2019 Stats on Intercountry Adoptions: Declines and Omissions

The U.S. State Department has released the 2019 international adoption statistics. There were a total of 2971 children adopted to the U.S. last year. There were 4059 in 2018; numbers have been dropping for years. Of that 2019 total, about half came from 4 countries: China, Colombia, India and Ukraine combined. From the U.S., 56 children were placed for international adoption in Canada, Mexico, Netherlands, and elsewhere. In 2018, there were 81 U.S. children placed for adoption overseas, according to the State Department.

Please read through the report and look at the numbers. Here are some phrases you won’t find:


• “citizenship problems and deportations of adult adoptees,”
• “post-adoption services offered to birth parents,”
• “the tremendous need for better training for prospective parents in regard to racial identity and racism in the U.S.,”
• and “we are deeply involved with other nations to improve efforts for adoptee search/reunion and family preservation.”

You will absolutely see phrases like this:


“…to advocate for the protection, welfare, and best interests of children in need of permanent, loving families, and to assist prospective U.S. adoptive parents in realizing their dreams of creating or expanding their families.”


“…the ultimate aim of preserving and enhancing the viability of intercountry adoption in the United States.”


I have so much to say, and hope to provide a more detailed post later. In the meantime, here are some pull quotes from the report, followed by my brief comments in italics.


“In September 2019, we hosted an Adoption Symposium, “Strengthening Practice for the Future of Intercountry Adoption,” which convened more than 120 interested stakeholders, including representatives from adoption service providers (ASPs), advocacy organizations, U.S. government agencies, and the U.S. accrediting entity, Intercountry Adoption Accreditation and Maintenance Entity, Inc. (IAAME), as well as adoptive parents, birth parents, adult adoptees, and Congressional staffers.”


My understanding is that adoptees were few in number, and there was one birth mother, who was born and raised in the U.S., and placed a child here in the U.S. I’d guess that the ASP reps included many adoptive parents in their numbers. I do give credit for State reaching out for one of the first time to include adoptees and birth parents at the table, and I understand they did a great job, but there is still a very long way to go.

“While the overall number of intercountry adoptions to the United States declined from the previous year, 75% of that decline can be attributed to the decrease of intercountry adoption from two countries, China (a decrease of 656) and Ethiopia (a decrease of 166). In both cases, the reductions result from continued social, economic, or legal changes the Department previously observed and reported in those countries.”

In 2018, the Ethiopian Parliament officially ended international adoptions not, as is demurely phrased here, due to “continued social, economic, or legal changes,” so much as deep worry about the status of their children such as Hana Williams, who was murdered by her adoptive parents. The Ethiopian government also expressed concerns about the racism that permeates America, and stressed the need for in-country adoptions.


Additionally, there have been significant cases of fraud, corruption, and bribery in international adoption via U.S. agencies and/or their partner staff overseas. U.S. adoption agency staff have been indicted and convicted, and more than a few agencies have closed suddenly due to bankruptcy.


In any case, reports about the decline in the number of international adoptions should always include the perspectives of adult adoptees and of first/birth parents. When they are included in significant, meaningful numbers in these policy conversations, then perhaps genuine progress can be made in attributing reasons for the decline.


“The Department also hosted events overseas with members of the adoption community to discuss key issues in the adoption process. For example, U.S. Embassy Bogota hosted an Adoption Open House with more than 40 participants representing 15 U.S.-accredited ASPs, the Colombian Authorized Adoption Institutions, the Colombian Central Adoption authority, and the Office of Children’s Issues.”


Please note who is not listed as participating in the Open House: adult adoptees and first/birth parents. The U.S. Embassy in Bogotá missed a big opportunity there not to have the perspective of the thousands of Colombian adoptees and birth parents to discuss key issues in the adoption process.

“The Department’s new Senior Advisor for Children’s Issues, Michelle Bernier-Toth, appointed in December 2019, shares the commitment expressed at the Symposium and is actively engaging foreign government officials to advocate for the protection, welfare, and best interests of children in need of permanent, loving families, and to assist prospective U.S. adoptive parents in realizing their dreams of creating or expanding their families.”


There are elements of hope in this statement about advocacy for the protection, welfare, and the best interests of children, though there is tremendous disagreement in the adoption community as to what that should look like. What’s glaringly missing here is a strong, ethical call for family preservation, for orphan prevention, and for significant improvement in medical and mental health care for vulnerable women and children in particular. Arguably, I realize, that’s part of the mission of other U.S. government offices as well. Nonetheless, how great it would be to see it voiced in a report like this.


State’s ongoing focus on adoptive parents (mostly white, well educated, politically connected, and relatively well-off enough to both raise the $40,000-$50,000 to adopt and then get the adoption tax credit for it) and relative silence on, say, the post-adoption needs of international birth parents, or the citizenship status of adult adoptees, truly needs to change.(Citizenship is handled primarily through the Department of Homeland Security. State issues passports, a vital form of proof of U.S. citizenship.) Commenting this way about the help given to “adoptive parents in realizing their dreams of creating or expanding their families” continues the traditional and outdated Hallmark adoption narrative. I know: many adoptees do great, but many suffer abuse, neglect, depression, anxiety, and a disconnection with their culture and racial group. Imagine if we were routinely transparent and accurate about that. Imagine if our U.S. State Department worked with other countries to research status and improve outcomes of first/birth parents around the globe, after they placed their children for adoption. It is so easy to keep forgetting about that most vulnerable group. But: many international adoptees have found that they were never orphans, that their mothers thought about them every day, and that some of them were trafficked. The truth is coming out more every day.


Imagine if the State Department, working with other international governments, assisted international adoptees in realizing their dreams of searching for and reuniting with their families.


“Lastly, in FY 2019 families outside of the United States adopted 56 children from the United States to seven countries: Canada (24), the Netherlands (17), Mexico (6), Ireland (5), Belgium (1), Switzerland (1), and the United Kingdom (2).”


Most of the American children appear to have been placed from agencies in Florida and New Jersey. It’s often a shock to Americans to find out that the United States is also a sending country for the purpose of international adoption. I have heard, only anecdotally, that some black birth mothers decide to place their children overseas to escape the racism so prevalent here, and that some birth mothers wanted to place with gay couples and were prevented from doing so in the States. The U.S. didn’t used to keep any statistics about how many U.S. born children were adopted oversea. When the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption came into effect in the U.S. in 2008, we like every other sending country had to keep statistics on the numbers of outgoing cases. I do not believe statistics are kept on the race nor the outcomes of these placements. In any case, we do place our American children for adoption overseas.


Let me place the necessary “not all” disclaimers. Not all adoption agencies have corrupt, selfish, uncaring staff. Not all adoptees are unhappy. Not all birth parents suffer. There are efforts being made to help in terms of family preservation and orphan prevention. There need to be more of those efforts. So many more children could be helped.


Here’s the thing, though, about international adoption in 2020. There are hundreds if not thousands of international adult adoptees who are writing and speaking out about their experiences. We need to listen to them. The U.S. government has yet to agree that all international adoptees should be granted U.S. citizenship. That must change. Adoptees are still being left out of adoption policy-making. The post-adoption fate of first/birth mothers, fathers, siblings, grandparents, and other family members is rarely even considered, never mind studied or documented. The radical inequity of post-adoption services provided to international birth families compared to American adoptive families is astonishing, and we need to do a far better job here.


The statistics next year will be even lower, due to COVID-19, due to bans on air travel and closed visa offices. All around the world, nonprofits, governments, and businesses stopped. Adoptions have too, for the most part, during the pandemic.


So. Read the report. Listen to adoptees. Help empower women, educate girls, and support medical and mental health aid around the globe. Help preserve vulnerable families.

Why Are Adult Adoptees So Often Afterthoughts In Adoption?

It’s a pattern of sorts. An issue arises around adoption, domestic or international. Adoptive parents, most often white and well-off, are featured prominently, if not exclusively, in media. Most have very young children. No one apparently thinks that maybe adult adoptees should be included in the conversation.

A recent Twitter dustup reflected this reality. Elizabeth Archer, a British mother of two young children (one by birth and one by adoption), tweeted that she was putting together a series of books, called Attitudes to Adoption, for prospective adopters.  She asked for contributions from grandparents, mothers, fathers, birth families, professionals, and foster parents. “All have an adoption story to tell,” she wrote.

Except, apparently, adoptees.

When Archer was called out for the exclusion of adoptees, she tweeted, “At present I don’t feel I have the resources to do a book about adoptees but if you know of enough people who are willing to contribute then I will take this back to my publisher!” Here’s the problem: she’s not a grandparent, a birth parent (who placed a child for adoption), or a professional either, but she had the resources for those categories.

She got pushback from several adoptees, and I (an adoptive parent) chimed in as well. Archer responded to the comments, saying “I’m just an ordinary mum trying to write some books. I’m raising my own little adoptee so I would never be against sharing their views.”

Adoptees tweeted to her. @housewifeabroad wrote, “To write books about adoption with no input from adoptees will set these further families up to be blindsided by feelings and behaviors which are completely predictable.”

@SheWolfofEng wrote, “Isn’t the most important voice in adoption the voice of the adoptee?”

@neithskye wrote, “This wasn’t an ‘oversight’ at all. This was deliberate silencing. They might not like what we have to say. *How* do you discuss adoption and ‘forget’ about adoptees?”

@SunnyJWriter wrote, “It might be best if you considered the voices of #adoptees. For many years, we’ve been overshadowed by perspectives such as the one you’ve shared. You have an opportunity to help an enormously misunderstood and marginalized population, instead of ones already covered.”

Several adoptees were reported and blocked on Twitter by Archer and others.

After the Twitter pushback, Archer posted on her Facebook page, “I never realized until now what cyberbullying could feel like,” with a sad face emoji. “Guess I underestimated the hate that is out there aimed at adopters from adult adoptees. Feeling a bit vulnerable.”

She was consoled by many, who offered big hugs and condolences. “It’s so easy for cowards to sit at a keyboard and spout utter rubbish to make themselves feel better. Rise above it…you have a life & clearly they don’t.” Archer notes that she “blocked and reported the most venomous ones.” Another supporter wrote, “They’re from a different generation—much has changed since then, not least of all the type of children needing families.” Archer wrote, “I really do feel for the adoptees. Their adoption journey must have been one of great sadness & heartache to live them feeling so full of hate.”

As it turn out, Archer now has an “Adoptees” book in the mix of the “Attitudes to Adoption” series. The missing resources she had tweeted about earlier in the day were found.

Yesterday on her Facebook page, Archer wrote that she is “currently taking a break from Twitter after being targeted by a group of (mainly American) Adoptee Activists.”

I am not sure why citizenship mattered, but there we are.

Archer earlier deleted several comments by adoptees on her Facebook page, though to her credit, she left a post by Holly Lysne, an adoptee who is also an adoptive and biological mother, directing Archer to the podcast Adoptees On, which is a wonderful (based in Canada) resource for adoptees to share their experiences, and for adoptive parents to listen and learn. I recommended Dear Adoption, which is also a tremendous resource. Catherine Johnston, an adoptee and adoptive parent, recommended The Lost Daughters, also a brilliant resource, but Catherine’s comment was deleted from Archer’s page.

Other vibrant adoptee-centric sites would be The Declassified Adoptee, The Adopted Life, I am AdoptedI Am Adoptee, Adoptee Restoration, The Rambler Adoptee Podcasts, Adoptees Connect, and Adoptee Reading. These are U.S.-based, I realize, but, Internet. Out of the Fog is based in Canada.  Intercountry Adoptee Voices is based in Australia, and includes a long list of global adoptee led groups, including in the UK. The writings and talks by Lemn Sissay come to mind, of course, for a British adoptee.

My list is by no means exhaustive. Please feel free to add your recommendations in the comments. I am not trying to omit anyone—just want to get this post out there.

So here’s the point. There is no shortage of information, perspectives, insights, and resources by adult adoptees, but all too often, adoptive parents and media ignore them, or don’t know about them (!), when discussing adoption. That has to stop.

A few final thoughts:

How is it that adoptive mothers of young children are considered experts on adoption? Nope, sorry. You need to have a couple of decades of parenting under your belt to truly understand what it means to be an adoptive parent.

We adoptive parents must stop clutching our pearls when we hear about negative, difficult perspectives on adoption as spoken by adoptees. Dismissing them as cowards or venomous doesn’t make their experiences any less valid; it slams the doors on some really important conversations.

Many adoptees had great childhoods, deeply love their adoptive parents, their parents love them, and still the adoptees struggle with the losses in adoption, which can manifest in many ways over a lifetime. Other adoptees had horrific experiences. All these voices have been marginalized for much too long around the globe.

Thick skin is needed for anyone speaking out or writing in Adoption Land. If Ms. Archer felt she was a victim of cyber bullying and needed to block adoptees (plus get consolation and hugs), she ain’t seen nothing yet.

Adoption and raising adopted children takes a commitment to deep listening and learning,  especially to those who have been adopted.

 

(Need more examples? You can find my posts about the exclusion of adoptees by NPR here and here. My post about a White House international adoption petition that had little inclusion of adult adoptees is here.)

Adult Adoptees Speaking “Out of the Fog”

 

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I believe a lot of our lives are spent asleep, and what I’ve been trying to do is hold on to those moments when a little spark cuts through the fog and nudges you. ~Rufus Wainwright (Photo © Maureen McCauley Evans)

How familiar are you with being in the fog or out of the fog, in terms of understanding adoption?

“Out of the Fog” is a new Canadian radio magazine where critical, thoughtful, lived perspectives on adoption are brought to the forefront. It is co-hosted by Kassaye MacDonald, co-founder of  Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora, and filmmaker Pascal Huỳnh. The first episode aired this past Friday. It featured Shaaren Pine, whose Washington Post article “Please Don’t Tell Me I’m Lucky to Be Adopted” last year generated a lot of conversation.

I hope “Out of the Fog” also generates a lot of listeners, conversation, and the occasional controversy. Last Friday’s show was a great debut, as the speakers talked about the complexity of growing up as the only adoptee/only person of color, about adoption prevention versus family preservation, about struggles with depression and suicide, about reproductive rights versus reproductive justice. Big important topics. The show airs every first Friday of the month on CKUT 90.3FM at 8:30am EST.

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Friday Harbor, WA (Photo © Maureen McCauley Evans)

“Out of the Fog” is part of an evolving, important perspective on adoption. Betty Jean Lifton, writing in “Lost and Found: The Adoption Experience,” might have been the first to voice the “great sleep” of adoption. In the years since Lifton’s book was published in 1979, the idea of the great sleep has evolved into a fog: the sense that some folks connected with adoption are in a fog, not wanting or able to see the clear, full reality of adoption. Like Lifton, Deanna Doss Shrodes and Laura Dennis are adoptees. In Adoptee Restoration’s blog post “Shaking the Adoption Fog Out of Adoptees,” Laura defines the fog as “that hazy perception that everything about adoption is simple, straight-forward, beautiful, and most importantly, not to be questioned.” First/birth mother Claudia Corrigan D’Arcy provides another thoughtful perspective in “The Birthmother Shift–12 Years in an Adoption Fog.

“Out of the Fog’s next episode will be on November 4, 2016. November is National Adoption Awareness Month. I’m looking forward to that show. Well done.

Be sure to like and follow Out of the Fog on Facebook.

 

AAI, Hana Williams’ Agency, Is Out of Business: Now What?

2014 has been a rough ride for international adoption agencies: Celebrate Children International was the subject of a 48 Hours investigation, and International Adoption Guides is under indictment. The so-called Children in Families First legislation is under siege and appears to be foundering. And now Adoption Advocates International is closing. What other signs are needed to convince agencies and agency-affiliates that they need to change the way they are doing business?

On March 7, Adoption Advocates International, the Washington state adoption agency used by Larry and Carri Williams to adopt Hana and Immanuel Williams, announced it was closing its Ethiopian adoption program. Today, March 12, it appears they are closing their doors completely.

An article about AAI’s closing was printed here, in today’s Peninsula Daily News.

Many people are happy that AAI is closing, given AAI’s role in the placement of Hana Alemu and Immanuel Williams. As always in complex situations, though, there are other elements to consider. Many families in the process of adopting through AAI, not just from Ethiopia but from Burkina Faso, China, and perhaps elsewhere, are now in a difficult emotional and financial position. AAI has placed some 4500 adoptees over the last 3 decades whose records must be (I hope) kept available for them, somewhere. There are now children who will not be adopted, who perhaps legitimately needed new, safe, loving families. There are first/original parents, always the most marginalized in adoption, who may not be able to access information about their children.

Interestingly, AAI is a Hague-accredited agency, certified by the Council on Accreditation through April 2016. That COA accreditation is intended to be a high standard that signifies an agency is in excellent financial and programmatic health.

Christian World Adoptions, a South Carolina adoption agency, suddenly closed its doors and declared bankruptcy early in 2013. It was also a COA/Hague certified agency, right to the end. It startles me that 2 COA-accredited agencies within about a year can suddenly just close. What went horribly wrong in their financial status that COA totally missed?

According to the COA website:

Hague management standards apply to all adoption service providers regardless of the type of provider or services provided. These management standards promote accountability and include:

  • Licensing and Corporate Governance
  • Financial and Risk Management
  • Ethical Practices and Responsibilities
  • Professional Qualifications and Training of Employees
  • Information Disclosure, Fee Practices, and Quality Control
  • Responding to Complaints and Records and Reports Management
  • Service Planning and Delivery

When 2 COA-accredited international adoption agencies abruptly close within about one year of each other, many questions are raised about COA accreditation. Certainly it casts a shadow on the strength and value of the accreditation process for other currently accredited adoption agencies.

According to page 36 of COA’s 92 page Policies and Procedures Manual-Hague, when an agency closes, it has to provide to COA the following: a listing of all Hague adoption service(s), the closing date, detailed description of reasons for the decision, and the transition and referral plan for consumers.

In this case, I am guessing that “consumers” are the prospective adoptive parents: the paying customers. I’d like to think that COA would also demand information about the plans and needs of all the children (some of who are surely adults now) who were adopted through AAI, and even of the first/original parents.

Ethiopian adoptions have been problematic for a while, for many reasons: increased awareness of fraud and corruption, implementation of new procedures, increased costs due to labor/time of ensuring the accuracy about why children become available for adoption, and more. There have been far fewer adoptions from Ethiopia in recent years, and there is increasingly great concern in Ethiopia about the outcomes of adopted children. The majority, of course, do fine, but the reality of Hana and Immanuel weighs heavily on many minds around the globe.That’s true for other Ethiopian adoptees. Kathryn Joyce’s Slate article, Hana Williams: The Tragic Death of an Ethiopian Adoptee, And How It Could Happen Again, describes other placements by AAI, and how these Ethiopian adoptees are greatly struggling.

The recent death of Korean adoptee Hyunsu O’Callaghan surely makes all of us–adoption agencies, adoptees, adoptive parents, first/original parents–pause and reflect with sorrow as well. What now?

Indeed, it’s hard to cheer about AAI’s closing. So many doors are still left open for vulnerable families and children around the world.

This could be an incredible opportunity for adoption agencies and adoption agency-related organizations (Joint Council on international Children’s Services, National Council For Adoption, Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, for example) to reach out to those who’ve been too often excluded from adoption policy discussions: adult adoptees (yes, including those whom agencies have written off as angry and rude), international first/original parents (to whom adoption agencies have a deep, ethical obligation), and even adoptive parents who disagree with them. We all want children to be in safe, loving homes. We all agree that if adoption is a viable option, it must be transparent, and all involved must be held accountable. Some are happy to see adoption agencies close, and most of us also know that the closures don’t mean that vulnerable children are now safe and cared for.

It’s time to have some really hard conversations, and not simply because adoption agencies are closing. It’s because all voices are needed if we are going to see viable, positive change in adoption policy. Pay attention, adoption agencies and coalitions: the changes are happening now, due to the adopted adults and first parents who are stepping up, speaking out, and creating overdue change.