What about Both Ends Burning?

International Adoption Crisis from Both Ends Burning on Vimeo.

 

What do you think of this video? I first saw it last fall linked to a friend’s Facebook page. Another friend posted it today and I decided it was time to learn a little more about Both Ends Burning.

The man who is leading the charge, Craig Juntenen, is an interesting character. A former NFL player and retired businessman, Craig has some very innovative ideas for reforming international adoption.

When I first saw the video, I assumed that Both Ends Burning was in the group of supporters of international adoption who more or less deny widespread corruption and who blame UNICEF for closing adoptions in countries like Guatemala. The board of Both Ends Burning includes a few people who would fit in this category.  For example, Elizabeth Bartholet is a Harvard professor who is highly critical of regulation in international adoption.

But after listening to Craig’s speech to a group of international organizations involved in adoption and orphan care, I think he has some great points. I’d love to ask him a few more questions. I will summarize his speech below and then include a few of my thoughts.

Both Ends Burning believes that children need and deserve families. Craig believes – and I agree – that every child has a right to a family. We need to stand up to protect this right.

He is critical of the current system of international adoption. In many ways, he’s right on. He says the current system is too expensive, it takes too long and that many discriminatory laws keep good families from adopting. He is outraged that despite many conversations among the international community about adoption and orphan care, the number of adoptions has declined by more than 50% since 2004.

The core problem in Craig’s view is that the adoption process is inefficient. In his opinion, there is no supply or demand problem. There are plenty of parents who want to adopt and plenty of orphans who need families. He thinks the problem is a dysfunctional international adoption system. This system damages the lives of children by condemning them to institutional care.

His solution is innovative. He wants to look at the challenge of orphans and international adoption from an entrepreneurial perspective, to understand the needs and opportunities and to create a “culture of adoption to offer more orphans a solution for a better life.” He is critical of those within international organizations like UNICEF who see international adoption as “the last resort”.

His proposal is to centralize the international adoption process – to create a centralized non-profit organization that could manage and process every international adoption and to create permanency centers in every country.

His goals are to reduce the cost of international adoption to about $5,000, to reduce the time of an international adoption from several years to several months, and to increase safeguards to protect families and children.

He says he wants to take commerce out of international adoption – presumably eliminating or reducing the role of adoption agencies and private entities that benefit financially from adoption. He wants to use technology to streamline the adoption process. He is working with a major global consulting firm to create a new model, TBA on April 15. Both Ends Burning has the resources to ignite a debate about how to reform international adoption – which could be a very good thing in my opinion.

What do you think?

I agree with a lot of what he has to say. I believe every child has a right to a family and we are responsible for standing up to protect this right. I also agree that one of the huge problems in international adoption is the money. Money drives corruption. It also keeps millions of families from adopting.

I think his perspective as an entrepreneur is great. He’s right. If we can put a man on the moon, there’s no reason why as a global community we cannot come up with a more effective process to place orphans in families. I agree completely that technology could be used to streamline the process and to protect children and families.

I am not sure about his idea for a central authority over all international adoptions. I think the idea in principle is clever, but do we really think hundreds of nations who value their freedom and independence would participate? It is also unclear what role he believes adoption agencies would play in the new process – or honestly how this process would have any less red tape or more safeguards than the current systems of international adoption. I would love to see more of his ideas on this.

Where I disagree is on his assessment of supply and demand. I believe there is a mismatch between supply and demand. There are millions of orphans who need homes, however there are not 163 million babies in orphanages who need adoptive families. Most of the 163 million orphans have lost only one parent and are living with their surviving parent or extended family. As it should be. Around 8 million children are living in orphanages, but around 80% of these children have a surviving parent who might be able to care for the child with support.

Of the children who are truly orphaned and without the love and care of a family, most are older or have special needs. Around 95% of orphans are older than age five or have special needs. At the same time, around 95% of parents want to adopt a healthy baby or child.

So in my opinion, there is a mismatch between supply and demand. I would love to see more adoptive families open to older and special needs kids. Both in the United States and internationally. But as of now, I believe the supply and demand problem does fuel corruption in adoption – and corruption in adoption has had a significant role in reducing the numbers of international adoptions. Most of the countries that closed to international adoption over the last ten years – Cambodia, Vietnam, Guatemala and Nepal – or those who have limited international adoption – Ethiopia – have done so in response to corruption. In these countries, many older and special needs children continue to wait in orphanages while healthy babies and toddlers are bribed and coerced from their families to be placed for international adoption. Craig talks about safeguards to protect birth mothers, but he doesn’t go into detail.

Craig also does not address poverty as it relates to international adoption. Without question, poverty is one of the primary drivers of children being abandoned or placed in orphanages. He talks a little about reunification, but does not go into detail about what steps countries should take to support vulnerable families – to prevent children from being orphaned or to help children be reunified with caring parents or extended family.

So I agree that international adoption has a huge process problem, but I disagree that what is required for change is just a more efficient process. At least two other areas that need to be addressed are creating a culture of adoption that helps older and special needs orphans to be adopted into loving families and taking steps to reduce poverty and support vulnerable families.

What do you think? Would you sign the Both Ends Burning petition?

 

Sara Brinton

sara@defenseofthefatherless.com

SARA BRINTON is a writer and entrepreneur with a passion for reforming international adoption and orphan care. She leads marketing for Noonday Collection, a business that uses fashion to create opportunity in developing countries. Sara and her husband, Mark, live in Austin, Texas with their four children, including daughter Gabrielle who was adopted from Uganda.

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