The Child Catchers – A Book Review

Back when I traveled to Almaty for work, I used to see the adoptive parents. They accumulated in all the hotels that spoke English, looking haggard, holding hands with confused-looking little kids. Once, someone’s Kazakh adoption fell through and they ended up being referred to me through six-degrees-of-separation. I was in Uzbekistan at the time. I couldn’t help, and I felt bad about it. I got in the habit of reading the blogs, and adoption stories show up surprisingly often in my google alerts for “aid worker” and “international child health.” So international adoption’s been on my radar for a while.

I bought The Child Catchers by Kathryn Joyce on a whim. Amazon had an ad for it, and I like to make sure I read non-fiction that’s not about international development every once in a while. I was thinking it would be a useful view into a culture I don’t know much about.

The book turned out to be far more valuable than that.

I admit, it started out slow for me. Turns out I know a lot more than your average person about international adoption, from the blog-reading and the living overseas. That made the introduction kind of remedial for me.

As I went on, though, I realized that The Child Catchers is an impressive example of systems thinking. The author is able to pull apart the many inter-related pieces of a massive international system and find the links. Her chapter about the way international adoption has helped to prevent social change in South Korea is absolute brilliance. There are very few true villains in international adoption. Just about everyone involved has the best interest of children at heart – yet a tremendous amount of damage is done to children and families. Kathryn Joyce’s systems thinking helps us to understand why.

I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in international issues and children’s welfare – not just people who care about adoption. It’s well-written and a pretty quick read. And the way Ms. Joyce unpacks a complex topic, makes it engaging, and helps us understand is a model for anyone who has to explain complicated topics on a regular basis.