Two years

This week we watched the movie Philomena. I would not recommend watching that movie unless you are ready to have your heart crushed. It’s really a great movie, but the story is just tragic. It’s based on a true story (that unfortunately is not an unfamiliar story today). In short, a mother traces her son who was stolen from her for adoption in 1950s Ireland.

This time, two years ago, we were in Kinshasa meeting the family of the children we planned to adopt. This is a bittersweet time of year for me. The sadness and heartache are no longer fresh, but the scars are there. At the same time, it was the end of a terrible experience for those kids having to live in an institution away from the love and care of their mother.

This summer, our adoption agency – One World Adoption Services, Inc. – had their accreditation revoked by the Department of State for substantiated claims of corruption and fraud. This was a huge victory for many families in DRC, the US and Canada, but OWAS’ victim list is long. There are dozens of families in the process who are unsure about whether their adoptions will ever be finalized or whether the children should be adopted at all, and there are few people to help get those questions answered. The lawyers that OWAS employed in DRC are now extorting families who seek to retrieve their paperwork or move the children to foster homes. The pain is never-ending, it seems.

Meanwhile, the suspension of exit letters remains so few children who have been adopted have been allowed to leave DRC. Other agencies who have engaged in practices similar to OWAS remain in business, and families continue to wait and hope.

It’s an absolute mess with no obvious solution. I wish I had an answer for the families who contact me. I struggle with wanting to end all communications that I have with people on the topic because the situation feels so hopeless. I get angry when I see people defending the ethics of DRC adoptions and proceeding with adoptions without questioning whether it’s a good idea. When do you stay and continue to fight and when do you throw in the towel?

The community that I have made with other people involved in DRC adoptions is priceless. If it’s possible to be great friends with people you’ve never met in person, than I certainly am. These women get it. They get the pain and the loss and the beauty of adoption. We keep hoping and fighting because we believe it can be glorious. Thanks for sticking with us on this journey.

Let’s Get Real – Part 1

I want to start a series of posts addressing some common phrases I hear from adoptive parents. This is not meant to be critical of adoptive parents by any means! I’ve said these very same things and only through other people educating me can I speak with the smallest bit of authority. I have the most respect for people who are willing to sacrifice their lives, families, finances, and world views to adopt children. Some of my closest friends are adoptive families with amazing families that I want to model. Adoptive parents are heroes in my eyes.

But I get contacted from prospective adoptive parents every single week asking me my opinions and counsel about situations where they’ve ended up (by mistake, fraud or misinformation) in a situation where a birthfamily has come forward expressing an interest or ability in raising the children placed for adoption. These are not rare stories. And what I hear are some common phrases that I think are important discuss. This is open for dialogue! I want you to disagree with me and challenge me. I love that!

It’s not in the best interest of the child to stay in [DRC, Uganda, Ethiopia, etc.] with their poor families.” or “Their mother is too poor to care for him.”

Let’s question the standard that we use to determine best interest of a child and what it means to me “too poor.”

While an orphanage may provide shelter, food and education, the smart people have taught us that psychosocial and emotional needs of children are just as important as the physical and are not met in institutional living. Moreover, adoption itself causes trauma to children. In some cases, it’s absolutely necessary and the benefits outweigh the costs – for sure. But it’s not a neutral act to place a child in a new home, in a new family, especially across race and culture.

Poverty. Here’s where we are rich white Americans miss the mark so badly, so often. We see poverty when children don’t get an education, live in homes with dirt floors, and eat only rice and beans. But we don’t often see the poverty in a child who grows up lacking the connection to her biological family.

In a perfect world, all children would live with the parents God gave them through birth, live in a house in a gated suburb on a quiet street, go to school, and eat ice cream sandwiches every day [ok that’s my perfect world]. But alas, we don’t. Living in America ain’t perfect, and we shouldn’t pretend that it is. Many people in the developing world believe that it is, that there are no problems in America. But they are dead wrong, and we shouldn’t lie to them and say that it will be perfect for their kids in America. We have all heard stories of children being “re-homed,” abused, given up to foster care. While those stories are likely rare, they are real. Birth-families deserve the truth.

We need to stop measuring the best interests of children by the standard of wealth. We need to value families, attachment, and culture as much as (if not more than!) we value wealth. Just because we can provide wealthier, more economically advantageous lives than others does not mean it’s in the best interests of a child to be removed from the most important and influential relationships that they will ever ever have. If we adopt out of poverty, our children will ask us why we didn’t help their families keep them. It won’t be out of a lack of love for their adoptive parents, but they will ask the question.

Finally, we need to ask what it means to be “too poor.” I’ve heard stories of kids being placed in an orphanage for as little as a lack of formula. While the family was too poor to provide a year’s worth of formula before the child would no longer need it, that’s an extremely simple problem to solve. I’m not saying poverty is easily solved, but occasionally there are solutions that would prevent the trauma of a child being institutionalized and/or placed for adoption. We should ask those questions. There are ministries that have proven that with small amount of economic support (much, much less than the cost of adoption), many mothers are able to keep their children in their homes. As Christians caring for vulnerable children, it’s our duty to determine that before proceeding with an adoption.

The bottom line is that sometimes adoption is romanticized, and parents who have children through adoption will be the first to tell you that there’s very little romantic about it. While they absolutely love their children and don’t regret adoption at all, it can be extremely difficult work raising children from hard places – worthy work to be sure. And that’s ok that it’s hard. Let’s be a safe place where people can be honest. But we need to enter adoption with eyes wide open (as much as possible) and think about this child as needing so much more than food, shelter and education.

The birthmom came back, and now she just wants money.”

Ok. I’m going to get real here and be the advocate of the devil as BB says. How come it’s ok for every single person in the adoption chain to profit off of adoption except for the one person that is actually sacrificing? [I am not in any way suggesting that a birthmother should be paid for her child. Just trying to illustrate what I see as absurdity.] Seriously though. People are making obscene profits off of adoption, and we don’t bat an eye. $600/month for childcare in a country where people live on $2/day? Sure. $1000 for someone to go to the village and “find” an orphan. Why not? $10,000 for an unspecified “referral fee.” Where do I send the check? $500 for a fake post-placement report that is neither required or ever looked at. Absolutely. But that mother, living on the brink of death, dares to ask for $100 after relinquishing her child. The horror!

And for those of us who believe that non-profits aren’t making money. Here’s a small PSA. The legal and tax status of a non-profit does not mean that people do not get paid. When I pull the public tax records of an adoption agency, and it reports that the executive director makes a salary of $99,000 in a year, I would say that she is profiting off of adoption in the same way that I profited off of being a corporate lawyer. I worked, they paid me, I used the money to buy a lot stuff and coffee. Very few (pretty much no one) people in the adoption chain are doing it for free. [Also, I’m not saying that people shouldn’t get paid for services rendered. Capitalism rocks! But let’s not kid ourselves that non-profit = free labor.]

One last point on this. Remember who you are getting your information from. Adoption agencies and their lawyers (theirs, not yours!) have a lot to lose when birthmothers come back. They lose money if the adoption fails. They lose reputation if you walk away. I’m not saying they are evil or ill-intentioned, but everyone always looks out for themselves first. It can be a much more favorable story if they tell you that the birthmom just wants to sell her child (as opposed to that she just wants her child back).

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What are some other questions we should be asking? How can we better support adoptive parents through this process?

Call for Action

Thanks for reading Wednesday. I wrote that post after being up all night thinking about what I want the world to know about Jesus. And I when I finished, I was filled with awe at his love and grace towards me – I need to be reminded about how massive my sin is and how huge his grace is. So I appreciate you joining me in that exploration.

Today I want to switch gears. I’ve been informally collecting stories of fraud and corruption that families have experienced in their DRC adoptions through One World Adoption Services. I’m sad to say that the stories keep coming. I want to formalize this collection.

My goal is this: to compile these stories and submit them as a group to various authorities (State Department, Justice Department, Georgia Attorney General’s Office, and any licensing offices in the State of Georgia). I believe that there is strength in numbers. If you have a story that you believe constitutes visa fraud, misrepresentation, or corruption, I want to hear it! I will keep all submissions confidential, and I won’t use your story in any way without talking to you first. Even if you aren’t sure whether your story rises to the level of criminal activity, send it my way. Together we can protect the families of DRC and hold those who are breaking the law accountable.

Email your stories to delighted [dot] bennett [at] gmail [dot] com.

Victory!

The fight against international adoption corruption and the fight for the rights of vulnerable families rages on, but we’ve had a few great victories in the last week.

Last week, the Department of Justice arrested four adoption agency representatives on charges of visa fraud. This is a huge signal to adoption agencies that they can’t ignore what happens on the ground (duh!).

Yesterday, One World Adoption Services, Inc. (OWAS) posted that they are closing their DRC adoption program. And we are celebrating this victory!!! So many things have led up to this – the DRC exit letter suspension, these charges of fraud against the agency in Ethiopia – but I can’t help but think some it has to do with the many, many families who have been speaking out against the unethical and fraudulent practices of OWAS in DRC. We must continue to speak out against corruption and speak for the victims in these circumstances.

It’s not an easy or fun thing to speak out against. I have had nasty things said to me. I have been banned from certain Facebook groups and called a liar. I have friends who have adopted and friends who are adopting, and I’m sure many people worry that by speaking out, adoptions are threatened, and as a result, kids are stuck in orphanages.

I can’t imagine anything worse than a child stuck in an institution. All the research shows that institutionalizing children is terrible for their brains, their development, their health. In terms of long-term development, it is much better for a child to live in poverty with a family, then to live in an institution. While institutions can serve a necessary function, it should always be temporary and should never, ever be an option if there are families who can fill that role.

But many families in the developing world have bought into the lie that it’s better for them to leave their children in an institution where they can get food, schooling and possibly a trip to America than for them to live with their families. I believe that if these families were empowered with the knowledge of how damaging it is for their children to be institutionalized, they would choose differently. Of course, the international adoption recruiters always leave that part of the story out.

This is why I must continue to speak out. Families have a right to raise their children. We should not be adopting the children of poor families. And adoption agencies who take advantage of such poverty must be brought to justice.

 

 

 

 

No choice

When is a choice not really a choice?

In Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, it’s perfectly legal to pay an adult to have sex with you. These men and women are often enslaved, coerced into the industry and forced to turn over any money they make. They are also likely to have been brutally abused as children and have entered into the industry while underage.

So when a twenty-five year old mother of two with no home, no job, no skills, and a lifetime’s worth of trauma “chooses” to legally sell her body, is she really making a choice?

Of course not. We all know that she’s not making a choice. She’s been forced into an impossible situation and sees no way out. That’s not a choice.

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In some of the world’s poorest countries, it’s perfectly legal for a mother to choose to internationally adopt her child as a response to her extreme poverty. I don’t see that as a choice.

Most mothers I know would choose to sell their body or hand over their child to a rich benefactor rather than watch their child starve. It would be an easy decision. A painful decision, but an easy decision.

When we first learned that the children we were adopting had a mother, I wept. OWAS told us that she was poor and couldn’t take care of them and so she had chosen for them to be adopted. I hadn’t signed up to take a mother’s children. I thought we were adopting orphans. Orphans have no parents, right?

But then it’s easy to justify. She’s poor. What kind of life can she give them? I can send them to school and give them medicine when they are sick. And I will love them.

And then when it still felt wrong, I made up possible explanations. Maybe she was raped. Maybe she is abusive. Maybe her new boyfriend won’t let her keep her kids.

I told myself that she had no other choice. It was adoption or sure death.

But was there really no other choice in this situation?

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A woman selling her body may have no other choice, but the pimp has a choice. The john has a choice. Law enforcement has a choice. Lawmakers have choices.

There was a choice for me. I could choose to bring these children to America. I could choose to walk away so that the kids could stay in their home, country, culture. I could choose to support this mother to keep her kids. I had the power and the choice.

I’m not saying that it’s an easy choice. It rarely is when we talk about changing lives and making impact.

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The foundation of my faith rests on a choice that a man made in ancient Israel. He chose to sacrifice himself to humiliation, execution, and the wrath of a holy God to save me.

I had no choice in that matter. I was in an impossible situation – born under condemnation, destined to die, undeserving of forgiveness, and utterly incapable of doing anything about it.

But the man had all the power and all the choice, and he chose me.

He became sin who knew no sin so that I might become the righteousness                        of God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What we know

One World Adoption Services is getting a lot of press these days. (See my brave friend Cara’s recent posts: http://caralitchfield.blogspot.com/2013/11/a-mothers-prayer.html and http://caralitchfield.blogspot.com/2014/01/looking-up-part-one.html)

In response, their director, Susan Manning, has penned on her interpretation of the adoption requirements set forth by US Immigration. http://www.oneworldadoptions.org/blog/misconceptions-in-international-adoption-part-1/

I would love to take a few moments to respond:

While OWAS is able to cite the law on what the term orphan means for the purposes of adoption (as defined by USCIS), as shown by Cara’s story, our story, and at least 20 other families that I have spoken with directly, the staff of the OWAS orphanage routinely falsify documents to make the children that live in the orphanage meet the definition of orphan so that they can be adopted. For example, as in Cara’s case, they indicated that children were abandoned on the street, when in fact, the children are living at the orphanage with their biological mother, and in our case (and many many others) they say that fathers are unknown when they are known by everyone but the adoptive parents. Last year, the former director of the OWAS orphanage that said she routinely indicated that fathers were unknown because she knew that’s what USCIS needed to see to approve adoptions. This is what we know.

As Susan told me when I met with her in August 2012, the staff of OWAS in Georgia do absolutely nothing to verify the documents they receive from DRC are true. Even after receiving multiple complaints other families in 2012 of falsified documents, they never did an audit of the children living in the orphanage. This is what we know.

While Susan encourages her clients to ask her caseworkers for more information, many of us have experienced serious deception by caseworkers. We’ve been told that no information is available only to have documents show up later. We’ve been told that children have no family to later discover large extended families. We’ve been given ages of children that were clearly lies – even the children themselves instructed to lie about their ages to make them seem more adoptable. This is what we know.

And while Susan may not be lying when she says that visas are always granted for her clients, that ignores the issue. Just because a visa is issued doesn’t mean the child is an orphan or, more importantly, that adoption is in the best interests of the child. The US Embassy can only do so much. They don’t have the capacity to travel a country three times the size of Texas to track down family members and get the full story. Moreover, they aren’t making a decision about whether adoption is best. To hide behind the excuse that if a visa was granted, then the adoption is not corrupt, is disingenuous and dangerous.

And, we all know people who had visas issued in cases where fraud was involved. The US Embassy does its best, but the orphanages and adoption agencies are in a much better position to ensure that the children they refer are truly in need of adoption.

But you all know all that. If you’ve been around long enough, you know the evils that many adoption agencies facilitate in the name of “saving orphans.” If you watched 48 Hours on CBS last night, you know that people who facilitated adoptions of stolen babies in Guatemala are now facilitating adoptions in DRC.

Why doesn’t this change? More to come…

 

Faces of Adoption

I want to tell you a story of a family living in Kinshasa.

Grandma lives in Kinshasa in a humble home. She’s supported by her church since her husband was the senior pastor for many years before he died. They have six children and many grandchildren. One of their daughters was very successful working in Kinshasa. T first had a job with the government, and then was hired to run an orphanage and facilitate adoptions for an American adoption agency.

Life is hard in Kinshasa. It’s an expensive place to live, and unless you know the right people, it can be difficult to find work. The justice system is lacking, making life more challenging for the poor. Disease and conflict are common.

Grandma is raising about 10 of her grandchildren while her children work various odd jobs, go to school far from Kinshasa or otherwise live outside of Kinshasa.

By facilitating adoptions for this American adoption agency, T makes a lot of money, more money than she’s ever made. Her friend also works for the organization as the lawyer. He makes a lot of money too.

T sees Americans drive up to the orphanage in big cars. She sees photos of happy American families going to Disney World. She sees that they live in houses larger than any she’s ever seen, and she sees that all the children in America go to school, have medical care and never go hungry.

T has a daughter, a beautiful young girl that she loves. Seeing an opportunity to advance this daughter’s life economically, she fills out the paperwork to have the daughter adopted to America. She hopes that her daughter will keep in touch, and that the Americans will send her pictures so she can see the woman she grows up to be. Then T has her sister do the same for her daughter. Neither woman has ever heard from her daughter again.

Every time a new child comes to the orphanage or signs up to be adopted, T makes more money.

T has another sister, M. M lives with her husband about a 2 hour plane ride from Kinshasa. They have six children and another on the way. T tells M that if she gives her three middle children to the orphanage, they will be adopted by an American family to go to school in America. The children will stay in touch. The American family will send photos and be part of their own Congolese family. M’s family tells her that she is not a good mother and cannot adequately care for the children. With trepidation, she agrees.

The three chidlren live at the orphanage for one year. They see their aunt at the orphanage; they go home to the grandmother’s house when they fall ill. They are told that they will go to America to go to school.

This is what adoption looks like all too often in DRC.

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One day, with no explanation, the children return home for good. The Americans never come for them.

They now live with their aunt and their mother in Kinshasa with their twin sisters and a new baby on the way.

I met them three weeks ago. We were supposed to adopt them. At lunch, the aunt continued to try to convince me to take them while their mother wiped their noses and looked at the floor.

These three beautiful children, being cared for by not one, but at least 4 biological caretakers, were almost adopted by me. I almost caused them one of the greatest traumas that would have occurred in their lives because I didn’t know any better.

They spent one year of their lives in an institution because the staff of the orphanage was making money like they’d never seen by keeping them there and because the American adoption agency never bothered to verify that they were referring actual orphans for adoption.

By the grace of God, he spared these children the fate of being torn away from their family and country, but not all children are so lucky.

Seeing them was a sobering blessing to me. I have wondered at times whether we made the right decision walking away from this family, but I saw how the biggest mistake I made was walking into their lives in the first place. The worst thing that happened to this family was crossing paths with One World Adoption Services and me. Thank you Jesus for saving them from international adoption!

 

*** edited on February 6, 2014. I received a message from one of the family members who disagrees with some of the facts (such as whether the birth mother was married and the family history). I’ve researched this to the best of my ability, and the small facts are not relevant to the bottom line point of this message – that international adoption was not the right answer for this family. I’ve also removed identifying information to protect the family’s privacy.