First Hearing Held on Adoptee Adam Crapser’s Lawsuit Against Holt, Korean Government

This is a very significant event: the first hearing in a court case brought by an international adoptee against an adoption agency and the country in which he was born. Adam Crapser, adopted from South Korea and deported back as an adult, has filed a suit against Holt Children’s Services and against the Korean government, arguing that both committed “gross negligence.”

The Korea Herald today posted “First Hearing in Holt Lawsuit by Korean adoptee deported from US highlights fight for transparency, adoptee rights.”

I’m disappointed to read that, at the hearing, Holt’s lawyer said that “the statute of limitations on Crapser’s adoption had passed, regardless of Holt’s responsibility.” 

That could prove to be accurate legally. Morally and ethically, though, I hope that Holt and all adoption agencies don’t just shrug their shoulders about responsibilities towards the children brought to the U.S. or elsewhere. 

Adam Crapser was abused horribly, sexually, physically, and emotionally, growing up in the family Holt placed him with. Surely there is some ethical obligation by adoption agencies, which received fees for salaries, travel, overhead, documents, and more, toward the ongoing outcomes of the children they placed for adoption. The children grow up. It is unjust and immoral for agencies not to acknowledge the role they had for the children they accepted into their care and whose adoptive parents they vetted. Agencies cannot accept the gratitude and donations of adoptive parents without also serving the needs of the adoptees whose lives were not better as a result of adoption, but were filled with abuse and neglect.

One aspect of how Adam was failed, and this pertains to thousands of other international adoptees, is that none of his various adoptive/foster parents got citizenship for him. It is an outrage that our U.S. Congress has still not passed legislation for all international adoptees, though there has been significant progress due to the efforts of Adoptees For Justice, Adoptee Rights Campaign, and others. Please take a look at their websites, gather information, and join the effort to pass legislation granting citizenship to all international adoptees.

Photo of Korean adoptees with signs written in Korean to support Adam Crapser's lawsuit against Holt and Korea.
Photo ©: Korea Herald

We in the adoption community are at an eye-opening time: finally, more adoptees’ voices are being heard and listened to (though we still need to do much better), and the traditional narrative of adoption as win-win-win is being both questioned and exposed as far more nuanced and complex than its Hallmark card reputation. We need to hear from so many more voices.

This lawsuit, regardless of its outcome, is a bellwether for the work that needs to be done in Adoption Land. People around the globe, including adult adoptees, the U.S. State Department, embassies, adoption agencies, and governments in sending and receiving countries (the U.S. both sends children outside the U.S. for international adoption and receives them for the same) are watching this case carefully.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Statistics and Ongoing Concerns Around International Adoption Numbers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Latest Turbulence in International Adoption Agencies: Wow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NBC recently aired a segment about these tragic deportations.

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

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

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

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

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.

International Adoptees (Immigrants): Proving Citizenship for Social Security

Yesterday a 28-year-old international adoptee went to the Social Security Administration (SSA) office to get a replacement Social Security card. The worker there told her that she was not listed as a U.S. citizen according to Social Security. What? She has a passport and a Certificate of Citizenship, and has been a citizen for decades.

The situation was resolved easily with the passport, and the SSA now considers her to be an American citizen. She will get her replacement Social Security card in a couple of weeks.

Still, it was a surprise, that a major U.S. federal agency did not know that someone with a U.S. passport and a Certificate of Citizenship had been a citizen for years.

IMG_1736

Adoptive parents and internationally adopted adults: Unless you show proof, the SSA may not know you’re a citizen. While it might not complicate things like the paperwork for college, financial aid, citizenship verification for jobs, tax matters–it surely could.

A few thoughts:

  •  You don’t have to be a U.S. citizen to get a Social Security number. A Social Security number does not prove or mean citizenship, though you do have to be in the U.S. legally (or born here) to get one. The SSN is primarily for job/salary/ income tax purposes. International adoptees, as children, can get social Security numbers prior to citizenship by showing their adoption records. Information from SSA is available here.
  • The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 made citizenship automatic for international adoptees under 18 who arrived in the U.S on an IR-3 visa; they receive their CoC automatically. Those who arrive on an IR-4 visa receive a “Green Card” and are lawful permanent residents who must complete their adoption in their state, and then will receive the CoC. You can read more about the process from the State Department site here.
  • When an adoptee becomes a citizen, or more precisely, has proof of citizenship, he or she needs to show that proof to the SSA, in order that the SSA lists the adoptee as a citizen for its purposes. The passport or Certificate of Citizenship (CoC) will work, and can brought in or mailed to the SSA office. I’d be nervous about mailing a passport or a CoC, but I recognize that a second trip (after initially applying for the Social Security card) to an SSA office can be time-consuming and difficult for some folks.
  • When the proof of citizenship has been seen by the SSA, the SSA will confirm in its records that the person is indeed a U.S. citizen.
  •  Federal government agencies do not appear to share databases (Department of State and Department of Homeland Security, for example). Federal, state, and local government agencies often use different policies and databases for proving citizenship and verifying identity.

That last point is important. As kids grow up, they need different paperwork for school, college, sports, internships, travel, and jobs. All adoptees should have proof of their citizenship. Adoptees who were over 18 when the Child Citizenship Act (CCA) became law because and so did not qualify for citizenship under the CCA should definitely make sure they have proof, since they are subject to deportation if they are not citizens. The Certificate of Citizenship, issued by the Department of Homeland Security, is considered by many to be the gold standard for proving citizenship. One government agency might accept a drivers’ license, and another might insist on a passport. Another might use the Department of Homeland Security database and only accept the Certificate of Citizenship. Different states have different requirements and databases.

Government paperwork has a lot of permutations: U.S. birth certificates are issued to international adoptees, listing adoptive parents as the ones who gave birth, and are not proof of citizenship; the certificates are legal fictions. Drivers’ licenses from some states will  no longer be accepted for airline travel in years to come: you will need REAL ID. Who knows how citizenship identity requirements will change in the future, for immigrants, for international adoptees–for everyone? I strongly recommend getting your paperwork house in order.

 

The deadline to apply for the Certificate of Citizenship before it doubles in price is December 23, by the way. I’ve written about it here: Internationally Adopted Children in Our Anti-Immigrant Culture. Info about the increase is here.