New York State Passes Law Allowing Adoptees Access to Original Birth Certificates

This is a big deal. Advocates in New York have been working on legislation like this for decades—a law that will allow adoptees born in New York State to access their original birth certificates when they are 18 years old. Today, the bill A5494 passed in the New York State Assembly, by a vote of 126-2 (wow!). Governor Andrew Cuomo has said he will sign it.

New York is now the tenth state that allows adoptees to access their own identity. If you are not adopted, and I am not, think about what this means: In 40 US states, you still do not have the right (or the choice) to learn your own identity. You have limited access to medical history and concerns. You are in the only group to be denied the civil and human right of knowing who you are, a right that we non-adopted folks take for granted.

In many places around the globe, adoptees are locating family as well as medical information through DNA testing. That can be helpful and it can also be expensive and complicated.

Search and reunion are also very complicated. Some adoptees never search; some see no reason. Some have a desperate need to search. Reunions can go really well. Not all do. Like every other aspect of family life, there are some amazing moments, some joys, some sorrows, some hard roads, some deep love.

Birth parents were never guaranteed that their children would not look for them or find them—they may have been promised, but the people giving the promise had no way to guarantee that, especially over time. I don’t minimize the complexity. I hope everyone who searches and is found also has counseling and support—I hope no one goes through this alone. Thankfully, adoptees’ voices are being heard, and the community has a lot more resources.

I’ll post more later. I wanted to get the word out today about this landmark law. That New York State has passed this law is the result of enormous work by many adoptees and birth parents. I hope that the successful passage of the law provides a model and precedent for adoptee rights in other states. As an adoptive parent, I feel so strongly that adoptees deserve to know who they are, to have access to their medical records, and to have the choice to search and get their questions answered.

Larry and Carri Williams’ Appeals Hearing, and the Contrast of Ethiopian Resilience and Hope

Ethiopian adoptee Hana Williams died in 2011 of malnutrition and hypothermia, weighing less at death the she had when he arrived in the US three years earlier. In 2013, her adoptive parent were found guilty of homicide, child abuse, and manslaughter. Last week, (June 2), I attended the one hour appeals court hearing in Seattle regarding Larry and Carri Williams’ request that their 2013 convictions be overturned or, failing that, that they get a new trial. The three appeals court judges listened to the arguments of the lawyers. They asked a few questions.

I am not a lawyer, but I know the appeals court process does not re-try the case. No new evidence is introduced; there are no witnesses. The question in an appeal is whether there were legal errors made in the trial that were sufficient to overrule the conviction.

Larry and Carri were not there. Several of Carri Williams’ relatives were at the hearing and conferred with their lawyer afterward; Larry’s relatives may have been there too, but I did not recognize them from the trial. 

The attorney arguing for the overturning of Carri Williams’ conviction for Hana’s homicide and immanuel’s abuse was James Lobsenz, a partner with the law firm of Carney Badley Spellman in Seattle. The attorney arguing for overturning for Larry Williams for ,manslaughter and abuse was Todd Maybrown, a partner with the law firm of Allen, Hansen, Maybrown, and Offenbecher. in Seattle.

The attorney for the state of Washington, requesting that the convictions be maintained, was Erik Pedersen, a Skagit County prosecutor. Pedersen argued successfully in 2015 when Larry and Carri also appealed their convictions.

We don’t know when the judges will make a decision on the case. My understanding is that appeals court decisions can take a week, or they can take months. Right now, decisions are filed on Mondays. If you go to the Washington State Court of Appeals website, you can click on Opinions and sign up for notifications of Appeals Court Division I decisions.

I have no insider information about this, but I do find it interesting that Larry and Carri have private attorneys for this 2019 appeal. Perhaps Mr. Lobsenz and Mr. Maybrown are doing this work pro bono (for free, as volunteers, “pro bono publico” which means for the public good). Perhaps family members or friends are underwriting the costs. I do know that neither of the lawyers was at the 2013 trial to see the autopsy photos of Hana’s emaciated, scarred body, nor to hear the testimony of the Williams’ children about the isolation, deprivation, and punishments that Hana and Immanuel endured.

I for one pray that justice is served, and that the convictions for homicide, manslaughter, and child abuse will be upheld.

Had she not died from torture, hypothermia, and malnutrition 3 years after arriving for adoption from Ethiopia, Hana would now be about 21.

Immanuel is now about 18 years old, and is apparently doing fairly well. He hopes to return to Ethiopia with his new, loving family. Immanuel is deaf. (One of the punishments Carri Williams sometimes used with Immanuel was requiring that no one communicate with him in sign language.) His family now includes people who know sign language, and they will travel with him to Ethiopia, in part to help with signing and with deaf culture issues. It will be, I would guess, an emotional, complicated trip. The death of Hana was among the reasons that Ethiopia closed to adoptions, and many Ethiopians around the world deeply grieve her death, and of course want Immanuel to heal and thrive as well. There is a GoFundMe campaign for Immanuel and his family’s trip back. Please contribute if you are able.

Painting of an Ethiopian woman cradling her baby.
Original Art © Adanech Evans.

I want to close this post with a mention of another Ethiopian adoptee, Abai Schulze. Abai is the founder and Creative Director of ZAAF, “a collection of premium leather goods and accessories handcrafted by artisans in Ethiopia.” The products are stunning. They have been featured at New York Fashion Week, in Elle, Lucky, Vogue, and Forbes.

Abai came from Ethiopia to the US for adoption at around 11 years old. Her adoptive family encouraged her not to lose her Amharic language and to keep her connections with Ethiopia. She holds a degree in economics from George Washington University, learned about design and fine arts, and returned to Ethiopia to establish ZAAF in 2014. You can read more about her in Tadias and elsewhere.

Abai recently gave an incredible, inspiring Tedx talk, available here. The theme of the Tedx was a “A World of Change, A World of Hope,” and Abai’s talk was titled ” ‘Made in Africa’ The Power of Shifting Perceptions.” She briefly discusses adoption, but the focus is much more on the tremendous potential of Ethiopian and African creativity and business power. Abai offers an important view into alleviating poverty not through charity or saviorism, but through liberation of talent and ingenuity. She gives a solid business plan based in economics, pragmatism, resilience, and hope.

It’s resilience and hope I want to focus on, as we keep Hana in our hearts always. May justice be served.

For lawyers and others who may be interested, here is the link to appellate briefs in Carri Williams’ petition. Her case is number 77416-6.

Here is the link to appellate briefs in Larry Williams’ petition. His case number is 77460-3.

Larry and Carri Williams Request New Trials And Release From Prison

The Skagit Valley Herald has reported that Larry and Carri Williams, convicted in 2013 of the homicide of their Ethiopian adopted daughter, have requested new trials, and to be released from prison in the meantime.

Larry Williams was sentenced for 27 years, and Carri Williams for 36 years. They have been in jail since their jury trial in 2013. In 2015, they appealed their convictions, saying that evidence was incomplete and that the court made multiple errors. The appellate court denied their appeal.

This time, they are arguing that they received deficient legal representation, and that their convictions should be vacated; Carri has asked to be re-sentenced for a lesser charge than first-degree manslaughter.

A hearing will be held on Wednesday, June 12, in Seattle.

More information is available here: Skagit Valley Herald, “Wliiamses ask for new trial, release.”

Remembering Hana Williams on the 8th Anniversary of Her Death

On May 12, 2011, three days after Mothers Day, Ethiopian adoptee Hana Williams died in the Washington state backyard of her adoptive family. The cause of death was hypothermia; the other reasons were malnutrition, bruises, beatings, isolation, loneliness, and fear. She was 13 years old, and she had been in the United States for less than three years.

The photo is of Hana when she was in Ethiopia. She is wearing a striped shirt and has a slight smile.
Hana in Ethiopia, prior to adoption. May she Rest in Peace.

This year, the anniversary of her death falls on Mothers Day here in the United States. Hana’s adoptive mother Carri Williams has been in jail since her conviction for homicide by abuse. In Washington state, where Hana lived, homicide by abuse means that the death was the result of “extreme indifferent to human life,” as well as a pattern or practice of assault or torture” of a child under 16 years old. It’s a tough charge to prove, and the Skagit County prosecutors were able to do so because of the horrific ways that Hana had been treated over time.

I have written about Hana many times. I attended most of the 2013 trial which ended in long jail sentences for her adoptive parents. I often wonder how the Williamses’ biological children are doing. Their testimony was pivotal to their parents’ felony convictions. The siblings all witnessed their parents’ abuse and torture of Hana over years; several of them also witnessed her death.

All around the globe, and especially in Ethiopia, people have grieved for Hana. No human being, no child, should ever go through what she experienced in her too brief life. We all keep her in our hearts in different ways. She would have been 21 now.

I offer a few suggestions for honoring her memory.

One is to support the hopes of her adopted brother, Immanuel. He was adopted from Ethiopia at the same time as Hana. Immanuel was also severely abused by his adoptive parents. Like all the minor Williams’ children, Immanuel was removed from his home after Larry and Carri Williams were accused of homicide and abuse in 2013. He was placed with a foster family who had experience with deaf children like Immanuel, and was later adopted. He will soon turn 18, and would like to return for a visit to Ethiopia. His new adoptive family is helping him achieve this dream through a GoFundMe campaign. Please consider helping Immanuel in this way. He has been through so much.

Another possibility is to support a campaign to provide much needed medical care for two brothers in Ethiopia who have the extremely rare and painful disease Epidermolysis Bullosa. E.B. means extremely fragile skin and constant blisters that must be cleansed and treated daily. The condition and the treatment are painful. The boys, who are 7 and 13 years old, were only recently correctly diagnosed with E.B., and as a result have suffered from painful infections, loss of skin in some places, and a compromised immune system. This fundraiser has already delivered medical supplies and the boys’ parents have been trained how to best care for their sons. This is about family preservation as well: keeping children with their parents, even as the boys have significant medical issues and the parents have few resources. This is about life and love. You can learn more about this family and the GoFundMe campaign to keep these boys as healthy as possible. My dear friend Jemal Countess knows the family and has set up the funding campaign, as well as assisted with the arrangements to get the medical supplies to the family.

I would also suggest donating to and sharing information about Ethiopian Adoption Connection-Beteseb Felega. EAC provides free services to reunite Ethiopian adoptees with their Ethiopian families. They have a database in Amharic and English where individuals can share information about an adoption, and have been successful in reconnecting families. They also provide emotional and social support for Ethiopian first/birth families through caseworker-led support groups. You can learn more about them here.

Many people have expressed concern about the end of Ethiopian adoptions, which occurred in January 2018. All international adoptions to the United States have generally declined in recent years. Take a look at my post “Lamenting the Decline in International Adoptions? Take Action.” There are many ways to still support vulnerable children and families in Ethiopia: adoption was never the only way to help.

There is a Facebook site, In Rememberance of Hanna Williams, that may be of interest.

My biggest suggestion is to treasure those you love, and to let them know it. I think of Hana so often, and of her Ethiopian mother and family. So much loss.

The Link Among the Brain, the Gut, Adoption, and Trauma

I’ve known a lot of adoptees who have stomach issues, who have trouble digesting some food, who struggle with constipation, or who often feel nauseous. I’ve known a lot of adoptive parents who have wondered what’s going on with their kids’ gastrointestinal health. A recent report, published in Development and Psychopathology, suggests that “children with early caregiving disruptions had distinctly different gut microbiomes compared to kids raised by biological caregivers from birth.”

The report from Columbia University is titled “Mind and Gut: Associations Between mood and gastrointestinal distress in children exposed to adversity.” The article is behind a paywall of $35. My information here is from the summary in Science Daily, “Gastrointestinal complaints in children could signal mental health problem,”and from PsychCentral, “Trauma-Related Gut Changes in Kids Tied to Future Mental Health Issues.”

According to the summaries, this “study is among the first to link disruption of a child’s gastrointestinal microbiome triggered by early life adversity with brain activity in regions associated with emotional health,” according to Dr. Bridget Callahan.

In other words, the brains of children who experienced trauma at an early age developed differently than children raised with their biological family, and one difference was the amount of gut biome diversity. We all want gut biome diversity: the more we have, the healthier our gut biome is, and the happier our stomachs and digestive system will be.

There is an increasing body of research suggesting that there is a link between mental health and gut bacteria. Much of the research is done on adults. This new research studied children adopted internationally before they were 2 years old, and compared them with children who were raised by their biological parents. “The children with past caregiving disruptions showed higher levels of symptoms that include stomach aches, constipation, vomiting, and nausea…Brain scans of the children also revealed that brain activity patterns correlated with certain bacteria. For example, children raised with (biological) parents had increased gut micro diversity, which is linked to the prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain associated with relating emotions.”

Of course there is more research needed. Still, this suggests something that a lot of folks in the adoption community have probably wondered about: trauma and disruptions in a child’s care can impact the brain and emotions, and thus can also affect changes to the gut, our digestive system. Those stomach aches and digestion problems may have their foundation in adversity, which affects brain development. Fascinating stuff. I hope the report gets in the hands of adoptees, adoptive parents, pediatricians, and other doctors. The mind-body connection is a powerful force.

Milton Washington: Hardwired, Black, Korean, Adopted, Storyteller

I’ve known Milton several years now. We visit with him when we are in New York City, most recently last summer. I don’t remember now how we met: a white, transracial adoptive mom from the east coast who loves to read and to write, and a black/Korean former football player who hates to read and is writing a book about his early childhood in Korea and his adoption by a black military family in the U.S. I am among his biggest fans, learning anew every time I hear about his life as a little black boy ostracized and beaten up in Korea, the son of a still unknown American soldier and a prostitute who nurtured and loved and disciplined him fiercely. When he was eight years old, he and his mom took a taxi ride to St. Vincent’s orphanage about an hour outside of Seoul; that was the last time he saw her. I learn when he talks about not fitting in, about being taunted for who he is, and about how he is “in between worlds” constantly as a Korean, a black man, and an adopted person, as well as within each of those categories.

So when I listened to this recent Adapted podcast, I again learned a lot about Milton. When I’ve been around him, he doesn’t curse very much, but he does in this interview—just letting you know. He’s 48, though maybe he’s 50. As an adoptee, he’s done many DNA tests. He’s searched for his Korean mother, and feels she may now be in California. He is writing his memoir, SlickyBoy, in no small part with the hope that he will find his mother and his bio siblings, once the book is published.

http://adaptedpodcast.com

I’ve read a draft chapter from Slickyboy: A Memoir, and it has stayed with me in a powerful way. You can read an excerpt here. This excerpt is from 2010, so has no doubt changed. “Slicky boy,” by the way, is a phase used by American GI’s for the Koreans who would steal from the soldiers. The time needed to birth this book also perhaps reveals the challenge of writing memoirs that are painful, revealing, inspiring, and hopeful, and that cut searingly close to the heart and to the bone. I am reminded also, though only as an adoptive parent, that some adoptees search over a lifetime for their true stories, identities, and place in this world.

You can listen to Milton’s podcast interview here. Adapted is “a podcast that explores the experiences of Korean adoptees, from post-reunion stories to living in Korea as adults.” There are some amazing interviews there, and I highly recommend listening.

I also recommend keeping an eye out for Milton’s book, following him on Instagram (@slickyboymemoir) and Facebook , and taking a look at his stunning photographic skills. Milton is a strong, raw storyteller. He loves his families deeply, even as complicated and painful as his life has sometimes been. He is vulnerable; he is resilient. I can’t wait to read his book, and I hope it brings a sense of peace and accomplishment for him when it is published. He hopes that the book will “blow up,” that it will bring his Korean sisters around to him. He hopes especially that it will reach his mother, so that “she can see her son proud.” I hope so too.

New Statistics and Ongoing Concerns Around International Adoption Numbers

The US State Department recently released FY 2018 intercountry adoption statistics. Predictably, the numbers continue to decline: 4059 children were adopted to the US from some 90 countries, down by 655 from last year, and down by some 20,000 since the all-time high of 22,991 in 2004. Adoptions from India and Colombia were two countries that showed a slight increase in adoptions since last year.

Many folks do not realize that the US is also a “sending country” and has been for years. The Hague Convetion on Intercountry Adoption has made the statistics public. Adoptions from the US numbered 81 this year, with 38 of the children coming from Florida. Many of the children went to Canada and The Netherlands.

I hope you take a look through the report. The statistics are fascinating. Here are a few interesting points:

The median range of fees for Adoption Service Provider (adoption agencies) had a low of $3500 for adoptions from Togo, to a high of $32,310 for adoptions from Canada.

There are 4 reported disruptions cited in this report. According to State, these are “cases in which there was an interruption of a placement for adoption during the post-placement (but pre-adoption) period.”

But wait: “In addition, information received from the Department of Health and Human Services…indicated 72 cases of children from other countries entering state custody as a result of the disruption or dissolution of an adoption.”

My understanding is that these children were placed in the US foster care system and then could remain there or be re-adopted. Statistically, that’s a tiny amount: less than 2% of the total number of children brought to the US for adoption. Ethically and practically, though, it’s a sad, complicated number. I can only imagine the trauma that these children have been through and will potentially endure, as a result of leaving their home country, being placed in a new family, losing that family, and potentially drifting among placements.

The State Department also notes some serious, ongoing concerns about adoption practices. One example is the failure of adoptive parents to file post-adoption reports with the countries of origin. This request, while worthy insofar as the sending countries are concerned about the outcomes of their children (are they alive? healthy? in school? safe?) is unenforceable. Not receiving the reports can make sending countries reluctant to send more children for intercountry adoption.

Another concern is the so-called orphan hosting programs. “FY 2018 saw increased reports from countries of origin regarding hosting programs, which are often used to identify potential adoptive families for older children. A hosting program refers to a brief homestay visit in which a child from another country is issued a non-immigrant visa for the purpose of a temporary stay with a family in the United States. Several countries raised concerns that hosting was being used to identify children who had not yet been determined to be eligible for intercountry adoption and were being used by certain persons to circumvent intercountry adoption procedures and legal requirements. Toward the end of FY 2018, the Department became aware of more than one country moving toward restricting intercountry adoptions because of concerns about these types of activities.”

Many of State’s other concerns are even more troubling.

One concern is Unregulated Custody Transfer. UCT refers to a disturbing and more- common-than-we-would-like-to-think practice. “UCT, also known as “re-homing,” is the practice of adoptive parents transferring custody of a child to another individual or group without involvement of relevant authorities. UCT/re- homing is inclusive of all types of adoptions: public/foster, private, and intercountry,” according to this Fact Sheet from US Children’s Bureau.The precise number of children affected by UCT is difficult to ascertain by the very nature of UCT: it falls under the public radar. That said, according to Reuters, some 70% of children involved in UCT were internationally adopted.

Rep. James Langevin (D-RI) has introduced the Safe Home Act (HR 1389) to address the concerns around UCT; the bill is co-sponsored by Re. Don Bacon (R-NE). The proposed legislation would consider UCT to be child abuse, would allow state child welfare agencies to investigate UCT, and would provide funds to do so.

Another disturbing development noted by State is “efforts by adoptive parents to permanently return adopted children to countries of origin. The Department is aware of several instances in FY 2018 of adoptive parents who were considering or had already sent an adopted child back to their country of origin. These events raise serious concerns in both the Department and in the foreign country. The facts of each situation differ, but the reasons shared by adoptive parents to the Department for such returns include: concerns that the child was improperly separated from birth families to whom they wished to return; false or fraudulent information received during the adoption process; and medical or behavioral issues or previous abuse of the child that the family was not aware of prior to the adoption placement.”

An important point not to be overlooked here is that there are unknown numbers of cases of fraudulent adoptions where children were adopted under illegal and/or unethical circumstances. That is, the adoption took place illicitly (the child was kidnapped, the birth/first parents did not receive adequate or appropriate information about the adoption process, the people signing off on the adoption documents did not have the legal rights to do so, etc.). Some first/birth parents then take steps to regain custody of their child. Keep in mind that many birth/first parents do not have easy access to lawyers, are deeply impoverished in comparison to adoptive parents, may have been duped by family members or adoption agency personnel, and are often marginalized people within their own country. These circumstances can mean that birth/first parents whose children have been fraudulently adopted have enormous barriers to break through to be able to even inquire about the fate of their children, never mind ask for their return. It’s horrifying to think that there are untold numbers of parents heartbroken and grieving the loss of their children due to corrupt adoptions which took place through no fault of the parents, and whose voices are never heard.

Here is a case where the adoptive parents returned their adopted child to her Ugandan mother, once the fraud was uncovered: “The ‘Orphan’ I Adopted from Uganda Already Had A Family.” It’s bittersweet and highly complicated. I’d speculate it is the relative abyss of economic disparity between adopters and international first families that prevents more birth parents from being able to have their children back.

And would you find it disturbing to know that there are American families who know that their children were adopted under fraudulent circumstances, who know that the mothers want the children back, and who refuse to even tell their adopted children any of it? Not only do they close the door on returning the children who were illicitly adopted (and I understand how complicated that could be), but they also refuse to even have any contact with the birth family who are grieving and heartbroken. They refuse to send or share photos, or otherwise update the Ugandan mothers. I can’t imagine what the adopted children will think when they are older and learn their truth. I feel confident this is not limited to Uganda.

The statistics are interesting, but it’s the stories behind them that are wrenching. We need to listen to adult adoptees, and we need to keep demanding that the voices of birth families are sought out, welcomed, uplifted, and believed.

Getting More Woke Via a Diverse Books List

As an older white woman, I am constantly surprised how often my privilege—despite and because of it—reminds me that I am not as aware, as woke, as unbiased, as I would like to think I am. I spent half my life in a racially diverse area. I am the adoptive parent of 4 black children, now all adults. I have friends and family members who do not look like me, and from whom I constantly learn. I take classes! I read books! I go to marches! I have a “Black Lives Matter” sign in my yard!

All to say that the work of better understanding the role of race in our society is an ongoing, never ending, don’t-dare-think-you’re-done journey.

My most recent opportunity to live this was from volunteering to assemble a “Diverse Books” Amazon Wish List for my granddaughter’s school. My daughter Aselefech (adopted from Ethiopia in 1994) is the chair of the PTSA Racial Equity Committee (REC). Unlike many such committees, this one has mostly people of color on it—even a dad, which is rare in PTA circles. The white women on the committee have all stated their willingness to step aside if more people of color join. At this point, we have an active, energized group of about 10 people.

The REC decided to set up an Amazon Wish List for the school to provide more books about black kids and kids of color; I volunteered to coordinate with the librarian, who vets the books and adds suggestions based on what the kids have asked for, or on what holes need to be filled in the collection. The committee wanted more books for black kids that were not about slavery or sports. We wanted strong, engaging books about all kinds of kids doing all kinds of things.

The library already had quite a few books that fit the bill, including those from the Global Reading Challenge.

Here’s what’s transpired that helped me open my eyes and heart:

We decided that our list would be books that feature black/children of color. More intentionally, we also decided that the authors would also be black/people of color (poc). We felt that, as a committee using a racial justice lens, bringing more attention (and revenue) to authors of color should be our focus. So that was one bit of awareness: lots of books now feature black and brown kids in the illustrations, but many are written by white writers (mostly women, it seems, anecdotally) and we wanted to be more intentional about the authors.

The librarian asked for books about Muslim girls who wear the hijab. We recognize that many Muslims are white, but we decided to go ahead with recommending books, and found several by Muslim authors.

I have been struck, and I have more research to do, about how many books (picture books and chapter books) seem to be written about black girls/girls of color than about black, Asian, American Indian/Alaskan Native, and Latino boys. This is totally anecdotal on my part.

The librarian asked about books for/about transgender kids. I absolutely understand and support having these books in the school library, but told the librarian that the REC was focused on race, not on transgender issues, so we would not include them. Aselefech offered this to me: “While we focus on racial equity, I think it’d be okay for us to recommend books on transgender kids and the intersection of race.”

Ah. Yes. Of course. I adjusted my lenses and am now looking at books about black and other transgender kids written by black/poc authors.

Another area of Oh Yeah thinking came from a white friend of mine. Why not look into having a book fair of some sort sponsored by a local black/poc bookseller? Well, yes. Great idea. Will do.

For me, this has all been a great reminder of intent vs. impact, of the responsibility to be an ally, and of the need to be open about how much there always is to learn.

I love books. I love helping kids read and grow to love books themselves. I know that black kids and kids of color, along with black authors and authors of color, deserve more recognition and presence in literature. Yes, there has been progress. And yes, we still—I still—have a ways to go.

If you would like to see to see our list (and feel free to donate), you can find it here.

Final note: Some of the books we would have recommended are already in the library or in the school because of Seattle’s Global Reading Challenge.

And if anyone has suggestions, please feel free to share!

Those Pesky Post-Adoption Reports to Ethiopia

The U.S. State Department this week posted a notice ostensibly reminding adoptive parents to keep sending in post-adoption reports (PARs) to Ethiopia. Although adoptions from Ethiopia have ended, the Ethiopian government still wants proof that children are alive and well-cared for. The State Department notice says that “Adoptive parents are to submit post adoption reports every six months for five years following the adoption and then annually until the child reaches the age of 18.”

State asked all service providers who facilitated adoptions from Ethiopia to reiterate this requirement to adoptive parents in accordance with 22 CFR 96.51 (c). If you don’t happen to have the Code of Federal Regulations near by, here you go. That CFR reference makes me think that maybe the folks promulgating this info aren’t in as close contact with adoption agencies as might be helpful. Nothing wrong with a good CFR reference, of course: lawyers are important.

Here’s the thing: Many adoption agencies (adoption service providers) have closed. Others have told the adoptive families that PARs aren’t needed anymore. Others have given the families information about the PARs that varies from what is proscribed in the recent State Department notice. Some parents have been told to file reports 3, 6, 9, and 12 months after placement, then annually. Some are told to file reports til the child is 15.

Some adoption agencies have very detailed specifications about what should be in the reports. Some are more lackadaisical and vague about the reports. Some agencies tell families to send the reports to them, and the agency will forward it on to Ethiopia. In the past, my understanding was that reports were to be sent to the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs.

The new State Department notice, however, tells parents they can email their PARs to the Ethiopian Embassy in DC. That, I believe, is a new development. Parents can email copies to the US Embassy in Addis. I have no info about why reports are now to be emailed to the Embassy rather than the Ministry, nor about what happens to them after they arrive there, nor if there are any privacy safeguards around who has access to the reports, nor if there is a particular person who is responsible for them, nor what happens to them once they are ensconced in the Embassy’s database.

And here’s another thing: Parents are inconsistent about sending the PARs to Ethiopia in any case. There is no enforcement mechanism for these reports, no penalties for not sending them. Some parents get busy and forget; others refuse to send them, for a variety of reasons.

I understand and support the rationale behind requesting post-adoption reports: Ethiopia understandably wants to know how the children are doing. But are the reports actually read? Is that really what is happening here, when reports are sent in but (as I’ve heard anecdotally) they are then piled up, untranslated, unsorted, inaccessible?

Perhaps the saddest and most frustrating part is that some adoption agencies told the Ethiopian families that they would have access to the reports. That would have been ethically appropriate: many Ethiopian families are desperate to know what happened to their children. That was not the outcome of the reports, though. Through their own initiative, many adoptive families are in regular contact with the Ethiopian families, and share information, photos, and updates that way, through translators and other helpers. Many more, though, are left to wonder and mourn. The remarkably successful, valuable organization Beteseb Felega/Ethiopian Adoption Connection has reunited families around the world; please consider donating to them.

I last wrote about The Problem of Post-Adoption Reports and Ethiopian Adoptions in April 2018.

In that post, I made these suggestions around the ongoing quest to get PARs.

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.

This is a new one:

  • The Ethiopian government could ask for post-adoption reports from adult adoptees. Imagine what they could learn, if they are genuinely wanting to understand the impact of 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. 

I have long wondered why Post-Adoption Reports are not required from birth/first parents. If adoption work is done ethically, shouldn’t they be asked how they are doing? Or asked how adoption has impacted them? Shouldn’t the adoption agencies ask if there is anything they need? I realize this would be difficult: families may live in remote areas; translators would often be needed; some folks would be difficult to track down; services to the Ethiopian family would not bring in revenue. Still. I’ve never understood while post-adoption follow-up with first families isn’t considered best practice by social workers.

Until we stop excluding adult Ethiopian adoptees and Ethiopian birth parents from Post-Adoption Reports, there will be no substantive change in adoption practices—and those practices needs a lot of change.

Perhaps our U.S. State Department could share these ideas as well. I for one would be grateful for that.

Latest Turbulence in International Adoption Agencies: Wow

Recent years have seen a lot of discussion about the decline in numbers of international adoptions. Recent days have seen a lot of news about how international adoption agencies are responding to the decline.

A relatively minor roil to start: Yesterday, the US State Department announced that Children’s Hope International has “voluntarily relinquished” its Hague accreditation status. Thus, CHI may not independently provide international adoption services. The State Department announcement doesn’t share the news that CHI has merged with Nightlight Christian Adoptions, known perhaps primarily for its controversial “Snowflake embryo adoptions.” CHI thus will continue to operate in international adoptions under the Nightlight umbrella. Nightlight has Hague accreditation, according to the sole accrediting entity, Intercountry Adoption Accreditation and Maintenance Entity.

The much bigger news was the merger between two large adoption agencies, Holt International in Oregon and World Association for Children and Parents (WACAP), announced on February 7. You can read Holt’s announcement here, and WACAP’s here.

Here’s a quote about the merger from Holt’s CEO, Phil Littleton, who is also an adoptive parent:

“By merging with WACAP, we have an unparalleled opportunity to combine our resources and knowledge to help more orphaned and vulnerable children both in the U.S. and in countries around the world. In recent years, many agencies specializing in international adoption have closed and others have struggled. Longevity and sustainability have been especially difficult for some agencies whose primary source of revenue is adoption. But through robust philanthropic efforts, Holt has grown the mission-critical funding we need to continue our increasingly difficult work in international adoption. At the same time, WACAP’s expertise — particularly in finding loving, trauma-informed families for children in the U.S. foster care system — will be an incredible asset and strengthen our efforts to help children here in the U.S.”

Here’s a quote from WACAP’s CEO, Greg Eubanks:

“For our Board of Directors and our Senior Leadership, many of whom are adoptive parents, it was a choice worth making. We have always held Holt in the highest regard for both its breadth and quality of services as well as its ethical and inclusive practices. When we began to connect with Holt leadership and staff at all levels, we quickly confirmed that we are a good match. By combining our expertise and resources, our mission will go on.  As a part of the Holt organization, we will continue to serve children and families, both internationally and in our own communities.  We will work to ensure every child has a loving and secure home.

This merger will also allow us to continue the expansion of services to children in the foster care system.  (Boldface in original)

For years, WACAP has found adoptive families for children in foster care, over 800 children as a matter of fact.  As we continue that work, and implement innovative recruiting efforts for adoption, we are now seeking families to become foster parents.  These families will provide temporary care for children of all ages until they might reunite with birth parents or relatives, or until they are legally free for adoption.”

Among the issues that Holt will be dealing with is the lawsuit by Korean adoptee Adam Crapser against Holt and the government of South Korea. In late January, Crapser filed what the Associated Press called a “landmark lawsuit” over “gross negligence regarding the way he and thousands of other Korean children were sent to the United States and other Western nations without accounting for their future citizenship.” Crapser is among thousands of adoptees for whom their parents failed to acquire citizenship; he was deported in 2016 back to Korea.

The Adoptee Rights Campaign estimates that there are tens of thousands of other adoptees who do not have citizenship, and could be in danger of deportation. Adoptees have been killed and have died by suicide after being deported. At a minimum, many have been isolated, depressed, and harmed by being returned to countries with which they have no connection, language, work opportunities, family of friends—because they were adopted by Americans to ostensibly have a better life with a forever family.

NBC recently aired a segment about these tragic deportations.

An adoptee from India, who lived in Oregon for decades having been adopted through Holt International, was deported back to India and has struggled ever since.

Neither Holt nor WACAP mentions either deportations nor citizenship issues in their press releases about the merger.

Without big and small adoption agencies robustly, frequently, and collaboratively speaking out about deportation and citizenship, as well as about the genuine concerns of international adoptees and first/birth parents, we are not moving ahead in any meaningful way.

I feel confident we will see more adoption agencies closing, or merging and then closing. On a certain level, that will only leave more adoptees and birth parents without access to their records, without access to post-adoption services, and without recourse to redress the fraud, trauma, and corruption. Until international adoptees AND first/birth parents (not adoptive parents, not adoption “experts”) have many, many seats at the table in the international adoption agency community, I don’t see how the future of international adoptions can even be considered fully and ethically.