The Ethiopian Parliament ended international adoptions in January. However, according to a Facebook posting by an adoptive family, some adoptive parents and Ethiopian officials apparently want to “prove to Ethiopia’s parliament that adoptive families in the US are a great resource for the orphan crisis in Ethiopia.”
(Spoiler alert: This perspective completely excludes the experiences of adult adoptees and of Ethiopian birth parents. Without their voices, this whole undertaking will fail.)
A recent meeting took place in Washington, DC, at the Ethiopian Embassy, with four adoptive families, an official from Ethiopia’s Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs, and embassy officials. The main takeaway of the meeting: to create a flood of post-placement reports from adoptive families, because, they said, Ethiopian “adoptions are closed because families vow in court to do post-adoption follow-up reports on the health and well-being of the children before getting custody, but the majority don’t turn in reports. So the measure of adoption success is not measurable.” To prove that adoptions are successful, “they need a flood of post-adoption reports from families!”
The failure of families to submit post-placement reports was perhaps one reason for Ethiopia to end adoptions, but it’s hardly the only one. Other reasons include the death of Ethiopian adoptee Hana Williams and attendant outcry, the failure of adoptive families to preserve and honor their child’s Ethiopian heritage, the ongoing concern about fraud and corruption, various reports about Ethiopian adoptees being “re-homed,” and, one would hope, a sincere desire to strengthen the child welfare system in Ethiopia to protect the rights and meet the needs of vulnerable children.
So what’s the deal with post-placement reports? Why don’t families send them in?
Here are a few reasons:
- Many American adoptive families have no confidence that the reports are read, filed, and stored safely in Ethiopia.
- Some adoption agencies told adoptive and birth families that the Ethiopian birth families would be able to access the reports to know how their children are doing. That simply hasn’t happened.
- Some families have learned that the story they were told about why their child needed to be adopted was not true. The children aren’t orphans. There was coercion and fraud. The Ethiopian family thought the children were going to the US for education and would return to their Ethiopian family. Given the lies, families stopped sending reports.
- Adoption agencies closed or were shut down, and left no information about how to follow-up with the reports.
- Some families just got busy. Since there is no enforcement mechanism, there’s no way to mandate the reports.
- Increasing numbers of families are in contact with their children’s Ethiopian family, and therefore feel no need to send the reports to the government.
In any case, there’s now a campaign of sorts to get adoptive families to flood the government with post-placement reports. The reports, according to an adoptive family who attended the Embassy meeting, “should include 6-8 photos and a summary of the child’s well-being—physical health, emotional health, education/activities, relationships within family, family summary (jobs, church, people, etc.) and any incorporation of Ethiopian heritage (this goes a LONG way!)”
(Spoiler alert: Way too many US families don’t live anywhere near Ethiopian people, or black people, or other-than-white-people. Incorporation of Ethiopian heritage should be a core value for adoptive parents, one that means more than art on the walls and a summer heritage camp once in a while.)
I understand the value of the post-placement reports: to reassure a sending country that their children are alive and well. I doubt that the reports will make any inroads to the Parliament officials who banned adoptions in Ethiopia, and they won’t do much to help current vulnerable children.
What, besides post-placement reports, can begin to heal the damage done by fraud, corruption, bribery, and trauma to children through the adoption process? How can the good outcomes be noted and discussed? What can possibly be done to effectively help vulnerable children in Ethiopia, now that adoptions are ended?
I suggest that adoptive parents sending in a post-placement report include the following points along with their photos and updates:
- We would like to have clarification about the reports we send: Are they translated into Amharic? Are they stored and filed safely? If my child’s Ethiopian birth family wants to see the reports, how does that work?
- We would like to know what services and resources are offered to Ethiopian mothers and fathers after they have placed a child for adoption. We have many resources for adoptive parents and families here in the US. What is available for birth families in Ethiopia?
- We would like to understand why adult adoptees are not actively invited to participate in these meetings and forums on Ethiopian adoption. Are we wrong that the outreach seems to be almost exclusively directed to adoptive parents with young children?
- How can we adoptive parents better promote family preservation and in-country adoption in Ethiopia? Here’s what we are doing about that now: (Families can then describe how they are promoting both preservation and in-country adoption.)
- We heartily endorse and encourage adoptive families and all interested parties to support the work of Beteseb Felega / Ethiopian Adoption Connection. They are doing work that is vital to the Ethiopian adoption community.
Whether you send a post-placement report or not, you can still send these talking points to the contact person: email@example.com.
Bottom line: More post-placement reports from adoptive parents of young children are not the solution. Critical engagement and involvement of adoptees and birth families are long overdue. I do not understand why their inclusion has been such an afterthought and oversight.
There are concrete steps:
- The Ethiopian government can confer with organizations such as Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora. Many Ethiopian adoptees around the globe are already actively helping vulnerable children and families in Ethiopia, whether their own families or via nonprofits or businesses, and many more would welcome the opportunity to do so.
- The government can invite adult adoptees to return to Ethiopia and help them with getting to know their country of origin.
- The government and adoption agencies can provide follow-up services for Ethiopian mothers, fathers, grandparents, and siblings who have been impacted by adoption.
- The government and adoption agencies can insist on post-placement reports from Ethiopian birth families. I’d like to hear from agencies about why this isn’t done currently, in terms of best practice for all those affected by international adoption.
These steps could help achieve several important goals: to increase family preservation, to promote in-country adoption, and to bring light and transparency to Ethiopian adoption history. Until we stop excluding adult Ethiopian adoptees and Ethiopian birth parents, there will be no substantive change.