We got news a couple of days ago via a Yahoo group to which I belong that Ethiopia is changing their travel requirements. They will soon be requiring both prospective adoptive parents (PAPs) to make two trips to the country: the first is to appear at the court date to testify that they have met the child and wish to complete the adoption, the second will be later when the child has received an embassy appointment so that they can receive a visa and go home with their adoptive parents (APs).
This is a huge change from the previous requirements. In the past, it was a single trip only for the embassy date. While many families have both APs travel, there was the option for only one parent to travel or even to have the child escorted to the U.S. if there were a compelling reason that neither parent could travel. Now, none of those are an option--as far as I know, both parents must travel for the court date.
At first I was horrified and dismayed. Not about both parents having to travel--that we'd do anyway, and probably bring both of our kids. One of the reasons we chose to adopt from Ethiopia was that there was only a single trip of a week required. I wanted the freedom to choose to travel for longer, but not the requirement that I be there longer*. I also hate the idea of meeting your child and then having to leave them for several months--this seems like such a cruel thing to do to a child who has already faced abandonment at least once and probably more than that.
I know there are reasons. The Ethiopian government is trying to crack down on corruption, which needs to happen. There have been some agencies who have referred "healthy" children to PAPs; yet when the children are through court and the APs go to Ethiopia to get them, they have found that their kids are very ill in unmistakable ways. There have been agencies who have referred children claiming they were under a certain age, only to have the APs get there and have the children tell the APs that they are years older than the agency claimed (mind you, there is a lot of underaging in Ethiopia that isn't always known). There have been agencies that have referred one child and then given the parents a completely different child when the APs went to get them. In some of those cases, the APs have declined to bring the child home--being asked to take responsibility for a child who is expected to need lifelong medical care when you expected them to be reasonably healthy isn't one all APs or PAPs can make. However, the Ethiopian system is set up so that if court has already happened successfully and then the APs decline to bring them home, the children seem to be permanently unadoptable, even if there is a family willing to take on those challenges. Having to make two separate trips and testify in court that you have met the child and want to bring them home should eliminate that problem.
These faults are with the agencies, and yet they affect the entire stability of the Ethiopian adoption program. The use of unethical agencies by PAPs is appalling, especially when they know that there have been cases of unethical behavior in these agencies and yet still choose to use them while believing "it won't happen to us" perpetuates the problem. These agencies should be shut down immediately. Adoption is supposed to be about finding a family for a child; part of that is being sure it is the right family for that child. A family not able to inclined to handle those challenges is not the right family for that child and it is dealing huge blows to the entire system when agencies do this.
But I digress. There has been a huge outcry from PAPs who are already in the system who suddenly need to raise money and find time to make this second trip. For some of them, it will be impossible and they will need to find another country or choose not to adopt. It will certainly be a burden even on the families who can make the trip. There are still questions about what happens if you don't pass court the first time--do you have to travel back for the next court date? Will they accept your testimony that day and use it for future court dates? When are they actually implementing the policy? (The most recent thing I've heard is that it won't be before May and may not be until late fall. I have no idea if this is correct.)
In any event, I told Jason as soon as I heard about it. And we talked out most of my fears. We couldn't fathom the idea of going to another country to adopt again--our next children are in Ethiopia. What we talked about was the possibility of us both going over for the court date, and then me staying until the kids can come home (and Jason would fly back for the embassy date at the end). Maybe not fostering them, since I don't think it's allowed, but certainly visiting them and spending time with them daily. Not leaving them for months hoping that we'll come back. We'd find a place for me to stay in a guesthouse or renting a room in a home.
And we might bring Patrick and Kamu, and then let them stay also. The idea just hatched in my brain earlier today but when I talked to Jason, it seems to have merit. If it were even partly over the summer, our expenses would be way up if they stay here since they'd have to be in daycare when I'd normally be home with them. While it would be nearly impossible to be away from Jason for that long, we both feel that it would be a better choice for our new kids to do that. And the opportunity for the kids to stay in Ethiopia for several months may be too great to give up.
Of course it would be challenging. It would be very difficult to be apart for so long, not to mention quite a bit more expensive. Ethiopia is a pretty cheap place to go but several months of having our family on two different continents would add up. There's the question of my job--would I be able to teach fully online for a semester? Would I have to take leave for a semester? Would it be during the summer when I wouldn't be working anyway?
We don't have the answers to those questions and honestly, we don't need them yet. We're quite a way from starting the adoption process again anyway (strangely, a year of unemployment is not good for the old savings account. Who knew?). But after only a couple of days of knowing this news, I've completely changed my opinion from "There's no way we can do that" to "Wow, what an opportunity!" And now I actually find myself excited at the prospect.
It helps that we've known people who've done this, though not in Ethiopia. My friend (Hi Shanna!) stayed in Kazakhstan for almost 2 months with her oldest daughter when she adopted her youngest daughter in 2007, and a former labmate spent the first 2 months of her 3 months maternity leave in Guatemala fostering her oldest son until she could bring him home.
There are many other families who will be unable to make this new requirement work, and my heart goes out to them and the children that they were hoping to adopt. For our family, though, I hope this is a wonderful opportunity that also helps crack down on the corruption in the country so that the children who need families can get them ethically.
*Yes, I'm well aware of the selfishness of this statement and thankfully have reconsidered as I've learned more. Adopting a child needs to be primarily about the child, and only minorly about the wants of the PAPs.