Support A Family in Ethiopia: A Little Boy Needs Your Help

A little boy in Ethiopia has a rare, painful disease, and his parents are doing everything they can to keep him healthy, comfortable, and with them. A GoFundMe campaign is a great opportunity for all of us in the adoption community (or in any other human community) to preserve and support a family.

The child’s name is Sofoniyas, and he turned three in June. He was recently diagnosed with Epidermolysis Bullosa, or EB. It is a rare connective tissue disorder, the symptoms of which are extremely fragile skin that blisters and tears from even the smallest irritation (including clothing, or bumping, or falling, or touching). It is constantly painful. The care involves daily treatment of the blisters and wounds, along with pain management and protective bandaging.

Sofoniyas and his mother. Photo © Jemal Countess

In countries with top-notch medical resources, management of EB is challenging. In Ethiopia, children with EB often suffer gravely. Some die much too young. Some are separated from their families, and might get adopted, due to the difficulty and costs of treatment in country.

Both of Sofoniyas’s parents are currently involved full-time in his care. They do not have all the supplies needed to care for their son: sterile needles for lancing the blisters, Medi-Honey, loose clothing, sterile bandaging, doctor visits, and support for the family’s day-to-day expenses.

To help them, Jemal Countess, a dear friend of mine (and of Ethiopia, of children, and of those in need), who is a photographer with Getty, has set up a GoFundMe campaign for Sofoniyas and his family. Jemal came with us to Ethiopia in 2014, and took amazing photos and video. He has traveled extensively in Ethiopia and Africa, and always does so with a compassionate, unflagging heart. Jemal is currently in Ethiopia, and is helping to coordinate the delivery of supplies to the family.

Please contribute to this GoFundMe campaign, which will change the life of a vulnerable child and his loving parents. Please share the campaign widely. Many thanks.

 

International Women’s Day and Economic Equity in Adoption

Today, International Women’s Day, is meant to highlight the economic power and significance that women have in global economies. I struggle to honor that notion when I consider the astonishing imbalance of power in adoption, especially in terms of domestic infant adoption in the US and of international adoption.

I recently was a small part of a Twitter conversation with a new Florida law firm focused on adoption that posed this question on behalf of expectant mothers: “Can I get paid for placing my baby up for adoption?” That was the first tweet the new firm posted on February 9, so we have a good idea of their priorities and marketing strategy.

 

This law firm will indeed help with financial assistance for expectant mothers who agree to place their babies for adoption. This is legal, with variations among states. The assistance can include rent, food, cell phone, medical expenses, and “possibly more.” Depending on the contract signed between the mother and the prospective adoptive parents, assistance can continue for four to six weeks after the birth. If the mother changes her mind, she may be liable for reimbursement of expenses. There is, of course, no financial assistance from the law firm to keep the child.

The law firm I tweeted to never responded to my tweets, and has since blocked me. No surprise, no big deal. The reality is there are plenty of other law firms and agencies advertising the same way.

The Twitter exchange reminded me of the tremendous economic imbalance between adoptive mothers and expectant/birth mothers, a disparity that is too rarely discussed and has significant implications for the way adoptive parents talk about adoption and birth parents with their children.

Today, on International Women’s Day, I am struck, not for the first time, by what the disparity in economic power and leverage between adoptive mothers and expectant/birth mothers signifies for motherhood. I am well aware of that disparity, as an adoptive mother through US and international adoption. We pay significant amounts of money; they place their child with us. It is relative wealth that makes us mothers, and scarcity of funds that makes them mothers who may never see their children again. We have the legal means to ensure that outcome, as well as the wherewithal to establish geographical and emotional distance.

I recognize that women have a right to place their children for adoption, and would argue that it must be done in a non-coercive way that creates a level playing field for everyone, not just the women (and men) with money: Not when a few weeks of financial help means a lifetime of sadness. Not when adoption is a permanent solution to a temporary situation. Not when adoption agencies close and are no longer intermediaries between birth families and adoptive families, and leave no ways for the birth family or the adopted person to get information. Not when international mothers are told that their babies will come back some day and help them, and they don’t understand (or aren’t told) that legal adoption in the US means total severance of parental rights.

We adoptive mothers, on this International Women’s Day, can do much to forge equity with expectant mothers and with those mothers who have placed their children for adoption.

  • We can keep up our agreements in open adoptions. Obviously, safety is always a factor. Still, we may be able, even in difficult cases, to share information through an agency,  mediator, liaison, or family member. That would be so much better than slamming doors, because circumstances can change, children grow up, and information can change lives.
  • We can support our children’s journey to search and reunite, without fear. That might mean welcoming their mothers into our lives, or hearing about their visits, or something else. We can be with them if there are dead ends or secondary rejection. We can learn why it may matter to some adoptees to search, and why birth parents may be waiting to know if their baby is alive and well. We can support open records, and access to original birth certificates. As adoptive mothers, our voices are especially compelling to legislators. Use your power.
  • We can support family preservation efforts, here in the US and around the world. When we hear that international adoptions may be ending, for example, we can look at ways to continue to help children.
  • We can reject placement of babies with adoptive parents in delivery rooms, when women are physically and emotionally exhausted. We can be at peace with the mother having time to decide, after birth, if adoption is the right choice for them. We adoptive mothers can testify for more time for revocation of consent, for better enforcement of open adoptions, and for thoughtfully allocated assistance to first/birth families.
  • We can acknowledge that some first/birth mothers will experience a lifetime of grief. If we adoptive parents cannot bear the thought of our beloved child dying, can we understand what placing a child for adoption might mean to some first/birth mothers? Can we bring her into our lives somehow, certainly through empathy if not through actual connections?

Mother and child at Nye Beach, OR Photo © Maureen McCauley Evans

 

I am a mother through adoption, and I love my children more than I can say. I recognize that they had mothers before me, and that all of them (my children and their first mothers) have had complex, sometimes painful, sometimes joyous, events as a result of (or in spite of) adoption. I recognize that adoption can absolutely be the best decision for parents and children, and a lifesaving action for children as well. I know it can be also be a divisive, cruel, and unethical transaction.

On International Women’s Day, may we commit to working together as women and mothers in the adoption community.

The Beginning of the End of Global International Adoption?

Is there a perfect storm brewing that signals the end of international adoptions?

What would that mean for children who are genuine orphans, who need safe families, who have medical conditions that are untreatable in their home country?

Some facts/omens/bellwethers:

(1) International adoption has been on the wane for about a decade. Priceonomics published an overview asking “Why Did International Adoption Suddenly End?” It hasn’t ended, but it has definitively declined.

According to the Priceonomics article, he US, Canada, several western European countries, and Australia/New Zealand received some 40,000 children for international adoption each year from 2003 to 2007. In 2012, the global total was under 20,000. The decline has been significant around the world.

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(2) This week, an advisory group for the Dutch government said that “The Netherlands should stop allowing people to adopt children from abroad because it is not in the best interests of the child.” New recommendations state that “the interests of the child should always be paramount and these are better served if the child grows up in their own country with their own culture. Instead, more should be done to help the child’s biological parents ensure continuity of care.” Read the article from Dutch News here.

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The Netherlands adopted about 1200 children annually in the early 2000’s. In 2015, the total was 304, of whom 37 were from the United States, according to the US State Department FY 2015 report, Table 3.

Th Netherlands’ consideration of this approach is a big development, and one that bears monitoring closely.

 

(3) International adult adoptees have gone to court to annul their adoptions. Read more here.

(4) US adoption agencies have had their Hague accreditation status permanently suspended. One US agency has been indicted for fraud and conspiracy by the US Department of Justice; the staff people pled guilty and are awaiting sentencing.

(5) The US State Department has proposed new rules regarding intercountry adoption. Their summary: “The Department of State (the Department) proposes to amend requirements for accreditation of agencies and approval of persons to provide adoption services in intercountry adoption cases. The proposed rule includes a new subpart establishing parameters for U.S. accrediting entities to authorize adoption service providers who have received accreditation or approval to provide adoption services in countries designated by the Secretary, which will be known as “country-specific authorization” (CSA). Adoption service providers will only be permitted to act as primary providers in a CSA-designated country if they have received CSA for that particular country.

The proposed rule also strengthens certain standards for accreditation and approval, including those related to fees and the use of foreign providers. In addition, the proposed rule enhances standards related to preparation of prospective adoptive parents so that they receive more training related to the most common challenges faced by adoptive families, and are better prepared for the needs of the specific child they are adopting. These proposed changes are intended to align the preparation of prospective adoptive parents with the current demographics of children immigrating to the United States through intercountry adoption. Finally, the proposed rule makes the mechanism to submit complaints about adoption service providers available to complainants even if they have not first addressed their complaint directly with the adoption service provider.”

(6) Adoption agencies are pushing back against the proposed new rules. The National Council For Adoption has information here.

International adoption is an enormous, complicated issue. The convergence of children, money, reproductive rights, bureaucracy, international and state laws, money, race, immigration, economic inequity, health care access, and money is overwhelming. There are folks who see adoption as nothing less than trafficking. There are folks who just want to give a child a home. There are adult adoptees who are increasingly vocal on social media and in books, articles, and podcasts about their realities. We rarely hear from first/birth parents about their perspectives, but when we do, it’s often heartbreaking.

So what to do? Even if international adoption continues to decline, there will be children in need. Adoption may be a solution for some of them, but the costs and the controversies are daunting. I’ve made suggestions here: Lamenting the Decline in International Adoptions? Take Action.

And keep an eye on the brewing storm.

 

 

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.

 

“The Economist” Editorial: Blind to the Realities of International Adoption

The Economist, the British-based weekly news magazine, missed a valuable opportunity to present much-needed solutions for children without families. Instead, it glossed over recent history and current realities around international adoption, sounding uninformed and starry-eyed.

All children deserve safe, loving families. International adoption is one means of helping, but there are many other much-needed actions as well. Too often, people romanticize the notion of adoption without understanding its realities. Think “Annie.”

The Economist recently published two articles on international adoption. I was among many folks interviewed for Sarah Esther Maslin’s article, “Home Alone: Fewer Families Are Adopting Children From Overseas.” She addresses the issues of fraud and corruption in Romania and Guatemala, among other countries, noting the frustration that some folks have with the bureaucracy around the adoption process: “Such sluggishness infuriates overseas parents. But many sending countries say critics underestimate the difficulties of building a robust adoption system—and ask why, if people in rich countries really care about poor children in poor places, they do not fund domestic programmes to keep families together instead.”

Indeed.

Maslin’s article explains why international adoptions have decreased so significantly in recent decades, and it’s important that this information get out into the world at large. (I wrote about the issue in this post: “Lamenting the Decline in International Adoption? Take Action.”)

In addition to Maslin’s article, The Economist also published an editorial, “Babies without borders.” The editorial was superficial at best, failing to speak out to its 1.3 million readers about genuinely effective ways to help children have families.

Adoption can benefit some children and families. However, there is a bigger picture around child welfare advocacy that must be addressed.

Here is the Letter to the Editor I sent to The Economist:

In urging that international adoptions be made easier, The Economist’s editorial “Babies without borders” is naïve, clichéd, and shallow. It includes the following:

  • A stunning amount of faith that the Hague Convention has rooted out fraud and corruption, and thus it is now safe to move faster in processing adoptions.
  • A failure to mention how many adult adoptees have discovered the extent of deception in their adoptions.
  • A cavalier dismissal of the loss of culture and history when children are internationally adopted.
  • A noticeable silence about several countries’ efforts to promote in-country adoption and to reduce the cultural stigmas around it.
  • An astonishing exhortation that U.S. evangelical Christians specifically should not be stopped on their happy way to adopting.
  • A lack of awareness about the current paucity of post-adoption services which has led to tragic re-homing situations, as well as to international adoptees being placed, for example,  in the U.S. foster care system.

As an adoptive parent, I know the power of adoption. International adoption, though, helps very few of the children who genuinely need help. Increased family preservation efforts and child/family sponsorships via reputable organizations are only two of the possible  solutions to ensuring that many more children have safe, loving families.

Unfortunately, The Economist was busy humming Little Orphan Annie’s “Hard Knock Life,” and quoting it, rather than examining realities and proposing thoughtful solutions.

 

 

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Please read both Sarah Maslin’s article and the editorial, and share your thoughts with The Economist. You can e-mail letters@economist.com. Include your mailing address and a daytime telephone number.

 

RIP CHIFF. Hello CAPP? (Part 2)

CHIFF focused heavily on international adoption, and not so much on family preservation and empowerment. CAPP focuses heavily on improving outcomes for vulnerable children and families around the globe. Adoption, both domestic and international, will always be part of child welfare policy. As a community concerned with children, can those of us involved with adoption find common ground that both strengthens families and includes ethical, transparent adoptions? This post looks at one angle of the legislative conversations. There’s so much to say.

The information in RIP CHIFF. Hello CAPP? (Part 1) is not exhaustive regarding all that is happening with the implementation of the Children in Adversity report (APCA). So many agencies and acronyms. Public and private partnerships. Lofty goals with complex implementation. Millions of dollars. An enormous undertaking. I cannot disagree with the goals: vulnerable children and families deserve support and resources all around the globe.

CHIFF and CAPP Proponents: Overlap?

International adoption was a huge part of the failed Children in Families First (CHIFF) bill. It seems to be a tiny part of CAPP, the Children in Adversity Policy Partnership. What overlap is there between the proponents of the two?

The Joint Council on International Children’s Services is at the forefront of CAPP, as it was of CHIFF. JCICS, however, has been moving steadily away in the last 10 years or so from focusing on adoption agency services, and moving steadily toward a much broader mission of international child welfare. It still has adoption agencies as members, but fewer than was once the case (far fewer than when I worked at JCICS, from 1995-2000, certainly).

One of the biggest proponents of CHIFF, Both Ends Burning, does not seem to be involved with the CAPP. Peter Leppanen, BEB’s Strategic Advisor, is listed as a member of CAPP in a July 2014 Child Policy University Consortium document. His affiliation with BEB is not noted there. Many adoption agencies (and CHIFF supporters) are also listed as members of CAPP. The membership list may well have changed in subsequent months, and current CAPP information does not include BEB, as far as I can tell.

How much should we read into the fact that one of CHIFF’s biggest proponents is not involved significantly with CAPP? BEB has always been first and foremost an international adoption advocacy group. In November, they hosted a Global Symposium on permanency options for children. Looking from the outside, my impression is that BEB is intent on following its international adoption goals, and not committed, as least explicitly, to partnership with the Children in Adversity crowd. I hope, as BEB forges on, they will include the significant, genuine involvement of adult adoptees and first/birth parents.

The National Council for Adoption does not figure in CAPP either. NCFA supported CHIFF: “Chuck Johnson President and CEO of the National Council For Adoption said: “Children all over the world are languishing outside of family care…CHIFF re-aligns existing resources and re-prioritize how the U.S. Government serves this population of vulnerable children. NCFA enthusiastically supports CHIFF.” NCFA’s endorsement of CHIFF, as well as that of JCICS, Both Ends Burning, Christian Alliance For Orphans (CAFO), and others, is here.

In its January 2105 listing of legislative priorities, NCFA does not mention the CAPP, though they refer to CHIFF. This is not surprising: their primary focus is on US and international adoption issues.

CAFO posted its own support for CHIFF here. Jedd Medefind of CAFO has also endorsed the goals of the Children in Adversity report per this USAID press release.

Intercountry adoption is a much smaller part of CAPP than it was in CHIFF. There is minimal mention of the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption in the APCA. Clearly CAPP has a broader goal. And a cast of thousands, if not millions. It is an astonishing configuration of government, public, and private organizations. It makes my head spin.

I have no doubts that CAPP, the Global Alliance, and the attendant organizations, policies, and proposals have their fair share of challenging problems: the role of US AID, the failure of the US to approve the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the abilities of countries receiving assistance to have a role in that assistance, and so on.

Still, given the laudable goals of CAPP to improve early childhood outcomes, to preserve families, and to protect children from exploitation, will the need for international adoption be diminished?  Given the huge decline in the number of children being internationally adopted, for whatever combination of reasons, perhaps an approach that looks to achieve those laudable goals is timely.

Implications

So who doesn’t benefit from CAPP? Many of the same people who didn’t benefit from CHIFF.

CAPP does not, as far as I can tell and I would be happy to be incorrect about this, prioritize funding for pre- or post-adopt resources for internationally adopted children, nor for the birth/first parents of internationally adopted children. NCFA includes Post-Adoption Services on its list of legislative priorities. I have to wonder, as international adoption declines and agencies close, who will be responsible for providing post-adoption services to adoptees and their families, here and around the world. JCICS member agencies placed many of those international children, and they are rapidly changing their focus away from adoption services. Will NCFA step up?

Further, like CHIFF, CAPP does not address retroactive citizenship for all international adoptees. To its credit, NCFA does list “Citizenship Equality Intercountry Adoption” as one of its legislative priorities.

The issue of re-homing here in the US is not a part of CAPP, and nor was it part of CHIFF.

Retroactive citizenship and re-homing are admittedly complicated issues. They require a lot of collaboration and consensus to move at the federal level. The citizenship issue means tangling with immigration foes in Congress. On re-homing, some states have begun to look into and pass legislation on re-homing, but many international adoption advocates would like to see a uniform federal law.

Collaboration and consensus will be needed to move legislation and policies around improvement of pre- and post-adoption matters such as improvement of home studies, increased funding for adoption competent therapists/social workers, and better access to effective post-adoption resources. Providing pre- and post-adoption support to first/birth parents is especially complicated, because those parents are geographically and linguistically far removed; most cannot pay for services. None of this means we should advocate any less for them.

CAPP, it seems to me, is moving ahead with the support of far-reaching US government agencies, big name foundations, child welfare experts, and a variety of advocates. CAPP will probably have little impact on specific adoption policies in the US; certainly it appears not to have CHIFF’s intense focus.

I hope that CAPP will do or has done what CHIFF did not: Include the experiences and insights of those vulnerable children who have grown up, including adoptees and orphans. Include at the table the voices and realities, if not the actual presence, of first/birth parents who lost their children unfairly to adoption, due to poverty, corruption, fraud, social stigma, or other reasons, and prevent such tragedies from happening again.

So many important issues are hanging in the balance for internationally adopted children, and for those who are now international adult adoptees, and their families. Perhaps it will be those adult adoptees who will lead the way. Recent high level media news articles such as the New York Times “Why a Generation of Adoptees Is Returning to South Korea” and the Washington Post’s “Please Don’t Tell Me I Am Lucky” give anyone connected with adoption plenty to consider.

Will future advancements and policy decisions regarding adoption be the result of genuine collaboration and consensus, acknowledging the spectrum of experiences among adoptees, birth/first parents, and adoptive parents, and moving ahead to effectively help vulnerable children and families? I hope so. Let’s keep talking–and listening.

Heading for Ethiopia: Family, Half-Marathon, and First Mothers Project

Tomorrow morning, my daughter Aselefech, granddaughter Zariyah, and I will leave for Ethiopia. We will spend time with Aselefech’s family, with whom she reunited in 2008 (having been adopted in 1994), and with whom she and I last visited in 2011. It will be my granddaughter’s first trip to Ethiopia, where she will meet her extended Ethiopian family–grandmother, aunts, uncles, cousins. Zariyah will see where her mother was born and spent the first five years of her life, and where Aselefech would have grown up, if she hadn’t been adopted.

I know there have been many reunions and ongoing connections between Ethiopian adoptees and their original families. I wonder, though, how many children of adoptees have been able to meet their Ethiopian relatives.

It’s all about family, and how we define it.

Our time with Aselefech’s family is certainly a huge highlight for all of us. Another exciting part of our time there will be Aselefech’s Ethiotrail half marathon via Run In Africa, a business co-founded by renowned Ethiopian long distance runner Gebregziabher Gebremariam, who among other accomplishments won the New York City marathon in 2010.

Aselefech is running the half marathon to raise funds for Bring Love In, a nonprofit in Ethiopia dedicated to family preservation, by creating new families from widows and children and by keeping children out of orphanages and with their families. She set a goal of US$5000, and has exceeded that goal; all the money (except for a small percentage to CrowdRise) goes directly to Bring Love In. We are so grateful to everyone who has supported her and contributed to her campaign. More information is available here.

We will also be spending time in the capital city of Addis Ababa, visiting with friends and family, and doing some sightseeing of beautiful Ethiopia.

I also hope to begin work on my First Mothers project, to preserve and share the stories of Ethiopian original mothers, those who have placed their children for international adoption.

I’ll be posting occasionally during the trip, and no doubt quite a lot when we return.

Many thanks to everyone who has been with us on this journey, offering words of support and encouragement, sharing ideas and possibilities, and being vital, vibrant resources. Thank you (in Amharic): Amaseganallo.

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Update on African Orphans’ Congressional Hearing

I got my hopes up a bit when I saw that the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa had updated its witness list for tomorrow’s hearing on the “Growing Crisis of Africa’s Orphans.”

Then I saw that there is still no one listed as having been an orphan, no one listed as having been adopted as a result of being an orphan, and no one listed as being a family member of an orphaned child.

I am not suggesting that any minor children who are orphans should be speakers, but here’s a reality that too many people forget: orphans grow up. Adopted children grow up. There is no shortage of adults who could speak of their experiences as orphans and as adoptees, but, as is often the case, they are not included here. Equally marginalized are the extended family members of orphans, family members of children placed in orphanages, and original/first/birth family members of adopted children. No one on the speaker list is identified with having that actual life experience. No organization committed solely to family preservation/reunification is on the list.

Here’s a photo from the Facebook posting today from Abide Family Center, a family preservation organization doing great work in Uganda, and among those not included in tomorrow’s hearing:

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Such joy. The story behind those beautiful faces: This is Janet and her daughter Queen. Janet was referred to Abide by a local orphanage. She had approached the orphanage looking to place her two daughters there so she could work and find a place to live. Abide Family Center was able to help Janet achieve both goals without separating her girls from her.

That is what can happen to children who might otherwise be placed in an orphanage, though they are not orphans and are in fact deeply loved.

So who is going to speak at the hearing tomorrow?

In addition to the representative from Both Ends Burning (an attorney and adoptive parent) and from Zambia Orphans of AIDS, there will be two policy experts, one from the US State Department and one from the US Agency for International Development.

A (prospective) adoptive parent of a child from the Democratic Republic of Congo will speak. She has been part of Both End Burning’s campaign regarding the DRC’s decision to suspend adoptions in light of fraud and corruption. The US adoptive parents have been granted legal rights, but have been unable to get exit visas for the children. There has been a great deal of controversy around the efforts of the US parents and government to pressure the DRC to release the children.

The final speaker listed as of today is with Save the Children, which published the 2009 report Keeping Children Out of Harmful Institutions: Why We Should Be Investing in Family-Based Care.While Save the Children is about a wide range of child welfare programs, they place an important emphasis on family preservation.

From pages 4-5 of the Save the Children report:

One of the biggest myths is that children in orphanages are there because they have no parents. This is not the case. Most are there because their parents simply can’t afford to feed, clothe and educate them.

For governments and donors, placing children in institutions is often seen as the most straightforward solution. And it’s a way of sweeping out of sight the poorest and most discriminated-against children with the biggest problems. Encouraging parents to place their children in care is even used as a means to make easy money by some unscrupulous and unregulated institutions.

But, with the right kind of support, most families would be able to keep their children.

Supporting families and communities so that they can look after their children themselves might seem more complicated in the short term. But in the long term, it pays enormous dividends. Not only are individual children more likely to thrive and
go on to be better parents, they are more likely to contribute to their communities and to their country’s development.

Children deserve families, and institutions are not the right place for children to be raised. Absolutely right. No disagreement there. I applaud the report’s point that most children in orphanages are not orphans, and that there are huge long-term dividends to keeping children with their original families.

Here’s a quote from a ThinkAfrica press article, “Adopting From Africa, Saving the Children?”:

It is estimated that there are 58 million orphans on the continent. While the proportion of these adopted may be small, it is clear that the trends are significant enough for government officials from over 20 African countries to have convened at the Intercountry Adoption: Alternatives and Controversies of the ACPF Conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in May 2012.

What is shocking is how these orphans are characterised. According to Save the Children, over 80% of children in orphanages around the world have a living parent and most are there because their parents cannot afford to feed, clothe and educate them. In Ghana, the figure is as high as 90%. In Ethiopia, the government recently attempted to trace the families of 385 children from 45 institutions; the families of all but 15 children were located.

When seen through this lens, the African orphan crisis is more of a crisis in family support. Poverty is not a reason to remove a child from his or her parent, yet this is exactly what is driving Africans to give up their children in what they perceive are temporary arrangements which will give their children stability and an education before returning home.

Adoption is a viable option for a small number of children, especially those with medical issues. All adoptions, though, should be done with complete transparency and integrity. Too many African “orphans” have turned out not to be orphans at all, and those are important voices that will not be heard tomorrow. Too many first parents have lost their children because of poverty. Too few family reunification/preservation programs have adequate funding, support, and prominence.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights,and International Organizations hearing on “The Growing Crisis of Africa’s Orphans” is scheduled for July 16. The announcement is here. You may be able to watch a live video feed of tomorrow’s 2pmEDT hearing here.

 

 

 

 

 

Going Back, Giving Back: An Ethiopian Adoptee Runs For Ethiopian Orphans

My daughter Aselefech–an Ethiopian adoptee, part of the African diaspora, a mother herself–will be running a half-marathon in Ethiopia this August. And head’s up–she is doing so to give back to her country, by raising funds for an organization that is dedicated to family preservation, finding families in Ethiopia for Ethiopian orphans.

How beautiful and wonderful is that?

Aselefech and her twin sister, adopted at 6 years old, now 25 years old, have reconnected with their first family in Ethiopia. Aselefech wrote about her journey here: Far Away, Always in My Heart.

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One of their older Ethiopian brothers now lives in Seattle; the siblings have gotten to know each other well, again.

Aselefech with her brother (reunited in 2009) and her daughter. Photo: December 2012

Aselefech with her brother (reunited in 2009) and her daughter. Photo: December 2012

Aselefech is finishing up her undergraduate degree, and moving toward a master’s in social work. She writes honestly and powerfully as a columnist for Gazillion Voices, sharing her experiences with racism, with grief, with love, with loss. She’s done webinars, YouTube videos, conference workshops, and adoptee seminars, talking about the joys and the challenges of being adopted, internationally and transracially.

And now she will return to Ethiopia for the third time. Her daughter and I will be there too. We will visit with her Ethiopian family. My granddaughter will meet her Ethiopian grandmother, and play with her cousins there. Aselefech will run 13 miles with Ethiopians and others in her home country, to raise funds (via Crowdrise; please stay tuned) for Ethiopian family preservation.

Konjo. Beautiful. From sorrow and loss, we can find joy and hope.

Build Families, Not Boxes: Family Preservation in Korea

Baby boxes have found a resurgence in Korea, and adult adoptees are speaking out against them, saying that abandonment is not a solution when family preservation could and should be the priority.

Statistics indicate that, since the end of the Korean War, between 150,000 to 200,000 Korean infants and children have been adopted from Korea, primarily to the US but also to France, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway.

They are now the largest group of international adoptees, and the oldest as well, many now in their 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, and older.

These adoptees have thus had a few decades to reflect on their experiences, and are now speaking out in powerful ways. Many have returned to Korea, to search for relatives, to re-connect with their lost culture, and to find out the truth behind their adoptions. Some have moved to Korea, as visitors and as long-term residents.

Many have become active in adoption policies, in a country whose market economy now ranks 15th in the world. International adoptions have declined from Korea in recent years, as adoption laws have changed and adult adoptees’ voices have been better heard. The stigma of “unwed mothers” still exists as one reason for adoption, and that is slowly changing, finally.

That’s not to say that change has been easy, or uncomplicated. There have been many emotions, perspectives, and politics.

The goal of family preservation has to be the priority. Children should stay with their mothers and fathers, if it is safe for them. Also, children grow up. They should have the right to know who they are, the truth of their stories, even if they are adopted–maybe especially if they are adopted.

Around the world, children enter into care leading to adoption in many ways. One is “baby boxes.” These are actual boxes into which babies can be placed, the door then closing and a bell ringing to let the people on the other side know that a baby is there. Baby boxes have been around since medieval times, it turns out, when (it’s safe to say) few social services existed for babies whose parents could not care for them, whether due to social stigma, poverty, or significant medical or other reasons.

The increased use of baby boxes in Korea has become a source of concern, even outrage, for many Korean adult adoptees and their allies.

KoRoot is an organization run by Korean adoptees in Korea that helps adoptees who are returning to Korea. They have a guesthouse, and their staff helps with translation, tours, and more.  They also advocate on adoptee related issues in Korea. Recently, KoRoot has been working together with adult adoptees, unwed mothers, and allies who are committed to the human rights of infants and single mothers. 

Support KoRoot’s efforts to build awareness and families: not baby boxes. From their Facebook page:

We believe that every person has the right to family, and that we have a responsibility to help preserve families that are targeted by economic and social injustices. Moreover, we are distraught by the media’s celebration of the Baby Box as a humanitarian effort, while the fight for family preservation led by unwed mothers and adult adoptees has been overlooked.

How can you help?

KoRoot invites you to participate in our #BuildFamiliesNotBoxes social media takeover on Wednesday, January 22, Seoul, South Korea.

We’re raising the question: How do you define family? Share your story at #BuildFamiliesNotBoxes.”

Please also support the important work of the Korean Unwed Mothers’ Families Association, which advocates for the rights of unwed pregnant women, unwed mothers and their children in Korea. KUMFA’s goal is to enable Korean women to have sufficient resources and support to keep their babies if they choose, and thrive in Korean society. KUMFA was founded by and for unwed mothers themselves.

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