Wanting proof of the mess

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?


Barb Aloot said...

Wouldn't it be great if people held their agencies as accountable and demanded as much proof from them as they do with people who have experienced an unethical adoption and had the guts and the decency and strength and generosity to speak out?

Why is it that the people who demand proof and more and more details of fmailies who speak out don't make the same demands of their agencies? Why can they believe a few soothing words from the agency staff who personally gain from the adoption when they dismiss torrents of words from people who have nothing to gain either way?

Seeing the same denial in county after country is heartbreaking. I am grateful my adoption worked out as it did, and I am grateful to the people who spoke out early about Vietnam so I was able to cancel that process before I got any further. To those sharing information and sounding the alarm about corruption - be encouraged. There are some people listening and acting based on your actions.

Tari said...

Both your posts were beautiful. Thank you for telling the truth.

theadoptedones said...

Hugs to Scooping...

For what it is worth to others: The fact that my adoption was squeaky clean means the WORLD to me. It would bother me greatly if it wasn't - and I fear would impact my feelings for mom and dad.

Barb - Brilliant - why aren't the agencies being asked to prove something this important.

Holly said...

Beautiful courageous posts! I'm totally with you on your points! Way to go and speak out. I also personally know how hard it is...

Eleanor said...

Thanks for being brave enough to speak about such a difficult, controversial topic.

Leah said...

I kind of understand what you are saying. . . however, for years, I felt like people were talking about "unethical" agencies yet wouldn't even mention agencies. Here's the thing. . . I did research. And then I researched some more, and more, and more. Yet I still went with DOVE. And then people cry foul but won't give specifics, and I don't necessarily agree with that. Because I'm not going to believe just anyone who says, "So and so is bad, Just trust me. They are. blah blah blah." Well, I don't trust the people who say that. If you have information to share, than share it. If you don't, I might write you off as an angry high maintenance person, instead of a person who actually dealt with REAL issues. I think it's people that don't speak up that create others to go with certain agencies that end up being unethical. If I knew first hand that my situation was unethical, I's scream from the rooftops. But. . . That's just me.

AnnaJ said...

I think you are brave for putting the issues out there and for allowing a conversation to happen (4500 hits is A LOT!). I adopted from China 18 years ago. In more recent years there have been questions and controversies about whether similar issues are happening in China with coercion and fraud. I did not even know to ASK back in 1994 much less question. Now, I would and would be grateful for the conversation you have lifted up. I don't think there are easy answers and simple adoptions any more. You are doing us all a service by asking the questions and encouraging others to ask as well.

findingmagnolia said...

This is phenomenal. You have brought up so many important points that I don't even know where to start. There are so many things that I want people to know about adoption that I don't know how to say - I've had a post in draft form for weeks now because I couldn't say it right, and you've just said so many things that I meant but couldn't articulate. About Truth and the culture gap, lies and omissions on paperwork, the imbalance of power that wealth brings. This really is brilliant. Well done, my friend.

Kait said...

Here is the only truth I know - my sons NEEDED a family and there was not one in their country of birth willing to take them. The only reason I know that is because we privately hired and paid people to try find their biological family and to look in to whether an adoptive family was willing to step forward for them.

As for the rest of their paperwork, I have no idea. I really don't. I don't know what is true and what was made up to get us through the channels faster and easier. I don't know what was paid for. I asked questions every step of the way. I spent four months in their country of origin asking questions and talking to people involved in the process.

All I learned is that the truth is flexible and that when those native to that country believe a child needs a family, they will write whatever it takes to get the kid matched with parents.

Is it unethical? I don't know.

Is going in to villages or slums and recruiting babies or children for wealthy Americans unethical? Absolutely. Is destroying families to create them in the land of the rich unethical? Of course.

But is making up paperwork in places where exact dates and specific details may not be known unethical? I don't know.

I know I'm babbling but this has been rolling around in my head for so long...

I'm just going to leave with this I guess - there are those who have argued with me that we should not have adopted our sons because we know without a doubt that their birth certificates and most of their documents of personal history are wrong. We know they were absolutely made up. They say that's unethical.

We say the made up details were not done with falsification as the intention but simply because the truth is completely unknown, so that doesn't make it unethical, simply a complication in adoption.

Adoption is a land of grey area. But when it comes to tearing apart families I'm sure that's always wrong.

ScholarsRule said...


You write so well. Very engaging, and so many excellent points. What I don't understand is how you can separate yourself from your own participation in the corrupt system that is Ethiopian adoption.

You started your adoption in Oct 2009, as you stated on your blog:

"October, 2009 - We finished all our paperwork and sent our dossier to Ethiopia and began The Wait."

This was AFTER several big stories had come out about ethical problems. See this list with dates:

The Lie we Love 11/2008

Canadian Parents Raise Concerns 3/2009

Fly away Children 9/2009

You also adopted an infant while pregnant with a baby. It's common knowledge that doing that is emotionally harmful to both children, but especially the adopted child who is adjusting to a traumatic life change and needs a mother's undivided attention as as much as possible. And wasn't it against your agency's rules?

Every single person who adopted from Ethiopia participated in a corrupt system. Some of us did it before there was any information out there. And some should have known better, like you. You just adopted again last year, right? Three Ethiopian children, two within the last year or two.

Something is off if you can write this stuff, accept kudos and adoration for saying it as if it is something new, and at the same time ignore your own complicity.

Dani said...

Great posts. Both of them. Spot on really. I hope people will listen to you, especially those that really matter (those just starting to adopt). I really do. I don't hold out a lot of hope though.
I don't hold out much hope because ScholarsRule is absolutely right. Nothing you have written here is new. I know because back when you were starting your first adoption from ET, back in the fall of 2009, I was writing in public forums everything you have written here. If I had a quarter for every angry post demanding my "proof", well, I'd be rich as they say. I've been called all kinds of names and had all kinds of nasty, mean, and hateful things said to me for speaking out. I reached the point of exhaustion and burn out.
I don't say any of this to you to make you feel bad or because I hold ill will toward you at all over these posts or the fact that you adopted after the word was out there. I do wish though that you would acknowledge where you came in. That you would acknowledge that you stand on the backs of those who were warning people about these very things before you even started your first adoption and that some of those people paid a really high price for their effort.
Again, I really hope people do listen this time. I really, really do.

scooping it up said...

FOr what it's worth to you Scholars Rule, we conducted an indepented investigation of our second adoption and established contact before taking custody of the children. We have contined regular phone calls and contact with birth family and an open dialog. Our older daughter knows that if she ever wishes to go back to Ethiopia, stay with her family, reunite, live there, visit, etc etc, that is all on the table. This adoption was very different. I understand your comment and do not excuse myself. I still don't know how I feel about being complicit in a corrupt system. I hate that kids are in orphanages. I hate that for some of them the very presence of Adoption in the country is what is putting them there. It is broken.

theadoptedones said...

You know when Ethiopia became the "go to" country, Guatemala was just ending/closed. Rumors about Guatemala had been rampant for a long time then, and yet they were not the first country either, and it goes back YEARS. Many of the same companies were involved in the other countries.

Everyone comes into adoption with the kool-aid pumping and the sunglasses firmly in place believing their adoption won't be that way. Some more wary, but still they all believed the bad things only happened to other people.

Tom Di Filipo was interviewed on-air back in 2007 about Guatemala on Al Jazeera and said this in the first of the two video's linked before just before Ethiopia became the hotspot. He spells out that it is poverty, not the fact that the kids need adoption and why they are abandoned or relinquished - yet everyone believed otherwise?

“In the full spectrum of children services intercountry adoption should be one of the last resorts and the only part I would disagree with what Louise mentioned is that we would encourage preventative measures to be taken, sometimes it takes as little as $20 a month or $50 a month to enable a family to keep their child rather than abandon them or relinquish them for adoption whether that’s domestic or international and certainly foster care plays a big role in providing a full spectrum of services to children. But that prevention piece is something that the International Development Community really needs to take a look at.”

Please watch/listen to both video's because they are important.

Part 1

Part 2

I hope people stand together and insist that people hold the adoption industry to be accountable in all the newest "go to" countries like Uganda, DRC, etc. Ask them what measures they have made mandatory from the lessons learned in Guatemala, Vietnam, Cambodia, Nepal, Romania, etc., etc., because if they haven't - then tell them it isn't acceptable.

While you are at it - ask when the US is going to add in trafficking for adoption under the definition of trafficking - so those same adoption agencies that hop from country to country can actually be held accountable on US soil.

ScholarsRule said...

Adopted Ones - excellent points. All the information is out there if you know what to ask. Since adopters don't necessarily communicate with others adopting from different countries, making an effort to share is a really good idea.

Other ways some of us contribute is by supporting (financially and through posting) organizations like ACT -http://www.againstchildtrafficking.org/ and Pound Pup Legacy - http://poundpuplegacy.org/. However, these are too extreme for most adopters to support.

As an adopter who knows as much as the next guy that my adoptions were not officially illegal or of stolen children, I still cannot sit here, knowing how the system works, and believe that they should have been adopted and that their adoptions were ethical. Can any be ethical when one is not?. We ALL participated in the system, which is broken, as Scooping says.

I hope more people will take this to heart and do something significant rather than continue preaching to the choir because suddenly it's the "in" thing to talk about corruption.

Walk the walk, Scooping! Admit your participation, stop adopting and move forward!

Cindy said...

Kait- the community of AP's from your adoption community are deeply corrupted and meaner then snakes. You did a great job for your boys. Stand strong in that knowledge.

Rachel Eva said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rachel Eva said...

Wondering if you have watched this documentary re: Ethiopia adoption and ethics?


You can see a current discussion of this video here: