Case Study, Part 2: The Williamses’ Adoption Agency

In Case Study, Part 1, I reviewed some of the background facts about the agency used in the adoption of Hana Alemu and Immanuel Williams.

Regardless of the outcome of this case, we need to make changes in adoption policy, and engage in hard conversations that includes adoptive parents, adopted persons, and first parents. I challenge adoption agencies and licensing authorities in particular to step up.

Here are Case Study Questions that leap to my mind, questions that deserve to be discussed, considered, and answered, by adoption agency professionals, social workers, families, legislators, and more. Home studies and post-adoption services need to be examined closely to ensure they meet the needs of families, and especially of adopted children.

Why did the Williamses decide to adopt two older children from Ethiopia? What discussions did they have in the home study process with their agency, Adoption Advocates International (AAI), about the reasons?

(They wanted more children, in addition to their 7. Why older children? Why Ethiopia? Why 2 children?)

How did the family afford the adoption, which must have cost at least $20,000?

(People don’t have to be wealthy to adopt, though adoption can be an expensive process. The US government has prospective adoptive parents of internationally adopted children sign a form that they have sufficient income not to become a burden on the public system (welfare, food stamps, etc.). In the case of the Williamses, one modest income and 11 people (2 adults, 9 children) had to have been a challenge.

The role of money in adoption is often controversial. If Hana or Immanuel needed additional resources, could the Williamses afford them? Was financial strain a factor? Lots of big families do well, and children thrive in them, even if incomes are limited. Still, finances can be stressful for many families, and that potential stress should be carefully considered and discussed in the home study process.)

Did the Williamses use the adoption tax credit? Did AAI tell them about it? If so, did that influence their decision and ability to adopt?

(For information about the adoption tax credit, read my post here.)

How did the home study address the discipline techniques of Larry and Carri Williams? Were there any red flags? What agreements did they sign regarding discipline and punishment? Did they violate any of those agreements?

(Washington state allows spanking of children, as long as it doesn’t leave a mark.) 

Carri Williams apparently expected/wanted a little girl through the adoption. How did the AAI social worker address Carri’s wishes in the home study? What age child/children were the Williamses approved for by the home study, which also had to have the approval of the US State Department?

(A primary goal in adoption is supposed to be finding family for a child, not a child for a family. How was this fundamental goal addressed in the home study?)

Did Carri Williams realize, prior to Hana’s arrival in the US, that Hana was at least 10 years old? If not, why not? What sort of conversations and discussion did the home study actually involve? Was this conflict discussed in post-placement agency work? If not, why not?

In the home study process, did the adoption agency suggest that the Williamses connect with the Ethiopian community in Seattle and elsewhere? Did Larry and Carri know any Ethiopians, any Ethiopian-Americans? Did they know any people of color?

(Ask adult Ethiopian adoptees, and other transracially adopted adults, if this matters in parenting adopted children.)

In the home study, what resources did the Williamses indicate they had as a support system for the post-adoption needs of 2 older, Ethiopian children, and of the family as a whole? Did AAI feel these were sufficient?

Did the Williamses complete their mandated 10 hours of pre-adoption preparation on-line, as is allowed by the Hague Convention?

(Ten hours. That’s it. That’s all that is mandated for pre-adoption counseling for two, older, transracial, international adoptions. Did AAI suggest any further preparation? ) 

How did the social worker prepare and include the 7 Williamses’ children in the discussions about how their lives would change with the addition of two children?

The Williamses did not ever travel to Ethiopia, though in 2008 this was standard practice for families adopting from Ethiopia. Why didn’t one or both travel? The travel could have involved their meeting birth family members of both Hana and Immanuel, as well as seeing the country. Might that have made a difference in their approach to the children?

In terms of information provided to the Williamses by AAI, did that information include resources for post-adopt services, such as counseling, therapists, respite care, adoptive families, adult adoptees, the Ethiopian Community Center, etc?

Did the Williamses sign any agreements regarding their knowledge of post-adopt resources? Did they sign any agreements that they would contact AAI if they needed assistance and/or support?

How hard did AAI press the Williamses’ to send in the Post-Placement Reports?

(Ethiopia requests all adoptive parents to send post-placement reports annually until the child is 18. They want to know that the children are alive, safe, and cared for, in terms of health, schooling, and overall well-being. Once an adoption is finalized, it is up to the adoptive parents to comply; there is no enforcement mechanism.

These reports are different from the reports required by the US to finalize the adoption. These are reports based on the agency social worker’s visits and/or conversations, plus information on adjustment, medical evaluations, and so on. These generally take place 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, and 12 months after a child’s arrival. 

My understanding, based on Gay Knutson’s testimony, is that the Williamses completed all the US requirements for finalization with AAI. It is less clear that they sent in the annual reports to Ethiopia.)

Final thoughts

Regardless of the outcome of this case, these questions about the home study process and about post-placement resources all deserve further consideration by international adoption agency staff, not just AAI but all agencies, as well as the Council on Accreditation, Joint Council on International Children’s Services, the US State Department–Office of Children’s Issues, and state licensing agencies.

Most international adoptions do not have these publicized, horrific outcomes. We don’t know, though, how many international adoptees, Ethiopian or otherwise, are suffering under the radar, because of insufficient preparation and post-placement services.

We do know that hundreds, if not thousands, of adoptive parents seek advice and support on-line, and not from their agencies. The parents have many questions and they need lots of help, which they seek out from strangers on-line. Post-adoption services are vitally needed. What is the adoption agency response to this? What is the State Department’s? COA’s? What are their responsibilities?

it doesn’t lessen the horrific tragedy, but perhaps one positive legacy could be an overhaul of the adoption process, in a way that ensures safety, transparency, and integrity. I hope for this, and for justice for Hana.

11 thoughts on “Case Study, Part 2: The Williamses’ Adoption Agency

  1. Pingback: Hana Grace Williams Trial

  2. Unless criminal and civil liability for adoption agency principals and employees is available for tragedies like Hana Williams, it’s hard to see how or why things will change. Those agencies which are leaders in the field could make quite a difference by supporting better regulation on themselves; those afraid of such laws should go away. A child is gone, another is forced to testify about it, a family scatttered, the adoption agency doors’ stay open for business.

  3. I believe that I might have some insight into the “why” of their adoption. I met Carri Williams before their adoption, about 9 years ago. Carri was very involved in a ministry called “Above Rubies” founded by Nancy Campbell in Australia. At that time, the ministry was very vocal about adopting orphans, particularly from Ethiopia. They have many articles on adoption, and you may find some insight there.

    • Thanks, Laurie. The intersection of religious beliefs and adoption decisions can be so complicated. I highly recommend “The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption” by Kathryn Joyce to anyone interested in reading more about this.

  4. A really appalling case-I hope that your thoughtful, incisive comments have some effect. Good to hear your strong voice on this subject.
    Best Wishes,
    Michelle Hester

  5. Pingback: Williams Trial – Day 15 | Why Not Train A Child?

  6. I noticed on AAI’s website the ability to apply for “Adoption Grants”. What role if any, do you think they play?

    • I have no insider knowledge of AAI’s grant program. Some agencies offer grants to create an incentive for the adoption of special needs children (looks like for children who are HIV+, in AAI’s case), and to assist with the very large expenses involved with international adoption. I’d guess that describes AAI’s approach here as well. The US federal adoption tax credit is also available to families.

      The role of money in adoption is incredibly complicated. I’d welcome your thoughts on this.

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