Saturday, September 8, 2012

A Response to International Adoption Concerns – Part 3

by Joy Casey
Executive Director
Adoption Ministry of Youth With A Mission


What I want to accomplish more than anything else in discussing adoption concerns is to give a broader view of the dynamics of adoption. If one is diametrically opposed to adoption altogether, most likely nothing I say will ring true. If the reader is a mom who has had a less-than-stellar experience adopting a child overseas, she will naturally have a view of adoption based on her personal experience. Others have been dramatically influenced by media that conveys innuendos and allegations that may have slight elements of truth but are sensationalized and do not give an evenhanded picture. I have read many reports that simply were not factual and it was quite obvious what the agenda was: to cause alarm and make people afraid of adoption. Bear with me over the next couple of days as I attempt to bring some measure of balance to a subject that has become contentious.     ~Joy Casey

Part 3 of 5

Let me take a few statements that I have read and talk about their implications...

Of the 5 million orphans that UNICEF says there are in Ethiopia, a much smaller number are actually full orphans truly in need of a family.

I have thought long and hard about this statement and my husband and I have had some pretty interesting conversations regarding who should be considered an orphan. I grapple with the definition of “orphan” and I find its meaning differs depending on its context. Our agency places children in strong families living in the State of Washington when a birthmother and father make an adoption decision for their child. None of these children meet the definition of orphan in the traditional sense. The child’s mother and father are alive and well and simply determine that they are not in a place to parent and can choose an adoptive family for their baby/child. I know some would say this is a terrible thing to do, but nevertheless thousands of children here in the U.S. are legally placed for adoption every year simply because the biological parents determined to do so. They do not even have to have a good reason to make an adoption plan. They can just choose adoption as a parenting option; the judge does not ask for any explanation.

In international adoption, the bar is set much, much higher. In Ethiopia, strict parameters are enforced that allow fewer mothers (more leniency for birth fathers) to choose adoption for their child. I am a bit confused as to why it is so acceptable in the U.S. for anyone to make an adoption plan (married couples or single parents) and yet, in a country where things are much tougher and the social stigma of an unplanned pregnancy results in social isolation, people are outraged that any birth parent should consider such an option.

It is highly likely that of the 5 to 6 million children UNICEF declares are orphans in Ethiopia, a smaller number are full orphans where both mother and father are deceased, although I have not been able to find a statistic for this. The premise being asserted by many is that only children who do not have a living mother and father should be considered orphans and only those children should be considered for adoption. Some even go a bit further and state that only full orphans are truly in need of a family.


Of the 300,000 children that UNICEF says live on the streets of the major cities in Ethiopia, how many of these children meet the strict criteria of “orphan”? That is hard to say, but after working at the YWAM home for street children in Addis, I can vouch that most of the children can identify a parent or at least some family member. I have heard stories that would curl your toes of parents or other family members forcing their children onto the hazardous streets or into the hyena-infested countryside to live because they could not or would not care for them. Do these children need a family? Most definitely! The overwhelming majority of these children are not adopted and grow up without education and forced to beg or prostitute themselves in order to eat. Many fall into the dark underworld of criminals, live underground like animals, and are addicted to whatever they can find to dull their pain. No one knows how many young children and adolescent girls and boys are grabbed off the street and sold into slavery, but that is the stark reality for Ethiopia’s children who are out from under the protection of a family.

Many children who are adopted have a mom or a dad that would like to care for them if they only had financial support.

The overwhelming majority of the time this is the case. I do not know exactly how many children of the 1,700 who are adopted from Ethiopia in a year are relinquished, how many are abandoned, and how many are full orphans. But I can give you what has been the experience in our orphanages, which I will assume is pretty average. The largest category of children adopted is abandoned children, then relinquished, then bona fide full orphans (where the death of both parents can be proven and who are usually older children unless a single mother dies in childbirth). In most of the cases with full orphans, there are other living family members in Ethiopia who are unable (and sometimes unwilling) to care for the child and one of those family members becomes the child’s guardian in order to move forward with adoption.
Most of the time the birth parent (especially a birth mother) parents her child no matter what her circumstances. It is a sliver of the population of single or widowed moms who chooses an adoption plan, and in most cases that I have been involved in, it is because of significant challenges that she will do so. Should she be judged for looking to adoption as a solution? Can we who are affluent and stable and looking at the world through a Western lens begin to comprehend what forces culminate to propel a mother to perform self-abortion with a stick or abandon her newborn baby in the jungle or hospital or proactively make an adoption plan for her child? Should a mother who takes the time and thought to ask that her child be placed in an adoptive family be judged as heartless… or worse?
I have spent my adult life working with hundreds of women facing an unplanned pregnancy and walking them through decision making. When I started working in Ethiopia, I was surprised to find that pregnant women there had very similar emotions and reasons for wanting another family to raise their child and, just like in the U.S., relinquishing for adoption is a bitter-sweet choice. I found myself in familiar territory helping young women struggle with hard decisions, holding them as they grieved their loss, and honoring them for giving their child the stability of family they could never provide. I have followed up with every one of those mothers and have seen them come to a place of peace and even joy as they get updates from the adoptive family and pictures that show their children happy and well adjusted.
In many of the scenarios the mothers would have parented their children if they had a network of social and economic support. Living Hope maternity home gives that kind of support by providing a place for the women and their babies to live and trains them in a trade. When they are stable, several mothers are moved into a house together and a nanny is hired to care for the children while the mothers work. These women know that their chance of a man marrying them is almost non-existent and they must make a life for themselves and their baby. It is a difficult road, but with this level of support they can do it. Only one mother from the maternity home has made an adoption plan for her baby and her decision was not because she did not have assistance but for other personal reasons. This level of care only affects a few and cannot, unfortunately, be replicated for the majority.

You can read Part 4 here.
You can read from the beginning of this series here.

Joy Casey started Adoption Ministry of YWAM as a result of her many years working with YWAM’s maternity home, New Beginnings*. Ten years ago, Adoption Ministry was licensed as a child-placing agency in Washington State. The focus of the agency has always been on birthmothers/fathers and children. YWAM finds families for children, not children for families. There are no agency fees for domestic adoptions and all agency services are provided free of charge for both the relinquishing birth parent(s) and adoptive family. Joy has also been a partner in starting the first ever maternity home in Ethiopia called Living Hope. Living Hope is on the cusp of opening the first crisis pregnancy center in Ethiopia (complete with ultrasound machine) and there is a vibrant ministry to single mothers who choose life for their babies. Adoption Ministry has established four Widows and Orphans Homes in Ethiopia, three of them in very remote areas where there have never been any social services. Some of the children in these centers have been placed for adoption. Adoption Ministry 1:27 has also been developed to focus on orphan prevention and family restoration in Ethiopia.
*Over thirty years, 85% of the women living at New Beginnings single parent their children and 15% choose adoption.


Sara Brinton said...

Joy, I commented on one of your first posts too. Really enjoying this series. It would be helpful for you to learn more aobut how UNICEF estimates orphan statistics. They literally do a survey where they walk from house to house and ask "how many orphans live here?" and base the estimates on that. It's not precise. You know. The "least of these" are not a high priority for most governments or international organizations and no one (other than their heavenly Father!) is truly numbering these kids. The important thing I try to remember with a statistic like 5 million orphans is that most of these kids are living with their surviving mother or father or another relative. I agree with you that technical "orphan" status is not the same thing as whether or not a child needs a new family. I am much more familiar with uganda. Th estimate in Uganda is a little more than 2 million orphans. As a result, a lot of hopeful adoptive families assume there must be orphanages full of babies just waiting for new families. And this isn't really true. Extended families in Uganda do a pretty amazing job of caring for orphans. You are right, some of these children are cared for as "less than" biological children or exploited. But honestly a much higher percentage of Ugandan families are caring for orphans from their own communities than American families. I think it's so important for there to be careful (and relatively quick) investigations into a child's history to figure out if they need a new family. Loosing a parent to AIDS isn't the whole story...

Becky - Adoption Ministry of YWAM Ethiopia said...

Sara, your thoughtful and wise comment is so welcomed! If I had this article to do over again, I would point out much of what you said about statistics and also that 95% of the children in these statistics are over 5-years-old. I am not a fan of UNICEF, but they are the only institution with enough money, clout and interest to do these kinds of statistics; we all know they cannot be entirely accurate simply because the nature of the beast, but it gives us a thumbnail idea of what is going on. I have a hard time thinking of what 1 million looks like, let alone 100 million or 500 million! To me, 10,000 children is too many. And you are right, many children are being cared for by their community and not all are in need of an adoptive family outside of their country; however, even if half of ¾ of them were being taken care of by a family member, in Ethiopia and elsewhere there is still a huge number of children who are not being cared for and who are exploited or poorly cared for because of the lack of parental oversight. Glancing at the streets of Ethiopia or India, peeking into orphanages in China or Cambodia will portray a pretty terrible reality for millions of children. I work with a group who does orphan care in Uganda and Mozambique, India, China, Mexico and Romania and the plight of children who do not have a parent to care for them (whether living or dead) is not pretty. I spent some time Uganda on my last trip to Africa looking over what YWAM is doing there for orphans and was impressed! Uganda is a much more upscale country in many ways compared to Ethiopia. I was in the homes of about twelve foster families and talked at length with them about the situation of children in Uganda. It was so nice because I could actually communicate in English with them instead of through a translator! I also visited several orphanages and some were like being in an American home and others were not … I saw a wide range of care. There was much about Uganda that I really, really liked! The YWAM work there with children and women was totally fantastic; I wanted to stay!

Anyway, thanks for taking the time to give feedback. No matter if there are “only” a few million orphans in the world that need homes, we (meaning our world societies) need to find creative solutions for these growing, developing kids that is holistic and immediate. International adoption is just one immediate solution that can help a very few children have a stable upbringing while society puts in place infrastructure. I have a good friend who lives in Bolivia and was working with orphanages in Guatamala and a missionary friend who has lived in Guatamala for decades, and both of them can tell you stories about kids that have no parents who can care for them that will turn your stomach. If countries cannot adequately provide good homes for their orphaned children (pick whatever definition of orphan), then I believe adoption is a viable source for some of them … not the only answer, but an answer.

Child trafficking is another plight of our world that is doing nothing but growing. “They” say (whoever “they” is I am not quite sure at this time) that that business is booming and economically is surpassing the drug trade in our world. I am visiting YWAM’s center in Portland that is working on strategies to tackle this very subject … in fact, the exploitation of women and children is a huge area that is growing within our missionary organization. If I were younger and had more time, I believe this would be a cause that I would jump in the middle of because I am becoming more and more aware of slavery and child/woman trafficking in Ethiopia and it literally makes me ill. Children need families!!

God bless you!

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