Kathryn Joyce: Aftermath of Hana Williams’ Death, and of Ethiopian Adoptions

During the course of the 7 week trial of Larry and Carri Williams in Skagit County, Washington, I had the pleasure of meeting and spending time with Kathryn Joyce, the author of The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption. Having worked years ago with international adoption agencies, I knew some of the people mentioned in the book, and was familiar with some of the issues raised. Kathryn is a thoughtful, intelligent, warm person, and a talented, insightful writer.

She covered the trial of the parents of Ethiopian adoptees Hana Alemu and Immanuel Williams, and talked with many members of the Ethiopian community as well, including adoptees. She has written a powerful, challenging piece published today on Slate. Click on the title to read it: Hana’s Story: An adoptee’s tragic fate, and how it could happen again.

The article discusses Hana’s life and death, and the subsequent trial of Larry and Carri Williams, now serving long sentences in jail. It also tells the stories of several other Ethiopian adoptees, placed primarily by Adoption Advocates International, the same adoption agency that the Williamses used. These now-young adults were adopted into very large, Christian fundamentalist families, and many were subjected to the same treatment as Hana and her adopted brother Immanuel. Some of these Ethiopian adoptees have been thrown out of their families, have struggled mightily fitting into American society, and are now desperately alone, far from the land of their birth.

As an adoptive parent of twin Ethiopian daughters, I read the story of the Ethiopian adoptees with a heavy heart. I’ve expressed my concerns about adoption practices related to Hana and Immanuel in several posts, such as Case Study, Part 1: The Williamses’ Adoption Agency, and Case Study, Part 2.

While Hana’s death was an extreme example of what can go tragically wrong in adoption, we cannot dismiss it as “isolated” and turn our eyes. We need to reflect very seriously on how to make things better for adopted children. The children (we hope) grow up to be adults. They continue to need services and support, especially if the placements were not appropriate for them and they have been exiled from their adoptive families–and now cannot return to their homeland either.

I encourage you to read The Child Catchers, and to read Kathryn’s article on Slate. Yes, it’s tough reading, and the temptation is to shake our heads, to throw up our hands. But that’s not enough.

Hana Alemu (Williams)

Hana Alemu (Williams)

May Hana rest in peace, and may no child suffer as she did. May her legacy be one of hope and strength for Ethiopian adoptees.

Update: KUOW, NPR’s Seattle station, did an interview with Kathryn Joyce on November 13. Listen to it here.

9 thoughts on “Kathryn Joyce: Aftermath of Hana Williams’ Death, and of Ethiopian Adoptions

  1. Pingback: Trial Scheduled for International Adoption Guides: Victims, Speak Up | Light of Day Stories

  2. I also want to refute these comments, as I have followed this family and watched these children flourish in the home of the loving person that you slandered Dee. A person regularly seeking medical care for her children, who has physical proof in her children’s well-being AFTER being in her care, is NOT a person that would raise any red flags. That you imply that this person could abuse her children although it obvious you have never met her or her kids is DESPICABLE.

    • Jess, your comments remind me how complicated these situations can be. I wrote a post about homeschooling, Christian families that I have known: http://wp.me/p3gRZe-Am It was, perhaps, the isolation of the Williams’ family that created the tragic situation for Hana and Immanuel, along with the failure to seek or get help, and the use of disciplinary techniques that simply do not work for traumatized children. There is no doubt in my mind that we as a community need to do a better job in adoption preparation and post-adoption services: families, legislators, agencies, social workers, policy makers, all of us.

      • Jess — The family I’m talking about is Amanda Unroe’s:

        She and her husband now have 21 (!!) kids, 20 of which are high-needs, special kids + 1 neurotypical birth child.

        Amanda homeschools the kids and spends a lot of time “single momming” it as her husband travels a lot for work.

        It is physically impossible for ONE woman to adequately care for and educate that many children, even if they were perfectly healthy. There aren’t enough hours in the day!

        Amanda’s 3 newest kids were adopted from a notoriously awful orphanage in Pleven, Bulgaria and she describes little Matthew as “Matthew is 9 years old. he weighs 18lb – yes 18lb. At the age of 41/2 he was beaten into a coma by his birth father and has severe brain damage. His little limbs are so contracted he cannot straighten them. We cannot imagine the pain this little one is in.”

        Pretty much all of Amanda’s kids were horrifically neglected before she adopted them — how can ONE or even TWO parents give SO many kids the love and attention they need and deserve? Plus change diapers (indefinitely since many/most
        aren’t and likely will never be potty trained), fed by hand (likely indefinitely) and provide the necessary medical care for 20 medically complex kids (with shunts, nasogastric feeding tubes, corrective surgeries/rehab for kids with CP who have awful contracture a from lying in a crib for 6 yrs)? What happens when, say, one her kids falls and she has to take him to the ER while her husband is out of town??

        20 severely disabled kids in ONE home is NOT a family — it is a bad group home. Many of Amanda Unroe’s kids probably got MORE individual attention in the bad Ukrainian or Bulgarian orphanages they came from. Even grim orphanages tend to have a 1:12 or 1:16 caregiver-to-kid ratio.

        My heart breaks for all the Unroe kids. Don’t even get me started on the fact that the Unroes fundraised pretty much 100% of adoption costs AND continue to beg for cash via their blog to pay for the expensive medical care their 21 kids need!!

  3. I like how the above commenter just calls out a person who meets the same criteria, but who doesn’t seem to know anything other than how many children and what religion this family is. Please have facts before you slander a persons name! Just because this has happened in large Christian fundamentalist families doesn’t mean every family that meets this criteria is abusive.

  4. Pingback: Hana’s Story in Slate Magazine | Why Not Train A Child?

  5. Is there any way to report families who are likely to abuse their kids?

    Half the families affiliated with ethically-challenged adoption “ministry” Reece’s Rainbow meet the criteria described in this article — including Amanda Unroe’s family:

    – 18 kids, 17 of whom were adopted with high needs, special needs in their home
    – in the process of adopting 3 more special needs kids from Bulgaria
    – fundamentalist Christian family
    – homeschools all the kids

    It’s a disaster in progress!

    • If anyone believes that any form of abuse is happening to a child, report it! Do not ignore or turn away. The situations you have listed may not in themselves be an abusive situation but the awareness of the possibility reported from those of us that have concerns, may open the eyes of people that can help.

      • This is so complex: some of these large families can and do provide safe, loving havens for children who would not otherwise have such families. I feel confident Kathryn Joyce would agree on this. That does not mean, of course, that we can turn a blind eye to the tragedies that have occurred and are occurring. I believe that adoption agencies, ministries, and legal entities (Department of State, US legal authorities, Council on Accreditation) have a special responsibility to adopted children: they are supposed to provide the legal oversight. They are the ones who have (ostensibly) signed off on the adoptive parents, checked out the child’s legality for adoption, and/or okayed the movement of the child from one family/country to another. That is no small responsibility, in my eyes. Yes, the adoptive parents also, obviously, have a critical role in preparing to be adoptive parents, in caring appropriately for the child, and in getting help when needed for themselves or the child. That is huge.

        To Deanna’s point: we all (not just doctors or social workers) have a responsibility to report abuse when there are grounds for concern. Additionally, I think those of us connected to adoption have a responsibility to speak out about better services for adoptive families and adopted children, before and after placement.

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