Why the Bad Stories Must be Told
By Desiree Smolin and David Kruchkow
Some have compared those of us who share our negative adoption experiences to others who share negative experiences. For example, people who have had a bad or negative experience in anything are more likely to talk about it. I remember the old adage-- have a good meal in a restaurant and you'll tell one person, have a bad meal and you'll tell four.
Adopting a child is NOT like eating a meal at a restaurant. Most of us eat two or three meals a day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year. If we eat a bad meal, unless we have food poisoning, even if we tell four people about our bad meal, what impact does eating a "bad" meal have on our lives? A negligible one. We have the gastric experience we have, we digest the food, use the energy, we eat at other restaurants next time, we chalk it up to life, and we move on. We know we've unwisely spent our money, but the amount of money is not much. The experience is trivial and non-lasting.
If we get food poisoning, we might wrestle with whether to report the restaurant to the health department, and if many people get food poisoning, the restaurant gets shut down by the health department. Governmental checks
click in and it is not our worry.
Having a "bad" adoption experience is not trivial. Adopting is not something we do 700-1000 times a year, and so something we can shrug about and walk away from. Most of us, with some notable exceptions, adopt only one or two or maybe three kids in a lifetime.
In more profound terms......Kids are adults-in-the-becoming with whom we become inextricably linked for the REST OF OUR LIVES. Children quickly grow into adults who eventually demand an accounting of us as to how and why they ended up in our family and away from their birth family/country. (We suggest the Yahoo group International Adopt Talk to begin to understand the
developmental life stages of adoptees at
(BTW, we'd also recommend the book, The Language of Blood by Jane Jeong Trenka and the film, "First Person Plural," for understanding the kinds of issues and questions that young adult adoptees eventually ask of their families and themselves.)
Also, most of us save for a long, long time to be able to afford to adopt. If you sink $20-40,000 dollars into an adoption and have no child to show for it, the heartache doesn't go away easily. How many "mistakes" can you or anyone else afford?
If you adopt a child who has been misrepresented to you, the disabilities with which you deal become your life. We know families devastated and marriages ended thus because of lies told them about their profoundly disabled kids---kids presented carelessly or purposefully to them as "normal." There are patterns that repeat over and over that families must be warned about.
If you, like the Smolin's, adopt a stolen child, then your life is bound up with that stolen child's experience. You lie awake at night and sweat in thinking about your part in such crimes. The same is true if your child's true identity has been stolen and altered, as it was for most of the 21 children involved in the Kruchkow's case, even if there was no foul play evident in how the children came to be available for adoption.
Our point? If a bad experience happens to you, your reality is 100% of your adoption experiences. If one out of two of your adoptions include a bad experience, then your reality is 50% of your adoption experiences. One of the problems is that once people have a successful adoption experience, they often forget that it may have been preceded by a bad one. After all, how many times have we all heard, "You'll get the child you were meant to have," especially after an adoption is not completed. There can be no doubt that the numbers of incomplete adoptions are drastically under-reported by both adoptive families and the adoption industry.
There is no walking away from these situations and problems and losses without being PROFOUNDLY affected. The stakes are high. The problems are real. The problems are life changing. The problems are potentially life wrecking for ALL three parties of the adoption triad.
And yet the system currently does not protect birth families in the third world, adoptees caught in the middle, or adoptive families. There is NO ONE
seriously policing international adoption currently. There is no legal recourse for most families who get burned. There is no legal recourse for third world families whose children are stolen. (Articles by David Smolin, available on www.adoptinginternationally.com, show this.) There is no recourse for adoptees whose identities and heritages have been taken from them. Not only prospective adoptive parents, but the general public need to understand this about international adoption. A balanced view is imperative. We are not suggesting you go out looking for only negative stories,
but neither do we think that anyone should try to limit them and censor them. You need to see them, understand them, and learn from these real-life stories. Use them to open your eyes and to try to avoid the same things in your adoptions. Those of us who do publicize our negative experiences have a lot more to lose than we have to gain. We don't want to see anyone else, no matter which part of the adoption triad they represent, be hurt by the practices in the adoption business that hurt us and ultimately hurt our children.
We submit that until the system treats these cases as the airline industry treats airline crashes (where every case is investigated thoroughly to find what happened, so that whatever caused the crash will be less likely to happen again in the future), that telling the negative stories IS imperative. You can't have an accurate picture of international adoption as it exists now unless you include these negative stories with the happy stories.
No one believes the negative experiences can happen to them--we didn't. No one told us their negative stories when we were trying to decide whether to accept our referral, trying to decide whether to work with the orphanages or agencies with whom we worked, and trying to decide whether to adopt children who turned out to have been misrepresented to us. We walked
willy-nilly into disaster. If those who have negative stories don't speak, mistakes get repeated over and over and over again. There is no learning curve. The same train wrecks happen again and again and again needlessly.
Everyone wants to have a heart-warming experience, adopt a child who will love them back, adopt a child who is legitimately an orphan in need of ahome, and not lose their nest egg without having a child to show for it. By stepping into the international adoption world as prospective adoptive parents, you are stepping into a world that you don't yet fully understand. If websites are created that limit the recounting of bad experiences in favor of the good experiences, others will base their decisions on the stories that are presented on those websites. They will form their map of adoption reality from the stories that are allowed on such sites.
There is a quote that is applicable here: "If you don't know there's a trampoline in the room, you're not going to dust the ceiling for prints." Knowledge is power to avoid disaster. Please don't ignore or censor the stories that show that there are sometimes trampolines in the room. This very site has the Kruchkow's negative experience available through the links page. The Postscript page of the story has some compelling reasons why negative adoption stories must be told.
That brings up the question: What percentage of adoptions go smoothly, and what percentage go badly?
Going smoothly may be different from being ethical. Beware new adoptive parents telling you that adoptions are successful. We read many such posts from people, soon after they'd adopted. Little did we know then that we had adopted children who came to be available for adoption under very questionable circumstances, to say the least. Little did we know that the people working on our adoptions were involved with such matters as switching children's identities, then sending them to the U.S. for adoption with falsified documents. These people would later become the subject of national criminal investigations and prosecutions. We're sure none of the parents of children from Cambodia or India knew what has recently been revealed about the greed, corruption, unethical activity, baby buying and child trafficking for international adoption that took place in these countries. Does anyone really think that similar practices are not ongoing elsewhere?
We don't think you will find any accurate statistics on bad experiences versus good experiences. How would one judge such things anyway, without complete investigations? Such statistics don't exist except in anecdotal, self-selected groups of people (which will be skewed one way or the other, either negatively or positively). There are no national or state clearinghouses for complaints against agencies; and there are no statistics on illegalities in adoption---because no one is investigating allegations or even collecting them. Certainly members of the adoption industry won't be volunteering such information. Until the countries of the world and adoptive parents care about the rights of third-world families and their children, and hold agencies, facilitators, and orphanages responsible--in both criminal and civil court--for crimes committed against them, there will not be meaningful statistics on such things.
Another reason why accurate statistics do not and will not exist in the near future is the adoptive families themselves. Those who had bad experiences often get "post-adoption amnesia" as they focus on the needs of the new child and family, and the pain of their adoption is tucked away somewhere--and will take a lot of prodding to bring back into consciousness.
Some families also do not tell their negative experiences out of fear. They fear losing children in process whose adoptions they are waiting to complete. They fear legal action, by corrupt agencies or facilitators, or both, against them, as has happened to some who have spoken out. They fear being blacklisted from future adoptions. They fear being shunned as pariahs by the rest of the adoption community. Some of these fears are groundless, but history has shown that most are not.
The closest one comes to meaningful negative/positive statistics is in statistics for disruptions. The statistics for *reported* disruptions are compiled regularly. However, almost everyone considers that these statistics are inaccurate, because most disruptions are NOT reported. Arrangements for disruption are almost always made privately. Furthermore, disruption rates show only one
kind of problem with adoptions--extreme problems with child/parent matches. In our opinion, disruption statistics are valid only to show greater or lesser
statistical risk for different kinds of adoption. For example: The older the child, the higher the disruption rate. Disruption rates show that sibling groups disrupt at higher rates than singletons, and that special needs adoptions disrupt at higher rates than non-special needs adoptions.
Richard Cross, the lead federal investigator for the prosecution of Lauryn Galindo for visa fraud and money laundering involved in Cambodian adoptions, estimated that most of the 800 adoptions Galindo facilitated were
fraudulent--either based on fraudulent paperwork, coerced/induced/recruited relinquishments, babies bought, identities of the children switched, etc. NO ONE knows for sure. But the rates are higher than any of us want to believe they are. The truth is, we're afraid, that the children legitimately available for adoption in most countries of the world (China excepted) are NOT young healthy female infants--the kind of kids disproportionately adopted internationally into the US.
American agencies have yet to incur any liability in working with people who profiteer, coerce, induce, recruit, commit paperwork fraud, traffic children,
and commit other unethical and illegal acts in processing international adoptions in foreign countries. There are no laws in the US against buying and selling children internationally for the purposes of adoption. And the
lesser laws are not being enforced because the adoption lobby is so strong.
Our American (Western) societal view of international adoption needs to mature to understand that international adoption can be good or bad, depending on whether we respect the human rights of those involved, and according to whether we are serious about enforcing ethical rules, and to acknowledge that right now, as societies we are not taking our responsibilities to all parties to adoption seriously.
In several recent birth search results from India, it has been revealed that ALL involved fraud and/or coercion when the true story was told by the birth families. It is sickening and not what we wanted to believe about international adoption. Our education about such things has been unwanted and painful.
May 7, 2005
If the above was not enough, my friend, Dr. Michelle Harrison, wrote the following regarding her experience with adoptions from India. Much of it applies to other countries as well. It appears here with her permission.
I believe that many of us here struggle with a
dichotomy. In the current state of Indian ICA, we have children who have
been rescued from train stations and cardboard boxes. Without adoption,
they might not even be alive, much less loved and educated. We also have
children who have been kidnapped, or stolen in plain sight through fraud and
If we stop ICA,
some children will be left in stations, but others will be left in their homes,
with their families, because they will not be stolen. If we allow ICA,
the ones in the train station may be saved, but others may be kidnapped.
Is this not a "Sophie's Choice?" One path,
and one group is destroyed. Another path, and the other group is
destroyed. And so we fight with each other over which path to take, which
children are more important, which is the worse evil.
But who is the Nazi who has been given the power to ask
Sophie that question? Where does he get his power? How do we get
fooled into thinking it is our choice -- namely our fault if one group is
chosen over the other. Why is it that Sophie commits suicide because of
her pain and not the Nazi general?
Well, there's the government, and there are the agencies,
because that is where the power is. I truly understand humanitarian work,
but I also know that it must include responsibillity for policing its own when
they act in evil ways.. I often use comparisons to medicine, and here
again it is apt. If doctors know that other doctors are incompetent, and
dangerous, but do nothing about it, then they are just as responsible for the
harm. I know that many of the agency people here are aware of
wrong-doing, because they talk about it offline. But until they actively
set self-policing in place, AND assist the government in stopping the stealing
of children, faking of signatures, hiding of origins, then they are just as
guilty, just as responsible for the fact that when we rescue one child, we
I actually believe all of us want the same thing: a warm
loving home for children in need, and assurance that those are the ONLY
children available for adoption. We should not be fighting with each
other over which choice Sophie should make. We should be holding the
I guess I'm putting forth and open challenge, or an open
request, that the Humanitarians who know about the wrong-doing of others,
say something, do something.
Michelle Harrison, M.D.
Mother to 21 year old from IMH, and 32 year old by birth;
Mummy to many children in Kolkata