Holt International headquarters in Eugene, Oregon

On September 17, 2023 the New York Times published an article titled “World’s Largest ‘Baby Exporter’ Confronts Its Painful Past.'” In response, Holt President and CEO Dan Smith wrote a letter to the editor reinforcing Holt’s long-standing commitment to ethical international adoptions. Below you can read this letter as well as a description of Holt’s history and an explanation of our work on behalf of orphaned and vulnerable children around the world.

To the Editor: 

Holt International Children’s Services commends your story titled World’s Largest ‘Baby Exporter’ Confronts Its Painful Past that sheds light on past adoption practices. But it didn’t tell the whole story. 

Holt International Children’s Services, an accredited child placement agency, has advocated for 65 years for stronger and standardized adoption practices worldwide, which led to U.S. adoption in 2008 of the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption to ensure the interest of children is given priority. 

Holt has a longstanding commitment to ethical standards that emphasize family-strengthening services that result in children remaining with their birth families. For children without the option of remaining with a birth family, we advocate domestic adoption so children grow and thrive in the culture of their birth. 

The last option is international adoption where children are placed in loving families that have undergone a home study review. In our view, permanent placement in a home is far superior to children remaining in an orphanage. 

International adoption often draws criticism. Bad and illegal adoption practices deserve criticism. However, to make blanket criticism of international adoption is to deny the countless adoptions sensitively arranged that have enriched the lives of children and families in America and contributed to the nation’s expanding diversity. 

Dan Smith

President and CEO Holt International Children’s Services 

The Evolution of Adoption: Holt’s Mission Has Always Been To Put Children First

Harry and Bertha Holt pioneered international adoption after the Korean War for orphaned, vulnerable and marginalized children. Their connection to Korean orphans, however, began earlier as child sponsors, donating money to help children survive and thrive in their home country. They came to see adoption as the only path for some children to have a loving family.

The vision for Holt International Children’s Services has always been a loving, secure home for every child — whether in their birth family or, if that’s not possible, an adoptive family.

Holt International has a unique perspective on how culture impacts children. Many of the first adoptees out of Korea were biracial children or children of single mothers, both of which violated cultural norms at the time in Korea. These children faced stigma and discrimination and did not have the option of family reunification. Adoption in Korea was problematic. The best option for those children was adoption to families who could offer a stable and loving home.

Adoption remains part of what we do today. But the biggest part of our work involves strengthening families with children around the world. In 2022, we helped to strengthen more than 1.5 million families and children. We cared for 4,405 children in orphanages, group homes or foster homes. We kept 32,687 children with their birth families. We united 337 children with adoptive families through adoption: 190 of those placements were international adoptions to American families, and 147 were domestic adoptions. We provided post-adoption services for 2,132 adoptees and families.

Strengthening families is a research-informed approach to enhance child development and reduce child abuse and neglect. It stresses parental resilience and social connections. It provides parenting know-how and an understanding of how children develop. And it encourages emotional competence and confidence that gives children, especially children with special challenges, the ability to flourish.

In-country adoption gives children the opportunity to grow up in the country and culture of their birth, and often provides an option for an orphaned child to live with family members. Through the years, Holt has advocated for and even helped develop legal processes for in-country adoption around the world. Holt believes in-country adoptions should be explored first whether required or not.

When adoptees come to us with questions about their adoptions and express interest in re-establishing cultural ties with their country of origin, we welcome their questions and support them with resources to access their birth records, return to their birth country, search for their birth parents or receive counseling from an adoption-competent professional — whatever they believe would be most valuable for their journey. When it comes to adoption itself, we have always put our best efforts toward putting children’s safety and dignity first and everything else second.

Holt International also has a history of advocating for ethical and standardized adoption practices that put what’s best for children first. For Holt, adoption is not the first option in aiding children growing up in orphanages in the world. For some children, adoption is their only option to know the love of a family, wherever that may be in the world.

We pray for a time when no children or adoptees are in distress. Until then, our mission is to honor the potential of each child anywhere in the world by helping their families succeed or, if that’s not possible, finding families who will love and care for them.

If you have general questions or concerns about any of the above, please reach out to us at [email protected]. Our Post-Adoption Services team is available for adoptee and adoptive family questions and concerns at [email protected].

children laughing and playing with colorful balloons

Learn more about Holt’s work and history!

At Holt International, we help children thrive in the love and stability of a family. But our services extend far beyond the adoption work we are known for.

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