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.

Runner’s World on Gabe Proctor: Ethiopian Adoptee, Championship Runner, Suicide

Gabe Proctor with his siblings Joanna and Samuel, in 2000 and in 2013

 

Gabe Proctor lived a short, loving, and complex life. Adopted from Ethiopia around age 10 after his mother died, he grew up in Vermont, went to college in Kansas and Colorado, became a championship runner, worked hard to support his family in Ethiopia, and died by suicide at this past May at age 27.

Sarah Lorge Butler has written a thoughtful profile of Gabe in Runner’s World: After Runner’s Suicide, Anguish and A Search for Answers. She spoke extensively with Gabe’s family, as well as his coaches and running partners. The sorrow and loss are palpable, as are the questions that can never be answered.

I am among those quoted in the article, and I have written many times about suicide and adoption. There are simply no clearcut answers. According to the Runner’s World article,  ” ‘In understanding mental health and adoption, researchers now think about a combination of risk factors,’ said Maria Kroupina, Ph.D., associate professor of pediatrics in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Minnesota. Adoption itself is one risk factor. Others include prenatal stress to the child’s mother. Genetics, or family history of mental illness. Stress in early childhood, from scarcity of resources or abuse or neglect. The loss of a parent.

It’s a process for adopted children and the adults in their lives to navigate these issues from the past. ‘Children and young adults need ongoing help,’ she said. “No health care providers would put a child with asthma or a heart condition in a family and say, ‘Please figure it out.'”

Gabe’s family remembers him as a talented, thoughtful, loving son and brother. His coaches remember him as incredibly hard-working and determined to push himself to achieve his best.

From the article: “During his best year in 2014, he had the fifth-fastest half marathon time in the U.S., but his heart is what people remember. Proctor especially looked out for those who had trouble fitting in or seemed burdened in other ways.”

Like many adoptees, especially those adopted at older ages and with siblings, Gabe never forgot his Ethiopian connections. “Gabe made four trips to Ethiopia over the years, and as his running career progressed, he realized his talent could help his relatives in Ethiopia. As a professional, his singular goal was to use his running to support his family. Gabe had a shoe deal from Asics, and he lived simply, never owning a car, for example. Samuel says before Gabe’s death, his brother had built houses that his Ethiopian family could use for rental income.”

Gabe Proctor in Ethiopia, July 2006

I give credit to his adoptive parents, Caryl and Jim Proctor, for sharing their son’s story. They and others who loved Gabe urge “family and friends of people who are struggling with depression to confront it head on.” Jim Proctor “implores parents to pay attention: ‘Accept that the warning signs are warning signs,’ he said…’Don’t ignore it.'”

There are many resources available to help with suicide prevention; I have listed many of them in this post: Resources Around Trauma and Suicide in Adoption. Whether or not adoption is involved, we should all be aware of resources for depression, anxiety, and suicide ideation. Yes, these are tough topics. And they need to see the light of day, because that’s the only way we can help each other.

‘Gabe was adamant about this,’ his younger brother, Samuel, said. ‘Always treat people the absolute best you can, because you don’t know what they’re dealing with.’

 

 

The Suicide Prevention Lifeline, available 24/7, is 800-273-8255. You can also text 741741, the crisis text line available 24/7, and text with a trained crisis counselor.

Angelina Jolie and the Traumatization of Orphans

Update: Angelina Jolie has refuted the context and accuracy of this incident, via Vulture, Variety, and others. I have not yet heard a response from the writer of the original Vanity Fair article cited in this blog post, and I hope that writer speaks out also. A controversial description like this one, of a casting call involving orphans and manipulation, should have raised red flags for fact checking prior to publication.

 

Why would Angelina Jolie exploit orphans?

Thousands admire her, as well as her rainbow family, even as some are bemused by her behaviors. My guess is that Angelina Jolie years ago gave up caring about what other people think of her, and goes ahead with her creative journey, sharing personal information when the time is right. The new Vanity Fair cover story is one such example, in which she talks about life after Brad, dealing with health issues, and her days as a cleaning up and cooking mom.

Jolie also talks about her new Netflix movie, First They Killed My Father, and her time in and love for Cambodia. Her first son, Maddox, was adopted from there in 2002, and Jolie is a Cambodian citizen.

In Vanity Fair, Jolie talks about the casting for her movie, and this is where the heartache really begins.

“To cast the children in the film, Jolie looked at orphanages, circuses, and slum schools, specifically seeking children who had experienced hardship. In order to find their lead, to play young Loung Ung, the casting directors set up a game, rather disturbing in its realism: they put money on the table and asked the child to think of something she needed the money for, and then to snatch it away. The director would pretend to catch the child, and the child would have to come up with a lie. ‘Srey Moch [the girl ultimately chosen for the part] was the only child that stared at the money for a very, very long time,’ Jolie says. ‘When she was forced to give it back, she became overwhelmed with emotion. All these different things came flooding back.’ Jolie then tears up. ‘When she was asked later what the money was for, she said her grandfather had died, and they didn’t have enough money for a nice funeral.'”

Looked at orphanages, circuses, and slums, specifically seeking children who had experienced hardship?

Set up a game?

Rather disturbing?

How about exploitative, cruel, and arrogant? To knowingly impose trauma, humiliation, and shame on little girls, many of whom have likely experienced tremendous losses, including the loss of parents? Yes, deeply disturbing.

Not surprisingly, Jolie is receiving a lot of criticism for this.

The Telegraph in the UK reports that this incident has sparked outrage. Business Insider says the casting method is being deemed cruel. Twitter is busy on #AngelinaJolie.

I’d venture that the adoption community is divided about Jolie. Many people outside the community think it’s warm and wonderful that she adopted a bunch of cute kids, and I have no doubt that many people looked into adopting because Angelina adopted and People magazine wrote all about it. Many people within the community express concern about celebrity adoptions, making a tempting trend out of the intense complexity of international, transracial adoption.

The Vanity Fair article describes Jolie’s adoption process in Cambodia:

“…she visited an orphanage in the provincial town of Battambang, having promised herself that she’d go only to one, that she wasn’t going to shop around. But Jolie felt uneasy as she wandered the rooms, meeting the children. ‘I didn’t feel a connection with any of them,’ she recalls.

‘They then said, ‘There’s one more baby.’ Baby Maddox was lying in a box that was suspended from the ceiling. She looked at him. He looked at her. ‘I cried and cried,’ she recalls.”

I have no idea what agency Jolie used, or the details of the adoption process. Most countries don’t allow prospective parents to “shop around,” the phrase Vanity Fair uses to describe Jolie’s process. This commodification of children in adoption is but one of many reasons that international adoption has declined.

Cambodia has suspended adoptions several times in the last decade, largely due to trafficking. Jolie has also adopted from Ethiopia and from Vietnam, both of which have also essentially closed to international adoption. Jolie’s daughter Zahara, from Ethiopia, was not an orphan; there have been several media stories about Zahara’s Ethiopian mother wanting to hear from Zahara.

While most internationally adopted children have living parents or other close family members, and very few are actual orphans, the children have lived through tremendous trauma and dangers. The children still in orphanages and slums around the world deserve compassion, family preservation, literacy, and safety.

The Cambodian children who were recruited to try out for a part in a movie–children from orphanages and slums–were treated cruelly by people who should know better, especially an adoptive parent.

Angelina Jolie is a powerful, beautiful, wealthy, western woman. I’ve no doubt she has done much good in the world. I am sure her presentation in the media has flaws and inaccuracies, but, as presented in Vanity Fair, this movie casting method, this exploitation of impoverished children, speaks only to selfishness and creative focus gone tragically awry. My heart aches for the now forgotten, cast aside orphans and other vulnerable children.

 

 

Here’s one way to help: The Cambodian Children’s Fund.

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.

“Rematriation” Through Art: Mothers’ Voices

Please consider supporting the work of Daniel Drennan ElAwar’s powerful art, “Mothers’ Voices: A ‘Rematriated’ Adoptee’s Art Residency.” Born in Lebanon, adopted to the United States, Daniel is a writer, artist, and advocate for conscientious and provocative examination of history, dissidence, and activism. In his Kickstarter information, he says he believes “this project is of particular interest to communities of all kinds affected by dispossession, displacement, and disinheritance” of Southwest-Asian women, especially mothers.

The art he is creating–a series of prints with Arabic calligraphic quotations, poetry, and proverbs–“will portray women at the very limits of a society’s allowance of their expression; capturing moments of righteous anger that break through the stasis of the status quo and reveal an unmatched latent power; a literal creative energy and force. For example, the Palestinian woman fighting off the soldier abducting her son; the Bahraini mother exclaiming to neighbors that she refuses to cry despite being delivered the clothes of her son executed by firing squad; the Syrian mother breaking through a border fence of barbed wire; the Lebanese woman reacting to police preventing her from protesting for her kidnapped son’s return.”

In Daniel’s work, there is joy, sorrow, and controversy, linked together in the challenging way that adoption itself often is. I am a big believer in the power of art to challenge our thinking, to make us uncomfortable, to evoke dialogue. Daniel’s writings always give me much to think about, and I have no doubt this art, and his memoir, will do so as well.

As an aside of sorts, this is a more volatile, controversial time in adoption than I have seen in the last few decades. More adoptee voices are being heard in expressing their truths, often to the discomfort or resistance of adoptive parents. More first mothers, in the US and globally, are speaking out, and are being encouraged to do so, slowly, yes, but it is happening. Here’s hoping we hear from first fathers and siblings and grandparents as well. An adoptive parent of two children from Korea has called for an end to international adoption. I’m going to post my response to Margie’s thoughtful, heartfelt post soon, but am still sifting through my thoughts.

In the meantime, please take a look at Daniel’s project. I wish him well in this project, and in his next venture, teaching at Emily Carr University in Vancouver, BC.