Using the Laura Silsby Haitian adoption case as a window into child placement schemes that affect poor families, this Article proceeds in four parts. Part I tells the story of the Silsby case and shows how the idea of rescuing poor Haitian children became the narrative that ultimately excused Silsby’s decision to move Haitian children who were not orphans across the border to the Dominican Republic. Part II describes the development of intercountry adoption (ICA) as a means of “saving” poor children and explains how the strength of this rescue narrative feeds illicit child trafficking schemes. Part II also explores the international community’s response to ICA and its focus on protecting the birth family’s unity. Part III describes one customary system of child placement in Haiti, timoun or restavèk, and explains how this system, unlike ICA, does not permanently sever the child’s relationship with his or her parents. This part also considers the problems with timoun, including its potential for exploitation. Part IV exposes the current U.S. child welfare system as a system that disrupts traditional forms of child placement in the United States, much like ICA disrupts the customary systems of child placements in other countries. Finally, this Article concludes that ICA markets and U.S. foster care systems too often disserve the interests of children who may be better served by a system that respects their familial and cultural ties. This Article further concludes that the answer is not necessarily to outlaw ICA or dismantle the domestic foster care system, but that by acknowledging and eventually overcoming the fact that both systems suffer from biases that feed illicit schemes or unnecessarily disrupt poor families, both systems can function as they should — by minimizing the disruption of family unity while fostering the best interest of every child who is impacted by the system.
Shani M. King, Owning Laura Silsby’s Shame: How the Haitian Child Trafficking Scheme Embodies the Western Disregard for the Integrity of Poor Families, 25 Harv. Hum. Rts. J. 1 (2012), available at http://scholarship.law.ufl.edu/facultypub/282