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.

 

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.