My Thoughts on “The Perilous Journey”

The CBS show “48 Hours” last night focused on a small Florida adoption agency, Celebrate Children International (CCI), and two adoptions that the agency handled (mishandled) in Guatemala and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Click on Perilous Journey to watch the show. (I’m not sure the link will work outside the US.)

There is so much I could say about The Perilous Journey. I’m going to make a few points, and hope that discussions will continue.

CCI, the Hague Convention, and the Universal Accreditation Act

CCI, the agency under the spotlight on “48 Hours” will likely be out of business soon, though not because of this show. In July 2014, all US adoption agencies must comply with the Universal Accreditation Act, in order to facilitate international adoptions. 

There is a global treaty called The Hague Convention on International Adoptions. The US signed (in 1994)  and ratified it (in 2007). The intent is to protect the rights and responsibilities of everyone involved in an adoption: birth/first parents, adoptive parents, and adoptees. The Convention is not without its critics.

To work in countries that have ratified the Hague Convention (such as China), adoption agencies have to become “Hague-accredited,” or approved,  a lengthy process overseen here in the US by the Council on Accreditation. Not all agencies have chosen to become accredited. Non-accredited agencies could still work in countries that had not ratified the Hague Convention.

The UAA requires them to become accredited or approved, whether they work in countries that have signed/ratified the Hague Convention or not. Ethiopia, for example, has neither signed nor ratified the Hague Convention; the Republic of Korea has signed but not ratified. You can see a list of current Hague Convention countries here.

Before the UAA, agencies like CCI which were not accredited under the Hague Convention could work in countries that had not ratified the Hague Convention. That would include Ethiopia, Congo, and Nepal, for example. Once the UAA is implemented, all agencies must be accredited or approved under the Hague Convention no matter what countries they are placing children from.

Right now, CCI can work in Congo and Ethiopia, as shown in the “48 Hours” show, but not in China. CCI was denied Hague accreditation in 2008 and in 2012. See the list of agencies (including CCI) denied Hague accreditation here. I cannot imagine that CCI will receive approval under the Universal Accreditation Act.

The UAA is a big deal, with huge ramifications for the future of intercountry adoption. Will it solve all problems? No. Will there be fewer adoption agencies working in international adoption? Yes. Will fewer children be adopted internationally? Yes, at least initially.

Will hundreds of thousands of children around the globe still be in need of safe and loving families? Yes.

Will the damage already done by fraud and corruption in international adoption be changed by the new law? Not at all. Whether the fraud and corruption was done by the adoption agency, by the agency’s staff in-country, by the original family, by child traffickers in the shadows, by the adoptive family: it is damage that can perhaps be mitigated but not erased.

I am no lawyer, and my discussion above barely skims the surface of international adoption complexity. Anyone looking to adopt needs to be aware of the UAA, and talk with their adoption agency about it. The US State Department’s information about the UAA is available here.

Here is an Orlando Sentinel article about CCI.

Additional Thoughts on The Perilous Journey

The fact that “48 Hours” focused an investigation on one agency is due to the approach of “48 Hours,” not because only one adoption agency is problematic. The complex problems remain, and many do not have the drama, thumping music, and races to the airport of last night’s show.

May we keep our eyes, minds, and hearts open to improving the international adoption process.

Watching the little girls traveling from Congo to Kentucky, thinking about the fact that their world has changed in astonishing ways, I was reminded of my twin daughters’ arrival from Ethiopia to Maryland in 1994, at 6 years old. We (their adoptive parents and brothers) had waited so long, planned so much, and had so many frustrating ups and downs along the process.

Over time, it dawned on me what the journey meant to them: trauma. One day you are a small child in a familiar world. The next day you are a small child in a different galaxy, where people look totally different, want to hug you lots, don’t speak your language, and have an abundance of material wealth (toys, clean bed linens, space, food, so much of everything). I am in awe of what we expected from the girls, and of their resilience. We’ve dealt with joy, love, grief, denial, loss, laughter, sorrow, and healing, all of us, and we continue to do so.

May the reality of a child’s trauma in moving from one country to another–even as it may be “better” for the child–not be minimized. May we adoptive parents in our joy not lose track of what our children have left behind, both bad and good.

No adult adoptee voice was featured in this show, with the exception of the reporter Maureen Maher, a US adoptee.

May the voices of adult international adoptees  and first/original families be fully included in conversations (including TV and radio shows) about international adoption.

I smiled seeing Mrs. Owen using her flat-iron on her hair as she commented on the adoption process. She will now be caring for two daughters whose hair is different from hers. Hair and skin care is not a trivial subject in transracial and international adoption. It is a complex, emotional issue of beauty, identity, and culture.

May we all look to understand what beauty means and involves, outside of our own perspective.

Shows like “48 Hours” evoke a lot of emotional responses, and exist forever on-line and in people’s minds. I always wonder about the privacy of the children. They deserve a voice, especially in cases of fraud, corruption, and trafficking. They also deserve privacy and respect. I acknowledge that I am playing a part in spreading these children’s stories by my post here. I am always seeking balance, and it’s not easy.

May we find a proper balance between meeting children’s needs and exploiting them. May we take seriously the information we share, and recognize the ramifications.

Seeing Fernanda with her mother and siblings, seeing Betsy Emanuel’s conflicting emotions–that was hugely powerful on last night’s show. So much to think about.

There are no quick fixes in international adoption, no magic wands. The economic imbalances between adoptive parents and original parents loom so large to me.

May we keep working together, even as we hear and see what we wish would go away. May all children have safe and loving families.

My July 2013 post “Reflections on Hana: Acknowledging the Failure of the Adoption Community,” may be of interest.

May all of us involved in the adoption community take responsibility, and work together, to help vulnerable children (who grow up!) and families in respectful, ethical, transparent ways.


5 thoughts on “My Thoughts on “The Perilous Journey”

  1. I am thrilled to see a popular show on one of the major networks exposing CCI. I very much hope, as you say, that this agency will be out of business very soon.

  2. Excellent review, Maureen, thanks.

    Although there was a lot missing from this report, it did one thing that I believe needs to be done more frequently: it shed light on the fact that adoption agencies CAN and DO involve themselves in trafficking for adoption, and it did so on a major network program that it now available in a variety of media formats. It’s a start, in other words, toward getting the mainstream to see adoption from a more balanced perspective.

    • Well said, Margie. It is, understandably, so hard for many folks to even hear (never mind say) “trafficking’ and “adoption” in the same sentence, yet we need to keep our minds and hearts open to this. Movement toward a more balance perspective is progress, and I think there has been significant progress in that direction. We can gauge progress as awareness of the genuine realities of adoption, good and bad, beyond the view of adoption as essentially only placement of a chid/baby with new parents. Thanks.

  3. Besides the fact that no input from adult international adoptees was solicited (or included) in the program, what REALLY jumped out at me was that:
    (1) the issue of fraudulent paperwork and the “manufacturing” of Congolese orphans was noted (and cited as the reason why the director of the orphanage initially refused to release the 2 girls the Owens eventually managed to adopt)
    (2) the Owens were disturbed by inconsistencies in the paperwork for the 2 Congolese girls they eventually adopted
    (3) nobody actually bothered to *investigate* whether those 2 girls were voluntarily relinquished OR truly in need of being adopted by the Owens (or any foreign family.
    (4) the Owens adopted BOTH girls anyways and this was sold as a “happy” ending.

    • All excellent points. The “48 Hours” investigative approach leans toward mentioning, then moving on to resolution. There were many things left unsaid, and unresolved, in this episode.

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