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.

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?

 

What happened?

The details, as promised.  Commentary to follow.  For now, just facts.

We signed on with One World Adoption Services, Inc. (“OWAS”) in November 2010 to adopt two kids under 4 from DRC.  In October 2011, after being told that our referral would come soon since May 2011, we were sent a referral for two children (who we called Carolyn and Freddy) (who were said to be 5 and 3 – thus outside of our range).  Their paperwork did not include any information about the biological family, except that the mother was unable to care for them, and the father was “unknown.”  We asked a number of questions about their birth family and where the children came from and were told by our caseworker that she would look into it.  We never heard anything further.  We naively accepted OWAS’ word that this was all the information that we would/could receive from DRC.

[Sidenote: I said commentary would come later, but I lied.  Never, ever, ever believe this from any agency.  Information abounds.  Just now I found the former orphanage director on Facebook.  People.  It’s 2012.  Everyone has a cell phone.  Everyone has an email address.  Everyone has a computer.]

In February 2012, we passed court and received the parental authorization form.  This was the first time that we ever heard that the biological mother would have to be contacted and actively relinquish her rights.  Again we asked for information about her and her situation but did not receive any information from OWAS.  On the request for birth certificates, for the first time, we saw the name of a third child (Katie) and asked for information from OWAS.  We were then told that she was the children’s biological sister, who was raised with them and had been brought to the orphanage at the same time.  Based on this, we can only assume that when we had previously asked OWAS for information about the biological family, they were not attempting to get that information.  If they had looked into our questions, it would have been clear that the children had a sister in the orphanage.

We accepted the referral for the older sister not wanting to split up the siblings.  At that time, we finally received the “intake form” that included a little more information about the biological family, again stating that the father was “unknown.”

In the spring/early summer of 2012, the woman running the orphanage in Kinshasa was fired due to allegations of corruption.  This started raising our red flags.  When she was fired, she took (at least) three children from the orphanage to her home.  These children were later removed by the police, and she was arrested.  (This relates later.)

We passed court with Katie in March 2012 but never received all of her documents or confirmation that her birth certificate or passport were ever requested (we pulled out at the end of August).  This was concerning to us given the “shake up.”  We never got a straight answer as to what was going on with Katie’s case and whether OWAS had the documents, whether they were in progress or whether they were missing/lost/stolen.

In April 2012, we filed I600s for Carolyn and Freddy.  In June 2012, we received a request for evidence asking for more information about the mother’s situation.  OWAS was never able to gather adequate documentation, so we had to withdraw the I600 in order to avoid a denial.  Since we did not want to solely rely on OWAS, we hired another attorney in DRC to investigate.

It was at this point that the red flags became flaming red on fire flags.  First, our investigation revealed that the address given by OWAS for the biological mother was incorrect and that no one by her name had ever lived there, and no neighbors had ever heard of her.  Second, we then learned that Freddy was one of the children taken from the orphanage by the fired director, which explained why we had not received any photos of him for months while we did receive photos of the girls.  We asked for an update on him but never received any information from OWAS.  Finally, in another review of the documents, we saw that the biological mother had the same last name as the fired orphanage director.

In their attempt to respond to the request for evidence, OWAS told us that the biological mother could not be found and/or had moved.  However, days later, we received an updated “certificate of indigence” that said, on its face, she had recently appeared at social services and testified as to her status.  When we asked OWAS about this document, they told us that the officer had remembered meeting the mother (presumably a year before) and could sign the document based on her memory.  This did not sit well with us and looked a lot like a fraudulent document to us.

Based on this series of events, we decided we needed to conduct our own personal investigation since there were too many red flags for us to feel comfortable proceeding.  In August, we went to DRC.  We met with members of the children’s birth family and quickly learned that our suspicions were, unfortunately, true.  The documents that were used to support the children’s cases were all fraudulent.  The children were the nieces and nephew o0 the fired director, who had falsely indicated that the father was “unknown” in order to complete the adoption.  The mother and father are in a committed relationship, have other children and live about a 4 hour plane ride from Kinshasa.  Because the documents were fraudulent, we could not proceed with the adoption.

While we were there, we also learned that Freddy had been back living with his grandmother for a number of months after he had been removed (while we were paying monthly orphan support for him).  While in DRC, we met the children’s grandmother, and while she is not rich, by any means, we could see that she had some means to provide.  The children have been returned to her, and we are very glad for that.  Their grandmother loves them, and there’s no doubt in my mind that this is the best situation for them.

When we met with OWAS upon our return, they confirmed that we could not proceed with an international adoption where there are two known, living parents (not to mention fraudulent documents).  While we had hoped that they would work with us to resolve our situation, they refuse to refund any of our money.

These are the cold hard facts.  We have many other suspicions about further corruption in DRC and adoptions, and I will post my commentary another time.  Thanks for following our journey.  We are down, but not out!