There are some angry people right now out there. I am grateful to those who read my blog and supported and listened and joined the conversation about ethical adoptions in Ethiopia from yesterday. I know some are upset. The blog post has had more than 4,500 hits since I pushed "publish" and I am humbled by the response, especially those who sent me private, offline messages with comments and questions. I don't know how I am going to respond to them all. But some were asking the same questions, and I feel now compelled to write a quickly-put-down gut response.
Some people who messaged me are concerned. And quite a few waiting families, a few with Dove, some with other agencies are asking about specifics. They want to know exactly what Dove did, they want the juice, they want proof. Here is the biggest problem with proof and details: adoption lies and fraud and corruption don't just involve adoptive parents. At the heart is a child or children. And having major or heck, even minor ethical issues in an adoption story is a little like having your child be abused. If you come out against the perpetrator (who may be popular, powerful and big or even really nice) your child's story, the details of their pain is now fodder for the Internets to criticize, dismiss. To seek justice, to warn others, to appease people and convince them "it's true" you essentially must throw your family under the bus and expose yourself and your child to ugliness.
That is the reason most families stay silent. That is the reason many people don't report abuse: it is hard to prove, it can feel like shame, it can harm our kids more than they've already been harmed. That is why the stories I point to and discuss don't have names, dates and identifying specifics. But it is so hard to know what to do. How do you prove to people that fraud happens and that agencies are either complicit or know about it/suspect it but have personal philosophies that justify the fraud? How do you convince people without specifics that throw a kid's privacy in the garbage?
I remember going to Dove staff early in our process back in 2008 with my ethics concerns when I read the expose piece about CWA (a nasty piece of work, that agency). I was told: "Well, the kids go through a court hearing to make sure they are adoptable." I was relieved. I thought, OK, Ethiopian judges and lawyers will make sure kids who 's cases are suspect don't end up adopted. With that, I absolved my agency of making sure. But I didn't know that the lawyers are on agency payroll. They are not there to advocate for a child. They are there to make sure he gets out of the country. They have great financial incentive to push cases through, not worry about details, let alone covering up, destroying paperwork, reporting a problem that doesn't add up back to the agency, etc. I still am not sure how I feel about the judges who are allowing so many kids with suspect paperwork through. They don't seem to have much incentive to stop adoptions either.
I never knew, or even knew to ask, that at that point there were almost zero adoption cases that had not passed their court hearing. I say "almost" zero because it might be zero, I just don't know for sure. To this day, these court hearings and even these investigations are a bit of a farce. The court "hearing" lasts about three minutes. Birth families are not represented by their own counsel who supports them and provides an "out" if they don't actually want their children adopted. If they want a child to remain in the orphanage because even if they can't care for them at this time, they want the option for reunification later. I have never heard with my ears or eyes seen anyone at at agency in Ethiopia or a lawyer discuss options for an Ethiopian family who may have been lied to about what adoption means, or didn't want that to happen. I have never heard anyone who has been around Ethiopian adoption talk about the children at orphanages who make it back to families. Correct me and bug me if your agency or their partnering orphanages regularly takes children available for adoption and reunites them with family. I will hug you.
In technical jargon as things stand: The system is so messed up.
A friend made a great point to me as I lamented the alleged reasons behind Dove Adoptions being unable to get reaccredited: Al Capone was a terrible person. He murdered, he coerced, he destroyed lives, he stole, he was powerful, frightening, and despite all the details the police and those around him knew, he couldn't be brought down for the worst of his crimes. They couldn't "prove" what he did. But everyone knew it.He finally put away for tax evasion/fraud. As if that was even remotely as bad as his other crimes! Just because a court of law couldn't prove he was a murdering sociopath doesn't mean he wasn't.
Adoption agencies do lots of little things that are not OK. Not all of those little things are going into a village and stealing children. It is so much more subtle than that.
The real problem, the stuff that is really hard to "prove" is the stuff that happens in Ethiopia, in towns, in small houses with vulnerable families. It happens in small offices and police departments when paperwork is written up. It is an unwritten decision by neighbors or family that the actual truth will not be written down, that a death will be reported or a name will be changed, or a detail covered up. I am not there for that. Neither are you. But really bad stuff happens when we are not watching. And the folks in Ethiopia (usually Ethiopians) know it happens. The social workers, the staff, the drivers who go into a town and come back with a bunch of kids, the lawyers. They know it.
Agency staff in the US isn't there to hear or see exactly what was said when those kids left their parents and got in the van. They have language and cultural and geographic distance that gives them this blanket of deniability. They don't have the staff or financial or cultural resources to go investigate each and every case. They don't go back to families to see if reunification is wanted or even possible. Most, certainly not Dove or the orphanages they work with, do not have programs that make sure adoption is the very last resort for these kids.
Another problem is that Truth in Ethiopia the way we like it in the US is hard to come by. The cultural gap in telling truth and relating details is as vast as the 6,500+ miles between here and there. The shame of a family falling apart is deep. The unpleasantness of a failing family is something that Americans and Ethiopians deal with and process very differently. And I don't think anyone who started adoptions in Ethiopia could have ever known how this gap is harmful, how it creates a power dichotomy between the rich white people and the families who are trying to figure out what to do when things get bad.
Proof? I don't know if I have the strength. I will say this: there is minor lies and major omissions on paperwork in both our adoptions. They are small enough where I think both our adoptions are still as ethical as they can be in Ethiopia. If the case were otherwise, and fraud involved families who wanted their children, we would be living in Ethiopia right now so our kids could have the opportunity to have their families both in their lives. As it is, moving there part time or for a few years is on the table. Seeing kids broken by their separation from family affects us all differently. For me, it makes me angry.
It fuels my rabid passion for ethical adoptions because even though I wasn't wronged by my agencies, I saw the problems: It is laughable how easy it is to get kids available for adoptive families who want kids. Babies, older kids, you name it, it is a cake walk to procure a child and fix up the paperwork. I mean, almost no effort. I saw how easy it is. I saw the attitudes, the wealth. The way adoption has become a culture in Ethiopia. It made me want to vomit.
So I believe the fraud. I trust the families who speak out. They are not lying. I have many, many friends who have major fraud in their adoptions. I mean, many. Not two or three, or five. More families I know have lies and problems in their paperwork than not. (*of those who have investigated and found the truth. Those who haven't don't know if they have fraud or not). And I have watched other adoptive families crush them into the ground. I have seen them lose their friends and I decided I would stand with them. I wouldn't turn my back on them. I heard their stories, their details and while they are not mine to share, I wish you could believe, too.
Because believing families who say "This agency perpetuated fraud and is pulling bad stuff in Ethiopia" is not like believing in Santa or the Easter bunny. It is being willing to believe it is possible that Ethiopian adoption - as an institution- hurts Ethiopian families and children as much as it helps. That is my belief. I believe that Dove, largely because of the people they have worked with in country, have been on the hurting side as much as the helping side. That is not a good ratio.
And I, little ol' me, do not have a solution. I got nothing. I preach and I educate and I try and I don't know how to fix it. One thing would be to stop working with agencies who have fraud stories and make sure the money you spend on your adoption doesn't go into an organization that has hurt and will hurt again. Sure, maybe it didn't happen to you. But do you really wanna help keep their doors open?
It's complicated. And exhausting.
Maybe it's time to get back to cute pics of home school projects and pictures of the one with sensory issues climbing crap in my house. Hey, you're saying, where are those pictures of the closet that Hubs redid with sexy stuff from the Container Store?