Have you seen this story that aired on the Monday evening news on CBS? Here is the link to watch it, if you have not seen it: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=6211026n Just a FYI that it is similar to a story that was aired about the same adoption agency last year. Although the previous story made some stretches in their reporting and some unfair accusations. They basically hinted that the reason why Ethiopian adoption had exploded was due to Angelina Jolie (ignoring the fact that other international programs had shut down) and accused the government of profiting from adoptions. They also had some inaccurate facts regarding how an orphan is defined by the government. That story made me so mad that I decided to ignore it all together. I hate sensationalistic journalism, especially when it threatens people's opinion of my very family and the future of legitimate orphans. Anyways, for this story CBS seems to do a much better job of focusing on this single case and this specific agency.
So I have been debating on whether or not to respond and finally decided that I needed to get my thoughts of my chest. My first thought is why the heck can't the media ever portray positive stories of adoption? Are we really that starved for more news about corruption and loss? Even during adoption awareness month it is not uncommon for major news stations to portray families with adopted children with attachment and behavior problems. Now that I got that off my chest the thing is that I do believe that corruption is happening in Ethiopian adoption. Let me preface though, that I know my daughter's adoption was completely ethical and legitimate. How do I know this? Because we used a very reputable and ethical adoption agency called Children's Home Society and Family Services. They currently have one of the longest wait times for the referral of a female infant and for good reason. Because they follow the correct process for every child that they match with an adoptive family. The reality is that in Ethiopia the children who are most in need of adoption are not healthy infants. As far as our experience in Ethiopia, we were able to meet a member of our daughter's birth family and this person was sincere is telling us that if she was not put up for adoption she would die. This was the hardest meeting I have ever had with a person in my life. We were all in tears, including the interpretor. I am not going to tell you the specifics of her story, to protect her history for her, but I will say that at age 4 years old she weighed only 24 pounds. She also sadly bears the scars of multiple desperate attempts to heal her many illnesses.
So one thing to look for in a reputable Ethiopian adoption agency is whether or not they arrange birth family meetings and if they have an active pre and post adoption support network. The interesting thing is that the US government, the very same entity that is quick to question whether a child is a legitimate orphan tried to shut down the birth family meetings in Ethiopia, saying that US law does not permit a birth parent who has relinquished their child to have any contact with the child afterwards. Now I understand the concern that it would not be right for adoptive parents to have regular post adoption contact and especially to provide financial support to the family as that would constitute the appearance of "paying off a family". This is the part of international adoption that the general public does not understand. I once saw an article in Parenting Magazine about an international adoptive family that had maintained regular contact with their child's birth family many years after the adoption and was financially supporting the family. I was shocked that the article was featured in a major US magazine and that they did not understand that this was against international adoption ethics as well as US immigration rules. So it only takes one major mistake to shut down an entire country's adoption program. And unfortunately the US based agency featured in this news article was obviously not following ethical adoption practices. Recruiting children for adoption form intact birth families is never acceptable. Especially when those families live in a third world country and are desperate for help and do not understand the long term consequences. I fear that they are not the only agency doing this however. When I researched Ethiopian adoption a year after our daughter was home and we were looking into a second adoption I learned that there had been a drastic spike in the number of abandoned babies in Ethiopia. The reason this does not make sense is that it is legal to relinquish your child for adoption (unlike Rwanda). There had an also been a disproportionate number of female infants being adopted out of Ethiopia. Add this to the high number of agencies working in Ethiopia, with few regulations, and the high increase in the number of Ethiopian adoptions and something did not feel right. You do not have to search too far on the adoption chat boards to find stories of adoptive families, as well as birth families in Ethiopia, who claim that they were not fully informed of what it meant to give a child up for adoption and facts about the children that did not add up.
Now I pray that Ethiopian adoption is not shut down and that the children who need families get them. I also pray that vulnerable mothers and fathers in Ethiopia are not being manipulated into giving their children away when they do have the means to care for them and raise them in their birth country. I know that there are many reputable agencies that are doing the right thing, so please if you are considering adopting from Ethiopia do your research. You may also want to consider an alternative African country like Rwanda, Lesotho, Uganda, Ghana, or the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We choose Rwanda because all the children residing in the orphanage (1 orphanage which the government allows adoption from) are true orphans and "waiting" children by definition. The older children have lived most of their lives at the orphanage and they were all abandoned, because in Rwanda it is illegal to relinquish your child. They will actually seek out and prosecute a parent that abandons their child if they can find them. So I guess in summary, as hard as it is, as international adoptive parents we do need to educate ourselves about unethical practices and do our research, for the sake of our children, their birth families, and our own family.
* Just for the record, and to the "anonymous" person who tried posting a comment that it is illegal for agencies to arrange birth family meetings in Ethiopia, it is in fact not illegal but yes does need to be done under careful and supervised circumstances. If the anonymous poster would like to lead my readers to this law in Ethiopia that says that birth parent meetings are illegal then feel free to repost with your identity and your source of legal information. If it was illegal then how could many large and reputable adoption agencies continue these meetings?