The U.S. State Department has imposed financial sanctions and visa restrictions on Ugandan officials involved in fraudulent adoption schemes. This is a highly significant and public declaration. You can read State’s press release here. The State Department press release includes a link to a U.S. Treasury Department press release as well.
A federal grand jury today charged Margaret Cole, Robin Langoria, and other employees of European Adoption Consultants (EAC) with fraud, money laundering and bribery in connections with adoptions from Uganda and Poland.
EAC had been granted accreditation under the Hague Convention for Inter-Country Adoptions by the Council on Accreditation. That accreditation is considered a sort of gold standard in the realm of international adoption agencies: it involves a substantial amount of time and work and fees to receive.
In 2015, EAC had a complaint lodged against it for a case in China. In December 2016, the State Department debarred EAC, and their Hague accreditation status was revoked. The IAMME website (IAMME became the sole Hague Convention accreditor in 2018) states this: “Nature of the Substantiated Violations: The Department of State temporarily debarred adoption service provider, European Adoption Consultants, Inc. (EAC) from accreditation on December 16, 2016, for a period of three years. As a result of this temporary debarment, EAC’s accreditation has been cancelled and it must immediately cease to provide all adoption services in connection with intercountry adoptions.
The Department found substantial evidence that the agency is out of compliance with the standards in subpart F of the accreditation regulations, and evidence of a pattern of serious, willful, or grossly negligent failure to comply with the standards and of aggravating circumstances indicating that continued accreditation of EAC would not be in the best interests of the children and families concerned.”
The FBI raided EAC in 2017, and the agency closed. Cole had founded EAC in 1991.
Grand jury documents were unsealed today in Ohio, where EAC was located. EAC had worked in adoptions in Bulgaria, China, Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Honduras, India, Panama, Tanzania, and Ukraine, in addition to Uganda and Poland.
It’s impossible to know how much heartache has happened to families and children as a result of this.
Here is the full article from Cleveland.com.
The U.S. State Department had changed its International Adoption Statistics page so that it is unwieldy, time-consuming, and frustrating.
Terrible optics: it’s almost as if the Department were trying to make information about adoptee immigrants difficult to access.
There are two descriptors, both somewhat misleading: “All Years Adoption Statistics” and “Total Adoptions.” Both are shown as 278,745.
However, and this has been the case for many years, State publishes its international adoption stats only from 1999. Adoptions began in significant numbers after the Korean War, in the early 1950’s. I don’t know why the thousands of adoptees in the 64 years between, say, 1955 and 2019 are not included by State in the “All Years Adoption Statistics.” It means that tens of thousands of adoptees are simply not included, contributing to the invisibility of adult adoptees and the silencing of their voices.
A bold new feature on State’s site is a vaguely interactive map, as if the hemispheric location of a country of origin is the main point of interest. On brand for the State Department, I suppose, but not so much for understanding the complexity of international adoption. When you click on a country name, it shows up on the map with a blinking pink outline that then fades. The color of the country depends on how many children were placed for adoption from it. There is an alphabetical listing of sending countries, each of which has a little sorta quadrilateral shape next to it that ranges in color from yellow to orange to brown. What does that signify, you ask? Click on the house shape at the upper right of the map to find out. (Spoiler: The legend explains that the colors correspond to the number of children adopted, greater/equal to 81637, then greater/less than 6421, then greater/less than 235, and so on. Yes, those are the actual numbers used.)
Anther new feature about that alphabetical listing of countries (and whether they are Hague signatories or not) is that you must go through the entire list EACH TIME you are looking for a piece of data, say adoptions by year in Guatemala, or, heaven forbid, Zimbabwe. You will start each time with Afghanistan (sometimes Albania). This will be true if you are looking at 2015 stats for China, then want to switch to 2016 stats for China. Start with Afghanistan… and keep on scrolling.
Another option as a source of the numbers of international adoptions is a non-governmental site, the Johnston Archives. with loads of footnotes and a caveat from the researcher William Johnston: “Data are from multiple sources, sometimes using inconsistent methods or reporting periods (e.g. fiscal year vs. calendar year) such that time series may not be uniform. Some data are incomplete.” It’s a fascinating list nonetheless. As you scroll down the pages, you see how international adoption exploded globally in the 1980’s onward.
And that brings us back to the unfortunate fact that the Adoption Statistics page of the U.S. State Department only shows the past 2 decades. There are tens of thousands of adoptees now in their 40’s, 50’s, and older. But they appear nowhere on the stats page. They should. There are ramifications on citizenship issues, for example. (More on that soon.)
There are links to the State Department’s Annual Reports, which began in 2008. That’s the year (on April 1) that the Hague Convention on Inter-Country Adoption went into effect for the U.S., and the annual report became mandated. The FY2008 report is filled with adorable photos of children, plus about 4 pages of a list of adoption agencies. The FY2019 Annual Report is 10 pages of text and tables. One blurry cute kid photo.
In the FY2019 report, there is no list of agencies, though there is a link to the agency info on the sole accreditor (IAAME, the International Adoption Accreditation and Maintenance Entity) page; the list of agencies is 176 pages. It’s not that there are thousands of agencies; they space out the list of the countries where each agency works plus the addresses of the offices.
Interestingly, on the same link as the list of agencies, IAAME also has a “Substantiated Complaints and Adverse Action Report” which is 188 pages.
Adoption is a complex set of numbers. I am no statistician nor historian, yet I find this information fascinating. It’s quite a rabbit hole, as we say in the U.S., a path of information that if followed leads to more and more things to follow. Information is power, after all, though it’s what we do with it (learning context via interviews, research, and reports; critiquing and citing sources; double checking!) that is vital. When what should be public information is difficult to access or even find, we do a disservice to the people involved.
I’ll close with another controversial point: I realize that the State Department has information/reporting mandates which it meets per the Hague adoption convention. Still. Information on iU.S. international adoption should include statistics on birth/first families as well as on adoptees, and they (not only adoptive or prospective parents) should be involved, encouraged, and welcomed to comment on not only the statistics but the policies over a lifetime.
The private equity firm Blackstone has purchased the DNA testing giant Ancestry.com for $4.7 billion. According to Reuters, Ancestry.com is the world’s largest provider of DNA testing, which includes finding family members as well as medical information.
DNA testing companies have marketed mightily to adoptees, in the U.S. and internationally. Because U.S. and international adoptees are often prevented legally from obtaining their original birth certificates (aka the basic human and civil right that we non-adoptees take for granted) and often have limited medical histories, they are wooed by the DNA companies to get around laws and thus access their own information. For some adoptees, it’s been wonderful; for some, it’s been complicated. For some, it’s a dead end of fourth and fifth cousins, and little help otherwise. “If I’m Adopted, Should I Have DNA Testing?” gives an overview by a genetics counselor. It was, however, written in 2018, and a lot has changed since then.
There have been increasing concerns about the preservation and sharing of DNA, including by law enforcement officials. In February, six months ago, Pennsylvania police had a search warrant to gain access to Ancestry.com’s database of 16 million DNA profiles. Ancestry refused. It’s possible that situations like this could go to the Supreme Court. In any case, other DNA companies do share their DNA data with police, scientists, marketers and others, and may not be making that reality clear to their customers.
For international adoptees, DNA testing is often the only way to gather information short of traveling to the country. Two Chinese adoptees who were first cousins found each other via DNA testing—and also found they lived 12 miles apart and were from the same orphanage in China. IamAdoptee did a series of posts about DNA testing for Korean, Chinese, and Colombian adoptees. Adoption Mosaic recently held a We the Experts panel (the experts being adoptees) about “Adoptee Liberation or Exploitation: Pros and Cons of DNA Testing.” The adoptees were from the U.S., China, Korea, and Colombia, and had a variety of perspectives about why they chose to use or not use DNA testing.
Some Black adoptees have expressed concerns about DNA databases that might be used by police, given the concerns over police violence against Black people and inequitable incarceration rates. For example, “One fear is its potential to place innocent people under police suspicion. In her book Inside the Cell: The Dark Side of Forensic DNA, New York University law professor Erin Murphy warns that the practice of searching for genetic relatives could cast wide nets of suspicion over families, and lead cops to test a person’s DNA despite no independent evidence linking them to a crime.” Some DNA companies retain DNA and share it in an unregulated way, which has significant current and potential ramifications.
One option for Black people is AfricanAncestry.com, which says this on its webpage:
- We do not maintain a database of customer information.
- We do not sell or share customers’ personal or genetic information.
- We do not provide customer information to law enforcement.
- We do not biobank your genetic material. All genetic material is destroyed at the lab.
AfricanAncestry.com describes itself this way: “the world leader in tracing maternal and paternal lineages of African descent having helped more than 750,000 people re-connect with the roots of their family tree.” It may be an option for Black adoptees from the U.S. and from Africa.
With Blackstone, a billion dollar corporation, now owning Ancestry.com, also a billion dollar corporation, the stakes around privacy and information have grown daunting indeed. For adoptees, DNA testing is a possible avenue to access relatives and medical history, but at what price?
More U.S. states need to allow adoptees access to their original birth certificates. Adoptees in Massachusetts are currently working on this, as are advocates in other states. Adoption agencies and lawyers need to insist that all available information provided about adoptees at time of placement is as accurate, thorough, and current as possible. Adoptive parents need to demand the same at placement. Knowledge of who your parents are, and an accurate medical history, should not be exceptional, costly, and arduous information to obtain.
As the White adoptive parent of 4 Black children (two born in the U.S., two born in Ethiopia; now adults in their 30’s), I have learned a great deal about both the joys and sorrows of adoption. One of the sorrows is that some adoptees struggle mightily with depression and trauma, no matter how deeply they are loved. This can become especially pronounced in adolescence. For those adoptees who are placed in abusive adoptive families, I can only imagine how horrific, lonely, and devastating their struggle must be.
Many adoptees do just fine. I don’t want to pathologize adoption or adoptees. That said, I urge all of us adoptive parents in particular to get a deeper understanding of suicide prevention, and to know that there are signs, treatments, and actions we can take.
I know of at least four Ethiopian adoptees who died by suicide. A (not adopted) Ethiopian 7th grader died by suicide a few years ago here in Washington; his parents are immigrants. They, their family, and their community have been devastated by the loss, as is, I am sure, any parent whose child has died by suicide. The parents and other family members need support and hope, which can come in many forms, as they try to recover and heal.
In my writing on adoption, I always try to promote the voices of adult adoptees, their lived experiences, their stories, and their professional expertise.
Here are some examples of the voices we should be aware of and learn from, even as we are talking about the wrenching subject of suicide. There is a Facebook page Stop Adoptee Suicide set up by and for adoptees; there are some great resources listed on the page. There will be an Adoptee Remembrance Day October 30 organized by the adoptee leadership of Adoptees Connect. The page Intercountry Adoptee Memorials was created by Intercountry Adoptee Voices (ICAV) to honor those who adoptees who died by suicide or at the hands of their adoptive family.
Besides a willingness to read, and to make efforts to help families recover and heal, what can we do?
Consider consulting with therapists who are adoptees. Here is a list, created by Dr. Chaitra Wirta-Leiker, of U.S. based adoptee-therapists. Dr. Wirta-Leiker is herself an adoptee and is also an adoptive parent.
Listen to adoptee-led discussions.
* One great podcast is Canada-based AdopteesOn; the Healing Series on suicide is thoughtful and powerful.
* Another excellent resource is AdoptedFeels, an Australia-based podcast hosted by two international adoptees, which had a 3-part series on adoption and suicide. Look here for the episodes.
* Adapted podcasts (for Korean adoptees living in Korea and elsewhere) has had at least two episodes related to suicide.
* In September, Adoption Mosaic will hold a “We the Experts” program on suicide and adoption. The experts are adoptees. Non-adoptees (adoptive parents, partners, friends, support folx of adoptees) are invited to attend as well, and agree to be silent: to intentionally listen and learn. Stay tuned for more information soon.
When looking for resources for your child, look for adoption-competent therapists. Ask what their training is in adoption and trauma. The Center for Adoption Support and Education has trained more than 1800 therapists in 18 states via a curriculum called Training for Adoption Competency.
Keep these resources handy:
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number: 1-800-273-8255 (Note: in 2022, there will be a 3 digit number for folx to call, but that is not in service yet. Keep using the number provided above until then.)
The Lifeline page has a link for resources for youth who might be struggling.
The Crisis Text Line can be reached by texting HOME 741741 in the U.S. and Canada. You can text 85258 in the UK, and 50808 in Ireland. It is available 24/7.
Here’s an article I wrote on Adoptees and Suicide Risk, for a publication of Adoptive Families Association of British Columbia.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the role that racism and bullying (including cyberbullying) can play in the lives and deaths of adoptees.
The parents of Kaleab Schmidt, an Ethiopian adoptee who died by suicide in 2018, are working hard to get their school system to face the racism and racial bullying that their son endured at school. Kaleab had many struggles: abuse in Ethiopia, the loss of both Ethiopian parents, deep trauma endured there as a little child. If you believe that adoption itself is a trauma (the separation from one’s mother, the deep grief of losing one’s only known family, and in the case of international adoption, losing one’s country, language, history, and heritage), then you understand that Kaleab experienced many traumas. Add to that the blatant racism and bullying he received as the only Black student at his school, and the fact that (from the reports) no genuine effort appears to have been made by the school to address the bullying or the racism, and your heart continues to break.
Racial mirrors matter. Surround adoptees with people who look like them. Racial isolation is painful.
- Jessica Sun Lee, a novelist and Korean transracial adoptee, wrote about “The Trauma of Transracial Adoption.”
- Dr. JaeRan Kim, a professor at the University of Washington-Tacoma and a Korean transracial adoptee, wrote “The Personal Is Political: Racial Identity and Racial Justice in Transracial Adoption.”
- The Adopted Life blog of Black transracial adoptee Angela Tucker has several posts, videos, and interviews about the impact of racism on adoptees.
“The Harris Narratives: An Introspective Study of a Transracial Adoptee by Susan Harris O’Connor, a Black transracial adoptee; “In Their Voices: Black Americans on Transracial Adoption” by Ronda M. Roorda, a Black transracial adoptee, and “Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption,” edited by Jane Jeong Trenka, a Korean transracial adoptee, are just a few examples of books written by (as Adoption Mosaic says) the experts in adoption: adoptees.
For more general information: Here’s a British site about Racism and Racist Bullying. Here’s information from the U.S. National Education Association on How to respond to incidents of racism, bullying, and hate in schools. There is a link in the article to some additional resources. I realize most school are doing remote learning, but the information is still relevant. Given that many kids are home and spending lots more time on social media, online bullying exists as a real and ugly possibility. Here’s one resource about cyberbullying directed toward teens. Here’s another more general one for children and teens: Cyberbullying.
Kaleab Schmidt, who died at 13 years old, was a victim of cyberbullying, among other racist incidents, according to an inquest requested by his parents. “School officials testified there was allegedly a Snapchat group called ‘I Hate Kaleab Schmidt’ created by students at Greenall High School.”
Imagine if that were your child.
We all need to work harder at protecting children from racism and other forms of abuse.
If your White adoption social worker did not prepare you well for transracial adoption (and I feel safe in saying that was the case for many adoptive parents), there are plenty of adoptees who can provide incredible information and insights. Listen to them. If your adopted child is a victim of bullying in school or on the web, especially of adoption- or race-related bullying, advocate fiercely for them. I realize some bullying can be inevitable, but racial-based bullying can be horrifyingly intense for a transracially adopted child whose white parents haven’t experienced racism. When the children grow up and go out into the world, the racism can be gutting.
This has to stop. Hard work and hard conversations must happen. May Kaleab and all those who died too soon rest in peace and in power.
No, we do not. I say that as a white adoptive mother who could share some terrific stories about her transracially adopted children, as kids in school, as teenagers, as young adults. I mean really riveting stories, with drama, heartache, humor, intrigue, and more. Their stories are theirs alone, however—not mine to tell, and certainly not if they are minors. My children are in their 30’s now, and I still would not tell a single story without their permission. And I mostly do not have permission.
I believe this is especially important within adoption, where adoptees had no agency for the decisions made for them, where the heft of economic and other societal powers is held by the adoptive parents, and where the birth family has little if any opportunity to be heard in an equitable way.
A while back, I got an email from a white adoptive mom who is writing a book about her children’s struggles and challenges. She asked to talk, I guess to pick my brain about it. She was surprised that I was not encouraging, that I did not think she should share her children’s stories, whether they had given her permission or not. They are minors, and minor children cannot give genuine, meaningful consent. She got a bit flustered as I expounded on why I thought it was a bad idea. She told me I was being hostile, at one point.
Yes, I suppose I was. Politely hostile, if that’s possible.
I asked if she had spoken to her family’s therapist about the book. Yes, she had, and the therapist thought it was a great idea. Memo to file: This is why we need more adoptee-therapists, and adoption-competent therapists. Here is a terrific list of U.S. therapists who are also adoptees. The list was assembled by Dr. Chaitra Wirta-Leiker, a licensed psychologist who is herself an adoptee as well as an adoptive mother.
My hope is, regardless of what therapist one works with, that the therapist would say, “No, do not share your young children’s stories in public at this point, regardless of whether they have ostensibly given their consent, or whether you feel your story will inspire and help others.”
I am not a therapist but I’d also add: “Wait until they are adults, and can ethically decide whether they want their struggles and meltdowns and medications shared forever with strangers on the Internet or in print. This is especially true, white adoptive parent, if your child is transracially adopted. And do not share about their birth parents’ ages, prison time, addictions, other children, or any other information without the explicit permission of the birth parents. When your children are adults, feel free to encourage them to write their own stories, including about your parenting.”
And I’d close my remarks by saying that “There are many, many excellent adoptee-written blogs and adoptee-led podcasts and adoptee-authored books. New ones are burgeoning every day, as more adult adoptees find their voices and the empowerment to use them. Give them the respect they deserve for their lived experiences, and absorb what you can from those with professional expertise. Compensate them fairly for their time and their sharing of their stories and insights. Tell other adoptive parents about them. Listen and learn.”
After much too long a time, the anthology “Lions Roaring, Far From Home” is edging toward publication.
It will contain about 30 essays by Ethiopian adoptees, ages 9 to late 50’s, who were raised in the US, Canada, Sweden, France, Spain, the Netherlands, and Australia.
Funds from sales will go toward a guest house in Addis for returning adoptees. The book will be dedicated to Ethiopian adoptees who have died by suicide and other means.
Front and back cover art is by Art of Nahosenay Negusssie and by Ethiopian adoptee Adanech Evans.
More details coming soon!
This is a breakthrough ruling for Korean adoptees. A Korean court June 12 ruled in favor of adoptee Kang Mee-sook, adoptive name Kara Bos, who was raised in the U.S. She now has the legal right to meet her Korean father, and be listed on his family registry. She had originally searched for her mother to no avail, and then found through DNA that she had a 99.99 biological connection to a Korean man named Kang. He and his family, however, refused to meet with her, and so she took action through the Korean courts.
This ruling means that she can be registered on her father’s Korean family registry as “a person acknowledged,” which is a significant part of the Korean family law system. She was born out of wedlock, and still hopes to meet her mother. She will meet her father on Monday in Korea.
As an adoptive parent, I have long held that adoptees should have the right to their own identity as a civil and human right. This is an enormous groundbreaking ruling for Korean adoptees, who make up the largest segment of international adoptees, and could set a precedent of sorts for other international adoptees seeking access to their identity and information. I wish Kang Mee-sook/Kara Bos all the best.
I had previously written about the case here.
This is a landmark case for international adoption adoptee rights and could perhaps have ramifications for other adoptees searching for their truths.
Kara Bos was adopted from Korea to the US when she was 2 years old. Now, 36 years later, she has filed a paternity suit in Korea to be legally recognized by her Korean father.
As many adoptees have done, Kara used DNA testing to locate Korean family members. Following up on results which connected her to a cousin and nephew, Kara traveled to Seoul and took DNA tests there. Those results identified an 85 year old Gangnam man with 99.9% probability of being her father. Kara apparently has two half-sisters in Korea, and they have have refused to connect directly with the man she believes to be her Korean father.
On May 29, 2020, a court hearing in Seoul is scheduled to take place in order to enter Kara in the father’s family registry. The Korean family registry is an important and historical part of Korean culture, as it officially identifies family members and thus can affect citizenship, inheritance, and more.
Among the reasons Kara wants to meet her Korean father is to learn why she was abandoned, and to have information about her mother. “He is my only link to finding out who my mother is, as my adoption documents list only ‘abandoned.'”
Kara says that adoptees “need to know who our parents are, where we come from, and why we were abandoned, and the Korean government doesn’t do anything to help us with that. We want truth. We want answers to our past.”
“I want my story told so that Korea understand the excruciating pain and rejection an adoptee has to go through even as an adult on their return to find out their birth story.”
Read the Manila Bulletin article here: “Korean-American adoptee files landmark paternity suit against her biological father in South Korea.”
The Korean adoptee community has been especially active in promoting DNA testing. Here is one source for information and tests.
Today is the 9th anniversary of the death of 13-year-old Hanna Williams, whose name was also Hana Alemu. Two years after her death, her adoptive parents were jailed for decades in 2013 for homicide by abuse (the charge against Carri Williams, the adoptive mother) and for manslaughter (the charge against Larry Williams, the adoptive father).
Every May 12, and on many other days as well, my thoughts turn to Hana. On May 12, 2011, Hana died outside her adoptive family’s home, due to hypothermia and malnutrition. She’d arrived in the U.S. from Ethiopia in 2008, and died weighing less than she had upon arrival. Her time in America began with a semblance of love, and devolved into cruelty, torture (the use of torture was part of the homicide by abuse charge), physical and emotional abuse, and ultimately death.
She would have turned 22 this year, had she lived.
Larry and Carri also had 7 biological children, who all, I am guessing, are legal adults now. They witnessed all the things that happened to Hana, as well as to the Williamses’ other adopted Ethiopian child, Immanuel. He was abused also, and Larry and Carri were charged and convicted for their abuse of Immanuel. I don’t know how any of the children are doing now. The testimony of the siblings who testified in court, who were also ultimately victims here, played an important role in the conviction of Larry and Carri.
In 2018, Ethiopia ended international adoptions. Hana’s death played a large part in that decision. as many Ethiopians worried about the fate of their children sent away for adoption. Most Ethiopian adoptees do well, of course, though some struggle with the trauma and grief that can be part of adoption. I know some adoptees who are placed for adoption due to medical conditions that are essentially untreatable in Ethiopia, and am happy to say that the American and the Ethiopian families have stayed in contact, which is wonderful. Increasing numbers of adoptees are searching for and reuniting with their Ethiopian families, a complicated journey. For adoptees and for Ethiopian families who want to search, consider contacting Beteseb Felega/Ethiopian Adoption Connection, a wonderful resource. Others, please consider donating to their work.
Many Ethiopian adoptees have searched and reunited with their Ethiopian families, including my twin daughters. My daughters are both mothers now themselves—what a blessing. My older granddaughter met her grandmother, aunts, uncles, and cousins in Ethiopia. My younger granddaughter is 8 months old now, and I hope she has a chance to meet all her Ethiopian relatives as well.
While some international adoptees are genuine orphans, with no living parents or other relatives, the vast majority are not orphans. Hana had relatives in Ethiopia. I think of them today as well, of course. May Hana rest in power, justice, and peace. We have not forgotten you.
May all children be safe and loved.
There are many ways to support vulnerable children and families in Ethiopia, and I encourage you to do so. Adoption is by no means the only way to ensure that children grow up safely and happily. Organizations that support HIV+ children, that empower women and literacy for girls, that train midwives and provide maternal care, that bring electricity to rural regions, that build schools and libraries: there are many wonderful, transparent, and effective nonprofits/non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) working with Ethiopians in the community to help children.