First a little disclaimer: I have not been following the blogs of the families who have recently been stuck in Vietnam either with NOIDs or with pending investigations that could result in NOIDs. I checked in with a few of them here and there when everything started hitting the fan, but then I stopped. This week I’ve stopped reading a lot of things. It is just too much, too frustrating. So I don’t know what is going on with them. I only know what I am thinking, and that is what I’m going to share. With that, let’s press on, shall we?
I have been pondering what it is I do and do not know about adoptions in Vietnam, and about many of the facilitating agencies. I have been pondering what I know about the agency we are using, what I know about some agencies we aren’t using, and what I think I know about all of the above. My knee-jerk reaction when I first started hearing about NOIDs was, “Holy crap!” (yes, I unfortunately say that a lot, and it’s rather crude sounding, isn’t it)? Anyway: “Holy crap! If that were my agency I would jump ship faster than, well, than someone who was actually on a ship and probably needed to jump.”
But as all of this adoption mess kept invading my thoughts, I kept finding my thoughts also going back to high school and my American History class. Specifically I kept remembering one particular day in that class with the best teacher ever: Mr. In-the-news-what?
He was sitting up front on his little swivel stool, like normal, discussing current events with the class. On that particular day we must have been discussing Oliver North and the whole Iran-Contra thing. Mr. In-the-news-what? was adamantly arguing the President’s culpability in the whole thing, maintaining that since he was the Commander-in-Chief he, of course, knew what Ollie was doing. Oliver North, after all, worked for the President, right? The president, as the Commander-in-Chief, was in charge, so how could he claim he didn’t know?
After several minutes of back and forth banter between him and the students who disagreed with him, I finally asked him:
“Are you the teacher in this class?
“So you are in charge?”
“You are responsible for everything that happens in this classroom?”
“So, according to your own logic, when students cheat on your tests, it is your fault then, right?”
He sat there on his stool and hung his head for a few seconds before looking up and admitting defeat.
Should the U.S. adoption agencies know what their in-country staff is doing or, if we want to be a little more nefarious, what their in-country staff is “up to”? Absolutely. Does that mean, however, that it is always possible to know what is going on? Absolutely not.
From my own personal experience, I have served as a Relief Society president three times. Most of you have no idea what that means, but basically what it means is that I was “in charge” of the women’s auxiliary for the congregations of which I was a member each time. This means I was responsible for the spiritual and temporal welfare of lots of people, and this responsibility included making sure there were classes and activities and visiting teaching, and food for those in need, and overseeing a budget, etc. etc. I didn’t do it alone. I had counselors, a secretary, teachers, board members, and coordinators. We all had the same basic goals, we were all working together, but sometimes some of these people said and did things that weren’t appropriate. Was it my fault? No, I couldn’t be everywhere every second of every day with each one of these people to make sure they didn’t do things with their positions or with our budget that they shouldn’t be doing. All I could do was make the goals and expectations clear and then address problematic situations when they occurred (and they didn’t occur often, but they did occur).
So, if it is possible that Ronald Reagan didn’t know what Oliver North was up to (assuming he was up to something), and if it is possible that I didn’t know what other women serving with me were up to, and if it’s possible that Hillary didn’t know Bill was cheating, and if it’s possible that people were cheating on Mr. In-the-new-what’s? (and they absolutely were) tests right under his nose without his knowledge, then isn’t it possible that in-country staff on the other side of the world could be doing unethical or illegal things without the American agency being aware?
I can only think the answer is yes, it is possible. An agency could have a case or a group of cases related by time which receive a NOID or NOIDs despite the agency’s best efforts to be ethical.
This is why, in my mind, the real test of the agency comes after the NOID (assuming, of course, there were no other red flags waving violently from the agency’s rooftop to begin with). How do they address the situation when it occurs?
Do they say, “We are so very, very sorry this is happening. We have no idea why this is happening, but we hope you understand that we have to get to the bottom of it. We have to support the government’s investigation and cooperate with them as much as possible. While this is going on, we will be looking in to the situation and our staff ourselves. If there is someone working for us participating in illegal or unethical practices, we have to know so that we can fire them. We know this is horrible for you, it is horrible for us, but we have to work to uncover the truth.”
Or, do they say, “We are sorry this is happening to you, but it’s not our fault. It’s not our fault! It’s not our fault!”
No, I don’t think I could responsibly support the stance that any agency that has ever received a NOID is automatically unethical to it’s very core, though I would be extra hesitant to work with them. My ultimate decision, however, would have to be based more on the integrity of their actions after the NOID.
Having said that, however, I do not understand the stance I have read over and over that because adoption agencies are non-profit organizations they are somehow immune from being corrupt and/or have no incentive to participate in corruption. Non-profit does not equal “above reproach”. Non-profit also does not mean that nobody is making money. Non-profit simply means the agency as an entity is not making money. It’s directors, CEOs, coordinators, facilitators, social workers and secretaries are all drawing a salary. The more quickly an agency can facilitate adoptions, the more adoptions it can facilitate. The more adoptions it facilitates, the more money that comes in to the agency. This money can be used for humanitarian purposes or it can be used to raise salaries.
Whenever there are large sums of money in play, the greedy and the weak-minded will be tempted by the possibility of more, and this can and does lead to corruption. They risk it because they don’t think they will be caught, or they risk it because if they do get caught in one country they can loudly pass the buck and cry foul while still having other country and domestic programs to fall back on.
I wish I could believe corruption in adoption doesn’t exist and doesn’t taint what should be a beautiful thing, but I can’t. I don’t understand how anyone can. I also don’t believe corruption in adoption is confined to South East Asia, nor do I believe I know which agencies are corrupt. I do, like many others, have a few suspicions, a few agencies I personally would not feel comfortable working with, and I do believe some people sign on with those agencies having the same suspicions but choosing to ignore them in favor of speed.
I am, at this point, so very glad to be closing in on the end of our adoption process because I am so very, very tired of it all.
One last thing for today, and then I really need to work on my novel. I recently finished reading the book Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. It is the first of his books I’ve ever read. It was written in 1977, but, amazingly enough, the characters had something that is pretty identical to the internet. This passage really jumped out at me:
“And in the lesser conferences, where common people commented about the great debates, they began to insert their comments. At first Peter insisted that they be deliberately inflammatory. ‘We can’t learn how our style of writing works unless we get responses — and if we’re bland, no one will answer.’
“They were not bland, and people answered. The responses that got posted on the public nets were vinegar; the responses that were sent as mail, for Peter and Valentine to read privately, were poisonous.”
Welcome to the future.
And George, if you’re out there, Tewt the New says hello.