Speaking up about ethical concerns in the adoption world is not a popular thing to do. This topic is polarizing, particularly in the world of blogging and social media, and can invoke strong feelings in readers. When an adoptive parent (AP) or a prospective adoptive (PAP) has concerns about their adoption agency, the parent often struggles with finding their voice.
Often, parents remain silent about ethical concerns in their adoption process because they fear that their adoptions will be cancelled or that their agencies may make the process harder for them. Families in process have already invested time, emotion, and finances into their adoption and often worry that this will be all for naught if their adoption is terminated or cancelled (often times, this happens under the guise of a referral being “lost” or a child suddenly becoming “unadoptable”). Agencies threaten that they will not refund money due to contractual obligations or they point out unenforceable "gag clauses" or "online restrictions" to threaten the PAP into silence. Agencies and adoption workers who label themselves as "Christian" may tell PAPs they are going "against God's will" by speaking up about concerns since the agency is doing "God's work for orphans." PAPs and APs are called "anti-adoption" by agencies and other adoptive parents if they even hint at an ethical problem with an agency, country or program. Those that do express concern are told they are "going to close the country to adoption" or that they will anger the sending country.
To truly understand how many families are unwilling or unable to speak out about ethical concerns, it is crucial to understand just how the process works and how PAPs become so emotionally invested. In international adoption there are many red flags that may alert PAPs to potential issues (http://www.reformtalk.net/2012/09/28/list-of-red-flags-in-international-adoption/). However, these red flags are often not seen until parents are well into the program, and have invested both financially and emotionally in their potential child(ren). The financial investment is obvious: international adoption is costly, and parents may have written checks for tens of thousands of dollars before the referred child is legally theirs. The emotional side may be less obvious, but it is no less real. Typically, PAPs wait for a length of time between referral and travel. As the parents wait, the child begins to feel like 'theirs" even though the adoption is not finalized and they do not have physical or legal custody. Just as biological parents do, PAPs go into a nesting stage and tell their friends and family about the child(ren) that they are hopeful will soon join their family. Often, PAPs share the news of an adoptive sibling with their children already at home. An entire community of people becomes invested in the adoption -- frequently well before it is definite that the child will absolutely become the PAPs’ legal child. Ending the adoption because of ethical concerns, or having the adoption cancelled by the agency because they spoke out about those ethical concerns, causes emotional turmoil for PAPs and everyone who has shared in their joy. The termination of an adoption also likely results in the loss of a significant amount of money, which for many PAPs means the end of their adoption dream. For these reasons, PAPs are incredibly reluctant to speak out about ethical concerns in their adoption programs.
It isn’t necessarily easier for APs who have completed the process to talk openly about adoption ethics. Adoptive parents who speak up about concerns after their child is home can also be bullied into silence by PAPs. They are told that they are making things harder for families in process by speaking about concerns. They are told they are being "selfish" and "hypocritical." An adoptive parent with a child home may not have seen problems or realized concerns until the end of their adoption, or may have feared agency retribution during their adoption and waited until their child was safely home to warn parents in process or new clients signing onto a program. Instead of being seen as assisting these new parents or parents in process, they are seen as a problem. Ethical concerns, they are told, have no place in adoption discussion.
It is because of these concerns that most adoptive parents never feel able to speak up about ethics in adoption. More new clients sign onto the program, and more parents feel alone in their concerns when red flags appear. The ethical problems are never addressed because everyone is afraid to speak. If these issues are not fixed, the sending country may ultimately end adoptions due to rampant corruption.
This all could have been prevented. Things could have looked much different had experiences have been heard and valued.
A group of very brave adoptive parents from Haiti are speaking up about concerns with their international adoption program. They have banded together in solidarity to create a blog to express and voice their concerns about the exploitation of children in Haiti. These parents should be lauded for their bravery and emotional fortitude in the face of extreme pressure from their agency, various organizations and fellow PAPs.
Alarmingly, the stories told by these parents may have connections to adoption programs in other countries. The same players facilitating adoptions for children and families in Haiti are also working to facilitate adoptions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
MLJ Adoptions, is an Indiana based for-profit adoption agency run by attorney Michele Jackson. This adoption agency has partnered with Giving Hope Rescue Mission, run by Heather Elyse, to facilitate the adoption of Haitian children by North American families. MLJ Adoptions is also incredibly active in the world of Congolese adoptions, claiming to have facilitated more than 50% of all international adoptions in Congo.
As adoptive parents, we believe it is important to speak the truth about our own stories in whatever way we are able.Recently, allegations of corruption and child trafficking in Congolese adoptions has led to more stringent requirements and investigations from both the United States Embassy and the Congolese government. We need to be more vigilant than ever. Speaking the truth means advocating for more transparency and accountability with our agencies (including finances that are clearly detailed), speaking out against gag clauses, demanding copies of all of our documents (including DGM exit visa letters), refusing to pay bribes, refusing to pay child finders, insisting on private independent investigations, or other ways that protect instead of exploit children in DRC.
Concerned adoptive parents of DRC children