Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Kids' Rights Adoption Movie Review

Olga and Michael are a dating couple who wish to adopt a child. They hope to film their adoption process, and also fear that they will not be approved; after all, when Elton John and his partner attempted to adopt a child from the Ukraine, they were denied. Olga and Michael interview actual and hopeful adoptive parents, governmental officials, and adoption professionals in an attempt to understand what they call “the business of adoption.”

How Does This Connect to Adoption and Foster Care?
Kids’ Rights explores some of the fears and feelings that prospective adoptive parents feel. The documentary questions some of the adoption process as well as some of the decisions made by adoption professionals.

Strong Points
Olga and Michael interview a very wide range of people with a variety of connections to adoption. I was particularly impressed that they included David Pelzer, the author of "A Child Called 'It'."
 Olga allows herself to have her preconceptions challenged and changed.


Sometimes, the filmmakers come across as entitled. They assert that people have the unalienable right to have children, and then try to apply this to adoption. They question the right of an adoption agency to deny an applicant for adoption. The film argues that it is unfair that prospective adoptive parents have to meet criteria to adopt, while biologically “you just need to have sex,” and suggests that it is wrong that children are in orphanages while people who want to parent are turned away. They lament that adoption agencies “look for flaws rather than for strengths.” They do interview one set of adoptive parents who affirm the value of the home study process, but often seem unconvinced themselves. The film does capture the frustration and pain felt by people in the adoption process, but their focus seems to shift between meeting children’s needs and meeting adults’ needs.

The documentary feels one-sided at times.  Elton John’s application for adoption was denied, and the filmmakers argue that it is “absolute madness” because the family would have adopted the child “and even his older brother,” and because Elton John has done much to help the AIDS crisis in Ukraine. My impression from the film is that the denial was due to Ukrainian governmental prejudice against same-sex couples; this did play a part – Ukrainian law only allows adoption to married couples and does not recognize same-sex couples as married.  Some other facts are also presented, but do not appear to be weighed in the film’s condemnation of the denial: Ukrainian law stipulates a maximum age gap (45 years) between adopter and adoptee, which was not met in this case. Also, the children in question were ultimately released from the orphanage to the care of their grandmother. The film seems dismissive of the birth family, unsympathetically relating news of the death of the children’s mother, and suggesting that the grandmother will not be able to meet the financial burden caused by the children’s medical needs.
Overall, my impression of the film is mixed. The film condemns a range of adoption practices, but in the end, Michael and Olga decide that they should face their fears and pursue adoption. I value their heart for children, and I empathize with the pain, fear, and frustration that people feel as they navigate the adoption process. It is painful to perceive unethical behavior in adoption agencies. And yet, not everything that Michael and Olga question is bad. I work in foster care adoption, and the children that I serve have often experienced great loss and trauma. It seems safe to say that most children who are adopted have experienced at least some significant loss. Adoptive parenting requires some skills and conversations and considerations that are not required in other situations, and it’s because of this that there is a need for adoptive families to have extra training and evaluation. Adoption is different than conceiving a child biologically, and although it may seem and feel unfair, it does call for some heightened requirements. And, as the film points out, some of the requirements themselves are unfair and unnecessary. But not all of them.
Weak Points
The film feels inflammatory and insensitive at times. When explaining that only handicapped children can be adopted from one country, a graphic depicts a healthy child sitting locked in a bird cage, while a child in a wheelchair gleefully breaks free. The film’s narration also uses terms like “the war against kids,” which makes it easy to question its objectivity. The filmmakers question how a parent could allow themselves to give up their child.

I felt the film was largely but not totally one-sided – but I’m reviewing it from the perspective of an adoption professional. The tone of the film seems to soften towards the end, and that the frustrations expressed earlier in the film are real, common, and understandable. I would be interested to know how it comes across to an audience of folks with other connections to adoption. If you watch it, I’d encourage you to weigh it carefully. Which points do you agree with? Which do you disagree with?

Questions for Discussion
How do reproductive rights and reproductive desires differ from each other? How does each of these interplay with adoptee rights?
Which parts of the adoption process were the most frustrating?

Should adoptive parents be required to submit to a criminal record screening before being approved for adoption? How about interviews with a social worker? Should training be required?

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