Friday, February 7, 2014

Orphanage donations, child finder fees, social services fees, and referral fees in international adoption in DRC

When we first decided to adopt, I searched for all the information I could find about international adoption.  Some of my own journey as I found this information and what I learned I have already written about.  Over the past few years I have been writing about ethics and corruption in IA in DRC frequently.  I feel like I am throwing pebbles at a moving train.  But because I hear back from adoptive parents that what I write is important and it has helped them make good decisions about their adoptions (and even whether to adopt from DRC or not), I continue to write.

International adoption has impacted me on many levels, but the biggest two are in a personal way when we adopted our twins and on a professional level with our work at Reeds of Hope.  It is impossible to not have to wrestle with the impact of international adoption if you work with orphanages in a country that allows IA.  I am still looking to find an orphanage where there is a good working relationship between organizations that are committed to family reunification and ones that facilitate international adoptions.  One is trying to reunite children with their families and the other is trying provide waiting families with children (often babies or toddlers under 2 years old). I don't think a good working relationship between two such parties at the same baby home exists because at their basic mission/focus level they differ fundamentally. 

Why?  Because the money that is brought into orphanages (or into the social service system) for adoption makes children become commodities.  Let's look at the definition of commodity: "Something that is bought and sold. Something or someone that is useful or valued.  One that is subject to ready exchange or exploitation within a market." (source). It is clear by looking at best practices documents, law around the world, and resources in international adoption, that separating the money from those that are responsible for the children on the ground is one very important part of protecting children from exploitation.

Yet, in DRC I haven't found a single case where adoptive parents are not required to do one or more of the following:  sign a contract that says they must fund raise for their organization/agency and give a certain amount in donations (which usually ends up in the hands of those that are finding children for referrals) for every child they adopt, give a fee to an on-ground staff member that then finds a referral for the AP (child finder fees), give a donation to the orphanage that cares for the child to "compensate" for the cost that they incurred while caring for that child (usually this is required to take the child out of the orphanage), pay monthly foster care fees to the orphanage directly as soon as the referral is in place, give a one time humanitarian donation to the orphanage where their child came from, pay a "referral" fee or other unlabeled designated amount to social services when the referral is made available (some agencies and organizations work directly with social services for their referrals and not through orphanages). 

This places pressure on a very weak system to find children for international adoption.  The weaker the infrastructure of a country, the more unchecked pressure is placed on those caring for vulnerable children in the country.  Children become commodities and are easily exploited for gain.  There is a huge lack of infrastructure and systems in place to protect these same children from the harm of being exploited and possibly trafficked in DRC.  Everyone plays a part in this.  The ones who care for the children as well as the government officials (including social services) who call on ground contacts when a child is found and money is exchanged.

Imagine this scenario.  A adoptive parent gets a call.  A 2 week old baby was found on the street three days ago.  Social services has called the organization or agency contact on the ground that there is a baby available for adoption.  No one has come forward for the baby and they can't find the family (remember, the baby was found 3 days ago).  The on-ground contact calls the organization or agency in the states.  Who then call the AP.  "There is a baby available, we have no photo or other information, if you want this referral you have to decide in 24 hours or we may lose the baby to another agency or I will call the next family on my list.  If you want this referral, please wire $500 immediately to our on ground contact in DRC so they can pay the referral fee.  We are so excited to find a family for this little one." 

I feel like this must be a very obvious post.  We cannot "pay" anyone to find us a child.  We should not "pay" anyone in exchange for a child.  We should not "pay" the government officials when they hand over a child to us for referral.  We don't pay for children (or in other words, we shouldn't "buy" children) and neither should anyone accept payment for a child (or in other words, no one should "sell" a child). 

It should be clear that the money from adoptive parents should not have any influence on the decision whether or not a child is made available for adoption.  That is a clear incentive to traffic children.  Yet, this is routinely done in DRC.  And what happens when this is being done on such a routine basis?  It falls apart.  Children are taken from families that are lied to about what adoption means and where there child is going.  Children are taken from families that don't knowingly consent to them being adopted internationally.  Children are taken from families and then the same families are coerced and threatened when they question where their children went.  (All of these actions would be called "child trafficking" in any other developed country but the U.S.A.  The U.S. doesn't believe that the definition of child trafficking includes those children bought or taken for international adoption.)  Siblings are split apart.  When siblings are split apart more money is collected overall.  Children are referred to one agency or organization and then referred instead to another one because they can get two referral fees or the other agency gives them more money.

For orphanages and government organizations like social services that do not have a lot of funds and support, the money that funnels in because of international adoption becomes the way they support the children.  Even those that don't have nefarious motives, this regular income must be sustained if they are to support their work, their own families, and keep themselves afloat.  And often those that are accepting funds on a regular basis from the organizations and agencies are the ones doing the consenting and counseling of birth parents.  Even those that may be doing this with the best motives, if they or the orphanage they support (if their livelihood) is dependent (or partly dependent) on those same donations then it puts pressure on that person to find children for international adoption.  So, even those with the best motives need to continue to find children for adoption.

So, what should we do?  Stop paying the money!  Again, we can blame the on ground staff, we can blame the problems in the government of DRC, we can blame our agencies and organizations (all are culpable in this problem, some more than others), but in the end where we can actually make change happen is with us.  We are the ones that fund the whole system.  We send our $30,000 or more to the agencies and organizations.  We send our $500/month to the orphanages or care homes.  We pay child finder fees.  We pay referral fees and social services fees and humanitarian donations to those that are finding or providing the children to be referred.

We put pressure on a weak system (please see this post) where there is nothing in place to protect vulnerable children from exploitation.

Do something about it.  You can make a difference.  Don't accept any new referrals from DRC until reform happens on the ground that can protect children from exploitation.   I assume no one wants to adopt a trafficked child.  Demand accountability from your agency and organization now.  Do an investigation.  Ask hard questions. Find out how your money is being used on the ground.  Don't give up.  Don't be intimidated.  Contact a lawyer if you need representation.  Speak out.  Don't be silent. All of us say we want to help orphans in DRC.  So, help orphans in DRC.  Protect them from becoming commodities in international adoption.  Protect vulnerable mothers who are preyed upon because their children are valuable to on ground staff.  Stand up for those that more powerless and have no one to protect them.  Do the right thing.

"Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless.  
Not to speak, is to speak.  Not to act, is to act."  Dietrich Bonhoeffer 


What is happening in DRC by agencies and organizations facilitating adoption is not what should be happening and is clearly not what is uniformly the accepted practices to ensure ethical and corruption free adoptions.  For further reading:

Children's Act Uganda.  Part VII:  "The applicant or any person on behalf of the applicant has not paid or agreed to pay money or anything in place of money to the parent, guardian or any person in charge of the child in consideration of the adoption of the child."  What is interesting about this is the Children's Act is very easily found on line and is publicly accessible, yet similar to DRC, most agencies, lawyers, orphanages, and APs also are perpetuating a cycle of fueling a system which makes a pipeline creating commodities from children for international adoption. 

A great series of posts about ethics in IA.  Grab a cup of tea and start here.


Carlee said...

Claudia's posts on adoption ethics are great -- but the issue with adoption ethics is that APs almost invariably find ethics important to them AFTER their new kid (or kids) are home safe and sound. Only then does the AP insist "I'd never adopt from [that country where trafficking kids into adoption has been well-documented since 2009] today! Too much nasty corruption!"... despite the fact that their adopted kids came home in 2012.

The problem is that fundamentally PAPs do NOT care about ethics in adoption. They so desperately want a child that it is virtually impossible to save them from themselves.

Carlee said...

An excellent example is Mary McBride of, who:

- discovered that some of the paperwork/history was falsified when she adopted her first girl from Ethiopia circa 2010
- was horrified by the lies, did some checking and claims to have determined her girl Z was not trafficked and breathed a great big sigh of relief.
- decided to adopt a SECOND child from Ethiopia anyways, as she knew what to look for to ensure the kid wasn't trafficked.
- brought little E, her 2nd Ethiopian girl, home in early 2012. (To be fair, E was born with a special need that would be difficult but not impossible to treat in Ethiopia; her bioparents allegedly relinquished her for that reason).

Mary is now all about adoption ethics. Encouraging other APs to not contribute to fraud/corruption, supportive of shutting down adoptions from Ethiopia BECAUSE her girls are home.

Heck, Mary writes beautiful blog posts about adoption ethics, along with justifications regarding why she felt it was acceptable to RETURN to adopt a SECOND Ethiopian child, despite the corruption:

Mary McBride and her husband are huge hypocrites. They pay lip service to adoption ethics, but did not actually EMBRACE adoption ethics until they got E home.

If they TRULY cared about ethics, they would NOT have adopted E. Period. It's inexcusable. And awful. The saddest thing? Mary really, truly believes she did NOTHING wrong.

Anonymous said...

Hi Carlee, I agree with many of your points. If we are going to talk about ethics in IA, than our actions better reflect those same beliefs. I can't speak to the case you are talking about because I don't know the specifics at all of that adoption. I feel like it may be appropriate for her to address some of the concerns you are sharing though (maybe you have brought them up to her already?).

I would love it if all APs and PAPs found adoption ethics important before adoption, but most trust the words of their agencies or organizations completely. I wish I had known everything I know now. We were fortunate we were living in country as we adopted, that made all the difference. (And we did walk away from one adoption because of corruption concerns).

I completely respect APs who open up publicly about their adoptions (or the ethical concerns they have about adoption from their country), even if it is after they come home. I find them particularly gutsy. The ones that say, "we didn't know, we should have known, we should have fought to keep our child with her family, we would have done it differently, we were wrong. Please, please don't make the same mistakes we did". It would be worse to stay silent I think than to admit the wrong and try to made amends. I feel like that is really hard. To admit the wrongdoing and then try to share to help others not make the same bad decisions. But even braver are those PAPs (and this is where I may disagree with you) who do fundamentally care about ethics in adoption, find themselves in an unethical situation and walk away. Some even walk away AND publicly share. Those parents are my heroes because they face criticism from not only the adoptive community but also from agencies. I can think of three families right now quickly in DRC that walked away from referrals or mid process because of concerns, then spoke out publicly against their agency or the on-ground contacts, and then tried to help reunite the kids with their families. Holly

Carlee said...

THOSE families are indeed amazing.

Anonymous said...

One of the things I can't understand is how many families have no problem blasting the Congolese government/social services for being unable to care for Congolese children...yet they have NO problem accepting the government's designation of a child as adoptable. We're to believe that the very same social services that is too incompetent or corrupt to care for these children is somehow NOT corrupt or incompetent when it comes to investigating the status of the same children? It doesn't compute. But too many people only see what they WANT to see when it comes to adoption, and they completely ignore any potential red flags. Child finder fees are clearly unethical -- you're paying for a child! -- yet pretty large fees are commonplace in Congo. Those fees are typically far more than a typical Congolese person could make in a year -- what incentive are you creating when you're paying a fee that high for each child "found." And nobody seems to be questioning them or things like a baby being referred just hours after he or she was found. How could anyone possibly have confirmed orphan status within a few hours of this child being located? Orphanage donations may seem more innocuous, but when you break it down
Like you, however, I'm amazed at the families who have stopped the adoption process and come forward. Bravo to them!

findingmagnolia said...

Hi, it's Mary McBride of I'm not sure why Carlee came here to comment on our family, but if any of the rest of you would like to know more about our family or what we believe about international adoption, specifically from Ethiopia, you are welcome to come to our blog and read a bit more. I recently posted my thoughts and a video of my oldest daughter, who is an Ethiopian adoptee and remembers her past, sharing hers. Some of what Carlee has asserted here is erroneous, and so I invite you to read for yourselves:

You can also email me directly if you have further questions or concerns or would like to dialogue about this. There is a link in our sidebar that will allow you to email me.

Carlee, I am fairly certain that you have decided that my family is wrong, and that no explanation or pointing other things I have written will change that. We did care about ethics before we adopted. We cared deeply. We had no idea how widespread that corruption was, and even up until last fall didn't know the worst of it. We were wrong, and I am sorry for the ways in which we were complicit in a system that made adoption the easy answer to a child welfare issue instead of truly helping families. I have said this publicly before, but there it is again. We were wrong. We are sorry. But what we are not sorry for is Elvie's adoption. I would do it all over again, right now. I don't believe that any child should be sacrificed for the well-being of another. I think we should do right by all of them. That, to me, is true ethical adoption.

Amanda said...

Thanks Holly for your brave post. One thing I think about a lot is how most of us accept the fees and payments for adoption made to everyone EXCEPT the birthmom. While I don't advocate for paying moms for children, it seems silly that we often take the position that SO LONG as the mom isn't paid, everything else is ok.

The hard part for us as APs or PAPs is the heartstrings manipulation that I believe churches, other parents, and especially agencies use. There's this pressure once you've accepted a referral that you must support YOUR kid(s). We feel that guilt/manipulation and then agree to pay anything because we can't let OUR kids starve, etc. But we need to hold strong against those feelings and make rational decisions.

Rose mark said...
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