Corruption in international adoptions

Expand All / Collapse All

Images of Ethiopia  

Adoption: Ethiopia

U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa documents about adoption,
  2000-2013, obtained via Freedom of Information Act

U.S. Adoption Agencies
 Respond to FOIA'ed

In this series:

U.S. adoption agencies respond to the FOIA’ed documents in which they are mentioned

In response to reports of fraudulent practices in adoption from Ethiopia, the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism submitted Freedom of Information Act requests for all adoption-related documents, correspondence, and other written materials from the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa. We have posted all of these documents for anyone to read: cables, emails, reports, minutes of meetings, all redacted to protect personal details about American citizens or the children they were adopting.

We realize, however, that these are raw documents, out of context, and give only partial impressions of what some Embassy staff members were thinking at particular moments. To offer a fuller picture of what was happening, we asked every agency named in these documents whether they would like to submit a response that might clarify, correct, or comment on anything mentioned regarding their agency. Below, in alphabetical order by agency, are their unedited responses, published exactly as submitted.  

A New Arrival

September 10, 2014

Contrary to what is written in paragraph 11 of this August 2003 State Department cable, A New Arrival has never represented any adoptive families from Adoption Advocates Inc. Nor have our staff, executive director Lori Jones or international director Cyndi Peck, ever traveled to Ethiopia. While the cable alleges that Ms. Peck and Jayne Gallagher were working together, this is not the case.

What in fact happened is that in 2001, A New Arrival launched a pilot program for adoptions from Ethiopia. We did so by establishing a tentative working relationship with one of the three licensed U.S. agencies that were licensed to facilitate adoptions from Ethiopia. We asked AA Inc. to provide facilitation for two of A New Arrival's contracted families, so that we could evaluate this possible collaboration. If the program was up to our standards then we would open up the program to the public. Unfortunately, it was not. Our two adoptive families that had signed up for this pilot program came home with children who were not the ones they had been referred in advance. We immediately closed the program.

A New Arrival had several families in line that were hoping to adopt from Ethiopia. We switched them over to our South Africa program, which was a primary program for us, and completed successful adoptions for those families. 

At no time would A New Arrival ever recommend or encourage families to submit falsified documents to any state or federal governmental agency. A New Arrival has never received any formal notifications or complaints from any families or governmental organizations about this incident. We have just received our second Hague accreditation with extremely high marks, and are proud of our history of ethical adoptions.

--Lori Jones, Executive Director, A New Arrival

Adoption Advocates Incorporated

November 10, 2014 

My agency Adoption Advocates, Inc., located in Shelburne, Vermont, is the agency mentioned in this document, item number 10. I traveled to Ethiopia about 10 plus years ago, and met with two officials from MOLSA. I was told that MOLSA respected me and my clients but could not work with the facilitator we had then. I agreed with MOLSA's assessment, and decided not to pursue a license in Ethiopia. Ihave continued to do adoptions in Ethiopia but through some of the larger, more trusted agencies. It was clear to me over ten years ago that if I wanted to continueto directly work in Ethiopia, I would  need to be based there or be represented there by a social worker who shared my ethics, values and respect for the people of Ethiopia. I stopped working directly in Ethiopia. 

--Ann Clark, Executive Director, Adoption Advocates, Inc. 

Adoption Advocates International (AAI)

(See note)   

Adoption Ark

Adoption Associates International (AAI)

(See note)   

Adoption Avenues

July 22, 2014

Thank you for checking with us.

Yes this is a short version of the unfortunate events we experienced in 2010. They are looking to be the “minutes” of our several meetings with the US Embassy in Addis workers.

This is the longer version of the events:

We are very close monitoring our international programs. For example for Ethiopia since the program was opened eight years ago, the International program director was and still is traveling like three times per year to check the way the program is working. In 2010 in late May during a checking trip, he received a “tip” regarding the Ethiopian country representative for our agency, from one of the orphanages our agency is supporting in Ethiopia and he decided to further investigate. Part of the investigation was a trip to the USE in Addis and after we presented them our suspicions they let us know that they are also concerned and they advised us to handle the situation very carefully.

Because of not a lot of available working opportunities in Ethiopia, and because of the government’s lack of available funds for the fired employees social protection (un-employment in the USA), the Ethiopian laws protecting the employees are very tough. An employer cannot fire an employee without paying compensation (and this is the equivalent of 12 salaries) if you do not have a very good reason. Our country representative was a lawyer so we had to build a very strong case against him, something he cannot defend in the court of arbitration, in order to be able to fire him. For the next couple of months we just built the case and in October of 2010 our Board President (the way our By-laws are written) traveled to Ethiopia, and presented our country representative with the firing letter and also with all the evidence we were able to obtain. Before taking any action we consulted with our Oregon State licensing entity  as well as with the Council On Accreditation (COA) and reported the situation and the course of action that we will take. The COA is the Hague licensing entity for the U.S. Department of State. They all agreed with the course of action and we proceeded with firing our country representative.

The letter we presented to him was written by our U.S. lawyer, showing the reasons we fire him: “for soliciting funds for his personal gain from prospective adoptive parents, skimming money from agency donations to local orphanages, threatening families, and misrepresenting the agency.

Immediately the next day after the letter was presented to our country representative, Adoption Avenues Board President went to the USE in Addis and presented the same letter to the vice-consul. Everybody was very surprised because we had the courage to do what we did and the USE congratulated us. The vice-consul did let us also know that based on all the disclosure information we provided them with, they will re-investigate some of the approved cases that the country representative finalized. We promised and offered our full collaboration and willingness to provide the USE and U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia with whatever forms we can provide them with, in order to be very transparent and open. There was and still is nothing to hide or cover.

We fully disclosed the entire extent of the events to all the families involved in the adoption process and we received the full support of the families. Everybody was more than willing to make the transition toward the new country representative as smooth as possible.

We hired a new country representative and the business continues un-interrupted. None of the cases were reversed, and up to present time all our families passed the visa interview.

This is the full extent of the events, nothing spectacular or unheard off, especially in third world countries. It was an unfortunate event created by a greedy person who thought that he can take away part of the support we were and still are sending for the once in need, for the orphans. Our agency is trying very hard to stay informed and aware of any unethical situations that may arise. We are consistently and periodically training our employees in Ethiopia on our agency’s policies and procedures underlining the importance of ethical conduct.

In case you need more information please let us know, we are more than willing to provide you with everything we have in response to the Freedom of Information Act.

Thank you.

Adoption Avenues Team
Adoption Avenues Agency

African Cradle

September 10, 2014

African Cradle was unable to complete any adoptions after May 2000, following accusations of molestation by [redacted].* We asked everyone (including the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, Ministry of Justice, Foreign Affairs Office, the U.S. Embassy) for an investigation. I did not think that the allegation was true but, more than anything, I felt that there should be a formal investigation. This doctor lives in Ethiopia and continues to practice medicine.

I was personally detained at the Addis Ababa airport and my passport confiscated when I arrived in 2001. When I went to obtain my passport from the Ethiopian Immigration office, I was arrested by the Federal Police, and interviewed for three consecutive days. After three days, I was given my passport and released without any formal charges, or any judicial process that I was aware of. There were two separate allegations made during my detention - first that I been removing children from Ethiopia illegally and second that I been retuning children back to Ethiopia.

Ato. Fitsum was our legal representative in 2000 and 2001. He went on to work for Wide Horizons For Children, and currently lives in the U.S. I met with him in 2013 in an effort to secure our records, but he claimed not to have them any longer. I have extensive records and communication between our agency and various government entities. I also have the newspapers article and the rebuttal I authored.

Ato. Tesfaye with Children and Women's Affairs was the person directing the circumstance of my detention.

There was no fact-finding effort, ever. My belief is that this was an effort by a disgruntled former employee (our care center director, Wzo. Haregewoyin, who had close ties to the government at the time and Ato. Tesfaye) to shut down our programs. I am happy to provide more details at your request. I felt powerless to achieve any semblance of due process and I was unwilling to offer any bribes to "clear it up."

As I am sure you are aware there is no freedom of press in Ethiopia. The article that ended up in the newspaper and caused such an immediate response was written by a gentleman who has since emigrated to the U.S. and has informed me that he was paid by Wzo. Haregewoyin to write the article.

Molestation was a very hot topic for Ethiopian newspapers and television. In 1999, there was a group in Southern Ethiopia who were exposed as collaborating in the sexual exploitation of Ethiopian children by German missionaries. I think understanding the social and cultural climate at the time helps understand why we were shut down so quickly.

The reports reference an Ethiopian adoptee who was adopted to the U.S. and then sent back to Ethiopia (at the age of 15). That was not an adoption that African Cradle was involved with, except that her adoptive mother is/was an agency director I had previously worked with. Her adoption was processed through that adoptive mother's agency. I am not sure how much more I can say about this situation without violating her privacy.

In October 2013, I returned to Ethiopia (after over a decade away) in an effort to clear up our records and learn more about what, if anything, had been resolved or was outstanding. One big concern for the Ethiopian government was how our assets (as an NGO) would be distributed. We had to turn over all of the property to the Ethiopian government, and I was never clear on whether everything was resolved. For instance, we had a vehicle that essentially disappeared. I went to MOYCA, Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (RRC), and Addis Ababa City Administration, and was given no clarifying information. I was essentially told that I was free to apply to renew or restore my license in Ethiopia but that international adoption was disfavored in the current climate in Ethiopia.

A former colleague forwarded me another document obtained through your FOIA requests, which made statements regarding our reputation for sexually exploiting children. I am an Ethiopian adoptee in addition to being the founder and director of African Cradle. I was not involved in the sexual exploitation of children. In the years that we operated in Ethiopia, the Ethiopian government suffered from crippling corruption, inefficiency, and a lack of transparency. I don't know that much, if anything, has changed.


Amber Stime
Founder and Director
African Cradle

*This name has been redacted because we were unable to substantiate the allegation.

All God’s Children

American World Adoption Association (AWAA)

September 2, 2014 

Our agency takes very seriously the need to work ethically and transparently in all facets of our work. Since we started our work in Ethiopia, we have had our U.S. and Ethiopia based staff meet with U.S. Consular officers on a regular basis and we consistently ask for feedback from them on ways we can improve our work. The U.S. Embassy authorities have investigated and approved 100% of the over 800 adoption cases that our agency has brought before them, with not a single case being rejected or denied for any reason, including concerns such as fraud or unethical practices. In fact, multiple U.S. Embassy staff have chosen to adopt through America World Adoption during and since the timeframe mentioned in these documents, which we assume is due to our agency’s reputation for providing high quality services to children and families. International adoption is often challenging, complex, and difficult, and that is true with adoptions from Ethiopia. We are committed to continuing to serve children and families in Ethiopia. Finally, please know that we are proud of our agency’s work to help recruit, assess, and provide domestic adoption services for free to Ethiopian families, prioritizing these families ahead of U.S. families. 

Ryan Hanlon
Executive Director of Programs
America World Adoption

Americans for African Adoptions, Inc. (AFAA)

Sept. 4, 2014

I read through all that you sent:

1st one, THE ETHIOPIAN PROCESS - adoptions started the way the information you sent is written - when AFAA started as the first US Ethiopian approved agency in 1987 while it was not easy dealing with a communist government, adoptions worked, slowly but okay - it seemed any GOE official was scared to do anything they shouldn't do (my opinion.)  Non Ethiopian licensed agencies, worldwide, began to come in, because they saw the large number of beautiful orphans & other countries had been pushed to close to international adoption by UNICEF.  Many Ethiopians began to see a way to make money - Ethiopian people opened their own, unapproved orphanages; agencies across the world, working under other agencies (umbrelled) -spelling??; GOE officials saw a way to get their private programs funded by agencies wanting to work in adoption (often their own, personal programs under the name of an Ethiopian relative, etc). by demanding that agencies fund their programs.  Ethiopian adoptions began to change & not for the good.  That is why at the end of 2008 I pulled AFAA out - our foster home rent, paid once a year, was doubled & the landlord wanted 2 years at a time; orphanages were charging for referred children, depending on the age of the child - the younger the child, the higher the cost;  we were being asked for more & more outside program funding.  I am happy to hear the US Embassy felt AFAA was a good agency - we certainly tried to do our best.  Adoption Advocates International in Washington state finally gave up & has closed - they too could just not afford all they were being pushed for.  AFAA & AAI started our own foster homes because we saw the HORRIBLE conditions that orphan children were living in under private & government approved orphanages, BUT it was extremely expensive to run a decent foster home.

#2 - ETHIOPIAN AMERICAN ADOPTION AGENCIES - licensed & unlicensed.  I knew about agencies not licensed in Ethiopia & how they were working & I was horrified at how they were "getting" children.  The Hague has done nothing to correct the problems - Hague agencies are sometimes just as bad as non-Hague agencies.  We have been contacted by two families who have been trying to adopt through a Hague agency working in Ethiopia this year.  One didn't say - the other said they were #175 on a waiting list for a healthy Ethiopian child & #25 for an HIV+ Ethiopian child.  One of the families said that prospective families have to pay between $10,000 to $15,000, depending on the age of the child - about half of the adoption fees, for the Hague agency, to be on the waiting list.  Those families will wait at least 10 years before they get a referral, if they ever receive one.  

#3 JOINT COUNCIL ON INTERNATIONAL CHILDREN'S SERVICES - DC_2-4.- 08 - I agree with all they have written but I believe they never set up a JCICS office in Ethiopia - possibly because of the cost.  AFAA has been a JCICS member since 2008 & I see less involvement from JCICS about Ethiopia. I suspect that Ethiopian adoptions will close within the next few years & I THINK JCICS realizes that.

#4 - LETTER FROM SENATOR JACK REED TO ROXANNE REED - this was a difficult time for our agency.  We were being pushed very hard to send more & more money to Ms. Haregewoin Teferra for her orphanage.  We had received children's referrals from her orphanage & Ms. Teferra started out being very honest & nice to work with.  Even though I was older than she (she has died) - I use to call her "Momma" & we use to tell each other we loved each other.  She then had a book written about her work & she won awards because of the book & her initial efforts.  She became very difficult to work with - demanding more & more money.  She "lost" children's documents so she wanted our agency to pay all over again.  She refused to start the process for the Ethiopian court for a family unless we kept sending her more money - usually $5,000 at a time;  she had grown very impressed with herself & became more demanding.  I believe she also became more difficult for the GOE to work with & they put her in prison several times.  The last time I spoke with her, after demanding more money - she said she had gotten out of prison the day before & felt very sick.  I learned that the next day she called a friend to take her to the doctor & when the friend arrived at her home, Ms. Teferra was dead (She had a car & a driver so I do not know why she didn't have her driver take her to the hospital).  By that point the GOE was supposedly so unhappy with her attitude that it seemed (my thought) that by putting her in prison several times they thought they could sort of get her under control.  When she died her adult daughter, who spoke very decent English, tried taking over the work.  Every time I would speak with the daughter about children's documents she would say that children's paperwork was a mess; spread all over several rooms;  seemed to be missing, etc.  Finally I said we were returning the children to the orphanage & pulling out of Ethiopia.  I explained this to families & had to also explain that our agency was very out of money because so very much had been sent in to Ethiopia to run our AFAA House & to Ms. Teferra.


Finally, our agency, Americans for African Adoptions, Inc. (AFAA), formed in 1986, did not close - we just pulled out of Ethiopia.

Cheryl Carter-Shotts
Founder/Managing Director, Americans for African Adoption

Angels' Haven Outreach

November 7, 2014


Thank you for sending this to me. I have been the Director here for 5 years, and we do not have an Ethiopia program, and I do not think we ever have to my knowledge. If there are sites that suggest this, I think it may be inaccurate, unless there was some sort of a program before my time. Thank you for reaching out to us!

Cara Helberg, Executive Director
Across The World Adoptions
Angels' Haven Outreach

Bethany Christian Services

August 18, 2014


Bethany Christian Services is committed to ethical and transparent adoptions in order to protect all parties in the adoption process – children, birth parents and adoptive parents. Like the U.S. Embassy, Bethany had concerns about the two orphanages mentioned in its report – Gelgela and Shalom – as those organizations failed to meet our strict standards, including providing specific information on a child’s origins. Given these concerns, Bethany’s working relationship with the named organizations was brief and ended well before the Embassy’s report (Gelgela in early 2010, Shalom in late 2010).

Bethany’s work with Yezelalem Minch, the third agency mentioned in the U.S. Embassy’s reports, focused primarily on helping it shift from an orphanage to community-based services through a USAID grant.

Throughout our 70 year history of providing adoption services, Bethany has served as a leader in the protection of vulnerable children. We often implement layers of protection that aren’t required, including partnering with a third party investigator in Ethiopia – Eminence – to investigate a child’s origins before placing with an adoptive family. This layer of protection, which Bethany instituted in Ethiopia more than four years ago, has been lauded by the local government and the U.S. Embassy. In fact, Bethany has been asked by the Embassy to provide training to other local adoption agencies.

In addition to the child’s origins, thorough investigations conducted by Eminence on behalf of Bethany ensure that financial considerations have not been promised for release of a child to an adoptive family. Bethany has never and will never condone such practices and Bethany was not implicated during an investigation by the Council on Accreditation on the matter involving Shalom Orphanage.

Bethany’s work with organizations in Ethiopia serving vulnerable children continues to evolve. While we receive requests to partner from local orphanages on a daily basis, our vetting process for such partners seeks to ensure that we’re working with organizations that are in alignment with our dedication to the safety and welfare of children. It is also why we join UNICEF in calling for improved birth records in countries around the world.   

Better Futures Adoption

Celebrate Children International

Children’s Home Society and Family services of Minnesota (CHSFS)

Nov. 11, 2014

The CHSM application to be licensed in Ethiopia occurred in November 2003 and the first placement followed this licensure.

--Jacqueline Nelson
Communications Office
Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota/Children’s Home Society of Minnesota

Children’s House International (CHI)

Christian World Adoption

Dove Adoptions

Nov. 15, 2013

Thank you for the opportunity to respond to these articles. 

Dove Adoptions International, Inc. is committed to ethical adoption in Ethiopia and is always evaluating and assessing its on-the-ground partners. Should any Dove partner in Ethiopia be suspected of unethical adoption practices or a lack of thoroughness in child background investigations, the partnership would immediately be terminated. Dove has zero tolerance for unethical practices in adoption.

Dove does not currently partner with either orphanage (Bethatsnat and SOS Enfants Bhar Dar) mentioned in the Department of State investigation conducted on November 15, 2011. Dove’s on-the-ground staff in Ethiopia are active and thoroughly involved with each of Dove’s orphanage partnerships. Orphanage partnerships are evaluated on a continuing basis to ensure they are operating under the highest ethical standards.

Thank you,  

The Dove Adoptions Team
Dove Adoptions International, Inc.


Families Thru International Adoption (FTIA)

Gladney Center for Adoption

Sept. 5, 2014


The Gladney Center for Adoption abides by ethical best practices in our placement of children and complies with state, federal, and foreign regulations. Since Gladney’s Ethiopia Program began (and in all of our intercountry programs),adoption practices have continued to evolve as changes have been made by the foreign government, the U.S. government, and Gladney, in order to constantly improve oversight and services to children. Gladney’s mission in intercountry adoption is to ensure that no child comes to adoption as the result of child trafficking, that every birth relative who relinquishes a child does so with a complete understanding that relinquishment and adoption mean the creation of a new, permanent family for the child, and that every adoptive family is screened and well prepared for the child who may be placed with that family. 

The Gladney Center for Adoption provides support for the care of many children in Ethiopian orphanages, without expectation that all children will be adopted. As a leader in intercountry adoption, Gladney has many policies and safeguards in place to ensure we are processing each adoption with the highest level of integrity and safety for the children we serve. Intercountry adoption is extremely complicated and fraught with potential issues due to the difficulties of working in countries with different cultures and varying levels of infrastructure. When a child is referred for adoption, Gladney evaluates and/or investigates all the reported information to determine whether or not each child is legally available for adoption prior to placing the child with an adoptive family. In every adoption, the U.S. Embassy and/or USCIS also completes an independent evaluation and/or investigation, and every child adopted from Ethiopia through Gladney has been adjudicated as an orphan and approved for a U.S. adoption. Our number one priority is to work in the best interest of each and every child we serve, whether the child is placed for intercountry adoption or raised in the child’s country of origin.  Through evolving and collaborative practices, Gladney seeks to provide orphans and vulnerable children around the world with hope for a brighter tomorrow.

Holt International

August 20, 2014


Holt International takes any allegation or suspicion of unethical or unprofessional activity very seriously. Whenever we learn of any inappropriate situation we address it immediately and take corrective action if appropriate. As a matter of policy and confidentiality Holt cannot comment on specific cases. Holt does acknowledge that adoption is enormously complex and that intercountry adoption from Ethiopia has not been easy.  In spite of the difficulty Holt is committed to the children and families in Ethiopia and will continue our work there never compromising our standards of ethical practices.

Hope Adoption Agency

Joint Council (formerly JCICS) 

Main Street Adoption

Maine Adoption Placement Services (MAPS)

PEAR (Parents for Ethical Adoption Reform)

Precious In His Sight

Vermont Children’s Aid Society

Wide Horizons for Children

July 22, 2014

Thank you for your inquiry to Wide Horizons For Children. WHFC reports we were notified of one complaint regarding our adoption work in Ethiopia by the Council on Accreditation on January 20, 2011. WHFC received notification from COA that the complaint was resolved as unsubstantiated on all counts on August 15, 2012. Wide Horizons For Children practices and promotes ethical adoption in every country where we work.


Sarah Mraz
Director of International Programs
Wide Horizons For Children, Inc.
38 Edge Hill Rd.
Waltham, MA 02451

Yunona USA

NOTE: Please note that there have been several U.S.-based adoption agencies with the same initials and very similar names: Adoption Advocates Incorporated; Adoption Advocates International (no longer in business); Adoption Associates Incorporated (not mentioned in these documents); Adoption Associates International (no longer in business); and Adoption Avenues. When documents refer to “AAI” without other identifying information, we have contacted all these agencies asking for comment.

This page from the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism website offers documentation of and background about serious irregularities in international adoption. 

Images in collage: 
Mother & Child and Man Walking © Niall Crotty, SXC.hu
Ethiopian Festival © Carolyne Pehora, Dreamstime.com

© 2008-2014 Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA 02454. All rights reserved.

Last page update: November 22, 2014