A lot of people have asked why our adoption referral is taking so long. It’s a good question, and rather than give my usual pat answer of “it’s complicated,” I thought I’d give a fuller explanation. (You might want to grab your favorite beverage and settle in for a bit.)
Adoption is rarely a straightforward process, and international adoption in particular is prone to many glitches and complications. Is this unfortunate? Yes. The adoption process needs mega reform. But that’s another topic for another day.
Most countries with children available for adoption are ravaged by poverty, disease, war, famine, and unstable governments. All of these factors greatly affect how children come to be relinquished for adoption, as well as the effectiveness and consistency of a country’s adoption system.
In our case, we chose Ethiopia. Ethiopia’s adoptions exploded about 5-6 years ago; popular countries like Guatemala and Vietnam had closed due to ethical problems, China had significantly slowed down, and South Korea was gradually fading out their international adoption program. Ethiopia was an ideal alternative for wannabe parents: It has relatively relaxed requirements (for example, it accepts singles and doesn’t have age maximums or BMI and net worth requirements), costs are lower, and the children generally receive good care in small, nurturing orphanages (compared to the institutional care in countries like Russia and China).
So western adoption agencies rushed into Ethiopia, which didn’t have the infrastructure in place to handle such rapid growth. This is a country where birth certificates aren’t commonly issued, records aren’t shared, communication with outlying villages (where most children come from) is spotty, bribes and deals aren’t easily detected, and paperwork takes a lot of time to process. Add to this the fact that electricity is either non-existent (in the countryside) or intermittent (in the city), as well as the various cultural issues that affect adoption, and it can get very complicated.
We started this process almost four years ago and were officially placed on the waiting list two and a half years ago. We were told by our agency to expect a 12-18 month wait from start to finish. At the time, that was considered a long wait. Here are the reasons it’s gone longer than that, with no end in sight:
Ethiopia’s adoptions have drastically slowed down.
Until about six to eight months ago, close to 80% of adoptions came from the southern part of the country — the Sidama region. Adoptions from that region have essentially come to a standstill due to changes at the local government level and numerous orphanage closures. This has created a systematic slowdown in referrals. In addition, the Ethiopian courts are requiring more paperwork to ensure children are being properly relinquished. This is a good thing, and we applaud every effort to reform the adoption process, but it means fewer adoptions.
There are now higher levels of scrutiny by the U.S. State Department.
This additional factor is ultimately good as well, because it’s essential that the children being adopted are truly available and in need of adoption. Again, however, it means adoptions slow down because higher levels of scrutiny put more demands on agencies, orphanages, and local government officials.
We’re adopting a young sibling group.
We decided four years ago to adopt a sibling group. There were a number of reasons for this: We didn’t want to raise an only child. We didn’t think it was fair for a child to have no one else in the family who looked like him or her. And we didn’t want to go through this arduous and expensive process twice. As time has gone on, we’ve only grown more sure of this latter decision, and the others still remain true.
It just so happens, however, that young sibling groups are less predictable. An orphanage may have a number of young sibling groups come into their care at once and then not see any for a year or more.
We also requested children under the age of four. As first-time parents, we strongly desire to experience as many developmental stages as possible, and we wanted to avoid dealing with schooling issues right away. We also know that the older the child is, the more difficult their transition can be. However, most children available for adoption are over the age of six — and often older than that. (A big part of me was actually hoping we’d find it in us to eventually go back a second time and adopt an older child, but this first time it seemed right to go younger.)
Our agency is trying to do things right (as far as we can tell).
Our agency is doing more investigation up front on each child to make sure all the paperwork is accurate, and this takes time. They are also unwilling to enter into a fee-per-child arrangement with orphanages — a practice that can discourage orphanage staff from doing everything possible to keep children with birth families, which can lead to unethical situations. Other agencies are willing to do this, however, which means it’s harder for our agency to find like-minded orphanage directors to work with. It’s so important to us that our adoption is ethical — that our children really need us to be their parents — so we prefer to stay with our agency than to switch to one we don’t trust as much.
So those are some of the main reasons our adoption is taking so long. It’s hard to know what will happen. We could get a referral tomorrow, or we may need to revisit our decisions this year and take another path.
All of this will be on my mind a lot this week, since my friend Kelly and her husband Craig are in Ethiopia today. They live here in Baltimore, and Kelly and I have gone through this journey together, supporting each other and commiserating along the way. She was one month ahead in the wait and finally got a referral a few weeks ago. Kelly and Craig are wonderful people and have waited forever to be parents; I couldn’t be more thrilled that they’re finally in Ethiopia meeting their baby daughter!
If you’ve got any questions about this crazy adoption ride, please free to ask them in the combox.
Image: Zoe Saint-Paul