Think Twice Before Signing That Petition About International Adoptions

Why wouldn’t everyone sign a petition to increase international adoptions? Don’t we all want orphans to have families?

Well, there are many reasons not to sign.

One is because many of the children in orphanages (and placed for adoption) are not in fact orphans at all.

Another is that there are multiple ways besides international adoption to help vulnerable children, many of which are far more cost efficient and could help many more children.

Another reason is that essentially emotional petitions like this ignore the horrific treatment of too many first parents, who were often misled about the realities of having all rights severed, and in any case receive no post-adoption counseling or resources whatsoever from the adoption agencies who support the petition.

I’m going to argue, though, that the main reason not sign this petition is this.

You shouldn’t sign the petition because of who is behind it: adoption agencies and adoption lawyers. I am not attacking them. It is, after all, in their interest to increase international adoptions, and some indeed have a genuine desire to help children.

My focus is on the fact that there are virtually no international adoptee groups who support this petition. There are no international birth parents.

That’s right: No adult adoptee groups have endorsed the petition, with the exception of a small, inactive group that is affiliated with the adoption agency previously headed by the main person behind the petition.

I understand the obvious difficulties in logistics of having birth/first parents participate. It’s not impossible, though. As it is, international birth parents are not even mentioned in this ostensible effort to promote international adoptions. That is very telling, and may be the biggest reason not to sign the petition.

Until there is vocal, vibrant support from international adult adoptees and from birth parents, why should any of us support a petition to increase international adoptions? This petition is merely the product of adoptive parents, adoption agencies, and adoption attorneys, and that is not acceptable.

If you need additional reasons not to sign, here are a few more.

The petition fails to even mention one of the most burning issues in international adoption today: the need for retroactive citizenship for all international adoptees. Imagine if all these website owners, adoption agencies, and adoptive parents put their money, time, and energy into demanding that all international adoptees be granted citizenship. Imagine.

The petition fails to mention another burning issue in the adoption community: the re-homing of internationally adopted children, whether done illicitly, or through Second Chance adoptions, or via the US foster care system. How can adoption agencies and adoption attorneys call for more adoptions when there are children whose adoptions are being dissolved and who are being re-traumatized by losing another family?

The petition also fails to mention the ongoing incidents of fraud and corruption in international adoption. Agencies have been investigated, indicted, shut down. Adoptees have found that they were not orphans, contrary to what the adoption agencies told the adoptive parents. How has the industry addressed these realities, even as they are calling for more adoptions?

The petition itself was created by Nathan Gwilliam, the founder and CEO of adoption.com, and Board member of the National Council For Adoption. You’ll see the initials “N.G.” on the petition site. Though not personally connected to adoption, he has used his site to heavily promote the petition, as well as appearing on conservative venues such as the Lars Larson show. Gwilliam also appeared recently on the Glenn Beck show with Ron Stoddart, who is touting the petition heavily on the site Save Adoptions.

The petition is the result of the simmering disputes between the State Department and international adoption agencies. The simplified bottom line is this: The State Department wanted more rigorous standards for adoption service providers. The erstwhile accrediting entity, the Council on Accreditation (COA), felt that the standards were too burdensome/unnecessary, and announced it was withdrawing from accrediting under the Hague Convention. The State Department designated a new entity, IAMME, which will charge more and have 20 paid staff (COA had 4 staff people, and used volunteers from adoption agencies to facilitate the accreditation of other agencies). Adoption agencies and State have been at loggerheads for months over the standards and the fees. Agencies argue that State is trying to end international adoptions, and State argues that more stringent standards are necessary and that the fees will not be as burdensome as the agencies suggest.

Here’s the petition’s mission statement:

We the People, recognizing a child’s right to a family when one is not available in his/her birth country and the loving character of American families, ask President Trump to investigate the causes of the 80% decline in intercountry adoptions since 2004 and to solve the U.S. international adoption crisis. The leadership of the Office of Children’s Issues (at the US Department of State) has been unresponsive to collaborating with the adoption community to solve problems and continues to reinterpret regulations in ways unintended by Congress in the Hague Intercountry Adoption Act. We need pro-adoption leadership who will increase the number of ethical adoptions. The adoption community stands ready to work with the Administration to implement various achievable solutions to help orphans find loving, permanent families.

Ron Stoddart is listed on Save Adoptions as the Contact for the petition. Stoddart is an adoptive parent, is an attorney, and was the executive director of Nightlight Christian Adoptions, an adoption agency licensed in several states. The agency is Hague-accredited, and offers domestic adoption services as well as international adoption programs in 18 countries. They also offer Snowflakes, their frozen embryo adoption/donation service. Stoddart is currently on Nightlight’s Board of Directors.

Ron Stoddart of Save Adoptions

Among the Partners listed on Save Adoptions web page are some 80 adoption agencies and attorneys. The lone adoptee group is Adopted For Good—The Coalition of Adoptees. It is clearly closely affiliated with Stoddart’s agency, Nightlight Adoptions. Stoddart is on the group’s Board of Directors, along with the VP of Operations for Nightlight. The group itself appears inactive. The last post on its Forum was in 2015. That’s it for international adoptees as “Partners.” I found no indication that there are any international birth parents as partners for Save Adoption.

Also, at least three adoption agencies listed as Partners are no longer accredited for international adoption: Amazing Grace Adoptions, Faith International, and Adoption S.T.A.R. The State Department announcements on these and four other agencies whose accreditation has expired is available here and here.

International adoptions have declined, not just in the U.S. but around the globe, for many reasons. Several sending countries (for example, Russia, Guatemala, Ethiopia) have closed or cut back on the number of children sent abroad for adoption. Fraud and corruption have grabbed headlines. Sending countries have expressed grave concern that the U.S. does not grant citizenship automatically to all international adoptees, and indeed has deported some. Some countries are working to promote in-country adoption. Evangelical Christians who once heavily promoted adoption are now revamping their approach toward orphan prevention. The abuse and deaths of internationally adopted children have made sending countries deeply troubled about the well-being of their children. The failure of adoptive parents to send in post-placement reports has caused sending countries to slow or end adoptions.

None of that is mentioned in the rationale for the petition.

Instead, the petition declares that the cause is the Office of Children’s Issues, a narrow focus indeed. This fight between State and adoption agencies may not be settled for a long time. IAMME needs time to do its accreditation work, even as more adoption agencies seem to be opting out of accreditation and adoption every week. The State Department is throwing down more gauntlets around adoption practices such as soft referrals, and agencies are pushing back. State, IAMME, and adoption agencies are scrapping over the new fees that IAMME is implementing. Regulations for monitoring and oversight are especially contentious, which is no surprise, given the vagaries and history of intercountry adoptions. One of the hardest and most important responsibilities of adoption agencies is ensuring that they are closely monitoring their staff on the ground in the countries from which they are placing children.

To wrap up: (1) We all want to help vulnerable children, and we all agree that children deserve safe, loving families. Adoption is not the right solution for all children by any means. The far greater emphasis should be on family preservation, sponsorship programs, literacy, clean water, electricity, job training, medications, and all the other benefits of life in the countries to which children are adopted because they and their families don’t have those benefits in their home countries.

(2) This current debate has the echoes of CHIFF, 2015 legislation ostensibly designed to streamline the adoption process. The CHIFF proponents are almost all the same folks now clamoring for this petition. CHIFF failed miserably for many reasons:  Adoptees and birth parents were not included in policy discussions or as supporters. CHIFF proponents hammered away at the State Department through personal and emotional attacks, ultimately alienating many people who could have been partners. Apparently, the petition folks did not draw any lessons from the CHIFF debacle.

(3) Don’t sign the petition. Until the adoption community genuinely places adoptees and first/birth parents on the same plane as adoptive parents in terms of resources, respect, and visibility, and until the adoption industry addresses issues such as citizenship, re-homing, fraud, and corruption, we cannot move ahead to meaningful policy in international adoption.

The petition, by the way, is aiming for 100,000 signatures; they have about 30,000 now, with one more week to get the remaining 70,000.

 

Post script: For more information about the current tensions between the Department of State and adoption agencies, please take a look at adoptionintegrity.com for several detailed explanations about these and other issues. They have several solid analyses about accrediting entities and an informative, balanced video about the tensions. 

 

 

What NPR Got Wrong in its Story About Ethiopia’s Adoption Ban

NPR recently did a soft story: “In Ethiopia, A New Ban on Foreign Adoptions Is About National Pride.”

Here’s what went wrong with it:

In a story about Ethiopian adoptions, not one adult adoptee was included for perspective. Nor was an Ethiopian birth parent quoted, if any were even consulted.

The tragic death of Ethiopian adoptee Hana Williams was glossed over. Her murder by her adoptive parents was considered homicide by abuse, and roiled the Ethiopian adoption community as well as Ethiopians in Ethiopia and in the diaspora.

Fraud and corruption didn’t even get a mention in this story. Staff from one agency were indicted by the US Justice Department, pled guilty, and were given jail time. That’s not insignificant. Many adoptive families and adoptees from Ethiopia have learned that the reasons that adoption agencies provided for their adoption were not true or accurate. For example, many adoptees have living birth family members, though the adoptive parents  were told the children were orphans. A conversation with adult adoptees who have searched and reunited with their Ethiopian parents would bear this out multiple times.

Further, there are Ethiopian adoptees who have been “re-homed” when the adoptive family cannot or will not care for them anymore. There are Ethiopian adoptees in the US foster care system. Ethiopian adoptees have annulled their adoptions.

There are many ways to help vulnerable Ethiopian children and families that do not involve adoption.

Oh NPR. You’re certainly not the only news service to omit adult adoptees and birth parents when discussing adoption issues. The impulse apparently is to engage adoptive parents, and that’s it. Well, sometimes prospective adoptive parents are also interviewed. Birth parents and adult adoptees are afterthoughts, if they are considered at all.

And that tired narrative, that lazy approach, has to stop.

Media: Don’t give the mic solely to adoptive parents. And maybe not to them at all.

The main person interviewed and photographed for the story by NPR East Africa  Correspondent Eyder Peralta is a white woman from Ohio who has adopted two Ethiopian children, the second one in January when the Ethiopian Parliament passed a law ending international adoptions.

Thus the only person with a role in adoption who was interviewed to talk about Ethiopian adoption was a white woman of very young children. Not an Ethiopian adoptee, nor an Ethiopian birth parent, either of whom could have provided far more insight into the impact of the ban on adoptions in Ethiopia than a new adoptive parent. I say that as an adoptive parent whose Ethiopian children are now 29 years old.

Why Ethiopia ended adoption: (1) Failure of adoptive parent to keep children connected with their heritage and culture

The first point here, and it is not a part of the story at all, is that Ethiopia has the right to make decisions about its children. The rest of us can disagree, but recognizing the Ethiopian government’s rights as a sovereign nation is important.

The reasons the Ethiopian government provided for the ban on adoption had to do (1) with the adopted children losing their heritage and connection with culture and (2) the response to the murder of Hana Williams.

In the NPR story, Peralta writes about Niki and Brad Huelsman, the white parents who adopted their Ethiopian son in January, saying “They want Girma and his 6-year-old sister to learn about their heritage.” Unfortunately, there is no discussion or insight here about how complex that learning can be, how deeply racism impacts black Americans, and the fact that the Huelsman family’s village of Morrow, Ohio, is 96% white. Are these two Ethiopian children a significant part of the 0.4% of African-Americans in the tiny town?

That sort of pointed question is a valid one in the context of Ethiopian adoptions, and especially when, as Peralta writes, Ethiopian lawmakers ended adoptions because they were “worried that Ethiopian children taken abroad could suffer identify crises and psychological problems.” The adoptive parent confirms those fears of the Ethiopian lawmakers. The children featured in the article will be raised in a small, white village in Ohio, and unless the family is moving to a far more diverse area, the children will likely grow up loved and also lacking in a genuine sense of what it means to be Ethiopian, black, and Ethiopian-American—exactly one of the fears of Ethiopian lawmakers.

Why Ethiopia ended adoption: (2) The death of adoptee Hana Williams and abuse of adoptee Immanuel Williams at the hands of their adoptive parents

The Ethiopian government was also concerned with the physical abuse of their children. I was deeply disappointed when Peralta referred to Hana Williams but did not say her name. In fact, all he said was that the “Ethiopian child from Seattle died after she was left outside in the cold,” a description that is dismissive, disrespectful, and insufficient.

Hana died from hypothermia and from malnutrition, having wasted away to a weight (78 pounds, at age 13) that was less than what she weighed on arrival from Ethiopia three years prior to her death. She died from abuse and torture she endured over a period of months, having been locked in closets, made to eat outdoors, being given frozen food to eat, being forced to shower outside, having her head shaved because she cut the grass too short, and otherwise slowly abused to death. Her adoptive mother was convicted of homicide by abuse. Her adoptive father was convicted of manslaughter.

Hana Alemu (Williams)

Hana died, and her adopted Ethiopian brother Immanuel also was abused; he will bear the lifelong scars. Hana’s tragic death in 2011 at the hands of her adoptive parents horrified Ethiopians around the world. It horrified many people, including adoptive parents like me, as well as adoptees and of course birth parents in Ethiopia.

Yes, it is an isolated incident. We all understand that. But the fact that it happened was jarring at best for anyone who had previously thought that Ethiopian children were being adopted to a better life. We cannot talk about the adoption ban without consideration of that mindset.

The Bigger Picture on Adoption

The NPR story ended with a wistful, naïve, narrow note:

“The Huelsmans made it back to the United States in January with Girma in their arms ‘This transition is about as good as it could have gone,’ Brad Huelsman said. Big sister is a little jealous, but Girma has learned to love the family dogs and has even adjusted to the cold. ‘Sometimes I look at him even now and think I can’t believe he’s home,’ Niki Huelsman said.

But it’s a shame, they say, that other American families won’t know this joy.”

The naiveté is the notion that adoption is about bringing joy to American families. NO. Adoption from Ethiopia is/was not about bringing joy to American families. It was, and should have been, about finding families for Ethiopian children who have endured loss and trauma, and who genuinely have no other options.

Adoption also has to be about acknowledging the losses by the Ethiopian birth families, and the fact that adoption agencies offered them virtually no follow-up or counseling post-adoption, in marked contrast to what is offered to adoptive parents. In my trips to Ethiopia, and I’ve heard this from other visiting adoptive families, it is not at all unusual to have Ethiopian birth parents show tattered photos and ask adoptive parents, “Do you know where my child is?” Unlike American adoptive parents, Ethiopian birth parents rarely have received any sort of counseling or post-adoption services from the adoption agencies, or even any information about their children, though oftentimes they had been promised they would get news. An important resource has been Beteseb Felega, Ethiopian Adoption Connection, which has reunited many Ethiopian birth parents with their children.

For my final note here, I will say that while there will be no more adoptions for the foreseeable future, adoptive parents and others can still help vulnerable children in Ethiopia. The NPR story, like so many that follow only the tired narrative, seems to suggest that only adoption can help the children, and that is simply not true. There are sponsorships available, for some $30 or $50 a month, far less than the $50,000 for a single adoption, that will allow children to go to school, to have decent meals, to receive much needed medications. Roots Ethiopia provides (among other resources) supplies for children with Down syndrome.

Here’s a post that skims the surface of the multiple ways to help Ethiopian children and families.

We need to stop romanticizing adoption as a delightful fairy tale and acknowledge the losses as well as the gains. We need to insist that the voices of adult adoptees and of birth parents be at least equal with those of adoptive parents; I’d argue they should be considered the ones with greatest insight in adoption. And we need to stop throwing up our hands and acting as if international adoption is the only way to help vulnerable Ethiopian children.

Here’s hoping media catches up with this reality, and stops promoting stories that don’t begin to tell the full story.

 

Post script: Be sure to take a look at an Ethiopian adoptee’s comments on Twitter: @AselefechE

Consider emailing Eyder Peralta, the writer of the NPR story, at eperalta@npr.org, or tweeting your comments about the story to @NPR and to the writer, @eyderp.

Four International Adoption Agencies Lose Accreditation Status

Update: Another international adoption agency, Chinese Children Adoption International (CCAI), has had its accreditation temporarily suspended, according to a March 15 email from the U.S. State Department.

The US State Department announced today that two international adoption agencies (Journeys of the Heart and La Vida International) have failed to renew their Council on Accreditation (COA) accreditation under the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption. State also announced that Voice for International Development and Adoption (VIDA) has had its COA accreditation cancelled, and Adopt Abroad Inc has been temporarily suspended by COA.

That’s a lot of loss in international adoption business. Is it a trend? An augur?

COA had announced last October that it was no longer going to accredit adoption agencies under the Hague Convention. The State Department has been working with a new accreditor, IAAME, which is supposed to be up and running soon. IAAME’s website can be viewed here. There has been a lot of tension among IAAME, the adoption community, and the State Department over the accreditation process and its costs. The news today that four agencies have lost or not sought renewal of accreditation is daunting. It arguably decreases the pool of adoption agencies who will be accredited under IAAME, and that could have an impact on international adoptions, as well as the costs overall and the work of the new accreditor.

State Department announcement about Journeys of the Heart and La Vida International

State Department list of agencies debarred or cancelled for Hague (needs to be updated)

National Council For Adoption information about advocacy on accreditation

Article  “Tension Between State Department, Accreditor over Intercountry Adoptions”

COA website information about accreditation 

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.

Ethiopian Parliament Officially Ends Intercountry Adoptions

May the children in need not be forgotten. May the Ethiopian families get answers about the children they placed for adoption. May adoptees find their truths and their families.

After months of speculation, since an official suspension in May 2017, the Ethiopian Parliament has voted to end intercountry adoptions. Some in the adoption community will rejoice in the news, saying the ending is long overdue, given concerns about trafficking and abuse of adopted children. The case of Hana Williams has haunted so many, and has indeed been cited as a reason for this ban on adoptions.

Some will mourn, especially prospective adoptive parents somewhere in the process, including those misled by adoption agencies recently about the imminent reality of no more adoptions.

I’d guess adoptees and first/birth parents will have a range of emotions. I have no doubt that adoption was a salvation for some adoptees, and a nightmare for others. The bribery and corruption that vividly colored adoption are well-known. For the Ethiopian parents who placed their children and were misled by adoption agencies (purposely or inadvertently) about the reality of adoption being a legal, permanent end of any ties or obligations, and for those who (like some American first parents) saw adoption as offering their children more than they could provide—well, I believe these parents are too often the most forgotten in the whole adoption process.

© Original artwork by Adanech Evans

 

 

My biggest concern at this point is this: the end of adoption does not mean the end of the needs of vulnerable children in Ethiopia, whether they are in orphanages, on the street, or with their families. Can and will Ethiopia step up to address their needs in a humane, effective way? What will the end of millions of dollars for intercountry adoption mean for the government and the children? Will adoptive parents around the globe try to help children via nonprofits working to promote literacy, jobs, clean water, and health care—or will they sigh and turn away?

 

Will adoptees—tens of thousands around the world—be fully recognized and welcomed as part of the diaspora?

Ethiopia is in great political flux now: perhaps prisoners are being released from horrific jails, perhaps the government will allow more freedom of the press, perhaps protestors are being suppressed and killed, perhaps roads are safe to travel, perhaps the unrest will be addressed rather than repressed and crushed.

And heaven knows we have plenty to focus on here in the United States, in terms of the needs of vulnerable people.

Adoption is one solution for the care of children who need families, though anyone in the adoption community recognizes how damaged the process has become: so much fraud, corruption, mistreatment, lack of oversight, lies, and abuse. That said, I’ve known many Ethiopian adoptees who were indeed genuine orphans, who were adopted along with siblings, and who are certain that their lives are far better as a result of adoption.

Adoption helps a small portion of children who need families, or, more likely, whose families need help to keep their children. The focus must now be, as it always should have been, on orphan prevention, in country adoption, and family preservation.

My fellow adoptive parents: don’t throw your hands up. Make sure your children have strong, genuine connections to Ethiopia and, whenever possible, to their Ethiopian families. And please don’t forget the children who remain behind. We have a deep obligation to them, as much as to our own beloved adopted children. All that money, time, and energy we put into the adoption process: let’s put it into the protection, safety, and future of the other, equally important children we may never know.

I’ll be talking to Ethiopian adoptees about this in the days to come. Meanwhile, I have written before about ways adoptive parents and others can help, and I will continue to write about those organizations doing good, important, transparent work. Don’t close the door on vulnerable children: adoption may have ended, but the children still need us.

Here are links to the announcement:

Ethiopia Bans Foreign Adoption

Ethiopia outlaws adoption of its children by foreigners

Ethiopia’s lawmakers approve ban on foreign adoptions

BBC: Ethiopia bans foreign adoptions

 

 

Adoptive Parents: How Can You Best Participate in National Adoption Awareness Month?

By insisting on letting the voices of adoptees and of first/birth parents be heard.

November is National Adoption Awareness Month, an event which, like adoption itself, is far more complex that it may seem on the surface.

The word “awareness” is pivotal. Originally, the month was intended to bring focus to the need for adoptions from foster care. That focus, like the original intent of the adoption tax credit, has grown much larger, blurrier, and even controversial. What could be controversial about adoption, you ask? Children in families, feel good narratives, tear-jerker holiday specials, cute videos, win-win. Here’s the thing: there are valid elements in all that. There are also harsher realities that are often excluded in the understanding of the adoption mainstream, and we all have to be willing to look at and acknowledge them, perhaps especially this month.

Photo © Maureen McCauley

So, as an adoptive parent myself, I urge adoptive parents to look for and listen especially to the voices of adult adoptees and of first/birth parents this month.

Here are a few sites, in random order. There are many more. I’ll be posting more though the month, as well as interviews with adult adoptees and with first/birth mothers.

Dear Adoption (Essays by adoptees)

Lost Daughters generally, and about #flipthescript specifically (A collective of women writers who were adopted or fostered)

AdopteesOn (Podcasts of interviews with adopted adults)

The Adopted Life (Blog and more by a U.S. transracial adoptee; subject of Closure documentary)

I Am Adoptee (Resource group created by adoptees for adoptees)

Musings of the Lame (Blog by a U.S. birthmother)

Saving Our Sisters (Family preservation site working with women considering placing their children for adoption)

Anti-Adoption (Facebook group focused on publicly exposing the problems in adoption)

Only Black Girl (Blog of U.S. transracial adoptee)

Adoptee Rights Campaign (Advocating for U.S. citizenship for all international adoptees adopted to the U.S.)

First Mother Forum (Where first/birth/real/natural mothers can talk and vent)

There are many more. I urge adoptive parents to use this month to learn, to feel uncomfortable and challenged, and to seek ways to educate themselves and others about the full breadth of adoption.

When Adopted Children Are Killed, Who Is Responsible?

When an adopted child is killed by his/her adoptive parents, is the adoption agency that did the home study complicit?

Generally, the agency that did the home study and approved the parents to adopt is the same one that does any required post-adoption reports. There may often be a second agency that does the actual selection and placement of the child from the country of origin. The legal responsibilities are generally clear. What ethical responsibility does the agency have, in screening prospective parents for potential abuse or worse of their children? What about after the placement has occurred?

Pound Pup Legacy provides sobering information about U.S. and international adoptions in which adoptees have been killed, abused, deported, or otherwise harmed. I imagine little Sherin Mathews will soon appear there. She is the three-year-old child from India recently found dead in Texas. Her adoptive father has been arrested. 

Media reports indicate that Holt International, based in Oregon, was the agency that did the home study, placement, and post-placement work for the adoption of Sherin Mathews. I am guessing that a local agency or affiliate in Texas did the study and the post-placement visits. Did Holt miss something?

In any required post-placement visits, did the social worker, who is a mandated reporter for child abuse, miss hints of danger?

Adoption Advocates International, the agency that approved the adoption of Hana Williams and Immanuel Williams, declared bankruptcy and went out of business in 2014. Hana and Immanuel are the Ethiopian adoptees whose adoptive parents, Larry and Carri Williams, were found guilty for Hana’s murder and for abuse of Immanuel. An AAI staffer testified at the trial about both the home study and the post-placement reports.

Hyunsu O’Callaghan, a Korean adoptee killed by his adoptive father, was placed as a special needs child through Catholic Charities. According to Pound Pup Legacy, Holt Korea (an affiliate of Holt International) was the facilitating agency in Korea.

There are, sadly, many other examples of adopted children killed by their adoptive parents. India, Ethiopia, Korea, and other countries look very closely at these tragedies: Their children were uprooted from their country so that they could be safer and better cared for.

I also think of the child’s parents in the country of origin: When the parents are known, does the adoption agency notify them? What is the ethical if not legal responsibility to them? Does the State Department, which may well have the information in their files? Does anyone provide counseling or support to the parents? I realize that there is no longer a legal connection between the parents and the child. That does not mean that the parents have forgotten the child at all.

What, if any, responsibility does the adoption agency bear?

Would more rigorous home studies screen out parents who are (or become) abusive and worse? Would more stringent and frequent post-placement visits help? There are lots of people looking at this, and legislative proposals being considered. I think we have to look at accreditation as well: Holt is fully accredited by the Council on Accreditation, which may soon no longer accredit international adoption agencies.

Photo by © Maureen McCauley

Any child killed is a tragedy. A child killed by his or her parents shocks us; when those parents are adoptive parents, the shock reverberates. Adoption is supposed to mean a better life for a child who needs a family. The home study and the whole adoption process are supposed to prepare parents, and to screen out those who should not be parents. When things go horribly wrong, and a child is abused or killed by those who are supposed to love and protect her, can we count on the judicial system for justice? What do we say to the countries of origin who have to believe that the families have been vetted and approved? What are the responsibilities to the child’s family in the country of origin?

It may be that there was no way to predict what happened to Sherin, Hana, Immanuel, Hyunsu, and all the others. Still. Better preparation seems a minimal standard. More adoption-competent social workers seems minimal. A mandated and enforced special level of oversight for all adoptive families might be an improvement, perhaps a proactive step to preventing any further deaths. Adoptive families often do not want to pay for additional visits or inquiries post-placement, beyond the state requirements. Non-enforceable post-placement reports are often not sent in by adoptive parents, even as the country of origin requests them. The U.S. Department of State, for example, has posted an alert about Ukraine‘s requirement for these reports. I suspect Ukraine is not alone in not receiving the reports on a timely basis. Other countries may not have the infrastructure to translate, file, and follow-up on the hundreds and thousands of reports; knowing this, some families just stop sending them.

It is heartbreaking to hear of these deaths. Is it naïve to think we can prevent them?

 

Ethiopia Moves to Officially End International Adoption

Several Ethiopian news sources have reported that the Ethiopian Parliament is considering a new draft bill amending current law to end the adoption of Ethiopian children by foreigners. What are the reasons? No doubt there are many. Ezega news reported that the “inability by biological parents to trace their children and adoptees being denied the chance to communicate with their biological parents have been major issues that have been echoed in parliament.”

Those two reasons—Ethiopian parents being unable to learn anything about their children post-adoption, and adoptees being unable (due to adoptive parents’ refusal?) to contact their Ethiopian parents—exemplify deceitful practices by adoption facilitators who promised Ethiopian parents they would have contact with their children after adoption, though there was no guarantee of that since adoption permanently severs ties legally. The reasons also represent lost opportunities for adopted children (who grow up, and who I hope will learn their truths) to know their Ethiopian parents, even as they were raised by adoptive parents in the United States and elsewhere.

According to U.S. Department of State statistics, over 15.000 children were adopted from Ethiopia to the U.S. between 1999 and 2016, and of course thousands of others to Canada, Europe, and Australia. About 50% were three years old or younger at the time of adoption. In 1994, when my twin daughters arrived at six years old, there were 54 other Ethiopian children adopted to America. Adoption from Ethiopia has been fraught for years with so much: the murder of adoptee Hana Williams, the federal indictment of the adoption agency International Adoption Guides for fraud and corruption, and at least two temporary suspensions of adoptions by Ethiopia. At least three Ethiopian adoptees, from Netherlands and Denmark, annulled their adoptions. Many families discovered that the children they adopted were not orphans at all, but children who had clear and vivid memories of their mothers and families. Many families traveling back to Ethiopia with their adopted children encountered Ethiopian mothers desperately searching for their children. Adult adoptees have traveled to Ethiopia in search of their original families and have sometimes found them, finding also that their Ethiopian families had been deceived into placing them for adoption. Some have been unable to locate their original families, despite great efforts to do so.

While there certainly have been new families formed for children who needed them, there have also been multiple scandals and heartaches.

The Ezaga article notes that “due to problems especially with foreign adopters, over the past few years the issue of adoption has been stirring heated debates among various members of the community, including MPs (Members of Parliament).”

Ethiopian officials have been watching closely what has happened to the children adopted from Ethiopia. So have Ethiopians in the diaspora, as well as those in cafes in Addis, or in Hawassa, Shashemene, Gambela, and elsewhere.

There are many reasons for ending adoptions, especially those adoptions that resembled trafficking much more than any ideal of child welfare. Maybe the precise reasons don’t even matter, though I am not dismissing the tragedies of families deceived and the losses of children who were never orphans.

That said, what also matters now is what happens to the children who genuinely need families, and especially those who need medical care that is not available or not provided in Ethiopia.

Ending adoption does not mean that children don’t still need help, safety, and families. I often wonder about the children in Russia after Putin ended adoptions to the US, and in Guatemala after adoptions ended there. The needs of the children remain as extensive as ever.

So yes, let’s hope that domestic in country adoption will be a priority. Let’s hope that family preservation will flourish, and that there will not be more children dying, or begging in the streets, or suffering in isolation. As the Ethiopian officials have watched adoptive families, let’s hope the world watches and helps them to care for Ethiopian children. Perhaps Ethiopia will establish adoption programs for older children and for children with special needs, rather than ending all adoptions. Perhaps efforts like this campaign to help an Ethiopian child with a rare, painful disease, difficult to treat in Ethiopia, will gain more support–it’s a great example of family preservation. Please help if you can.

Sofoniyas and his mother

 

Let’s hope that the community of adoptive parents will rise up. In so many ways, we should be the ones leading the charge to make sure that, whenever possible, children can grow up not adopted but with their original families, and within their original cultures. No more saviorism or rescuing. It’s time for us to step up and support our children’s brothers and sisters.

 

 

Let’s hope adult adoptees continue to connect with Ethiopia, and with their Ethiopian families, with the support of their adoptive families. Let’s hope that the Ethiopian families who are searching for their children, for the knowledge that their children are alive, will be able to gain information, and maybe someday, peace.

Let’s hope this is a wake up call for anyone involved with adoption about the role of money and the vulnerability of children.

And let’s do a lot more than just hope. In the next few weeks, I’ll be posting information about ways to sponsor children and to promote family preservation, for far less than the cost of even one international adoption. It’s time.

 

 

 

 

 

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).