Monday, March 24, 2014

A review of Kathryn Joyce's The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption

So I just finished reading The Child Catchers, which I happened to be reading a few days ago when I first read about the disturbing trend of "re-homing" kids who were adopted internationally.  This book was written by Kathryn Joyce, a feminist author who also wrote a book about the Quiverfull movement.  I don't think I made that connection when I bought this book; I tend to buy books on impulse.  It just looked like an interesting read and it was.

In The Child Catchers, Joyce takes a revealing look at the international adoption industry, particularly as it pertains to religious people.  It's very trendy for Christians in the United States to adopt children from abroad.  Many Christians see adoption as a kind of ministry, where they bring people who wouldn't ordinarily be exposed to "the gospel" into their homes.  Sometimes these people truly do want to be parents.  Sometimes, they are looking for some kind of misguided glory within their religious circles.

Disturbingly, sometimes the children who are adopted internationally still have parents in their home nations.  Joyce writes of three sisters from Ethiopia who were adopted after their father was told they would be educated in America.  Though his wife had died, he had a middle class job.  He was not told the full details of what adoption meant.  His daughters were taken; their names and even their ages were changed; and the adoption ended up being a disaster.  The eldest child was "re-homed" with her adoptive mother's parents and, once she turned 18, changed her name back to what it was before she was adopted.  She also moved to another state.

Joyce writes of another family from Primm Springs, Tennessee that adopted a bunch of children from Liberia and essentially used them as slaves.  Nancy and Colin Campbell, founders of the magazine and Web site Above Rubies, are fundamentalist Christians.  Their daughter, Serene Allison, wife of Sam Allison, is a well-known advocate of raw dieting.  The Allisons took in the four Liberian children and brought them back to Tennessee, where they lived in a house off the grid.  One child described their lifestyle as if she'd moved from Africa to Africa.  The children were ostensibly home-schooled, but actually received very little education.  And they did a lot of chores, too.  Several local people became concerned about the kids and contacted the local child welfare office, but nothing much was done about the alleged abuse and neglect.

While I had heard a bit about adoptions that failed, I had no idea how serious the situation was.  Nor did I have any idea of how many birth mothers are pressured into giving up their child for adoption.  Joyce writes about the manipulative tactics adoption agencies use to get mothers to cooperate.  Then American couples pay $30,000 or $40,000 to adopt.  With that much money involved, it's no wonder the agencies go to such lengths to get more kids.  One of the most disturbing chapters in this book was about "crisis pregnancy centers", some of which use slick methods to convince prospective birthmothers to relinquish their babies.  I was particularly interested in what she wrote about LDS Social Services, mainly because I read RfM a lot and there have been many stories over the years written by women who felt compelled to give up their babies when they got pregnant out of wedlock.  Of course, the Mormons are not the only ones who do this type of thing.  Joyce writes a lot about fundamentalist and evangelical Christians, too.

Sadly, it seems that a lot of American or European families that wish to adopt children from abroad aren't aware of the challenges they may face.  They see themselves as rescuing children from godforsaken places and sometimes that is truly what they end up doing.  But they may not realize that the adopted child may have problems stemming from a lack of infant care or a mother who abused drugs or alcohol during her pregnancy.  The children may end up with serious psychiatric or medical problems that drain resources or even put family members in danger.

I thought this book was very well-written and mostly well-researched.  Joyce does seem to have an agenda against Christians, which doesn't really bother me, but may offend some readers.  I don't think this book is particularly balanced, as Joyce doesn't offer much if any commentary on adoptions that did work out.  As you read this book, you come away with the idea that there is a terrible crisis, when, in fact, Joyce may just be highlighting the worst cases.  Nevertheless, I learned a lot reading The Child Catchers and would recommend it to anyone who is interested in the international adoption arena.  At the very least, Joyce reminds readers why potential adopters need to be cautious and certain they are dealing with ethical adoption agencies.

      

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