in the news

Ethiopian adoption piece on CBS

Ethiopian adoptions are once again getting attention in the press. Last night, CBS Evening News aired a piece (link posted above) focused on the allegedly corrupt and unethical practices of one particular adoption agency (CWA) in Ethiopia. (Some might remember that I posted about another news piece on this same agency back in September.) The story told here is absolutely terrible. It focuses on an American couple that adopted three sisters from Ethiopia. According to the report, the birth father was paid for the girls and they were told they would return to Ethiopia (and to him) after they finished school. The girls eventually told this story to their adoptive parents and the adoptive parents are making the story public. What a tragic situation for the birth father, the adoptive parents, and mostly, the girls.

[In all fairness, let me note that of course what we are seeing here in this piece is only what CBS chose to show us. CWA has issued a rebuttal and states that it provided information that was apparently not presented in the final piece. I take issue with a few statements CWA makes about agencies not having access to information about birth parents and so on. If that’s the case, then how come my agency arranges meetings between the birth family and adoptive parents? But anyway…]

As with the recent situation in Haiti, I think it is important for us to hear of these unthinkable practices. We need to expose the bad actors and ensure that adoptions are done ethically and transparently. We need to determine what safeguards apparently failed in this situation and what else needs to be done to make sure that instances like these don’t occur again. And we need to get rid of the agencies that do not practice legally or ethically.

Beyond that primary concern, however, I also have major reservations about how mainstream media pieces like this portray Ethiopian adoptions. Granted, the piece did mention that CWA was one of 70 agencies licensed in Ethiopia. But they didn’t do much else to note that this is not the way the overwhelming majority of Ethiopian adoptions are done. It seems to me that someone who knows nothing about international adoption could watch a piece like this and think that all children adopted from Ethiopia are paid for and taken from their birth families (who expect them to return someday). I also think that one could easily interpret the information given in the piece to mean that all international adoption agencies – at least those in Ethiopia – are corrupt and that most children adopted internationally are victims of child trafficking.

The terminology used in this story is also disturbing. At one point the journalist notes something about how so many internationally-adopted children are not even really orphans. A typical person might think that an orphan has no living family members. But in the world of international adoption, and by law both in the United States and in Ethiopia, the term orphan can also mean that the child was abandoned or relinquished. Just like in adoption situations here within the US, many children adopted from overseas do have living birth relatives who make heart-breaking decisions to relinquish their children. If done via the proper and legal channels, those children are orphans.

I also don’t appreciate the fact that no contextual information was given about the rise in numbers of Ethiopian adoptions over the past few years. Yes, the numbers have risen dramatically. There is also a tremendous amount of need and there are more and more agencies working in the country. Additionally, it is a relatively new program (in the realm of international adoption) and it only makes sense that its numbers would increase as some programs (Guatemala, Vietnam) close and others (China) have increasingly long wait times.

I know that Craig and I will likely always be in the minority in that we will have more first-hand experience with international adoption than the average person. We have a lifetime of explaining ahead of us (on a number of fronts), I’m sure. It would just be nice if someone doing a piece like this would really explain the whole story in a way that is not so sensational and is balanced and informative. I know this is a complaint made of the mainstream media time and time again. I guess this is simply a timely and relevant direct example that is hitting home with me.

But please don’t get me wrong: My primary and utmost concern is with the way the adoptions are handled. They must be ethical. The children must be the priority, and their connections to birth families and native cultures must be maintained if at all possible.  So, if this type of exposure is what is needed to sort out the bad actors, then I’m all for making these types of allegations public (and the investigations that go along with them). We need to know that everything is being done properly, across the board, via all agencies.

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16 Responses to in the news

  1. sue says:

    very well put. i am in complete agreement. the story you shared about the 3 sisters is just heart breaking – for all involved. it really is so sad that a few bad apples can sour peoples views of adoption.

  2. A.J. says:

    Thank you for sharing this, Kelly. I had heard accusations about CWA before, but a first person account of their immoral practices is especially difficult to hear. We knew going into our adoption process that this was an industry in which people preyed on the emotions of others for significant financial gain, but it never ceases to amaze me that people would intentionally mislead both biological and adoptive parents, especially when there are so many children in this world that are truly in need of the love and stability of a family.

    Though, I agree that the language used in the piece is problematic at best. There was the implication that a child with living biological relatives cannot be ethically adopted (even when our culture readily accepts the domestic adoptions of relinquished children) as well as the pointed absence of clarification that not all 70+ agencies in Ethiopia are unethical. Unfortunately, it seemed like this journalist was not interested in exploring the complex issues of international adoption, but rather only sensationalizing the tragedy that these children and their biological and adoptive families will be forced to endure for the rest of their lives.

    And although I won’t blame these parents without knowing their full story, I do hold all adoptive parents accountable for the promotion of ethical adoption practices. It is our responsibility to do the research, ask the hard questions, examine our own motivations, and make ethical decisions. No good can from deciding to adopt children out of a Messiah complex, or from choosing an agency with the shortest wait times/youngest infants.

  3. Amen to everything you said. The media likes a sensational story and is not always interested in providing context or understanding. This fuels all kinds of misconceptions. Which we then have to deal with. Frustrating.

  4. Erin says:

    Yeah, that is only one bad adoption they heard of so they are going to harp on that and not tell the full story.

    I hate the news sometimes. They always leave out some part of the truth, ya know?

  5. Very well said, Kelly. It’s so unfortunate that unethical practices exist in the world of adoption and while I’m glad that those bad players get their comeuppance, it’s a shame how it taints the experience for the rest of us. And it’s really a shame how it affects the thinking of people who are ignorant of the whole international adoption world. I’ve always had a major beef with the media, picking and choosing what they think is “news” and skewing things in ways that make them seem more sensational and appalling. Truth in news would be a nice thing, eh?

  6. Jenny says:

    i was disturbed too. for both reasons… what CWA has allegedly done and for the way CBS only tells the bad part of the story. never talked about how many ETHICAL and SUCCESSFUL adoptions are completed… i, and many other families from our agency, wrote CBS today and requested they do a followup story on the GOOD adoptions…

  7. Kelly says:

    Kelly, I saw this piece last night and right after watching it I thought (no, I actually said out loud to Jon) – I’ll be very interested in what Kelly has to say about this story because she always has an important viewpoint on this type of stuff. I was right. It is disheartening to say the least that this short, conclusory, one-sided story about a tragic situation was all the viewing public got to learn about Ethiopian (and indeed all international) adoptions. We know this is (hopefully!) a small fraction of the overall wonderful success stories out there, but the general public does not. On the other hand, I was so angry to learn about CWA’s (allegedly) horrible practices so on that front I’m glad the story was told. But as you and others have said a little context would have gone a long way!

  8. Meg says:

    Very well said Kelly. I watched the piece as well and was so dismayed at the sensational way this story was presented. Like you and all the other comments already mentioned: it is the responsibility of PAPs to do their due diligence when picking an agency. Hopefully some good will come out of this…maybe CWA and other unethical agencies will be put under a little more scrutiny. Are agencies ever closed in a country? It is my hope that we can weed out these bad seeds instead of closing an entire country….Meg B-Chicago

  9. angela says:

    Kelly I’ve mentioned before this was the first agency I selected, but I never really felt comfortable with them. I was given a few untruths from the start and was unable to move past them. I asked the hard questions up front and didn’t like their answers.

    While there is a possiblility that this agency is being singled out due to previous coverage by the Australian news station, I believe where there is enough smoke there is fire. CWA has strong ties with the government of ET and they’ve marketed that they’re the largest adoption agency in that country. It is also the responsibility of the government of ET to ensure children are adopted ethically according to the guidelines of MOWA, as well as perspective adoptive parents to demand fair and ethical adoptions.

  10. Pingback: Ethiopian adoptions in the news again « CHASING SAINTS

  11. Leah says:

    Thanks for your insights on that piece CBS ran on Ethiopian adoptions. I have many people in my life that love to bring all the bad adoption news to me immediately.

    You are right though. . . for us adopting, we have a lifetime of explaining to do.

  12. Christine says:

    Great post Kelly! I’ve been by a couple times to read it since I kept clicking off to go somewhere else.

    So often it’s the “adoptions gone wrong” that get the most media attention and it just breaks my heart. While i do think it’s important to portray the wrongdoing (and to call those out who are responsible for it)… I’d also like to see some positive stories out there as well. Or at least some more “educational” stories. Especially since every time a story like this is aired, the amount of questions we get as in IA family go way up.

    And it blows my mind how uneducated the general public is on the definition of an “orphan” or why adoptions need to be “ethical” I remember someone saying to me when we decided to bow out of the Vietnam program, “Well, even if there was something fishy going on with their relinquishment… life here [in the US] would have to be better than life there.” I honestly had no reaction I was so stunned. And now we see the potential for it going on again in Haiti… scary.

    Whoa. I think I went off on a tangent there… Thanks for the well-thought out post, I really appreciate it!

  13. Rach@InHisHands says:

    Thanks for sharing this and your thoughts…what a devastating story. It’s heartbreaking to know that unethical things like this go on – more often than we can imagine. I, too, wish there would be more exposure on the positive aspects of adoption…you would *think* the media and the average Joe would be up-to-date in this day and age on adoption, but sadly not.

  14. Emily B. says:

    Kelly, thanks for sharing this. I missed this story. It is so frustrating that there are agencies out there acting unethically and they taint all the good work other agencies are doing. But you are right that those of us adopting internationally will constantly have to explain to others. In less serious news, I passed an award on to you. check it out on my blog. 🙂

  15. CatherineD says:

    Oh my goodness. That is so heartbreaking. Ugh, and the whole Haiti thing… WHAT were those people thinking??? I agree with the other comments that it is our responsibility as APs to educate others. Thanks for this post.

  16. Robin says:

    This is a good post and it brought up a lot of good points. You are totally right about the image it gives Ethopian, and maybe all, international adoptions. It’s a shame that we don’t always get the whole story.

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