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Opinion

Adoption fairs are speed dating for kids. Families need 'arranged marriages' instead.

Adoption fairs, where foster children and prospective parents mingle, are like 'speed dating.' They're ineffective and damaging. I would know, as I was adopted by parents I met at one of these fairs. States should instead use 'arranged marriages' to match children with well-prepared parents.

By Alicia Morgavia The OpEd Project / March 4, 2011



San Francisco

Singles everywhere are still faced with the arduous task of finding love. It’s a job many children up for adoption know well.

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Potential adoptees often engage in their own pursuit of love, a speed dating of sorts called adoption fairs. At least 20 states run adoption fairs these days. Children available for adoption are brought together in a party-like atmosphere to mingle with would-be parents. The idea is to see if there is a mutual attraction. And like speed dating events everywhere, there’s usually an imbalance in attendees (sometimes the adoptees outnumber the prospective parents) and everyone wears nametags.

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Alas these fairs are not all fun and games. Adoption fairs are ineffective, set the wrong expectations, and are damaging to the children. They should be eliminated. Instead of speed dating, kids would be better off if states used “arranged marriages” to place them in homes with certified “professional parents” – parents ready to handle all the challenges and joys that adoption brings.

I would know.

My adoption fair experience

When I was ten years old in the early 80s, I participated in an adoption fair. My family of thirteen – two parents and eleven children – was dismantled when my youngest brother died of malnutrition. I became a ward of the state of California at the age of three. By the age of ten, I was a veteran of several foster homes and, with my options dwindling, was residing at a group home – a sort of juvenile hall with the décor of a dentist’s office – where they stick the “hard” cases.

Being Hispanic and older, my stock was depreciating fast, so my social worker lined me up with about 20 other kids at an adoption fair held at the Los Angeles Arboretum.

There among the trees and in full view of the Queen Anne Cottage, at the time also the backdrop for the popular television show, “Fantasy Island,” a carnival atmosphere was devised. There were popcorn, games of chance, and games of skill. Couples and families looking to adopt milled about. Ricardo Montalbán, the star of "Fantasy Island," was rumored to be making an appearance.

The goal of the fair was clear to me, even if it wasn’t explicitly stated; I was supposed to sell myself. I stood next to a tree and did my best to appear good.

For a while no one approached me, and I watched other kids attempt to entice the Adopters with strong throws or pretty smiles. The fair encouraged mixing by holding games of leapfrog and partnered up Adopters with foster kids. Finally realizing, similar to a game of musical chairs, that parents were being snatched up, I waded in and leap-frogged a woman while launching a charm offensive on her husband.

I was all good manners and lots of smiles. The husband was brown like me, so I stood close to him hoping he would see himself in me and she, being of a lighter hue, would see what she liked in him in me. We made small talk while I walked the fine line between being pleasing and being obsequious, being engaging and being obnoxious, being energetic and being frantic. We spent about 40 minutes together.

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