Advertising children is step too far

Is Australia breaching the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) by condoning theAdvertising children advertising of children? Barnardos Australia is advertising children for adoption on their webpage. Photographs, glossy and attractive are on a public website along with names and stories (models and pseudonyms are used) however some personal information is provided. Is it really ethical to advertise children as if they were stray puppies appealing to sentiment or to justify advertising as long as an adoption is achieved?

Some representations in the media about adoption are presenting ideologically and politically biased information and ill-formed attitudes about children in care while being intent on homogenizing the diverse and individual circumstances of families in need and their children. Terms like ‘forever families’ and “freeing children for adoption” need to be used with caution. Children know very well they have another family. Words are important. People in the adoption community have contacted me distressed about advertising, media stories and terminology used.

Research has shown that many adoption agencies particularly in the US are in breach of The Convention of the Rights of the Child – Articles 2 (protection from discrimination), 8 (protecting identity) and 16 (privacy) by advertising children, using photolistings, fantasy terminology and allowing prospective parents to select a child . The difference is Australia is party to the CRC and the US is not. There are many disastrous adoption practices in the US and in the UK. Australia should be smarter than this and venture into these areas with extreme caution.

No justification can alter the fact that advertising children as needing adoption is problematic at a time in their lives when they are not fully aware of the long term consequences and cannot give informed consent to publicity – even with models and pseudonyms. There are particular responsibilities to protect children when they are in the care of the state.  Blurring the public and private on the internet are significant problems for children and can cause harm. It is documented how adults often fail to pick up on the distress of children and assume they are fine. Outward compliance can be very misleading.

Children should not be ashamed of being adopted but neither should their lives be defined by their adoptive status or their pre-adoptive circumstances. Nothing disappears on the internet and geography offers no protection to privacy.  Regardless of how positive their adoptive family experiences are, many adoptees struggle with identity, belonging and difference. They do not need their private struggles to be played out in the public arena and to suffer the indignity of being labelled. By making the circumstances of vulnerable children public, children are placed at risk of being forever labelled, stigmatised and bullied alongside the negative implications for their sense of self-worth particularly if no one puts their hands up to adopt them as is often the case. Article 39 makes it very clear that children who have been subjected to neglect or abuse should receive special help to restore their self-esteem not to heighten their vulnerability and draw the world’s attention to their circumstances. Defining them by their backgrounds and adoptive status is more than potentially damaging in the long term.

It seems some Australian governments are running out of ideas. Instead we seem intent on importing the worst of policies from overseas when it comes to children. In the UK enforcing adoption as a child protection measure has meant permanent removal happens too quickly and without consent. Children wait in care indefinitely for a ‘forever family’ to adopt them. In many cases this happens in preference to working with parents and families to improve circumstances and to find appropriate care with other family members because adoption is considered ‘gold star’ at the expense of other options that may be more suitable. Rest assured professional work with families does create change and the circumstances of many families are temporary. They are not all in need of permanent removal . Any adoption-driven agenda (not to be confused with opposition to adoption) is not what we want in Australia.

Adoption and a child’s identity, history and psychosocial needs are a private concern and advertising is ethically dubious and could be viewed as a breach of the Convention on the Rights of the Child even with de-identification. Some people would argue the end justifies the means but perhaps like all else in adoption we also should ask adult adoptees and the families directly affected and whom we are failing.


11 thoughts on “Advertising children is step too far

  1. I would argue that it isn’t a step too far, but is the natural manifestation of the derivations of adoption, namely the historical precedents of indentured servitude and the Orphan Trains as well as slavery.

    When we say “put up for adoption” we elide linguistically the prepositional phrase “on the block”, as children were sold previously. That they were advertised as well was functional to their literal commodification.

    To demand that adoption, which was never about family creation, abide by the mythologies that are recent to its industry, is to fall into the trap of maintaining a fallacious argument that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.

    We should give credit to those who bring this to light by their heinous practices, and then endeavor to abolish adoption, similar to how its predecessors demanded we abolish them.

    This would be righteous; this would be justice; this would be truly social work.

  2. Should have found the Barnados interview below for my previous post. Personally I don’t approve of sites sharing photos & information to the wider general public. However, in cases where families are being sought for children with additional medical needs , children who have been hard to place etc then sharing certain information to restricted, genuine prospective adoptive families is totally suitable. Not all children in care should be or are put up for adoption. For many though, adoption is the only chance they will have at being in a nurturing & loving family & getting the care they need. People who make blanket statements either pro or against adoption don’t seem to know the realities & complexities of adoption. Bottom line is that every child should be in a family & not an institution & if adoption is the best way to achieve that then great.

    Barnados Interview excerpt:
    Barnardos chief executive Deirdre Cheers denied children were being treated as commodities and said the children referred to on the website were those that the charity had been “struggling to find a permanent placement for”.
    “Some [of the children] have been in a temporary placement for two years or more with no prospects of a permanent home or a family to call their own,” Ms Cheers said.
    “We are desperate to find families for these children and if an online campaign helps find the right families to care for them then we stand behind this practice 100 per cent.”
    She said they had to explore all channels including online to find permanent families for the children “who have been removed due to chronic abuse and neglect” and “ruled by the courts never to return home”.
    Ms Cheers said the models were used to protect children’s identities, which was stated on the website.
    “We change specific details so the children are non-identifiable.”

    • And we have massively privately funded organisations like AdoptChange telling us constantly through their media outlets that there are large numbers of adopters waiting to adopt children and it’s just ‘red tape’ slowing that down (I think they call attempts at ethical processes ‘red tape’)………………..Then on the other hand we have Barnados trying to tell us (using pretty little blonde models) that there are large numbers of poor little pretty children waiting for someone to come along and save them…………………………….Then we have the neo-Libs using the Centre for “Independent” Studies Jeremy Sammut with a PhD in History making carefully timed announcements about the continual problems of the ‘underclass’ and their children….. All by ignoring the voices of the victims of the last time adoption was promoted, and the genuinely unbiased researchers into adoption like the author of this article. ……….. But of course, beating up a market for the up and coming Australian Adoption Industry it the true goal.

  3. ??? The children in their adverts were models & the identity of the hard to place children they are trying to find families for are protected…or at least that is what I read in an interview with Barnados about their campaign. A lot of (false) assumptions being made in a very contentious area. The reference to Intercountry adoption is also not correct in this article….
    Australia’s adoption & foster system are in shambles & funding is being seriously misdirected & wasted when it could be helping so many. IMO, the best interest of the children protocol is definitely is definitely not being followed.

    • Yes you are quite right – I have found the small print at the bottom that says they are models and the names are pseudonym. So I will make that correction – thank you for pointing this out. However there is still a problem advertising individual children using some of their information and perhaps even a problem using models – it can be construed as misleading. There are still concerns about allowing prospective parents to chose a child. Advertising for foster parents and for prospective parents is fine but there are real concerns for marketing individual children. Children will one day want to access their information.

      • “Advertising’ individual children is not the way to go & doesn’t sit well with most. Bardnados would have used an agency to produce the campaign & that agency seemingly did not have anyone with any experiences in adoption. It is not the way to go but Barnados stress it is for their hard to place children (possibly categorised as special needs) & they felt rightly or wrongly that they needed to try something. They are good people doing a good job but they don’t have a clue about marketing & are being led by the blind. At least 1 child now has a home & that is a good thing. There has to be a better way though.

        Adopt Change does not represent the adoption support groups & wider adoptive community. They just get great PR . Their latest CEO is a business woman who has no background or depth of understanding in adoption. She has however given the group a more ethical appearance & her interviews sound more professional. Sadly appearance does not equate to depth though. Their committee is comprised mostly of media people who have great connections & many are in PR. They too have no in depth knowledge of adoption, evident in part with their constantly changing directions. The overwhelming majority of adoption support people know this. Sadly the media sucks up due to the ‘celebrity’ of the group & their partial & discombobulated messages are the ones that get printed for the masses. Extremely frustrating as this does not & will not facilitate positive reform. Many feel that they should also be made accountable public funding they get . Their group builds awareness but not true understanding or action . They are also not a support group. The public doesn’t hear about the many groups at the grass roots of adoption in Australia.

        Victims of past forced adoption in Australia have had a voice for some time now & that is to be applauded. That episode will hopefully & highly likely never ever be repeated. Not trying to trivialise that episode but adoption covers all different areas & all differ greatly. Adoption people have learnt a vast amount since those days & are generally more aware of the range of complexities & depth of issues associated with adoption. Local adoption differs to international adoption, then there’s sibling adoption, older child adoption, special needs adoption etc. All differ & all have a place where required. The reason why children are looking for families via adoption also range greatly and many will never be able to trace their biological family. People who are blanketly anti adoption in all forms are basically promoting institutionalising children & this is 100% not acceptable. Every child should have a family & families can be formed in several ways, adoption being one.

        Bottom line is that Australia’s adoption & foster system needs a major shake up regardless of wether you are pro or anti adoption. Antiquated regulations need to be bought up to the 21st century & fresh people are needed who actually do put the children’s best interest 1st. Current funding is being misdirected. The wrong people/ not enough people are being consulted. So much more could be & should be done to help the children who are in dire situations that are not of their doing. The children deserve more.

  4. Great article Professor Fronek. Children should never be commodified. Advertising children is potentially harmful and dangerous. Identity is very, very important to children as they grow up and the rapid adoption culture, while driven by people who think they have the child’s best interests at heart, is not in the child’s best interests.

  5. Thankyou Tricia!!! There’s never a need to falsify birth certificates and sever a child from their ancestry in the name of care. Especially nowadays when issues of ‘Identity’ (of identifying gender, sexual orientation etc) are treated as a sensitive mental health issue (rightly so).

    HOW do they think that forcing a person to identify as ‘kin’ to genetic strangers for their childhood and also their adult lives and for their children’s lives is not a major Identity issue?? It’s something to be stopped not promoted. There are other ways for children to be cared for besides commodification and transfer of ownership.

  6. Support the families and in many cases the kids wouldn’t need to be adopted; who wants their babies out of their ken, out of their culture and belonging.

  7. Pingback: Advertising children is step too far | Social Work, Social Work

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