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.