Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Look at the Provinces IV: Guangxi

Most attentive observers of the China adoption program have noticed that in the past few years there has been a significant increase in the number of boys (both healthy and special needs) being adopted. Data supplied by China under Hague requirements show the total number of adoptions each year, broken out by gender.

China's data since 2005 confirm what most have suspected -- that even as the number of female adoptions has declined, the number of male adoptions has increased. While the gender ratio stood at 95.1% in 2005 (665/13,556), that ratio has steadily climbed, reaching 66.3% (1,313/3,901) in 2009. In other words, one-third of all adoptions from China currently are for boys.

Families speculate how this can be, given the conventional wisdom concerning China's cultural bias to boys: "How come there are healthy boys being adopted in such large numbers when most families seek healthy boys to carry on their family name, provide for the parents in their old age, and to work on the family farm?"

Why indeed.

In our look at Guangxi Province on our subscription blog, we focus special attention on trends in male abandonments, to see if any reasons for these changes can be determined.


Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Why We Should Find Birth Families

In a few of the comments on my last essay on interviewing birth parents, as well as in private e-mails, several families have implied that the search for birth families is best left to the adoptee, and should not be undertaken by the adoptive parents. Additionally, and more importantly, a few writers indicated that asking in-depth questions about the abandonment is not the primary reason to search for birth parents; rather, it is so that adoptees can have a relationship with them.

I understand the idea that adoptees should be empowered to search, and as adoptive parents we face a difficult challenge -- be ready when questions arise, yet allow our children to establish their own identities, identities which may or may not involve a knowledge of their birth parents. I discussed this concept in my "What to Tell & When" article. While many assumed I implied that no discussion about birth families should be instigated by the adoptive parents, in fact I believe I clearly indicated that the pace of such conversations should be controlled by the adopted child.

But what purpose do we have in searching for birth parents? Is it to provide an extended family to our adopted child? Or is it to obtain important information that will allow us as adoptive parents to accurately and definitively answer our child's questions about why they were abandoned? I firmly believe that the information about our children's history should be the primary impetus in any search.

In discussing birth parents with my own children and other adoptees, the primary "unfed" need appears to be the simple knowledge of why they were given up by their birth parents. Thus, this question must be the most important reason adoptive parents conduct searches. Although the establishment of a relationship may become more important down the road, at this point my girls express only curiosity to know the answer to that one question: "Why couldn't my birth parents keep me?"

In most cases, the answer to this question will be complicated. It may involve a gender preference, or medical issues, or premature deaths. But it may also involve money, Family Planning coercions, and deception on the part of the orphanage and others. The reality is that the real reasons our children were relinquished may have nothing to do with what we think were the reasons.

And obtaining the truth will require carefully asking difficult questions. It will require fighting back the fear we all have as adoptive parents of learning a truth that contradicts a fundamental belief we had regarding our adoption. But ultimately, knowing the truth should be our goal. We should keep that goal in mind as we do our research. As we talk with the foster families of our children, we should ask them questions about abandonment, incentive programs, Family Planning, etc. And as we search, and hopefully locate the birth parents of our child, instead of basking in the afterglow of our success, we should realize that the pursuit of our child's truth is just beginning.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Asking the Right Questions from Birth Parents

This week I had three families contact me to let me know that because of the birth parent analysis they had received, they were able to take steps that resulted in their daughter's birth family being located. While I am sure these aren't the first or that last families that will have such a happy outcome, these three families all shared a common characteristic after locating the birth family: In each case, an interview was made with the birth family, and various questions were asked. But in all three cases, the wrong questions were asked. Wrong in the sense that the true reasons their daughter ended up in the orphanage lay undiscovered.

I am sure that some of this is a result of a general reluctance to push people that one has just met, combined with a fear that asking "insulting" questions might cause the birth family to retreat and perhaps refuse further contact. Having interviewed birth families ourselves, this essay is designed to aid a family that has located a birth family in gaining as much information as possible.

In nearly every birth parent finding that I have experienced myself, or that has been communicated to me by families that have been successful, the discovery resulted in a realization that the traditional understanding of the child's abandonment was wrong. In nearly every case, instead of the child being found at the gate of the hospital as was communicated through the adoption paperwork and finding ad, for example, it was discovered that she had in reality been picked up directly from the birth family by an orphanage employee or foster mother. This makes sense when one realizes that birth family searches are most successful when the chain of custody between the birth family and the orphanage is unbroken. If a child is truly abandoned with no witnesses, establishing contact with the birth family will be much more difficult, often impossible. Because a complete chain of custody by definition implies that the orphanage was less than completely honest, adoptive families must be extremely sensitive to how questions about their child's abandonment are asked.

The first realization adoptive families must have is that the first contact with the birth families will be the best opportunity to obtain the "ungarnished" story of their child's history. Word in China travels quickly, and if it is discovered that a birth family has been located, finders, orphanage personnel, etc., will almost certainly attempt to control the story. While some adoptive families may feel that a level of trust must first be earned before the "hard" questions can be asked, doing so allows for others to come in after-the-fact and convince the birth family to change the story or to hide pertinent information.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that the birth family rarely, if ever, knows the information provided by the orphanage. Thus, instead of asking "Why did you leave my daughter at the gates of the orphanage?" ask "Can you please explain to me how you decided to relinquish your daughter, and how that occurred?" Don't assume birth dates and finding dates are accurate. Ask the birth family, "Can you remember the exact date and time your daughter was born?" instead of "Was your daughter born on March 13, 2008?" In many cases, the adoptive family will want to determine the role of incentive programs in their child's abandonment. Instead of asking "Did anyone offer you money to turn your child into the orphanage?", ask "Did anyone give you 'Lucky Money' in thanks for allowing your daughter to be adopted into our family?" By using direct, yet non-accusatory, language, the birth family will not feel guilt or shame, and be much more likely to answer the questions truthfully. If you feel disapproval at a response you receive from the birth family, do your best to mask it. If the family, for example, tells you they relinquished your daughter so that they could try again for a boy, instead of responding by asking "Why did you feel a boy was more valuable or important than a girl?" say something such as "That must have been a hard decision. What factors were most important in helping you make that decision?" What I am trying to convey here (in words that can no doubt be improved upon) is to try and keep any judgments or assumptions out of your questions. "Don't lead the witness," in court parlance.

The environment for the interview is almost as important as the questions themselves. Often families will interview the birth family while officials are near, especially if those officials were the avenues through which the birth family was found. If at all possible, minimize any questioning while others are around, such as other children, neighbors, etc. Try to establish surroundings that will make the birth family feel comfortable and in control such as dinner in a quiet restaurant, or by having the conversation in a park. The residence of the birth family is also very conducive to an interview if the birth family can successfully be quarantined from outside listeners. Position yourself so that you can watch their face, look into their eyes, study their mannerisms. This will not only create an intimate atmosphere that will build trust, but also make the birth family less likely to say something false. In any interview, have a video recorder or mp3 player with plenty of capacity simply next to you on the table. Don't point the camera at the subject, but act like you are just setting it down to talk. This will allow you to record the conversation for later re-hearing, yet not create fear on the part of the birth parent at being recorded.

By knowing the circumstances of an orphanage -- the patterns, demographics, etc. -- coupled with a direct yet non-accusatory question set, an adoptive family can get behind the "corporate story line" and learn the true reasons their child was relinquished, what factors played the largest role in that decision, and how it was that the child made their way into the orphanage for adoption.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Another Wrinkle in Birth Parent Searching

On a recent research project in Jiangxi, we encountered a sentiment that we have experienced many times over the years -- the fear among many Chinese residents that children adopted internationally are used for organ donations.

How does this belief impact a birth parent search? And did it play a role in the sharp declines in findings that were seen in many orphanages after the Hunan scandal?

Today's article on our subscription blog addresses these questions.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Look At the Provinces III: Hunan

Over on our subscription blog we are continuing our Province-by-Province analysis with today's look at Hunan. The focus of the 2005 baby-trafficking scandal, in this essay we go behind the scenes and discover why the scandal broke, how most of the directors escaped prosecution, what happened to the children trafficked and in the orphanages when the scandal came to light, etc. There is little doubt that this essay will cause you to view the baby-buying scandal in a different light.

You can join in the conversation for an annual subscription fee of only $20 (charged to control who is able to access the detailed information presented). We guarantee your satisfaction.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Why Birth Parent Searches Are Simple (And Why Most Adoptive Families Will Never Succeed With Them)

Among the many e-groups devoted to China adoption are the newsgroups dedicated to families wanting to search for their child's birth family in China. These groups, whose members number in the hundreds, share ideas and anecdotes about how a successful search should be conducted.

Additionally, there are hundreds of families informally searching. These families don't belong to any formal groups, but seek information from other adoptive parents, agencies, and other respected sources of adoption information. They all share a common goal -- to locate their child's birth family in China.

Unfortunately, for most of them a successful birth parent search will remain an unfulfilled dream.

Over on our subscription blog I explain why. It is not that a search is overly complicated, it's not. It is that most families do things that will doom their search without their even knowing it.

If you have ever considered what is involved in a search, you will not want to miss this essay.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

James Garrow's "Pink Pagoda" Program

The article over the weekend in the Guelph-Mercury News on James/Jim Garrow allows me to finally come forward with what I know about James and his "Pink Pagoda" program. I became aware of Jim in early June 2008 when an article published by "Mimi Magazine" was forwarded to me. This article, still available on Garrow's website, goes into his "Pink Pagoda" program, a program that supposedly has brought over 24,000 baby girls into China's orphanages.

The sheer number of children Garrow claims to have "saved" raised red flags in my mind of course. 24,000 children (now supposedly 34,000) represents approximately half of all the children adopted internationally from China since 2000. But the basic assertion -- that Garrow's employees were passing out vouchers in China's countryside offering financial payments for relinquishing a child -- fits very comfortably into what we know about incentive programs in China generally. In other words, one could not dismiss his assertions out of hand.

The following day, I called Jim,1 using an alias of "Lance Davis" (I suspected he may have already heard of Brian Stuy, and thus wanted to use an unknown alias), an adoptive father with a child from Xiushan, Chongqing. I asked him about his "Pink Pagoda" program, and how exactly it worked. He largely confirmed what was written in the Mimi article, but added a few new insights. In our conversation he admitted that he worked extensively in Chongqing Municipality, particularly with the Chongqing City orphanage. Readers of our subscription blog know that most of the Chongqing-area orphanages display patterns consistent with "non-random" findings, so Garrow's assertion that he works in Shapingba and other areas of Chongqing was plausible. According to Garrow, he is responsible for 80% of the children that have been adopted from the Chongqing area, especially from the Chongqing and Fuling orphanages.

James Garrow's claim that he is protected by politically powerful people inside China is also very interesting. In the following interview he goes into this in more detail, revealing that his protector is none other than Hu Jintao, China's President. According to Garrow, President Hu's niece attended one of Garrow's schools in Shenzhen, where they met. Also according to Garrow, connections resulted from this meeting, as well as from the "Lucky Money" (bribes) envelopes that he subsequently "liberally" dispersed to various officials.

During this time I contacted a number of press outlets to initiate an investigation into Garrow's program. It was hoped that either the press or the Canadian government (who was also notified) could thoroughly investigate the situation without alerting Jim. Unfortunately, in the midst of this Jane Liedtke was made aware of Jim's program, and began to raise concerns on her various adoption groups and newsletters (I got Jim's side of that issue in the second conversation). This caused Jim to begin removing references to his program from his websites and to begin covering his tracks.

At the end of the second interview, Garrow introduces another program that he had just started the previous April (and which he completely denies in the Guelph-Mercury article) -- the smuggling of Chinese infants directly into Canada and the United States. At the time of our conversation he alleged that he had smuggled over 30 children to Canadian and U.S. families, which then re-adopted the children (using fabricated paperwork). We arranged another phone call to go more into that program. I edited this interview to eliminate the caller's voice out of safety concerns. For that reason, the conversation tends to jump as questions are asked, but the details of Garrow's smuggling program are evident.

It is clear from Garrow's account that what he says is possible. Having had experience with immigration procedures myself, it is very possible to see how immigration officials would not pay close attention to infant visas, allowing someone like Garrow to smuggle a child using a Chinese student.

Is James Garrow really doing what he says he is doing, offering poor Chinese families money vouchers to turn their children into the orphanages for international adoption? It is very possible. Is he doing it with the full knowledge of the Chinese government? Also possible. As we saw in the Hunan scandal, the government is less concerned with stopping the baby-buying than it is with saving face in the international community. The abduction of children unwillingly from birth parents seems to be taken seriously by the CCAA and the rest of the government; but the willing relinquishment of children for money to IA orphanages is systematically ignored, and even encouraged by the government. Thus, there is every possibility that the Chinese would allow a program such as Garrow's "Pink Pagoda" one to operate freely in China's orphanages.

In the end I don't know if Jim Garrow is actually doing what he says, or is simply seeking attention and money. Reporters from the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, as well as Dateline have investigated and found no substantiation of his program in China. But it could be happening on a localized and informal basis. What is needed is for someone to look seriously at these assertions: Did the Bethune Institute pay students to smuggle infants into Canada between March and June 2008? If so, who adopted these children? Has anyone in the Canadian Government audited the citizenship applications for Chinese children adopted in 2008? What about Chongqing? Has anyone investigated Garrow's claims about funneling infants through vouchers into the Chongqing and Fuling orphanages? This program, if indeed it exists, is not a new program -- advertisements for his "Certification Programs" discuss his "Pink Pagoda" program as far back as 2004. There must be many people aware of his "voucher" (baby-buying) program in these areas, if it exists.

In the end it may be that Garrow is a fraud, and to be ignored (it is easy to claim a Nobel Peace Prize nomination, for example, since the nominees aren't revealed for 50 years). But if what he says is accurate, it would mean that the entire China adoption program since 2000 existed largely as a result of children being purchased for "significant" sums of money by orphanages, working in connection with a Christian crusader driven to "save China's children", and fully supported and protected by the President of China himself.


1) All phone calls were recorded by myself, and are protected activity under Federal law, since Utah is a one-party State under Federal taping guidelines(http://www.pimall.com/nais/n.tel.tape.law.html; http://floridalawfirm.com/privacy.html). These recordings were sent to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and are part of their investigation.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Experts Respond to "The Baby Business"

The Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism asked "adoption professionals" to respond to the publication of E.J. Graff's "The Baby Business", published in the Summer 2010 journal "Democracy: A Journal of Ideas".

While many of the responses are predictable (JCICS, the mouthpiece of the adoption agencies, downplays adoption corruption with this rationalization: "Unfortunately, in virtually every human endeavor, isolated individuals use human suffering for their own advancement. This can be seen in banking, commerce, and human services."), some, such as PEAR's, offer a broader recognition of the problems of corruption.

Any discussion of corruption in international adoption must, of necessity, address the problems one sees in China, an area that E.J. Graff practically ignores in her studies. Of the respondents, only PEAR references stories of corruption in China's program. Given that China is the single largest source of children in international adoption (accounting for 3,000 of the 12,700 international adoptions into the U.S. in 2009), a refusal to address allegations of widespread corruption in that country leaves a gaping hole in Graff's study, as well as the responses.

It is now clear to all but the most ardent defenders of China's adoption program that corruption episodes such as those seen in Hunan, Guizhou, Jiangxi and other Provinces are not "isolated events", but systemic issues. Orphanage adoption records for the six Hunan scandal orphanages, for example, prove that almost EVERY child adopted from those orphanages between 2000 and 2005 were obtained through trafficking. Testimony of participants in that story, as well as those involved in such programs today, show that these programs started in many areas as early as 1995, when less than 3,000 children were being adopted from China world-wide. As demand for Chinese infants increased to over 6,000 in 2000, many orphanages instituted all-out baby-buying programs. In Jiangxi Province, China's largest adopting Province, over 80% of all adoptions originate in orphanages displaying evidence of baby-buying and Family Planning confiscations.

E.J. Graff, as well as most of the respondents, focus on the domestic side of the problem -- agency directors and employees, in-country-liaisons, etc. The presumption is that while the countries themselves seek to operate ethically, isolated players within the system might participate in unethical behavior. The Hague Agreement is touted as the safety mechanism for abuse, and a push is made to get all adoptions to comply with Hague guarantees.

Unfortunately, the Hague Agreement is only effective if the ratifying countries take it seriously. Considerable evidence suggests that many don't. For all its professions of ‘subsidiarity’, transparency and verifiability, the Hague Agreement is powerless to do anything to enforce these principles. As the Dutch Parliament hearings showed, it is all built on a foundation of trust. If a sending country like China is untrustworthy, there is little receiving countries can do except terminate adoption agreements, something that receiving countries are reticent to do.

And why are they reticent? Because at the end of the day adoption is, as Graff aptly names her study, about "the baby business." The voices for the status quo are loud and numerous; the voices for ethics and reform few and easily drowned out. The political constituency for continuing a corrupt program often includes waiting families, adoption professionals, and religious activists who see adoption, even if conducted under clouds of corruption and abuse, as ultimately better for the child. The political realities include trade agreements, economic benefits, and political goodwill. With such powerful forces on the side of perpetuating a "working" program, voices of alarm and experience are quickly drowned out and labeled as outsiders to be ignored.

As I wrote in the midst of China's Hunan scandal,
“Maybe I expect a perfect system, one in which no one’s rights are infringed upon, and where the children are always prioritized. A system where the governments, agencies and adoptive families think first what is best for the child, and second what is best for them. A system where an orphanage director would never willingly encourage or force a birth family to relinquish their child, and adoptive families would never participate if they suspected such things were happening.” In the five years since that day I realize that such a expectation is in all likelihood unreasonable.

Monday, June 07, 2010

A Look At the Provinces II: Jiangxi

Over on our subscription blog, we have completed our analysis of China's largest adopting Province -- Jiangxi Province in central China (a previous analysis focused on Chongqing Municipality). This largely rural Province has supplied more than 17,000 children for international adoption since 2003. Where were these kids found? How old were they? How many boys have been found? An analysis of this and other data allows us to make assessments into how reliable the information provided by the orphanages is, and come to some solid conclusions as to which orphanages have incentive programs in place.

Our subscription blog can be accessed for $20 per year. This nominal amount is assessed in order to control who is able to read the material. The information on the subscription blog is very specific, with interviews, photos, and video obtained from trusted sources in China. The subscription blog is our best attempt at making the information available to adoptive families, while still maintaining security of our sources. We have no doubt adoptive families will find the information on the subscription blog highly interesting, and extremely important to their child's pre-adoption history.

You can access the private blog here.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

"What to Tell -- And When" Follow-Up

The response to my last blog post ("What to Tell -- and When") has been spirited and fascinating. Many of the comments have raised significant issues, and have got me thinking about just how well we know our own children. So, I decided to sit down with my girls last night after dinner. I drafted a survey of questions that I hoped would give me insight into two areas of their persons: How comfortable they are being adopted; and if they would want to know more about their histories if we had information.

The first section of questions were as follows:

1) How often do I think about my birth family (1 = Never, 10 = Constantly)
2) How comfortable am I discussing adoption with my friends (1 = Very Uncomfortable, 10 = Very Comfortable)
3) I have been asked by friends about my birth family. This made me feel (1 = Very Uncomfortable, 10 = Very Comfortable)
4) When my parents bring up my adoption, it makes me feel (1 = Very Uncomfortable, 10 = Very Comfortable)
5) Overall, I feel good about what I know about my life and adoption (1 = Not true, 10 = Very true)

I assumed going into the questions that my kids would display some ambivalence about the topic of adoption; that they would feel somewhat uncomfortable when asked about birth families, etc., when talking with friends or teachers. The results, however, surprised me. My oldest daughter indicated complete comfort in discussing her adoption with friends, but less comfort to discussing it with her parents. As a budding teenager, she displays this reluctance in every subject, not just adoption.

My younger two also expressed complete comfort in discussing adoption with both friends and parents. The last question, which I use as an indicator of feeling well in their own "skins", was answered in the 7-8 range by everyone.

So, my take-away from this section is that there don't appear to be any uncomfortable aspects in my daughters's minds concerning their being adopted, or discussing adoption.

The second section of questions were designed to explore how receptive my kids were to learning more about their histories. These questions were:

6) I would like to know more about my birth family in China (1 = Don't Care, 10 = Care Greatly)
7) I would like to know more about the time I was in the orphanage (1 = Don't Care, 10 = Care Greatly)
8) If my parents had information about my life in China, I would (1 = Not Want to Know, 10 = Definitely Want to Know)
9) If I had a question about my birth family or my life in China, I would feel (1 = Very Uncomfortable, 10 = Very Comfortable) asking my parents about it.

All three girls were ambivalent about learning more about their birth families (giving the question a "5"). In post-questionaire discussion, two of them indicated that they simply want to know what their birth parents looked like, rather than necessarily meeting them. For them, a photo would probably be sufficient.

All of my kids ranked knowing more about their life in the orphanage very low (1-3).

All of my kids ranked the communication of information specific to them highly (7-10). Thus, it appears that they expect us to give them any information we find about them. This was a serious point of discussion last night between my wife and I, as we do have substantial information.

The answers to the last question again fell into two camps, with my oldest being very reluctant to discuss any questions about birth family or her life in China with her parents, and the younger two feeling very comfortable discussing such topics.

The questions definitely enlightened me to some facets of my girls's inner-thoughts. Although we seldom discuss personal histories, there seems to be a lot of confidence about discussing adoption and birth families with friends.

However, the survey also brought home what many of the comments pointed out -- there is an unspoken understanding that any information about their birth families is desired, even if it is limited to just seeing what they looked like.

I would be interested in the answers from others. You are welcome to take some of the above, or draft you own. Is there a point where kids feel too much focus is placed on their adoption? Do they ever feel uncomfortable with what we, as adoptive parents, do to try to instill a sense of heritage and culture into our children?

Last night, before my oldest went to bed, I asked her how she felt about the level of adoption discussions in our home. Did we talk about it too much? Not enough? She said, "Dad, I think it is about perfect. You bring it up once in a while, but usually you leave it for us to think about."

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

What to Tell -- And When

Nothing draws more passionate and heated debate than a discussion of what to tell an adopted child, and when. The subject draws strong emotions from a wide spectrum of people with entrenched beliefs that their way is the right way. The question my family is now facing is when to introduce the concept of birth families, especially if you have located them.

Let me start with recent posting on A-P-C:

"Thought I would ask the group this question. Our DD was adopted 9/05 and was 6 months old. She bonded beautifully and is very happy and adjusted 4yr old. We have always shared with her about her adoption from China, but now she is saying she wish she could be back in China with her birth mommy and daddy. She said she misses them."

This question elicited a number of responses, including the following:

"Another thing that has helped has been for us to reassure her that we'll always be her mom and dad no matter what. As she's become older, she's been able to articulate her fear that we'll leave her as well. We make sure to tell her explicitly that while she lost her Chinese family, it was a one-off thing, and we're never going to send her away. We'll always be hers, and she'll always be our kid. She's an insecure child – hardly surprising, really, having lost something as fundamental as her birth family. We do our best to make her feel secure in the family she has now. . . . We'd been having discussions for a while about why her family in China couldn't keep her, and we'd talked about different possibilities, including the fact that many families in her village were very poor."

One last example:

"My daughters both did and do this also. They were both babies at adoption. Around 3 they both began to get tearful and say they miss their birth families, fathers included since I am a single mom. I have talked to them about adoption and their stories since they were babies."

Anybody notice the common thread?

When the China program started, adoptive families wisely reflected on the problems and failures of a similar program -- Korea. It was widely acknowledged that whereas the Korean adoptive families were often reticent to acknowledge their children's heritage (if you ignore their race it will go away), and their histories ("we are your only family"), that this mentality brought with it a host of psychological problems. Thus, many Chinese adoptive families concluded that there were valuable lessons to be learned from these problems, and that they would handle things differently.

But many, I believe, have swung the pendulum to the other extreme: Over-feeding their child information that is both unasked for and often unwanted. Instead of allowing their children the opportunity to form their own identities, they shove the components at the children without even considering if their children are interested or desirous to know. That is the problem I see exhibited in the postings above.

We have never brought up, unprompted, our daughters' birth parents. We have discussed adoption, conception and pregnancy, and other corollary issues from time to time, but I have never, without having the subject introduced by a daughter, initiated a conversation by saying, "Do you wish you knew your birth mother?" Or, "Do you want to know more about your abandonment?" I have always indicated a willingness to answer any and all questions (not just about adoption but about anything), so I am confident my kids know that if they ask any question we will try to provide them with a good answer. But the point is, I wait for them to ask. Those that force-feed their children the deep issues of abandonment, birth parents and adoption, risk, I believe, getting the kinds of responses displayed above. In fact, by presenting the reality of birth parents before they are mature enough to handle it, for example, I think we risk diminishing our own position as parents to our children.

Each child becomes aware of the world that surrounds them at a different pace. Meigon caught on to reproduction at a very early age, and my other girls have generally lagged behind in showing an awareness and interest. There is no doubt that at the age of three or four, a child will begin to notice pregnant women and small babies. They might ask at that point if they were born of their adoptive parents, and that would be a good time to answer, "No, you were born to a woman in China." That is the type of answer I would give. But many use this opportunity to go ahead and answer questions not asked and not even thought of: "No, you were born to a woman in China. She is your birth mother, and she wasn't able to keep you, so she left you at the gate of the orphanage." This is the type of over-feeding that overwhelms most kids, and creates, I believe, unnecessarily emotional issues.

I believe that introducing concepts and information to our children unprompted is a violation of their personal intellectual space.

What is there were some hidden family secret in my own family, possibly one that involved my own biological heritage. Would it be my parents responsibility to bring that out, even if I displayed no desire to know?

Many adoptive families, I am confident, would assert that the best course of action would be to notify me at a young age that Dad may not really be my biological father. "Truth is the most important thing!" they would argue. But what if I don't want to know? What if I am perfectly happy not having any knowledge of that "truth," and simply want to go through life believing that my family is just like every other family in the world? Should my parents force me to confront that "truth"? I believe they shouldn't. In fact, I believe if they pushed that information on me unprompted, that they would be violating my rights to construct my self-perception and identity as I want. Some might even consider it a form of abuse.

Yet often we see this same thing happening with our adopted children. Please don't misunderstand, I am not advocating a silence on these issues, simply encouraging parents to consider the desires of their children. Instead of force-feeding our children from the time they are small about their histories and origins, rather wait until they are emotionally mature enough to know what questions they want the answers to, and which ones they don't. And above all, respect their wishes.

I sat down with my brother-in-law last weekend and asked him about how his adoptive family handled the question of birth families. Although his situation is a little different (he was born in Germany and adopted by a Caucasian family, this he looked very much like a biological child), he told me that his family talked with him about adoption when he was about six. We are, of course, way past that with our Chinese children, since the evidence of adoption is written on all of our faces. But then I asked him if he wished his adoptive family had pushed him to know more about his biological family. "Should they have offered you information that they had then, rather than waited until now?" (He had just returned from Germany on a vacation during which he had made a small attempt to gain additional information). I wanted to know if he was upset that his parents hadn't told him more earlier.

He told me that he has never really had an interest in knowing about his birth family, that his adoptive family was all that mattered to him, and that he has no problem with the way things were handled. His adoptive family made it clear from the time he was young that they would help him find any answers he wanted, but ultimately he never felt the need to ask the questions.

I think that many parents are not as wise as my brother-in-law's parents. I see adoptees around me that are angry because their adoptive parents denied them information that they wanted, or angry because adoptive families created issues by giving information when it wasn't needed or wanted. I think that when a four-year old child cries for birth parents she has never met, that someone is creating issues unnecessarily.

Last weekend I sat down with all of my girls for our weekly "Roundtable". I told them that I wanted them to understand that Mommy and Daddy did research in China for families that have adopted. It is our job. "But I want you to know that if ever you want us to help you learn more about your lives in China, birth families, etc., we are very ready to help. But we will wait for you to ask for it. We won't force it on you." We do have a lot of information, but it is tucked away until the day, if it ever comes, that our daughters' ask for it. I will not even tell them if I have located the birth family, as I think that in and of itself is like putting a wrapped present on a table and telling someone not to worry about it. Like Pandora's box, such information should not even be offered until the person asks for it, since such knowledge has broad and far-reaching consequences.

In conclusion, I see many adoptive families, acting out of deep concern and love for their children, unintentionally creating issues for their children. By introducing images of a birth family that almost certainly doesn't exist ("Your birth family couldn't take care of you, but loved you very much") we must ask if this in any way informs our children of their identities, or does it introduce ideas that in fact undermine our relationships with our children by introducing concepts that they are not emotionally ready for.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Hunan Scandal Records from the Changning Orphanage

We have come in possession of two logs that originated from the Changning orphanage, and which were part of the Qidong Police Bureau's investigation of the Changning trafficking cases from 2003 and 2005. The first log, which we will call the "trafficking" log since it has an almost complete listing of the finders that brought the children to the Changning orphanage, covers between January 2002 and July 2003, and contains records of 222 children. This log terminates in mid-2003 when the Changning came under investigation for trafficking in August 2003.

The second log, which we will call the Changning "adoption" logs (because it has an almost complete listing of the adoption destination of each child), contains information on 244 children. It covers the period of August 2002 through October 2005. Nineteen children are common to both logs.

The second set of logs, covering the period of August 2002 through October 2005. As outlined above, this list contains 244 names, and seems to have been used for adoption purposes. Nineteen of the forty-nine named children on the "trafficking" logs also appear on the adoption logs below. In many cases the birth and finding dates are different on the two logs. For example, Ning Yu Bo is recorded as having been brought to the orphanage on October 17, 2002, with an assigned birth date of October 14, 2002 on the "trafficking" log (page 105, record 2036), while she is listed as having arrived at the orphanage on October 18, 2002 with an assigned birth date of October 16, 2002 on the "adoption" log (page 60, record 183). A similar discrepancy is seen in the dates for Ning Yu Die, who is listed with a birth date of October 13, 2002 and a finding date of October 18, 2002 on the "trafficking" log (p. 105, record 2042), but which were changes to October 17, 2002 and October 20, 2002 on the "adoption" log (p. 59, record 177). Twelve of the nineteen girls (63%) had their birth date, finding date, or both dates changed prior to adoption, most by a day or two, but one by almost two weeks. We go into the reason for these date changes on our subscription blog analysis of these logs.

The Duan family, the traffickers at the center of the Hunan scandal, are listed as bringing seventy distinct children into the Changning orphanage, but their total numbers are much higher given that most of the children on the "adoption" logs do not have the original finders listed.

Interested Changning families are welcome to contact us to determine if your child's name appears on the logs, and you would like to obtain copies for your records.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Changning's Adoption Records

Why did Wang Hua Chun, director of the Changning orphanage begin buying children from traffickers in 2002? How many children adopted from Changning between 2002 and 2005 were trafficked? Where did those children go?

This week on our subscription blog we are publishing two interviews that Director Wang gave in 2003, two years before the Hunan scandal broke. These interviews were given to the Changning police following the arrest of two traffickers. In these interviews Director Wang details why, how many, and from where the children came. Supplementing the interviews with Changning's orphanage records (obtained from the Qidong Police records), we can see how many children were trafficked, and who adopted many of them.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Information from Hunan: Thirteen Case Studies

On our subscription blog we have initiated our coverage of the Hunan trafficking records by tying thirteen trafficking cases of children into the Changning orphanage with our recent experience searching for birth families in Jiangxi Province. The reasons for our successes and failures in that project are illustrated by the Changning records. We study thirteen girls trafficked into the Changning orphanage between May 2002 and April 2003 by a single trafficker -- a nanny in the Changning orphanage. The process by which the orphanage hid the true origins of these thirteen children, including fabricating finding locations and other "abandonment" information, provides a template for viewing such information from other orphanages as well.

This is the first of many installments that will present the detailed records emerging from Hunan. We welcome all interested families to join us.

Monday, March 08, 2010

2009 Orphanage Submissions

2009 saw a long-awaited stabilization in orphanage submissions for international adoption (IA). Having fallen substantially since the Hunan scandal of late 2005, last year saw overall submissions manage a small increase over 2008 in the seventeen primary Provinces involved in IA. These seventeen Provinces, which include Anhui, Chongqing, Fujian, Gansu, Guangdong, Guangxi, Henan, Hunan, Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Liaoning, Inner Mongolia, Shanghai, Shanxi, Tianjin, Yunnan and Zhejiang, increased their collective submissions half of one percent, submitting thirty-four additional files in 2009 than in 2008 (7,139 vs. 7,105).

As is always the case, there is a wide disparity between Provinces. Provinces that saw increases from 2008 to 2009 include Inner Mongolia, which increased 180%. Shanghai and Gansu also saw significant increases (66% and 53% respectively). Hunan's nearly 20% increase allowed it to regain its position as the third largest adopting Province, while Guangdong's 18% increase caused to to surpass Jiangxi as the largest internationally adopting Province.

Provinces that saw significant declines include Chongqing (-23%), Jiangsu (-17%), Yunnan (-28%), Liaoning (-35%) and Zhejiang (-49%).

Overall, ten Provinces saw adoption submissions decline, and seven saw increases.

The gender balance continues to move toward parity. Overall in 2009, 2,246 boys were submitted, or 31% of the total. This was an increase of 11.6% over 2008. Again Inner Mongolia was the fastest growing, almost tripling the number of boys submitted (272%). The Provinces with the highest percentage of boy submissions include Inner Mongolia, with 64% of 2009's submissions being for male children; Tianjin (59%), Shanxi (57%), Henan (54%), and Yunnan (53%).

This shift towards boys began in earnest in 2006. Chongqing, for example, saw male submissions increase from 9% in 2006 to 30% in 2009. Guangdong saw its gender ratio increase from 8% boys in 2006 to 28% in 2009. Hunan saw similar increases. The only Province that saw its percentage of boys fall was Shanxi Province. In 2006, almost seventeen hundred boys were submitted, representing a little over 15% of the nearly 11,000 children submitted for adoption that year.

Overall, seven Provinces submitted more boys than girls for adoption in 2009, up from five in 2008. The Province with the lowest gender ratio continues to be Jiangxi, which had 4% of its 2006 submissions as male, a ratio that doubled to 8% boys in 2009.

Within each Province, however, adoption submissions vary greatly. We are considering each Province's specific patterns on our subscription blog, but a few examples will illustrate the point. Although the average orphanage in Guangdong Province saw adoptions increase 18% between 2008 and 2009, the bulk of the Province's increase can be traced to only four of the sixty-five orphanages: the Guangzhou orphanage, which saw submissions increase 65% to 202 submissions; the Longgang orphanage in Shenzhen, whose submissions increased 395% to 119 in 2009; and the Lianjiang orphanage, whose submissions increased 285% to 81; and the Zhongshan orphanage, whose submissions rose 127% to 100. Collectively, these four orphanages submitted 300 more children for adoption in 2009 than in the previous year, more than the 260 increase in submissions seen in the province overall between 2008 and 2009.

A similar pattern can be seen in Jiangxi Province, where the Yiyang orphanage saw a 314% increase in adoptions, while the Poyang orphanage saw a 24% increase, even while the average orphanage experienced a 7% decline in submissions.

Taken globally, the supply-side of the wait-time equation for China adoption appears stable, with a slight upward bias.

On the demand side, the number of waiting families appears to be declining going forward, with the recently completed March DTC group being the largest for 2006. The second largest DTC group is April, which is currently being referred children. DTC group size falls significantly after April, so on the demand side there is a bias downward.

Taken in connection (rising supply, falling demand) and families can expect referral batches to increase in the number of DTC days referred as we move forward. Although wait times will continue to increase, the rate of increase is tempering.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Promises, Promises!!

Last night's CBS story on Ethiopia brought me a feeling of deja vu, for such stories are found frequently in China's adoption program as well. The following article is taken from our subscription blog, but has been modified to protect the families involved.


There is one characteristic of parenting common to all of us. It is so strong, that parents will sometimes give up their child in order to fulfill this desire. In poor areas, this impulse is particularly strong.

It is the desire that a child have a better life than its parents.

While much is spoken about the financial payments involved in many orphanage programs, a lessor-known program involves no money, but a simple promise: That a child will be provided a rich family to raise it, that the child will be given a great education, resulting in a successful life. This promise, often combined with promises of a "returning child", is a very strong incentive for any loving parent, but especially a parent that views such "blessings" as impossible to provide themselves.

We recently did a birth parent search in Luoyang City, Henan Province. Luoyang is the largest adopting orphanage in Henan Province, having submitted over a 100 children for adoption in 2008. My wife and I had visited Luoyang in late 2004 to perform finding location research for a group of families, and one family with a child adopted from Luoyang wanted us to return to search for their daughter's birth family.

The orphanage had told the adoptive family that their daughter had been found as a three-week old infant in a local park. Given the age and finding location, it was assumed that locating the birth family would prove difficult, but the adoptive family wanted to proceed anyway. The adoptive family did have the name of their daughter's foster family, who had taken care of their daughter from the time that she arrived in the orphanage until she was adopted at almost four years old.

We decided to begin our research with the foster family. We arranged a meeting, unknown to the orphanage, and started our interview by asking if they had any information about where "Dang Mei Mei" had been found. The foster father looked confused for a second, and then said something that stunned my wife and me:

"She wasn't abandoned; she is our daughter."

"How is that possible?", we asked. We asked them to tell us their story.

When their daughter was three years old (not a few weeks as the adoptive family had been told), the foster father had been approached by a friend of the family, the local Civil Affairs director. He invited the foster father to lunch, and after getting some small-talk out of the way, informed the father that he (the director) had a connection with an orphanage in another city. This orphanage adopted children to the West, and these children were raised by Western families, were given good educations, and were thus insured a happy and prosperous life. "I wanted to tell you, that I can arrange for your daughter to be adopted to the West. Also, once she is grown, she will return to China to find you, and will then take care of you in your old age."

The father didn't know what to say, so he promised his friend he would get back to him. He returned home and told his wife what he had been told. After lengthy discussions, they concluded (against their daughter's maternal grandmother's wishes) to bring their daughter the six hours to Luoyang.

The birth family was very excited when we found them again. When we asked them why they hadn't told the adoptive family the true nature of their relationship before, the father said simply, "Because we knew they would not have adopted our daughter if we had." They also asked when the adoptive family would be able to bring their daughter back to see them. The conversation gave us to believe that the family felt that the adoption arrangement was temporary, and that in reality the girl still belonged to them. They viewed it as they would a grand-parent arrangement so common in China, engaging in it to provide resources and opportunities the parents couldn't provide themselves.

When we told the family that in the vast majority of cases the children will never be able to find their birth family, and that the orphanage had lied to the adoptive family about their daughter's history to prevent the adoptive family from ever finding the birth family, it dawned on the family that they had been deceived. While they are lucky that they were found, most birth families will wait patiently for a day of reunification that will never come.

It is doubtful that adoptive families are prepared to learn that their child's birth family relinquished their child simply to have them raised in an affluent lifestyle, but with no understanding that the birth families are expecting their child to one day leave the adoptive family to return to China and reunify with the birth family. Thus, Luoyang's program also deceives adoptive families, placing an emotional time-bomb into the adoptive family's relationships that will one day detonate into severe trouble and confusion, especially in the adoptive child.

I can't tell you how livid I was to learn of Luoyang's program, and its potentially devastating impact on both biological and adoptive families. More distressing still is the realization that such programs are common, and used by many orphanages to recruit children for their international adoption programs. Consider this story told by one adoptive mother who adopted from an orphanage that has a program similar to Luoyang's:

While in China on their adoption in Jiangxi Province, the adoptive mother asked her guide if orphanages pay for children: "He said that women (families) are told that if they give the child to the SWI they will send the baby to America where she will grow up in a rich family - and when the girl grows up she will be educated and wealthy and she will come looking for her real family. She will come back to China and take care of them. When orphanage directors get together they ask each other if they have put their own granddaughter up for IA - and then they ask if the granddaughter has come back yet to make them rich. Then they all laugh...that was the punchline. This joke has nothing to do with saving children from being left on the side of the road in a box. . . ."

A few months ago we contacted a Jiangxi director about the change in directors at the CCAA, and in the course of that conversation she told us that last August the CCAA began a new program in "one of the Jiangxi orphanages" whereby it was broadcast to local families that if they were poor, or had only a single parent, etc., they could bring their child to the orphanage and she would then be adopted to a Western family. It appears that the CCAA, and the Chinese government, in a desperate attempt to keep the engine of international adoption running, is now removing the risk of abandonment and emotionally coercing birth families to give up their children.

One can see probable examples of this program in orphanages in Guangdong, Jiangxi, Guangxi, and other Provinces. Many orphanages in these areas have seen huge spikes in older-child referrals over the past year. Guangzhou, for example, has seen submissions for older, healthy children increase over 600% in 2008.

To those familiar with the adoption programs in Vietnam, Cambodia, India, Ethiopia, Romania, and the rest, China's issues fall into a pattern seen virtually in every country that adopts internationally. Whether it is the offering of money for children, or the simple offering of promises of a bright future for a child and the financial support Western-educated "Lucky" children in the birth parent's old age, many orphanages are still seeking ways to bring more children into the IA program.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Making a Business Trafficking Babies

The L.A. Times' interview with the primary traffickers at the center of the Hunan scandal brings clarity to what was happening in Hunan, Jiangxi, and other Provinces in late 2005. It is a picture of greed, with orphanage directors competing with cash and gifts to receive the healthy children the Duans and others were offering.

Of particular interest to adoptive families are the following revelations:

1) The orphanage intentionally fabricated finding data of children, ultimately preventing adopted children from ever finding their birth families.

2) Contrary to assertions made by the CCAA to the U.S., Canadian, Spanish and Dutch governments, trafficked children were adopted into those countries. Court records contained the names, addresses and passports of many of those families, yet none were contacted about their children's origins.

3) While Hunan was the focus, children from this trafficking group were also adopted into Jiangxi Province. A director in that Province confirms that orphanages in his area pay substantial sums for children.

4) Contrary to conventional wisdom among the China adoption community, orphanage directors were subject to little or no punishment. In fact, the article states that some of the directors were promoted following the episode.

Interested readers will want to join our subscription blog community, which delves into the specific orphanages that participated in trafficking in 2005, and those that still do so today. It is a problem that refuses to go away.