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.

img_3577

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?

 

 

List of Contributors to Ethiopian Adoptee Anthology: “Lions Roaring, Far From Home”

We are thrilled to announce our list of international contributors to “Lions Roaring, Far From Home,” the first of its kind anthology by Ethiopian adoptees.

Australia

Tamieka Small

 

Canada

Hana

Kassaye MacDonald

 

Ethiopia

Heran Tadesse

 

France

Mekdes

Mumasiquery

Vincent Proffit

Rasselas

Damien Vanier

 

The Netherlands

Abenet Bakker

 

Spain

Eleni Merelo de las Peñas

Kasech Navarro Wauters

 

Sweden

Genet

Sara Grönroos

Daniel Rosenlind

Hanna Wallensteen

 

United States

Edelawit A.

Zufan Bazzano

Bektu

Aselefech Evans

Harmony Fisher

Kiya Herron

Helen Samuel

Sarah Solomon

Hirut Tilleskjor

Tizita

IMG_7920

Original artwork by Adanech Evans, 2007.

The writers are listed by the countries in which they currently live. Some chose to use only first names or pseudonyms, for a variety of reasons. We respect the sacredness of each of their stories, which include reflections on being dropped off at an orphanage in the middle of the night, on the impact of racism, on the love for adoptive family and the need to know one’s origins, and on the hopes and dreams a father has for his child. Some have wonderful adoptive families; some had horrible ones. Some have chosen to search for their Ethiopian family; some have been successful and some have not. The writers range from young children to adults in their 40’s. They are amazing people.

And they are patient people. For a variety of reasons, the publication has taken longer than we hoped, and that is life. We plan to announce the publication date soon. The book will feature stunning cover art by the Ethiopian artist Nahosenay Negussie. On behalf of my co-editors, Aselefech Evans and Kassaye MacDonald, we appreciate all the energy and power that has gone into the essays. Amaseganllo.

 

 

Thinking of Fisseha, Thinking of Ethiopia

Two years ago today, Ethiopian adoptee Fisseha Sol Samuel was found to have died by suicide. I am thinking of him and his family, the US and in Ethiopia today. He was, of course, much more than an “Ethiopian adoptee,” and I don’t mean to limit his impact in and on the world. He was a son, a brother, a soccer player, a friend, a person of warmth, laughter, and energy.

IMG_5515

Fisseha Sol Samuel

I wrote a post about him shortly after he died: Fisseha Sol Samuel: “Irreplaceably Marvelous.” I continue to keep him in my heart, as do many people.

Last year, on the first anniversary of Fisseha’s death, I wrote about October, Traumaversaries, and Hope. I’m not sure just why, and this is totally anecdotal, but October can be especially hard on many folks.

Right now, October seems hard on Ethiopia. After months of unrest, protests, injuries and deaths, Ethiopia is now in a state of emergency. It’s difficult to know what this means for the government, the protestors, the farmers, the students, the businesses, the tourists, the missionaries, the children, the schools, the people in cities and countryside, the people in jail, the journalists and bloggers, the future. It’s heartbreaking. Ethiopia is and will be a side note in the news, not on the radar for a lot of people, especially as our own U.S. politics dominate the headlines and social media.

So today, I reflect on Ethiopia, on those who have left it and those who remain there. I reflect also on the loss of Fisseha. His mother, Melissa Fay Greene, has written beautifully (no surprise, or course) about her beloved son in the two years since his death. Fisseha’s sister, Helen Samuel, has a powerful essay about her brother in our upcoming anthology, “Lions Roaring, Far From Home.” Suicide claims so many victims. Here is a link to some Resources Around Trauma and Suicide in Adoption.

IMG_4065

© Maureen Evans. Photo taken at Lake Langano, Ethiopia, Summer, 2014.

I am thinking today of both Fisseha and Ethiopia, on the notions of potential and loss, of sudden life-changing decisions, of hope for the future, of our understanding of what can be controlled and what cannot. My mom used to say we should pray for perspective, for a sense of what really matters in hard times, especially given that tomorrow is not guaranteed to any of us. That approach, she suggested, would help us hold on to hope or to faith, and move us toward healing. May our memories lead us towards peace.

Ethiopian Adoptee to be Featured on Al Jazeera

Tomorrow the Al Jazeera show The Stream will feature a story about adoptees who return to their motherland to live for a short period or even for the rest of their lives. Al Jazeera reached out to Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora, a global Facebook community, and connected with Heran Tadesse. Heran will be on the show tomorrow, September 29. It airs live on Al Jazeera at 3:30 p.m. EST/ 22:30 in Addis Ababa/ 20:30 in London/ 21:30 in Amsterdam.

img_0101

Heran is one of the writers included in our soon-to-be published anthology by Ethiopian adoptees, Lions Roaring, Far From Home. Born in Ethiopia, she was adopted to the Netherlands, and returned to live in Ethiopia several years ago. She has re-connected with her Ethiopian family. Heran is married to the artist Mulugeta Gebrekidan, and they are raising their three children in Ethiopia. Heran is on the Adoptee Advisory Board of Ethiopian Adoption Connection, a free, grassroots resource to reconnect families separated by adoption. She holds a degree in forestry, is a yoga instructor, and is currently the general manager of a wonderful child care facility in Addis, Regina Family Center.

I last visited with Heran and her family in Addis this past February. Heran is a person of depth, warmth, and strength. Hers has not always been an easy journey, and she handles challenges with grace and openness. I know you will be moved by her essay in the Lions Roaring anthology, and I have no doubts her perspective on the Al Jazeera show will be compelling. I am thrilled that her voice will be heard.

As to how to tune in to the show: I have not always been successful in viewing Al Jazeera here in the U.S. Depending where you are in the world, you may be able to watch live.  Ethiopian Adoption Connection tells me that the show will be archived and can be viewed at this link after tomorrow’s airing of the show. My guess is that could mean September 30, but could be sooner. Thank you!

 

Remembering Hana Williams, Three Years After the Guilty Verdict

Three years ago today, a jury found Larry and Carri Williams guilty of the death of their daughter, Ethiopian adoptee Hana (Alemu) Williams. She would have turned 18 this year, had she lived.

Hana (Alemu) Williams

Instead, Hana died on May 12, 2011, at 13 years of age. The causes: hypothermia and malnutrition. About two years after her death, the case went to trial in the summer of 2013. Her adoptive parents were accused of the homicide of Hana, and of the abuse of Immanuel, an Ethiopian boy adopted in 2008, at the same time as Hana. I attended most of the five-week trial, blogged about it, and posted this on the day of the jury decision: Williams Trial Verdict In: Justice for Hana and Immanuel.

In October 2013, Larry and Carri Williams were sentenced to jail for decades. They also have seven biological children. They lost custody of Immanuel, of course, but also lost custody of their five minor biological children as well. The children were all adopted by relatives, as I understand it. At one point, Carri tried to get back custody of her children, but failed. I have no details on Immanuel, except that he continues to struggle. All of the children struggle in many ways, I would guess.

In recent years, adoptions from Ethiopia have dramatically declined for a number of reasons, one of which is surely Hana’s death. I am not minimizing the tragedy of her death when I say that it is an anomaly, an exception. I don’t want her to be forgotten. I want her to be remembered as a light in the world, and still in our hearts.

 

Sentencing Hearings for International Adoption Guides (IAG)

Update July 13: The sentencing hearings have again been rescheduled. Now they are supposed to take place August 29. Unbelievable.

Update June 20: My understanding is that the IAG sentencing hearings are now scheduled for July 13 and 14. What a long, hard road this has been for the victims.

Update: I have heard from someone connected with the trial that the June 16 and 17 sentencing hearings have been postponed, yet again. How frustrating and disappointing this whole process has become for the adoptees and their families. When I have more news, I will post again.

Three International Adoption Guides officials could be sentenced, finally, next week.

They were indicted by the U.S. Justice Department in February 2014, after lengthy investigations. They are scheduled for sentencing next week, having pled guilty over a year ago to charges of conspiring to defraud the United States by bribery and fraudulent documents, all involving several Ethiopian adoptions.

The sentencing hearing for Mary Mooney (IAG’s executive director) is scheduled for 11am on June 16. Mooney had pled guilty in January 2015, then changed her plea to “no contest” several months later. In August 2015, the judge ruled against the “no contest” plea, and the guilty verdict was reinstated.

For James Harding (IAG’s director of international programs), sentencing is scheduled for 10am on June 17. Harding had entered a guilty plea in January 2015.

For Alisa Bivens (IAG’s Ethiopia program director), sentencing is scheduled for June 17 at 10:30am. Bivens had entered a guilty plea in August 2014.

Each of these hearings will take place before Judge David Norton in Courtroom 2, J. Waties Waring Judicial Center, 83 Meeting St, Charleston, SC.

There is a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine up to $250,000 for the original charges, according to the February 2014 press release by the Department of Justice when the indictment occurred.

IMG_1732

My guess is that the sentencing hearings will be fairly brief. Many details have probably been worked out by attorneys in advance. It’s possible that victims of these cases will speak at the hearings.

I have no insights as to why there has been such a long time between the guilty pleas and the sentencing. I thought, and was told by others, that the sentencing would take place within months after the guilty pleas. Clearly I was wrong about that. As I (a non-lawyer) understand it, there can be a number of reasons for delays: courts are overloaded with cases and everything just takes a long time; the guidelines for sentencing can be contested by the defendants; pre-sentencing investigations can be lengthy; lawyers can ask for continuances; and other reasons that a lawyer could no doubt better explain.

It’s not clear to me whether the three defendants have been in jail awaiting sentencing, but I don’t think that’s the case. My understanding is that defendants can earn reduced sentences by cooperating with the process and, of course, not getting into any further trouble. That could mean, given the lengthy time between convictions and sentencing, that the three defendants’ actual time in jail, if any, would be reduced.

What a long, hard journey this has been for the Ethiopian children adopted via bribery and fraud, for their Ethiopian families, and for the adoptive families. This case represents so much that is wrong in international adoption, so much that is heartbreaking for innocent victims. Here’s hoping that justice is done in the sentencing next week.

 

 

 

 

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.
IMG_3309

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. 

France Joins Other European Nations in Suspending Adoptions From Ethiopia

France has announced that it will suspend adoptions from Ethiopia. You can read the announcement in French here: Communiqué relatif à la suspension des adoptions internationales en Éthiopie (4.05.2016)

This is a Google Translate version of the announcement:

“Statement on the suspension of international adoptions in Ethiopia (05/04/2016)

The Mission of the International Adoption (DIA) informs candidates for adoption in Ethiopia in April 22, 2016, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development has sent a letter to Ms. Zenebu Tadesse, Minister for Women and Children in Ethiopia, announcing the suspension of international adoptions to the implementation of legislative and institutional reforms undertaken by that country.

Other host countries such as Germany, French-speaking Belgium, Denmark, Spain, Ireland, Sweden and Switzerland have suspended adoptions in Ethiopia.

The decision comes after the May mission in Ethiopia conducted from 10 to 12 February. During this mission, in May met with the Minister of Women and Children for a status report on the situation of adoption. The observation was made jointly by the need to suspend international adoptions to ensure ethical and legal certainty of procedures and to encourage local alternatives supported international adoption.

Only the procedures related families of Ethiopian children by 22 April 2016 and whose name list was transmitted to the Ethiopian authorities have received agreement in principle from the Ethiopian minister. These procedures are allowed to continue through the operators. Regarding the situation of children already adopted and arrived in France, the OAA ( Organismes Autorisés pour l’Adoption–Authorized adoption agencies)  will ensure monitoring and transmit the monitoring reports in compliance with the requirements of the Ethiopian legislation.”

IMG_6559

Graph showing decline in international adoptions to France

We Iive in a global adoption community. Around the world, international adoptions are declining: it’s not just the United States. Millions of vulnerable children need help, though international adoption is increasingly not an option, for many reasons. Those of us involved with adoption must continue to advocate for children in the US and around the world who need safety, food, families, and health care.

My thanks to Andrea Kay of Ethiopian Adoption Connections (EAC) for sharing this information. EAC works to connect Ethiopian adoptees around the world with their Ethiopian families. EAC also works with Ethiopian birth mothers and families to help them in a number of ways, such as empowering Ethiopian families who have lost children to adoption by providing emotional and social support through caseworker led discussion groups; education about the system through which their children were adopted; and meaningful, realistic information about reunion, potential reunion, and ongoing contact with their adopted children. Please visit their website and support their work.

 

3 Ethiopian Adoptions Annulled: A Wake Up Call

Adoption is forever. Except when it’s not. Three young adoptees have had their adoptions overturned in Ethiopia.

In 2013, the case of Betty Demoze in Holland was “the first time a foreign adoption has been revoked in Ethiopia’s long history of overseas adoption.” Two weeks ago, according to Danish news reports and ACT (Against Child Trafficking), Ethiopian courts annulled two more adoptions of Ethiopian children, both adopted to Denmark.

We hear a lot in the U.S. about birth parents contesting adoptions, and children being returned (or not) to their birth families. My understanding is that this is far more rare in international adoptions. Still, I am struck by the fact that the Ethiopian courts have agreed to annul three adoptions.

IMG_7016

Ethiopian child 2014. © Maureen McCauley Evans

According to news reports, Betty, the young woman adopted at age seven to Holland, was abused by her adoptive family. She returned to Ethiopia at 14 with her foster mother, and reunited with her Ethiopian parents. According to a VOA article, “The documents in Betty’s adoption file were falsified and were full of errors. They gave the wrong age, and wrongly stated that Betty’s parents had died. After a failed criminal case two years ago against those involved with providing the papers, the 14-year-old started a civil case.”

It took about three years for the case to move through the system. In 2013, the Ethiopian court “cancelled” Betty’s adoption in 2013. She is now almost 18.

IMG_6403

Betty Lub Demoze and her Ethiopian mother after her adoption was annulled in Ethiopia, 2013. Source: politiken.dk

In the Denmark cases, one of the children is well-known to many in the adoption community: the little girl Masho in the wrenching 2012 documentary “Mercy, Mercy.” At four years old, Masho was adopted to Denmark in 2008, and was eventually placed in a state institution due to behavioral problems. Her Ethiopian parents had been diagnosed with HIV, and then got better with medical treatment. They say (and many people involved with the Ethiopian adoption community have heard this often) that they were promised contact with and information about their daughter, but that never happened. She is now 12 years old.

IMG_6398

Still photo from documentary Mercy, Mercy

According to ACT, which has been heavily involved in the cases, authorities from the Ethiopian Ministry of Women, Children, and Youth Affairs, which handles adoptions, visited Denmark in January 2016, seeking information about Masho and about other adopted Ethiopian children, including Amy Steen, now 15 years old. Amy was nine when she was adopted from Ethiopia, where her mother had been diagnosed with HIV. Amy ended up in foster care in Denmark. Her Ethiopian mother also had been promised information about her daughter, and she never received it.

On April 7, 2016, the Ethiopian courts agreed to annul the adoptions of both Masho and Amy.

Arun Dohle of ACT has helped me understand this better with this insight: “The adoptions were all revoked due to one simple reason. The adoptive parents treated the children ‘detrimental to their future.'”

As I (a non-lawyer) understand this, Denmark and Holland can consider whether to overturn the adoptions as well. It’s a complicated legal situation, with different international laws. “It will be up to a Danish court to see what consequences the Ethiopian ruling will have in Denmark, explains Claus Juul, who is Legal Adviser at Amnesty International Denmark,” a translated quote from the Danish press.

To sum up:

  • It is possible for an adoptee to file a civil case to overturn his or her adoption from Ethiopia.
  • There are now three cases as precedents for annulling Ethiopian adoptions.
  • Ethiopian parents have successfully used legal measures to overturn the international adoption of their children.

Many questions come to mind. What could have been done to prevent these adoptions from needing to be annulled?

What if Ethiopian families had access to and means of affording top-notch legal services? Their poverty, often the reason for the placement of their children, also prevents them from obtaining legal justice. I’ve written often about the inequity in post-adoption services provided by agencies to adoptive parents versus birth/first parents. Adoptive parents have often found fraud in the adoption process; they post about it on blogs and Facebook groups. Sometimes the Ethiopian parents learn about it as well, especially when there are reunions. Fraud, as Arun Dohle rightly reminds me, is not in itself a reason for the adoptions to be overturned.

Will more Ethiopian parents seek to annul the adoptions?

Will more adoptees seek to overturn their adoptions in Ethiopia? These cases so far are European, and involve minors, adopted at four, seven, and nine years old. Does the age at which children were adopted make a difference, since they may well have memories of family members, though they lack the language to convey their facts?

What happens when one country annuls the adoption but the other one does not?

Will adult adoptees seek to annul adoptions? I don’t know if that’s possible, and I would guess that different countries have different rules. Will adult adoptees sue their adoption agencies or their governments for reasons such as fraudulent adoption, placement with abusers, or failure to keep agreements with birth parents regarding contact and information?

In March, Denmark announced that it was ending adoptions from Ethiopia. Sweden will be ending them soon as well. In 2011, Ethiopia itself substantially cut back the numbers to the U.S. and elsewhere. I wrote recently about positive actions to the decline in numbers of children being internationally adopted: there are still so many children who need help. In my next post on the subject of adoption annulments, I will offer some responses to this serious wake up call.

Lamenting the Decline in International Adoptions? Take Action

The significant decline in international adoptions is not a time for hand-wringing. It is an opportunity for family preservation and for equitable programs to help vulnerable children and families.

The U.S. State Department has released the most recent numbers documenting the decline in the number of children being adopted internationally. In 2004, nearly 23,000 children arrived here for international adoption. Last year, there were 5648 children adopted to the U.S. from other countries. Over half of them came from 3 countries: China (2354), Ethiopia (335), and South Korea (318).

The numbers have been decreasing for several years. You can read the State Department’s data here.

I believe there will always be children, especially older kids, sibling groups, and those with special needs, for whom international adoption may be a viable option. I believe in adoption, when it’s done with transparency and integrity.

There are many reasons for the decline in international adoption numbers. Russia closed adoptions to the U.S.; China has loosened the one child policy. Many countries are moving toward increased domestic adoption. In South Korea, there have been efforts, strongly promoted by adult adoptees, to remove the social stigma against single mothers so these moms can keep their children. KUMFA is one example. As countries move to promote adoption within their own borders, the number of available children for international adoption decreases. We promote domestic adoption here in the U.S., though about 100 American children are placed for adoption outside the U.S. each year, primarily to Canada and western Europe.

Many countries are also working to curb corruption that has permeated too many adoptions. It’s a long, tortuous road to recognizing and eliminating fraud and corruption. Much of this fraud has been discovered by adoptive parents who search for their children’s original family and find previously unknown information about why the child was placed for adoption, including news that the child was not an orphan. A great deal of fraud has been discovered by adoptees themselves, in many countries, when they have searched for their own histories and families.

Many folks in adoption work say that various intended safeguards, such as the paperwork and regulatory requirements of the Hague Convention and increasing U.S. forms and programs, have created significant barriers to international adoption. Were it not for the restrictions and bureaucracy, they say, thousands more children could be adopted.

I would argue that increased promotion of family preservation would allow tens of thousands of children to grow up in loving families–in their own country. Poverty is a major reason that children are placed for international adoption. A little help changes the world.

Here are two economic points:

  • International adoptions historically have cost between $20,000 and $50,000, for one child., and thousands of U.S. parents have paid those fees. So the money is there.
  • The adoption tax credit has meant some $7 billion for U.S. adoptive parents, primarily for international and U.S. infant adoptions, and a much smaller percentage for  U.S. foster care adoptions. The money is there too, and I wish it could be re-prioritized.

Because of the decline in international adoptions, fewer Americans will be using the adoption tax credit, saving the U.S. government a fair amount of money. I would love to see the advocates of the tax credit–designed to create an incentive for action that would not otherwise occur–insist that there be funds allocated instead for aid to first families in the countries of origin from which children have been adopted. Just a thought.

Another thought is that greater emphasis and awareness be focused on sponsorship programs. Anyone who has ever considered adopting an orphan, or who has wanted to help a child whose mother has died, or who has felt helpless about the decline in international adoption numbers: Consider helping preserve existing families. Sponsor a child, a mother, a family, or a school.

Costs start at $40 or so a month. So, somewhere around $400 to $500 a year. It’s tax-deductible. Do that for 10 years, and you will have spent what one family would spend on one international adoption. And you will have helped many more families send their kids to school, get access to health care, and not starve to death. Fewer mothers will be separated forever from their beloved children.

Here are a few examples of family preservation efforts in Ethiopia: Ethiopia ReadsBring Love In, Roots Ethiopia, Selamta Family Project, Hope In Helping Hands, Encourage Africa, Connected In Hope, A Hope For Children, Project Hopeful, Children’s Hope Chest, and that’s not all. Some are Christian; some are secular. Some work in more countries than Ethiopia.

Yes, I am an adoptive parent. Yes, I have been blessed by adoption. If you believe in adoption, then you believe in keeping families together, especially families that just need a little help to stay together, or to get a school built in their remote village, or to feed their babies.

Declining adoption numbers don’t have to mean fewer children have families. In fact, if we can get the word out, tens of thousands of children could easily have families, without a whole lot of expense or paperwork.

Let’s do this.

IMG_0005

Children reading at the Awassa library of Ethiopia Reads © Maureen McCauley Evans