Seven years more

The Dutch vice consul who turned his seven-year-old adopted daughter over to Hong Kong social services initially declined comment. And the spokesperson for the Dutch ministry of foreign affairs initially said that this was a “private matter”–however, he did see fit to include a few details:

“This is something which is a private matter and belongs within the family. As far as we know they have behaved within the boundaries of the law and have done nothing wrong. They adopted the child when he was in Korea and took [her] with them when he was posted to Jakarta and then Hong Kong. Then after a very difficult period and much contact and advice from doctors and professionals, it was decided their daughter was to be placed outside the family. It was not something done on a whim or on a late Sunday afternoon. This is a serious and tragic problem which the family has had to face. It has taken place over a very long period of time and not just in the past two weeks. Both Jade and the family have received extensive psychological and psychiatric help.”

Got that? It’s a private matter, but here’s the scoop. Now Raymond Poeteray has also decided to issue a statement:

In a statement published by Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf, Raymond Poeteray — a Hong Kong-based Consul — said his daughter was “very sick,” and suffers from a “severe form of fear of emotional attachment.”

“In contrast to what has been written, we don’t want to be rid of our daughter and there’s no suggestion we would disown her, right up until today. We are (her) parents and we feel responsible for her well-being and we always will.”

She had been handed over to social services in Hong Kong on the advice of doctors. “Although the specialists think now that (she) may not be returned to us, we continue to hope,” he wrote.

The article goes on:

The family firmly denied that they had treated the girl any differently than their own children, but had difficulty in communicating with her from the start.

“We tried intensive family therapy to find a cure. To our great disappointment, things didn’t get better, they got worse and the rest of the family began to suffer immensely from that,” he wrote in a letter signed by him and his wife, Meta.

“In mid-2006, on the advice of known medical specialists, professionals from the adoption organization ‘Mother’s Choice’ and the social services of Hong Kong, it was decided that in (her) interest she should be placed in a separate house and we would not be allowed to have any contact with her. The therapy for our family and our daughter continues to this day.”

Poeteray also said that the girl speaks Dutch, and that while it was true she had never been naturalized as a Dutch citizen, that was an oversight amid larger medical concerns over the girl.

The Dutch spokesperson states that “as far as we know, they [the Poeterays] have behaved within the boundaries of the law and have done nothing wrong.” And I guess that there is much that we will never know about this story. But there is a difference between legal, ethical and moral. It’s entirely possible that the Poeterays have done nothing illegal. You can be within the bounds of the law in terms of caring for your children, but that does not mean that you meet ethical or moral standards. Certainly you can feed your children and clothe them, but does this meet all their needs? I thought about this a lot when I started reading the blog harlow’s monkey–because the reference to Harlow’s experiment with regard to international adoption was intensely disturbing.

Whether or not they’ve done anything wrong is up for debate.

From anecdotal reports from Dutch friends and acquaintances, the Netherlands apparently has many strict regulations in place with regard to adoption, including educational requirements. Yet because there are few available children, prospective parents willingly undertake the requirements. The Poeterays, however, adopted the child in Korea while Raymond Poeteray was posted there. They later moved to Indonesia and in 2004 moved to Hong Kong. My guess would be that they were able to bypass the lengthy Dutch system, instead dealing directly with Korean authorities.

I think something stinks in this story. In particular, I wonder about previous reports that the girl speaks Cantonese and English. There was no previous mention of her speaking Dutch. If she speaks Cantonese, I wonder if that was because she was primarily in the care of a Cantonese-speaking nanny. I also wonder about a Dutch diplomat who would consider it an “oversight” that his daughter did not have citizenship after seven years.

Initial press reports suggested that because the family had two sons “of their own” now, the adopted child was now expendable. Their oldest son is 14, which means he was born around 1993. He would have been seven when the daughter was adopted in 2000. The Poeterays reportedly initially thought they were unable to have more biological children (Raymond Poeteray is 55, I haven’t seen mention of Meta’s age). But Meta apparently conceived after 2004, when they moved to Hong Kong. So they have a two- or three-year-old “of their own.”

Wonder how those kids feel about losing their sister?

If I were the social worker involved in this case, I would have had a lot of questions for these prospective “parents.” Questions about preparation for an adopted child. Questions about feelings about adopting. Questions about infertility. Questions about how to ensure the child’s safety and well being, including securing citizenship.

And I would want to know how apparently very busy and very social people planned to spend significant time with the children, and whether a job which required frequent moves and traveling was the best situation for an adopted child.

I do not believe that mere adherence to the law is ever in the best interest of children.  Because legally adoptive parents have the right to pawn their kids off on nannies or to make frequent moves or to be away from home on a regular basis.  Legally they can adopt when they have not yet come to grips with issues about infertility.  Legally adoptive parents can remove their children from their culture and their heritage and from everything familiar.  Legally adoptive parents can try to pretend that adopted children are “just like their own.”  Legally they can remain ignorant of the issues that affect adopted persons.

But just because it’s legal doesn’t make it right.

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8 thoughts on “Seven years more

  1. There are all kinds of “legal” things done related adoption and to children that SUCK ethically and morally. (Been reading The Baby Thief where I learned that outright kidnappings were made retrospectively legal. Stuff like that throws the entire equation out of balance.)

    We are left with conjecture but the part where they were advised and agreed to no contact, while the child is separated from them, sounds way more like a relinquishment than a temporary placement. I have heard of this treatment strategy with troubled teens, but a SEVEN year old cannot possibly be developmentally ready for “therapy” like this!

    So often, I have to wonder if attachment problems don’t start with the parents rather than the children. And how much of the pathologizing is actually rationalizing.

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  3. “I have to wonder if attachment problems don’t start with the parents rather than the children. And how much of the pathologizing is actually rationalizing.”

    Word on that, Sue.

  4. Pingback: Suffering from “Adoption Disappointment?” « ReadingWritingLiving

  5. This is just a small thing, but is anyone else rolling their eyes at the name ‘Mother’s Choice’ for an adoption agency? (Maybe it’s the American context of Folger’s Choice, Choosy Mothers Choose Jif ..). Ricki Sollinger’s argument about the problem of the language of choice comes pretty clear, here.

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