Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Several Recent US DOS Announcements Concerning Guatemala & also US Hague Implementation

The US Department of State recently released three intercountry news announcements of interest to US adoptive families and adoption providers.


Guatemala Update

November 8, 2007

The Department of State has received inquiries about the status of anticipated adoption reforms in Guatemala, and the outlook for adoption cases which are currently pending. Whether the Guatemalan government elects to implement the Hague Convention on December 31st or later in the spring of 2008, pending cases would not be affected if, as expected, the final legislation includes a transition provision that allows pending cases to be processed to conclusion under current law. We continue to advise American Citizens not to initiate new adoptions until the Government of Guatemala has completed its implementation of the Hague Convention.

Adoption reform legislation remains under discussion in Guatemala’s Congress. We continue to advocate for a law that complies with the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption and that includes transition provisions for cases already filed under the current system of law.

Passage of a new adoption law is only the first step. The next, urgent priority will be for Guatemalan officials to establish a Hague compliant system. Designing and implementing the necessary structural reforms will take time.

The Guatemalan Government has said it will assume its obligations as a Hague Convention member on December 31, 2007, a decision we support, because Guatemala’s children -- indeed all parties to an international adoption -- deserve the protections afforded by the Convention as soon as possible. When the Hague Convention goes into force for the U.S. in the spring of 2008, both the U.S. and Guatemala must have Hague-compliant adoption procedures in order for new adoption cases to be filed. Thus in the interest of long-term adoptions from Guatemala, responsible, prompt reform of the current law and procedures is critically important. The U.S. is committed to provide assistance and support to the Guatemalan authorities for this task.

Guatemala Update, US Department of State, 8 November 2007


Notice: Department of State Plans to Deposit the Instrument of Ratification in December 2007

The United States and the Hague Intercountry Adoption Convention

We are pleased to announce that the United States has nearly completed all the domestic requirements necessary for the deposit of its instrument of ratification for the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (The Hague Adoption Convention) in December 2007.

As the US Central Authority under the convention and the lead Federal agency for its implementation, the Department of State eagerly anticipates the moment when we can join the more than 70 other countries who believe in strong international norms for protecting the best interests of children, as well as the interests of birth parents and adoptive parents in the intercountry adoption process.

According to the terms of the Convention, it will go into force on the first day of the month following the expiration of three months after the deposit of the instrument of ratification.

The Convention strengthen protections for adopted children, birth parents and adoptive parents involved in intercountry adoptions. Its key principles include:

1) Ensuring that intercountry adoptions take place in the best interests of children; and
2) Preventing the abduction, exploitation, sale, or trafficking of children; and
3) Facilitating communication between Central Authorities in countries of origin and destination countries

The Hague process in the United States will require that adoption service providers show that they meet Hague standards in an accreditation process. Adoption service providers who do not meet the standards will not be permitted to provide adoption services in Hague member countries. Our Hague regulations also require transparent fees, home studies that are approved by an accredited adoption service provider and mandatory training for prospective adoptive parents.

The United States signed the treaty in 1994.

In 2000, Congress passed the Intercountry Adoption Act (IAA), the implementing legislation for the Convention. The Senate gave its advice and consent for ratification of the Convention on the condition that the United States was prepared to meet its obligations under the Convention as provided in IAA.

We are proud to say that we are very close to completion of those preparations.

For more information please see our website at travel.state.gov
Or contact the US Central Authority at AdoptionUSCA@state.gov.

Notice: Department of State Plans to Deposit the Instrument of Ratification in December 2007, US Department of State, November 2007

And finally:

U.S. on Track to Join the Hague Adoption Convention in December
November 19, 2007

A message from the U.S. Department of State

The U.S. Department of State, Office of Children’s Issues, is pleased to announce that the President signed the U.S. instrument of ratification of the Hague Adoption Convention on November 16. The legal requirements for ratification of the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (Hague Adoption Convention) have been completed, and we plan to join with our deposit the instrument of ratification on December 12, 2007! The Department will announce the official date the Convention will go into force for the United States—projected to be April 1, 2008—in the Federal Register. The Hague Adoption Convention protects children and their families against the risks of unregulated adoptions abroad and ensures that intercountry adoptions are made in the best interests of children. The Convention also serves to prevent the abduction of, sale of, or traffic in children.

Once the treaty is in force, the new processing requirements for Hague adoption cases will take effect for adoptions between the United States and more than 70 Convention members. The new process protects the rights of children, birth parents, and adoptive parents while promoting transparency, accountability, and ethical practices among adoption service providers.

U.S. on Track to Join the Hague Adoption Convention in December, US Department of State, 19 November 2007


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Workshop 1.3, Part I: Ensuring Ethical Relinquishing Practices

Ethics and Accountability Conference
Sponsored by Ethica and Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute
October 15-16, 2007

Bullet points for discussion during this workshop:
  1. What elements should be included in true options counseling?
  2. What should the rights of relinquishing mothers and fathers be?
  3. What is an appropriate time period during which relinquishing parents should be able to reverse their decisions to place their children for adoption?
  4. How can informed consent to adoption be assured?
  5. What services can be put into place to protect the rights of relinquishing parents?


Melissa Griebel is the Vice President of Ethica, Inc. The mother of two boys, both adopted through domestic, transracial adoptions, she enjoys open adoptions with both sons’ birth families. Melissa, who has served on the Foster Care Review Board for Pima County, Arizona and who moderates two forums addressing domestic adoption issues, has a strong interest in the ethics of domestic adoption, and a special interest in the issues that affect transracial adoptees and their families.

Frederick F. Greenman Jr. is the legal advisor and former Director to the American Adoption Congress and the Treasurer and a director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. Senior counsel to amici curiae in the historic case, Doe v. Sundquist, upholding the 1995 Tennessee Adoption Act, he also assisted counsel in the Does v. Oregon, upholding the ballot initiative and statute which granted adoptees from Oregon access to their original birth certificates. His interest in the subject stems from having surrendered a daughter for adoption at her birth and with whom he reunited 15 years ago.

Jini L. Roby, JD, MSW, MS an attorney and social worker, is an associate professor of social work at Brigham Young University, where she researches and teaches global issues of children at risk, including those who are adopted. She is a former adoption social worker, president of the Utah Adoption Council, founder and director of an agency to prevent and treat child abuse, and a guardian ad litem attorney for children in the public child welfare system. She has assisted several governments of sending countries to establish laws, regulations, and services to birth families contemplating adoption.

Susan Livingston Smith , Program & Project Director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, is a leading scholar in the field of post-adoption services. A licensed clinical social worker and Emerita Professor of Social Work at Illinois State University, she has published books and numerous articles in scholarly journals.

Fred Greenman: Speaking on Question 1: What elements should be included in true options counseling?
  • I am a birthfather
  • For the best information on this panel's topic. I recommend reading the article Adoption Consents: Legal Incentives for Best Practices by Elizabeth J. Samuels, Adoption Quarterly, Volume 10, Number 1, 7 March 2007

    [Fleasbiting note--Adoption Quarterly charges $35 for a copy of the article. Another article on the same subject by the same author is available for free download at: "Time to Decide? The Laws Governing Mothers' Consents to the Adoption of Their Newborn Infants," by Elizabeth J. Samuels of the University of Baltimore School of Law Fleasbiting will also eventually be publishing notes from Conference Workshop 2.3 where Elizabeth Samuels was one of the panelists.]

  • A few remarks on the subject that Elizabeth Samuels covered so well:
    • Those who counsel birthparents should understand and make sure their clients understand:
      • The emotional consequences of relinquishing a child can be huge. As a birthfather I had 30 years of insomnia as the result of relinquishing my daughter (and that is mild compared to what other birthparents have suffered)
      • Expectant parents considering a surrender become almost "infantile"--that is, they become submissive, out of control of their emotions, and un-adult like in the way that they make decisions.
        • I certainly was.
        • At the time I surrendered my daughter, I had served three and a half years in the military on active duty; I had gone to officers' candidate school: I was a first lieutenant; I was a second year law student. I was certainly an adult and had seen and done many things as an adult. Presumably I knew quite a bit.
        • And yet I behaved like an infant; I was submissive and not in control of my emotions. And that is typical
      • Anecdotally, Samuel's article tells about a Kansas legal case in which a woman behaved in a similarly "infantile" fashion
        • It was the Friday before Christmas, she had just given birth, and the hospital was closing; the social worker and everyone else was pressuring her for a quick decision to surrender and so she gave in.
        • She was in her late 20's, a college graduate, a licensed professional--and yet she gave into the pressure of the situation; she didn't have the strength to insist that she be allowed to wait and make the momentous decision in her own time frame
        • The next morning, having changed her mind and decided to keep her baby, she called the adoptive family--because she couldn't reach the agency--and the adoptive mother told her something on the order of...Sorry--we've bonded with the baby and we're keeping it--Merry Christmas!
        • The birthmother fought the case through the Kansas courts and ultimately it went to US Supreme Court which eventually denied cert.--that is, the US Supreme Court declined to hear case. That meant that the lower state opinion was left to stand
        • The lower Kansas state opinion had affirmed the adoption and had refused to allow the birthmother to reclaim her child
  • People in this situation are extremely vulnerable--no matter what their education, no matter what their background

Susan Livingston Smith: Question 2: What should the rights of relinquishing mothers and fathers be?

  • Safeguarding the Rights and Well-being of Birthparents in the Adoption Process."is a report I authored that was published by the Evan B. Donaldson Institute in November 2006. It delineated critical standards in regard to expectant parents who are considering placing their children for adoption
  • Expectant parents need to be fully informed of all their options and rights. They need to be aware of the resources available to them. They should be helped to formulate alternate plans--plans for parenting their child. They should be helped to understand their legal rights. Etc.
  • Absolutely most importantly of all, expectant parents need to be helped to understand the implications of all the above. This is sometimes harder than it seems.
    • People in this situation are in shock; even the obvious long term implications of these decisions aren't necessarily clear to them. Even things that seem fairly straightforward need to be explained
    • This is especially true when adoption is not something in the expectant parent's previous experience.
    • Anecdotally, the importance and long term implications for something like, say, choosing an adoptive family isn't necessarily clear to an expectant parent in this situation.
      • A young college student became pregnant and, being in a state of denial throughout her whole pregnancy, told absolutely no one until she delivered.
      • In the hospital recovery room she called a social worker in order to give her baby up for adoption. While the mother was still under the influence of drugs from birth, the SW came to the hospital and told the young woman that she could choose the adoptive family or the family could be chosen for her. The young mother said, "Well, you choose them."
      • In shock and under the influence of drugs, hearing something for the first time, how could she understand the implications make an informed choice? It is hard to understand the implications of anything the first time you hear about it. It takes time to process information/think through all the implications of info you are given. It is hard to process information in this kind of crisis situation.
      • In this anecdotal story, for example, the idea of picking a family for your child is potentially very significant. This young woman needed to know that picking a family for her child could have been incredibly empowering to both the adoptee and the adoptive family--to know that the birthmother specifically chose them for each other is empowering to both.
    • Explaining, understanding, and processing the significance, implications, and life-long consequences of these decisions is a process that can't be done quickly or in an encyclopedic way. It takes time. It's hard in the situation

  • Parents should make decisions free from coercion or pressure
    • Again, it is not enough to know facts, but parents must accurately understand the implications of these facts.
    • It is a truism that laws shape practice--but sometimes when people are uninformed of the law and its implications, that shaping is to the detriment. This is true of birthparent rights--if the implications of the laws are not understood.
      • If a law says that surrender CAN be taken on the fourth day after childbirth, it means that surrender can't be taken before the fourth day. But it does NOT mean that a parent must sign on the fourth day--or make a final decision on the fourth day, as if it were some kind of final once-and-for-all-you-have-to-make-a-decision-today deadline.
      • Oftentimes when a parent is told that there are four days til signing, they think that they HAVE to sign a relinquishment on the fourth day. And no one tells them any differently. They don't understand that they don't have to sign then--that they could take more time, decide when they're ready, and then sign/not sign on their own time schedule.

  • Parents should have the right to receive non-directive counseling and independent legal representation.
    • It is a right, but not one that is provided for or a condition of a valid relinquishment--that is, almost nowhere is it a real REQUIREMENT.
    • Therefore, very few birthparents get both non-directive counseling and independent representation. Yet in terms of ethical practice, all should be getting both.
      • Most states say that you have to inform the expectant parent as to their right to counseling or legal representation--but the law doesn't provide these services or the fees for them or require that those taking the relinquishment provide them
      • Louisiana is one of very few states that require both.
      • Some states may require one of the two.

  • Birthparents should have the right to change their mind at any time before consent is legally binding
    • Many times expectant parents have a sense of obligation; They'd like to change their minds, but they feel they've maybe gone too far to change their mind
    • The fact that the expectant parent can change her mind and has every right to do so, should be reiterated to everyone at every step of the adoption process
      • In situations where expectant parents meet PAP's, it needs to be reiterated to both parties that adoption is the plan right now, but that the expectant parents have every right to change their minds and might very well do so.
      • The counselor needs to constantly verbalize to the expectant parent that changing your mind is their prerogative

  • Post adoption contact agreements need to be enforced. Every state needs to have a process for enforcing post adoption contact agreements.
    • Vast majority of birthparents from whom I received emails after publishing this report said something like... I made this adoption decision based on the fact that I was told I could see my child and be a part of his/her life forever. But now the adoptive family says no, I can't see the child.
    • Making an agreement in order to get a relinquishment and then going back on that agreement after the relinquishment is given is completely unethical. We shouldn't be using contact provisions to get relinquishments and there ought to be a way to enforce contact agreements

Jini L Roby

  • In the international adoption context, the meaning of options counseling is very different
  • Any adoption agency "worth its salt" will build that into its international program options counseling--exploring options for the parents other than relinquishment and for the child, other than IA
    • In cultures outside the Western world, kinship care options is the most important--absolutely essential--option that has to be explored. It is a given.
    • Agencies must absolutely be culturally competent in the sending country in which they are working
    • Providing the option for first parents to parent their child themselves (a part of options counseling) means that the agency must help the parent find the necessary resources to make this a viable option.
      • It is true that there are varying degrees of resources available overseas in the "sending countries."
      • However, I believe--and I have seen--that finding these resources is a matter of will. Most countries do have some resources and if an agency has the will to find these resources and connect the parents with them--the resources to be able to parent their own child--can be done in most cases.
      • People say, oh, without IA these children will absolutely die. I've seen that with the will and the resources that that doesn't happen. It is a scare tactic. But there has to be a strong will (from the agency) to make it happen.
      • Birthparents can be connected to resources--they are entitled to be connected with resources.

    • As for independent legal representation, is easier said than done in many countries. Independent legal representation for the birthparent rarely happens in an IA context.
      • First, in many countries there isn't the tradition of legal representation for everyone.
      • Secondly, it doesn't happen because of the power differentials/disparity involved between first parents and adoption agencies.
      • And the agencies, feeling that their resources are already stretched, feel that they can't afford to provide independent legal counsel for the relinquishing parent.

    • Another important legal aspect is making sure that birthparents in these countries understand what it means to relinquish a child.
    • The cultural understanding is often very different as to what adoption/relinquishment means
      • Many cultures perceive that adoption is an incomprehensible lie--A lie created to say that the real parents are not parents. And they believe the truth is that behind the lie, the real parent remains the real parent.
      • In more cultures than not, the idea of the termination of parental rights is a totally foreign idea that has never been heard or practiced. Explaining what this means is therefore very important. Even with explanations, it is difficult for people to grasp in many cultural contexts. How can it be that you can say a parent is no longer a parent? How can such a thing be? And how can a non-parent be the parent now? This is a hard thing for us to understand as Westerners--how hard this idea is to grasp. Until I saw it myself, I didn't understand how hard it is for other cultures to grasp our idea of adoption.

    • Unethical practices I've seen in other countries:
      • Dynamics where those who are counseling/recruiting birthparents in other countries actually try to pit the birthparents against each other instead of ensuring that both make the decision as a parent team--and I've seen this used--are very, very unethical.
      • Carrots dangled in front of parents to induce relinquishments of children are unethical. I've seen this take many forms. We will send you gifts; we will continue to help your family; we'll send you to college; we'll send you on trips to Disneyworld; we'll keep in touch with you; we'll provide openness.
        • Especially awful are the false inducements--false carrots dangled to obtain relinquishment. Most of these promises are never followed through on.
        • Expectant parents have the right not to be defrauded. In many sending countries because of economic disparity, the US and West is thought of as being paved with gold, so they have skewed ideas of us and life here.
        • Similarly, the idea that anything could be hard there in the West, for their children, is also hard to comprehend. It is an idea as far-fetched as the idea of the fiction of judges creating new parents.

    • Birthparents should have the right to recognized as parents for a lifetime. Not just to be viewed as the biologic or genetic tools for getting the child onto the earth for the adoptive parents.
    • Finally counselors must be sensitive and recognize the pain and loss that relinquishing parents deal with. I know that as a biological mom, even imagining being separated from my child like these women are causes extreme emotional distress. We have to afford relinquishing moms the same emotional humanity.
    • Finally we should work to help birthparents live in world without shame; Where they can be accepted as having made the best decision at the time on behalf of their children

Fred Greenman
  • On contact enforcement....
    • Very few states provide for enforcement of contact agreements. Where provision isn't made, contact agreements are usually not enforceable. They ought to be, but they aren't.
      • If not enforceable in a particular state, that should be made brutally clear to the relinquishing parents.
    • Care should be taken to make sure contact agreements are done according to applicable laws. For example, many times the law says that agreements must be incorporated into adoption decrees. Anecdotally, where an agreement was not properly filed in court, birthparents are now in court fighting to have it enforced.
      • Especially important to get things right because the legal clout and money is often with AP's. It's hard/expensive for birthparents to get justice.
  • If birthparent rights were enforced by courts, much bad adoption practice would be eliminated.
    • For example, if courts enforced the rights of birthparents to rescind relinquishments during a reasonable period of time after surrender, better practice--thorough non-coercive counseling and independent legal representation--would become standard practice as an insurance to avoid later birthparent change of mind.
    • Because birthparent rights aren't taken seriously by courts, bad adoption practice is allowed to flourish.

Melissa Griebel Let's go to bullet point 3: What is an appropriate time period during which relinquishing parents should be able to reverse their decisions to place their children for adoption?

Susan Livingston Smith:
  • This is a controversial question. There are strong opinions both ways. If you work with adoptive parents, you tend to see it strongly one way. If you work with birthparents, then you tend to see the other side of the issue and feel strongly the other way.
  • One reality that shapes thinking is the availability of infant care while birthparents are struggling with this decision. This care is simply not always available everywhere in this country.
  • The waiting period between birth and the time of relinquishment:
    • The European Convention on the Adoption of Childrensigned by 18 European countries says that relinquishment for adoption can't happen prior to 6 weeks after the birth of a child.
    • Trying to be realistic, the Evan B. Donaldson Institute recommended that there ought to be a period of at least 7-10 days before a mother or father could sign a relinquishment document for a child. For 2-3 weeks following this signing of the relinquishment document there ought to be a revocation period in which a parent can change their mind without having to prove anything before a court as to why its in the best interest of the child.
    • There are now only 6 states that require at least 3 days to pass after birth before a child can be relinquished.
    • There are several states that allow relinquishment before the birth of a child, although there is a provision within these states that allow the decision to be rescinded.
    • The longest period of time in the US between the time of birth and the time of allowable relinquishment is Louisiana which requires a minimum of 5 days.
    • I asked an Obstetrics professor how long it took a woman's hormones to reach a normal level again after birth. He answered that he'd never read anything from a research point of view, but that he'd say it would take at least two weeks for the hormones released during the birth process to dissipate. The hormone flux is huge. It must take several days for a woman to be able to think more clearly without these hormones at play. Should a woman be allowed to relinquish during this time of flux? Is it fair to her and her child?

  • In terms of revocation periods...
    • There are 17 states that have a revocation period from 3 to 30 days--most on the shorter side. Very little power or lobby. In NC, the revocation period was recently shortened from 30 days to 7 days. It is a battle to get the laws to give adequate time.
    • Elizabeth Samuels wrote a wonderful article about the revocation period.

Melissa Griebel Do you know how many states allow fathers to sign before the birth or how much time they are given?

Susan Livingston Smith
  • Even ensuring that the birthparents understand that there is a revocation period, what that means, and how to revoke their consent is a problem currently.
  • I was involved in a case where a birthfather was able to get his child back because they (the agency) had not explained the revocation period to the father. The agency had placed the child before the revocation period was over and the father changed his mind within the period but the agency said--sorry, but we already placed the child. It took a judicial ruling to get the child back. But to understand how difficult even that case was and how hard it is for the average birthparent to undo a relinquishment, you should understand that this father and his family spent $200,000 in legal fees fighting to get the child back--and he had changed his mind within the legal revocation time. It is difficult to get a child back--the legal process is hard and costly. Not all birthparents can manage to do it; and not all have the resources to do so--in fact, very few do.

Melissa Griebel Let's go on to the next bullet point: How can informed consent to adoption be assured?

Susan Livingston Smith
  • I have spent time looking at ethical codes for social workers and thought about how it applies to obtaining consent from birthparents.
  • As for what consent means and how it is worked out practically...
    • Even in terms of medical consent, I for one have even stopped reading medical consent forms because they scare me to death. Things that can go wrong are spelled out.
    • But in adoption, we don't include in our thinking about informed consent/counseling/forms, the implications and long term consequences of the relinquishment decisions.
      • For example, the fact that relinquishing parents will experience long term grief.
      • Yet, similar situations require counseling and forms that spell out the implications and long term consequences.
        • What do we put surrogate parents through--the processes we require? We require counseling, etc. We ask, are you sure this is something you can do?
    • With expectant parents and adoption, by contrast, it is usually once over and lightly. Often not out of maliciousness--we perhaps think the expectant parents know what they are doing?
    • But we instead need to make sure that before someone signs a document, that they've had adequate time, they've had adequate information, they've had independent legal counsel, that they know whether the post adoption contact agreement is enforceable, that they know whether there are other people in their extended family that would like to raise this child (kinship adoption), that birthfathers have been asked if they want to raise the child
      • BTW, birthfathers should be offered every service that expectant mothers get-- expectant fathers should know that they have the right to all the same services as the expectant mothers
      • We give short shrift to the father. We often see him as an obstacle to get around. This is unethical.
  • In short, there should be a lot of quality counseling, services and decision making that goes into a informed consent decision.

Melissa Griebel
  • I've seen adoption websites that actually state that they find that fathers don't care as much about their children as mothers do.
  • There was a case about 7 years ago in Reader's Digest, etc. about a expectant father named Spenser. The agency sent him the relinquishment paperwork to sign and he refused and said he wanted the child. He was not allowed to have the child. He fought 3 years to get guardianship and to get his child back, but he never succeeded. The adopting parents were also never allowed to fully adopt the child, but received permanent guardianship. He never got the opportunity to have his child though he never wanted to sign the papers and he didn't. And no one knew quite what to do.

Susan Livingston Smith
  • In the case I talked about earlier, the birthmother who had already surrendered gave the paperwork to the birthfather--a college graduate in an exclusive relationship with the birthmother.
    • There were specific instructions with the paperwork saying that the paperwork had to be witnessed and notarized, etc.--in order for the relinquishment to be valid. And the birthfather didn't do any of that--he simply signed it.
    • And yet the court looked at none of that as a reason for the papers being invalid--they simply looked at intent--did he intend to relinquish his child?
    • And his changing his mind came clearly within the revocation period, when he also should have been able to change his mind anyway.
    • A licensed SW took short cuts and didn't do things properly.
    • Much that is not in the best interest of expectant parents passes as meeting the letter of the law when it really doesn't.
    • There's a lot that happens that is just plain sloppy. And that hurts real people.

Jini Roby
  • I'd just like to remind us that under the provisions of the constitution, parents have the right to parent their biological children but there is no right to adoption that is protected by the constitution or by any state for that matter.
    • That should give us some perspective about what informed consent means.
    • It means giving away a right that you have--that is constitutionally protected--and so how rigorous should the process be when a person is giving away that kind of a right?
    • We often talk about informed consent, but we rarely talk about voluntary consent.
      • Consent should be both informed and voluntary.
      • Informed--meaning that you know what the legal ramifications are of giving that consent--and voluntary--meaning that you have OTHER options but that you choose this option.
      • Here again, in the international context, I see that consent is often not voluntary. In the international context it is often informed. But sometimes it is not even that.
        • Working in sending countries I have seen that people who come from the US and Europe are perceived as very intimidating.
        • It is easy to feel intimidated and grant their wishes.
        • These people also see that you are powerful and that your arms ache for a child...and so there is emotional intimidation as well.

Fred Greenman
  • Informed consent...
    • I don't think you can have informed consent with the very vulnerable people we're talking about without independent counseling and independent legal counsel.
    • This independent legal counsel is required in some places, but even where it is, the attorney is usually selected and paid for by the adoption agency or the AP's.
      • And remember that this adoption agency is a business that continues--they are involved in a series of adoptions.
      • There are problems having to do with repeated hiring.
      • The party who does the hiring quickly learns which legal counsel will "be troublemakers" and which will "help speed the process along as expected."
      • It is the attorneys who are helpful to moving the process along who will be hired. And everybody knows that--the people giving the advice and counseling do too.
      • The only way to get proper informed consent for those who can't afford their own counsel in these cases will be if you have independent counsel, publicly funded--maybe something like legal aid or the public defender's office.

Melissa GriebelThis may work into the last question which we have to cover: What services can be put into place to protect the rights of relinquishing parents?

Fred Greenman
  • Well the independent legal fees coverage would certainly be my first suggestion, but also the one that Susan Livingston Smith suggested, which was that, along with a reasonable rescission or revocation period, there have to be places in which to place a child during the revocation period.
    • You cannot expect to place a child with the AP's during this period of time and then expect to yank him back.
    • The nice thing about a capitalistic system like ours is that if the law is changed and something like this is mandated and money is provided, then the need will be filled. Foster parents will be found.
    • Children were routinely placed in foster care in previous generations, for at least to six months, to be evaluated, and this could easily be reinstated.

  • As a social worker who believes in infant attachment, I wouldn't advocate placing a child in foster care for six months.
  • Research on infant development shows that it takes 6-8 months before an infant is attached to a primary caregiver.
  • However, a month of quality temporary care is not going to harm an infant. And I agree that having that required time before relinquish is allowed is something that needs to happen. But not for six months...
  • Another thing that interferes with the practice of informed consent is that many expectant parents do not contact an agency until very close to their due date.
    • When I was doing research for this paper, one agency told me that 42% of their expectant parents who relinquished didn't contact them until the last 10 days before birth or else after birth.
    • This quality work of informed consent takes time.
    • Often there is the perceived need to rush when you have a client who has already given birth or is about to give birth.
    • This reality constraint causes professionals to try to shorten the process--to get it done quickly. It would be better to slow it down.
    • It would be better to not place the child until you're sure that the parent isn't going to revoke their consent--that they've had time to make a good decision.
    • Our tendency to speed things up causes a lot of the problems that we then have to go back later and fix.

Jini Roby
  • We often think in terms of "birthparent rights" versus "best interest of children"--I think we have to stop thinking in terms of mutually exclusive categories like that.
  • We have to take a review or an overview of what adoption is meant to do.
    • Adoption is meant to create adequate SUBSTITUTES for children who are not ABLE to stay with their families of origin.
    • It behooves us to think as to how we can best protect the child's interest by protecting and preserving their families of origin.

  • When we talk about birthparent rights, we should not think of these as opposed to the rights of children to grow up in a loving family with happiness and understanding.
    • Yet I see that dichotomy all too often out in the adoption practice world. I don't know how many times I have heard agencies out there say something like this, "Oh, I can't believe that a birthmother did it to us again! In other words, she changed her mind!"

  • We have to be reminded again and again as to what the purpose of adoption is.
  • The constitutionally protected right to parent one's child and the right to self-determination and most of all the belief that children really are best cared for in their families of origin if in fact those families can be supported to do so--if the ability and capacity is there.
  • A final word about dual representation....by one single adoption agency. I am increasingly having trouble with this concept. In the legal world, one law firm is NOT allowed to represent opposing parties.
    • We don't want to think of adoption as an adversarial situation--the parties in adoption as being opposing parties, but you know what? They are. It is one of those hard truths that we have to face.
    • The fact is that only one set of parents--or opposing set of parents--will have the right to raise the child.
    • Our legal system grants exclusive or almost exclusive rights to one set of parents. Let's face this fact. It is an adversarial situation.
    • And so what are we doing, doing options counseling for expectant parents AND doing adoptions out of the SAME agency--I think it's unethical. And I think that we think very much towards doing what Fred suggested--having separate entities do options counseling for birthparents and doing adoption services to place children.

Melissa Griebel
  • I want to put in my own comment on a topic that hasn't come up yet, and that is the payment of birthparent expenses.
    • The payment of birthparent expenses is very problematic in the realm of coercion, emotional coercion, feeling of obligation, financial coercion.
    • There should a separation of where the money comes from and the prospective adoptive parents. There is a lot of controversy on exactly how something like this is set up, but I think it's really important.
    • From an ethical viewpoint, however, it's essential to take care of the needs of an expectant parent separate from the adoptive parents and the infrastructure for the adoptive parents.

Please see Workshop 1.3, Part II: Ensuring Ethical Relinquishing Practices--Question and Discussion for notes from the remainder of Workshop 1.3

Monday, November 19, 2007

Workshop 1.3, Part II: Ensuring Ethical Relinquishing Practices--Questions

Ethics and Accountability Conference
Sponsored by Ethica and Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute
October 15-16, 2007

Bullet points for discussion during this workshop:
  1. What elements should be included in true options counseling?
  2. What should the rights of relinquishing mothers and fathers be?
  3. What is an appropriate time period during which relinquishing parents should be able to reverse their decisions to place their children for adoption?
  4. How can informed consent to adoption be assured?
  5. What services can be put into place to protect the rights of relinquishing parents?


Melissa Griebel is the Vice President of Ethica, Inc. The mother of two boys, both adopted through domestic, transracial adoptions, she enjoys open adoptions with both sons’ birth families. Melissa, who has served on the Foster Care Review Board for Pima County, Arizona and who moderates two forums addressing domestic adoption issues, has a strong interest in the ethics of domestic adoption, and a special interest in the issues that affect transracial adoptees and their families.

Frederick F. Greenman Jr. is the legal advisor to and former Director of the American Adoption Congress and the Treasurer and a director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. Senior counsel to amici curiae in the historic case, Doe v. Sundquist, upholding the 1995 Tennessee Adoption Act, he also assisted counsel in the Does v. Oregon, upholding the ballot initiative and statute which granted adoptees from Oregon access to their original birth certificates. His interest in the subject stems from having surrendered a daughter for adoption at her birth and with whom he reunited 15 years ago.

Jini L. Roby, JD, MSW, MS an attorney and social worker, is an associate professor of social work at Brigham Young University, where she researches and teaches global issues of children at risk, including those who are adopted. She is a former adoption social worker, president of the Utah Adoption Council, founder and director of an agency to prevent and treat child abuse, and a guardian ad litem attorney for children in the public child welfare system. She has assisted several governments of sending countries to establish laws, regulations, and services to birth families contemplating adoption.

Susan Livingston Smith , Program & Project Director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, is a leading scholar in the field of post-adoption services. A licensed clinical social worker and Emerita Professor of Social Work at Illinois State University, she has published books and numerous articles in scholarly journals.

Part I of this workshop is available at Workshop 1.3 Part I: Ensuring Ethical Relinquishing Practices


Question 1: from Shelley Damen with Choice Moms: What do we do to protect the rights of minors placing children for adoption, particularly in the US, but also internationally?

Susan Livingston Smith
  • When I did research for this paper (see , I read a lot of state laws.
  • I found that a lot of states have specific enforced requirements in dealing with minors even when they don't have requirements for persons of majority age.
  • Having counseling and legal representation are important.
  • In terms of coercion, social workers often talk about the parents telling the minors that they have to surrender the child for adoption. Social workers must tell parents that this will not be a legal adoption if you force your child to put her baby up for adoption. It has to be her decision. She is the parent.
  • In practice we have to do things to empower minors to make their own decisions--and not to be coerced or forced to make a certain decision, whether it be by boyfriends, parents, or anyone else.

Fred Greenman
  • In practice, of course, it depends on the provisions in the state law.
  • As a matter of principle, it really doesn't make much difference--whatever their age, expectant parents in this situation will be very vulnerable. I don't think an arbitrary dividing line of 18 or 21 or whatever makes much difference in terms of vulnerability.

Jini Roby
  • Internationally it is so culture-driven.
  • There are countries where a person has to be an adult under their national laws to relinquish and there are other countries where--and I'd say that this is most countries--where there is no law.
  • Parental input is present and very important.

Question 2: From Bernadette Wright of Origins USA: I wanted to comment on what Susan said about the time that a parent should have after birth to surrender. Susan said that it should be no more than a month because of issues of bonding with the temporary caregiver. What about the bonding that takes place between the mother and baby during the nine months of pregnancy? Doesn't it make sense to take the time to ensure that the baby and mother are not unnecessarily separated because coercion or because of the mother not yet being in the frame of mind to make a good decision

Susan Livingston Smith
  • I didn't say that it should be no more than a month. I said that state laws should at least give a month. It would be great if they would give longer.
  • I said that it would not harm an infant to be in temporary care for a month or two so that parents could make that decision.
  • There is often a push from birthparents who don't want their child to be in foster care. Many times when you try to give birthparents more time, the birthparents say, well I don't want my child to be in foster care.
  • There is also a push from adoptive parents to get the child into their home as soon as possible.
  • All I'm saying is that it doesn't harm the child to be in good temporary care. It wouldn't harm the child to stay in temporary care for up to six months.
  • In fact there are some countries that make provision for a place where new mothers can go with their new babies and get help and support while they think about making that decision after the baby is born.

Jini Roby
  • Yes, how many adoption agencies make provision for the birthmother to go back to where she was staying before she gave birth?
  • In other words, is the adoption decision sometimes driven by a lack of a place for the mother to stay and get help and support while she makes her decision after the birth?

Melissa Griebel
  • I think its important to realize that even where there's a law that says that decisions can be made after a few days or a month, those laws do not mean that the decision HAS to be made then. It's important to know that that decision can be made later.
  • Again, that's where good options counseling would make sure that expectant parents know that that decision can be made after four days or whatever, but that it doesn't HAVE to be made then. The decision could be made at a month or two months or whenever. It doesn't have to be made on the first day that they are allowed to make the decision.

Question 3: from Carol Lawson from Adoption Options in Colorado: We are an agency that counsels expectant mothers. Only 80% of those expectant mothers who made a prior adoption plan follow through with that plan. That is, 20% change their mind. We do offer a cradle plan for birthmothers who come to us late in pregnancy whereby they can place their children in temporary care until they make up their minds what they want to do. Colorado is a tight state in regard to the legal process. One concern that I have is adoption facilitators that are not legal in Colorado but that come into Colorado and fly the birthmothers out to other states. I think that is a real dilemma for birthmothers nationally--the movement across states--because things are not as tight in other states as they are in Colorado.

Melissa Griebel
  • We agree. That is a real problem because you end up with a birthmother in a state where she does not live.
  • And there she is by herself with an agency.
  • And if she decides not to place there she is. Where is she going? Does she Does she have a car seat? Does she have money to buy diapers? How will she get home? And those are very big issues.

Question 4: from Jennifer Hemsley an adoptive parent who writes the Great Wall of China Nightmare blog I'm finding this meeting--and I don't know if I'm the only one feeling this--but it's very anti-adoptive parent. I find this very disturbing because I love my children very much. I just heard from one of the panelists here that adoptive parents are non-parents and I find that very offensive. I am mostly knowledgeable about Chinese and Guatemalan adoption. Despite all that I'm finding that I agree 100% with many of the things you guys are saying--time for the birthmother for decision making, etc. However, I'm wondering if we are living on the same planet because I am actually living in Guatemala right now and I see these things as absolutely impossible to implement--absolutely impossible. I met the birthmother of my second child, and as wonderful as that experience has been, I can say that there is no way, absolutely no way that she could take care of this child. And so I'm finding all of this very one-sided and very anti-adoptive parent.

Susan Livingston Smith: What part do you think is impossible to implement in a foreign country?

Jennifer Hemsley
  • Guatemala is too poor. Guatemala is too poor to implement what you're talking about.
  • You are talking about implementing legal representation to the birthmothers. That's absolutely impossible. That's absolutely impossible to do right now. That's absolutely impossible.
  • You know, you're talking about language barriers. We're talking about Mayan women. I believe that there are eight different languages in Guatemala alone. I mean these are women who come from very remote villages and who come into Guatemala City.
  • What you're talking about is in an ideal world.
  • But what do you do with these children?

Melissa Griebel: I don't think that's true.

Jennifer Hemsley
  • I do think it's true. I live in Guatemala right now.
  • I mean I totally agree with what you guys are saying but it's not realistic when you are talking about countries that are still developing.

  • I agree with you that the resources are very scarce in lots of developing countries.
  • But I will again underscore that it is possible if...if there is a will...if there is a will....
  • If that will springs up from that country or whether it comes from outside, the will can be created.
  • And it doesn't necessarily have to be money that provides that.
  • There is no reason that you have to have trained attorneys with ten years of experience doing this counseling. You can train people who are indigenous in various cultures to do this. It does take some money, but it's not impossible.
  • I have seen several sending countries where there is a strong will to do it--it is possible.
  • It's a matter of being very creative and having a strong determination to create these kinds of services. I do agree with you that it is a difficult battle in many countries.

Fred Greenman
  • Two things....You have to remember what the topic of this session is--and that is Ensuring Ethical Relinquishments--and so yes, we tend to focus on the part of the ethical process to do with birthparents. That partly explains it.
  • Let me also say that in my own family we have adopted two children. And my closest friend has adopted a child. And these were cases in which adoption was necessary.
  • Certainly I believe that adoption is a fine thing where it is necessary--when the birthparent can't take care of the child.
  • The problem comes in when the birthparent is pressured to relinquish because there is such a strong demand for adoptable infants.
  • And where there is such a large amount of money involved that it creates enormous problems for expectant parents in the decision making and relinquishment process.

Jennifer Hemsley
  • I totally agree and I guess I see the problem as being with adoption agencies.
  • I myself lost $35,000 with an unethical agency.
  • The problem is not so much the adoptive parents per se, but with the agencies in middle who are profiteering. Not with the adoptive parents.
  • I guess I could do with less negativity on the adoptive parents. I love my children as I'm sure you do.

Melissa Griebel
  • I was going to add that I'm an adoptive parent too. There is not a negativity on this panel towards adoptive parents. And I love my children too, just like you do.
  • And I think part of the key to changing things is that the mindset changes from the level of the adoptive parent as well.
  • We all have our place in changing the way these issues are handled...in all of our adoptions. Not just domestic adoptions but also international adoptions as well.
  • And when those mindsets change from where we (as adoptive parents) are, from the agency standpoint, from where everybody stands within this process, then the mindset will change.
  • And we all--even adoptive parents--have a part in that.

Question 5: from Ann Carmen, a birthparent and an attorney: I'd like to endorse Fred's comments that you can't make an informed consent, and I might add, a voluntary consent--because if it's not informed, then it's not voluntary--without independent counsel. I think the idea of having legal aid type representation for everybody—including birthparents of all ages, beyond just minors.—is a good one. I'd also like to suggest that relinquishments be taken by judges as opposed to agencies--because judges can really probe whether the consent is informed and voluntary. I certainly think you need a period in which you are not allowed to relinquish and then a period in which you can revoke that relinquishment. And I am confused that the Evan B. Donaldson Institute is recommending a period of 3-7 days when you have told us, Susan, that you have talked to OB's who say that hormones are crazy for at least 2 weeks after birth. I'd also like to note that in every comment you made when you spoke, you talked about expectant parents or birthparents---uh, we're PARENTS. And counseling should not just be before you give birth but also after you give birth, because there is a huge difference between being confronted with an unwanted pregnancy and being confronted with a live baby. I relinquished at age 40--a law professor, married to a 37 year old law professor, under very unusual circumstances. And we didn't intend to be birthparents so we didn't get any counseling. In fact we didn't get any counseling until our kid was almost 3 months old because our life went crazy. And there was still coercion, and in many ways, uninformed consent.

And then I want to ask what you--all of you here on the panel--are doing to fight for decent relinquishment times and decent revocation periods.

We in Maryland have a 30 day revocation period because I and Linda Clausen-- who is here behind me and who is the head of our local CUB (Concerned United Birthparents)--have fought to get something like 6 to 8 times to keep that 30 day period--we have put enormous pressure on the system to keep it at 30. I would also like to mention that 10 years ago the AAC (American Adoption Congress) supported us, but in recent years when we have gone to the AAC for support, they've said, "That's not a part of our mission." I think this stance should be reconsidered.

Fred Greenman
  • [who is an advisor to and a Director of the American Adoption Congress]
  • I want the specifics on that.

Ann Carmen
  • You were not the person who said it.
  • I also want to say that extended family should be a part of pre-relinquishment counseling. Extended family on both sides.
  • And people should be told about resources like CUB (Concerned United Birthparents). CUB is the largest birthparent organization in the country.
  • And I don't mean just CUB, but people should have an opportunity to speak to people who have relinquished and who have mixed feelings about it.

Question 6: from Marley Grenier of Bastard Nation and of the blog The Daily Bastardette: There are other forms of coercion that I have real problems with--such as becoming very friendly--the PAP's and the expectant parents becoming friendly with each other. The PAP's presence in the delivery room. To me this is very coercive.

There are other things, like the Choose Life License Plate Campaign where the funds are collected for special license plates in various states. These funds go to programs for women who promise to relinquish their children. I suppose they can change their minds and they're not going to come after them. But to me this is a real coercion. If you tell an agency, “I'm going to relinquish the child,” and once the child is born, you change your mind-- but you've already gotten services from them.

Melissa Griebel: Like promises of a college education.

Question 7: from Gary Gamer who is the parent of a 9 year old son from Korea and the CEO of Holt International Children's Services: I am really happy that we are talking about relinquishment within the context of international adoption. It is, by far, the lightning rod--the most abused arena and the one that puts an almost indelible blemish on our work. I'll be talking about the financial improprieties in a workshop related to international adoption in the morning. But right now there are two points I'd like to make with the conversation here.

The first is so vitally important. The person who actually takes the relinquishment, the person who is leading that process...should not be a judge, should not be a businessman....should not be a facilitator...should not be somebody who's paid on the basis of whether that child is placed or not. It should be a social worker. No question about it. A social worker who is working within the best interest of that child. And it is possible find and train social workers almost anywhere.

For example, Guatemala is a country that has a strong tradition of social work. It's just a matter of identifying the social workers and inserting them into the process--into the proper slots to make that work.

The second point I'd like to make is that when it comes to support of birthparents—support for them to keep their children--this isn't rocket science. We're talking about counseling; we're talking about medical intervention. It could very well be that that parent's going to agree to give up that child.

Different countries for example have different stigmas attached to a child being born out of wedlock. It varies. The crisis center that we run in the Phillipines, for example--of the mothers that come there--90% of mothers with children born out of wedlock will keep their children. In Korea, it's different. It's probably less than half because of the stigma within that culture.

You can take your $35,000 and put it in Romania, let alone Uganda, and keep 200 children with their birthfamilies--if it's within their best interests. If it's the safest thing for them. That technology is there. If there is an agency that is charging those kinds of fees, they can take those fees and within a couple of year period of time do all those things that we're talking about. It's very doable.

Question/Comment 8: from Cheryl Miller from Remember International, a grassroots program for AP's to help orphanages in Haiti: I understand your frustration. We had someone in place in Haiti and he took the money and ran. The second person who we thought was wonderful--he turned out to be a nightmare. In Guatemala, they have social workers; in Haiti they have social workers. It's just a matter of plugging people into the right places. The agencies who work in these places--as consumers and there's a word for you--but as consumers we need to say to the agencies, “I'm not going to adopt through you if you don't put money back into the community.” Who says that with a loud voice? Adoptive parents don't say that with a loud voice.

Corrupt facilitators want us to believe that there is nothing that we can do. That there can't be any counseling available there. That's what they want.

Question/Comment 9: from Stan Phillip an adoption attorney in Virginia: I represent both adoptive parents and birth parents. I never do it at the same time. And if I'm representing one-- the law doesn't require it—but—I make sure the other side has an attorney too. I make sure that it is a quality attorney--somebody who is knowledgeable. Our jobs as attorneys is to make sure that our clients are making their own decisions in an educated manner--that they are getting services and that those services include going through the options very thoroughly. We want those birthparents to know what they're doing and to make their own decisions. We try to get our birthparents in as early as possible in the process so that they can have multiple counseling sessions and come to an educated decision. And I know that many of my colleagues, including Susan Stockum, who is here from Florida, and all of us who are a part of American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, try to support an informed process for our clients.

Question/Comment 10: from Linda Clausen, a birthmother and a social worker working in foster care and adoption: Can anyone speak a little more to the time a birthmother is given for relinquishment? I have worked on legislation in Maryland and I am proud to say that our CUB group has kept it at 30 days--but, in doing that, very many times we came up against those opposing us and mostly it's been adoption attorneys. And these attorneys will try to get it to 7 days. It had been 15 days in most places, but when we began looking at this wonderful and informative site on the NIAC website--which now seems to be gone--we suddenly found that the period had gone, almost overnight, in most states, to 0 days. It seems to be adoption attorneys who did this. Can you tell us anymore about how it got this way?

Susan Livingston Smith
  • NAIC (National Adoption Information Clearinghouse) is a child welfare information gateway, just to clarify for everyone.
  • When I did the research for the Evan B. Donaldson paper, I know that there were only 17 states of the 50 which had a revocation period at all. Most of them were shorter rather than 30 days.
  • I don’t know, but I believe that in conflicts of interest in adoption, adoptive parents and their representatives have more power and money--in getting laws passed, etc. That's just the way things are right now.
  • People who do adoption—their fees are paid by adoptive parents. Considering where the money comes from, there is a natural tendency to protect those interests.
  • Many times you really have to emphasize the ethics of the situation to do a good job of protecting ALL parties' interests.
  • Agencies that do a good job of protecting birthparents' interests often have separate departments. One department that works with birthparents. One that works with adoptive parents.
  • And they say that your job is to ‘advocate for expectant parents”—I use the term, “birthparent”—because when I became an adoption social working with birthparents in 1968-1970, we were told our job was with “birthparents.” Looking through the literature, now I know that the term expectant parents should be used, but I often slip and say birthparents.
  • But you are right—no one is a birthparent until she/he actually signs a document to relinquish.
  • It takes a highly ethical practitioner to do justice to protect the rights of expectant parents as much as we naturally do adoptive parents. And That’s not because expectant parents aren't just as important.
  • But I think it's just that expectant parents have less people with power advocating for them.
  • Until we can balance that, the laws are not going to be fair to everybody.

Fred Greenman
  • I want to commend Mr. Phillips for what he said and yes, there are ethical adoption attorneys--and yes, I know several of them.
  • However, we should not have to rely on individual consciences in a situation that pressures people to behave unethically.
  • We should change the situations so that people will be forced to act ethically.
  • That's why we have conflict of interest rules.
  • As an attorney, you don't try to represent birthparents and adoptive parents in the same transaction. Not all attorneys are that scrupulous, unfortunately.
  • Different states have different rules. The task of discussion like this is to try to formulate rules and laws that would contribute to ethical practice.

The preceding are detailed notes. They do not constitute the exact words of the speakers, but a--hopefully accurate--summary of the ideas of these presentations and questions. If any of the panelists or attendees take issue with any of these summaries, please let me know so that I can correct them.


Sunday, November 18, 2007

US Adoption Agency Employee Charged with Defrauding Agency of More than Half-a-Million Dollars

A 60 year old woman has been charged with fifteen counts of federal mail fraud and five counts of tax evasion after a Federal investigation revealed that she allegedly stole $600,000 dollars from her employer, the Florence Crittenton Adoption Agency in Lowell, Massachuseutts. According to the Federal prosecutor and investigators, the theft took place over eight years, from December 1998 through April 2006.

Natalie Fleury, who was employed as an office manager and bookkeeper, allegedly "altered checks the agency was issuing to a third-party vendor, made herself the payee, and deposited the checks into a joint checking account she shared with her husband.

Her husband, Thomas E. Fleury, Sr., also 60, who "allegedly also benefited from the proceeds of the fraud," also failed to report the illegal income on the couple's tax returns; he, like his wife, has consequently been indicted with five counts of tax evasion.

The Florence Crittenton Adoption Agency, a private agency located in Lowell, Massachusetts is celebrating its one hundredth anniversary this year. It places about 30 to 40 children per year through international adoption. The board of directors of the agency posted a press release on the Internet after the indictments were made public, part of which is quoted below:

"Today's action by the US Attorney's Office is the latest step in a process that began in April 2006 when a theft from the agency was first discovered. Since that time, this board has been working diligently to assist in the federal investigation; to put in place accounting safeguards to prevent future thefts; and to take whatever steps are necessary to recover the missing funds.

...The board of directors has implemented numerous safeguards to prevent any future theft through the misappropriation of agency funds. Those steps include new financial procedures, certified by an independent accounting expert, that include better oversight by multiple parties and duplicative sign-off on spending from only a single account. In addition, an executive board closely reviews monthly financial statements.

....It was perhaps our focus on families, and not finances, that provided the opportunity for this violation of trust

...We thank the US Attorney's Office and the US Postal Inspectors who answered our call for assistance and worked tirelessly and professionally in the pursuit of justice. We thank our families and our friends for their continued support as we navigate the agency through this difficult period."
The moral of the story...Money must be watched closely if it is not to have a life of its own apart from its original intended use. If it takes extreme diligence here in this country within a small agency to keep money where its supposed to be and working for its intended use, how much more difficult it is to keep money where its supposed to be and working for its original intended use--and not another--overseas with partner agencies and IA facilitators.


Woman is accused of defrauding agency, The Boston Globe, 16 November 2007

Couple accused in fraud, tax evasion, Bostonherald.com, 16 November 2007

Chelmsford woman charged with stealing $600K from adoption charity, The Boston Globe, 15 November 2007

Statement from The Florence Crittenton Adoption Agency: ADOPTION AGENCY CARRIES ON DESPITE THEFT, ADOPTIONS UNAFFECTED; Press Release: Statement of the Board of Directors of the Florence Crittenton League Adoption Agency, November 2007

Friday, November 16, 2007

US Agency Investigated for Forgeries in Russian Adoptions

Children's Hope International is an adoption agency based in Missouri with offices in Missouri, Arizona, California, Illinois, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington that did over 700 international adoptions last year. It is being investigated by seven states after authorities discovered that two employees were allegedly forging official documents being sent to Russian authorities.

The forgeries were discovered in July, when authorities in Arkansas received correspondence from Russian adoption officials, seeking additional information. However, the adoption officials in Arkansas had no record of the initial correspondence that prompted the Russian letter.

A few days of research revealed that the letter from Arkansas was really mailed from the offices of Children's Hope International. A wide search was conducted, and eventually, Children's Hope International's director, Dwyatt Gantt, admitted that ten documents were forged, affecting 7 states.

However, during a meeting with Tennessee adoption authorities, Gant is quoted as saying the forgeries went on for years, and were "widespread."

--from KSDK Newschannel 5's online report
According a TV news report, two Children's Hope International employees who worked out of the Missouri office, Mareda Eckert and Sue Ellison, had allegedly been copying the official letterhead of authorities in several states, writing the documents that Russia required, and then forging the signatures of the appropriate state officials. The documents would then be sent to Russia as some of the official paperwork required to complete a Russian adoption. It is unclear if the improprieties also included the use of notarization on these documents. Dwyatt Gantt's official statement about the affair, printed on Children Hope International's website would seem to imply that it might. Gantt there states that "two employees...were found to have mishandled paperwork which included the wrong use of notaries."

According to news reports, the documents involved "were used to assure Russian authorities that any children sent here would be properly care for."

The alleged forgeries involved documents made to look like they had come from officials in Arkansas, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Missouri, Tennessee, and Texas.

Investigations in these states, some ongoing, have included hearings to determine whether CHI should lose its adoption license in these states and to determine whether criminal charges should be pursued.

The two Children's Hope International employees involved were fired a month after the alleged forgeries were discovered.

International Children's Hope Director Dwyatt Gantt has chosen to downplay the seriousness and significance of the forgeries. On a TV interview he stated that the alleged forgeries were, "foolish and misguided, but not malicious--not self serving on [the employees'] part."

In addition to Gant's official web-published statement, "A Message from Children's Hope International" on the affair, Children's Hope International has also sent out letters seeking to reassure current and former clients, and delineating what CHI had to done to alleviate the situation:

"As a result of Children's Hope being upfront and proactive, we have been assured by Missouri DFS and all states where investigations are complete, that we have handled this in the correct manner, and we have been ensured this will not adversely affect our work in these states."
He assures all that "this matter is already nearing resolution," stating that only two states have yet to put the matter to rest: Kansas and Illinois.

But according to news reports, things may not yet be as resolved as Gantt would have them be. In Missouri where CHI is based, a local TV station reports:

Missouri adoption regulators knew about the forgeries in August, after calls from other states. However, after an investigation, it was decided that Children's Hope International would not be sanctioned, and would keep its license.

Susan Shelton, a manager in the state Children's Division of the Missouri Department of Social Services, said on October 25, that police and prosecutors had not been contacted to investigate the forgery. However, on October 30, Shelton's bosses decided to contact police about the case.

That occurred after Missouri State Senator John Loudon, a Republican from Ballwin, started asking about what happened. Loudon is a long time adoption advocate, who is concerned that the forgeries could affect future adoptions of Russian children. Loudon wants a full investigation, and says Missouri must come clean with the Russians.
As for Russia....Russian authorities are already on edge with the American adoption of Russian children. Russians are concerned about:
  • A long string of cases in which Russian adoptees have suffered abuse and even death--14 Russian children killed to date--at the hands of American adoptive parents
  • The Masha Allen case in which a US adoption agency placed a Russian five year old with a pedophile and then failed to check up on her for nearly five years (fabricating one post placement report and doing another by phone) so that the child was abused for five years and became the unwilling "star" of illegal child pornography (Masha's photos are among the confiscated images in at least 50% of child pornography prosecutions).
  • The failure of many US adoption agencies to take seriously Russia's post adoption reporting requirements
Keeping Russia open to Americans for adoption has become an increasingly politically difficult and unpopular feat within Russia and the Russian government. This new problem can not help US-Russian adoption relations. But, so far at least, Russian authorities have restrained themselves:
Russian authorities are aware of the forgeries, but have not reacted in any way.
Perhaps they are waiting to see just how seriously America takes the corruption of adoption--whether we will see that wrongdoing is taken seriously and whether wrongdoers are investigated, sanctioned, and punished--all as a deterrent for future misconduct.

Or, instead, whether the aura surrounding international adoption will once again whitewash and downgrade all wrongdoing into an easily excused mush of well-meaning mistakes and oversights and sniveling explanations.....I mean really, it doesn't really make that much difference anyway, does it...I mean we're talking about saving orphans here....

What wouldn't be tolerated anywhere else and that would be stringently punished once again passes into relative insignificance in the glow of the absolute good that is adoption.

Would that those who excuse such indiscretions and corruption could see that each time such things are excused and passed over, it weakens international adoption further and makes clear that is it lacking in character, ethics, and accountability. International adoption will eventually be killed by such failing to take seriously these problems.

It will be a truly awful thing if Russian adoption closes because Americans refuse take adoption corruption seriously. If any children in the world are truly in need of adoption, it is the adoption eligible children languishing in Russian orphanages.


Adoption Agency At Center Of Investigation; KDSK News Channel 5; St. Louis, Missouri; 13 November 2007

Adoption Agency At Center Of Investigation; KDSK News Channel 5; St. Louis, Missouri; 13 November 2007

Explanation from Children's Hope:
"A message from Children’s Hope Director," Dwyatt Gantt, 14 November 2007

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Council of Europe Urges Respect for Rights of Children and Refutes the "Right to a Child"

Last week the Council of Europe published the following press release:
PACE Social Affairs Committee Urges Respect for Children’s International Adoption Rights and Refutes the ‘Right to a Child’

Strasbourg, 8.11.2007 - “The point of international adoption is to enable a child to find parents, with respect for his or her rights, not to satisfy the parent’s wish to have a child at all costs: there is no such thing as the right to a child!” This was the conclusion reached today by Ruth-Gaby Vermot-Mangold (Switzerland, SOC), speaking on behalf of the Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee, at a meeting of the committee in Paris.

In her report, which is based on fact-finding visits to Ukraine and Moldova, Mrs Vermot-Mangold firmly condemns the increasing use of alternative circuits that can encourage the disappearance of newborn babies for illegal adoption in Europe. She denounces the fully-fledged traffic in babies in Moldova, where 61 cases came before the criminal courts in 2006. In Ukraine the Rapporteur had noted cases of children disappearing at birth, with hospital administrators telling their mothers that they were stillborn, whereas in fact they are presumed to have been sold for adoption.

These practices of stealing and selling children, particularly newborn babies, have been facilitated by the lack of strict civil status regulations in some countries. The Committee said today when adopting Mrs Vermot-Mangold’s report on the disappearance of new-born babies for illegal adoption in Europe.

This is why the committee is calling for, at national level, the introduction of clear laws governing family rights and, at international level, a review of the Convention on Intercountry Adoption, bearing in mind the interests and rights of the child, in order to establish mechanisms for the strict control of adoption rules. “In the absence of national solutions, this will ensure a better life for quite a few children, and avoid situations such as recently occurred in Chad,” said Mrs Vermot-Mangold.

The report is due to be discussed by PACE at its winter session (21-25 January 2008).

Council of Europe Press Release 761 (2007): PACE Social Affairs Committee urges respect for children’s international adoption rights and refutes the ‘right to a child’,Council of Europe Press Division, 8 November 2007

Sunday, November 11, 2007

India's Rules on Adoption Fees and Donations

A rule is only as good as it is enforced. What good is an adoption rule that is intended to curb child trafficking when that rule is not followed and when no government takes any action when the rule is regularly broken?

India’s Rules on Adoption Fees and Donations

CARA is the central authority in India that regulates intercountry adoptions from India. Since 2006, CARA’s guidelines contain two specific rules about adoption fees and donations:

(1) CAP ON FEES: In intercountry adoption, an adoption fee of a fixed amount of U.S. $3,500 is payable by prospective adoptive parents to the Indian placement agency through the U.S. agency. See Section 5.17(a) of CARA’s Guidelines.

  • This fee is an “outer limit” of recoverable expenses that may be reviewed for cost of living increases once every five years.

  • The recoverable expenses the fee is supposed to cover include the cost involved in providing quality child care, medical and legal services, passport, visa, payment towards professional staff, monitoring, correspondence, preparation of child study reports, medical reports, etc.

  • (2) NO DONATIONS: CARA’s rules are clear that no donation should be received by an Indian placement agency either from a foreign prospective adopted parent or from a foreign adoption agency. Section Section 5.17(b).

  • CARA’s Guidelines state that if the Indian Placement agency charges excess fees, CARA may suspend or withdraw its license to do intercountry adoption and may recommend the agency for criminal prosecution.

  • If the foreign adoption agency induces an Indian placement agency by offering more money than the prescribed fees, CARA may de-enlist that foreign agency with a recommendation that the agency be prosecuted as per the law of that country.

  • CARA’s guidelines with respect to the maximum permissible adoption fees and donations were derived from the India Supreme Court directives outlined in LK Pandey v. Union of India, 2 S.C.C. 244 (India Supreme Court 1984). The restrictions on fees and donations were formulated expressly to safeguard against the "profiteering and trafficking of children." See LK Pandey, 2 S.C.C. at 264, 270, 273. This objective also lies at the heart of the Hague Convention.

    Earlier this year, CARA issued draft revised guidelines. It is expected that CARA will issue final rules effective January 1, 2008. In anticipation of the rules changing, this post records existing U.S. agency practice regarding fees and donations for India adoption programs.

    U.S. Agency Practice

    Set forth below is each of the U.S. agencies listed on CARA’s website that is currently licensed to place children from India that has information about its India program on its website (even if the India program is on hold). Linked to each agency name is the part of its website that discloses fees and donations for its India program (if any).

    Agencies that do not publish fee information on its websites:

    The following agencies do not publish information about its fees on their websites:

    Love Basket

    Children’s House International

    Alliance for Children, Inc.

    Hope Adoption & Family Services International, Inc.

    Crossroads Adoption Services

    Americans for International Aid and Adoption

    Bal Jagat Children’s World Inc.

    International Families Inc.

    ACCEPT An Adoption and Counselling Centre

    Children of the World, Inc. International Adoption and Relief Agency

    The Barker Foundation

    Commonwealth Adoptions International, Inc.

    International Family Services

    Hope Cottage, Inc.

    Hope for Children

    Wide Horizons for Children, Inc.

    Agencies with published fee information on their websites:

    The following CARA-licensed agencies contain information about fees on their websites:

    Illien Adoptions International, Inc.
  • Lists a country fee of $9,000

  • Children’s Home Society & Family Services
    India Program Fees consist of:
  • $3,500 for child care/maintenance/legal fees

  • $5,000 for “CARA approved and CHSFS approved International Child Welfare Projects”

  • Holt International Children’s Services
  • Adoption Program fee: $8,190.

  • Bay Area Adoption Services International Adoption
  • Lists partnering agency fees as ranging from $6,000-$10,000

  • Holy Cross Child Placement Agency, Inc.
  • India processing fee: $3,000 – $9,000 (varies based on Indian orphanages)

  • MAPS International
  • Indian foreign program fee: $4,500 (includes “orphanage donations”)

  • Journeys of the Heart Adoption Services
  • India Program Maintenance Fee -- $2,000

  • Contributions (Mandatory) -- $5,000. For “humanitarian relief projects which Journeys supports in India (paid to regulated non-profits for child nurturing, vocational training and such, i.e. Care and Share, or Hands to Hearts International.)”

  • Orphanage Fee (varies by orphanage) -- $2,500 - $3,500

  • Families Thru International Adoption
  • International Fees: $9,000. “Fees for child investigations, attorney, legal/court costs, recognized Indian placement agencies (orphanages) as allowed by CARA, passport, staff in India, maintenance of program, licensing, DHL, phone, fax, and assistance when families travel. FTIA provides support for welfare projects so that part of every international fee is a donation.”

  • World Association for Children & Parents (WACAP)
    Lists no separate India program fee. Instead, total costs are:
  • Application fee: $250

  • Initial processing fee: $4,000

  • 2nd processing fee: $4,000

  • Final adoption fee: $4,000

  • Adoptions from the Heart
  • In-country orphanage child maintenance process: $3,500

  • Support of child welfare programs: $3,500 (“This covers the donation to the Child Welfare Programs to support orphanages throughout the country.”). Preet Mandir, an orphanage in Pune India, is the only charity mission listed on this agency’s website.

  • Dillon International, Inc.
  • International Fee -- $3,500

  • Maintenance support fee -- $1,450

  • Children of India, Inc.
  • India Program Fee: Listed as $3,500 for non-resident Indians. Not published for non-NRIs. Website notes that some orphanages accept less than the CARA approved amount of $3,500.

    The fee information described above raises a number of questions:

    Why don't all agencies list fee information on their websites? Is there a “best practices” approach for transparency of fees charged by U.S. agencies?

    Of the amounts of foreign fees in excess of $3,500, how much goes to Indian orphanages contrary to CARA guidelines?

    Regardless of what is listed by a U.S. agency as its international, program or foreign fee, how much does the agency actually remit to its Indian partners (for example, do agencies remit amounts that come out of its own administrative portion of agency fees)?

    Why do some U.S. agencies permit and in most cases require prospective adoptive parents to pay fees and donations that are prohibited by CARA guidelines?

    Why is no action taken against Indian placement agencies or U.S. agencies for routinely violating CARA’s guidelines governing fees and donations?

    Are there any U.S. agencies that can publicly account for the portion of adoption fees it charges that go to India? That go to any country?

  • Tuesday, November 06, 2007

    Part I of Accountability to Families of Origin: Before Adoption: Protecting the Rights of Vulnerable Families--Workshop 1.2

    The following are detailed notes. They do not constitute the exact words of the speakers, but a--hopefully accurate--summary of the ideas. If any of the panelists or attendees take issue with any of these summaries, please let me know so that I can correct them.

    Because the notes on this Workshop were so lengthy, I divided the notes into separate posts. This post is the first of two from Workshop 1.2.


    Ethics and Accountability Conference
    Sponsored by Ethica and Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute
    October 15-16, 2007

    Bullet points for discussion during this workshop:
    1. Do current practices, even when handled carefully, create for some expecting women/couples, a sense of obligation to go forward with the adoption?
    2. What are the most appropriate ways to cover expectant mothers' expenses so that risks of coercion or exploitation are minimized or eliminated?
    3. What is the role of open adoption arrangements in planning for adoption? Should contact agreements be explored in all situations? Should they be enforceable?
    4. Is it ethical to search out children to place for adoption and what role should professionals play in this endeavor?


    Lynn Franklin is a birthmother who was reunited with her birthson, a book author, a current board member of the Evan B. Donaldson Institute, an eleven year board member of Spence-Chapin, and an elected “lifetime” Honorary Director of Spence-Chapin.

    Sania Metzger is director of policy for Casey Family Services, the direct service agency of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. She works to influence and track policies at the local, state, and federal levels. Ms. Metzger is on the Board of Directors for Prevent Child Abuse America and the Center for Family Representation.

    Dr. Teresa “Tesi” Kohlenberg M.D.is a child psychiatrist, who had previously worked as a developmental pediatrician with teenage mothers and the urban poor. She is an adoptive parent, a co-founder of Guatemala Adoptive Families Network which promotes ethical practices in Guatemalan adoption, and finally a contributor to various adoption books.

    Annette Appell is a law professor who has authored multiple articles, books chapters, etc. on adoption. She serves on the editorial board of the Juvenile and Family Court Journal and the Adoption Quarterly, and has extensive experience representing representing children and parents involved with the child welfare system, including providing legal representation in termination of parental rights cases and adoption proceedings.

    Lynn Franklin: Opening Remarks
    • As a society we have a responsibility to families who are at risk of becoming “families of origin”
      • that responsibility is one of practice, not just of rhetoric

    • Ethics must include sensitivity to race & economic factors in both IA and domestic settings
    • I’ve heard a lot of stories, but one that sticks with me that is germaine to the current topic is this one: I had returned from Columbia and was telling a US "adoption professional" about conversations with birthmoms in Columbia, when the US adoption worker said in surprise::
      • “Oh, I guess I haven’t thought of them [the Columbian birthmothers]like OUR birthmothers.”
    • Do we think of women in these (other) sending countries in a different light?
      • Certainly many in private adoption don’t consider women in the public welfare system to be like “our birthmothers” either.

    • We really need address the cultural and economic forces that operate in all forms of adoption
    • The mother who relinquishes in Columbia isn’t fundamentally different from birthmothers in the private US system or the public welfare system.
    • The mission must be for providers to provide quality services.

    Sania Metzger
    • There is a documented need for birthmothers from indigent families for legal representation in the Child Welfare System (CWS) process
      • The TV show, Judging Amy, as good as it was, never had an episode that focused on inadequacy of legal representation of birthparents in the Child Welfare System (CWS)
    • Federal /State policies
      • Mandate the termination of parental rights if the allegations/issues against the parent by CWS aren’t resolved
      • The process to terminate parental rights is set into motion early in the process with CWS
      • Yet these parents who are at risk for losing their parental rights are not given quality legal representation
      • It’s a serious ethical issue that the statutes that threaten to take away parental rights do not also provide them with legal representation
    • Parent may face a termination of parental rights, but there is no balancing act to provide legal representation of parents who stand to their rights lose rights
      • we value the process to sever rights
      • but we don’t value a fair process or making sure that parents’ rights in the process are protected
    • There ought to be moral outrage at this situation,
      • and yet we don’t see or hear it and that concerns me.
    • The American CWS process removes children from their families and promises to give them new ones
      • Children who are abused and neglected enter the system,
      • and move forward in a process that ultimately results in the severance of parental rights
      • This system holds out the promise that these children will be adopted
      • And yet many aren’t adopted
    • The American CWS severs parental rights and holds out the promise of new homes
      • In 2002, there were129,000 legal orphans (children whose parents had had their parental rights severed) in the US system
      • These kids become orphans through the Child Welfare System
        • Not because of wars, or natural disasters, or HIV, or other catastrophes
        • These kids are orphans because we severed parental rights
        • So that the kids could be adopted into families that legally speaking, could “better” care for them

      • We terminate parental rights with the HOPE that children will be placed
      • We say to their parents--sorry you can’t raise them, but it will be better for them because they will be raised in a loving family and have the things that children should have
      • But we fail to come through for these kids
      • Where is the court and child welfare accountability in this?
    • It is NOT good enough to hold out a promise to child or parent
      • Plan to make sure child is raised in loving, caring family
      • And then violate that mother’s trust; violate that family’s trust
      • The child continues to languish; the child is not adopted
    • On an annual basis more than 22,000 children who have become orphans through the CWS system exit the system without ever having been given that promised permanence in their lives
      • We are failing miserably to place children
      • Failing miserably to fulfill promises to parents and children
      • The birthparent failed to keep child, but now has to struggle with the painful reality that:
        • Her child not deemed worthy
        • Her child is not adoptable,
        • Her child was never embraced by another loving family.
    • We, especially those who understand the richness of adoption when it works as it should, should be feeling moral outrage that this is happening. That these children are failing to get homes and that our promises to these parents whose parental rights have been severed have not been kept. This is a serious moral and ethical issue.
    • WHO are these children/families that we are failing?
      • Disproportionately they are people of color and poor people
      • The same people who face/have faced historic and current discrimination; structural racism, ethnic discrimination, etc.
      • Those involved in CWS processes are disproportionately the poor and persons of color
        • Those whose income is under $15,000 a year are 22 times more likely to be in CWS
        • These are indigent parents who can’t afford legal help
        • They should be getting quality legal representation from the time of the first knock at door of CPS

      • Racism and ethnicity overlays WHO is in the system
        • Disproportionately includes those who have experienced historic stereotyping, marginalizing, under representation, and the undervaluation of their families
        • We undervalue families from certain racial and ethnic backgrounds
        • We SHOULD be paying special attention to these children—so they don’t automatically end up in the system
    • It is a symptom of the problem that we automatically consider children from these families, special needs children simply because of who they are.
    • Horrendous disproportionality in system
      • Inequities begin at front end, but the disparities continue; the disproportionality continues throughout system and process
      • Kids Count figures show that on one day--30 Sept 2006:
        • 15% of US kids were African American
        • Yet, 34% in US kids in the Child Welfare System were African American
        • 36% of children in CWS waiting to be adopted were African American
        • Only about 30% of those adopted are African American

      • Likewise Native Americans are about 1% of population, 2% waiting of those waiting to be adopted, and only about 1% of those adopted who are adopted
    • We TALK about adoption and protecting needs of birthparents on front end, but we don’t challenge our ourselves enough
      • We present a view of adoption that is one sided
      • We separate out from our understanding of adoption and don't speak about the horrendous struggles that indigent birthparents face to contest termination of parental rights petitions from our understanding of adoption
    • Positive developments
      • Several states have new legislation permitting children to petition the court to reinstate their parents' previously severed parental rights
      • One of these states is California where legislation was the result of the Jared H case
        • Jared H was a 14 yo child whose mother was substance abuser, and he was deemed to be at risk for coming into the CWS system. In a preemptive move, Jared H asked that his stepfather be allowed to adopt him
        • As a precursor to the anticipated adoption, Jared's mother's parental rights were severed. But then the stepfather adoption was not allowed to take place because of “unsanitary conditions in the home.”(that is another issue for another day)
        • Jared H's wish to be raised in the loving family (that he had chosen) was aborted and he was inadvertently thrown into the foster care system where it is now likely that he will remain until he is emancipated (reaches legal adulthood)
        • Unfortunately, the court couldn’t undo the parental rights termination because it had no general legislated mandate to reinstate parental rights that had been severed.
        • The court, realizing the bad situation it was in, subsequently invited the CA legislature to create a law which would allow children to petition the court to reinstate parental rights (when it’s safe to do so).
          • The CA legislature responded with the 8519 legislation which allows for a child to bring a petition before the court to have his/her parental rights reinstated
          • This is an attempt to deal with creation of orphans in this country without the corresponding ability to place children in adoptive homes
    • Model programs for providing quality legal services to families who come into the CWS system
      • Center for Family Representation, in NY City
        • Attorney working out of an office with an interdisciplinary staff
          • Parent advocate, paralegals, investigative staff, caseworkers, etc.

        • Contrast this with the usual legal representation (when it happens) of an attorney "working out of a briefcase" and often meeting his/her client for the first time in the courtroom
        • Better outcomes result because the representation begins earlier, often before petition is filed
        • Program has reduced numbers of kids who need to be removed from their homes
          • Of 51 cases handled by center, in 32 of them children were able to remain in the home or be reunited with parents shortly after the process began
    • Parent advocacy as a developing trend that I recommend that we support
      • Team decision making that involves bringing parents to the table
      • Parents SHOULD be there when important decisions are being made concerning their children
      • Including parents shows respect for those in the system and those whose rights are at risk of being terminated
      • We should be supportive of the rights of parents to maintain appropriate ties with their children as long as it's safe to do so

    Tesi Kohlenberg
    (Tesi provided a printed handout with bullet points which I am seeking permission to reprint on fleasbiting)
    • When my husband and I started the process to adopt from Guatemala, we spent a number of months researching the situation and we thought we knew what was going on in Guatemala with our adoption. We thought we'd be:
      • adopting a child whose parent truly couldn’t care for her, parents who had truly and freely chosen adoption for their child
      • a part of a system that was helping women

    • And to some degree we were
    • We had been in correspondence with Bruce Harris at Casa Alianzaand he had assured me that ethical adoption from Guatemala was possible
    • I knew a lot (from working with teen mothers in NY and Boston for 15 years) about the effects of chronic poverty, racism, substance abuse, and trauma on decision-making
    • I also knew something about the US role in Guatemala’s 36 year civil war and the genocidal attacks on the native Maya, and the effects these things might have had on the people who would be the parents of my child
    • I had some doubts, but preadoptive parent hope and longing tended to override those doubts
    • In the past 8 years I have learned a lot more
    • The more I learn, the more race, culture, and class stand out as the key issues behind ethical problems in adoption both domestically and internationally—the same issues play in both
    • Our relationship with my daughter’s birthmother has put my mind to rest to some degree
    • But I also know too many people whose adoptive children were stolen or sold or whose children’s first mothers were coerced into relinquishing
    • The shadow of this fact falls on all of us adoptive parents even if we know that our own adoptions were relatively clean
    • Ethical issues in IA are the same ones as in domestic adoption, only more so. -
      • The disparities--the power differential issues--are worse in IA than domestically
      • Relinquishing families in IA are most often poor,illiterate,and disenfranchised
      • Desperate poverty leads people to do truly desperate things
        • The level of desperation distinguishes poor people in other countries from people in this country. This has to be acknowledged.
    • In most IA sending countries:
      • The rule of law is weak
      • Families have little recourse if they are victims of unethical adoption practice
      • Many families may face retribution if they do report crimes

    • In most traditional sending country societies, orphanages are traditionally a part of a temporary care system (Vietnam, Cambodia, India)
      • Families place their children temporarily and some return to find that their children have been adopted out overseas

    • Many sending countries are recovering from war—often wars financed by the US
      • Traditional cultural structures that might have been called upon to support families under stress have been eroded and compromised

    • What rights are we talking about? Basic human rights, such as:
      • Food, housing, healthcare, work,
      • Freedom from an atmosphere of war, persecution, and violence
      • Civil rights; equality across racial, gender, class, caste, etc.
        • Not achieved here, but significantly worse in sending countries

      • Access to supports for vulnerable populations are often nonexistent in many sending countries
        • Access to a functioning justice system for remediation should something bad happen

      • Psychological rights in adoption: the rights to connection, belonging, continuity,identity, recognition by society of your value, ability of adopted persons to have access to their families of origin when it makes sense
      • The most basic human rights for children as enumerated in the Convention on the rights of the Child
    • There are big questions about how these rights play out in international adoption
      • Do we believe that women in poor countries have the same rights of choice over what happens to their children as are given to them in developed nations?
      • Do we believe that nations have rights—almost property rights of a sort—in their children that supercede a woman’s right to decide where her child grows up?
      • How meaningful are our ideas of the rights of families for families living in a different cultural context in which they don’t have access to the most basic civil human rights?
      • Can we or should insist on those rights when they are not culturally understood and can we asked that they be enacted between persons who are interacting in a culture different than our own?
      • Can we ascribe these rights to people who are fundamentally powerless?
    • These are issues to think about—I don’t have easy answers—only questions.

    • A story about powerlessness and cultural disconnect: When we went to Guatemala to meet our daughter’s family (after we had pushed consistently to be able to do so)we finally met with the mother and mother’s sister—-We asked her, "What would you like us to tell our daughter when she is older about why you chose adoption for her?"
      • My daughter's Guatemalan birthmother looked straight at me and at my white husband who is 6 ft 3 and blond (and who looks like a kindly Viking),and said that she hoped the girl would never need to know that she was adopted.

    • Guatemala is in crisis. There are not enough publicly funded orphanages in Guatemala. Most orphanages are privately funded. There is some domestic adoption. Domestic adoption in Guatemala is private, informal, and easy, but it can’t provide for all the children who need help. Private orphanages and the private relinquishment system (funneling children into IA)handles the vast majority of cases.
      • The strengths of a private relinquishment system are:
        • Maternal choice
        • Excellent foster care
        • Babies finding homes relatively quickly at young ages

      • The Problems with a private relinquishment system are:
        • It's very vulnerable to corruption
        • It's very vulnerable to develop unethical and illegal practices

      • Many of us are in agony about this

    • The situation is this: There is a rapidly increasing demand for adoptable newborn babies and so
      • A class of baby finders has sprung up who are paid a great deal to locate babies
      • Finders are paid between $6,000 and $10,000 per baby
      • And so they produce, find, or locate babies for adoption
      • In a significant nontrivial proportion of the cases, the finders are paying a portion of that finder’s fee to Guatemalan parents to relinquish their children (payments are at initial relinquishment and final signature)
        • Parents are being paid anywhere from a few hundred dollars up to $3,000 to relinquish their children
        • In a country where a third of the population lives on $2 a day or less, this is money to provide a powerful incentive for relinquishment
    • Guatemala is unusual in IA because contact between adoptive and first families is possible, although it is often discouraged and sabotaged by the Guatemalan adoption attorneys
      • AP’s who make contact with Guatemalan birthfamilies, and there are something on the order of 500 of us now, usually find that adoption is truly what the first mothers chose for their children. They felt it was what was needed and what was best for the child. This fact is really important to note in the context of these other stories which follow. We are finding that:
        • Some women were coerced to relinquish by their male partners
        • Some women are also often coerced by adoption workers (I will NOT call them “adoption professionals”)
        • Some extended families would have wanted to parent the child but were not given the option by the mother
        • Some Guatemalan women are even getting pregnant repeatedly in order to earn a living selling by selling their babies
        • There is some involvement in adoption by gangs that run guns and drugs
        • There are reliable reports that women who change their minds during the waiting period are told that they must pay back the monetary costs of childcare for their child during the waiting period and also any money they had been previously given (which is illegal) and because they don't have the money, are not getting their babies back

      • NO one is sure how widespread these problems are
        • But the US Embassy says these problems are “frequent”

      • No one knows whether of those mothers who receive money at relinquishment--the money was the reason they relinquished their children or whether the money simply represented something good that happened to them in the midst of tragedy
        • And as for money, Guatemalans have often said, "Why does everyone else get money and the mother doesn’t?" I have my own answer as to why they shouldn’t, but I understand the psychology behind the question.
    • The crisis in Guatemala right now has its roots
      • In seriously unethical practices,
      • The intransigence and denial of agencies (and their representatives in Guatemala) that have steadfastly denied that there has ever been an ethical problem
      • The polarization of the dialogue in which both UNICEF and Casa Alienza have played a role by painting an extreme and unrealistic pictures of what is going on in Guatemala

    • Solutions that are being looked at now are politically attractive in the abstract, but are likely to close the country to IA in practice
    • Adoption has become a business bringing powerful amounts of money into poor countries.
      • If adoption funds leak into excess profits, unethical practice can practically be guaranteed.
        • Even in China where there is less structural vulnerability than in Guatemala, we are learning of adoption corruption and child abduction.
    • This all can not be stopped without bringing about profound social changes beyond the scope of this panel. In terms of vulnerable families, we can not protect them without first ensuring the rights of families to survival and social justice
    • We need to be working hard to minimize the need for international adoption.
      • The steps I recommend to work towards this are laid out in the handout.

    • However, until social justice and human rights are addressed, the right of a child to grow up in a stable and loving family must still be honored and set higher than abstractions about systems.
      • For this to happen ethically in countries beset by poverty and corruption, we and our adoption representatives will have to be very careful indeed.

    To read notes from the rest of this session see Part II of Accountability to Families of Origin: Before Adoption: Protecting the Rights of Vulnerable Families of Origin--Workshop 1.2