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Unquestioned Lies

Posted on May 18, 2009 | 10 comments

tal-logoIn a recent episode of “This American Life” the theme was “No Map”. It featured stories of people encountering difficult situations without any guideposts on how to navigate through them. You can listen to the entire episode here.

The final story was about Mike Nyberg, a Mormon that encountered corruption in international adoption.  Mormonism and adoption are two topics that really fly into my wheel house, so I was excited to hear how the story would unfold.  To be frank, the story made me furious.  A story about corruption alone is enough to make me angry.  But what really set me off were the number of really poor decisions made on behalf of the adopted children once the corruption was exposed.  What made me even angrier was the justification for those decisions was that everyone had good intentions and that there were no clear principles to follow in correcting the situation. The people responsible for the corruption, the owners of “Focus on Children” faced very little consequences and continue to think their work was “good”.

My wife and I approach adoption with four very clear principles. 1) God intends parents to raise their own children. 2) Poverty is not a reason for adoption. 3) Children with living parents are not orphans. (ahem, Madonna) 4) You should never adopt in a way that encourages other able-bodied parents to give up their children or get pregnant so that they can give up their children.

Please listen to this portion of the podcast and listen for these lies that go unquestioned as people explain their justifications.

  • Children need stuff to be happy
  • God’s intention for children is that they be raised by people with the most means
  • God has no concern about American materialism
  • Hope only exists in America
  • Education is only possible in America
  • Only parents with money can raise children well

Despite all the hardship and tragedy the Nyberg’s faced I’m glad they ended up making the right decision. You can download the audio directly here.


You can read more about the case here, here and here.


  1. Chris Hires / May 18th, 2009 19:32

    I am glad to hear a well articulated set of standards applied to something that means as much to you and your wife as adoption does. Surely American materialism should not be a justification for a decision as important as this is. Unfortunately some of the worst crimes are done with the best of intentions.


  2. Bridget Jack Meyers / May 18th, 2009 21:29

    While I’m glad that Nyberg made the right decision, I really dislike that “I don’t have a woman in my life anymore” was part of his reasoning for not keeping his adopted daughter. The only person I’ve closely known in real life who adopted was an unmarried woman in her 30s, one of the youth leaders at my old church. I’d really hate for someone to think that her family is incomplete because she lacks a husband.

    Great story to listen to though. I applaud Nyberg for making such a difficult decision and not putting American materialism first.


  3. Tim / May 18th, 2009 21:33

    Yeah, I think he made the right decision for the wrong reasons


  4. Lisa / May 18th, 2009 23:51

    I am unable to get sound on my computer, so I couldn’t listen to the podcast, but I read the articles. I think the people responsible for this should have gone to jail for a long time, and the children should be returned. For the most part, I agree with your four principles
    and the six “lies.” I believe that in rare cases, however, there can be exceptions to some of your principles. In cases where poverty is extreme, and the government is unwilling and unable to help families survive intact, and the children are at risk of being permanently damaged through malnutrition, lack of physical, mental, and emotional stimulation, etc then I think it is ok to adopt because of poverty. Romanian orphanages are one example of this. I volunteered in one the summer before I married my husband. Also, the Chinese government through their one child policy has created a situation where thousands of able-bodied parents have abandoned their infant girls because of cultural preferences for boy children. I think it is better to adopt a Chinese girl if one is able to instead of allowing her to languish in an orphanage, even though in a way you are supporting and enabling the Chinese government’s evil policy.


  5. gloria / May 19th, 2009 15:45

    This story hits close to home, being an adoptive parent to 5 internationally adopted children. It’s hard to put my feelings into words. First of all, I really think the blame should squarely should be on the adoption agency and the in country contacts they hired. I know enough about international adoption, to know for a fact that if one is not super careful with in country contacts fraud can run rampant. Secondly, up to what point did the Banks know about the shady deelings, I am not sure, but they had a responsibility to make sure that things were square and up front.
    I know a few families who adopted thru Focus, and I also know one of their case workers personally. There is no doubt that their Somaoan adoptions were shady at best.
    The thing that makes me sad and upset is what this does to the kids. For Alia, the effects of being bounced back and forth will be huge. Emotional issues will surely surface down the road. I can’t imagine how confusing this must have all been for her. I only hope and pray she will be able to overcome the emotional scars left from this mess. For the kids that are here in the U.S. and I personally know some of these somoan kids who have been here for years now, adopted thru Focus, I can’t imagine what they will have to work thru down the road as adults if they choose to look into what actually happened in somoa that led to their placement into an American family.
    I became angry upon hearing from U.S. adoptive parents who were justifying things by saying the kids are better off because of the material opporotunities we have in this country. That made me angry. Money does not purchase emotional and mental security and health. All the education and clothes and food can not make up for the emotional damage and heart ache these children will face one day when the truth is made known.
    As adoptive parents we place a whole heck of a lot of confidence in our adoption agencies. But the fact is we don’t know what really happend. Not really. All we can do is hope and pray that it was legitimate. I hope that if my kids do decide to do a birth family search that they will not uncover any skeletons in the closet, but whose to tell. Only time will tell.
    This is a tragic story, and Alia paid the price.

    Adoption is a wonderful option for children who really truly are in need of a loving home and family. But it should be done with the greatest amount of transparency for the sake of all involved.

    Kind regards,


  6. Sharon / May 19th, 2009 17:04

    I’m so glad to see someone blogging about this . . . I love This American Life and, as an adoptive parent, was intrigued to hear that No Map would include a piece on adoption. Like you, the piece infuriated me — to hear that many of the adoptive parents were angry at the Nybergs and wished the corruption had never come to light sickened me. If the Nybergs hadn’t spoken up, it is likely that more children would have been essentially stolen from their families. As much as I understand that these adoptive parents don’t want to lose the children they are raising (as an an AP, I can only imagine how scary and heartbreaking that possibility would be), how could you later tell that child that their birth family never intended for them to be adopted? I would hope that all APs would not only have their own needs and wants in mind, but that of the first families and of the children. The whole “we can offer them so much more, there is nothing for them in Samoa,” just made me think, “Except their family and their birth culture!” And I would hope that all APs would be supportive of any and all efforts to work towards more ethical adoption practices.


  7. Jared C. / May 19th, 2009 23:15

    This topic brings up really strong emotions for me. Having defended a father whose parental rights were terminated in Utah because the mother was convinced to give her children up for adoption to a more wealthy couple, I am more than disgusted with the “lies” used for justification for adoption.

    Utah has the most “pro-adoption” law in the country. This seems to be driven by powerful cultural interests as well as financial interests of those involved in the adoption industry.

    I understand the strong drive to raise children when you can’t on your own. However I think that catering to the affluent who are in this situation dilutes the strengthen the legal bonds that should protect the strongest natural bonds.

    A bit off the topic but these travesties happen in domestic adoptions as well.


  8. Utah,kids, adoption corruption / June 1st, 2009 17:06

    Gosh, where do I begin.

    Thank you for addressing this.
    There are tons of people fighting to get their children out of Utah.
    There are many broken hearts and God knows will be scarred young lives because of Focus on Children and the owners/scammers.

    First the guy”s name is MIKE Nyberg.
    And he did a very honorable thing. He blew the whistle on sleazeballs who were making money on Child Trade.
    Who in their right mind would want a child who already had a Mummy and Da Da?
    How in the heck do you live with yourself, let along try to be a parent to a child who knows it’s real biological parents?

    The judge in this case did great harm for the future of adoption corruption. He let these irresponsible slim balls walk.
    He said they would do better on the street than behind bars, they could educate us? What a moron.(Mormon too)

    Brett Tolman, corrupt as all get, should have nailed these child jugglers. But he let them plea.

    The owners of this adoption agency the Banks, have supposable adopted three kids from Romania, and these three kids had a very short shelf life in the Banks home.
    Two of these kids were sent away, to Samoa to be raised by someone else when they were pre-teen. Can you imagine the cultural shock, the sadness, the feelings that they must have gone thru when they the “adopted” kids were sent away but the Banks bio kids remained? Then we also read where these two are now 18 and cannot leave the island. “we have never set foot off this island since we were sent here” Wow, that sure is a strong statement to make. Why were they sent so very very very far away?

    The other Romanian was shipped off too. To a home, away from his siblings. Lets all stop here and go throw up.

    Remind you these people are owners of an adoption agency. They have adopted kids. They counsel people on adoption.!!!!

    And then there is another hole in this nasty doughnut. The Banks are trying to ADOPT another child. A Chinese girl that belongs to their client. Conflict of interest?
    We read that there is a custody battle where the Banks want custody of a child that a family already adopted and that they sought respite from the Banks. The mother had post-partim depression, she had twins when the Chinese baby arrived. Gees la wees. This case in presently in the Utah court of Appeals. Lets pray that the Utah Court of Appeals judges stop this disgusting thought of them adopting another child NOW.

    In this case, we heard that they already had five judges. Five judges. Now why, if not corruption would they have five judges? This case was in Logan, Utah. The place where Brigham Young settled with all the Mormons. And of course, it has been dragged on and the real sad and sick part is that the Chinese girl is still in the house of madness with the Banks.

    Utah, and kiids. I have been reading lots of stories all very sad where nice decent people are fighting like hell for their children. Bio-fathers and mothers.


  9. claudia / May 2nd, 2011 16:10

    Just found this through your comment on Rage Against the Minivan. Can’t listen to the podcast, but love your four principles for adoption. That about sums it up.


  10. Jenna / May 5th, 2011 19:33

    I also found this post form the comment on Rage Against the Minivan, and I only have one thing to say…I do take a bit of an issue with your comment that “children with living parents are not orphans”. This is not always the case…..like in China. Our son was abandoned as an infant in a remote part of China due to (we presume) a major heart defect that was life threatening. We also presume that he indeed has a living parent or possibly two living parents. So…..yes, he likely has living parents, and it’s actually quite likely that he may have a perfectly intact family in China. He is an orphan because they abandoned him leaving no trace of themselves.


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