Being Black in Adoption: Seattle and Elsewhere

I’ve lived in Seattle about four years, and it’s still a culture shock for me to go to places like restaurants or malls, or Seattle Town Hall, Elliott Bay Bookstore, the Seattle Public Library, or wherever, and not be surrounded by black people. That was the norm in Prince George’s County, where I had lived for almost 30 years. My four children, all adopted transracially, all of whom identify as black, were raised in Prince George’s. They attended schools with black, white, Latino, Asian, and mixed race kids. There was no shortage of role models, or of people who looked like them.

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Birthday Party 2006. © Maureen Evans

Of course, at the end of the day, my children were raised by white adoptive parents. My children travel in at least two worlds: the one at home with people who love them unconditionally as amazing sons and daughters, and the one outside our home, with people who saw and see them as black people first, not as beloved children.

Had they been raised in Seattle, they would have seen far fewer people who look like them. Even in Prince George’s County, a highly diverse area filled with black people, their sense of identity was challenged, by white and black people. Being adopted, and then having white parents, brought extra layers of complexity.

My daughter Aselefech, adopted from Ethiopia when she was six, is considering moving to Seattle with her 8-year-old daughter. Aselefech and I have given a lot of thought and discussion as to what this move could mean for her and for her daughter.

I recently attended a program called “The Rewards and Challenges of Being Black in Seattle.” It was held at the Bush School, and was part of their Intercultural Speakers Series. The talented Tonya Mosley led the program, which included a wonderful panel: C’Ardiss Gardner Gleser of Rainier Scholars, William Witt of the Seattle Police Department, Jonathan Cunningham of the Experience Music Project Museum, and Daudi Abe of Seattle Community Colleges. You can read more about it here.

Serious subjects were discussed. Some hard truths. These conversations are valuable for everyone, including white adoptive parents of black children–especially when the family lives in a non-diverse area and the children rarely see others who look like them.

Prospect or Suspect?

The audience of about 100 people for the program was predominately white, like Seattle itself. By the end of the 2 hours, a lot of territory had been covered. A lot of voices had spoken up. One black man in the audience offered the powerful idea of “prospect versus suspect.” Are black people (including children and teens) seen by others as prospects, as people with potential and talents, or more often as suspects, people who probably committed some crime or misdeed?

The cloud of “prospect or suspect” can start hanging over children when they start school. Seattle has a troubled history with African-American school suspensions and graduation rates, starting in the late 70’s.

Th notion of being a suspect, of course, links easily with discussions about police and radical profiling. The U.S. Justice Department said about a year ago that their “investigation in 2011 found that Seattle Police Department (SPD) officers often exhibited confusion between a casual, social contact (where a person is free to leave) and an investigative detention short of an arrest, also known as a Terry stop (where a person is not free to leave). Some data and community input suggested that this confusion – as well as other problems with training and oversight – led to inappropriate pedestrian encounters that may have resulted in a disproportionate number of people of color – in particular youths – being stopped where no offense or other police incident occurred. Incidents of overt discrimination and the fact that excessive force disproportionately occurred against minorities also gave the department concern and lead to the inclusion of these issues in the settlement agreement.” Read the press release here.

The dispassionate government language is a window to the realities of being a parent of black children, and especially of being a black person subject to “overt discrimination” and disproportionate “excessive force.” It resonates for me as an adoptive parent knowing and loving my sons and daughters, worrying for them when they are seen, unfairly, as a threat or a suspect.

I hope that other white adoptive parents who are hugging their sweet little black boys and girls will recognize what can happen later in life, and surround their children with people who can teach them what it means, the good and the bad, to be a black person in America.

Hair Care, Smiles, and the Freeze

If they move to Seattle, my granddaughter will come home from school to her black mother, a role model who has experienced bigotry, and who can help her daughter navigate through racism and difference in a way that I could not do with my children. One surprisingly complex issue is hair. I did a pretty good job with my children’s hair, but there was definitely a steep learning curve. Hair is a big issue in the black community. It was only briefly mentioned at the Rewards and Challenges program, but I’d love to see a forum where the rewards and challenges of black hair are addressed. I think it would open a lot of white people’s eyes, and it’s especially important for white adoptive parents of black children.

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Updo Style © Aselefech Evans

 

One of the heartfelt suggestions provided by a woman at the program was that we all look at each other when we are walking by and say hello. She was a high school teacher. She said she was black and Filipina, and she exuded love for her students. Let’s look at each other’s faces and smile, she said. Let’s say hello to our neighbors.

Can that help race relations? It could surely help human relations. The “Seattle freeze” does not refer to weather, and it does not care about race. It’s the phenomena here of people being polite, but not especially friendly. I would guess that, for black people, their small numbers and the potential for isolation are exacerbated by the Freeze.

The Freeze makes me think of snow, which brings me to some of the reasons people love Seattle: the lack of snow and of humidity, the mild temperatures, the beautiful mountains and lakes, the hiking, the biking, the boating, the skiing. My next post will talk about some of that beauty, and its attraction for all of us. What might it mean for my black daughter to be a skier and a hiker out here?

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San Juan Island © Maureen Evans

 

 

 

Being Black in Seattle: Rewards and Challenges

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“Seattle Skyline” (© Maureen Evans)

 

 

 

 

 

About 4 years ago, I moved from Prince George’s County, Maryland, (65% black) to Seattle, (66% white), the fifth whitest city (among comparably large cities) in the US. I’m white. My transracially adopted children, all adults now, grew up and still live in Prince George’s. My daughter, adopted from Ethiopia, is considering moving to Seattle with her daughter. We’ve given a lot of thought and discussion as to what this move could mean for both of them.

I recently attended a program, held at the Bush School in Seattle’s Central District, called “The Rewards and Challenges of Being Black in Seattle.” The talented Tonya Mosley led the program, which included a wonderful panel: C’Ardiss Gardner Gleser of Rainier Scholars, William Witt of the Seattle Police Department, Jonathan Cunningham of the Experience Music Project Museum, and Daudi Abe of Seattle Community Colleges. The program was part of the Bush School’s Intercultural Speaker Series.

In 2013, Tonya Mosley produced the powerful series “Black in Seattle.” Please take the time to listen to the series here. She used her interviews and statistics as a jumping off point for “Rewards and Challenges,” which proved to be energizing, sobering, and, I’d argue, optimistic.

IMG_7512At the “Rewards” program, Tonya encouraged an “unfiltered discussion of what it means to be black in Seattle.” I’m guessing 80% of the audience was white. While some joined in the discussion, most of the conversation was among the panelists and the black people in the audience.

Here are some of my takeaways. I’ve included some Background notes, including links to more information on topics that were briefly addressed at the program.

Yes, Seattle is filled with liberal, well-educated people. That may backfire sometimes, insofar as white, well-intentioned, bright people might view themselves as non-racist, but have no black friends, no interactions with black people, and thus do not know their stories, their truths, their individual experiences.

Gentrification plus issues of housing and affordability have resulted in many black people moving south of Seattle, to Auburn, Kent, and Federal City.

(Background: The Seattle Times in November reported that “While Seattle’s median household income soared to an all-time high of $70,200 last year, wages for blacks nose-dived to $25,700 — a 13.5 percent drop from 2012. Among the 50 largest U.S. cities, Seattle now has the ninth lowest income for black households.”)

Compared to the racism and racial incidents that have occurred in some other cities, Seattle could be seen as a better place to live. That, the panelists suggested, may be due to inertia. There remains a sense of isolation and alienation for many black people in search of a connection with others who look like them.

Seattle has a culture of not wanting others to feel uncomfortable. (This manifests at intersections where drivers gesture to each other “No, you go.” “No, you.”) The liberalism can be seen in our having a gay mayor, in legalizing marijuana, in “feeding free range chickens food from the organic compost pile,” as one black woman said. How could we then have a problem with race? Because, she said, white people don’t understand the realities of being black. The white people are tolerant and not overt racists, for the most part. But neither do they understand.

Panelist CC Gleser explained the challenge as a parent of a black child, when the Ferguson decision was announced. They’d talked about it in their home. Would white teachers (and most teachers across the US are middle class white women) understand how that child feels the next day in school, and what might be on his mind? And what is it like for the child when no one else looks like him in his classroom, but while significant race-related events are dominating the media?

One comment from the panel: “Who knew pre-schoolers could be expelled?” There was discussion of children suspended for “objective” reasons (drugs, weapons) as opposed to “subjective” reasons, such as attitude and disrespect. Black children are suspended in far greater numbers than white students in Seattle. Being a white ally on these issues, said panelist Daudi Abe, often means more than having “keyboard courage.” It’s white privilege that allows white people to choose to be offended at the daunting statistics. Who has to live with the stats in real life, and what is that like, for both parents and children?

(Background: Here in Seattle, “African-American students are suspended from school more than three times as often as white students from elementary schools to high schools. More than one-fourth of black middle schoolers have received short-term suspensions every year since 1996.” There is currently a federal investigation into this reality. More information from the Seattle Times is available here. Read about preschool suspensions here.)

Many of the black people now in Seattle are African immigrants. There have been challenges, panelists said, in Africans and African-Americans working together in Seattle, and I have heard that in other cities as well. Tonya Mosley said she had done some work on this issue for her “Black in Seattle ” series, and it needed to be a whole separate segment: a lot of complexity. There are discussions currently of creating an “Africa Town” in Seattle’s International District. I had the thought about how often Africa is referred to as if it were a country, rather than a continent of 50+ countries. What would Africa Town look like here?

(Background: According to the Seattle Times, “Seattle’s overall black population has held steady in number, at around 47,000. But the composition of that population changed dramatically with the arrival of a new wave of émigrés from Africa — particularly Ethiopia and Eritrea — who settled mostly in Rainier Valley. In 2000, just 13 percent of blacks in Seattle were born outside the United States. Today, it’s 30 percent.”)

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“Rowers at Sunset” (© Maureen Evans)

 

Beyond any creation of an “Africa Town,” panelists and black audience members talked about the lack in Seattle of a black part of town, with restaurants and churches as there are in many other cities. There was an audible groan at the news that the Kingfish Cafe is closing, the latest of many black-owned, black-run restaurants to close. Having a “home place,” a gathering place with other black people where, as one black woman said, “I don’t have to explain my hair,” provides nurturing and sustenance that helps folks deal with the isolation and alienation.

(Background: I don’t know if the speaker was referring to this, but there is a children’s book called “Home Place,” by Crescent Dragonwagon. A white family hiking in the woods (Seattle!) comes across an abandoned home. The book imagines the black family that might have once lived there, planting daffodils and sitting by the chimney. If it was not the intended reference, now you know about a beautifully illustrated children’s book that does have some connection with this complicated subject.)

All of this gives you, I hope, a sense of the discussion. I haven’t yet mentioned everything that was discussed, such as policing and racial profiling, as well as the National Brotherhood of Skiers. This was a 2 hour program, and it was wonderful. It was real, as Jabali Stewart, the Bush School’s Director of Intercultural Affairs, said. “We heard things we liked, and things we didn’t like. And it was just a start. What are we going to do now?”

In my next post, I will talk about some of the lessons learned and some suggestions, by panelists and audience members, of what next needs to happen.

 

 

 

 

French (And Other) Ethiopian Adoption Connections

Great partnerships are developing among adult Ethiopian adoptees, and between them and their allies. This one is about efforts to help adult adoptees travel back to Ethiopia.

If you are not following Les Adoptes D’Ethopie, a public Facebook group for Ethiopian adoptees raised in France, you might have missed this bit of news, posted by Annette-Kassaye. Annette is an Ethiopian adoptee, raised in Montreal, Canada. She learned to speak both English and French, and now participates in Les Adoptes D’Ethiopie. Annette is a good friend of my daughter Aselefech Evans, whose blog EthioAmerican Daughter recently featured (in English and French) the story of Yared, a French adoptee. Annette and Aselefech are co-founders of Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora (EAD), a global group for adult Ethiopian adoptees only. There is also a public EAD page open to anyone here.

D’accord. Here is Annette’s recent post on Les Adoptes Ethiopie:

“Bonjour tout le monde,
Moi, Aselefech Evans, Maureen McCauley Evans allons travailler sur un projet qui faciliterait le retour en Éthiopie pour les adoptés.

Chaque semaine (ou plusieurs fois par semaine), je suis étonnée de voir autant d’adoptés exprimer leurs désire de retourner et aussi leurs craintes et réticence d’y aller seule, avec leurs parents adoptifs ou avec leurs assos. C’est fou que nous travaillons tous dans nos petits coins quand qu’on pourrait faire quelque chose de grand qui faciliterait la vie de tout le monde, autant nous, nos parents et les jeunes adoptes et les futurs adoptés qui désiront retourner un jour pour connaitre leurs origine. Bref…. je vous tiendrai au courant de ce projet, je pense qu’il y a un grand besoin. <3″

And now, an automatically generated translation in English:

Re – hello everyone,

“Aselefech Evans, Maureen McCauley Evans, and I are working on a project that would facilitate the return to Ethiopia for adoptees.

Each week (or several times per week ), I am surprised to see so many adoptees express their desire to return and also their fears and reluctance to go alone, or with their adoptive parents or with their associates. It’s crazy that we are all working in our small corners when we could do something big that would facilitate the life of everyone, just as we, our parents and young people adopted. And the future adoptees that would like to return one day to know their origins. In short…. I will keep you informed of this project. I think there is a great need. ≺3″

Aselefech, Annette, and I have been talking about this for a while. The project is in very early stages, and the focus is this:

Many Ethiopian adult adoptees would like to return to Ethiopia but struggle with the expense. Some may not have been back since they left Ethiopia as small children.

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Photo taken by Maureen Evans August 2014 Ethiopia

Some adult adoptees do not want to travel with their adoptive parents. Some adoptive parents do not want to travel to Ethiopia, and will not or cannot assist their children in traveling. Some adult adoptees would like to travel back alone, some with other adoptees, some with their partners, spouses, or friends.

Some would like assistance and support (not necessarily financial) in the arrangements for travel in Ethiopia. This would mean the usual items such as hotel/guest houses, meals, translators, tour guides, drivers, etc., but also resources in Ethiopia that are specific to adopted persons, such as adoption-competent social workers and translators with fluency in multiple languages. Connecting with other adoptees who have traveled and searched for birth family would also be important.

Some adoptees are interested in searching and spending time with their birth families. Some have not been able to locate birth family members. Some would like to participate in projects to help Ethiopia (literacy, clean water, health care, etc.) while they are visiting.

Models for this undertaking exist in Korea, where adult adoptees have been very active. KoRoot and GOA’L provide wonderful, established models of adoptee-led organizations designed to support adoptees traveling to their country of birth.

We hope, of course, to see the services envisioned in Ethiopia extended to Ethiopian birth/first families, such as translators and adoption-competent social workers.

One effort already up and successfully running is Ethiopian Adoption Connection (EAC), a database in which Ethiopian families can enter information about children they have placed for adoption, in an effort to locate them. Adoptive families and adopted individuals can enter their information as well, and already there have been several matches. The site is in English and Amharic.

Currently, an Ethiopian first/birth family is looking for news about a boy adopted at age 7 in 2007 from the Kembata Tembaro area, possibly to the US or Italy. Information is available here. Please share this with others, and take a look at all the entries on the EAC page.

EAC has a lot of helpful information, including online groups for adoptive families and adoptees, as well as this master’s thesis on Ethiopian birth/first mothers’ experiences.

Some 13,000 Ethiopian children have been adopted to the United States. Thousands more have been adopted to Canada, western Europe, and Australia. While most are still minors, many are adults. Some are turning their hearts, eyes, and feet toward their country of birth. Let’s join them on the journey.

RIP CHIFF. Hello CAPP? (Part 2)

CHIFF focused heavily on international adoption, and not so much on family preservation and empowerment. CAPP focuses heavily on improving outcomes for vulnerable children and families around the globe. Adoption, both domestic and international, will always be part of child welfare policy. As a community concerned with children, can those of us involved with adoption find common ground that both strengthens families and includes ethical, transparent adoptions? This post looks at one angle of the legislative conversations. There’s so much to say.

The information in RIP CHIFF. Hello CAPP? (Part 1) is not exhaustive regarding all that is happening with the implementation of the Children in Adversity report (APCA). So many agencies and acronyms. Public and private partnerships. Lofty goals with complex implementation. Millions of dollars. An enormous undertaking. I cannot disagree with the goals: vulnerable children and families deserve support and resources all around the globe.

CHIFF and CAPP Proponents: Overlap?

International adoption was a huge part of the failed Children in Families First (CHIFF) bill. It seems to be a tiny part of CAPP, the Children in Adversity Policy Partnership. What overlap is there between the proponents of the two?

The Joint Council on International Children’s Services is at the forefront of CAPP, as it was of CHIFF. JCICS, however, has been moving steadily away in the last 10 years or so from focusing on adoption agency services, and moving steadily toward a much broader mission of international child welfare. It still has adoption agencies as members, but fewer than was once the case (far fewer than when I worked at JCICS, from 1995-2000, certainly).

One of the biggest proponents of CHIFF, Both Ends Burning, does not seem to be involved with the CAPP. Peter Leppanen, BEB’s Strategic Advisor, is listed as a member of CAPP in a July 2014 Child Policy University Consortium document. His affiliation with BEB is not noted there. Many adoption agencies (and CHIFF supporters) are also listed as members of CAPP. The membership list may well have changed in subsequent months, and current CAPP information does not include BEB, as far as I can tell.

How much should we read into the fact that one of CHIFF’s biggest proponents is not involved significantly with CAPP? BEB has always been first and foremost an international adoption advocacy group. In November, they hosted a Global Symposium on permanency options for children. Looking from the outside, my impression is that BEB is intent on following its international adoption goals, and not committed, as least explicitly, to partnership with the Children in Adversity crowd. I hope, as BEB forges on, they will include the significant, genuine involvement of adult adoptees and first/birth parents.

The National Council for Adoption does not figure in CAPP either. NCFA supported CHIFF: “Chuck Johnson President and CEO of the National Council For Adoption said: “Children all over the world are languishing outside of family care…CHIFF re-aligns existing resources and re-prioritize how the U.S. Government serves this population of vulnerable children. NCFA enthusiastically supports CHIFF.” NCFA’s endorsement of CHIFF, as well as that of JCICS, Both Ends Burning, Christian Alliance For Orphans (CAFO), and others, is here.

In its January 2105 listing of legislative priorities, NCFA does not mention the CAPP, though they refer to CHIFF. This is not surprising: their primary focus is on US and international adoption issues.

CAFO posted its own support for CHIFF here. Jedd Medefind of CAFO has also endorsed the goals of the Children in Adversity report per this USAID press release.

Intercountry adoption is a much smaller part of CAPP than it was in CHIFF. There is minimal mention of the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption in the APCA. Clearly CAPP has a broader goal. And a cast of thousands, if not millions. It is an astonishing configuration of government, public, and private organizations. It makes my head spin.

I have no doubts that CAPP, the Global Alliance, and the attendant organizations, policies, and proposals have their fair share of challenging problems: the role of US AID, the failure of the US to approve the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the abilities of countries receiving assistance to have a role in that assistance, and so on.

Still, given the laudable goals of CAPP to improve early childhood outcomes, to preserve families, and to protect children from exploitation, will the need for international adoption be diminished?  Given the huge decline in the number of children being internationally adopted, for whatever combination of reasons, perhaps an approach that looks to achieve those laudable goals is timely.

Implications

So who doesn’t benefit from CAPP? Many of the same people who didn’t benefit from CHIFF.

CAPP does not, as far as I can tell and I would be happy to be incorrect about this, prioritize funding for pre- or post-adopt resources for internationally adopted children, nor for the birth/first parents of internationally adopted children. NCFA includes Post-Adoption Services on its list of legislative priorities. I have to wonder, as international adoption declines and agencies close, who will be responsible for providing post-adoption services to adoptees and their families, here and around the world. JCICS member agencies placed many of those international children, and they are rapidly changing their focus away from adoption services. Will NCFA step up?

Further, like CHIFF, CAPP does not address retroactive citizenship for all international adoptees. To its credit, NCFA does list “Citizenship Equality Intercountry Adoption” as one of its legislative priorities.

The issue of re-homing here in the US is not a part of CAPP, and nor was it part of CHIFF.

Retroactive citizenship and re-homing are admittedly complicated issues. They require a lot of collaboration and consensus to move at the federal level. The citizenship issue means tangling with immigration foes in Congress. On re-homing, some states have begun to look into and pass legislation on re-homing, but many international adoption advocates would like to see a uniform federal law.

Collaboration and consensus will be needed to move legislation and policies around improvement of pre- and post-adoption matters such as improvement of home studies, increased funding for adoption competent therapists/social workers, and better access to effective post-adoption resources. Providing pre- and post-adoption support to first/birth parents is especially complicated, because those parents are geographically and linguistically far removed; most cannot pay for services. None of this means we should advocate any less for them.

CAPP, it seems to me, is moving ahead with the support of far-reaching US government agencies, big name foundations, child welfare experts, and a variety of advocates. CAPP will probably have little impact on specific adoption policies in the US; certainly it appears not to have CHIFF’s intense focus.

I hope that CAPP will do or has done what CHIFF did not: Include the experiences and insights of those vulnerable children who have grown up, including adoptees and orphans. Include at the table the voices and realities, if not the actual presence, of first/birth parents who lost their children unfairly to adoption, due to poverty, corruption, fraud, social stigma, or other reasons, and prevent such tragedies from happening again.

So many important issues are hanging in the balance for internationally adopted children, and for those who are now international adult adoptees, and their families. Perhaps it will be those adult adoptees who will lead the way. Recent high level media news articles such as the New York Times “Why a Generation of Adoptees Is Returning to South Korea” and the Washington Post’s “Please Don’t Tell Me I Am Lucky” give anyone connected with adoption plenty to consider.

Will future advancements and policy decisions regarding adoption be the result of genuine collaboration and consensus, acknowledging the spectrum of experiences among adoptees, birth/first parents, and adoptive parents, and moving ahead to effectively help vulnerable children and families? I hope so. Let’s keep talking–and listening.

RIP CHIFF. Hello CAPP? (Part 1)

CHIFF is gone. What does CAPP portend?

The Children in Families First (CHIFF) legislation died a slow death surrounded with silence.  You can read the Post-Mortem here. It is possible, but unlikely, that CHIFF could be re-introduced in the 114th session of Congress, which recently convened.

What have the former proponents of CHIFF been working on, since the CHIFF legislative campaign failed?

Many (though not all) CHIFF proponents have been participating in the strategies outlined in the US Government Action Plan on Children in Adversity (APCA), a report released in December 2012. Several of the CHIFF proponents are now part of the Children in Adversity Policy Partnership (CAPP), an offshoot of APCA. APCA is, according to June 2014 information, “a demonstration of the U.S. Government’s commitment to greater coordinated, comprehensive and effective assistance to prevent and respond to the needs of especially vulnerable children. More than 30 offices across the U.S. Government continue to support programs and policies relevant to the APCA objectives globally.”

The main website for Children In Adversity is here.

IMG_7416 The three principal objectives that everyone involved with APCA supports are these: Build Strong Beginnings (focused on children under five years old); Put Family Care First (to prevent unnecessary family-child separation and promote permanent family care); and Protect Children (from violence, exploitation, abuse, and neglect.)

Each of the objectives requires significant implementation, which likely also will involve signficant funding and legislation.

The CAPP Steering Committee includes former CHIFF proponents Joint Council on International Children’s Services (JCICS), Kidsave, and the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute. Other Steering Committee members are Arms Around the Child, Child Fund International, World Vision, and Save the Children. The co-chairs of the Steering Committee are Tom DiFilipo of JCICS and Greg Mann of Save the Children. Information from JCICS about CAPP is available here, including a link to a survey which allows you to become involved with CAPP.

Government agencies working to implement APCA, along with CAPP, include (but are not limited to) US Agency for International Development (US AID), Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the National Institute of Health (NIH), the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the US Department of Agriculture, the US Department of State, the Peace Corps, and more.

There is also a Global Alliance for Children involved with APCA as well, a public-private partnership: “In response to the global and national conditions of children in extreme adversity, a group of foundation, bilateral, multilateral, NGO and private sector partners founded the Global Alliance for Children: Ensuring the Future. Through a donor advised fund, joint programs and coordinated funding, the Alliance seeks to achieve three core objectives in six countries over the course of five years.”

The three core objectives are the “principle objectives” outlined above. Three of the countries have been named so far for assistance: Cambodia, Rwanda, and Uganda.

The members of the Global Alliance include US AID, World Childhood Foundation, Childhood, Maestral International, Save the Children, Lumos, GHR Foundation, US Department of Labor, World Bank Early Child development, and USB Optimum Foundation.

One of CHIFF’s goals had been to establish a USAID Center for Excellence for Children in Adversity (USAID CECA), so this is one overlap between CHIFF and CAPP, in that the center has indeed been established, and apparently funded as well. More information is available here.

This is not by any means an exhaustive explanation about the players and policies  involved in the implementation of the Action Plan for Children in Adversity and CAPP. I urge you to take a look at the links and learn more. Huge expenditures of money and time have been and will be spent on this enormous project. If vulnerable children and families are genuinely and substantially helped, that should be applauded.

So, what does that mean for international adoption? Please see Part 2, available tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mary Mooney Pleads Guilty in IAG Adoption Fraud Case

Mary Mooney, the executive director of International Adoption Guides, has entered a guilty plea for fraud and bribery in Ethiopian adoptions. This means that the three Americans charged in this case–the others are James Harding and Alisa Bivens–have all pled guilty to charges brought against them in a Department of Justice indictment last February.

Harding and Bivens have not yet been sentenced. Mooney entered her plea yesterday. The Department of Justice press release about Mooney’s plea is available here. Interestingly, her guilty plea seems largely to involve providing false statements to the Council on Accreditation, which is the entity that accredits international adoption agencies under the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption.”Without that accreditation,” says the DoJ press release, “IAG would not have been legally permitted facilitate intercountry adoptions…and numerous families would have never retained IAG to provide adoption services.”

The IAG Ethiopian staff person also named in the DoJ indictment remains, apparently, in Ethiopia. Ethiopia has not yet made any public statements regarding IAG or the fraud and bribery by IAG, which included payments to Ethiopian officials.

These guilty pleas are very big and wonderful news for the adoptive and Ethiopian birth families involved, though of course they don’t change the devastating deception and fraud that occurred.

Sentencing hearings for Bivens, Harding, and Mooney will take place in the US District Court in South Carolina; the date has yet to be scheduled.

 

 

 

 

CHIFF Is Dead: A Post-Mortem

The Children in Families First (CHIFF) bill emerged in autumn 2013, during the 113th session of the US Congress. Its supporters and sponsors surely saw its chances for success as a no-brainer: Who doesn’t agree that all children deserve families, and especially children in impoverished nations?

The Little Engine That Could unfortunately began wheezing and sputtering in the spring of 2014, and by summer 2014 was ominously quiet. The CHIFF website stopped posting News in June. Their Twitter feed stopped chirping in July. No action was taken on CHIFF by the US Congress, so CHIFF died when the 113th session ended in December 2014.

Thousands of hours must have been devoted to this bill by dozens of staff people, such as those on CHIFF’s Executive Committee, including the Congressional  Coalition on Adoption Institute, Both Ends Burning, the Joint Council on International Children’s Services, and the National Council on Adoption.

In the world of adoption, those are some heavy hitters. What happened?

CHIFF proponents underestimated their opposition. It’s a brave new world in adoption policy these days, comprised of advocates who span a vocal, volatile spectrum.  The spectrum ranges from those who are vehemently anti-adoption to those who support adoption but not the way it’s being done now. The days of adoptive parents and adoption agencies leading the way are gone. Adult adopted persons are increasingly well-organized and, well, loud. Some are politically active. Some are wizards of social media. Some are telling their stories in public, compelling, and evocative ways.

CHIFF advocates failed to include a place for them at the table.

CHIFF proponents also hammered away publicly at the US State Department for various reasons, alienating them or at least, it seems to me, ensuring State’s lack of support for CHIFF. CHIFF also failed to garner the support of established, successful family preservation organizations around the world. Thus, the CHIFF proponents’ claims of working to preserve and reunite families–a big goal for many of us–lacked credibility.

A July Congressional hearing on Africa’s orphans was a chance for CHIFF proponents to insist that an adult adoptee (orphaned as a child) speak. They could have provided testimony from African birth parents on how to help with the orphan crisis. They did not do these things. I wrote about it here: Both Ends Burning and CHIFF: Losing Credibility, Spurning Opportunities.

Those of us on a grassroots level who criticized CHIFF were often dismissed as angry and bitter, as not caring about children, as not wanting to help orphans, and as not truly understanding what CHIFF wanted to do. That dismissal fundamentally led to the demise of CHIFF. CHIFF’s opponents–speaking for myself–do care about children, do want to help orphans, and did understand CHIFF. And many of us spoke out. Maybe we weren’t holding meetings on Capitol Hill, or spending organizational money and time to lobby Congress. Nonetheless, the insulated nature of CHIFF’s proponents plus the failure to include adopted adults and first/birth parents–and hence their concerns and realities–are enormous reasons as to why CHIFF is now dead.

CHIFF, when examined closely (beyond the photos and rhetoric), failed to meet current needs in adoption policy. These were CHIFF’s goals:

“CHIFF calls for the redirection of a modest portion of the $2 billion the United States currently spends on children living abroad toward ensuring that all children grow up in a family. What’s more, it calls for programs funded with US tax dollars to focus on reducing the number of children living without families and increasing the capacity of other governments to better protect their own children…CHIFF would streamline, simplify and consolidate responsibility for all processing of intercountry adoption cases.”

These may well seem reasonable if complicated goals, at least at first blush. But here are current, glaring needs that CHIFF did not include:

* Federal legislation to correct a grievous flaw in citizenship for adoptees. Read more here.

* Federal legislation on “re-homing” of internationally adopted children. Read more here.

* Much needed funding for improved pre-adoption and post-adoption resources, to prevent re-homing, to strengthen families, and to protect children.

* Equitable pre- and post-placement resources, counseling, and information for international first parents. All too often these families receive no support after placement. That is unconscionable.

* Emphasis on family reunification and family preservation. Yes, this was an ostensible part of CHIFF. The fact that the overwhelming percentage of endorsing organizations were adoption agencies undermined that claim.

So much money, time, and energy went into lobbying for CHIFF. Certainly the federal indictment and recent guilty pleas by international adoption agency staff for fraud and bribery didn’t help.

Where do we go from here?

There are rumblings in the adoption community–not just on Capitol Hill or in lobbyists’ offices–about pragmatic, meaningful ways to meet current needs in adoption.

We won’t see anything quite like CHIFF again. We will see ideas and collaborations that acknowledge the realities of adoption and of adopted persons, that are unafraid to address the huge gaps in services to birth and adoptive families, and that are inclusive and open to the voices of all those affected by adoption.

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IAG’s James Harding Pleads Guilty to Ethiopian Adoption Fraud

James Harding, the program director for the adoption agency International Adoption Guides (IAG), has pled guilty to fraud and bribery charges regarding Ethiopian adoptions in 2008 and 2009.

The Justice Department’s press release is available here. Harding admitted that he and the others submitted false documents to the State Department, paid bribes to Ethiopian officials, and provided fraudulent documents about children’s eligibility for adoption.

Harding is the second of four indicted IAG staff members to admit guilt to these charges. Last fall, Alisa Bivens (IAG Ethiopian program director in the US) pled guilty and is awaiting sentencing. I wrote about it here. The trial of IAG’s executive director, Mary Mooney, is scheduled to begin jury selection on January 14. More information is available here.

The fourth staff member is Haile Mekonnen (the IAG program director in Ethiopia); he remains, apparently, in Ethiopia.

While this guilty plea cannot make up for the traumas and losses of the families here in the US and in Ethiopia, it is enormously significant. May it be a sign of movement toward much better transparency and integrity in adoption, for children and families around the world.

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My thanks to Adoption News and Events for posting/sharing this information.

So Much More Than Just A Shirt

Recently, a Facebook post about a tee shirt to be used as a fundraiser provoked a batch of comments. The original poster, having up front requested no negative comments, essentially ignored the pushback. Ultimately, she deleted the post entirely.

The tee shirt called into question had a heart drawn on it, the word “Adopt” followed by the name of a country that places children for adoption internationally, and this quote: “Love Makes a Family–Changes A Life.” Seems like a nice quote, doesn’t it? It’s a great example of something that actually has a far greater impact than it might seem at first blush.

One excellent perspective about the shirt is on the blog Ethioamericandaughter. The writer, Aselefech Evans, is my daughter. As an adult Ethiopian adoptee, her insights are valuable.

Several adoptive parents responded to the original tee shirt post on Facebook. They thought the quote was dismissive of first/birth families and their pain. Others thought it reeked of white privilege, of white savior complex.

When is a tee shirt not just a tee shirt? Does it become more than just a shirt when the message is seen by others as an example of white privilege? Or when it’s called hurtful, disrespectful, offensive by some of the person’s peers, in this case adoptive parents?

Are the tee shirt and message okay when it’s a fundraiser for a family who’s adopting, or for good works in an impoverished country? Does the end simply justify the means, and are the critics just being too damn sensitive? The sentiment of one comment was “If you don’t like it, don’t purchase it.”

Is everything justified if the original poster’s adopted children are okay with it? Does it matter if the children are all minors?

There are good reasons why children can’t give informed consent. And do children truly understand the far-reaching implications of the Internet?

So many questions.

There was a similar brouhaha during National Adoption Month over a tee shirt also used as a fundraiser, part of online sales for adopttogether.org. I wrote about it on my blog lightofdaystories.com: ” ‘Crowd Funded’ Children: The Disturbing Products of World Adoption Day.”  Many people, including adult adoptees, also wrote about it, and the offending tee shirt disappeared from the sales site, which has, I think, closed down.

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Part of the dilemma about all this is the linkage of the message with the money: the fundraising that is rampant in the world of adoption, the implicit notion that children are paid for, the exorbitant costs involved in international adoption, and the available multi-billion adoption tax credit, which many parents receive after all the fundraising. We are at best naive if we overlook these connections, and at worst complicit in a system that involves enormous amounts of money and an astonishing imbalance: US (and western European, Canadian, and Australian) adoption agencies and adoptive parents with huge economic power over indigent, impoverished countries and first/birth families.

Another reality is the linkage of child adoption with pet adoption. Many people who are deep within the adoption constellation (first/birth parents, adoptive parents, adopted persons) cringe at this, but outside that sphere, it’s a common thought. Some 30 years ago, when we were beginning the adoption process, I was telling an acquaintance about all the options and possibilities. He responded, “Wow, kind of like going to the pound and choosing the puppy that’s right for you.”

Wow. No.

That is, however, not an uncommon view. Take a look at this display of tee shirts for example, that places “Rescue Cats Rule!” next to “Seoul Sister” and “Peace Love Rescue Pet Adoption” next to “Love Knows No Borders–Africa” shirts.

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Am I over-sensitive to my children being compared to pets? No, I am not.

And hey: my adopted children–who are now thoughtful, independent, insightful adults, not cute little kids–aren’t okay with it either.

Words matter. Children matter. Lives matter. If we are ever going to have ethical, transparent adoption policies, we have to pay attention even to the little things. Like tee shirts.

 

 

 

 

 

Aselefech’s Ethiopia Journey: Adoption, Family, A Film

This is, of course, my daughter Aselefech’s story to tell: what it meant to her to travel back at age 26 to Ethiopia, the land of her birth and where she spent her first six years of life. What it meant to sit with her Ethiopian mother and siblings outside the house she might have also lived in, had she not been adopted. What it meant to her to see the cities and the countryside again, the breathtaking beauty and the breathtaking poverty. What it meant to consider what was, what is, and what might have been.

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She will be talking about that, about the film now in development, and more, on her newly launched blog. I’m incredibly proud of her. Please go read and share it!

It is Aselefech’s journey. Still, the thing about adoption is that those of us who love her also accompany her.

This past August, Aselefech, her then seven year old daughter Zariyah, and I spent about 20 days in Ethiopia, visiting with her family, cheering her on in a 10k trail race, and spending time with friends in Addis. It was my third trip there, Zariyah’s first, and Aselefech’s second since arriving in the US with her twin sister in 1994, when she was about a year younger than Zariyah.

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Aselefech and Zariyah in Addis Ababa.

It’s Aselefech’s story. The thing about adoption, though, is that it reaches far beyond the adopted person (the “adopted child” grows up). It’s more than the birth mother–it’s also the father, and the siblings, nieces, nephews, neighbors, grandparents. It’s more than the adoptive parents–it’s the siblings, partners, and the children of the adoptee. A very big family portrait, in which smiles and sorrows appear, disappear, and appear again. Sometimes.

We were tourists on the trip this summer, some of us less than others. We were accompanied by translators, tour guides, drivers, a talented photographer, and an insightful social worker. We didn’t all speak the same languages. We loved the food. We were saddened, inspired, enlightened, challenged, and blessed.

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Zariyah and I outside the Hilton in Addis.

The film about this trip will share Aselefech’s story, and that of her Ethiopian family and, to a lesser degree, her American family. I look into the eyes of my beloved daughter and  granddaughter, and know that while we have no biological connection, we are inexorably connected. I embrace my daughter’s Ethiopian mother, who is also Zariyah’s grandmother, and who share the same blood. So beautiful, so simple, and so complex.

Zariyah is amazing in the film clip, by the way. She is a gem.

One final note: Aselefech and other Ethiopian adopted adults have been networking and connecting with their fellow adoptees around the globe.  For anyone who is or who knows an (adult) Ethiopian adoptee, please take a look at Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora. Please “Like” the page. Many thanks.

Also, a big shout out to Gazillion Strong and to Red Shiba Media for their partnership with Aselefech. Powerful.