Saturday, June 28, 2014

How to report problems with your agency or with your adoption in DRC.

There are many ways to report problems with your agency and your intercountry adoption in DRC.   Complaints can fall into seven general categories and it would be wise to consider sending complaints to all the different groups:

1)   The state licensing body for the agency.

Your agency’s licensing authority is most likely located in the state where the agency operates.  Sometimes, it is not the same states where the agency operates.  The licensing authority gives your agency the license to operate.  Visit this website to find the list of state licensing authorities: https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/reslist/rl_dsp.cfm?rs_id=15&rate_chno=AZ-0008E  Once you find out what state your agency is licensed in then contact that licensing authority to find out how to register a complaint with them. 


2)   The accrediting body for the agency. 

DOS has authorized COA (Council on Accreditation) as the accrediting entity for the U.S.  This is who gives your agency approval to operate a program in DRC (or any foreign country). Currently this applies to Hague, as of July 14, 2014, it will apply to all IA.  To find out if your agency is accredited visit this website: http://adoption.state.gov/hague_convention/agency_accreditation/agency_search.php  

Is your agency accredited?  Then report them here at the Hague Complaint Registry (HCR)*:  http://adoption.state.gov/hague_convention/agency_accreditation/complaints.php   


3)   The U.S. Department of State (DOS) 

When you file a complaint with the HCR, generally the complaint is also shared with DOS, Office of Children’s Issues (OCI).  It is best to provide DOS with a separate copy as well. ASKCI@state.gov

What if your agency in DRC is Non-Hague or pre-UAA** (grandfathered case)?  You can send a copy of your complaint to DOS/OCI via ASKCI@state.gov. 


4)   The U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa. 

The Kinshasa embassy is the embassy that approves visas for family adopting from DRC. Providing the Embassy with complaints about a certain ASP, attorney, children’s home or facilitator will enable the Embassy to more closely and thoroughly examine cases involving those person/entities and alert them to possible ethical/legal issues. 

Complaints can be mailed directly: 
U.S. Embassy Kinshasa/310, Avenue de Aviateurs/Kinshasa, Gombe/République Démocratique du Congo or emailed:  KinshasaAdoptions@state.gov

5)   U.S. Department of Justice 

       If your complaint involves the payments of bribes (any “expediting fee” or “motivation fee” and sometimes even a “processing fee” where there is no public document fee required), you may wish to contact the US Department of Justice in order to file a claim under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).  

By mail: U.S. Department of Justice/Criminal Division/Fraud Section/ATTN: FCPA, Coordinator/Bond Building, 4th Floor/10th and Constitution Ave. NW/Wasthington, DC 20530-0001
By fax: 202-514-7021

6)   The FBI. 

If your complaint involves suspected fraud on the part of the your Adoption Service Provider (payment of “expedited” fees, “motivational” fees, “processing” fees where there is no states expected authorized fee , exorbitant charges for foster care, suspected fraudulent documents, suspected trafficking or smuggling of children, misrepresentation of program details and viability), please contact the FBI at 202-324-3000, or online at https://tips.fbi.gov. 

7)   Local Authorities. 

If your complaint involves suspected fraud by your Adoption Service Provider, you may also want to contact local authorites, such as police departments and Attorney General’s Offices where your agency is located.  You can find contact information for AG offices here: http://www.naag.org/current-attorneys-general.php


Some final comments:

States license your agency with is your adoption service provider.  And they also license attorneys.  You can find the state licensing authority for each in your state above and contact them about registering a complaint. 

Complaints against a Hague accredited agency are also filed via the HCR (Hague Complaint Registry) on the DOS adoptions website (see above) and then forwarded to COA for investigation.  For adoptions that happen on foreign soil (intercountry adoption), COA is the Accrediting Entity for DOS for U.S. agencies. 

COA itself offers many types of accreditation for various welfare organizations, including private adoption services agencies.  These are different from Hague standards and only a few Hague Accredited agencies are also COA accredited.  So, if you agency is Hague Accredited, but not on this list: http://coanet.org/accreditation/who-is-accredited/organization-profiles/
then you only file via the HCR.  If an agency IS accredited both by Hague and by COA (if your agency’s name is on the list above) then you can use the “Complaints” section on the COA’s website. 

With regards to intercountry adoption, COA has very limited powers.  It can investigate alleged violations of Hague Accreditation Regulations.  If there is no alleged violation, they cannot investigate.  (see here for more information: http://regulations.justia.com/regulations/fedreg/2006/07/18/E6-11362.html)

*Before you file a complaint with the HCR (Hague Complaint Registry), you must first register the complaint with your agency via a formal grievance process UNLESS you have reason to believe doing so would endanger yourself or a child, in which case you may bypass, but must state this in your complaint.  If it is a 3rd party (i.e. someone other than a client of the agency), there is no reason to address first with agency.  The agency must respond to the complaint within 30 days.  A family can still complain to HCR if the agency does address the APs complaints through the formal grievance policy.  Agencies also must provide COA with reports about complaints that way COA can compare the report submitted by the agency.  If an AP/PAP has reasonable fear of retribution from their agency because they submitted a complaint they can include that in the complaint and use the HCR (you can do this via email copies as needed).  

According to the COA website, normal investigations by COA are completed within 12 months.  High priority cases which get investigated within 6 months include: allegations of child trafficking or child buying, allegations of imminent danger to a child, and/or complaints filed by a Federal, State, or local government official or a Foreign Central Authority or official. 

Get specifics from here:  coanet.org/programs/hague-accreditation-and-approval/monitoring-and-oversight/
 
Questions about their investigation process can be sent here: haguecompliance@coanet.org

**The Universal Accreditation Act (UAA) of 2012 comes into effect on July 14, 2014.  This law means that all agencies that work overseas must be Hague accredited or approved.  You can find more information about this law here:  http://adoption.state.gov/adoption_process/faqs/uaa_2012.php 

A huge thank you to Gina Murphy Pollock who helped to write and edit large portions of this post.  Thank you, Gina! 

Friday, June 27, 2014

OWAS 90-day Hague accreditation suspension - substantiated complaints and adverse actions.

OWAS (One World Adoption Services) recently had their COA accreditation suspended for 90 days (as of 6/25/14).   They have been facilitating adoptions in DRC.  Below is the information about the complaints that were substantiated and for which action was taken against OWAS.  The link to the original report (which all information found in this post was found) can be found here:  http://coanet.org/programs/hague-accreditation-and-approval/monitoring-and-oversight/.  Then, follow link at bottom to the report: Substantiated Complaints and Adverse Actions.  Lots of concerning behaviors here which I believe are widespread throughout agencies and organizations which facilitate adoptions in DRC, especially referrals being given before investigations and proper documentation are completed and money given to motivate government officials.  It is encouraging that action can be taken against agencies that are acting unethically in DRC. 



Complaint filed 2/23/13

Money requested by agency's in-country attorney that was meant to "motivate public officials to act on the complainant's behalf acknowledging that it was common in the Democratic Republic of Congo to pay to get anything done."  No abandonment report before referral.  Abandonment reported to official 5 months after arrival to orphanage.   


Nature of the Substantiated Violations:
96.35(a) An agency employee forwarded a
prospective adoptive parent a request from the agency’s in- country attorney to send $2000 in order to motivate public officials to act on the complainant’s behalf acknowledging that it was common in the Democratic Republic of Congo to pay to get anything done. Forwarding the request for money and condoning payment of money to bring about a likely favorable outcome constitutes egregious unethical conduct. 

96.35(a) ) The agency represented to a prospective adoptive family that the child they were referred was eligible for intercountry adoption. However, the agency failed to obtain the Certificate of Abandonment
prior to the referral. Additionally, the child arrived at the orphanage reportedly having been abandoned, but the abandonment was not reported to the authorities for approximately five (5) months, thus failing to determine if there were family members willing to care for the child. The agency’s failure to obtain the proper relinquishment documentation prior to the referral and to report the “abandonment” in a timely manner constitutes egregious unethical conduct and is not in the best interests of children.



Complaint filed 2/14/14

Agency employee providing documentation believed to contain false information knowing it would be submitted to a governmental office.  Agency made accepting complaints challenging.  Agency issued referral before obtaining Certificate of Indigence or Parental Authorization.  "The agency's failure to obtain the proper relinquishment documentation prior to referral constitutes egregious unethical conduct and is not in the best interests of children"


Nature of the Substantiated Violations:
96.35(a) An agency employee provided the prospective adoptive parent a Certificate of Indigence which she believed contained false information knowing the document would be submitted to a governmental office for official use. This conduct constitutes egregious unethical conduct.

96.41(b) & 96.41(c) The agency failed to accept the complainant’s complaint because it was not written on its official form. Requirements that limit a complainant’s ability to make formal complaints violate the regulations. Additionally, the agency failed to advise the complainants to resubmit their complaint expressly stating the connection to the Convention, IAA, or regulations and to respond to the complaint within 30 days.
96.35(a) The agency represented to a prospective adoptive family that the children they were referred were eligible for intercountry adoption. However, the agency failed to obtain the Certificate of Indigence or Parental Authorization prior to issuing a referral. The agency’s failure to obtain the proper relinquishment documentation prior to the referral constitutes egregious unethical conduct and is not in the best interests of children.


Complaint filed 4/16/2012

No official documentation provided regarding abandonment or relinquishment BEFORE referral "constitutes egregious unethical conduct and is not in the best interests of children".  

Nature of the Substantiated Violations:
96. 35 (a) The agency represented to a prospective adoptive family that the children they were referred were eligible for intercountry adoption. However, prior to the referral, the agency failed to obtain official
documentation evidencing a birthparent’s relinquishment or abandonment or documentation that the guardian had legal custody and could relinquish the children for adoption. The agency’s failure to obtain the proper relinquishment documentation prior to the referral constitutes egregious unethical conduct and is not in the best interests of children. 
Addendum July 28, 2014:  OWAS had their Hague accreditation suspended for 90 days. They have never been COA accredited. The title has been changed to reflect this.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Visiting school children on the high plateau in eastern DRC. We love our work!

Over the past couple of days, I have been receiving field notes from our Reeds of Hope manager from his recent trip to visit the school children we support.  The children we support attend a total of 31 schools spread all over the territory.  All the children have lost either their mother or father (most have lost their mothers).  They used to live in the orphanage as babies and now live with their families.  Some are in very remote locations in the mountains of eastern DRC (South Kivu); there are areas in the high plateaus that are 1600 meters high (almost one mile).  Here are some of his recent notes from his trip.  Thankfully he is now home safe with his family.

The other day I went up to the high plateau which is very high up in the mountains.  The road was very steep and very rough.  I had a difficult time getting up there on the motorcycle and the climb was very hard on the the motorcycle.  Because of the strain of the ride, as I was coming down the chain broke and damaged the engine.  There was no reception and no one around.  I had to leave the motorcycle and go look for people to help.  I finally found two people who helped me push the motorcycle to Kaziba.  We had a very difficult time pushing the motorcycle up the hills but very thankful that we made it to Kaziba.






 
This part of the trip was to visit these two students, brother and sister! They were worth it!


Our manager is doing an incredible job working to visit these children and get glimpses into their lives and stories.  Many are living in extreme poverty and we are thankful we can help their families send them to school.  We are so proud of their tenacity and courage! They have indomitable spirits.  Here are photos from another part of the journey to visit another student at another school. 





Beautiful!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Follow up part 2--working with orphanages: financial accountability and transparency (and leadership)

In my previous post I mentioned that I thought that there should have been a part six on the checklist --a guide to working with orphanages.   Part six on the guideline should have involved financial transparency and accountability along with leadership.   Without financial integrity and accountability in place, it is almost impossible to work with integrity. 

Here are some suggested questions to ask when you are partnering with an orphanage:

1) Are the finances and overall budget of the orphanage accessible and provided to all the donors (or any potential donor that asks)?  (This is not just of your giving, but all the giving of all donors to the orphanage along with budgeted needs that were met and not met.)

2)  Are there yearly audits done of the orphanages finances and are the results of the audit shared with all the donors?

3)  Do the financial needs of the orphanage align with the stated mission and also with the other five essential areas?  (See this post). 

4)  Is there a financial officer or financial oversight within the leadership of the orphanage?

5)  Is the gatekeeper to all donations and financial needs the director of the orphanage?  And is there any oversight for this gatekeeper?

6) Beyond getting receipts of your donations, do you have follow up at the orphanage to ensure that the donations you gave are being used for their intended purposes?

7)  Do you have an independent manager that purchases donations (or gives the money) and verifies they are being used appropriately on a regular basis?   Do you have checks and balances in place for all the many people that are a part of handling the finances?  Or is all your money given directly to the orphanage staff with no other oversight or follow up? 


You might read this list of questions and wonder why I didn't add the question: "Are you given regular receipts of purchases?"  While this is an excellent question, I would also suggest that it cannot be asked in isolation.  If you are given receipts of your donations, how do you know another donor isn't given the same receipts to verify the donations they have given (double giving)?  Also, how do you know that your donations were not sold for personal gain after they were given? 

What if you work with an orphanage and your answer is "no" to many of these questions? Should you continue to give donations to this orphanage?  What if you find yourself relying on Google searches to learn of other donors and donations to the orphanage you support?  What if you find that other donors are giving similarly to your donations?  How do you assure your own donors that you have integrity within your organization?  These are all hard questions that demand answers because the children in the care of the orphanage are the ones that suffer when the finances of the orphanage are not managed with integrity.

****

Another important part of finances and overall accountability is good working relationships with the leadership of the orphanage.  This is essential.  Without a good working relationship with the leadership of the orphanage, it's almost impossible to operate with integrity. 

You might ask how would you ascertain who to talk to that is in leadership over the orphanage.

First, find out the founder of the orphanage.  Then set up a meeting with the founder.  Learn the history of the orphanage and the giving, mission, and future.  Find out where there are gaps in funding and what they see as needs.  An example of this is the orphanage we support.  The Kaziba orphanage was founded by  Norwegian missionaries over 50 years ago.   Mothers were dying in birth at the local hospital and newborns shortly after.  They started giving formula to the newborns.  We met early on with the missionary that worked with Kaziba and maintain a good working relationship. 

Second, talk with the functional leaders of the orphanage.  After the missionaries took over eventually leadership was handed over to the Congolese church, CELPA.  CELPA and the Norwegians still work together and there is a missionary presence on the ground.  CELPA has a Legal Representative (LR) that is like a CEO that oversees all it's work.  Early on, when I first started working with the orphanage I met with the current LR to work on a contract.  I try to do this at least once a year, have a face to face meeting with the current LR about our work and mission.  It is also important to maintain this relationship because often there are internal politics that can affect the orphanage and how it is run. 

Third, talk with the commune or community leaders, both government leaders and traditional leaders.   In the area we work there are both traditional and government leaders.  There is a lot of fascinating history around traditional kings in DRC.  In some areas they have more power than others.  From early in our history of working with Kaziba, we have had a relationship with the acting king (who at the time was a woman).  She introduced me originally to Kaziba and has always given us good advice as to how to direct our work and the needs of the territory of Kaziba. 

Please add your thoughts in the comments and add more ways that you believe would add to the integrity of working with an orphanage.


The children like little A. here are the ones that are hurt the most by not making sure our work isn't done with the utmost integrity, accountability and transparency.  They are worth all our best efforts. 


Friday, June 6, 2014

Follow up part 1--thoughts about working with orphanages

Do you work with an orphanage in DRC?  I came across this checklist created by ACC International Missions, and posted by the Alternative Care Uganda facebook forum the other day.  I think it is an excellent way to evaluate whether or not you should be supporting the orphanage and also give guidelines for reform.  Here is a quote from the introduction:

When vulnerable children in need of support are identified, orphanages should not be the first and only support offered to families and/or children in crisis. All attempts should be made to ensure children can stay with their families or in a substitute family before they are placed in an orphanage.
Orphanages should be a last resort and temporary measure until a family placement can be secured or a child is able to return to their biological family. Using orphanages as a long-term solution can detrimentally affect children therefore should be avoided.
Families should be offered support services to ensure they can fulfill their function as the primary carers of children. Children should never be removed from their families due to poverty, but resources should be directed towards assisting the family and preserving the family unit.
The checklist covers five different areas including:   Legal Registration, Preserving Families, Standards of Care, Participating in Community Life, and Child Rights.  Here are a few of the questions from the "Preserving Families" section:  "Is the orphanage actively trying to trace family members and reunify families that have been separated?"  "Does the orphanage have a clear registration policy to ensure children are actively being reintegrated into families and only kept in residential for as short a time as possible?" "Is the orphanage director ensuring that children are not placed in orphanages due to poverty, but that families are able to access the support they need to raise their own children?"  There are other excellent questions on the checklist. I will be writing one more post about this checklist and the sixth area that I believe is missing on it: financial accountability. 

Right now there are 46 children living at Kaziba, most are babies and toddlers.  Since March 27 there have been 4 deaths at the orphanage.  If they hadn't died that would make 50 children living at the orphanage.  There are 5 mamas one per shift during the day right now; there are less overnight (maybe 2).  That means the ratio is 1 mama per 10 children on good days, and at night there is minimal coverage.  And remember there is a big number of babies.   Children with known family members.

Let's put this in perspective.  Do all the children that live at Kaziba need to be living at Kaziba if most have known and living family members that given a little support could be caring for their children?  (As an example, there is a baby home here where I live in TZ that has newborns living in their homes and fathers or other family members coming to get formula weekly for the newborn while at the same time getting trainings on safe formula preparation, parenting, and well baby checks.)  Could the ratio be less?  What is the barrier?  Time, staffing, and resources.  Family preservation/reunification projects take time and resources.  And dedicated staff that are trained. And collaboration of all partners with a passion for a shared vision of seeing children that will never be adopted back with their families.  It can be done.  Look at other programs I have highlighted through Africa that run programs like this (found on this page).

Am I angry?  Yes, but I think being angry is a good thing if it is directed at exposing injustices that are done and when it galvanizes us towards putting better policies in place that put the best interest of children (their right to live with their families) forward.

After my last post, I've had some interesting discussions with friends about international adoption and it's role in orphanages.  I often have to defend whether or not I believe in international adoption.  As I have said many times, I do believe in adoption and I also believe it needs reforming.  There are children at the Kaziba orphanage that may need adoption at some point because family reunification may be an impossibility.  My argument continues to be that the priority needs to be family preservation (following the alternative care framework) while providing short term high quality care for newborns that are left at the orphanage.  The priority is placed on family preservation, reunification and support.  Remember that most of the children at Kaziba have families that are taking care of the older siblings of the babies and most leave their babies temporarily in a time of crisis when the mother dies.  And that if the mother had lived, the child would not have been left in the orphanage!  Often the extreme poverty of the family makes it almost impossible to care for the newborn. 

If international adoption is the answer for some children to find families at the Kaziba orphanage then it should only be after all efforts at family reunification and preservation have been made.  When all those efforts have been exhausted then domestic adoption should be considered (and it is done in eastern DRC).  If a domestic situation cannot be found, then international adoption could be considered, but only done by an independent panel (ultimately a central authority) that is staffed by community leaders, church leaders, and social services.  International adoption should not be the role of the director of the orphanage.

And as always, I currently do not believe that international adoption in DRC should be pursued. As any reader of my blog knows, I believe there are not enough safeguards in place to protect children from exploitation due to corruption and unethical behavior by on-ground agency staff and others that are involved in the adoption process.  Please see DRC Adoption Posts for all the post that I have written on this topic as well as posts written by others.  There needs to be extensive reform in the process/infrastructure/support/laws and systems before international adoption should be pursed in DRC. 


One of the babies that currently lives at the orphanage. 




Thursday, June 5, 2014

Can family preservation programs and international adoption coexist at the same orphanage?

In loving memory of Abeli, Mwamini, and Maria.
(This post was first written last night).
Tonight I received a text from Reeds of Hopes manager in eastern DRC.  As I previously noted, he is traveling all over Eastern Congo to visit the school children supported by our program.  Some live in very remote locations that can only be reached by moto and/or by foot.  He is very committed to visiting these children and has been very moved by their stories, struggles and strength.  Earlier today he sent a text to say that he had had trouble with the moto, but had been helped by some men in one of the villages and was hoping to make it back to the orphanage today.  I waited anxiously to hear that he had arrived safely back at the orphanage.  When I finally heard from him, his text message was devastatingly straightforward:  "Today is not a good day for us because this morning Abeli died." Another baby had died at the orphanage.
Three babies over the past 3 1/2 weeks.
I am left wondering what to share, and what words to say.  These three children they mattered.  Their lives mattered. Every one of them was loved and wanted.  Every one of them was precious in the eyes of God and to their families and those that cared for them.  I loved these babies. I knew their faces and their names.  I have met some of them. 
 

This news forces me to ask some hard questions and to do some soul searching.  The babies at the orphanage are loved and not just by me or by the staff, but by their families.  They deserve our best efforts to keep them safe and healthy.  But the simple reality is that we don't run this orphanage.  We support it and help to fund it, but we have been prevented from doing much of the family reunification/support work we would like to do.  We have been able to work on making sure there is enough formula every month and hiring extra staff to care for the babies.  We work closely with the lead donor and founder, but otherwise we do not have a collaborative relationship with the other main donor.  

The orphanage is in Kaziba, a remote area in the mountains of eastern DRC.  It is removed from much of the insecurity that plagues other areas of eastern DRC.   Almost all of the children have living and known fathers, most of whom are extremely poor.  They all have lost their mothers.  Most of their families are from remote villages, and if they are employed at all, they work as farmers and miners. These fathers are desperate when they bring their babies to the orphanage, hoping that although their wives have died, their babies will not.  Almost all of these babies have siblings that live at home with their fathers or other family members.  The children have to leave the orphanage by 5-7 years old, though most have left before then to be reunited with their families.
Because they have families that intend to return for them when they leave them in the orphanages care, most of these babies are not eligible to be internationally adopted.  The Kaziba orphanage's role is the same as most of orphanages across Africa: to be a temporary place for families in desperate situations in a country where there are no safety nets to prevent families from falling apart when tragedy strikes. 
Tonight, the deaths of these three babies weigh heavily on my heart because I feel partially to blame for their deaths. Please bear with me here while I try to explain.  Just over four years ago, I visited the Kaziba orphanage for the first time.  I met the director and he immediately struck me as man that loved the children under his care.  He took meticulous care of them and worked well with the little resources he had.  They were in desperate need of support because they didn't have enough formula or resources and the children were starving and severely developmentally delayed.  We met those immediate needs, but instead sitting down and meeting with the families of the children in the orphanage, I suggested that he think about international adoption so they wouldn't be left in the orphanage.  I didn't even begin to consider that maybe they had families that loved them and wanted them.*  I share this part of my story here.   
Since that time, I have learned a lot about family reunification work.  As a result, I have stopped facilitating or helping directly with adoptions and I have advocated for a change of focus.   Instead of international adoption as a first resort, the focus should be on quality short-term emergency care with family preservation as the priority.  But through this process, I have learned something: its incredibly hard to move the focus away from international adoption when it is embedded in an orphanage.  Family support and reunification isn't well understood by most traditional aid organizations, and it can be complicated.  It requires a deep commitment to family preservation and the inherent dignity of all families in DRC.  It demands deep respect for Congolese fathers and their families.
It is much easier to fundraise for adoptions than for family support and reunification work (following the alternative care model) despite it being the right decision for most of the children.   At times,  I struggle with anger towards international adoption.  It seems that it takes away attention from those left in the orphanage the kids who wont be adopted.  The director's time is often consumed by all the needs of international adoptions: obtaining consents and proper documents, counseling birth families, escorting children and birth parents across the country, traveling internationally to visit adoptive families, and helping to fundraise for the organizations that facilitate adoptions.  These are important roles of the person who works as an adoption facilitator, but it raises some important questions.  Should this role be filled by the director of the orphanage himself whose actual job is the direct care of the children living in the orphanage?  Should someone that isnt in charge of the care of the orphanage perhaps fill this role?  Does this time-consuming work detract from spending time with birth families of the children that live in the orphanage and working towards getting the children home sooner?  Does this time spent away from the orphanage decrease the care of the children that are left living in the orphanage? 
I would argue that the children that live in the orphanage today need him more they need him the most.  And this is what international adoption can do at an orphanage if careful safeguards are not put into place: it takes the focus, drive, passion away from the children that need the most care and places it on the few that are to be adopted internationally, because international adoption consumes the resources and time of those that facilitate adoptions.  And maybe even more importantly, the money that comes to an orphanage (either through fees/compensation or donations of aid) with international adoption puts pressure on a fragile institution that combined with no safeguards to protect children from exploitation leave these same children even more vulnerable to abuse.  The director of an orphanage should never be in charge of facilitating adoptions; that role should be left for someone who isnt directly responsible for the daily care of the children.  I know that the director of the orphanage loves the kids who will not be adopted just as much as he loves those who will be or have been adopted.  He should not be forced to choose between caring for the children left in the orphanage and facilitating international adoptions.   Maybe these three children would have died even if the director had more time to be in the orphanage, overseeing their care.  But maybe they wouldn't have maybe they would have had more attention and focus and been treated earlier.  Maybe.  It's hard to know for sure, but these children deserve all of our efforts to prevent further deaths. 
What I do know for certain that over the past four years of our involvement at the orphanage, we have never had so many children die in such a short amount of time.  Any time this happens, we must ask hard questions and search our hearts.  
Where do I go from here?  I'm not sure, honestly.  We still don't run the orphanage. Unless there is clear agreement from all the different partners that donate to Kaziba, it is very difficult to move forward with a clear focus and cohesive plan.  If all parties don't strongly believe in quality short-term care focused on the end goal family reunification, then it is almost impossible to move forward together.  We can't all pull in different directions; the children will only suffer from such division. We have been in long discussions with some of the upper leadership of the orphanage to see if the vision and direction of Reeds of Hope still fits with the vision of the leadership of the orphanage.  We have been asking hard questions.  Ultimately, we must do right by the 46 babies and children that live every day at the Kaziba orphanage.  




Abeli

Abeli, sick most of his life and in the hospital, 11 months old here


Mwamini

Taken the week before she died, from malaria


Maria




*If you are interested in reading an excellent paper on the  human rights implications (and potential violations) of offering international adoption before (or even at the same time) family reunification, family support, family preservation and alternative care, please go here: Intercountry Adoption and Poverty:  A Human Rights Analysis.  
 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Please, investigate (voices of other DRC adoptive parents)

I have written a lot over the last few years about the importance of independently investigating the story of your adopted child in DRC while in process.  It is important because it helps verify the orphan status of the child and making sure your adoption is ethical and necessary.  And it may also reveal critical information about the child's family that gives your adopted child connection to their family in DRC.  I've talked a lot about this topic.  So, I thought I would let other DRC adoptive parents share their opinions about why an investigation is (or was) important to them. Here are their voices: 

We decided to do an independent investigation for a couple of reasons. There is a lot of money that circulates in adoption at all stages and we wanted to make sure that an investigator would review all these stages without any alliances. We also wanted to find out as much information about our children as we could. When we started we only had a few questions but we felt like we wanted to be able to tell them when they were older that we had done everything we could to get every detail we could. I think this is very important for adopted children since so many have little to no history given with adoption paperwork. We did our investigation mid-process because we wanted to know without any doubt everything that we could. We didn't want to feel like we had questions after they were home. Our investigation did discover some untruths, deceptions and lies and although that was difficult, it gave us the ability to make those thing right. We were able to meet a birth family we didn't know existed and form a relationship that could have been lost forever. I know many people are scared of this because they assume birth families mean trouble - that they want money or to manipulate an adoptive family. But to ignore or hide a birth family during an adoption process is not ethical. An independent investigation can reveal what a birth family was told and what their intentions are without interference from an agency or a lawyer whose intentions may be different. Many agencies offer their own investigations. Our did and the information they gave us was not correct at all. They are not investigators by trade. And it's not in their best interest to find details, especially if those would require document changes or birth families that were unknown before. There is a conflict of interest when a agency is performing the investigation even when you fully trust your agency. We are so glad we did an independent investigation because it allowed us to make some very tough decisions about how to proceed with our adoption, decisions that had we not made them would have been deter mental to our case and to our children's well-being. As an adoptive parent, you are truly the only one with the power to find this kind of information and then decide what to do with it for the best interest of the child. It's a responsibly all adoptive parents should take seriously. Anon., DRC adoptive parent

Though discouraged by my agency, I contacted an independent investigator for two reasons: 1) to make sure my adoption was ethical and that I had not unknowingly stolen someone's children, and 2) to get as much information about my kids' background as possible so that they would have that when they started asking questions. I tried to begin the investigation prior to adoption finalization, but the only investigator I knew of only did post-completion investigations at that time. The report we received was multiple pages long, highly detailed, and it was clear that the investigator and his team had thoroughly researched my children's background and adoption through many sources. I learned that my adoption was completely legitimate. I also learned all about my kids' background, why they were given up for adoption, all about where their family came from, and family names (including grandparents, aunts, and uncles). I even received pictures of remaining members of my children's birth family and was put in touch with their birth father! We now have an open dialogue with their father by email. I am able to send him updates and photos, as well as ask him background questions when they arise. We were even able to obtain birth records for my daughter through her father. This allowed us to correct her erroneous agency-provided birth date and place her in a more suitable grade at school. I could not be more thankful for our investigation. Anna, DRC adoptive parent

We recently completed an independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding our son's need for adoption. I went into it feeling convinced that they would not be able to find anything,  but knowing that I needed to at least try, for his sake. I wanted to be able to tell him that we had done everything we could to find out more of his history. 
We were amazed when we received a three page, highly detailed report about our son't birth family and the circumstances that led to his adoption, complete with photographs -- something I never imagined would happen for him. Through our investigator, we've been able to have continued contact with a birth relative -- and even to send her a photo album with pictures of our family. I am beyond grateful and am sure I don't need to explain what a treasure these are. While there weren't any ethical discrepancies that we learned of as a result of our adoption, we did learn much about his birth mom's life that was different from what we were initially told by our agency.
I asked many questions about our son's history and birth family while we were in process...but the answer I received was always the same: You'll just never know. This is Congo. 
I don't accept this anymore. 
My encouragement to adoptive parents is to recognize that they are not powerless. Independent investigations provide you not only with a chance to learn more about (and possibly connect with!) birth family, but also a chance to make sure that you are indeed adopting a child who truly needs a family -- and not playing a role in child trafficking. I truly believe that this is part of our responsibility as adoptive parents. Carly, DRC Adoptive Parent

I decided to have an independent investigation done on my daughter's adoption. Her paperwork from Congo was very vague and I was hoping for more information. With one trip to her orphanage, the investigator learned that her abandonment report had been falsified and she had living birth family in a village in Bas-Congo province. I was able to have the investigator locate her birth father. While he was happy that she had been adopted, I wish I had done an investigation during the process so that her birth father would have known she had been referred for adoption and had the opportunity to decide if that was what he really wanted. I also would have liked for him to be interviewed for her visa so there was a record of him saying he was choosing adoption for his daughter. I have peace knowing that he did want her to be adopted and did not feel capable to care for her. I just wish everything had been disclosed from the beginning so I could have told my daughter her true story from the day I met her.  Anon. DRC Adoptive Parent

It is difficult to search for truth after the adoption has occurred than before it has happened. As time passes it is more difficult to obtain pieces of child histories. Independent investigation is crucial to obtaining every piece of information for the adopted child to ensure that adoption was in the child's best interest, another option for placement could not be facilitated within the birth country for the child, and that no coercion occurred during the adoption process. Additionally, any piece or shred of information about the child's past or first family is essential for the adopted child. Understanding where they came from and who they are will be invaluable to the adopted child and is their own personal and private history. Any connection to first family should be sought through independent investigation and facilitated by the adoptive parent in order to keep connection whenever possible.
We believe that it is vastly important to have independent investigation to safeguard children being adopted from any foreign country. Some adoption agencies do not look out for the best interest of the children being adopted. Be aware of how to spot red flags and listen to your intuition. If things seem too good to be true, they probably are. Don't let the passion to create your family keep you blinded from searching for truth and fact for each child. Anon., DRC Adoptive Family

When we were in the process of adopting our daughter from Congo, the notion of completing an investigation while still in process was never introduced to us. In fact, we were discouraged against initiating contact with our daughter’s birth family, as it might “make things more difficult”. Meanwhile, others praised our decision to adopt internationally, citing how clean and easy it would be to not have to “deal with the birth families”. This never sat well with us. However, it wasn’t until we brought our sweet girl home from DRC that I truly began to process the trauma and loss associated with adoption. Every milestone she met, every first word she said, every birthday that passed- I longed to share with her first family. I mourned. For her. For them. And so we took action. With a small amount of trepidation but a greater sense of anticipation, we hired a trusted investigator to establish contact with our daughter’s Congolese family. This decision to seek out her family was not made without much counsel and prayer. We knew the risks. We knew that we could potentially unearth devastating information surrounding the ethics of our adoption. We knew that it could lead to heartache. We knew that there was a possibility our daughter’s Congolese family wanted nothing to do with her or us. But we felt strongly that we owed it to our daughter and to her first family to at least try.  And so we did. We waited anxiously for our investigator to report back to us, and the day his report finally came through my inbox, my hands were trembling. What had we done? Was I about to open a Pandora’s box full of information that would heap greater pain and sadness into our laps? Thankfully, in our case, there were no big surprises unearthed through our investigation. Rather, I received priceless family stories and information and photographs that I would never have had otherwise. Even more importantly, it opened up the opportunity for our family to begin contact with our daughter’s first family in Congo. We have had the unbelievable privilege to email with one of her family members on a frequent basis. We share photos and stories and prayer, and they do the same. In short, it’s exceeded every expectation we had when we decided to proceed with an investigation.I am well aware that not every investigation story is this picture perfect. However, I will say that the moment we were told, “Thank you. Thank you for looking for us. For thinking about us. Your family will forever be a part of our family, and we love all of you,” I knew that the decision to investigate was one of the best we have ever made. C.A., DRC Adoptive Parent

L., one of the sweet ones we support at  www.reedsofhope.org




Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Photos telling stories

Our manager is busy traveling all over to remote villages in mountains to visit the school children we support.  I'm so very excited about this because we have had limited photos and updates over the years because we didn't have the funds to buy a motorcycle.  Well, through some generous donations we were finally able to do so!  Here are a couple of the schools that the children we support attend.  Pretty simple and remote.  And beautiful.





I love some of the smiling faces on the children!  I hear many stories from our manager on their struggles and extreme poverty they face; he has been sharing that many are often too hungry to attend school.  He is really hoping we can do more to help their families than only school fees.  I'm very proud of all the secondary students we are sending to school.  Did you know that in DRC attendance rates in secondary school are less than 20%?  (Visit our website to read more about school attendance in DRC.)  These boys and girls are my heroes.   These pictures tell so many stories of strength and resilience.







Finally, I wanted to end on a very special photo.  Our manager sends us photos of the children at the orphanage every three months.  However, lately he has been sending them every month!  Which is great fun to have so many updated pictures of the little ones we support.  This month the photo below popped up.  A father visiting his daughter at the orphanage.  Lovely. 


We want to support fathers in eastern DRC.  We want to help them care for their children and bring them home.  Children should be living with their families, not in orphanages.  www.reedsofhope.org