Q and A About Our Work in Relation to International Adoption

Below is a little follow up on our most recent post about international adoption in Ethiopia.

Because we are parents through adoption and because our daughter is from Ethiopia, people are a little surprised when they hear that the children’s home where we work in Ethiopia is intentionally not involved in adoption.

Here is a quick Q & A to help explain it.

Q.  Why is the Children’s Home not involved in adoption?

A.  There are two primary practical answers to this question:

1.  There are many international organizations in Ethiopia focused on international adoption, but international adoption is not a possibility for most orphaned children.  Many orphaned children do not qualify for international adoption and even among those who do, once an orphaned child is older than four, the odds of him/her being adopted are slim.  While 50% of international adoptions (by U.S. citizens) are of infants and 90% are of children under the age of five, 95% of the orphaned children of the world are older than five (these stats are specific to international adoptions by U.S. citizens, but the U.S. is the largest “receiving” country of international adoptions and the trend is similar with other international adoption “receiving” countries).  This Children’s Home has intentionally chosen to fulfill a need for quality care for older orphaned children.  The Home provides care for children ages 4 through older teens.

2.  In the early years of the Children’s Home, a few children were adopted internationally.  This was a difficult experience for the home and the other children.  It created a climate of competition and disunity among the children as each vied to be the next to be adopted.  It impeded efforts to create a healthy home environment for all the children.  The Home made the decision to no longer deal with international adoption and instead focus on providing the best care possible for all the children in the Home.  This policy has been coordinated with local government and other organizations.  If international adoption is a possibility for a certain child and an assessment shows that it would be a good option for that child, he/she is referred to an organization that works in international adoption.  If a child does not qualify for international adoption, he/she may be referred to us.
Q.  Why do some orphaned children not qualify for international adoption?

A.  It is important to recognize that the UN definition of “orphan” is a child who has lost one or both parents (see UNICEF article: www.unicef.org/media/media_45279.html).  According to UNICEF statistics (2005), of the 132 million orphaned children in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, 13 million have lost both parents.  It’s clear from this stat that the large majority of orphaned children have one parent still living.  Even among the 13 million who have lost both parents, a grandparent or other extended family member is often still living.  In many cases, this living family member cannot care for the child (because of disease or lack of economic resources, for instance), but does not want the child adopted out of the country.  In some cases, the living family member intends to place the child with an orphanage for a temporary period of time, and hopes to be able to support that child in the future.  Understandably, because of this a child does not qualify for international adoption unless no living family can be found (determined after a formal process of searching for living family), or the living family member willingly relinquishes custody of the child.
Q.  As adoptive parents, how do you feel about not working with adoption?

A.  This was actually one of the aspects about this Children’s Home that drew us to the work.  Since we first started traveling to Ethiopia, we have felt conflicted about international adoption, and through our own process of adopting from Ethiopia, we became more acutely aware of the limitations of international adoption as a solution for orphaned children in Ethiopia.  We believe that a healthy and loving family is clearly the best option for a child.  If that option is not available in Ethiopia, than a family outside of Ethiopia can be a very good alternative.  We are daily grateful for our own daughter and have seen her grow and develop in ways that never would have been possible if she continued her life in an orphanage with 450 other children.  However, our daughter’s adoption still left 450 other children in that orphanage, almost all of which will grow up with that orphanage as their only home.  We are excited about working here to help provide, as best as possible in an institutional setting, healthy and loving care to children for whom a traditional family is not an option.
Q.  But is institutional care really a good option for children?

A.  It is certainly not the best option.  The best option, without question, is to grow up in a loving, nurturing family.  Unfortunately, for many reasons such as disease, death and poverty, this option is not always available to children in Ethiopia.  We are trying to provide a healthy home for children who have no family who can provide one for them.  Part of our role here at the Children’s Home is to help continue to improve the care of the children in the home and develop programs and policies that help the kids develop into healthy adults despite the institutional setting.  It is certainly a flawed setting for a child to grow-up, but for the kids who live here, it’s better than some of the ways they could be spending their childhood.  We are also interested in exploring other ideas for addressing the care of orphaned children in the region.  Some organizations are working on ways to draw along side of grandparents and aunts/uncles, etc. to help them care for orphaned children within their extended family.  Others are looking at ways to develop and support a form of “foster care” to help with the care of orphaned children.
Q.  What are your personal feelings about international adoption in general?

A.  This is a tough question for us.  We are adoptive parents and have seen the great benefits of adoption for our own daughter.  We also have concerns about the international adoption process.  Here are a few of those concerns (our knowledge is mostly about Ethiopia, and so these concerns stem specifically from our experience with adoption from Ethiopia and may not apply to adoption from all countries):

1.  It is estimated that only about 1.5% of the world’s “double-orphaned” children (children who have lost both parents) are adopted each year.  International adoption only helps a small percentage of orphaned children, but because so much attention and so many resources go into international adoption, it can distract from the pursuit of other, and perhaps better, solutions.

2.  International adoption does little to address the care of older orphaned children.  Because the large majority of adopting parents prefer to adopt an infant or younger child, once an orphaned child is a toddler, his/her chances of adoption are significantly reduced, and once the child is older than four, his/her chances are very small.  Assuming that the trend of international adoptions of older children (older than 4) adopted by U.S. citizens (approx. 10%) is similar to the worldwide trend (which it seems to be), one could estimated that only 0.15% of the world’s older orphaned children are adopted each year.

3.  Because international adoption agencies are funded by the fees they charge to adopting parents, they can sometimes tend to answer to interests of the adopting parents more than the interests of the child or the child’s birth family.  This has sometimes led to the cutting of ethical corners in the adoption process.  It is not usually an issue of out-right child trafficking, nor is it even an issue of all-out corruption.  It is usually much more subtle.  For example, a grandmother may bring an infant to an orphanage because the infant’s mother has died and she does not have the capacity to care for the infant.  The grandmother may have hopes that the situation will only be temporary during the vital infant age.  She may hope to return to care for the child once he/she is a toddler.  Given the agency’s list of waiting adopting parents, you can see how the orphanage may have an interest in convincing the grandmother that it is best for the infant that she relinquishes custody.  This is a subtle thing, but it has significant ethical implications.

4.  The recent move by the Ethiopian government to greatly reduce the rate of international adoption approvals (about a year ago) has raised the question about the future of international adoption in Ethiopia altogether.  Other countries have closed their international adoption programs because of persistent concerns over corruption and ethical gaps in the system.  This further highlights the limits of international adoption as a sustainable, viable solution for the care of orphaned children in Ethiopia.
Q.  How can I learn more or respond to this?

A.  We’d be happy to dialogue further on these issues.  Feel free to respond to this post or email us at nfhaines@gmail.com or richelle.haines@gmail.com.

6 responses to “Q and A About Our Work in Relation to International Adoption

  1. All very well said! Thanks for sharing your viewpoints and helping to educate others about Ethiopia and the needs of children. (P.S. This is part of what makes you the BEST adoptive parents ever in my opinion!!!!)

  2. Pingback: Links that are worth reading… « The adopted ones blog

  3. Hey Guys,
    Trent Cox here. Your neighbor to the South. My wife Tabitha and I have been following your blog. I sure appreciate your honesty. I have a request. A friend of ours in SW Ethiopia is running a local NGO orphanage and he is experiencing some trouble with local government requests. He could really use some advise. If you don’t mind giving him some direction, then send me your email address and I’ll introduce you all. His name is Rich Lester, like yourselves, he and his family have adopted a child from Ethiopia. He is now overseeing some aspects of a locally operated orphanage that we have been associated with for years.

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