The Good No is a tough call made by informed people on a heart wrenching issue. No has the connotation of bad or adversarial, but sometimes No is necessary, right, and good.
In the Christian adoption community, particularly, we hear a no and think we face yet another obstacle from the Enemy we must mow over. If our social worker suggests an out of birth order placement is unwise, we complain to their superiors or get another social worker entirely. If a birth country will not prepare a child’s adoption file, we pull every string we can find to be sure the file gets written. If an agency will not process another adoption for us because of income level or BMI, we slay them in social media and find an agency who will get us waivers. Some “no’s” are just obstacles, but we have become so primed for a fight at the mention of the word! When a major ethical issue arises we eviscerate the people standing up against the problem, because they are saying no.
A couple of weeks ago I heard about an adoption agency who voluntarily closed their international adoption program in Ethiopia. Oh my heavens, the negative flying around stunned me. Folks decrying the loss of money or the millions of poor orphans being left to languish. We are nothing, dear adoption community, if not dramatic. Knowing what I know about international adoption and the prevalence of unethical practices, I was curious about the factors leading to All God’s Children International’s decision to end their Ethiopian adoption program. My research brought me an opportunity to interview Hollen Frazier, President of AGCI, about their work in Ethiopia.
History and Humanitarian Work
AGCI has been facilitating adoptions and doing humanitarian work in Ethiopia for years. In 2007, they opened the first Hannah’s Hope home for orphans and these facilities continue to be funded and staffed by AGCI. In addition to the direct care for orphans at Hannah’s Hope, Hollen explained some of the other humanitarian work AGCI did as part of their licensing to facilitate adoptions:
“… we were sponsoring 1200 children to live within their families of origin to go to school. We were paying all the school fees through a sponsorship program….so in addition to those things, when we had a partnership with an orphanage we focused it around improving the facility. So, going in and putting a kitchen in, or raising funds to do air conditioning, or reimbursing for food and diapers if they showed us receipts of those purchases and then giving those donations directly for those specific areas of care for kids.”
The authentic passion for children reverberated for our whole conversation. Clearly the people working at AGCI actually care about the best interest of the children.
Independent Verification of Orphan Status
I learned they added a step in their adoption process not used by all adoption agencies. When they received an adoption file from an orphanage director, they sent their social workers to investigate and independently verify orphan status. This is particularly important in a non-Hague country because there is not a government entity between the relinquishing family member and the orphanage director, calling accountability into question. What if that family member is told the child will go get educated and then return to care for them? By independently verifying orphan status, AGCI worked to maintain their management of ethical adoptions for true orphans. This did add some time to the adoption process: “…we would then send our social workers to the region where sometimes it would take us two months to investigate the relinquishment of the child. Average of 30 days, sometimes up to 60.”
In my personal opinion, that is time well-spent.
Shift Toward Orphanage Fees
AGCI began to see some shifts in Ethiopian adoption 3-4 years ago. They were receiving fewer referrals from orphanage directors. The reason boiled down to two main factors – the extra lengths AGCI went to for orphan status verification and their refusal to participate in a per child orphanage fee arrangement. Hollen explained European and U.S. adoption agencies were paying $5,000, $7,000, and even $10,000 in some cases – per child – directly to the orphanage director. (I found orphanage fees between $1,500 and $6,000 in my research this week.) Theoretically, this money was to support the orphanage maintenance and child care. The deplorable conditions in many of the orphanages begs the question, though, where is the money actually going? As it stands, Hollen said: “You have the US agencies that are paying per child still, you see them getting children between 3 and 6 year olds and some children that are special needs and then older [children]. And the ones that are refusing to do any per child cost, you are seeing those agencies, that used to maybe unite 60 children a year or 90 children a year with families, you are seeing them maybe process one adoption.”
After discussing several other ethical barriers and sources of corruption in the Ethiopian adoption process, I asked Hollen what the tipping point was. Was there a single thing they could look at and say THIS is the reason not to go forward processing adoptions?
“Making agreements with orphanage directors based on a per [child] price…on a child’s head. You cannot say, ‘We will give you $5,000 per child.’ We cannot tie money directly to a child and call ourselves ethical. That is THE thing. That is the central core of it.”
Still Working in Ethiopia
AGCI has not abandoned their work in Ethiopia. While they are not processing adoptions, they are developing what I believe is an innovative and effective holistic look at orphan care. Be on the lookout for their new programs! Life changing potential is in progress. They are continuing their standing commitments to orphan care, sponsorships, and micro-grants. They gave the Good No to unethical adoption, but their influence in the region is not weakened.
One other rumor we are spreading, adoption community, is the idea All God’s Children International stopped facilitating international adoptions in Ethiopia due to financial hardship. Let’s not joke, there is money to be made in adoption. Plenty of people have thriving careers and support their families well on salaries from adoption agencies. Heck, most senior staff in adoption agencies make 2-3 times what my husband earns as a soldier in the U.S. Army. But beyond all of the overhead, AGCI appears to be doing just fine on the financial front. I am no forensic accountant, but I have become adept with a tax form and my review of the AGCI records shows they are making some wise business decisions and managing their means well. Let’s put that rumor to bed and focus on what is important.
Bravo, All God’s Children International.
Thank you for giving unethical adoption the Good No…and continuing to effectively care for “the least of these.”
**Editor’s note: Acknowledging no agency is perfect, there are some of you, friends, who may feel hurt by these positive words. Know I understand your pain and offer this with utmost compassion and hope of improving the adoption landscape for those it hurts. Healing is a process, join me.**