Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Not Simply Abandoned (Guest Post)

By Susan Halverson 
(Pseudonym so that we can continue research)
My sixteen-year-old daughter and I traveled to Ningdu, Jiangxi, China in July 2015 and then again in July 2017, with the hope of finding her birth family.

Our public approach to searching has drawn out many birth families. Public searching is the use of social media, flyers and television, in order to bring a lot of attention to an adoptee, so that birth parents may come forward. 

In comparison, some people prefer to search quietly by getting to know foster parents or orphanage officials. In my daughter’s case we had learned from her orphanage analysis, finding ad data, and from other information learned through Research-China.Org, that the finder listed in her adoption paperwork had probably been put by the orphanage in the paperwork. As a result of all this pre-search information, we concluded that the orphanage information was all false (This was shown later to be the case). 

Thus, as a last resort, we decided we wanted to approach her search in a public manner, but in such a way as to locate as many birth families as possible. We believed birth families all deserve to know their children are alive and safe. Together, we have gained many friends and experiences, and a love for the city of Ningdu.

What we learned on our search is that many birth families are desperate for a sign that their children are safe and loved.  They also want their children to know that most were not simply abandoned. Their stories are honest, complex and painful. They don’t expect their children to be returned.  They understand that they were legally adopted overseas. But all have a strong desire to find and connect with their children.

To date, we have not found my daughter’s family. Perhaps they are related to officials, or perhaps they live remotely and we have not reached them, or maybe too much time has passed and they have left Ningdu. We are uncertain where my daughter’s search will take us next, but we feel compelled to share the moving stories told to us. The following are the voices of some of the birth parents we met in Ningdu, and whose DNA has now been submitted for matching.


“We already had your two-year-old sister when we gave birth to twins. We live in a village near Ningdu and we are poor. A woman came and took one of you and a few days returned to take the other. I heard that you were adopted separately. People can see pain in my eyes when they look at me.”

“Your mother and I own a small store in a village near Ningdu. We already had your brother and sister. When you were born, a village neighbor turned us into Family Planning. We later learned that if she didn’t report your birth, she risked having her roof knocked off her house. I keep a journal with all of my children’s births in it, including yours.”

"You came from a very poor family without means to pay a fine for a second child. We met an in-between person who said the orphanage would give us $500 USD for you, and that you would be sent to an American family. The next day we changed our minds. We went to the orphanage to get you back, but we were told that you were already sent to a family in Spain for adoption.”

“A foster mother from the orphanage heard that we had you. She came to our house and said that if we did not give you to her she would take your unregistered brother and sister.” 

“Your mother was very sick and we were poor.  We didn’t have money to pay for the hospital bill and family planning fine.  I took you to the orphanage and left you at the gate.  After I saw someone take you inside, I left.  You have three older sisters.  One we raised publicly, one we hid, and one we sent to live with your aunt. Now we are established in our careers.  We have more time and the luxury to mourn our loss. We miss you. “

“We had your two sisters (ages 2 and 5). We were fortunate enough to pay the fine for your second oldest sister. When you were born we didn’t have the means to pay the family planning fine. We paid an old woman to keep you safe until we could find a way to keep you in our family. The old woman tricked us and sent you to the orphanage. We tried to get you back from the orphanage but they said that you had already been sent overseas for adoption.  We know it wasn’t true because there was no way you were sent away that quickly, but we were powerless.  You now have a younger brother and we all miss you.” 

“Your father and I both have disabilities and we are poor. Someone came and took you to the orphanage because we could not care for you.  Since we lost you, we have lived separately. The pain is too great to know we lost you. You have one older sister who we raised.  She is healthy and received an education. We live in a beautiful village in the countryside.”

“Your aunt worked for the orphanage. She told us that we were not allowed to keep you or we would be fined or worse. We agreed to allow you to be taken to the orphanage, only if you were adopted by a local official. We soon found out that you were sent overseas for adoption. We are devastated that we were deceived and we didn’t get to watch our baby grow up."   

“Your parents had five children. They sent three of sent us to live with our auntie. You have two older sisters and a younger brother living with auntie. Mom and dad are only raising your oldest sister. Auntie is helping us search for you. We know that you were adopted overseas so we post flyers on social media in hopes that you will find us one day”. 

"Mom and dad are well educated but the pressures of having a boy in the old culture was too great. They ended up having six of us before they finally quit having children. Two of us were raised by mom and dad, two of our sisters were raised by local families, and two sisters were sent for overseas adoption. Mom and dad have a lot of guilt. When grandpa saw Americans in town searching for birth families, he told me that I needed to find you.  Mom and dad put their DNA in a local police database as well as sending a sample home with the Americans” (DNAConnect.Org)

"Your dad and I are poor and cannot read or write.  We were told that American’s could offer you a better life and an education.  Like all parents, we wanted what we thought was best for our child at the time.  We were taken advantage of because of our social class.  We miss you and hope you don’t think we abandoned you."

“Your mother and I were twenty-one years old. Our families didn’t approve of our relationship because we had the same surname. During that time in China, having the same surname meant that you are related (even though we know we weren’t). Our forbidden love resulted in your birth. Your mother’s parent said that they were sending you to an auntie’s house to live, but we later learned that you were sent to the orphanage.  My parents and I tried to get you back for a year, before I finally moved on with my life.  I am now married to another woman. You have a half-brother and I have never forgotten you.” 

“Our grandfather took you to the orphanage when mom was recovering from labor. I am pregnant now and shudder as I remember mom’s painful cries when she discovered you missing. American’s told us that they would help us find you. Mom, dad, grandpa, grandma, and myself all went to their hotel to leave a DNA sample.”

“You came back to China and we had a chance to meet you. For some reason after our reunion we lost contact.  Your family paid a baby-broker, that originally sent you to the orphanage to locate us. We have another sister sent overseas for adoption. Someday, I hope all of us siblings can be reunited and not pay for our parent’s mistakes.”

“We live in a very remote village. The officials took you because we didn’t register to have another baby. We don’t have a telephone. We keep to ourselves. We don’t know who turned us in. We only know that you were adopted overseas because of village talk. I am your elder sister. When you were born, our uncle took you to the Nanchang orphanage, where he had connections. Mom and dad agreed to let him take you because he said that they had better conditions and that you would be adopted sooner. Now mom and dad asked me to help them find you. I attend school for accounting in Nanchang and often think of you. I am sorry that our family sent you away.  I miss you little sister.”

“Your mother gave birth to you in the Ganzhou Hospital which is about an hour from Ningdu. You were kidnapped. I search for you but I suddenly stop cold in my tracks. I don’t know if you were trafficked in China or sent to the Ningdu Orphanage as some have suggested.”

“I was having a difficult time feeding you. A neighbor told me about an old woman who could take you to her home to fatten you up. I agreed to send you to the old woman. I was tricked and you were sent to the orphanage.” 

 We would not have been able to accomplished this without the help of DNA Connect.org.

Monday, September 11, 2017

My Experience With Adopting an Older Child

I received an email this morning from an adoptive mother. As I read her story, I saw an experience we have personally seen, and written much about over the past decade (See articles here and here as examples). The adoption of older children from China is rife with potential issues, and often results in significant emotional turmoil and abuse. This family's experience should serve as an additional cautionary tale for all to tread very, very carefully.


Upon walking into the meeting room I found a 11 year old child slumped over crying.  Shortly after meeting her, the Chinese officials wanted her to sign the document in agreement for adoption.  She kept throwing the pen and they kept putting it in her hand until she finally gave in and signed.  I felt very sad and uncomfortable, yet I said nothing.  I really should have, but I thought perhaps she was just nervous. The next few days she displayed very bad behavior. Her behavior was hateful.  She expressed she wanted to go back to the SWI. My guide and agency acted as if all this was normal behavior.  

In the coming days it became clear she did not at all want to be adopted nor did she ever agree.  She wanted to stay in China.  Furthermore she told me she was not 11 going on 12 but actually 13.    She seemed so worldly for having lived in the SWI her entire life.   She was not impressed with the fancy hotel, McDonalds and other things I assumed she never would have been exposed to.  I asked her if the SWI had always been her home.  She responded yes but I wonder if she had lived somewhere else prior. 

Ultimately, after days of bad and hateful behavior, and requests to be brought back to SWI, I relented and decided to request the adoption be dissolved.   It was a very difficult decision for me, but I imagined my future with an angry resentful child forced to come to the U.S.A.  The guide seemed very angry with the child and said something to her.  After that the child changed behavior and was super well behaved, nervously cleaning our room, etc.  She even was on her knees with hands in prayer position begging to come.  It was so sad.   I asked the guide what she had said, and I told her I felt she said something to scare the child.   The child also exhibited bizarre and self-harming behavior.  It may sound strange but I was even afraid of her at times.   I believe perhaps this child was suffering from RAD.

When I brought the child back to the Civil Affairs office to meet her nanny and go back to the SWI, she was so happy.  The child gave me my first hug and biggest smile ever.   I felt that was almost a thank you hug.

Now, home six  months later, I am still so sad and upset at everything that has happened. Now I'm only left with the anxiety over having to leave a child behind.   Also wondering would she perhaps have been happy at being adopted once home, etc., etc. 

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Separated Twins: More Common than Generally Believed

The recent reunification story of two girls adopted by different families points out a problem that we have noticed for many years.  After one of the families contacted us for her daughter's finding ad, we notified them that we also had information that indicated their daughter was a twin. Foster family records, which we obtained on a research project to that area, indicated that although the orphanage had known they were twins, they had separated the girls in the belief that it would be easier to adopt the two girls separately.

This story has created a lot of interest in the adoption community, and efforts are now underway to identify other such "separated twins." A new Facebook group has been created to comb through and identify possible twin sets in our orphanage data books, the most effective way of identifying such twins. Families on this group are searching their child's data book for children with the same finding date and location, same birth dates, and twin names. In the case of the two children in the story above, even though the orphanage had changed the finding date of one of the two girls, their names strongly implied that they were related. Taken individually, neither name stood out as anything but a traditional orphanage name, but when the last characters of the two girls' names were combined, the word for "Rose" was formed. When the names of two children form such a combination, it is significant evidence, when combined with similar finding data, that the two children are related.

We have created a listing of similar "separated twins," based on similar names, finding data, and other criteria. If your child is on this list, it is very likely that a sibling was adopted by another family (all of these children were internationally adopted).

The following list is a work-in-progress, and will be updated as new potential twins are identified. You can assist in this work if you have purchased your child's orphanage data book and notice unusual pairings.  Please let us know and we can research them further.

Potential Twins

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Book Review: Leslie Wang's Outsourced Children: Orphanage Care and Adoption in Globalizing China

Leslie K. Wang’s book “Outsourced Children: Orphanage Care and Adoption in Globalizing China” is a well-researched treatise on China’s adoption program, the result of personal experiences of the author working in various orphanages, combined with academic studies. The central thesis of the book, that China has allowed international adoption of its children as a means to increase the overall value and productivity of its remaining citizens, is a fairly new idea in the adoption community. Few adoptive parents realize the overall goals and objectives of the Chinese government in encouraging and promoting adoption, and for this single reason alone Wang’s book is a valuable contribution to the history of China’s adoption program.

Wang spends considerable space putting a personalized face on the orphans in China, mostly special needs. Her time in the Haifeng Children’s Welfare Institute (a pseudonym), an orphanage that participated in the international adoption program, illuminates the issues present in the Social Welfare Institutes regarding the severely handicapped. Wang gained access to the Haifeng orphanage as a volunteer for “Tomorrow’s Children,” a Christian faith-based NGO that assisted the orphanage in caring for its special needs children. Her experiences in Haifeng are contrasted with those she had in the Yongping orphanage (also a pseudonym) near Beijing where another group, “Helping Hands,” worked. This group was comprised of expat women who, as Wang describes, were looking to put meaning into their lives as their husbands went off to work.  The contrast between these two groups – how their methods were accepted or rejected by the nannies that worked in each facility, by the government, and by the children themselves, is fascinating to read, and provides a valuable assessment of the damage that “first-world” attitudes can sometimes have in such settings. 

But the core of the book is devoted to the idea that China has allowed the exportation of her children with a simple goal in mind: To increase the overall productivity of its people with the stated goal to become a first-world nation. With this goal in mind, Chinese leaders feel that children abandoned by largely rural, uneducated and less productive birth families in a real sense act as weights to the progress of China overall. By removing these children from the national population, the thinking goes, the government accepts that the remaining population would increase in education and productivity.  Wang states that “Although urban little emperors bear the heavy responsibility of building a glorious future for their country, a much larger number of youths from rural areas are viewed at best as a hindrance, and at worst as a dangerous threat, to Chinese modernization” (p. 29-30). When viewed in this light, the actions of the CCAA and other national governmental agencies can be clearly understood, especially as it relates to ethical breeches and scandals in China’s adoption program. Simply stated, orphanage actions such as baby-buying and Family Planning confiscations achieve a national interest, even if those same actions result in lapses in international treaties and standards. 

It is important to understand that China’s international adoption program was started as a result of advocacy work initiated by World Association for Children and Parents (WACAP), a private adoption agency based in Washington State. This agency was the first to be allowed to adopt Chinese children in 1991 from the Luoyang orphanage in Henan Province, the same Province where Wang volunteered in the Haifeng orphanage.  It was WACAP’s advocacy that convinced the Chinese that the benefits of international adoption in terms of financial resources and outsourcing the costs of childcare outweighed the loss of face. The creation of China’s international adoption bureau, the CCAA, occurred one year later. In 1992, 206 Chinese children were adopted to the U.S. (232 internationally), a number that grew to 4,206 children in 1998 (6,012 internationally), when some orphanages began to feel pressure to recruit children for adoption. By 2002, when 6,119 children were adopted to the U.S. (10,194 internationally), many, if not most, orphanages were heavily involved in baby-buying and other recruitment methods to satisfy the demand for healthy, young infant girls.  In 2005, international press revealed that orphanages in central China’s Hunan Province had been buying babies, and in 2008 families that had adopted older, “aging-out” children from the same Luoyang orphanage came forward indicating that their adoptive children had been lured away from birth families under the false pretense of gaining an education and employment in the West. 

Which brings me to the one objection I have to Wang’s assessment of China’s program. Although Wang gives a hat tip to reports of scandals in China’s program, overall she maintains that the direction of the adoption program is dictated by Beijing. She states, for example, that it is the outcome of the HCIA (Hague Convention) “combined with a proactive effort by the top sending countries – namely Russia and China – to lower the number of kids they place abroad” (p.131) that resulted in the collapse in international adoptions after 2004 (Russia) and 2005 (China). Wang also writes that the PRC “severely limited the supply of healthy girls following the Hunan child trafficking scandal” (p.132), and still later observed that “it is highly significant that, as the country’s global economic position has improved, the number of children it sends abroad has declined dramatically” (p. 148). Intentionally or not, these and other similar statements by Wang imply that the number of children adopted internationally is controlled by the Central Government, controlled from the top down. There is no doubt that this is a commonly held view, even by those involved in the adoption community, but it is largely a misperception.

The idea ignores the well-documented data and experiences in China’s orphanages themselves. There is no question that China’s program took a dramatic turn in late 2005. In fact, when one graphs the findings (the number of children entering the orphanage) by the orphanages in the provinces of Guangdong, Guangxi, Hunan and Jiangxi, etc., the main providers of adoptable children in 2005, one can see the decline beginning in December 2005, exactly when the Hunan scandal was being reported on inside China. In February 2006, three months after the scandal broke and when the decline was already visible, the CCAA (the office of the national government responsible for international adoptions) began actively pushing orphanages to submit as many children as they could, even severely special needs. When the number of submissions continued to fall, only then did China change the criteria for who could adopt. The lack of definitive action to curtail corruption in the face of various adoption scandals since Hunan should also be seen in this light.

Thus, the decline in adoptions from China was not a result of top-down actions such as Hague implementation, progress in economic circumstances, access to ultrasounds, the 2008 Olympics, or any of the other “macro” explanations that have been given. Rather, it was a bottom-up reaction by millions of Chinese birth families, most of whom learned for the first time in December 2005 that their children were being “sold” to Westerners by the orphanages, and consciously chose to no longer cooperate, largely out of fear for their child’s safety and well-being. As a result, the number of healthy children entering the orphanages fell dramatically, and the apparent emphasis shifted, as Wang documents, from healthy young infants to older special needs children. I say apparent, because it was the disappearance of the healthy children that made the adoption of the special needs children both more desirable by Western families due to the longer wait times for a healthy child, and more visible to outsiders. But the mission of the national government is still firmly in place: Adopt out as many children, healthy or special needs, as possible to elevate the productivity and desirability of the rest of China’s citizenry. 

Wang’s book is a highly interesting view of the China program, and she brings many perceptive and important observations to the conversation moving forward. Do Western NGOs do more harm than good? Are their efforts sustainable? Should the international adoption program be used as a tool of the Chinese government to outsource orphan care? These and many other considerations are addressed and explored by Wang in what is a fascinating read.

Leslie's book can be ordered here.