48 Hours Investigation Doesn’t Tell the Whole Story


As I thought about watching the 48 Hours investigative show on international adoption that ran Saturday night, I became anxious. Would their story be similar to the recent negative, sensationalized stories on international adoption that have wreaked havoc on the adoption policies in countries such as Russia and Democratic Republic of Congo? Would they even mention the tremendous number of successful international adoptions that have provided children in need with loving, permanent homes? My hope was they would choose to maintain a proper perspective as the show was being reported by Maureen Mahrer, a reporter who has herself been adopted. We in the adoption world are all too familiar with these stories and their focus on the rare unethical adoption practitioners when we know, in fact, the majority of adoption agencies have processes in place to fiercely guard the welfare of the children they serve and to ensure that adoptions happen in an ethical and transparent manner.

“Perilous Journey” examined two adoption stories, one from Guatemala and one from Democratic Republic of Congo as well as the adoption agency, Celebrate Children International, and the practices of Sue Hedberg, the agency’s Executive Director. It does not need to be said that everyone will agree that what transpired in Guatemala was horrific and we applaud the efforts of the adoptive parent in this story for her fortitude in finding the truth and finally uniting the birth mother with her children. I will admit that when birth mom and adoptive parent finally met, I had tears in my eyes. I am sure that everyone also celebrated when the Owen family was finally able to leave Congo with their two adopted daughters.
Although, shedding light on stories such as these may make for high TV ratings, they don’t accurately reflect the reality that the great majority of international adoptions and adoption agencies are ethical and that adoption can have a positive outcome for the growing number of orphaned children worldwide. The story reported little on the extreme poverty in Congo. No mention of the fact that Congo is listed as the poorest country on earth. As a result there are an estimated 1,000,000 orphans in Kinshasa alone and 5,000,000 in the entire country. International adoption is a much needed avenue for these children in need to find the forever families that they deserve. Due to the poverty in Congo, children die in orphanages from malnutrition and preventable diseases. The orphanage presented in this news story was not reflective of the majority of orphanages in Congo who struggle daily just to feed the children.
As quoted by Maureen Mahrer herself, “Adoption is an amazing, wonderful opportunity for all parties when done correctly.”* I will state unequivocally that the majority of adoptions and agencies are doing international adoption correctly. As a Hague Approved international adoption agency, MLJ Adoptions has an exhaustive list of safeguards in place to ensure ethical adoptions. These include:
    • Requiring all of our staff both domestic and international to submit criminal/abuse background checks prior to employment;
    • Requiring our domestic and international staff to submit an Affidavit of Ethical Practices (a document that explicitly states the ethics that the individual will uphold while working in adoptions); 
    • Obtaining reputable references for all adoption agency staff and foreign providers; 
    • Travelling to our program countries on a regular basis to develop, monitor, and provide oversight of procedures and processes; 
    • Training for domestic and international staff regarding the proper ethical considerations when working in international adoption and the consequences of unethical practices (termination of employment, criminal prosecution, halting of international adoptions in foreign program, changes in laws, etc); 
    • Monthly monitoring for foreign supervised providers and continued quality improvement in all programs based upon observations, additional information and client feedback. 
As mentioned on the show, an important new piece of legislation, Intercountry Adoption Universal Accreditation Act (UAA), takes effect in July, 2014. Under this law, it will be required that all adoption agencies providing international adoption services be accredited or approved to do so. The stringent requirements made mandatory for agencies by UAA will go a long way to ensure that international adoptions are completed in an ethical, transparent manner, and in the best interests of children. Reputable international adoption agencies all agree, UAA is a welcome development in international adoption and will help to prevent unethical adoptions such as the two situations described in the 48 Hours stories. It is important to note that the agency facilitating the adoptions in this story, Celebrate Children International, is not Hague approved or accredited and has stopped accepting new clients in recognition of the stronger regulations coming from the UAA legislation.
While we welcome the stricter regulations of UAA, it is important that regulation be implemented in a way that does not slam the door shut on international adoptions and on children in need of homes. Since, the implementation of Hague, the U.S. has seen a dramatic drop in the number of international adoptions to the tune of 60%. There has been a very apparent change in attitude by the U.S. State Department in processing and approving orphan visas.
Lastly, the final statement at the end of this program, that Congo has since suspended adoptions, is inaccurate. Congo has not suspended international adoptions. DGM has issued a temporary suspension on exit permits that allow adopted children to leave the country. The adoption courts in Congo are still allowing the Congolese children orphaned and in dire need of families to be adopted. Efforts are being made to work with Congo, their ministries, including DGM, to once again allow adopted children to be issued exit approval letters.
If you have visited our offices during the holiday season, you have seen our walls lined with hundreds of pictures of smiling, happy families; children gazing lovingly into their mother’s eyes, gleefully wrapping their arms around their father’s necks, and giggling with their new brothers and sisters. It’s a highlight of my job to receive these cards in the mail. These are the international adoption stories that we are most familiar with and that are the norm. These are the stories that take place hundreds of times over and need to be reported far and wide.
For more information on our international adoption programs, click here.


Sonja Brown works as the International Program Director for MLJ Adoptions’ programs in Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti and Samoa. Sonja is also proud to work directly with our Individualized Country Program families who are adopting from countries where no adoption service providers currently operate.