Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Ethiopian Adoption: Trying to Do the Right Thing


The other day while we were blogging about Find My Family, I got an email from a certain C.U., who was trying to adopt from Ethiopia. However, being a person of good conscience, she found that she and her spouse were going to adopt children who already had mothers. They were not orphans. She was horrified and stunned and did the right thing, as you will see. We've emailed back and forth a couple of times, and C.U. offered to share her experience here because it needs to be out in the wider world:
When we decided to adopt from Ethiopia, our assumption was that the children would be truly orphans! Having nobody! However, when we found out the children have living birth mothers, we simply asked our agency why the mothers did not want their children, and if a family sponsorship program would be more appropriate. Our agency [Ed: Celebrate Children International, Oviedo, FL] director became very defensive. She didn't know why the mothers didn't want to raise their children, we would find out those details when we  traveled, she said (when it would be too late). She said there was no such thing as family sponsorships in Ethiopia!

However, we have since researched and found out that there are many such programs and that any ethical agency would both sponsor and support these programs. We have gotten the feeling from the beginning that something very shady is going on, especially since the agency was directly involved in the relinquishment process. In fact, in the videos we received, we can see families that appear to be lining up in the background for their own interviews. Very, very fishy. And you are right, when I tried to bring this to the attention of other mothers in the group, I was reprimanded for questioning this wonderful woman who has a heart to find families for orphans. In fact, I was kicked off the agency's yahoo group and my login was disabled, simply for asking questions about ethics in adoption!!

I would love to figure out a way to shut this agency down, but that is not my primary goal. My primary goal is to find the children and return them to their families, since I believe that is where they belong. By the way, when we terminated our contract, the children went right back up on the waiting child list. And I have contacted all the photolisting sites that continue to list this agency's 'orphans' and they have ignored my plea to remove them from these photolisting sites.

We have been at a loss as to how to handle this. We knew we did not want to adopt children who were not orphans, yet we did not want to leave them in the hands of a crooked agency who would just adopt them out to someone else. For two months we have been working with the Ethiopian Embassy. All our communication has been through one person there. She assures us that they are all very concerned about our evidence, she assures us that our case is being investigated. However, two months have gone by, and even though we have given them the name of the city, orphanage, pictures of the children and their mothers, and the name of the facilitator we have heard nothing about the well being or whereabouts of the children. Why would they not be able to find the children unless they are not really looking for them?

Anyway. I have been under an incredible amount of stress, knowing we committed to these children and we don't want to feel like we abandoned them. We have no idea how to go about finding orphans in Ethiopia without the help of the adoption agency! I thought maybe with your passion for birth mothers and your research, maybe you would know someone who could help us? We would like someone to investigate what is going on and hopefully return the children to their families. We have contacted the State Department, Joint Council, U.S. Embassy, state of Florida. Nobody really seems to know how to help us. Do you have any ideas?

I suggested she work with one of the organizations such as my all time fave, Women for Women International, which supports women for a year in war-torn countries such as The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Sudan, and teaches them a trade so they can support themselves and their children, but I realize that will not help her find the mother of the children she wants to support in Ethiopia. Jane suggested that she contact Congressperson or Senator and ask him/her to get after the State Department to look into this; her local media, and the local media, as well as a reputable agency like Holt in Oregon and ask for suggestions on what to do about this rogue agency.

I want to add that while infrequent readers of our blog will find that we are not happy with many adoptive parents, our hearts are gladdened when we come across ethical people such as C.U. In another email, she asked about the special-needs children that other members of her family had adopted--would we have them languish in under-funded orphanages when they could be with families who love them and give them the best care they can? Obviously not. But most people--lets say, Madonna, want and adopt cute, healthy kids. Who have families who want them and have a different idea of what adoption means than we do in the Western world where the social contract pretends that the past is of no matter, that heritage is not important, that parents give up their children and do not long for them all their lives.

Along this same vein, Chinaadoptiontalk has great post, "They Will Return to You," about the different perceptions of what adoption is to people in other nations, not Western. And while we previously have noted that Christian World Adoptions were not facilitating adoptions from Ethopia, their website says they are back at it again. How many more children and mothers must be savaged and lied to before agencies like Christian World Adoptions and others are stopped? How many more children will be kidnapped from the streets of Karachi or Kathmandu?
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We will return to the subject of adoptee gratitude soon. --lorraine

20 comments :

  1. Good on her for raising these questions and getting to the bottom of a situation the agency did not want the PAPS to know or understand. E. Graff said last year that Ethiopia would become THE hotspot for shady int'l adoptions imminently.

    Don't forget that some of these Christian groups think a child is an orphan if he/she only has one parent because God ordained marriage, man + woman, blah blah blah.

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  2. Thanks for the link to my post, Lorraine. I think it is so important for us to look at what is passing for consent to adoption in the U.S. and all over the world. And I'm always pleased to see adoptive parents and prospective adoptive parents who are opening their eyes to some of the problems in adoption.

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  3. She might try contacting Michelle Bond at DOS directly. And Ethica (www. ethicanet.org)

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  4. Ms. Dusky:

    My husband and I are starting the process to adopt a child from Colombia, where I am from. I saw a comment you left on Motherlode. I have been skimming your blog and I think you raise important issue about the ethics of adoption. I am trying to get educated about all these issues and I have a couple of questions. I am hoping maybe you would be willing to talk to me.

    Thank you very much.

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  5. Thanks for posting this story, Lorraine. Your correspondent is doing important work. I sent a tweet out on it.

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  6. Maybe it would be better not to return to the subject of adoptee gratitude, and move on to something that has not already been hashed over and over.

    Most people feel gratitude to their parents, natural or adoptive, if they were decent parents. Some adoptive parents push this too much, some adoptees feel it too deeply.

    It can be a problem, but is not always, and an adopted person saying they are grateful or that their adoptive parents are aware and supportive of their search does not necessarily mean they had to get permission or that their gratitude is excessive. Just as some adoptive parents want to blot out us natural mothers, some of us I fear want to do the same to them, and do not want to hear any positive feelings about their adoptive parents from our kids. Neither attitude is realistic or kind, and is one more way adoptees get put in the middle.

    I am all for letting adoptees have their own feelings of gratitude, ingratitude, anger, whatever, and taking their words at face value, as long as each adoptee speaks for herself, not for all adoptees.

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  7. I believe most adoptive parents are 'people of good conscience'. I believe most PAPs, like us, just want to give a child a family. I think people assume that adoption is always used as a last resort, as I assumed. I still believe that most agencies are ethical and strive to keep birth families intact. I really do believe that. I will never ever be anti-adoption, because I have seen firsthand the faces of children plagued with Fetal Alcohol syndrome wasting away in an orphanage in Ukraine. My own emaciated handicapped daughter whose head is now flat on one side because the only way she could receive any visual stimulation was by turning her head to the left and looking out the crib slats. I have seen those children who were abandoned at birth and never had a single visit from their parents in four years. My own foster nephew who was abandoned at the hospital by a crack addicted mother who never even bothered to give him a name. I believe those children deserve families, and I will always advocate for children like that.

    However, my recent Ethiopia adoption experience has definitely allowed me to see another side to adoption and I see that there is a desperate need for reform. I personally do not want to see international adoption shut down altogether. But like someone pointed out, the '143 million orphans' are much more manageable of a problem when you consider most of these have living parents. I would love to see more orphan prevention programs. Heck, supplying water and electricity alone to communities dramatically decreases the number of child abandonments! Why aren't people talking about this? I would like to see more people talking about these issues. I have been very disappointed in the Joint Council's response to our concerns. We have contacted state senators, the state department, even a local newspaper, and nobody really seems to know what to do with the problem. I will say though, the Ethiopian Embassy has been surprisingly helpful and seems to be working hard to investigate our claims. I will certainly let you know what comes out of that.

    In defense of adoptive parents, I want to say this. I am a member of a special needs adoption group called Reece's Rainbow, a group advocating for children with disabilities, mostly Down Syndrome, but also including CP, FAS, HIV, etc. When I presented my dilemma to my group, my fellow adoptive moms were overwhelmingly supportive about my concerns and my decision to halt the adoption and reunite the families. They were quite shocked actually to hear what we believed was going on. I am wondering if people who are adopting to fulfill a personal need, complete their family so to speak, are more likely to ignore the appearance of corruption than those who just want to give a needy child a family. A true orphan who has nobody. They do exist, I promise.

    I do appreciate what you are doing, and I am with you. People need to talk about these things and I am going to start, now that my eyes have been opened. Thank you Lorraine.

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  8. Paulina:

    I have no way to reach you, but you will find a wealth of information about adopting internationally. Put "international adoption" in the search option at the bottom of the blog and you will find several posts about it that link to other documents and reports done by neutral third parties. And thank you very much for looking into this rather than blindly going ahead. You might particularly be interested in the article that was in Mother Jones, and the piece by E.J. Graff in Foreign Policy. You'll find both through the search.

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  9. And thank you Charissa for your thoughtful comment. We do recognize that some children should be adopted and not allowed to languish in horrible conditions. It is so heartening to know that there are people like you out there.

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  10. I have bit my tongue on this one, since I know a bit about foreign adoption. Not as much as most. But I have to say it.

    Adoption abuses - taking children from perfectly good mothers, is not confined to 3rd world countries.

    In the United States, most of the 50 states allow the removal of children from mothers who are foster children. They need no cause. They don't have to prove abuse, neglect or any other reason to do so. They don't even have to notify the young mother of the court action before they do it!

    We talk a good game, but the truth is, we are bind to what happens every day, in every city, town, hamlet, spot in the road, in the United States.

    We talk about how the old records regarding a lot of the BSE era adoptions were falisfied.

    HELLO! They falisfy - I am talking state employees that answer to the federal government - records constantly.

    My daughter got her information - wrong hospital, wrong race, a social security number from a state she has never even lived or been to, except in passing as the adopters whisked her out of the country, PRIOR to finalizing the adoption! They even have the name wrong! Yet they left her real name alone! She has the name I gave her. There are so many lies in the folder regarding relinquishment she is still, while we struggle through a rocky, but getting better reunion, leary of me because I don't fit anything she was taught, things she was told.

    There is so many young mothers out there that get no acknowledgement even from us! They are the young women who get pregnant in foster care. The lost children. Garbage bag kids.

    I feel for kids being stolen from third world countries - but what about the ones being stolen from women in our country?

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  11. Ms. Dusky:

    I looked at the articles you suggested and found some very useful, if concerning information. I visited the PEAR website and checked out the information they have. Unfortunately they didn't have any information on Colombia, which is where I am from and where we plant to adopt. I would really like some guidance, because even though I really feel that there are many children in need of homes and adoption in general is good, I do realize there could be problems. I don't want to ever have to worry that the child I adopted was stolen from a family or anything like that. So here are some details I have on the process of adopting in Colombia.

    Colombia signed the Hague agreement. There is a government agency (ICBF) that is in charge of child and family services in Colombia and they manage adoptions. They run their own orphanages and foster care program. There are however, private orphanages that work with ICBF. I actually have been involved in supporting a house for abandoned girls (not all of them can be adopted) for the past couple of years and the private houses, like the government houses, are well run and do work very hard for the children.
    International adoptions can be done in Colombia through ICBF or through 8 ICBF approved orphanages. By Colombian law, adoption in Colombia is free. However, private orphanages do seem to request donations from potential adoptive parents, which is something that seems a little weird so I am checking it out. From what I have been able to find out, however, the adoptive parent can choose specific programs they would like to support with their donation. We are also visiting some of the orphanages before we are very deep into the process so they can explain their program and we can see their facilities.
    Colombian families have priority when adopting in Colombia, and I have heard that the waiting time for non-colombia citizens can be up to 5 years. Since I am Colombian, I do have preference. But since I live in the U.S., I have to work with a U.S. agency that has been approved by ICBF (I think there are only 10 or so). The agency we have chosen only has international adoption from Colombia and Ghana, and their costs are much lower than for other agencies and other countries. Given the discussion on how adoption is a business, these much lower costs may actually be a good sign.
    I am wondering if you have any particular information on Colombian adoptions. If you can tell me what to look for and what I could do to make sure that I go through an ethical adoption.
    Maybe this is not the best way to communicate. My e-mail is pauljaramillo@hotmail.com
    Any specific guidance you can offer would be really appreciated.

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  12. Paula:

    We really are so pleased that you are looking into all the issues surrounding adoption. If anybody reading this has any information about Colombian adoptions, please post it here.
    thanks.

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  13. Paulina,

    Another thought about adopting a Columbian child. Unfortunately, it is not rare for Americans to adopt from Columbia or other South American countries and find the children too difficult to handle or, as Anita Tedaldi wrote in a NY times article, she "wasn't connecting with him [her adopted son] on a visceral level." Fortunately, she found a family to take him off her hands. Other "send back" children are not so lucky. They end up in foster homes or "treatment centers." We wrote here about Tedaldi and adoption disruption on September 8.

    There are also, I'm sure, American-born Latino children in foster care needing homes.

    You might check with your state child welfare office to see if it has any children from Columbia available for adoption. It should also be able to give you information on groups across the country trying to find families for "give back" children, many who are older or have disabilites.

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  14. I am all for programs to help children with living parents stay with their families. But what about children that are truly abandoned, like my son, whose birth mother checked out of a Russia maternity hospital three days after he was born without him? (He was born addicted to narcotics and went through withdrawal at birth, leaving lifelong neurological effects)...

    Should children who are truly abandoned not be eligible for adoption simply because they have a (possibly) living parent? You cannot begin to imagine how horrible it is for children to live in these orphanages, even clear (yet overcrowded) "baby homes" like where my son lived. I have suggested it before, and I will suggest it again. Get on a plane and go to Russia and see for yourself. Talk to orphanage workers about why they are bursting at the seams, and see the children.

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  15. There are lots of people who want to adopt true orphans (Ethiopia) and not tear apart a family. However, children are being passed of as true orphans who are not. I easily found the mom of my "abandoned" child. It is virtually impossible to know if an adoption agency is telling the truth without doing your own personal research. Here is a fairly recent article:

    http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2009/03/19/f-ethiopia-adoption.html

    It's reprehensible that children are taken from foster children without their consent. I met a woman recently whose 3 children were taken from her by social services because her husband was a drug addict. Yes, she had problems too but she was not given an opportunity to get back on her feet. She has since had 2 more chldren and she is terrified the state will take them (she has not been with that husband for years, and he passed away at some point after she left him). She is not allowed to see the 3 kids who were adopted.

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  16. This site has no articles yet about Columbia or Ethiopia, but reading through the articles on other nations, it is hard to believe that corruption does not permeate the adoption practices of these nations as well.

    Child Trafficking: Crimes of the International Adoption Industry

    As long as people make money from trafficking in children, corruption will exist.

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  17. I think in some of these responses that the underlying logic is being missed. No one would want a child to languish in a horrendous environment. No one believes that absolutely no adoption is the answer. And, most of all, no one thinks that everyone is evil that wants to adopt.

    The logic is that adoptions from other countries, and even this one, should be carefully scrutinized before they are approved. Things such as living parents and forced removals even more so.

    To adopt a child that is truly alone is one thing, but the fact of the matter is that over half of the adoptions in any country are not because of lack of parents, but poverty and money. The parents are poor, the agencies feed on the fear that they will not be able to protect or give their child everything.

    Worse, in a lot of the third world countries, the agencies are well known for outright stealing babies. Babies whose mothers are ignored and whose families mourn a loss that they don't understand.

    Beautiful little Columbian girls were a huge commodity for a long time. Also, Cambodian, Thai, Ethopian, and a hundred more countries like it. To service their customers, agencies would, under the auspices of "legitimate" and "approved" international adoptions, these agencies pay a fee for someone to simply walk away with a newborn.

    It happens and the sooner it is stopped the sooner children who have a real need can have real homes.

    So, rather than turn a blind eye to where the child is coming from, a real parent would be concerned, such as the woman in this article/posting.

    After all, would you want your child to vanish from the hospital because you can't read well enough to know that all the legal mumbo jumbo on the papers you signed were relinquishment papers? Or just to vanish? And remember, agencies and brokers are notorious for "fudging" the records to keep the bottom line high.

    It's just my thoughts.

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  18. One thing about Colombia is that it has a history of trafficking, which can affect what happens to a country's international adoption program.

    http://www.ethicanet.org/MeierZhang.pdf

    The authors draw those links in China in the article above.

    I did find one 1998 article about adoption from Colombia that didn't look too rosy. You can find it here:

    http://lawfam.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/12/2/202

    Unfortunately, that's just the portal and you probably would have to pay. The article does appear to be out of date. It says Colombia is a major supplier of children and it isn't. Only 300+ US adoptions are from Colombia in a given year, I believe.

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  19. Just wanted to mention that E. J. Graff stated in "The Lie We Love" (available as a link on FMF) and has mentioned in a few other spots that she believes adoption from Thailand is more or less corrupt than typical because of a number of policies that have been put in place:

    "Some countries that send children overseas for adoption have kept the process lawful and transparent from nearly the beginning and their model is instructive. Thailand, for instance, has a central government authority that counsels birth mothers and offers some families social and economic support so that poverty is never a reason to give up a child."

    I believe, partly because Thailand has a reputation as a playground for pedophiles, that the words "adoption" and "Thailand" just don't go together for most people. But that repulation may not be deserved.

    Just a footnote to the discussion.

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  20. Clarification: Thailand:

    I meant less corrupt than typical.

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