not simply the children. We need a broader definition of “widow” to include women in crisis pregnancies, single mothers, fathers wanting rights to their children, grandparents and great grandparents raising children, and extended family caring for children.]

  7. Avatar Whole Child says:

    Heather McPherson, the evangelical Christian book that Hana’s parents used was based on the teachings of the “quiverful” group that was discussed in the book. I have friends who subscribe to the same parenting style/teachings, but they don’t relate the two (how the teachings can be taken to such an extreme as to cause horrible child abuse and death). I loved both the book and the interview. The book does not threaten me at all, as a Christian or as an adoptive parent. It is not an attack. It raises really good questions that all people need to think through, especially advocates for adoption and those involved in orphan care. One of my favorite things that I took from the book is the challenge to care for “widows and orphans” as a unit and not simply the children. We need a broader definition of “widow” to include women in crisis pregnancies, single mothers, fathers wanting rights to their children, grandparents and great grandparents raising children, and extended family caring for children. It challenged me in my personal life to stop thinking that I am “enabling” mothers who are “entitled” and to look at what I am doing to support family units. Am I sitting on my duff allowing the government to care for them with welfare money, or am I getting active…I can babysit for free (I’m home anyway) while a single mother who would normally be getting childcare assistance works, my DH can fix the car for the same mother so she has transportation…stuff like that. It is not as neat and clean b/c I have to watch the child get shuffled around, possibly neglected, and I have no control over the decisions the mother makes (like to let the abusive dad back in the picture), but I can provide a safe place for both child and mother and stop judging her decisions. It does not feel good to love someone else’s child and not have control over the decisions made for that child (especially when I desperately want a child of my own!!!), and I want to selfishly say, “that mother needs tough love so she gets her act together,” but at this point it is not about me and my desire to parent, but about supporting those who are already parenting. The Child Catchers helped me examine my motivation to adopt and to rethink every aspect of my adoption to make sure that I am acting 100% ethically. I think it is a must read for anyone involved in the adoption world in any way.

  8. Heather, thanks for your comment and critique. Bad adoptive parents happen and you’re right that we need to do everything possible, both before and after, an adoption to educate and support those who adopt. Churches who support adoption should be as active in supporting families post adoption as they are at encouraging adoption in the first place.

  9. Avatar Heather says:

    Just finished listening to the podcast. I wish the author had more of a chance to actually talk. Having heard her talk on Fresh Air I must say that I do not agree with how she simplifies adoption, but I think she probably had some interesting things to say. I do agree with her point that until recently the evangelical orphan care movement did a poor job supporting families. I think there was a real missed opportunity to talk about that. It is not just about parent education,if the parents adopting or having adopted do not listen to the education or refuse to get help. Case in point is the Hana Williams case. She was adopted into a mega family as part of that movement. She was adopted through a good agency that does lots of pre and post adoption support that the parents discounted. She was home schooled and corporeally punished following an evangelical christian discipline book. She had christian music and readings blasted at her while locked in a closet. Her brother also adopted from Ethiopia who is deaf was beaten for not listening and never taught sign language. Those children are victims of a movement that failed them and turned a blind eye, because those “good Christians” that had “rescued” those children couldn’t do something so horrific, though many members of the church admitted they knew something was horribly wrong. To just say that the movement is doing better now without talking about the horrible pain it had inflicted does not bring justice to a vulnerable girl it failed.

  10. Avatar Christina (BooBoo Justthemomforthejob) says:

    OK – There is NO WAY I will have time to read the entire book in the near future but I DID read an article that I believe was taken from the books, in Mother Jones. I have no idea what happened in Serene’s home so can’t speak to that. What I DO know is that the Pearl’s teachings are abhorrent! They will destroy parent/child relationships faster than you can imagine and they are, simply NOT AT ALL appropriate for children who are coming from places of abandonment and/or trauma!! I would also like to speak to adoption of children from hurting places in general…IT IS NOT something to go into without a LOT of education, the proper tools nor with rose-colored glasses. As someone who most would label as an “evangelical Christian”, I DO believe that it is the church’s responsibility to care for widows and orphans. I do NOT, however, believe that every Christian is called to that. In fact, I have a number of friends who are Christians that have expressed a deep desire to adopt hurting children. Some of them, I have been rather blunt with, and have told them that unless they were willing to change MAJOR things about their parenting and lives, that I simply could not recommend them as adoptive parents. They are good people! They are good parents! BUT – there is something about their parenting style that throws up HUGE red flags for me. Maybe they are very inflexible…maybe they are very legalistic….maybe they believe their children are perfect…maybe they are in denial about the state of their marriage. Whatever the case may be, it is very clear that a hurting child would not be a good “fit” for them nor their family. I personally know of a child who, right now, is looking for a new adoptive family. The family who adopted him 7 years ago does not wish to parent him any longer. Now I am NOT saying that he is an angel…to be sure he has issues, and he had them when he came to the family. HOWEVER, because I have intimate knowledge of the family dynamics, I can promise you that the legalism and inflexibility, the perfection of the bio kids and Mom’s own past have played a HUGE roll in getting him to the point of disruption!! One of the things that I stress to hopeful adoptive parents is this: “If you are not 110% committed to throwing away ALL of your preconceived notions of what this is going to be like and if you are not TRULY committed to meeting the child at the point of THEIR need, DON’T DO IT! You may actually cause more harm than good!” ~ Sorry, I know that was long-winded but it is something that I feel passionately about! 🙂

  11. Avatar Brian Anthony says:

    I have followed your site for many years. It’s been a excellent source of information for adoption. This podcast was very disturbing. Joyce came across to me as a journalist with an axe to grind. Dawn you came across as a cheerleader for the adoption industry. I think the truth in definitely somewhere in the middle.

    I don’t think all “homeschooling Christians” are the source of the adoption problems. I also think that the adoption industry does have problems with birth mother expenses, maternity homes/crisis pregnancy centers and the never-end issues surrounding failed adoptions. And is there anyone that believes any of statistics presented by various government entities or the adoption lobbying groups?

    In the end this book does a good job exposing serious problems with adoption. The real question is: will the adoption industry do anything to address these problems or will they simply dismiss them by assassinating the character of the author?

    • Thanks for your comment Brian. I agree that the truth lies somewhere in the middle. For me at least, this book did not do a good job exploring the very real problems with adoption–both domestic and international, because it felt way too imbalanced. In fairness to Kathryn Joyce, I don’t think that was her intent. I think she was writing an exposé on some of the issues she perceives in evangelical Christianity and adoption was simply her vehicle.

  12. Avatar Anon says:

    I both listened to the podcast and read the book. The book really got under my skin. There were kernels of truth in everything Joyce said but it seemed to me she failed to acknowledge the diversity that exists within adoptions and that she had no empathy whatsoever for adoptive parents. But she also touched on some truths — the dark side of crisis pregnancy centers really hit home to me — which I think should be explored honestly in the adoption community.

    As for the podcast, I enjoyed the discussion. It was certainly the most tense show I’ve heard yet on Creating a Family. Thanks Dawn.

  13. Avatar TAO says:

    I enjoyed the show…

    I have also read post after post by adoptive parents over many years seeking to speak out to the ethical challenges. They have been booted off forums, ostracised, criticized, called hypocrites because they have their children, basically shut out. All for speaking up about how ethics were not part of the process and the harm done. People don’t want to hear it – they only want the sunshine – until they find out their adoption wasn’t quite right either – then they speak out and are treated the same.

    When was the last time anyone asked a pro-adoption writer why they haven’t focused on the bad in adoption as well? The question has to go both ways or who is being biased?

    As to data – your question was on outcome of adoptees – but others responding asked for data of ethical problems – when dissolutions are not tracked for non-Hague unless the child is turned over to the state, when gag clauses are in contracts, when people speaking up are shut down, when there is no government reporting mechanism for non-Hague problems other that state AG’s, when there is no reporting specifically about adoption due to secrecy – how can there be data?

    And finally – when would the conversation have happened in the public square if not for the book – The Child Catchers? Would Jen Hatmaker have done the series? Would Jedd Meddfield (whatever his last name is) done a 15 page response? And all the others I have not included. When would have been a good time to acknowledge that with adoption comes ethical problems especially in poor countries who culturally view adoption as something completely different, and you can’t always just assume everything is fine because your agency is a Christian agency, or, even just because they told you ethics were important.

    Dawn – you are one of the few who tries to get people to talk about both sides so they are informed and have the tools or knowledge to not do it wrong if they listened – the above is not about you.

  14. Rosalie, yes, in the Fresh Air interview, as well as in the book, she faults the orphan care and adoption ministry with creating a demand. Separately, she talks about the demand for healthy infants as being detrimental. On one level, it seems to me, both concerns are valid. Demand by western adoptive parents with their pockets of western money can corrupt. Demand for young babies can also corrupt. But why blame one movement? The peak of international adoption in the mid 2000s was long over before this orphan care movement was off the ground.

    I will grant her, however, that any “movement” that encourages adoption without carefully addressing the risks of corruption and without very carefully preparing their followers for the reality of adopting older children shares some of the blame. That seems fair. But, fairness also requires giving them credit when they change bases on valid criticism. From my limited perspective, it seems that the greater orphan care/adoption ministry has tried to shift. I hear less cheerleading and more caution, and I hear much more talk about adopting from foster care. I hope to hear more and broader talk about careful pre and post adoption education, and also more ways to meet the needs of children living outside of families, including family preservation. Based on what I’ve seen in the past, I suspect they will be very receptive to these suggestions. This, by the way, is exactly the discussion I think we need to be having. So perhaps, as TAO said, we have The Child Catcher to thank for initiating it.

  15. Avatar Rosalie P. says:

    Dawn, your ability to connect and connect with such a truly diverse community has impressed me for quite some time but this takes my admiration to a whole new level. You know just when and how to listen and just when to speak out. Thank you. You inspire me in my own work as educator.

  16. Rosalie, thank you from the bottom of my heart for what I consider to be one of the nicest compliments I’ve ever received.

  17. Avatar Jamie says:

    Dawn, thanks on behalf of all of us for staying open to all aspects of adoption and especially international adoption – the good, the bad, and the ugly. I agree that we as adoptive parents are in wonderful positions to be catalysts for positive change in adoption process and legislation. I’ll bet that most of your readers have pretty strong views about the pros of adoption (me included!) but it’s good to remember our responsibilities as well. I’m sorry that Joyce’s book wasn’t more even-handed, it would be easier to respect her opinions if it felt like she had considered both sides of the issues, but it’s good to understand her perspective.

  18. Avatar Kimberley says:

    As an IA parent, I have to be honest and say I would never read a book called “The Child Catchers” as to me the title says it all–ALL international adoption, and ALL aspects of it, are bad. As an IA parent, a book like this frankly does nothing to help me be a better parent to my children. Sorry if this sounds defensive, but I am a little burnt out on being a called a “human trafficker”, etc. Over three years post-adoption, our family is generally happy and strong. We worked hard to get where we are (all of us). I know there is a lot wrong with IA, and I am not excusing any of it. But my time and energy are (increasingly) finite, and focusing on only the negative, like this book seems to, is not something I really care to invest my heart in anymore.

    • Kimberley, I hear your point, and from a marshaling and perserving your resources to be a better parent stand point, I agree. However, I think all of us who have been blessed by international adoption have the obligation to think about the downside and ethical dilemmas and to be a part of the process for improvement.

  19. Avatar Beth says:

    I’m sure you are right, Dawn. I will have to give it a listen – but I won’t buy her book! LOL.

  20. Avatar Sharon says:

    “Most journalists have a predetermined agenda.” I think quite a few journalists would take exception to that, but it clearly reveals Joyce’s approach. Thank you, Dawn, for pointing out the problems with this book!

  21. Beth, I actually think you’d like the podcast since that was what I was saying. You probably wouldn’t like the book though. If you listen to the show, let me know what you think.

  22. Sharon, I think she was actually referring to journalists who were writing books. Not trying to put words in her mouth, but I think her point was that most authors set out to prove a point, not necessarily look at all sides of the issue. If someone else hears her point differently when they listen to the show, let me know.

  23. Avatar Beth says:

    Ugh, I am not sure if I can listen to that podcast. We have just begun the process of a special needs international adoption and I am afraid that I would find that book upsetting. I understand there are many flaws in adoption world, but if she feels that adoption is not in the best interest of these kids, I’d love to see her come up the perfect solution. NOTHING in life is perfect and without corruption. Does that mean we should not have governments, school systems, etc.?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to Top ↑

Content created by Creating a Family. And remember, there are no guarantees in adoption or infertility treatment. The information provided or referenced on this website should be used only as part of an overall plan to help educate you about the joys and challenges of adopting a child or dealing with infertility. Although the following seems obvious, our attorney insists that we tell you specifically that the information provided on this site may not be appropriate or applicable to you, and despite our best efforts, it may contain errors or important omissions. You should rely only upon the professionals you employ to assist you directly with your individual circumstances. CREATING A FAMILY DOES NOT WARRANT THE INFORMATION OR MATERIALS contained or referenced on this website. CREATING A FAMILY EXPRESSLY DISCLAIMS LIABILITY FOR ERRORS or omissions in this information and materials and PROVIDES NO WARRANTY OF ANY KIND, implied, express or statutory. IN NO EVENT WILL CREATING A FAMILY BE LIABLE FOR ANY DAMAGES, including without limitation direct or indirect, special, incidental, or consequential damages, losses or expenses arising out of or in connection with the use of the information or materials, EVEN IF CREATING A FAMILY OR ITS AGENTS ARE NEGLIGENT AND/OR ARE ADVISED OF THE POSSIBILITY OF SUCH DAMAGES.