Well, the Ethiopian adoption community has been rocked by the ET government’s announcement that adoptive parents will now be required to attend the adoption court hearing.  Prior to this announcement, the adoption agencies represented adoptive parents in court utilizing a Power of Attorney; APs didn’t travel until after the court case was finalized. That means that you, as an adoptive parent, never saw the child until after the child was already legally yours.  Why the change?  According to reports, some parents were changing their minds once they got to Ethiopia and met their children; newly adopted children have been abandoned in ET, destined to live out their lives in an orphanage, legally unable to be adopted by any other family.  There are no statistics available that tell us how often “revocation” happens in ET adoption; clearly it’s happened often enough that the government of Ethiopia chose to take action. 

Why do parents change their minds so late in the game? Adoption isn’t exactly a quick or easy process, after all – there’s plenty of time to put the brakes on if you feel like you can’t go through with it.  While I’m sure that sometimes parents realize too late that they’ve made a mistake, there are other reasons behind the in-country disruptions.   Namely, there is a lot of speculation in yahooland that corrupt agencies are lying to families about the children’s health and/or dramatically under-aging the children.  Here is a heartwrenching story written by a family who thought they were picking up their healthy son, only to learn that their agency had lied to them and that their child would require lifelong care.  Recent news reports have shed light on one agency’s practices – one could certainly see how a pre-court trip would have saved these families an immense amount of heartbreak.  ET takes these cases very seriously and has made a change that will protect both children and parents.

I really do think this is a positive change.  Not only does it motivate agencies to stay honest, it also provides parents an opportunity to see the adoption process firsthand.  We rely on our agencies for every scrap of information; a dishonest agency can, without fear of repercussion, lie to parents and never get caught.  But now their clients will see for themselves what the real story is.  Increased transparency in adoption is never a bad thing, imho. 

Not to mention that parents will be able to meet and bond with their children prior to bringing them home!  It will be hard to leave her, even temporarily, but I think that there’s an upside.  During that time, you can prepare for your actual child, rather than an idealized child you’ve dreamed up.  Because you’ve met her and you know what she’s like.  I think that’s pretty fab, actually.  And if it turns out that your agency lied to you – your “healthy” referral has a serious medical condition that you’re not prepared to parent or your alleged 7 year old is clearly at least 14 – then you can say no thanks without damaging that child’s chance to be adopted by a family who is prepared to adopt her.

Yes, it can be a financial hardship to travel to ET twice – once to attend the hearing and again 8-12 weeks later to pick up your child.  ET’s not exactly a quick trip – the flight alone is 17 hours in the air, not counting layovers.  Not everyone has job flexibility, some parents have little ones at home to worry about.  In the end, some folks will think twice about adopting from ET because of the 2 trip requirement.  Given the rapid growth of the program in the past 3 years, some deceleration would probably not be a bad thing.  I hate to be cold about it, but “healthy kids: quick and cheap” is never sustainable, and I’d rather see ET slow down than shut down. 

For me, a single person with no kids at home, plenty of vacation time saved up and an employer who is 100% supportive – well, to be honest, I was planning to travel twice anyway.  Not only does this not change my plans, it actually makes things easier.  In the past, early trips were pretty rare and therefore not the easiest thing to arrange.  My agency was willing and had coordinated these trips in the past, so I was hopeful that it could all be arranged.  Now, it will be a standard part of the adoption process and I don’t have to worry about whether or not it will work out.