Monday, March 07, 2011

Ethiopia and Alternatives

Today I was one the phone quite literally all day long. The phone started ringing at 8am and didn't stop until well after 5pm. As I talked to one family another was beeping in. My voice is worn out. My ear even hurts! But I'm not going to get on here and complain about *MY* day. My family is built. My children are all home. We were able to adopt internationally four times. I AM BLESSED.

Today there are so many families hurting--families that planned to adopt from the most established program in Africa. Now it seems that Ethiopia adoptions may be changing drastically in the next several months. There are thousands of families trying to discern next steps. "Do we stay, or do we go? If we go, where to?"

I have no idea if any of those families read my blog, but if you are here, I just want you to know I am praying for you. I do not at all envy the position you are in. Many hearts are hurting in the ET adoption community right now. I would gladly spend many more days on the phone non-stop if I thought it would help any one of you even the tiniest bit.

I am also praying for the children of Ethiopia right now. I pray that true orphans would not be left wasting away in orphanages. I pray that kids with serious disease do not die as they wait. I also pray that the measures ET is taking saves lives in a different way. I pray that children who would have otherwise been trafficked into adoptive families will now be "saved" from that atrocity. I pray that people perpetuating corruption in Ethiopia are caught and jailed. I pray that any American adoption agency who has knowingly taken part in corruption in order to meet the "demand" of American parents is taken down. If ET adoptions close (or close to it), we can thank corrupt people for it. NO DOUBT there are many, many children in ET that are in true need of adoption. Now it looks like those children truly in need of a family may be left waiting because of the children that have been made to look like orphans by unscrupulous people. Frankly, it really pisses me off.

It is what it is. Many families are going to feel like they should look for alternatives. That's why my phone has rang off the hook today, and I'm assuming it is like that for most non-Ethiopia agencies/programs across the board today.

My friend and colleague, Salem, answered some questions about Uganda adoption HERE. If you're wondering about Uganda as an alternative country, she is the best source I could point you to. She is an ETHICAL adoption advocate, willing to stand up for what is right even if it's hard. She is not interested in "selling" Uganda as the next big thing. She'll just give you real information. She told me today that Uganda is a great option for those hoping to adopt children 5 or older, special needs children (especially HIV), and "babies" 0-2 years (not young infants). Fees are very reasonable, and the process is quick. [I'm betting that the wait lists for this program will grow quickly over the next few months.] You can email

Ghana, I think I've shared a ton about Ghana on this blog! Here's the quick version. There are about a million orphans, but it's NOT a waiting child program. There's no good way to identify large numbers of children in need of adoption, so it's probably always going to be a small program. It is NOT a baby program. Don't expect to adopt a child under 3 (although a few times a year a child 1-3 may become available). It takes about 6-12 months from child match until homecoming. The wait for a child match can be anywhere from a few months to 18+ months depending on your request. Most common request in our program is for boy/girl siblings 0-5 or 0-6 years. We need families for single children, boys, and families open to children 6+ years.

Maybe some families will start to look at China again? For healthy children China probably isn't a great option, but if you're open to special needs it seems that the program is going really well! There are what? 1200 kids ready and waiting on the SN's list? As an outsider looking in it seems that families who normally wouldn't qualify to adopt from China are sometimes allowed to adopt if adopting SNs kiddos. China is even starting to do HIV+ adoptions!

A question I have heard a lot today is, "How do I keep from getting involved in a corrupt program?" I'm so glad that people are asking this question! In the link above Salem gives some great advice. Here are some questions that I suggest you ask.

1. How do you hear about the children in need of adoption? Your agency needs to KNOW how the kids are identified. "Our facilitator locates them." is really not a good enough answer. How are they located? Does he/she go out to the village and ask people if they want their kids to go to America through adoption? If there is any sort of "finding" or "looking for" going on, I would see that as a red flag.

2. What sort of humanitarian aide are you doing? Every agency says they do it. Let them tell you how. Is all the aide going to support "their" kids? If so, I don't really see that as aide--that's just using the fees you pay to care for your child! Is all the aide going to orphanages? Great to give to orphanages, but what about preserving families? What are they doing to address the reasons WHY children become available for adoption? What are their family preservation efforts? If the agency's fees are alot lower than most others, you might consider that they are lower because little or no humanitarian work is being done.

3. Can I adopt a baby? If you're planning to adopt from Ghana, and an agency tells you "no problem" with adopting a baby--well...go the opposite direction. YES babies become available every once in a while. It is the EXTREME exception to the rule. Last year there were 8 visas given to children under one year, out of over 100 visas issued. I'd be willing to bet that most of those kiddos had significant special needs. Most of the 0-2 kids we've seen in our program have had HIV or other special needs.

4. What causes most kids to be orphaned in Ghana? There are lots of "right" answers to this question. There is one answer that is normally "wrong." In the past 4 years we've seen exactly TWO children who have been truly abandoned--as in left some place where there is no known family. If an agency is telling you most of their kids are abandoned, that would be out of the ordinary. I'd personally want a REALLY good explanation as to why that was the case with their kids but not very typical within the program as a whole. There are certain times (like kids in a big government orphanages) where it may be more common for kids to be abandoned, but most all the time someone knows someone who can find a family member!

5. When do you match families and children? Technically, American agencies do not legally match parents and children. The agency's role is to share with parents about children they know of who are LEGALLY FREE for adoption. In this way there are informal (but not legal) matches. Then the child's paperwork and the family's paperwork is presented together for Social Welfare to consider. Social Welfare then makes a legal match. I personally feel very strongly that agencies should NOT be presenting children to families if the child is not absolutely free for adoption. This means that the agency should have a document called the Social Investigation Report for the child. If an agency is matching you with a child that they "don't know much about but our facilitator said they are in need of adoption," that is not okay. That is a recipe for heartache.

6. Do your in country people know what children families are waiting for? Will they be told that we're hoping to adopt one child 0-5 years old? Again, this may be a person thing, but I think that is a recipe for disaster. The kids that become available for adoption should become available for adoption only because they have no other option. They should not only be "found" when the facilitator knows there is a family waiting for a child of that description. My collegues in Ghana are not told how many families are waiting, or what age/gender the families are waiting for. They simply help the families and kids that need help--regardless of age or special needs.

7. Corruption. Obviously, no agency is going to tell you they take part in corruption. You have to ask the question differently. Does the agency (or the facilitator) have the attitude that "the end justifies the means?" Do they talk about how "that's just the way it's done" or tell you "it's part of the cultur to pay bribes?" There are lots of people out there that are completely at peace with paying bribes if it means the adoption goes through more quickly. An agency with very "quick, easy" adoptions might sound good at the front end, but that might really be an indicator that there are extra payments going on. Agencies that pay may be the ones that tell you it's no problem if your family is outside of the normal requirements, or they may get certain documents much more quickly than the norm.

Bottom line, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. The times of a quick, easy international adoption seem to be falling quickly to the wayside. I read one blog several months ago where it was reported that in the next 30 years international adoption would phase out completely. I just cannot believe that. Instead, I think that parents will continue to become thicker-skinned. Adoptive parents are the strongest people I know. We have to realize that these children are our PRIVILEGE, not our RIGHT. When there is a country that honors us with the opportunity to adopt their orphaned children, it is our responsibility to give that country the utmost respect, even if we don't agree with the way they do things. It is not our business to influence them. It is our duty to honor these children by abiding by the laws within their country of birth. If we do that, I believe that international adoption will always be an option for American families.



Jena 10:50 PM  

GREAT GREAT post Anita!!!

Mama D.'s Dozen 11:01 PM  

GREAT post!

Thanks for speaking out, once again, against corruption. I've seen it. I've watched manipulation and "pay-offs" being made. It's sick. It's wrong.

I've seen adoptive families meet the bio. parents, whom they had been told were dead. I've heard bio. parents ask, "Is this forever?" Oh. My. Heart. It's sick. It's wrong.

I've heard adoptive families anguish over the thought that maybe their child wasn't really an orphan. Maybe their child was "bought" from the family. It's sick. It's wrong.

I am always sooooo.... saddened by the agencies that "find" babies for the adoptive families that "only want a cute, healthy, baby". It's sick. It's wrong.

I am so thankful that we chose to adopt older children.

I am so thankful that we knew our children were "true orphans" (that both bio. parents had died).

I am so thankful that we weren't asked to give bribes.


... for speaking up for the children.

... for honoring the laws of the country that my children are from.

... for working to keep families together, rather than "buying" their babies from them.

THANK YOU ... for spending the day on the telephone, helping families to walk through the process of "What do we do now?" And ... tell your family, "Thanks" as well, as they gave up their mommy for the day.



Heather 11:24 PM  

Great post Anita. But I have to wonder . . . From what I've read, Ethiopia is going to be a MORE legit program with the changes, just much, much slower. So the families looking to leave the program, well, it seems like it's a speed issue. And families looking for quicker adoptions are one of the main reasons we have adoption corruption in the first place. Just my .02. But then I've become much more cynical in the past couple of years when it comes to ugly Americans trafficing children.

A. Gillispie 7:38 AM  

Heather, do you remember what happened with China a few years ago? Families went from waiting 1-2 years for a referral to like 6 or 7 years (after China did something similar to what ET said they are going to do). I could be wrong, but it seems like they could be talking about THAT kind of slowdown in Ethiopia. If it slows down that much the program simply won't be able to assist thousands of families.

You know I always look at things through a Ghana adoption lense. I was thinking yesterday about what would happen if all of the sudden I had 300 waiting families on my list instead of 30. It would be crazy to have that number of families on the waiting list because we would work for years and years to get through it. We've done 60-70 adoptions the past four years. Not many families are going to sign up to wait 5+ years to bring home your child. And just think--several of those years could be spent waiting AFTER you have referral. I certainly don't blame them if there are other options that make more sense.

Tough, tough decisions.

Kait 7:39 AM  

Beautiful post Anita but I'm with Heather on this. A lot of those who are fleeing the Ethiopia program seem to be those who had "female, 0-12 months, healthy" as their request. Not that there is anything wrong with that as there are healthy baby girls who need families too. Just not as many as there are adoptive parents waiting to scoop them up!

We're adopting from Uganda right now and I have to say I'm worried for the future of the Uganda program too. A lot of these families are going to move to Uganda in hopes of getting a healthy baby. There are already issues with people adopting independently after asking a lawyer to find them a baby. My heart hurts every time someone on the facebook group says anything about a lawyer finding them a baby. Some lawyers are ethical and are working with orphanages and doing it right. Unfortunately, others are not.

It kills me that with all the legitimately orphaned kids in the world we are ambivalent to trafficking as long as it serves the purpose of getting us the baby that we want within the timeline that we want.

A. Gillispie 7:46 AM  

All of the families I spoke with yesterday were not hoping to adopt a baby. They were hoping to adopt children between 3 and 10 years old. For better or worse, Ghana just isn't a program where the baby folks will be able to transfer. I share your concerns about Uganda Kait. Younger children are available there (although not young babies, it seems). I'm afraid that there could be a huge influx of families for that program before the program has had a chance to mature. Hopefully adoption providers can figure out a way for history NOT to repeat itself. I don't believe Uganda is interested in being "the next Ethiopia" anymore than Ghana is.

Cora 10:28 AM  

Wonderful post. Coming from experience, I pray that these people do not follow the promises of new, faster, younger African programs. It is heart breaking, please feel free to give anyone my contact information if you hear they are looking into the program that you know I am talking about.

China special needs is an awesome program. I can not believe the wonderful kids that are coming out of it and even though it is a bit longer process now, it is still a very predictable program and that is comforting. New children added to the list every month and some of them are very young with minor SN. Our little one was 12 months when she was listed and 16 months when we picked her up.

I hope these families are able to find their peace. It is not an easy journey at all.

Cindy 2:58 AM  

Great post Anita. I also worry about a massive influx of families into any new country. Sigh....