Who Is Responsible for the Decline in International Adoptions?

The U.S. State Department lays the blame on adoptive parents and adoption agencies. The adoption agencies, per the National Council on Adoption, say the decline is due to overly restrictive regulations and anti-adoption advocates. The voices we are not hearing enough of in this discussion are the birth/first parents and the adoptees themselves.

Last week, the State Department released figures showing the ongoing decline in numbers of children being placed to the United States for international adoption: 5372 children in FY 2016. You can read the report here.

The State Department cited three main reasons for the decline: adoptive parents failing to send post-adoption reports to the children’s country of origin; the incidences of adopted children being re-homed; and unethical practices by adoption agencies.

Post-Adoption Reports

The reports are a reasonable requirement. Sending countries want to know the outcome of children sent abroad for adoption, and adoptive parents are supposed to send the reports. Different countries have different requirements, which are essentially unenforceable once the adoption is full and final. The adoptive parents may have an ethical obligation, but their compliance is subject to their willingness. “Several countries have conditioned the resumption of intercountry adoptions on receiving post adoption reports from parents who previously adopted children from that county,” according to the State Department.

I’d be curious as to whether State has statistics on compliance, or has done research on why parents do not send the reports in. I’d guess a few reasons: Parents have so much going on with family life that the reports fall to the wayside. The parents are mad at the agency and refuse to work with them once the adoption is done. The parents don’t believe the country will ever read the reports. The parents don’t care about whether their failure to send reports will affect future adoptions. The parents are struggling with the child (or have disrupted the adoption, or have re-homed the child) but don’t want the country to know.

Some international adoption agencies have suggested to adoptive parents that the reports would also be sent to the birth/first parents. The birth/first parents may have been told they would receive reports. When the agency failed to get the reports to the families, which anecdotally I have heard many times, parents may have stopped sending them. Some send reports directly to the birth/first family, but not to the government.

Another aspect is the country of origin’s ability to maintain the post-adoption information in an archival, accessible way. That is, a country like China, Korea, or Ethiopia would potentially have received thousands of reports over many years. Does the government have the interest and the infrastructure to file and maintain the reports? Do they scan them and keep them well-organized?  The reports from the US are in English, and I doubt they would be translated into national or local languages. It is unclear to me whether the birth/first parents would have any access to the reports. However, I would argue there is an ethical obligation for the country of origin to provide it to the birth/first parents.

Unregulated Custody Transfer (UCT)

Unregulated Custody Transfer is a benign sounding phrase, but is frightening in its manifestation. The State Department equates UCT with “re-homing,” where adoptive parents hand over their adopted children, with little or no legal process or safeguards, to other people. It has happened more often than anyone would like to think, sometimes making the news, sometimes conducted in an underground. Reuters produced a significant report on the problem. Many US states have begun enacting laws and policies to reduce re-homing. The State Department has a UCT Working Group focused on “strategic for preventing UCT and for responding to UCT situations when they occur.”

Prevention, of course, is the best approach: better pre-adopt preparation, and better post-adopt resources and services.

Internationally adopted children also end up in US foster care, a legal means of moving a child to a new family. Some are listed on Second Chance, a program of Wasatch Adoptions. Both of these (US foster care and Second Chance) are technically not “re-homing,” because they are done through legal channels. Still, a great deal of controversy exists around internationally adopted children ending up in US foster care or with Second Chance.

There is, of course, an important link between the post-adoption reports and UCT, foster care, and Second Chance. Parents probably do not send reports when their children are moved from their original adoptive placement, whether legally or illegally. “Foreign countries frequently raise concerns about UCT whenever information about a child’s whereabouts is unavailable. These concerns impact their willingness to maintain intercountry adoption as an option for children,” says the State Department.

Adoption Service Provider Conduct

This issue–illegal or unethical practices by some Adoption Service Providers (ASPs) and about countries’ ability to appropriately monitor adoption activities–is far-reaching in time and complexity. The US Justice Department’s indictment of International Adoption Guides, and the subsequent guilty pleas by the top staff, for bribery and fraud is a well-known example. Other adoption agencies have been under scrutiny as well, some closing suddenly, even with full COA accreditation (i.e., Christian World Adoptions). European Adoption Consultants, an international adoption agency in Ohio, was raided in February by the FBI, with allegations around fraud and trafficking.

Agency workers in both the U.S. and in sending countries have been accused of misconduct. Facebook has regular comments in adoptive parent groups about false information about their children’s histories; adult adoptees have traveled to their home countries and found parents they had been told were dead, or mothers who had been deceived into placing their children in an orphanage. There’s no question that adoption agencies and their staffs have been under greater scrutiny in recent years than ever before, in part because of more adopted persons’ and birth/first parents’ voices being heard.

The State Department proposed new regulations last September that would attempt to address some problems in international adoption, around accreditation and other areas. Adoption agencies have been actively opposed to the proposed regs, saying that they are unnecessary, expensive, and rigid. Chuck Johnson, the head of the National Council on Adoption, told the Associated Press in January that “it was possible that under the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump, the State Department might adopt policies more to the liking of the adoption agencies.” It’s still early in the Trump Administration to see exactly what direction adoption policy will take, though the State Department’s comments on the newly released adoption numbers give us some sense. Update: While the State Department refers to the proposed regs in the narrative about the statistics, including saying they are “reviewing comments from the public on the proposed regulations,” the regs were withdrawn by State in early April. I’ll post more information when I get it.

In any case, adoption agencies frequently see administrative and regulatory policies to be more responsible for the decline in adoptions than the three issues cited by State.

Photo © Maureen McCauley Evans

The bottom line: A whole lot of work needs to be done, by a whole lot of folks (State Department, Office of Children’s Issues, adoption agencies, adoptive parents, state and federal legislators, international governments) if international adoption is going to continue in any meaningful way. Right now, there is a fairly strong current of anti-adoption momentum, via groups who view adoption as equivalent to trafficking as well as vocal individuals, primarily adult adoptees, who are demanding change.

And *if* international adoption is going to continue, adoption agencies and the U.S. State Department should make equity in pre-adoption preparation and post-adoption services to birth/first parents. Those 5372 children had families–we know that few children are actual full orphans, and many have grandparents and siblings. The birth/first families deserve excellent adoption services as much as U.S. adoptive parents do, to make sure adoption is the best option, and to encourage family preservation whenever possible.

“The Economist” Editorial: Blind to the Realities of International Adoption

The Economist, the British-based weekly news magazine, missed a valuable opportunity to present much-needed solutions for children without families. Instead, it glossed over recent history and current realities around international adoption, sounding uninformed and starry-eyed.

All children deserve safe, loving families. International adoption is one means of helping, but there are many other much-needed actions as well. Too often, people romanticize the notion of adoption without understanding its realities. Think “Annie.”

The Economist recently published two articles on international adoption. I was among many folks interviewed for Sarah Esther Maslin’s article, “Home Alone: Fewer Families Are Adopting Children From Overseas.” She addresses the issues of fraud and corruption in Romania and Guatemala, among other countries, noting the frustration that some folks have with the bureaucracy around the adoption process: “Such sluggishness infuriates overseas parents. But many sending countries say critics underestimate the difficulties of building a robust adoption system—and ask why, if people in rich countries really care about poor children in poor places, they do not fund domestic programmes to keep families together instead.”

Indeed.

Maslin’s article explains why international adoptions have decreased so significantly in recent decades, and it’s important that this information get out into the world at large. (I wrote about the issue in this post: “Lamenting the Decline in International Adoption? Take Action.”)

In addition to Maslin’s article, The Economist also published an editorial, “Babies without borders.” The editorial was superficial at best, failing to speak out to its 1.3 million readers about genuinely effective ways to help children have families.

Adoption can benefit some children and families. However, there is a bigger picture around child welfare advocacy that must be addressed.

Here is the Letter to the Editor I sent to The Economist:

In urging that international adoptions be made easier, The Economist’s editorial “Babies without borders” is naïve, clichéd, and shallow. It includes the following:

  • A stunning amount of faith that the Hague Convention has rooted out fraud and corruption, and thus it is now safe to move faster in processing adoptions.
  • A failure to mention how many adult adoptees have discovered the extent of deception in their adoptions.
  • A cavalier dismissal of the loss of culture and history when children are internationally adopted.
  • A noticeable silence about several countries’ efforts to promote in-country adoption and to reduce the cultural stigmas around it.
  • An astonishing exhortation that U.S. evangelical Christians specifically should not be stopped on their happy way to adopting.
  • A lack of awareness about the current paucity of post-adoption services which has led to tragic re-homing situations, as well as to international adoptees being placed, for example,  in the U.S. foster care system.

As an adoptive parent, I know the power of adoption. International adoption, though, helps very few of the children who genuinely need help. Increased family preservation efforts and child/family sponsorships via reputable organizations are only two of the possible  solutions to ensuring that many more children have safe, loving families.

Unfortunately, The Economist was busy humming Little Orphan Annie’s “Hard Knock Life,” and quoting it, rather than examining realities and proposing thoughtful solutions.

 

 

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Please read both Sarah Maslin’s article and the editorial, and share your thoughts with The Economist. You can e-mail letters@economist.com. Include your mailing address and a daytime telephone number.

 

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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Update on African Orphans’ Congressional Hearing

I got my hopes up a bit when I saw that the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa had updated its witness list for tomorrow’s hearing on the “Growing Crisis of Africa’s Orphans.”

Then I saw that there is still no one listed as having been an orphan, no one listed as having been adopted as a result of being an orphan, and no one listed as being a family member of an orphaned child.

I am not suggesting that any minor children who are orphans should be speakers, but here’s a reality that too many people forget: orphans grow up. Adopted children grow up. There is no shortage of adults who could speak of their experiences as orphans and as adoptees, but, as is often the case, they are not included here. Equally marginalized are the extended family members of orphans, family members of children placed in orphanages, and original/first/birth family members of adopted children. No one on the speaker list is identified with having that actual life experience. No organization committed solely to family preservation/reunification is on the list.

Here’s a photo from the Facebook posting today from Abide Family Center, a family preservation organization doing great work in Uganda, and among those not included in tomorrow’s hearing:

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Such joy. The story behind those beautiful faces: This is Janet and her daughter Queen. Janet was referred to Abide by a local orphanage. She had approached the orphanage looking to place her two daughters there so she could work and find a place to live. Abide Family Center was able to help Janet achieve both goals without separating her girls from her.

That is what can happen to children who might otherwise be placed in an orphanage, though they are not orphans and are in fact deeply loved.

So who is going to speak at the hearing tomorrow?

In addition to the representative from Both Ends Burning (an attorney and adoptive parent) and from Zambia Orphans of AIDS, there will be two policy experts, one from the US State Department and one from the US Agency for International Development.

A (prospective) adoptive parent of a child from the Democratic Republic of Congo will speak. She has been part of Both End Burning’s campaign regarding the DRC’s decision to suspend adoptions in light of fraud and corruption. The US adoptive parents have been granted legal rights, but have been unable to get exit visas for the children. There has been a great deal of controversy around the efforts of the US parents and government to pressure the DRC to release the children.

The final speaker listed as of today is with Save the Children, which published the 2009 report Keeping Children Out of Harmful Institutions: Why We Should Be Investing in Family-Based Care.While Save the Children is about a wide range of child welfare programs, they place an important emphasis on family preservation.

From pages 4-5 of the Save the Children report:

One of the biggest myths is that children in orphanages are there because they have no parents. This is not the case. Most are there because their parents simply can’t afford to feed, clothe and educate them.

For governments and donors, placing children in institutions is often seen as the most straightforward solution. And it’s a way of sweeping out of sight the poorest and most discriminated-against children with the biggest problems. Encouraging parents to place their children in care is even used as a means to make easy money by some unscrupulous and unregulated institutions.

But, with the right kind of support, most families would be able to keep their children.

Supporting families and communities so that they can look after their children themselves might seem more complicated in the short term. But in the long term, it pays enormous dividends. Not only are individual children more likely to thrive and
go on to be better parents, they are more likely to contribute to their communities and to their country’s development.

Children deserve families, and institutions are not the right place for children to be raised. Absolutely right. No disagreement there. I applaud the report’s point that most children in orphanages are not orphans, and that there are huge long-term dividends to keeping children with their original families.

Here’s a quote from a ThinkAfrica press article, “Adopting From Africa, Saving the Children?”:

It is estimated that there are 58 million orphans on the continent. While the proportion of these adopted may be small, it is clear that the trends are significant enough for government officials from over 20 African countries to have convened at the Intercountry Adoption: Alternatives and Controversies of the ACPF Conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in May 2012.

What is shocking is how these orphans are characterised. According to Save the Children, over 80% of children in orphanages around the world have a living parent and most are there because their parents cannot afford to feed, clothe and educate them. In Ghana, the figure is as high as 90%. In Ethiopia, the government recently attempted to trace the families of 385 children from 45 institutions; the families of all but 15 children were located.

When seen through this lens, the African orphan crisis is more of a crisis in family support. Poverty is not a reason to remove a child from his or her parent, yet this is exactly what is driving Africans to give up their children in what they perceive are temporary arrangements which will give their children stability and an education before returning home.

Adoption is a viable option for a small number of children, especially those with medical issues. All adoptions, though, should be done with complete transparency and integrity. Too many African “orphans” have turned out not to be orphans at all, and those are important voices that will not be heard tomorrow. Too many first parents have lost their children because of poverty. Too few family reunification/preservation programs have adequate funding, support, and prominence.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights,and International Organizations hearing on “The Growing Crisis of Africa’s Orphans” is scheduled for July 16. The announcement is here. You may be able to watch a live video feed of tomorrow’s 2pmEDT hearing here.

 

 

 

 

 

“Poverty alone should never be a reason for adoption”

Amy Davis is mom to 3 little boys. She and her husband planned to adopt one or maybe two little girls from Uganda. After much paperwork, time, money, prayer, travel, energy, and high hopes, they learned that Eliana, the little girl they thought would join them in their Tennessee home, has a living mother. A mother who wanted to keep the child, but was desperately poor.

So Amy and her husband decided not to take Eliana to a place of love and economic prosperity. They chose to leave her in a place of love and abject poverty, having helped put a plan in place to move the child out of the orphanage and back to her mother, a plan that partners with a family reunification organization in Uganda.

In her moving and heartfelt blog post, Amy wrote:

The (Ugandan) family felt hopeless, but when asked privately, they said they WANT their daughter and granddaughter, if only they could support her financially. At first thought, I said to myself, “well, they can’t financially care for her, so she can’t stay there.” But the more John and I thought about it, the worse and worse we felt.

Poverty alone is never a reason to adopt. It’s not right, it’s not ethical, and it’s certainly not biblical. We said from the beginning, we wanted to commit ourselves to an ethical adoption, one in which the mother and father are deceased or if alive, want nothing to do with their child. A Ugandan child that has a mother that wants her should be with her mother. Period. And if we truly are caring for orphans and widows as we were originally called to do, then it certainly isn’t taking someone’s baby due to poverty. 

A harsh truth is that many children are placed for adoption internationally because their parents–who love them–are desperately poor. If they had the money, they would keep the child. The amount of money they would need per month is about what we pay for one tank of gas.

Adoption should be an option for children who genuinely do not have families. Adoption agencies and governments must do stellar work to ensure that the story accompanying a child is truthful. Prospective adoptive parents must demand that truth. How else can we look our children in the eyes, and claim them as our own?

I know many families who are committed to open international adoptions (which have their own complexity, joy, opportunities, and integrity), connecting with the original family, assisting family members, ensuring that the children understand their truths and are surrounded by love.

That said, while I believe in adoption, I speak out as much as possible about family preservation. It’s less heartwarming than adoption. My daughter Aselefech’s fundraising campaign for an Ethiopian NGO that creates families from widows and orphans has not been of interest to many people, it turns out, compared to fundraisers by prospective adoptive parents. Yet the $5000 she hopes to raise will keep 10 families together (food, education, clothes), and the children out of orphanages, for a year.

As the poet ee cummings wrote, “now the ears of my ears awake and now the eyes of my eyes are opened.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Congressional Hearing on Africa’s Orphans: Who Is Speaking For Them?

Who is speaking at an upcoming Congressional hearing on the “Growing Crisis of Africa’s Orphans”?

Not any African orphans.

Instead, Kelly (Ensslin) Dempsey, an attorney and adoptive parent, will be speaking. She’s the General Counsel and Director of Outreach and Advocacy for Both Ends Burning. BEB founder and adoptive parent Craig Juntunen has often been quoted about his goal for the organization: A Culture of Adoption.

Like Dempsey and Juntunen, I’m an adoptive parent. I believe in adoption, if done with transparency and integrity. I argue that we need to give much more room to the voices of adopted persons and first/birth parents, especially in international adoption where economic inequity is a prime reason for parents to place their children in orphanages. I’d like to see a Culture of Family Preservation.

Also scheduled to speak at the hearing is Shimwaayi Muntemba, Ph.D., a co-founder of Zambia Orphans. I applaud their work, which focuses on education and job training for children who have been orphaned due to AIDS.

My concerns about the hearing are these:

1. How disappointing that the hearing includes no speakers with genuine experience of being orphans from Africa. Why exclude their valuable voices?

One reason could be that inviting them simply did not occur to the hearing’s organizers. Another could be that many African adoptees have turned out not to be orphans. Another reason could be that (too many) African adoptees have been re-homed, or are living outside of the families who brought them to the US as forever families. Another reason could be that many adult adoptees are speaking for family preservation in their country of origin, rather than for adoption. Whatever the reason, adult African adoptees/orphans should have had a place at this table.

I am not suggesting that minor children who are orphans be exploited in any way, or that a child should be a speaker at this hearing. Orphans, like adopted children, grow up. As adults, their experience as orphans deserves our attention, and we should welcome their perspective when crafting public policy.

2. How disappointing that the hearing does not include African family members caring for children (who may or may not be genuine orphans), who can speak out about what they genuinely need.

I recognize and respect the fact that Dr. Muntemba, a Zambian, will speak. Rural, poor Africans who have lost family members to AIDS (or to adoption) also deserve an actual place at this table.

Both Ends Burning is a huge proponent of the Children in Families First (CHIFF) legislation, a bill surrounded by controversy. One of the many concerns is the failure of CHIFF to include adult adoptees and original family members (birth family) in crafting the legislation, which is backed almost exclusively by adoption agencies, adoptive parents, and adoption attorneys.

The exclusion of the voices of adoptees and of first families is unfortunately echoed, yet again, in this hearing.

3. How disappointing that the hearing fails to include family-oriented organizations such as Bring Love In and Selamta Be at Peace from Ethiopia, both of which work to create families in AIDS-ravaged communities and keep children from entering orphanages. Reeds of Hope in the Democratic Republic of Congo works to educate and feed vulnerable children, and to provide sponsorships to help children stay with their families.

The hearing also does not include Alternative Care Uganda, which is doing ground-breaking work to preserve families in a transparent way.  A quote from them: “The over emphasis and often misrepresentation of ‘orphans’ distracts attention, resources and programmes away from other vulnerabilities and what is really necessary to improve the wellbeing and livelihoods of Ugandan families and communities including vulnerable children.” Read more here.

These are only a few of many wonderful organizations doing amazing family work in Africa; no hearing could possibly have them all speak. My point, though, is that these organizations have proven how right and possible it is to create families from widows and orphans, to keep children (many of whom are not actual orphans) out of orphanages, and to preserve and reunify families after a parent or parents have died, working with extended family and community members.

Instead of continuing to exclude them, let’s invite and listen carefully to the voices of African orphans, of African adult adoptees, and of African birth/first families.

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The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights,and International Organizations hearing on “The Growing Crisis of Africa’s Orphans” is scheduled for July 16. The announcement is here. You can email the Chairman, Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), here

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Running to Keep Ethiopian Families Together

On August 17, exactly 3 months from today, my daughter Aselefech, adopted at 6 years old from Ethiopia, will run a half-marathon near where she was born. She is doing this to raise money so more children in Ethiopia will have safe, loving families.

Please join her on this journey. You can donate or join her team by clicking here. All donations are tax-deductible, and the money goes directly to the charity she has chosen: Bring Love In, an organization in Ethiopia that unites widows and orphans to create new families, and prevents children from going into orphanages.

Zariyah and I will be with Aselefech in Ethiopia to cheer her on; we are hoping that members of her Ethiopian family will be there too! The half-marathon is sponsored by Ethiotrails, and will take place at the Abijatta-Shalla Lakes National Park, in the Rift Valley.

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Our family was created through adoption. My children are my joy, and I love them more than I can ever say. I believe in adoption, and want all children to have safe, loving families.

I also believe that, whenever possible, children should stay with their families, and in their home country. Bring Love In helps children who have lost their parents to AIDS or other causes to have families again, and they help widows to love and care for children who need moms. The children can keep their language, culture, and heritage, and grow up safe and strong. Families are created and preserved in a powerful way, breaking a cycle of poverty and providing hope and possibility.

Family is a big deal, and is created through ties of blood, adoption, and love.

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Please support Aselefech in her efforts to keep families together, to create new families from widows and orphans, so that all children might grow up safe and loved. Many thanks!

 

Stanford Law Review: CHIFF Overlooks Best Interests of the Child

Along with many others in the adoption community, I have written about the extensive flaws in CHIFF, the Children in Families First Act. No one disagrees that all children deserve safe, loving families. Much disagreement exists about whether CHIFF genuinely meets the problems that exist in adoption today.

A new voice has spoken about CHIFF’s deficiencies. A recent article in the Stanford Law Review by Nila Bala, a Yale Law School graduate and current Public Interest Fellow, addresses the bill’s various shortcomings.

Here are a few excerpts from “The Children in Families First Act: Overlooking International Law and the Best Interests of the Child.”

Unfortunately,…many government leaders are supporting the Children in Families First Act (CHIFF), new legislation that hopes to increase the number of international adoptions, without addressing the problems that currently exist.

CHIFF puts children at risk by weakening the Intercountry Adoption Act (IAA) and the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-Operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption, (Hague Convention), which have at least provided for some pre-adoption protections. Additionally, like the IAA, CHIFF fails to provide for post-adoption assistance.

CHIFF hopes to reappropriate about sixty million dollars per year to establish the new Bureau of Vulnerable Children and Family Security in the State Department and to establish a USAID Center for Excellence for Children in Adversity.

If millions of dollars are pumped into incentivizing intercountry adoptions, it is reasonable to expect that fraud may increase as well. Unfortunately, the bill glosses over the very real concerns of child trafficking, fraud, and corruption.

I’ve added the emphasis above. The perspective of this highly-regarded legal publication–not an adoption agency or adoptive parent–is powerful and valuable. Let’s hope our members of Congress listen closely.

Everyone agrees that children deserve families. CHIFF needs to genuinely address several existing problems: Let’s include adoptees and first parents in the conversation. Let’s provide equitable services. Let’s increase pre- and post- adoption resources. Let’s not spend $60 million without acknowledging current, painful realities around re-homing, citizenship/deportation, fraud, and corruption. Let’s emphasize family preservation first.

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Going Back, Giving Back: An Ethiopian Adoptee Runs For Ethiopian Orphans

My daughter Aselefech–an Ethiopian adoptee, part of the African diaspora, a mother herself–will be running a half-marathon in Ethiopia this August. And head’s up–she is doing so to give back to her country, by raising funds for an organization that is dedicated to family preservation, finding families in Ethiopia for Ethiopian orphans.

How beautiful and wonderful is that?

Aselefech and her twin sister, adopted at 6 years old, now 25 years old, have reconnected with their first family in Ethiopia. Aselefech wrote about her journey here: Far Away, Always in My Heart.

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One of their older Ethiopian brothers now lives in Seattle; the siblings have gotten to know each other well, again.

Aselefech with her brother (reunited in 2009) and her daughter. Photo: December 2012

Aselefech with her brother (reunited in 2009) and her daughter. Photo: December 2012

Aselefech is finishing up her undergraduate degree, and moving toward a master’s in social work. She writes honestly and powerfully as a columnist for Gazillion Voices, sharing her experiences with racism, with grief, with love, with loss. She’s done webinars, YouTube videos, conference workshops, and adoptee seminars, talking about the joys and the challenges of being adopted, internationally and transracially.

And now she will return to Ethiopia for the third time. Her daughter and I will be there too. We will visit with her Ethiopian family. My granddaughter will meet her Ethiopian grandmother, and play with her cousins there. Aselefech will run 13 miles with Ethiopians and others in her home country, to raise funds (via Crowdrise; please stay tuned) for Ethiopian family preservation.

Konjo. Beautiful. From sorrow and loss, we can find joy and hope.