Disruptions happen. I don’t know if they’re happening more than they used to or if I’m just hearing about them more, but it’s always heartbreaking. And it’s always an emotional topic, often eliciting angry and judgmental comments directed at the adoptive parents—they hadn’t adequately prepared, they didn’t do their homework, they didn’t fully understand the medical condition, they hadn’t gauged the emotional effects of life in an institution, they were looking for a “perfect” child…. In many cases that all may be true, yet there is another party that I think is often culpable, but rarely brought to task: the orphanages.
I almost feel guilty saying that, and maybe that’s part of the problem. I know that they are often doing the very best they can. I understand that. I also know that they want children adopted and will paint the best picture possible. However, a parent needs to make an informed decision, and sometimes that information is lacking, misleading, or outright deceptive. I recently read of a case where a child had been disrupted more than once while still in China due to behaviors that were never mentioned in the referral paperwork. Prospective parents in the future still weren’t given the new information gleaned by people who’d spent time with the child and weren’t even told that the disruptions had ever happened in the first place. The rationale in keeping the previous disruptions quiet was that this information would unnecessarily scare off prospective parents. In my opinion, parents have a right to any feelings they may have when reviewing a referral. If those feelings are fear and apprehension, then they have a right to be scared and to make their decisions based on those feelings. Is this unfair to the child? Possibly. But I think it’s also unfair to the child to match them with parents who are denied the full story.
And speaking of the full story, how many orphanages have an “open file” policy? In my admittedly limited experience, that’s not something that I’ve seen. When we toured our daughter’s orphanage and asked to see her file, a palpable tension immediately filled the air. We were told absolutely not. When we asked for some details about her finding, we were quickly waved off with, “Oh, we know nothing,” and then we were offered snacks. Conversation over. Another orphanage I know of has NEVER reported that a birth note was left with a child. Ever. With over 600 children in their care during any given time, I find that hard to believe. What is the thought process behind that decision? Why is full disclosure–good, bad, or otherwise not a healthy thing? It’s their story, the child’s story, and yet the orphanages don’t seem to agree.
We are in the process of adopting a little boy. We are ecstatic and feel very well-prepared for his special need, yet the information we have from the orphanage is scant. If that was all that was available, fine, but I know it’s not. Our son, who has a condition that requires consistent monitoring by blood work, is supposedly getting those consistent lab draws done and yet the only test results I have were from when he was 7 months old. He’s now 3 and a half and the orphanage refuses to give updates. We’re fully prepared to parent him if his condition is on the severe side of the spectrum, but I sure would appreciate a heads-up. Even when we get to China, I’ve been told that we won’t get those records.
There are also willful deceptions. I almost was afraid recently to get our son’s LOA. No, let me rephrase that. I was thrilled to get his LOA because I knew that meant we were one step closer to bringing him home, but I was apprehensive because more than one parent that I know personally was recently given “new” information immediately after they signed their LOA—serious health information that was never reported in the original referral. Maybe this was all on the up and up and a condition was legitimately just discovered, but that’s not the vibe that I got.
When we talk about preparation on the part of the parents, a very worthy topic, I also think there’s a real obligation on the part of the orphanages to prepare the children. I know these institutions are often woefully understaffed and already stretched. I do understand that, but I’m talking about the most basic preparation–starting with telling the child that they’re going to be adopted. Our son’s orphanage says they don’t tell the children because they don’t want to upset them in case the adoption falls through. Fair enough, but I would think that at least after an LOA is submitted, a child has a right to know that this huge change is coming. Instead, based on what I’ve heard from other parents, the child is told on Gotcha’ Day morning that it’s time to get in the car. Sometimes on their way to the civil affairs office they’re given the care package sent by the family, but oftentimes not. My children and I spent hours choosing photos for our little boy’s photo album that we’d send to the orphanage. We included Mandarin captions and envisioned a nanny reading these to him in the final weeks leading up to his adoption–pointing to his big sisters and brother, showing him his bedroom, saying, “Look, there’s your Mama and Baba and they say they love you.” It brings me to tears to knowing that when he walks into that room at the civil affairs office, with 6 strangers from Seattle eagerly awaiting his arrival, it will be with no preparation at all.
These things have been weighing heavily on my mind. My question is: what can be done? Is there anything at all? I would guess that the CCAA has some regulating committee that oversees orphanages. I would think that there are standard procedures, but is there any recourse for parents? Will we ever be able to demand access to a file? Can we ever complain that an orphanage has been dishonest and feel like our voice will be heard? I don’t know if there are any answers, but I feel like there should be.