Et tu, Anderson Cooper?

Dear Anderson,
It's me, Kristen. Your #1 fan. I have loved you for a long time. I still do. When you decided to go back to Haiti to continue to tell their story, I was deeply moved. You are everything I appreciate in a journalist: smart, articulate, compassionate, adventurous, and quick-on-your-feet. One of the things I've always enjoyed about your show is your willingness to present multiple layers of complex issues. But last night. Oh, Andy. You made a misstep that had me considering a break-up, and that left adoptive parents, child therapists, and orphan advocates scratching their heads.

Following an update on the Idiot Idaho Ten (I made that name up, but you can use it), you began a discuss on the plight of the orphan in Haiti. Let me first express to you how tired I am of this group of missionaries being the springboard for discussion on orphans in Haiti. After the obligatory "let's let dumb American people upstage the Haitian children" update, you featured an orphanage that seemed to be doing great things in Haiti. In doing so, you personally cited UNICEF's position that orphans should not be adopted to other countries, and suggesting this orphanage was "doing it right" by keeping children in-country to grow up in their orphanage instead of being adopted. You then allowed several staff of the orphanage to make similar statements about how children in orphanages will be the future of Haiti, and that removing orphans from Haiti will strip Haiti of its "natural resources".

These are pretty ideas, to be sure. But as with any opinion that affects people on a broad scale, it's important to do some investigation. You know, like if you had a show that had a "Keeping Them Honest" segment . . . ? Oh wait. YOU DO.

I realize you are tired. I realize you don't have a background in child development. I realize that it may be convenient and easy to just read off the policies UNICEF has readily available for you, and to speak with UNICEF's ample spokespersons and PR reps who seem to be making the rounds. I realize it may be difficult, radical even, to question the policies of such a large and seemingly benevolent organization.

However. May I suggest a bit more investiation before you support a broad-stroke ideology that leaves orphans to grow up in institutions, or before you allow someone to suggest that a generation of institutionalized children will be the hope of an already struggling nation. Just a precursory examination of the literature will make it clear that even the best orphanage is no substitute for the familial developmental needs of a child.

Unfortunately for most children in Haiti, loss is an overwhelming reality right now. Many have lost homes and friends, and even been separated from their families. I applaud the efforts UNICEF is making to reunite displaced children with their families and to house children. I wholeheartedly agree that adoption is not the best option for all Haitian children, or even all orphaned children. I do think there are some amazing orphanages raising great kids. But for those children who have lost both parents in this earthquake, categorically relegating all of them to a life in an orphanage , in a country already struggling to care for an overwhelming number of orphans before this tragedy? This seems devoid of compassion.

I am cognizant of the losses involved in adoption, and specifically the cultural losses involved in international adoption. However, children who never form loving attachments with adults are at risk for much greater losses than cultural identity. Studies show institutionalized children are at high risk for incarceration, and may exhibit developmental delays, hoarding/stealing, hypersexual behavior, habitual lying, outbursts of rage, autistic traits, and cruelty to children or animals. Parents who have adopted older children from orphanages know the harsh reality of attachment issues, and are doing the difficult therapeutic parenting required to reverse these effects. You have likely angered many of them with a casual endorsement of UNICEF's anti-adoption stance, when they observe the far-reaching issues their children face even after adoption.

Anderson, for the sake of these kids, do your research. Don't allow UNICEF or other organizations that benefit from the dependency of orphans to speak for them. The risks orphans face are much greater than a sweeping policy of "keeping kids to their own kind", and there is a wealth of literature to inform us of the real issues. Here are a few places to start:

Achenbach, T. W.; Edelbrock, C.; and Howell, C. T. (1987). "Empirically-Based Assessment of the Behavioral/Emotional Problems of 2–3-Year-Old Children." Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology 15:629–650.

Ames, E. W. (1990). "Spitz Revisited: A Trip to Romanian 'Orphanages.'" Canadian Psychological Association Developmental Section Newsletter 9(2):8–11.

Ames, E. W. (1997). The Development of Romanian Orphanage Children Adopted to Canada. Ottawa: Human Resources Development Canada.

Bowlby, J. (1953). Child Care and the Growth of Love. Baltimore, MD: Penguin Books.

Broussard, M., and Decarie, T. G. (1971). "The Effects of Three Kinds of Perceptual-Social
Stimulation on the Development of Institutionalized Infants: Preliminary Report of a Longitudinal Study." Early Child Development and Care 1:111–130.

Carlson, E. A., and Sroufe, A. L. (1995). "Contributions of Attachment Theory to Developmental Psychopathology." In Developmental Psychopathology, Vol. 1: Theory and Methods, ed. D. Cicchetti and D. J. Cohen. New York: Wiley.

Chisholm, K. (1998). "A Three Year Follow-Up of Attachment and Indiscriminate Friendliness in Children Adopted from Romanian Orphanages." Child Development 69(4):1092–1106.

Chisholm, K.; Carter, M.; Ames, E. W.; and Morison, S. J. (1995). "Attachment Security and Indiscriminately Friendly Behavior in Children Adopted from Romanian Orphanages." Development and Psychopathology 7:283–294.

Crittenden, P. M. (1988a). "Relationships at Risk." In Clinical Implications of Attachment, ed. J. Belsky and T. Nezworski. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Crittenden, P. M. (1992). "Quality of Attachment in the Preschool Years." Development and Psychopathology 4:209–243.

Dennis, W. (1960). "Causes of Retardation among Institutional Children: Iran." Journal of Genetic Psychology 96:47–59.

Dennis, W. (1973). Children of the Crèche. New York: Appleton-Century-Croft.

Fisher, L.; Ames, E. W.; Chisholm, K.; and Savoie, L. (1997). "Problems Reported by Parents of Romanian Orphans Adopted to British Columbia." International Journal of Behavioral Development 20(1):67–82.

Goldfarb, W. (1945a). "Psychological Privation in Infancy and Subsequent Adjustment." American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 14:247–255.

Goldfarb, W. (1947). "Variations in Adolescent Adjustment of Institutionally Reared Children."
American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 17:449–457.

Goldfarb, W. (1955). "Emotional and Intellectual Consequences of Psychologic Deprivation in
Infancy: A Re-Evaluation." In Psychopathology of Childhood, ed. P. Hoch and J. Zubin. New York: Grune and Stratton.

Groze, V., and Ileana, D. (1996). "A Follow-Up Study of Adopted Children from Romania." Child
and Adolescent Social Work Journal 13(6):541–565.

Handley-Derry, M.; Goldberg, S.; Marcovitch, S.; McGregor, D.; Gold, A.: and Washington, J. (1995). "Determinants of Behavior in Internationally Adopted Romanian Children." Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Behavioral Pediatrics, Philadelphia, September 1995.

Hunt, J. M.; Mohandessi, K.; Ghodessi, M.; and Akiyama, M. (1976). "The Psychological Development of Orphanage-Reared Infants: Interventions with Outcomes (Tehran)." Genetic Psychological Monographs 94:177–226.

Kaler, S. R., and Freeman, B. J. (1994). "Analysis of Environmental Deprivation: Cognitive and Social Development of Romanian Orphans." Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 35(4):769–781.

Lieberman, A. F., and Pawl, J. H. (1988). "Clinical Applications of Attachment Theory." In Clinical Implications of Attachment, ed. J. Belsky and T. Nezworski. Hills-dale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Longstreth, L. E. (1981). "Revisiting Skeels' Final Study: A Critique." Developmental Psychology 17:620–625.

Marcovitch, S.; Goldberg, S.; Gold, A.; Washington, J.; Wasson, C.; Krekewich, K.; and Handley-Derry, M. (1997). "Determinants of Behavioral Problems in Romanian Children Adopted in Ontario." International Journal of Behavioral Development 20(1):17–31.

Marvin, R. S., and O'Connor, T. G. (1999). "The Formation of Parent-Child Attachment Following Privation." Paper presented at the biennial meetings of the Society for Research in Child Development, Albuquerque, New Mexico, April 15–18.

Morison, S. J.; Ames, E. W.; and Chisholm, K. (1995). "The Development of Children Adopted from Romanian Orphanages." Merrill-Palmer Quarterly 41(4): 411–430.

Morison, S. J., and Ellwood, A. L. (2000). "Resiliency in the Aftermath of Deprivation: A Second Look at the Development of Romanian Orphanage Children." Merrill-Palmer Quarterly 46(4):717–737.

O'Connor, T. G.; Rutter, M.; and the English and Romanian Adoptees Study Team (2000). "Attachment Disorder Behavior Following Early Severe Deprivation: Extension and Longitudinal Follow-Up." Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 39(6):703–712.

Pinneau, S. (1955). "The Infantile Disorders of Hospitalism and Anaclitic Depression." Psychological Bulletin 52:429–451.

Provence, S., and Lipton, R. C. (1962). Infants in Institutions. New York: International Universities Press.

Rosenblith, J. F., and Sims-Knight, J. E. (1985). "Deprivation and Enrichment." In In the Beginning: Development in the First Two Years. Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole.
Rutter, M. (1985). "Resilience in the Face of Adversity: Protective Factors and Resistance to Psychiatric Disturbance." British Journal of Psychiatry 147:598–611.

Rutter, M., and the English and Romanian Adoptees Study Team. (1998). "Developmental Catch-Up, and Deficit, Following Adoption after Severe Global Privation." Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 39(4):465–476.

Skodak, M., and Skeels, H. M. (1945). "A Follow-Up Study of Children in Adoptive Homes." Journal of Genetic Psychology 66:21–58.

Skodak, M., and Skeels, H. M. (1949). "A Final Follow-Up Study of One Hundred Adopted Children." Journal of Genetic Psychology 75:85–125.

Sloutsky, V. M. (1997). "Institutional Care and Developmental Outcomes of 6- and 7-Year-Old Children: A Contextual Perspective." International Journal of Behavioral Development 20(1):131–151.

Spitz, R. (1945a). "Hospitalism: An Inquiry into the Genesis of Psychiatric Conditions in Early Childhood." Psychoanalytic Study of the Child 1:53–74.

Spitz, R. (1945b). "Hospitalism: A Follow-Up Report." Psychoanalytic Study of the Child 2:113–118.

Tizard, B. (1977). Adoption: A Second Chance. London: Open Books.

Tizard, B., and Hodges, J. (1978). "The Effect of Early Institutional Rearing on the Development of Eight-Year-Old Children." Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 19:99–118.

Vorria, P.; Wolkind, S.; Rutter, M.; Pickles, A.; and Hobsbaum, A. (1998). "A Comparative Study of Greek Children in Long-Term Residential Group Care and in Two-Parent Families: I. Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Differences." Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 39(2):225–236.

Zeanah, C. H. (1996). "Beyond Insecurity: A Reconceptualization of Attachment Disorders in Infancy." Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 64(1):42–52.


  1. Okay, so I know that this was a serious post and I truely appreciate all you had to say however, the resource list for AC to start his research did make me smile a bit. I do hope he investigates and uses your info!
    Oh, and whats the deal with it being okay for celebrities who support UNICEF to adopt and yet they say they don't think it's the best choice for orphans?
    I think there are situations where both adoption and orphanges are appropriate but to say it's one way or the other is ignorant.
    Come on Cooper we expect more then this from you!

  2. You forgot to cite: "Christine's living room, April 2008 - present"

  3. Haha! Yep, Launa, I wanted it to be obnoxious. And Christine, I think you mean "Moers et al"

  4. I couldn't have said it better myself!!!!!!!! Ohhhhhh how I wish A.Cooper could/would get this valentine!

  5. Heidi9:18 PM

    Ahhh I appreciate your vivaciousness! ;) I could add a few sources myself...but those should keep him busy for a bit!

  6. quite the resource list! . . .

  7. dang, girl! i sincerely hope this crosses his desk.

  8. I'm a lurker but wanted to comment on this post. I agree with almost everything you said, strongly, but I do think the situation is a bit more nuanced. If we really support finding broad social welfare solutions for the orphan crisis and not just offering international adoption as the first best solution, then we also have to recognize that sadly, social welfare solutions and reform are very hard to develop, much more so than finding US families to adopt babies. Yesterday I heard a soundbite from Angelina Jolie where she was talking about these nuanced issues but what the media quoted was "Jolie will consider adopting in Haiti!" which is far from what she said. While I certainly understand your frustration with Cooper's report, I also think it takes 10 reports like that for every one "adoption-centered" report for thing to be even remotely balanced. We like to talk about sweeping kids out of their countries and making it all better. We don't want to spend the same time or energy talking about real social change on all levels (including adoption - domestic & international). If Cooper can bring even a tiny bit of awareness that this is a nuanced issue and isn't just as "easy" as sweeping kids out of their countries as the first best and only solution to helping them then I think he did a good thing.

  9. You go girl, tell him! I'm with you 100%!!! I love all of the resources too!

  10. Well said, my friend.

  11. Anonymous9:15 AM

    great points. well stated. best bibliography in a blog post ever.

    well done.

  12. Anonymous9:17 AM

    wow very well said! ps I too smiled when I saw the resource list :-) thank you for writing this Kristen Im so glad your family is doing well
    Renee Rojas

  13. Hi Kristen,
    I wanted to pop in and say something that I don't know if you'll find helpful but I hope will shed some light on a piece that is completely missing from the media coverage. A crucial piece.

    I run an advocacy Initiative that advocates in the Christian community around the topic of orphanages. We don't talk about orphanages vs. adoption. We talk about orphanages vs. family-based care. (Which can include adoption, both domestic or international.)

    Orphanages are recognized by all of the leading international NGOs as the worst form of care for children. There is a coalition of 29 organizations including UNICEF and World Vision (just to cover sort of both ends of the spectrum of secular and faith-based organizations) that have signed onto guidelines for the care of children. The guidelines put permanent orphanage care as a last resort. After adoption.

    So the question I think everyone needs to ask is "if not adoption right now. and if not orphanages in the long-term. then WHAT?"

    The what is called family-based care. And it includes training of foster parents, cash transfers to poor families who need resources in order to keep their children, partnering with churches to recruit families for kids, small group homes, and adoption.

    I do not work for UNICEF. But I work closely with a lot of faith-based organizations and also have a lot of friends at UNICEF. (So I feel I get a good picture of both ends of the spectrum.) The thing is that the two ends are not too far from each other. There is just a huge gap in communication around family-based care.

    The hope is that with the right resources family-based care can become an option in Haiti just as it has become in Sub-Saharan Africa. I am in no way an expert on Haiti. But I travel extensively in Africa to write about family-based care projects and am amazed by the power of family-based care. Including drop in centers, day cares, agricultural projects, and other things that help families keep their children.

    And I say all of this. All of it! As an adoptive mom from Ethiopia. So I want to be clear that I believe adoption is needed in some circumstances. But it is part of a spectrum of care. With orphanages sitting at the very end of the options.

    I think that UNICEF knows this. I know that many sections of UNICEF agree with me very strongly and put money behind it! I don't know why they aren't communicating better on the topic. But I have found that every time I meet with UNICEF folks they are on the same page...

    Just wanted to put in my two cents. I am not at all trying to be argumentative or come across as "pro-UNICEF." I just think there are nuances and answers and options that are simply not being presented in the media....

    PS. It is great to see your list up there. I feel like I'm often trying to convince the world of the pitfalls of orphanage care.

    Here is one more resource. The Better Care Network is an information dissemination network that is partially funded by UNICEF. It's goal is to provide resources about the limitations of institutional care and to provide information about family-based care (called alternative care). Global "better care" is what they promote. I hope it helps. Some of the documents you listed are on their site as well! :)

  14. I graduated from college over twenty years ago, but because of blogs like yours, my education just keeps going and going. Thank you for that. Love this post!

  15. Hey Kristin!
    You're my hero! ;) I hope AC does indeed read this.

    I saw this video today:
    I find it interesting that they quote a UNICEF representative who states,"for full and harmonious development, every child should grow up in a family environment. The institutionalization of a child should be the very last resort and is often the end of a whole series of missed opportunities."


  16. Beautifully written! Please tell me that you and your DH will be sending hard copies to AC in the mail, tweeting him your blog address, emailing, etc. etc. And maybe everyone else you know, too? :)

    I also appreciate the person who commented with info on 'family-based care'. I'd like to look into that more!

    ps - I have commented on your blog a few times, but never explained our connection. I 'met' you a couple years ago on the adoption haircare board. I teach haircare classes for foster & adoptive families in Phx., and you sent me pics of Jafta's locs (back in the day) for me to use in my power point. Thanks again for that! :)

  17. As an adoptive parent of three internationally adopted children, I take extreme exception to the criticism of international adoption. After having spent countless hours in the orphanages and neighborhoods of the country where my children were born, my husband and I have seen first hand the daily reality of orphans' lives and what their futures hold.

    It is reckless to make the blanket statement that orphans' lives are better in their birth country. Yes, there is loss associated with adoption and there are additional losses when you take a child out of their birth country. These losses are more than balanced, however, by the benefits of growing up in a loving family with opportunities for higher education and necessary medical care.

    Until UNICEF has the resources to adequately care for all international orphans and remove the perceived stigma of being an orphan from the societies within which they operate, then they have no basis for making claims against international adoption and the many parents that are seeking to make international orphans are part of their families.

  18. I'm a long time lurker and a single, hopefully soon an adoptive mom! And I'm so in agreement with your post. We need to encourage adoption, if can be done domestically, great! But if not why closed the doors to international. Most of this organizations use child trafficking an as a excuse, but the truth is that child trafficking still is a main issue in countries which are close to adoptions, so please don't tell me that closing this option will help to stop this problem...this is a problem of poverty and education!!!!!! Apart of that, I'd seen so much adoptive parents getting immerse in their children cultural background, learning from them and growing a tremendous pride on what they are and where they come this are just excuses! I hope you had sent this post directly to Mr.Coopper, he needs to other view! Thanks for your post (PS: Need to update my reading list...uff a lot of study to do :)

  19. I applaud you for your bold, informed presentation of another side to a heated topic! Obviously the ideal situation is to allow humans to experience life in their native culture first...

    I am WITH YOU in this... until Haiti has a "from-the-ground-up" intervention to start rectifying the blaring problems and downfalls of their country (not saying this is the fault of Haitian citizens!!)like widespread, devastating poverty, disease, corruption...employing solutions at the ROOT of the cause... You cannot slap a bandaid solution on it and say that for the welfare of the children and the country that children should remain institutionalized, and if adopted are being deprived of their culture...when a FAMILY can provide them with love, shelter, nutrition, healthcare, etc. no matter where in the world the family may be FAMILY in this instance is a better option.

  20. Great resource list...point made! Well done :)

  21. Anonymous7:57 PM

    kristen... thanks. So needed to be reminded of a few things tonight. I adopted internationally three years ago, and as my life group at RH and I wrestle with a 6 year old who still has fall-out and emotional issues from two years in an orphanage overseas. Family is everything. My son now has one person who knows him, loves him and will be his defender, advocate and safe place from now until the end of my life. (Just like I had in my mom and dad). To be known and loved within a family, I can't imagine life without that gift!
    deb (

  22. as usual, you just say it all so much better than i do! i stick to Mommy Rants and name calling LOL. i mentioned your blog in mine last night, and told my readers to go to your blog for more informative info. GO KRISTEN. ali(mom to 14 yo Jackson, left haiti in 2003, HIV+)

  23. Girl, you seriously ROCK! SO WELL SAID!!!!


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