PEAR Ethics Alert - China Special Needs Programs
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PEAR has been alerted to some very concerning issues surrounding China’s special needs adoptions. We believe that adoption service providers (ASPs) are stepping up the recruitment and engaging in unrealistic practices due to their financial pressures as well as pressure from CCCWA to place SN children via a rumored reward program: 1 additional non SN referral for every 5 SN placements. We also believe that the long wait for healthy young children has encouraged Prospective Adoptive Parents (PAPs) to underestimate the potential issues surrounding the parenting of special needs children, especially older children, and to overlook unethical practices in exchange for quicker placement of children. We are also deeply concerned with the magnitude of influence of unregulated adoption advocates in the adoption process. In addition to the above, we are dismayed at the lack of candor, transparency, and communication being provided by both Central Authorities involved in governing adoptions from China to the United States.
At this time, we believe that the special needs placement programs involving Chinese children are riddled with unethical, nontransparent practices that do not adequately safeguard the children involved. The result is commodification of children, dilution of the integrity of adoption, and the placement of unwitting children and adults into crises situations.
Altering Children’s History and Information
There has been much talk lately about various agencies being willing to work with orphanage directors and the China Adoption Authority to change information in a child’s file in order to classify the child as special needs, or to change a child’s birthday in order to allow an adoption of a child who has aged out under either China or US law. We are very concerned that some agencies have the power to exert pressure on orphanages and the Chinese authorities to do this. Changing a child’s age is fraudulent activity not only under the adoption laws of China and immigration laws of the US, but also against the child being adopted.
PAPs hoping to have a child’s information changed (this has happened where a family has previously met the child as either missionaries or visitors to an orphanage) have been referred to specific agencies due to their “great favor” with China authorities and willingness to help families with this type of case. PEAR has alerted the COA and US DOS Office of Children’s issues concerning the specific agencies alleged to be engaging in this practice.
PEAR opposes any practice that alters a child’s history or identity. Children from China are already denied so much of their history due to the practice of abandonment. US agencies and US prospective parents should not be taking measures to further alter the identity and history of these children.
Marketing of Children
PEAR is concerned with manner in which special needs children under the China program are being “marketed” to prospective parents. While we understand the desire of agencies and adoption advocates to find homes for all children who may benefit from placement, it is our opinion that much of this “marketing” downplays the significant issues that may face families adopting special needs children. We also believe that the current practices of unregulated adoption advocates and the widespread sharing of information on available children violates both the laws of China and the US as well as the basic privacy rights of minor children.
Downplaying special needs and lack of preparedness of adopting families
While we fully support adoption of special needs children, we also believe that families need to be realistically prepared to parent these children. The referral information must be complete and truthful. Some Parents have not been advised of the severity of the child's needs resulting in disruptions and dissolutions. Placing a child in a home unprepared to properly care for that child is never in the child’s best interest. We also believe that in many cases, adoption agencies and unregulated adoption advocacy groups mislead PAPs with verbal reassurances, downplaying of the severity and/or potential complications of the special needs, and communal pressure. Although PAPs go through Hague mandatory training concerning special needs, we are aware that many PAPs are mislead with verbal reassurances that training outlines “worst case scenarios” and that post-adoption support and services are widely available, affordable, and easily accessible. PEAR is aware of several cases where older child adoptions have failed once in an American adoptive home due to the vastly different expectations and ideas about what the placement means to both the parent(s) and the child.
Violations of Privacy
PEAR believes that adoptions should comply with the legal processes of all countries involved, and that the children should be afforded privacy during the matching process. We are aware that some US agencies have password-protected sites for families to check on information about China special needs, but they also have email lists where this information is widely published. Furthermore, there are online advocacy groups and blogs where the information is passed around and shared even further, circumventing the China rules about publishing this type of information. PEAR believes that many agencies are acting in violation of the Hague Regulations section 96.39(f)
We believe that children have a right to privacy concerning identifying information, especially medical records. Sharing this information widely and openly violates this right to medical privacy, especially where information is accompanied with photographs and other personally identifying information. We call on all ASPs, adoption advocates, and PAPs to respect children’s privacy in their policies and actions.
Coercion of Older Children
PEAR strongly opposes any kind of coercion or pressure placed on vulnerable children. We fully support counseling children on adoption and securing informed consent, but we have grave concerns over the fine line between counseling and coercion. We believe that it is vitally important that adoption counseling is not provided by individuals or organizations who profit by the placement of children. From information we have received, it appears older children who resist adoptions to foreigners are being coerced by orphanage workers and agency representatives in China. In one case, a PAP was allowed to speak to a child by telephone via an interpreter in China to convince them of their desire to adopt despite the child’s reluctance. In some cases, the PAPs are not aware that the children do not wish to be adopted into a family. In many of these cases, the adoptions are failing while the PAPs are still in China or once the family returns to the US. These placement situations are unacceptable and not in the best interest of the children. They also violate Article 4 (d)(1), (2), and (3) of the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (Hague Convention)
We have heard anecdotal evidence of orphanage workers in China receiving bribes for every older child placed through adoption programs. This practice turns children into a commodity and discourages acting in the child’s best interests, it also violates Article 4 (c)(3) of the Hague Convention.
Case stealing and overzealous competition
Economic conditions being what they are for adoption agencies have lead to unfair and unethical practices to boost placements. We were recently alerted to a situation that demonstrates a growing trend of “case stealing” among agencies. Apparently, agencies are counseling clients to join list-serves such as Waiting Child Advocates on Yahoo, who list individual agency’s special needs children. The clients of agency A will join the list, find a child on Agency B’s list and request further info from agency B, then take this info back to Agency A who will submit an Letter of Intent (LOI). PEAR has alerted the COA and DOS to specific examples of this practice and we hope that it is being thoroughly investigated.
Lack of Transparency and Honesty by Central Authorities
On February 26, 2012, we became aware that Wasatch International Adoptions had been suspended from submitting new dossiers by the China Adoption Authority, CCCWA. A notice had been published on Wasatch’s Special Need Blog as well on their website:
PEAR requested comment and clarification from Wasatch and CCCWA, but have received no replies. We also wrote to the US DOS Office of Children’s Issues, the Central Authority under the Hague, for clarification as to why they had not published an Adoption Notice concerning this as they have done so for agencies suspended from submitting dossiers in other countries (see most recently: Notice: Barring of Two U.S. Adoption Agencies by IHNFA http://adoption.state.gov/country_information/country_specific_alerts_no...).
Neither CCCWA nor The US Department of State, Office of Children’s Issues have responded to our requests or offered any public information, not even a simple confirmation concerning this suspension. The failure of Central Authorities to provide complete, transparent information concerning accredited adoption service providers has lead to a flurry of rumors, mistrust in the Hague Adoption systems, and an inability for prospective adoptive families to make informed choices of providers and country programs.
The adoption landscape of China has changed dramatically from the days when baby girls were routinely abandoned. There are now waiting lists of hundreds of Chinese to adopt both boys and girls. Unethical competition in a shrinking industry with lack of adequate government oversight is creating an especially chaotic and hazardous process for PAPs and Chinese children. PEAR hopes authorities will act to curb the current abuses and create proactive policies to prevent future abuses.
Ethics, Transparency, Support
~ What All Adoptions Deserve.