Saturday, September 15, 2012

Guest Post: Should we even be adopting children?

This story just came to me this morning and it is too important of a story not to share.  Please take some time this weekend and read it through.  

Should we even be adopting children?

It is a question that I often ask myself.  Should we even be adopting children from Africa or other international destinations?  Many people tell me about the millions of “orphans” in Africa and how we, as people who care deeply about justice and believe that we shouldn’t forget the most vulnerable, need to do something about these children.  However the definition that is used in these statistics is a child who has lost one parent.  Many of these children do not need to be adopted as they have parents or other family members who can raise them. 

My husband and I started down an adoption route in the DRC over 2 years ago now.   We decided to do an independent adoption so we connected with a good lawyer in Kinshasa, and once our paperwork was all sorted, we flew out to meet him and visit some orphanages to see for ourselves the situation and whether we wanted to adopt from there. 

So off to Kinshasa we went.  We spent time with the lawyer, and then visited a few orphanages.  We decided to adopt 2 children from the same home, a little girl 2.5 years old, the other 3.5 years old.  The 2.5 year old had no family, was abandoned in the hospital at birth and had been living in the home since she was born; the other girl had a maternal aunt who had just surfaced and Social Services wanted to investigate to determine her situation and whether she could be adopted.  As we didn’t want to adopt any child who had potential family members, we stepped back from the older child, and decided to adopt the younger girl.

6 months into the process our lawyer informed us that a staff member who worked for him had visited the orphanage and someone had taken him aside and told him that the 2.5 year old we were adopting had a mother who was alive.  She was ill and struggled to care for her, but came and visited her daughter every week at the home.  No one had mentioned her before.  She wasn’t on the birth certificate, her information wasn’t on any documentation – no mention of her anywhere.  So here was a loving mother who had placed her daughter in a home because she couldn’t look after her due to her illness, and yet visited her every week, showing her love and commitment.  And her baby was about to be adopted out from under her.  As soon as we heard this we stopped all proceedings.

We continued to be involved in the older girls’ case, with a man on the ground who ensured that her file was not forgotten in the stack of cases Social Services was investigating.  A few months later we heard that the file was completed and her aunt had agreed to take her into her family.  We were happy to hear this, knowing that us stepping away from that was a good thing.  This child would be reunited with her maternal family members.  Wonderful.  However a few months after this, when we checked up on her I was told she was being adopted to a couple in France.  I frantically tried to stop the adoption, but no one, not the agency rep in Kinshasa, not the orphanage director, no one would stop this adoption.

So why did this happen, why would two children whom the orphanage knew had family, why would they adopt out these two children?  Why?

The answer, I am afraid, is money.  Orphanages get money for children. Oh it can be masked in many ways, but families either provide a set “donation”, or pay $100 – 200 USD per month to cover the costs of the child they are adopting once the process has begun.  After an 8-month process, this can be quite lucrative for the orphanages.  If they adopt out 10 children a year, they could be looking at between $15,000 – 20,000.   In these two situations I am certain this was the reason these two children were being adopted. The aunt of the older girl had no ability to stop this from happening – she couldn’t provide any money to the orphanage, so it wasn’t valuable to the home to allow this child to return to her family. And the little girl with the mother?  The mother was not on any documentation and being ill and poor, would have no ability to advocate for her child.  I am certain this child is adopted now; it was only the honesty of our lawyer that the process was stopped for us. 

So, money.  And whether this money goes into the pocket of someone or whether it goes to feed or clothe the children in the home, it doesn’t matter.  Because what it does is encourage adoptions when some shouldn’t be happening.  Heck, I am all for the adoption of children who have no family or who cannot live with their family.  But how do we know this is actually the case? 

So should we be adopting children from countries such as the DRC, a country with very little regulatory processes, which makes the situation ripe for manipulation on all levels?  I would say, be very careful and believe no one.  People will say what they know you want to hear so that children get adopted and so they receive money.  It doesn’t matter if an agency has a “nice” person on the ground.  That person may be lovely, but still may be pocketing money for each child he or she adopts out.  So unless you can be certain of the background of the child you adopt, then I would say no.  Walk away.

Because it isn’t worth it.  It isn’t worth it for your own conscience, and it isn’t worth it for your adopted child and your future together as a family.  When your child is 18 years old and goes back to the DRC and finds out she has a birth mother who hadn’t wanted her adopted, or an aunt who had fought in the courts to get her and yet was still adopted out, or some other sordid story of manipulation, your response to your child of  “I didn’t know”, may not be enough to satisfy. 

It is true that children shouldn’t grow up in orphanages.  We have seen the photos and heard the stories of some of those terrible places.  But adoption when children have family to go back to isn’t a good option either.  Let’s keep children in the families they have been placed in biologically and only adopt children who have no other place to go. 

Our story?  We ended up adopting two little girls, a 4 year old and a 2 year old from a small orphanage in the DRC that we met with and checked the children’s family stories so that we could be sure they could never go and live with their birth families.  We maintain connection with the birth families and with the home, knowing that this is not only our girls’ story today but will be for the rest of their lives. 

Debora Randall lives with her husband and their two children in Rwanda. 

9/23/12  Addendum--Debora Randall has given me permission to share the name of the orphanage in this story.  It is Maison L'Espoire run by Madam Marie Vuvu.


Lindsay said...

Thank you once again for your very eye opening, truthful posts.

barbara@hodge:podge said...

Beautiful Deb! I had no idea about your whole process but am thrilled that your two little ones are part of of our growing, somewhat crazy but loving extended family! Can't wait to meet them!

Susan Vinton said...

Thank you for sharing this, and thank you for thinking of those girls and their future and their connection to their birth families. I'm so sorry that this kind of thing goes on in DRC, but having lived there for 25 years, this comes as no surprise. I believe it's commonplace.

Amy said...


Amy said...

Oops, I didn't mean to hit publish.

I have to say that I do not agree with the statement that if children have family to go to that they should not be adopted. We do not hold birthmoms to this standard in the United States. If a woman decides to give up her child for adoption, we talk about how brave she is to want a better life for her child. We almost never say that the baby should go to someone else in the family. There are many factors here of course, some will argue that foreign countries aren't familiar with adoption and that people us that as an excuse, but once adoptions happen, many mothers do hear of that as an option, and if they cannot provide for their children want a legitimate thing for their kids and I do not think that is bad. This almost makes it sound like the mother doesn't have the right to give up her child for adoption just because there may be other people who could care for that child. It still is the mother's choice where she places her child. (Obviously this is separate from a mother who was coerced or otherwise told false things concerning adoption) This is starting to sound rather like UNICEF's position on adoption and I find that frightening. Yes, I agree that adoptions should be done ethically, and I am not arguing against ethical issues. But we live in a fallen world and sin is going to happen. I have talked recently with several families who have adopted out of China which is widely considered to be one of the least corrupt, most stable programs out there, and there is talk even there of unethical things happening. Do we deny children the right to families completely because of cases of corruption? I, personally, do not believe that we should. Just because a child has a birth family should not automatically mean that that child should not be placed for adoption. I would definitely agree with those that believe adoption isn't the answer to kids who are starving, etc. But it is a way to help children. We are directly called to take care of orphans in the Bible, and while that is not always to the tune of adoption, it certainly can be. There is always more to the story then the fact that there are other people to take care of a child. The family may also not have the funds, the mother could believe that the family is not suitable, and I can attest to this, if I couldn't take care of my children, I certainly would not let most of my family members for various reasons, and the mother could simply want a better life for the child than what she can give. I believe in a decision like that the mother has made the choice out of love. What about all of the kids who are affected by not allowing adoptions to take place? Just thoughts to think about.

Anonymous said...

In many African cultures, when taking in extended family member's children, they are often given the status of no better than slaves within that family. Many abuses occur in these situations that are culturally accepted. Of COURSE, not saying that that in any way condones unethical practices, just adding that information to the pile.

Tom and Deb said...

Amy, thanks so much for your comments and for taking the time to respond. However I wanted to comment on your statement about me saying no to all adoptions where there is a family to the child. This is not what I was saying in my post. What I was saying that we need to say no to adoptions where there is family that is wanting the children to live back with them. You refer to the US situation where mothers give up their children for adoption. I was a Social Worker (not in the US), but whenever a child could not live with his or her family we did thorough investigations into why that was. And even if that child could not live with their mother or father, we tried to find other family members first who could look after them. And i am not talking about family members that would treat them terribly. Of course we wouldn't want that. This is all that I am suggesting for the DRC.

And also you say it is the mother's choice whether that child gets placed or not. Actually it isn't. Even in the DRC the father has a say in that. And even if grandparents or aunt or uncles may not have a legal right as to whether a child is placed or not into care, whether in the US or in the DRC, the fact remains, these people are important to this child and will always be important to this child. There is something about a birth family and blood relations that are important. And hey, I totally and absolutely believe in adoption. I am just saying that we cannot neglect the importance of the birth family. That is just a reality that we need to accept as adoptive parents.

Tom and Deb said...

And no we don't want children to stay in orphanages without being part of a family - absolutely not. I believe in families. We should get them out of there as quickly as possible, either to live with their birth families or if that isn't possible, then with an adoptive family. I worked in a project in Kenya and we sent almost 300 children home to live with their birth families from 6 orphanages. We followed up with the children afterwards and did an evaluation 2 years after placement. They were all doing fabulously. The key is finding that one family member who cares for that child. And because of culture, or poverty, often this person doesn't step up (because it is supposed to be the paternal family who looks after the children, or because of lack of finances). Example: we worked with these 8 year old twins who had been taken into the orphanage because they were hungry and being mistreated by their father and his new wife. Fair enough. 3 years later we decided they were a possibility to be reintegrated. We visited family members and concluded that the maternal aunt had a deep love for the children. She was HIV positive and hadn't been in a position to care for the children 3 years before. But now on a better drug regime, with better health, she wanted to take them. So of course then it was a money issue. She already had 4 children and no husband, how could she care for them? Well we provided some training and a grant for her to open up a small kiosk in Nairobi as she was an amazing cook. Her business, even after a few months, was booming and she was able to receive the children back with her. I visited them and it was so gratifying to see these children coming home from school, skipping and laughing in their school uniforms, running excitedly to meet their aunt.

We have to be careful as the message we often tend to give is that adopting African children into Western families is the best decision for the child. What really are we saying? That we as Americans or Canadians or Europeans are better at raising their children? It is a misconception to believe that all Africans are poor or that they cannot look after their children. If we enter into adoption believing this then of course we won't look at family members as an option.

There are estimates that 85% of children in orphanages have family they can return to. They have come into orphanages because of poverty or family breakup over other reasons. Orphan programs in Uganda have estimated that 60% of children in orphanages can actually return to their families. So if we focused on returning these children to their birth families and then adopting out the others, I would be happy with that. This is all I am asking. We need better processes for investigating, and then support for these children to be reintegrated back into their families. Then let's get the rest of the children into families as well, looking at adoption as a way to do that.

Holly said...

Hi Amy,

Thanks for the comments. I'd like to respond to a few of your comments. Debora says in the article "Many of these children do not need to be adopted as they have parents or other family members who can raise them. ". I did not get the impression at all that she was talking about families that couldn't raise their children and therefore relinquished them for adoption. She says that many children do not need to adopted as they have family that can raise them. She didn't mention anything about want/should etc. She was stating that the definition of "orphan" includes children whose families can care for them. This statement about the definition of "orphan" has nothing to do with adoption and the reasons for adoptions. On my blog I have also stated that I don't think we can compare first parents in the U.S. in the domestic adoption system to first families in international adoption in developing countries because of the extreme income disparities and lack of any support systems to support families. So, though I find your comments about domestic adoption in the U.S. interesting (to say the least), I am not going to comment on it here as I think the comparison is not a good one.

I personally have a problem with the reason for international adoption in a developing country be that the mother "couldn't provide for their child". This opens so many doors. What does that mean? That she can't feed her child (that would be millions of children around the world), that she can't send her child to school (again, too numerous to count), that she cannot get medication for her child (again, pretty much endemic in developing countries)? Maybe her child is starving and dying from malaria. Then she hears someone will feed her child, someone will send her child to school, someone will clothe and heal her child. What choice does she really have? Living in extreme poverty takes away all her choices. The only choice she sees is that she must give up her child in order for that child to live. No one offers her the choice of food, healthcare for her child, tuition, or perhaps micro loans to get a business going like the organization Women for Women. Does the woman need to have her child given to a family that has resources to care for that child or does the woman need the resources to take care of the child herself, the one she loves and would do anything for?

This woman you are talking about? You are right, she has no choices, she has no rights, but not for the reasons you state. She has no rights and choices because she is extremely poor and the only choice she feels she has is either abandon or relinquish her child to someone who will give her child a better life. She has no other choices, not if she loves that child. We take the choices away from her when the only choice to help her child live is adoption.

Take poverty out of the picture and then ask that woman, do you want to give your child up for adoption. Then ask her, but not before then when she has no choices about it.

Holly said...

I am not against adoption for children that need families. But I don't think poverty alone is a valid reason for adoption.

And in the end, who really has no choice here is the two little girls in this story.

This post is specifically about an orphanage that LIED to an adoptive parent. They told the adoptive parent that the first little girl had no family when her mother was visiting weekly and who did NOT approve of the adoption or even know about the adoption. Your post seems so defensive that I almost think that you missed the point of her post. The second little girl this adoptive parent was referred to had an aunt that wanted her, but the orphanage didn't let her have her and tied her up in a legal battle. Meanwhile, at least one of the girls was referred to another family for international adoption when this family said "no way". Why? Why would they do that when there were family that wanted them? It was about money. The girls were being trafficked because of adoption. All their documents were falsified. That is what this post was about. It is not about first families that consented to adoption as your response seems to indicate it is about. It is about children that were trafficked for adoption against their families wishes in DRC. It is how a family found out by investigating their stories and asking questions. It is about a corrupt orphanage director who gets money for adoptions, falsifies their paper works, tells false stories about their families, and then gives them up for adoption.

This story is about abandonment cases of adoption in DRC and what really happens behind the scenes and how money corrupts. It is about an orphanage trafficking children. And this orphanage still does adoptions.

Justice is not being done here. And vulnerable children are being exploited because of money.

That is what this post is about.

Anonymous said...

Holly and Deb, thank you for always being so open and honest. It is crucial that your voices are heard. My husband and I are in the process of adoption from the DRC and we've learned an incredible amount over the past two years. One of the biggest realities is that most large agencies are NOT doing the work. This is 2013. This is a world with cell phones, SKYPE, email. There is almost NO reason why an agency shouldn't have information about the children they help faciliate for international adoption. If they don't - it's unlikely they've done the work to trace that child's history. If they have - then they should be showing the adoptive parents press clippings and/or records of the efforts that were made to contact with a birth family and to ensure no stone was unturned. They should know who is caring for this child and how they came into that care.

We all want to be united with the young people who will become a part of our family. But we are entirely responsible as the parents to these children to do our absolute best to ensure a connection with their birth family and with their home country. If we do not do this - we do a disservice to our children. Being connected with their birth country doesn't mean dressing up in a traditional outfit and making them a special Congolese snack. It means knowing about their country, following the politics of their country, keeping in touch with the people who helped to facilitate their adoption, staying connected with their orphanage (it may have been the only home they knew) and taking them back to visit - when age and safety offer up the opportunity.

It's time to move the conversation on international adoption forward. It is a viable way of building a family - it can be done - but we need to reform it.

Using the bible - and the language "I was called to God" is NOT a way to do this. We are not righteous. These children are not our right to have or to raise because we've had a message from God. It is a privilege and we must be strong, humble, and sensitive to their birth situation. We need to be opening up political science books, sociology books, and books and articles about woman and poverty to better understand the environments of where our children are coming from.

When we adopt - we are not ending world poverty, we are not "saving an orphan" we should not be promoting the "5 million orphans - minus 1" t-shirt campaigns. We are creating a family through adoption. Our children's histories are complex, and their birth country becomes our own.

Growing up and watching the video's on television, starving children, sad and crying children - gave me an image of East Africa that was misleading. When I went to Uganda - I met oceans of children. Children living in IDP camps - displaced from the war - without anything. And they smiled, and laughed, and played, and cajoled - they were like any other child I had ever met. Their mother's had dreams for them, they had dreams for themselves. I sat with women who had lived through horrendous pain and tragedy. The people we are speaking of are living, breathing, PEOPLE. We must elevate our respect for them. It's an honour to get to raise a child - and there comes a greater responsibility to adoptive parents.

International adoption is hard, complex, and messy. If your not willing to get into it - to climb the mountain - to go right to the wall for your kid(s) like Deb has and like Holly has - I don't think parents should be allowed to adopt. I don't think any child should be allowed to leave a country with an escort and then give to strangers at an airport in a foreign place. We must push to create the connections our child will NEED to have when they go back to their home. We are their parents to facilitate their journey - they do not come into our lives to facilitate our own.

Holly and Deb - keep writing!