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America World’s Work In Ethiopia

Last week our agency’s Ethiopia Program was inundated with
emails and phone calls, many of which were from families in our program, asking
more about our agency’s work in Ethiopia. The questions followed a blog post by
Jen Hatmaker, a prominent Christian author, whose original blog post on this
issue can be found here. She
followed her blog post with a second posting providing, among other things,
prospective adoptive parents (PAPs) suggested questions to ask agencies about
their program. Our Ethiopia Team will be updating our FAQ page to
include each of these questions and our agency’s answer to these questions –
please bear with us as we seek to have these up on our site next week.  We are grateful for the opportunity to tell
you more about our work. Ms. Hatmaker has promised a forthcoming post that
focuses on orphan care outside of adoption – an issue we know many of you (like
us) care deeply about.

We have done our best this past week to respond to each of
your requests as they’ve come in, but we know that for each family that writes
or calls us, there may be many who have the same questions but don’t reach out.
This post is designed to give you more information about our work in Ethiopia,
including some of the safeguards we put in place to protect children and


Many, though certainly not all, of the children
who we place from Ethiopia have living birthparents or family members. Often,
this might be a loving parent or extended family member who, for many reasons,
may not have chosen to, or been able to, continue parenting their children. In
these circumstances, Ethiopia’s process requires that these birthfamilies
participate in the adoption process, both by being present for a court hearing
as well as being interviewed by the U.S. Embassy. Additionally, our agency
interviews birthparents to verify the information we were provided regarding
how the child came to live outside parental care, what the birthparent’s
understanding of adoption is and if the birthparent was coerced, bribed or lied
to as part of seeking to have the child placed for adoption.

Although it’s not common, America World Adoption
has been part of cases in which birthparents have changed their mind regarding
adoption following the child being given as a referral. In these cases, we’ve
been supportive of the birthfamilies’ desires to reunite with and parent their
children. We have successfully seen families reunified following our
involvement in interviewing and informing them about adoption. We rejoice in
these circumstances and believe that our small roles in those processes are
part of God’s plan for those families.  

Some of the humanitarian projects we do directly
supports family preservation. Our efforts in this regard are important, but
just a drop in the bucket compared to what is needed in Ethiopia and other
countries to assist families. We are grateful for the many child and family
focused organizations that have taken a lead in serving in this capacity,
including other adoption agencies.  We
thank God for organizations such as World Vision, Compassion, International
Justice Mission, Bethany Christian Services and other Christian organizations
who serve families and children faithfully and compassionately.


We are very proud of our agency’s work in
Ethiopia to help Ethiopian families interested in adoption. As an agency, we
offer Ethiopian families free assistance in adopting children and these
families are prioritized in the adoption process above the American families we
serve. Although the number of placements we do in this capacity is relatively small,
we believe that by prioritizing Ethiopian families ahead of our American
families, it demonstrates our commitment to allowing children to stay in their
country of origin. We also believe that most of our “fee-for-service clients†are
glad to know that the work and agency you support allows Ethiopian families the
free opportunity to adopt from their country.

One of our agency’s Board Members recently told
us that while in Ethiopia she saw AWAA’s billboard in Addis promoting domestic
adoption. She kindly chided us that she wished we kept her updated more often
so she didn’t have to travel across the world to learn about what AWAA is
doing. Although lighthearted, her criticism was valid – the better job we do of
letting you know about our work, the better you’ll understand what we do and
how we do it.

with Birthfamilies

All children (including all children placed for adoption)
have two birthparents. What makes Ethiopia’s process different than many other
countries is that: 1) these birthparents are often known; and 2) these
birthparents have often chosen to relinquish their parental rights (as opposed
to having their parental rights terminated). This adds complex dynamics into
the role of adoption service providers, orphanages, the Ethiopian and US
governments, as well as the adoptive family in terms of how we interact with
these birthparents.

It’s important that whenever we work with birthfamilies,
we do so respectfully, compassionately and mindful of their circumstances and
the difficult decision they face in choosing to parent or relinquish a child. At
America World Adoption, we believe that it is possible to both ensure
birthfamilies are well counseled/informed while ensuring they’re respected, not
harassed and not made to feel guilty for whatever decision they’ve made.

If it’s possible for birthfamilies to reunify,
and it’s in the best interest of the child, we believe this should be supported
ahead of adoption.

& Coercion

We are often asked “What do you do to prevent
against fraud and coercion?â€

The answer, in part, is about what we don’t do:

  • We
    don’t interact with birthparents
    prior to an orphanage referring a child to be placed for adoption.
  • We
    don’t pay any of our staff (in
    Ethiopia or the U.S.) on a “per child/per adoption†basis. (We also don’t pay non-staff
    intermediaries/facilitators or orphanages on a “per child/per adoption†basis.)
  • We
    don’t assume whatever information
    we’re provided about a particular case is accurate. We know mistakes, errors as
    well as unethical practices can lead to inaccurate child referral information. We
    seek to mitigate this by doing “orphan status investigations†to confirm the
    information we’re provided by orphanages is accurate.

What do we do to prevent fraud and coercion:

  • As
    mentioned above, we do independent investigations to see if the information we
    find is consistent with the information we’re provided. When this information
    is not consistent – we ensure that Ethiopian governmental authorities are
    informed and we suspend the processing of a case until the situation and
    circumstances are clarified.
  • We
    train our staff in Ethiopia about the importance of following ethical practices
    regarding interacting with birthparents, orphanages, adoptive parents and
  • We
    work with orphanages that comply with Ethiopian law. We don’t continue
    partnerships with orphanages if we find we are not able to trust the
    information they provide us.
  • We
    work with child welfare authorities, in situations of child abandonment, to
    place ads seeking information on locating the child’s birthfamily (placing
    these ads is required – and something we are glad to comply with). We also
    interview the individual who is listed as having found the abandoned child.

One of the challenges we, and all other agencies, face in
Ethiopia and other countries where we work is the limitation of our role in the
adoption process. In Ethiopia, we operate in an existing child welfare system
that (appropriately) limits the role of adoption service providers from
portions of the process that have to do with identifying children and
“clearing†them for adoption. No country has a perfect system for this and
Ethiopia is not an exception. While there is room for improvements, we also
think it’s important to recognize that Ethiopia has shown a willingness to get
involved in the complex and challenging process of seeking the best interests
of their children. We wish that more countries were willing to take on these
challenges for the sake of their children. We hope that any criticism of
Ethiopia’s governmental process is tempered with the recognition of the
difficulty of this task and a recognition of the many admirable aspects of
Ethiopia’s process. We believe that Ethiopians care as much (or more!) for their
children as we do and that (though individual exceptions may apply) this is
true of Ethiopia’s government workers, judges, orphanage caregivers and the
society in general. We know that Ethiopian government authorities have
expressed a desire to continue to improve their services and we are supportive
of this desire. We have been privileged to help facilitate communication
between Ethiopia’s child welfare authorities with other country adoption
authorities to enable them to discuss their practices.

For obvious reasons, we know our own agency better than we
know other agencies, but we believe that many of the practices and values we
listed above are shared with other agencies working in Ethiopia. Unfortunately,
we also know that some agencies either by choice or lack of resources, do not
take the same precautions that most agencies take. It is our hope that the
proper legal authorities in Ethiopia and the United States are aware and take
action to ensure that appropriate placements happen.

We know we have likely not answered all of your questions or
responded to every facet possible. We welcome your additional questions and
feedback as it helps us know how we can better serve you. Our goal is to
reflect this verse: “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with
your God.†-Micah 6:8

Finally – we wanted to share a really thoughtful
that was written by John Piper of Desiring God Ministries;
this statement is helpful in that it links many principles in ethical adoption
to biblical passages which we affirm.

Again, we know this isn’t exhaustive, but we do hope it
answers many of your questions and that you’ll continue to let us know of additional
questions you have.


AWAA’s “state-side†Ethiopia Team (Anna, Caitlin, Lauren, Elise,
& Kelsey)   


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