Adoption Posts

I don’t have much to update today, but I hope to later this week!  Baby’s coming soon, Lord willing.

I was honored a couple weeks ago that my blog was mentioned by PEAR (Parents for Ethical Adoption Reform) in a post about ethics in DRC adoptions.  PEAR is a non-profit org that seeks to provide resources and information to prospective adoptive parents, specifically in the arena of ethics.  I have found their website really helpful and necessary as we try and navigate the process.  Check it out!

http://pear-now.blogspot.com/2012/12/pear-ethics-alert-and-cautionary.html

My blog post on Adoption Agency Accountability was also mentioned by The Adopted Ones Blog last week.  So fun!  It’s a great blog from an adoptee’s perspective.

http://theadoptedones.wordpress.com/2012/12/31/12-for-12-almost/

Finally, I recommend you read Family Hope Love if you are passionate about caring for orphans and widows.  Sara is writing a book geared toward international adoption reform as a parent who has walked the journey.  She wrote a very convicting post that, I think, really highlights the role we are prospective parents play in encouraging further corruption.  It’s a tough read, but worth it.

http://www.familyhopelove.com/how-did-we-end-up-here-adoption-and-the-path-of-escalating-commitment/

 

 

Adoption Agency Accountability

I’m still pondering what we’ve learned.  I’m dabbling in a few different online groups and reading lots of stories of adoption that involve ethical disasters.  How I wished I would have read (or paid attention) to these things years ago!  But, like many things in life, I often have to learn the hard way.

I feel for adoptive parents out there.  You have this strong calling on your heart, and you are answering it.  You hear Russell Moore and the Warrens speak so passionately, and you refuse to ignore it.  You see the beautiful pictures and hear the stories of abandoned orphans now being part of a family.  We all want that to be our story.  None of us got into this to traffic children or to coerce children away from their families.  There are easier, more fun ways to spend your time and money than adoption.

What can we do?  I think we must must must demand accountability from adoption agencies.  Just as I am reading more about demanding accountability from chocolate, clothing and coffee manufacturers to ensure they aren’t using slave labor, so we must do the same with adoption agencies to make sure their children are legitimate, legal orphans who actually need to be adopted.

The first thing we must realize is that international adoptions in America is a business.  These agencies are out to make money.  Yes, they may have chosen this industry because they want to help orphans, just as Steve Jobs started Apple probably in part because he just liked computers and technology.  At the end of the day, money is why we do business.  Most of us would not go to work if they stopped paying us even if we really liked what we did.

We cannot be naive and accept that these agencies are full of good-hearted people who can do no wrong.  They may be good-hearted, well-intentioned people, but sometimes those people can do the most harm because they lack a certain cynicism necessary to do business.  At One World Adoption Services, Inc., for example, the director and staff were nice.  They cared about the children and the families.  But unfortunately, they have blinders on when it comes to doing business in the DRC.  They trusted the wrong people and refused to see their mistakes (and still refuse).  Are they kind?  Yes.  Are they Christians?  Probably.  But that is not enough to operate an adoption agency.

Follow the money.  We live in a time where the term non-profit has basically become meaningless except for tax purposes, yet we all believe that if we are using a non-profit adoption agency, then we are in the clear.  Wrong.  So wrong.  The agency directors and staff are making money off of these adoptions.  How else could they afford to do business?  They might not be getting mega-millions, but they are bringing home a paycheck.

It’s time we demand to know what these agencies are charging for.  What’s a referral fee?  To me, that sounds an awful lot like paying for the agency to find you a referral.  We shouldn’t need to find referrals.  There are either kids in orphanages who need to be adopted, or there aren’t.  Agencies should not have an incentive to “find” a child to fit the profile so they can collect the fee.

Agencies must investigate referrals independently of their in-country staff.   This is a no brainer.  One World told us that they do not ever investigate or verify any information they receive from the DRC.  This is appalling.

Agencies must have a presence on the ground on a very regular basis.  How can you oversee something but never see it?  How do you hire staff you’ve never met?  One World refuses to travel to visit the orphanage or check up on things, even after a large-scale scandal.

These issues are not limited to One World or DRC.  I have connected with many other families who have struggled with ethical adoptions from other countries with other agencies.  We cannot afford to turn a blind eye.  That would be a disservice to the orphans and widows we desire to serve.

 

Congo Recap

I’ve been trying to take it easy this week, which means that so far today I took a two hour nap and watched Miracle on 34th Street (the original).  [I also went on a 5 mile walk, so not super easy.]

The past two days I’ve been reviewing our photos and videos from our trip to DRC and Paris.  [It’s a lot  like when Clark Griswold gets stuck in the attic and watches the slideshow.]  This is the first time I’ve looked at them.  At first it was because I couldn’t handle it.  Then I just sort of forgot.  It has been fun recalling the adventure, and I wanted to share with you some highlights of the trip.

Here we are packing up the car to head to the airport. Image

My parents took us to O’Hare.  We flew to Brussels and ended up scoring a free upgrade to Economy Plus.  Awesome!  Of course our flight sat on the runway at O’Hare for over an hour before taking off.  Since we had a very quick layover in Brussels, we were sure to miss our second flight.  When we landed in Brussels, we pushed our way to the front and ran as fast as we could to the gate.  We made it, but our bags didn’t.  We were lucky though because the people who missed the flight ended up spending almost two days in Brussels before they got to Kinshasa.

We landed in Kinshasa around 6 pm.  The airport was super small and in the middle of a field.  We flew in over the Congo River.  It looks exactly as you would imagine it (see blog banner if you can’t imagine).  We found our escort upon exiting the plane and then we waited for about two hours to see if our bags made it.  We were sure they didn’t but felt it was prudent to wait around.  The baggage claim scene was unique, to say the least.  People actually hire help to push their way to the front and retrieve their bags.  I sat back and enjoyed watching my adorably pale sweetheart do his best to fight the fight.

We piled into a van with about eight other passengers from Europe – none of whom spoke English (and neither did our driver).  By now, it was dark and late.  Thank God BB asked the flight attendant for water for his pregnant wife.  Those two liters of water were life-savers for the multi-hour journey to the guesthouse.  Our guesthouse was the last stop.  Matthew (our driver) told us he would come back in the morning to take us to get our bags.

We arrived at the guesthouse around 10:30 pm. The receptionist didn’t speak English.  Luckily, my high school French came back to me well enough to communicate our situation.  He promptly told us that our reservation wasn’t until the next day and that he didn’t have any rooms for us.  Apparently my French gets better with anger and exhaustion (this will come back later), and we were able to persuade him that if he didn’t give us a room, we were going to sleep in front of the desk since there wasn’t exactly a Best Western across the street.

We had arrived and could finally sleep.  Praise God!

Here I am at the guesthouse.

St Anne

Since we weren’t in Kinshasa for vacation and only ended up being there for four days, we didn’t do much sight-seeing or exploring.  We spent a lot of time at the guesthouse and a lot of time at the Brussels Airlines office trying to get our bags (at lease one trip a day – we finally got the last one the morning before we left).

Here we are at the Brussels Airlines office!

BA

On our second day there, we took our journey to meet the birth family of the kids.  I like to call it our “Nicholas Kristof: On Assignment” adventure.  P picked us up in his car that morning, and we headed out.  Where?  We basically didn’t know.  We first went to the market to pick up some food items to deliver to the family, including some frozen chickens.  [This is relevant to later in the story.]  We drove to pick up the kids’ grandmother at her church and then headed to her house.  Along the way, the car broke down.  Twice.  It overheated.  Both times P was able to get it back running.

On our adventure.

Car

About halfway through the drive, it occurred to me that we probably should have told someone in the world where we were going and with whom.  Sorry Dad – I’m sure you taught me this growing up!  I’ll try to remember that sooner next time.

It was hot.  Luckily, we had our cooling system on our laps – remember the frozen chickens!

We finally made it and enjoyed a nice afternoon with the family.  The women complemented my large hips, butt and boobs.  Much appreciated.

We left to start the long journey back.  We have some videos that I want to share, but apparently I need to upgrade my blog to do that.  We sang praise songs most of the ride home because we didn’t know what else to say.  I’m so glad we have those videos to remember how we felt.  It was such a bizarre mixture of joy in knowing that we had learned what we needed to and also sorrow knowing that the adoption was over.

That night we mourned.  I’ll spare you the details except to say that God was so present with us.

We were able to leave about 50% of what we brought to Kinshasa with us.  We gave the clothes and toys to the family for the kids.  We were able to leave food, dishes and other things with our friend from church’s family in Kinshasa.  That was a huge blessing and helped us to feel like God really used our trip for good.

We then planned our trip home.  A few photos of the drive to the airport.

Street1Street2

One more story about how my anger helped me communicate in French.  As we were boarding the plane, the security guard told me I couldn’t bring my water.  I won that debate.  I’m pretty sure at one point I told Bill – they can take my kids, but I’ll be d***ed if they take my water!  I think he thought about leaving me there at that point.

As much as the trip was hard, we had so much fun, and it was filled with beauty.  We got part of the adventure that we wanted.  We met beautiful, kind, loving people.  We saw the dark side of adoption (not just the fraud but some less than lovely behavior from American adoptive parents).  Our hearts were broken for the DRC.  We mourned more than we ever had before, but God never left us.  We were blessed to put his promises to the test.

Every moment of the trip was foreordained by the Lord.  We felt we were exactly where we were supposed to be and are still so grateful that we went.

Kinshasa is a beautiful place with a rich and sad history.  I hope to return someday when I can spend more time and explore more.

 

Thank you!

I can’t thank you all enough for your lovely notes, texts, FB messages and comments.  It’s lovely to feel so supported.  I started this blog as a way to remember the adoption and to process through all the crazy things that we were learning.  It’s evolved to a broader spectrum of topics and a way for me to journal all aspects of my life.  Thanks for reading!

I hope to keep blogging about adoption and orphans even though we aren’t officially in the process anymore.  We are currently researching foster care, and all options for growing our family and loving orphans continue to be on the table.  Our eyes and hearts have been opened to some big issues in the world over the past few years, and we feel a little overwhelmed about what our response should be.  In some ways we are just throwing everything against the wall to see what sticks.  We pray that God will continue to use our lives for his kingdom work, and we are open to anything. It’s possible that it will be something much different than adoption.

Currently, we are feeling God pull us into local ministry here in our neighborhood.  BB is reading Brandon Hatmaker’s book Barefoot Church (http://www.amazon.com/Barefoot-Church-Serving-Consumer-Exponential/dp/0310492262), and it’s safe to say that our Hatmaker love continues to grow.  One of the topics in the book is serving local needs and not necessarily through your church or other Christian organizations.  We live in a neighborhood with lots of needs.  It’s a neighborhood with lots of violence, drug use, prostitution, and homelessness.  The schools are under-resourced, and there is a large population of people with mental illnesses.  While it sounds discouraging, in all this hurt, there are so many opportunities to show God’s love.  We’ve barely scratched the surface.  We are excited to see where God leads us.  We’ve already formed some relationships with some of the homeless people in our neighborhood, and we have been beyond blessed by those interactions.

In the meantime, I’ll still be here blogging about the mundane things in my life, encouraging you to change the world by not purchasing mainstream chocolate (http://www.rageagainsttheminivan.com/2012/10/the-inconvenient-truth-about-your.html), engaging in Jen Hatmaker-hero worship, talking about reducing our consumerism, and sharing my experience with pregnancy.  Keep reading!  I love being the center of attention!

 

Questions we should have asked

I wanted to offer a little practical “advice” from what we learned through our experience for those of you considering international adoption or in the process already.  I still wholeheartedly believe in adoption and believe that it can be done ethically, but not without significant work by the families themselves.  No matter how reputable your agency, you really cannot and should not rely solely on the information provided by them.

1.  Ask the agency what investigation is done by them prior to giving a referral.  One World Adoption Services, Inc. (www.oneworldadoptions.org) told us (after the fact) that they do nothing to validate the stories provided by the orphanage. And they did not know how the orphanage was obtaining the children.  If it’s a case of relinquishment by a family member, how does the family member find out about the orphanage?  Who advises her about adoption and the permanency? Are any attempts made to assist the family to keep the child? What are the circumstances leading the family to want the child to be adopted? If it’s a case of death or abandonment, how are stories validated?  Do they advertise in the newspaper or radio?

2.  At some point (preferably before accepting a referral because that’s when you pay the big money), you must do an independent investigation.  Depending on the country, this could be difficult and expensive.  But, adoption is difficult and expensive, so you don’t want to skip this step.  Personally, I would recommend going over and visiting yourself.  If the child is older, they should have a story to tell.

3.  Beware of any agency that has rules about visiting the orphanage or communication with the in-country staff.  One World refused to let people visit if they happened to be in DRC.  This is very suspicious and suggests that the agency is hiding something.  With advance notice, there should be no security risk to a visit to bring gifts, medicine, etc.  I also have yet to hear a good reason why adoptive parents should not be copied on communications or included in calls with the in-country staff.

4.  Don’t accept the “no information” line.  One World regularly told us that communication with DRC was nearly impossible and that information was “not available.”  While not all information is available, push for more.  You should be included on communications between your agency and tin-country staff.  We regularly asked for specific information about who,what and when One World was communicating with their staff and never received any concrete answers.

5.  If there’s even a hint of impropriety, you must not ignore it.  We want to believe the best in people, but these issues are too messy and too important to ignore.  Agencies operate with willful blindness.  When we started our investigation, we  were told by a case worker from another agency that we shouldn’t ask questions about the father because we might find the answer, and it could ruin our adoption.  When we were in DRC and our situation was unfolding, another adoptive family told us that their agency warned them not to ask questions.  This is unacceptable and unethical.  Not to mention that it would be very difficult to explain to your child later in life that you never asked specific questions about his family because you didn’t want to risk the adoption.  We should not be involved in adoption by any means necessary.

6.  Get itemized breakdowns of the fees.  One World never provided receipts or breakdowns of fees despite repeated requests.  You must follow the money.  When we were in DRC, we spoke with a lawyer who told us that of course gifts were given to family members and orphanages for referrals.  She did not see this as buying children, but some people may see it that way and not be wrong.  A $10,000 “referral fee” means nothing.  Where does each dollar go?  Many people pay fees for orphan care or foster care.  Receipts should be provided to show how that money is being spent.  In DRC, many agencies are paying fees to DGM for exit letters, which fees are most certainly bribes as the exit letter does not cost money.  If your agency refuses to provide this information, it is a red flag.

I want people to know that these issues are not limited to DRC or Africa.  Google corruption in adoption, and you will see these issues in all countries where adoption is an option.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a Hague or non-Hague country.  When we adopt a child from another country, it is a monumentally large undertaking.  We cannot be afraid of messing it up or of losing a referral.  We can’t cut costs or shortcut the timeframes.  We cannot be afraid of making people angry with our questioning.  We are fighting for innocent children who have no voice.  It should be hard to adopt a child, and we owe it to our (future) children to be able to say we did what we could to make sure our decision was right and in their best interest.

More reading for those interested in ethical adoption

After my last few posts, I’ve had the good fortune to connect with others who have faced similar unethical practices in their adoptions.  They have beautiful, convicting stories to tell:

http://www.gracelings.org/2012/07/guest-post-walking-away-from-ugandan.html

This post hit home since I was at the Summit, and while I don’t agree with everything he puts forth, I shared many of the same concerns while in attendance:

http://fleasbiting.blogspot.com/2012/05/saddleback-church-orphan-summit-five.html

Food for thought…

 

 

Are we helping orphans or creating them?

This is such a hard post to write because I am still processing.  I will start by saying that I don’t have the answers, just the questions.  One question that keeps coming up in my mind is whether we are helping orphans through international adoption or creating them.  When we were in DRC (the fraud and legal issues aside), we kept asking whether we should adopt the children since it’s what the parents had chosen.  Didn’t they have the right to choose to relinquish their rights just as parents in the US do?

It just didn’t sit right with us.  We didn’t get into this to traffic children to the US.  We got into this to help orphans.  A child that has a parent or parents is not an orphan in my mind.  This is where it gets tricky.  The children we were trying to adopt were no doubt vulnerable children in a difficult situation, but orphans?  No.  This is why all those “147 million orphans” ads and similar statistics don’t sit well with me.  I know it’s advertising and the point is not accuracy but shock and awe, but why isn’t 17.8 million orphans shocking enough (that’s the actual estimated number of children who have lost both parents according to UNICEF)?

It’s worrisome to me that these parents in DRC (and probably many like them) placed their children in an orphanage to be adopted to the US.  This family has a home, a car, some members with jobs, food, health, and love.   It’s even more worrisome to me that the orphanage accepted them given those known circumstances and that One World Adoption Services, Inc. advocated and endorsed their adoption.

OWAS touted their orphanage as the best in DRC – healthy, loved kids with the best access to food, medicine, care.  We loved that about it and now it makes us sick.  Why were those kids so healthy and loved?  Is it because they came from families who loved them and were caring for them? It’s even worse that it’s what we wanted.  We wanted perfectly healthy, beautiful, happy, well-adjusted kids.  Um, that’s not generally what we should be seeking when we want to care for an orphan.  I may be so bold as to say that there is no such thing.  How could there be?

I can’t help but struggle with the question of what about the true orphans?  The street kids, the sick kids, the kids with truly no one to care for them.  Why aren’t they in the “best” orphanages?  Why aren’t they being sought in droves by us Christians?  Why aren’t they being adopted at the same rate as the healthy babies?  Why are there waiting lists for healthy babies if there are 147 million orphans?

I’m not trying to judge.  If anything, I judge myself.  We got into this saying we wanted to be “all in” for Jesus and “all in” for the orphan…so long as we could get a beautiful, perfect, healthy, infant because we didn’t feel “called” to care for kids with “issues.    (Apparently, we hadn’t yet read the Bible to know what our true calling is.)

If families with means can get their kids into orphanages and adopted to the US because their kids are young and healthy, that’s a grave injustice to the kids who will die on the streets alone.  We need to do more than adopt.  We need to do more than trust these agencies that make money when we accept a referral and are incentivized to “find” kids to meet our parameters (no matter what they say, that is what’s usually going on). We need to stand up for the least of these.

It’s an ugly world out there.  People in desperate situations do desperate things.  I don’t blame that family for wanting a “better life” for their children.  Of course, they should be free to explore all options for their children.  But, I also need to see what’s going on and say no when it crosses a line.  If we, having the mind of Christ, don’t say no, who will?