Friday, November 02, 2007

An ethical adoption

Dear Sam,

As most of our friends and family know, we have been waiting for you for so long. In fact, this month marks the beginning of our third year, since we began our adoption process in October of 2005. And we would love nothing more than to bring you home sooner rather than later. There's only one thing we want more: to know that your adoption was 100 percent ethical, that your birthparents (new more correct language: "first parents") could not raise you and were not coerced in any way in making you available for adoption.

There is much talk about ethics in Vietnam adoptions right now, but this is not a new subject for us. When we decided to complete an adoption from Vietnam while waiting for our China adoption, we initially chose an agency that seemed to be offering the fastest referrals. A month or so into it, we saw several red flags, not the least being that the agency lied to us about who one of their in-country facilitators was--and it turns out she is someone who has been previously investigated by INS for irregular adoptions.

We immediately left that agency and began a several months-long search for the most ethical agency out there (that would allow concurrent adoptions--most don't now). I think we found an extremely ethical agency in Lutheran Social Services; however, that ethics has a price, and they have only made one referral in the past year as they've gotten their program up and running. And it doesn't look like things are going to speed up much soon.

It may be that we will get our referral for Sophie from China first (that's still 9-12 months away), and maybe we will never get a referral from Vietnam. But I know you're out there somewhere and you are already a part of our family in our hearts.

There are many prospective adoptive parents out there who are rightfully confused by all the conflicting information about ethics in Vietnam adoption. And, once they've plunked down money, are reluctant to see the red flags in their own agencies. Some are saying that many of the warnings are overreacting scare tactics that are unfair to prospective adoptive parents. My feeling is that too many adopting parents err on the other side of caution: they tend to prefer to stay somewhat ignorant so they don't have to face the fact that there is no quick, easy, ethical Vietnam adoption of a healthy infant girl. (And the U.S. Embassy agrees. See previous post.) But those parents will have their own demons to face, I believe, when their adult children learn that their agencies were sketchy. And of course they hurt the rest of us who then must face extra delays because of new rules, etc.

But I try not to focus on them so much. I focus on you: a little boy out there somewhere who really needs a home, who someday will be a man who wants and deserves to know that everything--everything--was done to make sure that there was no possibility of any coercion or baby-selling in his adoption. I want you to know that, even if we have to wait three more years for you, that's what we're doing.

Your mom (and dad)

Statement from the U.S. Embassy on Vietnam Adoptions

For privacy reasons, the US Embassy in Hanoi can not discuss specific cases or comment on specific agencies. However, the Embassy believes it is important for people to have accurate information about the current situation in Vietnam and have kindly sent us this statement to share with our readers:

In recent months, the Embassy and USCIS have seen an increase in the number of irregularities appearing in orphan petitions and visa applications in Vietnam. This has resulted in a similar increase in the issuance of Notices of Intent to Deny.

We recognize that a decision to deny a petition is an extremely undesirable outcome for adopting parents and for children, who themselves may be the victims of unscrupulous agents. For this reason, we urge adoptive parents to be extremely diligent in reviewing qualifications and standards before selecting an adoption service provider. Unfortunately, as news stories and blogs often reveal, the glowing report of an adoptive parent who successfully “brought home” a child cannot be taken as evidence that the adoption was ethical or fully legal.

We at the Embassy have a legal responsibility to ensure the integrity of the adoption process when that process is part of the request for an immigrant visa. Moreover, we have an ethical responsibility to ensure that international adoptions include adequate safeguards for the rights of the children, birth parents, and adoptive parents throughout this process.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Intercountry adoptions signed by the U.S. and Vietnam in 2005 was the beginning of a step towards an intercountry adoption program that would meet international standards such as those established by the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoptions. That convention contains a number or protections and safeguards currently lacking in Vietnam. For that reason, we are urging the Government of Vietnam to push forward with its efforts to become a Hague partner.

The MOU was designed to increase transparency and reduce corruption, and came after a period when adoptions had been suspended in Vietnam because of significant problems involving corruption and “Baby buying.”

The ongoing number of irregularities that we are currently seeing strongly indicates that the adoption process in Vietnam still lacks sufficient oversight and regulation. Specifically there is insufficient control of the so-called child finders and an inadequate regulation of the fees paid to individuals and institutions. Despite its stated intention to do so, Vietnam has yet to publish a schedule of fees. We are extremely concerned by reports of significant increases in the number of abandoned children since 2005, especially in the provinces of Phu Tho and Thai Nguyen.

We continue to encourage the DIA to work with provincial authorities in Vietnam to improve the integrity of the adoption system. We recognize there may be legitimate questions concerning the DIA authority in these cases. Whatever the cause, to date we have seen little remedial action to address the problems. Even more important, we have seen little if any action to identify and prosecute those responsible for fraudulently documenting the abandonment of children, offering monetary inducements to families for relinquishing children, and offering children for international adoption without the consent of the birth parents.

We strongly endorse international adoption as an important option for Vietnamese children who do not have permanent families. We are deeply concerned, however, by confirmed cases of child selling, and by evidence that children are being released for adoption without the consent of the birth parents.

We are continuing to work with the Government of Vietnam to find ways to strengthen and improve accountability in the adoption system. We continue to urge Vietnam to pass a new, responsible, comprehensive law regulating adoptions, one that puts in place a process that protects the interests of all parties involved in and adoption and one that meets the standards of the Hague Convention. We look forward to the day when both of our countries are full participants in that convention.