It's been quite some time since I talked about our adoption, and that's mainly because it has felt like things were at a stand-still lately. We've been working away at litte things like getting re-fingerprinted for our immigration approval. (Only in the world of adoption do your fingerprints "expire" after 15 months!) We are also ready to begin working on an update of our home study, because our overall immigration approval expires in June (18 months after we originally received it), and in order to re-apply to USCIS, we need a home study that is no more than 6 months old. Ah yes...the never-ending joys of being "paper pregnant!"
Our January numbers were #28 for a girl and #22 for a boy. We received those numbers on the very last day of January, and there hadn't been any new referrals given out since. The US Embassy or Department of State (DOS) has been adding some extra layers to the process lately, making it much more difficult to get visas for certain Ethiopian children. Many cases are being sent to the USCIS office in Nairobi, Kenya, where the US Immigration officers get involved to ask for further information. Very few cases had ever been sent to Nairobi before the last several months, but lately there have been MANY. Some people are speculating that one of the reasons that this is happening is that the DOS is attempting to pressure the Ethiopian government into joining the Hague convention, which Ethiopia refused to do in October. The Hague Convention is an international agreement to safeguard intercountry adoptions, and while the US is party to it, Ethiopia is not. Ethiopia is signatory to several other treaties which govern the rights of children, some of them very similar to the Hague language. The DOS may also be trying to "save face" after years of not policing Ethiopian adoptions to the US at all. While it is a good thing that they are getting more involved than they were, playing political chess games is not the answer. Because of a very few unethical cases that have happened over the last several years, hundreds of other children will suffer the consequences of bureacratic tangle. I do not say this to diminish the extreme pain and anguish of the families who have suffered through horrible cases that have been conducted illegally - I can't imagine what they have gone through - and yet officials in both countries have stated over and over again that the need in Ethiopia is great, and that the vast majority of cases are being handled appropriately and ethically.
There are several problems with all of this, of course. At this point, the DOS does not become involved until well after the case has passed court in Ethiopia, at which point the child is legally the child of US parents. While I applaud their efforts to ensure that children are legally adopted, they are getting involved much too late in the process to really change anything. If they don't grant visas to these children, the likelihood that they will end up in an orphanage permanently is very high. Ethiopia does not have the infrastructure to ensure any chance of adoption or foster care for the children within its borders. The DOS also uses the US criminal standard of proof (beyond a shadow of a doubt), meaning that they take the attitude that all of the children in the cases before them are NOT legally orphaned and the burden of proof then falls to the US parents and their attorneys. The USCIS office, on the other hand, uses the US civil court standard of proof (the preponderance of evidence), meaning that they take the attitude that the child is more than likely legally orphaned. Over 50% of the cases being sent to Nairobi are being cleared within 2 weeks by USCIS. Having two different US organizations involved in the process, who are using two different systems with which to judge the evidence is causing its own little set of problems. It all boils down to the fact that some orphaned children are spending far longer without families...either in transition homes while they wait on their cases to pass, or in large orphanages where they wait on an agency to accept them into an adoption program. Our particular agency does not accept a child into their transition home (Hannah's Hope) until the child is ready to be referred to one of the families on their wait-list. This means LOTS of paperwork has been completed. They have recently stated that they are not accepting children unless they are SURE that the child will pass the very stringent paperwork requirements now required by the Embassy. This means that there will be fewer children available for adoption....not because there aren't orphans who need families, but because the paperwork in some cases is almost impossible to obtain.
The good news is that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee recently sent out a survey to adoptive parents asking for feedback on the way the system is currently working, so we all had a chance to voice our praises and concerns. Even better, there is finally a little movement taking place on the referral end of things! In the last three days, there were 4 referrals from our agency, and we know of two couples with other agencies who have also received their referrals! David and I have both been feeling like we are getting closer...no proof, but a feeling nonetheless. God is speaking to us in the wait, and He is in control of this process. He has reminded us over and over that during the discouraging times when it seems that bad news is all we're hearing, we need to continually turn to Him. He knows the plans that He has for us, and we will rest in that.