Statement from Adoption Advocates International regarding Hana Williams death

Date: 2011-10-20

[PPL does not have an original copy of this letter. It is reported to have been sent to AAI families sometime before Oct-20-2011]

Dear Adoptive Family,

Everyone at AAI is shocked and saddened by the tragic death of Hana, a 13 year old from Ethiopia who had been with her adoptive family for three years. She passed away in May and, after several months of investigation, the adoptive parents have been charged with homicide by abuse and assault of a child. The coroner determined the cause of death to be hypothermia. She died in the family’s yard. It is hard to imagine a more horrible end to the dream of a new life in America for this girl.

AAI learned of Hana’s death in August, seeing it in the press, as did everyone else. AAI quickly informed the Ministry of Women’s and Children’s Affairs in Ethiopia. The Minister asked AAI to arrange to have a representative from the Ministry travel to the U.S. to write a report. Adoption programs such as AAI working in Ethiopia are typically asked to host foreign delegations every few years and it had been six years since AAI had done this. Last week the Vice Minister came to Washington State, accompanied by AAI’s legal representative in Ethiopia, Temesgen. Meetings were arranged with the prosecuting attorney, lead detective, and child protective services involved with Hana’s case. The Vice Minister met with adoptive families in their homes and in groups, having the opportunity to converse with many Ethiopian children. He visited a school, a court room to attend a re-adoption, and met with AAI staff at the office. He then visited another agency in Washington and one in Minnesota. He concluded, as we had, that given the circumstances it was not possible for AAI to have known or predicted the outcome of this adoption. It was his first visit to the U.S. He loved the beauty of the countryside, enjoyed seeing the children, and had his questions about Hana’s tragic death answered to the extent possible. Temesgen reports that it was a successful visit, given the sobering circumstances.

But, we ask ourselves, what can be done to prevent such a tragedy in the future? We have developed a new form that each adoptive family will be required to sign, that lists very clearly the types of discipline that are not allowed to be used in AAI’s adoptive families. Homestudy workers will be asked to speak with applicants in much more detail about discipline. Our goals are to eliminate applicants with harsh discipline plans and to promote training methods which are more humane, effective, and neurobiologically based. There will also be a change in the post placement schedule for agency visits. For families whose child arrives after November 1, 2011, reports will be required at 1, 6, 12 months intervals after placement. For families applying after this date, a fourth agency post placement report will be required at the 24 month mark. We are hoping that this elongated schedule will give us all a better idea of how placements are progressing while keeping families connected with their agencies and social workers for a longer period of time, allowing for more personalized support and guidance, if necessary.

Because of concerns raised by this tragic death, AAI has been given approval to request the assistance of law enforcement to make safety checks on any families who are behind on post placement reports. Several countries require that families submit reports annually until the child turns 18 years of age. In the past we have sent multiple reminders to some families asking for reports, in the future AAI will contact law enforcement for assistance if the reports are not forthcoming, to assure the well being of the children.

We are also pleased to know that the EMCA (Ethiopian Community Mutual Association) has responded by establishing a “HANA FUND” with the purpose of preventing cases of abuse and assault in adoptive families. This fund will promote a program of outreach and crisis intervention, focusing on cultural awareness, education, and counseling. For more information or to make a donation see ecmaseattle.org. Though EMCA is a Seattle organization they hope the effort will expand across the country.

Nothing will soften the impact of this sad death, but AAI will strive to learn, grow and improve as we reflect on the tragedy.

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