Family loses fight to adopt Vietnamese boy

Posted on August 13, 2012

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Actress Angelina Jolie and her adopted son Pax leaving a restaurant in Vietnam today -it is the family’s first visit since his adoption in 2007

A Washington Twp. couple has lost their quest to adopt a little boy from a Vietnamese orphanage after trying for more than two years. Four-year-old Thomas called Angela Manuszak “Mommy” and longed for the day when he could return with her to the United States.

It was a dream never to be fulfilled. After more than two years of fighting to adopt Thomas, Angela and Terry Manuszak have learned it will never happen because Thomas, now nearly 5, recently rejoined his birth family after living in the orphanage all his life. The Manuszaks’ plight, featured last year in the Dayton Daily News, gained international attention along with that of 14 other so-called “pipeline families”caught in a tangle of changing regulations designed to prevent human trafficking. Eleven families ultimately brought their children home from Vietnam, but Thomas’ adoption was not completed in part because his birth family reappeared after an absence of more than four years.

Keith Wallace, executive director of Families Thru International Adoption, the Manuszaks’ adoption agency, said that Thomas’ adoption also was foiled by “the misguided interference of the State Department.” Wallace added that a State Department official “posted on a website within a few weeks of arriving in Vietnam and after one short visit to the province that she believed that all these adoptions were improper. Perhaps her attentions were honest, but it’s naive and ignorant to arrive in a country and think you have it all figured out.”

Angela Manuszak said, “State Department officials believe that all international adoptions are human trafficking.”

A State Department official declined to comment about the Manuzsaks’ case, but denied the State Department opposes international adoption: “Intercountry adoption is a good option for children in need of a safe and loving home. The Department of State supports intercountry adoption and made resolving pipeline cases in Vietnam a priority. After the government of Vietnam initially denied all 15 pipeline cases, Department officials met with leaders in Vietnam to move these adoptions forward. We worked tirelessly on behalf of all the families and were successful in completing adoptions for 11 out of the 15 cases.”

The Manuszaks and the other pipeline families initially found themselves in legal limbo, because their adoptions were approved shortly before the U.S. began enforcing stricter guidelines as part of the Hague Adoption Convention. Adoptions between the two countries, which peaked with 828 in 2007, halted while Vietnam contemplated signing onto the Convention guidelines which, among other things, require participating countries to have a central authority that investigates cases to ensure that children are not being trafficked.

International adoptions decline

At the time, State Department officials said they were “working diligently to raise these cases with Vietnamese adoption officials at every opportunity.” The pipeline families’ plight garnered national press last year when U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, blocked President Barack Obama’s nominee for ambassador, David Shear, to Vietnam over the issue.

International adoptions to the U.S. have plummeted sharply in the past eight years, to fewer than 10,000 last year from a peak of nearly 23,000 in 2004. Some countries, including China, are promoting domestic adoptions at the cost of international adoptions.

The Manuszaks applaud the concern over human trafficking, but fail to see why Thomas languished in an orphanage for more than two years when a loving family wanted to adopt him. “I hope they can prevent human trafficking without throwing out so many good adoptions from needing to happen,” Angela Manuszak said.

According to the State Department official, “The State Department works to facilitate ethical adoptions, which protects American families, birth families, and children. In countries like Vietnam, we have concerns about how the children entered into care. The Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption provides the best framework for ethical, transparent adoptions, and we are supporting the Government of Vietnam as it implements the Hague Convention and other child protections.”

The Manuszaks adopted three children from Taiwan — Samuel, 10, Tessa, 8, and Cara, 6 — but that did not stop their quest to bring Thomas into their family.

“Ask who his Mommy is and he points to Angela’s photo on the wall,” Terry Manuszak said.

Angela Manuszak made several lengthy visits to Vietnam, bonding with Thomas, and her husband traveled to Vietnam last Christmas in the hope of finalizing the adoption and bringing Thomas home before the Hague Convention was ratified in early February. During his absence, Angela Manuszak said, she received a “a very terse email that Thomas’ birth mother was coming to retrieve him after four-and-a-half years had passed.”

The family still did not lose hope, and soon they had reason to feel encouraged. Orphanage workers told the Manuszaks that the birth father visited Thomas and asked why he did not sleep well at night. Thomas replied, “Because I miss my Mommy,” pointing to the picture of Angela Manuszak. “The father bawled his eyes out and decided to let us adopt,” Terry Manuszak said.

The family signed relinquishment papers in March. “The father earned two dollars a day, and the family didn’t have enough to support Thomas,” Angela Manuszak said.

Weeks later, the birth parents changed their minds and abruptly brought Thomas home from the orphanage.

Wallace acknowledged that being reunited with his birth family could be a happy ending for Thomas: “I don’t know enough about what’s going on to make any judgment. A kid’s happiness is not about having stuff; it’s where he’s going to be loved and treasured. If it is that way, that’s great for Thomas, but it’s still devastating for the Manuszaks who have stayed involved for so long and worked so hard to adopt him.”

Although they are busy with their three children, who are attending Centerville schools, the Manuszaks will never forget Thomas. Angela Manuszak often wears a frog pendant, in honor of the nickname Thomas earned “because of his big eyes and skinny legs.”

The couple worries that Thomas will grow up thinking they abandoned him.

“He is not going to feel like trash, I am not going to let that happen,” Terry Manuszak vowed. “Some day we will show him everything we did to fight for him.”

Mary McCarty

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