“Crowd Funded” Children: The Disturbing Products of World Adoption Day

Hollywood pastor Hank Frontener and others designated yesterday as “World Adoption Day.” Frontener, according to the World Adoption Day website, is the force behind AdoptTogether.org, the first crowdfunding site for adoption costs. It all sounds good, right? Look closer.

Crowdfunding is the practice of raising money by asking for contributions from lots of people–friends, family, strangers–over the Internet.

Private US infant adoptions (through an agency or attorney) and international adoptions can easily cost $35,000 or more. US foster care adoptions cost very little, so the AdoptTogether crowdfunding has nothing to do with those children.

Why is crowdfunding for adoption controversial?

For one reason, crowdfunding for adoption has the feel of raising money for charity. Adoption should not be seen as an act of charity, or of rescue, or of saving. That approach objectifies the adoptee as a “charity case,” as someone who should be grateful and pitied. That’s not a healthy way to build a family, and it’s an unfair burden for the adopted child (who grows up).

A related reason can be the association of payment for a child–not for the expenses involved in processing an adoption, but for the child. I’m sure I’m not the only adoptive parent who’s been asked “How much did they cost?” It’s demeaning and crass, and smiling while saying it doesn’t make it less repugnant. It’s particularly wrong in reference to an African or African-American child.

Another reason for controversy is that crowdfunding is an astonishing reminder of the economic imbalance between those who are adopting, and those whose children are being adopted. The families featured on the AdoptTogether page are looking to raise between $20,000 and $60,000. The children are from Africa (three from Uganda, one from an unnamed African country), from China, and from the US (an African-American girl).

People who adopt generally have a lot more money than the people who are placing their children. It’s safe to say that the US families adopting have much more cash flow than the Ugandan families, for example. The inequity is enormous. Poverty should not be a reason for a mother of father to lose their child forever, yet it happens again and again.

Imagine, for example, what $60,000 could mean to Simon, the Ugandan father of the twins featured on the AdoptTogether page, and written about in the adoptive mother’s blog (September 27 post, “the grand finale”). The twins also have older siblings in Uganda with whom they will not grow up.

The fact that I know that the name and have seen the photo of the Ugandan twins’ father is another example of why crowdfunding for adoption is so controversial: it often involves an unfettered sharing of extremely personal information. You and I now know more about these little children than they do at this point, and it’s all on the Internet forever, without their permission.

Another reason for controversy is that crowdfunding allows parents to pay for their adoptions completely, and then to receive the adoption tax credit.  In an article written by the CEO of the adoption agency Bethany Christian Services, Pastor Hank Frontener explained why he established AdoptTogether: “…many adoptions are out-of-this-world expensive – $35,000 on average for an international adoption. But…if we could crowdfund, and give people a way to be a part of an adoption financially and have a tax benefit to boot, we’d have something special.”

Indeed. The generous adoption tax credit allow families to recoup their adoption-related expenses for item such as travel, hotels, lawyers’ fees, and so on. The US government has given out $7 billion (yes, billion) in tax credits (not deductions), primarily for private and international adoptions, to adoptive parents. Read more here.

Pastor Frontener and others promoting yesterday’s first World Adoption Day invited “everyone worldwide to post a photo of themselves, their family and their friends with the hands up smiley face with the hashtag #WorldAdoptionDay.” Many did so. Others posted that hashtag along with #flipthescript, a successful, important effort led by the Lost Daughters to have the voices of adoptees included in the long-standing chorus of adoptive parents during November’s National Adoption Month. Learn more about #flipthescript here, and take a look at an excellent video about why it matters.

I tweeted yesterday about #WorldAdoptionDay along with #flipthescript. One of my tweets included a photo from the World Adoption Day store: their “Crowdfunded” tee-shirt.


That photo, that “Crowdfunded” slogan on an ostensibly adopted child, generated quite a response, mostly of anger and frustration, and the tweets flew quickly.

Today, if you go to the World Adoption Day store and look for that shirt, you will get this:


I don’t know if it was removed because of pressure placed on the World Adoption Day site, or if all the shirts were sold out. I appreciate the fact that the item is gone, in any case. It’s an example of commodifying a child, suggesting that there’s something cute about soliciting money from strangers to provide a child with a family.

Unfortunately, the World Adoption Day folks also thought it was cute to sell tee shirts that say “Love Child.” Sigh. Yes, maybe on some odd scale it’s less offensive than saying a child is crowdfunded. Still. “Love Child” has a different connotation than “Beloved Child,” for example, which is not one of the World Adoption Day tee shirts. Clearly “Love Child” as a product on the World Adoption Day site was considered a clever reference to the euphemism for an illegitimate child or bastard. But why should an adopted child bear the burden of reframing the definition of love child?

World Adoption Day’s main focus was to have people post photos with smiley faces on their hands, and to publicize a crowdfunding platform. Its focus was not to promote awareness of the commingling of love and grief in adoption, or to promote family preservation, or to insist that the voices of adult adoptees and first/birth parents be heard. It did not question the high costs charged by adoption agencies, nor promote the need for adoption from US foster care, for which adoption expenses generally do not need to be crowdfunded.

Let’s not crowdfund children either.






9 thoughts on ““Crowd Funded” Children: The Disturbing Products of World Adoption Day

  1. Pingback: Crowd Funding for Adoption - Denise Emanuel Clemen

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  3. I’m horrified by this. I really wish that the organizers would look at the outcome of some of the “crowd-funded” adoptions and advertise and account for their failures too.

    • Yeah, that’s what bothers me about crowdsourcing an adoption: This tends to be acceptable in communities that also treat adoption as, for lack of a better phrase, a religious act. I know no one, after 15 years involved in multiple AP communities, who asked anyone else for money to cover their adoption; it seems that this is common or accepted in church communities, perhaps?

      And the connection between adoption as an act of fulfilling G-d’s will and unprepared APs who have predictable poor outcomes (for their adopted children) isn’t a correlation, as far as I know, but…the horror stories often feature couples who felt called to adopt. I’d love to see some data.

  4. Hi Maureen! I appreciate your post, though it is critical about our adoption and the way we went about raising the money for it. I thought maybe you’d like to know that I agree with you- $60,000 would go a long way for Simon, and that it is in fact very, very sad that the twins will not grow up with their brother’s and sister’s. I think if you read a few other posts on the blog you’ll see my heartbreak and struggle related to both the fundraising and the children’s family in Uganda. What you won’t read is that we plan to stay involved long-term in the twins’ Ugandan family life. We value very much those relationships, and plan to continue them. We also plan to support the family and the siblings in every way possible and have many family and friends here who are planning to do the same.
    Our commitment in adoption is not just to the health and wholeness of the children we adopted, but to their father, their siblings, their community, and to a certain extent, Uganda as a whole. It is not an act of charity, but a sharing of the abundance of love and resources we have as a family. Our crowd funding does not create economic imbalance between those adopting (us) and those whose children are being adopted. That imbalance already exists and is devastating. I am of the conviction that the only way to do away with that unjust imbalance is for us to distribute the excess we have, and the resources to which we have access, to those who could not otherwise get them. There are many means by which this can and must be done (on a personal level but also on a legal and governmental level), but for us, leveraging the resources we have access to in order to share it with a Ugandan family is a small part we can play in lessening this imbalance. The crowd funding platform was a way for us to leverage those resources and allow our family and friends to partner with us in sharing what we have. I so agree that poverty should never be the cause of a parent losing his or her children, but in the case that the children are repeatedly hospitalized and deathly ill, in need of surgery, significantly developmentally delayed, and have been removed from the home an placed in a children’s home (that is also unable to continue care), sometimes, adoption is the best option (of a very un-ideal scenario). It’s heartbreaking any way you look at it.
    In terms of the tax credit, the law does not allow adoptive families to write-off the portion of the adoption that they have fundraised for. Only the expenses for which the family went out-of-pocket with their own money are eligible for reimbursement (and for good reason, I think!). We could have lots of debate if giving this credit to families is the best thing the government can do with taxpayer money, but I think the heart behind both the credit and the adopt together crowd funding platform are good: both see the problem of too many children without the homes and love they need, both know that many families that have the home and love lack a lump sum of money to complete the adoption, and both are trying to do something about it. In the end, I don’t think any of us are going to argue that placing kids in families is not a good thing (clearly, it’s not the ideal… that is of course that adoption is never needed in the first place), but it is the methodology that we can (and should) debate. Here’s to good conversation, raising questions, and to joining together to solve this problem.

  5. Pingback: Crowd Funding for Adoption | Birthmother

  6. Thank you so much for this and for tweeting about that abominable shirt! Love your concise ideas about the controversy of crowd-funding for adoption. Love how sensitive you are about the subject, while writing completely honestly! No child should “become” an orphan (and therefore be adopted) because s/he is poor… Imagine if these large funds were raised to keep families [many of whom are facing systemic injustice] together!

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