Hobbs’s Story

Mommy! Daddy! – For a decade we dreamed of hearing those words.  In 2005, our beautiful Guatemalan born daughter, Kaili, made our dream a reality.   Parenthood was all we had imagined and more.   In 2010, we began the process again with the country of Panama.  The program was newly formed so we expected a slower process.   What no one could predict was the amount of time it would truly take.  As the years rolled by, we prayed continually for the child we knew God had planned for us.   I will admit there were times we questioned ourselves, wondering if we should keep up the hope of another child. We finally made the heartbreaking decision to stop the adoption process. We decided no more home study updates, no more fingerprinting, and no more expense.  On September 22, 2015, a few short months after we had decided to discontinue, God revealed His plan.  We got the miracle call!  After 4 years of waiting for a referral, when we had decided to discontinue, when there was no “reasonable explanation” for how it happened, we learned that there was a child in Panama waiting for us.  We sobbed as we soaked in the miracle of our new daughter.  As if time hadn’t taken long enough, another 5 months slowly passed before we could kiss her sweet cheeks in person.  It had been such a long wait but our journey was far from over.   We were expected to stay in country 3-4 months to finalize her adoption.  However, on numerous occasions foreign politics prevented our case from moving forward.  We would take one step forward and 2 steps back.   Eight months later, we finally returned home with our beautiful 2-year-old, Kaya.    In all, our journey spanned six and half years.  It wasn’t what we had planned but in the end as we peer into her smiling chocolate eyes, we know God’s timing is perfect.  …….Damon and Meridith Hobbs.

Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! Psalm 27:14








Snowflakes Pages

Nightlight Christian Adoptions is in the process of building some new pages to highlight our Snowflakes embryo adoption and donation processes. Stay tuned for easy to access information.

On September 8, 2016, the US Deprtatment of State issued new rules that will severely limit intercountry adoption.  So far, over 30 Hague accredited agencies have signed a letter expressing that they wish these rules to be abandoned.  You can sign the petition and read more at www.saveadoptions.org 


September 20, 2016
The Honorable John Kerry, Secretary of State
The Honorable Michele Thoren Bond, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Consular Affairs
Department of State, United States of America
Washington, DC 20522

RE: 81 FR 62321; 22 CFR 96; Document Number 2016-20968

Dear Secretary Kerry and Assistant Secretary Bond,

The undersigned adoption agencies, accredited by the Council on Accreditation under the Hague standards on intercountry adoptions, respectfully request that the proposed rules published by the Department of State on September 8, 2016, be withdrawn immediately. The proposed rules, which we believe are unnecessary and discriminatory against accredited adoption agencies and foreign child welfare officials, represent an attempt by representatives of the State Department to exercise subjective and anti-adoption influence and control over the field of intercountry adoption. The rules fail to identify what problems or issues they seek to address, are an effort to control rather than regulate intercountry adoptions and create conflicts in law that cannot be resolved.

We have seen the number of intercountry adoptions decline by 75% since 2004 and the proposed rules would further restrict adoptions, leaving hundreds of thousands of children who may otherwise be adopted with no hope for a family. These proposed rules hurt orphan children and remove what little hope they have for a family. The Department of State should be an advocate and champion for these vulnerable children around the world and not promulgate regulations that will leave these children in a worse position. We favor sound, ethical and transparent intercountry adoption practices.

Our primary objections to the proposed rules include, but are certainly not limited to:

1. Through the Country Specific Accreditation (CSA) category, the rules create a two-tier accreditation system with a “super accreditation” for certain countries with as-yet undefined subjective standards to be determined at a later date and subject to discriminatory application to favored agencies. Foreign countries have no input into whether their country would be subjected to such a “super accreditation” process for agencies which have already been accredited here in the United States and may have also already been licensed to work in their countries. This rule is a blatant abuse of power.
2. Requiring prospective adopting families to complete foster family training at the state level, with no cost to the family, is a naïve and ill-conceived approach to improving current training requirements for families. Just a few calls made to foster care officials across the nation reveal that opening foster family training to intercountry adopting families at no cost is an entirely unrealistic expectation and the uniform reaction was shock at yet another federal government mandate with no funding. Moreover, the lack of access to foster family training provided by the states will certainly extend an already lengthy adoption process, thereby extending the time period that vulnerable children remain institutionalized causing them further harm. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the kind of additional child specific training which would benefit families is not even available through foster family training.
3. The Department of State seeks to impose potentially unlimited and uninsurable liability on agencies for supervising individuals in foreign countries when the level of supervision and control is neither legally allowable (in the case of foreign attorneys or government-run orphanages) nor possible. The current regulations require agencies to carry a minimum of $1 million of professional liability insurance. Discussions with insurers have verified that the cost of insurance for expanding coverage to include individuals or organizations in foreign countries is more than financially prohibitive but would drive the cost of intercountry adoption higher and would probably not even be available.
4. In an attempt to further control the activities of agencies in foreign countries, the proposed rules seek to broaden the activities which are subject to agency supervision to include individuals such as interpreters, guides and drivers under the guise of the word “facilitating” an adoption. “Facilitating” remains undefined in the proposed regulations and leaves it open to the broad, unfettered discretion of the Department and the accrediting entity.
In an unprecedented overreach, the proposed rules also seek to fix the compensation of in-country workers assisting the adoption agencies and adopting families. Rather than simply requiring disclosure, so that prospective adopting families can compare the amounts due for all parts of an adoption, the Department of State seeks to determine what is “reasonable” without any prescribed methodology, guidance, input or supervision, again giving the Department discretion exceeding the scope permissible by law. There is no assurance that foreign workers assisting one agency will be restricted to the same compensation of workers assisting another agency; another path for the subjective, inequitable treatment of agencies. Nowhere else in federal regulations does the government seek to set a maximum level of compensation, and it should not be permitted here.
5. Unlike the initial Final Hague Rules, published February 15, 2006 after 2 ½ years of consultation with the adoption community, adoption agencies, and experts from a wide variety of disciplines, the proposed rules issued on September 8, 2016 offer no rationale or need for rule changes and demonstrably will result in the further decline in the number of intercountry adoptions. It is a proposed solution for a problem that either has not been identified publicly or simply does not exist.

Orphaned children face a dismal future and those remaining in orphanages are the demographic most at risk for trafficking. We ask that the Department of State demonstrate a commitment to adoption as an effective means of protecting vulnerable children and keeping their hope alive by immediately withdrawing the proposed rules.


Signed and endorsed by the listed Endorsing Agencies Below

Cc: Office of Legal Affairs, Overseas Citizens Services, U.S. Department of State, CA/OCS/L, SA-17,

Floor 10, Washington, DC 20522-1710

Endorsing Hague Accredited Agencies

ABC Adoption Services, Inc.
Across the world Adoptions
Adoption Associates
Adoption by Shepherd Care
Agape of Central Alabama
A Helping Hand Adoption
Amazing Grace Adoptions
America World Adoption Association
Building Arizona Families
Carolina Adoption Services
Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington, Inc.
Catholic Charities Center for Family Services, Baltimore
Christian Adoption Services, NC
Cradle of Hope Adoption Center
Embracing Children Adoption Services
Embraced by Grace Adoptions
Family Connections, Inc.
Generations Adoptions
Great Wall China Adoptions / Children of All Nations
Homestudies and Adoption Placement Services
Hope’s Promise
Hopscotch Adoptions, Inc.
International Child Foundation
Joshua Tree Adoptions
Little Miracles Adoption Agency
Michael S. Goldstein, Esq
New Beginnings International Children’s and Family Services
New Horizons Adoption Agency, Inc.
Nightlight Christian Adoptions
Open Door Adoption Agency, Inc.
Premier Adoption Agency, Inc.
Small World, Inc.
The Gladney Center for Adoption
Vista Del Mar Adoptions
Wasatch International Adoptions
West Sands Adoptions
World Links International Adoption Agency
More agencies to come soon…we’re just getting started.

Other Endorsing Organizations


Harvard Law School Child Advocacy Program

A Different Perspective on Disruption

A Different Perspective on Disruption


When I began working in the field of adoption, I brought with me my experience as a father of two adopted children.  That experience told me adoption is forever. In fact, I swore this to the judge.  I had difficulty with my children adopted from the foster care system, but I never wavered in my family-forever mindset.  With that mindset I began leading an adoption agency and heard about families who were disrupting, dissolving, or re-homing.  My understanding of the matter was simple…it’s wrong.  My adoption was forever, my promise to the judge was forever, and my definition of adoption means forever.  I harbored only judgment and resentment for families who would disrupt.  It was not a complicated issue.

I am a pretty opinionated person, and I can’t recall many issues where I have reversed my thinking.  But I heard John Bergeron speak at a conference about disruption. His words etched in my memory, “there are times when the needs of the child are not a good fit for the abilities of the parents.”  John reversed my thinking on disruption.

You see, I not only entered the field of adoption as an adoptive father, but with a Ph.D. in pastoral counseling.  John’s words matched with my experience in family counseling.  In our democratic society we would like to think that all couples have equal parenting abilities.  But this is simply not the case.  We speak of people having “their plate full.”  But the truth is, people have different size plates.  Some parents are simply more skilled than others.  Some children present more difficult than others.  Not every couple is skilled enough to meet the needs of every child.

Now some may object that “biological families don’t dissolve just because the needs of the child aren’t a good fit for the skills of the parents.”  But this is not the case.  The instance of international adoptions dissolving is lower than dissolutions of other types of families.  Every foster placement involves the dissolution of a biological family…where the biological parents are not prepared to parent.  Every voluntary domestic adoption involves a birthmother and birthfather, who recognize that they are not prepared to parent and make a decision regarded as heroic.  Parents often foster children with the complete intent of adoption, but as the adoption progresses over the next year they decide the placement is not a good fit. This is a disruption.

Some may say that John’s statement that “the needs of the child are not a good fit for the abilities of the parents” is a euphemism.  Perhaps a euphemism for “horrible parents” or “horrible kid.”  But in our work with dissolution, we have made a surprising observation.  Dissolution often causes children to thrive.  It is a tragedy, but it is not the type of tragedy people think or assume.  There is a tragedy in a family’s hopes and expectations being shattered.  There is a tragedy in a child failing to find permanence.  But in EVERY case where Nightlight has participated in dissolution, the child has found a better placement.  We wouldn’t participate if this were not the case.   In other words, dissolution can be in the best interest of the child.  Who would want a child to remain in a situation where they are despised, or misunderstood, or unable to have their needs met?

A simple observation illustrates that dissolution can be not only a “comparative good,” (the lesser of two evils) but a great improvement for children.  Many dissolutions begin with an adoptive family no other children at home, and the new adoptive family has four, six, or more children in the home.  A typical dissolution involves an older couple who becomes accustomed to living alone, but grieve over being childless.  The presentation of a child in their home comes with a “reality check” that their expectations about parenting were unrealistic.  Having children turns out not to be what they envisioned.  The typical replacement family has several children, often by adoption, and finds parenting the child to be less challenging than the previous family.  This is for several reasons: the second family is more experienced, they have “a larger plate,” (more parenting skills), a distinct calling, more realistic expectations about children, and a lifestyle adapted to having children.

At Nightlight, we have a dissolution prevention plan.  We believe dissolution should be prevented. This plan includes actions before the adoption occurs, such as extensive education requirement, creation of a post-adoption support plan, discussion of realistic expectations, and gaining knowledge about the specific child to be adopted.  The dissolution prevention plan also includes actions after the family begins to struggle, such as offering respite care, connection with doctors, counselors, and special educators, offering free counseling with our social workers, connection with other experienced adoptive parents, adoption support group, and provision of other educational materials.

But at times it becomes clear that a child is far more likely to thrive in a replacement family.  For this reason, we do not have a conviction that dissolution is always wrong, or that it should never occur.   If people assume that “the child is the problem,” then they also mistakenly assume that the dissolution could have been prevented if the family had more preparation or more information about the child in advance (and perhaps weeded out the child from eligibility for adoption).  And if people assume “the couple is the problem” then they mistakenly assume the dissolution could have been prevented if the home study weeded them out.  But what if the FIT is the problem?  What if the child is likely to thrive with one couple, but not with another? In rare instances it will only become clear after the placement that the skills of the parents are not a good match with the particular needs of that child.  In these cases, surprisingly, you will see social workers who advocate FOR dissolution.  Tragic in one, regard, but a great opportunity for the child and improvement in their welfare.

Daniel Nehrbass, Ph.D. | President

Help Nightlight Christian Adoptions Win $20K!

Comcast Innovations for EntrepreneursHave you heard?! Nightlight has been chosen as one of 30 finalists in Comcast’s Innovations 4 Entrepreneurs contest! We need your help to be chosen as a one of six Grand Prize Winners that will win $20,000!

We entered the contest to gain funding that can help make the process of adopting easier for potential parents. Not only would we be able to help potential parents complete the adoption process online, we’d help them prepare for their adopted child by introducing an online education process. In order to meet these goals, we need to gain access to some existing software programs, which can often be expensive. And with that, we’d like to be able to customize the software to include some embryo adoption-specific enhancements.

At Nightlight, we’re all about helping more babies be born out of frozen storage with our Snowflakes Embryo Adoption Program. We also work to raise awareness about embryo adoption through the Embryo Adoption Awareness Center, which Nightlight runs. With more than 600,000 embryos in frozen storage in the U.S., our goal is to help them become the children they were meant to be, which we do by matching donor parents with adopting parents through an open adoption process.

So how can you help? Visit cbcommunity.comcast.com/i4e/vote, and vote daily through May 13, 2016. Only one vote per person, per day will count to help us out, so help us spread the word through social media!

Learn more about Comcast Business’ Innovations 4 Entrepreneurs contest online, and see our full essay on the voting page. Thank you for your vote!

Why not apologize for “Rescue”

When my wife and I began the adoption process, we learned from social workers about the dangers of “rescue” language in connection with adoption. Our social worker wanted to ensure that we were not setting out merely to do a child a favor, but that we had a deep need in our heart for a child. This need, we understood, would ultimately provide a healthier basis for bonding than would be afforded by rescue. While I wholeheartedly agree with that rationale, I think we should not apologize for using the word “rescue.” Let me offer a few reasons why rescue is appropriate.

First, to rescue the vulnerable is a biblical concept. In fact, it is a mandate: “Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. If you say, ‘But we knew nothing about this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it?” (Proverbs 24:11-12). Many of us are familiar with the fact that the Bible speaks of the fatherless forty-four times, nearly always in conjunction with a command to rescue or provide. These commands to rescue are even accompanied with a warning if we fail to do so. For example, “Do not move an ancient boundary stone or encroach on the fields of the fatherless, for their Defender is strong; he will take up their case against you” (Proverbs 23:10). If God is unequivocal in His command to rescue the fatherless, we should be unashamed to name this as our mandate.

Second, the needs of orphans deserve and demand rescue. The need for rescue is evident in the reasons that children become orphans in the first place. Children become orphans because of abandonment due to poverty, disease, gender inequality, or stigma of disability. They are orphaned by death due to war, natural disaster, or disease. Children become orphans due to legal action from abuse, neglect, or incarceration. They become orphans when their parents are unable to care as a result of drug or alcohol abuse, or mental deficiency. The need for rescue is also evident when we consider the dangers orphans face, such as unclean water, malnutrition, lack of shelter, and lack of education or opportunity. Orphaned children face a much higher prospect of disease, becoming victims of sex trafficking, or being conscripted as child soldiers or slaves. As orphans age, they have increased mental health problems and self-destructive behaviors such as drug use, crime, and turning to prostitution. This litany of dangers and tragic circumstances warrant a strong determination to “rescue.”

Third, rescue language can counteract the risk of adoption exploiting children in the effort to “find kids for families.” Adoption organizations and agencies are clear that their role is not to find kids for couples, but to find parents for children. The hesitation to find kids for parents is well-founded, and based on a concern that over-zealous parents, attorneys, and agencies will do “whatever it takes” to find a child. If finding a child were the only motivation for adoption, then there may very well be an increased risk of inadvertent or malicious exploitation. On the other hand, when couples are more occupied with rescue, they will look for children who are truly in need, not who fit their needs. In this sense, rescue language may provide the extra patience, time, and investigation to determine that the child adopted was truly in need of parents (and of rescue).

Fourth, “rescue” is how adopted children speak of their experience. Our agency asked adoptive children, once they became adults, to write and tell us about their experience. I have a stack of these letters in my office. In nearly every one of these letters the adult adoptee speaks appreciatively of the fact that he or she was rescued. They recount the immediate problems from which they were rescued, and they speak of the gloomy future from which they were rescued. Based on these letters, I am beginning to wonder of the people who eschew rescue language have lived too long on university campuses.

Fifth, rescue language is appropriate because it is true. Most children who are adopted were in the midst of dire circumstances at the point of their adoption, and also were facing a bleak future. I have a friend who unashamedly admits that he adopted purely for selfish motives. He adopted a young boy with disabilities from Russia. People often tell him he “did a good thing” but he flatly rejects that compliment, because he only wanted to have this boy as his son. The truth is, however, it is irrelevant whether this benevolently selfish father recognizes or accepts credit, because either way, his son was rescued from a future as an orphan. Rescue is what he did, regardless of whether this was his motive or whether he was conscious of the fact.

Daniel Nehrbass, Ph.D.

President, Nightlight Christian Adoptions

How the Christian Orphan Care Movement will have Staying Power

Christian leaders who note that we are in the midst of a growing Orphan Care Movement are praying that this will be more than a trend, but rather that it will become an integral part of our culture. I believe the movement does have such staying power, but I think the momentum is not rooted in an ethical mandate about what we must do. Instead, the real long-term drive for this movement is rooted in our view of God. As a former pastor and theology professor, and the father of two adopted children, I believe that the Christian theology of adoption transcends ethics, and is inherent to the very character of God. As Christians come to recognize the inherent link between God’s character and adoption, our efforts toward orphan care will remain inherent to actions as well.

Let me illustrate the link between adoption and God’s character with an analogy from the field of economics. When I was a child, I was drawn to the idea of communism, because in the way that I understood it: “everyone gets an equal amount of stuff.” I suppose most kids are preoccupied with equality and fairness. I also believed in God, and my thoughts about communism got me thinking: “If God is all powerful, and he wanted everyone to have an equal amount of stuff, he could have distributed it that way from the beginning, and could have saved us a great deal of trouble.” In short, I saw a paradox between God’s power and the lack of equality in the world. Years later, I had an epiphany that helped me make sense of this paradox. Perhaps God is not only concerned about the end product, but also the process. God takes pleasure in watching the redistribution take place. God could have made every person equally wealthy, but this would have robbed Him of the pleasure of watching people give generously (and would have robbed us of the pleasure of doing it). Sometimes through adversity beautiful traits emerge. If the world were perfect, we would understand some of God’s attributes: perfection, goodness, love, etc. But without some measure of pain, sin, or difficulty, we would have no knowledge or experience of other attributes, such as God’s mercy, grace, forgiveness, patience, etc. The display of beautiful character is occasioned in many ways, but specifically through human interaction during difficult times. Admittedly, the display of ugly character is also occasioned through our interactions. In regard to money, we are often concerned with the end result: that each person gets what he needs or wants. But God seems to have a different economic principle. God’s economy does not measure an increase in Gross Domestic Product, but an increase in God’s Display of Character.

Now that I am the father of two adopted children, and the director of an adoption agency, I have pondered a question similar to the distribution of goods: “Why didn’t God just put all the kids in the homes where they would end up, and save us a great deal of trouble.”   This seemed strangely familiar to my childhood musings, and I now realize that God also has a peculiar “economy of adoption.” God is certainly powerful enough that He could have ordained the universe in such a way that adoption would never be necessary. Every child could have just been born in the home he or she were meant to end up. But God didn’t design such a universe. Therefore, I reasoned He must have a purpose in the process of adoption.

Christian philosophers are committed to the idea that the way things work out in the world must be the result of God’s wisdom and goodness: a part of a great plan. The seventeenth century philosopher Lebinitz pondered whether this world is the best of all conceivable worlds that God could have created. Later, Voltaire scoffed at the idea, noting that the presence of suffering and evil seem evidential that God could have done better. There is ample reason to doubt that this is the best of all possible worlds. But Lebnitz rightly pointed out that if God could have done better, and chose not to, then God’s goodness is at stake. So the philosopher concluded that this is the world that best served God’s purposes. Because I am thoroughly convinced of the goodness of God, I agree.

And the reality is, that this is a world with adoption. Families, among other things, are in disarray, and need our intervention to bring about justice, health, or peace. Perhaps that means that a world with adoption is a world God intended; a world that best serves His purposes. Using Lebnitz’ terminology, a world with adoption is the best of all conceivable worlds. Why is this world better off with adoption? Because it is through adoption that many of God’s marvelous attributes emerge. By participating in adoption, we emulate these same beautiful character traits. The process of adoption occasions traits of unconditional love, rescue, provision, unmerited grace, long-suffering, and beautiful sacrifice.

Adoption makes great story—just look at the attention Hollywood has given to the theme. One might not have expected Disney’s nature film Chimpanzee to be a tear-jerker, but as an adoption story it feels very relevant to humans. And The Odd Life of Timothy Green is another powerful adoption story. These are only two examples among many recent films with a prominent adoption theme. What makes them great stories is that beautiful character traits emerge. In Chimpanzee, the audience is moved by the clan patriarch’s tenderness, humility, and sacrifice. In Timothy Green, we are touched by the couple’s ability to let their love transcend unmet expectations.   These stories illustrate that our lives are enriched by the challenges that adoption brings and the unique opportunities for love that it offers.

Adoption makes a great story in the Bible too. The Bible favors adoption as a forum for God’s character to dramatically unfold. Adoption serves as a central New Testament metaphor for our own salvation. Paul writes, “The Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father’” (Romans 8.15). We receive all the rights and privileges afforded to children in God’s family, even though we were not born as such, simply because God was delighted to adopt us. There are many places where we can dramatically watch God’s character traits acted out by his people, and adoption serves as an excellent stage.

Having established a theology of God that is inherent to the process of adoption, the Christian Orphan Care Movement can then develop an ethic. The ethical imperative is easily found in scripture. We read in Psalm 68.5, “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.” As God’s people, we are to, “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed,” (Psalm 82.3). Scripture is replete with commands to care for the orphan. Most Christians are familiar with the Great Commission, where Jesus told his disciples to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth. This Great Commission is found only twice in the Bible, yet serves as a central mandate for Christian behavior. But the command to care for the fatherless appears more than 39 times in the Bible. I think it is no exaggeration to say the Bible has an “adoption/orphan care mandate.”

The question for the church is not whether to be involved in orphan care, but how? Not every Christian is called to adopt. But every Christian is called to orphan ministry. Sometimes when missionaries speak in churches, Christians protest that they do not feel called to “Go” to the uttermost parts of the earth. This does not indemnify them from some role in bringing the gospel to all nations. They must find what role in “going” they are called to; whether it is in supporting missionaries financially, or in going somewhere closer to home. Likewise with orphan care, Christians who do not feel called to adopt are not exempt from caring for the fatherless. They can financially assist someone else in their adoption. I have often observed that God gives one family the desire to adopt, and another family the financial means. This all fits within God’s economy. One adoptive parent expressed God’s peculiar economic principle well: “God lets it be so expensive so that no one can do it alone.” In addition, Christians can support an orphanage, or visit an orphanage on a mission trip and bring physical assistance. Those trained in counseling or education can give post adoption support to families who are struggling. And all Christians can promote the cause of the orphan by speaking about the great need.

If Christians merely see adoption as an afterthought in God’s design, or an inferior but necessary solution to a problem, the orphan care movement will not have staying power.   IF it is to be a sustained movement, it needs to be fueled by more than an ethical imperative. The continuing drive will be rooted in a conviction that adoption is beautiful, and that it serves a grand purpose in God’s display of his glory. Adoption is not an afterthought; it is inherent to this world’s design. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “In love He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will” (Ephesians 1.3-5).

Daniel  Nehrbass, Ph.D.

President, Nightlight Christian Adoptions


One of the criticisms of intercountry adoption involves a charge that these adopted children are not “real orphans.” The outrageous insensitivity and deceit of that statement is clearly seen by simply meeting these children and hearing their stories.

We could choose any orphanage in the world on any given day and look at the circumstances for who the children came into care, and see that the world is full of evil, malicious intent, tragic circumstances, and despair. In the summer of 2012 we have eight children in care at our orphanage in Uganda. The statements below are true, and rather than alter them in anyway by adding pseudonyms, I will simply give them a number. But beware; these stories are not for the faint of heart.

  • Child #1. Mother was from Kenya and came to Uganda to a Catholic charity as a teenager and as a refugee. She was living with nuns, but left a note saying she was going back to Kenya.
  • Child #2. Mother was arrested by police and put into jail, but she escaped. Not married to the father. Father left mother because she was always drinking. The mother’s whereabouts are unknown. Mother was arrested for leaving daughter at home for hours. Neighbors called the probation officer.
  • Child #3. Birthmother locked daughter into public toilet. Someone heard the cries and knew whose child she was. The person contacted RV [mission organization]. Missionary brought C to orphanage.
  • Children #4 and 5. Siblings boy and girl. Mother was reportedly raped by the father both times. The birth mother is mentally unstable and the birthfather is a drug addict. Grandmother is struggling to take care of child, has another baby as well. Mother tried to strangle children three times. She kicked and abandoned girl 6km from where she lived. An older woman picked up girl on the doorstep and thought she knew who abandoned her baby. Police tried to pick up the mother. The day the probation officer when to pick up girl, other was going to dump her in a trench. Grandmother is afraid that her daughter will kill the children and wants kids placed in a home.
  • Child #6. Mother who is HIV+ gave birth and abandoned him. She is an outpatient of a psychiatric hospital.
  • Child #7. found with dying grandmother in an abandoned building. She ask the probation officer to take him. Nothing is known about the birth mother or birth father.
  • Child #8. She was abandoned in front of church

These children are real orphans. Every one of them has been abandoned or removed from the custody of their parents. In each case, the court is pursuing the termination of parental rights. That’s correct; in Uganda the legal process is thorough. A social worker will begin the investigation for the termination of parental rights. In the cases of abandonment, she will place an ad in local newspapers where the biological family is thought to live. Then she will place notices in public spaces, asking if anyone has information about the children. She will take photos of these notices and newspaper ads, to prove in court that every attempt has been made to locate the parents.

Next a lawyer will present the case to a judge. The judge won’t take the lawyer’s word for it, but will ask the social worker to testify. Then the orphanage director will testify. But all that won’t be enough. The judge will require extended family members and people in the community who know about the child to testify. After all this, he will terminate parental rights.

Next the orphanage director and social worker will try to place the child with a Ugandan family. They will search and advocate for a whole year doing this. At the end of twelve months, the child will be available for intercountry adoption. These children are not being whisked away. They are being sentenced to years of institutionalization while authorities jump through every hoop UNICEF places in their way, in order to prevent a seven-year-old HIV+ child from being sold for the $50,000 he could surely fetch on the black market.

My twin brother, Ken, lived in a developing nation called Vanuatu in the South Pacific for twelve years. Kinship ties are strong in Vanuatu, very few children are in institutional care. But the nation is poor, hovering at 180th place among 192 countries. Occasionally, when my family or friends came to visit, someone in the remote villages would approach us with a baby and beg us to take their child to America. My mother visited the island several years ago and a boy called Billy Graham was placed in her arms. The mother asked her to adopt him and take him to America. I’m sure this is not a rare phenomenon. In fact, people have asked this of me or someone in our group in each continent I have visited. The prevalence of this disturbing request gives credence to the charge that adopted children are not real orphans. The problem with that assumption, however, is that these requests never result in legal adoption. Even if my mother were willing to adopt Billy Graham, she would not be able to pull it off. First, the government of Vanuatu has a three year residency requirement for adoption. And even if my mom were willing to jump through that hoop, the judge would require some rational for termination of parental rights. The desire to give Billy Graham a better life would not suffice. But even if it did suffice in a Vanuatu court, my mother would have to obtain a visa for Billy Graham through US Immigration and Customs (USCIS). USCIS would require proof that Billy Graham’s parents had died, or that he was living in an orphanage for a substantial period of time (such as three years). The termination of parental rights on the grounds of giving him a better life would not pass muster.

Children who are voluntarily relinquished by living birth parents into the hands of adoptive parents CANNOT be adopted by American parents. The children available for international adoption fit strict (most would say too strict) criteria.

  1. The parents must be dead, or
  2. the child must be living in an orphanage, and
  3. the parental rights must be terminated and
  4. an effort at domestic adoption must be proved unsuccessful

Once these four criteria are met, can we all agree that this child is a Real Orphan? In Understanding the Global Orphan Crisis, Diane Elliot paints a vivid picture of real orphans. First, she explains why children become orphans:

  1. abandonment due to Poverty
  2. AIDS or disease
  3. natural disaster
  4. war
  5. death
  6. children of children
  7. gender inequality
  8. drug and alcohol abuse
  9. abuse and neglect
  10. mental deficiency
  11. rebellion or escape
  12. incarceration
  13. abandonment due to disability

Critics of intercountry adoption contend that the primary reason children become orphaned is poverty. There is a serious flaw in this thinking. The charge is incredibly insensitive and ignorant of the serious issues orphans face, and the intense evil that lies within human nature to harm children. We must be very naïve to think poverty is the primary reason children are orphaned. It is easier and nicer to think that. Then we don’t have to reflect on the truth that children are orphaned because their parents hate them because they are disabled. Because they locked them in a building and walked away, simply because they were a girl. Because the mother’s new husband threw him in a trash heap to be eaten by dogs because he is not the father. Or because they threw them in a latrine in order to hide a secret.

Throwing more money at those parents will not solve the orphan crisis. Money won’t turn a girl into a boy. It won’t cure Downs Syndrome and make a child more acceptable to her parents. Money won’t make an illegitimate child more acceptable to an angry father. Money won’t cure the parents of mental deficiency, it won’t bring them back from the dead, and it won’t cure their alcohol problem. Money won’t change their HIV status, nor will it (or should it) get them out of jail. We must face the fact that the world is an evil, evil place. People suck. They do terrible things to kids. And there are a lot of parents who don’t want their children. This is why children become orphans in the United States, and it’s why they become orphans elsewhere.

Once we accept the total depravity of humans (parents) in all countries, it’s actually easier to see why the narrative of “poverty abandonment” is so strong. Go back to the village where these orphans are from and interview them about the child who was adopted. What are the chances that if you ask the birthmother she will say,

  • I gave up my child because she was a girl
  • I threw my child in the ditch because I am selfish
  • Our community refused to care for this child because he was disabled
  • Our community refused to care for this child because the mother is demon-possessed

You will be hard pressed to hear anyone admit any of those things. The story you will hear is one of economic difficulty. That’s because it is the only narrative which is socially acceptable and causes the parents and community to lose the least face.

In the National Geographic film China’s Lost Girls, reporter Lisa Ling visited a village with a family who adopted a girl from that area. An elderly man spoke for the village, saying that he felt shame because the community could not care for the girl who came back to visit them. The shame leads many Chinese birthmothers, and their communities, to speak of the abandonment in terms of poverty, to mitigate their loss of face.

A missionary friend of mine who lives in China says that you will find the bodies of babies in bags of trash, or floating down the river. But you can never find a woman who volunteered to abandon her child. You can only find women who say their children were stolen, or forcibly removed. Tragically, we know these forcible murders do occur. But surely some of these women chose to abandon their children…they just cannot admit it because it is illegal, and shameful. So a public narrative emerges and circulates.

Adoptive parents are sometimes unwitting conspirators in the creation of the face-saving public narrative. I see my own role. My daughter asked me why her biological mother “gave her up.” Like most adoptive parents, I believe it is best for her to have a positive of her mother. It’s good for her self-esteem, and it’s good for her adjustment. So my wife and I told her, “Your mother could not care for your medial needs.” As she got older, she pressed the question further, and asked the inevitable, “then why didn’t someone help her care for my medical needs?” With that question I realized I had been a co-conspirator in crafting a self-defeating narrative. I had perpetuated the naïve picture of human nature that is now undermining adoption. The truth is, her mother wasn’t unable to care for her medical needs. She was unwilling. She was, in fact, repulsed by her daughter’s cleft palate, G-tube, and atrophy of her internal organs (she was born with her abdominal organs in a sack, outside of her body). Nobody wants to tell a child their mother was repulsed by them. But by shielding children from this reality, we beg for the inevitable contempt to be placed somewhere.   We are trying to keep the blame from being place anywhere. Maybe that’s not possible. So we try to disperse the blame evenly over society. Then the answer is to equip society with more resources: money and education.

Then the public narrative of poverty-orphans gets oft repeated, believed, circulated in the media. Naturally, some of the adopted children hear the narrative, believe it, and are understandably outraged. Then the rest of us, filled with compassion, are outraged as well. And we vow next time to give more money to the biological parents, rather than whisk their child away.

It is wrong to adopt children simply to give them a better life. If we accept the myth that children are abandoned primarily because of poverty, then we are likely also to believe this criticism has value. The statement is, of course, true. We should not whisk children away from developing nations simply to give them more opportunities in America. But poverty is not what orphans are spared. Again, in Understanding the Global Orphan Crisis, Diane Elliot explains the dangers orphans face:

  1. unclean water
  2. malnutrition
  3. no shelter
  4. lack of education or opportunity
  5. disease
  6. sex trafficking
  7. child soldiers
  8. child labor
  9. mental health problems
  10. self-destructive behavior (drugs, crime)

To criticize intercountry adoption by saying we are simply giving children better economic opportunity in the United States is exceedingly insensitive and ignorant. It negates the horrific future these children face, well beyond poverty. Orphaned children are conscripted into slavery. They are stolen and sold into the sex trade. They are destined for prostitution and crime. Again, the naiveté of those who dwell on poverty is shocking.

Orphanages are basically boarding homes. Visit on Christmas and all the kids will be at home with their parents. The difficulty with this criticism, like many nefarious arguments, is that there is some truth in it. Many orphanages in developing nations do double as boarding homes. That is because someone has to pay the bills to keep the orphaned children in care.  John, the director of an orphanage in Uganda, employs this model. He has a dozen orphaned children, who are completely abandoned and never receive visitors. No one pays for them to stay there, and he receives no income from the government. How is he to support these dozen kids? He already has the infrastructure of dormitory, school, bathroom, and clinic. Why not board some kids for income, in order to offset the costs of the orphanage? So John also has twenty five boarding school kids. Their parents do visit on holidays. And they pay a few dollars a month for school, room, and board. So it is entirely possible that the orphanage looks like a ghost town over Christmas, since 2/3 of the kids are gone. And it is even possible that some of the abandoned children have a brief visit with their parents. That doesn’t make them any less orphaned. In the United States, adopted children and children in foster care have visits with their biological parents. These visits do not make people any more suitable to parent their children. You can visit someone in the hospital, and that doesn’t mean the patient is going home. The visit does not mean a substantial change has occurred in the parents’ lives to make them more willing or able to care for their kids.

In the absence of any government funds for the orphanage, this indigenous two-track solution makes a lot of sense. But it creates a lot of confusion for outsiders. I was visiting a an orphanage in Haiti with a similar two-track model. Several of the dads come and hang out every day at the orphanage. Unemployment is high, and these men don’t have much else to do. I’m sure they enjoy being near their kids. They watch soccer on TV of the orphanage patio. I was there when an American named Doug came to visit the orphanage. He asked E, the orphanage director about the men.

Doug: “who are these guys?”

E:“Oh, these are the children’s fathers.”

Doug: “Fathers! Here, every day. And these kids are up for adoption?”

E: “No. Just some of the kids. Their parents don’t come.”

This two-track system also creates confusion for some of the parents. In fact, I was asked by one of these parents to adopt their child and take him back to America, to give him a better life. So the poverty narrative lives on: among the would-be birthparents, the community, the media, etc. But the poverty narrative does not have the same strength with the people actually involved in the process: agencies, USICS, foreign judges and social workers, and orphanage directors.

When people declare that “a child should never be adopted solely for reasons of poverty” they should be aware of the double-standard they are setting up between the United States and foreign countries. Of the roughly 50,000 adoptions that occur in the US every year, 42,000 of these are domestic, rather than international. And the majority of those adoptions are from voluntary relinquishment. Most Americans hold the right for a woman to choose adoption for her child as a basic right. If you ask these women why they choose an adoption plan, there will be a variety of reasons. Some are incarcerated, others have mental illness or disability. But a very large number will give financial reasons as their main concern. They do not feel prepared to raise a child at this time. They already have too many children to care for, or they are homeless, or jobless, or too young.

Why is it that in the US it is entirely acceptable for a woman to choose adoption, in the best interest of her child, even if solely for financial reasons…but in other countries it is taken for granted that this is wrong? Is it because we assume American women are more equipped to determine what is in the best interest of their children? But women in developing countries need an external voice to help guide them toward better choices?

Daniel Nehrbass, Ph.D.

President, Nightlight Christian Adoptions