There are many things in the foster/adoption world that are controversial. In fact, just the decision to foster or adopt or foster to adopt is filled with debate and heated tensions. One of the biggest controversies is fundraising to pay for adoption costs. In this post, I plan to review the various sides of the issue and how we came to the decision to engage in various forms of fundraising.
Just like with making the choice between adopting and fostering, there are pros and cons to each. And just like with most aspects of parenting, there are often no right answers. The best you can do is get as educated as possible and then navigate the negative aspects of your choice the best that you can.
The following website breaks down seven specific ways that fundraising for adoption is problematic: https://landofgazillionadoptees.wordpress.com/2014/11/11/top-seven-reasons-why-adoption-fundraisers-are-problematic/
I want to present each point that the article makes and then follow it up with a counter point. Again, I am not trying to say that the points made in this article are any less legitimate, but to illustrate the minefield of choices that adoptive parents face in just starting the process of adoption.
Here we go:
- Adoption fundraisers make no financial sense.
Simple economics dictates, if you can’t afford it, don’t buy it. In other words for the present context, you need to rethink some stuff if you know you can’t afford the $8,000-60,000 to adopt right now, but then decide to do it anyway because you feel like it. There are costs after the adoption, like the hundreds of thousands of dollars you’ll be spending raising your kid. Why put yourself in that financial burden? Better yet, why put your would be adopted child into that financial burden? And if you truly are compelled to adopt, why not look into the foster care system where you actually receive financial subsidies? Or, if you have “just enough” to adopt, but not enough to buy the most desired in adoption, why not take your eyes off of those cute White babies in the US and Asian kids from Korea, China, and Vietnam, and instead consider giving your heart to the amazing Black children in the US, who cost less, so that they don’t get exported to Canada? (By the way, the fact that it’s cheaper to adopt Black kids is totally racist, and it’s absolutely horrific that this institutionalized form of racism happens with minimal pushback from the general public.)
I find this argument to be compelling. The cost quoted is quite the range. (For Matt and myself to go through the adoption agency that we have found to be the most ethical, would cost us a one time payment of $30k.) The range is not too dissimilar to purchasing a car. I am not trying to compare children to cars, but I am trying to compare how people manage to come up with that quantity of money. I am not sure about anyone else, but I know very few people who are able to purchase a car without taking out a loan and having a sizable down payment. Once you purchase the car, you are also regularly putting money into it, but you generally don’t have to continue to pay that same down payment over and over again. In the case of Matt and myself, we have the funds to be able to afford caring for a child, but we lack the $30k to start (additionally, I lost the 15k I saved up due to medical care related to a broken and dislocated arm. We can get into medical care in a capitalist society at some other juncture). Fundraising solves that problem. To suggest that all people who would be worthy parents should have $30k plus the costs of raising a child in their bank accounts on the onset is classist in my honest opinion.
The foster versus adopt debate can get very dicey. Yes, when you adopt you are paying less money up front and there are a lot of financial subsidies and programs to make the prospect even more appealing. Some things to consider: in fostering, the goal is to reunite the child to his/her family. This would mean that you as the foster parents would need to be able to bond and take care of a child, knowing that the end goal is that you will be parting with that child. This can not only be traumatic for you as the caregiver, but also for the child. Attachment trauma is very real, and with every bond that the child makes that is then broken can have widespread and damaging consequences (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2169321/). This can be exacerbated if the child is moved from foster home to foster home. It can also make parenting very different if the adoptive parents have one set of values and parenting style that does not match with the biological family’s values and parenting style.
The subsidies are definitely a plus, but I’m not sure that is the best reason to go with fostering over adopting. For example, if the foster parents have difficulty bonding with the child because the goal is reunification and the foster parent is trying to keep him or herself from the grief and trauma of losing a child, the child can become bonded with a caregiver that is not as emotionally attention or attached. This too can create attachment trauma. If the potential parents know that the prospect of losing a child will impact their parenting, it may not make sense for them to foster.
The finances of fostering to adopt can also get complicated. There are often multiple court appearances and lawyers involved. Not only would a foster-to-adopt parent need to hire a lawyer, but they would also potentially lose income for needing to take so many days off to go to the required court appearances. It often takes about a year from the time the child is put into the foster care system to get through the process of fostering-to-adopt (https://www.adoptivefamilies.com/how-to-adopt/foster-care-adoption/adopting-from-foster-care/). That also means that the child is older, as a traumatic incident would need to occur first before the child is put into the system. The child may also go to a emergency placement before landing in a more permanent one. The child may also be moved to several other foster homes before she or he is finally in a home where the foster family wants to formally adopt the child. So what may have started off with an infant placement (where the brain has the most neuralplasticity and ability to overcome attachment wounds), the child now how several more attachment wounds and is now older and overcoming the trauma for the child is much harder.
The other issue with fostering and fostering to adopt is that in these cases, the child is being removed from a household where the child is often wanted. This incurs even more trauma to the biological family. Matt and I are looking at doing an open adoption where the mother selects us to raise her child. In this case, the biological mother has more agency and will get to have a relationship with her child. For Matt and I, this is a much preferred method.
Matt and I have also selected to adopt through Adoptions Together. They are a non-profit organization that not only focuses on making sure that the home is adequate for the adoptee, but also provides classes, home studies, support groups, and matching services for the adoptive family. This is not particularly uncommon, but they also offer a guarantee that if the mother changes her mind about adoption (which in the state of Maryland, a mother the right to change her mind up to 30 days after the adoption placement), the adoptive parents do not have to raise the $30k again. This is not the case for most adoption agencies (so that 30k I first mentioned, can easily become $60-90k).
Adoptions Together also provides assistance to all mothers who may be struggling with the prospect of raising their children (https://www.adoptionstogether.org/pregnant/options/). I wrote to a social worker that works at Adoptions Together to get a better understanding as to how our money assists these mothers and this was her response:
“… we provide unbiased free counseling to hundreds of women and men experiencing unexpected pregnancies. Only a small fraction of these women move on to successfully complete an adoption plan. The money is not only going to all the adoption services for adoptive family, adoptee and birth parent, but to all of the women that are struggling or even considering an adoption plan. I always use the terminology it is our mission to present adoption as a valid option for women and men experiencing unplanned pregnancies, then it is important for them to make the best choice with all of the options they have laid out for them. The fee’s also support lifelong free counseling and care for the birth parents, through our DIP program, and lifelong support around the open adoption. Hope this helps clear things up.”
As for the issue of adoption a child of color versus a white child, that too is fraught with complications. Historically, there has been well-documented attempts of assimilating Native people into white culture (https://www.americanadoptions.com/adoption/history-of-adoption). This has been so problematic that it has also been identified as a mode of genocide (Article II. E. http://www.preventgenocide.org/genocide/officialtext-printerfriendly.htm). This is clearly a very heated and heavily debated topic.
In speaking with a number of adoptees of color, many of them were very frustrated by being adopted by a white family. They noted issues in being able to understand their birth culture and feeling assimilated into white culture. Here is a link to the minority identity development model (https://1.cdn.edl.io/O112WwDAGkvTSdMwEk6JTjXDoSmEpWywvfRalcXcjsAEnbse.pdf). It may be helpful in understanding the stages a person of color may go through in order to have a better understanding of their identity. It is important to note that not every person goes through all of the stages and that people may get stuck in any point in their development. Their development may also be encouraged or discouraged based on their white parents’ understanding of his/her identity (https://mss.boisestate.edu/tunnel-of-oppression/inside-the-tunnel/helms-white-racial-identity-development-model/). (This article also represents this issue well in my opinion: https://aspe.hhs.gov/report/adoption-usa-chartbook-based-2007-national-survey-adoptive-parents/race-ethnicity-and-gender).
So is it appropriate for a white family to adopt a person of color. Well, that depends. Where is the white family in understanding their identity? And are they in a position to provide a child with enough mirrors (people in their lives and cultural experiences) to encourage their child’s different and important identity development?
For Matt and myself, we spent a lot of time looking for a place to live that would be the most beneficial for our future children. We chose to live in one of the best school districts in the country. We are walking distance from the local elementary school and we have a public playground in our backyard. We also visited the local mall to people watch to ensure that there was diversity racially, and socioeconomically in our area.
A friend of mine also provided me with some specific stats regarding the racial diversity in our area. Here are some of the really cool charts he put together for me (click thumbnail to enlarge):
I also want to acknowledge that, yes, bother Matt and I are white men. That said, we are also members of the LGBTQ community. This means that we have had to go through both models of identity development. This may be an important factor to consider and for us to tap into in order to provide the empathy and compassion needed to support a child of ours if it turns out that he or she is a person of color.
I also wanted to speak to the racism component of children of color being cheaper than white children. I would agree that this is inherently racist. I am not making the argument that this is right. To say that a person of one race is worth more than another is reprehensible. Again, I am not arguing this point, but just showing how muddy things become in a capitalist society.
According to the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Justices, African-Americans are by the far the largest racial group in the foster care system (https://www.ncjfcj.org/sites/default/files/NCJFCJ%202013%20Dispro%20TAB%20Final.pdf)
and white families are adopting at larger rates. White children are adopted more frequently than children of color. This means that given the choice, there would always be more children of color stuck in the foster care system than white children. How can an agency try to tip the scales so that more children of color are getting to have the same opportunities as their white peers (as in, have a stable family unit)? With the costs of adoption so high, does it make sense to offer a financial incentive? I am not saying the answer is “yes”, but I am saying that the problem and answer to that problem is large, complicated, and requires systematic and societal reform. And yes, we all should be working towards this, but in the meantime, these children need homes. Maybe the answer for some people is black and white, but I don’t think it is that simple.
- Adoption fundraisers are tacky.
By the time most prospective adoptive parents start adoption fundraisers, they’ve already received a seal of approval, i.e., homestudy, from their social workers. The homestudy includes information about finances, and in order for would be adoptive parents to receive clearance to adopt, they must show financial stability. In short, homestudy approved parents can afford to adopt. Thus the question needs to be asked: Why are so many going online, writing deeply personal stuff about themselves and often times the children who have been referred to them, and asking for money from friends, family, and totally random strangers? As an adoptee mentioned in the Land of Gazillion Adoptees Facebook page about this very subject: “From my adoptive mom… People do fundraising for adoption? That’s just tacky.”
First of all, each country and state addresses home studies differently. If we are going through Adoptions Together, we need the $30k upfront before a home study and financial viability assessment can be undergone. The fundraiser is needed prior to it being decided if it is even feasible for the potential couple to adopt.
Secondly, taking out a loan instead of doing a fundraiser creates issues as well. The loan is factored into the financial feasibility of the adoption placement. The fact that now a prospective adoptive family now just took on more debt and another monthly payment may now exclude them from adopting. Additionally, that would be that much money that would not be going to the child, but to a bank instead, plus interest. That seems like a poor financial move especially if the adoptive family is willing to undergo all the fundraiser planning, Etsy sites, advertising, etc. to assist in raising the money.
Secondly, every fundraiser is tacky. Asking for money is tacky. Everyone knows that and most people I know are very uncomfortable about asking for money. This is very true for my husband and I. That’s why it was such a debilitating blow to have lost all of my adoption savings to medical bills. That loss meant starting to save for another three years before we can even start the adoption process, which is estimated to take another one to two years after that. Doing fundraisers was the only way we felt that we could make up for the lost time.
Keeping in mind that we need to raise $30k, we knew that we could not just simply ask for money. We would need to contact all of our friends and family and engage in paint nights and silent auctions. That would also not be enough. We would need to get people we didn’t know involved. That means creating a product and selling it as well. This has taken coordination of our support group to come together to start making bags to be sold. Currently, they are being sold in a café and a salon and I am currently working on the creation of an Etsy store to assist in bringing in more revenue.
It’s also important to recognize that not everyone makes a salary or gets paternity/maternity leave. I know in my case, I only get paid for each client I see. If I take time off, I am not making money. This makes taking the leave necessary to better address our future child’s attachment wounds difficult. Since Matt makes more money more consistently, it makes the most sense for me to take off. The additional funds raised from our fundraising will go towards helping me continue to work on the attachment of our child to help mitigate the negative effects of adoption trauma.
This also seems like a weird criticism to me. I would hope that an adoptive family would be less concerned about the optics and more concerned about the opportunity costs to their child by taking on debt versus potential opportunity gains by raising money. But maybe as a gay male, I have become a little habituated to social judgment.
Adoption fundraisers allow people to financially “double dip”.
For those of you unaware, there’s this nifty little thing called the adoption tax credit. It was originally set up to encourage families to adopt from the foster care system. However, the people who have used the tax credit the most since its inception have been adoptive parents who’ve opted for the more expensive route — domestic private and international adoptions. (Why buy a Kia, when you can buy a BWM?) The credit, which initially started at $6,000, is now nearly $13,000. Maureen McCauley Evans, an adoptive parent who worked in the adoption industry for years, writes that the adoption tax credit has doled out to mostly middle and middle-upper income families billions of tax payers’ dollars. Nice, right? Especially if you’re a parent who raised tens of thousands of dollars through an adoption fundraiser. Especially if you’re a privileged parent who could have afforded to adopt anyway without a fundraiser (see point 2) but nevertheless convinced a ton of folks to give cash. Per Amanda Transue-Woolston.
I agree that those giving up their child to adoptive due to financial concerns would be better served by this tax credit, especially when compared to adoptive parents from middle to upper class backgrounds. It is also important to note that not all biological mothers are giving up their child to adoption for financial reasons. Some mothers do not want to be parents.
Last year, Matt and I almost had the chance to adopt a child. The situation was that a married mother had gotten pregnant with a second child. She and her husband were beginning a divorce and neither wanted the child for emotional reasons. She decided it would be best to give the child up for adoption instead of having an abortion. We ended up not being able to adopt the child because the mother did not want to see the child and, unfortunately, we lived very close to the biological mother’s workplace. We hope that the child did not end up in the foster care system (due to the potential amount of trauma that the child could endure within that system) and that she found an adoptive family to take her child.
I also want to refer back to the first criticism and remind that there are many children needing homes and it may take financial incentive to ensure that children continue to be adopted. I think what is lacking in this criticism is why foster parents who want to adopt aren’t utilizing the tax credit. It sounds as though the information is not being provided to them effectively. I wonder if that would be a more effective place to focus attention than focusing and possibly vilifying those who do.
- Adoption fundraisers are disrespectful of the privacy of adoptees.
The adoptive parent community tends to overshare their children’s histories, and it’s something that needs to end. Adoptees’ personal stories, as well as those of birth parents/first parents, should not be shared by anyone but the individuals who have experienced them. Would adoptive parents appreciate it if a bunch of former adoption social workers got together and wrote an expose about all of the familial dirt, financial problems, marriage tensions, messed up family histories, trials and tribulations of infertility, etc., that they have witnessed? I don’t think that would go over well. Apparently this tendency to overshare sets in early for adoptive parents. Remember when that family who wanted to adopt their second child got a helping hand from Humans of New York? The response was off the wall crazy, and all who saw the fundraiser now know the origins of “Richard”, the adoptee, and also, through their donations, own a piece of his story, too. It remains to be seen what “Richard” will think about his family’s fundraising effort. However, based upon how many adoptees are coming forward these days to claim their right to their histories, he’ll probably feel a little something.
I think the criticism is an overgeneralization of adoption fundraisers. I think all parents need to be aware of how much they are sharing about their children on social media. I believe that you can effectively raise funds without sharing any private information. It’s not necessary to convey the love and support that you could provide a child. Matt and I are focusing on sharing who we are and our efforts to adopt a child. As far as we are concerned, the specifics about our child and his or her biological family is no one’s business and I hope that no one asks us about it in the future.
- Adoption fundraisers are anti-Christian.
Do the Google thing by using the following terms: adoption, fundraiser, God and adoption, fundraising, God. You’ll get a ton of results, which shouldn’t be surprising because Evangelicals have been on an adoption crusade for quite sometime. What is surprising, though, is the language used by would be adoptive parents: they are compelled to adopt because God told them to; it’s God’s will for them to have an adopted child; and God has given them their child through adoption. Of the adoption fundraiser I’ve seen, the sentiments expressed by Evangelical Christians are amazingly narrow minded, self serving, and anti-Christian. There’s no regard for the fact that in adoption someone (i.e., adoptive parents) always gains something through the loss and suffering of another. What about the mothers, father, grandparents, and other extended family members who lose their children? What about the birth parents/first parents who are forced to relinquish rights to their children because of social, financial, and familial pressures? What about the parents who have their children stolen from them for international adoption? Is the Evangelical Christian God comfortable with all of this? Is s/he all about giving into the whims of mostly White adoptive parents who wish to “save orphans”? And if Christians are bent on the idea of doing a fundraiser, why not raise money for the hard, yet fulfilling and important work of establishing “long-term investment in developing nations so that families there can afford to raise their own children” as Jill Filipovic suggests. My Lutheran upbringing taught me the virtues of caring for your neighbors who are near and far, instead of giving into your own desires.
I personally don’t feel like being Christian or not should have anything to do with this. I will say, that I too have issues with the savior complex that seems to be perpetuated in certain Christian communities and Christian adoption agencies. The child did not ask to be saved. The child deserves the most normative life you can provide him or her. That means acknowledging that adoption took place, that your child and his or biological family experienced a traumatic loss, discussing this when necessary, but not entering the parent-child relationship with a “you owe me attitude.”
I was a part of a Foster-to-Adopt Facebook support group for the past five years. I was following it to get a better understanding of some of the emotional, logistical, financial, and legal issues that arise for those adopting a child through this process. I ended up leaving because I could not stand to continue to read the comments about how the child does not understand how much the adoptive parents gave up for him or her. Or how the child should feel so lucky to have them as parents and how disappointed they were that their child refused to acknowledge what wonderful people they are. It was clear that these parents did not have an adequate understanding of attachment, trauma, or healthy reasons to consider adoption to begin with. It was clear that they did not receive important information to becoming supportive and effective parents. I think it may have been helpful if someone would have sat down with these parents and assessed their reasons for wanting to adopt (https://www.americanadoptions.com/blog/10-bad-reasons-for-choosing-to-adopt/).
I agree that no mother should have to give up her child due to finances (again, why we like Adoptions Together, as the money we would be giving them would go towards mothers who DO NOT want to give up their child for financial reasons and would go towards assisting them find resources). But, as Matt and my previous experience has shown, mothers may have the means, but do not wish to parent the child. This link provides 30 reasons why a mother may want to “give up” her child to adoption: https://www.americanadoptions.com/pregnant/reasons-to-give-your-child-up-for-adoption.
- Adoption fundraisers reflect white privilege.
The adoption industry is a very White business. Most of the folks working in the industry are White. Most adoptive parents, i.e., the true clients in adoption, are White, and they are part of middle, middle-upper, and upper income families. In adoption, White parents hold the power, not those of us who are considered “Brown”. I mean, really, do you see Black, Asian, Latino, and Native parents lobby members of congress, engage various parts of the federal government, use the media, etc., to get countries, such as Vietnam, reopened for international adoption? No. Do you see Black, Asian, Latino, and Native parents use their connections, technological savvy, and so forth to fundraise for adoption so that they can adopt White babies? No.
I agree that the adoption industry lacks in diversity, but so does the number of people going on to get the degrees necessary to work within that industry. Social workers need to have a master’s degree or higher and the pay is relatively low. People of color experience a lot of obstacles in getting the financial resources and opportunities to get a higher education (as well as the skills needed to utilize the internet and technology that would assist in fundraising- that said, I also don’t like the implication that people of color are also incapable of accessing this information as well. I wonder if the author is trying to speak to economic/class issues, immigration, ESL, etc.). I believe that the issue is one much larger than just the adoption industry.
I also think that adoption is much more complex than blanket statements about race. There may be cultural components to consider. For example, some studies show that African-Americans often will choose to engage in an informal adoption where a family member adopts the child while still acknowledging the relationship of the biological mother (https://adoptuskids.org/_assets/files/NRCRRFAP/resources/working-with-african-american-families.pdf). If this is a possible adoptive outcome and preferable, it would stand to reason that these biological mothers and adoptive parents would never, or if they did only briefly, enter into the white dominated adoption industry.
As far as lobbying, I think it would be very hard for people who may be feeling disenfranchised for advocating any members of congress for anything. According to this Washington Post article (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2018/09/25/the-turnout-gap-between-whites-and-racial-minorities-is-larger-than-you-think-and-hard-to-change/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.ccd31598ae8f), there has been and continues to be a large gap between whites and people of color in voting turnouts. Voting, for most, takes significantly less effort than lobbying congressmen. If one feels like their vote doesn’t matter, why would one go through all the effort to lobby?
Again, I think this is a systemic issue that needs to be addressed. In the meantime, there are children who still need homes and continue to grow and need support. Change takes time and for the children that are being born as the changes (hopefully) are in progress, they need support now.
(If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of white privilege please take a moment to take this survey: https://lamontanita.coop/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/2015-09-15-Board-Study-Reading-White-Privilege-Survey.pdf and read https://psychology.umbc.edu/files/2016/10/White-Privilege_McIntosh-1989.pdf)
- Adoption fundraisers are tools of Colonialism.
Adoption is an extension of good old fashioned colonialism. Don’t believe me? Ask the Native community what they think of the history of the US state and federal governments’ practice of ripping/forcibly removing Native children from the tribes:
“There was a time in this country when thousands of Native American children were forced from their homes by public and private agencies, then sent to boarding schools where the school founder’s motto was “Kill the Indian, Save the Man.” This practice wiped out cultural ties and traditions from an entire generation on which tribes depended to carry on their legacies.” (source)
Still don’t believe me? Ask yourself: How many times have you seen parents from “third world” countries host adoption fundraisers — now a tool of adoption — so that they can come into the US to adopt our children? You’ve never seen that because in adoption, an arm of colonialism, the colonizers — the White adoption industry and White adoptive parents — wield the tools that allow them to obtain what they desire.
I don’t really have a counterpoint to this and have actually mentioned all of this. I do think that if we were to not engage in anything having to do with colonialism, we may find it very hard to function in today’s society. Adoption, just like in so many other institutions (banking, home ownership, education, almost any employment, etc.) has been impacted by colonialism and privilege. I’m not sure that the institution I would choose to protest first is the one that is trying to ensure that children have food, shelter, and clothing (despite how imperfect it is). In my frustration with trying to divorce myself from these issues, or trying to figure out how to move forward in adoption with the acknowledgment of my privilege, I reached out to my old psychology profession (and Queer Student Union faculty adviser). She is a Philippine bisexual woman who married a woman and who has adopted. She made a very important point. She stated that it was impossible to avoid these issues, but that it’s important to acknowledge them and try to navigate them the best that you can.
I have decided to write this blog post because I have felt like anytime someone finds out that we have a fundraising page or that we are planning to adopt, I find that I have to defend every decision we have made and no decision appears to be good enough. And we don’t even have a child yet! This blog has been an attempt to walk you through each of our decisions that we have made and why we made them so that I do not have to continue to do so. It was also to illustrate how complicated it can be to make the seemingly easy decision to raise money.
I want to take a moment to address the amount of judgement I have seen in a variety of different places online. I have been a part of several support groups on Facebook, and I have noticed a lot of judgement. I get that making these decisions is difficult and that there is so much pressure because everyone wants to be the best parent that they can. With that said, I think that there needs to be a concerted effort to be kinder to each other. If you have chosen to give your child up for adoption, you choice is valid. If you have decided to foster a child while a family is trying to create a better environment for their child, your choice is valid. If you have decided to foster-to-adopt, your choice is valid. If you have decided that adoption through an agency is the route you want to start your family, your choice is valid. Please stop invalidating each other. Please listen to each other and ask questions (preferably related to the topic at hand- it’s amazing how often when I ask for fundraising ideas I get questions about why I’m not fostering, or if I am aware of the pitfalls of fundraising) and be open-minded.
For those of you who have had biological children and want to be supportive of your friends who are going through all of this. Please know that this is a world full of judgment. Everyone is trying to do their best and is emotionally invested in the choices they have made because they have come to the conclusion that the choice that was made was best for their family. Please know that there is anything more dismissive than saying, “you think that’s bad, you just wait until you have children!” This statement is problematic on so many levels. Please recognize that the experience foster/adoptive parents go through starts before they even have the money to start and is incredibly nuanced and difficult to navigate. Please respond with compassion and empathy. Hold your questions and advice for when they are invited.