There are several ways that international adoptions, after they have been finalized, can be terminated. What can be done to prevent this from happening, and to heal those involved?
We live in a world where adoptions can end in at least four ways.
- One is illicit “re-homing,” where adoptive parents hand their children over to other people, whom they may or may not know well, without any sort of oversight or protection for the children. I’ve written about this here.
- A second ending is the voluntary or involuntary legal termination of the adoptive parents’ parental rights, thus moving their children into the US foster care system, This happens with internationally adopted children more often than any of us are aware. Because the children are usually US citizens by the time they enter foster care, their international origins are often difficult to trace.
- A third is the voluntary or involuntary legal termination of parental rights which moves the children into a private adoption system. The Utah agency Second Chance Adoptions is the best known organization for handling these disruptions.
- A fourth is the annulment of the adoption in civil court by the country of origin. Ethiopian courts have recently annulled three international adoptions. You can read my recent post here.
Obviously the best approach is prevention before adoption occurs: preventing the child from losing his first family by preserving families when possible, by intervening to keep children out of orphanages, and by providing resources to feed and educate children. I’ve written about some possible means of helping children that do not include international adoption here.
The decline in international adoptions to the US does not mean that the needs of vulnerable children have also declined.
Another important approach is providing services for families before and after the adoption, so that the child is safe, and is not re-traumatized by losing a family a second time.
Here are a few ideas:
- More rigorous screening of prospective adoptive parents. Proof that prospective parents have excellent insurance, including access to adoption-competent therapies and resources for respite care.
- Adoption policies and practices that focus on Inclusion of adult international adoptees and from international birth/original parents, and not solely adoptive parents, adoption agencies, and adoption attorneys.
- Funding and training for pre-adoption and post-adoption resources that are effective and accessible. Emphasizing to families that asking for help is not embarrassing or shameful, but is a sign of strong parenting skills.
- Legislation and/or other resources that provides guidance and oversight for families in crisis, with transparency for adoption disruptions and services for children.
Some children are in need of adoption because of abuse by their parents. The annulled adoptions in Ethiopia were granted because of the treatment of the children by the adoptive parents. Access to services–and willingness to use the services–would likely have helped in some cases. Further, a red flag of the cases was that the Ethiopian parents thought they would hear about their children after placement, and then were not given any information or contact.
One of the most significant developments in international adoption is increased openness, where the adoptive family and the birth/first family keep connected. I am aware anecdotally of many adoptive parents of Ethiopian children who visit Ethiopia regularly, who have phone or Skype contact with the birth family, and who have heard the reasons for adoption directly from family members.
Ethiopian Adoption Connection provides a database for Ethiopian and adoptive families to find each other. Many Ethiopian mothers and fathers were promised connections with the children they placed for adoption, but never received updates, photos, news, or anything at all. EAC helps Ethiopian families and adoptees around the globe to find each other. Having access to information seems such a basic human right, for everyone involved in adoption. Yes, it’s complicated to navigate the relationships. Yes, safety issues are always paramount.
And yes, these connections have been made and have been successful. Adoptees are finding their families. Dying Ethiopian grandfathers are able to learn that their grandsons are thriving. Ethiopian mothers can know that their babies (placed in the US, Sweden, France, or elsewhere) are alive.
Would these connections have meant the annulments would not have occurred? We will never know. But transparency and integrity can go a long way in adoption, and we need to take more steps in that direction.
Ethiopian Adoption Connection is doing groundbreaking work. Please share information about them, and help them to continue. Learn more here. A donation would be a wonderful Mother’s Day idea.