Once again, tragedy strikes orphans – children who might have
been adopted into a permanent home have had their hopes and dreams demolished.
This time it’s Ethiopia, where international adoption has been growing rapidly
over the last six years, beginning with a handful of older children in the
1980’s and 90’s. By last year 2,500 children – sweet babies and toddlers - were
adopted by American families.
Now, the Ethiopian government has announced that it is
reducing the number of visas approved for adoption from 50 per work day to five.
The outcry from those waiting to become parents, from adoption agencies and from
for profit organizations advocating for children, is predictable and equally
predictable, the world at large appears to be indifferent to the anguish this
ruling is causing. And so, the numbers of children adopted from Ethiopia will
decrease, the time it takes to adopt will increase, and international adoption
in general, and the children in particular, are the losers.
destruction of international adoption has become the cure for a misdiagnosed
disease. Uninspired, bureaucratic, desperate decision-makers in governments,
including our own, and in large child welfare organizations, raise the cry of
“trafficking” and the rest is inevitable: to protect the children and stop the
trafficking – stop adoption.
The real disease – the one not addressed -
is much more complex. It involves developing nations, communities without social
welfare systems or resources to help families living in extreme poverty,
suffering from illness, depression and hopelessness. Without education, economic
strengthening, and access to medical care, particularly HIV/AIDS care, families
become desperate and relinquish their children to orphanages. And when the
numbers are too large and the government is too embarrassed and when those who
believe a child is better off rotting by the side of the road than living in a
different culture, well, that’s when we start hearing “trafficking,” and that’s
when international adoption is slowed, then halted. All in the name of the
In my 20 years as an adoption medicine specialist, this
scenario has been played out in Georgia, Romania, Cambodia, Vietnam , Guatemala,
Kyrgyztan, Kazakhstan, Nepal and now Ethiopia. Adoption is vilified, demonized
and then (the children are) crucified. And every time this happens there are
children and adoptive families trapped in the last steps of the adoption process
or others almost there and some not able to fulfill their lifelong dream of
creating a family. If you look historically at all the countries that halted
international adoption, you will find thousands of children left to rot in
institutions. The trafficking stories never come close to even a small
percentage of the children left to suffer for the rest of their lives.
People close to adoption knew the decision in Ethiopia was coming. There
were murmurs everywhere that “irregularities, perhaps improprieties” were found
in paperwork for children being referred for international adoption. New forms
andmore careful investigations were recommended by the US State Department, and
the US Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia worked diligently to ensure that the
paperwork was prepared transparently.
But let’s get real. The best
paperwork in the world is not going to fix a tragic social situation which is
about the disintegration and dismantling of families due to poverty, HIV/AIDS,
tuberculosis, malaria, natural disasters, conflict, and war. Yes, there is
trafficking, but with the Hague accords implemented, there just can’t be the
same degree of trafficking, otherwise we have all just spent millions of dollars
on an agreement to protect orphans which has in effect accomplished nothing.
I think that there is a place for adoption both domestic and
international, but I am not so foolish as to think that adoption is the solution
for millions of social orphans whose families were so poor or ill that their
desperate parents were driven to relinquish them to residential care facilities
(also known as orphanages, institutions, children’s homes, hogars, leagans, dom
rebyonka, mladost, crèches, etc.).
In the years that I’ve been helping
parents prepare for adoption, I’ve always believed that we should have been
investing in the social infrastructure of the “sending” countries. If we had
done this 20 years ago when I first entered this field, we would have had more
permanency, family preservation, group homes, kinship and non-related foster
care, family-based care, and community-based solutions for children without
parental care. And if we had managed this social infrastructure as a
capacity/community building endeavor, we could have continued international
adoption for those children who were abandoned/relinquished and completely
without any vestige of identifiable family.
In any case, here we are
again….doesn’t anyone learn from the past? How childish of me to ask such a
question! I can’t help myself because I have watched all of this unfold so many
times in so many countries and here we are witnessing another disaster.
Thousands of kids will be left and parents will be stuck in limbo for months and
even years…just look at each of the countries I noted above. You can go online
and find the stories cached for years… as tragic as any earthquake or tsunami
that leaves children stranded and alone.
No one wins. There is bitterness and anger and the orphaned
children in institutions are nameless to most of us. There are families who know
these children from pictures and visits and they all will suffer. I am privy to
many stories of parents waiting years to get their kids out of countries around
the world…even herculean measures for some where parents visit their children
several times a year in the orphanages watching their children become
In fact, this is a hostage situation. President Clinton, you
secured the release of two young journalists a few years ago and I met them at
the Glamour Woman of the Year Awards in 2009 when I was an award recipient.
Laura Ling and Euna Lee were freed because you thought their situation was grave
enough to go to Korea and personally negotiate for their release. That’s what
needs to be done now. We need some diplomacy to pry open the lid for a moment.
The Ethiopian government’s concerns must be addressed, but so must the concerns
of the waiting parents and most of all, of the children. We need a strategic
plan for de-institutionalization and community building. There are countless
NGOs just like mine, Worldwide Orphans Foundation, prepared to sit down with
government departments and other big NGOs to help come to the aid of the
government to provide concurrent planning, adoption and social welfare
infrastructure to fill in the gap so that we don’t have yet another “Guatemala
900” and the continued bullying of adoption.
We need to use creative
ways to help kids have permanency.
President Clinton, we need you…..
Dr. Jane Aronson
Founder and CEO, Worldwide Orphans Foundation
While I don't agree with every single thing the good doctor says, I certainly agree with her over all sentiment. If we had been focusing on family preservation from the very beginning of international adoption, we wouldn't be in the vicious circle we've made for ourselves and the children. I think there are agencies now that are TRULY focusing on family preservation as a first priority, followed by domestic adoption, followed by international adoption. However, those agencies are few and far between. It's GOT to become a bigger priority. And those adoptive parents out there that somehow feel every impoverished child is "better off" in an American family need to be PUT IN THEIR PLACE by the rest of the adoption community (agencies and adoptive parents). It's a ridiculous notion that has been allowed to hang around way too long.
I'm not speaking about Ethiopia adoption here. I'm speaking about international adoption as a whole. Things have got to change. If not, what will the options be 15 years from now? Will ANY country allow us the privilege of adopting children? I wouldn't! Honestly, if I was the head person in charge of adoption I would NOT allow Americans to adopt from "my" country unless I knew there were programs in place to PRESERVE VULNERABLE FAMILIES, and programs in place to ENCOURAGE DOMESTIC ADOPTION, and programs in place to correctly IDENTIFY CHILDREN WITH NO OTHER OPTION BESIDES INTERNATIONAL ADOPTION.
I love that Dr. Aronson's organization, and others, are ready to say to the Ethiopia government, "We're here. We see this doesn't work. We're finally ready to do the right thing and figure out a system that will protect the kids who are in need of adoption *AND* the kids who do not need adoption if only there were programs to preserve families."