Reflections on the American Adoption Congress Conference: Educate, Advocate, Legislate

I was in Cambridge, MA, recently for the national conference of the American Adoption Congress. Most of the people at the AAC conference looked like me, a white woman. I could easily have been mistaken for an adoptee from the Baby Scoop Era, or for a mother who placed a child during that time. Those two descriptions would fit most of the people there: adoptees or first/birth mothers. As an adoptive parent, I was in the minority. As a middle-aged white woman, I was in the majority.

The AAC has been around since the late 1970’s. Its legislative advocacy has been focused on open records/access to original birth certificates for adoptees. Some AAC members have been working on that goal for decades, and I am in awe of their dedication and determination. Certainly there has been major progress (see Ohio, most recently), though work remains to be done.

I first attended an AAC conference some 20 years ago, in Virginia, when Bill Pierce of the National Council For Adoption was still alive and intensely fighting open records. (This link is to all Bill’s NCFA files on closed records and more, papers which reside now at the University of Minnesota.) Bastard Nation was emerging. Activism then did not have the current (and relative) ease of social media.

Social media has of course changed everything in terms of advocacy, for open records and for many other important causes. One takeaway for me from the AAC conference was this: While opening adoption records and increasing access to original birth certificates remains a priority for AAC, the fight in state legislatures is slowly becoming moot. That’s not because more people are understanding the need for open records. It’s because Facebook is connecting adoptees and birth parents, and because old opponents of open records are retiring or dying. Also, technology around DNA is reducing the need for legislative access–people are finding their previously unknown family members via  databases (genetic genealogy) such as Family Tree DNA, 23andme, and ancestry.com.

Well.

That changes the landscape in a very big way, and suggests that the AAC conference slogan of “Educate, Advocate, Legislate” must open to new possibilities. The fight for open records on the state level remains, and is incredibly important. However, other issues in adoption are vital as well, though I heard about them mostly in conversations between sessions:

  • Rehoming of adopted children (US and international)
  • Retroactive citizenship for international adoptees
  • The adoption tax credit
  • Overhaul of the home study evaluation process
  • Support and resources for transracial adoptees, whether from the US or elsewhere
  • Support and resources for first/birth/original mothers and fathers
  • Support and resources for late discovery adoptees (I met three at the AAC conference, who had found out they were adopted at 18, 35, and 43 years of age.)

All of these are important, and deserve the time and attention of organizations like AAC and others. For what it’s worth, I don’t see these issues explicitly on the schedule for the June conference of the National Council For Adoption and the Joint Council on International Children’s Services. Hmm.

Beyond the policy and legislative actions, there are at least two additional related and complex issues must be addressed, openly and boldly, by all adoption-related organizations: racial realities in adoption and suicide in adoption.

Racial Realities in Adoption

The AAC appears to be making a solid effort at acknowledging transracial adoptees and interracial adoptive families. They have two transracial adoptees on their Board of Directors, Susan Harris O’Connor and Krista Woods. Two of the four keynote speakers were people of color: Rhonda Roorda and Rev. Dr. Nicholas Cooper-Lewter. One of the documentaries shown was You Have His Eyes, the story of transracial adoptee Chris Wilson. April Dinwoodie of the Donaldson Institute on Adoption presented a workshop called “What My White Parents Didn’t Know and Why I Turned Out Okay Anyway.” Mi Ok Bruining, a Korean adoptee, presented a workshop on “The Poetry of International Adoption.” Katherine Kim and Noel Cross facilitated a workshop on “Mixed Race Adoptees;” both are mixed race Korean adoptees. The Adoption Roundtable” featured 4 transracial adoptees. (The audience for this group was unfortunately quite small, though I get it. The potential audience might have been transracial adoptees and white adoptive parents. Neither group was significant in the conference attendees.)

The panel that got a large audience and generated a lot of conversation was “Lost Daughters: Diverse Narratives Within the Collective Adoptee Voice.” This panel included 10 of the women from the online writing collective Lost Daughters, and included same race and transracial infant adoptees, a Korean adoptee, an Ethiopian adoptee raised in Canada, a foster care transracial adoptee, and a Native American adoptee. Given that most of the AAC conference attendees are female adoptees and first mothers, it’s not surprising that the Lost Daughters panel was well-attended.

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The Lost Daughters panel at the 2015 American Adoption Congress conference

 

One of the panelists, Amira Rose, wrote a powerful article on the Lost Daughters site reflecting on her experience at the AAC conference. Her post, “Sight Unseen: Navigating Adoption Spaces as an Adoptee of Color,” is insightful, and invites thoughtful reflection.

My sense is that AAC is moving toward inclusion of adoptees and first mothers of color, and I hope they do so. The challenge is bringing people of color into a group with few people of color: who wants to be the “other,” the “only,” the token? (See Amira’s article above.) I recognize that it is my white privilege that suggests this be done, and that it could be. As the white adoptive parent of 4 black adoptees, I know there is much to be learned from adoptees and birth/first parents of color. We all need to be talking together about realities of race and racism.

Suicide in Adoption

This was not a topic of a panel or keynote, but it needs to be, and at every adoption-related conference. At the AAC conference, an adult adoptee from India talked about having been a mentor to a 16-year-old Indian adoptee who had recently committed suicide. Wrenching and heartbreaking. It’s so tempting to pause, provide sympathy, and then move on. And we can’t do that anymore. Trauma is part of adoption; depression is a reality for many people. Genetics can provide some clues, but too often adoptees do not know their own medical history. Adolescence for adoptees can be difficult in the best circumstances; add the intensity of current climate of bullying and racism, and it’s a dangerous world. The American Academy of Pediatrics published a report saying that adoptees are more likely to commit suicide than non-adoptees. I have known and heard of far too many adoptees, especially in their teens, who have considered, attempted, and committed suicide.

Educate, Advocate, Legislate. The AAC conference provided me with much food for thought (this is just a morsel), plus the joy of meeting old and new friends. I have little doubt that young adopted adults will lead the way in changing adoption policy, and I am heartened that first/birth parents are less marginalized as well. We adoptive parents need to be involved and engaged as well. And we all have to be unafraid of the hard conversations.

Mothers of Loss: Noting the Privilege of Grief and Support

The adoptive mother of an adoptee killed in a car accident has written several powerful, sorrowful posts on Facebook. She has received the support of dozens, in some cases hundreds, of people, and has shared the funeral service, photos, anecdotes, and memories. She has been supported in her grief by her family, her friends, her church, and  her community, both local and online.

How do people recover from the death of a child? Slowly, painstakingly, and maybe never.

How do mothers recover from the more ambiguous loss of a child through adoption? One day the child is here. The next day the child is gone, alive but perhaps never to be seen again.

When someone loses a child to death, we rally. We prepare meals, we pray, we attend services, we send cards, we read Facebook posts, and we type comments of gratitude and support. The parents often receive counseling, medications, and group therapies.

What do we do for the mothers who lose their children to adoption, even when the decision is one of transparency and integrity? How do we as a community support them, through rituals and time? How do we acknowledge their loss?

What about when the loss is one of coercion, or fraud, or shame? Do we show compassion, or do we push their grief and loss out of our minds?

Surely it is yet another manifestation of our privilege that adoptive parents, as citizens in a wealthy society, that grief is shared. In the event of the death of a child, the parents can mourn and share and grieve in both private and public. They can get–as is right–heartfelt support from family, friends, and strangers. People inquire how they are doing, and pray for them, and embrace them in a time of deep, unfathomable loss.

I have never experienced the loss of a child. When my beloved granddaughter turned 6, I couldn’t help thinking that was the age at which her mother had been placed for adoption with our family. I was stopped in my tracks at the idea of losing this child forever, at 6 years old, never knowing where in the world she was. The grief would be overwhelming. I can’t begin to imagine the pain of the loss.

Surely it is yet another manifestation of the inequity in adoption that a first/birth mother placing her children forever does not get the resources and platform of an adoptive mother who loses her child to death. Don’t both experience what we acknowledge is an enormous loss–a child gone forever?

How many first mothers, after placement, never learn if their children are dead or alive?

To lose a child is to lose a part of one’s heart and soul. We in the adoption community must acknowledge the grief and loss of the mothers whose children are placed for adoption, because they have lost a child. To the impoverished Ethiopian and other international mothers walking back to their villages alone and never hearing again about their beloved children–mothers who experience depression, scorn, loneliness, and worse–we must offer recognition and compassion, and provide ongoing services to them. To the mothers who were coerced as teens into relinquishing their children, we must partner with them in their grief, not shame or dismiss them, suggesting they “Get over it. It was a long time ago.” To any mother who has lost a child, we must reach out, acknowledge the loss, and help with the healing. All mothers deserve this. All of them.

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Update on Adam Crapser: Fairness and Justice for All International Adoptees

Who holds the power in international adoption: adoptive parents or adoptees? Let’s talk fairness and justice. A case study:

The adoptive parent serves 90 days of jail for horrific abuse of children. The adopted son serves 25 months in jail for burglary (no one was hurt), and then could be deported.

In 1991, adoptive father Thomas Crapser served 90 days after being convicted for 12 counts of cruelty and abuse of children. One of those children, Adam Crapser, got into trouble as a teen and adult, and spent 25 months in prison for burglary.

Adam now faces deportation, because he is not a US citizen. Adam is 40 years old, with a wife and children. He has served time for his crimes, and has worked hard to be a good, productive member of the community.

Thomas Crapser received no punishment at all for failing to get citizenship for his internationally adopted son Adam, who was among the children beaten, burned, clubbed, kicked, gagged, and worse. Thomas also received no punishment for refusing for years to give Adam the documents needed to obtain citizenship.

No one is condoning Adam’s crimes. But let’s be fair. Let’s consider justice: 90 days for horrific cruelty to children. 25 months for burglary and then, deportation.

What a message about international adoption, and what it means to be a “forever family” in the United States. Every adoptive parent should be speaking out about this.

Here’s an article about the 1991 arrest of adoptive parents Thomas and Dolly-Jean Crapser:

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1991 Arrest of Adam Crapser’s parents

According to a recent Columbian newspaper article: The state launched an investigation in June 1991. The Crapsers were arrested in September 1991 and initially charged with 34 counts of rape, sexual abuse and criminal mistreatment across six years. The case went to trial in Marion County Circuit Court in June 1992. Testimony reported in The Salem Statesman Journal was that eight children had been kicked, punched, gagged, bitten, burned, slammed into walls and beaten with garden tools and belts.

Convicted on 12 counts, Thomas Crapser was sentenced to 90 days in jail, a fine and probation; Dolly-Jean Crapser’s 90-day sentence was suspended, and she was ordered to perform community service. An investigation report had recommended years in prison for both. The state unsuccessfully appealed the sentences.

When Adam Crapser was about 4 years old, he was adopted to the US for a better life with a loving forever family. Well, no. He was adopted–twice–by cruel, abusive parents. He was separated from his sister, shuttled around foster care, and grew up knowing far more abuse than love or even safety. There is no doubt that our US child protection system failed Adam.

Among the parents’ cruelties was the fact that the Crapsers withheld Adam’s basic immigration/adoption documents from him. That’s not a crime as such, to refuse to give a child his legal documents. Nor is it a crime to fail to get citizenship for an internationally adopted child. That failure though can result in devastating consequences.

Growing up in troubled, abusive “families,” Adam made mistakes, for which he admits remorse and has served time.

Again according to the Columbian article, Adam Crapser said middle school bullying was so bad that he wound up lashing back and serving time in juvenile jail. By his late teens, he was living in a car and fending for himself.

Over the next couple of decades, he tried to live a good life, he said, but he racked up several more criminal convictions — starting with burglary for breaking back into the Crapser home to retrieve childhood keepsakes like his Korean Bible. For that, he spent 25 months in prison. Back outside and fearing for his safety, Crapser said, he got hold of a gun — strictly forbidden for a convicted felon — and wound up in prison again.

He decided he had to turn himself around. He studied cosmetology and auto mechanics. He earned his G.E.D. and worked as a collision-repair estimator. “I’ve worked so many jobs for 90 days at a time,” he said, because every employer faced a deadline to require proof of legal status. Crapser’s permanent legal status — his Green Card — had long since expired. He couldn’t get a new one without documents that he said the Crapsers withheld.

Once he did finally get the documents in 2012 and applied to renew his green card, Adam’s criminal convictions brought the possibility of deportation. Here in the US, convicted felons who are not US citizens can be deported. That possibility of deportation extends to international adoptees who were brought to the US, without having any choice or say in the matter, by legal US citizens, with the awareness and permission of their country of origin and of the United States government.

Internationally adopted children did not automatically receive US citizenship prior to 2000. Read more here.

Adam Crapser’s initial deportation hearing was held on April 2, and resulted in a continuation until June 18. You can learn more here in the UK’s Guardian, here on MSNBC, and here on CBS News. Google “Adam Crapser” and you will see many major and local news outlets featuring articles and interviews.

The international adoptee community has been tireless in its advocacy for Adam and for changes in citizenship laws, urging retroactive citizenship for all international adoptees. Legislation is being proposed in the US Congress to correct the absurdity that children internationally adopted by US citizens do not receive US citizenship as part of their legal relationship with their family.

Fairness and justice.

 

 

International Adoption and Citizenship: Adam Crapser on the Eve of His Deportation Hearing

On the day before his deportation hearing, Korean adoptee Adam Crapser is the subject of a New York Times story today. You can read it here.

I’ve blogged about his situation here.

Here’s the bottom line: International adoptees brought to the US before 2001 were not granted automatic citizenship. If their parents didn’t get the children naturalized, some were able to become US citizens as adults. Some, though, found out that they were not US citizens after they committed crimes, served time, and then were subject to deportation back to countries with which they no longer had any connection. Adam Crapser is one of those adoptees. Adopted from South Korea, he suffered astonishing cruelty at the hands of not one but two sets of adoptive parents. He acknowledges he made bad choices, he was arrested, and he served his time. He is remorseful. He is now married and caring for his children. And he could possibly be deported back to South Korea, where he does not know the language, the culture, or any family.

New York Times’ writer Maggie Jones’ article online today is about Adam’s situation. She also writes about the history of the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, and the possible changes to laws that would make retroactive citizenship a reality for all the adoptees brought to the United States to be part of an American family. I am among those quoted in the article. Let’s hope for much-needed change that recognizes that international adoptees deserve all the rights and protections of the US government.

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Call For Submissions: Anthology By Ethiopian Adoptees

 

Announcing a new and much-needed book for the adoption community.

Tentative Title:

LIONS ROARING, FAR FROM HOME: AN ANTHOLOGY BY ETHIOPIAN ADOPTEES

 Editors: Aselefech Evans, Annette-Kassaye Berhanu, and Maureen McCauley Evans

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© national parks-worldwide.info

 

We are delighted to invite Ethiopian adoptees from around the world to submit essays about what Ethiopia means to you, and how being adopted has affected you. Your voice deserves to be heard. The book’s tentative title–Lions Roaring, Far From Home–is related to Ethiopian history and culture.

Here are some ideas for an essay: Recollections of early childhood in Ethiopia, and what you remember of life in Ethiopia prior to adoption. What life has been like for you in your adoptive country, and might have been like for you had you been raised in Ethiopia. Reflections on family in the country where you were raised, and family in Ethiopia, known or unknown.

You can write about race and racism. What does it mean to you to be Ethiopian, and African, as well as a citizen of the country to which you were adopted? Perhaps you hope to return some day to Ethiopia: what are your dreams?

You can write about the image of Ethiopia provided by your family or the media or others when you were growing up. The churches, the architecture, the poverty, the history, and the economy might inspire you. Have you searched for your Ethiopian family, or reunited with them? You can write about that.

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Cattle in Ethiopia, August 2014. © Maureen McCauley Evans

 

You are not limited in what you can write about, as long as it is in some way about the connection to Ethiopia from the perspective of an Ethiopian adoptee.

Who are the intended readers of Lions Roaring, Far From Home? We envision that adoptees (Ethiopian and other), prospective adoptive parents, current adoptive parents, first parents, grandparents, adoption agency staff, social workers, policy makers, teachers and other child welfare professionals will want to read and learn from this book. We believe that Ethiopians in Ethiopia and around the world will want to read it, as well as the global family connected with adoption. Lions Roaring will be a book for anyone interested in the essential stories of love, loss, journeys, and family.

We will select up to 15-20 entries for publication in the anthology, due out in Spring 2016. Selected writers will receive at least one copy of the book, the knowledge that they have contributed to greater understanding of Ethiopian adoptees’ experiences, and the possibility of media coverage and other opportunities.

Your essay should be between 750 and 2,500 words (in any case, no more than 6 pages double-spaced). We will certainly look at essays that are fewer than 750 words. We are open to thoughtful overviews about your Ethiopian adoption experience, as well as focused narratives about a specific event or topic.

We can accept submissions in English and in French. The book will likely be published initially in English, though we are looking into Amharic and other translations.

Please include a brief bio statement of no more than 100 words.

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Sunset over Lake Langano. © Maureen McCauley Evans

 

Fine Print

Please be sure you have read through the information above.

This call is directed primarily toward adult adoptees, over 18 years of age. We are open to submissions from younger adoptees: please email for further information.

All submissions are due to maureen@lightofdaystories.com by June 15, 2015.

Let us know up front if and where your essay has been published in part or in full previously. We are willing to look at previously published pieces, though we’d prefer original work.

By submitting your essay to us, you acknowledge that you have read and accepted the terms of this Call for Submissions, that you are at least 18 years of age, and that you have the right to submit your essay for this project. We will notify you by July 15, 2015, if your submission has been accepted.

We are looking forward to hearing from you. Thank you.

From Aselefech and Annette: This book is rooted in our organization, Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora. We are publishing the book in part to honor adoptees like Hana Williams and others whose lives ended too soon or whose voices have been silenced. The book is also part of a larger project to open a guest house in Ethiopia for visiting/returning adoptees, a way of building a global community of support for Ethiopian adoptees.

International Adoption in 2030: Predicting the Future

Although my workshop proposal for the Joint Council on International Children’s Services and the National Council For Adoption conference was rejected (read about it here), I was invited to participate on a conference panel called “Predicting the Future in Intercountry Adoption.” This post is a starting point for my remarks. I would welcome the thoughts of others, especially adult adoptees, on their predictions.

Here’s a glimpse into the future of international adoption, even as soon as 15 years from now: Adult adoptees hold the microphone in terms of adoption policies and practices. Part of their involvement will be insistence on improved post-adoption services. Transracial adoptees continue to deal with racism in a world where too often racism is dismissed. Thousands of adult adoptees, many raised by white parents, return to visit and to live in the countries where they were born. Many find out that the information their adoptive parents were given is wrong. Many who were told they would never find their first/birth family do, in fact, find them. The unadopted siblings (those who stayed with the birth/first family) of international adoptees search and find their adopted sibs via Facebook or vk.com or other Internet connections. Birth/first/natural mothers and fathers will begin speaking out and sharing their truths, and their stories will be translated, preserved, and honored.

How prepared is the adoption community for these changes? How well are agencies and others addressing the realities of racism, identity, and grief after adoption?

A glimpse at the past, from which we are supposed to learn: “Adversity, Adoption,and Afterwards,” a longitudinal report by the British Association for Adoption and Fostering, looked at the lives of about 70 women adopted from Hong Kong to Britain in the 1960’s. The average age of the women in the study was 48. Most did well. Still, “The majority of the women encountered racism not just in childhood and adolescence, but also as adults in current day Britain. Some said that they were able to seek support from their adoptive families, or others close to them, in coping and managing racist incidents, while others described feeling isolated and not able to share this with anyone. For some it was not easy living with the fact of being from a different ethnic background and visibly different from their adoptive families. This could result for some having a sense of not belonging or not feeling able to identify with either white British or Chinese communities. By mid-life most of the women who experienced this had found ways to adequately deal with such feelings, which is not to minimise how difficult this had been for some.”

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While it’s good that by mid-life (!) most of the adoptees had found ways to adequately deal with feelings of not belonging and not identifying with their communities, that’s a long time to endure those feelings.

Recently, the global adoption community has been rattled by two mainstream media articles about adult adoptees. One was Shaaren Pine’s article in the Washington Post, “Please Don’t Tell Me I was Lucky To Be Adopted.” Another was the New York Times magazine cover story, “Why a Generation of Adoptees Is Returning to South Korea.”

There are some 250,000 Korean adoptees all around the globe. They are the oldest ones, in their 50’s and 40’s, many in their 20’s and 30’s. They are the bellwether activist adoptees in many ways. Fifteen years ago, in 2000, the Donaldson Adoption Institute published an insightful report based on the first Gathering of Korean adoptees in 1999. In the section on Experiences with Discrimination,”The majority of respondents reported that they had experienced some form of discrimination while they were growing up.” Race (70%) was cited more often as problematic than was adoption (28%). As we continue to struggle with race in the US and around the world, helping transracial adoptees negotiate the world as people of color is vital. When will we learn?

International adoption numbers have declined in recent years. While that may likely continue, there were about 250,000 international adoptions between 1999 and 2013; many were under a year old. We would do well to look at adoptees who will be young adults in the next decade or so. One example: Between 1999 and 2013, about 14,000 Ethiopian children were adopted to the US. Between 2007 and 2012, some 11,000 Ethiopian children arrived here from the US, about 80% of the total number between 1999-2013. (Statistics from the US Department of State) They will be entering adolescence and early adulthood around 2030. Those high volume years (2007 to 2012) have been cited as having a high degree of fraud and corruption.

Many Ethiopian adoptees here in the US and around the globe are still young children, and many of the families have already found inaccuracies in their child’s stories: Ethiopian mothers are still alive, children were not orphans, documents were falsified. Blame can go all around, but the point is: How will the adoption community best help these thousands of now-children who will be adults in the next 15-20 years?

My hopes for the future include these:

  • Adoption agencies will actively reach out to and welcome adult adoptees from around the globe to share their experiences, so as to better prepare for the upcoming wave of young adult adoptees in the next decades.
  • Adult adoptees who choose to do so will continue to speak out about their good and bad experiences. Adoptive parents and all others in the community will listen, without dismissing or marginalizing them as “angry,” “ungrateful,” or any other pejorative terms.
  • Appropriate, equitable services will be provided to birth/first parents around the globe, including provision of short-term and long-term resources and communication.
  • The adoption community will acknowledge and proactively address the realities of racism. This is complex and vitally important work, and we haven’t done a good job so far.
  • Here is a vision of past and future: the Adoption Museum Project, a physical space that explores the story of adoption, and a website and off-site programs that expand the work. How exciting is this. The Grand Opening event on April 16 in San Francisco will be “Operation Babylift: Adoptee Voices,” about the 1975 airlift (40 years ago!) of 2,000 Vietnamese children. The panel discussion will be moderated by the poet Lee Herrick, an adoptee from Korea.

IMG_8517Please join me in predicting the future. More importantly, please join me in creating a future  of international adoption that honors the realities of all those involved, and insists that no voices are marginalized. I welcome your thoughts and ideas.

 

Abused Ethiopian Children Now Thriving: Life and Love With the Pattersons

In adoption, as in life, love isn’t all you need–but it surely is a big help. For Robert and Didi Patterson (formerly Eskindir and Rediet Barbour), love, along with therapies, medical care, stability, patience, and realistic expectations, has helped the two children begin to thrive. It’s beautiful and remarkable, though their mom, Ali Patterson, notes: ” Once someone feels safe, then you can work on everything else.”

Robert and Didi were originally placed for adoption from Ethiopia in 2012 with Kristen and Douglas Barbour. A short time later, both children were hospitalized for conditions that included broken bones, severe weight loss, and skin lesions. Kristen and Douglas were arrested. Ultimately they pled no contest to charges of child endangerment. I’ve written about the case several times, most recently here. In July 2014, the children became the son and daughter of Ali and Kevin Patterson.

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Parents Kevin and Ali Patterson looking at photos with son Robert and daughter Didi. © Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Robert and DIdi, now eight and four years old, have three older Patterson siblings, and are thriving in their active, safe, loving family. They will have challenges in the years ahead as a result of the abuse and trauma prior to life with the Pattersons, but mom Ali and dad Kevin are well-prepared, and have deep faith in the children’ strengths.

A recent Pittsburgh-Post Gazette article, “Family creates a home for Ethiopian Adoptees abused by previous parents,” has more photos and information.

The Pattersons debated making a victim impact statement at the trial of Kristen and Douglas Barbour, after the Barbours had entered their “no contest” plea. In the Post-Gazette article, Ali says they decided ultimately to make a statement, because they felt an obligation to children whose abuse and neglect might not be reported. “There were so many missed opportunities for help for our children, from mandated reporters to people in the community. People need to understand that it isn’t their job to determine whether abuse and neglect happened, but to report their concerns.”

Ali says also in the Post-Gazette article that “No one involved in the children’s lives at that time, from their community, family or church ever apologized to Robert and Didi…Nobody said, ‘I’m sorry you suffered.’ ”

The story of these children has been made public in the course of the Barbours’ criminal case, and the Pattersons are well aware that Robert and Didi could look up those stories in years to come. Says Ali in the recent article, “We wanted them to see themselves not as forever victims but as the resilient people they are, and we want them to know they are admired and adored.”

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Big brother Will Patterson, 13, getting a hug from little sister Didi, 4. © Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Deportation of International Adoptees Must Stop

Do you think that internationally adopted children should be considered genuine family members, with the rights and responsibilities of other children here in the US? The US Congress appears to disagree. If an adoptee’s parents fail to get citizenship for the child, current immigration law says that the child could be deported when he or she grows up.

Imagine a family which has two boys, one adopted and one biological. Imagine that the sons, as adults, are convicted of the same crime. Both are subject to the criminal justice system and serve their time. The adopted one could then be deported. This has to stop.

Until 2000, citizenship was not automatic for internationally adopted children, when the Child Citizenship Act (CCA) was signed into law. (There are still legal processes to follow, depending on the type of visa.) However, the CCA doesn’t protect those who were adopted prior to 2000, if their parents, for whatever reasons, did not get them citizenship.

Yes: an adoptee, legally brought to the US for adoption by US citizens, CAN BE DEPORTED, never to return to the US again.

Do you know anyone who has messed up and gotten caught smoking weed, or driving drunk, or writing a bad check, or punching someone? Maybe you, or a family member. Maybe your son or daughter has, or will someday.

What if the punishment included deportation, to a country thousands of miles away, where your child had no family or friends, didn’t know the language, and had been in only when he or she was a small child, even a baby?

Immigration laws passed some 20 years ago included provisions allowing deportation of non-US citizens for certain crimes, even after they served their time. International adoptees, brought here for purposes of adoption by US parents (forever families!), surely were not the intended targets of this policy. We all agree that people who commit crimes should be punished and serve their time. It is highly unfair, though, to further punish adoptees because their adoptive parents failed to get them citizenship.

Dozens of other adoptees have faced deportation, to Thailand, Guatemala, Korea, India, Germany, and elsewhere. I’ve written previously about this injustice in “All They Will Call You Will Be Deportees.”

Here are two examples. Joao Herbert was adopted at 8 years old from Brazil, and raised in Ohio by loving parents. Two months after his high school graduation, he sold 7.5 ounces of marijuana to a police informant. For that first time offense, because he had not been officially naturalized as a US citizen, he faced deportation.

From a Washington Post article subtitled “For Children Adopted From Abroad, Lawbreaking Brings Deportation:” Through the thick glass of the visitation cubicles at the county jail where he’d been held since last March, he’d plead with his mother: “I’m your son, right? They can’t take me away, can they? Show them the adoption papers.”

The adoption papers, though, didn’t matter. Joao was deported when he was 22, for the rest of his life. His life ended four years later, when he was shot and killed at 26 years old, in Campinas, Brazil. You can read more here.

Adam Crapser was adopted from Korea in 1979 when he was four years old. His first adoptive family in Michigan subjected him to sexual and physical abuse, and he was placed in foster care at eight years old.  When Adam was 11, he was adopted by the Crapser family in Oregon. Five years later, these adoptive parents accepted plea deals for sexual and physical abuse. You can imagine what Adam’s childhood was like. He talks about it in a Gazillion Voices podcast here. It’s heartbreaking. No child should endure what he went through.

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Childhood photo of Adam Crapser from Land of Gazillion Adoptees

Adam has committed crimes, including breaking into his adoptive parents’ home to get the Korean bible he arrived with. Neither of Adam’s adoptive families got US citizenship for him. Now he faces deportation, like Joao, to a country where he does not speak the language and has no friends or family. Now almost 40 years old, Adam is married and has children. He is remorseful for his crimes, and has served his time. It is an outrage that he should be deported.

You can read more about the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 here. It applies to adoptees who were under 18 as of February 27, 2001, when the law went into effect. For older adoptees, there is no automatic citizenship. Some find out when they go to register to vote or apply for college loans. Some find out when they have been convicted and served time–and are subject to deportation.

Adam has a deportation hearing on April 2. Please listen to the podcast, and share this post. Contact your federal representatives in Congress, and ask them to support an amendment to the Child Citizenship Act that so that adoptees are treated fairly, even if their parents failed to get US citizenship for their children.

Update: There is now a petition to request administrative closure on Adam’s deportation case, which would allow Adam to get his green card and move toward citizenship. Please learn more about this petition here. Already over 7,000 people have signed it, which is great news.

Adoptive families deserve to be treated like other families legally, and adoptees deserve to be treated like the family members they are–not perfect, but protected under the law.

Please help spread the word. Many thanks.

 

 

Proposal on Common Ground in Adoption: Not Chosen By NCFA/JCICS

I submitted a proposal, “Finding Common Ground in Adoption Policy and Practices,” for the annual NCFA/JCICS conference. It was not chosen. I am disappointed, primarily because the conference participants will not get to hear my insightful, accomplished co-panelists (three transracial adoptees from the US, Colombia, and Ethiopia) speak on a vital topic.

NCFA is the National Council For Adoption, and JCICS is the Joint Council on International Children’s Services. This June, they are hosting a national conference together, titled “Putting Family First: From Family Strengthening to Adoption.”

My partners included Aselefech Evans, an Ethiopian adoptee who is also my daughter. She is a founder of Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora. Aselefech and three other Ethiopian adoptees recently created a powerful video for Black History Month about racial identity: black, African, Ethiopian, African-American, immigrant? The video, “I Am Black History,” is available here.  Another panelist was Susan Branco Alvarado, soon to be Ph.D. with a dissertation on “School Counselors Working with Transracially Adopted Students.” Susan is a Colombian adoptee, and a licensed therapist specializing in adoption. The third panelist was Nicole Soojung Callahan, a Korean adoptee born in the US. Her recent adoption-related articles are “Did You Ever Mind It?: On Race and Adoption” and “Friendship and Race and Knowing Your Place,” reflecting on her experiences as a transracial adoptee. She is currently the assistant editor of The-Toast.net; her writing has appeared in Slate, the New York Times, Salon, theatlantic.com, and elsewhere.

My proposal partnered with three adult adoptees because adoptive parents like me have held the microphone way too long in adoption forums, and because I believe deeply in the value of adult adoptees’ perspectives and experiences. I also would genuinely like to see positive movement toward common ground in adoption policies and practices. My co-panelists would have brought thoughtful, extensive expertise to the discussion.

International adoptions are declining. Adult adoptees are speaking out about falsehoods in their adoption paperwork, their struggles with racism, and their distrust of the adoption process. Adoption agencies are closing. At least one has been indicted by the US Department of Justice for fraud and corruption. TV shows and mainstream news articles critique adoption in an almost visceral way. The adoption community is increasingly angry, antagonistic, and divided.

All of that prompted my proposal on “Finding Common Ground in Adoption Policy and Perspectives.” You can read the proposal here, including more biographical information.

Final thoughts:

  • The attendees at the NCFA/JCICS conference have lost the opportunity to hear the wisdom and insights of three adult adoptees who would bring a critical but balanced viewpoint, and not the traditional narrative which dismisses the genuine, increasingly vocal concerns of many adult adoptees. NCFA and JCICS have been criticized for not including adult adoptees in policy discussions and for dismissing them if their voices were too critical. As one colleague said to me, “We adoptees and our allies are going to keep pushing back on policies that aren’t in our interest and well-being.”
  • While I easily admit that I have spoken out against some of the policies and practices of NCFA and JCICS, this proposal was intended to create a conversation about differences, and see if we could find positive, common ground in our community. I still see that as a viable, important goal. My co-panelists and I have already been offered some new opportunities, and look forward to new conversations.

NCFA and JCICS have every right to make the selections they want. I will continue to partner with adult adoptees and first parents on workshops, publications, and videos. Adoptees and first/birth families will continue to take over the microphones that adoptive parents and adoption agencies have held in the past, and will increasingly speak their truths, rightfully demanding change. Let’s move ahead.

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Ethiopian Adoptees and Black History Month: A Great Video

Four Ethiopian adoptees have made a thoughtful, provocative video for Black History Month, talking about what it means to be black, Ethiopian, and African, in the US and in Canada.

Their “I Am Black History” video is available here.

I congratulate Aselefech Evans, Rahel Tafere, Annette-Kassaye, and Mekdes SOulgarden for their willingness to share their valuable perspectives. It’s about adoption, it’s about identity, it’s about race, and it’s about empowerment.

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Kudos and gratitude also to Bryan Tucker, the producer of the wonderful documentary Closure. Bryan gave his time, expertise, and talent to “I AM Black History,” and that means a great deal.

This video is groundbreaking and personal. We need these conversations. Many thanks to everyone involved.

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