Ethiopia: If Adoptions Decline, What Happens to the Children?

What happens to the children when a country cuts back significantly on adoption?

Last week, the US State Department issued an update about adoption from Ethiopia, noting that several Ethiopian regions closed adoptions as of 2014, and will continue to do so. The number of adopted children is a tiny percentage of the children who are part of struggling families or dire circumstances. What happens to all those children?

Poverty may be the main reason that adoptions have occurred in Ethiopia.That is of course an oversimplification: for many reasons, children are unable to stay with the family into which they were born. Still, the average annual income in Ethiopia is around $450, or less than $40 a month, barely a dollar a day.

As a result of living constantly on an economic precipice, Ethiopian children are placed in orphanages because their parents can’t afford to feed them, or because one parent has died (or left) and the other cannot afford the child care needed to go to work. Some parents have untreated illnesses that cause them to fear for their children’s futures. Some children have illnesses for which treatment is (relatively) expensive or unavailable.

I recognize that adoption can be life-saving for some children. At the same time, I am hardly the first to point out that the amount of money for one Ethiopian adoption ($25,000-$40,000) could help many more children if it went toward programs that preserve and empower Ethiopian families. The economics are obvious. I also know it’s a hard sell. Donors are far more willing to contribute to families raising funds for one “orphan” adoption than they are for programs keeping children out of orphanages.

Still, it’s worth thinking about the many possibilities to improve outcomes for vulnerable children. As Ethiopia considers its child welfare policies, and as adoption agencies move out of the country, here are some of my hopes:

  • That the Ethiopian government will include adult adoptees and first/birth parents in their discussions and policies regarding adoption. Some 14,000 Ethiopian children were adopted to the United States between 1999-2013. Several thousand others have been adopted, such as those adopted before 1999 as well as those adopted to western and northern Europe, Canada, and Australia. My dream: Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora is one example of adoptees becoming active and empowered. Wouldn’t it be amazing if there were a conference held in Addis that invited adoptees and first/birth families to participate in molding the future of adoption in Ethiopia?
  • That organizations such as Ethiopia Reads, Roots Ethiopia, Weema, Clinic at a Time, AHope for Children, Connected In Hope, and others will be sustained and enhanced. One consequence of adoption has been the formation and sustenance by adoptive parents of many non-governmental organizations in Ethiopia. These organizations provide clean water, literacy, jobs, and health care, which means that families are less likely to place their children in orphanages. Please support them as much as possible.
  • That many more people will sponsor children and families, to keep children with their families and to alleviate enormous financial burdens for young people aging out of orphanages. One example (and the organizations above also have sponsorships): Encourage Africa. There are women now involved with Encourage Africa who were formerly living with their children in latrines, and, yes, that is as horrible as you might imagine. They had nowhere else to get a roof over their heads. Sponsorships change that. Other programs (there are many; the monthly costs are usually $25 to $50) include Mommas With A Mission and Mamush. My dream: Everyone who has adopted an Ethiopian child, or considered adoption, will spread the word about sponsorships, and become a sponsor if possible.
  • That there will be a transparent, uniform system of records’ maintenance, for both adopted persons and for first/birth families. When adoption agencies close or end programs, it’s often unclear where their records and files go. When adoptees search for information (and that could be years after adoption), they are often unable to get any records from the main source: the adoption agency. Further, adoptive families are supposed to send reports annually to the Ministry of Women’s, Children’s, and Youth’s Affairs in Ethiopia, until the child is 18. There is controversy about whether to send the reports, whether they are ever read, how they are filed and preserved, and whether the first families have access (or were promised access) to them. It would be wonderful to know that the reports were being preserved (perhaps even translated), and made available to Ethiopian families. My dreams: All Ethiopian families who yearn for information about the children they placed for adoption are able to receive that information. College and graduate students and/or professors in Ethiopia might consider this as a project for an Information Management class. 
  • That more families in Ethiopia and around the globe will participate in the work of Ethiopian Adoption Connection. EAC has already built a strong database and helped to reunite families. The site is available in English and Amharic, and they are expanding their possibilities.
  • That significant post-placement support programs may be created for Ethiopian birth/first families. Adoptive families have access to post-adoption resources, not nearly enough, some better than others. There are Facebook groups, therapists, support groups, adoption agency workshops, adoption conferences, international adoption clinics, and more. Ethiopian first/birth families too often have nothing in terms of post-placement support. Nothing. Some changes are happening, slowly. We adoptive parents need to demand more for the first families of all the children, especially as adoption agencies withdraw from Ethiopia.

This is a volatile time in adoption. We have tremendous opportunities to bring about meaningful change, as a community, for children who need families, and for the families who love them.


Original artwork by Adanech Evans. Used with permission. Photo © Maureen McCauley Evans



6 thoughts on “Ethiopia: If Adoptions Decline, What Happens to the Children?

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