Another Lawsuit By An Adult Adoptee: Guatemalan Adoptee Sues Orphanage

Alex Guibault, a 28 year old adoptee from Guatemala, has recently sued his orphanage Casa Aleluya for violent physical and sexual abuse. Alex now lives in Canada, having been adopted at the age of 19. He spent about 12 years in the orphanage: the police placed there at around 7 years old. The lawsuit alleges “vile, violent, and horrendous acts” against Alex and other children in the orphanage, which is, according to a CBC article, run by “Build Your House on the Rock, a Louisiana based Christian group.”

One of the Build Your House programs is Casa Aleluya, a 501(c) 3 non-profit “providing medical, educational, and spiritual care for children and a loving place they can call home. These children grow up healthy and happy while learning the love of Christ.” Their website shows several former children who grew up at Casa Aleluya as Ministry Leaders now. The orphanage can have more than 500 children receiving care at any given time. Over 6000 abused and neglected children have received food, shelter, education, and hope in the more than 30 years since the orphanage was founded, according to the website.

Alex was adopted by a Canadian family several years ago, though he is apparently still working on getting Canadian citizenship. He spends time in Guatemala, including helping children who live on the streets and in other difficult circumstances. The lawsuit will likely takes years to make its way through the courts.

I titled this post “Another Lawsuit by an Adult Adoptee” for a reason. While adoptive parents have sued adoption agencies for various reasons over several decades, adult adoptees have brought fewer lawsuits. That is changing. While I would not say there is a massive trend, I would say it’s a bellwether of sorts.

Here are some examples:

Nine adoptees from Mali who were raised in France filed for fraudulent adoption.

Three Ethiopian adoptees successfully had their adoptions annulled. Two of the adoptees had been raised in Denmark; one grew up in the Netherlands.

Kara Bos, a Korean adoptee raised in the U.S., filed and won a lawsuit in Korea to be recognized as a daughter of her biological father.

Adam Crapser, a Korean adoptee raised in the U.S., filed a lawsuit against both Holt Children’s Services and the Korean government for “gross negligence. The first hearing was held in Seoul in August 2019. Crapser, who had a childhood full of abuse by adoptive families, was deported to Korea in 2016 due to criminal charges and the fact that he did not have U.S. citizenship.

In Alabama, the brother of an adoptee tortured for years by adoptive parents filed a lawsuit against the parents. The adoptive parents have been convicted and are in jail for two years, then probation for three. The adoptee weighed less than 55 pounds at 14 years old.

In 2017, Sixties Scoop Survivors (babies born to “unwed mothers” and scooped from their mothers at birth) reached an agreement with Canada wherein Canada will pay between $500-800 million in restitutions. Funds are intended to go to indigenous children adopted in the 1960’s by non-indigenous families in Canada, Europe, and the U.S. The restitutions are for the loss of their cultural identities, family, and communities.

In the U.S., the quest by adoptees for their own Original Birth Certificates (OBC) and for their medical history has often involved litigation, court cases, and money. This is a struggle that has gone on for decades.

All international adoptees should have been automatically granted citizenship, but that is not the case. The legislation for citizenship has not yet been approved by the U.S. Congress, and that is an outrage.

This is not an exhaustive list, though neither is there an enormous amount of litigation by individual adoptees. Litigation is an expensive, draining process, financially and emotionally; state and federal legislation can be slow and tedious, requiring a great deal of time and effort. Still. That adoptees are filing lawsuits and legislation at all is a shattering of the traditional narrative around adoption, and these adoptees must have their truths honored. My heart aches for every one of them, but that is not the point. We in the adoption community cannot dismiss the harsh and unfair experiences of some adoptees who had no agency in their adoptions and who were part of the societal understanding that life would be better because of adoption.

Preventing Adoptions From Being Annulled

There are several ways that international adoptions, after they have been finalized, can be terminated. What can be done to prevent this from happening, and to heal those involved?

We live in a world where adoptions can end in at least four ways.

  • One is illicit “re-homing,” where adoptive parents hand their children over to other people, whom they may or may not know well, without any sort of oversight or protection for the children. I’ve written about this here.
  • A second ending is the voluntary or involuntary legal termination of the adoptive parents’ parental rights, thus moving their children into the US foster care system, This happens with internationally adopted children more often than any of us are aware. Because the children are usually US citizens by the time they enter foster care, their international origins are often difficult to trace.
  • A third is the voluntary or involuntary legal termination of parental rights which moves the children into a private adoption system. The Utah agency Second Chance Adoptions is the best known organization for handling these disruptions.
  • A fourth is the annulment of the adoption in civil court by the country of origin. Ethiopian courts have recently annulled three international adoptions. You can read my recent post here.

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Maji, Ethiopia. January 2016. © Maureen McCauley Evans

Obviously the best approach is prevention before adoption occurs: preventing the child from losing his first family by preserving families when possible, by intervening to keep children out of orphanages, and by providing resources to feed and educate children. I’ve written about some possible means of helping children that do not include international adoption here.

 

 

The decline in international adoptions to the US does not mean that the needs of vulnerable children have also declined.

Another important approach is providing services for families before and after the adoption, so that the child is safe, and is not re-traumatized by losing a family a second time.

Here are a few ideas:

  •  More rigorous screening of prospective adoptive parents. Proof that prospective parents have excellent insurance, including access to adoption-competent therapies and resources for respite care.
  • Adoption policies and practices that focus on Inclusion of adult international adoptees and from international birth/original parents, and not solely adoptive parents, adoption agencies, and adoption attorneys.
  • Funding and training for pre-adoption and post-adoption resources that are effective and accessible. Emphasizing to families that asking for help is not embarrassing or shameful, but is a sign of strong parenting skills.
  • Legislation and/or other resources that provides guidance and oversight for families in crisis, with transparency for adoption disruptions and services for children.

Some children are in need of adoption because of abuse by their parents. The annulled adoptions in Ethiopia were granted because of the treatment of the children by the adoptive parents. Access to services–and willingness to use the services–would likely have helped in some cases. Further, a red flag of the cases was that the Ethiopian parents thought they would hear about their children after placement, and then were not given any information or contact.

One of the most significant developments in international adoption is increased openness, where the adoptive family and the birth/first family keep connected. I am aware anecdotally of many adoptive parents of Ethiopian children who visit Ethiopia regularly, who have phone or Skype contact with the birth family, and who have heard the reasons for adoption directly from family members.

Ethiopian Adoption Connection provides a database for Ethiopian and adoptive families to find each other. IMG_6400Many Ethiopian mothers and fathers were promised connections with the children they placed for adoption, but never received updates, photos, news, or anything at all. EAC helps Ethiopian families and adoptees around the globe to find each other. Having access to information seems such a basic human right, for everyone involved in adoption. Yes, it’s complicated to navigate the relationships. Yes, safety issues are always paramount.

And yes, these connections have been made and have been successful. Adoptees are finding their families. Dying Ethiopian grandfathers are able to learn that their grandsons are thriving. Ethiopian mothers can know that their babies (placed in the US, Sweden, France, or elsewhere) are alive.

Would these connections have meant the annulments would not have occurred? We will never know. But transparency and integrity can go a long way in adoption, and we need to take more steps in that direction.

Ethiopian Adoption Connection is doing groundbreaking work. Please share information about them, and help them to continue. Learn more here. A donation would be a wonderful Mother’s Day idea.