Over the past few days, a group of adoptive parents on a FaceBook group compiled the following list of steps for prospective adoptive parents to take in order to work towards an ethical adoption.
I am honored to share them with you now, and I look forward to your feedback, resources, and suggestions to develop this list further.
A Practical Guide to Improving the Ethics of Your Adoption
by adoptive parents, for adoptive parents
1. Work to understand the overall status of international adoption (IA) and the ethical issues involved.
- A map of IA ethics, Part 1, Part 1.5, Part 2
- IA Ethics/Resettlement
- Hague Convention on IA
- Understand that if money is changing hands at any point in the process, there potential for corruption. Not just with exchange of money, but that is a big incentive!
2. Develop a healthy mindset about adoption:
- Adoption agencies are first and foremost a business. Sure, they may want to help kids find families and help PAPs form families, but at the end of the day, they are a business. They need to make money to continue operating.
- Agencies will employ every business tactic out there to continue to generate income
- Agencies are masters of “spin.”
- Remember, no matter how nice/kind/supportive they are, you are ultimately hiring an agency to perform a service: they work for you.
- Good customer service does not equal an ethical agency
3. Selecting an adoption agency (general):
- Agency must be licensed in the US
- Agency must be Hague certified, without any substantiated complaints
- Agency must be licensed in sending country (lists available through the Department of State website on each individual country’s page)
- Agency must not be working under the license of another agency in the sending country (“umbrella-ed”) (an incomplete list of agencies working under an umbrella is available here)
- Agency must not allow other un-licensed agencies to work under it’s license in the sending country (“umbrella-ing”) (an incomplete list of agencies allowing others to work under their umbrella is available here)
- Agency is in good standing with the Better Business Bureau
- Agency is forthcoming about any lawsuits or official complaints that have been filed against them
- Agency requires pre-placement education and training on the following topics:
o Transitions in adoption (care center to APs, arrival in the US, adapting to live in the US, cocooning)
o Trauma and attachment in adoption (for children adopted at all ages)
o Behaviors of post-institutionalized children and how to respond in a way that promotes attachment
- Agency requires PAPs to identify attachment/trauma experts and services in your area prior to placement
- Agency provides a listing of post-placement services that they offer or are offered in your local area, including resources for parents who feel overwhelmed/are considering disruption
- Agency provides a clear understanding of all fees before a contract is signed; agency explains how fees are used and how refunds will be issued if they fail on their end of the adoption contract
- Agency does not charge a “monthly fee” or "maintenance fee" upon acceptance of a referral (payment plans are okay, charging specific monthly fees to maintain the care of the child after referral is not okay)
- Agency allows you to travel within the country independently, and allows independent contact with birth family while in country (no agency personnel present, including agency translators)
- Agency allows you to record any interactions with birth family
- Agency does not promise a particular timeline; agency does not claim that they can process adoptions faster because they are smaller, have fewer clients, etc…
- Agency allows you enough time to conduct an investigation and have file reviewed by medical professionals before accepting a referral; they do not pressure you to accept a referral immediately
- Agency does not give referrals to families whose dossier is not yet complete
- Agency does not give referrals of children whose paperwork (including orphan status) is complete
- Agency discloses how many cases have not passed Embassy on the first attempt, have been referred for additional investigation, etc
- Agency provides a clear plan of action (that does not result in extra cost to the PAP) if a referral is lost or an adoption fails because they did not do due diligence in investigating the referred child’s orphan status or case particulars (suggestion: plan should have option of refunding your program fees, not just being given another referral, because do you really want to continue working with an agency like that?)
- Agency does not make threats (obvious or veiled) towards PAPs; they do not make statements that your actions could “endanger the whole program,” etc.
- Do not work with an agency that has ever offered money to a family in exchange for signing a gag order (you may have to ask around within AP networks to see if an agency has ever done this)
- Agency does not claim that particular actions are “not allowed” unless they can support that claim with a law or documentation from a governing body (eg: pre-adoption contact with birth family, exchanging contact information with birth family)
- Agency does not claim to have any “special relationships” or connections within the sending nation’s government or child welfare departments (“special relationship” is code for “they accept our bribes.”)
- Agency does not promise speedy referrals of healthy infants
- Agency does not refer 2 unrelated children together
- Agency does not have or support a “safe birth house” for mothers in the sending nation (this is essentially code for a place to brainwash women into relinquishing their health newborn)
- Agency does not claim to offer family preservation and adoption services at the same time
- Agency does not accept clients from other agencies who are no longer operating in the sending nation or have had their license revoked in the sending nation
- Agency reveals how many children that they refer are classified as “abandoned,” how many children that they refer are under age 24 months, and how many special needs/older children they refer.
- Agency never pays employees on a per-child basis, especially in-country staff and partners
- Agency does not charge fees to “facilitate” contact with birth family
- Agency does not give money or “gifts in kind” to orphanages, nor do they work with orphanages who receive money or gifts in kind from other adoption agencies.
- Agency is free of claims (or has appropriately responded to any claims) of abuse, neglect, and maltreatment of children in their care
- Research the agency on the Yahoo! Adoption Agency Research group (link provided here)
4. Selecting an adoption agency (Ethiopia specific):
- Select an agency that works in regions with multiple orphanages (so that children who are brought to the local MOWA office are not guaranteed to go to a specific orphanage/placed in IA pipeline)
- Refuse to work with an agency that does not allow you to independently verify the orphan status of referred child, often called an “Orphan Status Verification” or OVS (Note: an OVS provided by an “independent” contractor (such as EthioStork) who has been hired/contracted/paid by your agency is not sufficient. This should be independent searching/contracting on behalf of the PAP, paid by the PAP.)
- Agency allows you to travel within the country independently
- Agency does not take custody of the child until after the Federal Court (not local or regional court) verifies the orphan status of the child (until then, reunification remains a possibility, and the child should not be in agency care.)
- Research the agency on the Yahoo! Ethiopian Adoption Agency Research group (link provided here)
5. PAP Due Diligence
- Research your agency and country program at ethics watchdog sites like PEAR, Ethica, Reform Talk, Pound Pup Legacy; consider that any unethical behavior by an agency (whether in your selected program or not) is potentially possible in your adoption process
- Carefully read your agency contract and understand all of your obligations and the agency obligations
- Strike any language that inhibits your ability to act in the best interest of your family and/or your future/referred child (eg: prohibits you from doing an independent investigation)
- Strike any language that prevents you from hiring your own attorney/legal representation in the US or in the sending nation
- Ask about how often staff has turned over in the last few years, both domestically and in the sending nation; research all current and past employees of the agency (often, unethical people just go an start a new agency or work for a different agency and continue the same practices. Staff turnover can also indicate that they became aware of unethical practices and fired a person to “fix” the problem- although it usually doesn’t “fix” widespread problems.)
- Ask if the agency ever used a different name, and fully research that agency
- Obtain a full list of all orphanages/care centers that your agency works with and fully research them
- Ask how many other children were surrendered from the same area on the same day as your referred child (should not see 10 kids being surrendered on the same day in the same town)
- Do not accept a referral if you have not completed an independent investigation of the child
- Understand the family law that governs the sending nation, the birth family and child’s rights in the sending nation, and your obligations as the adoptive parent in the sending nation (Ethiopian Family Law.)
- Understand when and how to report unethical agency behavior, and do it!
- Commit to walking away, no matter how much money you've spent, no matter how much you have fallen in love. Commit to walking away if you cannot reasonably ensure the ethics of your adoption process.
*Further reading about measures to protect the ethics of your Ethiopian adoption can be found here.
**Additional resources about adoption, international adoption, adoption ethics, and the adoption triad can be found on my Adoption Resources page. (Please feel free to suggest any additions!)