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by Niels on Saturday, 05 December 2009

Tonight, December 5th, he will ride the roof tops of many houses on his white horse, assisted by his Black Petes to bring gifts to children. I am talking of Sinterklaas, of course.

Although I eventually learned to love the celebration of Saint Nicholas day, I still remember the terror I felt as a small child upon the arrival of the Holy Man from Spain. Every year, around the middle of November, Sinterklaas' steamboat arrives in one of the harbour in the Netherlands, to prepare for his aniversary, like he has done for the past 1600 years. For weeks he is busy setting up the logisitics for his grand magical act, the delivery of presents to all children in the country, the night before his birth day.

Although benevolent, Sinterklaas has a past that is more terrifying than his current practices. Nowadays Sinterklaas brings gifts to all children, but that weren't always the case. Not all that long ago, only good children received presents, while naughty children were either given a spanking with a chimney sweeping broom, or put in a bag and taken to Spain.

When I was four or five years old, I was a firm believer in the existence of Sinterklaas and deeply frightened of the patron saint of children. It wasn't the spanking with the broom I was scared of, never gave that a thought, but the idea of being put in a bag and taken to Spain kept me in a constant state of panic for several weeks. I couldn't breathe, I couldn't sleep, afraid to be considered a naughty child, needing removal.

I don't think I ever told my parents why I was so afraid of Sinterklaas, and I am not sure they could have reassured me that in fact Sinterklaas had given up his practice of child removal decades before I was born. For some reason, I was alway more afraid of telling what scared me, than I was of any actual fear I had. Still my parents noticed my panic around Sinterklaas and decided to tell me Sinterklaas was not real.

by Niels on Thursday, 22 October 2009

Long time ago, Mimi had a vision of a world in which no-one should remain childless and no child would have to live without a family. Mimi had seen the sadness in the eyes of those that desperately wanted children but couldn't get them and Mimi had seen images of children in poor countries that had no father or mother, children that were poorly fed and hardly had school to attend. Mimi felt she was called to solve both issues with one single plan.

The plan was simple: take the children out of the poor countries and give them to the childless couples that so desperately wanted a child to call their own. So Mimi set up an office and started receiving calls from childless couples in search of children. Over the years Mimi found thousands of children, first from countries that had been involved in wars, Mimi's own country was involved in. Soldiers had humped local women and the children born out of these affairs were not accepted in the countries they were born into. So while they were not really without a father and a mother, they were unwanted nevertheless and the childless couples Mimi knew so well, were willing to take them in.

Mimi's activities didn't stay unnoticed. In fact the laws were changed so Mimi could do the work even more effectively. Many news paper articles were written about Mimi's work and whenever there was an emergency anywhere in the world, Mimi was asked to help out. As a result Mimi's office grew bigger and bigger, where work had simply been started within the living room, now offices had popped up all over the country.

Years went by and Mimi got more and more influential. Presidents and prime-ministers from many countries came to Mimi, asking if their childless couples could have children too. And if not for these favors, they certainly wanted the photo-op. It was good for presidents and prime-ministers to be seen with Mimi, it made that people voted for them.

Despite all of the success, Mimi felt she was being threatened. Despite all the influence in the world there was always the Big Bad anti-Adoption Wolf.

by Niels on Wednesday, 02 September 2009

   Shadows of the Family Tree:
   An Adoptee’s Guide to Search

   By Amy K. Burt

Shadows of the Family Tree is both Amy Burt's personal story of search and reunion and a guide explaining the means available to adoptees in search  of the family they were born into.

In six chapers, Amy describes her own journey and in the mean time addresses many of the issues involved, sealed birth cerificates, search angels, paid finders, confidential intermediaries, search registries, the question to reunite, open record activism, denial of contact.

Shadows of the Family Tree starts with the question about birth stories, how Amy's own daughters love to hear their story being told over and over again and how that desire is made so difficult to adoptees in America. She then describes her own reluctance to search and how she finally made the decision to do so.

In the following chapters Amy explains the various means to search, the various pitfalls to the various methods and the legal and practical obstacles one can encounter.

The book ends with several appendices giving a comprehensive overview of state legislation, search and reunion organizations and listing various sources on the web for further reading.

I found Shadows of the Family Tree both an informative and a pleasant read. The method of presenting her own story while at the same time providing practical and legal information works really well.

by Niels on Monday, 10 August 2009

Infamous adoption agency A Child's Waiting no longer seems in business, other that that it seems business as usual.

In August last year, Crissy Kolaric, her husband Todd Kolarik and her sister Jennifer Marando struck a deal with the authorities in Ohio, after a series of violations of the Ohio Administrative code.

The deal stated:

  • The Agency directors, Jennifer Marando and Crissy Kolarik, shall terminate all involvement with the daily activities of ACW [A Child's Waiting] as it relates to and of the agency's authority as a PCPA [private child placement agency] or a PNA [private non-custodial agency] for a 4-year period from the date of the signing of this agreement....
    ...However, nothing in this agreement shall prevent Jennifer Marando and Crissy Kolarik from retaining financial interest in ACW or making business decisions concerning the financial operations of ACW.
  • Jennifer Marando and Crissy Kolarik cannot be an owner, board member, director, or have a financial interest in or receive any financial benefit in any other PNA or PCPA.
  • Todd Kolarik shall withdraw his PNA application and cannot reapply for certification as either a PNA or PCPA for a 4 year period.

The settlement is leaves very little room for any other interpretation than that Ohio wants Jennifer Marando, Crissy Kolarik and Todd Kolarik out of the child placement business, but is not able to stop them from owning a for-profit organization and reaping the benefits of that.

by Niels on Thursday, 23 July 2009

The "entire" adoption community is fumed, offended, enraged, vexed, saddened, distressed, troubled, concerned. The reason for this, a Hollywood production by the name of Orphan.

According to The Examiner, even the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, has used their political influence to invite over Warner Bros. CEO Barry Meyer, in a silly attempt to express their concern about the film. If the first amendment is explained as separation of state and church, it also implies separation between state and art/entertainment. So when senators and congressmen use their influence to see if they can stop running the film or otherwise try to find ways the studio adds a pro-adoption message to the film, that separation gets lost.

And why? Why deny adoptees who do like the plot, who do like the fantasy of the evil orphan played out on the silver screen, for whom this is a nice outlet for some of the frustations some of us have? Unlike the cozy, warm and fuzzy stories of adoption, the CCAI and representatives of the adoption industry would love to show, some adoption didn't work out fine, some work out terrible.

Ladies and gentlemen senators, congress men, adoption agency workers, can we please have the pleasure of identifying with Esther for 123 minutes, without you hijacking it for your own agenda? You already have the airwaves, and it's only on websites like these and several blogs, that those adult adoptees that had it crap, really have a voice. Can we please have Esther, without you being the plot spoiler?

For those who want to warm up for

by Niels on Friday, 10 July 2009

One of the major topics in the process of adoption is the waiting time. Several agencies give prognoses of waiting times for several source countries on their websites. In blogs and on forums, adoptive parents discuss the waiting times they have experienced or are experiencing. Waiting times make people "go international", because the domestic waiting lists are too long.

Yet waiting lists are an absurd concept, when perceived from a child's best interest perspective. Suppose for a particular child adoption is deemed in its best interest, then it would also be in the child's best interest to be placed with the best possible family wanting to adopt that child. After all there seems to be a general agreement that adoption is about finding families for children not children for families. So it would be in the child's best interest there were a large pool of prospective adopters to choose from.

That pool actually exist, for every adoptable child there are several families wanting to adopt. Yet that large pool is hidden from the child, because all those prospective parents are neatly lined up on the waiting lists of the respective adoption agencies. Instead of a pool a representative of the child can choose from, a child somehow gets lined up with a certain adoption agency or at best a small set of agencies and usually gets matched with a family near the top of the waiting list.

This absurd situation arises because adoption agencies perform two separate tasks in one organization. On the one hand they take-in prospective adoptive families, whom they prepare and place on the waiting list, while at the same time they have access to the children market, either by running a project in one of the sending countries or by taking in parents that have decided to relinquish a child.

It would be in the child's best interest to separate these tasks and create two different types of adoption agencies, one that prepares prospective adoptive parents and offers post adoption services and another that prepares a child for adoption and chooses the best possible adoptive parents for that child. Let's call them respectively: PAP-agency and child-agency.

by Niels on Monday, 25 May 2009

Last night I read Cycle of Failure: HOW MICHIGAN KEEPS “THROWING THE FIGHT” FOR CHILDREN – AND HOW TO MAKE THE STATE A CONTENDER AGAIN, a report written by the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform (NCCPR) about the foster care system in Michigan.

The report is one of many attempts to address the problems with the foster care system in Michigan, following the deaths of Ricky Holland, James Earl Bradley, Allison Newman, Johnny Dragomir, Isaac Lethbridge, Joshua Causey and Rufus Young, all children in the Michigan foster care system, or adopted from that system.

As in previous work of the NCCPR, they make the case that the basic problems in the foster care system are the result of too many removals, which harm children, overload case workers and suck up all funds available for the protection of children. It also sheds a light on an issue not mentioned in any of the other reports about Michigan, coined with the phrase "foster care-industrial complex".

Richard Wexler, author of the report, writes the following:

Addicted to per diems

But every time anyone in Michigan has tried to face up to these challenges and fundamentally reform the system, that foster care-industrial complex has stood in the way. Michigan’s private agencies are paid for every day they hold a child in foster care. If they do what they are supposed to do and work to  reunite a family or, when that’s truly not possible, try for adoption, the payment stops.

As James Beougher, former director of child and family services for Michigan DHS, has written: “When you pay for foster care on a per diem basis – you get lots of days in foster care.” Beougher’s attempts to change that never got past the pilot stage in Michigan – but he’s now hailed as a hero in Maine, for transforming one of the worst systems in the country into a national leader.

So it’s no wonder that the National Commission on Children, one of the most distinguished groups ever to study child welfare, found that children often are removed from their families "prematurely or unnecessarily" because federal aid formulas give states "a strong financial incentive" to do so rather than provide services to keep families together. Of course the agencies will tell you they don’t even think about such things – they claim they care only about “the best interests of the child.” After all, they say, they’re non-profits. But the will to survive can induce in non-profits a form of greed that is as corrosive of common decency as the worst corporate behavior.

This can be seen in one telling statistic: In Michigan cases where the state maintains direct supervision of a child after the child is placed in foster care, only 40 percent of children return home within a year. That’s certainly bad enough. But when children are handed over to private agencies, paid for each day they hold the child in foster care, the proportion returned home within a year falls to 30 percent. And for technical reasons, this actually understates the
gap in performance.

The biggest addiction problem in child welfare is not substance-abusing parents, though that problem is serious and real. The biggest addiction problem in child welfare is powerful, well-connected private child welfare agencies that are addicted to their per-diem payments. And they are putting their addiction ahead of the children.

So try to divert more money to safe, proven alternatives and the foster care-industrial complex will stand in the way. Try to curb institutional care and the foster care-industrial complex will do everything it can to stop it. Try to place more children with extended families and in their own neighborhoods, and the private agencies will march up to Lansing to urge that it stop – even if that may mean the state has to violate federal law.

Most of the time, the agencies won’t actually say they oppose the idea – not out loud, not directly, not overtly. Instead, they’ll say how much they favor prevention – but… They’ll talk about how they, too, wish children didn’t have to be institutionalized, but… That’s how it’s done in child welfare: Never say no to a good idea, just “Yes, but…” it to death.

Nothing changed in Illinois until things got so bad that the elected government had to stand up to the permanent government. Finally, they took on the foster care-industrial complex.

Instead of simply handing out per diem payments and rubber-stamping license renewals, Illinois forced its private agencies to compete for business, and prove they were helping children. Agencies that couldn’t return enough children safely to their own homes or get them adopted wouldget no more referrals. Some of those agencies closed.

And lo and behold: Suddenly the “intractable” became tractable. The “dys-functional” became functional, and, as noted at the start of this report, the foster care population plummeted from 50,000 to under 16,000. The providers also had to show the children were safe in their new placements – and independent court-appointed monitors confirmed it. Under the new arrangement, child safety has improved.

So it can be done. We know what works, there is enough money, and there are plenty of good, capable people in Michigan child welfare. All that is missing is the will to do it – the will to stop embracing all that is worst in American child welfare, start seeking out all that is best, and stand up to the foster care-industrial complex. Michigan can be a contender again.

It just needs to learn the lessons from its own past.

by Niels on Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Today James Marsh wrote an interesting article on his blog called Corrupting International Adoption, related to the use of bribes in intercountry adoption and its relation to Foreign Corrupt Practices Act [FCPA].

The article explains how the FCPA prohibits bribery committed by Americans outside of the USA. The law applies as well to companies as to individuals and prohibits making payments -- or offering or promising to pay money or anything of value -- to any foreign official with the purpose of inducing the recipient to misuse his official position by directing business to or maintaining business with the payor.

We all know many PAP's travel to far away countries with crisp dollar bills to pay in cash for "services rendered". While of course many know bribery is illegal in the country they are visiting, many will not be aware that it is also illegal under US law. Many are willing to take the risk, knowing they will be out of the country before anyone will find out, but according to the FCPA, such acts can be prosecuted under American law.

The only thing I still wonder is whether lying in a foreign court is illegal by American law. It is a well known phenomenon that umbrella'ing (adopting through an unaccredited adoption agency that uses an accredited agency to receive children) often leads to adoptive parents lying in foreign court. When asked which adoption agency they are using, they name the accredited agency. I wonder if there is some FCPA-like law that prohibits such activities.

by Niels on Friday, 13 March 2009

Today I learned about yet another child who died at the hands of an adoptive parent. Since we started the abuse cases section we found out about 198 children that died because of abuse or neglect while being placed out (70 of which in foster care and 128 adopted).

Last Sunday a boy by the name of Kevin Michael King died in Bakersfield, California at the hands of his adoptive mother from blunt force to the chest and abdomen.

This is the sixth abuse case we have documented in Bakersfield, so I wonder: What's wrong in Bakersfield?

In the nearby city of Los Angeles we have documented two cases while it is ten times larger.

I can't explain this.

by Niels on Monday, 24 November 2008

The US department of Health and Human Service, Administration for Children and Families maintains statistics about foster care. While browsing through their site, I came across the number of children in foster care on the last day of year (September 30). Although the data is from FY2002 to FY2006 it's still interesting to see what states are doing well in reducing the number of children in foster care and what states are not.

I decided to take the average of the annual growth for these years and created the following map.

The various shades of blue indicate the extent to which states are successful reducing the number of children in foster care, while shades of red indicate increasing growth percentages.

Some states have a nearly linear trend eg. Maine and District of Columbia show constant reduction of children in foster care and states like Nevada and Texas show a constant growth of its foster care population, while other states show pretty erratic behaviour. Iowa eg. had a 4.33% reduction between in 2003, but a 33.06% increase between in 2006. Another example of erratic behaviour is Nebraska, which in 2003 had a reduction of 10.06%, but a increase of 22.22% the year after, while the subsequent years showed moderate reductions.