Every week, CAA staff in Uganda encounter families affected by vulnerability, and the various politics involved that affect this population in significant ways. Especially when conducting orphan investigations requested by prospective adoptive families, we see such a wide range of cases that turn out to be truthful and straightforward as well as those founded upon fraudulent activity and inaccurate information. As is the case with investigative work, you just never know what might happen…
Recently, our investigation team conducted an orphan investigation (OI) upon the request of a prospective adoptive family hoping to adopt a young girl – “Susan.” At the conclusion of this investigation, the adoptive family stated a desire to share a look into the journey they are currently experiencing. While many people choose to keep stories private, this family hopes that this story will inspire other families to ask good, hard questions and to advocate for what is truly in the best interest of a child…even when things do not go as planned. (To protect the privacy of all those involved, names have been changed and permission has been received from involved parties prior to publishing of this blog. Also, photos are representative; not actual likenesses.)
This particular OI was requested for Susan who has been residing at “School Orphanage.” This orphanage is touted as an upstanding educational and childcare institution, with a large census of children and corresponding sponsors and donors who support its operations. When the potential adoptive family was matched with Susan at this orphanage, they were of course hopeful that their hearts for adoption would be met with a legitimate story of the child’s true need for an adoptive family. As much as they wanted this to be true, they were compelled to perform due diligence and get facts checked before proceeding.
For most families who choose to investigate before adopting, their objectives usually fall along these lines: to examine the child’s family background, to verify information already given by caregivers, and to determine whether or not the child is an orphan in need of a permanent loving family.
1. Whether the child is an orphan in genuine need of care and attention.
2. Whether the child is an appropriate subject of adoption.
Susan’s information upon adoption referral detailed that both of her biological parents were deceased, and she was in need of an adoptive family. A “true orphan” in need of adoption…
As it turned out, through the investigative process it was discovered that both of Susan’s biological parents are in fact deceased. However, all four of her grandparents are alive and they all wish to her to remain near them.
As one grandmother recalled, Susan was in her care following the death of her parents. Grandmother was told about a visiting pastor in a nearby village who was registering orphans in need of support. She said that when she went to register her granddaughter, the headmistress of the school explained to her that the orphans being registered were going to be taken to outside countries to study, and that they would be provided for in all aspects. With the hope of opportunity for her granddaughter, Grandmother agreed to enroll Susan.
Grandmother also informed the investigator that before handing over Susan to “Orphanage School,” she expressed her discomfort with the decision and she stated that Susan’s aunt also had the same doubts. She shared that it was hard for them to make up their minds about sending their little girl away. It was her husband, Susan’s grandfather, who consoled them and told them that it was the only opportunity for Susan to have the best care and quality education.
As Grandmother shared with our investigation team, she was very emotional and tears flowed down her cheeks as she narrated the story. She smiled as she told the investigator about being able to visit her Susan at “School Orphanage” this past December. She says that she and Susan were both happy to see each other and hugged each other so much.
Over the course of interviewing Susan’s family members, a common theme came up among the grandparents. They shared that they can’t stand the pain of letting Susan go abroad because it is very far, knowing it might be a very long time before they see her again. One of the grandparents referenced that since the death of Susan’s parents, Susan fills the gap of her mother and father since they have much in common, including physical appearance. One of the grandmothers pleaded with “whoever was willing to help Susan, to do it within Uganda where they can go and see her anytime they feel like it.” Wouldn’t most loving grandparents feel this way?
1) Poverty should never be a reason for a family to be broken apart.
2) Those in power and position to promote a ‘family centric’ model of child care should do so! This specifically includes the donors/sponsors of children who are in schools and orphanages. Does ‘your’ sponsored child’s school encourage family time during the holidays? Is it a day school that allows children to return home to their families at night? Or is permanent residency in the institution a requirement for participation in the program? ALWAYS choose to support a sponsorship program that facilitates maximum family time.
3) Of course, those adopting must do their diligence to ensure an accurate history – Especially in countries where child protection systems are weak or hardly existent. Ask hard questions! Realize that adoption agencies depend on adoptions to fund their livelihood, and are an automatic conflict of interest in the process. Think very long and hard before signing on with an agency that allows no verification of a child’s orphan status outside their own staff.In closing, we have great hope for Susan’s future as plans are made for her to continue receiving a good education and to stay connected to those strong family ties between her and her four grandparents, two siblings, and aunts, uncles, cousins. We are thankful for the part that CAA’s been blessed to play in this story, and we hope you will join us and other families in being a voice for ethical adoption practices and responsible family strengthening endeavors.