Sunday, November 14, 2010

Adoption Awareness: My question to adoptive parents...

Food for thought this week: As an adoptive parent (pre-, or post-), how committed are you that you not take part in an adoption process that includes corruption, illegalities, or unethical behavior? How much do you believe "the end justifies the means?"

Here are some scenarios to consider:

*Would you allow your adoption to go forward knowing there was just one falsified signature? After all, the guy is out of town for a few months. It could be the difference of life or death for your child who is living in a Ghanaian orphanage.

*Would you allow your adoption to go forward if you knew the child's father--whose whereabouts were previously unknown--could now be located? Would you go forward knowing he had not been notified of the adoption plan?

*As long as YOU aren't the one doing something unethical, does that make it okay? For instance, is it on your shoulders if your agency takes part in corruption?

*How much do you believe and accept the statement, "This is just how it's done in Ghana. Gifts are expected."

*Is it okay for adoptive parents to ignore when something is done illegally (such as running a children's home without a license) since it is better for the children? After all, Ghana may never even know about the home. [I'm asking, not judging.]

*How do you feel about expediting fees? Is it okay to pay someone to do something faster than it would typically be done, even if it's not a written and official fee? For instance, maybe it takes a year (if at all) for a document to be processed with the "official" fee but a month to be processed with a standard and expected "expediting" fee.

*Would you want to go back and correct documentation if new information was gathered? For instance, it was first reported dad's first name was Samuel. Now we know it is Kofi Samuel. It was first reported dad died in a tro-tro accident. Now we know he actually committed suicide. Redoing paperwork will take a few months. How important is it, really, if it's incorrect, since it doesn't change the outcome?

Hard questions. Harder answers.

21 comments:

Copper Boom 7:37 AM  

Hard questions but good questions for everyone to think about.

For me, the ethics of adoption are top priority. And I'll be honest, when we began our first adoption, I assumed that signing on with a big agency meant an ethical adoption. I've learned a lot since then.

We have a responsibility to make sure any and all adoptions we participate in are done as transparently and honestly as possible. If we let little things slide (like one false signature or incorrect paperwork) we are setting a precedent that honesty is somehow not as important in the lives of our children.

I need to be able to look at my children and say that I made sure that all the information about them was true and that everything was done to make sure they truly needed a family, not just that we wanted a child.

Jena 9:02 AM  

Another A-mom here who learned the hard way...
I really strongly feel that in this age of the internet, our kids will one day have access to all the information they want... They will be able to find out for themselves what the situations surrounding their births/adoptions are...
Do I really want my child to find out what the facts were surrounding the climate of Vietnam adoptions in 2007 from the internet?
Or from me?

Do I really want to say to him, "but we didn't know that we participated in a corrupt adoption culture..." and act like that is good enough?

I don't.

Maybe some people feel like "not knowing" is good enough.

In this information age, "not knowing" is a choice.

the H family 9:47 AM  

Here is a question for you, then:

What if, AFTER your adoption is complete and final and your child is home with you in the US for several months, you learn that just about everything mentioned in your questions DID happen? But it was all well-covered during the process and your inquiries were brushed off as "You just don't understand Ghana." Then what? What if there are so many lies flying at you from different directions that you cannot even discern the truth anymore? What if your daughter is *finally* starting to smile again when this all comes out? Do you do what is right for YOU, or what is right for HER? Do we just say "She IS an orphan, her birthfamily consented, the emb*$$y investigated and granted a visa, good enough? Is it wrong to remain silent because you know that speaking out will jeaopardize the very life of another child? It's not cut and dry, as much as you/we wish for it to be. Doing the "right" thing is not always the "best" thing for our child. Whether we care to admit it or not, corruption exists in every single country that allows adoptions, including our own. You might not see it yourself, but it is there. What do we do with that information when our child is older? How do we explain and how do we make it right after the fact?

Kait 9:59 AM  

In theory, I'd say that I want everything done to the letter perfectly within the law and done ethically.

However. There are SO MANY gray areas.

You're really talking about imposing an American sense of right and wrong on a foreign country. If adoptions are so corrupt by American standards, perhaps the better option is to STOP adoptions and instead focus on creating and sustaining families within the country, providing skills training for the children who have been orphaned or abandoned as well as for adults who are likely to be forced in to abandoning their children, and helping give the tools for people to take care of themselves and their families.

I said in theory I would say ethics are the single most important thing. However, I saw some things while working in an orphanage in Haiti that make it hard for me. When you're looking at a dying child and you know they have a family waiting to literally save their life, what choice is there really? Do you redo paperwork, knowing full well that the child will be dead by the time things are done "right"? Do you let that child die for the sake of ethical adoptions?

It's a slippery subject and I'm afraid their are no easy answers.

I would love to say that ethics are absolutely the most important thing. But on the other hand, if my sons were literally dying in an orphanage while waiting on something to be redone, I'd pay whoever I needed to get them home.

KamPossible 10:46 AM  

I love questions like this... an opportunity to really think about the details of adoption. It's easy to get caught up in the excitement of helping a child, while missing facts about the losses and struggles a birthfamily, or an entire culture, may experience.

Here are my responses to some of the scenarios:

Scenario #3
This question implies that we might all have the same understanding and definition of corruption. Cultural imperialism could sound like a cop-out, but my opinion is that I am not in a place to criticize or justify the workings of another culture. If my US agency is breaking US laws, that is a problem. If the country (in this case Ghana) members are operating inside the laws of their country or following social and cultural norms, my opinion is that it does become cultural imperialism, and in light of my person spiritual convictions, it raises red flags around passing judgment. (I personally would have a significantly different stance between stealing babies and giving grease bribes).

Scenario #4
It is my experience that there are situation in Ghana where gifts are expected. In my personal experience, if I were approaching the chief of a village, I would certainly not expect to be respected or be accepted in any way if I did not arrive with a gift or some culturally appropriate method for greeting this type of elder. Should I expect in-country representatives to go against their cultural norms? Is my “integrity” more important than their “dignity”? This situation also “should” take economics into consideration. As an American I may have a different view of what’s acceptable based on my country’s economics, this may not translate into a country with a different set of economics. Is this an issue of ethics or economic misalignment?

Scenario #5
If something is legal does that make it right? If something is illegal, does that make it wrong? (legalized abortion, legalized prostitution) My personal opinion on this question goes to the decision made by Social Welfare. It is possible for a house that is not recognized as a “children’s home”, to be an option for social welfare to use as a placement (temporary or permanent) to remove a child from an unsafe situation. I personally would not feel comfortable with my child being placed in a home that has not followed procedure with social welfare, it puts the adoption at risk. However, if social welfare approved the child to be placed in a home, no matter the home’s legal status of “orphanage” or “children’s home” etc, I would see it as a loophole within their legal system, and in this case a good one if we are able to protect children through it.
On the other point in this scenario, “is it okay for adoptive parents to ignore when something is done illegally”, I think it is important for me to understand the cultural norms of the society I am adopting from. If those social norms are in conflict with my personal convictions then maybe I should consider using another country for my adoption. Since they are my personal convictions I would want to be careful not to judge the right-ness or wrong-ness of acts that I cannot understand inside their cultural contexts.

KamPossible 10:47 AM  

Scenario #6
Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) has exceptions for these kinds of acts. The exceptions to the act are scrutinized and may not be “right” to some people. It is widely acknowledged that business would be easier to conduct if all countries prohibited (culturally and economically) “grease” payments; however, since there may not be true prohibition it is necessary to determine how to carry out business in these countries. It is then my personal feeling that I must reanalyze my willingness to work in a country whose ethical values are not in line with my own.

Scenario #7
The level of “importance” in a matter like this would require a value statement with ethnocentric bias. If the question can be answered without ethnocentric bias, then it would be appropriate to proceed within the guidelines of the culture. *If the society (and I don’t know Ghana’s stance on this) finds that there is severe shame to a family where suicide is committed, I ask myself again, is my integrity more important than someone else’s dignity.

Kami
P.S.I suppose more questions raised than answers, but isn't that why we discuss these things. If there were "right" answers, we would waste our time asking the questions?

A. Gillispie 11:11 AM  

Everybody, thank you for your though-provoking comments. Remember, I just posed questions, without my own "answers" or opinions. Please don't assume you know what my answers would be. =-)

A. Gillispie 11:15 AM  

Jena, I think that sometimes all we can do is tell our kids the truth. For Taevy's adoption, I am going to have to answer difficult questions. We didn't KNOW we were taking part in a corrupt adoption culture, but that doesn't excuse us--just like you said. I will have to apologize to my daughter for my part in it (even if it was unintentional). And hopefully, I can also show her what I've tried to do since then, to make sure it will happen to fewer families and children in the future.

fullplatemom 11:21 AM  

These are hard questions. We found out after our first Ghanaian adoption, and while our second was in process, that some of these things were reality in our case. It wasn't an option to turn back. Our kids had been terribly abused by the orphanage and the person who brokered our adoptions. I wasn't going to send them back there to become the next in line for the physical and sexual abuse that was occurring there.

We corrected what we could, and we moved forward. The paperwork errors are just that, errors. We corrected what the embassy told us to correct. I still find misprints in their paperwork, I chalk that up to Ghana. And, if the Embassy didn't care about it, then neither do I.

I do draw the line at birth parent consent. I spent a total of nearly 14 weeks in Ghana (when you add all my trips together). I met their birth parents. I continue to have ongoing relationships with them. That area is black and white to me. If your child has living birth parents, then you need to make an attempt to have a relationship with them. That is, if they want one.

All the rest of it is gray. There are so many situations that are individual to the child and their background. There is no way to possibly address all those situations. And, when you're in the situation, it becomes even more gray.

If you get that feeling in your gut, that "this is crossing the line" feeling, then you know you've stepped over the edge. I did it once. I never gave another "gift" again. It didn't matter to me what culture dictated.

Good luck, Anita. Your job isn't an easy one. I don't envy you one minute of it.

--Becky

A. Gillispie 11:35 AM  

The H Family, your comments break my heart, because I've stood in those shoes (or similar type, at least)!

I absolutely agree with you that there is prospect of corruption in every adoption process in the world. I can also say (using my own definition for corruption) that it is still possible to adopt (even from Ghana) without corruption.

I have heard of families who actually returned their children when they found them to have living, intact families that wished to care for them. Those must be the strongest people in the world.

If your situation is like most families,' your child really did need a home--it is just that you now know things happened that weren't legal/ethical. That's what we believe to be the case with my daughter.

I feel that I will need to tell her the truth as best as I know it, when the time comes. She already knows the "jist." Her entire history was erased because "the end justifies the means." I wouldn't dare to take more truth from her because it's uncomfortable to me. I don't think there is any way to make it right after the fact. We can only share truth.

Personally, I do feel that we as adoptive parents have a responsibility to report illegal/corrupt/unethical adoption practices. At the least, I would send an annonymous communication. You can help to stop this from happening to future families/children. You say you could be jeopardizing a child's life by reporting, but I feel you could be saving a child's life.

I don't at all pretend that this is all black and white. My life is a sea of gray! I live on the adoption roller coaster, perpetually. I'm faced daily with difficult ethical decisions.

A. Gillispie 11:44 AM  

Kait and Kami,

I want to make one clarification. I definitely do NOT feel that I am imposing American values on another culture. I am not talking about "gifts" within the context of the culture, but within the context of adoption processing. Ghana has very specific laws against paying gifts or bribes during the adoption process. American agencies, under American laws, must follow BOTH American laws and the laws of the country in which they are helping to process adoptions. Saying that "it's the culture" is a cop out. Ghana is a nation with a functioning government with very real anti-corruption laws, and very specific adoption laws.

The difficulty comes with practice is not in line with the law. Gifts *ARE* a very realy part of Ghana's culture. Like Kami said...giving a gift to a tribal chief when visiting...giving a gift of thanks to an official who has worked hard all year. But bribes are absolutely prohibited within the law, both Ghanaian and American. I don't kow how that can be justified.

I didn't make the rules, but I have to operate under them if I want to continue to help ANY children in Ghana.

A. Gillispie 11:58 AM  

Kait,

I think, if adoptions cannot happen within the law of any given country, then yes, we should stop trying to do adoptions there.

Regardless of if adoptions are possible, I think the emphasis should be on family preservation, with international adoption as a last resort.

I was thinking last night about the program I work with. Do we have an adoption program that assists with family preservation, or a family preservation program with the ability to assist with adoptions? At first I would definitely say that we had an adoption program. But as time goes on and the adoption funds are used well, the family preservation portion becomes more and more a focus.

Would I let a child die for the sake of ethical adoptions? I guess, in the end, I would have to. I wouldn't feel that there was a choice of falsifying or paying through an adoption to get a child home sooner. I would beg! I would plead! I would do everything within the law to advocate for that child, but I couldn't justify corrupting a child's adoption in the name of the child. [I am speaking as a parent where 2 or 3 of my children would have died without adoption.]

I agree with you that most parents (myself included!) if given the choice of bringing their child home or making false statements, would choose to bring their child home. That's why I think the agencies must be held accountable. Agencies are not as emotionally involved (even the most caring) and should be able to do the tough stuff when an emotional adoptive parent would not be able to. It's the agency's job to protect you from ever being put in that position.

I was once on the verge of doing something questionable on behalf of a child who needed to be home. I told the family that we might do it. [Honestly, I can't remember what it was now.] In the end, I simply could not participate in the corruption. I called the family to give them what I perceived they would think was "the bad news." Instead, the family was relieved and said something like, "I want my child home more than anything. I would have done it if I were in Ghana. But if you would have done that, I would have questioned everything else in our adoption."

A. Gillispie 11:58 AM  

Kait,

I think, if adoptions cannot happen within the law of any given country, then yes, we should stop trying to do adoptions there.

Regardless of if adoptions are possible, I think the emphasis should be on family preservation, with international adoption as a last resort.

I was thinking last night about the program I work with. Do we have an adoption program that assists with family preservation, or a family preservation program with the ability to assist with adoptions? At first I would definitely say that we had an adoption program. But as time goes on and the adoption funds are used well, the family preservation portion becomes more and more a focus.

Would I let a child die for the sake of ethical adoptions? I guess, in the end, I would have to. I wouldn't feel that there was a choice of falsifying or paying through an adoption to get a child home sooner. I would beg! I would plead! I would do everything within the law to advocate for that child, but I couldn't justify corrupting a child's adoption in the name of the child. [I am speaking as a parent where 2 or 3 of my children would have died without adoption.]

I agree with you that most parents (myself included!) if given the choice of bringing their child home or making false statements, would choose to bring their child home. That's why I think the agencies must be held accountable. Agencies are not as emotionally involved (even the most caring) and should be able to do the tough stuff when an emotional adoptive parent would not be able to. It's the agency's job to protect you from ever being put in that position.

I was once on the verge of doing something questionable on behalf of a child who needed to be home. I told the family that we might do it. [Honestly, I can't remember what it was now.] In the end, I simply could not participate in the corruption. I called the family to give them what I perceived they would think was "the bad news." Instead, the family was relieved and said something like, "I want my child home more than anything. I would have done it if I were in Ghana. But if you would have done that, I would have questioned everything else in our adoption."

A. Gillispie 12:14 PM  

Becky, you did EVERYTHING you could do. Your children needed to come home. You shared everything you could with proper authorities, and you continue to advocate for future adoptions to be above reproach. You are one of my heroes.

A. Gillispie 12:36 PM  

Kami, senario 5: "If something is legal does that make it right? If something is illegal does that make it wrong?

The laws don't take into account our personal convictions. How could they? One person may think it's completely okay to sell a child into slavery--they may think that's "right."

The Bible says we must follow the laws of man. But it also says God's law supercedes man's law. So the way I've most often seen that reconciled is to say that we are to follow the law of man whenever it doesn't go against the laws of God. Since at this time it is possible to follow the laws of man and still complete an adoption, I don't see how we can justify breaking the law.

I really liked your reasoning with the loop hole. It's definitely a case where one arm of the department is not talking to the other arm, so people feel justified. You said that you wouldn't feel comfortable with your child being in a home that hadn't followed procedures with social welfare; but the procedure with social welfare is that a home be licensed.

Here is an area where I myself make concessions. I don't feel that it would be acceptable for AAI to run an unlicensed children's home--because AAI must follow both American and Ghanaian laws. However, some of the children we assist through adoption are in unlicensed homes, because SW is simply unwilling to give the licenses! I see that as a matter between those homes and Social Welfare, with AAI having no power to change the circumstances.

Children's homes and Ghana--tough stuff. But when an agency is running an unlicensed home (in name or in practice) that is clearly in breech of the agency's responsibility to follow laws within both countries.

KamPossible 12:37 PM  

As you stated you “just posed questions, without [your] own "answers" or opinions.” I wasn’t making any assumptions about your stance on imposing American values based on the questions. The wording of the questions themselves do imply a tone to which I may have responded… not to the author but rather the question itself. I am not sure how saying “it’s culture” is a cop out. You mentioned gifts and expediting fees, are you considering both of those to be bribes? Ghana’s criminal procedure Code is criticized by Ghana herself that it is not possible to eliminate corruption based on the code. I have appreciated that Ghana does have fairly extensive laws, most of which mirror those I appreciate within the American Government. But they still leave areas for interpretation (as with many American laws).
Based on your reply, what is a bribe in Ghana? Is it the 2 cedis that is given to the guard at the embassy to keep good relations? Is it the gas money provided to a social welfare employee so that he can actually travel to do a social welfare investigation? Is it the expedite fee to find a lost passport? If those are bribes, are you saying that anyone who does these things is in violation of the law, and is creating a corrupt and unethical adoption? The orginal post didn’t point out “bribery” directly, your reply does so my specific question is in response to your reply.

A. Gillispie 12:42 PM  

Kami, Scenario 7: It wasn't clear from what I wrote, but I am talking about a situation where birth parent says one thing at first, and later changes the story to reflect the truth (after she is more trusting of the process). There is a legal responsibility to report truth in adoption documents. And regardless of legal responsibility, this is one I can say I feel strongly about. My daughter's history was erased because it was "easier" to do it that way. I think every child has a right to his/her story.

A. Gillispie 1:25 PM  

Kami, I do think that saying "It's the culture" can be used as a cop out and a justification to break law. One could say it's the culture for us to constantly speed on the roads in America, but that doesn't mean we can't be prosecuted for breaking that law. Can we argue that it's okay to speed just because most people aren't prsecuted for doing it?

You asked: Based on your reply, what is a bribe in Ghana? Is it the 2 cedis that is given to the guard at the embassy to keep good relations? Is it the gas money provided to a social welfare employee so that he can actually travel to do a social welfare investigation? Is it the expedite fee to find a lost passport?

Yes, I think giving any money to ANY embassy staff is a bribe--always.

No, I don't think that providing funds for transportation, when the department itself does not, is paying a bribe. But I think that sometimes the money given for transportation can be inflated to give the officer a "profit." That, I think is a bribe.

No, I don't think it's a bribe to pay a worker to watch a passport application go from desk to desk, and to therefore expedite that process. I don't think it's wrong to pay someone to go and look through the stacks and stacks of paperwork to find a lost passport. You are paying someone for a service.

I think it is a "bribe" when what is given changes what would have been the natural outcome of the adoption process. Paying a judge money before the trial, with the understanding that he will grant the case--bribe. Paying the social welfare officer money to falsify statements on a social investigation report--bribe. Paying money to embassy guards so that you get special treatment (i.e. entrance without documentation)--bribe.

I am ONLY speaking about paying bribes within the context of adoption, when acting as a representative for other families.

[I am not speaking of what I may or may not do as a private visitor to Ghana, in order to do what is accepted and expected within the society. I would feel I had more freedom in that scenario because my actions only reflect on me, not an entire community of orphans and adoptive families. Personally, I would totally pay a "bribe" to a police officer if it meant I didn't have to go to jail!]

A. Gillispie 1:25 PM  

Kami, I do think that saying "It's the culture" can be used as a cop out and a justification to break law. One could say it's the culture for us to constantly speed on the roads in America, but that doesn't mean we can't be prosecuted for breaking that law. Can we argue that it's okay to speed just because most people aren't prsecuted for doing it?

You asked: Based on your reply, what is a bribe in Ghana? Is it the 2 cedis that is given to the guard at the embassy to keep good relations? Is it the gas money provided to a social welfare employee so that he can actually travel to do a social welfare investigation? Is it the expedite fee to find a lost passport?

Yes, I think giving any money to ANY embassy staff is a bribe--always.

No, I don't think that providing funds for transportation, when the department itself does not, is paying a bribe. But I think that sometimes the money given for transportation can be inflated to give the officer a "profit." That, I think is a bribe.

No, I don't think it's a bribe to pay a worker to watch a passport application go from desk to desk, and to therefore expedite that process. I don't think it's wrong to pay someone to go and look through the stacks and stacks of paperwork to find a lost passport. You are paying someone for a service.

I think it is a "bribe" when what is given changes what would have been the natural outcome of the adoption process. Paying a judge money before the trial, with the understanding that he will grant the case--bribe. Paying the social welfare officer money to falsify statements on a social investigation report--bribe. Paying money to embassy guards so that you get special treatment (i.e. entrance without documentation)--bribe.

I am ONLY speaking about paying bribes within the context of adoption, when acting as a representative for other families.

[I am not speaking of what I may or may not do as a private visitor to Ghana, in order to do what is accepted and expected within the society. I would feel I had more freedom in that scenario because my actions only reflect on me, not an entire community of orphans and adoptive families. Personally, I would totally pay a "bribe" to a police officer if it meant I didn't have to go to jail!]

exmish 4:44 PM  

I have to comment that it is the answers to those questions (or the lack thereof) that have stopped us from pursuing another adoption. We were used so horribly, cruelly in our adoption process that I can't envision a path that would lead us to a child that legitimately needs us. I know that there ARE paths that lead there - I just don't trust myself to be sure that I would find one.

At the core, though, it is less about that and more about the fact that we feel like we did what God wanted us to do, even though it turned out extremely painfully and without a new member of our family (yeah, we have a decree, but no one knows if it's legit, if his family even wanted him adopted, whatever). We don't feel God leading us anywhere in the direction of adoption at this time - maybe it's because of what I just said, maybe He has other reasons.

My heart goes out to all those who are walking that rickety bridge of unanswered questions and ethical dilemmas...*HUG*

Amy 9:30 PM  

I find this conversation rivoting. Nothing seems clear when you are in the midst of the emotions of an adoption. I have to admit that when we were in the midst of our long summer delays, when I wanted to give in and grease the wheels (although our agency wouldn't have done so anyway!), my thought went to the affect that would have on subsequent country adoptions if 'found out'.