Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Improvised Thai Inspired Rice Noodle Soup

This catch all soup recipe is becoming one of my new favorites.  It's light, easy, can use up leftovers, and has a great spicy and sour kick.  It's like grown up ramen noodles, a healthier version with more layers of flavor.

Start by bringing chicken broth or water to a boil.  (If using water, add chicken boullion to make a chicken broth.)  Add rice noodles and simmer until the noodles are tender.  (Use the directions on the rice noodle package to get a good idea of how much broth to use to cook the noodles.)  Add in cooked vegetables (peas, carrots, celery, chopped spinach or bok choy, small pieces of broccoli, onions, corn, basically whatever you have on hand) or if you are using frozen vegetables,  you can add them to the broth frozen and let them cook in the broth.  If you'd like to make it vegetarian, leave it as is or add in shredded or chopped cooked chicken.  Add in your seasoning (a bit of soy sauce, a little bit of lime, some ginger, maybe basil) and you're done.  The secret to improvising a dish like this it to taste as you go, to gauge if you need more or less of a certain item.  Garnish with sriracha sauce (spicy Thai chili sauce), fresh squeezed lime juice, and cilantro.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Zeke is 2!

Zeke celebrated birthday number 2 this week on Monday, the 23rd.  Unlike Haitian adoptions, I think I can say with about 99% accuracy that this will be the last birthday we miss.  The kids helped to decorate a cake for him:  purple and white frosting with purple sprinkles.  Happy birthday, Zeke!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Zeke Update

No news on moving along to the next step in the process but I did ask for an update and asked the foster family/orphanage to answer some questions for me in preparation for bringing Zeke home within the next few months. 

 Here's the break down of some of the  information we received: 

 Measurements for clothing and shoes? 
 Height 90cm 
 Weight 16.5kg 
 Foot length 14cm 
I have no idea if this is accurate. On an American growth chart that would put him over the 90th percentile for both height and weight which makes me skeptical but who knows. 16.5 kg is the equivalent of 36 pounds.  I guess we'll go with it.

 Favorite foods? 
Grape,banana and candy. No wasabi peas, no congee (although I'm guessing he eats that regularly.) 

 Favorite toys? 
 Car and plane. 

 What name is the foster family currently calling him? Fu Kang or a nickname? 
They call him 'Kang Kang'. I did ask the group sending the package/asking the questions to share that we will be calling him Zeke. I expect that he will be used to hearing Kang Kang when we arrive but maybe the foster family will work to help him learn his new name too. 

 Is there any other information that his foster family would like us to know? Are there things that might make it easier for him as he gets used to the changes of coming to the US? Any stories they want to tell us about him? Any thing they hope he will know about his time in China that we can write down and keep for him? 
Fukang is a quick learner. He could eat and drink by himself. He is active. He likes being hold and going outside. 

 We were also told that "Fukang is getting to know your family by the photo album,he asks the foster mother to show him the pictures every day, sometimes he kisses the picture of Mom and Dad." This completely cracks me up as I'm not sure how truthful it really is. My guess is that statement is more about the Asian cultural practices of telling you what the other person thinks you want to hear. D and I both got a good chuckle out of, saying that maybe he will just come running to us, arms wide open, calling us mom and dad and blowing us kisses. (If you've ever adopted a toddler, you know why that's chuckle worthy...)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


A brick front building flanked by a Latino grocery store and an insurance agency, just down the street from an Asian market and not too far away from an Middle Eastern cafe-a 20 something black man with a nice fade cut and a black barber's smock over his street wear stood on the balcony so I knew we were in the right place.  He leaned over the metal railing, watching the white lady with two brown kids get out of the mini van and head up the steps.  By the time we got to the top, he had gone inside but the door quickly swung open as the man from outside silently held open the door for us.

Into the salon with the normal salon fare.  Hair dryers, barber chairs, sinks, hair products.  A black woman with salt and pepper hair was sitting in one of those chairs, getting her hair pressed by another black man.

"Hi.  My son has an appointment with Tyrone."

The second man replies that he is Tyrone.  Tyrone has skin that's a rich carmel and eyes that are not brown, more greenish blue mixed with hazel.  I can't help but think of the stories I've heard about the Polish occupation of Haiti of long ago; the residual DNA occasionally fights its way through, evidenced in almond shaped Haitian eyes that are green instead of brown.  He is also full of salt and pepper, a thick mop of hair on top with kinky twists that create corkscrew curls here and there.

The kids occupy themselves with their toys while the woman and I and Tyrone visit about my kids' hair.  As I share about microbraids and loc tightening, another black man comes in the door.  He's tall, well over 6 feet, and looking to find someone willing to do a walk in appointment.  I wonder how he will fit in the chair while the man who opened the door for us motions for him to sit down and sets to work with a set of clippers.  More time passes and we continue to wait.

Eventually it's Kenson's turn as the older woman pays and then leaves.  As he hops into the chair, I trip over myself as I explain to Tyrone what I want done.  "Just a trim, maybe an inch or two.  Something to get the hair out of his eyes.  I'd do it myself but I'm afraid of making it look like a mushroom."

And that's when the tripping starts.  "And I think its good for him to be here, to see people who look him.  I mean, my husband and I can't give him that."

Really?  Did I really just tell the black barber that my black son needs to be around black people and that I can't give him that?  Perhaps that was an intimate detail about my life that I should have kept to myself.  Tyrone just nodded and said, "I understand."

Tyrone and his scissors clipped and shaped; Kenson got impatient and whined and fussed and wanted me to hold his hand.  Conleigh played and got in the mini blinds and played on the floor and lost a toy in a hole and found her toy and sat in time out and played some more.

I found myself really hoping their behavior wouldn't be a topic of conversation once we left.

Actually, I just really hoped WE as a family would not be a topic of conversation once we left.

Three more customers enter, the first haircut customer leaves and another heavy set black man takes his place.  Each customer knows the barbers by their names and vice versa.

The conversations flow easily.  "Hey man!  Watcha driving now?"

A 50's do wop hit comes on the soul only radio station.  "You know you remember that song.  Not like that rap of today."

Between the soul music, the Michelle Obama calendar, the Barack Obama presidential poster, the Vibe magazines on the coffee table, and the sense of community, I couldn't help but wonder if my kids would ever have that sense of blackness.  I have never been one to put much stock in this idea that a white person should not parent a black child because they don't know how to teach a child to be black.  Nor do I buy into the idea that there is a singular black culture that my child is missing out on.  But today I couldn't help but feel a little bit inadequate.  I couldn't help but think that maybe my Cosby reruns and jazz CD's were not enough.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Do the Right Thing

I finally finished Jen Hatmaker's Seven:  An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess.  To say I really enjoyed it, it an understatement.  As I said in my earlier post on the book, I really appreciated that this was her telling her story about what God was doing in her heart, not her saying, "Here is what I did.  If you really love God, go and do likewise."

So many of the topics touched on in her book are things I think about often:  global poverty, human trafficking, orphan care, American's overabundance, personal responsibility and service, the list goes on and on.  I often struggle with wondering if I am doing enough, if perhaps I should be doing something more or different.

For me, this book has been such a timely read as we have been blessed by an inheritance.  It's a lot easier to guard your allocation of resources when you don't have as many resources.  (Guard meaning "to keep from foolishly spending and overspending.")  This financial blessing has in some ways, sparked more questions within me, than answers.  What to do with it so that I am honoring God?

Jen echoes the Bible in saying "What we treasure reveals what we love."  I can honestly say, at this point, it does not seem like I love money or possessions.  Most of the time, I am not struggling with desiring more or being jealous of what others have.  But what I do long for is financial security and freedom from financial failure.  I want to not have to worry about our bills every month, to know that what we are bringing in is sufficient and we do not need to tap into our savings, to feel like we are actually able to save a little each month rather than spending it all.  I do not want to have to guard against financial failure, to be concerned about feeling like others will think we have frittered our blessings away or to question my own decisions about finances while wishing we would have done something differently.  I do not want our finances to be a stressful situation.  Deep down, that is all a spiritual issue.  It's about a lack of trust in God's provision and a lack of trust in God's goodness.  Do I really trust that even if our financial world fell apart that God would still provide, that He would be honored in our failures, that we would be at peace despite the shortfall?

I also tend towards perfectionism, performance driven behavior.  I have never doubted that God has forgiven my sin or that His grace is enough.  But I am a striver; I strive to do more, be more, be better, be more perfect.  I suppose because I think He might love me more or that He will approve of my actions.  Without giving you my whole journey in regards to that, it's no surprise that those feeling carry over in to my feelings on social justice, stewardship, and service.  Perhaps it was just hormones but I cried as I read her words.

"I'm guessing you'e cried over orphans or refugees or starvation or child prostitutes, heartbroken by the depravity of this world.  It's not okay that your kids get school and birthday parties while Third World children get abandoned and trafficked but you don't know how to fix that.   You're wondering if your lifestyle is connected to these discrepancies, and you have a nagging suspicion thatless is more but it's a muddy comcept.  Everyone has ideas.  It's confusing and overwhelming.  This creates a sort of war within, and it leaves you raw.  Sometimes you are a full blown mess over it."


And then she writes more.

"Hear this:  I don't think God wants you at war with yourself.  He sent the Prince of peace to sooth those tumultuous waters already.  Guild is not Jesus' medium.  He is battling for global redemption right now; His objective hardly includes huddling in the corner with us, rehashing our shame again.  He finished that discussion on the cross.  Plus, there's no time for that.  We're so conditioned to being a problem that we've forgotten we're actually the answer.  God is not angry at you; how could He possibly be?  You are His daughter, His son; you're on His team.  Don't imagine He is sitting us down for a lecture.  Rather He's staging a rally....Guilt might be the first chapter but it makes for a terrible story.  if your stuff and spending and waste and stress are causing you tension like mine is, just do the right thing."  Do the right thing."

That part I loved.  Because somehow it seems easier than saving the world.  My friend, Beth, was the first person to call me a visionary, right in the middle of some ministry class that I've long since forgotten.  I was shocked because I had never considered myself in that light.  But I am.  I am my father's daughter.  While I'm much more capable of details than he ever was, I am still the one who is sure there is a better way, a more loving way, another way to serve.  But sometimes I lose the trees for the forest.  I see the big picture and feel responsible.  But perhaps it is just about doing the right thing.  That's all it boils down to: do the right thing.  Do the right thing.  That I can do.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Day my Daughter Slept Late

My daughter has slept in twice this week:  once until 8:30 and once until after 9.

I know that might not seem like much to most of you but it is indicative of some major growth on her par

When she first came home, 2 1/2 years ago, her sleep pattern was completely disrupted by grief, trauma, loss, and stress.  I think she is someone who is naturally more sensitive to sleep disruption.  Add to that with a natural disaster, a chaotic departure from Haiti, and the loss of her previous life and you can see why it might be too stressful to sleep correctly.  

In her case, I think a lot of the sleep stuff was acerbated by well meaning but rule driven social workers.  When she flew into the US, the small group from her orphanage was accompanied by the orphanage director.  They arrived around 6 p.m. but all 30 odd kids had to get through customs in the Miami airport so it was around 2 a.m. when they arrived at the group home where they would have to spend the night.  Because of their status as refugees, all of the children were technically under the care of Health and Human Services and had to be placed in the custody of various organizations that were licensed under HHS.    We knew this was probably how it was going to work so this was not a shock.  However, when the parents of all of the children were waiting for the kids to arrive, as we were being escorted around the group home and being advised as to how the process would work, I specifically requested that since we were not allowed to stay on the campus of the group home to meet our children, that those accompanying our children out of Haiti be allowed to stay with the children.  I received a lackluster response from the Department of State employee who was in charge of debriefing us.  Something along the lines of "Well, that up to the group home and whatever their policy is."  I then asserted that for those of us from HCH, our kids were coming with a familiar face and that the HCH parents wanted that person to be able to stay with our kids.  

Long story short, the orphanage director was not allowed to stay with the kids.  I can only assume this decision was done to preserve the normal policy of not allowing outside adults to stay with children.  (Nevermind that normally the group home deals with children who are removed due to abuse and neglect not a natural disaster.)  

When Conleigh arrived to the group home around 2 a.m., she was pretty much asleep.  She was handed by the orphanage director to a staff member at the group home for the night.  She then woke up surrounded by strangers who then took her to the building where the parents were meeting.  From that point, she was given to us who for all practical purposes were strangers.  She spent 2 hours with us, crying and pointing at the doors, looking for a familiar face.  We eventually were able to meet up with the orphanage director but it took time to do so and did not erase the fact that she woke up to strangers.  

I am completely convinced that this nighttime transition created in her a sense of fear and anxiousness related to sleep.  For 6 months, she would fall asleep at night okay but would wake up in the middle of the night and be awake for hours at a time before falling back asleep and repeating the pattern.  She never made up sleep.  No extra naps.  No sleeping late.  No falling asleep early.  Just sleep deprivation.  Her need for knowing what would happen, her need to keep herself from getting too comfortable always overrode her need for sleep.

I kid you not when I say this week has represented the only times in my daughter's 2 1/2 years home where she has slept in.  That said, there have been a few times this summer where she has napped at times where she normally would not.  It seems like a small thing, probably not even a victory but it really is.  Her heart, after 2 1/2 years, has started to repair some of the tears that have created an insecure, anxious spirit.  She is letting go of her need to control when she sleeps and letting her guard down, relaxing and resting, believing that she is safe and will not be uprooted.  Maybe it's just an important reminder of how brave our kids really are, of how big the task of adoption really is, of how little steps towards healing come in all types of packages.  

Thursday, July 19, 2012

LOA after 56 days

Adoption Timeline for Zeke 
(Waiting child from an agency specific list)

Submit LOI (Letter of Intent) to China that identifies a child you'd like to adopt.  (Submitted LOI December 20)

Wait 1-4 weeks for Pre Approval/PA (Received January 3)

Complete homestudy and start assembling dossier (3-4 months)
*Complete homestudy (started mid December, homestudy completed by homestudy agency March 1)
*Send in I800a paperwork (can't apply for the I800a until you have your completed homestudy, application received by USCIS March 8)
*Be fingerprinted  (Received original fingerprint date of April 17, walked in to Omaha USCIS office to be fingerprinted April 5)
*Receive I800a approval  (Received verbal approval April 12, will hopefully have it in hand at the beginning of next week)
*Authenticate documents at the secretary of state's office  (All are done)
*Send documents to the US Department of State and then the Chinese Consulate  (Have to have the I800a approval authenticated by the secretary of state before we can send our documents)

Send dossier to China on May 11 (DTC)  

Wait for LID (log in date) which is China acknowledging that your dossier has been received (LID of May 23)

Wait for LOA (Letter of Approval) which is China formally approving you as parents for your child-July 18

File I800, I864 (US immigration paperwork)

Wait for I800 approval (3 weeks)

Have I800 approval cabled to US Consulate in China (2 weeks)

Wait for Article 5 (2-3 weeks)

Wait for travel approval (TA), 2-4 weeks

Time frame to homecoming...definitely easier to predict than Haiti.  But there is still some wiggle room in all of this.  Our agency says 5 1/2 months.  Also when I first made my list, 52 days for LOA was being touted in several places as the average wait.  It seems like now the average is a bit longer more in the 60-90 day range.  I've been thinking December at the latest just to try to cushion the wait so I'm hopefully traveling sooner than expected.  5 1/2 months would put us at traveling the beginning of November.  A 60 day LOA wait would be right on track with that.  I would really like to avoid traveling around the holidays simply because the airfare is crazy high.  (And flying to China is already expensive.)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Nothing Definite

Playing the waiting game around here...

Still waiting to hear on a definite move in date on the new house.  The carpet is scheduled to be installed on the 30th, and that is supposed to be one of the last things.  The teachers at D's school have to report August 8 so I'm hoping we will be able to move before then.  But the builders have not yet given us a move in date.  We have been boxing things up and will probably really get down to bare bones in the next few weeks.  We've been doing a few projects like painting furniture and I've sewn several bedskirts, lots of curtains, and some pillows.

Loving these vintage inspired pillows for the bench seat in the dining room...ric rack trim is peachy keen!
These are the curtains for Conleigh's room.
We also heard tonight that we MIGHT have an offer on our current home.  After over 3 years of wanting to sell, that is welcome news.  We have shown the house a lot in the last 3 weeks and had several interested parties so best case scenario would be multiple offers which might help the price stay close to the listing price (or maybe even above it)--a boon since our listing price is a bargain basement price.

On the Zeke front, our dossier was out of translation on June 28th.  That is just one part of receiving your LOA but we were told that it takes about 2 weeks from that point to finish up that step.  If that time frame had been 100% accurate, we would have received our LOA last Thursday.  But we didn't.  So we're still waiting, thinking "any day now".  Once we have our LOA, it's about 3 month to travel so it's starting to look like an October travel date.  But again, no certainty with that.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Of Marriage Enrichment, Remodeling, and Snakes...Oh the Irony!

This last weekend, our state Fellowship of Christian Athletes offered a coaches' marriage enrichment weekend.  We are not all that connected with FCA even though D is a coach and a full time teacher.  But we do see his coaching position as a ministry and really try to teach the boys he coaches about more than just how to be better soccer players.  Another coach invited us about 4 years ago and we've gone every year since.  No kids, have all your meals prepared for you, worship, guest speakers, fellowship with other coaches and their wives... I always enjoy going.  It always seems to refocus my heart as a wife and also inspires us as a coaching couple, to remind us that we can make a difference in the hearts of kids.  Les Steckel (a former NFL coach) and his wife were the main speakers which is right up D's alley.  Listening to stories of how Coach Steckel coached Shannon Sharpe, coached in a Super Bowl, worked with Tony Dungy, all of those stories captured D's attention.

This year, my kids went to my mom's while we were gone.  So on Sunday, we drove for about 3 hours to pick them back up.  We knew my mom had a bit of a project planned for us:  putting in new flooring in her bathroom.  That meant taking out the washed, dryer, sink and toilet, putting in the new floor, adding a new vanity, and putting the sink and toilet back in.  (She's getting a new washer and dryer so we didn't have to put the old one back in.)  D had to be back to our house by Tuesday night for summer soccer so we had one day to get this all done.  Are you already appreciating how ironic is is that we would come off of a marriage enrichment weekend only to do plumbing and floor installation at my mom's?  D had to run to the store for parts twice on Monday which when you live in the Sandhills of Nebraska means driving 30 miles one way.  (Insert groan.)  And while he was gone my mom decided to try to remove the residue left over from the wax seal after D had taken out the toilet.  Basically she thought she could use a screwdriver over a large hole in the floor, a large hole which connects to their septic system.  So yes, the screwdriver did go down the hole and yes, we had to use a magnet on a wire to get it back out and yes, we confessed our misdeed to my husband.

Of course as we were driving to my mom's, she calls and says something like "I think I have a snake in my basement."  Which she did.  Thankfully it was not nearly as bad as I had thought it might be.  She thought it was a bull snake, which it was.  But bull snakes can be pretty big.  Like 4-5 feet long.  The 4-5 feet long part was what was most concerning.  It was kind of sitting on the stairwell wall and was maybe 3 foot long and an 1 1/2 inches around.  D put on his super hero cape and used a handy dandy shovel to dispatch of the little guy while Mom and I barricaded ourselves on the other side of the room with Rubbermaid totes (mop and broom in hand).  For the record, there was no screaming like girls...at least not that I can recall.

So long, fun (and funny) weekend...very blessed by husband who had a great attitude the entire time even while working his tail off and wrangling a snake.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Happy 4th of July!

I'm a little late with a 4th of July related story but in my defense, the post worthy part didn't really happen until after the 4th.  We spent the morning of the 4th at an outdoor flea market type event with lunch at Pizza Hut, the afternoon just being lazy, and the hours near firework time at our new house which is very close to where the town's fireworks are launched.  At some point during our time at Pizza Hut, we had a quick discussion of why we celebrate the 4th of July.  Something along the lines of  "American used to have a king who made the rules but now we have a President.  The day when people in American said they wanted a President was the fourth day in July and so now we celebrate that day every year."

Fast forward to Friday...
Out of the blue during lunch, Conleigh says that she wishes we had a king.  I assumed it had to do with wanting there to be prince and princesses and asked her if that is what she meant.  She said that no, she just wished we had a king instead of a president.  In jumps Kenson who wants to know more about how we came to have a president and why we wanted a president rather than a king.

The conversation went a bit like this:

"A king is a king because his dad was a king, not because people picked him to be a king"

"A long time ago, people lived in England which is across the ocean but some people got in a boat and came to America which is very far away from England."

"King George was the person who made the rules and no one in America got to help make the rules."

"Americans wanted to help make the rules but King George wouldn't let them so they signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4th which said they wanted to make their own country instead of being part of England."

"King George didn't like this so he sent soldiers to fight with the Americans and this mean there was a war."

Kenson heard this and immediately connected it to a conversation we'd had about dinosaurs..."since it was a long time ago, were there dinosaurs in the war?"  ("Um, no.  Dinosaurs came before the war.")

Then he wanted to know who won.  He was quite excited to know that America did.

"And once America won, then the people in America could vote to choose a president."

Again Kenson knew something about that.  (This time he was a little more accurate than the dinosaur bit.)  "Oh yeah.  Like people voted for George Washington and Abraham Lincoln to be presidents.  But people shot Abraham Lincoln.  Why did they shoot him?

"Because he changed the rules about slavery."

"Why did people not want him to change the rules?"

"I suppose for a lot of reasons.  Some people really just didn't like black people.  Some people thought they would lose a lot of money if they couldn't use slaves to run their farms. Some people just couldn't think of any other ways to live because they had lived with slaves for so many years, they couldn't see any other way to live."

Then Conleigh pipes up, "Will there be kings in heaven?  Because I don't think I want them to be there.  I think they should go to another heaven, a mean king's heaven."

Because someone getting shot equals death which equals heaven.  Full circle...back to kings.  It may take a twenty minute conversation, but we will get back to kings.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Starting an Adoption Series Wrap Up

Here's the compilation of my previous posts...

Two Bits of Wisdom
Questions to Ask
Who Are We?
Open Versus Closed Adoptions
Adoption Finances
The Dark Side of Adoption

One more thing I'd like to share regarding waiting children...
Even though I think it is important that people consider adoption options that are good fits for their families, I do think it it is important to consider ALL of the options that are out there.  The reality is the greatest need in adoption is not for people willing to parent through domestic infant adoption.  The reality is there are thousands of kids waiting both internationally and in foster care.  By considering one of those options, you drastically change the course of your adoption (in many ways) including the time frame to being matched.  Again, if those options aren't a good fit for you, then that's okay.  It's important to do what your family needs to do.  But do some thinking about why and consider those who wait.  Take the time to look through the faces of those who wait; perhaps it will encourage you to consider an option you previously thought impossible.

Rainbow Kids-must register first, will allow you to create and save a customized "list" based on ages, countries of origin, and special needs, this list then pulls up the children listed with them who meet these criteria

Reece's Rainbow-one of my favorite adoption sites simply because of the way it works, the idea is to create accounts for specific kids who are harder to place which allows people to deposit money into each child's account to offset their adoption costs, specializes in Down Syndrome, moderate to severe physical needs, and HIV positive children (not as scary as it sounds-do your research)

CHASK-advocates for special needs children in a variety of ways, works with birth parents who will give birth to a special needs child to help them either parent or choose adoption, also has a waiting child section for children in the US who are in need of families (usually special need infants or parents disrupting a finalized adoption  which means children with severe behavioral challenges)

Advocate for Waiting Child Yahoo group-Yahoo discussion group which requires you to join, it is set up for parents wanting to adopt from China, I think it is useful for two reasons:  1.  it shows you hundreds of children who area available for adoption in China right now and gives you a good idea of what types of children are available and 2.  often there are adoption situations listed that are not specific to China that you might find yourself interested in

AdoptUSKids-database for children across the US in foster care, allows you to search for children based on ages, special needs, state, etc., can be frustrating as you often cannot get information from case workers unless you have a completed home study, the listings can be outdated, and it can be hard to get case workers to communicate with you

Heart Gallery-the Heart Gallery is a project that connects local photographers to kids who are waiting in foster care, the photographers take professional portraits and the portraits are used to advocate for permanent homes for these kids, this is organized by state

A Family For Every Child-also connected to the US foster care system, does have a smaller number of profiles of available children, also offers matching assistance for families who want to adopt from foster care and who are willing to adopt children older than 6, sibling sets, or children with special needs

Ordinary Hero-international database of waiting children, does require registration

No Hands But Ours-a great combination of waiting children profiles, blog posts regarding adoption, special needs resources, and information on agencies, geared to Chinese adoption

Positively Orphaned-international database of HIV positive children who are waiting for families

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Dark Side of Adoption Ethics, Failed Placements, Broken Promises, Bad Press, and Abuse

To close out the series on starting an adoption, let's do a little truth telling about adoption, adoption ethics, losing money in adoptions, and failed placements.  Adoption is really about covenants made between parties.    Birth parents, adoptive parents, social workers, attorneys, agency staff, and orphanage staff are involved in making commitments to each other.  If those commitments are kept, it is likely the adoption will be successful  (in terms of a child being placed in a home) and not much with be said.  I also think kept commitments increase the odds that the actual match between the adoptive family and the child will be successful.  But if one party does not keep its commitments or if one party perceives that the commitments are unkept, the whole adoption process can start unraveling.  My belief is that this is the exception rather than the norm and that adoptions gone bad are over hyped.  But things do go wrong and it's important to think about why.

Domestic infant adoptions
I have not done a domestic infant adoption so I cannot speak from experience.  I can only speak to what I have observed.  In my mind, what weighs heaviest on adoptive parents' minds is the fear of a birth family choosing to parent after choosing an adoptive family.  I cannot speak to how often this happens but I can only imagine the pain that this brings to a family.  I hope all adoptive families will come to see that even if they have gone through such a painful experience, that it is necessary to give the birth family every opportunity to try to parent.  This experience is not the same thing as a scam where a birth parent never intends to place the child for adoption.  Also know that relinquishment time frames vary by state and it is common for more adoptions to originate in states that have more "adoption friendly" laws including a shorter time frame for the signing of relinquishment documents.  (For example, Kansas and Utah are two states considered "adoption friendly" because they allow birth families to sign the relinquishment papers sooner after birth than other states do.)

I think adoptive families also have concerns about losing money to an adoption scam where there really is no baby.  Realistically, the best way to prevent this is simply to work with reputable placing agency who has been in business and can show a track record of successful placements.  These agencies will be working closely with the birth family and should have policies in place that weed out scam artists.  Within the domestic adoption world, there are consultants, facilitators or attorneys who may increase your likelihood of being chosen by a birth family.  You are essentially paying these people to either locate potential situations for you or you are asking them to advocate for you in multiple places, increasing your exposure with birth families.  However, one should be cautious when employing someone like this because once you start dealing in a private way in an unregulated area (ie no license required), there is less of a safety net in place to protect you.

Lastly, consider your obligations in a domestic adoption.  It is easy to start finding fault with agencies and birth parents but adoptive families can be guilty of breaking promises too.  If you commit to send monthly photos, then keep your promise.  If you say you are willing to arrange yearly meetings, then keep your promise.  Do not make commitments you have no intention of keeping.

Foster care based adoptions
Again, I have not done an adoption from foster care but we have tried and investigating this route.  The risk of being financially scammed is essentially non existent if you do a foster care based adoption.  The exception to this might be when subsidies are negotiated; there are adoptive families who feel like they settled for too little and now have to fight tooth and nail to get the services their child needs.  Another version of being "scammed" involves social workers who paint rosy pictures of kids and do not disclose the children's true needs.  I do not think this happens often but I do know of a few instances where people felt like the social worker intentionally misled the adoptive family simply to remove the child from the caseload.  And I also know of other situations where there may not have been deception involved but the adoptive families felt like the social worker was inept and should not have placed the child with the family given the child's history and the family's structure.

International adoption
Adoptive families worry about losing money in international adoption scams.  The perception is that the risk lies in an agency or orphanage promising that they can place a child with you and then finding out that the child does not exist or that you cannot complete the adoption.  I think the risk of this is smaller than most people think especially if you are doing an agency based adoption.  (If you are working with in a country that still allows independent adoptions like Haiti or Ghana, then this is a concern.  In countries like that, it is imperative that you work with an attorney recommended by the orphanage.  Do not set out on your own to simply find and hire a local attorney.  It is way too easy for an attorney in that country to tell you what you want to hear, take your money all while having no desire or ability to actually complete an adoption. )

What I perceive to be a larger risk is the feeling of being taken advantage of financially by an agency through their policies.  For example, within Chinese adoptions, you are required to travel to China for 14 days. Some agencies require you to use specific travel agencies to book your travel.  These fees can not be predicted so you sign your contract with the agency and wait until you actually plan your travel to find out what your travel costs will actually be.  Once the family is ready to travel, they then find out the costs and are upset because the travel costs appear inflated.  In a similar vein, some families have felt frustrated within the Chinese adoption world because they have been unable to get an itemized bill of their travel expenses.  The various fees paid to an agency can also cause a family to feel taken advantage of.  In our most recent adoption, the agency that wrote our homestudy charged $250 to coordinate with the placing agency.  I personally find this crazy because even at a professional pay rate of $25 an hour, our social worker did not spend 10 hours working with the other agency.  In a similar fashion, our homestudy agency also charged us a $250 educational fee.  When I asked about having these fee removed since we had already taken an extensive Hague training, I was told that the homestudy process in itself is an educational experience and this is the reason for that fee.  (Um, what?)  In many ways, agencies have adoptive families over a barrel and families feel like they have no alternative but to pay.  Families feel like it is "just part of the process" and so they jump through one more hoop.  I am not sure how families can avoid these types of scenarios but know that it is okay to question where your money is going.  In our case, one of the reasons I did not press too hard on the fees was because I was actually already getting a discount on our homestudy.  The agency who wrote our Haitian homestudies merged with another agency; however, when I went to to our old agency's website, it was still up and running.  I assumed they were still working under their name and used that website to research fees.  However, once I contacted them, I found out that the old website was defunct and the fees had bee raised.  Because I asked, they did agree to do the homestudy at the cheaper rate which was on the website.

Within international adoptions, there is growing concern for child trafficking.  This can mean a variety of things.   It can mean that a "locator" goes out to villages and recruits birth families to place their children, while making promises about their children one day returning to help them or by making financial promises directly to the birth family.  It can mean that someone who has no legal right to a child (ie an aunt, a grandmother, a neighbor) "kidnaps" the child and brings them to the orphanage as a way of manipulating the birth family.  This person then attempts to place the child for adoption.  It used to mean that there were people who were paid to relinquish their child.  (While I cannot say for certain that this does not happen anymore, I do think this type of trafficking has been reduced.)   As an adoptive family, it is important to ask questions about a child's birth family.  If something seems off to you, then ask more questions.  The USCIS has tried to create a process that eliminates the types of situations I have mentioned.  Birth families are interviewed as US Embassy officials try to determine if the birth families were coerced or if birth families have no real idea of what this adoption will mean for the child.  But this part of the process does not happen until the very end so it would behoove an adoptive family to be aware of the possibilities of child trafficking before that part of the adoption process.  This also means that it can be much harder to adopt a child who is a true orphan, with no living family because it is harder for our immigration services to prove that the child is indeed available for adoption.

Also know that in international adoption you are often dealing with two different groups who hold power:  an adoption agency and an orphanage.  People assume that the adoption agency has done its homework and has checked out the ethics of an orphanage.  However, this is not always true.  Sometimes adoption agencies are lazy.  Sometimes adoption agencies just don't care.  And sometimes adoptions agencies get taken in by corrupt or abusive orphanages and they just don't know it.  Again, don't be afraid to ask a few questions.  Has the agency visited the orphanages that the children are living in?  How often do they go?  Can they describe a typical day at the orphanage?  What type of partnership does the agency have with the orphanage?  Is it merely adoption based or are there other types of programs in place?  How is information relayed between the orphanage and the agency?  Will there be regular updates on the progress of the adoption and the growth of the child?  Is there an online forum for people adopting from that orphanage?  What does the agency know about the attorney who is working on the adoption paperwork?

Internet reviews, broken promises, and cultural differences
I also think there are a few more broad areas that are worth sharing about in regards to evaluating an agency or an orphanage:  internet reviews, broken promises related to time frames, and cultural differences.

I'm sure I'm like everyone else in that one of the ways I gain information about something new is by checking online.  Adoption is no exception.  In the big world of adoption, it is easy to type in an agency name and try to find reviews of that agency.  There are sites dedicated to reviews and 5 star systems for agencies which can sometimes be helpful.  But sometimes all of that information is really a lot of smoke and mirrors.  To begin with, my experience has been that the moment someone is digruntled enough to post something negative online, they are often disgruntled enough to post the same thing in every single place they can.  So you often will see the same person posting the same comments on multiple websites.  What often happens next is that someone else who is a staunch supporter of the agency finds the review and then posts their own glowing report.  Another thing I have seen happen is adoptive families hear from other adoptive families about their bad experience and then repost that information even though it is not first hand, personal experience.  The negative review then becomes all about that family's perception of what another family experienced.  Lastly, the reality is that the people who are most likely to post information online are the people who are really irritated or angry.  (Even if it is for good reason.)  Those who have had fair to excellent experiences rarely post.  What I would pay attention to is if you find different people saying the same things regarding an agency, all based upon their own personal experiences.  Even then, I would still take it with a grain of salt.  Usually the truth is not in the extremes but somewhere in the middle.  For me, I personally think the best information you can get regarding an agency via an online source is an accurate description of what they experienced without any positive or negative connotations.  For example, when someone asks me about my experiences with specific agencies/orphanages, I try very hard to only say the facts.  Saying "they are wonderful about getting you updates" is not quite as helpful as me saying "we usually received two updates a month, one was a photo update and one was a process update."  If you can get someone to give you an objective, fact based review like that, there is a good chance it is worth believing.

One of the quickest ways for an adoptive family to be disillusioned with their agency is for the timeline to match or homecoming to be stretched longer than expected.  When you are anticipating waiting for a specific time frame and that doesn't come about, it is hard not to be discouraged and to wonder if the agency is doing all they can do.  I personally would urge caution in this as there are many things in adoption that are out of the hands of the agency.  If its a domestic adoption, a birth family must make a choice to select your profile.  If it's an international adoption, sometimes the time lines change due the the way the foreign government runs the process.  Of course be discerning and if something seems off, do some digging.  But in general, try to give people the benefit of the doubt and don't let your emotional mindset of "this is never going to happen." take over.

Lastly, know that cultural differences can create real issues in regards to people feeling betrayed or let down during the adoption process.  Most other countries do not operate on the same hour by hour, minute by minute pace that Americans do.  If you are adopting from one of those countries, it may take 2 weeks just to license your car as you go from one government office to the next, filling out the correct forms and getting the run around.  Here, that job would take you maybe half a day at the DMV if you live in a larger city and for those of us lucky enough to live in the sticks, it takes about ten minutes.  In some places, the office that is processing your adoption paperwork does not even have a computer or a filing cabinet.  Birth and death certificates all are handwritten and recorded in village log books.  Electricity and internet access can be spotty.  Life is slower and in a lot of ways, it just has to be.

The same can be said for concerns about abuse.  It is not uncommon for abuse to occur in orphanage settings.  (Child to child abuse and adult to child abuse)  Some of this is abuse that results from untrained workers who do not know how to prevent or stop it.  Some of this is the result of people who make no attempt to stop it.  And some of it is the result of cultural differences in the way children are disciplined and spoken to.  It is important to not just assume that if a child comes home and appears to be a victim of abuse that this means the staff at the orphanage abused the child.  Children can be abused by other children or by the people whom they lived with prior to coming to live in the orphanages.  Once abuse is known, stopping it can be very hard.  Caring for scores of children under one roof, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, makes stopping abuse hard.  It requires a vigilance that is hard to achieve as you can't allow children to be alone together at any point in time.  Bathrooms, showers, even the hidden corners of a playground under the slides can be the setting for abuse while a caregiver may be only a few feet away.  Lastly, many countries also do not have adequate systems in place to investigate abuse which also makes the issue harder to root out.  (I am not excusing abuse; I am just being realistic about how and why it happens.)