Ethical Challenges in Adoption

So often in coming out of the fog of rainbows and unicorns fantasy adoption narratives, many domestic infant adoptive parents will say things like: “I didn’t know better, now I know,” “I was so uneducated before I adopted,” or “No one ever told me about adoption and trauma.”

Seriously that is not ok. You do not get a free pass for being ignorant and expecting others to teach you. I imagine you research the heck out of some of these things: vacations, restaurants, politics, how to do this or how to do that. Many of you probably spend hours on Pinterest pinning away.

How easy is it to learn about adoption trauma or the issues related to adoption ? Just google “Is adoption bad”, “issues in adoption”. In five minutes, you will learn about the 7 core issues adoptees face, you will learn all about adoption trauma, you will learn about the socio-economic disparity of expecting families considering adoption. Honestly, that simple research should lead you to spend more hours researching more in-depth and then, any person with any decent heart would not consider adopting any more.

I tried that google exercise to come up with something to write about today – yep, very quickly a couple of sites were chosen to share from.

At The Imprint, I found – Ethical Challenges Remain in The World of Private Adoptions by Daniel Pollack and Steven Baranowski from March 2021. From delving into the world of Georgia Tann and the Memphis Branch of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society in connection with my mom’s adoption, I already knew a lot about the early days of adoption. Dangerous informal child care arrangements in the early to mid 1900s have been replaced by a patchwork of state and federal laws, regulations and child care practices meant to serve the best interests of everyone associated with adoption, but we continue to allow for ethically concerning “wrongful” adoptions.  

Over the last two decades, the National Association of Social Workers developed a Code of Ethics and child welfare practices have evolved and stronger assessment practices related to approval of adoptive parents have been established. Despite these advances, social workers have found themselves observing or being caught up in ethically challenging adoption practices that have continued to lead to unethical family disruptions and poorly implemented adoption policies, all of which have created more “wrongful adoptions” and a continued mistrust of the profession. 

Disrupting family structures for the so-called “best interest” of the child is the most ethically challenging aspect of adoption and child welfare practices. The rescuing of “orphan” children from “Third World” countries has led to an increase in human trafficking and is the most blatant form of family disruptions for the sake of making money through the guise of a legal adoption. 

All social workers are expected to promote social justice, the dignity of the person and to call out dishonesty and fraud. Ethical social work practice demands social workers focus on the rights of children and families to determine their own future, while advocating for transparent legislative oversight, protections for “whistleblowers” and increased education and social justice activism to eliminate wrongful practices. Another important aspect is the typically rushed adoption placement practice that occurs in many private infant adoptions.

There is more available from the article above at the link shared. The other site I found was at Mom Junction and was titled 7 Common Problems & Challenges Of Adoption written by Debolina Raja as recently as May 24 2022 (just days ago). The image illustrating this blog came from there.

Here’s the list (you can read more about each one at the link) –

  1. Financial Challenges
  2. Legal Challenges
  3. Intercountry Adoption
  4. Health Challenges
  5. Emotional Challenges
  6. Cultural Challenges
  7. Ethical Challenges

Try the google experiment – you just may learn something you didn’t know before. And always, research exhaustively. Something as important as this should not be decided based upon emotions or a desire to “do good” in the world.

Ending Intercountry Adoption

The more I’ve learned about this, including from now adult adoptees brought to the US from another country, the more it has troubled me. Today, I came across a document about – The Legal Mandate for Ending the Modern Era of Intercountry Adoption by David M Smolin.

After describing all the high level discussions and reports – from the United Nations to The Hague, which included defining the sale of child as human trafficking. He say that these international instruments have been an important success, changing fundamentally and positively the way these subjects are understood. Unfortunately, the project of bringing intercountry adoption practice into conformity with these standards has largely been a failure. Also that applying these developing standards to the approximately 70 year history of modern intercountry adoption nets one overall conclusion: the system as a whole has failed to implement its own principles and standards.

Even within the context of most of the more positive efforts are extensive histories of systemic abuses, usually with little or no governmental provision of remedies or assistance to the persons and families deeply hurt by those abuses. Far too little, far too late. He notes that if systemic intercountry adoption is to continue, there would need to be a large-scale revision as to the implementation of norms and the provision of remedies, when norm violations occur. Trying to do intercountry adoption the same way will end up with the same un-remedied harms to children and families that we have seen over the last 70 years.

The author states his “conclusion does not mean that every international adoption has been illegal in the modern era of intercountry adoption. Some individual adoptions most likely have met international standards. Further, some nations during certain periods of time may have had practices in conformity with, or close to conformity with, international standards. However, these exceptional circumstances cannot justify the maintenance of a system of intercountry adoption which pervasively and systematically violates international standards.”

I am in favor of family preservation and decidedly not in favor of strangers taking children out of their culture and away from their native language – ever. His entire document is 23 pages long. You can read it at the link above.

Marketing Matters

Barbara Corcoran

We don’t watch commercial TV. I read about this in my all things adoption group the other day. Someone in my adoption group posted about this, so I went to the linked article. He wrote –  My wife and I sometimes watch Shark Tank, and in one of the episodes, Barbara Corcoran mentions having an adopted daughter. I looked up more, and saw this article in INC, an excerpt –

“Attracting moms who wanted to give you their baby was exactly the same as writing a good real estate ad,” says Corcoran. “You needed a great top line, and my top line I used in every Pennysaver in the Catholic states was ‘I want your child to ski in the winter and spend summers at the beach.’ Sort of like the baby version of ‘views and lots of light,’ ” she says, laughing. “It’s all sales. I think I had 27 moms who wanted me to take their babies–and it’s not easy getting a baby in America.”

“You do what you gotta do,” says Corcoran. “It’s called sales.” Understandably, this does not sit well with adoptees. No one wants to think of anyone treating them like a marketable commodity.

It is rather well known at this time that there is only 1 “available for adoption” infant for every 40 couples wanting to adopt one. This is what drives all these Republican states to enact such strict abortion laws because as the Salvation Army told me when I was on my journey to discover my two adoptee parents’ original birth stories, after Roe v Wade, the Salvation Army had to close all of their homes for unwed mothers because they had none to serve.

It was not Corcoran’s ad writing skills that brought her 11 yr old daughter, Katie, to her. Corcoran’s adoption attorney called her one day and said she had found a birth mother who wanted to put her infant girl up for adoption–and needed an answer immediately. Corcoran said yes on the spot. “In the end, it was a relief to let it go. To let fate take charge,” she says. And this from a woman with a take-charge personality.

Much that she describes in this interview is familiar to me, as my husband and I have spent 30+ years in business together as entrepreneurs. It takes a high degrees of confidence and a tolerance for risk. For us, we have always had to know when to severely tighten our belts financially until things got better. So far, they always have. Though age is now weighing heavily on us, as my husband recently turned 70 and “technically” is retired from our business, which only means he is no longer taking a salary, not that he isn’t working all the time to bring some kind of income into our lives. We still have two dependents (one is almost 18 and the other is 21) and are not kicking either of our sons out of the house – these two houses on our farm are one each for each boy – rent free – as long as they want to live here. We really don’t mind. Who knows how long the 4 of us have together ? None of us is guaranteed a future regardless.

This how it was for my husband and I, we were forced into bootstrapping. It took us pretty far but we never really knew how to take that to the next step. “The best way to fund any company is bootstrapping. You spend your money smartly, because you don’t have enough. Every dime I had, I had to think about best use. It’s real money. It’s hard-earned money. It is born out of enormous hard work. That’s the kind of money you don’t lose so fast,” Barbara Corcoran says.

No One Is Owed A Child

Saying I can’t have a child, so I am adopting, is not hoping. It is deciding that because you can’t carry a child, you will just take one from another woman. Your hope to gain a child is a hope that another family will lose one.  In order for a child to be able to be adopted, they will be separated from their parents. Adoptee’s loss, adopter’s gain.

There is a difference between hoping to become pregnant and feeling entitled to someone else’s child.

One adoptee notes – I didn’t need a home. My mother needed assistance. My adoption could have been easily prevented, if somebody would have helped her, instead of helping themselves to me. Hopeful adoptive parents are and will continue to be the problem feeding the system with money which it lives on, instead of actually helping with a family’s preservation.

Every person who prays for the opportunity to adopt a child is essentially praying for a vulnerable mother to make a very terrible decision to give up their child or for the parents to make a mistake that causes their children to be removed. People should pray that children never need to be adopted. Society needs to start helping families, especially financially, instead of trying to separate them.

Where do you get your massive savior complex ? ie I’m taking this child because I deserve a child, and I’m also fully convinced that I’m saving it from a Bad Life.

Having a child is NOT a human right, it is a biological drive. If you can’t have one, just taking somebody else’s, is not going to supply you with what you think it will.

“Family status” is a category protected from discrimination – you can’t exclude people from housing because they have children. It’s important that people have a right to conceive and birth a child, if they so choose and not face discriminatory policy as a result. It does not and should not mean that should you be unable to do that on your own, that you can buy someone else’s kid.

A right to make a choice about conceiving or not is a reproductive right – not the right to a baby. Nobody has a right to anyone else’s baby/child. Fair Housing does provide some protection for families with children. There is just no right to a baby/child, if a person is infertile. If a person is infertile, that is just their reality.

A lot of adoptive parents with buyer’s remorse say that they felt a pressure or obligation to society to have kids. Which directly feeds into people who feel entitled to children to fill a societal need. I’ve actually been asked in job interviews why I won’t adopt.

A child is a human with their own rights. There are parental rights because a child can’t make all their own decisions but those aren’t a thing until there is a child.

Ask yourself – How would you handle it, if a family member lost their parental rights ?

I hope you would be there for them and this includes caring for their child. Not adopting their child but being a support for that family member, to do whatever it takes to have their parental rights restored. I’m not a legal expert but I would hope that last part about restoration is always possible.

AdoptTogether Crowdfunding

It has become quite common for hopeful adoptive families to turn to crowdfunding to pay the expenses of adopting a newborn baby. The cost is often $50,000 for an international adoption, about $30-40,000 domestically. That is due to additional costs of bringing a child in from another country.

Hank Fortener, is the founder and CEO of AdoptTogether. The website says – “His family fostered 36 children and adopted 8 from 5 different countries while he was growing up. He knows firsthand how painful & euphoric adopting a child can be, and it is this experienced heart for adoption that drives AdoptTogether.”

In my all things adoption group, someone asks an obvious question – how many original moms could that $30,000 help to keep their baby, instead of surrendering it to adoption ? I agree. As a society we really don’t care enough to help families stay together.

An article in Forbes back in September 2021 highlighted the work of this organization. In that interview, Hank says – I had the idea that if we could turn crowds into communities, if it truly takes a village to raise a child, it can also mean it takes a village to raise funds to bring a child home. It did not seem fair that insurance could cover most expenses of having a baby in a hospital, but there was nothing for those who could not have a child, or chose to parent a child that needed parents. AdoptTogether was born in our hearts 2009, and then went live in 2012. The organization has helped over 5,000 families raise over $26 Million.

According to Daniel Pollack and Steven M Baranowski writing in The Imprint – Ethical Challenges Remain in The World of Private Adoptions. Adoption practices continue to challenge the ethics of social workers due to myriad conflicting interests which have existed since the practice began. Dangerous informal child care arrangements in the early to mid 1900s have been replaced by a patchwork of state and federal laws, regulations and child care practices meant to serve the best interests of everyone associated with adoption, but we continue to allow for ethically concerning “wrongful” adoptions.  

Social workers have found themselves observing or being caught up in ethically challenging adoption practices that have continued to lead to unethical family disruptions and poorly implemented adoption policies, all of which have created more “wrongful adoptions” and a continued mistrust of the profession. Disrupting family structures for the so-called “best interest” of the child is the most ethically challenging aspect of adoption and child welfare practices. The rescuing of “orphan” children from “Third World” countries has led to an increase in human trafficking and is the most blatant form of family disruptions for the sake of making money through the guise of a legal adoption.

Personally, I do not believe that crowdfunding making it possible for more families to afford to adopt improves the ethics of the adoption industry.

Ukrainian War Orphans

It was already on my mind. Wondering if the adoption agencies are gearing up for a bunch of white orphans from Ukraine. Well, it isn’t happening at this early stage but already I found a troubling article in The Guardian by Katy Fallon. As has happened with Mexican children at the US border, desperate parents are sending children alone to meet relatives across the border in Poland but they are not being met by anyone.

Children are going missing and cases of human trafficking are being reported by aid groups and volunteers along Ukraine’s borders amid the chaos of the refugee crisis triggered by the Russian invasion. Charities and rights groups working in neighboring countries to receive refugees said they had seen cases of trafficking, missing children, extortion and exploitation as more than 2.5 million people crossed into neighboring countries to escape the escalating violence.

“This is obviously extremely distressing for a child and can lead to them wandering around the station alone, disoriented and in the worst-case scenario, disappearing altogether. This, unfortunately, is not a hypothetical case – it has happened already,” Karolina Wierzbińska a coordinator for Homo Faber said. “We are also already getting reports of cases of human trafficking and women being offered work in Poland only to find the workplace is illegitimate, the employer is mistreating them, refusing to pay their salary on time. There are cases of extortion of personal documents or money.”

Homo Faber, a human rights organization based in Lublin, Poland, has been working at all four border crossing points to mitigate the risks and has set up a 24-hour helpline, operated by Ukrainian speaking volunteers trained to support women and children crossing the border. At nearly every train station near border crossings, crowds of people, often men, hold cardboard signs offering refugees lifts to destinations across Europe. Wierzbińska said it was impossible to vet every person offering to drive refugees to friends or family before they picked people up. Polish border guards have been helping to distribute the organization’s leaflets, which detail how to keep personal documents safe, how to prepare for travelling through busy train stations with children and what to do if someone offers you a ride but changes the destination during the journey.

“We feel strongly that information should reach women before they cross into Poland,” Wierzbińska said. “These are people dealing with serious trauma. The amount of conflicting information, decisions to be made – the sheer volume of stimuli can lead to a cognitive overload. The sooner they are made aware of the situation awaiting them in Poland, the more time they have to process it.”

Monika Molnárová, from Caritas Slovakia’s stop human trafficking team, said Slovakia’s national unit for combatting human trafficking was working at the border and had intervened to protect women and children in suspected cases. “The risk of trafficking is considerable, as the refugees, exhausted and deprived of any basic comfort, are, with every new day on the road, more and more vulnerable. We believe traffickers and recruiters are most probably targeting both women travelling alone and women travelling with children,” she said.

At a temporary camp for refugees near the border, run by Slovakian authorities, camp manager Sergej Savin said that they did not allow ad hoc transportation of people from the site. He added that there had been people who had turned up offering rides. “In some cases, it was not good. For example, there was a man, he wanted only one woman and four children. I told him to go. We cannot do this like that,” he said.

Usually the UN would register refugees at the border and identify vulnerable people such as unaccompanied children. “Now, obviously, because of the sheer scale of the numbers who are coming over, and the fact that the borders are effectively just open, this isn’t happening, which makes it incredibly difficult to identify children who are unaccompanied and separated,” said Joe English, a UNICEF spokesperson. He said that the agency was setting up a system of ‘blue dot’ safe spaces for children in seven countries receiving refugees.

Ro Razavi

My favorite thing to do while driving to my weekly grocery shopping each week is to listen to the Classic Rock Cafe on 93.1 out of Perryville MO hosted by Zav. At the end of his shift, he went on a proud parent rant about his son, Ro Razavi.

I am always surprised at how many people have adoption somewhere in their families. Zav adopted Ro Razavi from Vietnam when he was 6 years old. His adoptive father’s pride on how this young man has shined so brightly as a golfer was obvious. He is a junior in an O’Fallon Missouri high school, maintaining a 3.38 GPA.

The reason for Zav’s happy rant was that his son has just signed a 4 year golfing scholarship at Chaminade University in Honolulu Hawaii.

Ro has competed on the Varsity golf team at Liberty High School since his freshman year and will be the top player on the squad this upcoming year. Ro also plays a steady schedule of Gateway PGA Jr tour events and has accumulated 27 junior tour wins and was awarded the 2018 Gateway Jr Tour Player of the Year honors.

Ro is an extremely hard worker and is constantly striving to improve both his golf game and in the classroom working diligently on his academics. He also has great leadership skills and is a great listener. While playing golf at the collegiate, he intends to pursue a degree in Business and Marketing.

Since 1999, Americans have adopted a total of 5,578 Vietnamese children, making Vietnam the third most popular East Asian adoption destination after South Korea (19,370) and China (71,632), Department of State figures show. But for decades, the overseas adoption process in Vietnam has been colored by stories of fraud, deception and human trafficking.

Vietnamese adoptions plummeted to zero by 2011, according to the US Department of State. This was the result of a US ban on Vietnamese adoptions in 2008, stemming from concerns that documents were being altered, mothers coerced into giving up their children, and children being put up for adoption without their parents’ knowledge. This young man would have been adopted in approx 2005 or 2006, so before the ban.

On September 16 2014, the US and Vietnam lifted the ban, allowing adoptions of children with special needs, those who are five and older and those who are part of a sibling group, according to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services.

3,300 Vietnamese children who were part of 1975’s Operation Babylift, which sent orphans from war-torn Vietnam to western families in Europe, Australia and the United States. While touted as a humanitarian campaign, the operation had its critics, who alleged that the US-led effort was a public relations stunt designed to re-brand America’s sullied image after a protracted war. Questions emerged about whether many of the orphans were really orphans at all, or children unwillingly plucked from the homes of Vietnamese families, who felt forced to relinquish them.

There have been camps for Vietnamese adoptees at Estes Park CO (sponsored by Heritage Camps for Adoptive Families) that had been held each summer before the pandemic to allow these children to have contact with others like them. It appears that in person camps will be returning for the summer of 2022.

Heritage Camps have a focus of supporting transcultural/transracial adoptive families. We connect adoptive families with authentic cultural experiences, providing positive representations that affirm the inherent worth of a child’s birth culture through fun, age-appropriate, interactive activities, and cultural/racial “mirrors” — camp counselors and presenters from adoptees’ birth cultures.

National Adoption Month and Teens

It’s that time of year again. Yes, November. National Adoption Awareness Month.

From Child Welfare dot gov – National Adoption Month is an initiative of the Children’s Bureau that seeks to increase national awareness of adoption issues, bring attention to the need for adoptive families for teens in the US foster care system, and emphasize the value of youth engagement. We have focused our efforts on adoption for teens because we know that teens in foster care wait longer for permanency and are at higher risk of aging out than younger children. Teens need love, support, and a sense of belonging that families can provide. Securing lifelong connections for these teens, both legally and emotionally, is a critical component in determining their future achievement, health, and well-being.

This year’s National Adoption Month theme is “Conversations Matter.” Incorporating youth engagement into daily child welfare practice can start with a simple conversation. Listen to what the young person has to say, what their goals are, and how they feel about adoption. Create an environment where they can be honest and ask questions. Youth are the experts of their own lives, so let them partner with you in permanency planning and make decisions about their life.

In 2019, there were over 122,000 children and youth in foster care waiting to be adopted who are at risk of aging out without a permanent family connection. Approximately one in five children in the U.S. foster care system waiting to be adopted are teens. Teens, ages 15-18, wait significantly longer for permanency when compared to their peers. Only 5% of all children adopted in 2019 were 15-18 years old. There is a high risk of homelessness and human trafficking for teenagers who age out of foster care.

More statistics from 2019 (the most recent year data is available) – of the 122,000 children and youth waiting to be adopted: 52% are male, 48% are female, 22% are African American, 22% are Hispanic, 44% are white, while the average age is 8 years old – 11 percent are between 15 and 18 years old.

The History of National Adoption Month –

In 1976, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis announced an Adoption Week to promote awareness of the need for adoptive families for children in foster care.

In 1984, President Reagan proclaimed the first National Adoption Week. In 1995, President Clinton expanded the awareness week to the entire month of November.

You Never Owe Someone Else Your Baby

In my all things adoption group, the prime mission is to keep mothers and their babies together. To discourage them from choosing a rash permanent solution to whatever their temporary problem is that has caused them to consider relinquishing their baby to strangers. The pressure to do so, due to a shortage of newborn infants available for adoption, is huge. Today’s story –

An expectant mother in Illinois has received assistance from some hopeful adoptive parents since end of March. She’s uncomfortable with them, wants to back out and keep her child, but is afraid. They are already threatening her with things like being sued if she backs out.

Now for a reality check – She should absolutely back out. Keep her child. Sued for what? Money? It would be a waste of their time. She could have a judgment against her but then, they would have to file to collect. If she received assistance from them, she may be lower income and therefore, the likelihood they would be able to collect at all isn’t looking promising. Maybe she signed a contract, but so what ? She still doesn’t owe somebody her baby. She cannot be forced to sign over the baby. Stop contact. Breathe. Stress is no good for the baby.

Nothing they can legally do would be worse than mom losing her baby.

I’d say “take me to court then!” Your gut feeling is correct. Keep your baby!

Even if they paid her a lot of money, it qualifies as a gift because otherwise, it would literally be considered bribery and/or extortion to obtain a child. There is no valid contract available to give your baby to someone for money and it would probably be them getting in trouble if they did have one written up and signed. It’s not illegal in any way to decide you want to parent your own child.

They can’t take her to court. They can’t do anything. If they were to try, they would get themselves in bigger trouble because it means they intended to buy a baby. The law prevents adoption agreements before birth. She should cut all contact and ignore them.

To get them to leave her alone, she could in writing, sent by certified mail, send them a letter stating that any further contact will be considered criminal harassment. She can send them a cease and desist outline warning them that any future contact will result in legal action, including a no-contact order. Any assistance they provided is legally a gift. She could also remind them that paying money or goods in exchange for a child is a federally a trafficking charge.

You can’t buy a baby, and that’s what they are trying to do. If they are with an agency, the agency might try to make her think she needs to give them the baby, but that’s also illegal on their part. Gifts are given with no assumption of anything in return, and items given to “birth moms” (hate that they use that before birth – totally grooming) are expressly and legally classified as gifts. Also, just in general, even if she still was considering adoption, this is a major, massive, huge red flag that these are not good people and should not be parents to anyone’s child. Maybe not even their own biological kids. This is really sick behavior and indicative of people with serious issues.

And why is this so important ? Here’s a true story from another woman in this same kind of situation.

I received some money when I was considering that same choice. I backed out and everything seemed okay. The hopeful adoptive mom showed up at the hospital unannounced, after the baby was born. She just walked into my room (I forgot to terminate my release of information, so when I had the baby she was notified and flew in from California.) She had these baby clothes with her that she had embroidered with the name she had chosen for my daughter. I honestly thought she was going to kidnap her. She ran when I pushed the call button. After that the hospital heightened security and no one could find us without a code. It was a scheduled c section, but it wasn’t scheduled until that last month. I wasn’t in contact with them by that time. It was pretty scary, but the hopeful adoptive parents never retaliated nor were they able to sue me or try to take my child. I’m mentioning this story so hopefully nothing like that happens to anyone else. If you change your mind, don’t forget to tell the hospital to terminate releases of information! You don’t owe them your baby.

Mormon Adoption of Native American Children

The Mormons – yet again. Taking other people’s children to advance their religious cause. A white middle-aged man, Michael Kay Bennion writes in his lengthy dissertation titled Captivity, Adoption, Marriage and Identity: Native American Children in Mormon Homes, 1847-1900 – “I remembered that my third great-grandfather once traded
a horse for ‘an Indian boy, two or three years old.’ Or so his journal said.”

Some Mormons saw the purchase of a Native American as the adoption of a child when they were unable to have children of their own. Jacob Hamblin (a ranch by that name, Hamblin, figured prominently in the Mountain Meadows
Massacre) traded the Utes “a gun, a blanket and some ammunition” for a six-year-old boy “stolen from a small tribe.” Many Mormons view Jacob Hamblin as a type of nineteenth-century social worker, others would assert he was a slave trader. The fact is that Jacob acquired many children and parceled them out, sometimes in exchange for trade goods, making “slave trader” a distinct possibility. Jacob Hamblin, according to his own words, believed that his work saved lives and indicated he felt grief over separating the families.

From north to south, Native American children were entering Utah Mormon families in increasing numbers in the 1850s, even as the New Mexican slave trade slowly decreased. Not all Native American children traded to Mormons easily or happily identified with their captors. There are many stories of runaways and those persons who never adjusted to the Mormon culture. The Utah slave trade caused grief and pain for the children’s parents and also for children who were stolen and placed in Mormon families. Imagine these trembling, frightened captives thrust into a culture very different from their own, who then had new identities imposed upon them.

Native Americans captured, traded, given away, or sold into Mormon homes experienced a difficult cultural shift from growing up Native American to growing up Mormon. Many Latter-day Saint families acquired these children out of a sense of religious duty. They then embraced the difficult task of fostering these children into a new culture, often with mixed results. Most of these adoptive parents felt little or no need to preserve Indigenous customs within the lives of these children. While retaining the external physical characteristics that Mormons and other Euro-Americans used to identify them as “Indians,” they were taught to respond socially as members of Mormon society.

These children had the difficult task of reconciling their past and the newly imposed white identity and their success often was a reflection of the kindness or malicious actions of those white persons involved with them.  This resulted in various behaviors from within uniquely constructed internal identities. Some of these children learned to live in the seams between cultures, some accepted the new culture, and others resisted it.

During the American Civil War, several children were adopted by Mormon families after surviving two horrific massacres which were perpetrated by a Californian Union volunteer regiment of the US Army. At the Bear River Massacre and at a subsequent battle, these volunteers killed hundreds of Shoshones and Bannocks. There were 5 surviving children, left homeless and wounded by the attacks, that required medical attention, food and clothing.  The Mormons in southern Idaho and northern Utah provided these. One of those five died but the remaining four were adopted into Mormon homes.

Against a backdrop of conflict and tribal upheaval, Native American children in Mormon homes would sometimes reach maturity and assert their own identities. Mormon foster parents or indenture holders (a common practice in those times)  attempted to teach the Native American children the white way of life, even as these Mormons tried to reconcile their own deeply held cultural prejudices with a sense of mission – against the actual reality.

An example of this trade in children is illustrated in a story of a Native American who is said to have told a white
Mormon man – “I’ve got too many children, and my wife’s got another new baby and I’ve got to get rid of this one.” To which the Mormon replied, “[G]ive it to me. I’ll take it and feed it and save it. But I don’t want you to take it back, when it gets a little bigger, when it could kind of help the family…We don’t want to raise a baby and then [you] come and take it away [from] us again. So…I’ll pay ya for the little girl.” Turns out the little girl’s mother was not pleased and made a fuss. The Mormon insisted to the Native American man, “Now make up your mind right now and never change it, because you can’t have this baby back if you take the horse.”

This negotiation sounds more like purchasing a pet than adopting a child. The mother of the child, who was understandably distraught over the loss of her child is described as “squawking” like an animal, rather than weeping for
her child. The source of this narrative trivialized a highly emotional parting of mother and child.  Such was the perspectives of white people during that time.

Marginal food and clothing resources among Native American family clusters in the 1850s Great Basin region worsened as Mormon settlers appropriated the best fields and river bottoms for their own use. As previous narratives indicate, sometimes the Native American families simply gave away a child, when resources became so scarce that the child represented more of a burden than an asset.  I call it desperation for their children to survive.

As Mormons encountered Native Americans, they found that the ideal in their scriptures of the chosen Lamanites of the House of Israel rising up to claim their blessings (an interesting tenet of the Mormon religion that believed the dark skinned “fallen” could be made white again) often clashed with the predominant Euro-American image that Indians were perpetually dirty and permanently degraded. In coping with this paradox, Mormons tried to find ways to bring the Native American image up to the standards of their own ideal.

Washing and clothing Native American children is reported in many literary and direct experience accounts of bringing Native American children into Mormon homes. This process of cleaning up natives was not unique to the Mormons. It is frequently found in stories of captivity and adoption narratives, beyond those of the Mormons, and cannot be classified as a unilateral phenomenon, limited to Euro-American captors and Native American captives.

One can feel the deadening sense of deprivation and the unwelcome new smells, textures and tastes that lye soap, water and cotton or linsey woolsey presented to a Native American child leaving their culture unwillingly and entering another. The abrupt changes in sight, sound, odor and taste that Native American children experienced upon entering a totally alien environment would have been severely disruptive.  Their appearance, demeanor, and smell were often disagreeable to Mormon women. It is true that both Native Americans and Whites altered the appearance of their captives. One reason was to bring their outward appearance into culturally accepted norms.  The other reason was an attempt to remove the “other” in them while inducting them into the captor’s culture. Additionally, washing and clothing are known to have had religious overtones in Mormon culture and so, Mormon pioneer women were expressing this in scrubbing newly adopted Native American family members.

It was not only the physical dirt, but spiritual filth that needed to be exorcised, as demanded by their salvational way of thinking. Mormon mothers and fathers understood physical cleanliness as a prerequisite for repentance. In this way, they believed they could participate in redeeming the Lamanites. Some Mormon mothers may have hoped that their Lamanite child would put off their old culture, so that their labor would not be in vain as they presented a clean child, dressed in Euro-American style, to the other family members. With some others, it may have simply been that they could not tolerate unfamiliar odors wafting from the Native American.

The imposition of external markers of the white culture divided the adopted Native American children from their birth culture and delineated the expectations of the Mormon family for their future behavior. Some Native American children seized upon the cues in their new environment and built upon them, some would forever resist assimilation and others would use ethnic behaviors from each culture as the situation demanded. But each child forced into a new way of living had to construct an identity they could survive with.

Regarding all of these children, given the times and environmental conditions caused by white settlement, any one of them might have starved or have been traded to the Utes and taken to New Mexico given the thriving slave trade of that time. However, such a child might have lived a long life, had a family of his own even though, as many did, he had to struggle through all that Native Americans dealt with in the late nineteenth century. That child remaining in his culture realistically would have loved his tribal life and experienced a sense of wholeness, that being separated from it was never going to embody.

Thank you for bearing with me leaning into my history loving heart. Learning that the Mormons had taken 40,000 Native American children out of their culture, adopting them into their religious and family lives, caused me to visit this related story. Back to more usual topics, I’m certain, tomorrow.