Follow up to this post went up today at FOR
A military family’s real life story of discovering
human trafficking in international adoption
October 22, 2013 will go down in our personal history as the worst day of our lives. It was the day our 19 month journey to our Chinese sons, Emerson and Bennett, ended. Granted, we spent the first nine months preparing for international adoption without knowing these sweet boys we were going to parent. But during those last ten months, Bennett and Emerson became our sons. They were listed as healthy aging-out orphans and we treasured this set of 13 year old twins. Their best interest was at the center of every decision we made, from giving up my career to moving in with family while my husband spends a year serving our country stationed overseas, from which cars we kept or sold to which toys and bedding we purchased. We poured over their files and their pictures trying to imagine what they would be like when we met them in person. We were prepared for anything that could have happened. Except for this. The nearest thing I can compare that day to would be a late term miscarriage or stillbirth. We had done all of the work, every single thing asked of us was taken care of. Every detail was ready down to the travel visa in my passport. We were three weeks away from getting on the plane that would take us to our sons. We had done everything right. And then it was over. We had spent over $23,000, and after discovering fraud, we were left with nothing.
The fraud we discovered was in the twins’ files all along. As inexperienced first-time adoption parents, we did not recognize the inconsistencies. But the adoption agency we hired, Lifeline Children’s Services, did know about the issues. They were notified of ongoing adoption fraud involving a scam at Luoyang Social Welfare Institute, the specific orphanage our twins resided in, three different times during the duration of our adoption process. They did not tell us these boys might have biological family who thought they would be coming back to China after they got their college education. They did not tell us of age changes allowing children up to age 19 to be adopted as an aging-out almost fourteen year olds. But the truth has a way of coming to light. The red flags the adoption agency did not share with us ultimately led me to discover 37 children adopted to the United States in the last five years with fraudulent files, all approved by the Chinese government. These red flags led me to discover that Bennett and Emerson, orphans supposedly abandoned on the north bank of the Yellow River, were not actually abandoned at all.
We did not come to this knowledge in a vacuum. It was the courage of two other families adopting through Lifeline who exhorted us to check facts and seek truth after they had discovered alarming inconsistencies in their own adoption processes.
Allow me to go back and tell you how this all happened.
Deciding to adopt 12 year old twins
When we decided to pursue international adoption we chose an agency with a reputation for dealing with special needs adoption. We believed, as first time parents, our pursuit of an orphan did not need to be restricted to a healthy child. It was our desire to begin our family with a child who might never be chosen due to their medical needs. Being young, educated, hard working, and having excellent resources for any medical needs the child might have, we anticipated being matched with a special needs toddler. After several months of working with our agency, meeting necessary requirements, making requisite payments, and becoming immersed in the adoption culture, we began to hear horror stories of older children aging out of orphanages. In fact we learned these fourteen year olds were being turned out of orphanages, left with no family, no education, no hope, nothing. We were told simply being at the age where aging out could be a possibility qualified a child to be included on the Special Needs list. That is when we began to open our minds and hearts to the idea of adopting an older child. Our agency social worker also represented the older child shared list and was easily able to direct us to the many special needs older child orphans listed on the Chinese waiting child list. In December 2012 we discovered a set of twelve year old twins on this special needs list and began to change all our hopes and dreams.
Two families…one child…same fraud
About a month before we inquired about the Dang twins and then received preliminary approval to adopt them, another family chose to stop an adoption of a healthy aging-out orphan from their same orphanage, Luoyang Social Welfare Institute. Evelyn had begun to pursue the adoption of Jimmy through Lifeline Children’s Services in August 2012. On the recommendation of her pediatrician, Evelyn plotted Jimmy’s measurements on an American growth chart to confirm his age. The measurements placed him as an enormously large 13 year old, even for an American child. She requested updated measurements and confirmation of age. She was told a birth certificate had been provided by the orphanage, so the adoption agency believed his age was clearly true. After reevaluating the new measurements and consulting with an investigator specializing in the Luoyang orphanage scam, Evelyn decided to stop pursuing the adoption of Jimmy in November 2012. She felt there was too much evidence against his age and file being valid. Evelyn provided this evidence to Lifeline Children’s Services via email on November 29, 2012.
In February 2013, as our home study was finalized and our first care package was shipped to our twins, friends of ours decided to adopt Jimmy through Lifeline Children’s Services. Steve and Karen felt their hearts pulled toward his picture on the Lifeline advocacy website and then they found out he would be kicked out of the orphanage when he turned fourteen in June 2013. They chose to act quickly. There were a couple of red flags indicating the Luoyang scam in their process, but since they had to expedite the adoption to finalize before Jimmy turned fourteen, they kept pressing forward. After arriving in the states, Steve and Karen began having unusual struggles with Jimmy. He made it clear he had no interest in being part of the family. His behavior caused Karen to notify Lifeline Children’s Services that she was suspicious he was actually part of the scam at Luoyang SWI in July 2013. She was concerned that Jimmy may be older than fourteen.
We did not know about these other families, yet.
Naturally, we did not know about these other issues with families seeking to adopt from Luoyang SWI. I knew Karen through online forums, but I did not know Evelyn at all. Our adoption proceeded with many of the normal challenges. We had some long waits for files from China and piles of paperwork to fill out. We moved to Atlanta so I could be with my family since the twins would finally come home while Dave was stationed with the 8th Army Band overseas. This move required me to give up my career, but we believed it would be best for the twins. Soon after Dave left I was invited to travel with a Lifeline Children’s Services team to visit two orphanages in China. We went to Baotou, Inner Mongolia and to Beihai. That week in China was life changing. I fell in love with the people and the language. There was not an opportunity to meet the twins, but in hindsight that was probably a good thing.
Two weeks after I returned from China, on September 21, 2013, Karen contacted me directly to tell me Jimmy had confirmed the scam at Luoyang SWI. He told his adoptive parents he was seventeen years old, he had come to America for an education, and he had been forced to lie about his background. Karen also shared with me some facts about her experience visiting Luoyang SWI. It was clean and warm. Children were well-fed and educated. The facilities included a computer room and music room. She met several young men who had aged out of the orphanage, but instead of being kicked out, they remained and finished school. The threat of aging-out children being kicked out and left to fend for themselves was a myth in the case of Luoyang Social Welfare Institute.
We were devastated.
If Jimmy was part of the scam, there was a strong possibility the Dang twins were as well. The thought of losing my sons before I even got to meet them really scared me, but we were not willing to knowingly participate in any sort of fraud that could be interpreted as child trafficking. I began to research the situation. I was earnestly seeking one piece of information about the twins I could confirm as truth. Unfortunately my research only served to heighten suspicion. I took a hard look at their files. They were listed as fourth graders struggling with subtraction at age twelve. This suggested a development delay, but their files said they were healthy. Those two things cannot coexist. Their files said when they were found at age nine they were not able to tell police anything about their family or where they had come from. In my experience every healthy nine year old I have ever met could tell me all about their lives, right down to their phone numbers. Next I turned to an investigator who had resources in China. I asked him to find the police report that would confirm the twins had been abandoned where and when their files stated. If I could just prove that one piece of the puzzle was true, maybe we could go forward with the adoption. On October 9, 2013 my investigator emailed me to let me know his contact had looked at the 2009 records for the specific police station listed in their files, the time and specific place the twins were supposedly abandoned. There were no nine year old twin boys abandoned in 2009. Despite this discovery, Lifeline Children’s Services urged us to proceed with the adoption because the Chinese adoption officials signed off on all required paperwork, therefore making it a legal adoption. When I questioned the ethics of such action, they responded with the exhortation to proselytize. With no support from our agency, and knowing the orphan status of these two boys was, at the very least, questionable and likely fully fraudulent we had to make the impossibly difficult decision to withdraw our application to adopt the twins directly with USCIS. It was October 22, 2013. The Dang twins would never be Emerson and Bennett Scott.
Adoption agency’s response
The response of Lifeline Children’s Services during this ordeal is disappointing.
Lifeline reached out to the orphanage and the CCCWA directly to ask if there was any fraud in the files. While the correct political move, this was a somewhat laughable exercise as the center of the fraud appeared to be on the orphanage and CCCWA level. We received a response directly from the orphanage stating the files were true and adding new interesting family background information we had not heard before. For the first time, we were told the twins’ parents and all four grandparents were dead, but they had a living aunt and uncle. This new information added suspicion because it caused the twins’ family background stories to line up with the thirty seven other healthy aging-out children who had been adopted from this particular orphanage to the United States in the last five years.
In a meeting on October 28, 2013 with officers of Lifeline Children’s Services, we discussed their company’s culpability for the situation we were in, the fact that best practices would not have allowed us to be matched with thirteen year old twins in the first place, and how to fix the problems we were facing. When I requested a telephone conference through my consultant on November 20, 2013, Lifeline asked that I be excluded from the conference. To my knowledge, Lifeline made an offer to return approximately fifteen percent of our adoption fund, but we have not seen documentation of the offer. I remain hopeful Lifeline will resolve this in a positive manner, but to date they have done nothing to rectify or even improve our situation.
The truth is there is a significant problem in a specific orphanage, Lifeline was informed about the problem, and Lifeline deliberately and knowingly chose not to divulge these facts with us. The problem is much bigger than just one orphanage though. Children are being taken from biological families in educational program scams all around the world, placed in orphanages while fraudulent files are prepared and approved by their government, and then put up for adoption internationally. This has to stop.
The definition of human trafficking used by the United States Department of State is an equation that must result in either slavery or prostitution in order for a situation to be deemed illegal. But considering the children who are being purchased from their biological family or taken under the guise of educational opportunity, should not the practice of creating orphans for the purpose of adoption also be considered human trafficking? Should we not also protect these children and their families?
As we work through our grief over the loss of our boys, knowing our agency had relevant information about abuses in China with our specific orphanage and could have easily directed us toward children whose files were consistent with ethical adoption, we must state clearly: we still believe in adoption. We believe it is an incredibly beautiful way to create family.
We are in no way opposed to international adoption. International adoption is a dream we continue to hold dear. We are, however, opposed to the falsifying of files for the creation of orphan status when such status cannot be documented. We are opposed to the manipulation of children and their birth families for the purposes of creating orphans. We are opposed to governments who would rubber stamp orphans into existence and not allow foreign agencies to question facts presented in an orphan’s file. We are opposed to adoption agencies who simply ignore warnings of fraud because they can hide behind the offending country’s legal documentation. We are adamantly opposed to all forms of child trafficking.
How can it be that our agency with all its accreditations and ethics clauses can be legally sound when they ignore clear warning of adoption fraud? How can it be legal for them to turn a blind eye simply because there is an official signature on a document when a simple review of facts would lead to a different conclusion? How can an adoption agency knowingly destroy a family of origin because they have the proper paperwork? Our concerns are many, but can honestly be reduced to this: What about the children? If accredited American adoption agencies with good reputations can legally participate in this kind of abuse what hope do these children truly have?
We, as citizens of the United States of America, a country founded on liberty and justice and soaked in the blood of the war against slavery and abuse, must not allow ourselves to victimize children. If we are truly for adoption, for family, and for children then we must also be for accountability. Please help us give these children a voice. Please help us protect these vulnerable children.
*names have been changed to protect minors*