Our family adopted from Ghana Africa four years ago. This was our first international adoption but fourth adoption for our family. I felt like we went into this journey with eyes wide open. However, until you live and spend time in the country with the child you are adopting, learning their culture and meeting those who care for them on a daily basis, you really don’t know your child or their country of origin. This is a vital part of your adoption journey. The phrase “to know you, is to love you,” comes into full picture when you immerse yourself in your child’s country and
I encourage you to learn as much as possible about those who claim to be “helping” you through your process, both inside your agency and outside. Learn about who is eligible to reside in an orphanage in any given country. We live in the United States, and I have always thought that an orphanage was just for orphans. In Ghana, when I was in the country, I learned, to my surprise, that orphanages may house children that have a living parent or parents. There are times that parents may not be able to feed, clothe, and educate their child. So, they place them in an orphanage for the child to have better possibilities, with no intention of their child ever being placed for a domestic or international adoption. This is where child trafficking can easily come into play.
If an adult shows up and offers the right price for an adoption, a child—who was never intended to be placed for
adoption—may be sent half a world away from their birth parents. I questioned adoptive moms I associated with throughout our international adoption journey. With a combined total of 11 children adopted internationally, and literally years spent in the country between us, we may have some tips on how to ensure your adoption is ethical.
Below are the helpful tips we have all acquired through ours and other’s experiences, and what we wished we would have known from the beginning. I will be sharing details throughout this article from all of the Ghana moms. I will share every story in first person as if I am talking about myself and my husband in order to protect the privacy of everyone who gave me permission to share. Here are 18 tips to help you make sure your international adoption is ethical.
1. Spend as much time as possible in your child’s country. Between me and my husband, we made six total trips to Ghana. Our time there, combined, was about three months. One of my personal visits was six weeks long. During that six week visit, I attended meetings with the director of social welfare, went to meetings at the U.S.
Embassy multiple times, and went to court. All of these experiences opened my eyes to many things that I needed to be aware of in our adoption to ensure it was ethical.
2. Many times it’s the expectations of the adoptive family that makes the adoption ethical or not. I found this to be 100 percent true. Especially in a third-world country, everything—including children—can be bought for the right amount. So, if adoptive families are pushing for the adoption to move faster, many people in the country feel that pressure, at the right price, will make that happen. Even if the adoptive family
has only the best of intentions, they never know what their pushing and pressure will evolve to in a third-world country.
For example, if an adoptive family was getting impatient while waiting for a birth certificate for six months, they could tell their power of attorney, or POA, that they couldn’t believe it is taking so long. Then, instead of the POA telling them to be patient because everything needs to be adequately investigated, he may say, “I will see what I can do.” He might go to the birth certificate registrar and find that their request is at the bottom of 40 applications. The registrar might say that it will take another three months. The POA could then flash out $1,000 and ask how quickly it will be done. The registrar may reply, “Come back either tomorrow or early next week, and I will get it for you.” Then, in turn, the POA could go back to the family and say, “I’ve miscalculated, and I will need another $1,000, but things are moving. We should see it next week.” All the while the adoptive family has no idea that the proper procedure was completely bypassed. Instead, they think that things are progressing. These actions were not ethical.
3. Visit your orphanage/foster home multiple times and spend lots of time there.
Be respectful, but if you notice areas that you are not allowed to go see then ask why. Notice if the kids are clean and well-groomed on a regular basis or only when they know you are coming for a visit. If at all possible, show up unannounced at least once, and see how everyone reacts. Try to get the best possible idea of how things are run and make sure the adoption is ethical. The multiple visits and the long periods of time you spend there will allow you to see people in their true light.
4. Make sure your agency has representatives who spend significant time in the country and have established relationships of trust there. It is an instant red flag if you travel to your country and your agency representative acts as lost as you feel. They should be very familiar with travel in the country and meeting with your POA. They should have a trusting relationship with your POA and work hard to help you build a relationship with your in-country POA.
5. Question everything! If it doesn’t seem legitimate, it most likely isn’t. Just because it’s another country, right is right—wrong is wrong. Listen to your gut feeling, ask questions until you get an answer that feels legal. If it’s not legal in your country of origin, it’s probably not legal in theirs. If it doesn’t seem legal, ask more questions, keep searching, keep digging. Surround yourself with other families adopting from your country. Compare notes. Let your agency and POA know that you are comparing notes. Keep a wary eye on anyone who cannot explain the exactness of your complete adoption process. If someone in your close circle in the country isn’t answering your questions completely, it could be a red flag. This is a fantastic way to make sure everything is ethical in your adoption.
6. Be cognizant of changes in your representation. If the information about your adoption/child given to you by your representative or POA ever changes, ask more questions.
For example, we had been told for about five months that the girl we wanted to adopt was living in an orphanage because her birth father had passed away. This girl was the seventh child in her birth family and had been placed in an orphanage because her family could not afford to feed her. My husband was in Ghana for a few weeks and this story held up for almost the entire trip, until he was taken to a random hotel to meet a man that was very nervous. My husband looked at our POA for answers as the trip to this hotel had been quiet. It turned out the man wanting to meet my husband was the girl’s birth father. From there, the story continued to unravel. The biological father of the girl was scared that his daughter was being child trafficked. Yes, it was still true that she was living in an orphanage. Yes, they still didn’t feel like they could financially provide for her, but she had two living parents, which immediately made her ineligible for adoption in our country. Then the story began to change that her birth mom had died. My husband had no idea what to believe because up to this point the story was different. This is why spending time in the country, and meeting everyone involved in your child’s case is so important. To keep things ethical, it helps to learn the details.
7. No one should ever ask for a penny more than what is within your service agreement. All services should be invoiced through your agency. If pressure starts to mount on your POA or representative, they could become inclined to try to make things happen in any way possible. Before you know what’s going on, it’s $1,000 for this and another $1,000 for that. It spirals out of control before you even recognize what’s happening.
8. Asking to speed up the process can lead to bribes. No one ever thinks that this applies to their own personal country. However, unless the Hague Adoption Convention and additional guidelines are strictly enforced in your country, your adoption journey could be a long and drawn out process with many price increases and story changes. Nothing draws a situation away from being ethical like a bribe.
9. Ignoring the warnings of people who have been involved in adoptions in your country of choice can lead to loss of money, time, and a broken heart. Join Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages of any country that you are looking to adopt from. Usually, the families that are members of these pages are either in process currently, or they have adopted recently from the country. Listen to them! These people are sharing experiences and do’s and don’ts completely free—no one is paying them to share. Adoptive parents want to help each other because adoption is so emotionally taxing. Everyone would like to help make the journey lighter for the next traveler if possible. They want others to avoid the pitfalls that they have experienced. They want to make sure the adoptions are ethical too. If these parents who have traversed the front lines are telling you that adoptions are not ongoing in your country of choice, please listen. Even if you have an agency stateside, or a POA in the country telling you otherwise, most of us have people in the country we keep in direct contact with who can share with us the adoption climate at any given time.
10. Don’t have the “Not Me Syndrome.” This is where you know that it’s happened to others, but you think that you are the exception (in any situation). If it was unethical for them, it can’t be ethical for you.
11. Be willing to listen to the hard truths. This takes a lot of emotional maturity. It takes a lot of bravery to listen to things that may have devastating effects on your adoption. Then even more bravery to act on this information because you know it’s the right thing to do. For example, many investigations took place at the U.S. Embassy stage during our journey of adoption. At the time, safeguards were just beginning to be put into place to protect children being adopted. There were many bribes and people pushing through adoptions not fully investigated in the beginning and many had to start over at this stage. Families who had spent tens of thousands of dollars on the adoption processes so far, found out that children they thought were true orphans were in fact not legal orphans.
12. Have the courage to walk away when something doesn’t sit well with your gut.
13. Ask enough questions so that you annoy your adoption worker.
14. Make sure known birth parents are interviewed by the U.S. Embassy independently of the adoptive families and children. Make sure that the children are interviewed independently as well because there is so much pressure to follow through with a proposed adoption, especially at the embassy stage. It’s imperative that the birth family, including grandparents, get an opportunity to speak for themselves without the added pressure of the adoptive families looking at them while being interviewed. More than that, they need an interview without the adoptive family’s POA present.
15. Have a forensic interview done if possible. Make sure they are always recorded so there is a transcript for later on. Always have a paper trail, which will insure your safety especially at the U.S. Embassy. Also, know your documents. If you are asked for specific things when you are in an interview, then you will know exactly where to go for answers. According to the Child Advocacy Center, “a forensic interview is a structured conversation with a child intended to elicit detailed information about a possible event(s) that the child may have experienced or witnessed. The purposes of a forensic interview are … to obtain information from a child that may be helpful in a criminal investigation.”
16. Meet and talk with biological families with an independent interpreter if possible. Find someone not tied into your case at all. An independent interpreter is helpful because they won’t listen if anyone tries to taint or change the testimony of the children or birth parents.
17. Adopt children who are “paper-ready,” waiting, and in countries that are open for adoption. “Paper-ready” and waiting means that they have multiple documents prepared. They have death certificates on the child’s birth parents. They have birth certificates for the child to be adopted. The organization has the child’s history up to that point written down. The child is up to date on immunizations and has records for them. They may even have a passport in process. They are intent on these specific children being adopted. It doesn’t lead to situations where people are walking around window shopping for children, where which changes are rushed, or, where bribes and illegal activity make an adoption happen. Most people don’t walk into the journey of adoption planning on illegal activity, especially when working with third-world countries where most have never seen the kind of money that will exchange hands for documents needed.
18. If answers given at any point in your adoption ever change, dig, dig, and dig some more! Even if the truth will jeopardize your adoption. Ensuring your adoption is ethical is crucial.
Anne White has been married 20 years to her best friend and partner in crime, Ryan White. They have seven children, three biological and four adopted. They feel extremely fortunate to have been able to grow their family through the miracle of adoption. Their journey has been a roller coaster laced with love, and they can’t wait to share it with the world.