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News- “International Adoptions Lead to Broken Dreams”

I wanted to point readers at an article from last month’s Denver Post- International adoptions lead to broken dreams
(June 18th, 08.)

The article uses the backdrop of the Lisa Novak and Claar Foundation trial to talk about broader trends in international adoption, the changing nature of the adoption industry, and contains a number of interesting quotes from Chuck Johnson, vice president at National Council for Adoption (NCFA, a is voice of the industry, a group of member agencies based in Virginia. NCFA opposes open records, promotes Baby Moses/Baby Dump laws, and are no friend to Bastards.)

In the below I’ll quote a few tidbits on each of the major themes I mentioned above.

The exact reasons the Claar Foundation closed will probably become clear as the trial unfolds. Whatever the cause of its demise, it is but one failed agency in a complex enterprise undergoing cataclysmic change.


Riding an adoption wave

Starting in the 1990s, the adoption of foreign-born children into American homes exploded. The phenomenon was fueled in part by a confluence of wealth in this country and poverty in others, along with the decision of many American couples to put off having children, in some cases for too long, said Karen Rotabi, a professor of social work at Virginia Commonwealth University who studies international adoption.

In 1990, 7,093 children came to new adoptive homes in the U.S. By 2004 that number had more than tripled, to 22,884.

To meet the growing call for children from overseas, “agencies were springing up all over” — often with little oversight and scant regulation, Rotabi said. In some states, opening an adoption agency has been “not much different than applying for a business license.”

Which is to say the adoption industry has had it’s own market bubble, a bubble built on American purchasing babies and their riches and ‘sending counties’ desperate poverty (as an exploitable situation, when parents cannot afford their own children, they are often placed in “orphanage” programs, and the children are then marketed as “orphans”.)

The Hague standards were crafted with the goal of protecting children, the U.S. State Department says.

“We wanted to know where children were going. Everyone wanted to make sure it was the right thing for the children,” said Catherine Mona han, State Department chief for Hague adoption implementation.

Most of those who opened adoption agencies in the past decade wanted that too, said Chuck Johnson, a vice president with the National Council for Adoption.

Some hung out shingles out of religious faith, some understood the complexities of the undertaking, some didn’t. And some had no business being in the business.

“I think some of the agencies — a small number — that are closing, it’s good that they’re gone,” Johnson said.

Even those with the best intentions often found themselves in over their heads in a complex and constantly changing endeavor, Johnson said.

It does not surprise me in the least that Johnson would be glad to see some agencies closing. Not only are they competition to some of his member agencies, but they also represent the fact that adoption was an industry in some states anyone could get into. Consolidation downward towards a decreased number of agencies means a bigger piece of the pie for those left.

Further, any ability to drive out some while leaving others, enables the false claim of the industry as self regulating, or ultimately a market where the ‘good’ survive and ‘bad’ die. By having a proportion of agencies forced to close, those left standing will no doubt then turn around and blame those (‘exceptional’) ‘bad things that happen in adoption’ on ‘a few bad apples- most of which the market killed off.’

When in reality market forces don’t always kill off the ‘bad’, nor maintain the ‘good.’ They do however favour those with either a longstanding name; often connected to celebrity or wealth and power, or those that manage to silence dissent.

Novak, a former Erie town trustee, has described herself as an attorney who specializes in international law, as well as an “adoption-reform advocate.”

With “Reform Advocates” like Novak… . Yeah, well, I’m no ‘reformer’.

State records indicate she has been involved with several adoption agencies, including One Light Adoptions Inc., which she and her brother Joseph Novak opened in 2002. He filed suit against her in 2005, claiming she was mishandling money. They settled out of court.

That same year, Novak and her husband, Martin Claar, opened the Claar Foundation.

Note Mr. Johnson in the below bemoaning the bubble burst, the decline of international adoptions in recent years. Perfectly in character for a man who represents agencies who measure those declining international adoption numbers as declines in their own agencies’ fortunes. Thus he labels the declines as “disastrous”, distastrous for the agencies he represents bottom lines that is.

The year the Claar Foundation opened, 2005, marked the first time in decades that international adoptions declined.

That decline accelerated in the two years since, according to the U.S. State Department. In 2006, the number of foreign-born children adopted into U.S. homes had dropped by nearly 2,000, to 20,679. By last year that number had dropped further, to 18,748.

“This has been a disastrous two years in the world of intercountry adoptions,” Johnson said.

Two years ago, as many as 700 agencies nationwide were licensed to arrange international adoptions. Now they number 400 or so, Johnson estimated. Over the next year, that number will dwindle further, he predicted.

In Colorado, four of the 27 agencies — including the Claar Foundation — licensed to handle international adoptions have closed in the past year. Of those that remain, nearly half are losing money, according to a state report released May 1.

Also note the renaming game. Facing legal trouble under one agency name? No problem, just start another.

At both hearings, one involving the Singhs and another involving charges stemming from another couple’s experience with Claar, a judge ruled there is enough evidence for Novak to be tried on felony charges.

The charges are the most serious, but not the first, legal trouble for Novak. She has been ordered to pay restitution in one suit and has been the target of at least half a dozen others.

What the Denver Post perhaps overlooks in its focus on couples who fell in love with a photograph and then ran around calling a kid in another country ‘theirs’ is that there is another important facet to the “broken dreams” happening in international adoptions at the moment, the now broken dreams of wealth and prosperity the intercountry adoption industry has experienced in the last few years. With the fall off of numbers of placements and ‘sending counties’ closing their doors, the agencies themselves are having to scramble for an ever decreasing pool of ‘product’ (i.e. kids.)

While wanna-be-adopters treasure their pictures of hoped for ‘daughter-to-be’s, international agencies look at their ledger books and count children as their ‘profits-to-be.’

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