Speak For Yourself – Or, PLEASE Be Very Careful

14 05 2012

Ethiopian adoption is in the news and as more media outlets pick up the story, more APs are being asked to speak.  But most of us won’t tell the details of our children’s’ stories.  So, what is left?  Supposition?  Innuendo?  Hearsay?

More importantly, who is the audience for these stories?  Please God, don’t let it be my Aunt Mary, or the woman who lives next to my Mother-In-Law.  Please don’t let it be the nasty lunch-room lady at my kids’ future elementary school.  Please don’t let it be any person who is going to hear or see these reports and conclude that MY child was stolen from his biological family.

I am afraid.  I am afraid of what excellent parents with good intentions but not a lot of interview experience might say.  I am really afraid of what sad parents who have had to deal with the fall out of corrupt adoptions might say.  I am especially afraid that no matter what these APs say it will be twisted by the interviewer.  Or that the editors’ will pull the most sensational sound-bites to use in promoting the show every hour on the hour.  Or that the intern who is in charge of the website and podcasts will put their own twist on the headlines that show up on the WORLD WIDE web…  Yes, WORLD WIDE and FOR.EV.ER.

This does not mean that I don’t believe every member of the triad has a right to tell their story.  In fact, I think in some cases he/she is obligated to tell their story to prevent further corruption.  But it must be understood that each story is an INDIVIDUAL story and no SINGLE story represents the entirety of any adoption program.

Do I wish the media wasn’t focusing on Ethiopia adoption?  YES – if that meant there was nothing to focus on.  BUT, I do think there is a story here.   And, I actually for the most part love the media.  (Crazy, huh?)

For many years my job was to get the media to help me educate the public on issues.  For many years my job was to convince the media to help me raise money in subtle ways.  For many years my job was to help the media help my organizations save the lives of animals.   And sometimes that meant talking about euthanasia. Which is complicated, but when handled correctly is an issue worth tackling.

So, I do think Ethiopian adoption is worth talking about.  And I think corruption in adoption is worth talking about.  And I think international adoption is worth talking about.  And I think children in need of families are worth talking about.  EVERYONE SHOULD BE TALKING ABOUT CHILDREN IN NEED OF FAMILIES (and the fact that they exist in EVERY country of the world, but especially in the poorest countries.)  (A link to someone who just tackled this topic well.)

However, I doubt that the current media focus has much to do with children who need families.  I am assuming most of the upcoming media stories are going to start out with sweet portraits of loving families and slowly but surely narrow in on stories of corruption.

When I worked in media relations to prepare for an interview, I would think about questions I was likely to be asked and would rehearse my answers in my head.  While I certainly have not been asked by any media outlet to speak about adoption, I find myself going through the same mental exercise.

Likely Question #1

Tell me about your family and how you came to adopt from Ethiopia

Blah, blah, blah – read my blog… (okay, this is NOT what I would say, but you know, you are here so you can read my blog.)

Likely Question #2

When you were in the adoption process were you aware that there were allegations of corruption in Ethiopian adoption?

I was aware that there were allegations but at the time the general consensus was you could avoid the pitfalls by choosing a reputable agency.  The US Government had not stated any specific concerns about adopting from Ethiopia and the Ethiopian government was constantly making changes in an effort to improve the process.

Likely Question #3

There are some people who believe Ethiopian adoption should be shut down completely.

For the sake of the children in Ethiopia, I certainly hope it does not get to that point.

I, like most Adoptive Parents I know, believe that international adoption is just one avenue for helping children.  First, everything that can be done to keep children in their biological families, assuming those families WANT and ARE CAPABLE of parenting them should happen.  Second, if possible, kids should be adopted within their own countries and cultures.  FINALLY, an international placement with a well-educated adoptive family can also be a wonderful choice.  And believe me, adoptive families with reputable agencies get lots of education.

Likely Question #4

Some people believe the vast majority of adoptions from Ethiopia are corrupt.

I think it is important to realize that the word corruption is being applied to a huge array of circumstances.

In many cases there are mistakes in paperwork.  These mistakes may be intentional or they may be accidents.  A common example is age discrepancies.  For example, saying that a 6-year-old is only 4.  This may happen because one of the middle men in the adoption chain believes it will make the child more adoptable.  Is that corrupt?  Well it certainly isn’t honest.  But it is NOT the same thing as buying and selling babies.

Yes, corruption exists, but how wide spread it is, no one really knows.  And what any individual means when they say corruption varies greatly.

At the same time, I am not trying to cast doubt on any families’ story.  I am grateful to the brave families’ who are putting themselves out there to tell their stories  and to work for change.

Likely Question #5

Even if it is not “buying and selling” of babies, there are documented cases of children being “harvested” in Ethiopia. Cases where employees of adoption agencies go to villages and encourage parents to place their children for adoption.  And there are allegations that Ethiopians do not understand that adoption is permanent.

The cases of harvesting are a huge concern.  No parent, in ANY COUNTRY, should ever be coerced into giving up a child they want to raise.

At the same time, I find it  incredibly hard to believe that Ethiopians can not understand the concept of adoption if it is explained to them clearly in their own language.  In fact, I get very concerned when I see people portray Ethiopians as unable to make educated decisions about their children.  It smacks of racism.

If coercion or lying are involved in the education of parents, there is no question that corruption has occurred and arrests should be made and agencies should be shut down… NOT just from operating in Ethiopia but from ever operating any place again.

Well some people would say one example of corruption is one too many and therefore the entire program should be shut down.

And I would say to them, that many, many children would suffer and die if that was the case.

Likely Question #6

International adoption costs lots of money.  If the money families were spending to adopt babies was spent on helping families in Ethiopia, there would be no need for adoption.

That is a concern that most caring adoptive parents struggle with at some point.

Yes, adoption is expensive.  And in poverty-stricken countries money can go a long way.  But it is an extreme over-simplification to assume adoptive families could send 25 Grand a piece to Ethiopia and there would be no kids needing homes.

In fact, there are kids who need families in every country of the world, even in the US and other developed nations that have safety nets for poor and sick citizens.

While poverty plays a huge roll in child relinquishment in poor nations, it seems to me that almost all adoptions are based on an array of compounding circumstances that build upon each other.  Poverty is the easiest to site because it is obvious and it is blameless – meaning it casts no shame on the birth family.

What I think is truly inspiring is that most adoptive parents I know, not only paid adoption fees but are also giving their time and money generously to Ethiopian causes.  The APs I know are a powerful force for raising money for development projects in their children’s’ homeland.  I am inspired by what I see fellow adoptive parents doing – raising money for schools, libraries, wells, medical care.  You name it and an adoptive parent is working on it.

Likely Question #7

If adoption is important for saving children’s lives, but corruption exists in every adoption program, what can be done?

Honestly, I don’t have a great answer to this question.  Certainly, there are numerous successful adoption programs around the globe that should be studied.  Best practice management strategies should be in place.  And The Hague Adoption Convention should be enforced.

Adoption agencies should not hold so much power in the relationship… somehow adoptive parents should have more ability to change programs, decline referrals, and conduct timely and independent investigations without fear of incrimination or loss of money.

Beyond that, the people solving this problem should NOT work for adoption agencies and they should NOT work for NGOs that ultimately have a stake, sadly, in the status quo, in developing countries.

I am just a mother who knew there were children in the world who needed homes and who had space in her home for another child.  There are other families like mine and there are certainly children needing homes.

In the 21st century, we should have the collective will to put these two groups of people together in an ethical and loving way.




13 responses

14 05 2012

Oh my God. I think I am going to throw up.

14 05 2012
Semi-Feral Mama

When I glanced at this comment I thought maybe that you were ill because of the awesome responsibility that has been handed to you. Then I read your second to last blog post and realized that no – what I said is what made you sick. Sorry. I am sorry we disagree. And I am sorry for what your daughter, your family and her first family have been through.
I look forward to listening to the NPR report. But I doubt it will be comprehensive enough to really address my questions. Because what I want to know so that I can feel like I truly understand is the following….
I really would love someone to show me the proof that before the boom in IA all of these children were living successfully in their homes/or extended families. And by successfully I do NOT mean my western standards… I can accept poverty and lack of education if that is the village standard.
I get that the more care centers there are, the more kids that appear in care centers. But this in no way proves that without the care centers the people of Ethiopia found a way to raise these kids successfully.
And statistically I am just astounded that I could personally know so many people who have independently made repeated contact with first families – sometimes in person – and that all of their stories, (which may include numerous inconsistencies and irregularities, but still point to a need for adoption) are the exception.
The fact that I know people whose children truly needed homes does not justify harvesting or any of the other hideous forms of corruption that have taken place. It does not negate other people’s experiences. But it is real.
Also, I would love to be made aware of the stories of parents who have discovered that the market for ia was the only reason their kid was in the system and have then returned their child to the loving arms of his/her waiting biological family.

14 05 2012

Fair play to you for tackling the subject that seems to bring out the nasty in everyone. It’s such tricky territory isn’t it? As another former media person – I say bravo, and how I wish the media had some sense and could actually address complexity. I too want to see ethical adoptions continue with better safeguards and unethical players locked up and shut down, but that’s just not as exciting as screaming about baby buying or children languishing in orphanages.

14 05 2012

content is different, concept might be useful: http://refusetoregain.com/refusetoregain/2012/05/the-2793.html

14 05 2012
Semi-Feral Mama

But the content is also interesting… I think it is about time I look into the “Primarian” concept. Although I have a feeling it won’t work for a pescatarian who doesn’t cook seafood at home

14 05 2012

This is excellent. I hope this gets spread around. I love your brain.

14 05 2012

Thank you Kerry.

14 05 2012
The Lost Planetista

Very articulate and thoughtful. Hoping your comments will follow your lead- whether or not people agree or disagree it’s very nice to have intelligent discourse that stays respectful of your space here.

14 05 2012

I apologize for offending you. When I wrote it made me sick it was not due to the very valid content of your post. It gave me so much to think about that I actually felt sick with worry and a small touch of fear. Sorry for the misunderstanding.

14 05 2012
Semi-Feral Mama

You have an awesome responsibility, today. I wish you the best.

14 05 2012

No indeed. I had your blog
Linked on mine do I did not miss any of your posts. I found them to be thoughtful and
They always presented me with food for thought. I felt the same way today but with a lot more nerves.
Thanks for the reply.

14 05 2012
casa bicicleta

Oldtimers from the China program won’t speak to media for the most part. The last time a reporter approached the Greater NYC branch of the “Families with Children From China” looking for a story about child abductions no one–not a single parent — would speak to him. There is such distrust of the media.

14 05 2012

Well said, thank you.

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