Monday, November 4, 2013

mercy revisited (thoughts on orphan and vulnerable child care and adoption)

March of this year I watched a documentary film called Mercy, Mercy.  It was about a family in Ethiopia and a family in Denmark.  I wrote this immediately after watching the film, I'm pretty sure I was still crying from the pain of watching it when I was typing. 

I have to back up a moment and say that two months prior to watching this film, I wrote this post on here about my own personal struggles with facilitating adoptions and working at an orphanage where adoption was happening in situations where fathers (or other family members) brought newborns in for care in moments of desperation because of extreme poverty and the lack of social safety nets to help them in crisis.  I wrote about my own personal conviction that children belong in families, and we should do everything we can to make sure that extreme poverty isn't the reason a family is broken apart and a child is referred for adoption. 

I talked about fathers that often if they had assistance would keep their newborns, whether that would be micro-loans to start small business or education grants to learn a trade.  I shared about social work and other programs that have success with similar work in Uganda in following posts.   I wrote that most of the fathers (or extended family members) loved their children.  I wrote, "And that began to sit with me more and more.  I began to think about those two fathers and their love for their children and I felt less and less like I wanted to support adoption but that instead I wanted to support family reunification.  Because poverty wasn't reason enough to take a baby away from their family anymore."  

I shared how we at Reeds of Hope wanted to be about helping children stay in their families in the first place and how we want to be a part of meeting them in moments of crisis to prevent them from being torn apart.  (Here is an example of an incredible program supporting vulnerable mothers in Haiti.) How we want to help children move out of orphanages and back with their families.  And I shared that for those that can't be reunited, then domestic situations should be found if possible.  (International adoption should be the last resort, and yes, I do believe in international adoption, but only after all other attempts to keep a family together have been explored and attempted).

Today I read this commentary on the film Mercy, Mercy and it brought back all the original pain of watching the film.  Please, if you can't find the film to watch, at least read this summary.   My thoughts on the film are found here.  The following is a section from the commentary linked to in this paragraph:

But amid the loving family life, the parents were struggling with intense pain and doubt. Had they really made the right decision? They had been told that it was best for their children. In Denmark, their children would get an education and could become anything – a doctor, a scientist, even president – and then return to Ethiopia when they were grown up.
"In human terms, it was a terrible process to witness. Especially because someone could have stopped it with a bit of financial assistance to the family, as could the Danish adoption agency, DanAdopt, the local authorities or the orphanage. But no one did. And the Danish parents were never informed about the true background for the adoption, but are repeatedly persuaded by DanAdopt that this was the last resort for the Ethiopian parents."
With much sorrow and many tears, but also hope, the children are handed over to their new father and mother who take them back to Denmark. End of story. Or, not quite.
Kjær can't get Sinkenesh and Hussen and their terrible sorrow out of her mind. She reorganises her life, lowering her expenses to a minimum, so she can afford to go back to Ethiopia. In all, she makes four more trips to Dodola, in addition to her regular visits with the adoptive parents in Holbæk, as she tracks the two families over a period of four and a half years.
Instead of a happy end, the drama in both Ethiopia and Denmark mounts. "I'm witnessing a development that becomes increasingly heartbreaking at both ends, while failure follows upon failure on the part of those who should be helping out," Kjær says.
Sinkenesh and her husband do not die from AIDS but get treatment and get better all the time. But they are left with a huge sense of loss and grief. As they struggle to get in touch with their children, the reality of adoption slowly sinks in: they have lost their children forever and every promise they were made has been broken.
They had been promised that they would stay in touch with their children, but that doesn't happen – the legally required reports about their children's welfare and development that they were supposed to receive never arrive. They had also expected that the Danish parents would become like kin to them, because that's what it's like in Ethiopia when you adopt someone's children – then you're family and help each other out. But no letters or financial assistance from Denmark arrive in Dodola. Meanwhile, in Denmark the adoption does not go as hoped, and the consequences prove disastrous."

In case you can't find the documentary on-line to watch the basic story is that a family in Denmark adopted a boy and a girl from Ethiopia.  The parents who adopted them where told one thing and the birth parents were told another thing.  They were not told the same information.  The birth parents made a decision to relinquish their children for adoption based off of the fact that they thought they were dying from AIDs, because of pressure from child finders who worked on behalf of the agency, and because of false promises that were made (they expected an open adoption and regular updates).  The documentary follows both families before the adoption happens and then for 4 years.  It is a very painful film to watch, mostly because of what happens to Masho by the end and the pain and extreme grief (and outrage) on the side of the birth parents.

It hit me all over again, that as adoptive parents we need to make sure that we aren't taking children away from families that want them, families that made a decision in a crisis that they would not have otherwise made if they were not in a moment of desperation.  We need to make sure that we are not using child finders or paying money to anyone that is in any way associated with consenting birth parents to adoption, counseling birth parents for adoption, or facilitating referrals for adoption.  

We need to make sure that we know what is being told to birth parents and that we understand the laws of the countries we are adopting from so that we know what birth parents are expecting.  For instance, in DRC, adoptive law says that the adoptive family must maintain an open adoption with the birth family.  There isn't a U.S. law that can enforce that, but a birth family in DRC will certainly be expecting an open relationship.  It behooves us to understand what is means in DRC law when it states in Article 689,  "The adoptee, his/her spouse and their descendants may not request food/subsistence from the adoptee's birth family unless the adoptive family is unable to provide. They must feed the ancestors of the adoptee's birth family in the case where the birth family cannot turn to another family member in order to obtain support." (You can find more adoption law here.)

I think a lot of people who follow my blog for information on DRC adoptions might misunderstand this post.  They might assume I am against all international adoption.  I'm not.  They might assume that I am speaking about their specific adoption.  I'm not.   I am suggesting we do not take children away from their families that want them, but instead help families keep their children.  Orphanages are often used as crisis care centers for extremely poor families in Africa, they are not full of children who need adoption (though there will be children that always need adoption) (further reading).  They are full of children who need help to be reunited with those families (or who need alternative care), who also may need assistance (further reading, article from Uganda).    

I am also suggesting that those that advocate for international adoption (for that child that needs a new family and would never have a chance for a family in their country of origen) do so with an understanding of what happens because of trauma, abandonment, neglect, abuse, and moving out of one culture to another away from everything and everyone familiar.  I believe that it is just as important to advocate for ethical adoptions as it is to advocate for adoptions that are done with right preparation, training about caring for a hurting child, motivation, and best fit for the child (and support for the family).  So that more trauma doesn't happen to that child, to help prevent fewer disruptions from happening.  The following is a quote from an article  in Christianity Today (that also had some surprisingly accurate information about adoption from DRC), "More than 24,000 internationally adopted children are no longer with their original adoptive parents, claims Reuters."

There are so many excellent resources out there written for adoptive parents to prepare them to parent child from trauma.  And even then, even with all the best training, quality support and care for the family caring for the child is just as important and maybe even more important in some situations (we have to rally behind adoptive families parenting children from trauma and also help states to have better resources for support for things like respite care, therapy, counseling, training, and yes, sometimes "rehoming").  Many of these excellent resources are also written by adult adoptees and their voice is one that is the most important and should never be ignored. 

I will end here by mentioning that the alternative care framework (out of Uganda) is one excellent place to read more about these important issues and concerns as it relates to orphaned and vulnerable children in Africa.  They have an excellent flow diagram that shows how the framework looks in practice.  Check it out here.  As is the Better Care Network.   There are so many excellent resources on this website.  And finally, there is this incredible group working Uganda.  This post by the founder is so applicable to what I am talking about today.  It is short and much more concise than I have been-check it out here

Let us work together to do our best for the orphaned and vulnerable children and their families around the world and at home.  


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