Monday, November 26, 2012

A History of China's International Adoption Program

Last October, my wife Lan and I were invited to speak to two groups of New York adoptive families, one presentation taking place on Long Island, and the other at NYU in Manhattan. The topic I chose to speak on was "The History of China's International Adoption Program and Its Impact on Birth Parent Searching." This week on the subscription blog is a recital of my presentation in three parts for
ease in viewing.

If you are not a member of our subscription blog, you can join here.  The blog is filled with analysis of the different adoption Provinces, interviews with orphanage insiders, recountings from some of our birth parent searching, and other informative and insightful articles.  If you wish to fully understand China;s adoption program, the blog will be a great source for you. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The "A-ha" Moment

Last April I wrote about a new form of adoption corruption that involved orphanages approaching rural residents promising their children better educations if they allowed them to attend "orphanage schools."   Once in the orphanage, the children are submitted for international adoption as older, "aging out" children, desperately in need of Western adoptive families.  While these children's birth families sometimes are deceived into relinquishing custody of their children to the orphanage, we are now learning that some orphanages are charging birth families to have their children participate in this program, with everyone well aware of what is going on -- everyone except the adoptive families.  

Since April, I have been approached by other families who have recounted their own stories, including learning that some of the children being adopted by unknowing families were the children of the orphanage directors themselves, all under the guise of the "special focus" programs promoted by WACAP, CCAI and other agencies.   

A few of the impacted families have started speaking up, fighting to bring awareness and change to their agencies and the Chinese government, including the CCCWA itself.  Below is a recounting of one such attempt made by two adoptive mothers last monthTheir story illustrates the complexity of this situation, and how adoptive families are left to deal with the issues that follow.  If you are a family impacted by this problem, please feel free to contact me if you would like to tell your story (anonymously or otherwise), or if you would like to be put into contact with other families dealing with these issues.  

What follows was sent to me by an adoptive mother of one of China's "aging out children." 

I have been trying to wrap my brain around all that has happened in the past few weeks.  How to write it all out, what to say. How to say it.

The moment when it all became clear.  The words were said: "Do not spend time looking to your past, but only look to the future and the opportunity you have in America." 

These were the words of the deputy director general of the CCCWA, the highest government official in China adoption.  She was touring the U.S., along with several other high officials in China adoption as well as the CEO of the National Council for Adoption in the U.S.  One particular official traveling with her was the new director of the Luoyang orphanage. 

They would make several stops on their tour, greeting agencies and families.  A tour that would land them in a meeting on the West Coast with a large adoption agency within driving distance of my town.

I would never, ever have another opportunity to have these officials all in one room.  I knew I had to go, in hopes of my chance to confront them and ask for answers surrounding issues in the adoptions of healthy older children and speak out for truth.

The meeting consisted of a small panel of Chinese adoptees who came home at different ages and were now in their teens-adulthood.  They talked of their experiences here. Several of them  spoke of their desire to know more about their history, to know more about their birth family and/or medical history. The highest official in adoption listened to them.  But instead of validating their feelings of wanting to know their histories, she told them they shouldn't worry about that, but only look toward their future and their opportunities in America, all the while remembering their motherland.  

My friend and I looked at each other and said "it all makes sense now."  Not only are we not on the same page with the Chinese adoption officials about adoption, we are not even reading the same book.   For Americans adoption is often, if not always, a desire for relationship -- a parent/child relationship forever, based on truth and love.  Attachment. Hugs and kisses. Sharing the journey. However, all the way across the ocean is a group of officials who are not promoting adoption out of a desire for children to have a family, they are promoting adoption for opportunity and are completely clueless to the damage it can do to deny the past of a child.  Sure, a family is part of the deal, but it is not seen in the same way as we see it.  For me, family is about relationship regardless of opportunity.  A poor family is still a family.  If our house burns down and all we have left is each other, that will be enough because we are a family.

(I know, of course, that I'm not speaking for ALL adoptive families. I am aware that some families may be completely fine with adopting a kid solely to give them a better opportunity and perfectly content with it being all about that. I'm just speaking on my general observations. And of course, we all desire opportunity for our kids. You know what I mean, I hope.)

Children who were adopted at a younger age become more westernized having grown up in a relational society here.  Their history mostly exists here in America, with only a small piece missing--their birth family. They have a healthy desire to have the puzzle all put together. Their life story, each step of the way.  We see this in our younger kids who want all the answers, who like hearing about when they were a baby or the funny things they said when they were young. 

Teen adoption from China is a different story.  And now it all makes sense.  "Don't look back." "Look only toward the future." Opportunity.  Those teens who looked into the camera during the "Journey of Hope" Luoyang program and said "I just want a mom and dad, I want a family," were saying what they had been coached to say.  Told to hide the past. To never tell the truth.  This would provide them opportunity.  One more step in where they wanted to go, where the director wanted them to go.

Some children will do just fine in this situation.  They will even discover how much they actually DO desire relationships and soak it up.  They will embrace their new life---and never look back. However, I don't think they can do this forever.  If they open up with the truth, I believe they can do very well providing they have embraced relationships here AND told the truth about their history--which when adopted as a teen "I don't remember" is not a real answer.  Trust me, they remember.

However, there is one problem with this, regardless of how the child is doing.  The adoption took place under fraud.  Lies were told, children were threatened, birth families were given empty promises.  Sure, the poverty may have been great in some cases, and it would seem the children would be better off here.  However when it is all hidden, and no one wants to talk about it; when children are told to never ever tell and the old director is still communicating with children and telling them to be quiet, the problem remains.  It's all a scam!  "Like a cult," is the best description I've heard.  Social welfare directors might seem gracious and cooperative at face value, but this in no way means that he or she is not involved in corruption.

It's all WRONG.

And so it went.  After the delegation finished their talking, we (my friend flew half way across the country to also speak to this group about her case) approached the officials.  We presented them with documents from a few families who wanted to stand up for the truth.  My very sweet friend translated for us. We told them our stories.  We asked for an investigation.  We spoke to the current director of the Luoyang orphanage, the deputy general of the CCCWA and the CEO of National Council for Adoption.   They all listened with compassion and concern. 

Now before anyone panics, please know that NONE of us desire to see the end of adoption.  We all love adoption.  We love our children.  However, we cannot hide the truth out of fear.  Not for one second did any of us feel like what we were doing would cause harm.  As a matter of fact, for the first time we felt like the truth would be heard and positive change might be made.  The top official of the CCCWA looked me in the eye, shook my hand and said, "I'm sorry".  They promised to look into things. In the letters that were presented to the officials there were several requests made, all were similar from all families.  I'll include a small portion of my letter here: 

"We ask for a formal apology from all who participated in the deception and threatening of our children and those who participated in aiding them to do so. 

"We ask for assurance that our children and their families in China as well as the U.S. will be held harmless as a result of the confessions of their true history and that our children will be given the opportunity and welcomed to return to China for a visit with their families if they so desire.

"Our family believes in adoption and is grateful to have our children from China. However, the circumstances surrounding our two Luoyang adoptions have been heartbreaking and painful to our entire family. Our desire is that no other family or child should suffer because of an adoption under false paperwork, and that the integrity of the program would be held to the highest standards to ensure truthfulness and transparency in the children's history before adoption. We would like to see changes within the China program to allow children to stay with their biological families and get the education and training needed to stay with their relatives. We would be fully supportive in implementing programs like these. We would also support the adoption age changing to age 18 so children are not forced to lie about their age."

As a believer in Jesus, I can tell you that not for a second did we doubt that we were in the right place.  We felt God's leading every.single.step of the way.  No fear.  Only peace.  

Perhaps changes will be made to ensure the China program is run ethically and clean. A program that is transparent. This would be ideal. Perhaps nothing will be done. One thing I am sure of is that I have done what I could and after a very long time of questioning, it gives me peace that we are exactly where we should be. 

I'm not sure what the next step is in this journey, but one thing I do strongly believe is that Christians need to take a stand for truth.  No one wants to talk about the corruption out of fear that it may damage the program.  I truly believe this is wrong.   Children should not be used in adoption, orphans should not be created to fill up numbers in a program.  Birth families should have a voice and not be condemned because they don't meet financial social standards.  A poor family is still a family.  Sometimes we are so focused on "caring for the orphan," we don't realize we are actually contributing to the corruption.

But when I look around, I see it still happening.  Take this example:

When he was just six years old, Connor's father died and his mother left him with his aunt. Later he was sent to the orphanage when his aunt could no longer care for him.  Connor's Asian name means “he grows up like the hardy white poplar which grows in the north”.

Now 13, Connor is a handsome, healthy boy. When he was younger his caretakers described him as “big eyes bright--he is sunshine, beautiful, and cute boy”. He studies at the local school where he is an excellent student who loves learning.  Connor is popular with his caregivers, teachers and classmates. He has a reputation for being helpful to others with chores and caring for younger children. His report says he’s polite and does everything carefully including making his bed, cleaning his room, and making sure he looks nice. He likes playing basketball, drawing and reading books.

Yet, no one says "by the way, it's possible none of this is true and it will be more of an exchange student situation!"  It's possible this kid is being used and told to lie forever, enter a new life here and never look back---all the while keeping his connection to home through internet while unsuspecting parents think it's so cute that they have so many friends back in China.

The problem--we don't know. Maybe it IS true that they are orphaned, maybe it really is exactly as it says on paper.

However, knowing what I do now.....seeing orphanage directors send their own kids here, foster families that turn out to be birth parents, family photos (of child and birth family) taken just one week before an adoptive family arrives to get their "orphaned" child, having Civil Affairs Officers willing to take money to enter teens into the "boarding school," children promised educations at Harvard, shall I go on?

Knowing all of this, I cannot advocate for the adoption of these children. I don't think agencies should either. Unless they have thoroughly investigated. But even then, it's impossible to know. There has to be some sort of crackdown as a result of the numerous false adoptions that already took place. 

Agencies need to take a stand and stop promoting adoption of children whose paperwork is questionable.  They need to hold officials accountable. They should be held accountable. When they see red flags, they need to investigate and put things on hold---and we (those of us in the process) need to step back and not be so emotionally attached to a photo that we are willing to look the other way in order to fill our own need.  

This is a complicated matter as there are so many aspects to it. Who defines an orphan?  When kids come here that technically don't "need" to--it means other children are left behind.  What about them?  Who defines the "need" in the first place?  Was someone robbed of their chance at a family because someone else took advantage of the opportunity?  Have officials now taken the last bit of hope from the true orphan and created a program of opportunity for the elite underprivileged, as well as the already well off?  How do you reconcile all this in your mind?   That is the question.  And it's all complicated.

Here are some red-flags that you should be aware of if you are considering adopting an older child, or have already adopted one:

* If you adopted an older, healthy child, especially a boy from an orphanage that has participated in international adoptions for a long time
* If your child is wanting to be on QQ all the time and has numerous contacts on there.  They may be talking to family

* If your child (adopted at an older age, say 10 and up) has been in the orphanage system only a short time

* If you adopted a teen child and s/he is not growing in height---this is a big indicator that they are older. Teen boys---age 13,14...GROW!  16,17,18....not so much.

* If you know other children from the orphanage with the same sort of story: parents died, relatives old and ailing. Especially if those kids are adopted in clusters.

What to do if this is your story:

* TALK to your child. Tell them you have heard about other kids who were adopted and they were actually older and/or their parents weren't really dead and you'd like to know their REAL story. Assure them they don't have to be afraid and you want to help them.  Tell them it's ok if they are talking to their family on QQ, you just want to know the truth.

* If you suspect your adopted teen is older, ask them their "sign".  Chinese kids know their "sign", this will tell you their birth year.

* Always reassure them that you understand and love them no matter what.  If your child sticks to the story on the paperwork, revisit it several months down the road so your child always knows you are open and willing to listen to the truth at any time.   While it might be easier, never assume the paperwork is really true.  

Truth.  Stand for the truth.  If you have experienced something similar---speak out about it. Encourage your kids to speak the truth.  Do not hide out of fear.  The truth will bring about change.  Please join the cause

These problems are not limited to Luoyang; it's happening all over China.  Orphanage director's are sending their own children and relatives here under the disguise of an orphan.  If you brought home a teen--particularly a teen with no special needs--ask them more questions.  Tell them they don't have to be afraid. 

Take a stand for ALL the children. 

Take a stand for ALL the families.    

Take a stand for TRUTH!


After I posted this essay yesterday, another family with Luoyang children e-mailed me the following recounting of their story.  

We are victims of the "Journey of Hope" child laundering scam.  After almost two years of being in our family, our two Luoyang "boys" told us they are much older (almost 20 instead of 15, and almost 19 instead of 17). They were too old to leave China as orphans and they were too old to enter the USA as adopted children.  Worse, they confessed that they are not orphans.  
They claim that their families are not even poor.  They would have been "okay" in China.  We asked why they helped to  deceive us.  "I just wanted to come to the U.S.  I know I don't belong here.  The paperwork is all lies."  The other "son" is running away from a challenging situation at home.  We have shared everything with our agency.  They claim to care, but two days before the Chinese delegation visited the agency, I asked the agency to put our letter detailing our situation into the hands of the Chinese officials.  I also told the agency that our Luoyang young men were ready to tell the agency how the fraud and deception were carried out against the agency and against adoptive parents.  Didn't our agency want this information BEFORE the delegation arrived, so that the agency would know more before discussing the Luoyang "inconsistencies" and "discrepancies" with the Chinese delegation?  
There was no response from the agency. So, the courageous women who put letters into the hands of the Chinese adoption officials also delivered our letter.
My husband and I refuse to live a lie.  This is a clear case of child laundering, and we are going to do our best to report it, expose it, and fight it.  I imagine there are some Chinese families that now regret making the decision to give their children to the "Journey of Hope" scheme.  We hope "adoptees" can be reunited with their families.  Our one "son" recently pulled out pictures of his "real" family, pictures he has kept hidden since coming home with us in 2010.  It was a strange moment to hear about his "real family."  This is the boy who looked into the agency camera, as he was being videotaped for the "Journey of Hope" program, and said he just wanted "a family of his own."  It was a performance that made my husband almost cry.  It made my husband decide we should pursue the "Journey of Hope" adoption. Now we know our "poor, traumatized, disadvantaged orphan boy" HAS a family of his own.  All his aunts and his uncle came to say good-bye the week before we arrived in China to "adopt" him. 
Now I know why he has yet to learn how to spell his new mother's name -- my name.  I am not his mother.  Never will be.  His real mother is alive and living outside Luoyang.  I am just the stupid overweight American female who is feeding, educating, doctoring, clothing, entertaining, etc. him.  The facts about the second "son" is just as depressing.  Neither "son" is afraid of former Director Pei.  Neither is afraid that something will happen to his family if the truth is told.

Well, as far as we are concerned the game is over.  Our agency tries to convince us that the "boys" are better off with us.  It was suggested twice that we contact another Christian family that is in our same position (2 older non-orphan boys), a family that has decided to keep the truth hidden, because they think their "sons" are better off with them!  I don't think that is a judgment call any deceived family has a right to make.  Laws were broken.  Visa fraud was committed.   I don't want to talk to a Christian family that has decided to sweep the truth under the rug.  My Bible tells me we need to be "above reproach."
The second agency strategy to deter us from pursuing the truth: Aren't we concerned about, gasp, deportation?  Aren't we concerned about, gasp, retribution against the birth families?  No.  We are concerned about the other three TRUE children in our family who have been cheated and hurt by this wretched deception.  Our children are watching to see what we do with this terrible crime.  We are concerned about the other honest, loving American families about to buy the lie.  The fear tactics don't work here.
Well, third strategy -- Don't we understand that there is no foster care system in China?  "Boys" like ours are "at risk," even if they are not orphans.  Both of our Luoyang young men were attending school, living with family, eating well, growing up fine.  The assumption that the "Journey of Hope" "kids" are needy needs to be seriously questioned.  In our case, both "kids" and their families were driven by GREED, not need.  The tens of thousands of dollars we spent for the pleasure of being manipulated and deceived could have gone a LONG, LONG way to helping scores of "at risk" kids, really at risk kids.  Besides the shock and grief of finding out we have been completely defrauded, we mourn the fact that two REAL orphans did not get adopted by our family.
But we know God is in control.  He did not cause this, but he permitted it to happen to our family.  SO THAT WE COULD FIGHT THIS ABUSE of children, Chinese families, and American families.
We refuse to live the lie.  We will not perjure ourselves and we will not encourage these young men in our care to perjure themselves. This is a hideous mockery of adoption. We are pursuing the truth.  I wish the families that have decided to accept the lie would change their minds.