January 7, 2011

Full Disclosure--Is it wishful thinking?

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.


  1. I have had many of the same thoughts as you on this topic. The truth is always better than deceit. It is definitely in the best interest of the child and parents for all information to be disclosed.

  2. Deceit and darkness. All people are not set on being truthful or driven by good.

    Please anyone reading pray for God to work mightily in this SWI in China, pray for the people He has placed there as dimly lit yet glowing candles in the midst of the darkness. And pray for God's protection over the children who remain including Eileen's son until she can go bring him out.

    Hoping and praying Eileen you can meet your son very soon.

  3. Very well put and oh, so true.
    Oh, I am so grateful that our son was in the orphanage that he was. We got him from Hangzhou in Zhejiang province. They were awesome. We got his note from his birthparents, a copy of his finding ad, a few photos and a souvenir book of his province, and he was even very well prepared for our arrival.

  4. I, too, have been very frustrated by the lack of real honesty on the part of the SWI -- for instance, my #2DD's referral file was total rubbish -- she could not do any of the things the paperwork said she could, had never been given any type of solid food (despite the laundry list of goodies it said she enjoyed). The frustrating part was that I was handed a child that I had mentally prepared for a delayed child, I was completely unprepared for a 19 month old child who could not sit alone, turn over, stand, walk, or eat all kinds of solid food! She was my daughter, no matter what, but it would have been a bit easier for me to have a heads-up as to her actual developmental state at the time!

    I believe the reason they do this (tell APs what they think we want to hear, as opposed to what we need to know) is the whole "save face" issue that is common to the Chinese.

    My daughter was tied to her crib (as evidenced by the gouges on her ankles and the deep bruising around the gouges), but asked the SWI director what caused the issues on her ankles. He told me she had worn socks that were too tight. I didn't believe him, but let it go, and when we were at the medical exam in Guangzhou, I asked the Doctor there what the cause of the gouges and bruising was and she immediately pantomimed tying ropes around the ankle. Through an interpreter, she asked what SWI my daughter was from, and when she heard, she got one of those "I thought so" expressions on her face and told the interpreter that it was very common at that SWI to tie the babies in their cribs at night. Why the director couldn't have been honest with me still angers me. Yes, they might have been trying to protect the children from getting out of their cribs, I understand that, but why lie about it? Better yet, why not use humane restraints or ask APs for $$ to purchase deeper cribs? (but that's another story). The long and the short of it is that I don't think we'll ever see the real truth come out of this process -- as long as the Chinese value "face" as much as they do.

  5. Yes, it makes perfect sense from our western, adoptive or foster parent perspective. It's not wrong to wish for that at all. But as someone who lives and fosters in China, I've learned that there are things about this culture that I will never, ever understand. There is a certain pragmatism in thinking that allows for these kinds of things to happen. I am not saying that truth is relative-just that different cultures define truth differently.
    I think that truth varies from orphanage to orphanage. We tend to think of orphanages as a kind of holding ground until children can be adopted. That is not necessarily true of orphanage workers or directors. Orphanages vary in quality by province and director. Oversight is pretty minimal.
    Face is a deeply held value and like most cultural value, it's an unconscious value. That will never change.

  6. "Face is a deeply held value ... an unconscious VALUE."

    Yes, so true, and it can be valued far more than the life of a CHILD. Particularly in certain SWIs.

  7. I couldn't agree more. Will be praying for these children. I wish we could at least have had some pictures from our son's first 10 years of his life! It was his life after all!

  8. Yes, I do understand that there are strong cultural differences, but I have to wonder, and maybe Walking To China knows the answer, but aren't there certain rules or standards that orphanages have to abide by? For example, giving the adoptive parents any birth note that may have been left......why are some orphanages willing to hand that over and others won't even admit any exist? It seems like the governing body of orphanages should have some set guidelines, like that birth notes will be the property of the adoptive family, or even a just a copy of the birth note, I'd be happy with that.

    There just seems to be such a huge difference from orphanage to orphanage. Some people are literally skyping with their soon-to-be-children each week and other people can't even get a family photo into the orphanage and have any assurance that their child will get it.

  9. I am no expert on this as we are new to fostering and the orphan world in China. My understanding is that there are no central governmental guidelines. The central government runs the CCAA. Orphanages are run by provincial governments. They receive very little money per child. Therefore pragmatism rules in every decision such as who gets food and how much, who gets medical care and so on. Many parts of China are so isolated that it would be hard to regulate anyway.
    There is no rule of law here- no idea that the law applies equally. Therefore most orphanage decisions are made by individual orphanages. There are some really excellent orphanages and some with care so poor that you would lay awake at night if you knew what happens there.
    For example- children with Down Syndrome can be listed on the CCAA list for adoption. But an individual orphanage can decide not to list a child with Down Syndromes because they believe its too hard to find a family. Or they can list a child with severe disabilities. There is no consistency as to who gets listed.
    Yup! It's a different world! When we first came here, we called it "Opposite world" because we quickly learned that almost every thing was the opposite of what we thought!

  10. Walking to China wrote about our expectation that all information about a child should be disclosed by international orphanages, "Yes, it makes perfect sense from our western, adoptive or foster parent perspective." Yet, as a domestic foster and adoptive parent who has been through disruption, I have to say that the lack of full disclosure about children in the "system" exists here in the US! Had information about our son's crimes, conditions, previous disruptions, and behaviors been disclosed prior to his placement with us, not only would we have been able to prepare and provide a safe household, but we would have been able to protect his siblings. Instead, after 9 months of trying to figure out what was going on and two YEARS of legal battles, we lost custody of our son to Children Services. The first 30 months of trying to bond as a family has been a disaster. So, despite the laws of OUR country requiring social services to disclose all of the information they have about a child, it DOESN'T happen. All the rules and regulations any nation can craft will not change the overriding value to save face--whether here or in China. I wish it were different--both here, and internationally. Because it is about the child!

  11. My daughter is from Ukraine, and so much of the experience is completely different. However, every child was "the best one". Just about everyone I have met was told their child was "The best in the whole orphanage". I agree that the statements are well meaning and really, the child who was "the worst" would not have as much chance of being adopted. However you are right that it ultimately does no favors for anyone.
    Great post, lots to think about!

  12. I so appreciate all of these thoughtful and well-written responses. I'm rather surprised that there are no standard governmental guidelines, but I do understand the enormity of the task to monitor orphanages all over China.

    I'm also sure that Donley Farm and Essie are totally correct that this is not a problem just for China. Sad for the child and for the parents. As cliche' as it sounds, this whole process really is such a leap of faith.

  13. I agree completely.

    I think another issue is that sometimes, the people writing reports do not spend enough time with the children to even know what to disclose. When staffing is low and communication is not good, I think kids can come home with issues that have slipped through the cracks.

  14. As an adoptive parent I have always thought disruption could never happen to us. After completing our second adoption we saw first hand why some families must disrupt. The little girl we adopted had far more medical and behavior problems than we were told. We knew things were not going good in China but felt we had to try. We ended up having to find another family for this child. I would just like for people to know that is something that is a very hard decision to make. We are christians and try to see the best in everything but could have never predicted the treatment we would receive after letting another family adopt our daughter. People that would never even consider adoption, much less international or special needs. People willing to judge and condemn us. I would just like people to know that sometimes disruption is a reality and the only way to keep your existing family together. We need to support people as an adoption community.

  15. "We knew things were not going good in China but we felt like we had to try."

    YOU BROUGHT her HOME. I know I speak for many APs who not only find it easy to support your situation but also GREATLY RESPECT you for what you did.

    I don't know your story, but from what you shared above you brought this little girl home and you TRIED. And then when it became clear (clearly not a rash decision) she could not stay in your home, you found her another FAMILY.

    This to me is so different than leaving a child behind in China (or any country for that matter).

    Thank you for sharing and for your courage and for being part of this little girl's journey to her family. I am sorry for the judgment and condemnation. We have received it as well when we've shared our struggles with this adoption, though we have not had to rehome a child. Still it is hard when there is no support from those (believers) who you think will support you.

    Blessings to your family Nina,

  16. Wife of the Pres confirmed that I suspected reading this...my daughter's SWI. I have NO idea why they are so closed to giving people information or telling kids they are going to be adopted.

    I know my 2nd daughter was very much prepared for her adoption, and things went so much better than her being terrified of us. She was upset and mad about leaving her foster family, but she knew who we were from the photos we had sent.

    I too think that the orphanages need to be more forthcoming with information on the children, medical, social, and keeping their files somewhat updated (instead of 3 years old). I know they don't have the staff to keep them perfectly updated, but with computers and the records I know they keep already, shouldn't there be something easy they could do?