Posts Tagged ‘Ethiopian adoption’

The tragedy of Hana Williams and failed adoptions

Monday, October 7th, 2013

David Crary’s AP article, Failed adoptions stir outrage; reforms are elusive tells the story of the tragic death of a girl adopted from Ethiopia, and the measures that must be put into place to prevent such tragedies from happening again. Eleven years into being an adoptive parent myself, I suggest my number one rule: “Not everyone should adopt children. Not everyone is capable of managing the complexity and challenges of adoption, and it’s naïve to believe everyone is.” The PBS film, “Girl, Adopted” addresses this issue brilliantly, and if you haven’t yet seen it (link below on the previous entry), please take the time to watch. The family involved is an inspiration, but they struggle.

Perhaps no one ever can be adequately prepared for the rigors of parenthood; moreover, perhaps no one truly focused on that goal ever can be effectively dissuaded from achieving it. Nevertheless, prospective adoptive parents, particularly those adopting older children who have endured institutional or foster care, must be informed of the challenges they will face, guaranteed.

Articles such as this one by David Crary are a step in the right direction.


Girl, Adopted on PBS

Friday, October 4th, 2013

I just finished watching the powerful, realistic, and moving PBS documentary Girl, Adopted. Here’s the description from the PBS Global Voices website:

Girl, Adopted is a contemporary coming-of-age story that follows Weynsht, a 13-year-old Ethiopian girl, from an orphanage in Africa to an adoptive American family in rural Arkansas. An irrepressible adolescent, Weynsht searches for identity in an effort to find out who she is in the aftermath of her adoption. The film follows her struggle for love among strangers and to understand what to make of this love on an unexpected return trip to Ethiopia.

 Weynsht’s story offers a rare, child’s-eye view of being adopted across race and culture. Taking neither a pro- or anti-adoption stance, the film acknowledges the complexities involved and gives a real voice to the experience. The central question that Girl, Adopted asks is, “What is it like to get everything you need but to lose everything you know?”

The defining scenes in the film occur when, after two years of living in Arkansas and now speaking English, 15-year-old Weynsht returns to Ethiopia with her adoptive dad and sisters. During a visit with the woman who raised her for three years before she was placed in an orphanage–both Weynsht’s parents died when she was five–Weynsht discovers she has an older, biological brother, now in his early twenties. Not surprisingly, she feels strong emotions around this discovery–elation, confusion, abandonment, and curiosity, to name a few. During the same visit, Weynsht visits her former orphanage, which also provokes strong and conflicting emotions.

As an adoptive parent who has witnessed reunions between my own two children and their birth families, as well as the reunions of others, the responses and reactions of everyone involved resonated as absolutely real. What I valued about seeing Weynsht’s meeting unfold was that I had no personal attachment to it, and thus could experience it as an outsider. I kept thinking: ”This is hard. This is complicated. This is not straightforward or easy. Especially for a child.” Truly, Weynsht is an amazing young woman.

Finally, I loved the insight gained by the adoptive dad and mom as they developed in their roles as parents. I don’t have a transcript and must rely on my notes, but at the end of the film the dad said something like, “I used to think adopting a child was something everybody could do. All you needed to do was open your homes and hearts to a kid. I don’t hold those same views today…You have an idealistic view of adoption. And as you go along, the details of that are filled in… But the reality of it is, it’s worth it, even if it’s hard.” The mother finishes by saying, “I would never, ever say that Weyhsht will one day be completely whole, and that everything will be cohesive. She always will be Ethiopian, she always will be African-American.”

In my opinion, Girl, Adopted should be required viewing for anyone considering international adoption, and particularly anyone considering adopting an older child. It’s that good.


Joyce Maynard writes about adoption

Friday, April 6th, 2012

This week, writer Joyce Maynard publicly announced the disruption of her adoption of two girls from Ethiopia in a letter posted on her website. No doubt many people have an opinion on disrupted adoption in general, and this one in particular. As a person who knows Joyce as a teacher, mentor, and friend, I urge you to read her letter.

I also urge you to read KJ Dell’Antonia’s thoughtful analysis of Joyce’s announcement in the New York Times Motherlode essay, Joyce Maynard Announces Failure of Her Adoptive Family. Here’s an excerpt:

Adopting a child — a small, confused person with an identity and a sense of herself as a part of a family or a community that isn’t yours — isn’t simple. No matter how good the intentions are on all sides to become a family, it doesn’t always work — and “doesn’t always” is more often than you think.

Some experts estimate that as many as one in five adoptions of children over the age of 6 end in disruption, for complex reasons. A newly adopted child is apart from everything she’s ever known. She’s without any firm touchstone from her past, and her future is nothing but a promise — a promise of “forever” and “family” from someone who’s taken her from a life she never truly realized was anything but forever itself.

This is a truly difficult dynamic to surf… I know that I couldn’t really apprehend what had been taken from our daughter until she became our daughter. As convinced as I was that I understood what we were both getting into, I really had no understanding of how hard it would be for us to come from our different places and fall in love. There were moments when I thought it would never happen.


[Joyce] is sure to be the subject of … criticism… But I suspect very little of it will come from those who have a bone-deep understanding of the complexities of adoption, or how difficult it can be to blend a family from the mixture of emotions and motivations and intentions and actions that we all bring to our little tables. When adoption is successful, it is at best a phoenix: it rises from the ashes of a tragedy. It is never the life we hope for when a baby is born. When it works, it’s wonderful.


In February 2011, after the highly publicized case involving adoptive mother Torrey Hansen and the 7-year-old boy she sent home to Russia, I posted about the difficulties faced by some adoptive families, stressing the importance of finding a community and asking for help. I reiterate that here. As an adoptive parent, I have faced, and continue to face, challenges I never imagined, never could have imagined. From my conversations with other adoptive parents, I know I’m not alone.

I’ll end here with a line from Joyce’s letter: “Until I walk in someone else’s shoes, I try not to suppose I know her story.”

Wishing peace to all. ~



Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

An under-reported outcome of adopting from another country is the loyalty many families feel for the birth-country of their children, and the actions that result. I’m not talking about connections with birth and foster families, visits to former orphanages, and annual heritage trips, although each of those things is wonderful and to be recommended.

I’m talking about the financial contributions adoptive parents make to organizations that support families, children, and education. In Guatemala alone, there are dozens if not hundreds of such organizations that receive thousands of dollars in donations from families with children born in Guatemala. Mayan Families, Common Hope, Behrhorst, Orphan Resources International, Roots and Wings International, Guatemala Aid Fund, and Mission Guatemala are but a few of the many groups which do good work and receive funds from folks in the United States, including a large number of adoptive families. Pictured above are Dwight Poage, co-founder of Mayan Families, and a few members of his staff.

This dedication to birth country is by no means limited to families with children from Guatemala. Many Americans with children born around the world help when and where they can. Today, I ran across an article about a fundraiser in Knoxville, Tennessee for two organizations that raise money for orphans in Africa and elsewhere, Show Hope and Blood: Water Mission. In this online post, KnoxNews reports on international help efforts:

Blood:Water Mission, founded by the Christian band Jars of Clay, seeks to empower communities in Africa to work together against the two primary causes of children being orphaned: devastation caused by HIV and AIDS and sickness and death caused by contaminated water.

In January, board members of Kalu Grace Foundation and other Knoxvillians traveled to northern Kenya to witness the products that Blood:Water Mission has been able to implement with last year’s Hope in the Dark donations.

A water tank has been installed in the desert region of Marsabit, Kenya, giving 66 percent of the population who were without clean water access. Knoxvillians’ donations also helped fund the Tumaini (“hope”) Clinic in Marsabit so that people in the district infected with HIV and AIDS no longer have to travel 10 or more hours to the nearest treatment facility. Since the opening of the clinic, the community has access to integrated prevention and support programs as well.


Other donations raised at Hope in the Dark will again fund grants through Show Hope. Show Hope, founded by Christian recording artist Steven Curtis Chapman and his wife, Mary Beth, aims to mobilize individuals and communities to care for orphans by providing grants to families adopting children from among 40 countries. Last year’s donations provided Show Hope grants to adoptive families throughout Knoxville and the U.S. who are now in the process of bringing home children from African countries.

No one person can change the world. But many adoptive families do what they can to help one small part of it.



Korean children in foster care and the Ethiopia Adoption Alert

Friday, March 11th, 2011

For anyone interested in Korean adoption, here is an article about Korean-American children in Los Angeles who are living in foster care. More Korean Kids Ending Up in Foster Care was posted on the New America Media site on March 10, from the Korea Times.

“…According to the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) in Los Angeles, the number of Korean children in foster homes has risen steadily in recent years, an effect of the increasing number of divorced or single parents choosing to give up their kids for adoption.


Kim is a 20-something Korean mother who left her child with DCFS a week after giving birth. An international student, Kim, who asked that her last name be withheld, says her family back in Korea never learned of the pregnancy. “I had no choice. I don’t have the capacity to raise the child and could not bring myself to tell my parents.”


In a similar case, Ms. Park, a young mother, left her one-year-old daughter with DCFS following a bitter divorce from her husband of three years. Although she was given custody of the child, the 30-year-old divorcee said her daughter would prevent her from ever being able to remarry and start a new family.

Efforts by DCFS to reunite the daughter with her father were unsuccessful, officials said, as he had returned to Korea and remarried soon after the divorce, showing no interest in taking responsibility for the child.


Chung Ja Kim, a social worker with DCFS, says it is becoming more common for her to come across young Korean mothers looking to give their kids up for adoption. “Last year I worked on 10 cases involving single Korean mothers who were unwilling to raise their children, three of whom were newborn infants,” she noted.


Experts say the issue of adoption remains an awkward one within the Korean community, where the emphasis on blood ties remains strong. Soon Ja Lee is a practicing psychiatrist in the Los Angeles area. She says that compared to other ethnic groups, “Koreans tend to lay a great deal of stress on blood relations.”

Kim with DCFS says that in recent years there has not been a single Korean family that has approached the organization seeking to adopt. She adds that many Koreans harbor preconceived notions about the nature of abandoned children.

And while there is a consensus among adoption experts that abandoned children do better when adopted by parents from the same ethnic group, statistics show that on average the number of adoptions among Korean-American families remains miniscule at best. DCFS adds that there is not one Korean family registered on their list of eligible foster care homes.”

On a separate note, as predicted, the U.S. State Department has issued an Ethiopia Adoption Alert, which announces the 90% cutback in processing adoptions that will begin today. Dawn Davenport has posted an analysis on the subject, Drastic Cutbacks to Ethiopian Adoption: Are They Necessary and Effective?, on her blog, Creating a Family.


Adoptions from Ethiopia to be cut 90%

Monday, March 7th, 2011

On Friday, Voice of America reported “Ethiopia to Cut Foreign Adoptions by Up to 90 Percent.” The U.S. State Department promises to issue an Alert about the subject, but so far, none has been posted.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’ll just ask again “Why is it so difficult to regulate international adoption?” The article states:

Ministry spokesman Abiy Ephrem says the action was taken in response to indications of widespread fraud in the adoption process… Investigations have turned up evidence of unscrupulous operators in some cases tricking Ethiopian parents to give up their children, then falsifying documents in order to claim a part of the large fees involved in inter country adoptions.

The situation was the same in Guatemala. Everyone from Embassy officials to adoptive parents meeting their childen in hotel lobbies knew the identities of the “unscrupulous operators.” Why weren’t these unscrupulous operators arrested and stopped? Instead, the entire system was shut down.

And what exactly does “falsifying” documents mean? Does it mean changing an address to protect a birth mother’s identity? Or even changing her name? In my opinion, those kinds of falsifications are very different from falsifying the answer to the one question–the only question–that matters: “Did this birth mother freely relinquish her child for adoption?” 

For families in process, the next few months could be uncertain and unpredictable. I send you my prayers.


Adoptions from Ethiopia rise while other countries close their programs

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

As many of us who follow international adoption know, Ethiopia is on the verge of becoming the largest sending country of orphans to the United States. It is also being used as a model of “fair” adoption practices. This comprehensive article by David Crary of the Associated Press outlines reasons why.

Adoptions from Ethiopia rise, bucking global trend

NEW YORK — As the overall number of international adoptions by Americans plummets, one country — Ethiopia — is emphatically bucking the trend, sending record numbers of children to the U.S. while winning praise for improving orphans’ prospects at home.

It’s a remarkable, little-publicized trend, unfolding in an impoverished African country with an estimated 5 million orphans and homeless children, on a continent that has been wary of international adoption.

Just six years ago, at the peak of international adoption, there were 284 Ethiopian children among the 22,990 foreign kids adopted by Americans. For the 2010 fiscal year, the State Department projects there will be about 2,500 adoptions from Ethiopia out of fewer than 11,000 overall — and Ethiopia is on the verge of overtaking China as the top source country.

The needs are enormous; many of Ethiopia’s orphans live on the streets or in crowded institutions. There’s constant wariness, as in many developing countries, that unscrupulous baby-sellers will infiltrate the adoption process.

However, a high-level U.S. delegation — led by Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Susan Jacobs, the State Department’s special adviser on children’s issues — came back impressed from a visit to Ethiopia last month in which they met President Girma Wolde-Giorgis.

“What’s encouraging is they want to work with us, they want to do it right,” Jacobs said in a telephone interview. “Other countries should look at what Ethiopia is trying to do.”

The global adoption landscape has changed dramatically since 2004. China, Russia and South Korea have reduced the once large numbers of children made available to foreigners while trying to encourage domestic alternatives. There have been suspensions of adoptions from Guatemala, Vietnam and Nepal due to fraud and corruption.

In contrast, Ethiopia has emerged as a land of opportunity for U.S. adoption agencies and faith-based groups. Several have been very active there in the past few years, arranging adoptions for U.S. families while helping Ethiopian authorities and charitable groups find ways to place more orphans with local families.

Buckner International, a Dallas-based Christian ministry, has about three dozen Ethiopian children lined up for adoption by U.S. parents, but it’s also engaged in numerous programs to help Ethiopia build a domestic foster care system.

In one village visited by Jacobs and Landrieu, Buckner has built a school and housing for teachers while beginning a slow assessment of the orphan population to determine which children can be cared for locally and which might benefit from U.S. adoption.

Randy Daniels, Buckner’s vice president of international operations, said the children who do head to adoptive families in the United States generally seem to flourish.

“They’re some of the warmest, most loving kids of any I’ve worked with in the world,” he said. “It’s amazing to how quickly they adjust to the families stateside, to the language, the culture.”

Buckner’s clients include David McDurham and his wife, Amy, of Mansfield, Texas, who adopted their daughter, Ella, from Ethiopia in 2008 and are preparing to pursue a second Ethiopian adoption. Unable to have a biological child, the McDurhams had been considering adopting from China. But that can now be a four-year process, and they became increasingly intrigued by Africa.

“They were just opening up the Ethiopia program,” said McDurham, a Baptist minister. “We were thinking, where did the needs of children and our needs coincide?”

McDurham said Ella, who just turned 3, is thriving in their Dallas suburb. They’ve become popular customers at a local Ethiopian restaurant and have forged ties with several other families who adopted from Ethiopia.

“We want her to see other families like hers — to know other people who have that same story,” McDurham said,

Other agencies active in Ethiopia — both with adoptions and developing local alternatives for orphans — include Bethany Christian Services and the Gladney Center for Adoption.

Gladney only registered with Ethiopian authorities in 2005 and since then has completed nearly 500 adoptions by U.S. families. J. Scott Brown, Gladney’s managing director of African programs, said the agency also is working with government-run orphanages in Ethiopia, trying to improve living conditions and develop job-training programs to benefit youths who won’t move to homes abroad.

“There are still some bad players in Ethiopia who need to be removed,” he said. “But if we can work closely with the government, this can be a leader for other countries to follow.”

Some Ethiopian officials remain skeptical of international adoption, but Brown said he’s seen doubters won over after visiting the United States to view firsthand how Ethiopian children are thriving in adoptive homes.

Landrieu, one of the leading adoption advocates in Congress, said Ethiopia deserves praise — compared with many developing countries — for recognizing that its orphans would be better off in a family environment such as foster care or an adoptive home rather than in an institution.

But resources are limited. She said there was only one judge assigned to process adoption cases and make sure that children are indeed legitimate candidates.

Heather Paul of SOS Villages-USA, which runs overseas programs supporting orphans and abandoned children, said it’s critical that potential adoptions be closely scrutinized.

“Having better regulations protects American adoptive parents too,” she said. “There’s no worse heartbreak than finding a child had been sold away.”

In contrast to Ethiopia, there’s uncertainty and frustration over adoption developments in two other countries.

In Kyrgyzstan, the government suspended adoptions in 2008 because of suspected corruption, leaving more than 60 U.S. families with pending adoptions in limbo. Plans to resume the process have been disrupted by recent political upheaval, though Jacobs said she remains hopeful that a new adoption law could be passed whenever a newly elected parliament is able to convene.

Adoptions of abandoned children from Nepal have been suspended by the U.S. government until Nepalese authorities implement procedures to curtail corruption and mismanagement. Jacobs said 80 pending U.S. adoptions are under review by the State Department.

The suspension has been criticized by some U.S. adoption advocates.

“When you close a country, you end up causing more problems than you prevented,” said Chuck Johnson, CEO of the National Council for Adoption. “What happens to the kids who aren’t adopted in Nepal? Some will end up as prostitutes and slaves.”


State Department:

Buckner International:

Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.