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An Important (& Long) Clements Family Adoption Update

Update on our Process


Hey friends, it’s been WAY too long since we’ve done an update here. Sorry for that. Life is crazy, and unfortunately, we haven’t had a ton to update about until recently. We’ve had all of these conversations with close family and friends, but just haven’t updated this site yet.

To make a long story short, when we started the adoption process with Ethiopia, we felt very sure that this was the exact country we were supposed to adopt from. We raised some initial funds and did, literally, days worth of paperwork. We turned all of our stuff in and sent off our dossier to Ethiopia and officially got our waiting list number from our agency. That was almost two years ago.

At that time, we thought we’d have a child home, or at least have a referral, at this point in time. However, what we thought was far from reality.

Essentially, about the exact same time we got on the waiting list, referrals from Ethiopia slowed to almost a complete halt. There has been a lot of change going on in their in-country process (mostly good changes that will make things better), and that has meant a drastic slow-down in the number of children they refer to international adoption.

To put a number on it (we can’t give out specific wait list numbers)…as of a few months ago we had moved about 10 spots since we got on the wait list. If the process continued to move at this pace, we’d get a referral about 15 years from now. So that shows you a little bit of the chaos of change that is happening in Ethiopia right now.

During this process, we started hearing more and more about why the process is slowing down in Ethiopia. Several years back, tons and tons of kids were adopted from Ethiopia. It made sense, being a very poor, war-torn, and HIV stricken country with a relatively easy adoption process. So many kids were brought over to the US from dire situations and given forever families.

However, (and this is the dark side of things that we were so naively unaware of at the beginning of our process…) there is more to the story than what sticks out on the surface. It is a bit more complicated than the seemingly very simple math equation.

Essentially, the beautiful solution of inter-country adoption that provided a loving home to so many orphans also created a significant problem for other vulnerable children and families. An unforeseen effect of pumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into a specific area of a third world country’s economy was that all that money, to some degree, seemed to turn inter-country adoption into a profitable business for either desperate or evil people. Ethiopia is not a Hague signatory country, which means their adoption process isn’t afforded the same level of government oversight and checks and balances as Hague signatory countries are.

In short, some twisted people took advantage of opportunities to make money off of vulnerable families and kids. Some adoption workers in country began to be paid per adoption, which obviously incentivizes adoption for them. Instead of being the absolute last resort option for desperate mothers and families, it was offered as the first option. Struggling to raise your baby? Instead of pushing toward (limited) resources available to support a vulnerable family, adoption would be given as the first option. Birthmothers in the past weren’t always fully educated about what adoption was. There are many documented cases where a birthmother’s understanding was that their child was essentially going to a boarding school in the US and would return to Ethiopia after school to get a job and help support their family. You can imagine their despair when they learned that they’d never see their children again.

Some agencies (even many “Christian” ones) operated in highly questionable or unethical ways, furthering the problem. In the past few years, a number of agencies have been shut down, and one agency in South Carolina last year was put under after it was discovered that they were paying bribes to government officials in Ethiopia to sign off on fraudulent paperwork.

Things became a mess, and the Ethiopian government essentially said, “Enough is enough. This has gotten out of hand.” A system designed to help the most vulnerable kids was, at times, actually hurting others through corruption and lack of oversight. They did not completely stop adoptions, they just slowed way, way down in order to get a grip on it all and provide more oversight (not to mention less adoptions means less money, which means less motive for corrupt individuals).

That, in a nutshell, is what has been going on in the past several years. We are honestly embarrassed to say that when we started the process, we were completely unaware of the vast majority of these concerns. It seems like common sense now, but we had never heard anyone talk about it and simply assumed that something as pure and beautiful as adoption would never be suspect to the corruption of sin. Unfortunately that is far from the truth. Because of all these things, the attitude toward international adoption by government officials in Ethiopia is changing. Honestly, this seems mostly for the better, since they are trying their best to advocate for the best solutions possible (in order of importance: 1) family reunification when possible, 2) kinship adoption, 3) domestic adoption, 4) international adoption, 5) institutional care).

Of course, this creates a really tough situation, because as difficult as these things are to do in a wealthy, developed country—they are much harder in a severely under-resourced country like Ethiopia. These are valiant goals to try for, but they will likely delay the placement of many orphans into permanent homes. That is exactly the kind of Catch-22 dilemma that can make you feel sick.

This entire process has been very disorienting for us. We went from standing on a bedrock of what we felt sure was God-inspried certainty to our feet in the air wondering which way was up. We have spent countless hours reading stories, talking to other adoptive families, and doing research on the best way to help vulnerable kids in Ethiopia.

And while we have come to the conclusion that the process, done very carefully and properly with the right agency can produce a necessary and ethical international adoption, we do not feel comfortable at this time moving forward with adoption from Ethiopia. We started thinking about this whenever things slowed down so much anyway because it became apparent that it likely may not be an option regardless in the near future, and everything we have learned in the process has only strengthened that feeling.

By this, we are not saying that anyone else adopting from Ethiopia is wrong—simply that with all things considered, we believe it’s best that we go elsewhere for the time being. Things are very volatile and uncertain right now, for good reason, and we don’t want to wait on a list for years when we can bring home a little kiddo who needs a family much sooner than that elsewhere.

This has been a difficult conclusion to come to that has involved many tears. So certain were we at the beginning of the process that it almost felt like we already had a little Ethiopian toddler sitting at our kitchen table, as we certainly had them in our hearts. So it has felt a little like grieving something that had already become reality in our minds that may never be a reality.

But that is precisely what has been hammered into our hearts during this entire process—adoption is not about getting a child for a family, it’s about providing a family for a child who truly needs one. It is no tragedy that what we felt was our dream or specific adoption calling may never come to fruition, and very dangerous things happen when wealthy, Western families develop a “That’s my baby and I’ll do whatever it takes to get them home!” mentality. Adoption should forever and always be the response to a tragedy, not a contributing factor because of strong parental desires on the part of those with power.

No, the real tragedy is that orphaned kids go without homes because of corrupt, sinful people that corrupt something amazing for many. The real tragedy is that vulnerable kids and families are in a position where poverty and a lack of support cause them to make very difficult, life-altering decisions.

What We’ve Learned


A few things that we’ve learned in this process are:

1. Orphan care is so much bigger than adoption.

Mentoring at-risk kids or birthmothers, sponsoring kids through Compassion International or other ministries…those are orphan prevention. Community development, clean water projects, education and medical care…those are orphan prevention. As Christians, we need to be doing as much prevention work as we do in responding to tragedies that have already occurred. Genuinely, a sponsorship through something like Compassion can keep a child with his birth family for good and give them the education and skills they need to help lift his family out of poverty one day. I’ve seen it with my own eyes in El Salvador.

2. International adoption is more complicated than we thought.

It sounds so simple, but it’s harder than it seems. There are a lot of things at play and a lot of things at risk. For many kids, international adoption is the absolute best option for them and it needs to remain a feasible and ethical option. For many others, it is not and should not be advertised as such. The reality is, we need the church across the globe to rise up and care for orphans, because even if international adoption to the US & Europe spiked drastically it would not even put a sizable dent in the number of orphans worldwide. We need bigger solutions.

3. Even the most beautiful things can be tainted by sin.

We should have known this, but it’s hard to see sometimes. Even a picture of the gospel like adoption can be marred and corrupted because we live in a busted world.

4. Orphans are worth fighting for. And there are many different ways to fight.

We have developed such a heart for Ethiopia and are looking into how we can best serve vulnerable kids there. Sponsoring through Compassion is a huge way, and we also love what the folks at Kidmia are doing…empowering Christians in Ethiopia to adopt.

5. God is still in control.

As we said, this has been a very disorienting process, especially since we felt so much certainty in the beginning. It’s been tempting to ask, “God why did you give us so much certainty, only to end up here in this place?” However, we trust that God has brought us on this journey to mature, challenge, and change us. We are SO much more aware of the complexity of the orphan crisis all over the world now than we were before we started. We are much more aware of the many and desperate needs, and that only God is big enough to do something about them. We are more aware that we are not in control of our lives, and that our wants and even felt callings are not the center of the universe.

So in conclusion, after waiting on the waiting list for a long period of time and wading through all of these issues and accepting the reality of the current situation, we prayerfully decided to withdraw from the Ethiopia program a few months ago.

A New Direction


So, what’s next? (Hint: a very large country in Asia.)

Our agency, LifeLine, has many different country programs. Many programs are much more stable and secure, with much less room for potential corruption (this is especially true about Hague signatory countries). We are allowed to switch programs with our agency and lose only minimal fees that we’ve already paid in (we’ve already paid in over $12,000, a majority of that fundraised, so this is a BIG plus to be able to transfer those funds), so for the past few months we have been praying about which program the Lord would have us switch to.

After much prayer, a month or so ago we applied to the special needs program in China and have been provisionally accepted! We don’t officially qualify until we both turn 30, and it will still be a somewhat lengthy process after that happens. But we have a new direction and a peace about where the Lord has us. Hopefully by God’s grace in less than 2 years from now we will be traveling to bring our child home. China has one of the most stable and ethical international adoption programs in the world with a lot of government oversight and accountability, which we are grateful for.

For those curious, we will likely be adopting a child with minor to moderate special needs (some possible scenarios could be cleft lip, cleft palate, heart defects, club foot, etc.). China has an unfortunate and tragic cultural stigma regarding special needs children that contributes to a lot of parents giving them up for adoption. This sounds strange, but it is actually illegal to relinquish your child for adoption in China, so the only way to do so is to abandon them. When an abandonment happens, the government goes through appropriate steps to identify the biological family and tries to reunite them, and when those attempts fail the children are placed for adoption. The child will likely be around 2-3 when we get them, so there’s potential they will be almost exactly the same age as Sully, which we are excited about.

If you’ve read all of this you are quite a trooper. Thanks for following our journey and most importantly for your prayers. Thanks to those of you who have already given to support our adoption. We are very excited to progress in this process and we are very thankful for you all!

About the Author

Brandon Clements