Will The Haiti Incident Reform The Adoption Process?

See also my previous posts on Haiti here and here.
In watching and reading the news coverage about the ten Americans arrested for child trafficking in Haiti, I’ve been wondering if this might be the catalyst that starts some serious reform in adoption.
When this incident first occurred, I figured the news media would do what they always do: gloss it over. I was expecting a lot of whining about “poor Americans”, plus condemnation of the Haitian government which would capitulate to U.S. pressure and give these people a slap on the wrist. And who knows, maybe that will still happen. Personally I would like to see the lot of them get convicted in a Haitian court and receive the highest possible term in a Haitian prison. That Laura Silsby seems like a piece of work. The Haitian judicial process will have to determine the culpability of the rest of the group. “God told us to” is not a defense.
But on a broader level, I would like to see this be the catalyst to cease ALL private facilitation of adoption. If we’re going to have adoption–and I’m under no illusions that we’re going to get rid of it–then it should only be done by accredited agencies that are monitored by independent third parties. As this incident illustrates, anyone, regardless of qualifications, can set themselves up a “non-profit” and start facilitating adoptions. That has GOT TO STOP. Contrary to the whining of some (mostly prospective adopters), I don’t think that would make the adoption process harder or more expensive. I think it would offer greater protections for everyone, including prospective adopters. It might reduce the number of adoptable kids… but did you catch what was said on Anderson Cooper (CNN)?
COOPER: It’s — and so they’re handing this out. I mean, essentially, what we now know is, they were around in Port-au-Prince trolling for kids, I mean, going around, trying to collect kids under the age of 10, so, for whatever reason, they could take them to the Dominican Republic.
And what they — we had also just learned today is they told that guy David Louis they were actually going to bring some of these kids into the United States, or they had offered to — to bring Richard’s kids into the — back to the United States, which, you know, the fact that Richard and his wife — that his wife said, look, do not go to this orphanage where our kids are in the process of being legally adopted, and they went anyway to try to get them, to me, that just raises all sorts of red flags.
PENHAUL: It certainly does raise red flags, as well as the fact that they were looking for children aged from zero to 10, kids aged under 10.
I asked an NGO specialist about that. Why zero to 10? He says kids zero of 10 are much easier to send in adoption. You can bet your bottom dollar, if those kids were going to be sent into adoption, they were not going to be adopted in the D.R. They would have been sent abroad for that. Maybe the D.R. was a halfway house.
I don’t know that for sure, though, but, certainly, the people that you have talked to tonight, you can piece it together. It seems like that. And, yes, certainly, they were trawling for orphanages as well, because the three translators that we have spoken to extensively have said that they also were asked to telephone another orphanage, and that other orphanage also declined help.
These people were deliberately going after kids ages zero to 10… BECAUSE THEY WERE MORE ADOPTABLE. In other words, more lucrative, more palatable to prospective adopters. Read the rest of the transcript for more on how blatant they were about sweeping in and snatching children, including those who were already cleared for adoption by American families (and whose adoptive families told them outright to stay out of it). So, yes, restricting who can facilitate adoptions might result in less children available for adoption, but you know what? That’s a good thing for prospective adopters. Unless you’re saying you don’t really care where the kid comes from as long as you get one…
My adoption was private. It was facilitated by the delivery doctor and two attorneys. One attorney took my mother’s relinquishment and passed it to the second attorney, who happened to be my adoptive father. The first attorney and the doctor were affiliated with a highly-regarded adoption agency here in the Chicago area, but for mysterious reasons they were able to moonlight a few private adoptions, like mine. I have been asking myself why for a long time and the only answers I’ve come up with are unpleasant. There were no checks and balances, no accredited entities verifying the procedures, no one independently advising my birth mother on her options and rights. There was just the handing off of a newborn in a hospital parking lot. I think that’s wrong and I want it to stop. And the only way it’s going to stop is if we quit letting any random bozo facilitate adoptions, and if we throw the book at people when they’re caught.
I’d also like to know why it is that no one is investigating other incidents of potential child trafficking, like the Rendell raid or Mike Roberts, the Texas businessman who’s trying to pull a raid of his own. Apparently if you’re the governor of Pennsylvania or a hotshot CEO it’s okay to snatch kids. Laura Silsby’s problem was that she was an amateur, flagrantly flaunted the rules and got caught. I think the Haitian prime minister is exactly right in requiring his personal approval for each and every child leaving the country.
But I’d like to see more protections from the U.S. side, starting with a public outcry over baby brokers of all stripes and utter refusal on the part of prospective adopters to deal with these sorts of criminals. Only by shutting down the market demand will we see an end to baby selling.


  1. It is my hope that the media coverage the entire Haitian adoption debacle has generated will help bring attention to the predatory nature of adoption and the negatives of transnational adoption.

    As for the ten, they are now being called Silsby and the nine. As I blogged recently, Bill Clinton is seeking release of all but the ring leader business woman whose home is in foreclosure and who built the orphanage the children were being brought to.



  2. It’ll be interesting to see how it all shakes down.

  3. The Haitian child exports have already been a massive turning point, precedent setting in terms of American foreign policy, and doing massive damage to any notion of child welfare or human rights work.

    That said, yes, it is a critically important moment to make both assessment and change.

    What is happening right now demonstrates far more clearly than those of us who have written about the underlying problems for years now ever could: the dire need for structural change from the foundation up.

    (More on that, eventually.)

    That said, the industry and its allies certainly see the earthquake and resultant human misery as an opportunity/”blessing.”

    Not only have they removed a huge number of kids compared to all previous years child exports, they also view this a tremendous opportunity to slam through legislative changes here in the US, restructuring the very nature of how inter-country adoption would be practiced all in an effort to grease the rails and bail out the industry.

    A similar attempt to restructure that had existed before the earthquake was then folded into the Haitian mess in an effort to push it through in the European Union. Fortunately, the changes, wrapped in the guise of EU “standardization” was set aside for the time being.

    As for the ten and under age limitation, that’s actually pretty simple to explain, in the Dominican Republic, kids 12 and older must by law consent to their own adoptions. Those younger, get no say.

    Not only are they more marketable, they are also less legally empowered.

  4. What strikes me as different about this situation is twofold: that the Internet has enabled word of the situation to get out fast enough to stop what was happening (not true for Pedro Pan and Operation Babylift), and that the American news media isn’t automatically presuming those arrested are innocent. There’s a backlash I didn’t expect, and actual investigation into the larger issues. I’m glad to see it and I hope it makes a difference.

    I didn’t know about the 12 and under DR law. Puts things into further perspective, doesn’t it?

  5. Excellent blog!

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. There is a big difference between what Americans consider “adoption” (e.g. the obliteration of an adoptee’s origins) and what other countries consider “adoption” (care for children that does NOT obliterate origins). Given that plus the language barrier, I’d lay odds the Haitian parents were misled as to what would actually occur.

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. Meant to pull the link for you.

    Here are the Dominican Republic’s adoption requirements.

    Note that the D.R.’s export numbers to the U.S. as collected by the U.S. State Department are MUCH lower than Haitian child exports to the U.S. from the same period.

  10. It has been interesting to read the public comments on CNN, NY Times, and even the Baptist News – the overwhelming majority are highly critical of Silsby and her cohort. This really surprised me; this case could easily have been portrayed as a tearjerker by the media, but instead has aroused concern in a way that celebrity adopters have not. Even the State Department has publicly at least kept a “hands off” policy – read the transcript of their recent press conference- http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2010/02/136609.htm

  11. d28bob–That’s what struck me too, that the media was NOT portraying these people as all good intentions and innocence. I am glad they are delving into the background behind these people and their actions.