The other night I watched the documentary Mercy, Mercy. It is something that though I feel is important to be watched and talked about, part of me wishes I had never watched it or that I could now erase what I saw and heard out of my mind. It is heartbreaking and there are scenes from the movie that will stay with me for a long time to come. Some of the faces haunt me. I am changed after having watched it.
As it is a documentary about an Ethiopian adoption of a girl/boy sibling group and we also adopted a brother and sister from Ethiopia, it may have been that it became very personal for me. Others may be impacted differently by watching it. There are many issues that the movie brought forth for me…ethics in adoption, hair care, the importance of being prepared BEFORE adopting (especially before adopting older children), lack of good resources and support networks, and a host of other issues, but the one I would like to talk about today is the importance of following through when it comes to post-placement reports.
For those who are not familiar with this particular adoption-lingo, post-placement reports (also called post-adoption reports) refer to the reports that are required to be submitted after an international or domestic adoption. The requirements vary from country to country and agency to agency.
Here are my thoughts on why post adoption reports are so important:
For the Country – When a country is entrusting you with their most important natural resource, their children, their citizens, it seems only respectful and fair to repay them by keeping them informed on the welfare of those children. Often, what makes the news when it comes to international adoption are the horror stories, such as the woman who sent her son back to Russia on a plane or adoptive children killed at the hands on their new parents. Foreign governments read these reports and if those are the only snapshots they have when it comes to what becomes of “their” children, they will be leery of continuing to allow foreign adoptions.
For the Continuation of the Country’s Adoption Program – The reason that countries make rules surrounding post placement reports is that they genuinely care about what happens to the children once they are in their new country, in their new families. There has been more than one incidence of a country deciding to shut down their foreign adoption program because they were not receiving the promised post placement reports. This impacted not only hopeful adoptive families, but also waiting children in those countries. So if reassuring the country is not enough incentive to submit your reports, consider those families and children who come after you.
For the Birth Family – As was seen in the documentary, first families often depend on post adoption reports as the only way to know what has become of their children. In many countries, there are terrible rumours that abound about what happens to children after they are adopted and if there are no pictures and follow-up reports to go on, families will be left to wonder and worry. I cannot imagine the pain of not having my child with me. I imagine the only thing worse would be not knowing what had happened to that child, not having any reassurance that they are alive and well. For the sake of your child’s first family, out of respect for the sacrifices they have made for their child or simply just out of human decency, please submit your reports. I think the pain of the family in the film speaks for itself in this regard.
For Your Child - Obviously, your child will not be receiving their post placement reports but they are still impacted by them. When they get old enough to ask, “Does my mom in Haiti know that I am ok?”, you can answer them more easily or if they ask if you ever tried to let their first family know how they are doing, you can even show them copies of the reports and pictures you sent if it’s age appropriate to do so. Knowing that you reached out and tried to extend this kindness to their biological family will help your child feel even more accepted by you as they feel that you acknowledged the importance of that piece of their family too.
In Cases of Abandonment or Inability to Locate First Family
There are some countries such as China where the laws prevent people from admitting that a particular child belongs to them so you may feel that there is no point in filing post placement reports with your adoption agency, the orphanage or country. However, laws can change. Circumstances can change. There may be a day where thousands of people are looking for information on the welfare of their children and if those reports are available for them to access, it will make a difference. Even in domestic adoptions, there are situations where you may not have the ability to locate your child’s birth family. I would encourage you to create reports anyway. Write a note or letter at least once a year, include a few pictures and tuck it into an envelope in a filing cabinet. At the very least, your child will be able to see your effort when they are an adult. If they are ever able to locate their birth family, they will have an incredible treasure to give to them and a way to show that you thought of them all these years and that will go a long way in bridging a relationship.
Be Sure the Family Receives Them
There are certain things about our children’s stories that we have chosen to keep private and specifics about their first families is one of those things so I will try to keep this in generalities. As demonstrated in the documentary, sometimes first families do not readily receive the reports. Sometimes they do (I can attest that this is the case as in late 2010, my husband returned to Ethiopia and he witnessed first-hand as an orphanage worker delivered news and pictures to a mother there and he witnessed her incredible reaction to seeing her child thriving. It was a powerful thing!).
If it is at all possible, I would encourage you to strongly consider finding a way to ensure that news and pictures reach your child’s first family. It is becoming more and more common in international adoption for adoptive families to meet birth families while in country. At that time, there may be an opportunity to exchange mailing or email addresses to aid in future contact. In addition to sending your required reports through the agency or facilitator, by copying the report and pictures and sharing them with the family, you are ensuring that the information reaches the most important hands.
We have made every effort for our adopted children in this regard and though this looks different in each of their circumstances and in some cases, keeping letters and pictures in case is the best we can do, I can at least know that I have done everything that I can. Because someday, I will have my children to answer to and I want to be able to tell them that I did what I could.