Adoption difficulties getting attention
by jordan blum
Advocate Washington bureau
March 30, 2013
Indianapolis couple Nick and Lori LeRoy went through the grueling and protracted international adoption process to bring home Nate, a young Vietnamese boy who was being raised in a dilapidated former prison now serving as a crammed and dirty foster home with virtually no child-development resources.
There were paperwork mishaps and an extended and unexpected delay when Vietnam cut off adoptions with the United States after reports surfaced of Vietnamese women selling their babies for American adoptions. Vietnam froze all U.S. adoptions while new regulations were adopted, leaving all the children living in deplorable conditions in a longer period of limbo.
But the LeRoys never gave up, took their fight to Congress, and eventually the State Department intervened when U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind., threatened to block the approval of the new U.S. ambassador to Vietnam.
After well over three years of trying and countless disappointments, the LeRoys finally took Nate home.
And this is considered a success story.
U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., hosted a preview viewing this past week of “STUCK,” a new documentary that focuses on the increasing difficulty of international adoption at the U.S. Capitol. The LeRoys and other families featured in the documentary all participated. The film then had its bigger debut Friday at director Michael Moore’s Traverse City Film Festival with a goal for a nationwide rollout in November.
Landrieu, who also is featured in the film, co-chairs congressional caucuses for both adoption and foster youth and has long championed such causes. She and her husband also have two children, now ages 20 and 15, who were adopted domestically.
She has made many international trips the past 12 years, including recent ones to Guatemala, to help cut the red tape on adoptions stuck in limbo and to move past the political problems.
“Governments can do a lot of things well, but raising children isn’t one of them,” Landrieu said. “Every child deserves a loving, protective family.”
As the film notes, international adoptions have decreased by nearly 60 percent in the past six years, even though polls show Americans believe such adoptions are on the rise. Political instability, corruption and even the good intentions of trying to improve the system — but causing huge delays while improvements are implemented — have all contributed.
Part of the well-intentioned problem comes from the international Hague Treaty to improve adoption standards and ensure every child adopted truly is an orphan. Many countries, like Guatemala and Cambodia, have struggled to meet the standards and have cut off most adoptions.
Landrieu sponsored the U.S. adoption of the Hague Treaty and she now says she is “very disappointed” with the result. So she and filmmaker Craig Juntunen are working to solve the “silent” problems.
The issue also makes for odd partners. Republican mega-donor Foster Friess, who bankrolled much of conservative Rick Santorum’s recent presidential bid, gave $500,000 so the documentary could be finished.
“We’ve got Mary Landrieu, who’s a Democrat, and I’m to the right of Santorum,” Friess said. “You’ve got the two of us, and I just love (her).”
But Landrieu also doesn’t want to take away focus from the many problems in the United States’ own domestic foster care and adoption problems.
“Our foster system is broken,” she said. “It has been for many years.”
Juntunen said about 10 million abandoned children worldwide live in conditions you wouldn’t board your dog in. But Landrieu noted that this country has nearly 500,000 foster children “who need us to love them extra special.” Such children go without being adopted and are left to fend for themselves without the proper development they need when they “age out” at 18.
Landrieu recently introduced the Uninterrupted Scholars Act to help adoptive and foster parents access the education records of the children and teens they take in without going to court.
So, the problems continue domestically and abroad. STUCK isn’t just about happy endings either.
The film ends with one of the featured young teens, Robertson, in a poor institution in Haiti with little hope of being adopted. Every morning Robertson said he takes out the trash and gets more water. What does he do the rest of each day?
“After that — nothing else,” he said nonchalantly.
America has many of its own Robertsons as well.
Jordan Blum is chief of The Advocate Washington bureau. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.