Sunday, October 9, 2016

International Adoptions Have Declined Dramatically

In 2004, the number of international adoptions was breaking records around the world. In the US, at least 23,000 children were adopted from overseas, a historic number. Since then, however, the rate of adoptions between countries has nosedived, primarily due to a tightening of regulations. Some countries were accused of illegal adoption activities as early as the 1980s, prompting them to implement stricter control over the practice. That has now brought about a dramatic 72 percent fall in US adoptions from 2004 to 2014, according to the website priceonomics

Friday, June 24, 2016

2 years and many thousand dollars later, Michigan family adopts special needs child from Armenia

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – Smiling and laughing through tears, Sam Bode's new extended family erupted into cheers as they spotted the 4-year-old and his adoptive parents at Gerald R. Ford International Airport.
Moments before, the huddle of grandparents, aunts, an uncle and cousins had grown quiet from nervousness and excitement. Over the past two years, they've only been able to communicate with the cheerful boy via Facetime while his parents, Erica and Jeff Bode, went through the lengthy process to adopt him from Armenia. On Wednesday night, he was officially welcomed into the tight-knit West Michigan family.
Sam, who has Down syndrome, arrived at the airport with the Bodes and their son Jack, 8, after the last leg of their trip home from Armenia. He has spent his entire life in an orphanage.
They were weary from traveling, but their hearts were full. For the Ada couple, bringing Sam home was a joyful end to a chapter marked by heart-wrenching disappointments. They experienced miscarriages and unsuccessful fertility procedures as they tried to conceive a second child. The Bodes eventually decided to adopt and were set on bringing home a special needs child.
"There's just been a hole in my heart for a very, very long time. Of course my husband and my son fulfill me, but I really, truly feel complete now," Erica Bode said.
A visibly tired Sam clutched onto his dad at first, offering a few high fives to his cousins as they approached to say hello at the airport. It wasn't long before a smile broke out across his face and he was tossing a small soccer ball to his new playmates.
 (hand clapping - a little free advertising from our favorite baby snatcher) 
Erica and Jeff Bode first laid eyes on a picture of Sam at 9 months old. He was a sweet-looking baby with a full head of black hair and big, brown eyes. A description and photos of him were posted on Reece's Rainbow, a grant foundation that promotes the international adoption of children with Down syndrome. They adopted him through Hopscotch Adoptions, an agency based in North Carolina.
"The one [photo] that kind of sold it was he was playing with a ball and that's exactly what our son was like when he was little," Jeff Bode said.
Read rest of the story here.     

Ambassador Mills visits Armenian orphanages

U.S. Ambassador Mills visits orphanage in Vanadzor, Armenia to examine Child Welfare Reform (Photo: U.S. Embassy in Armenia)
U.S. Ambassador Mills visits orphanage in Vanadzor, Armenia to examine Child Welfare Reform (Photo: U.S. Embassy in Armenia)
VANADZOR (U.S. Embassy in Armenia)—As part of a month-long focus on human rights, U.S. Ambassador to Armenia Richard Mills, Jr., visited a residential care facility for children in Vanadzor. His trip was part of a larger tour of the Lori province, where he traveled to a number of organizations touching upon human rights.
In Vanadzor, Mills toured the orphanage and talked with representatives from Armenia’s Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (MLSA) and UNICEF. He also met with the orphanage staff and the young residents to get their views on the government of Armenia’s child welfare reform. They discussed prospects for transformation of the institution of orphanages in Armenia, and the challenges in reuniting children with their extended families.
“Children have human rights too, the right to proper care and support and love,” Mills said. “Institutional care is not necessarily the best environment to provide such care. Plus it is costly for the state and breeds corruption, especially when financing of residential institutions is based on the number of children and not linked to the service provision or outcome.”
In October 2015, Armenia was designated as a priority country under the U.S. Government Action Plan on Children in Adversity (APCA).  Such a designation allows in-depth support of child welfare reform efforts in Armenia. The Armenian government – supported by USAID, UNICEF, World Vision, Save the Children and Bridge of Hope – is working to improve care for at-risk youth in Armenia.
One goal they are working on is de-institutionalizing children. According to UNICEF, nearly 4,500 children live in 41 residential institutions —  orphanages, night care institutions, and special educational facilities. Ninety-seven percent of the children living in institutions are children from socially vulnerable families, who have at least one living parent. At least two-thirds of children at special educational facilities do not have a certified disability, but are simply victims of poverty and social neglect.
“Due to the lack of alternative services, the existing child care system of Armenia encourages parents of disabled children, children with special educational needs, and economically disadvantaged families to send their children to institutions for temporary or often permanent care,” the Ambassador said. “And these children have the same human rights as children living with their families, or with extended family. Where we can, we must work together to protect the human rights of these children, the most vulnerable in society.”
Along with touring the Vanadzor Orphanage, the Ambassador’s trip to Lori included a meeting with representatives from Peace Dialogue NGO, which deals with human rights concerns coming from the Armenian military. He also met with U.S. Peace Corps volunteers working at the Orran Center, an organization helping at-risk youth and seniors through social services and educational programs. While there, he was interviewed by some of the student journalists learning their craft through the Orran Center’s programs.
“Many of our Peace Corps volunteers work in centers such as Orran, helping develop programs that aim to improve communities and lift people up,” Mills said. “These Peace Corps volunteers embody the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, by ensuring that all members of society get the education and support needed to become contributing, active members of society.”

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Kids at Kharberd Orphanage and horse therapy

Dr. Sabba and the Kids at Kharberd Orphanage: Making Hippotherapy More Accessible in Armenia

It's spring in Armenia, and the children at Kharberd Orphanage, just outside Yerevan, are excited because they can play with their old friend Dr. Sabba.
Dr. Sabba is an Armenian from the diaspora. He was born and raised in Lebanon, and came to Armenia five years ago. He’s a therapist at the orphanage and unfortunately can only work when it’s warm outside. The winter months are too cold to perform his specific kind of therapy. However, when he can work, the children get excited.
By the way, Dr. Sabba is a horse.
According to one of his close friends Sasun Kosakyan, a therapist and art teacher at the orphanage, the children love Sabba. When speaking tohim, Sasun described a recent encounter between one of the children and Sabba after a long absence.
“Today, one of the kids, when they took them to do the therapy, he saw the horse and he hugged the horse and started kissing it and saying ‘oh, I missed you so much. Oh, it’s been a long time.’”
In Armenia there are two orphanages for children with disabilities. One of which, Kharberd, houses around three hundred children, and is exclusively for children with disabilities. In this orphanage, the staff has introduced a new kind of therapy that is not that common in Armenia. It is called hippotherapy. This is a form of therapy that uses horses, and is manly used with children with autism, down syndrome, and cerebral palsy.
According to the website of Ayo! (the crowd fundraising platform of the Fund for Armenian Relief - FAR) that is trying raise funds for the orphanage, “In hippotherapy, the movement of the horse influences the patient. The patient is positioned on the horse and actively responds to the horse’s movements.”

Monday, April 11, 2016

Adoption of Armenian children to the USA remains low but a small spike in 2015 driven by Special Needs Adoptions

The US State Department has released their 2015 numbers after review by members of congress. Their is a slight increase of adoptions to the USA vs. 2014 of 19 (10 increase) this is fueled by a lucrative adoption of Special Needs kids which represent all but 3 of the adoptions. There is also a few new players involved with Adoptions in Armenia one is a well known Adoption Attorney that knows knows the major players in Armenia and has testified before Congress.
Armenia remains the second longest days to adopt at over 600 days and the second most expensive to adopt from just under Azerbaijan and Albania.

Huffington Weighs in on Child Abduction and Hague 
The “Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction,” commonly called the Hague Convention, has been adopted by over 90 nations. It attempts to standardize and expedite the return of children and/or facilitate the exercise of visitation rights concerning children who are wrongly moved internationally, often in violation of family court orders. This comment provides a very brief and incomplete educational overview of this difficult and tragic topic. Always consult an experienced family law attorney with particular expertise in international custody cases in specific situations.
The United States became a Hague Convention adoptee in 1988 and its provisions apply to U.S. related child abductions occurring after the adoption date. The Hague Convention is implemented by a U.S. federal statute, the International Child Abduction Remedies Act (ICARA). There are numerous governmental and private Web sources containing information and forms.
The following is a brief and incomplete overview of Hague Convention legal actions.
1. Hague Convention petitions may be filed in either state or federal court. Where to file is a strategic consideration. A complicating factor in any case is the active involvement of a governmental official, perhaps even taking custody of the child, particularly in a foreign nation.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Foreign Adoptions by Americans hits three decade low (30 years) and will erode further.

Foreign adoptions by Americans fell 12% last year to the lowest level in more than three decades, according to new figures from the State Department.
The decline is largely because of measures designed to prevent child-trafficking and promote adoption within developing countries, adoption advocates said.
The State Department reported that 5,648 children were adopted abroad in the 2015 fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, down from 6,438 in 2014 and from a peak of 22,884 in 2004.
The last year that fewer overall adoptions were recorded was 1981, at 4,868.
China remains the most popular source of Americans’ foreign adoptions, with 2,354, a 15% increase from 2014. But that number pales compared with 7,903 in 2005.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Joint Council of International Children Services JCICS CLOSURE ; "What went wrong"

My personal thoughts and dealings with JCICS- For 40 Years, JCICS grew as international adoptions peaked in the USA (2005) to over 22,000 children adopted by Americans. Unfortunately during this time, JCICS also had a growth of many adoption agency "members" that sprang up literally because of no oversight in many countries. Guatemala, Bulgaria, Romania, Ethiopia et al adoption fueled the growth of many agencies literally opening up from the kitchen table operations. Overall, I personally didn't have any issues with their "transparency" their complaints and grievances department, helped me to file a complaint on one of their members "Across the the World Adoptions" despite warning me that they have never taken action "against" a member. They rather suggested to this agency they follow a set of protocols and be transparent with their clients that conforms with state Health and Human Services laws and Federal Laws. They actually admitted to me they had grown so fast due to the lack of oversight on many international adoptions. In hindsight, my only complaint with the Joint Council on International Children Services was their inability to tame the bad unprofessional behaviors of it's members who between 2003-2007 were making upwards of $1 million a year in adoption services that amounted to nothing more than purchasing relinquishment rights from poor mothers, and taking advantage of poor nations. When I called them about Armenia and other countries not having a central authority and an investigative arm that looked at the availabilty or family status of the children, they worked with the Ministry of Social Affairs for children to insure that all children available for adoption were in fact properly relinquished and not the 99% social orphans. Also the nasty habit of adoption agencies identify a pregnant women BEFORE birth of the child being promised to a client are over. Sorry to see JCICS go but the trend of open adoption is vanishing and the Hague will eventually be a requirement by ALL countries who allow adoptions to the USA. This means Japan, Bulgaria, Guyana, Serbia and others will be forced to have protocols in place and not make up rules as they go for an agent of some Adoption Service Provider (ASP). ASPs will continue to make it look like the world is overburden with poor orphans and that every day 200 more orphans are born. But what they leave out with their glossy fraud and cheap advertising of children is they ALL HAVE parents, the problem is being born into poverty. Many ASPs believe their clients are better suited to raise a poor woman's child and turn the head that 1 customer paying $40,000 to adopt/purchase a child could support a woman in business in many countries for 8-10 years. Alas, the greed and self-serving interests of Adoption Service Providers had to find out the hard way as business is shrunk 92% and more and more agencies close their doors due to they cannot run a business playing by the rules TRANSPARENCY.

 For 40 years, the Joint Council on International Children’s Services advanced the overall well-being of vulnerable children and their right to live in permanent family care. Originally formed in 1975 as an association of adoption agencies, the organization eventually evolved over its storied history into an international child welfare organization focused on ending the suffering of the world’s most vulnerable children—those without the love and protection of a forever family. In July 2015, Joint Council closed its doors. It was a shocking surprise, made as an announcement during the Annual Conference. I stood on the dais as the Interim Executive Director looking over the crowd of 450 individuals representing organizations all over the world focused on adoption and child welfare. The questions of Why? How? and What does this mean for “us”? started that morning, and I still wake up to emails in my inbox asking “now what?” I don’t have all the answers. For decades, our deeply committed staff worked around the clock to ensure that the children we served, those without the love and protection of a forever family, realized the right to a permanent home. However, over time we were unable to continue this good work for several reasons. I believe there are lessons from our closure the community can take to ensure the work continues and other organizations can continue fulfilling their missions of ensuring that children live in families. Two of the most critical lessons learned are as follows: 1. We need more support for adults who were adopted as children. Joint Council’s staff regularly received inquiries from birth parents who placed children for adoption, adults who were adopted as children searching for their families of origin, and adoptive families who wanted to assist their children in a reunion with their birth parents. According to the Adoption History Project at the University of Oregon, there are approximately 5 million Americans alive today who were adopted. We regularly sent these individuals to to educate themselves on the process, as well as the steps they could take when they reached dead ends. They regularly shared with us that the search and reunion process became a full time job, and for many with whom we came in contact, this was not their first go at search and reunion. The process is overwhelming, bringing many emotions to the surface. The process can be expensive. Many times the staff felt helpless in our offers of support. Since leaving Joint Council, I have joined my husband at Trustify, where we regularly help individuals in the search and reunion process at a nominal cost to our clients. It has been an interesting and seamless move for me professionally. I find so much joy working with individuals and the private investigators who help facilitate this search and reunion. The search process can be overwhelming, and it has given me purpose in taking the burden off the individual and giving it to the investigator who can help make reunions a reality. 2. We need to Help Adoption Service Providers Adapt to Changing Environments Intercountry adoptions have been on the decline for the last 5 years. After hitting a peak of 22,734 intercountry adoptions in 2005, the number of adoptions dropped to 6,441 last year. That’s the lowest number of intercountry adoptions since the early 1980s. In 2007, Joint Council worked with more than 250 adoption service providers, but as of January, the number of our Partners dropped to the historical low of 140, many of whom were not ASPs. Agencies are spread thin and need support navigating the ever-evolving policies and procedures coming out of Washington, DC and foreign governments. Resources and time are finite. Travel is expensive. Relationships with government officials take years to cultivate. One of the greatest services provided by Joint Council was advocacy. We represented the agency in Congress, at Department of State and USCIS. Over time Joint Council lessened its focus on supporting agencies in their critical work of ensuring that every child realizes their intrinsic right to a forever family. I believe we watered down our message and focus. We stopped programs and services that supported the work of our partners. As a community, we need to do more to support child welfare organizations that are placing children, serving the children already placed into families, and supporting their families. I am hopeful the organizations continuing the important work of serving adoption service providers will focus on their very specific needs so that more children can find their forever families. What is next? Looking back, I can see that we should have engaged adults who were adopted, supporting their specific and unique needs and refocused on offering support to adoption service providers, helping them to strengthen the work they do for the world’s orphans and vulnerable children. Had we been more aggressive in these efforts, Joint Council may still be operating today. People who work in the child welfare field do not need to look at Joint Council’s closure with anxiety or fear of the future. There are millions of children who need to realize their right to a safe, loving forever family both in the US and abroad. The work continues. It must continue. The key is building a community, which will support the children, adults, and families who were adopted and the organizations that place and serve them. What do you believe are the ways we can better support the adoption community?

  Jennifer Mellon has worked in the children welfare field for more than a decade, serving in varying capacities as the Executive Director, Member Manager, and Chief Development Officer at Joint Council on International Children’s Services. She also worked for the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI) and served on the Board of the Campagna Center, which provides critical educational services to children and families in the DC Metro region. She is the founder of two start-up companies and lives in Washington, DC with her husband Danny Boice and their 5 children.