This is the fifth post in a series which began with Adopting a Child: Categories Unnamed.
The premise of this series is that -- despite many wonderful individuals who officially and unofficially work to bring adoptive families together -- the network of governments, policies, agencies and institutions in which they work do not see these children as individuals, but as a class of individuals that need to be categorized. Furthermore, because of what these categories say -- not about the children they classify, but the societies who create them -- these categories that cause children to languish without families remain largely unnamed. The second post in this series revealed that children are sometimes forced converts to preserve or promote a faith, the third that they are more commonly categorized as political pawns, and fourth that they are always being treated according to their value as economic assets and liabilities. The point of this series is to call out all the categories my wife and I and other adoptive parents encounter in order that we can instead call these children by name.
#4: Children as Culture War Tokens & Trophies
We will ignore for now what everyone regards as the culture war hot button in this arena -- same-sex marriage and those couples adopting -- not because it doesn't deserve to be recognized, but because it is recognized: remember, this series is about categories unnamed.
Furthermore, it is recognized even though it will actually affect relatively few children waiting for adoption: what percentage of our society is gay, and what percentage of those individuals would choose to have a family (simply recognizing that not all individuals do, regardless of sexual orientation), and what percentage of those families would then choose to do so by adopting a child previously unknown to them, someone somehow already in contact with or outright care of the state?
No, our focus will be on the unnamed portion of this category, which in the US touches upon every family who decides to weigh the options of domestic versus international adoption, and by extension, the fate of every US child for whom adoption may be there best option for a stable family.
This is the question.
Why do so many of the over 5,000 American families who adopt annually choose to do so from overseas, typically at much greater initial expense with often greater traumas to overcome long term, when in any given year there are 400 - 500,000 children in the US foster care system -- over 100,000 of whom are eligible for adoption, and nearly 25,000 of whom will age out of that system every year never having the opportunity to be embraced by a permanent family?
We have labeled this blog post "Children as Culture War Trophies & Tokens", but it is really a domestic extension of our prior post about "Children as Assets & Liabilities", because it is really rooted in American notions of property.
In crude and blunt summation, from Thomas Jefferson to the present day, the American ethos has been "Property: don't mess with mine and take care of your own."
Now there are very good historical reasons for how this ethos has affected parental rights and the right of a child to adoption -- the horrors of forced removal of children from indigent immigrants and indigenous populations primary among them -- but for several decades now what were initially pro-child policies to prevent such abuses have had inadvertently anti-child consequences.
Because of a baptists' and bootleggers' consensus that create uncertainty for the adopting family: will they be able to complete the adoption, will its completion be final, will a birth parent either reappear or continue to be present in that child's life -- whether for good or ill -- and, by extension, a part of their family?
Liberals in our legislatures and courts and government agencies have created roadblocks to adoption in the interests of protecting the right of a birth parent to initiate or resume or play some role in parenting their child.
Meanwhile, conservatives in our legislatures and courts and government agencies have also created roadblocks to adoption, largely in the interests of trying to require people to accept (fiscal) responsibility for their (social) actions -- which in this case means parenting the child they brought into this world.
Liberals want to protect birth parents' rights, conservatives want to require birth parents' responsibility.
"Don't mess with mine, take care of your own."
The only individuals being regarded as people in either of these propositions are the parents; their children have been relegated to property.
Is it any wonder then that so many live in limbo, when we treat them like homes in foreclosure or an impounded vehicle?
It is easy when reading the earlier posts in this series to cast aspersions on other countries and cultures, the ones from which Americans -- who adopt more than any other nation -- adopt the majority of their children. However, as a society, we are not exempt from having to examine our own categories unnamed, and recognizing the names of the children within them.
Therefore, next week we move on to a more hopeful note: Adopting a Name.
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