Tuesday, January 17, 2012

First, do no harm

One thing we all would agree upon when we adopt is that we want to make the lives of our adopted children better.  Most of all we want the love and commitment of a family to fully surround our new children.  Yes, we understand that it takes more than love, but we know that without first having love adoption is futile.   In general, we believe that in our adoption of our child, we are doing good for this child, that his or her life will be better because they will have the love and commitment of a family (which we assume they did not have before we came along).  We love our new children.  We love them deeply and faithfully.  And all of this it true.

Most of us wouldn't embark on the journey of adopting a child if we were harming them in the process.  And we do A LOT to make sure this isn't the case.  We read books, we read blogs, we talk to other adoptive parents, we take classes, we learn about "hair care", we are interviewed by social workers, case workers, doctors.  Our houses are examined, our parenting styles put under the microscopes, our pasts illuminated.  We lay ourselves bare in the hopes that we will prove a good fit for our new children, that we pass the test adoptive parents must go through.  We wait, we worry, we pray, we cry, we are anxious, we have peace, we stress, we stutter along as we wait for the children to come home.  We think about all the possibilities, all the risks, all the medical, attachment, emotional, social problems that our children could suffer from and we consider all the ways we can help them and help ourselves.  We are committed, even if underprepared.

We closely look at our hearts, to find traces of racism, we read about being diverse, we plan ways to educate ourselves about race and we carefully consider ways to help our children transition to having white parents in a foreign culture, ways we can desperately try to retain even a shred of their cultures.  We groan, we agonize, we sweat, we work HARD at preparing a safe, loving, well-informed and educated home for our children.  We do the best we can with well-intentioned hearts.  We do our very best so that the transition to their new families will be as least painful as possible (because we know it is a wrenching, a death, a tear of the past to the new, we know there will be pain, and trauma, and mourning), because it is worth the pain.  I know all of this, because it is my story too, I am that adoptive parent.

Yet.  Often there is someone we don't consider.  That we don't spend time agonizing over, and losing sleep over.  It is the child that slept in the same crowded bed as our newly adopted child.  Or the child that was in the same crib, or the crib next to our child.  We don't often consider the impact our one adoption will have on that child, the child left behind.

But, maybe you want to stop me right now and say, YES, I did consider that child.  I didn't forget the one left behind.  I remember her name!  I held her. I poured my love into her.  I brought her and the other children gifts and food.  My heart is still heavy with her, feeling her weight, much too light, in my arms.   Or, you say, I gave a large donation to the orphanage.  I didn't just leave and forget the rest.  And all of this is true too.

Yet.  At this orphanage donations have been given by adoptive families.  Large donations.  And still, the conditions of the children do not improve.  The children languish.  Adoptive families visit the orphanage, and they feel the pain of the suffering of the children.  They are angry at the neglect.  They give more donations.  They give donations under many guises, "it's to compensate the orphanage for the time they had the child under the roof of the orphanage, to help with the expenses our child incurred" or "it's a donation to help those left behind" or "it shows our commitment to our child's country of birth".  Meanwhile, the director accepts this money with promises of the changes that will come to these children's lives.  You look her in the eye, and you believe her.  You adopt your one child and you go home.

Meanwhile, she uses the money for herself, for her own family.  She keeps the children's lives in squalor because she knows the worse they look the more money will come.  There are no regulations she has to follow.  She is the director.  No one follows the money given.  There is no accountability.  The children are abused, neglected, and harmed.  Why?  Because there is a lot of money to be made when international adoption is involved; there is a lot of money to be made in harming children.  So, 5 children are adopted, maybe more, maybe less.  The director lies, she cheats, she manipulates.  She coerces, she steals.  There are no external controls, no CPS or social services.  There is no one to stop her nor to stop her abuse.  And even though it is horrible, we continue to give because we simply can't let them die.  And, in the end, the children are better off than on the streets, right?

Yet.  Let's imagine there were no adoptions being done from this orphanage.  Let's imagine that instead concerned individuals visit the orphanage because they care about the children (without any thoughts of adopting them).  Let's say they give a donation, but they care about what happens to that money, they want to make sure that the money is used to help the children.  They follow up.  They work with the director.  They start to notice inconsistencies.  They follow up again.  They have nothing to lose, because they are not adopting from this orphanage- they won't lose a referral if they rock the boat.  They start talking to local organizations, to churches.  They start talking to media about what they are seeing.  They talk about their worry of physical and sexual abuse.  They talk to congolese people who care about their children.  They talk to churches, to leaders.  They investigate.  They cry loudly to all who will listen about the children in this orphanage that are being abused.  They will not be silent.  They will not hide in fear.  They won't stop until every child in that orphanage is out of harms way.  They don't give up.  And you know what, a year later, that orphanage is shut down.  The director is arrested.  And those children?  They are not put out on the streets.  For some, they are reunited with their families, for others they are put into foster homes, others are moved to orphanages that are well-known and well run with systems in place to protect children from harm.

I work in the medical field.  And we are guided by principles, one of which is "do no harm".  Behind this simple phrase is a hard truth.  That we have to look at the unintended consequences of our actions.  We have to carefully consider whether or not our adoption of our child, is hurting more than it is helping.  We have to consider that our adoption could actually hurt more children than it helps.

How could this be?  I have written about ethics in IA in DRC on this blog a lot.  I lived in eastern DRC.  My "hypothetical stories"?  They happen and are happening!  I personally saw corruption in adoption.  I saw people change when money came into the picture.  I saw families offering to sell their children.  I also have been told about corruption in adoption.  Stories that include all include parts from my hypothetical stories.  It happens.  When a lot of money comes into a situation, children are exploited and manipulated.  Look around the world and look at the child trafficking/sex slave tragedies that occur.  Children sold for money.  DRC is a country with little infrastructure and much corruption.  There is very little regulation of international adoption.  Those two sentences should make anyone closely examine their adoption and whether or not it should be pursued.

First, do no harm.  Let's not be a part of hurting more children than we are helping.  Let's be a part of ethical adoptions that are transparent and open.  Talk about your concerns.  Fight for the children of DRC.  Stop any part you may be playing in corruption in adoptions.

Ask this question:   If I went and gave $2000 to the director of the orphanage today, are you confident that that money would be used for the children in the orphanage and do you have a way to verify it was used for the children in the orphanage?   

(And how do they verify it?  How do they trace their money?  And I don't just mean scanned receipts.  What accountability is in place?  What external controls?  What follow through?  Do they have a long term relationship with the orphanage?  How many agencies adopt from the orphanage?  Are independent adoptions allowed?  Is there any communication in place to prevent the director from "selling" the child to the biggest donor?)

Ask about the money.  Corruption follows money.  

First, do no harm.

Interested in how we safeguard our work in DRC?  Interested in the external controls we have put in place for accountability at Tumaini?  Write me for the details!  And I'll be blogging on it in the days ahead.  There is much good work to be done (and that is being done by many people in DRC).  

This is Ziruka.  One of many little ones who will not be adopted.  One of the many little ones who need people to advocate for her, to stand beside her, to defend her, to protect her.  She lives in an orphanage.  


Anonymous said...

To answer your question, I am almost positive that if I gave $2000 to the people that took care of my child that they would not use it to take care of the children left behind. It's sad to have that knowledge. It's also sad that so many of the moms adopting from Congo are more concerned with criticizing each others choice of agency rather than trying to band together to stop corruption. (that last sentence wasn't at all directed at you personally)

Holly said...

On your first comment--would you consider talking to your agency/organization about your concerns about this? How the misuse of donations could signal underlying corruption that not only impact the ethical nature of adoptions done from that orphanage but also points towards possible abuse (neglect certainly) of the children left behind.

Second comment-- Excellent comment. I totally agree that it is extremely important to communicate and band together to stop corruption. Unfortunately, there are a lot privacy contracts signed with agencies/organizations that prevents (or makes parents afraid) them from speaking out. Often it is also difficult to figure out what exactly is going on on the ground. Adoptive parents should be more communicative with each other, certainly, but adoption agencies/organizations should encourage this communication and also be very transparent about their fees, how the money is being used, providing receipts for all expenses, histories of the children adopted, orphanages that children are being adopted from, and so on and so on. THanks for commenting.

Angela V said...

Thank you for writing this! But I must admit it was heart-wrenching. A few months ago, I felt confident that God called us to adopt. But the more I read and the more I understand, the more I think adoption may hurt more than it harms. So confusing. Definitely need God's guidance and grace.

Anonymous said...

Great Post! Thanks for being so vigilant. We have a larger task as adoptive parents and we must be proactive and involved.