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.

Those Pesky Post-Adoption Reports to Ethiopia

The U.S. State Department this week posted a notice ostensibly reminding adoptive parents to keep sending in post-adoption reports (PARs) to Ethiopia. Although adoptions from Ethiopia have ended, the Ethiopian government still wants proof that children are alive and well-cared for. The State Department notice says that “Adoptive parents are to submit post adoption reports every six months for five years following the adoption and then annually until the child reaches the age of 18.”

State asked all service providers who facilitated adoptions from Ethiopia to reiterate this requirement to adoptive parents in accordance with 22 CFR 96.51 (c). If you don’t happen to have the Code of Federal Regulations near by, here you go. That CFR reference makes me think that maybe the folks promulgating this info aren’t in as close contact with adoption agencies as might be helpful. Nothing wrong with a good CFR reference, of course: lawyers are important.

Here’s the thing: Many adoption agencies (adoption service providers) have closed. Others have told the adoptive families that PARs aren’t needed anymore. Others have given the families information about the PARs that varies from what is proscribed in the recent State Department notice. Some parents have been told to file reports 3, 6, 9, and 12 months after placement, then annually. Some are told to file reports til the child is 15.

Some adoption agencies have very detailed specifications about what should be in the reports. Some are more lackadaisical and vague about the reports. Some agencies tell families to send the reports to them, and the agency will forward it on to Ethiopia. In the past, my understanding was that reports were to be sent to the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs.

The new State Department notice, however, tells parents they can email their PARs to the Ethiopian Embassy in DC. That, I believe, is a new development. Parents can email copies to the US Embassy in Addis. I have no info about why reports are now to be emailed to the Embassy rather than the Ministry, nor about what happens to them after they arrive there, nor if there are any privacy safeguards around who has access to the reports, nor if there is a particular person who is responsible for them, nor what happens to them once they are ensconced in the Embassy’s database.

And here’s another thing: Parents are inconsistent about sending the PARs to Ethiopia in any case. There is no enforcement mechanism for these reports, no penalties for not sending them. Some parents get busy and forget; others refuse to send them, for a variety of reasons.

I understand and support the rationale behind requesting post-adoption reports: Ethiopia understandably wants to know how the children are doing. But are the reports actually read? Is that really what is happening here, when reports are sent in but (as I’ve heard anecdotally) they are then piled up, untranslated, unsorted, inaccessible?

Perhaps the saddest and most frustrating part is that some adoption agencies told the Ethiopian families that they would have access to the reports. That would have been ethically appropriate: many Ethiopian families are desperate to know what happened to their children. That was not the outcome of the reports, though. Through their own initiative, many adoptive families are in regular contact with the Ethiopian families, and share information, photos, and updates that way, through translators and other helpers. Many more, though, are left to wonder and mourn. The remarkably successful, valuable organization Beteseb Felega/Ethiopian Adoption Connection has reunited families around the world; please consider donating to them.

I last wrote about The Problem of Post-Adoption Reports and Ethiopian Adoptions in April 2018.

In that post, I made these suggestions around the ongoing quest to get PARs.

There are concrete steps:

  • The Ethiopian government can confer with organizations such as Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora. Many Ethiopian adoptees around the globe are already actively helping vulnerable children and families in Ethiopia, whether their own families or via nonprofits or businesses, and many more would welcome the opportunity to do so.
  • The government can invite adult adoptees to return to Ethiopia and help them with getting to know their country of origin.
  • The government and adoption agencies can provide follow-up services for Ethiopian mothers, fathers, grandparents, and siblings who have been impacted by adoption.
  • The government and adoption agencies can insist on post-placement reports from Ethiopian birth families. I’d like to hear from agencies about why this isn’t done currently, in terms of best practice for all those affected by international adoption.

This is a new one:

  • The Ethiopian government could ask for post-adoption reports from adult adoptees. Imagine what they could learn, if they are genuinely wanting to understand the impact of adoption.

These steps could help achieve several important goals: to increase family preservation, to promote in-country adoption, and to bring light and transparency to Ethiopian adoption history. 

I have long wondered why Post-Adoption Reports are not required from birth/first parents. If adoption work is done ethically, shouldn’t they be asked how they are doing? Or asked how adoption has impacted them? Shouldn’t the adoption agencies ask if there is anything they need? I realize this would be difficult: families may live in remote areas; translators would often be needed; some folks would be difficult to track down; services to the Ethiopian family would not bring in revenue. Still. I’ve never understood while post-adoption follow-up with first families isn’t considered best practice by social workers.

Until we stop excluding adult Ethiopian adoptees and Ethiopian birth parents from Post-Adoption Reports, there will be no substantive change in adoption practices—and those practices needs a lot of change.

Perhaps our U.S. State Department could share these ideas as well. I for one would be grateful for that.

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.

Aselefech Evans, Ethiopian Adoptee, Speaks With the BBC about PM Abiy’s Recent Adoption

A few days ago, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia and his wife were granted permission to adopt an Ethiopian child. The little boy, about two years old, will have three siblings in the Abiy family.

In 1994, 6-year-old Aselefech Evans arrived in the US from Ethiopia along with her twin sister. They were adopted by white parents in Maryland, and have two brothers who were also adopted. I am their adoptive mother. I love them all beyond words. I also recognize the challenges they have faced, as adoptees, as black people, as transracial adoptees.

Today, Aselefech was interviewed by the BBC’s Newsday program about the PM’s adoption. Her interview is available here.

I am so proud of her. It is not easy to do a brief phone interview on a nuanced, multi-layered subject. She spoke straight from her heart and her intellect. When she received the link from Newsday, she reflected on it this way: “I think after listening to the interview, i stayed true to my lived experience while honoring the complexities of adoption, But the conversation can’t stop here. Adoptees and birth parents need to be leading this discussion.” Absolutely true.

Aselefech reuniting in Ethiopia with her mother. Photo ©: Maureen McCauley

Adoptions from Ethiopia ended in January 2017. Some 15,000 Ethiopian children were adopted to the US over a span of about 20 years; hundreds if not thousands went also to western Europe, Canada, and Australia, among other places. Slowly and steadily, we are hearing the voices of these adoptees, sharing good and bad experiences, demanding change, wanting to re-connect with Ethiopia, working with Ethiopian NGOs to promote family preservation, searching for birth family, wondering about DNA, and so much more. Their voices are invaluable. Hopefully we will eventually hear from Ethiopian first/birth parents, as well as grandparents, siblings, and other family members.

The fact that the Prime Minister and the First Lady of Ethiopia have chosen to adopt publicly sends a big message in a country that has thousands of children in orphanages, as well as a history of informal adoptions and an understanding of adoption that varies greatly from that of the West. Maybe there will be stronger impetus toward family preservation, toward promoting social programs that keep children (who are often not orphans) out of orphanages. Maybe more Ethiopians will adopt in-country, meaning that children will retain their language, heritage, and culture.

Aselefech has been a long-standing proponent and advocate for family preservation. Having reunited with her Ethiopian family, she has said that some questions were answered, and some never will be. As an adoptive parent, I work toward a world where adoption isn’t needed: where medically fragile children can be cared for in their own country and with their own family of origin; where all children are safe and loved; and where no mother has to lose her child due to poverty or social stigma. In the meantime, I advocate for transparent, ethical adoptions that have resources for everyone, before and after the adoption.

I am hoping that Aselefech will write more. She blogs at EthioAmericanDaughter, and tweets at @AselefechE. She is the co-founder of Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora. I hope that other adopted people continue to write also, and to share their stories.

To close out this post, I want to remind folks of the great work being done by a number of organizations in Ethiopia. One is Bring Love In, an NGO in Addis that creates families with widows and orphans, rather than international adoption. Another is AHope For Children, which provides support to HIV+ children and aims to preserves families and reduce stigma. Another is Ethiopian Adoption Connection/Beteseb Felega. They have created a database for Ethiopian families and adoptees to find each other. We also support the work of Selamta, of Roots Ethiopia, and of the Lelt Foundation. There are many excellent organizations working to strengthen vulnerable families to prevent separation, to empower women, and to keep children in families. Please support them.


Great News: Adoptee Citizenship Legislation Introduced in US Congress

Thousands of now-adult international adoptees whose parents failed to get them citizenship when they were children might now become U.S. citizens. On March 8, a new Adoptee Citizenship bill was introduced in both the House and the Senate, with bipartisan sponsors. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo) and Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) introduced the Senate version, S. 2522.  On the House side, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) introduced H.R. 5233.

Both bills have been referred to the Judiciary Committee in their respective chambers. The text is not yet available, though it should be soon. I will post it as soon as possible. The description of both says the bill will “provide for automatic acquisition of United States citizenship for certain internationally adopted individuals.”

The Child Citizenship Act (CCA) of 2000 provided citizenship for adopted children under the age of 18 at the time the Act became law. Those who were over 18 were not included in the bill. According to a press release from Sen. Blunt, “The Child Citizenship Act (CCA) left thousands of international adopted children, who are now adults, in an untenable position, facing everything from difficulty applying for a passport to possible deportation…By fixing current law to meet the original goal of the CCA, we will help ensure these individuals have the security, stability, and opportunity their parents intended for them when they welcomed them into their families.”

The legislation would grant citizenship to international adoptees unless they have been found guilty of a violent crime and been deported. This exception has been a point of much discussion and contention around the legislation. Some 20+ international adoptees have been deported, some due to serious crimes, and some due to relatively minor crimes such as selling small amounts of marijuana. Others are under the eye of the Department of Homeland Security because they are without citizenship, but have not committed any crimes. There currently exists no easy or clear path for these adoptees to become citizens once they are over 18 years old. Some did not discover they were not citizens until they applied for a passport or for security clearance at work.

The Adoptee Rights Campaign (ARC) estimates that 35,000 international adoptees are without citizenship, and they will be helped by this much-needed legislation. ARC has been among the leaders on this legislation, along with many others who have urged Congress for years to enact this into law.

Next steps could be hearings, then passage in both the House and Senate, and then signature into law by the president. No one knows the timeframe, but many folks are optimistic that the bipartisan, bicameral introduction of the Adoptee Citizenship Act will help it pass expediently.

That’s certainly my hope. That thousands of international adoptees, brought to this country to join new families, did not automatically receive citizenship because their parents failed to get it or because of bureaucratic errors, has been an untenable, unfair reality that the Congress has taken far too long to rectify. This new legislation would provide a long overdue correction, one wanted by the sending countries, by the adoption community, and by the adoptees.

You can follow the progress of the House bill here, and the Senate bill here.

If COA Stops Accrediting Adoption Agencies, Will International Adoptions End to the USA?

New requirements could mean that the Council on Accreditation (COA) will no longer accredit adoption agencies to do international adoptions. That could have a devastating effect on programs around the world.

Anyone following international adoption knows that the numbers of adoptions have declined sharply in recent years. The reasons are many. The adoption agencies which are still operating must be accredited under The Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption and in accordance with the Universal Accreditation Act (UAA). COA has for years been the only accrediting entity.

On October 6, 2017, COA sent the following letter to adoption service providers (ASPs):

Dear Colleague,

As you know, the Department of State (the Department) is requiring COA to make significant changes in the nature and scope of our work in ways which will fundamentally change our responsibilities and role as an accrediting entity and which are inconsistent with COA’s philosophy and mission.

Additionally, we have serious concerns regarding the impact of these changes in terms of (a) the potential further reduction in the number of children who are afforded the opportunity of finding permanent homes in the United States by virtue of their countries of origin having found the activities underlying those changes to be an infringement of their sovereign rights or unduly burdensome; (b) the sustainability of small ASPs given the anticipated significantly increased accreditation fees and costs; and, (c) the capacity of prospective adoptive parents to pursue intercountry adoptions due to the pass through of these costs.

For more than 40 years, COA has been the leading accreditor of agencies providing child welfare services, including domestic and international adoption. We take these responsibilities very seriously. Accordingly, we have advised Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs, Carl Risch, that these and other changed circumstances will render COA unable to perform its duties as an Accrediting Entity.

The next step will be for COA to meet with the Department to discuss a resolution. If one is not reached, we will continue to provide accreditation services during a 14 month transitional period after which our designation as an accrediting entity will end.

What does this mean for you? For now, please know that it is “business as usual”. COA will continue to perform all of its accreditation and monitoring and oversight activities.
Given our long relationship with the Department and the adoption community and our commitment to supporting intercountry adoption, this has been a very difficult decision. It was taken only after lengthy consultations with members of the COA board, our senior staff and most especially with Jayne and her team. She and they have been and are nothing short of amazing.

Thank you and have a great weekend.

Richard Klarberg
President & CEO, Council on Accreditation

 

In July, the US State Department authorized a new accrediting entity for Hague Convention adoptions. This new entity does not have the years of experience that COA does, and COA has not been without its controversies and stumbling blocks. There are currently no other accrediting entities. If (and it’s a big if) COA no longer accredits adoption agencies, international adoption will be severely impacted.

The COA letter refers to increased costs and significant changes being required by the State Department. Among them could be this one: On October 5, 2017, the US State Department posted a “Foreign Supervised Provider Update.” The FAQ goes through the requirements that adoption service providers (ASPs) must adhere to in regard to their staff working in country. Agencies generally hire, for example, Ethiopians who speak English and Amharic (as well as perhaps other languages) to locate children who may need adoption, to translate documents, to file government forms, to assist adoptive parents, and other tasks involved in the adoption process in Ethiopia. The ASP is responsible for the behavior of their “foreign supervised providers,” (FSPs) who to my understanding are the people who help or facilitate the adoptions as opposed to those who are couriers, guards, or drivers, for example. To maintain accreditation, the ASPs must provide documentation to COA of their oversight of the foreign supervised providers.

If you read through the FAQ, it’s clear that the oversight isn’t always easy. Some FSPs are reluctant to disclose their fees or to sign documents about their services. My guess is that the requirements (which are not new) for FSPs have been difficult to implement, but may sometimes be part of the cause for fraud in adoptions; hence, the reason for the State Department to be ramping up the urgency that agencies comply.

I have no doubts that there are many other conversations occurring in regard to how to properly regulate international adoptions. It is an astonishingly complex task, one that has grown in complexity astronomically in the last decade or so. Adult adoptees are voicing concerns. Some advocate an end to intercountry adoption; many want to see much better accountability and transparency in the process. Adoptive and prospective adoptive parents are watching the global developments closely. Adoption agencies are contemplating and speculating on next steps.  Child welfare experts in the US and in other sending and receiving countries are no doubt considering many options. There are growing movements to end orphanages. It’s quite the perfect storm for international adoption. Here’s hoping the voices of adopted people and of birth/first parents will be clearly sought out and heard.

US Government Announces Plans to Track Social Media Use of Immigrants–Including International Adoptees

The United States government has announced a proposal to track the social media use of all immigrants, which will include international adoptees.

It’s chilling for its ramifications on free speech, privacy, and individual rights, with very little evidence to support ostensible benefits in terms of national security or anything else.

International adoptee enter the United States on visas, as the adopted children of U.S. citizens. They were not granted automatic citizenship until 2000, and even then their parents have to complete more paperwork for proof of citizenship. Meanwhile, as a result of the intercountry adoption process, the U.S. government and the sending country have files of information about the adoptee, the birth/first family, and the adoptive family. Info on the birth/first family may be limited, in the case of abandonment. Still, there will be police reports, the location of where the child was found, efforts made to locate parents, that sort of thing, some of which may be accurate. My point: The government has information about all adoptees at their time of entry into the United States.

Now, our government would like additional access to the social media use and more of all immigrants, which will include permanent residents and naturalized citizens.

According to Buzzfeed, which may have been the first to report on this, “The Department of Homeland Security published the new rule in the Federal Register last week, saying it wants to include ‘social media handles, aliases, associated identifiable information, and search results’ as part of people’s immigration file. The new requirement takes effect Oct. 18…This would also affect all US citizens who communicate with immigrants.”

I don’t want to be paranoid, but nor do I want to be naïve. This is as slippery a slope as we have been on in years, and the likelihood of perilous sliding is frightening.

Here are my thoughts on how the new requirement could affect adoptees and adoptive families:

  • While the federal government already has a lot of information about adoptees, this requirement opens many new doors. I belong to a Facebook group of parents of internationally adopted children and some were commenting on how ridiculous to track the Musicly and other social media accounts of their young children.

Probably. But here’s the thing: we all leave permanent footprints on the World Wide Web. More than that, children grow up. As teens and as young adults, adoptees–like every other teen/young adult–might make stupid choices in their social media use. The difference is that their use could be tracked, and potentially used against them, because they are immigrants, not beloved family members, in the eyes of our government.

 

  • The adoptive parents of some adult international adoptees failed to get citizenship for their children. Some adoptees are painfully aware of this, having been arrested and/or deported. Some adoptees think they are citizens but may not be. Some adoptees find out they are not U.S. citizenship when they register to vote, or apply for Social Security benefits, or get arrested. This new requirement could create a database which flags the social media use of international adoptees who are not citizens, and the ramifications are deeply troubling.

 

  • Parents and friends of immigrants could be surveilled for their social media interactions with adoptees and other immigrants. I am guessing this could happen regardless of the citizenship status of the parents and friends. See: slippery slope.

 

  • In the case of international adoptees, this requirement subjects U.S. citizens to be monitored because they legally entered the U.S. as immigrant children. The same government that approved them to be citizens is now singling them out to be monitored and surveilled. Is this what it means to be a citizen of the United States now? Is it simply a matter of time that *all* citizens, such as those of us born here, will also have our social media use monitored? Who knows? Who thought we would be at this point?

Here’s an excerpt from Fortune magazine:

“The proposal to collect social media data is set out in a part of the draft regulation that describes expanding the content of so-called “Alien Files,” which serve as detailed profiles of individual immigrants, and are used by everyone from border agents to judges. Here is the relevant portion:

The Department of Homeland Security, therefore, is updating the [file process] to … (5) expand the categories of records to include the following: country of nationality; country of residence; the USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Service) Online Account Number; social media handles, aliases, associated identifiable information, and search results.

The proposal follows new rules by the Trump Administration that require visitors from certain countries to disclose their social media handles, and allow border agents to view their list of phone contacts.

Those earlier measures alarmed civil rights advocates who questioned whether they would do much to improve security, and worried other countries would introduce similar screening of Americans. In response to the latest effort to collect social media data, the American Civil Liberties Union warned of a “chilling effect.”

“This Privacy Act notice makes clear that the government intends to retain the social media information of people who have immigrated to this country, singling out a huge group of people to maintain files on what they say. This would undoubtedly have a chilling effect on the free speech that’s expressed every day on social media,” the group said in a statement.

The new rules are currently subject to a comment period until Oct. 18 but, if they go into effect as planned, they will add yet more data to “Alien Files” that can already contain information such as fingerprints, travel histories, and health, and education records.”

 

So what to do? We all need to comment. You can comment anonymously (though these days, I wonder it that is actually possible; apologies for the cynicism but there we are.) You can post comments on behalf of someone else.

 

You may submit comments, identified by docket number DHS-2017-0038, by one of the following methods:

Federal e-Rulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the instructions for submitting comments.

Fax: 202-343-4010.

Mail: Jonathan R. Cantor, Acting Chief Privacy Officer, Privacy Office, Department of Homeland Security, Washington, DC 20528-0655.

My closing thoughts for today:

Please comment on the new rules, and share the information.

Adoptive parents should make sure that their children have all possible proofs of citizenship, especially the Certificate of Citizenship issued by the Department of Homeland Security, the same agency issuing these new rules.

Adoptive parents should join adult adoptees in demanding that citizenship be granted to all international adoptees. More information is available here, here, and via the Adoptee Rights Campaign.

If you are tempted to dismiss this as overly reactive, keep in mind that many internationally adopted children have been deported as adults. Some adoptees are in detention centers. Who would have thought that international adoptees, brought here as children with the approval of two governments, could be deported back to countries where they had no family, no language, no connection for help?

As we get more information from ACLU, from attorneys, and from immigration policy specialists, I will post information here or on Twitter (@LightOfDayStory).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Academic Analysis of Ethiopian Illegal Adoptions: A Sobering Roadmap

“Children for Families: An Ethnography of Illegal Intercountry Adoption From Ethiopia,” an article by Daniel Hailu, Ph.D., in Adoption Quarterly, provides a stunningly clear road map of how illegal adoptions have occurred in Ethiopia. His research corroborates many anecdotal experiences, discusses the impact of Ethiopian sociocultural views, and offers suggestions for reform.

The issue of illegal adoptions from Ethiopia has been simmering for years. I don’t think anyone has statistics on how many adoptions have been legal or illegal. Families have shared stories on Facebook. Adult adoptees have learned, after search and reunion, that their adoptive parents were not told the truth about why adoption was needed. Birth/first families were deceived or coerced into placing their children in an orphanage. Blame can be focused on many people: adoption agencies, police officers, brokers, government workers, adoptive families, first/birth families, and almost anyone involved with adoption and fees.

Adoptions from Ethiopia have declined dramatically in recent years. In May of this year, the Ethiopian government suspended adoptions, though it appears that children who were in the legal custody of their adoptive parents have been allowed to leave Ethiopia. I posted recently about the upcoming sentencing hearing of three International Adoption Guides’ officials, who have pled guilty to charges involving fraud and corruption in Ethiopia. A frequent source of debate on Facebook among adoptive families is whose adoption was fraudulent, whose adoption agency was checked out thoroughly, whose adoption was “clean.” Some prospective and new adoptive families discount the stories of families who have discovered lies and deceits in their children’s adoptions.

Dr. Hailu’s article describes how illegal and unethical adoptions occur. He interviewed 54 “informants,” people intimately engaged in adoptions in Ethiopia. He writes:

“At the root of illegal adoption are fabricated documentation and false testimonies that establish the legal basis for the subsequent adoption processes. Informants reported that these bases could not be established without the support and protection of local authorities, including some police officers.

An orphanage involved in illegal adoption perceived four major advantages in involving local authorities, as summarized by an informant:

First, local authorities facilitate identification of brokers from within the local community where orphanages have no other trusted link.

Second, officials in clandestine support brokers in recruiting children: The authorities identify children for potential adoption and also coax parents and guardians into giving their children away for adoption.

Third, the official expedites issuance of a letter of testimony that the orphanage needs from the kebele (neighborhood or ward) administration or the social court in order to take the case to the First Instance Court.

Fourth, the officials buffer the orphanage from any allegations that may be posed by any higher authority against recruiting an ineligible child.”

No one disputes, I hope, the role that money has played and continues to play in adoption. Between 1999 and 2016, some 15,300 Ethiopian children arrived in the U.S. Using a fee of $30,000 per adoption, some $459 million went from the U.S. to Ethiopian adoptions. Granted, not all of it went to Ethiopia. Still. Millions of dollars poured into Ethiopia from adoptive families, not just to the adoption agencies, but also to the orphanages, and to others working in the network to secure children for adoption.

Here is one matter-of-fact and chilling quote:

“The following description of a country representative of an adoption agency regarding the relationship between adoption agencies and orphanages is shared by several other informants in the industry:

‘Take my case as an example. I have entered adoption agreement worth millions. Neither UNICEF nor any government subsidizes me. Rather I get the money from adopting families. They expect me to give them babies. My boss expects babies. So, I expect the babies from the orphanages to whom I agreed to give part of the millions. It is a clean supply and demand relationship that exists among adopting families, adoption agencies, and orphanages. Essentially, we are providing children for families rather than finding families for children without parental care.’ ”

And how would country representatives or brokers convince families to place their babies and children in the orphanages, and thus for adoption?

That method, according to Dr. Hailu’s article, is also matter-of-fact and chilling.

“Three techniques were identified that brokers applied to coax parents and guardians into voluntary relinquishment of parental rights. The first was to appeal to the natural wish of parents for the future well-being of their children.

An informant explained:

As a first strategy, “Brokers would convince parents/guardians that it was better for the child to grow under better care than suffer with them: They promise that the child would be sent to [a] good school, eat well, [and] wear nice clothes and would generally live comfortable life. The brokers also give them the false promise that they would get to see the child once in a while whether the child is adopted locally or internationally.”

These promises have generally proven false, of course. Many adoptive parents and adopted persons have encountered Ethiopian birth parents who beg them to find out about the children they lost to adoption and have never heard from, despite the “promises” they were given. One important resource is Beteseb Felega—Ethiopian Adoption Connection, which has reunited many adoptees with their Ethiopian parents. Whether the adoptive parents had made the promise or not, many Ethiopian parents were told there would be contact. I’ve heard of adoptive parents finding out that the Ethiopian parents hoped to know if their children were alive and well—and the adoptive parents refused to respond. I hope they can face their adopted children and tell them this someday, as the children will grow up and likely find out their truths.

The second strategy of brokers to acquire children is to draw the attention of parents or guardians to their poverty and entice them with a promise of economic gain that they would potentially accrue by giving their child away for eventual adoption.

Another informant explained:

“The broker calls the attention of guardians to the financial assistance and visits that some guardians who have previously given away their children may have obtained from adopting families. There may be many such stories known to the people that brokers use for their purpose. For example, adopt[ive] parents of a child had sent money to the biological parents in our area, who used it to open their own beauty salon. Some guardians have reported to have come to the orphanage for the purpose of giving their bank account number to the adopting family in anticipation of transfers.”

The issue of how, whether, and how much adoptive families contribute to the financial support of their children’s Ethiopian families is a hot button topic. Some people feel it encourages other Ethiopian families to place their children for adoption, hoping to get a financial return, a concern borne out by Dr. Hailu’s article. Other parents feel it is their ethical right and responsibility to send their child’s siblings to school, or to buy a goat, or to wire money on a regular basis. It’s complicated. There is no question there has been an impact, in any case. I hope there will be more studies done, by the Ethiopian government or by academics, on the financial contributions to birth/first families.

In the third strategy, the broker capitalizes on the socially constructed prestige that could be accrued out of having a child living abroad.

“A related enticement is the social prestige that can be derived out of forging familial linkage with a ferenji (i.e., a white person). Although guardians are the main targets, these coaxing rhetorics have a stronger influence on older siblings of the child being prepared for adoption, who consider this a special opportunity presented to their younger siblings. This is due to increasing globalization that is creating an image of opportunities and affluence that may be available in the freng hager (i.e., the country of white people).

Consequently, in addition to persuasion by brokers, siblings who are too old to be adopted put pressure on their parents to place their younger siblings in the hope that the above reported social and economic benefit may eventually trickle down to them as well.”

Many adoptive parents have been told their children were abandoned. Dr. Hailu’s informants describe how the abandonment is staged.

“Staged abandoning of a child takes the form of a play in the theater. The play is written and directed by the broker. He also casts the characters and assigns them roles. In this drama the parents/guardians are coaxed into leaving the child at a predetermined place and time that is out of public view.

Soon after the child is seemingly abandoned, an assigned person reports the case to a predetermined police officer. The police officer who is ready to take on his role goes to the site and takes the child to the police station where all necessary records are made. The police officer then takes the child to the temporary custody of the orphanage on whose behalf the broker has directed the drama. The case is then taken to the First Instance Court.

Abandoned children pose much less procedural and legal challenges for orphanages. To begin with, the strategy is, informants reported, generally applied with infants who had not yet developed verbal capacities lest the child leak information regarding his or her guardians or the staged abandoning.”

While there is much information in this article to process, some of which is familiar to many, some of which will be eye-opening and jaw-dropping, Dr. Hailu also offers some solutions.

A referral system could enable unparented children to benefit from NGO services, and hence avoid institutional care and intercountry adoption. Hailu writes that “In Ethiopia, there already exist thousands of NGOs that provide community-based services to children. For example, 275 NGOs that are operational in Addis Ababa in 2013 had implemented more than 291 child-focused projects investing Birr 703, 641, 865 (Hailu, 2013). But there is currently no referral system to connect the children in need to the services that could be provided.”

Dr. Hailu also writes that “Informants reported that the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, when making decisions based on the recommendations of its regional counterparts, generally does not undertake an independent investigation about the child’s social economic status. This is partly because it lacks the institutional capacity to travel to the child’s locality of origin to conduct the investigation, and partly because regional governments could construe the attempt at independent investigation by the federal government as interfering in their autonomy.”

I believe Dr. Hailu is suggesting here that independent investigations by MOWA, if feasible and done with transparency, could provide oversight and confirmation of accuracy of reports from the regional governments.

Changing sociocultural attitudes about adoption in Ethiopia could also, Dr. Hailu suggests, help to minimize illegal adoptions.

In testifying that a child is an orphan or abandoned, “witnesses see their false testimony as an act of benevolence, or even socially required action, to both the child and family. If they refuse to falsely testify, they could be regarded as miqegna (literally means one who does not wish the good of others), with potential negative social repercussions. Therefore, transforming the cultural and social-psychological allure within local communities is a critical strategy to minimizing illegal intercountry adoption.

This may involve preventive interventions of systematic and sustained public education regarding child rights, the adverse impacts of institutional care and intercountry adoption on children, and legal adoption processes. It also requires protective interventions of strict legal enforcement against participation in illegal intercountry adoption.”

In terms of the financial incentives inherent in international adoption, Dr. Hailu writes that “criminalizing direct adoption-related transactions between adoption agencies and orphanages” could be effective. “This will require setting up a centralized agency under a relevant ministry managed by a public/private partnership. The agency may be part of a national social welfare system that may be mandated to undertake individualized assessment of each unparented child and refer the child to various alternative care options including intercountry adoption.

As part of the welfare system, institutional care providers may be given subcontracts or grants by the centralized agency (and not by adoption agencies) to provide institutional foster care until a better placement is found for the child. Measures to ensure accountability and transparency in the operations of the agency need to be put in place in order to prevent officers of the agency from establishing corrupt relationships with adoption agencies and orphanages.”

There are many possible ways to curb or perhaps end fraud in adoptions from Ethiopia. They require diligence, funding, infrastructure, marketing, training, and sustainable capacity. I know many people and organizations argue that ending international adoptions is the only way to end the fraud and corruption. I know others who say that adoptions should continue only for children with special needs who cannot get appropriate (life-saving) care in Ethiopia. Others argue that adoptions, not life in abject poverty in an orphanage, would be best.

I’d argue that family preservation, orphan prevention, and in-country adoption are goals that everyone who cares about Ethiopian children should prioritize. I’ve written about the many ways to help children in Ethiopia: If Adoptions Decline, What Happens to the Children?

I hope Dr. Hailu’s article, which is available here (a paywall), will be widely read by anyone connected with Ethiopian adoptions, or who has an interest in child welfare. Although I was familiar with much of this information anecdotally, it is quite powerful to see it set in academic terms.

Ultimately, of course, it is Ethiopia’s decision to decide how to end fraud in Ethiopian adoptions, and how to make enact policies that best help children. I believe there are many in the adoption community who are watching the next steps carefully, and who are willing to help. I hope that, in addition to the usual government workers or international lawyers or lobbying groups, Ethiopian adoptees and birth/first families play a vibrant role in any discussions.