Adult Adoptees On TV News Shows: Flip The Script

The social media movement during National Adoption Month (November) to “flip the script” is the brainchild of insightful women at The Lost Daughters. The purpose of the twitter hashtag #flipthescript is to include the voices of adoptees in National Adoption Month, which for far too long has been dominated by adoptive parents and adoption agencies. The hashtag broadens the understanding of adoption, by adding the valuable insights of adoptees.

Rosita Gonzalez created this important #flipthescript movement. It’s gained a lot of traction on Twitter, as well as the attention of news outlets. Listen to the recording of Rosita’s #flipthescript radio interview with Adoption Perspectives radio show on YouTube here.

This morning, Aselefech Evans was interviewed on Good Morning, DC, a news show of FoxTV channel WTTG. You can watch the clip of her excellent interview here.


Aselefech Evans on the set of Fox TV Channel WTTG’s Good Morning DC.


On Friday, November 28, you can see 3 more amazing people talking about why it matters to #flipthescript:

Minneapolis: Kevin Haebeom Vollmers‘ interview will air on KMSP-TV Fox 9 at Friday 11/28 at 7:45AM.

Philadelphia: Amanda Transue-Woolston‘s interview will air on Fox 29 WTXF-TV at Friday 11/28 at 8:15AM.

New York: Joy Lieberthal Rho‘s interview will air on Fox Good Day NY on Friday 11/28 at 8:40AM.

Happy Thanksgiving!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

According to the COA website:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To NPR, PBS, HuffPo, News Media: Don’t Quote Me, Don’t Ask Me

Reuters/NBC News recently published a troubling series called The Child Exchange, about how some adoptive parents are “re-homing” their adopted children with little oversight or transparency. I wrote about it in my blog post Treating Adopted Children Like–No, Worse Than–Dogs.

The information in the Reuters’ 5-part series is disturbing because of several elements. Isn’t adoption supposed to provide a child with a “forever family”? What was the adoption agency role in preparation? What is the adoption agency responsibility for post-adoption services, and for assisting the family in cases where a child may need (another) new family? How common is this practice of handing over a child with a notarized power of attorney to virtual strangers in a parking lot?

The adoption community on Facebook and elsewhere has been exploding with commentary. Many adoption-related organizations have issued press releases, and mainstream media is beginning to do some stories.

And who has been consulted and quoted? Adoptive parents, some of whom also work in leadership positions at adoption organizations.

Who has not been consulted or quoted in any meaningful way? Adult adoptees, some of whom also work professionally in adoption.

Off the top of my head, here’s a list of accomplished, knowledgeable adoptees who should be among the first to be consulted, way before adoptive parents:

The above list contains Ph.D’s, MSWs, transracial adoptees, international adoptees (Korea, Colombia, India), US adoptees–lots of professional publications, loads of experience.

I’ve blogged about the Reuters’ series, as I’ve said above, and I hope to be involved in some way with looking at possible reforms to our very broken adoption system.

But the folks that the media should be talking with first and foremost are adult adoptees.

Land of Gazillion Adoptees has offered their perspective on this recent PBS interview about the Reuters’ series. The interview featured the series’ writer, Megan Twohey, and Adam Pertman, adoptive parent and executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Institute. From LGA’s Kevin Haeboom Vollmers:

I have great respect for PBS, but it dropped the ball with this interview. You should have invited professionals who are adoptees to discuss this topic because adoptees consider the kids and teens who have been rehomed as “their people.” Would PBS only invite white individuals if it was talking about an issue that impacted the African American community? I think not. PBS also should have challenged Adam Pertman because, in many respects, individuals like him who have held the microphone in adoption are very much to blame for not bringing to light adoption rehoming, disruptions, and dissolutions to light earlier.

Read the whole Land of Gazillion Adoptees’ post here.

LGA also posted the following insightful information from the highly credentialed therapist (and Korean adoptee) Melanie Chung-Sherman, about disruptions, dissolutions, and re-homing, all issues that are not news to her (unlike to some adoption professionals):

Disruption–the legal termination of an adoption prior to finalization in a court. Essentially, this termination can take place before a child has been legally adopted into a family–whether this is by the decision of the courts, placing agency, adoptive parents, or kinship family. Most of the time, the child has been placed in a home study-approved adoptive home prior to finalization in court–exceptions can be made for kinship placements within the birth family or step-parent relationships in which a child may already be living in the home. This term has been used interchangeably with dissolution, but it is different. Under disruption definitions, in most states, the child was never formally adopted and therefore name changes, birth certificates, and legal parental privilege was never officially/legally granted.

Dissolution–the legal termination of an adoption following finalization in a court of law. This occurs when adoptive parents or the courts decide to terminate parental rights of an adoptee. The adoptee is either placed into another home study approved family by legal adoption OR returned to state care through CPS or DCFS. Adoptive families are no longer legally responsible for the care of that child. However, many children may still carry the legal name of their adoptive family on their birth certificate unless they are adopted into another family or petition a name change. This creates additional difficulty in adequately tracking the number of legally recognized dissolutions because the names have been changed from the original court petition–or in many cases, there have been jurisdictional changes since finalization. There are many courts that are now requiring families who dissolve adoptions to pay for child support/foster care until the child is 18 years old.

Power of Attorney–Since Reuters dropped The Child Exchange there has been some confusion regarding POAs and legal custody. It should be noted that a POA is not legally binding in most states. A POA grants some authority of custodial needs such as medical care, educational decisions, and basic needs so long as the child is in his/her care. It does not replace the legal custody or legal transfer of parental rights to another which can only be completed in a court of law. Many law officials are unaware of this and thus may not question a POA. **It is important to note that there are many kinship placements (such as grandparents, step, and biological family members) that use POAs to ensure that they can care and raise a relative’s child when his/her bio parents cannot–and a child can maintain their biological connection to their first family. Not all POA use should be viewed as negative or with suspicion, but more needs to take place regarding universal regulation of its use–so it is not abused and officials/professionals know the questions to ask in order to recognize the difference.

Rehoming–It is dissolution and it isn’t. Rehoming is an underground, unregulated practice between two private parties (usually strangers) transferring permanent care of a child from one home to another without the legal requirements or regulations such as home studies, background checks, education, or monitoring. It is the unofficial termination of legal rights to a child and the rendering of assumed rights to another family; however, the originating/adoptive family never legally terminated rights (through the courts) and are still responsible for the overall well-being of that child. (This is where POAs have been utilized.) At this time, it is not considered “illegal,” but unethical unless there is substantiated abuse under state child abuse definitions (can vary in specificity from state to state).

So. News media looking for insights and information on adoption issues: Don’t ask me, don’t quote me–or other adoptive parents–until you have first talked to the real experts: adult adoptees, especially those (and they are legion) with extensive and impressive professional credentials.