Update, Previews, and Teasers

It’s good to be back.  In the last few weeks, I’ve gone from Seattle to Vancouver and back, and then from Washington State to Maryland to New York City to Maryland to Washington State.


During these 3 weeks: One of my daughters ran her first 5k, and finished in the top 20. My other daughter made the honor roll for her college semester, and was asked to be a teaching assistant this fall in the psychology department. One of my sons received the certification for sanitation at the Culinary School he’s attending. My other son closed on several real estate/rental contracts.

I attended my granddaughter’s dance recital in Maryland.  She has since had two tee ball games, Field Day in kindergarten, and her piano recital.


In New York City, I saw the play “The Call,” about a white married couple considering adopting a child from Africa. I also attended the annual conference of the Joint Council on International Children Services. I presented a session on “Standards of Practice for Adoptive Parents: Ethics, Economics, and Responsibilities,” as well as a lightning talk (20 PowerPoint slides in 5 minutes) on The Art of Adoption, featuring poems, paintings, and plays by adoptees.


And each Friday, whatever time zone I was in, I skyped with my dad in Massachusetts. He’s in amazing physical health for an 83 year old.  He lives in the Harbor unit of an assisted living facility, diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.  He’s delightful to talk with, often asks if any of my kids are getting married. No word on that yet, Dad.

I’ve had lots to reflect on in terms of family, adoption, being in the moment, the futility of art-directing others people’s lives, and more.

Previews and Teasers

Tomorrow night (Tuesday June 4), 7 pm pdt/10pm edt: Angela Tucker (of Closure) and Aselefech Evans via Google + Hangout. The conversation will be about transracial adoption (US and Ethiopia), hair, race, diversity, search: how perception and understanding of adoption changes over time for adoptees, how our definition of “family” can be so complex.

In the next week or so, I will be posting my JCICS workshop information about Standards of Practice for Adoptive Parents.  (Teaser: The basics are citizenship, DNA testing, and role models/mentors who are adult adoptees.  The more controversial: Insisting on equitable pre-adopt and post-adopt services for birth families.)

I’m thrilled to be soon getting an advance review copy of The Declassified Adoptee‘s soon-to-be-published book. It’s going to be wonderful, powerful, provocative, insightful. A tremendous benefit to the adoption community.

Washington State has also provided two items of fodder recently for writing and commenting. For one, a less than adequate “compromise” bill on access to OBC’s. The second item is still not having a trial for Hana Alemu, more than two years after she was found dead in her adoptive parents’ back yard. A hearing is scheduled this week.

So.  There’s lots going on. Lots to write about, think about, reflect on. It’s good for us to be here.

On Mother’s Day: A Prayer for Hana Alemu (Williams)

This is a prayer for Hana Alemu, born in 1997 in Ethiopia, brought to Washington state in the US for adoption in 2008, died naked at night alone in the cold, locked outside her adoptive family home, on May 12, 2011: two years ago today, Mother’s Day. She weighed less at her death than she had at arrival 3 years earlier from Ethiopia.

Hana Alemu (Williams)

Hana Alemu (Williams)

Hana, may we learn from the loss of your life, that no child should ever suffer as you did.

May we remember and pray for your Ethiopian mother, keeping her in our hearts always.

May your Ethiopian family, those who knew you and those who grieve for you (whether angry, heartbroken, confused, prayerful) find healing and comfort.

May we adoptive parents deeply understand the responsibility we have, to care for and treasure our children.

May all parents who need help in caring for their children reach out and receive that help.

May adoption agency workers, child protective services staff, lawyers, police officers, and government officials receive encouragement and insistence that they do their difficult work conscientiously, aware that lives hang in the balance.

May justice be done.

May we never forget Hana.

A note:

I visited Hana’s grave this past Thursday (May 9), in anticipation of both Mother’s Day and the second anniversary of her death, May 12.

Hana's grave at Union Cemetery, Sedro-Woolley, WA

Hana’s grave at Union Cemetery, Sedro-Woolley, WA

As an adoptive mother of four children, including two daughters from Ethiopia, I have been both outraged and aching over Hana.

I wrote previously about Hana here.

Her adoptive parents Larry and Carri Williams have yet to go to trial. Hana’s body was exhumed and reburied in January, because there was a question about her actual age. If she is proven to be older (say, 16, at time of death), the charges against her adoptive parents could be reduced. Their next court date is in July.

Facebook group honors and remembers Hana. There is much interest in getting Hana a decent grave marker, and we hope that can happen after the trial concludes and justice is done.

OBC Outrage: Adoptive Parents?

Adopted children grow up. As adults, as US citizens, they should have the (basic, human, civil) right to access their Original Birth Certificate.

Access is a matter of state law. In only 6 states do adoptees have full access to their own OBC.

Birth parents were never guaranteed privacy through legislation on the federal, state ,or local level. Never. Yet they hold the legal rights (via vetoes written into state laws) to prevent the child they placed for adoption–the child to whom they gave up all legal rights–from accessing knowledge of who he or she is.

I believe in the rights of birth parents. I recognize how often they have been marginalized. The playing field, though, needs to be level here. It’s simply not fair to deny adoptees the fundamental right to know who they are.  No other group in the United States is cut off like this.

I’m disappointed in what seems to be happening here in Washington state, as adoptees’ rights are again being crushed. I’ll be writing to the Seattle Times and elsewhere, and I hope other adoptive parents join me.

The world hasn’t ended in Kansas or Alaska, where adoption records have never been sealed. In Oregon, Alabama, New Hampshire, and Maine, adult adoptees can access their records. In these 6 states, adopted adults have the right to access or not access their own records. Many adopted adults choose not to seek their OBC.

The right to one’s original birth certificate should be a real option, not an impossible, illicit act.

It puzzles me that adoptees and birth parents favoring open records have not been more successful. Very frustrating, but I think it shows the imbalance of power in adoption policy. We adoptive parents have been historically mighty in the World of Adoption Policy; it’s time we wielded our clout in this arena for our children to have access to their original birth certificates.

Adopted children grow up. It’s time we treated them as adults.

For some good advocacy, look at the following:

Adoptee Rights Coalition: Information about the status of legislation across the country.

Family Ties:  Thoughtful blog written by a grandmother like me, though she’s an adoptee.  And has 5 more grandkids than I do.

Bastard Nation: Great name, right? Provocative, helpful information. Here’s the Washington state info.

Washington Coalition for Adoptee Rights and Equality: Information specific to Washington state adoptees.

In remembrance of Hana

Update: Unfortunately, the Senate Committee did not act on the bill. Let’s hope that positive change will occur in the next legislative session.


No child should ever be abused. I believe adopted children deserve a special level of protection, since their movement from their biological family and their placement into an adoptive family (if done legally, ethically, and transparently) involves local, state, federal, and sometimes international laws and regulations.

Hana Alemu (aka Hanna Williams), 13 years old, died at the hands of her adoptive parents here in Washington state, in Skagit County, on May 12, 2011. Her obituary said she passed away unexpectedly. The coroner’s report said she died from hypothermia, found naked and dead locked outside her family home on a rainy night when temps were in the 40’s. News reports said she’d been beaten, starved, made to use a toilet outside, and, at the time of death, weighed less than she had at her arrival in the US from Ethiopia in 2008.

Hana (Alemu) Williams

Hana (Alemu) Williams

Her adoptive parents have yet to go on trial.

To its credit, Washington State is working to ensure that additional measures are in place to prevent such horrors happening again to any adopted child. The Department of Social and Health Services and the Office of Family and Children’s Ombudsman issued a report on severe abuse of adopted children; it’s sobering, daunting information about adopted children who were abused in terrible ways. Hana is among them. The children whose abuse (and, in some cases, deaths) prompted this report were from both US and international adoptions.

The report also proposes several important, realistic measures that can strengthen the success of adoptions and the safety of children:

Improved oversight of child-placing agencies, including tracking adoption disruptions and dissolutions (when the adoptive parents end an adoption before or after the adoption has been legally finalized),  as well as developing a list of “red flags” regarding troubled adoptions;

Better assessment of prospective adoptive parents, including enhancement of minimum requirements for home studies; and

Improved training and post-adoption services, including additional support services for adoptive families.

These proposals, which would apply to US and international adoptions, are significant and necessary. Some of the recommendations require relatively small legislative changes, and HB 1675 was introduced in the Washington State House, passing by a vote of 90 to 7. On March 21, the Senate Committee on Human Services and Corrections held a hearing on the bill.  Several people from the Ethiopian Community Association in Seattle traveled to Olympia to speak in favor of the bill at the hearing, as did I.

Some folks would like to see this bill called “Hana’s Law,” to honor her memory. The ECA folks were there because of deep concern about the safety of Ethiopian children adopted to the United States. I was there as the adoptive parent of twin Ethiopian daughters, 6 years old when they came here, 24 years old now. All of our hearts ache for Hana; her death was a tragedy of suffering that never should have happened.

I hope I am wrong in hearing that HB 1675 will not be sent to the Senate floor by the Human Services Committee.  They have only until Wednesday April 3 to move the bill. It is a great opportunity for a state legislature to act publicly and positively on legislation to protect adopted children.

Advocacy in Olympia, Part 1: The Value of the OBC

Adoptees, birth mothers, adoptive parents--rallying together for OBC access 3/21/13. I'm on the far left.

Adoptees, birth mothers, adoptive parents–rallying together for OBC access 3/21/13. I’m on the far left.

Washington State is known to be progressive: gay marriage, legalization of marijuana, more recycling buckets than you can shake a stick at (Yard Waste). So it’s surprising, in some ways, that the debate over allowing adult adoptees to access their original birth certificates (OBC) still swirls.

Around the world, most industrialized nations allow adult adoptees unrestricted access to their OBC as a matter of civil rights. (My daughters from Ethiopia arrived here with their OBC.) That’s not the case here in the US. Two states, Alaska and Kansas, have never sealed adoption records, meaning that adopted people have always had the right to obtain their OBC.  New Hampshire, Maine, Alabama, and Oregon currently allow adult adoptees to get their OBC, without restrictions. Most other states allow some sort of access, often fairly complicated, subject to some sort of veto (by the first/birth/biological mother)–and that is unfair.

No legislation exists (or has ever existed) by the federal government or any state government that guarantees privacy to birth parents following an adoptive placement. None.

Adult adoptees are the only group of Americans that are denied the right to know who they are, a basic human and civil right.

Whether they choose to exercise that right is highly individual, but there is no doubt in my mind that they should have the option. Adoption is undeniably complex.  Adoptees and birth families should have support and resources available to them, if and when they decide to search. A fundamental right, though, is access to one’s identity.

Last Thursday, I drove from Seattle to Olympia, Washington’s state capitol, about an hour and a half away.  The Senate Human Services and Corrections Committee was holding a hearing on 2 adoption-related bills, and, as an adoptive parent, I testified about both. The OBC legislation generated a lot of interest and testimony, from a few adoptive parents (older than me, even), several adoptees who ranged in age from mid-20’s to 70, and several birth mothers. We (adoptive parents, adoptees, birth mothers) were on the same page, urging legislators to allow adult adoptees unrestricted access to their original birth certificates. It’s overdue.