Is Australia breaching the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) by condoning the 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.