Saturday, February 5, 2011

need advice

The Dutch video has sparked a lot of thought-provoking conversation on the online Ethiopian adoption boards. There are many things that we didn’t think of when we started this process back in August. Now we have more questions than ever… but it comes down to, can we ensure an ethical adoption?

Do we expand our age range to an older child? Clearly the video - and other families’ experiences I have heard about - shows that this does not guarantee that a family was not pressured into giving up a child, but there some good ethical reasons for an older child adoption. The demand for an older child is less than for an infant, so it’s less likely there will be corruption. And an older child can talk about his or her memories and understanding of what is happening, so if someone is lying, you may find it out directly from the child.

Do we request a child with special needs? Again, the demand is less, so it’s less likely there will be corruption. But from what I understand, the demand is not that much less, not when we’re talking about young children, or containable special needs. Tabb and I have discussed the scenario of adopting an HIV+ child, but we don’t know enough about what that would be like. We know that such a child could live a long and healthy life with the proper medication, but we know nothing about the managing or side effects of life-long medicating. We’ve started working on educating ourselves about these issues.

We’ve also been talking about our commitment to Ethiopia and our child’s family in Ethiopia. If and when we do adopt a child, we are committing ourselves not just to that child, but to an ongoing relationship with our child’s first family. That means we are committing to visiting Ethiopia on a regular basis. Those visits will not only be important for our child, but for ensuring good ethics. We will be able to see for ourselves the circumstances of our child's first family.

But how can we be SURE that our adoption is ethical?

Some people have stated on the adoption boards and in blogs that the large majority of adoptions from Ethiopia are still ethical and very much needed, and that if we go with a good agency and minimize the risk, we will almost certainly be helping a child who needs a family. 

Less likely. Minimize the risk. Almost certainly. If one day out of the year my kitchen was the scene of a murder, and 364 days out of the year my kitchen was used for cooking, I would not be OK with it. I need to know for SURE that my adoption is ethical.

But is anything 100% ethical? This laptop I am typing on probably contains minerals that are fueling atrocities in the DRC. The clock on the windowsill behind me was made in China, most likely by a worker with very few rights, maybe by a child. The moral questions are no different just because my decisions will affect one specific child, my child, rather than faceless people I will never meet. If I decide I can't adopt from Ethiopia because of ethical concerns, it's kind of hypocritical to continue using my computer, driving my car or buying anything made outside my immediate neighborhood. 

Is it enough to make the best effort possible to ensure ethics? Do I crawl under a rock and hide from the 21st century? Do I continue trying to adopt?


  1. It is so hard to decide which fights to fight in such a crazy world. I think you two are doing a very wonderful thing. Being such knowledgeable and moral people is going to help you in your quest for an ethical adoption. If you are doing as much as you can to make sure your adoption is helping rather than hurting your child you should feel great about how much you are helping someone in need. Of course you have to make the decision about which child to adopt on your own. Just follow your heart :)

  2. I think the advantage of an older child is that you have a better chance of knowing is something is wrong because they can remember and tell you. My daughter could, in most respects, have been the girl in the Dutch video. It's not easy. But I feel very lucky that she was 7 when she was relinquished and she knew her story and she told me. I knew that I needed to search so I could verify the truth. Violet was right with her story on all accords.

    It's hard. I'm glad I have Violet in my life but I live with questions every day...did she really need to be adopted internationally? I don't think so. But at least I know the truth. With an infant, I very well could still be wondering or living in denial.

    There's a part of me that feels like we should just stop all adoptions but then there are kids who really do need families. It's just a matter of finding those kids. I don't know that there's any right answer except expanding age ranges and trying to adopt a waiting child instead of waiting for a referral of a much-demanded child.

  3. Tough questions...if I were starting an adoption process now, I might not go with Ethiopia because of the uncertainty...but it would be hard to abandon my plans if I were already in the process...I think choosing an ethical agency and increasing your age range are good ways to help with the ethical issues, and being able to meet your child's birth parents will also be a huge benefit, but I don't think there are any easy answers to the questions you are asking.

  4. I'm in a similar situation as you are. I've been waiting for a while now, nearing 20 months. I did a lot of soul searching and also research and I feel ok about moving forward. I know others will judge me. But change to the process has been happening at a pretty rapid rate. Also, if you visit Ethica's site and read their position papers they advocate for continuing the process but working actively on reform. They feel abruptly stopping adoptions just does more damage than does slowing things down and working carefully.

  5. This is such a thoughtful post. Thanks for taking the time to write it down. I think of these things daily, especially w/ IA in ETH being scrutinized closer and the fact that we are (hopefully) close to getting our referral. While I trust our agency I also realize there is only so much under their control and kids enter the 'system' well before WHFC hears about them. Expanding your age range and picking an ethical agency that does not promise quick referrals are 2 things you can do to help.

    I have not considered changing countries, I do trust WHFC and I will do my best at the birth family visit to get as clear of a picture as possible of our kids' relinquishment. I think we may look into hiring an independent translator if that's possible...

    If Eth. is where you feel your heart is I would continue your journey with the understanding of the program's uncertainty. I think it's very easy for those home with their children to say they absolutely would not consider adopting from Eth. again. I just had dinner with several WHFC clients last weekend (all home with their kids). Three of them were back in the paperchase to adopt again from Eth. with WHFC. They trust the agency and are more than willing to wait. I thought that was a ringing endorsement =)

  6. Our son has been home about eight months. I chose my agency strictly on ethical reputation. Even then I didn't ask enough questions. Even then I ended up having a huge disagreement with them at the 11th hour. Even then I had a creepy feeling about at least one of their partners in Ethiopia. This does NOT mean that I believe my son's adoption was corrupt. I have absolutely no reason to suspect that. (Can you ever be honest and clear enough on the internet???)
    If I was starting another adoption today I would look for an ethical agency who had a new or pilot program in a different African country. I know that I would be looking pretty seriously at Uganda.
    Just two cents from another agnostic adoptive family...

  7. I guess, I have issues with families moving to other Africa countries. It seems like one country gets cleaned up, but while that's happening, prospective parents just move to uncharted territory, so to speak. No disrespect meant; I think the entire situation is sticky. But so many people that were originally adopting from Ethiopia are now moving to Uganda, and the exact same problems will develop. Sure, those first in and out will be safe from most corruption. But it almost makes more sense to me to go to a country that has had time to develop systems and safeguards.
    Just my opinion. But the past 6 months have really been a struggle; as a result I've thought SO MUCH about it, about whether we should stay mid process or whether we should switch.

  8. p.rose, I know what you mean. On the other hand the Uganda program I know about has been "in operation for a number of years" meaning the family preservation programs actually started before ia and not as an after thought. Also, they have been able to establish a semi-successful in-country adoption program. For once it seems like the cart is in front of the proverbial horse. And, I was lucky enough to meet the Ugandan women running the program, so I have a really high comfort level with them personally.
    I agree whenever a program gets really big (especially if it happens quickly) the room for corruption grows exponentially. That is why I would look for a program developed in the correct order (if possible). I originally looked at Rwanda, but the idea of an independent adoption really frightened me. My comfort level is with a very reputable agency, in, ideally, a small program (which, from what I can tell, tends to be in countries newly opened to ia).
    I am glad that part of our journey is over.

  9. You're right; that does sound like a more sane situation. It feels good to know some countries are approaching the problem in a different manner. I'm sure they learned from the mess that Ethiopia became. (and Vietnam, and Guatemala)
    I do believe, though, that Ethiopia - along with the best of the agencies - are doing everything they can to clean up the process there.
    I do understand those who choose another route, and I understand those who complete the process. The situation is very difficult.


  10. Thank you, everyone, for your very thoughtful replies, here and on the phone and through IM. Clearly this conversation is going on all over because there isn't an easy answer. I did spend some time looking at other countries these last few days, and almost immediately I found that at least some people have serious ethical concerns about them. The same seems to be true of domestic adoption, again from the little research I did (domestic doesn't work for us for other reasons).

    We don't know yet what we are going to do, but we will definitely be making some changes. At this point we are planning to finish up our paperwork for Ethiopia so as to get on the waiting list, and then we'll most likely turn right around and redo some of it. Stay tuned...

  11. Similar "semiferalmama's" experience, I have enough information on my son's history to know my son's adoption was legit, but I still sometimes have questions. I did not do a good job picking an agency, but I lucked out. Sometimes I think I hear the bullet screaming past my head that I just dodged.

    When it comes to any adoption, there are the more obvious moral dilemmas, such as a child coming to an agency through birthmother coercion or worse. There are also the gray areas. In the United States, it is acceptable to pay for a birthmother’s expenses and it is monitored by the courts. But if you were to help out your child’s birth family in Ethiopia, even after the fact, many would see it is breeding corruption and promoting adoption as an economic gain. In rural Ethiopia, the annual wages are around $100, but a $200 gift to help feed your child’s birth siblings would be nothing to many of us.

    Many have said that these adoptions from Ethiopia should end. In some ways I think people who think that way are a little clueless about the realities of Ethiopia. There will not be a foster-care system in Ethiopia anytime soon, nor will any type of safety net be created, so orphanages and adoption is are the only ways to help children and families in need. I think we can donate money to NGO's in country for the children never adopted, but their lives won't be perfect in an institution.

    My Ethiopian neighbors have been very supportive of what we have done and their Ethiopian friends and family often visit us to meet our son. All of them grew up in Ethiopia and know of the conditions. They praise our decision way past the point of embarrassment. I have never heard their ethical or cultural concerns.

    Assuming you have a good, ethical agency with a track record in other countries, I think you have made the most important decision. I think the changes being made by the Ethiopian government are good. My biggest recommendation is to ask (if not demand) that you meet your child’s birth mother. That experience gives me more confidence in the legitimacy of our adoption than any paper record could.