Sunday, February 19, 2012

What are we so afraid of, anyway?

There have been many reasons I haven't written in awhile, among them are I have been working a lot, have had sick kids,  have been sick parents, visitors, and so on.   Another reason I haven't written is that I have been struggling with some deep discouragement regarding the state of international adoption in DRC (and I've been doing some reading along those lines).  I have never said straight out that I think adoptions in DRC should stop.  But I will now say that I think they should be put on hold until more regulations are put in place that protect children from exploitation and trafficking.  Yes, I think that protecting the one child that is trafficked is as important as the other children that are to be adopted into homes here in the U.S.  The questionable fate of the latter doesn't justify ignoring the plight of the former.

I recently was told that if we (adoptive parents in DRC) talk out publicly about our concerns that adoptions would stop in DRC.  There is a lot of fear about talking out.  I have been told to talk about my concerns quietly, to the embassy or to "others" who can help change happen.   Then I read this today.  And I became more discouraged.  I'm told to expect that the embassy in Kinshasa will stop corrupt adoptions from happening.  I think that may be a bit unrealistic.

I wonder sometimes about the obvious questions as to why there is a fear that adoptions will stop if we start asking questions and publicly voicing our concerns?  What that fear tells me is that there are things that are happening in international adoption in DRC that are very concerning.  Concerning enough to shut it all down.  What could that be?  Child trafficking, abuse, and exploitation of children.  Yet, we are told we should not speak up about these things.  We should not publicly air our concerns.  (Or, we shouldn't involve journalists, the media, or campaigns that fight to end injustice using social media in a public way).   Why is it not okay in international adoption but it is okay to raise our voices loud, together, publicly when it comes to rape in eastern DRC, sex trafficking of children around the world, or other injustices that happen on a daily basis.  Whey don't we stand up and post on our facebook pages "End child trafficking and exploitation of adopted children in DRC now!".

Why don't we demand--
-answers from our agencies about the money they spend on the ground,
-investigations on our abandoned children that involve radio ads, newspaper ads, independent investigators that search for parents or extended family that might care for the children,
-that there will be no bribes given (or "expedited fees" that are bribes),
-that we will not pay orphanages money to release the child for adoption,
-that orphanage directors are held accountable for the money given them (or better yet, that they be given no money), that transparency and follow through happen every time "humanitarian donations" are given (including follow up that proves the money and donations are being used for the children and not put into the director's pockets),
-if there is abuse in an orphanage, all adoptions stop and the orphanage is investigated thoroughly,
-if there is any corruption in an orphanage, all adoptions stop and the orphanage is investigated,
-histories that are consistent and accurate about our children,
-we have a place to voice any concerns (here are a few ideas),
-information about our children while they are in "foster care",
-better regulations and controls be in place to protect children,
-that agencies/organizations duly work towards reunification/domestic placement as a first option for the children of DRC,
-that if a mother/father/extended family member is relinquishing their child for adoption because of poverty (and not because that child has no family), that the agency/organization work towards ways to help that family keep their child,
-that if we hear of children being referred for adoption that have family members that want them, that we be allowed to talk about this and stop children from being trafficked for adoption?

We love our children this much, don't we?

Maybe you are reading this thinking I am over reacting.  I'm not.  Adoption in DRC has the potential to spiral out of control because of little to no structures in place that protect children from organized trafficking schemes (which I know are being done on an unorganized level now).  Think that the State Department and USCIS can stop it?  They can do a lot less than we might think they can (and I don't mean this in a harsh way, I think we tend to over estimate their role internationally).  WE as the adoptive parents are the ones that can stop corruption, exploitation, unethical adoptions.  WE are the ones that pay the money to the agencies/organizations which then send it to the DRC.  WE are responsible for what happens to these children.  It is OUR money.  WE are the ones with the power and the ones that can demand for change to happen.  It is in OUR hands.  Please don't stay silent.  Please ask questions.  Please talk out and demand change.  Don't let adoption in DRC become what is has in other countries.  WE are the ones that can make it happen.

What are we so afraid of, anyway?

(And as a final note, yes, I believe there is a place for international adoption.  A place for children who need a family, to have one.  I believe that a lot of children that are relinquished for adoption don't need a family, they instead need to be relieved from the effects of devastating poverty.  And I believe that international adoption in a country that is ranked at the bottom of corruption indexes and ranked #41 out of 46 (in sub-saharan Africa) in a scale of ease of doing business should be examined a little closer to look at if an ethical adoption is even possible.  Consider this final quote--

"The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) celebrated its 50th anniversary of independence on 30th June 2010 against a backdrop of weak state authority, a culture of impunity, deepening poverty, continuing violence in the northeast and a significant worsening of sexual violence. Decades of conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo have discouraged private investment, destroyed infrastructure, hindered development and considerably weakened the capacity of governance institutions. The DRC ranks at the bottom of every corruption index; pervasive corruption undermines peace, increases business costs and strengthens the predatory state." 
Source--United States Institute of Peace, web address here.  Bold area my own.  

Does this sound like a country that has the ability to regulate international adoptions to make sure they are being done ethically?)


Mark and Keren Riley said...

Thanks for having the courage to speak the truth Holly.

Anonymous said...

From my experience, the parents/moms that have voiced concern over agencies, fees, orphanages were shunned by other parents who did not yet have their children home. As in concerned parent shouldn't talk to ruin it for others. I think you're totally right that some of the adoptive parents are afraid to make waves - for many reasons. I also think that yes, adoptions from Congo should be investigated. I love my child but I can't ethically recommend to anyone who asks that they should also adopt from Congo. I believe that part of the problem is that certain agencies dominate the Congolese adoption market and they're setting the tone for how families are viewing Congolese adoptions - and agencies are, or at least mine was, really good at keeping parents in check as to what to say and not say. Another part of the issue is that while parents are insisting that there was no corruption in their adoptions on the Congolese end, if the adoptive parents don't speak French or Lingala how can they know for sure?

And, on top of that, the only time I've seen the Congo adoption moms rally around someone showing concern it had been when a family who's just returned home is showing of her poverty porn photos from orphanages she visited.

Megan said...

I am in complete agreement, Holly. As much as my heart is all wrapped up in Congo, we could not ethically go back there for our fourth child for all of the reasons that you mentioned above. That decision broke my heart, but in the end, it was the only way that I felt I could take a stand against the corruption in IA that is happening in DRC. Keep speaking out.

Barbara said...

The country needs a moratorium until practices and fees are regularized. This is the adoption wild west with everyone doing what they want and conforming the paperwork to the process not making sure the paperwork is legitimate and reflective of the child's reality. The Embassy does not have the resources to investigate each case. At some time, things will reach critical mass and the no longer deniable fraud ( as in nepal) will result in a shutdown

Anonymous said...

Dear Holly,

I wanted to let you know that I have appreciated the postings on your blog lately. I think that because people are so scared they won't be able to adopt a child, that they want to shy away from the complexities of adopting internationally - especially from a country like the DRC.

I did want to address though that I think one of the things that can be done to help is to limit the number of adoptions taking place - not put them on hold. I don't think that adoption reform will be successful on its own in the DRC - or in many non-hague countries. I think it needs to happen in tandem with a small amount of families working closely with their agency who are willing to really entrench themselves into the process and have a voice. Similar to what you have done. Which, by the way has been my favorite blog. Especially because you speak as an adoptive parent and someone with experience in East Africa.

My time in East Africa taught me a lot of things. One of the most paramount being that women not having any maternal health care provides incredible complexities for women. I think that is an issue we tend to overlook.

I have seen children die in front of me. The effects of the LRA ripping through the north - destabilizing an entire people (the Acholi). And the ones to suffer as usual - are the children. I do believe in adoption - strongly. I know there is a long journey for a child to reach an orphanage and one that is incredibly complex. But the mere fact that they exist gives them the right to a family - and all that that encompasses.

I think your work is amazing and your commitment is amazing. But in order to help and support our children's families and support the evolution of their child and welfare system we must act in tandem - otherwise the dangers of bureaucratic inertia will take over - and the cost of that is very high.

What I've learned in the past 18 months in this process is that many families want to adopt their child - bring them back to their home country and just "get on with life". Getting on with life will happen! It's a fact - but by entering into an adoption internationally that country becomes a part of our life.

I just wanted to share this with you. To thank you for your work and for your voice and opinions. But I do think the only way to move forward is to work in tandem, with great humility, and incredible prudence. It's important to sound alarm bells when red flags go up - but it's equally important to allow for the time and commitment for agencies and families to make changes and not close the doors entirely. Because the cost of doing that is way too high.

Anonymous said...

To Anon above this comment - what about when parents sound the alarm and others in the process or who've completed their adopts turn on the parents, as I've seen happen, that doesn't really want to make families say anything.

Anonymous said...

Can you perhaps put together a group of four or five like minded families and approach the agency in question (using positive language) and voice the concerns on how to move forward but also how to implement some systems in place that ensure the safety of the kids. I think that's the only way to do it. I think generally people have their privacy invaded so much in the adoption process that they get stressed our and overwhelmed - and it becomes challenging to manage so many diverse personalities and every family is different. But the cues really need to come from the agency.

Anonymous said...

I can say I approached our agency and asked the hard questions, it falls on the adoptive parenst to push for ethical adoptions, closing a country to adoptions is a terrible idea for those that are left behind, taking away a parents right to place their child for adoption is wrong, some of these families feel that it the best thing for their child, just like in our own countries. The bigger

Anonymous said...

I approached my agency as well and they threatened to not complete my family's adoption and they told other parents from my agency lies about why our relationship was severed. In a way I don't blame parents for not wanting to say anything.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I wasn't suggesting that parents don't push for ethical adoptions - I was saying that agency has to promote those and the information has to come via them since they are the ones dealing with the in-country facilitators...sorry if I wasn't clear.

Holly said...

Thanks for the encouragement Mark. You guys spur us all on for sure! Thank YOU for standing up for ethics in international adoption.

Holly said...

Yes, I agree that a big problem is some agencies not being receptive to APs concerns and trying to control what they communicate. I also agree that as APs we should be encouraging each other as much as possible as we work towards ethical adoptions. I'm pretty sure that most people want a good adoption (they don't want to find out 6 months later that their adopted child had a living mother in country that had no idea about the adoption, for example). The language barrier is an issue as well. It certainly helped us that we knew one of the languages while we lived in country and could read the documents and communicate directly with the on ground staff. We were able to stop many sketchy things from progressing that otherwise would have happened. And, of course, it is certainly easier to rally around those who suffer and are left behind than try to fight in the murky waters of corruption and exploitation in international adoption.
Thanks for commenting.

Holly said...

Thanks for the support and encouragement Megan.

Holly said...

Hi Barbara,
It's funny when I lived there I had days when I certainly thought I lived in the wild west (in terms of the overall impunity from justice). I also feel like it would be so much more constructive to put a hold on adoptions (not stop them) and try to put more regulations in place, than just wait until everything is so out of control (and there is more systemic/organized trafficking) and it gets entirely shut down. There is a real need for adoptions in DRC, so don't want it to get shut down completely, but I feel like there need to be some real changes. I still think there are ways to do an ethical adoption currently, but they are very specific and the minority. Thanks for commenting.

Holly said...

Thanks---this is a great post and I pretty much agree with you about most of it. (And thanks for the encouragement).

I have a couple questions to ask you (in the spirit of healthy debate). What if you don't see any tandem movement? What if you see a lot of unethical adoptions happening, child trafficking, or child abuse and little is being done about it? At what point does one out weigh the other and then we take a step back and reevaluate? My overall discouragement is that I just don't see a strong will from adoptive parents to really work with their agencies to make change happen. Or, there are many that they may try (because I know many wonderful APs who do) and they get attacked by their agency or made to feel like their children will be taken away if they speak up. At what point does the corruption in DRC make us advocate to put DRC adoptions on hold? Or maybe you would argue it doesn't matter how corrupt they get, as long as we personally are conducting an ethical adoption, then one child is helped and adoption should continue. This is what I am really struggling with, because I do agree with you, but I just feel like it is already too much out of hand and there isn't enough of an equal, tandem response by agencies/APs to make change happen.
And then the high cost is at the exploited child's expense and that doesn't feel right to me.

Again, thank you so much for commenting. I commend your efforts to work with your agency to make change happen and I hope your work will encourage others to do the same.

Holly said...

I agree that it is so important that we all value ethical adoptions so that those who truly need home receive them, and so we should very much encourage each other and not tear each other down.

Holly said...

This is a great idea and one that I hope APs have tried or will be willing to try. I don't know if all agencies are approachable right now and I've had some friends try at least individually and been stonewalled or threatened. I wonder if a group got together and petitioned an agency what would happen.

Holly said...

Yeah, this is a really hard situation that has happened to more than one person in DRC. Thank you for sharing your experience. It is absolutely frustrating to me that agencies can scare and threaten their clients. And of course, when your child's adoption is on the line, they hold the power and makes APs less likely to complain about their treatment along more formal lines. I understand the hard place that puts you and others in. It is not easy at all.

varouna said...

Holly, I linked this post on my blog, I hope that's okay.

Jerry said...

Holly, I think your questions and suggestions (DEMANDS!) are all spot on. I do not have any experience in DRC adoption, but do have it in a country where many of the things you suggest do happen - i.e. newspaper ads, in person interviews with extended family to facilitate placement, etc. The only part of your post I disagree with is: "I believe that a lot of children that are relinquished for adoption don't need a family, they instead need to be relieved from the effects of devastating poverty." If you mean this as an aspirational statement, I do agree. Practically though, in many circumstances, there are no programs and no apparent impetus on the part of the foreign government to focus on such programs. In that instance, are we to abandon the child to a life of substandard institutional care because their government is not doing as much as we believe they should to preserve families?

I'll add one side note - one great benefit of the thorough investigation of family placement is the existence of information on birth family. As a result of this information, all three of my adopted children are in regular contact with elder brothers, aunts and cousins who remain an important part of their life. I simply do not understand APs who want to "cut the cord" to their children's home country.

Holly said...

Sounds great! Love getting a discussion going! I appreciated your thoughts on your post as well. I agree that the congolese people also care about their children. Unfortunately, when there is a lot of money involved and judges, often times the one with the most money wins. Almost every single family we met while living in DRC was caring for an "orphan" (In DRC this often meant one parent was dead). The Congolese love their children and are caring for them. There is a very big informal network of foster care that reflect your thoughts about congolese having solutions.

Holly said...

Hey Jerry,

Thanks for the great comment. Yup, I'm aiming high! I lived in DRC for 4 1/2 years and there are some great programs that are helping folks (and many are run/supported by congolese). There are some that support women and their children, help them get businesses started etc. So, yes I am aspiring to the alleviation of all poverty :), but I also know wonderful women and men (Congolese, and from all over the world) that are working towards this end in DRC as well. There is hope. And I do still believe there is a place for ethical IA in DRC (but this is very difficult given the current situation).
Thanks so much for your comments and reflections about your own children's adoptions. We also know our girls' families and I am so happy we do!

Jerry said...

Thank you for speaking on this topic!! I get queasy when I hear about AA telling PAP to keep quiet about ANYTHING!

Holly said...

I agree, that's a big red flag to me too!

varouna said...

I think that you're totally right - money plays a big part on adoptions, and just about everything else, in Congo. It's unfortunate for the not wealthy who live there. My husband is a history professor, his specialty is central Africa, and when he tells about how Congo used to be, when it was known as the Switzerland of Africa, it's hard to reconcile that with the Kinshasa I saw. And it's not just in Congo, which is even more unfortunate...

I feel that change will happen, but really it has to come from the Congolese that live in Congo and not from the diaspora or from non-Congolese. It does seem, from what I've seen, that a lot of Congolese in their 20s and 30s who live not in Congo are doing a lot to try and get change to happen from within Congo.

Cindy said...

Holly- You are amazing. I support you 100%! Keep speaking up!

Ted said...

We feel that same way. Despite the mountain of challenges with her, we love Ketsia. But cannot in good conscience advocate for adoption or recommend families to adopt from the DRC. But its still to "easy". And sadly, comparatively speaking, cheap. We still have people calling us asking about our experiences. We dont partake of the big love-fests that go on, and many boards. When the families call, we present the hard questions. Hopefully to awake them . Thank you both for speaking out