Fourteen years ago, we opened an application to adopt through AAI. Our home study reflected what we believed we could do: Parent any child under 2, from anywhere in the world. However, AAI’s director didn’t hesitate to screen me out as a prospective adoptive parent.
When I asked how they would determine which child we were eligible for, she explained to me that if I didn’t think I could accept any child that she saw fit to place, I should take my money elsewhere. She archly informed me that she’d decide which child we could handle raising. Because, she said, the agency has a responsibility to all the children. And they match children with families to get as many children out of orphanages and into “forever homes” as possible.
We took her advice and went elsewhere. By this point, I’d learned enough about adoption to be aware that some children were easier to place than others. AAI’s lack of transparency about how they placed healthy babies triggered questions about why their policies were a secret–you couldn’t run an international agency without a process that your paying customers would accept on the matter, and ‘Trust me, I know what you’re capable of’ isn’t a process.
10 years later, AAI’s director took another inquiry, from a couple whose adopted child eventually died in their home. Carri Williams, who was convicted of homicide in Hana Alemu’s death, called AAI about a Deaf boy in an Ethiopian orphanage. Immanuel needed a family that could teach him to sign. Carri knew ASL, and when she glimpsed Hana in a marketing video made by the agency, she asked whether they could have that girl, too.
And so a couple who had 7 kids already, who honestly reported that they used physical discipline “as needed” on the children born to them, paid for a home study approving them as a good-enough family. Nine months later, Hana was in their home. 30 months after that, she died in the backyard, after over a year of torture.
The parents are responsible, morally and criminally, for what they did to Hana. Hana starved and froze to death in her own backyard. But who else failed her?
The dual nature of the agency’s responsibilities–screen out bad wanna-be-parents, but find homes that can afford the fees of an international adoption for older, hard to place kids–is an obvious ethical quagmire.
Nothing illegal or technically improper happened in this fee-for-service model. Hana and Immanuel were transported around the world, to the financial benefit of an adoption agency. Even when the result is more typical–the adopted child also benefits, when s/he thrives–there are glaring moral and pragmatic problems.
We tolerate an adoption system that charges the recipients of the child on a per-placement basis, while allowing one set of hands to make all the relevant judgments when approving the parents and referring the child. When we tolerate this, we’re lowering the ethical standards to whatever the most desperate agency is willing to do.
AAI has closed, none too soon; another agency working in Ethiopia has shuttered after its principals were arrested for visa fraud. So…we’re getting there>