Sunday, April 13, 2014

Please take the time to read these two posts today.

The following two posts were written by a woman working in Uganda (Abide Family Center-check it out!).  Though they are written from the perspective of Uganda, they could have been written for DRC.  I felt like the words could have been my own (and I think if you have read my blog over the years, all of this will sound familiar as it relates to DRC).  Please read with an open heart and mind.  I have seen the same things they are warning about in DRC and most people that have been in the field in DRC have seen the same things. 

Post One:  Shattered Families (Below is a small excerpt; please go read the entire post, it is very important.)

We’re the ones who have watched grandmothers sob when told their child is now in America.
We’re the one who have seen falsified documents with our own eyes. Documents that claim this parent is dead when they’re standing right in front of us.
We’re the ones who have sat with adoptive parents and begged, begged them, to reconsider. Because those children? Their mom is right outside and she says she wants her babies back.
We’re the ones who have seen an aunt pick her niece up from the orphanage after she was kidnapped and the orphanage was told she was a cut and dry abandonment case. The little girl was on the list to be adopted, and now she’s home with the aunt who searched for months to find her.
We’re the ones who have seen fathers cry with joy when reunited with their children who got lost in the system. Children who were already matched with an American family.
We’re the ones who have sat across from a mother who says, “I would have kept my baby if someone, anyone, had offered to help me keep her. I was just too poor”
We’ve seen children stolen and birth families coerced and money exchange hands and false documents written up. We’ve seen it with our own eyes. 
More here.  

Post Two:  I Propose (Below is a small excerpt; please go read the entire post, it is well worth your time).  More here.  

7. Stop letting poverty be a good enough reason for international adoption. I can’t tell you how many times i’ve heard people justify their international adoptions with “but the mom was just really poor”. Did you ever think to ask whether the mom was ever offered any assistance to keep her children? It’s not an ethical adoption if the birth family was never given another option. Let your kids starve or relinquish your rights? That’s not an option. Let’s support birth families who love their kids so they can keep their children instead of giving them up.More here

I'll leave with this quote from the same posts: 
"We owe it to the kids and the shattered families to speak out. To stop only telling certain stories, the stories we like hearing. We owe it to them to dispel this myth that adoption corruption is really rare so we should just stop talking about it [because, I so wish it wasn't true, but it is far from rare].
To be responsible and honest in our attempts to care for the children in our world we have to fight the hard fight of shifting through the layers of corruption and deceit to find the truth. It’s hard and it’s messy and it’s not very fun…. but these children and these families? They’re worth it."

Saturday, April 5, 2014

An open letter to Both Ends Burning

 First, a note to my friends:  It is very possible that the number of my friends in the DRC adoption world will dwindle even further after this post.  All I can say is that I have been praying and thinking about the words to write that would reflect why my heart has been unsettled for the past few days.  Often my posts are ones that I write after I feel God leading or gently pushing me forward to speak.  I often ask for His grace in the words on my blog, for His heart of compassion, love, and justice.  This post is not to attack you (my DRC adoptive parent friends) or the children you hope to adopt.  I'm not sure what I would do if I were in your shoes and my child had a visa and couldn't leave the country.  When that happened to us and we had to wait a year, at least we were in DRC and our kids were living with us.  So, I pass no judgment and understand the reasons behind wanting to do something that might help your kids come home.  And I hope that this petition does help your kids come home because I know that many of you have done everything you can to make sure your adoption is an ethical one (including hiring private investigators and demanding transparency), and my heart breaks with you over your adopted children in DRC.  Even though you might not hear it, this post is for those children and all the other vulnerable children and their families (both birth and adoptive) that are caught up in the quagmire that has become international adoption in DRC.  

If you're reading this, you probably know that social media in the DRC adoption community has been ablaze with news of the Both Ends Burning (BEB)'s petition to the United States government to pressure the Congolese government into ending the suspension on the issuance of exit letters. Adoptive parents are changing their profile pictures to one that says their child(ren) are "stuck" in DRC, sharing the petition, joining the "DRC Pipeline Families" through BEB and making memes using pictures of their adopted children. 

If you do decide to join the DRC Pipeline Families information form it might behoove you to ask some important questions of the BEB campaign before you give away private information about your family and your adopted child.  Ask questions about how your information will be used.  Make sure you know how the advocacy organizations will use that information for their campaigns.  Make sure they sign a privacy agreement.  Make sure you are aware of the ways your information may be used to further other campaigns (like CHIFF).  Learn about the legislation that BEB supports.  Research and look into what the goals of each organization are as it relates to the stakeholders and supporters.  In the midst of a hard and desperate time in your adoption in DRC, look closely that those that may use your heartache to their advantage to press their own agendas and goals.  

This post is about why I think this campaign may not be the right direction to take in trying to change DRC adoptions for the better.  There are now tens of thousands of voices lifted and crying for the children of U.S. adoptive parents.  There are a few voices that are whispering words of caution and concern.  I want to be one of those few voices, that likely will not be heard in the midst of the political advocacy that is currently happening by the Both Ends Burning campaign.  This is an open letter to the Both Ends Burning campaign which is asking our government to intervene on behalf of the children that are "stuck" (the word chosen by BEB for this campaign and also the name of the documentary film they promote describing the situations of some children that are being internationally adopted around the world) in DRC, a purported 500 children (led by Kelly Ensslin).  It would be relevant to first read the petition before reading the following letter.  The petition is named "Please help resolve the pending adoptions from Democratic Republic of Congo." 

Dear Both Ends Burning,

I have been watching the social media campaign that you have taken on through your work with Both Ends Burning to help the DRC adoptive parents who are in process.  I commend your compassion and passion which drives your desire to help those families that are affected by the DGM suspension and your overall mission of helping children find permanent families. 

I read the petition that will be sent to the United States government.  Compared to previous letter written for the BEB campaign about adoptions in DRC, this one was an improvement -- although it did make sweeping statements that are clearly inaccurate and potentially inflammatory.  For example, the petition states that the Department of State (DOS) has done nothing to advocate for the families that have delayed adoptions, and asks the President intercede to help the families hoping to bring their adopted children to the U.S. This statement is clearly inaccurate, as DOS has advocated for American adoptive families -- including sending delegations to DRC and bringing delegations of DRC leaders to the U.S. That is not "doing nothing." The petition also asks our government leaders to "speak publicly about [their] support for the American families and their children." This is another inaccuracy -- it should have read "speak publicly about [their] support for the American families and their Congolese children."  This is a very important point, that the children "stuck" in the process are still Congolese citizens, regardless of visa status. The Congolese government is already interceding in a situation involving their citizens--they are refusing to allow them to leave the country with their adoptive parents (American or otherwise -- the suspension has been applied to ALL international adoptive parents, not just Americans).

This brings me to the main reason why I am writing. I want to address the glaring omissions in a petition that has been signed by 75,000 (at the time of this writing) people.  These omissions relate to two important questions. First, why is the Congolese government interceding in such a drastic way in the lives of Congolese children who are being adopted by foreigners?  And second, how are we going to respond to their motivations for the suspension? Neither of these issues have been addressed in your petition.  Given that this petition was put forth by Both Ends Burning, it seems logical to conclude that the answer to the second question is found in the legislation you are supporting: CHIFF.

But let me not gloss over the importance of the first question.  Why has the Congolese government (via DGM, DRC immigration) suspended  the issuance of exit letters for internationally adopted Congolese children??  The most often quoted reason I see put forth by most of the supporters of BEB and CHIFF is that rehoming concerns in the U.S. is the reason for the suspension.  If that is the case, than why is the suspension applied to every foreigner adopting from DRC?  Why is it not limited to only the U.S.?  I believe the suspension has less to do with rehoming issues than it has to do with issues around power, corruption, and the practices of in-country staff of foreign agencies and organizations that facilitate adoptions in DRC.  If you have followed media reports coming out of DRC over the past four years regarding adoption (for example, through Radio Okapi), you will have read reports of child trafficking, orphanage raids, and illegal border crossings.  If you have followed individual stories of adoption in DRC (via blogs and stories in the U.S. media from adoptive parents), you will have learned of falsification of documents, DGM bribing, siblings spilt apart, lost referrals (only to have them referred to other agencies), abuse of children in orphanages, false abandonment reports, coercion of birth parents to relinquish children, and high foster care fees without documented expenses (average of $500/month/child), monthly orphanage donations (average of $300/month/child), and child finder fees/social service referral fees (average of $1000-1500 per referral).  If you have followed the embassy announcements and update calls of the past 2-3 years, you will also have found concerns of corruption, false documents, bribery, illegal border crossings, and backdated court documents. All of this information is publicly available, and all of it paints a very clear picture of endemic corruption and fraud in the international adoption business in DRC. 

Given these are the actual reasons underlying the suspension, what is the proper response? The petition suggest three responses: (1) ask Secretary of State Kerry to help in resolving the issue; (2) send a letter to President Kabila (the DRC president) and Prime Minister Ponyo to intercede; and (3) speak publicly of [their] support of the adoptive families.  And yet there is not a single acknowledgement that there are real ethical concerns and problems with corruption in DRC adoptions.  There is not a single statement or request in the petition that tries to address this urgent concern and plain reality. There is not a single attempt made to address the very legitimate and real concerns of the Congolese government and its need to protect its citizens.  The failure to directly address these concerns in the petition leaves adoptive parents, the Congolese children, and birth families more vulnerable to exploitation by adoption agencies and on ground staff -- both of which profit from international adoption.  This omission  also implies that this corruption isn't of concern to the U.S. government.  To state it in another way: by not making the concerns of corruption and unethical adoption practices of utmost importance, we are implying that they are of no concern to the U.S.  And if you would suggest that CHIFF is the response the U.S. government should make to address these valid concerns in DRC, then please read my post (and the recommended readings that are at the end of the post as well as the comments) about why I feel CHIFF will fail to protect children in DRC from exploitation. 

I strongly feel that the petition you are pushing forward will lead to an outcome you do not desire: the plan will backfire and will only lead to increased suspensions and delays; ultimately leading to more pain for vulnerable children, their adoptive parents and birth families in DRC. My friends who are currently in process are counting on you and BEB: please don't disappoint them.  But even more than that, the vulnerable children and families in DRC need our protection and support.  Failing them would be an even greater travesty.  


Holly Mulford, concerned DRC adoptive parent

Addendum:  This post was written yesterday (April 5th, it is the morning here of April 6th because I'm in Tanzania).  As I went to publish it this morning it was brought to my attention that some of the stated goals of the BED campaign to help DRC adoptive families have changed.  I won't make this lengthy post even longer going into what the statements might mean.  Please ask about these changes and for clarification on what their wording actually means for ALL families adopting from DRC.  Again, it is important how your name and information will be used in their campaign.  Any changes should come with a call or letter to all the families involved explaining what the changes entail and mean.  Here are the new changes: 

"We would like Congress to request DRC consider three actions to help these children and their adoptive families while DRC’s government conducts its review.

1) Require the DGM to process and expedite adoptions for any child whose health is at risk.

2) Direct the DGM to honor its original commitment to process exit permit applications for the families that had been approved prior to September 25, 2013.

3) Provide the families who have received approval to adopt a Congolese child on or after September 25, with a means for obtaining exit permits."  (source)

Addendum 20 Sept. 2014.  If you are here because of the repost on facebook here is what I said:  I am a DRC adoptive parent. I will not be silent. And I haven't been silent over many years. 5 months ago I wrote the following post. From it I still stand my words I wrote then, "The failure to directly address these concerns [corruption and unethical behavior] in the petition leaves adoptive parents, the Congolese children, and birth families more vulnerable to exploitation by adoption agencies and on ground staff -- both of which profit from international adoption. This omission also implies that this corruption isn't of concern to the U.S. government. To state it in another way: by not making the concerns of corruption and unethical adoption practices of utmost importance, we are implying that they are of no concern to the U.S." When we stay silent in the face of corruption and illegal activity, we are complicit in it. When we stay silent in the face of injustice, we become part of those that are participating in that injustice. When we stay silent when DRC laws are broken (whether we agree with them or not), we allow it to continue and in staying silent we say "we don't care" and it implies we think we are above the law. Why would DRC allow adoptions to continue from the U.S. if that is what they hear from us? Staying silent is what will prevent children from coming home from DRC that need new families. Staying silent will only allow children to continue to be taken from their first families without their consent and knowledge and it will only allow children that do need new families to stay in DRC indefinitely. Do not stay silent. Speak out that you do not agree with the action of those that would try to smuggle their children out of the country over the past year. Or those that would take children from their birth families that love them. Or would give bribes in order to get DGM exit letters. Or would allow falsification of adoption documents. Do not stay silent. Do not try to hide wrong doing. It will only cause the country to shut down to adoptions. Speak out! Demand accountability from your agencies, from your friends, from your on ground contacts. Let your voice be heard, that you care. Fight for justice. If not for your child, then for every child that needs a family (whether that means reunification with their existing family or a new adoptive family). Our silence is action. And it is heard loud and clear.
Please also see this post for some excellent follow up comments on the above article.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

certian heart cries

There are some agonies and suffering that it is impossible to turn towards.  Perhaps this is one of them.  A parent desperately leaving their child.  The photos here and the small stories accompanying them are almost too hard to look at and too hard to read.  Certainly too hard to read without breaking.   Here:  Chinese parents abandon children at Guangzhou Baby Hatch

Two times have I witnessed family leaving their children, the moment of departure.  Once, I was working in my job with children many years ago.  A mother whispered to me she was planning on walking out because she couldn't take care of them anymore.  Walking out without her 4 and 6 year old daughters.  As she broke down she sobbed that she wanted to say goodbye.  And she asked me to call social service so they weren't left alone before she left.  

Another time I was in the mountains of eastern DRC.  It was one of the first visits of many to the orphanage (which we now support).  There was a family, a father and aunties.  Women sobbing as they held the newborn after recently saying goodbye to their sister, the mother of the baby.  A father bent and hidden in pain.  A desperate act to save a small life.  Their only hope.  They put the baby in a blue crib.  Alone.  And walked away. 

What if it could be different?  

What if instead of abandonment or relinquishment or adoption or foster care, there was a different kind of hope?  What if instead of rows of cribs in an orphanage, or social services arriving in a hospital and driving girls away in a taxi, or foster care for years, there was a different choice?  What if instead of giving away, of handing over, of letting go, there was holding and clutching and life giving care in the moment of crisis, of dire poverty, of hopelessness.  What if there was love and life and hope?

What if we committed to bridging the chasm that is ripped open when there are a no social safety nets or emergency family care or access to health care or a place to get formula or to shelter from a storm?  What if after a mother dies in birth, the church has the strength to come around the family and give them the help they need?  What if there is a center or an emergency home that offers a temporary place to rest, to learn, to gather strength and skills to face the storms of life again?  What if there is a community that would gather around a family so that a child is never left alone as a mother or father or auntie weeps in despair.  What if there is a place that helps vulnerable mothers during their pregnancies, birth and child rearing?  What if there is a way to never leave a child in a crib alone. 

What if we believed that we should help families stay together?  What if we believed that extreme poverty should never be a reason that children are separated from their families?  What if all our decisions were radical enough to embrace a family an ocean away and commit to them, to lay down our lives for them?  This is the Bible I read.  The words that inspire me.  The God that inspires me.  One that placed us in families, that gave us those to love us and care for us.  And then placed us in communities, so that in the broken, dark times of life, we know the love of God through the love of our sisters and brothers and we are never ever alone.

Here are three examples of programs that do just this: help families stay together.  Please check out their inspiring work.  There are many many more around the world.

Reunite Uganda
Abide Family Center
Heartline Ministries