Korean Adoptees, Scholars, Activists Call For End to International Adoption

A large and impressive group of scholars, activists, adopted persons, and adoption practitioners has sent a Declaration Calling For An Immediate End to the Industrial International Adoption System from South Korea. (My thanks to @Koreanadoptee76 for the link; see swedishkoreanadopteesnetwork.wordpress.com.) Directed to the government of South Korea’s president Moon Jae-in, the declaration calls on the government  to do the following:

  • Terminate international adoptions from South Korea
  • Improve support for unwed mothers and for their children
  • Implement comprehensive post-adoption services
  • Audit adoption agencies
  • Address citizenship failures
  • Provide adequate services to deported adoptees

The signatories are many. This is an impressive, important document, not just in terms of South Korea, but for international adoption globally.

Korean adoptees are the largest and oldest group of international adoptees. They number in the hundreds of thousands, and range in age into their 60’s. Their decades of experiences provide solid information about the impact of adoption: some good, some bad, all over the spectrum. Many in the adoption community look to them as historians of an important past and as bellwethers of the future of adoption.

Having this group of academics, activists, adult adoptees, and many adoptee organizations call for an end to international adoption from Korea is extraordinarily significant. The call, which I’d argue has been simmering a long time, is partly in response to the tragedy of Korean adoptee Phillip Clay’s deportation and suicide, partly to the deportation of other adoptees from the U.S., partly to the need for better post-adoption services, and partly to demands that more resources be provided to single mothers in Korea, an economically vibrant country.

Another significant point is that these adult adoptees are also calling for better preservation and management of adoptees’ records. So many adoptees have returned to Korea (and other countries) to search for their adoption records, hoping to find their birth families, only to be told the records do not exist or were destroyed in a flood or a fire. Others have found their records only after multiple requests and incredible perseverance, often at high emotional and financial cost.

The maintenance of records by orphanages, adoption agencies, and countries of origins is vital. The records allow adopted persons to know their truths, to know their identities, to know who they are–all basic human rights. This is not a matter of paperwork–for some, it is restoration, salvation, freedom.

The deportation of international adoptees from the United States is one of the most shameful practices of our country. I can only imagine how the sending countries (Korea, Brazil, India, Germany, Mexico, and many more) feel about the fact they sent their children here and we in the United States did not grant them automatic citizenship until 2000, and still have not made citizenship retroactive for those whose parents failed to naturalize them. Talk about broken trust.

Adoptees are not the only ones publicly calling for an end to international adoption. Take a look at this powerful post by the adoptive mom of two now young adults from Korea: Off the Fence, at Third Mom blog.

I am still on the fence. Adoption can change the lives for the better for children, not just in terms of economics. I believe it should be an option. That said, I deeply respect the views and the writers of this Declaration. The traditional narrative of rescue and saviorism must end, along with the fraud and corruption–and it may not be possible to ever end fraud and corruption. Orphan prevention and family preservation have to be paramount. We adoptive parents should be speaking out strongly for both of these, as well as for citizenship for all international adoptees and for post-adoption services for adoptees and for first/birth families.

Please share the Declaration.

 

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.

A Brief Explanation of Why International Adoptees Get Deported

Yesterday the New York Times published an article that is getting a lot of attention: “Deportation a ‘Death Sentence’ to Adoptees After a Lifetime in the U.S.” 

I made the mistake of reading the comments on the tweet of the article, and wanted to clarify a few questions that repeatedly came up.

Why weren’t they citizens? Why did Obama deport them? Why did Trump deport them?

Until 2001, internationally adopted children were not automatically citizens. It was up to their adoptive parents to naturalize them.

Some parents got their children naturalized; some didn’t. Why not? They didn’t know. Their adoption agencies didn’t tell them. They forgot. They lost track of time. They didn’t want to. They found out late and tried to but the government agencies fouled up with paperwork.

Some adoptees assumed they were citizens automatically by being adopted to the U.S., and then found out as adults that they were not. It is, as I understand it, possible but extremely difficult to get citizenship as adoptees after age 18.

As a result of the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), anyone who is not a U.S. citizen and is convicted of a felony (the definition of felony can vary widely among states) is subject to deportation.

That 1996 law included by default international adoptees, who arrived here in the US legally, as immigrants, as the children of U.S. citizens, whose parents failed to make them U.S. citizens.

Neither President Trump nor President Obama are responsible for the deportation of international adoptees. The 1996 law was signed by President Clinton (who also signed the Child Citizenship Act), and was the product of a GOP Congress.

The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 granted citizenship automatically to children under 18, though the process depends on the visa with which the child traveled. Years in the making, the CCA had a hard time getting approval in what was then an anti-crime, anti-immigrant climate (see the 1996 law). Making the legislation retroactive was a goal, but was a deal breaker for many in the Republican Congress. As someone who was among the many people advocating for the legislation, I remember trying to get the CCA through was not at all easy.

Even in 2000, as today, many legislators did not see adopted children as real family members. Many saw them as immigrants and nothing more. That mindset continues in the current Congress, and across America.

There have been adoptees deported since the 1996 IIRIRA, to Korea, Brazil, Germany, Mexico, Colombia, Japan, El Salvador, India, Thailand, Philippines, Argentina, Guatemala, and Russia. There well may be more that haven’t received press attention. There are probably some adopted adults who thought they were citizens, committed a felony of some sort (could be bad check writing to murder), who served time, and who are in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) now. There are probably thousands of internationally adopted adults who don’t know they are not citizens. Some might get in trouble with the law, get convicted, serve their time, and get deported.

Sending countries, including South Korea which has the highest numbers, are concerned (and rightly so) about the U.S. citizenship status of the children they have sent for adoption.

Legislation has been introduced in Congress for years to provide citizenship retroactively to the legally adopted children of U.S. citizens who were over 18 when the Child Citizenship Act was signed. It has not yet been introduced in the current 115th Congress. My sense is that there has been resistance in Congress because these adoptees have committed crimes (some of which are minor or are first offenses), and because the Members of Congress do not see international adoptees as genuine family members.

I am not aware of any other country which adopts children internationally and then allows them to be deported.

Adoptive parents need to make sure their children, whatever age, are official U.S. citizens, and have not only their passport (via the U.S. State Department) but also (via the U.S. Department of Homeland Security) their Certificate of Citizenship. Since government agencies use different databases and do not necessarily talk to each other, parents also need to check specifically with the Social Security Administration to make sure their child is listed as a citizen there too.

By the way, the cost of a Certificate of Citizenship is currently $1,369.00. That’s the fee charged by our government to get permanent proof of citizenship. Waiting times are several months to over a year.

There is now an office committed to reporting crimes by “undocumented immigrants.” Adult adoptees, brought to the U.S. legally with the permission of the U.S. government by U.S. citizens who failed to get them citizenship for whatever reasons, could be included there. Those cute little kids grow up. Some commit crimes, which nobody sanctions, and which happens in families all the time. They serve their sentences. They are then deported from the land that welcomed them to democracy, safety, and a better life. Some, like Phillip Clay, are deported and commit suicide, Some, like Joao Herbert, grow up in Ohio, sell a small amount of marijuana, are deported as a result of that first offense, and are killed.

A ‘death sentence’ is not too strong a phrase for the reality that the American government refuses to confer citizenship on people (children. orphans) who were brought legally to the U.S. by U.S. citizens to be adopted, who had no control over getting naturalized except through their parents, and are now subject to deportation. Yes, they committed crimes, some incredibly minor, and served their time as a result, like U.S. citizens do all the time.

It is shameful that the American government did not provide American citizenship automatically to orphans (according to U.S. law) who were brought to America, grew up in America with an American family, lost their original language, family, culture, and heritage, and whose parents (intentionally or inadvertently) failed to get them citizenship.

Welcome to the United States, little children.

Sentencing Date (Finally) Set For International Adoption Guides’ Ethiopian Adoption Fraud Case

 

Update: The hearings have been delayed yet again until August 17.

 

At long last, the sentencing hearing will be held on July 13, 2017, for the three International Adoption Guides’ defendants, all of whom pled guilty August 29, 2016, to fraud and corruption in their Ethiopian adoption program.

 

The sentencing hearing for IAG executive director Mary Moore Mooney is scheduled for 1:30pm in Courtroom  2, J. Waties Waring Judicial Center, 83 Meeting St, Charleston, South Carolina, before Judge David Norton.

 

The sentencing hearing for James Harding and Alisa Bivens is scheduled for 2:00pm, same place, same judge, as for Harding and Bivens.

 

I’ve written about the case multiple times since the U.S. Department of Justice indicted the three defendants as well as an Ethiopian IAG employee (who apparently remains in Ethiopia) in February 2014. The Justice Department had investigated the cases for years before the indictment, and the actual incidents of unconscionable fraud, bribery, and corruption had occurred years before that.

 

Child in Ethiopia, 2014. © Maureen McCauley Evans

The victims of these crimes–children and families in the U.S. and in Ethiopia–have been immeasurably harmed by the actions of the IAG staff. Whether the conviction and sentencing will have any impact on adoption agencies, on adoption policies, or on the fate of future adoptions from Ethiopia remains to be seen. It’s been such a long road for the families and children. It is possible that the sentencing date could change, given the nature of the American justice system. I am hopeful, nonetheless, that the sentencing will bring some small measure of peace for the families.

 

The Case Number is 2012R01249, and the Docket Number is 14-CR-00054.

 

 

 

Phillip Clay’s Funeral: Grieving for Him and For So Many

I never knew Phillip Clay, a Korean adoptee. I had never heard of him until reading about his suicide. I now wonder if his legacy, rooted in sorrow and tragedy, will be to awaken our own U.S. government to the travesty that is the denial of citizenship to all international adoptees.

The Korean television channel MBC (Munhwa Broadcasting Company) aired footage from Phillip’s funeral. If this doesn’t break your heart, I am not sure what would. You will see other Korean adoptees, including Adam Crapser, who speaks eloquently about Phillip’s life and death. The video from the funeral is available here. My heart aches for Phillip and those who loved him. May he rest in peace and in power. 

Phillip Clay’s Funeral

What a price Phillip paid for having been adopted from Korea to the United States, an action that is supposed to be one of joy and a better life. Our American government deported him, because it does not automatically provide citizenship to adoptees who were under 18 as of 2001 (the year the Child Citizenship Act took effect), and whose parents failed to get citizenship for them.

Adam Crapser, one of many adoptees at Phillip Clay’s Funeral Service

Our American government, which approved Phillip’s adoption from Korea, which had all paperwork from the adoption agency Holt International and from his American adoptive parents, still  stands by and lets other adoptees be deported. Understand that those who were deported committed crimes for which they served time in U.S. jails.

 

Then, having been fully and legally adopted by U.S. citizens, they were deported, because they did not have U.S. citizenship, through no fault of their own.

Outrageous on every level. Unethical, irresponsible, and cruel.

I can only imagine that the countries of origin think about this. The U.S. has deported international adoptees not only to Korea, but to Brazil, German, India, Mexico, and many others. What kind of country sends back internationally adopted people to a country where they don’t speak the language, have no family and no connections, and can never return to the U.S.?

Here’s a thought for sending countries (as well as adoption agencies, nonprofits, government officials, and prospective adoptive parents–all those who are concerned about the decline in numbers of internationally adopted children): How about demanding that the U.S. government provide retroactive citizenship to all international adoptees before any other children are brought to the U.S. for adoption?

Many adoptees are angry with Holt, which I have been told had legal guardianship of Phillip. That is an arrangement I have never heard of, though it could well be accurate. In any case, there is increasing anger and action against Holt and other adoption agencies, which could be seen as complicit in the deportation of adoptees. The agencies may or may not have been adamant in insisting that parents get citizenship for their children. Adoptive parents must be held accountable for failing to get citizenship for their adopted children, whether through ignorance, neglect, or willful and cruel refusal.

For years, the U.S. Congress has been sitting on legislation to provide retroactive citizenship for all international adoptees. Will they shake their heads, saying, “Yes, it’s sad, but we can’t do anything,” or will they say that adoptive families are legal and genuine families who deserve the same protections as other families?

Will it take more deaths to provoke action that grants citizenship to all adoptees?

Phillip Clay’s Funeral Service

 

More information about adoptee citizenship issues is available at Adoptee Rights Campaign.

I want to acknowledge Dear Adoption for sharing the video of Phillip’s funeral. I highly recommend Dear Adoption as a site for anyone open to learning about adoption from the perspective of adopted people. Brilliant, powerful essays available there.

 

 

 

US State Department Seeks Information About Complaints Against Adoption Agencies

The U.S. State Department seems to be looking for ways to improve the process by which adoptive families file complaints against adoption agencies. That could suggest State has concerns that complaints are not being handled well, and that agencies are retaliating against families.

International adoption is a long and complicated process, entangled with a lot of money and bureaucracy. The Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption was established, at least in part, to reduce illegal practices in adoption. In the U.S., if an agency wants to provide adoptions internationally, and in particular in countries who are signatories to the Hague Convention, the agency needs to be accredited. The only accrediting body is the Council on Accreditation.

From COA’s web page:

As a status, Hague Accreditation or Hague Approval signifies that an agency meets the standards founded in the Convention, the Intercountry Adoption Act, and the Universal Accreditation Act.  This status indicates that COA has concluded that the agency or person conducts services in substantial compliance with the standards, and that COA monitors and oversees its performance, but is not a guarantee that services in any specific adoption were or will be provided in full compliance with the standards. (Emphasis mine.)

So–no guarantees.

From COA: “We are honored to work with the U.S. Department of State to make certain that adoption service providers (ASPs) have put in place safeguards to ensure intercountry adoptions take place ethically, in the best interests of children.  Since 2006 COA has served as the only national accrediting entity authorized by the U.S. Department of State to provide Hague Accreditation and Approval. Currently COA accredits around 200 adoption service providers.”

When adoptive or prospective adoptive parents have complaints about their ASP, they have some options. They can start, of course, with the agency itself. They can contact the state licensing board. They can contact COA to report concerns about an ASP who is Hague-accredited by COA.

They can also file a complaint with the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoptions Complaint Registry at the State Department. “The U.S. Department of State is committed to upholding the ethical standards, professional practices, and principles set forth in the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, the Intercountry Adoption Act of 2000 (IAA), and the Federal implementing regulations. The Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoptions Complaint Registry will forward your complaint to the appropriate Accrediting Entity for action, and the Department will monitor complaints about accredited agencies or approved persons after receiving information from you.”

Recently, the State Department has reached out for more specific assistance, it seems, in handling complaints about agencies.

Did you file a complaint with the Council on Accreditation regarding an adoption agency (Adoption Service Provider) between October 2013 and December 2016? If so, the U.S. State Department would like your feedback. If you fall into that timeframe of having filed a complaint with COA, you can fill out their survey here.

I am not sure why State is looking into that particular timeframe. It does include the years when the U.S. Justice Department was investigating the fraud and corruption crimes committed by International Adoption Guides, whose indicted staffers are now awaiting prison sentencing. Many families filed complaints with COA about IAG. It also includes the time when the Democratic Republic of the Congo suspended adoptions and families in the U.S. protested widely, when the Joint Council on International Services closed, when Hana Williams’ adoptive parents were convicted of her death (and whose agency Adoption Advocates suddenly closed due to bankruptcy), when the number of adult international adoptees being deported has increased, and when more adoptive parents have become aware that the stories told to them about their children’s histories (and reasons for needing to be adopted) were false.

The survey itself is fairly straightforward, focusing on the behavior of COA when complaints were filed, how easy it was to file the complaint, how helpful COA was, how long the process took, that sort of thing. Two questions stood out to me: Did the agency retaliate after the complaint was filed? and, Knowing what you now know, would you file a complaint on the Complaint Registry?

Many adoptive parents don’t complain during the process, probably because they are concerned about provoking the people who may provide them with a child. I think it’s important that adoptive parents know that there are options to complain, and, that by complaining, perhaps some change will occur.

In recent decades, I would guess that the number of complaints (justified and unjustified) against adoption agencies has increased, for many reasons: we are an increasingly litigious society overall; adoptive parents who felt since they were paying so much money they could make unrealistic demands and ignore laws/policies that they found unsatisfactory; agency workers cut corners or failed to take the time to complete due diligence in the U.S. and in the countries where they were working; the belief by agency workers that they were doing God’s work and thus could gloss over legal requirements; adoption agency staff in sending countries who were not properly trained or supported by their agency; adoption agencies who lied to their clients (the adoptive parents); and adoption agencies that stopped returning client phone calls, later abruptly closing. There are no doubt more reasons.

In the future, I would not be surprised if adult adopted persons will complain or litigate as a class with the State Department and/or the Council on Accreditation. And imagine if first/birth parents were allowed a role in voicing their treatment before, during, and after an adoptive placement. Imagine a complaint process registry, in their global and local languages, were available that prompted an inquiry into the actions of an agency, accrediting entity, or government.

For now, I hope many people will respond to the State Department survey, and that State will share the results as soon as possible.

 

 

 

 

Today’s State Department Call About Suspension of Adoptions in Ethiopia

The U.S. State Department held an hour-long, public conference call today “to discuss the current suspension of intercountry adoptions in Ethiopia.”

IMG_5016

Ethiopia suspended adoptions to all countries as of April 21, 2017. I wrote about it here. The State Department officials on the call were clear that the Ethiopian government has not yet released the reasons for, or the potential length of, the suspension. State emphasized several points:

  • The State Department is working with adoption-related Ethiopian government officials to move the adoption cases which had children matched with parents as of the date of the suspension, but it is unclear what will happen to those cases.
  • The State Department will continue to promote intercountry adoption. The U.S. will continue to work on processing adoptions on the U.S. side but cannot control what the Ethiopian government will or will not do in terms of processing on their side.
  • The Ethiopian government recently approved a policy to promote adoptions within Ethiopia. The State Department is getting more information about this.
  • Families in process (those who have had children matched with them) are encouraged to send their case information to the State Department at adoption@state.gov and consadoptionaddis@state.gov. The State Department will try to help those families by providing information and working to move their cases through the system, even as the Ethiopian courts are apparently not hearing adoption cases anymore.
  • The State Department urged families to work with their adoption agencies (adoption service providers). State cannot provide legal advice as to what legal or political steps families should take.

The State Department answered questions from about 20 people who called in. The majority were prospective and adoptive American parents of Ethiopian children whose legal status is in flux as a result of the suspension. My understanding is that some of the children could be the legal children of their adoptive parents, but who do not have, as a result of the suspension, the Ethiopian government signatures needed to get the documents (passports, birth certificates) to leave the country.

One parent asked about contacting Congressional representatives for help. State noted that parents were of course welcome to do so, that State cannot advise parents about doing that, and that the Congressional offices often reach back to State for information. Another parent asked in vague terms about taking legal action against Ethiopia. State reiterated it cannot give legal advice, and suggested folks seek the advice of a local attorney. My sense is that we Americans often lean toward hiring lawyers and pressuring our way into getting the outcomes we feel are deserved: sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t. I would think there is little that American lawyers could do to pressure Ethiopian government officials, given the complexity of international law and the differing political philosophies of other countries. My hope is that everyone is transparent, and looking for the best outcomes for the children–that may be overly optimistic, I realize.

One caller said she had heard there are some 225 cases “in the pipeline.” State did not comment on that number. State reiterated their suggestion that all families with matched children are the priority right now, and to contact them at adoption@state.gov with information and questions. They noted that the cases of matched children have the best chances of being acted upon by the Ethiopian government.

There was a question about a “soft match,” cases where prospective parents have identified/selected a child they would like to adopt via an agency’s list of children, but legal formalities (including a home study) have not been completed. State suggested, given that there is no concrete information on how long the suspension will last, that the family send their information to adoption@state.gov so they can look at the situation more specifically. State sympathized with another caller who asked about families who are in the process but not yet matched, and suggested they work with their adoption service provider who may be in the best position to guide them.

I asked if the State Department would consider urging the Ethiopian government to invite adult adoptees to share their perspectives and experiences with the government. My personal hope is that the Ethiopian government would do this on their own, in some way reaching out to the thousands of adult adoptees around the world to hear their stories. Would it be possible for the State Department to suggest this? State said it was a good suggestion, and they are interested in hearing the views of all stakeholders.

One large and unfortunately realistic fear is that American and other adoptive parents will have legal custody of and responsibility for Ethiopian children, but not be able to take the children out of Ethiopia, for months or longer. I hope that the Ethiopian government will move these pipeline cases quickly. If the receiving country’s paperwork is all in order, and if the Ethiopian government has signed off on the adoptions far enough to give the adoptive parents custody, then let’s not leave these children in a legal limbo for months or years, unable to be adopted by anyone else, and unable to be with the parents whom the Ethiopian government has approved to raise them.

I applaud the Ethiopian government’s possible plans to increase in-country adoption. I also know that is a very long road to fruition, potentially involving intense, expensive, and long-term staffing, outreach, and education, if such an initiative is to succeed. Family preservation has to be a centerpiece of any effective child welfare policy, especially in a country where so many children in orphanages are not orphans at all.

So many emotions, laws, precedents, and policies are in play right now. So much money entangled in the business that is adoption, money flowing from parents to adoption agencies to comparatively impoverished countries. In the middle of it all: vulnerable children.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who Is Responsible for the Decline in International Adoptions?

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

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

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

Post-Adoption Reports

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

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

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

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

Unregulated Custody Transfer (UCT)

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

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

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

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

Adoption Service Provider Conduct

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

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

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

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

Photo © Maureen McCauley Evans

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

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

New Research Recommends Big Changes In Counseling For Expectant Parents Considering Adoption

The Donaldson Adoption Institute has released an important new study by Baylor University advocating substantive improvements to the current ways expectant mothers are counseled about adoption.

A team of researchers worked with 223 birth/first mothers who had placed a child for adoption within the last 25 years, as well as with 141 adoption professions who counsel and facilitate adoptions. A second phase of the research included interviews and more detailed analysis with a smaller group.

A few of the findings, according to a Baylor University press release:

  • It was common for birth mothers to express concern about their lack of financial stability during their pregnancies. Financial concerns were often cited as reasons why birth mothers first considered, and ultimately elected, adoption.
  • While some of the women had very positive experiences during their decision-making and relinquishment process, others indicated that the information and support they received from the agency or attorney was insufficient to help them fully consider their options and make the best choice for their child. For these birth mothers, the decision to place their child has had a lifelong impact on them and is one they greatly regret.
  • Much of the information that adoption professionals reported discussing with new expectant parents focused on adoption-related concerns rather than full consideration of all of the parents’ options. Less than half of adoption professionals specifically mentioned discussing information related to parenting their child or methods for helping expectant parents problem-solve how this might occur.

The Baylor report, based on two years of work, provides several policy recommendations, including these:

• Mandate adoption agencies and adoption attorneys to develop and/or provide free access to pre- and post-relinquishment services for expectant and birth parents. These services should include individual and family counseling provided by a licensed clinical professional.

• Mandate that adoption agencies and adoption attorneys must provide expectant parents with a standardized, informed consent that details the possible outcomes associated with relinquishing parental rights to a child for adoption, as well as potential outcomes that the child may experience.

• Increase and standardize education for expectant parents and prospective adoptive parents about the strengths, limitations and legalities of post-relinquishment contact, including the rights of adoptive parents to decrease or eliminate contact in some states.

• Mandate biannual ethics in adoption continuing education for adoption professionals. This curriculum should address ethical challenges related to working with expectant parents, birth parents, extended family members, prospective adoptive parents and other adoption professionals. The curriculum should also emphasize the importance of options counseling, including full informed consent and access to supportive services.

The adoption professionals themselves called for additional training on grief and loss related to relinquishment. That is revealing.

The Baylor press release quotes one birth mother who “felt pressure to sign papers immediately after having the baby. ‘It was horrible,’ she said. ‘I can tell you right now, if the lawyer hadn’t shown up in my room when I was in kind of a haze from giving birth, I don’t know if I would’ve signed the papers. I should’ve had time.”

U.S. states vary on the amount of time parents have after birth to give consent to placing their child for adoption: 16 states allow consent any time after the birth; 30 states have a waiting period of 12 hours to 15 days before the consent can be given. There is a lot of variation among the states.

“Revocation of consent” refers to the ability of the parents to change their minds about placing the baby for adoption. The time period also varies among states, from 3 days to 180 days. More information on consent and revocation times is available here.

I am on the record opposed to birth mothers signing papers in the delivery room and handing their baby over to the adoptive parents without a decent time to recover after birth and ensure that adoption is the right decision. I’d challenge anyone who has given birth or had any significant surgery/medical procedure to consider whether they’d feel fine about signing significant legal papers right after the delivery or surgery, especially if they were pressured to do so, and especially if the papers related to one’s child being permanently removed, oftentimes with no further contact ever.

As an adoptive parent, I find this university study and the policy recommendations a breath of fresh air in adoption practice. I hope that this information gets to many of the law firms and adoption agencies working with expectant mothers, and that prospective and current adoptive parents insist that the law firms and adoption agencies are aware of this research.

I believe adoption can be a viable option, and the right decision for the first/birth parents, the adoptee, and adoptive parents, if it is done with transparency and integrity. Acknowledging the power (economic, in particular) in adoption held by adoptive parents is critical.

We have a long way to go in improving services and counseling to expectant mothers in the U.S. who are considering adoption, and especially those who are in a temporarily difficult situation but could keep their children if they had better (any) counseling and better awareness of other resources.

And imagine if this level of services and counseling were mandated to be provided to mothers around the globe who place their children for international adoption–because we are way behind on equitable treatment for them.

 

If you missed the link at the beginning of this post, the Donaldson Institute-Baylor University study Is available here.

 

 

http://www.adoptioninstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Understanding-Options-Counseling-Experiences-in-Adoption-Qualitative-Study.pdf

The Long Road to Sentencing For International Adoption Guides: Still Not There

In February 2014, four employees of International Adoption Guides were indicted by the US Department of Justice for bribery, falsification of documents, and more, based on a multiyear investigation of Ethiopian adoptions. James Harding, Mary Mooney, and Alisa Bivens, the three American IAG defendants, all pled guilty to various counts about two years ago. They are still awaiting sentencing, three years after the indictment. The one Ethiopian defendant, Haile Mekonnen, as best I know is still in Ethiopia and has not been in court.

According to the 2014 DOJ press release, ” ‘The defendants are accused of obtaining adoption decrees and U.S. visas by submitting fraudulent adoption contracts signed by orphanages that never cared for or housed the children, thus undermining the very laws that are designed to protect the children and families involved,’ said Acting Assistant Attorney General Raman. ‘As today’s indictments show, the Justice Department, alongside its partners both here and abroad, will respond vigorously to these criminal schemes and will act to protect the many families and children who rely on the integrity of the adoption process.’ ”

Behind that legal language is astonishing loss and heartache for many children and their families in Ethiopia and in the United States.

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I recently came across a website, justiceformary.weebly.com, which seems to be written by Mary Mooney. While it mostly has password protected pages, it has a long list of the court documents from 2014 to 2016, including the plea agreements from the three defendants, as well as transcripts of several court appearances. The site mentions a court date in January 2017, but I have yet to see anything to confirm that.

In May 2016, the government recommended a sentence for Mooney of 51 to 60 months of incarceration, per this Memorandum in Aid of Sentencing.

A sentencing hearing was held in August 2016.

In November 2016, there was an order filed on Mary Mooney‘s case. My understanding, as a non-lawyer, is that in January 2015 Mooney had made a plea agreement: she pled guilty to making false statements for the agency’s Council on Accreditation process, and the government then dropped other charges, including those related to Ethiopia.

Mooney could, however, face a conviction on charges related to adoptions from Kazakhstan. Mooney’s co-defendant James Harding had operated World Partners Adoption, located in Georgia; he is an adoptive parent of children from Kazakhstan. WPA lost its accreditation to handle international adoptions in 2008. Harding and Mooney then arranged for Harding to take over at IAG, which still had accreditation at that time. Apparently IAG also has charges against it in relation to adoptions from Kazakstan, and Mooney could face a conviction as a result of those.

Any lawyers who want to weigh in would be welcomed. It is not clear to me whether this means that Mooney will face no punishment in regard to the bribery and falsification of documents in Ethiopia, but that could be correct.

Every month or so, I have called the office of Judge David Norton in South Carolina, the judge handling the case. A pleasant court official consistently tells me that, no, there’s nothing on the sentencing yet. He can’t comment on whether that’s unusual, or on any reason as to why sentencing would not have taken place. He says he will send my inquiry on to someone who might have more information. I’ve never heard anything back.

Unless I’ve missed it, I have not seen any outcry about this case from adoption agencies or from the National Council on Adoption.

The three defendants are, I believe, not in jail. I understand and applaud the value of a full and fair legal process. Still, I can’t help but feel deep disappointment in the slowness of this case, especially when the defendants pled guilty. Will the final sentencing be minimal, with the defendants getting jail time reduced?

I also can’t help but feel this long delay for sentencing is a slap in the face of the Ethiopian adoptees brought here via lies and deception. They have gone through so much, as have their families, in Ethiopia and in the US. What is the message for them about the American court system?

Where is the justice for the innocent victims?