Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Ups and Downs of International Adoption --

At the end of last week, all families with Imagine Adoption received a regular update from the agency that included the following information:
We do want to alert you to a recent challenge that we are experiencing with referrals.  A few weeks ago, the Ministry of Women's Affairs (MOWA - in Ethiopia) made the decision that they will not provide supporting letters for the adoption of relinquished children in certain regions. They are discouraging these families from relinquishing their children for adoption. Unfortunately, three of our four orphanages are located in these regions. This means that we are only able to process referrals of abandoned children from these orphanages at this time. The rationale for this change is not fully understood and our hope was that during our trip to Ethiopia [two weeks ago] we would be able to get a better understanding for this change. Although it is still not clear why MOWA made the decision to stop issuing supporting letters for these regions, it is thought to be a temporary situation. We do not know how long this practice will be in place, but we are monitoring the situation closely. At this point we need to be patient but if there is no change in the foreseeable future we will make a decision whether we need to contract with more orphanages. Since this has financial implications it needs careful consideration and a plan will be put into place to deal with this should we need to.
Just to be clear, the role of MOWA is key for adopting families. After a child is referred to a waiting family, the family must go through a federal court process in Ethiopia (without the adoptive family being present), at which point a judge looks at all documentation supporting the adoption file, considers a letter that MOWA provides in support of the adoption (this is the critical piece here), hears from any birth family involved in the relinquishment of the child(ren), and then makes a judgment in favour (or not) of the international adoption.  At that point, Ethiopian law considers the child(ren) to be the legal child(ren) of the adopting parents.  So the MOWA approval letter is a critical piece of the process - without it, the judge (correctly) will not rule in favour of the adoption.

This change coming from MOWA might explain why it has been over four weeks since Imagine has issued a referral - February was a disappointing month for referrals, especially considering the rate at which referrals were pumping out for the six or seven weeks prior to February.  Imagine is still able to process referrals from those three affected orphanages if the children are abandoned; also, they are still able to process referrals from the fourth orphanage (whether the children are abandoned or relinquished), but this will make a significant difference in how quickly referrals are issued.  Unless the situation is resolved quickly, I anticipate that the three affected orphanages will quite quickly 'dry up' as far as referrals are concerned; after all, orphanages have no control over whether abandoned or relinquished children are brought in - therefore, after all abandoned children have been referred out to Imagine's families, the orphanages will eventually (quickly?) fill with children who have been relinquished...thus stopping Imagine's ability to refer any more children from those orphanages, and increasing Imagine's reliance on the one remaining orphanage.  Not happy news for either the children or the waiting families.

Sigh.  That's all I felt like saying after reading Imagine's update.  Well, no it's not, actually.  I felt like screaming, too.  I cried.  Why, why is this so difficult?  It feels almost impossible to hope anymore, because there just seems to be delay after delay after delay.  When I read it, I confess that I immediately went to a very dark place in my mind and heart, a place that had me re-visiting the pain of last summer, after Imagine's bankruptcy was announced and before any efforts at restructuring had been made.  I went right to that place, wondering if we were ever going to complete our adoption plans, and feeling like it was somehow futile to keep trying.

It's taken me a few days to regain my equilibrium, something that usually happens much more quickly for me after a setback but which, given our history, is taking me longer now.  It's kind of like the aging process - I just don't bounce back quite as quickly as I used to.  Maybe I'm not even back yet to even keel after last week's news.  But I have a bit more perspective on the situation now, and I have a few further thoughts about it...thoughts that give me hope, despite not wanting to feel hope.

First, I believe that this will be a temporary situation.  Just last summer (while Imagine folks were undergoing the hell associated with the bankruptcy), MOWA stopped adoptions of all abandoned children for a short time, wanting to investigate the various processes surrounding how abandoned children were received into care by orphanages.  Approximately six months before that, there was another pause, when MOWA declined their support when biological fathers had not been searched for and provide opportunity for input into the federal court process.  Neither delay was terribly long before MOWA resumed usual operations, and so I hope that this one will, similarly, be short.

Second, I'm hypothesizing (with pretty good basis) that the reason for MOWA's decision has to do with ensuring that how relinquished children come into orphanage care is 'above board' - both ethical and legal.  What typically happens as countries become more and more 'popular' as hotspots for international adoption is that some folks (and agencies) who aren't ethical or above board, take advantage of the situation, and begin to bring children into institutional care via inappropriate means - this is how one begins to hear stories about black-market baby selling, kidnappings, etc. etc.  As Ethiopia becomes an increasingly common destination for international adoption, these kinds of corrupt practices will, unfortunately, become more and more common.  MOWA is responsible for ensuring the safe and legal practices and procedures involving the adoption of Ethiopian-born children.

As desperate as I am for my children to come home, as much as I long for them, as hard as it is to endure yet another delay, I find myself simultaneously commending MOWA's diligence in this area.  I don't want to bring children home who have been referred to me illegally or unethically.  They will have enough to deal with in their lives - I don't want to complicate or taint their personal stories with thoughts or fears or allegations of impropriety.  Nor do I want to bring home children who already rightfully have a home and family in Ethiopia:  imagine being the biological parents of children who had been taken from you illegally, or under false pretences, and the grief of not knowing where your children were...or somehow learning that they had been adopted by an international family; and imagine being a child who has been taken away from his/her parents without their permission and placed internationally into a 'new' family.  These kinds of stories can and do happen, and have happened, and I would rather they happen no more.  Not to me or the children we adopt, nor to the international adoption system at large.

Where does this leave me???  Wanting it all, I suppose.  I want things to be done properly and legally, and I. want. my. children. home. now.


  1. You expressed exactly how I was feeling when I heard the news. I have still not received the update, and even though I emailed Imagine asking for it, they have not sent it to me :(

    This process stinks. I so agree with you; I am glad MOWA is doing what they need to do to ensure everything is legal, but all these extra delays are so stressful!

  2. Ruth,
    I appreciate your comments and after your "slow bounce back" I think you've hit the nail on the head. The waiting is exhausting is well worth it, if we, at the end of the day can rest 100% assured that all the children are ethically and legally adoptable. What a tragedy if family were to be created at the expense of others...
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  3. Oh Ruth, you've waited so long...I'm so sorry to read of this new challenge. The wisdom and insight that you express, even in the midst of heartache, makes you a powerful role model to those of us who get to read your blog. ~Heidi

  4. I agree with you. I ache for you because this may mean further delays for you but I do believe that MOWA has the best interests of children at heart and that they are acting upon relieable information. I also believe that they will try to sort things out quickly and then those regions may even open up again, based on what they have done in the past.

    As heartbreaking as this is for waiting parents, it is nothig compared to the heartbreak it would be if one were to find out once their kids were home that something unethical had occured.