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 families.
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.
Working 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.
Fraud & Coercion
We are often asked “What do you do to prevent against fraud and coercion?”
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 children.
- 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 statement 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)