Ethiopia: more delays and waiting

I don’t know how they stand the waiting. I’m impatient and I’m just going along for the ride.

Brian and Keri deGuzman of Paradise Valley are on a roller coaster ride these days. Each time they answer the phone or open their email, they wonder if they’ll finally get the news that means they will soon be traveling to Ethiopia. Two young children at home and two tiny babies in Africa — though too young to know it — are waiting, too.

On February 11, after nine months of waiting, the deGuzmans received word that adoption referrals had been made and two babies in an Ethiopian orphanage were waitingto join their family. When Keri called me to share the news, she cautioned me not to get too excited. Even if all goes well, she told me, it could still be several weeks — or even months — before we could schedule our trans-Atlantic flights.

Things have not gone particularly well. As the result of a CBS news report that aired four days after Keri called me, additional delays have occurred. The report is a disparaging look at Ethiopian adoption. It includes accusations of child trafficking and an upsetting interview with an American couple that adopted three siblings they now claim didn’t understand the finality of adoption and thought they were coming to America as exchange students. In response, the American Embassy has launched a full-scale investigation of all 22 adoption agencies currently approved by the Ethiopian government to operate there.

I didn’t stumble upon the CBS report. Keri called to tell me about it. She knows I have undertaken a tremendous personal investment of time and money to make this trip with her family and tell their story. So she wants me to “get it.” International adoptions are complicated and often controversial. The process came under heightened scrutiny in January, when the Haiti earthquake and allegations of child trafficking brought it to the forefront.

The adoption agency Keri and Brian chose, Christian World Adoption, was named in the CBS account. I’ll confess, I felt sick to my stomach when I first watched it. Thankfully, my emotional response was tempered by the fact that I’d met Bob and Tomilee Harding, who founded CWA in 1996. During three hours they spent with me in the conference room at our office in January, they helped me gain perspective on some of the intricate layers and little-understood subtleties of international adoption.

One thing I learned is that much of the process in Ethiopia is controlled by the government, not the adoption agencies. And because agencies are required to maintain strict measures of confidentiality, their representatives are forbidden from discussing specifics about any particular case. So while adoptive parents are free to share their version of the specifics with reporters, agencies can only respond in generalities about the procedures they follow to protect the children and prevent the parents from misunderstandings and disappointments.

CWA published a response to the CBS report and emailed it to the families it has worked with. The response is not as visually engaging as the sensationalistic video report but if you take the time to read it, you have to question whether CBS really wanted to do a fair story.

I can’t draw any conclusions about this specific case because I have not independently investigated it. But I do know, from my long interview with the Hardings and many, many discussions with Keri that the process of international adoption has many steps built into it so that the children, their birth families and their adoptive families are protected and fully informed.

Keri wanted me to see the negative news story because she wanted me to understand the impact such reports have on the children of Ethiopia. Because embassy personnel are absorbed in these investigations, the process of granting visas for approved adoptions has all but ground to a halt, she says. When visas can’t be granted, children remain in limbo in the transitional “foster homes” to which they are transferred as they await visas. When the foster homes are filled, the orphanages scattered throughout the country have no place to send children who have been approved for adoption. Those children fill available beds at the orphanages, which can’t then accept any new orphans. The system gets plugged up. Who suffers? The millions of starving, neglected or abandoned children of Ethiopia.

And families, like the deGuzmans, who know that their hands are tied. And their arms must wait.