Jordan Shelley, Ethiopian Adoptee, Dies in Tragic Car Accident

This has been a heartbreaking day: the horrific shooting in Texas, and now news of the death of Jordan Shelley, a 22-year-old Ethiopian adoptee, here in Seattle.

Jordan’s car had broken down on the Ship Canal Bridge in Seattle’s University District around 4:30am. His car was hit by another car, and Jordan was flung off the bridge, 182 feet above the water. Jordan’s body was found around 9am this morning.

The driver of the car that hit Jordan was arrested for suspicion of drunk driving. He is also 22 years old.

Jordan, along with two younger siblings, was adopted from Ethiopia in 2008 by Teresa and Lanny Shelley, and raised on Whidbey Island, near Seattle. According to this 2018 article, Jordan received a two year full scholarship to the University of Washington, where he was studying to be an anesthesiologist.

According to KIRO-News, Jordan’s mother Teresa Shelley said that “her son lived with purpose and always gave ‘150 percent’ to whatever he was doing. She said his Ethiopian name was Meloawl, which means, ‘What may I do for you?’ “

According to the Whidbey News-Times, Jordan completed his last two years of high school while simultaneously completing his associate’s degree. He wanted to be a doctor so that he could help people like his Ethiopian father, who had died when Jordan was 7 years old.

Deep condolences to all of Jordan’s family and friends. A terrible loss.

Rest in Peace and in power. እግዚያብሔር ይባርክ God bless you.

Facebook Page of Our “Lions Roaring” Anthology by Ethiopian Adoptees

I am happy to invite you to “Like” and follow the new Facebook page for our soon-to-be published anthology, “Lions Roaring Far From Home.” The link is here. Thank you!

The anthology, the first of its kind, has essays and poems from 32 Ethiopian adoptees who are of different ages and who were raised in different countries. The cover art (shared below; reveal here) is by Ethiopian artist Nahosenay Negussie.

On the Facebook page, we will provide info about pre-order and publication as soon as it is available. We will also be posting excerpts from the book, pre-publication reviews by some amazing folks, and info about upcoming “Meet the Writers” Zooms and other events.

Thanks so much for visiting and Liking the Facebook page! Please share with others. We really appreciate the support.

Remembering Hanna Williams, Ten Years After Her Death

Ten years! A decade to the day that Hanna Williams/Hana Alemu died as a result of her adoptive parents’ cruelty. She would have been almost 23 years old now, had Larry and Carri Williams not starved and abused her until she died.

So let us today remember Hana, as we keep her in our hearts always. I always think also of he Williams’ children, including Emmanuel, and all that they witnessed and experienced. Devastating trauma all around, the kind that lingers in the body and soul. May Hanna rest in power and in peace.

Adoptions from Ethiopia ended in 2018, for many reasons, Hanna’s death among them. There are still vulnerable children there. While international adoption is no longer an option, there are many excellent organizations that support family preservation—please donate to them and promote them. I’ve listed several here. Always look for organizations that promote the community, that engage local leaders, and that empower rather than rescue.

A couple of personal notes: We hope the book “Lions Roaring Far From Home: An Anthology By Ethiopian Adoptees” will soon be available. It is dedicated to Hanna, and to Ethiopian adoptees who have died by suicide. The profits from the sales of “Lions Roaring” will be used to establish a guest house in Addis Ababa for returning adoptees.

I am considering closing the door on my Light of Day Stories blog. I’ve been posting far less often for many reasons, I am proud of what I’ve written these last eight years. Recently, in the past few years, the number of adoptee blogs has increased dramatically, which is wonderful. Adult adoptees are occupying the space once used up too much by adoptive parents, including myself. It’s time to give more room to the voices of adoptees. And wouldn’t it be great if Ethiopian first/birth parents had equitable space in the decisions and policies and perspectives on adoption? Let’s keep fighting for that.

And today, let’s think of Hanna, with love and hope.

A photo of Ethiopian adoptee Hanna Williams at the orphanage. Hanna is wearing a blue and white striped shirt and has a slight, shy smile.
Hana in Ethiopia, prior to adoption. May she Rest in Peace.

Larry and Carri Williams’ Appeals Hearing, and the Contrast of Ethiopian Resilience and Hope

Ethiopian adoptee Hana Williams died in 2011 of malnutrition and hypothermia, weighing less at death the she had when he arrived in the US three years earlier. In 2013, her adoptive parent were found guilty of homicide, child abuse, and manslaughter. Last week, (June 2), I attended the one hour appeals court hearing in Seattle regarding Larry and Carri Williams’ request that their 2013 convictions be overturned or, failing that, that they get a new trial. The three appeals court judges listened to the arguments of the lawyers. They asked a few questions.

I am not a lawyer, but I know the appeals court process does not re-try the case. No new evidence is introduced; there are no witnesses. The question in an appeal is whether there were legal errors made in the trial that were sufficient to overrule the conviction.

Larry and Carri were not there. Several of Carri Williams’ relatives were at the hearing and conferred with their lawyer afterward; Larry’s relatives may have been there too, but I did not recognize them from the trial. 

The attorney arguing for the overturning of Carri Williams’ conviction for Hana’s homicide and immanuel’s abuse was James Lobsenz, a partner with the law firm of Carney Badley Spellman in Seattle. The attorney arguing for overturning for Larry Williams for ,manslaughter and abuse was Todd Maybrown, a partner with the law firm of Allen, Hansen, Maybrown, and Offenbecher. in Seattle.

The attorney for the state of Washington, requesting that the convictions be maintained, was Erik Pedersen, a Skagit County prosecutor. Pedersen argued successfully in 2015 when Larry and Carri also appealed their convictions.

We don’t know when the judges will make a decision on the case. My understanding is that appeals court decisions can take a week, or they can take months. Right now, decisions are filed on Mondays. If you go to the Washington State Court of Appeals website, you can click on Opinions and sign up for notifications of Appeals Court Division I decisions.

I have no insider information about this, but I do find it interesting that Larry and Carri have private attorneys for this 2019 appeal. Perhaps Mr. Lobsenz and Mr. Maybrown are doing this work pro bono (for free, as volunteers, “pro bono publico” which means for the public good). Perhaps family members or friends are underwriting the costs. I do know that neither of the lawyers was at the 2013 trial to see the autopsy photos of Hana’s emaciated, scarred body, nor to hear the testimony of the Williams’ children about the isolation, deprivation, and punishments that Hana and Immanuel endured.

I for one pray that justice is served, and that the convictions for homicide, manslaughter, and child abuse will be upheld.

Had she not died from torture, hypothermia, and malnutrition 3 years after arriving for adoption from Ethiopia, Hana would now be about 21.

Immanuel is now about 18 years old, and is apparently doing fairly well. He hopes to return to Ethiopia with his new, loving family. Immanuel is deaf. (One of the punishments Carri Williams sometimes used with Immanuel was requiring that no one communicate with him in sign language.) His family now includes people who know sign language, and they will travel with him to Ethiopia, in part to help with signing and with deaf culture issues. It will be, I would guess, an emotional, complicated trip. The death of Hana was among the reasons that Ethiopia closed to adoptions, and many Ethiopians around the world deeply grieve her death, and of course want Immanuel to heal and thrive as well. There is a GoFundMe campaign for Immanuel and his family’s trip back. Please contribute if you are able.

Painting of an Ethiopian woman cradling her baby.
Original Art © Adanech Evans.

I want to close this post with a mention of another Ethiopian adoptee, Abai Schulze. Abai is the founder and Creative Director of ZAAF, “a collection of premium leather goods and accessories handcrafted by artisans in Ethiopia.” The products are stunning. They have been featured at New York Fashion Week, in Elle, Lucky, Vogue, and Forbes.

Abai came from Ethiopia to the US for adoption at around 11 years old. Her adoptive family encouraged her not to lose her Amharic language and to keep her connections with Ethiopia. She holds a degree in economics from George Washington University, learned about design and fine arts, and returned to Ethiopia to establish ZAAF in 2014. You can read more about her in Tadias and elsewhere.

Abai recently gave an incredible, inspiring Tedx talk, available here. The theme of the Tedx was a “A World of Change, A World of Hope,” and Abai’s talk was titled ” ‘Made in Africa’ The Power of Shifting Perceptions.” She briefly discusses adoption, but the focus is much more on the tremendous potential of Ethiopian and African creativity and business power. Abai offers an important view into alleviating poverty not through charity or saviorism, but through liberation of talent and ingenuity. She gives a solid business plan based in economics, pragmatism, resilience, and hope.

It’s resilience and hope I want to focus on, as we keep Hana in our hearts always. May justice be served.

For lawyers and others who may be interested, here is the link to appellate briefs in Carri Williams’ petition. Her case is number 77416-6.

Here is the link to appellate briefs in Larry Williams’ petition. His case number is 77460-3.

US Embassy-Addis and US State Department: No Role In Post-Adoption Support?

I had an idea: Ask the US Embassy in Addis if they would be interested in an event focused on adult Ethiopian adoptees who are now Americans.

They said no. I then asked the Office of Children’s Issues at the State Department. Nope.

Should our US government, the entity responsible for oversight of international adoptions to the US, have any role in post-adoption support? International adoptees are here  because the US government allowed them to enter, coordinated the adoption process, researched the background of the child and birth parents, and signed off on visas and other documents. Those are all enormous, significant, life-changing responsibilities. Does our government then close the door on adoptees when they grow up?

Since 1999, the US Embassy in Addis Ababa has processed some 16,000 adoptions. While the legal procedure has had some changes, US State Department staff at the Embassy handled a great deal of adoption paperwork; listened to many adoptive families, adoption agencies, and birth families; and worked hard to make sure all those adoptions were legal and appropriate.

The US Department of Homeland Security, of course, plays a large role in intercountry adoption as well, including issuing Certificates of Citizenship. I believed the U.S. Embassy in Addis would be a more appropriate possibility for an in-country event with adoptees, and hence I contacted them.

Adoptions have closed now from Ethiopia, for a number of reasons.The history of adoptions has been rife with challenges and controversies. That said, the US Embassy has signed off on thousands of adoptions from Ethiopia. They have been closely involved with adoptive parents and adoption agencies for decades.

I thought, perhaps naively if optimistically, that an event like this might be a chance for our U.S. government working in Ethiopia to welcome back Americans who began their lives in Ethiopia, who could provide a unique perspective on their experience as adoptees, and could provide a tremendous bridge between our two countries. Healing, transparency, communication, connections. Why not? I emailed the Embassy last May.

After several weeks, they finally wrote: “Unfortunately, we generally do not go as far as organizing conferences for groups from outside Ethiopia as our programmatic resources are focused in-country. That said, we…recommend that you reach out to adoption advocacy groups and/or Ethiopian media if that’s of interest to you.”

Huh.

After that first turndown from the Embassy, I tried again. I can share the full exchanges with anyone interested, but here a snippet.

From me to the Embassy: “I applaud the Embassy’s efforts to fund proposals that empower women, youth, and underrepresented voices, as well as to strengthen independent media through media literacy. We all believe, as Ambassador Mike said, that when Ethiopia succeeds, when it taps the potential of all its people, not only Ethiopia but the region, the United States, and the world also benefit…We have a tremendous opportunity to bring fact-based information about adoption, and to heal some of the misinformation around adoptions. You brought the Eastern Shore Network for Change to Ethiopia during Black History Month 2018 to heal history and promote constructive change, an outreach to the next generation of Ethiopian leaders. Partnerships like that one and the many others that you promote can, indeed, improve understanding and provide hope for a more equitable future.

Beautiful, complicated Ethiopia. © Maureen McCauley

A program with adoptive parents and especially adult Ethiopian adoptees would bring accurate information around a subject that has had a great deal of misunderstanding. It could promote important connections. It could build astonishing partnerships among young Ethiopian and American leaders, and between the US and Ethiopia.”

They were not interested:

“The role of the Embassy in intercountry adoption is to facilitate the lawful placement of children with American adoptive families. We do support the inclusion of all voices as you pointed out, but we hope you understand that that does not mean we can create a program for every proposal that we receive. And while we certainly think there is value in having Ethiopian adoptees share their stories and be involved in their home communities, we do not see that as an appropriate space for us to take the lead. That said, there is nothing at all preventing adoptees from organizing such outreach on their own – one potential avenue might be to reach out to adoption placement agencies that have been working in Ethiopia – and we wish you every success should you choose to do so.”

I then tried the Office of Children’s Issues (OCI) at the US State Department, the one that is the Central Authority under the Hague Convention to oversee adoptions.

Their 21 full-time OCI employees have several adoption-related responsibilities, including this one: “Working with U.S. embassies and consulates on diplomatic efforts with host governments about adoption laws and procedures.”

OCI, however, had no interest in my idea either. They noted that their focus and that of the Embassy was to complete pending cases.

“Although we understand the Embassy is currently unable to get involved in this particular event, we certainly support and encourage the involvement of private individuals and organizations in promoting these positive stories. As the Embassy mentioned, you may want to consider contacting adoption advocacy and/or child welfare organizations in Ethiopia to support these efforts. We would appreciate learning the outcome of any events you should organize.”

My response to OCI: “I understand the focus of both the Embassy and State in recent months is to complete pending cases. You note that the processing of the current cases is the focus of the Embassy. You don’t cite any other reasons to oppose this idea.

Thus I conclude that once the current cases are resolved, the Embassy and State would then be open to considering an event of some sort. Am I correct? That would be wonderful.”

The OCI response to me: “We would refer you to the Embassy’s public affairs section for the answer to that question.”

And that’s a wrap.

A few final thoughts:

Why the suggestion of working with adoption agencies is naive at best:

When the US Embassy suggested working with adoption agencies, I realized we were at an impasse. Many adoption agencies these days have slim budgets and are struggling, especially in light of the decline in international adoption. Adoption from Ethiopia has ended. Some agencies are not interested in providing post-adoption services to adult adoptees without charging fees, if they in fact offer post-adoption services at all to adopted adults. Among the reasons adoption from Ethiopia ended was because of adoption agency behavior: One adoption agency, International Adoption Guides, had its staff indicted for fraud, bribery, and corruption in Ethiopian adoptions. Another big agency, Christian World Adoptions, was the subject of a powerful expose for possible trafficking in Ethiopia; CWA suddenly closed it doors due to bankruptcy. The death of Hana Williams at the hands of her adoptive parents in Washington state is one reason that Ethiopian adoptions closed. AAI, the agency that placed Hana and hundreds of other Ethiopian children, is out of business. Many other agencies working in Ethiopia have also closed for various reasons. The new accrediting entity, IAAME, has suspended or evoked accreditation for several agencies. 

No, adoption agencies would be unlikely partners.

What the U.S. Embassy-Addis did for Black History Month:

In February 2018, for Black History Month, the Embassy sponsored three speakers from the US, specifically from the Eastern Shore Network for Change, to visit Ethiopia for a week “to heal history and promote constructive change, an outreach to the next generation of Ethiopian leaders.” The folks from the Eastern Shore (MD) organization spoke at Addis Ababa University, the African Union, the Nativity Girls’ School, the Jesuit Refugee Center, and St. Mary’s University. They held a roundtable with the Ethiopian Women’s Journalists Association, and did live broadcasts on Facebook that reached some 11,000 people. They went to a reception at the US Ambassador’s home.

As a result of seeing all the press and support that the Embassy gave to this visit, I thought they might be open to something similar for American citizen Ethiopian adoptees. I was wrong.

The idea for an event is not dead, by any means. We are pursuing other options.

I wish, though, that the US Embassy in Addis and the US State Department’s Office of Children’s Issues, having been involved with thousands of adoptions, had embraced the idea of supporting adult Ethiopian-American adoptees. Instead, they turned down the opportunity, as I see it, to promote healing, listen to adult adoptees, and advance understanding.

 

 

 

 

The Problem of Post-Placement Reports and Ethiopian Adoptions

The Ethiopian Parliament ended international adoptions in January. However, according to a Facebook posting by an adoptive family, some adoptive parents and Ethiopian officials apparently want to “prove to Ethiopia’s parliament that adoptive families in the US are a great resource for the orphan crisis in Ethiopia.”

(Spoiler alert: This perspective completely excludes the experiences of adult adoptees and of Ethiopian birth parents. Without their voices, this whole undertaking will fail.)

A recent meeting took place in Washington, DC, at the Ethiopian Embassy, with four adoptive families, an official from Ethiopia’s Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs, and embassy officials. The main takeaway of the meeting: to create a flood of post-placement reports from adoptive families, because, they said, Ethiopian “adoptions are closed because families vow in court to do post-adoption follow-up reports on the health and well-being of the children before getting custody, but the majority don’t turn in reports. So the measure of adoption success is not measurable.” To prove that adoptions are successful, “they need a flood of post-adoption reports from families!”

The failure of families to submit post-placement reports was perhaps one reason for Ethiopia to end adoptions, but it’s hardly the only one. Other reasons include the death of Ethiopian adoptee Hana Williams and attendant outcry, the failure of adoptive families to preserve and honor their child’s Ethiopian heritage, the ongoing concern about fraud and corruption, various reports about Ethiopian adoptees being “re-homed,” and, one would hope, a sincere desire to strengthen the child welfare system in Ethiopia to protect the rights and meet the needs of vulnerable children.

So what’s the deal with post-placement reports? Why don’t families send them in?

Here are a few reasons:

  • Many American adoptive families have no confidence that the reports are read, filed, and stored safely in Ethiopia.
  • Some adoption agencies told adoptive and birth families that the Ethiopian birth families would be able to access the reports to know how their children are doing. That simply hasn’t happened.
  • Some families have learned that the story they were told about why their child needed to be adopted was not true. The children aren’t orphans. There was coercion and fraud. The Ethiopian family thought the children were going to the US for education and would return to their Ethiopian family. Given the lies, families stopped sending reports.
  • Adoption agencies closed or were shut down, and left no information about how to follow-up with the reports.
  • Some families just got busy. Since there is no enforcement mechanism, there’s no way to mandate the reports.
  • Increasing numbers of families are in contact with their children’s Ethiopian family, and therefore feel no need to send the reports to the government.

In any case, there’s now a campaign of sorts to get adoptive families to flood the government with post-placement reports. The reports, according to an adoptive family who attended the Embassy meeting, “should include 6-8 photos and a summary of the child’s well-being—physical health, emotional health, education/activities, relationships within family, family summary (jobs, church, people, etc.) and any incorporation of Ethiopian heritage (this goes a LONG way!)”

(Spoiler alert: Way too many US families don’t live anywhere near Ethiopian people, or black people, or other-than-white-people. Incorporation of Ethiopian heritage should be a core value for adoptive parents, one that means more than art on the walls and a summer heritage camp once in a while.)

I understand the value of the post-placement reports: to reassure a sending country that their children are alive and well. I doubt that the reports will make any inroads to the Parliament officials who banned adoptions in Ethiopia, and they won’t do much to help current vulnerable children.

What, besides post-placement reports, can begin to heal the damage done by fraud, corruption, bribery, and trauma to children through the adoption process? How can the good outcomes be noted and discussed? What can possibly be done to effectively help vulnerable children in Ethiopia, now that adoptions are ended?

I suggest that adoptive parents sending in a post-placement report include the following  points along with their photos and updates:

  • We would like to have clarification about the reports we send: Are they translated into Amharic? Are they stored and filed safely? If my child’s Ethiopian birth family wants to see the reports, how does that work?
  • We would like to know what services and resources are offered to Ethiopian mothers and fathers after they have placed a child for adoption. We have many resources for adoptive parents and families here in the US. What is available for birth families in Ethiopia?
  • We would like to understand why adult adoptees are not actively invited to participate in these meetings and forums on Ethiopian adoption. Are we wrong that the outreach seems to be almost exclusively directed to adoptive parents with young children?
  • How can we adoptive parents better promote family preservation and in-country adoption in Ethiopia? Here’s what we are doing about that now: (Families can then describe how they are promoting both preservation and in-country adoption.)
  • We heartily endorse and encourage adoptive families and all interested parties to support the work of Beteseb Felega / Ethiopian Adoption Connection. They are doing work that is vital to the Ethiopian adoption community.

Whether you send a post-placement report or not, you can still send these talking points to the contact person: mulugeta@ethiopianembassy.org.

Bottom line: More post-placement reports from adoptive parents of young children are not the solution. Critical engagement and involvement of adoptees and birth families are long overdue. I do not understand why their inclusion has been such an afterthought and oversight.

There are concrete steps:

  • The Ethiopian government can confer with organizations such as Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora. Many Ethiopian adoptees around the globe are already actively helping vulnerable children and families in Ethiopia, whether their own families or via nonprofits or businesses, and many more would welcome the opportunity to do so.
  • The government can invite adult adoptees to return to Ethiopia and help them with getting to know their country of origin.
  • The government and adoption agencies can provide follow-up services for Ethiopian mothers, fathers, grandparents, and siblings who have been impacted by adoption.
  • The government and adoption agencies can insist on post-placement reports from Ethiopian birth families. I’d like to hear from agencies about why this isn’t done currently, in terms of best practice for all those affected by international adoption.

These steps could help achieve several important goals: to increase family preservation, to promote in-country adoption, and to bring light and transparency to Ethiopian adoption history. Until we stop excluding adult Ethiopian adoptees and Ethiopian birth parents, there will be no substantive change.

What NPR Got Wrong in its Story About Ethiopia’s Adoption Ban

NPR recently did a soft story: “In Ethiopia, A New Ban on Foreign Adoptions Is About National Pride.”

Here’s what went wrong with it:

In a story about Ethiopian adoptions, not one adult adoptee was included for perspective. Nor was an Ethiopian birth parent quoted, if any were even consulted.

The tragic death of Ethiopian adoptee Hana Williams was glossed over. Her murder by her adoptive parents was considered homicide by abuse, and roiled the Ethiopian adoption community as well as Ethiopians in Ethiopia and in the diaspora.

Fraud and corruption didn’t even get a mention in this story. Staff from one agency were indicted by the US Justice Department, pled guilty, and were given jail time. That’s not insignificant. Many adoptive families and adoptees from Ethiopia have learned that the reasons that adoption agencies provided for their adoption were not true or accurate. For example, many adoptees have living birth family members, though the adoptive parents  were told the children were orphans. A conversation with adult adoptees who have searched and reunited with their Ethiopian parents would bear this out multiple times.

Further, there are Ethiopian adoptees who have been “re-homed” when the adoptive family cannot or will not care for them anymore. There are Ethiopian adoptees in the US foster care system. Ethiopian adoptees have annulled their adoptions.

There are many ways to help vulnerable Ethiopian children and families that do not involve adoption.

Oh NPR. You’re certainly not the only news service to omit adult adoptees and birth parents when discussing adoption issues. The impulse apparently is to engage adoptive parents, and that’s it. Well, sometimes prospective adoptive parents are also interviewed. Birth parents and adult adoptees are afterthoughts, if they are considered at all.

And that tired narrative, that lazy approach, has to stop.

Media: Don’t give the mic solely to adoptive parents. And maybe not to them at all.

The main person interviewed and photographed for the story by NPR East Africa  Correspondent Eyder Peralta is a white woman from Ohio who has adopted two Ethiopian children, the second one in January when the Ethiopian Parliament passed a law ending international adoptions.

Thus the only person with a role in adoption who was interviewed to talk about Ethiopian adoption was a white woman of very young children. Not an Ethiopian adoptee, nor an Ethiopian birth parent, either of whom could have provided far more insight into the impact of the ban on adoptions in Ethiopia than a new adoptive parent. I say that as an adoptive parent whose Ethiopian children are now 29 years old.

Why Ethiopia ended adoption: (1) Failure of adoptive parent to keep children connected with their heritage and culture

The first point here, and it is not a part of the story at all, is that Ethiopia has the right to make decisions about its children. The rest of us can disagree, but recognizing the Ethiopian government’s rights as a sovereign nation is important.

The reasons the Ethiopian government provided for the ban on adoption had to do (1) with the adopted children losing their heritage and connection with culture and (2) the response to the murder of Hana Williams.

In the NPR story, Peralta writes about Niki and Brad Huelsman, the white parents who adopted their Ethiopian son in January, saying “They want Girma and his 6-year-old sister to learn about their heritage.” Unfortunately, there is no discussion or insight here about how complex that learning can be, how deeply racism impacts black Americans, and the fact that the Huelsman family’s village of Morrow, Ohio, is 96% white. Are these two Ethiopian children a significant part of the 0.4% of African-Americans in the tiny town?

That sort of pointed question is a valid one in the context of Ethiopian adoptions, and especially when, as Peralta writes, Ethiopian lawmakers ended adoptions because they were “worried that Ethiopian children taken abroad could suffer identify crises and psychological problems.” The adoptive parent confirms those fears of the Ethiopian lawmakers. The children featured in the article will be raised in a small, white village in Ohio, and unless the family is moving to a far more diverse area, the children will likely grow up loved and also lacking in a genuine sense of what it means to be Ethiopian, black, and Ethiopian-American—exactly one of the fears of Ethiopian lawmakers.

Why Ethiopia ended adoption: (2) The death of adoptee Hana Williams and abuse of adoptee Immanuel Williams at the hands of their adoptive parents

The Ethiopian government was also concerned with the physical abuse of their children. I was deeply disappointed when Peralta referred to Hana Williams but did not say her name. In fact, all he said was that the “Ethiopian child from Seattle died after she was left outside in the cold,” a description that is dismissive, disrespectful, and insufficient.

Hana died from hypothermia and from malnutrition, having wasted away to a weight (78 pounds, at age 13) that was less than what she weighed on arrival from Ethiopia three years prior to her death. She died from abuse and torture she endured over a period of months, having been locked in closets, made to eat outdoors, being given frozen food to eat, being forced to shower outside, having her head shaved because she cut the grass too short, and otherwise slowly abused to death. Her adoptive mother was convicted of homicide by abuse. Her adoptive father was convicted of manslaughter.

Hana Alemu (Williams)

Hana died, and her adopted Ethiopian brother Immanuel also was abused; he will bear the lifelong scars. Hana’s tragic death in 2011 at the hands of her adoptive parents horrified Ethiopians around the world. It horrified many people, including adoptive parents like me, as well as adoptees and of course birth parents in Ethiopia.

Yes, it is an isolated incident. We all understand that. But the fact that it happened was jarring at best for anyone who had previously thought that Ethiopian children were being adopted to a better life. We cannot talk about the adoption ban without consideration of that mindset.

The Bigger Picture on Adoption

The NPR story ended with a wistful, naïve, narrow note:

“The Huelsmans made it back to the United States in January with Girma in their arms ‘This transition is about as good as it could have gone,’ Brad Huelsman said. Big sister is a little jealous, but Girma has learned to love the family dogs and has even adjusted to the cold. ‘Sometimes I look at him even now and think I can’t believe he’s home,’ Niki Huelsman said.

But it’s a shame, they say, that other American families won’t know this joy.”

The naiveté is the notion that adoption is about bringing joy to American families. NO. Adoption from Ethiopia is/was not about bringing joy to American families. It was, and should have been, about finding families for Ethiopian children who have endured loss and trauma, and who genuinely have no other options.

Adoption also has to be about acknowledging the losses by the Ethiopian birth families, and the fact that adoption agencies offered them virtually no follow-up or counseling post-adoption, in marked contrast to what is offered to adoptive parents. In my trips to Ethiopia, and I’ve heard this from other visiting adoptive families, it is not at all unusual to have Ethiopian birth parents show tattered photos and ask adoptive parents, “Do you know where my child is?” Unlike American adoptive parents, Ethiopian birth parents rarely have received any sort of counseling or post-adoption services from the adoption agencies, or even any information about their children, though oftentimes they had been promised they would get news. An important resource has been Beteseb Felega, Ethiopian Adoption Connection, which has reunited many Ethiopian birth parents with their children.

For my final note here, I will say that while there will be no more adoptions for the foreseeable future, adoptive parents and others can still help vulnerable children in Ethiopia. The NPR story, like so many that follow only the tired narrative, seems to suggest that only adoption can help the children, and that is simply not true. There are sponsorships available, for some $30 or $50 a month, far less than the $50,000 for a single adoption, that will allow children to go to school, to have decent meals, to receive much needed medications. Roots Ethiopia provides (among other resources) supplies for children with Down syndrome.

Here’s a post that skims the surface of the multiple ways to help Ethiopian children and families.

We need to stop romanticizing adoption as a delightful fairy tale and acknowledge the losses as well as the gains. We need to insist that the voices of adult adoptees and of birth parents be at least equal with those of adoptive parents; I’d argue they should be considered the ones with greatest insight in adoption. And we need to stop throwing up our hands and acting as if international adoption is the only way to help vulnerable Ethiopian children.

Here’s hoping media catches up with this reality, and stops promoting stories that don’t begin to tell the full story.

 

Post script: Be sure to take a look at an Ethiopian adoptee’s comments on Twitter: @AselefechE

Consider emailing Eyder Peralta, the writer of the NPR story, at eperalta@npr.org, or tweeting your comments about the story to @NPR and to the writer, @eyderp.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

IAG Officials Sentenced

The three defendants from International Adoption Guides were sentenced yesterday, : Mary Mooney got 18 months in prison. James Harding got 12 months in prison. Alisa Bivens got probation. All had pled guilty to the charges of fraud, bribery, and corruption brought against them by the US Justice department; the crimes all involved Ethiopian adoptions. Many families, in the US and in Ethiopia, were harmed by IAG.

Correction/Update: The charge also involved adoptions from Kazakhstan. Mary Mooney was sentenced for accreditation fraud for Kazakhstan. Harding and Bivens were sentenced of conspiring to defraud the United States in connection with Ethiopian adoptions.

In addition, the three defendants have been ordered to pay restitution. Mooney was ordered to pay $223,946.04 to victims who adopted from Kazakhstan. Harding was ordered to pay $301,224.25, and Bivens $31,800.00, presumably to victims of the Ethiopian fraud. The court will be contacting the victims individually with the restitution calculations.

I do not know if any Ethiopian parents are included as victims.

It is unclear when Mooney and Harding will begin their prison terms.

Here is the press release from the U.S. Department of Justice regarding the sentencing: “Founder, CEO, and Employee of International Adoption Guides (IAG) Sentenced For Adoption Fraud Schemes.”