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Archive for February, 2008

After reading through the letters above, we were shocked to say the least. There are so many directions I want to go with this post and my reactions, so rather than ramble on and on, I am going to try to break it down into a few succinct posts. Therefore, if I do not cover something today, don’t assume I won’t get to it tomorrow, but at the same time feel free to ask your questions and then perhaps I will be sure to follow them into further thought.

One of the main reasons we chose the Ethiopia program was the possibility of maintaining a contact or relationship with our child’s familial relations. Granted, there is a possibility that our child may be abandoned and we would not have this opportunity anyway, but if you review the 2007 CHSFS placement stat’s there is a decent chance, 85%, that our child will have at least one parent living or was relinquished. Of the 306 children adopted through CHSFS in 2007, 47 were abandoned, 190 have 1 or no living parent (may have extended family), and 69 were relinquished. Just for clarification, the definition of relinquishment is: a voluntary consent to the termination of one’s parental rights. Also, even in the cases of abandonment, there remains a possibility to connect with who found the child or even temporarily cared for them.

The issues that sparked the letter above seem to lie with the majority of Ethiopia adoptions. I know I am stating the obvious since there would have to be a birth family to meet for there to be a problem with the meetings, but there may be a slight difference if a child was relinquished or if they fit in the 0 or 1 living parent category. The real hang up seems to be in the definition of an orphan. I will come back to this point in a future post when I discuss the possible cultural misunderstandings. It is an important point, but was one I came to after lots of contemplation and discussion with our diversity staff where I work.

There are many reasons why birth family contact is important. Some of these reasons I admit I may not even have thought of since I am not the lucky bearer of a referral. Even though we are seeking an infant referral, our child will have a life before they came to our family. They will have a family that most likely loves them very much. This love does not dissolve when a child is placed for adoption. If fact, it is often quite the opposite, a child is often placed for adoption out of the purest form of love. Their family may not be able to care for them, to feed them, or they may be terminally ill. These are all issues that can be hard to grasp from a western experience where even at our most desperate state, survival for women and children doesn’t involve not having access to any food or shelter. I am not saying these situations do not exist here in the US, they certainly do, but in a very different proportion. If our child leaves their born culture in Ethiopia shouldn’t they still have access to that familial love that still exists, perhaps even have the opportunity to reciprocate?

There is no doubt in my mind that at some point our answers as to why our child came to be part of our family will no longer suffice. This can manifest itself in many ways, most likely based around questioning and further searching for clues surrounding identity. We do not plan on keeping any secrets from our child, but rather weaving together their story in familiar pieces that are never sprung just explained in greater detail, if detail is available. There will be questions that I may not know the answer to. There may be questions our child’s birth family may not know the answer to, but having the opportunity to fill in the blanks is a gift for all parties involved. Perhaps we may need to find some of these answers together – all parties involved. I will admit that the possibility of maintain birth family contact was a security blanket for us while adopting a child internationally. Selfishly, I was cold when this blanket was ripped away. How would we help our child understand without this tool? I later came to realize that we would be fine, but our child is the one to suffer. This is their family, their memories, their experiences. Through assumption our child’s family becomes our family and together we all lose. Who can determine that just because a family may exist our child is not an orphan? Or not an orphan yet?

I guess this is where I am going to end it for today. This decision has complex consequences, as is evident by my ramblings above, but I can not help but wonder how I would feel if I had a referral in hand. If I had a child, with a story, and with parents, I think I would be very angry. Angry that some hang-up in terminology would prevent me and my child from connecting with those who may love them dearly. Out of that love they had the courage to allow me to parent their child. Shouldn’t I at least have the opportunity and respect to thank them for that?

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About 3 weeks ago we received this e-mail from CHSFS:

January 23, 2008
Effective immediately, CHSFS is suspending any birth family meetings and all ongoing contact between adoptive and birth families (including Post Adoption Intermediary Services). This is in direct response to statements made recently by the US Embassy in Addis Ababa citing the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) of 1989; regarding orphan status, irrevocable relinquishment and termination of birth family rights.

These concerns aside, this decision to suspend the adoptive parent-birth family meetings is in contrast with what is generally accepted standards of adoption law and practice in the US. It is generally believed that such communication is in the best interests of the adopted child. CHSFS Vice President of Adoption Services, David Pilgrim, will be going to Ethiopia along with several other agency leaders and Tom DiFilipo, the President of the Joint Council on International Children’s Services (JCICS), the largest organization advocating for families and children to discuss the situation. However, this is seen as an issue between the Consular Section of the Department of State and any inter-country adoption program. JCICS and CHSFS will continue to work with Consular Section staff toward a resolution of this situation.

CHSFS sincerely regrets this change as we believe our practice, based on over a century of adoption experience is in the best interests of the adopted child, their family as well as their birthparents.

Regards,

A  few days later we received this follow-up: 

CHSFS Ethiopia Program
January 25, 2008
As you are aware, CHSFS has suspended the CHSFS adoptive parent visits in Ethiopia with their child’s birth parents and intermediary contact between adoptive families and birth families. We have taken this step because the US Government has raised the question that under the US immigration laws any contact between the American adoptive parents and the Ethiopian birth parents COULD POSSIBLY be used as evidence that the birthparents had not or did not feel they totally and irrevocably ended all right to the child for which they had made an adoption plan. As CHSFS developed our adoption program in Ethiopia, we felt that it was in the best interest of the adopted child to give a full background history of all that is known and to facilitate a voluntary visit between the adoptive parents and the birth parents AFTER the birth parents’ legal rights were terminated and AFTER the adoption was finalized under Ethiopian law. This was the practice as well of other US agencies in Ethiopia providing adoption services. At no time was any money or support between the adoptive and birth parents encouraged or allowed.
We and the other adoption agencies have now received notice from the US Consulate in Ethiopia which calls into question this practice of facilitating voluntary visits between adoptive and birth families under current US immigration law. The US Consulate Officer in Ethiopia was pleased that CHSFS sought permission to share this notice with our families- which is offered below.
Please know that CHSFS is working with the US officials in Ethiopia and the US for a clarification on this issue. We will have high level staff members in Ethiopia all of next week working this issue. We ask that you do not contact your congressional officeholders as we need time to confer with US officials directly.
US Consulate Notice
TO: Adoption Agencies in Ethiopia
FROM: Consular Section Chief Paul Cantrell
RE: Ensuring that adoptive children qualify as orphans
The staff of our Consular Section appreciates your effort and cooperation in making inter-country adoptions possible for American citizen parents. I am writing to bring to your attention an issue that is of the greatest importance to successfully concluding inter-country adoptions for American parents. I want to make sure that you and your staff members are fully aware of the requirements that adoptive children truly qualify as orphans.
American citizens coming to Ethiopia to adopt children will in most cases come to the Embassy to apply for an IR-3 or IR-4 immigrant visa for the child. In order for a child to qualify for either an IR-3 or IR-4 immigrant visa, the child must qualify as an “orphan” as defined by section 101(b)(1)(F) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).
As part of the inter-country adoption process, it is the responsibility of the consular officer to review the circumstances by which the child became available for adoption and to confirm that the child qualifies as an “orphan” as defined by section 101(b)(1)(F). This step in the process is accomplished when the consular officer approves the I-600 Petition to Classify Orphan as an Immediate Relative and is confirmed through the officer’s completion of Form I-604, Request for and Report on Overseas Orphan Investigation.
If the child does not qualify as an “orphan” as defined in the INA, the officer cannot approve the I-600 petition and an immigrant visa for the child cannot be approved.
For this reason it is absolutely essential that all adoption agencies that are coordinating adoptions for American citizen parents be fully aware of the definition of “orphan” as stipulated in the INA. Agencies must be absolutely certain that a child qualifies as an “orphan” according to the INA before matching that child with American adoptive parents. If agencies are unsure whether a child qualifies as an “orphan” as defined by the INA, they should not assign that child to American adoptive parents until it can be confirmed that the child does qualify. A consular officer does not have the authority to approve an IR-3 or IR-4 immigrant visa for an adopted child unless the child qualifies as an “orphan,” as defined by the INA. If agencies have questions about this concept or about an individual case, they are welcome to contact the Consular Section for assistance.
Agencies are urged to review the following information, which is provided as clarification of how a child may qualify as an “orphan” according to the INA.
According to U.S. immigration law, a child may qualify as an orphan because either:
(a) The child has no parents because of the death or disappearance, abandonment, or desertion by, or separation from or loss of both parents (9 FAM 42.21 N13.2-4 and 9 FAM 42.21 N13.2-5); or
(b) The child’s sole or surviving parent is incapable of providing proper care and has, in writing, irrevocably released the child for emigration and adoption (9 FAM 42.21 N13.2-4 and 9 FAM 42.21 N13.2-6).
Of particular interest here is (a): “the child has no parents.” U.S. immigration law recognizes six ways in which a child might lose his/her parents and qualify as an “orphan.” An orphan may have no parents due to any combination of the following six reasons: death, disappearance, abandonment, desertion, separation or loss.
Of these six reasons, the one that appears to cause the most confusion among adoptions in Ethiopia is “abandonment.” According to U.S. immigration law, “abandonment” means that the parents have willfully forsaken all parental rights, obligations, and claims to the child, as well as all control over and possession of the child, without intending to transfer, or without transferring, these rights to any specific person(s).
Abandonment must include not only the intention to surrender all parental rights, obligations, and claims to the child, and control over and possession of the child, but also the actual act of surrendering such rights, obligations, claims, control, and possession. A child who is placed temporarily in an orphanage should not be considered to be abandoned if the parents express an intention to retrieve the child, are contributing or attempting to contribute to the support of the child, or otherwise exhibit ongoing parental interest in the child.
Further, U.S. immigration law clarifies that a relinquishment or release by the parent(s) to the prospective adoptive parents or for a specific adoption does not constitute “abandonment.” Similarly, the relinquishment or release of the child by the parent to a third party for custodial care in anticipation of, or preparation for, adoption does not constitute “abandonment” unless the third party (such as a governmental agency, a court of competent jurisdiction, an adoption agency, or an orphanage) is authorized under the child welfare laws of the foreign-sending country to act in such a capacity. A child released to a government-authorized third party, however, could be considered to have been abandoned even if the parent(s) knew at the time that the child would probably be adopted by a specific person or persons, so long as the relinquishment was not contingent upon adoption by a specific person or persons.
I have emphasized the items above in italics to remind agencies that the Embassy cannot approve IR-3 and IR-4 immigrant visas for children adopted from intact families who have given up their children because of, or contingent upon, some expectation that:
• the adoptive parents will provide some financial support to the natural parents
• the adoptive parents will be willing to provide information about the child to the natural parents
• the child will be of some benefits to the natural parents at some point in the future
Recently, some agencies have indicated that they routinely attempt to arrange meetings between adoptive parents and a child’s natural parents. While such meetings might provide certain advantages, agencies should be aware that meetings with the natural parents may in some cases be interpreted as evidence of the natural parents’ “ongoing parental interest in the child,” and as such may invite additional scrutiny by consular officers when reviewing the I-600 petition on behalf of such a child.
To avoid confusion and ensure that agencies are fully aware of all requirements of U.S. immigration law, consular officers will be arranging to meet individually with adoption agencies in the coming weeks. We are most interested in learning how agencies acquire the children who are matched with American adoptive parents and in helping agencies avoid matching any children who would not qualify as “orphans” according to the INA.
I appreciate your cooperation in the endeavor and invite your questions, comments, and suggestions about how we can work together to improve the integrity of the inter-country adoptions process.
Regards,
Paul Cantrell
Consular Section Chief
U.S. Embassy, Addis Ababa
———————————————-
Scott Driskel
Vice Consul
U.S. Embassy Addis Ababa

 Tomorrow I will comment on all this.

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Spinning

With the lapse if time between my posts, you would almost assume the wait is going by swiftly and without reason for write.

Yeah, wouldn’t that be swell.

Today is 3 months. Three long months. Three very long months. I has not helped that we submitted our dossier right before Thanksgiving when the clock was ticking fast and would continue to tick away till we threw out the 2007 calendars. January & February are remarkably long and dark in MN. Our social calendars have been booming and we commiserate that we are swamped at work, but even the distractions can not draw attention from the obvious. Quite a bit has happened on the adoption front, but evening finding the energy and time to write about it lately has been a challenge and an additional reminder that this is a long energy sucking process.

The two most substantial changes are the suspension of birth family contact and the extended wait which may push our referral out till after the court closure.  I will write about both more extensively this weekend, but for now I am enjoying the mood lift of a sunny and warm February day.  Tomorrow is supposed to snow, cloud over, and whip us with a wind chill reminder that it is still winter.  I will save those posts for tomorrow when my assumed mood will correlate with the topic.

Adoption is a strange process.  Not a bad strange, but just unlike anything I will most likely ever experience.  It is a suspended happiness.  A true grass is greener situation where we will be happier when we add to our family.  Don’t misunderstand me, we do live everyday to the fullest and really are appreciating this stage of our family, but for the past 5 years we have existed on a precarious slope teetering between the extremes of emotions and anticipating living.  After a few years of squatting, we made this home.  We were refuges who knew we would never go back to the way it was but also didn’t know where our ticket out would take us.  Now we have the ticket, we know the path, but again we do not have any control over the process.  As I will half sleeping through a 6am spin class this week, I closed my eyes and really tried to imagine that I was not sitting on a bike in a room reminiscent of a one-sided hall of mirrors. I wished the industrial fans were rather trade winds and the lingering stank of sweat was instead the salt of the ocean.  When the instructor called out that a huge hill was ahead I was taken from my happy place.  Adoption makes you feel like you are spinning your wheels constantly.  You crank through one part only to realize there are many huge hills ahead.  I do close my eyes and imagine our family, perhaps even our family on a warm winter vacation where I enjoy every moment of chasing a busy toddler across a sandy beach.  For now, though, I spin away.

Perhaps someday I can trade the bike for a jog stroller. Until then, I will have to close my eyes and imagine.

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