Thursday, June 23, 2011

What to do when you are the ethics whistleblower (or when you're sitting on the sideline while others blow the whistle)

Yesterday, I shared a link on the ethics of adoption, specifically in Haiti.  In that link, Tara mentions the difficulty that arises when a family feels that an orphanage director or an organization is not being ethical.  To blow the whistle means to stick out your neck and risk jepordizing your adoption.  Often adoption leaves people feeling like the orphanage staff/administration holds all the cards and that if you as a parent question them or speak negatively of them, then they will shut down your adoption.  When you as a family do start voicing your concerns, you indirectly influence what happens with tens maybe hundreds of other families and their adoptions.  Obviously, those other families will have some hard thinking of their own to do and for all families, it is a scary time when people become concerned that their children will end up being stuck in an orphanage forever and/or their adoption monies will be lost.  It is an emotionally charged thing, and it can be very hard to think objectively when you are in the middle of a situation where a family/families are raising concerns about things like orphanage care, financial mismanagement, or the actual adoptability of the children in the orphanages.  Speaking from my own experience with such a time, I walked away from that time feeling many things specifically in regards to how to manage concerns regarding the ethics of an orphanage.

1.  I am not on a side so don't assume that if I don't automatically agree with you that I am against you.  Don't assume that I want you to be quiet and don't assume that I haven't done a lot of critical thinking about the issue at hand.  And don't assume that I believe everything is hunky doory.

2.  There is an appropriate way to handle concerns.  I know there is not a manual for airing concerns in relation to adoption concerns.  That said, in the situation we were involved with, I had concerns about how the issues raised were addressed.  A petition with concerns from a list of parents was presented to the board of the group we were working with.  Not all families who worked with the group were advised of the petition nor were all families given the opportunity to discuss it or even read it before it was presented to the board.  The very day it was presented to the board, this petition was posted on line in a very public forum, in a place where the board would probably be unable to rebutt it due to the membership requirements of said forum.  Even if the board had been able to join this forum, posting it before the board even had a chance to respond left a bad taste in my mouth.  Also, the petition had a variety of concerns some of which were major items, some of which were comparatively insignificant.  In short, in my opinion, a petition like that should stick to the major items and leave those things that are more trivial for another time.  The online barrrage of negativity, often opinion based concerns came across as one sided and full of anger.  While I am not denying that people may have had a reason to be angry, I don't think the Internet is the right forum for that.  I am a fact based person.  I want there to be facts not so and so told me that this happened to so and so or after connecting a bunch of dots, this is what I think happened.  (And if you signed the position or were angry about all that went on, don't think I am angry with you.  I'm not.  I'm just saying that it was very hard for me to hear the concerns due to the way the petition was handled.)

3.  When there is a crisis related to an orphanage's integrity, it can be very easy for people to feel betrayed by the director/staff.  Those feelings of betrayal bring out very big feelings and consequently, it can be very easy for those affected by that to have the equivalent of emotional vomit.  I know that might be a bit harsh.  I'm not saying it because I am trying to be mean.  I'm just saying that women especially have a tendency to verbally process what is happening to them and that this issue, especially when it involves feelings of betrayal by a friend or trusted person, can lead to some major mouth before brain disease.  While I don't think people should be shushed or told to not rock the boat, I do think people who need to verbalize what is going on need to do so in appropriate ways that does it's best to refrain from gossip, slander, and outright meanness and instead sticks to the facts.  Saying the group lied to you is not a fact.  Explaining what was said to you is.  Saying a group abused your child is not a fact.  Explaining exactly what your child said happened is.  I know that sounds like I'm splitting hairs.  But the reality in those situations and in many others, there can be subtle differences in what is said that make a huge difference.  For example, early on in Kenson's adoption, the orphanage director at the time told us he had a heart defect and thought he would qualify for a medical visa.  She told us this for several months.  Then, out of the blue, she said that the pediatrician had visited and no longer thought he would qualify.  We were crushed because we had thought that he would be getting to come to our house much earlier due to this and because she just quickly shared the news as if it would have no consequence to us.  It would have been very tempting to say "she lied to us and said Kenson would get a medical visa."  The reality is she probably used poor judgement in saying anything to us but I have no proof that she lied.  There was no tangible benefit to her telling us that information and then changing plans.  We paid no extra money and the orphanage gained nothing.  By explaining the situation rather than saying it was a lie, the situation appears in a different light.

4.  At the time all the hoopla was going on with the group we were working with, my mother in law had just be diagnosed with a terminal illness.  I did not have the mental or emotional strength to get into the middle of what was going on.  After talking with my parents, D and I decided the best course of action was to take a "wait and see" attitude.  Truth always has a way of being found out, one way or another.  To be honest, this worked best for us.  We did not personally have evidence of anything and the information we were receiving from the concerned parties was so laced with opinion and circumstantial type items, that it was very hard for us to sort out exactly what was true and what was not.  Obviously, if we had personal knowledge, information that we directly witnessed, we might have acted differently.

5.  Truth can be a relative thing, especially when you are talking about a country thousands of miles away.  Whenever there are discrepencies that I personally have not witnessed, I usually try not to believe 100% of what anyone else says.  Instead, I tend to believe that the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.  (It's like witnessing a car accident.  Almost every person has a bit different take on exactly what happened.  No one is necessarily lying; it's that everyone is viewing it from a different perspective.)  When you talk about situations between orphanages and adoptive parents, every person brings different experiences and expectations to the table.  When something goes awry, those experiences and expectations impact that person's interpretation of what is going on.  Realizing that probably no "side" is giving a 100% accurate picture of what is actually going on is important.  Were there things that were not okay?   Yes.  Where there things that perhaps got blown out of proportion because it was an emotionally charged situation?  Yes.  Do I think they have taken some steps towards remedying some of the issues?  Yes.  (Including a change in the leadership, using an agency as a middle man between adoptive parents and the orphanage/director, and having an American missionary working in Haiti instead of the orphanage being run completely by Haitian staff.)  Do I think they have completely solved every problem they have had?  Probably not.

I know all of that probably makes it seem like I probably sided with the group in question.  If so refer to item number one, "I'm not on a side."  I just know in our situation, the way things were conducted made it very hard for us to hear the group putting forth the concerns.  So maybe what I'm mostly saying is that if you have concerns, you can go a long way towards making headway by doing your best to be above reproach and to act in a professional manner.  By all means rock the boat.  But think carefully about how you want to rock it.  A tsunami rocks a boat but so does a simple push.  And that if you are in the middle of something but are not sure where to place your allegiance, that maybe you don't have to pick a side but that instead you can advocate for reform from a position of neutrality.

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