Mixing and stirring the Ethiopian adoption opinion

Last week the Joint Council on International Children’s Services (JCICS), the trade association of adoption service providers, started an online petition in response to Ethiopia's decision to reduce the number of inter-country adoptions by 90%.

We already addressed the text of the petition in a previous post, and would like to focus on the actual petition in this installment of the Ethiopian adoption saga. Before we do so, we would like to pay a little more attention to the organization that started the Ethiopia petition.

Despite a thin veneer of child advocacy, JCICS exists to serve the business interests of organizations like Holt International Children's Services, Bethany Christian Services and Gladney Center for Adoption. To put this in better perspective, just like PhRMA serves the business interests of organizations like GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer and Eli Lilly, and the American Petroleum Institute serves the interests of organizations like Exxon Mobil, Chevron and ConocoPhillips, JCICS serves and promotes the interests of adoption service providers.

Don't let there be any misunderstanding, JCICS is just as interested in the well-being of children and child safety as PhRMA is interested in health and public safety or the American Petroleum Institute is interested in the environment, and public safety.  Each one of these trade associations may play the occasional sympathy card, but their primary focus is the business interests of their members.

Unlike PhRMA and the American Petroleum Institute, JCICS is largely unsuccessful promoting the business interests of their members. On top of that JCICS has a dreadful reputation when it comes to the thin veneer of child advocacy that shields their interests.

If JCICS had been a successful trade association, they would not have seen a 50% drop in the number of inter-country adoptions over the last six years. If they had been a successful trade association, Guatemala would still be a major sending country. If they had been a successful trade association, adoptions from Russia would not have dropped under 1000 children this year. If they had been a successful trade association, adoptions from Cambodia and Vietnam would still exist.

The reason JCICS is not a successful trade association lies in the fact that the industry cannot regulate itself. JCICS keeps making claims about self-regulation, but fails miserably trying to change the practices of its member organizations. Each time, they put the fox in charge of the hen house, and each time a massacre takes place. If insanity is really doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, then by that definition JCICS is truly insane.

The results of that insanity are seen in dwindling numbers of inter-country adoptions. JCICS ignored large scale corruption in countries like Guatemala, Vietnam, Cambodia and Ethiopia, resulting in closed down or reduced adoption programs. Similarly, JCICS down played abuse of adoptees and calls for better screening of adoptive families, to such a degree that Russian authorities voiced they would rather not place children in the USA anymore.

JCICS not only neglects the best interest of children, but it also serves the long term interests of the industry it promotes poorly.

The only thing JCICS is really good at is mixing and stirring.  Mix and stir the emotions among adopters and prospective adopters. With crocodile tear-filled eyes, they play the child advocate card, hoping the paying customers of their member organizations will do their bidding for them.

Since last week, more than 38,000 people have been lured by JCICS to oppose a measure proposed by Ethiopian authorities.  This measure is not only very necessary, it is also long over-due.  

The comments made by the petitioners show the usual JCICS talking-points. They show just how successful the trade association is at playing into the sentiments of people. This is not surprising: the entire marketing of the adoption industry is based on pushing the emotional buttons of prospective adopters.


Triggering sentiments not only helps to push overcharged fees, it also blinds the eyes of an agency's customers, whom might otherwise be critical towards the services provided. As long as prospective adopters stay in an emotional state of mind, they will be less likely to accept information about corruption, lax regulation and poor oversight, and will be more likely to pay for the "orphan languishing in poor care".

We compiled all comments made by signers of the petition and present those in a separate post, yet we'd like to discuss a small subset of the comments:

It would be a crime to deny a loving home to many children because of the reprehensible actions of a few.

Please don't let one bad apple spoil the whole bunch. Please consider the best good for vulnerable Ethiopian children and families. Thank you for your consideration.

Please don't punish so many kind and loving adoptive parents because of the wrongdoing of others.

Please don't let a few isolated cases ruin the chances for so many of these children find clean, loving, healthy homes!

I understand the concern for the children's well being, but I feel that a 90% reduction of international adoptions is a huge step in the wrong direction. As a parent of a wonderful young Ethiopian adoptee, and one currently going through the process a second time, I only hope different (more reasonable) measures can be enacted to ensure the best interests of the children are met (after all, isn't that the whole point?). A few bad cases shouldn't prevent children from joining loving families

There are many loving and caring families out there who are just waiting for one of your beautiful children to accept into their families and love. Please don't let the actions of a few impact the masses.

The cases of abuse are terrible, but reducing the number of adoptions so drastically is not a reasonable response. It is the same as starving yourself because you ate a bad morsel of food. The answer is not to stop eating, it is to be more careful in the selection process.

These remarks directly come from the JCICS playbook, which calls the rampant and systemic corruption: isolated abuses in the intercountry adoption process".

Some even go so far to state:

Please believe the integrity of the people and organizations referenced in this petition.

Working with reputable agencies diminishes the risk for vulnerable children and is a better option than preventing adoptable kids from leaving your country. While there is risk, the rewards are tremendous, both for the children who are loved in stable families, and for the families who welcome them, and what would life be like for those orphans who remain in Ethiopia?

The report Fruits of Ethiopia - A study on intercountry adoption in Ethiopia, details research into adoption files of Dutch adoption agency Wereldkinderen, resulting in the conclusion that 19 out of 25 cases contained irregularities.

Ironically Wereldkinderen is a highly reputable agency, using the same supply chain many JCICS-members tap into. So if most of the adoption files at Wereldkinderen's are not up to standard, then most of the adoption files at reputable American adoption agencies are not up to standard either.

JCICS consistently calls systemic problems in inter-country adoption, isolated incidents, and the people whose emotions the trade association tries to trigger, buy those words hook, line and sinker.

The reputable-agency-line-of-reasoning is further explored in comments such as:

Keeping the children safe is the top priority of course, but surely that can still be accomplished by allowing adoptions only from reputable agencies, not a nearly wholesale shutdown of the adoption process.

Please amend this measure to ensure the safety and best interests of Ethiopian orphans by allowing high-quality, ethical adoption agencies to continue to place orphaned children both domestically and internationally into "forever families." Please work toward a balanced approach that will allow international adoptions to continue while still carefully guarding the safety of vulnerable children.

Interestingly enough, most of the adoption agencies operating in Ethiopia are reputable, and considered "ethical". All of them are licensed in their home state, and nearly all of them are Hague Accredited too, even though this is not a requirement in Ethiopia.

Some time ago we had an email exchange with the executive director of one of those reputable adoption agencies, who made the following statement:

If anyone wants reform in adoption, all parties should work together, it’s a waste of time to fight evil agencies because essentially all agencies are doing the same thing (outside of real psychopath like Orson [Moses]); there is no such thing as a good agencies.

If all adoption agencies are doing the same thing and there are no good agencies, then what solutions exist other than reducing the number of inter-country adoptions? Some signers of the petition insist such solutions do exists, but don't come up with anything concrete:

Fight abuses in the process but don't stop the process!

There are better ways to stop corruption without making the children suffer. Keep your country open.

We share your concerns about child trafficking, which is abhorrent and unacceptable. This approach, however, is NOT the way to fight child trafficking. PLEASE RECONSIDER YOUR RECENT REFORMS AND LET US WORK TOGETHER TO ERADICATE CHILD TRAFFICKING.

It seems most of the petitioners prefer the attitude JCICS has promoted for years: "ignore the problem, and it will go away". Unfortunately for the children in sending countries, and ironically for the long term interests of the businesses dependent on inter-country adoption, the problems don't go away. Still some insist:

I respectfully urge the Ministry to consider the overwhelmingly positive, ethical and legal services provided to children and families through intercountry adoption. Rather than eliminate the right of Ethiopian children to a permanent family, I encourage the Ministry to accept the partnerships offered by governments, NGOs, and foundations.

This is another line out of the JCICS playbook which states: we encourage the Ministry to accept the partnerships offered by governments, NGOs, and foundations.

NGO's and foundations have had the opportunity for years to partner with Ethiopian authorities to work against child trafficking and other forms of fraud, but failed to do so on every occasion.

JCICS offered a similar approach in Vietnam in 2008 and failed miserably to live up to their promises. Self-regulation in the field of adoption has never worked and will never work, because the stakes for each individual agency are much too high. Each agency that looks the other way a little bit more than its competitors will be able to make more claims on adoptable children than others. Such a competitive edge can mean the difference between running a successful business or going bankrupt.

Not all petitioners are concerned about the fraud and corruption in the adoption process. Some simply claim:

If kids can go to good homes then why not let that happen?

people should be able to adopt children from other countries

People that invested money in these adoptions should be able to fulfill that adoption. There are many little ones to find loving homes

need to open the country for more adoptions

For others the demand to keep the gravy train running is more personal:

Our family has been in the process of adopting a child from ethopia and are very sad to hear of the changes. we have completed our home study and want a child that is in waiting. Our two boys asked me today about when they would get a sister and when they could pick her up. I had to say only god knows. please reconsider these changes

We have been praying to adopt a child from Ethiopia for years - and just started the process. PLEASE don't take this step!

We were starting the Guatemala program when it was shut down. Please don't do this to so many hopeful, loving parents.

I am an parent who has already submitted my complete dossier and am waiting for a referral of my child/children from Ethiopia. There are so many orphaned children. I think children's homes and adoption working together can effectively help the orphan situation in Ethiopia. Please consider my plea and not slow down adoptions.

Even more comments demand to keep the gravy train running on behalf of others:

Please allow adoptions to continue. My friend and her husband want a child and are unable to get pregnant. Please keep adoptions so that this couple may be able to give a child a loving family and a better life.

I know several families that have adopted children from Ethiopia and now these once family-less children are loved and cared for by their parents and siblings! I also have several friends waiting adoption matches from Ethiopia, and I am longing for these children to be matched with these loving caring families. I can't imagine what good it would do anyone to not allow this to happen!

My friends have been trying to adopt from Ethiopia for almost 2 years. Please don't make them wait any longer!

My sister-in-law & her husband have been trying to adopt from Ethiopia for almost 2 years. Please repeal this sanction so they do not have to wait another 2+ years! I implore you to give these children a chance to be adopted into a loving home abroad.

I know the adoptive parents of an Ethiopian boy. He has the best parents in the world.

I do this on behalf of my dear friends Cara & Brian who are hoping with all of their heart that their adoption of an Ethiopian child goes through as soon as possible. They will provide the healthiest and most wonderful homes for a child and will the the best parents in the world.

My cousin and her husband cannot have children and have been waiting very patiently for a long time. Now they are being told that they have to wait even longer for their children to come to them. This is not fair.

I have a friend who is a wonderful woman and has a beautiful family in Missouri and they are traying to adopt a kid from your country. Please don't stop them, any kid will be in the best care if they are with them. Don't take this family away from a ethopian kid.

My older brother and family is on the waiting list to be referred a little boy from Ethiopia. They are thee best and most loving family. I pray they will soon be allowed to meet their new son.

I have a dear friend waiting on adoption and they would be such wonderful parents.

Signing on behalf of my sister who is hoping to adopt from Ethiopia.

my friend is adopting from Ethiopia and i want you reconsider stopping adoptions.

Please reconsider the plan to restrict adoptions. Our Friend will be a wonderful parent to your child.

The large number of people signing on behalf of others, made us question the validity of the petition. What is the value of a petition when the same person signs many times (several petitioners made the same non-trivial spelling errors in the name of their state or city), or encourages an entire community to sign something of which they have little or no knowledge.

Fortunately the petition contains geographical information about the signers. Out of 36,862 petitions, we were able to extract information about the location of the petitioner. 35,719 petitions came from within the US, while 1,143 petitions were filed abroad.

Country # of signatures
Canada 683
Uk 87
Italy 38
Germany 27
Australia 26
France 17
Poland 16
Netherlands 12
Brazil 11
Kenya 11
Uganda 11
China 10
Mexico 10

Only countries with more than 10 petitions are listed

The relatively large number of signers coming from Canada shouldn't be a surprise, but it is certainly strange that more signatures were collected from Kenya and Uganda than from Ethiopia itself. Apparently very few Ethiopians oppose the measure taken by their authorities.

Within the US (see: JCICS Ethiopia petition - petitioners per state per city for a complete break down), the number of petitions signed is very unevenly distributed as can be seen here :

State # of signatures
Texas 2695
Washington 2151
California 2140
Illinois 1992
Tennessee 1790
Ohio 1553
North Carolina 1359
Michigan 1321
Kentucky 1286
Indiana 1263
Oregon 1226
Pennsylvania 1211
New York 1134
Colorado 1110
Georgia 1101
Alabama 1074
Virginia 797
Mississippi 788
Oklahoma 783
Minnesota 777
Florida 761
Missouri 739
Wisconsin 551
Louisiana 501
Arizona 451
Massachusetts 421
Kansas 404
South Carolina 400
Utah 388
Arkansas 383
Iowa 344
Maryland 342
New Jersey 294
South Dakota 275
Nebraska 237
Maine 223
Connecticut 219
Idaho 169
New Mexico 153
Montana 143
New Hampshire 130
Nevada 108
West Virginia 104
North Dakota 94
Alaska 69
Vermont 61
Dist. of Columbia 52
Wyoming 49
Hawaii 48
Rhode Island 29
Delaware 19
Puerto Rico 4
Guam 1
Northern Marianas 1
Virgin Islands 1
Total 35719

It comes as no surprise Texas has produced so many signatures; it is one of the bigger states in the union, but runner-up Washington, is only a medium sized state, as is Tennessee, another state ranking high on this list, while a truly big state as Florida ranks somewhere in the middle.

Apparently some people have been very effective lobbying their community to sign the petition. This becomes more evident when we look at the cities with the largest number of petitioners:

State City
# of signatures
Kentucky Louisville 439
Oregon Portland 317
Tennessee Nashville 311
Texas Austin 236
New York New York 235
Alabama Birmingham 226
Illinois Chicago 218
Washington Seattle 213
Colorado Colorado Springs 210
Tennessee Knoxville 210
Indiana Indianapolis 200
North Carolina Raleigh 194
Colorado Denver 168
Michigan Grand Rapids 154
Texas San Antonio 154
Georgia Atlanta 152
Texas Farmersville 150
Mississippi Madison 148
Kentucky Lexington 144
Texas Dallas 144
Ohio Cincinnati 137
Texas Houston 128
Michigan Holland 122
New York Brooklyn 117
Tennessee Brentwood 117
Tennessee Franklin 116
North Carolina Charlotte 112
Washington Spokane 109
South Carolina Columbia 106
Georgia Athens 102
Minnesota Minneapolis 102
Tennessee Memphis 102

Only cities with more than 100 petitions are listed

Highest ranking city on the list, Louisville, KY, is certainly not a small town, but a city like Los Angeles is still more than five times larger and didn't even make it to this list with only 88 signatures. Apart from New York City and Chicago, most of the top ranking cities on this list are not particularly huge.

The high ranking position of Farmersville, TX, best shows the impact of community effort (or multiple signatures by the same person). According to the 2000 census, the town has a population of 3,118, yet 150 signatures were collected in that one town alone, three-and-half-times more than in San Francisco, which has a population 216 times as large.

With little over 38,000 signatures JCICS has shown it is still capable of pushing sentimental buttons of many Americans, though the numbers are far short of the stated goal of 250,000 signatures needed to make an impact. So even this action shows JCICS's impotence to get anything done, apart from mixing and stirring.

JCICS fails the long term interests of the industry it serves. JCICS fails birth parents in sending countries. JCICS fails prospective adopters. Most of all, JCICS fails to serve children for whom they claim to provide a better future. Ironically JCICS even fails itself. Due to their insistence that no serious problems exist, country after country will reduce or completely end their adoption programs, making it likely that JCICS will soon be a ghost from the past.


Petitioner location

Kerry and Niels
You created a grid overview of the petitioners per state within the US. One might have a closer look at signatures from Europe as well. Currently on an exchange program in Germany, I was interested in the location of the participants from Germany (27 as you stated). From what I could see at first glance, there were quite a few American last names and even addresses among them, so one would assume that some deployed military families (American by citizenship) listed their current location.


We really appreciate you asking. It may very well be that several petitioners living abroad are in fact American citizens, this would also explain the signatures from Uganda and Kenya.

Here is the break down for Germany you asked for,

State City # of signatures
Bavaria Traunreut 1
Bavaria Grafenwhor 2
Bavaria Munich 1
Bavaria Nuremberg 2
Bavaria Amberg 1
Bayern Munich 1
Hesse Bad Homburg 1
Hesse Wiesbaden 1
Hesse Huenstetten 1
Hesse Frankfurt 1
Hesse Fischbach 1
Lower Saxony Hannover 1
Mecklenburg Vorpommern Rostock 1
Nordrhein-Westfahlen Odenthal 1
Nordrhein-Westfalen Cologne 1
Nordrhein-Westfalen Essen 1
Nordrhein-Westfalen Duesseldorf 2
Nordrhein-Westfalen Odenthal 3
Nordrhein-Westfalen Bochum 1
Rheinland-Pfalz Kaiserslautern 1
Rhineland Ramstein 1
Schleswig-Holstein Lueneburg 1

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