Adoption case highlights need for careful thought

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 December, 2007, 12:00am

Without couples willing to adopt abandoned and homeless children, the world would be a more troubled place. Sadly, there are not enough such families to go around. Untold numbers of children remain in the care of official and charitable orphanages. Even more sadly, adoptions do not always have happy endings.

The case of Dutch diplomat Raymond Poeteray, his wife Meta and their adopted daughter, now eight, has become a talking point. The girl, adopted in South Korea when four months old, is now in foster care in Hong Kong after the Poeterays gave her up to social welfare authorities last year. They have two children of their own, one older and one younger than the girl. Since this was revealed this week, along with Mr Poeteray's explanation that the adoption had gone wrong and caused terrible trauma in his family, there has been strong public reaction.

The sentiment is to be expected. It is not easy to understand how anyone can give up a child whom they have taken to be their own and looked after for seven years. But the situation is a complex one. Mr Poeteray says the adopted girl was medically diagnosed in Hong Kong in 2004 with a severe fear of bonding. This is a recognised condition more commonly associated with children conditioned to life in an orphanage - unlike the girl in question. The condition did not respond to therapy. He says she was placed in 'temporary care' last year on medical and expert advice and that he and his wife did not want to give up their daughter.

Such emotional problems would test any relationship and can be very painful in an adoptive one. Cross-cultural adoptions remain the subject of much debate. In wealthy societies, where there are fewer children for adoption and relatively more applicants, intrusive checks are made on the suitability of adoptive parents, and follow-up and counselling services given. That is often not possible where the need for adoption is greatest.

The union of a homeless child with a loving family makes the world a better place. But without a secure sense of belonging and identity, the relationship can become problematic. The case in Hong Kong, and a similar one in 2005 of an Irish couple who returned a child to an Indonesian orphanage, are sad reminders that for everyone's sake, adoption calls for careful assessment and honest self-reflection. The interests of the child must be paramount.


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