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.”
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.
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.