Chosing An Agency|Ethics|Tools & Resources

Adoption Ethics 101 and 201

The decision to adopt a child internationally is one of the biggest, most impactful decisions we will ever make. We owe it to ourselves and even more so, to our children, to make an informed decision. It’s not enough to choose a “good” agency and then trust them to take care of the rest. If we really want to complete an ethical adoption, we need to do a lot of research. Consider it like a very important college course.

Your syllabus for Adoption Ethics 101 would look like this list from Adopting Internationally: What To Do About Adoption Corruption. This is an extremely comprehensive list and you’ll have a lot of homework if you plan to follow their advice.ย And you’ll find you have a good deal of knowledge and insight as a result.

Many PAP’s ask us to just post a list, Bad Agencies and Good Agencies. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. For one thing, there’s the ever-present danger of a lawsuit. You’d be amazed how quickly agencies will threaten (and bring) lawsuits, and the ones with the worst reputations seem to make the threat the most often. But even aside from our concern about lawsuits, the simple fact is we don’t have first-hand knowledge about all 42 agencies. In fact, I only have first hand knowledge about one, the one we used to adopt. All other information I have is based on second hand information. I happen to think most of it is accurate, but if I were to actually make a public list of “Bad” agencies I’d want to be able to back up the list with good concrete evidence of the first-hand or documented variety. Same goes for the “Good” agencies. There’s agencies I’ve heard many good things about and who have humanitarian programs that I think go above and beyond the average agency program, but what if I recommended them and then it turned out they were corrupt? (When people ask me privately I always say “these are the agencies I’d look into if I were adopting again.” because I see my “good” list as just a place to start, not an authoritative source). Third, agency personnel can change from time to time. So while an agency may have had a great program, a change in facilitators or program managers could affect the overall quality of their program. What this means is, it’s really up to every Prospective Adoptive Parent to do their own research.

If you really want to “Master” the world of Adoption Ethics, I suggest this as your “201” course: Child Laundering: How the Intercountry Adoption System Legitimizes and Incentivizes the Practices of Buying, Trafficking, Kidnapping, and Stealing Children. This is a paper written by David M. Smolin, Cumberland Law School, Samford University and published in the Wayne Law Review. 90 pages in length, this is not a light read. To quote from the abstract, “This article documents and analyzes a substantial incidence of “child laundering” within the intercountry adoption system. Child laundering occurs when children are taken illegally from birth families through child buying or kidnapping, and then “laundered” through the adoption system as “orphans” and then “adoptees.” The article then proposes reforms to the intercountry adoption system that could substantially reduce the incidence of child laundering.” It’s a weighty issue but this is not an anti-adoption paper. A third of the report is dedicated to reforming the system and the role our federal government should play in protecting the children. I have not read this report yet, the link was just posted to one of my yahoo groups today. But I plan to sit down and sift through the entire paper and then I may be back with some suggestions for action we can take to make things better. (letter-writing campaign, anyone?) I’d love it if others would read this and share your thoughts and reactions too.

While you are doing all this research, don’t forget your study groups! The Yahoo groups such as the APV and AAR are good places to get a sense of what’s currently happening in Vietnam adoption and what agencies you might want to look into more, or avoid altogether. We also recently learned of a new Yahoo group, Transparent Adoptive Parents for Transparent Adoption Programs or TAP TAP for short. This group is so new it doesn’t have much membership yet, but with goals such as these: “1. Transparency in every aspect of adoption and orphanage operations. 2. Improved care for children in orphan care facilities. 3. Mutual respect, improved communications and appreciation between adoptive parents and adoption facilitators, orphanage directors and government entities.” I think it has the potential to become a valuable resource in the future.

We here at VVAI want to do everything we can to help PAP’s navigate the world of Vietnam Adoption and choose a good ethical agency. We share personal stories, discuss controversial topics and post news as we receive it. But there’s a limit to what we can do. At the end of the day, it’s up to every PAP to take responsibility for their adoption and make the effort to really do the research. Trust me, in the end, you’ll be glad you did.

Christina Chronister

Christina has adopted two children from SE Asia in 2002 and 2006. Her experience adopting at the time of the U.S. shutdown in Cambodia was eye-opening and led to the creation of a parent-led advocacy group which successfully lobbied for the review and subsequent approval of hundreds of adoptions caught in the pipeline. Her involvement, which included meeting with State Department officials and working with members of Congress, did not end when all the pipeline cases were resolved. Rather it became clear that accountability was sadly lacking in adoptions around the world. The most vulnerable (and yet the most vital) parties in adoptions โ€“ children and families โ€“ were underrepresented at the table in nearly every discussion. In 2006 she co-founded Voices for Vietnam Adoption Integrity to continue to raise awareness of the need for ethical practices at every step of the adoption process. In 2018 Voices for Vietnam Adoption Integrity changed their name to Voices for Adoption Integrity, recognizing that the struggle is not limited to any one country or program.


  1. Great post! Now *why* isn’t this course required as part of a homestudy?!?!? Maybe I’m lucky that I just work part-time and therefore spend a huuuuge bulk of my day reading up on all the issues. I so fervently do not want my actions to support laundering, trafficking, or corruption. I am dismayed that so many in adoptionland are not educating themselves or taking precautions and are just so willing to keep their heads in the sand. Thank you a million times for this website and all that you do. I’m sure for every cuckoo argument, denial, and protest there’s at least 50 lurkers taking this info to heart.

  2. Good stuff Christina, I am going to check it out and give some feedback!
    Thank you for all of this, it was sooo helpful and proactive!

  3. I like that the needing good/bad agency list was addressed. I think that it is more complicated than just creating a good vs bad agency list.

    I’ve become increasingly aware that it is mainly APs that are raising hell on the issue of ethics and accountability. I really do think it is in all our best interest that we all, especially PAPs keep up the discussion. Even though APs have the experience, and that is something that is very valuable to us PAPs – PAPs have the most power because the decisions that we make today during the course of our adoption is what can and will make an effect. And thank you for the resources. It looks like I have some reading to do this week. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. I’ve thought more about the lawsuit issue and wondered if it was possible to remove my comment from the that threat because I mention a specific agency. I”ve been candid about my experience with them before but always in private emails.

  5. I don’t think you should be promoting the Yahoo group Adoption Agency Research as a legitimate and reliable source of information when it routinely censors posts, puts posters on moderation and even kicks off participants simply because they ask for verification of sources or detailed information rather than vague accusations that are not substantiated. Because of its tactics, that group is clearly not practicing ethically itself. Instead, it seeks to shut down anyone who dares to aim for the transparency that this blog claims to strive for. Transparency goes both ways. When people on that list impugn agencies, they have an obligation and a responsibility to act morally and ethically and provide clear, accurate, transparent, and sourced information — not vague innuendo as has become the standard of acceptability. And until they do so, this blog, which claims to be all about the advancement of adoption integrity, ought not lend them credibility and legitimacy. You owe your readers better, and when you align yourself with a group with questionable practices, it also taints you. This blog should be demanding the same ethical standards that it claims to tout, and by endorsing that Yahoo list, you do not. (Also, why have you turned on moderation of comments, which is simply another form of censorship of the voices of adoption?)

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