Ethiopian Adoptee Anthology Nearing Deadline

The purpose of the upcoming anthology, “Lions Roaring, Far From Home,” is to share the voices of Ethiopian adoptees. It is also in honor of Hana Williams, the young adoptee who died far too soon, voiceless and alone. Finally, the anthology will support our work to create a guesthouse in Addis Ababa for returning adoptees from around the world.

July 15 is our deadline for accepting submissions: please consider writing. Let us know if you’d like to write something, even if you think you can’t make the deadline. Please pass this on to potential writers.

We are thrilled with the submissions so far for the anthology. We have received wonderful essays from France, Holland, Sweden, Australia, Canada, the US, and Ethiopia. We are reaching out to famous adoptees whose writing may be included, and we are seeking a solid range of perspectives about Ethiopian adoption.

Writer’s Guidelines:

Here are some possible questions for you to answer. These are ideas, or prompts, to help you get started. Use them if you want. If you want to write about something else, no problem.

What did it mean for you to be an Ethiopian adoptee when you were growing up? How did your family explain things? How did other children respond to your being adopted and Ethiopian?

What does it mean to you to be Ethiopian, and African, as well as a citizen of the country to which you were adopted?

How have you been affected by racism? In your family, school, work?

Have you visited or lived in Ethiopia? What was that like for you?

If you haven’t been back to Ethiopia, would you like to return someday? Why? What would you like to do there? If you don’t want to go back, why not?

What was your image of Ethiopia when you were growing up? Has your view of Ethiopia changed over the years? Why?

Have you searched for your Ethiopian family, or reunited with them? If yes, how has that process been? If not, why not?

What advice would you give to young Ethiopian adoptees, or to adoptive parents?

What have been the easiest and hardest parts of being an Ethiopian adoptee?

If you are a parent, how have you explained being an Ethiopian adoptee to your children?

You are not limited in what you can write about, as long as it is in some way about the connection to Ethiopia from the perspective of an Ethiopian adoptee.

Length: Between one and six double spaced pages, or between 750 and 2500 words. Those are rough estimates. We want to read what you write, so don’t worry too much about the length. We will certainly look at essays that are fewer than 750 words.

Don’t worry about perfect grammar and spelling. This isn’t a test; you’re not going to be graded. We can work with you to polish the writing.

 We want to hear what you have to say.

Please send your submission (and any questions) to Maureen@LightOfDayStories.com.      Thanks!

Original artwork by Yadesa Bojia

Original artwork by Yadesa Bojia

 

 

Dan Rather’s Show: “Unwanted Children–The Shameful Side of International Adoption”

Dan Rather hosted an in-depth show on AXS TV called “Unwanted Children–The Shameful Side of International Adoption.” To view the show, which is available here, you will need this password: danrather.

It’s a tough and important 2 hours to watch and ingest. Much of the focus is on Ethiopian adoptions, and children who have been “re-homed,” moved to new adoptive families with little oversight, assistance, or regulation. Reuters did a series on re-homing; information is available here.

“Unwanted Children” sheds light on some terrible child welfare practices in adoption. The idea that children can be internationally adopted to the United States, and then moved to new adoptive homes with less oversight than occurs with dogs, is deplorable.

Kathryn Joyce wrote powerfully in Slate in November 2013 about some of these adoptees as well. Her detailed, insightful article “Hana’s Story: An Adoptee’s Tragic Fate and How It Could Happen Again” was part of the impetus for the Dan Rather show.

This show, on the heels of E.J. Graff’s incisive report “They Steal Babies, Don’t They?“, is an explicit call to action for change in Ethiopian adoptions. I have spoken out about this; many, many people are deeply concerned around the globe. I hope to see a response soon from organizations such as the Joint Council on International Children’s Services, the National Council for Adoption, the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, and Both Ends Burning to demand changes in oversight and regulations, as well as solid improvement in services provided to adoptive and first/birth families.

Because: enough. I am so proud of groups like Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora, and of Ethiopian Adoption Connection, who are speaking out and working hard to give voice to those who are too often left out of adoption policy discussions: the adoptees and the first families.

As an adoptive parent, I hope to see more eyes opened to some of the realities of adoption practices today, so that the rights of all children and parents are safeguarded, and all adoptions are done with transparency and integrity.

Please note also that a “GoFundMe” campaign has been set up to help the 9 Ethiopian adoptees who “are now homeless after being pushed out of their adoptive home,” according to the fundraiser. Information is available here.

 

 

Update on Kristen Barbour and Carri Williams

Update on Kristen Barbour:

Kristen Barbour was sentenced to 6 to 12 months in jail for pleading no contest to the felony charge of endangering the 2 Ethiopian children she and her husband had adopted. Kristen’s petition to serve the sentence in an alternative housing situation was denied last week, and she will be sent to the Mercer County (PA) jail. However, she will be allowed out five days a week to be in her home with her 2 biological children while her husband, Douglas Barbour, works at the family gardening/nursery business. Her petition to allow time served before sentencing to decrease her time of 6 to 12 months in jail was also denied. Kristen will not be allowed to take the children outside the home, with the exception of doctor visits (or similar) for which she must get advance permission. You can read the Post-Gazette article, which includes remarks from the jail warden, here.

The Pattersons, the family that has adopted the 2 Ethiopian children, attended the court session on Kristen’s petitions. The Pattersons asked for help in reminding everyone that all children’s lives matter, all adopted children’s lives matter, and black people’s lives matter. While much has been made of Kristen’s Biblical/Christian motivation for both adoption and for discipline, the Pattersons ask people of faith to denounce any practices that endanger the lives of children. Information on how the children are doing now is available here.

A news video from the local Pittsburgh CBS station is available here. It includes Kristen’s attorney Robert Stewart commenting that he has been surprised at the amount of media coverage this case has had, given that he’s seen far worse cases of abuse.

The adoption community has really come together in speaking out for the rights of adopted children. Let’s keep talking about the safety of vulnerable children, the need for better pre- and post-adoption services, and the experiences and insights of adult adoptees.

Update on Carri Williams:

About a year ago, Carri and Larry Williams were convicted for the murder of Hana Williams and for the abuse of Immanuel Williams; Hana and Immanuel had been adopted from Ethiopia. Carri and Larry are currently serving lengthy prison sentences in Washington state. Both had indicated that they would appeal the conviction, and Carri Williams recently filed her appeal. Her case is being handled through the Washington Appellate Project, a nonprofit providing legal assistance to indigent clients.

Carri Williiams’ appeals brief is some 59 pages; the appeals process can be lengthy. Let’s continue to keep Hana and Immanuel in mind, and to hope that justice is served.

 

Remembering Hana, Hoping (Again) for Justice in Adoption

One year ago today, Larry and Carri Williams were found guilty for the death of their adopted Ethiopian daughter, Hana Alemu, and for assault of their adopted Ethiopian son, Immanuel.

Yesterday, I visited Hana’s grave site in Union Cemetery in Sedro-Woolley, Washington. I knew I was going to write about her today, and though I am not a big fan of graves and cemeteries, I wanted to pay my respects. I left on the grave a tiny token purchased during my recent trip to Ethiopia, and told Hana she was not forgotten.

The Williams’ family did not place a gravestone of any sort on Hana’s burial place until after the trial had concluded, so some 2 years after she had died this marker was installed. It shows Hana’s birth year as 1994, which would make her over 16 at the time of her death, not 13, which was what her age was said to be by the adoption agency and possibly Ethiopian family records. The Williamses were charged with homicide by abuse, which requires children to be younger than 16 and carries a significant punishment. They argued during the trial that Hana was not 13 at the time of her death, but was older. The jury did not believe Hana was older than 16 when she died, and Carri Williams was found guilty of homicide by abuse. This grave marker suggests that Hana was 16, not 13, at the time of her death, though the Williamses never legally changed Hana’s age during her life.

Hana's grave at Union Cemetery. Photo taken September 8, 2014.

Hana’s grave at Union Cemetery. Photo taken September 8, 2014.

During the hour or so drive from and back to Seattle, I thought about what Hana and Immanuel might have been thinking as they went from SeaTac Airport to their new family, in August 2008.

The view along the highway would have been so different from what they may have seen in Ethiopia. Instead of RV dealerships and fast food restaurants, in Ethiopia there are children along the roadside herding goats and cows, women washing clothes in muddy rain puddles, and men hauling loads on donkey-driven carts. Instead of towering pines, in Ethiopia Hana would have seen acacia trees. She must have been a bit overwhelmed by the beauty of the Pacific Northwest, along with the malls, businesses, and restaurants. This was her new life, with the promise of a family, safety, and love.

The view along I-5, heading north from Seattle.

The view along I-5, heading north from Seattle.

Less than 3 years after her arrival in the US, Hana died from malnutrition and hypothermia on May 12, 2011, at the hands of the adoptive parents who were supposed to love and protect her. Those same parents were also found guilty of assault of Immanuel. On October 29 last year, Larry was sentenced to just over 28 years in jail, and Carri to 36 years. They are currently serving their sentences in Washington state.

You can watch Judge Susan Cook’s sentencing of the Williamses here.

Next week, in Pennsylvania, Judge Jeffrey Manning will be sentencing another pair of adoptive parents of Ethiopian children. Douglas and Kristen Barbour, unlike the Williamses, chose not to have a jury trial and instead pled no contest in June to charges of child abuse and endangerment. Their two adopted children were removed from them by the state as a result of lesions, weight loss, hypothermia, healing fractures, and retinal hemorrhaging.

Are these 2 cases comparable? Both families already had biological children when they adopted 2 Ethiopian children. Both families have a stay-at-home mom and a working- outside-the-home dad. Both practice Christianity. According to a Post-Gazette article, Douglas Barbour wrote about Biblical motivations for adoption. Kristen Barbour wrote openly about her faith on a now defunct blog. In both families, the adopted children had eating and other issues common in older child international adoptions. In both cases, the families did not appear to have sought help, and instead relied on their own methods. In both cases, there were no charges of abuse regarding the bio children, only the adopted children. In both cases, the bio children witnessed their parents’ treatment of their adopted siblings. Both cases have a child’s significant weight loss and hypothermia as factors of abuse.

Both families appeared to have had a perfect storm of unrealistic expectations for children who have experienced trauma, and both appeared to have handled the adopted children with systematically increased punishments that did not achieve the intended results. In both cases, young children were grievously harmed.

I don’t mean to be facetious when I say at least in the Barbours’ case, both children are still alive. I have heard that Immanuel Williams and the Barbour children have all done well in their foster homes.

In the case of the Barbour children and Immanuel, it is safe to say these children have been harmed, abused, and endangered significantly, at the hands of the very people who were supposed to care for and protect them. The children have a long road of recovery ahead of them; they were innocent victims of people who they should have been able to trust. They have physical and emotional injuries that are serious and will affect them for their entire lives, injuries that never should happen to any little child.

Judge Cook, in sentencing Larry and Carri Williams, asked “What does justice require?” She talked about the materials the attorneys had given her about imposition of sentences, and said they had left one important part out. “The sentence needs to reflect society’s response to the conduct that the defendants engaged in.” In this case of the Williamses, she said, the sentence could be seen as an expression of society’s outrage about two children being horribly harmed.

I am hopeful that Judge Manning will also take the seriously the significant harm done to the two Barbour children. It is an outrage that children could be so deeply hurt by adults, and the offenses of abuse and endangerment deserve appropriate punishment–not probation. The children have to live the rest of their lives with the impact of what their adoptive parents did to them. I hope that the judge sees that clearly.

There is still time to send a message about fairness for these young adoptees. I wrote about why this is so important here.

May Hana rest in peace. May all children be safe and loved. May we all speak up for the children.

 

Romanticizing Adoption Is a Disservice to Children and Families

The romanticization of adoption is common, draining, and harmful. If I say “adoption,” and you say, “Awwww,” picturing cute waifs on a charming playground smiling with their  interracial family–well, you have bought into a Disney/Hallmark version. It’s unattainable because it isn’t real. Yet it’s rare for someone to say to a biological family what is all too often said to parents who adopt: “Wow, I really admire you. You’re a saint. I could never do that.”

That romantic view is pervasive and powerful, one that puts a burden on adoptive families and adopted children. It allows, even encourages, parents to embrace unreasonable expectations, and then pass them, unfairly, on to the child.

What happens when the child does not and cannot meet the romantic image?

Two unromantic realities that some adopted children deal with are (1) hoarding and stealing food and (2) difficulty with appropriate bathroom behaviors. These behaviors can be very frustrating to adoptive parents, especially those who have raised bio children, and who are used to setting limits and being obeyed.

Hoarding food, overeating, and stealing food are common behaviors for adopted children, at least early on after their arrival in a home with plenty of food. Hoarding food can give a sense of control to a child, a back-up in case the food disappears again. We might look at hoarding as survival skills for children who have, in their short lives, been deprived of food, been painfully hungry, or have been forced to compete or struggle for food. Or we can see it as defiant and selfish.

This was true for Hana and Immanuel Williams, and apparently for the two Barbour children: Allegations of hoarding and stealing food are part of these child abuse cases, and the children were viewed as rebellious.

In the case of Hana and Immanuel, the parents did not seek help; in the case of the Barbours, they ignored it. In both families, the children were abused and endangered.

For unprepared adoptive parents, the hoarding and overeating behavior can seem insolent and pointless. Maybe the adopted child snatches food from the bio child. Maybe the adopted child continues to steal snacks and perishable foods (sticks of butter, grapes, cheese, hot dogs) and stuff them in between mattresses or in coat pockets–even though he’s been told repeatedly not to, or has been punished severely.

Restricting food, as Kristen Barbour apparently did for the 6-year-old boy, and as Carri Williams did for Hana and Immanuel, is often an unsuccessful approach. Hana died from malnourishment and hypothermia. The Barbour boy was diagnosed with malnutrition and possible hypothermia as his body temperature was 93.6 when he was admitted to the hospital and removed from his adoptive home.

Food issues are challenging in our society, and we often don’t like to talk about them. They can be huge in adoption. A child who hoards and steals food, who overeats compulsively, who constantly asks for food even when he’s likely not really hungry–it’s not attractive behavior.

Even harder to talk about and even less attractive are toileting issues. Toilet training is a major obsession and developmental issue for us as parents, never mind for the children.

They can be enormous issues for adopted children, since peeing and pooping are self-regulatory processes that are affected by emotions, fear, trauma, genetics, a need to control an unsettling situation, and medical conditions. And we don’t like talking about any of it, so too many people, including children, suffer alone. The Barbour boy had lesions on his skin because he’d been made to stay in urine-soaked clothing. Immanuel Williams was sprayed with a garden hose, and made to sleep on the floor of a shower room, because he peed on himself.

Children often regress in toilet training when there is trauma in their life. Some children forget to take time to pee until it’s too late; some children hold poop in until it’s dangerous to their health. Boys take longer than girls generally to master the art of toileting. Did you know that some children who have been sexually abused defecate in their beds to keep predators away?

As a society, we generally don’t like to talk about urine and feces. As adoptive parents, we like to think that we can get these long-hoped-for, finally-arrived-home children to behave nicely and politely and appropriately. We want to be the Hallmark card.

That can be an absurd expectation, at least early on and sometimes years after placement in an adoptive home, especially for children who may well have experienced trauma.

Here’s a further complication. In addition to expecting the same behaviors from adopted children that non-traumatized, physically healthy bio kids from birth have, one of the biggest burdens in adoption is the wrongful expectation that the adoptee should be grateful for being adopted. It’s difficult being the child of a saint, I imagine. Gratitude is complex in adoption. So are the notions of “rescue” and “saving.” What happens when a child is not grateful for being adopted? (“We adopted you, and saved you from the hellhole you were in, and you steal our food and pee on the floor?”)

Let’s do a much better job preparing prospective parents for the scary things, many of which may not happen–but could. Let’s celebrate the joy of becoming a family by understanding that the child had and lost another family before this one, something that can create a trauma even for infants, and let’s be open to the child’s needs. Let’s emphasize the benefits of flexibility in handling children’s behaviors, and decrease the element of shame in seeking help.

Let’s stop romanticizing adoption, and Hallmarking adopted children and their adoptive parents. Let’s build families in a positive, healthy, and realistic way.

You can find information about adoption and hoarding food here and here, and information about adoption and toileting issues here and here, as well as many other places on the Internet and elsewhere. Finding information and community is key. There are plenty of solutions and approaches to hoarding and toileting that don’t involve abuse.

My post “Does “Adoption” Really Equal “Trauma”? may be of interest as well.

 

 

A Tragic Echo of Abused, Adopted Ethiopian Children

Am I foolish to think there will be a public, powerful statement from the international adoption community, especially adoption agencies and policymakers, demanding that these parents receive more punishment than probation for the endangerment and abuse of 2 very young adopted children?

Kristen and Douglas Barbour of Pennsylvania today pled “no contest” to endangering the welfare of their two adopted Ethiopian children, placed with them in March 2012 through the adoption agency Bethany Christian Services. The Barbours were charged with assault and endangerment in October 2012. The “no contest” plea, as I understand it and I am not a lawyer, is often a result of a plea bargain. It means they are not pleading guilty, but they recognize there’s evidence sufficient to convict them if they were to go to a trial. Sentencing will take place September 15.

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Douglas and Kristen Barbour

You can read the story in today’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette here.

Last summer around this time, I was attending the Washington state trial of Larry and Carri Williams, who were convicted for homicide and abuse of their adopted Ethiopian children, Hana and Immanuel.

The similarities between the Barbour case and the Williams case are eerie.

Two unrelated Ethiopian children were placed in a family with other biological children. Hana and Immanuel were about 10 and 8 at placement; the Barbour children were 5 (the boy) and 13 months (the girl).

Things went well at first, with happy photos and cheerful blog posts.

Then things became more challenging, and the families withdrew to use their own discipline and approaches. The Barbours apparently did seek out some help from an intentional adoption clinic doctor, but then “balked at his advice,” according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The little boy in the Barbour family weighed 46 pounds the first time he saw the doctor after arriving in the US. When the children were taken into custody and the parents arrested in fall 2012, he weighed 38 pounds, and was diagnosed with malnutrition–just like Hana, though of course Hana died. The boy was made to eat his food in the bathroom because he soiled himself, and lived in a sparse bedroom, very similar to the treatment of Immanuel.

The baby girl was diagnosed in fall 2012 with retinal hemorrhaging which has resulted in blindness, as well as a brain injury and several healing fractures, including her femur and toe. A baby. I can barely tolerate typing that.

The Barbours are not accused of abusing their two biological children. The Williamses were not accused of abusing their seven biological children.

The adopted children in both families did not apparently comply sufficiently with the rules of the households into which they had been placed. The little Barbour boy, for example, didn’t play fair in Candy Land, according to a blog post by Kristen Barbour. One of the most puzzling parts to me in the Williams’ trial was that horrible, disproportionate  punishments were doled out to Hana and Immanuel for behaviors such as adding numbers incorrectly, not saying thank you after a meal, and trimming the grass too short.

The little boy placed with the Barbours had toileting issues, something common in internationally adopted children, and not unusual in a lot of non-adopted children. Immanuel Williams had his struggles too, that resulted in being denied meals or sleeping in a bathroom. These are issues that are certainly frustrating, but there is so much research, techniques, and support available that do not involve endangerment to children.

Both the Williamses and the Barbours are Christians, and appeared to have been motivated by their faith to adopt. Douglas Barbour wrote a post titled “Biblical Motivations for Adoption.” citing a long list of reasons for Christians to adopt. This October 2012 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article explains more.

Both the Williams’ and the Barbour’s biological children will now live with the knowledge that their parents abused their Ethiopian siblings for whom they all prayed even before the children arrived. The biological children probably witnessed the abuse of and cruelty afflicted on the young adoptees by their parents as well, and that is its own type of trauma.

Connections have been made with Hana’s biological family in Ethiopia, and so they are aware of what happened to her. I wonder if the Ethiopian families of the Barbour children will ever know how they have fared since being adopted. I hope so, as sad as the news would be. They deserve to know the truth.

The judge in the Barbour case calls this “a significant act of charity gone awry.”

What?

The defense attorney says “the Barbours probably should have mellowed in their approach.”

“They are good people,” their attorney says.

Really?

On every level, this case is a tragedy. I am speaking out. International adoption agencies and adoption policy makers, where are your voices, on behalf of the children?

 

Remembering Mothers, Remembering Hana

I was blessed to have a mother who loved me unconditionally, who believed in me fully, and who was steadfast in her love for and devotion to my children as well.

Mom with her youngest grandchild, about 22 years ago.

Mom with her youngest grandchild, about 22 years ago.

Mom died over 10 years ago, and I miss her every day. She would have been crazy about her great-granddaughter, who’s now 7 years old. While I sometimes can’t believe I’m a grandmother, I know how fortunate I am.

I’m incredibly fortunate to be the mom of 4 amazing young people, whom I love beyond words.  I am their mom through adoption, and I hold their first mothers tightly in my heart. I’m especially proud on Mother’s Day of my daughter Aselefech, who is a wonderful mother herself.

IMG_2403

I’m thinking today also of Hana Alemu, born in 1997 in Ethiopia. She was brought to Washington state in the US for adoption in 2008, and she died, three years ago today, on May 12, 2011.

Hana Alemu (Williams)

Hana Alemu (Williams)

An amazing story of hope and beauty has emerged from the tragedy of Hana’s passing.

David Guterson, the acclaimed novelist who lives on Bainbridge Island in Washington state, attended nearly every day of the trial last summer of Hana Alemu’s adoptive parents, Larry and Carri Williams. The Williamses are now each serving lengthy prison sentences for Hana’s tragic death.

David is writing a book about Hana, and traveled to Ethiopia in March for research. He met Hana’s best friend and cousin there, a young woman named Haimanot. Haimanot was struggling with a brain tumor. Wiithout surgery, she would lose her vision. David arranged for Haimanot to come to the US in April.

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Haimanot had surgery to remove a pituitary tumor at Swedish Medical Center. It went well. She had some headaches and low energy afterward, but is now feeling great.

Swedish did everything pro bono and will continue to provide treatment for Haimanot as needed. Rep. Derek Kilmer (6th-WA) opened the door for the visa. The Ethiopian community has provided room and board, and there has been lots of support from the Seattle Ethiopian Community Center.

My mom would have loved this story.

I’d like to also remind folks about another positive recent development: the excellent resource Ethiopian Adoption Connection, a website to connect Ethiopian original families with their children adopted around the globe. After only a short time, they’ve already been able to connect adoptees with their Ethiopian families. There are also many resources listed on the site, which is in Amharic and English. Keeping families connected is a gift beyond words.

May we all have hope that good can come from tragedy.

May we hold in our hearts those who have died, and honor their memory.

May we treasure those who love us and care for us. May we not miss an opportunity to help others, with kindness and compassion.

 

 

Hana Alemu’s Legacy: Her Cousin Receives Brain Tumor Surgery

The third anniversary of the death of Ethiopian adoptee Hana Alemu is May 11. Here is an amazing story of hope and beauty emerging from the tragedy of Hana’s passing.

Hana Alemu (Williams)

Hana Alemu (Williams)

David Guterson, the acclaimed novelist who lives on Bainbridge Island in Washington state, attended nearly every day of the trial of Hana Alemu’s adoptive parents, Larry and Carri Williams. The Williamses are now each serving lengthy prison sentences for Hana’s tragic death.

David is writing a book about Hana, and traveled to Ethiopia in March for research. He met Hana’s best friend and cousin there, a young woman named Haimanot. Haimanot was struggling with a brain tumor; without surgery, she would lose her vision. David arranged for Haimanot to come to the US, where she has had successful surgery at Swedish Hospital in Seattle.

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What a moving and incredible story of hope and life and possibility. My appreciation and admiration to David and his family. My gratitude to the support of the Ethiopian Community Center. My best wishes to Haimanot for quick and full recovery.

Hana Alemu remains in the hearts of so many people. What a blessing to hear this good news about her beloved friend.

You can read and see more at this link to the TV news story.

 

 

AAI, Hana Williams’ Agency, Is Out of Business: Now What?

2014 has been a rough ride for international adoption agencies: Celebrate Children International was the subject of a 48 Hours investigation, and International Adoption Guides is under indictment. The so-called Children in Families First legislation is under siege and appears to be foundering. And now Adoption Advocates International is closing. What other signs are needed to convince agencies and agency-affiliates that they need to change the way they are doing business?

On March 7, Adoption Advocates International, the Washington state adoption agency used by Larry and Carri Williams to adopt Hana and Immanuel Williams, announced it was closing its Ethiopian adoption program. Today, March 12, it appears they are closing their doors completely.

An article about AAI’s closing was printed here, in today’s Peninsula Daily News.

Many people are happy that AAI is closing, given AAI’s role in the placement of Hana Alemu and Immanuel Williams. As always in complex situations, though, there are other elements to consider. Many families in the process of adopting through AAI, not just from Ethiopia but from Burkina Faso, China, and perhaps elsewhere, are now in a difficult emotional and financial position. AAI has placed some 4500 adoptees over the last 3 decades whose records must be (I hope) kept available for them, somewhere. There are now children who will not be adopted, who perhaps legitimately needed new, safe, loving families. There are first/original parents, always the most marginalized in adoption, who may not be able to access information about their children.

Interestingly, AAI is a Hague-accredited agency, certified by the Council on Accreditation through April 2016. That COA accreditation is intended to be a high standard that signifies an agency is in excellent financial and programmatic health.

Christian World Adoptions, a South Carolina adoption agency, suddenly closed its doors and declared bankruptcy early in 2013. It was also a COA/Hague certified agency, right to the end. It startles me that 2 COA-accredited agencies within about a year can suddenly just close. What went horribly wrong in their financial status that COA totally missed?

According to the COA website:

Hague management standards apply to all adoption service providers regardless of the type of provider or services provided. These management standards promote accountability and include:

  • Licensing and Corporate Governance
  • Financial and Risk Management
  • Ethical Practices and Responsibilities
  • Professional Qualifications and Training of Employees
  • Information Disclosure, Fee Practices, and Quality Control
  • Responding to Complaints and Records and Reports Management
  • Service Planning and Delivery

When 2 COA-accredited international adoption agencies abruptly close within about one year of each other, many questions are raised about COA accreditation. Certainly it casts a shadow on the strength and value of the accreditation process for other currently accredited adoption agencies.

According to page 36 of COA’s 92 page Policies and Procedures Manual-Hague, when an agency closes, it has to provide to COA the following: a listing of all Hague adoption service(s), the closing date, detailed description of reasons for the decision, and the transition and referral plan for consumers.

In this case, I am guessing that “consumers” are the prospective adoptive parents: the paying customers. I’d like to think that COA would also demand information about the plans and needs of all the children (some of who are surely adults now) who were adopted through AAI, and even of the first/original parents.

Ethiopian adoptions have been problematic for a while, for many reasons: increased awareness of fraud and corruption, implementation of new procedures, increased costs due to labor/time of ensuring the accuracy about why children become available for adoption, and more. There have been far fewer adoptions from Ethiopia in recent years, and there is increasingly great concern in Ethiopia about the outcomes of adopted children. The majority, of course, do fine, but the reality of Hana and Immanuel weighs heavily on many minds around the globe.That’s true for other Ethiopian adoptees. Kathryn Joyce’s Slate article, Hana Williams: The Tragic Death of an Ethiopian Adoptee, And How It Could Happen Again, describes other placements by AAI, and how these Ethiopian adoptees are greatly struggling.

The recent death of Korean adoptee Hyunsu O’Callaghan surely makes all of us–adoption agencies, adoptees, adoptive parents, first/original parents–pause and reflect with sorrow as well. What now?

Indeed, it’s hard to cheer about AAI’s closing. So many doors are still left open for vulnerable families and children around the world.

This could be an incredible opportunity for adoption agencies and adoption agency-related organizations (Joint Council on international Children’s Services, National Council For Adoption, Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, for example) to reach out to those who’ve been too often excluded from adoption policy discussions: adult adoptees (yes, including those whom agencies have written off as angry and rude), international first/original parents (to whom adoption agencies have a deep, ethical obligation), and even adoptive parents who disagree with them. We all want children to be in safe, loving homes. We all agree that if adoption is a viable option, it must be transparent, and all involved must be held accountable. Some are happy to see adoption agencies close, and most of us also know that the closures don’t mean that vulnerable children are now safe and cared for.

It’s time to have some really hard conversations, and not simply because adoption agencies are closing. It’s because all voices are needed if we are going to see viable, positive change in adoption policy. Pay attention, adoption agencies and coalitions: the changes are happening now, due to the adopted adults and first parents who are stepping up, speaking out, and creating overdue change. 

Adoption and Tragedy: Requiem for Hyunsu

A child died recently, a 3-year-old boy, adopted last October from Korea. His adoptive father has been arrested for the murder. (Read more here: Washington Post) It is a tragedy, and it is an adoption issue. His name (because names matter): Madoc Hyunsu (also spelled Hyeonsu) O’Callaghan.

As an adoptive mother, my heart aches for Hyunsu. I think about his first mother, his Korean family. There have been powerful vigils held in Seoul, led by adult adoptees and others, bringing all kinds of people together for reflection and prayer about the loss of this little boy.

Via Jane Jeong Trenka www.adoptionjustice.com

Via Jane Jeong Trenka
http://www.adoptionjustice.com

There is much powerful information here at Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoption Community of Korea.

There is a Facebook page In Remembrance of Hyeonsu. There is a virtual vigil taking place today, hosted by Adoption Links of DC. So many people, around the globe, are embracing this child.

An adult adoptee from China wrote an insightful, eloquent post on the great blog Red Thread Broken: “Honoring the Life and Death of Hyunsu O’Callaghan.” It’s so important to hear the perspectives of adult adoptees, especially perhaps around the death of an adopted child; their insight cuts close to the bone.

Here’s an excerpt from Red Thread Broken:

“Whenever there is an outpouring of outspoken voices in the adoptee community, dismissive comments from observers are sure to follow. These are some of the common thoughts that seem to be in question:

  • “Doesn’t it make you glad you didn’t get up in a home like that one?” – No, it doesn’t make me glad or extra grateful. Because my family came together in an alternative way, I shouldn’t have to feel appreciative my parents didn’t murder me. It should be my right, not a privilege to be in a safe home.
  • “Biological parents abuse/neglect/murder their kids, too.” – That’s a correct statement, but that fact shouldn’t allow us to ignore the severity of the same problems in adoptive homes.
  • “Adoptive homes actually have a staggeringly low rate of abuse … I mean crazy low…when compared to biological families.” – There is actually a long history of abuse and filicide in adoptee’s homes. However low you claim statistics to be, no child should be subject to abuse in their home. The fact that it’s happening at all means that it’s an issue.
  • “This is NOT an adoption issue.” – Hyunsu had no agency in what happened to him. He was placed for adoption in Korea. The agency matched Hyunsu with the O’Callaghan’s. Adoptive parent screening and home studies are not extensive enough. Adoption is what placed him in the hands of a murderer. This is most definitely an adoption issue.

It’s sickening to me that when a tragedy like this ensues and explicitly shows the brokenness of the international adoption system, people continue arguing the ways in which adoption is a miracle, a blessing, a glorious, romantic practice when it obviously had deadly consequences for this boy. It seems that many would rather spend their time justifying the adoption system and their way of parenthood than acknowledging the atrocities that could allow us to move forward with real reform to the system. A child who “loved his dogs, his big brother Aidan, and anything his parents made for him to eat” is dead because of the defective international adoption system. “He wasn’t dealt the simplest hand in life, but he found something to love in it every day,” the obituary said. Hyunsu’s short life should be honored, and sticking to the status quo by promoting an idealized culture around adoption certainly won’t do that.”

I added the bold to the words above.

My friend and fellow adoptive parent Margie Perscheid wrote this important and provocative post about why Hyunsu’s death is an adoption issue. There’s often a tendency in the adoption community to see these adoptee deaths as tragic and isolated, not linked with adoption. Margie explains, with compassion and fire, why Hyunsu’s death, and those of other adoptees, is indeed “an adoption issue.”

Hyunsu joins Ethiopian adoptee Hana Alemu, and too many others. May they rest in peace. May we not rest in the light of these tragedies. They are painful to think about, and it’s so tempting to pause, shake our heads, and then sweep the tragic event away. May justice be served. May we face terrible truths without fear, and work for genuine change, especially for vulnerable children.

Here are two of my posts about the changes needed: Reflections on Hana: Acknowledging the Failure of the Adoption Community, and It’s Time to Oppose CHIFF.