Wednesday, January 13, 2010


The question was, how can prospective adoptive parents know they are not participating in unethical international adoptions?

I want to preface with another question: If there are 147,000,000 orphans in the world, why would people who profit from adoption feel the need to create more orphans?

According to UNICEF, UNAIDS and USAIDS nearly 90% of the children in orphanages worldwide are not orphans, but have at least one living parent. UNICEF estimates that 95% of the world’s orphans are over 5 years of age while nearly 90% percent of all adoptions in the U.S. are of children under the age of 5. 

If these numbers are accurate, then the answer is obvious. The adoption industry must meet the 'demand' (how I hate to use the words 'industry' and 'demand' next to the word adoption!) for the 90% of adoptive parents who want young healthy children, thus the need to create orphans. Ugh. Did I just say create orphans? I feel sick.

So how can well-intentioned adoptive parents make sure they are not contributing to the problem of child trafficking? 

First of all, these unethical practices have taken the form of child buying, to child stealing, to tricking parents into thinking they are sending their children for an education, to simply persuading the parents that their children will have a better life in America if they will sign them away for adoption. I haven't exactly taken a course or read a book on this or anything but from my experience here are a couple of things I would suggest you do to ensure your adoption is ethical:

-Think of adoption as a means to provide a family for a child, not to provide a child for a family. Not that adoption can't be a tremendous blessing to both parent and child, but I think it's important to really understand the losses and why adoption exists in the first place.

-Consider adopting an older child or a child with special needs.  If a child has shaken baby syndrome, fetal alcohol syndrome, is HIV+, tests positive for cocaine, or has spent years and years in the foster care system, there is no doubt they need a family, although those kids are typically the most difficult to place.

-Ask yourself why a perfectly healthy infant might be 'available' for adoption, and if the child is healthy and attached, what can you do to help the mother raise her own child?

-Before you adopt, know how you feel about adopting poverty orphans or orphans with living relatives and make sure your standards match your agency's standards. If your agency is ethical they will use international adoption only as a last resort after family sponsorships have been offered and after all living relatives decline the opportunity to care for the child. If a child is a poverty orphan, could the family benefit from a humanitarian aide program or business loan charity? Are there other relatives that could raise the child? Biological families should receive extensive adoption counseling, and they should be warned of the hardships that can potentially go hand-in-hand with a child who has been removed from his culture and his family and is being raised by people he doesn't resemble, not to mention the feelings of grief and regret that may present for the biological families later. These things are very real. Adoption can be very beautiful and it can be very hard, and both parties should be fully aware of that before a single document is signed. I am also concerned about the fact that illiterate birth mothers have to sign documents that they can't even read. How easy would it be for a person profiting from adoptions to take advantage of a situation like that.

-Don't get attached to a particular child's photo before thoroughly checking out the agency. Photolisting sites are great, but keep in mind these organizations are not going to take the time to do the research for you. Some adopting parents will fall so deeply in love with that picture, they will do anything to get that child home, even if it means overlooking serious ethical concerns.

-Join the Adoption Research Group Yahoo group, a safe and private place for people to talk about their positive and negative experiences with their agencies. Search the archives.

-Google the name your agency as well as every person who will be managing your case. Keep in mind when an agency shuts down they can always just open a new one under a different name. Also keep in mind that most people are terrified to go public with their bad experiences, so be gracious when people choose to comment anonymously. Don't assume like I did that one person had a personal vendetta against somebody. People aren't going to take the time to fill out forms if not for a good reason. Here are a couple of agency rating sites that might be helpful:

-Call the state licensing agency where your agency is licensed and see what kinds of complaints have been filed against them. Ask to SEE the copies of the complaints. Keep in mind, when we called the licensing agency we were told all the complaints against our agency had to do with 'communication'. I guess technically a mother claiming her children were abducted and an agency denying any involvement in that could be considered a 'miscommunication'.  All that to say, don't trust someone's word for it. Look for yourself! 

-Find out whether your agency is Hague accredited. Hague accreditation is a good sign, but keep in mind that even some Hague accredited agencies have been caught in unethical practices. Hague accreditation alone shouldn't sell you on an agency. And if they were denied Hague accreditation AND refuse to tell you!

-If your contract prohibits you from contacting in-country officials to check on your case, consider amending it to include permission to contact in-country officials at least to verify the orphan status of the child. Any agency who would prohibit this, in my opinion, has something to hide. Transparency is the key.

-Tax records for non-profit organizations are available to the public. Look at them, they might tell you something.

-Having a license, being Hague accredited, and being a member of the Joint Council really don't mean as much as I thought. Have you seen the recent Australian documentary where the adoption agency is caught red-handed exploiting children and families for the purpose of adoption? That same agency is licensed, Hague-accredited and a member of the Joint Council, and continues to facilitate adoptions even after they were exposed.

-Listen to your maternal instincts!! Really try to understand why a mother would 'abandon' her child. These are CHILDREN, not furniture being donated to the GoodWill. Considering there is a lot of money being exchanged in any adoption, consider who might be benefiting from it and ASK QUESTIONS. Any agency who is honest will gladly welcome your questions and not become defensive that you want to ensure adoptions are happening ethically and legally.

Things that I would consider red flags in an adoption agency:
-Avoiding your questions
-Prohibiting you from talking to others about your case
-Heavy involvement with birth families
-Short wait (or no wait) for a healthy infant
-Conflicts of interest, such as a referring social worker who also happens to work for the agency
-Refusal to share information about how to contact board members
-Requesting large amounts of money upfront, or changing fees
-Frequent lost referrals or moving children around

*Click here to read a long list of other red flags, mainly pertaining to domestic adoption.*

When someone told me recently there is a book about parenting the stolen child, I realized this really is a problem worth talking about in the adoption community, and I hope you will understand why I feel the need to post this. PLEASE KNOW that I am not and will never be anti-adoption. As distrusting as I am at the moment, I believe adoption IS God's heart. I know there are many children whose lives will literally be saved through adoption. Those are the children I want to focus on. But as long as people lie there will be questionable adoptions. I have simply come to realize the need for reform, for standards and accountability. Please do not let my last couple of posts scare anybody considering adopting. In my heart I believe MOST agencies ARE ethical and have the best interests of  the children in mind. But it never hurts to be cautious, right?

Feel free to add to this list if you have something to share. If anyone from the PEAR  (Parents for Ethical Adoption Reform) community have anything to add I would sure welcome your comments.


Jennifer said...

I think something needs to be clarified regarding what the definition of an orphan is: A child is defined as an orphan if 1) Both parents are dead or have disappeared; (2) The parents have abandoned the child; or (3) The sole or surviving parent is incapable of providing proper care for the child and has unconditionally released the child for adoption and emigration. In a third world country, the last definition is often true of the children. If a parent cannot take care of themselves, it is impossible for them to take care of their children due to the dire circumstances in which they find themselves. As an act of love, many bring their children to orphanages with the hope that the children will be provided for and not die. The idea that older children and children with special needs are being "harvested" to meet the "demand" just does not make sense. You'll also find as you google various adoption agencies, that the same inflammatory comments from the same people come up again and again. It is true that the disgruntled make a lot more noise than the content. It is definitely wise to be cautious in this process, but it is also wise to put all the facts together before jumping to the conclusion that children are being taken from their parents just to meet the demand from adoptive parents.

Charissa said...

By the way I am not criticizing the mothers who relinquish their children for poverty, and I'm not criticizing adoptive parents who adopt them. Even young healthy children need families! I'm criticizing the lack of standards and accountability for those who see poverty situations as a way to make money. When you consider 2/3 of the world's population is living in poverty, you can see how easy it would be to take advantage.

Anonymous said...

Charissa, this is a great post. So many people go into adoptions with open hearts, not even realizing the dark side the (unfortunately) exists.

Julie said...

What an AMAZING post! I love how you share your heart in such a mighty way. Thank you for standing up for TRUTH and encouraging others along this road. May God continue to bless your family as you live for Him!

Anonymous said...

Great post Charissa. It was very well written and has very good thoughts for those considering adoption.

To comment on Jennifer's point, Many people do indeed relinquish their children for adoption because they cannot care for them due to dire poverty. These people do so on their own. They do NOT have someone knocking at their door telling them they can find a home for their child. They should do so after all other options are exhausted. I think that is where we as a community should help. We can (thru the help of adoption agencies/UNICEF/etc) sponsor children so that they can stay in their culture with their family when appropriate. Help other people within the local community to adopt is also an option. We work very hard in America to make sure birth families stay intact whenever possible. We should do the same in IA too. IA should not be a 'shopping trip'. When it becomes that, then we open up the door to corruption because agencies start looking for children instead of looking for families for the children they already have.

Having adopted 2 children, 1 from Taiwan and 1 from Et, I am pro-adoption but I'm for more stringent rules to be applied to agencies.

We just need to go in with our eyes open, expectations set properly and priorities in the right place.

Good work Charissa. YOu are a good advocate for these children.


Molly said...

What an incredible post and discussion. THank you so much for talking about this and sharing your story, I cannot say that enough. Thank you for also talking about domestic adoption and that this can happen right in front of us and we have the responsibility to make sure that what we are doing in adoption is ethical. Since I feel like I know very little about IA, this is so eye-opening especially the part about being licensed and Hague approved and still breaking the rules, being caught and still operating!!!! OMGoodness!!!

Also, in domestic adoption "hard to place" children are simply not white. So sad, but it's true. If the birth mom has said she has had alcohol/drugs during pregnancy they are now "hard to place". They don't even have to test positive at birth to be hard to place. If the birth mom was raped, the child is "hard to place". Most local adoption agencies are seeking families open to these because less than 20% of their families would be open to this.

Thank you once again!

SustainableFamilies said...

WOW this is a great post! I am an adoptee and a biological mother and I post a lot about adoption reform! Though I haven't posted in a while, there will be more to come!

I only know extensively about domestic adoption... but this post is wonderful!!!

Great thoughts!!

Anna Keener said...

I'm one of those secret readers who has been reading your blog from the beginning of your journey to the Ukraine to get Ava. It has been a joy to watch her thrive in your family. With the heart for adoption that you and your children have, I believe God has more true orphans to add to your family. There are now countless true orphans in Haiti!!! With all the enormous needs there right now and aid being sent from countries all over the world, I'd like to help support a work that is caring for the orphans.

Brianne said...

I don't typically post, but I feel the need to leave a comment. I completely agree with 90% of your post, and I feel that ethical adoption is incredibly important (and that adoptive parents need to be responsible for ensuring that their adoption process is ethical). However, please (please) look into UNICEF and their policies/practices before you support them or take their statistics at face value. UNICEF has a strong, strong political agenda and does not always act in the best interest of the children or people they claim to serve.

Charissa said...

Brianne...... Thank you for your comment. Actually it has just come to my attention recently just how anti-adoption UNICEF is, and I will take that into consideration in the future. I mentioned those statistics because they are the statistics quoted by Christian Alliance for Orphans using Unicef as a source. Those were the only statistics I could find out there! If you know of a more balanced source please let me know. Thanks.

Shannon said...

Thank you so much! Our community is starting a local adoption ministry and I appreciate the time you took to write this so I can share it.

Charissa said...

Thanks Shannon, I'm glad it was helpful.