Commentary Religion

Stoking Fire: The Adoption Movement’s ‘Supply Crunch’

Eleanor J. Bader

A new report commissioned by Political Research Associates outlines how a drop-off in international adoptions increased demand for domestic adoption, raising questions about how "adoptions from Indian country factor in the equation."

“Evangelical interest in adoption emerged in the last ten years,” writer Kathryn Joyce begins. “It’s framed as an abortion alternative, a way to save women from ending unwanted pregnancies. Crisis pregnancy centers make adoption their secondary message: Don’t just choose life, choose adoption.”

And that’s just the tip of the evangelical adoption iceberg.

“Evangelicals paint a picture of a worldwide orphan crisis, with hundreds of millions of children who can be rescued,” Joyce continues. “For some it also fulfills a Great Commission mandate,” a way to bring a heathen child into the Christian fold.

Joyce and I are sitting in a quiet Queens, New York, café discussing a report, The Adoption Crunch, The Christian Right, and the Challenge to Indian Sovereignty that she wrote for the Massachusetts-based organization Political Research Associates. It’s a fascinating document.

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In it, Joyce describes what she calls the “adoption cliff”: the steep drop-off in international adoptions, from 23,000 a decade ago to just 9,000 in 2013. It’s a decline she attributes to a wave of scandals involving the acquisition of babies and their subsequent adoption by relatively well-heeled U.S. households. “In Guatemala,” Joyce wrote, “strong Western demand for adoptable infants led to an influx of foreign cash, and unethical actors procured the supply—sometimes using coercive payments or outright kidnapping. … As a result, a number of adoption agencies—including some of the largest—have been bankrupted or forced to close.”

Not surprisingly, this has caused many people wishing to adopt—evangelical Christians as well as the non-religious—to turn their gaze to adoptable kids living in the 50 states. The problem? According to Joyce, “Domestic infant adoptions began dropping exponentially after the legalization of abortion and the increased acceptance of single motherhood that began in the 1970s.”

These facts, of course, have made adoption difficult for evangelicals. Nonetheless, groups like the Christian Alliance for Orphans and Rick Warren’s Saddleback mega-church are so hopped up on saving the parentless that they miss no opportunity to urge their brethren to “reflect God’s heart” by taking in a needy child.

The reality, however, is that many adoptive parents do not want a child—they want a baby or infant. So what to do about the dearth of adoption-ready newborns? Joyce reports that adoption advocates have begun pushing to streamline the process to make it “better, cheaper, and faster” for would-be parents. “In Texas,” Joyce wrote, “they propose to do so by demanding that women seeking abortions undergo hours of mandatory adoption counseling.”

In addition to state initiatives, Joyce explains that there’s also been momentum on the federal level. The Children in Families First Act (S. 1530 and H.R. 4143) has collected an unusually broad roster of sponsors: liberal Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) alongside conservative Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and Trent Franks (R-AZ). According to a website supporting the bill, if passed CHIFF will “put in place laws and systems that allow for international adoption as it is a necessary and appropriate way to meet the needs of children who cannot find homes domestically.”

If you think it sounds pretty vague, you’re 100 percent correct.

What’s more, Joyce says that she worries about changes in adoption policies more generally. She cites the case of Baby Veronica as a key example.

As you likely remember, in the fall of 2013, Cherokee Nation member Dusten Brown was forced to relinquish his biological daughter, Veronica, to Matt and Melanie Copabianco, a white South Carolina couple. The case was extremely fraught since Brown had previously indicated that he wanted to abrogate his parental rights. Brown’s ex, Christina Maldonado, took Brown at his word; after giving birth to Veronica in 2009, she put the child up for adoption, and the Copabianco’s raised Veronica for the first two years of her life. Although Brown regained custody of Veronica in 2011—shortly after being discharged from the Army—two years later the Supreme Court reversed the decision and Veronica was sent back to the Copabiancos’.

While this is admittedly an oversimplification of the numerous twists and turns in the case, at its core is an important question: Was Veronica, whose biological dad was willing and able to rear her, really in need of adoption? Secondly, if we say we want fathers to be more involved parents, how can we allow paternal rights to be so cavalierly dismissed?

Then there’s the issue of race.

“The Baby Veronica struggle introduced a relatively new element to the story of rising demand and decreasing supply,” Joyce wrote in the report. “How do adoptions from Indian country factor in the equation?”

According to Joyce:

Maldonado initially sought to omit Brown’s identity from adoption paperwork, fearing his status as a Cherokee tribal member would impede the adoption. Adoptions of Indian children are governed by the Indian Child Welfare Act, a federal law that gives tribes a say in Indian children’s custody. Enacted in 1978, ICWA was ostensibly passed to keep Native children within their families by regulating child custody procedures for children who are eligible to be registered members of recognized tribes.

That the Copabianco family emerged victorious made many wonder whether the ICWA was worth the paper it had been printed on. But the decision did more than this—it turned media attention on the 36-year-old law itself. As was predictable, numerous right-wing pundits and their evangelical pals used the Baby Veronica decision as an opportunity to argue that the ICWA was outdated. In a bow to so-called compassionate conservatism—that is, in light of the many Native babies and youngsters living in poverty—they posited that the statute needed to be revised, if not tossed completely. At stake, they said, was the noble task of saving thousands of boys and girls from deprivation and want.

Left unaddressed in the clamor was the reason the ICWA was passed in the first place: The enormous number of Native kids who were removed from their homes by public and private social service agencies during the 1950s and 60s. In fact, the American Indian Child Resource Center charges that at the time of ICWA’s passage, “the adoption rate for Indian children was 8.4 times greater than for non-Native children. … The American Indian family was being separated at a rate greater than any other culture in the U.S.” The belief that white people “knew better” was at the heart of this appalling piece of American history—history that involved “civilizing” Native children by pulling them out of their families of origin.

Joyce speaks carefully, and makes clear that she does not want to overstate the dangers inherent in the evangelical adoption movement. At the same time, she calls the outcome of the Baby Veronica case extremely troubling. “There’s been an interesting alliance between the people who were most excited about the outcome of the Dusten Brown/Baby Veronica case and people who are making adoption into a religious calling,” she said. “My concern is about what this could portend for adoptions from Indian country since there is such a huge demand for babies to adopt.”

It’s something that should concern us all.

Analysis Politics

Experts: Trump’s Proposal on Child Care Is Not a ‘Solution That Deals With the Problem’

Ally Boguhn

“A simple tax deduction is not going to deal with the larger affordability problem in child care for low- and moderate-income individuals," Hunter Blair, a tax and budget analyst at the Economic Policy Institute told Rewire.

In a recent speech, GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump suggested he now supports policies to made child care more affordable, a policy position more regularly associated with the Democratic Party. The costs of child care, which have almost doubled in the last 25 years, are a growing burden on low- and middle-income families, and quality options are often scarce.

“No one will gain more from these proposals than low- and middle-income Americans,” claimed Trump in a speech outlining his economic platform before the Detroit Economic Club on Monday. He continued, “My plan will also help reduce the cost of childcare by allowing parents to fully deduct the average cost of childcare spending from their taxes.” But economic experts question whether Trump’s proposed solution would truly help alleviate the financial burdens faced by low- and middleincome earners.

Details of most of Trump’s plan are still unclear, but seemingly rest on addressing child care costs by allowing families to make a tax deduction based on the “average cost” of care. He failed to clarify further how this might work, simply asserting that his proposal would “reduce cost in child care” and offer “much-needed relief to American families,” vowing to tell the public more with time. “I will unveil my plan on this in the coming weeks that I have been working on with my daughter Ivanka … and an incredible team of experts,” promised Trump.

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An adviser to the Trump campaign noted during an interview with the Associated Press Monday that the candidate had yet to nail down the details of his proposal, such as what the income caps would be, but said that the deductions would only amount to the average cost of child care in the state a taxpayer resided in:

Stephen Moore, a conservative economist advising Trump, said the candidate is still working out specifics and hasn’t yet settled on the details of the plan. But he said households reporting between $30,000 and $100,000, or perhaps $150,000 a year in income, would qualify for the deduction.

“I don’t think that Britney Spears needs a child care credit,” Moore said. “What we want to do is to help financially stressed middle-class families have some relief from child-care expenses.”

The deduction would also likely apply to expensive care like live-in nannies. But exemptions would be limited to the average cost of child care in a taxpayer’s state, so parents wouldn’t be able to claim the full cost of such a high-price child care option.

Experts immediately pointed out that while the details of Trump’s plan are sparse, his promise to make average child care costs fully tax deductible wouldn’t do much for the people who need access to affordable child care most.

Trump’s plan “would actually be pretty poorly targeted for middle-class and low-income families,” Hunter Blair, a tax and budget analyst at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), told Rewire on Monday.

That’s because his tax breaks would presumably not benefit those who don’t make enough money to owe the federal government income taxes—about 44 percent of households, according to Blair. “They won’t get any benefit from this.”

As the Associated Press further explained, for those who don’t owe taxes to the government, “No matter how much they reduce their income for tax purposes by deducting expenses, they still owe nothing.”

Many people still may not benefit from such a deduction because they file standard instead of itemized deductions—meaning they accept a fixed amount instead of listing out each qualifying deduction. “Most [lower-income households] don’t choose to file a tax return with itemized deductions,” Helen Blank, director of child care and early learning at the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), told Rewire Tuesday. That means the deduction proposed by Trump “favors higher income families because it’s related to your tax bracket, so the higher your tax bracket the more you benefit from [it],” added Blank.

A 2014 analysis conducted by the Congressional Research Service confirms this. According to its study, just 32 percent of tax filers itemized their deductions instead of claiming the standard deduction in 2011. While 94 to 98 percent of those with incomes above $200,000 chose to itemize their deductions, just 6 percent of tax filers with an adjusted gross income below $20,000 per year did so.

“Trump’s plan is also not really a solution that deals with the problem,” said Blair. “A simple tax deduction is not going to deal with the larger affordability problem in child care for low- and moderate-income individuals.”

Those costs are increasingly an issue for many in the United States. A report released last year by Child Care Aware® of America, which advocates for “high quality, affordable child care,” found that child care for an infant can cost up to an average $17,062 annually, while care for a 4-year-old can cost up to an average of $12,781.

“The cost of child care is especially difficult for families living at or below the federal poverty level,” the organization explained in a press release announcing those findings. “For these families, full-time, center-based care for an infant ranges from 24 percent of family income in Mississippi, to 85 percent of family income in Massachusetts. For single parents the costs can be overwhelming—in every state annual costs of center-based infant care averaged over 40 percent of the state median income for single mothers.”

“Child care now costs more than college in most states in our nation, and it is an actual true national emergency,” Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, CEO and executive director of MomsRising, told Rewire in a Tuesday interview. “Donald Trump’s new proposed child care tax deduction plan falls far short of a solution because it’s great for the wealthy but it doesn’t fix the child care crisis for the majority of parents in America.”

Rowe-Finkbeiner, whose organization advocates for family economic security, said that in addition to the tax deduction being inaccessible to those who do not itemize their taxes and those with low incomes who may not pay federal income taxes, Trump’s proposal could also force those least able to afford it “to pay up-front child care costs beyond their family budget.”

“We have a crisis … and Donald Trump’s proposal doesn’t improve access, doesn’t improve quality, doesn’t lift child care workers, and only improves affordability for the wealthy,” she continued.

Trump’s campaign, however, further claimed in a statement to CNN Tuesday that “the plan also allows parents to exclude child care expenses from half of their payroll taxes—increasing their paycheck income each week.”

“The working poor do face payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare, so a payroll tax break could help them out,” reported CNN. “But experts say it would be hard to administer.”

Meanwhile, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton released her own child care agenda in May, promising to use the federal government to cap child care costs at 10 percent of a family’s income. 

A cap like this, Blank said, “would provide more help to low- and middle-income families.” She continued, “For example, if you had a family with two children earning $70,000, if you capped child care at 10 percent they could probably save … $10,000 a year.”

Clinton’s plan includes a promise to implement a program to address the low wages many who work in the child care industry face, which she calls the “Respect And Increased Salaries for Early Childhood Educators” program, or the RAISE Initiative. The program would raise pay and provide training for child-care workers.

Such policies could make a major difference to child-care workers—the overwhelming majority of which are women and workers of color—who often make poverty-level wages. A 2015 study by the EPI found that the median wage for these workers is just $10.31 an hour, and few receive employer benefits. Those poor conditions make it difficult to attract and retain workers, and improve the quality of care for children around the country. 

Addressing the low wages of workers in the field may be expensive, but according to Rowe-Finkbeiner, it is an investment worth making. “Real investments in child care bring for an average child an eight-to-one return on investment,” she explained. “And that’s because when we invest in quality access and affordability, but particularly a focus on quality … which means paying child-care workers fairly and giving child-care workers professional development opportunities …. When that happens, then we have lower later grade repetition, we have less future interactions with the criminal justice system, and we also have a lower need for government programs in the future for those children and families.

Affordable child care has also been a component of other aspects of Clinton’s campaign platform. The “Military Families Agenda,” for example, released by the Clinton campaign in June to support military personnel and their families, also included a child care component. The former secretary of state’s plan proposed offering these services “both on- and off-base, including options for drop-in services, part-time child care, and the provision of extended-hours care, especially at Child Development Centers, while streamlining the process for re-registering children following a permanent change of station (PCS).” 

“Service members should be able to focus on critical jobs without worrying about the availability and cost of childcare,” said Clinton’s proposal.

Though it may be tempting to laud the simple fact that both major party candidates have proposed a child care plan at all, to Rowe-Finkbeiner, having both nominees take up the cause is a “no-brainer.”

“Any candidate who wants to win needs to take up family economic security policies, including child care,” she said. “Democrats and Republicans alike know that there is a child care crisis in America. Having a baby right now costs over $200,000 to raise from zero to age 18, not including college …. Parents of all political persuasions are talking about this.”

Coming up with the right way to address those issues, however, may take some work.

“We need a bold plan because child care is so important, because it helps families work, and it helps them support their children,” the NWLC’s Blank said. “We don’t have a safety net for families to fall back on anymore. It’s really critical to help families earn the income their children need and child care gives children a strong start.” She pointed to the need for programs that offer families aid “on a regular basis, not at the end of the year, because families don’t have the extra cash to pay for child care during the year,” as well as updates to the current child care tax credits offered by the government.

“There is absolutely a solution, but the comprehensive package needs to look at making sure that children have high-quality child care and early education, and that there’s also access to that high-quality care,” Rowe-Finkbeiner told Rewire. 

“It’s a complicated problem, but it’s not out of our grasp to fix,” she said. “It’s going to take an investment in order to make sure that our littlest learners can thrive and that parents can go to work.”

Culture & Conversation Human Rights

Beyond Convictions: The Movement for Black Lives’ Strategy Is Systems-Wide

Rachel Anspach

Activists in the Movement for Black Lives seek to move away from the perception that Black Lives Matter is just about taking to the streets and calling for officer convictions following police shootings—and remind the public that their work is rooted in a far-reaching battle against the societal institutions that oppress and kill Black people.

Since police officer Darren Wilson killed Mike Brown in Ferguson on August 9, 2014, activists committed to the notion that Black lives matter have forced the public to face the realities of anti-Black police brutality in the United States. Through their organizing and uprisings, advocacy and analysis, we have learned the names and stories of many Black folks whose lives were unjustly stolen from their families by those sworn to serve and protect: Eric Garner, Rekia Boyd, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, and Tanisha Anderson, to name only a few.

Amid activist calls for officer accountability and widespread protests, police continue to harm and kill Black people while criminal charges against the responsible officers are dropped or never even filed. Just last week, the state dropped all charges remaining against three Baltimore police officers responsible for Freddie Gray’s death; this decision followed on the heels of the police killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile in early July. Police took another Black life Monday, when officers fatally shot 23-year-old Korryn Gaines—and injured her 5-year-old boy—after a SWAT team arrived at Gaines’ home to serve a warrant for failure to appear for a traffic citation.

Given the unrelenting stream of police brutality and impunity, activists in the Movement for Black Lives are fine-tuning and expanding their political strategies. They seek to move away from the perception that Black Lives Matter is just about taking to the streets and calling for officer convictions following police shootings—and remind the public that their work is rooted in a far-reaching battle against the societal institutions that oppress and kill Black people.

On a national level, the Movement for Black Lives delivered a challenge Monday through “A Vision for Black Lives: Policy Demands for Black Power, Freedom, and Justice,” calling on the media, politicians, and the broader public to take note of the scope of their platform. The policy agenda—designed and endorsed by more than 50 organizations—includes demands for reparations; ending zero-tolerance education policies; immigration reform; and placing Black women, trans, and gender-nonconforming folks at the center of advocacy efforts.

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The agenda’s purview is much broader than police reform, but includes “demands to demilitarize police, to put community control over police in place, [and] to create real accountability between communities and police,” explained Color of Change Senior Campaign Director Scott Roberts, who is a member of the Movement for Black Lives Policy Table that brainstormed the material for the policy demands. “There is a big push to defund and divest from policing and invest in what I would call real solutions, which means investing in communities.”

According to Roberts, the agenda is critical because it counters “this narrative around what folks refer to as the Black Lives Matter movement, that folks don’t know what they want, that it’s just about protests, that people are just angry.” For politicians and journalists who are genuinely interested, it provides “the answer to the question of what this movement is about.”

Regardless of public perception, for organizers the movement has always been about more than police convictions. “Convictions have definitely been a focus of the movement. I mean, one of our chants has been ‘indict, convict, send that killer cop to jail,’” reflected Rachel Gilmer, chief of strategy for the Dream Defenders, who participated in the policy table with Roberts and others. “But the second half of that chant is ‘the whole damn system is guilty as hell.’”

For Black Youth Project 100 National Public Policy Chair Janae Bonsu—along with Gilmer and other movement leaders—part of the evolution of their goals for the movement has meant moving away from advocating for officer convictions altogether. “In the United States, the way our justice system is set up, the culture of punishment is so permeated,” explained Bonsu. “So when a cop has done something wrong, [convictions] are kind of just the knee-jerk response.”

Yet the U.S. culture of punishment is precisely what activists are striving to demolish. Many in the movement identify as abolitionists, who believe the prison system is an inherently unjust, racist institution that should be dismantled. “If we’re trying to work toward a world where our people are not arrested, convicted, and incarcerated, but rather looking to build other systems of accountability that center the people who were harmed, why would we advocate for incarceration and convictions of police officers?” asked Bonsu. “To do that would be—inadvertently or not—to perpetuate the system that we’re against.”

Activists agree that while individual officer accountability is important, it does not need to look like criminal proceedings. In a movement that actively centers victims and their families, framing justice as a conviction often leads families down a dead-end road. Closure and accountability can better be garnered from deeper-seated institutional goals, according to organizers.

Alternative forms of accountability proposed by the activists Rewire spoke to include pushing for officers to be fired; requiring officers to have personal liability insurance to cover civil settlements; taking funds for civil settlements directly out of the police budget; targeting police unions, contracts, and pensions; and establishing powerful civilian review boards. In addition to individual accountability, activists believe that systemic change is needed to defund and demilitarize police. Public resources currently dedicated to police forces should instead be invested in Black communities and local strategies for safety and justice.

The pathways to achieve these changes are still being developed by activists at multiple levels—in community meetings, cubicles, and courtrooms. While recognizing the critical role that public uprisings have played in this movement so far, Gilmer and other activists are actively working to expand the movement’s organizing focus. “Our movement has a systemic analysis, but we need a clearer strategy for how to advance institutional change,” said Gilmer. “We need innovative new tactics. We’re really good at rapid response and getting people out in the street. That’s awesome, but we also need to pivot toward deep community building, and we need to do the unglamorous work of organizing—knocking on doors, talking to people, bringing more people into the movement.”

Activists have been working within communities to realize alternative visions of justice and safety since far before Mike Brown’s death. Mainstream media, however, often ignore these efforts. “The focus of organizers has been building power bases, [increasing] political education around systemic violence/oppression, and crafting policy solutions that radically reimagine our systems of democracy, economy, and justice,” said Mychal Denzel Smith, writer for The Nation and author of Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching. “It’s more a matter of whether the same media that was interested in covering the tanks and tear gas will offer the same amount of camera time and ink to the ways organizers are making change.”

Organizers have forged alternatives to the criminal justice system, including the Audre Lorde Project’s Safe OUTside the System campaign to protect trans and gender-nonconforming community members in Brooklyn and Mothers Against Senseless Killings, who de-escalate conflicts in the Englewood neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side to combat community violence and police involvement.

At the national and local levels, activists are doing the often-unrecognized work to develop their vision for a just society, and bring that vision into praxis. The movement for Black liberation calls on U.S. society to embrace the humanity of people forced to build this country while classified as property, a burden that ideally would fall on the shoulders of those in power. Yet, as activists recognize, the beneficiaries of white supremacy are not likely to relinquish their privileges without outside pressure. In this struggle, as Smith reminds us, “movement politics are where they should be.” This nascent movement continues to develop its goals and strategies—but their commitment to center those most marginalized in the battle against the systems waging war on Black America remains steadfast.

“We have to keep in mind that this current iteration of the Black liberation movement is still in its infancy,” Smith continued. “But the work is being done.”

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