Adopt an African Child–Through US Foster Care

It’s true. There are listings of African children (from Ethiopia and elsewhere) who are now available for adoption through the US foster care system.

Here’s the deal: these children left their first country, after their American parents had (we hope) followed all legal requirements to adopt them. They then lived with those parents, in the US, with all those adjustments of internationally adopted children. Then those parents terminated their parental rights (voluntarily or otherwise), the children ended up in foster care, and now they have to find another family.

Wow.

Since they usually become US citizens upon arrival to the United States, internationally adopted children who end up in US foster care may not be immediately or publicly identified as international adoptees. I feel confident there are plenty of other internationally adopted children (from Russia, Guatemala, Haiti, and elsewhere) who have joined the approximately 100,000 children looking for families through the US foster care system. Children in foster care spend an average of 2 years there, while reunification and adoption are considered.

About half the children in US foster care return to their families. That does not seem a possibility for these internationally adopted children: they can’t return to their original countries, and they no longer have a US family.

In other news:

Black American infants, primarily from Florida, are being placed with Canadians, ostensibly because many of the mothers don’t want their children to face the racism here in the United States.

Petitions and protests are being heard from American parents who have legal custody of children from the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is not issuing exit visas to the children, because of concerns around fraud and corruption.

The Facebook site Second Chance Adoptions has many postings about internationally adopted children from Congo, Russia, Ethiopia, and elsewhere, whose placements with their American families have disrupted, and now they need new families. These children aren’t in public foster care, and they aren’t being re-homed in a Wal-Mart parking lot. I’m not sure who has legal custody of them, but the process and expense, I imagine, for a new family will be the same as a private adoption here in the US. In these cases, though, it’s the (first set of) adoptive parents who will sign legal rights over to the (new) adoptive parents. Many of the adoptions are eligible for the adoption tax credit. I wonder how many of their first adoptions were also eligible for the tax credit.

The adoption agency behind Second Chance Adoptions is Wasatch International Adoptions, located in Utah. On their web page, they offer information about adoptions of children from the DRC, with this caveat: “Children who come into our orphanage are generally between the ages of 2-5 or 6. We do not have children who are older because we have found that older children do not adjust well to an American home and family.”

I can only how imagine how they learned that sobering bit of information.

I have a few questions, although my head is spinning.

What more evidence do we need that better pre-adoption screening and better post-adoption resources are needed?

What is the trajectory for these internationally adopted children who arrive in the US and then their adoptive placement falls apart?

Do the US adoption agencies which placed the children the first time have an ethical responsibility to the children? And the second time? What does that responsibility look like? What is their ethical responsibility to the country of origin, if not the family of origin?

How does the US foster care system deal with the needs of internationally adopted children? How are their needs different from US children born here, raised here, and placed in foster care here? Children generally end up in foster care because of abuse and neglect. The international children would likely also have experienced that either in their country of origin or here in the US or both, but have some extra losses by virtue of leaving their countries.

What is the role of racism in the lives of any of these children who are from Africa, the Caribbean, Central America, or Asia? They go from living someplace where most people look like them, and then enter the US and live with families who may not look like them at all. Maybe they live somewhere in America where few people look like them. Then they must leave that family for another family (maybe). Racism here in the US will impact them now and for their entire lives, along with whatever issues of loss and trust they may be dealing with. Meanwhile, black American children are going to Canada, where the First Nations and the Inuit have certainly had their struggles

All children deserve safe and loving families. I hope that all these children find families and healing.

What is going on with our child welfare system? Before we consider anything like the Children in Families First act, we need to resolve the many issues facing current international adoptees.

My head hurts and my heart aches. That discomfort pales beside what these children are going through.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today’s Hearing on Africa’s Orphans: No African Orphans or Adoptees Spoke

I watched today’s live video stream of the House Subcommittee on Africa’s hearing on “The Growing Crisis of Africa’s Orphans.

No adult African adoptees or orphans testified.

The speakers on the first panel were Nancy Lindborg, Assistant Administrator for the US Agency for International Development’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance, and Robert Jackson of the State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs. Ms. Lindborg emphasized the goals of the Children in Adversity report. She noted the need for strong beginnings for children, in terms of nutrition and emotional support, as well as the importance of putting families first. Extended families are very important in Africa, she said, and those families need to be strengthened. Mr. Jackson discussed the State Department’s efforts in regard to child trafficking, child soldiers, and children orphaned from AIDS. He mentioned the need for ethical, transparent adoptions meeting the goals of the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption. At the State Department, the Office of Children’s Issues serves as the Central Authority for the Hague Convention.

The first speaker on the second panel was Kelly Dempsey, the attorney from Both Ends Burning. Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX) asked her how many times she has been to Africa. She has never been to Africa, she said. She is an adoptive parent, not of a child from Africa but from Vietnam. In her statement and responding to the questions from the Subcommittee Chair Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ) and from Rep. Stockman, she spent most of her time strongly criticizing the US State Department for its handling of the adoptions from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The DRC is not, by the way, a signatory to the Hague Convention. You can learn here about the differences between adoptions from countries that have and have not signed the Convention.

Another speaker was Jovana Jones, who has legal custody of a deaf little girl she and her husband hope to adopt from the DRC, which has suspended adoptions. She spoke of all the work her family has done in preparation for the child’s arrival, and of her concerns for the child’s educational and developmental needs. Rep. Stockman asked if Ms. Jones had been to the DRC, and she said she has not. Rep. Stockman has traveled there, and noted that the DRC is an inherently challenging country, not just for adoption but for travel.

The 2 most compelling speakers to me were Shimwaayi Muntemba who is from Zambia and who co-founded Zambia Orphans of AIDS, and Muluemebet Chekol Hunegnaw, who is  from Ethiopia and is a Senior Director with Save the Children. Both African speakers were powerful in urging that a systemic, holistic, family-based approach be taken to the needs of Africa’s orphans.

Speaking after Ms. Dempsey, Dr. Muntemba mentioned her family members lost to AIDS, and that she raised her sister’s son. She noted that for Africa, adoption is new, and is one opportunity for children. She stressed though that the breakdown of family systems and resources in Africa is where help is much more needed, particularly higher educational opportunities for girls, and greater support for child-headed households (where children as young as 7 are caring for ill parents and grandparents and often younger siblings as well). Greater political will is needed, she suggested, to better meet the needs of the orphans.

Ms. Hunegnaw from Save the Children said that in terms of looking at the magnitude of the crisis of Africa’s orphans, a systemic approach that supports more kinship care, provides resources for families, and considers the holistic needs of the children should be the priority. She urged the Subcommittee to maintain funds for family strengthening programs in Africa and to codify in legislation the goals of the Children in Adversity report.

Both Dr. Muntemba and Ms. Hunegnaw stressed the traditions of kinship care in Africa. While both acknowledged that intercountry adoption could be an option, they emphasized that well-focused resources could lead to better family stability and prevent children from becoming orphans or entering orphanages.

I didn’t hear the other speakers on the panel acknowledge the benefits of resources to improve African family preservation and prevent children from becoming orphans. Ms. Dempsey’s focus was essentially only the State Department, which she called a failure and an obstacle.

Two bits of news:

Rep. Stockman said the president of the DRC will be coming to the US in a couple of weeks, and Reps. Stockman and Smith are planning to meet with him and share the concerns from today’s hearing.

There will be a Part 2 to this hearing. Rep. Smith made a point to say that Ambassador Susan Jacobs (or her designee) would be invited. (Apparently she had been invited to this hearing.) He said nothing about inviting adult African adoptees or orphans.

You can watch the entire hearing, which lasted about 2 hours, by clicking here.

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Attacking Those Who Care for Vulnerable Children

Who would attack the work of a pediatric nurse practitioner who has lived among the poorest of the poor in rural Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), who adopted twin Congolese girls whose mother died in childbirth, and whose organization works to keep emaciated children alive, with the hope of reuniting them with their families, rather than promoting international adoption?

International adoption–with its confluence of money, children, and inequity–can evoke terrible egotism and emotions. Adoption is of course a wonderful, valuable option for children who genuinely need families. But we have to create adoption policy with ears wide open not only to the experiences of adoptive parents, but also those of adopted people and first/birth parents.

In terms of international adoption, we need to listen as well to the voices of those in the countries from which children are adopted. Holly Mulford has on-the-ground experience in Congo. She’s the nurse practitioner I mention above. She recently wrote a powerful blog post mourning the deaths of babies who had entered the care of her organization Reeds of Hope (an allusion to Moses and the bulrushes). You can (and should) read her thoughtful post “Can family preservation programs and international adoption coexist at the same time?” here.

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Holly dared to say out loud what is an unspoken, unpopular truth in child welfare: International adoption is far easier to raise money for, and is a far more popular cause, than family preservation is.

Prospective adoptive parents are willing to raise large amounts of money, in the range of $25,000 to $40,000, to adopt one child. (Many times, the US government then reimburses them for those expenses, including airfare and hotels, via a tax credit. Read my thoughts about the tax credit here.)

International family preservation, in contrast,  is not a warm, fuzzy, or sexy issue. Strangers gave some $80,000 via  a Humans of New York story about a family hoping to adopt a child from Ethiopia. Would they have done the same if the issue was reunification of families in a poor country?

No, they would not. Despite that, many people deeply involved with keeping children not only alive but with their families continue to soldier on, working alongside some of the poorest people in the world, believing that poverty (as huge and overwhelming a problem as it is) should not be a reason for a mother or father to lose a child forever.  Imagine how $80,000 could help desperately poor families keep their children in a country such as the DRC.

According to Holly,

“Family support and reunification isn’t well understood by most traditional aid organizations, and it can be complicated. It requires a deep commitment to family preservation and the inherent dignity of all families in DRC. It demands deep respect for Congolese fathers and their families.

It is much easier to fundraise for adoptions than for family support and reunification work (following the alternative care model) — despite it being the right decision for most of the children.”

Who would turn these words into an attack? A Florida attorney who is an ardent supporter of the Children in Families First bill, and who is the legal adoptive parent of a child from the DRC, which has suspended adoptions due to fraud and corruption. Her post is here.

Then consider donating to Reeds of Hope, to further their valuable work keeping children alive, and families together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Perilous Journey: “48 Hours” Investigates International Adoption

On Saturday January 18, at 10pm edt/pdt, the US TV-newsmagazine 48 Hours (on CBS) will focus on international adoption. More specifically, it will (according to promo materials) discuss the fine line between adoption and child trafficking.

Betsy Emanuel, whose story is the subject of the book Finding Fernanda, will discuss her adoption journey in Guatemala, and the Owens family will discuss theirs in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The main focus appears to be the adoption agency Celebrate Children International, which was involved with both the adoptions above. CCI is a small adoption agency in Florida. Their Facebook site is here.

Susan Jacobs, the US State Department’s Special Advisor for Children’s Issues, will also be on the show.

You can see a brief CBS video by clicking here. Titled Perilous Journey, the show, according to the CBS site, is about “Heartache, heartbreak and a ’48 Hours’ journey into the world of international adoptions. Maureen Maher investigates Saturday, Jan. 18 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.”

www.cbsnews.com

www.cbsnews.com