Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Suggestions regarding adoption in DRC during the DGM 12 month suspension

If you read my blog or are involved in the DRC adoption community, you know that Congolese adoptions are in a state of turmoil.  Many families (including some of my friends) are caught in the middle of the current DGM shutdown, bearing the heavy emotional and financial burden of waiting for an indefinite period of time to bring their kids home.  My heart goes out to those waiting families, as well as all of the children who truly need families and have also been affected by the shutdown.  Many of you probably feel helpless right now -- just as I have felt when I've been contacted by families asking for my assistance in getting their children home.  There is obviously quite a lot that we can't do, but I've tried to outline some of the things that we can and should be doing right now -- and the reasons why I don't believe that anyone should accept a referral for a Congolese adoption right now. 

First, please don't accept a referral to start an adoption in DRC right now.  Consider a few facts.  After you accept a referral, it will likely be 6 months (or more) for the adoption judgment (decree) and for all of the paperwork to come through. After the decree is granted and the paperwork is in order, it will be another 6 month wait while the embassy investigates your visa application.    It has now been a year since referral.  After their investigation, you will likely still have to wait either for DGM to re-open or, if they have opened up already, for them to process the hundreds of  families that have been waiting during the year your adoption processed.  This may take up to a year.  In my estimation, if you accepted a referral today, it may take up to 2 years to bring that child home.   This is an optimistic estimate; it will likely be a far longer wait.  Alternatively,  DGM and/or the DRC government may discover even more adoption corruption and close the country entirely to international adoption. This is a very real possibility that could happen at any time during your 2 year wait.  

Given this, I would strongly advise that no one start a new DRC adoption right now. Everything is very uncertain.  Wait for the 12 month suspension to lift, and start an adoption only if the irregularities and widespread corruption in DRC adoptions has been dealt with by their government during those 12 months.  

Second, we need to think critically about finances.  Let's say there are 400 adoptions processing in DRC right now -- this is probably a low estimate given how fast the program has grown in the past three years.  If you are a family with one of the more popular agencies (perhaps one that processes the bulk of the adoptions in DRC), your agency may have 200 families (or children) in process right now, AND may still be accepting new families and giving referrals.  It is likely that your child will be put in foster care, which is billed at a cost of around $600/month PER child.  If you do the math, you may realize that your agency would be billing $1,440,000 in foster care fees over the 12 month DGM suspension!!  Over one million dollars in foster care fees alone!  

But all of this money is going to take care of the kids, right?  It can't possibly be profit for the agency, can it?  And no agency charges that much for foster care, do they?  Let's step back a minute.  First, it is clear that $600/month/child is within the realm of possible foster care charges.  This link shows the wide range of foster care fees that different agencies charge in DRC.  Second, average salaries in DRC are far, far less than $600 a month.  A doctor may make  $550/month, but the salary for an average worker in DRC is $50/month.  House staff in DRC may make up to $100/month if they are very well paid. At the orphanage that we support in eastern DRC, we pay staff a salary of $50/month. It is clear that $600/month/child cannot possibly be the salary for a foster parent.  Third, the cost to care for a Congolese child is simply not that high. A month of formula for a baby costs $80/month, and food for an older child would cost under $50/month (if you want them to eat meat, milk, eggs).  When our twin daughters were in foster care for 3 months, we only paid for their formula costs ($160/month, totaling $480 for the three months they were in care).    So even if the foster parents are being paid a high salary of $100/month, and the children are eating very well for $100/month, that is still only $200/month.  Even if a child is being checked monthly by a doctor, the cost should not be $600/month.   Where is that money going? Someone is making A LOT of money, and I sincerely doubt that it is the foster parents.  Perhaps you can follow my line of thinking here.  

Think very carefully and critically about the foster care fees charged by your agency.  If they are encouraging you to accept a referral during the DGM shutdown, how much money could they potentially make in foster care fees alone during that time? If we go back to the 2 year waiting period, you are looking at paying $14,400 per child in foster care fees alone.  How feasible is that for your family? 

Third, watch your agency's behavior closely during the shut down.  Are they becoming more transparent with you?  Are they reassuring you with actual facts and documentation that they are working ethically in DRC?  Are they open to questions from outsiders about their practices on the ground?  Are they making sure that they are doing independent investigations of each case?  Can they show you how they verify the stories of their referrals?  Can they breakdown all their "foreign fees" so that you know what every document costs and how every dollar of your money is spent?  Is your agency working to make sure their adoptions follow DRC law?  Is your agency respecting DGM's efforts to decrease corruption in Congolese adoptions?  Or, instead is it taking steps to end the DGM shutdown, including applying external pressure and suggesting they will take legal action?  Can your agency demonstrate to you that it did not pay bribes to DGM for your exit letter?  Does your agency give you access to all your adoption records (especially your DGM exit letter)?  Does your agency tout their Hague accreditation as why they do ethical work in DRC but never explain what that actually means in a country that is not a Hague signatory?  

If your agency is vague about its ethical practices and will not provide detailed cost breakdowns, think carefully about whether you should proceed with an adoption through this agency.  Repeating buzzwords and touting credentials is not the equivalent of actually ensuring that adoptions are ethical!

Fourth, if you haven't done an independent investigation of your adoption and you have an adoption decree, now is the time to do it!  Your child can't leave the country right now.  Verify the story!   As more and more stories come out about birth families that were lied to and misled by agency representative, it is so very important that you do the work on the ground to make sure that your child wasn't trafficked or otherwise taken from his or her family on false pretenses.  Because if it IS your child's story, then you need to work on reunifying that child with their family. That is what adoption is truly about after all: helping children find families that need them.  And sometimes your adoption story may be one that helps your referred child find their way back to their first family that never understood what it meant in the first place. 

Independent investigations are the key to ensuring that your referred child truly is an orphan, and that this child truly needs a new (American) family.  They are also critical to your ability to talk honestly to your child(ten) about their history when they do come home. 

Finally, if your child is truly one that needs a new home and international adoption is the only way he or she will find a family, then there are still things you can do during this year.    Advocate for your child.  Make sure your child is getting good care in-country with regular medical check ups.  Visit your child and their foster home.  Advocate for vulnerable children in DRC that may not need a new family but may need help moving back home.  Most of all, be a strong advocate for ethical adoptions in DRC.  Demand transparency from your agencies, and demand that they comply with the law and that they don't cut corners, bribe, or falsify paperwork.  DRC is only going to allow adoptions to continue if we become adoptive parents that respect their laws, their government, and their people -- regardless of whether or not we agree with their laws or decisions.  

The lives of vulnerable children are at stake.  We must demand that our agencies work with integrity.  We are the voices that can make change happen in DRC.  More than anything,  I want those children that truly need new families to be able to go home to their new families and those children that have wrongly been taken from their first families to be reunited with their families.  There are some incredible, loving, well-prepared families that are ready to bring their children home.  Now is that time that we should work together to change the way that adoption in DRC has been operating.  Now is the time that we share the truth and demand our agencies work with integrity, transparency, accountability and honesty.  Most of all it is the most vulnerable children in DRC that are harmed by corrupt agency practices on the ground.  The only way that DRC will remain open to international adoption is if we demand change and ethical behaviors. Please, take a stand for all of the children of DRC and change the way adoption is currently practiced in DRC.    Please. 

One of the many little ones we support in eastern DRC. 

For those that need some encouragement and are celebrating advent, this post really is worth reading.  "Just when we are so burdened as to not hear, at the most difficult of times, when life's loads crush and our forms bend, they minister most.  Immanuel, meaning "God-with-us," attends us as His invisible person, the Holy Spirit, and He is attended by angels.  The heart of God is to meet us at life's darkest intersections with comfort, encouragement, a touch of heaven, and a breath of hope."   May you experience this comfort, encouragement and breath of hope. 


The Gumboot Gal said...

Hi Holly - you mention independent investigation but I'm not finding very many options for that in DRC. I brought my daughter home in Sept and, because we both speak French, I've heard a lot about her bio family. She was abandoned and her story confirms that but I would still like to know more about her birth family and a few other things... Other than Ethiostork do you know of other agencies/individuals who conduct investigations? Thanks!

Holly said...

If you can contact me off line I can talk about this more. Thanks! My email is up on the right side of the blog. Holly

Kiki said...

PAPs are indeed paying $600/month to support their Congolese referrals:

"According to Congo, we are Roland's legal parents. We are completely financially supporting him- childcare, food, doctors visits, a safe place to live (for $600 a month). Next week Roland has his visa appointment, which will allow him to immigrate to the United States. However, one government agency (DGM) in Congo is holding almost all adopted children hostage until an undetermined point in time. If we were wealthier, we could go visit him as often as we wanted or we could even move to Congo to care for him full- time. However, that is not an option for us (with his on- going monthly childcare fees, we don't have enough money for the final trip to bring him home). It is a very confusing spot to be in as parents. "


Anonymous said...

We recently took a trip over to the orphanage that our children are at, prior to coming across this article. We were able to find a mission out reach that did work at our kids orphanage. It was interesting to us that after paying nearly $10,000 in foster care/orphanage fees that the children at our orphanage were still only receiving at most 1 meal a day! We are confident that our children's story is holding up as far as being orphans, but our eyes were definitely opened to the corruption. It is not always only the agency, layers in DRC are also taking advantage of the increase of adoptions! I highly respect what the DGM is doing! I beg adoptive parents to think first and foremost about the children! Think also with a clear mind. How can a child cost $500-600 a month in Congo when the average person in Congo lives below $100 a month. Ask questions! and make sure they give good answers! And if they don't then go and visit! And if they tell you you can't go and visit! You will know something fishy is going on! Thank you for your article!

PreciousGoons said...

The anonymous comment on here is exactly what i would have written! Been and done and seen and ahhhh! We totally agree with your blog here and are praying for it all for the sake of our kids and the rest!