In cognitive therapy, there’s a useful technique called “What If.” It’s used for taking fear-filled thinking down a notch. “What if I am fired?” “What if my brother keeps drinking?” “What if my child loses the scholarship?” The idea is that listing possible solutions calmly can give us a sense of control, and can ease the sense of helplessness. Sometimes fears are reduced, and possible solutions increased.
Ethiopian adoptions are at a critical tipping point. While the number of children being adopted from Ethiopia has decreased, signficant numbers of adoptive families are taking their adopted Ethiopian children back to visit their birth families. I wouldn’t say it’s common yet, but as a trend it’s on an upswing.
Among the lessons learned from these trips is that while some Ethiopian families are getting current information (and photos, maybe more) about their children, many other first families are not. US and Canadian families report that, during their visits to Ethiopia with their adopted children, they are often besieged by other, grief-stricken Ethiopian parents. These are not the families of their adopted child who is visiting, but of other children who have been adopted and never heard from again, despite assurances or misunderstandings that there would be word.
Two questions (at least) come to mind.
Were the children placed for adoption in an ethical, transparent way?
What were the families told about whether there would be future communication about the child?
The answers to both questions can be fear-filled, for first families, for adoptees, and for adoptive parents.
What if we changed the way first families are treated in the international adoption process?
What if the US adoption industry and US government saw the first families as equal to adoptive parents in the way that services are provided?
What if first families received the equivalent of the counseling and classes that pre-adoptive parents are required to have?
What if the counseling was provided to them by a well-trained professional social worker, who speaks their language?
What if the legal rights and responsibilities were clearly and consistently explained to the first families, with a witness? What if they had time to think over their decision before signing legal agreements? What if adoption agencies videotaped the explanation of rights and responsibilities when explained to the first family, and provided adoptive families with a transcript?
What if we adoptive parents insisted that adoption agencies made a much greater and more visible effort to ensure that first families received the letters and photos that adoptive families send to first families?
What if adoption agencies made sure that the letters were translated accurately, that the language of the translation was the same one the birth family used, and that the letter would be read to the birth family if they were illiterate?
That is, what if post-adoption services were considered as valuable, accessible, and viable for first families as they are for adoptive families?
What if adoption agencies provided equivalent services to wealthy American prospective adoptive parents as to poor uneducated Ethiopian birth parents?
Because that’s surely not the case now. Is everyone okay with that?