Monday, September 11, 2017

My Experience With Adopting an Older Child

I received an email this morning from an adoptive mother. As I read her story, I saw an experience we have personally seen, and written much about over the past decade (See articles here and here as examples). The adoption of older children from China is rife with potential issues, and often results in significant emotional turmoil and abuse. This family's experience should serve as an additional cautionary tale for all to tread very, very carefully.


Upon walking into the meeting room I found a 11 year old child slumped over crying.  Shortly after meeting her, the Chinese officials wanted her to sign the document in agreement for adoption.  She kept throwing the pen and they kept putting it in her hand until she finally gave in and signed.  I felt very sad and uncomfortable, yet I said nothing.  I really should have, but I thought perhaps she was just nervous. The next few days she displayed very bad behavior. Her behavior was hateful.  She expressed she wanted to go back to the SWI. My guide and agency acted as if all this was normal behavior.  

In the coming days it became clear she did not at all want to be adopted nor did she ever agree.  She wanted to stay in China.  Furthermore she told me she was not 11 going on 12 but actually 13.    She seemed so worldly for having lived in the SWI her entire life.   She was not impressed with the fancy hotel, McDonalds and other things I assumed she never would have been exposed to.  I asked her if the SWI had always been her home.  She responded yes but I wonder if she had lived somewhere else prior. 

Ultimately, after days of bad and hateful behavior, and requests to be brought back to SWI, I relented and decided to request the adoption be dissolved.   It was a very difficult decision for me, but I imagined my future with an angry resentful child forced to come to the U.S.A.  The guide seemed very angry with the child and said something to her.  After that the child changed behavior and was super well behaved, nervously cleaning our room, etc.  She even was on her knees with hands in prayer position begging to come.  It was so sad.   I asked the guide what she had said, and I told her I felt she said something to scare the child.   The child also exhibited bizarre and self-harming behavior.  It may sound strange but I was even afraid of her at times.   I believe perhaps this child was suffering from RAD.

When I brought the child back to the Civil Affairs office to meet her nanny and go back to the SWI, she was so happy.  The child gave me my first hug and biggest smile ever.   I felt that was almost a thank you hug.

Now, home six  months later, I am still so sad and upset at everything that has happened. Now I'm only left with the anxiety over having to leave a child behind.   Also wondering would she perhaps have been happy at being adopted once home, etc., etc. 

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Separated Twins: More Common than Generally Believed

The recent reunification story of two girls adopted by different families points out a problem that we have noticed for many years.  After one of the families contacted us for her daughter's finding ad, we notified them that we also had information that indicated their daughter was a twin. Foster family records, which we obtained on a research project to that area, indicated that although the orphanage had known they were twins, they had separated the girls in the belief that it would be easier to adopt the two girls separately.

This story has created a lot of interest in the adoption community, and efforts are now underway to identify other such "separated twins." A new Facebook group has been created to comb through and identify possible twin sets in our orphanage data books, the most effective way of identifying such twins. Families on this group are searching their child's data book for children with the same finding date and location, same birth dates, and twin names. In the case of the two children in the story above, even though the orphanage had changed the finding date of one of the two girls, their names strongly implied that they were related. Taken individually, neither name stood out as anything but a traditional orphanage name, but when the last characters of the two girls' names were combined, the word for "Rose" was formed. When the names of two children form such a combination, it is significant evidence, when combined with similar finding data, that the two children are related.

We have created a listing of similar "separated twins," based on similar names, finding data, and other criteria. If your child is on this list, it is very likely that a sibling was adopted by another family (all of these children were internationally adopted).

The following list is a work-in-progress, and will be updated as new potential twins are identified. You can assist in this work if you have purchased your child's orphanage data book and notice unusual pairings.  Please let us know and we can research them further.

Potential Twins

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Book Review: Leslie Wang's Outsourced Children: Orphanage Care and Adoption in Globalizing China

Leslie K. Wang’s book “Outsourced Children: Orphanage Care and Adoption in Globalizing China” is a well-researched treatise on China’s adoption program, the result of personal experiences of the author working in various orphanages, combined with academic studies. The central thesis of the book, that China has allowed international adoption of its children as a means to increase the overall value and productivity of its remaining citizens, is a fairly new idea in the adoption community. Few adoptive parents realize the overall goals and objectives of the Chinese government in encouraging and promoting adoption, and for this single reason alone Wang’s book is a valuable contribution to the history of China’s adoption program.

Wang spends considerable space putting a personalized face on the orphans in China, mostly special needs. Her time in the Haifeng Children’s Welfare Institute (a pseudonym), an orphanage that participated in the international adoption program, illuminates the issues present in the Social Welfare Institutes regarding the severely handicapped. Wang gained access to the Haifeng orphanage as a volunteer for “Tomorrow’s Children,” a Christian faith-based NGO that assisted the orphanage in caring for its special needs children. Her experiences in Haifeng are contrasted with those she had in the Yongping orphanage (also a pseudonym) near Beijing where another group, “Helping Hands,” worked. This group was comprised of expat women who, as Wang describes, were looking to put meaning into their lives as their husbands went off to work.  The contrast between these two groups – how their methods were accepted or rejected by the nannies that worked in each facility, by the government, and by the children themselves, is fascinating to read, and provides a valuable assessment of the damage that “first-world” attitudes can sometimes have in such settings. 

But the core of the book is devoted to the idea that China has allowed the exportation of her children with a simple goal in mind: To increase the overall productivity of its people with the stated goal to become a first-world nation. With this goal in mind, Chinese leaders feel that children abandoned by largely rural, uneducated and less productive birth families in a real sense act as weights to the progress of China overall. By removing these children from the national population, the thinking goes, the government accepts that the remaining population would increase in education and productivity.  Wang states that “Although urban little emperors bear the heavy responsibility of building a glorious future for their country, a much larger number of youths from rural areas are viewed at best as a hindrance, and at worst as a dangerous threat, to Chinese modernization” (p. 29-30). When viewed in this light, the actions of the CCAA and other national governmental agencies can be clearly understood, especially as it relates to ethical breeches and scandals in China’s adoption program. Simply stated, orphanage actions such as baby-buying and Family Planning confiscations achieve a national interest, even if those same actions result in lapses in international treaties and standards. 

It is important to understand that China’s international adoption program was started as a result of advocacy work initiated by World Association for Children and Parents (WACAP), a private adoption agency based in Washington State. This agency was the first to be allowed to adopt Chinese children in 1991 from the Luoyang orphanage in Henan Province, the same Province where Wang volunteered in the Haifeng orphanage.  It was WACAP’s advocacy that convinced the Chinese that the benefits of international adoption in terms of financial resources and outsourcing the costs of childcare outweighed the loss of face. The creation of China’s international adoption bureau, the CCAA, occurred one year later. In 1992, 206 Chinese children were adopted to the U.S. (232 internationally), a number that grew to 4,206 children in 1998 (6,012 internationally), when some orphanages began to feel pressure to recruit children for adoption. By 2002, when 6,119 children were adopted to the U.S. (10,194 internationally), many, if not most, orphanages were heavily involved in baby-buying and other recruitment methods to satisfy the demand for healthy, young infant girls.  In 2005, international press revealed that orphanages in central China’s Hunan Province had been buying babies, and in 2008 families that had adopted older, “aging-out” children from the same Luoyang orphanage came forward indicating that their adoptive children had been lured away from birth families under the false pretense of gaining an education and employment in the West. 

Which brings me to the one objection I have to Wang’s assessment of China’s program. Although Wang gives a hat tip to reports of scandals in China’s program, overall she maintains that the direction of the adoption program is dictated by Beijing. She states, for example, that it is the outcome of the HCIA (Hague Convention) “combined with a proactive effort by the top sending countries – namely Russia and China – to lower the number of kids they place abroad” (p.131) that resulted in the collapse in international adoptions after 2004 (Russia) and 2005 (China). Wang also writes that the PRC “severely limited the supply of healthy girls following the Hunan child trafficking scandal” (p.132), and still later observed that “it is highly significant that, as the country’s global economic position has improved, the number of children it sends abroad has declined dramatically” (p. 148). Intentionally or not, these and other similar statements by Wang imply that the number of children adopted internationally is controlled by the Central Government, controlled from the top down. There is no doubt that this is a commonly held view, even by those involved in the adoption community, but it is largely a misperception.

The idea ignores the well-documented data and experiences in China’s orphanages themselves. There is no question that China’s program took a dramatic turn in late 2005. In fact, when one graphs the findings (the number of children entering the orphanage) by the orphanages in the provinces of Guangdong, Guangxi, Hunan and Jiangxi, etc., the main providers of adoptable children in 2005, one can see the decline beginning in December 2005, exactly when the Hunan scandal was being reported on inside China. In February 2006, three months after the scandal broke and when the decline was already visible, the CCAA (the office of the national government responsible for international adoptions) began actively pushing orphanages to submit as many children as they could, even severely special needs. When the number of submissions continued to fall, only then did China change the criteria for who could adopt. The lack of definitive action to curtail corruption in the face of various adoption scandals since Hunan should also be seen in this light.

Thus, the decline in adoptions from China was not a result of top-down actions such as Hague implementation, progress in economic circumstances, access to ultrasounds, the 2008 Olympics, or any of the other “macro” explanations that have been given. Rather, it was a bottom-up reaction by millions of Chinese birth families, most of whom learned for the first time in December 2005 that their children were being “sold” to Westerners by the orphanages, and consciously chose to no longer cooperate, largely out of fear for their child’s safety and well-being. As a result, the number of healthy children entering the orphanages fell dramatically, and the apparent emphasis shifted, as Wang documents, from healthy young infants to older special needs children. I say apparent, because it was the disappearance of the healthy children that made the adoption of the special needs children both more desirable by Western families due to the longer wait times for a healthy child, and more visible to outsiders. But the mission of the national government is still firmly in place: Adopt out as many children, healthy or special needs, as possible to elevate the productivity and desirability of the rest of China’s citizenry. 

Wang’s book is a highly interesting view of the China program, and she brings many perceptive and important observations to the conversation moving forward. Do Western NGOs do more harm than good? Are their efforts sustainable? Should the international adoption program be used as a tool of the Chinese government to outsource orphan care? These and many other considerations are addressed and explored by Wang in what is a fascinating read.

Leslie's book can be ordered here.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

We Know Who the In-Country Searchers Are, But Are They Any Good?

UPDATED: September 23, 2016

As the Chinese adoptee population begins to mature, a growing industry is developing around the need for many adoptees and their families to search for birth parents and other information. As a result, people inside China, most of whom used to work as agency guides when adoptions were prolific, have now moved into the search industry. The current main players in this arena are "Xixi," "Tiffany," "Jane,"  and to a lessor extent "Bruce Yu." We have written about our own experiences with these searchers on our subscription blog, but we felt polling a larger pool of families, families that have had direct involvement with these searchers, was warranted.

We created a poll asking adoptive families on our search group if they had paid any in-country searcher to seek out their child's birth family.  Eighty-one families responded (interested families are encouraged to submit their own feedback relative to these searchers for future survey updates, which we hope to conduct monthly). The following is a summary of the experiences of these participants, and their assessment of the services they received.

The dominant searcher in China is Xixi, an ex-agency in-country guide based in Guangxi Province. Fifty-six percent of respondents had utilized her services. Families had Xixi search in a wide area, ranging from Guangxi Province to as far away as Zhejiang Province. Families reported that on average they paid from $300 to over $500 for the research, although 20% of faqmilies paid more than $500.

Survey results indicate that Xixi is well loved by her clients. When asked to rate their satisfaction with her services, the forty-six families rated their overall experience as 3.69 (1 = Wish I hadn't done it, 5 = Completely satisfied). All but sixteen respondents rated her 4 or higher.  Common comments touted her quick communication, flexibility, and honesty.  When asked if they would recommend Xixi to other families, Xixi rated 3.80 (Would recommend).

There were a few non-fans (16/46). One respondent commented that they felt Xixi "applied a 'one-size-fits-all' approach, rather than listening to us and hearing what we wanted. We didn't need photos and souvenirs (we'd already been there) and didn't want to pay for that. We were fairly sure the orphanage was involved in our daughter's 'abandonment' and didn't want them alerted to our search, but she went straight to the orphanage director. We wanted her to discreetly interview other people, but all she did was put up posters (which we told her up front was not a priority for us, given the fact that we didn't think our daughter was truly abandoned)."

Of the forty-six families that had hired Xixi, three reported success in locating their child's birth family.

The second main searcher used by families inside China is Tiffany, an ex-shop owner in Nanchang.  Utilized by 10% of respondents, Tiffany's clients were also very happy, for the most part, with her services.  Like Xixi, Tiffany charges families $300 or more for a search, and she has conducted searches in Jiangxi Province and neighboring areas.  Eight families in our survey had used Tiffany's services, and most (63%) rated her as a good or awesome value.  Happy clients emphasized her doggedness and commitment to follow through on leads, etc.  Tiffany's overall client satisfaction average was 3.38.  When asked if they would recommend her to other families, Tiffany rated 3.13 (Nearly neutral).
None of the families that utilized Tiffany in their searches were successful in locating their child's birth family.

A distant third option utilized by families was Jane, hired by five families. In contrast to Xixi and Tiffany, Jane has an average satisfaction rating of 3.4. Jane's fees appear to be lower, with most families reporting they paid between $100 and $300, and no family having paid more than $500.  Jane appears to search predominantly in Anhui Province.

Respondents cite Jane's lack of organization as the major dissatisfier: "The searcher did not appear to be organized for the search and it was a lot of hit and miss for the day of the search plus information provided turned out to be inaccurate by the searcher.  I didn't trust the translation.  It was not matching the expressions of the people that she was talking to and I had to prompt for a translation and I was told often that it was nothing.  Information about the original orphanage location turned out not to be true.  Told us at one point that someone came forward but we had to return to [the city] to meet the person first which the searcher could have done for a cost.  We met with a TV station the day after the searcher left and a much better response where they found the original orphanage, took us to the police station, had DNA taken, the gov. office.  It was suggested that my daughter is from another city further away so it would have been helpful to help us search there."

 When asked if they would recommend Jane to other families, she rated 3 (Neutral). One of the five families reported locating their child's birth family by using Jane.

Out of the eighty-two families that have taken the survey, only eight have obtained birth family information through their searcher: Three with Xixi, one through Jane, and the rest through local contacts such as "Baby Come Home" and other area residents who the family befriended.

As more families participate in the survey, our sample size, especially for lessor utilized options such as Jane and Bruce Yu, will grow, allowing us to make better characterizations.

If you have utilized an in-country searcher to try and locate birth families, please consider completing our survey.  Your experience will help other families to make informed decisions.

Full comments can be read on our information site under the "More" tab, "Searcher Reviews".  

Searcher Survey