AAI, Hana Williams’ Agency, Is Out of Business: Now What?

2014 has been a rough ride for international adoption agencies: Celebrate Children International was the subject of a 48 Hours investigation, and International Adoption Guides is under indictment. The so-called Children in Families First legislation is under siege and appears to be foundering. And now Adoption Advocates International is closing. What other signs are needed to convince agencies and agency-affiliates that they need to change the way they are doing business?

On March 7, Adoption Advocates International, the Washington state adoption agency used by Larry and Carri Williams to adopt Hana and Immanuel Williams, announced it was closing its Ethiopian adoption program. Today, March 12, it appears they are closing their doors completely.

An article about AAI’s closing was printed here, in today’s Peninsula Daily News.

Many people are happy that AAI is closing, given AAI’s role in the placement of Hana Alemu and Immanuel Williams. As always in complex situations, though, there are other elements to consider. Many families in the process of adopting through AAI, not just from Ethiopia but from Burkina Faso, China, and perhaps elsewhere, are now in a difficult emotional and financial position. AAI has placed some 4500 adoptees over the last 3 decades whose records must be (I hope) kept available for them, somewhere. There are now children who will not be adopted, who perhaps legitimately needed new, safe, loving families. There are first/original parents, always the most marginalized in adoption, who may not be able to access information about their children.

Interestingly, AAI is a Hague-accredited agency, certified by the Council on Accreditation through April 2016. That COA accreditation is intended to be a high standard that signifies an agency is in excellent financial and programmatic health.

Christian World Adoptions, a South Carolina adoption agency, suddenly closed its doors and declared bankruptcy early in 2013. It was also a COA/Hague certified agency, right to the end. It startles me that 2 COA-accredited agencies within about a year can suddenly just close. What went horribly wrong in their financial status that COA totally missed?

According to the COA website:

Hague management standards apply to all adoption service providers regardless of the type of provider or services provided. These management standards promote accountability and include:

  • Licensing and Corporate Governance
  • Financial and Risk Management
  • Ethical Practices and Responsibilities
  • Professional Qualifications and Training of Employees
  • Information Disclosure, Fee Practices, and Quality Control
  • Responding to Complaints and Records and Reports Management
  • Service Planning and Delivery

When 2 COA-accredited international adoption agencies abruptly close within about one year of each other, many questions are raised about COA accreditation. Certainly it casts a shadow on the strength and value of the accreditation process for other currently accredited adoption agencies.

According to page 36 of COA’s 92 page Policies and Procedures Manual-Hague, when an agency closes, it has to provide to COA the following: a listing of all Hague adoption service(s), the closing date, detailed description of reasons for the decision, and the transition and referral plan for consumers.

In this case, I am guessing that “consumers” are the prospective adoptive parents: the paying customers. I’d like to think that COA would also demand information about the plans and needs of all the children (some of who are surely adults now) who were adopted through AAI, and even of the first/original parents.

Ethiopian adoptions have been problematic for a while, for many reasons: increased awareness of fraud and corruption, implementation of new procedures, increased costs due to labor/time of ensuring the accuracy about why children become available for adoption, and more. There have been far fewer adoptions from Ethiopia in recent years, and there is increasingly great concern in Ethiopia about the outcomes of adopted children. The majority, of course, do fine, but the reality of Hana and Immanuel weighs heavily on many minds around the globe.That’s true for other Ethiopian adoptees. Kathryn Joyce’s Slate article, Hana Williams: The Tragic Death of an Ethiopian Adoptee, And How It Could Happen Again, describes other placements by AAI, and how these Ethiopian adoptees are greatly struggling.

The recent death of Korean adoptee Hyunsu O’Callaghan surely makes all of us–adoption agencies, adoptees, adoptive parents, first/original parents–pause and reflect with sorrow as well. What now?

Indeed, it’s hard to cheer about AAI’s closing. So many doors are still left open for vulnerable families and children around the world.

This could be an incredible opportunity for adoption agencies and adoption agency-related organizations (Joint Council on international Children’s Services, National Council For Adoption, Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, for example) to reach out to those who’ve been too often excluded from adoption policy discussions: adult adoptees (yes, including those whom agencies have written off as angry and rude), international first/original parents (to whom adoption agencies have a deep, ethical obligation), and even adoptive parents who disagree with them. We all want children to be in safe, loving homes. We all agree that if adoption is a viable option, it must be transparent, and all involved must be held accountable. Some are happy to see adoption agencies close, and most of us also know that the closures don’t mean that vulnerable children are now safe and cared for.

It’s time to have some really hard conversations, and not simply because adoption agencies are closing. It’s because all voices are needed if we are going to see viable, positive change in adoption policy. Pay attention, adoption agencies and coalitions: the changes are happening now, due to the adopted adults and first parents who are stepping up, speaking out, and creating overdue change. 

8 thoughts on “AAI, Hana Williams’ Agency, Is Out of Business: Now What?

  1. Pingback: A Convergence of Concern Around Seattle’s Ethiopian Adoptees | Light of Day Stories

  2. Pingback: No, adoptees have not been the reason why… | The adopted ones blog

  3. Alex, I know people who were adopting via AAI in Ethiopia are hiring people to help them finish. Ethiopia does not require Hague certification. Other counties have their own rules so best bet is to go there and find someone or an agency one trusts. You are one of the stalwarts, doing it on your own – most people don’t even know where to start with language and cultural barriers and can only hope its on the up and up. I doubt there is Hague standard criminal evidence against AAI since the family had no previous history of maltreatment of their numerous children etc. They could maybe get them on no follow up reports but that is a common failing in adopted families. However AAI had many years of a costly legal and PR battle in Ethiopia and USA on top of orphanage closure. Plus Ethiopia had to do something due to outcry. In Ethiopia MOWA has files- what there is of them. At time of adoption, most families were given as much info as agency themselves had if they asked

    • 1) If I’d adopted Immanuel Williams, I’d have certainly noted that the lawyers camped out on my doorstep were whispering ‘statute of limitations’…I know nothing about AAI’s present financials, but I’d make a small bet that they have received a demand letter on behalf of that child by now. You’re right, AFAIK, that there’s no criminal liability under Hague–which, if that ain’t a red flag that our carefully designed system has problems, what would be?–but I can’t imagine that a civil case against the agency would be barred under state law. There’s no question that WA’s (inadequate) oversight requirements weren’t met by AAI, or that damages occurred. The customers waived their rights at the start of the transaction but you can’t contract your way out of a tort of malfeasance injuring a third party (IANAL). So…we’ll see.
      2) Yep, that’s the problem. The vulnerability in the system was built in when private enterprises (agencies) were tasked with a function that rightly belongs to government, holding identity info–and their customers are not their clients.

  4. Lorraine, thanks for clarifying what may have occurred here. I’ve been thinking about this all week. AAI was the last agency we met with, in 1999, before deciding that an independent adoption in which we worked directly with the orphanage couldn’t be worse, ethically, than the agencies that each ran a orphanage.

    The final straw was my conversation with AAI’s director, in which she informed me that her experience was the only tool she needed to place children. Unlike every other agency we spoke with, she denied having any matrix guiding her matches, and stressed that her obligation was to get the orphanage they worked with in Viet Nam empty. When I asked her how she distributed the healthy babies I knew were easiest to place, given that 3 other agencies had openly stated their policies and that no orphanage in the country seemed to be empty, she let me know that I wasn’t a good fit for their PAP pool, since I didn’t trust them to know what was best.

    Obviously, that came to mind during the Williams’ trial.

    Again, now that we know that accreditation doesn’t assure the future availability of adoptees’ information, I’m wondering how anyone thought this would end.

    Is it possible for the families in process, not in China but the other countries where they have made matches, to complete their adoptions locally in those countries? Or would the Hague prevent them from working in those nations without an accredited licensed agency? That would be bitterly ironic.

  5. Carlee, AAI has not run an orphanage for some time now. The Ethiopian government determined it was a conflict of interest to have an adoption agency run an orphanage. There are staff who are laid off, but they are staff working for an adoption agency, not an orphanage

    Accreditation reviews the standards and practices of agencies. They cannot and do not accredit whether a non-profit or agency will stay in business forever. Accredited businesses and non-profits all over the world close their doors when the fiscal climate changes. It is absolutely normal in any industry’s business cycle for this to happen. Accreditation means AAI was in compliance with the Hague standards for ethical adoptions and practices. It also means their paperwork and filing systems should be in order.

    I imagine their business model fell apart when they could no longer run an orphanage in Ethiopia to help support their costs

  6. Maureen: IAG was another Hague accredited agency. Two years after I filed a complaint they found that my allegations were “unsubstantiated.” I was not the only AP who filed a complaint. Yet, when I inquired with Jayne Schmidt’s assistant asking for a COA comment regarding the recent IAG Indictment, nobody responded. I wonder if there is a governing body overseeing the COA? At this point, is there anybody who would trust an adoption agency with COA accreditation?

  7. I really, really hope that the records AAI should have been keeping will be preserved and made accessible — it would be horrible for adoptees to be denied basic information about who they are, where they came from, contact information to their first families in their home countries, etc.

    I really, really hope that the AAI staff running the “transition homes” in Ethiopia (and other AAI countries) will be paid — rumor has it that the locally engaged staff, the ones responsible for feeding/bathing/caring for the soon-to-be-adopted kids have not been paid in quite some time, according to a blog by a woman who adopted her first ET kid with AAI.

    For the (far too many) irresponsible PAPs that were fundraising 100% of their adoption costs (usually because they claim a supernatural being told them to — and because they’re generally unwilling to spent a penny of their hard-earned money to acquire a foreign kid, but will do so with other people’s cash) I selfishly hope that AAI keeps every penny of the money they’ve paid — so that they won’t be able to re-start a new adoption with a new, equally unethical agency. Slightly less selfishly, if the $$ are returned to the PAPs who begged for it from strangers, I’m hoping they return it to the generous donors, since they will be unable to use it for the stated purpose. I’ve a bad feeling that rather a lot of these PAPs are going to simply demand MORE money from strangers to adopt some other kid… like the family at
    http:rootedinthelord.com/2014/03/12/devastating.html . They’ve already put out their virtual tin cup to recoup the money they “lost” to AAI.

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