There was a lot of talk about Ethiopia this week in the world of international adoption. To be honest, the discussions really rattled me. I actually feel like I’m a little late to the game to discuss this now, but I really needed some time to process things.

So, earlier this week, the Australian news program Foreign Correspondent aired a segment called Fly Away Children about some severely unethical adoption practices in Ethiopia. The video is about 30 minutes long, and is very difficult to watch in parts (just a forewarning if anyone is interested in watching). The video shows the practices of one particular agency (CWA) and suggests that child harvesting is being done (basically that they’re recruiting people to give up their children), that promises are being made to birth families that aren’t being met (like promising annual contact with their children, and so on), and that the agency is not being truthful in describing the medical conditions of the children to their adoptive American parents.

CWA has issued a response and of course they state that none of the accusations are true. It’s hard to watch the video, however, and see how any of it could be made up. And then of course Foreign Correspondent issued a response to CWA’s response.

Now, I know well enough not to believe everything I see on TV or the Internet. Of course. However, I also realize that there is usually some amount of basis for accusations like these. A number of things upset me about this whole situation. First, the thought that anyone is harvesting children is disgusting and despicable. Second, an agency that misrepresents to birth families what will happen should not be in operation. Period. These families need to understand what they are doing when they relinquish children for adoption. And, agencies must be as thorough as they can be in describing potential medical concerns to prospective adoptive families. We all know that the standard of medical care is lower in Ethiopia and that some things may go undiagnosed, but if a child is having seizures several times a day, for example, that should be mentioned to the adoptive parents.

The video and the responses led to a vigorous discussion – debate, even – on the Ethiopian adoption boards I follow. I read it all with interest but also with trepidation. How can we know that we’re not going to end up in the middle of an unethical situation?

Craig and I have a tremendous amount of faith in our placement agency, Wide Horizons for Children. They were one of the first agencies licensed in Ethiopia, and they are very highly regarded and respected. We know – as much as we can know, I guess – that they are doing everything above-board and in an ethical manner.

These agencies with unethical practices must be shut down. It simply must stop.

One of my fears out of this discussion is that these types of reports will cause Ethiopia to close to international adoption, like we’ve seen in recent years in Guatemala and Vietnam. Of course that would affect us, but it would also affect the children…

I’m sure the discussion on this issue is far from over.

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9 Responses to rattled

  1. Matt and Jenny says:

    it's so sad to hear about things like this. there are so many children that REALLY DO need good homes and it's things like this that can eventually lead to the country shutting its doors and those children remain in orphanages. that being said, i don't think that's going to happen soon with ethiopia and i think your adoption will go smoothly. hopefully, if something unethical really IS going on, it will be addressed directly with CWA and not by shutting everything down. hang in there. it seems like there is always something to worry about with IA. i will be praying for you and for ethiopia.

  2. Robin says:

    Oh this makes me so sad. It's hard to think that something like this could happen but there are definitely unethical people in every line of work.. and if it's becoming a "business" people are going to start getting greedy.

    I hope you're right that this can get sorted out and that Ethiopia does not get closed to adoption. That would be devestating to all parties involved.

  3. kristine says:

    we are with wide horizons also. although we've already signed and given them quite a bit of money i keep looking into everything i can. if we ever find anything out about them being unethical we will change agencies immediately. so far everything i've found out about them shows them to be a very, slow, steady, thoughtful agency. this week i looked up their tax statements. their directors seem to be paid a fair amount, nothing outlandish and they give a substantial amount to humanitarian aid.

    that said, we will continue to keep our eyes and ears open. that video was so heart wrenching!

  4. Christine says:

    Thanks for posting this Kelly. This blipped onto my radar screen, but I hadn't had a chance to follow up and look into what was going on.

    I just deleted a rambling paragraph on how angry these things make me. I think we're all on the same page there.

    We're familiar with WHFC, having looked at them as well. (They weren't the right fit for us, but I think that they are a wonderful agency) They are also close to us so I hear about them a lot. All good things. The moment I hear something questionable (which I doubt will ever happen) you better believe I'll be raising the alarm on that. But really, it's not agencies like them that give this process a bad name.

    Again, thanks for posting!

  5. Kelly says:

    Kelly, you and I have talked about this offline, and I'm glad to see you have posted about it. This is really disturbing and it should not happen ever, anywhere. But I agree that there will always be bad actors in every corner of the world. I have to hope this is the exception to the rule in Ethiopia (which otherwise has a very good reputation for international adoption). I'm just glad that this has been uncovered so that it can be stopped in its tracks. You are right to stay vigilant and keep yourself informed of the latest goings-on on this topic. You trusted your gut when you chose this agency even though it meant longer wait times. I think you were smart to do this and it will pay off.

  6. CatherineD says:

    Kelly, I did not see the segment you mentioned, but I have seen stories like these about Korean adoptions, too. Unfortunately, I'm guessing that this kind of thing happens all over the world. It sucks. Mean people suck.

    I agree that it is extremely unsettling to think about things like this, but (as you know) so much of international adoption is out of our control. I'm sure you and Craig did thorough research on your agency and it's good that you feel comfortable with them.

    I'm glad that unethical practices like these are being exposed more and more through the media. People need to know what is happening – not just in Ethiopia, but all over the world. I hope that through continued education and communication, stories like these will be a thing of the past.

    I wish I could say something to comfort you, like "Don't let it bother you," or "Hang in there", but I know it's easier said than done. Just know that I understand, and I have stayed awake many a night worrying about 'what ifs.'

    Ahhh, adoption! And all we wanted was a family! Simple request, right? Never a dull moment, and always something to worry about. πŸ™‚

  7. Elizabeth Frick says:

    Kelly, my stomach was in my throat as I read this, b/c it reminded me of the tiny trickle of stories that emerged from Viet Nam as we were waiting for a referral. This kind of stuff just makes you physically and emotionally ill as an AP. As though we need any more to worry and stress about, right? Ugh. It's so frustrating when bad agencies mess it up for everyone else. But I'm hoping that it won't be the case for you guys, and that it's an agency issue, not a country issue.
    Take comfort in knowing that you've chosen an ethical agency – from personal experience, I know that goes a l-o-o-o-o-n-g way in giving you peace of mind.

  8. Angela says:

    This video is on my Facebook page. It was added by an Ethiopian. Honestly, I initially signed with the highlighted agency, but was immediately uneased by the sheer number of children they are able to adopt annually. It didn't feel right. I lost the money and it seemed to not make any sense, but I just had to go with my gut.

    I was told I wouldn't have the opportunity to meet the birth family…I never accepted that. I never got over it.

    This process is very uneasy. I often wonder if I'm doing the right thing as it is.

  9. Erica says:

    I'm so sorry. I know how tough it is with international adoption. On top of all the normal adoption fears, we have the distance and language barriers and whole question about ethical/unethical practices. If only everyone would just play fair and do what is best for the kids.

    We considered Russia and Hungary before deciding to go the domestic route. If it would make you feel better, try checking with the US embassy office in Ethiopia about your agency to make sure that they haven't had any problems with them. They can tell you what the status of the program is looking like AND about any past or current issues with an agency. I found out lots of info that way.

    Just keep moving forward. πŸ™‚


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