Going Back, Giving Back: An Ethiopian Adoptee Runs For Ethiopian Orphans

My daughter Aselefech–an Ethiopian adoptee, part of the African diaspora, a mother herself–will be running a half-marathon in Ethiopia this August. And head’s up–she is doing so to give back to her country, by raising funds for an organization that is dedicated to family preservation, finding families in Ethiopia for Ethiopian orphans.

How beautiful and wonderful is that?

Aselefech and her twin sister, adopted at 6 years old, now 25 years old, have reconnected with their first family in Ethiopia. Aselefech wrote about her journey here: Far Away, Always in My Heart.

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One of their older Ethiopian brothers now lives in Seattle; the siblings have gotten to know each other well, again.

Aselefech with her brother (reunited in 2009) and her daughter. Photo: December 2012

Aselefech with her brother (reunited in 2009) and her daughter. Photo: December 2012

Aselefech is finishing up her undergraduate degree, and moving toward a master’s in social work. She writes honestly and powerfully as a columnist for Gazillion Voices, sharing her experiences with racism, with grief, with love, with loss. She’s done webinars, YouTube videos, conference workshops, and adoptee seminars, talking about the joys and the challenges of being adopted, internationally and transracially.

And now she will return to Ethiopia for the third time. Her daughter and I will be there too. We will visit with her Ethiopian family. My granddaughter will meet her Ethiopian grandmother, and play with her cousins there. Aselefech will run 13 miles with Ethiopians and others in her home country, to raise funds (via Crowdrise; please stay tuned) for Ethiopian family preservation.

Konjo. Beautiful. From sorrow and loss, we can find joy and hope.

Amazing Resource for Young Adoptees: Creating Home

Anyone connected with adoption is aware of the need, value, and scarcity of post-adoption resources, especially for teens and college-age young people. It’s a complicated, vulnerable time for figuring out identity, independence, and values for any adolescent/young adult, and often especially so for adoptees.

How about an opportunity to be with other young adoptees as well as with adopted adults/mentors and accomplished artists from many fields, sharing stories, creating art, and building community?

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Creating Home will be a great new resource aimed at connecting young adoptees with artists (many of whom are also adoptees) to tell their stories and explore their realities in a safe, affirming way. The pilot project is beginning in Minnesota, and will hopefully be replicated in many other places. The need is there–let’s get this into action.

An excerpt from the Kickstarter page:

Creating Home is a multidisciplinary storytelling program for teen and college age adoptees, and is driven by the idea that finding one’s voice through the arts can be an empowering experience. The three month pilot program will feature world-class teaching artist mentors (like the artists, actors, and writers featured in our video), interactive workshops, performance opportunities, and much more. It will serve as a space to affirm identity and build community in whatever ways that makes sense to the participants. Whether through spoken-word, visual art, dance, or other forms, the teen and college age adoptee participants will be given tools and resources to tell their stories and talk about their thoughts and perspectives on their own terms.

Sun Mee Chomet: actor/playwright. adoptee, featured in Coming Home Kickstarter video

Sun Mee Chomet: actor/playwright. adoptee, featured in Coming Home Kickstarter video

As the adoptive parent of 4 now-young adults (all in their mid-late 20′s now!), I know that this program would have been embraced by them, and would have been extremely useful to them. It brings young adoptees together in a creative, active way. It’s a partnership with COMPAS (Community Programs In the Arts), Land of Gazillion Adoptees, and the hip hop artist/activist/slam poetry champion Guante. Creating Home meets a huge, gaping need in the adoption community.

And it needs your support! Please take a look at the Kickstarter page and make a donation. Adoption agency professionals, adoptive parents, adult adoptees, artists, performers, photographers, poets, anyone who cares about solid, appropriate, meaningful resources for young adoptees–please join me in Creating Home.

 

Does “Adoption” Really Equal “Trauma”?

Yes.

To some people, this is old news (“The Primal Wound” came out in 1993.) To some, it’s a startlingly new concept. I’d argue, though, that “adoption as trauma” exists on a spectrum, as does trauma itself: some people recover well and easily, some people are forever wounded, and most are somewhere between.

A mainstream view is that adoption is a happy event: a child needing a family gets one. How, then, is adoption a trauma? That sounds so negative and scary, especially to an adoptive parent, and to an adoptee.

As an adoptive parent, I believe that adoption is all about gains and losses, joy and grief, a balance that shifts often throughout life. I also believe if we took a deep breath and viewed adoption as trauma—trauma that can be overcome, trauma that some people may experience to a small or large degree—we would be better able to help adopted children heal and grow healthy, sooner than later. I think we adoptive parents need to acknowledge trauma as part of adoption, not only for our children, but also for their first mothers (and fathers and grandparents as siblings).

I’m hardly the first to be aware of this, or to write about it. In candor, though, I’m just beginning to fully understand and accept it. Adoptive parents who have worked hard to bring a child into their lives through adoption don’t want to think that this action is in fact rooted in trauma.

I wrote in February about a yoga retreat I attended, all about healing from trauma, through yoga, writing, and nutrition. I shared a list of items that cause trauma, and I suggested that they all describe reasons children are placed for adoption.

Much research acknowledges that separation from one’s mother is trauma. Think Harlow and the baby monkeys; think Primal Wound. In the case where the separation is the result of neglect, abuse, or death, the trauma is intensified. The American Academy of Pediatrics wrote a report called “Helping Foster and Adoptive families Cope with Trauma.” Claudia Corrigan D’Arcy, a birth mother and powerful writer of the blog “Musings of the Lame,” wrote about the AAP report in her post “Assume There Is Adoption Trauma in Adoptees.”

We are hardwired to need and depend on our mothers for survival. If there is an end to that basic relationship, children suffer—even if they are infants, even if there is a new (loving, overjoyed) mother or mother-figure.

So it’s not only neglect or abuse that contribute to trauma, though please don’t minimize those challenges.

Adoption itself is trauma.

If we acknowledge that separation from one’s mother is a trauma, then we also must recognize that separation from one’s child is a trauma. When my granddaughter turned 6, I couldn’t help but think that was the age when her mother (along with her twin sister) arrived here in the US for adoption. I thought about their Ethiopian mother, and the loss of her 6-year-old twins.

Part of that thinking acknowledged the total lack of any counseling, follow-up, or therapy that is provided to many first mothers (and fathers, etc.), in the US but perhaps even more so around the globe. Providing equitable services to adoptive and to first parents must become a priority in adoption policy.

Some people, adoptees or otherwise, heal just fine from the trauma of separation. Some struggle with trust issues throughout their lives, and have a hard time beginning or ending relationships. Some are challenged with depression, anxiety, and more, throughout their lives. I want to stress that point: there is a spectrum of resilience among adopted people, and no doubt among first parents. The spectrum does not negate the need for equitable, timely services.

If adoptive parents could accept trauma as part of their newly adopted child’s reality, might they approach attachment and bonding differently? Might they see some of the post-honeymoon (the time after the adoptive placement) behaviors as grief, due to trauma? Even infants grieve.

What if pediatricians gave new adoptive parents brochures about trauma, as well as developmental checklists?

What if agencies had prospective families listen to experienced parents whose children have struggled, instead of the parents with the cute toddlers? What if agencies had adopted adults speak of their experiences around trust, stealing, lying, and depression, as well as identity and race? What if agencies acknowledged the need to provide equitable services to international first parents, to help them deal with their losses and grief?

What if we normalized trauma, as an inherent part of adoption? What if we accepted that possibility calmly, and gathered resources for our children?

I would have done a few things differently when raising my children, had I been more willing to consider trauma when they were little. Maybe I could have made their paths smoother.

Deanna Doss Schrodes is an adoptee, Christian pastor, and the writer behind “Adoptee Restoration.” Corie Skolnick is a therapist and author. Both Deanna and Corie are contributors to the excellent anthology, Adoption Reunion in the Social Media Age, edited by (adoptee, expat, writer) Laura Dennis. Deanna and Corie had a conversation via Deanna’s blog, about the subject of adoption and trauma, and it’s well worth reading and contemplating (“Ask a Therapist: How Is Trauma Part of Adoption?“).

It’s coincidental that Claudia, Deanna, Corie, and I should be writing about adoption and trauma. As I noted at the start of this post, we are hardly the first to consider it.

Still, here we have agreement among a birth/first mother, an adopted adult, a therapist, and an adoptive parent on a significant adoption issue: adoption is a trauma. Imagine what would happen if more of us talked together about challenging adoption issues.

Tremendous fights and fractures are occurring in the world of adoption right now, in terms of policy and of whose voices are being heard. Adoptive parents and prospective parents continue to dominate. It’s rare we (adopted adults. first parents, adoptive parents) all sing from the same song sheet, and there are lots of people with lots of microphones singing many different tunes. Still.

Acknowledging that adoption is trauma, understanding that trauma manifests differently in different people and over time, and allocating resources for treatment and support: that would be a positive step toward healing.

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Susan Perry, RIP: How Lucky We Were to Have You

I never met her in person, but I consider Susan Perry a friend, and I mourn her death today. Like me, she was a mom, a grandmother, a teacher, a writer. Unlike me (an adoptive parent), she was an adopted person, denied her original birth certificate and her medical history. Had she had access to her medical history, perhaps we would not be grieving today. That, to me, is a sobering reality.

She wrote a wonderful blog, Nanadays.blogpost,com. She wrote about her beloved family, two children and 6 grandchildren. She wrote about finding her two sisters just last September. She wrote about the basic human right all people should have to their own birth certificates. She testified about the adoptee birthright bill in New Jersey, writing about it in her blog: “Every adopted child is worthy of truth and respect, and, as an adult, should certainly be entitled to equal treatment under the law.” She was a vital voice with Lost Daughters, who called her “our friend, our colleague, and, most importantly of all, our sister.” She was involved with the New Jersey Coalition for Adoption Reform and Education (NJCARE), and with the Adoptee Rights Coalition. So many people will miss her.

In recent weeks, Susan’s daughter wrote on her blog, expressing eloquently the vibrancy and depth with which her mother lived her life. I wrote about Susan last October, in my post Information and Access: An American Civil Right Denied. I send my condolences to Susan’s family. She will be missed, and many of us will carry on her legacy to provide basic civil rights to adopted people.

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Joyce Maguire Pavao Speaks Out Against CHIFF

Dr. Joyce Maguire Pavao, the highly regarded, nationally- and internationally- known clinician, has written a thoughtful, insightful essay on the reasons she opposes the Children in Families First legislation (CHIFF). Joyce is also an adopted person. It is her perspective and experiences that should have been a core part of CHIFF from the start. Regrettably, she and other adopted adults were not consulted; their voices were excluded from the CHIFF discussions.

From her web page: Dr. Pavao has done extensive training, both nationally and internationally. She is an adjunct faculty member in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and has lectured at Harvard, Smith, Wellesley, UCLA, USC, and Antioch, among other universities. She has consulted to various public and private child welfare agencies, adoption agencies, schools, and community groups, as well as probate and family court judges, lawyers, and clergy. Additionally, she has worked closely with individuals, couples, and families with adoption-related issues, foster care issues, guardianship and kinship, as well as complex families formed through reproductive technology, single parent families, gay and lesbian families, and families through remarriage.

Please see her information about Pavao Consulting and Coaching.

Thank you, Joyce, for this powerful essay.

Reflecting on CHIFF-Children in Families First
Dr. Joyce Maguire Pavao

Most Child Welfare policies- domestic and international- make mention of the need to:
• Reunify children with birth parents
• Find kinship care placements
• Find families nearby to keep connections and continuity
• Allow for international adoption (or in large countries like US and China to allow for distant placements far from child’s origin)

All of these -in this order -are far better than institutional care for a child who deserves to be in a family first. The problem with this CHIFF legislation plan is that not enough education and funding goes into working on the first three preferences for the child, and it seems ‘easier’ and more in keeping with the ‘business’ of adoption to skip right to international.

This move is often a gateway into illegal and unethical maneuvers that provide more children, for more fees, and that pay no attention to the realities of the birth families and the child. These children are often not orphans and not without extended family and community, but become legal orphans against the knowledge or will of their people.
It is disconcerting that many proponents of CHIFF are worried about a reduced rate of children available for waiting adoptive parents. The adoptive parents are as much the victim of this unfortunate situation, as are the birth families and the children waiting.

There will always be children who authentically need families, and families who- once they are educated -realize that in today’s world everyone can find each other, and the truth of the origins of every child will be revealed to their child eventually.

Don’t we want our children to feel that their adoptions are just and ethical?

Don’t we want that to be at the core as they deal with all of the challenges they will encounter?

It is far from anti adoption to want to curtail the huge industry that is a part of international adoption (and sometimes domestic), and that sometimes involves child trafficking and other illegal and unethical practices.
It seems important and very pro adoption to care about these children and these issues:
To think about the rights of the child and of the Hague convention
To think about the infant or child in each adoption, as he/she will later in life be making sense of what has happened in his/her life.
My famous quote from years ago is “adoption should be about finding families for children and not about finding children for families.” This holds true.

The child welfare people finding the families must be sure that efforts have been made to reunify, locate kin , find proximal families, before moving to international searches for families for that child. It is the highest order of honoring our adoptions of old (and I am an old adopted person) by being ethical, legal, and compassionate of the child in current adoptions, and by making efforts for connections to be preserved for that child.

Children should be in families first – their original family, the families of kin, the families nearby and finally – if all else truly fails after true searching -then in families waiting in other countries.

This work should be about the child, but not just the infant or child on the present, rather the whole person that child will become, who will grow and change and wonder and grieve.

We have to stop seeing adoption as a business and an industry or a mission, and realize that we are manipulating individuals and families, we are causing a great deal of loss, trauma, pain and distrust in doing things in ways that are not meant to be, and in ways that both physically and emotionally cut the child off from connections that will be healing and important to their entire family, which will include both family by birth and by adoption.

I am far from anti adoption. I am a product of it- and it has happened for centuries. There are so many people living in adoption throughout the world, and because adoption will continue to happen forever, it must be the right thing. It must be ethical, legal, just, compassionate and transparent – for the sake of the child.
4/1/2014

My Letter to Congressional Reps: Thank You for Not Co-sponsoring CHIFF

The fallout and division that is CHIFF did not have to happen. Tremendous common ground exists: who disagrees that children deserve safe, loving families?

Unfortunately, the folks who crafted CHIFF (Children in Families First, S. 1530 and H.R. 4143) did so in a vacuum, excluding significant constituents: international adoptees and original parents. That short-sighted decision has come back repeatedly to haunt them. Perhaps they felt the rhetoric of “children deserve families” is enough to bring everyone on board. It is not.

Instead, there is an increasing amount of pushback from many corners of the international adoption community, a mounting demand not for shallow rhetoric but for genuine, thoughtful policies that meet currently existing needs.

The legislation, introduced in the House over a year ago and the Senate 6 months ago, has failed to gain traction. It has incurred much controversy, perhaps due to its evangelical proponents, perhaps due to its many supporters who oppose gay people as adoptive parents, perhaps due to its unclear cost (a “modest portion” of $2 billion), perhaps due to its decision to censor those who disagree or question them, or perhaps due to the concern that aid provided by CHIFF to other countries will be tied to the country’s participation in intercountry adoption. For whatever reasons, it has been hammered from many sides, seemingly to the surprise of its supporters.

I’ve been among those criticizing CHIFF. I’m an adoptive parent, and I deeply believe that all children deserve families. I believe in adoption, when it is done in an ethical, transparent way that genuinely meets the needs of all involved, not just at placement, but over lifetimes.

Could this controversy, criticism, and lack of traction have been avoided? Perhaps, had CHIFF proponents reached out to the international adoption community in a meaningful way. Perhaps, had they held hearings on current, glaring needs of internationally adopted adults and children, and of marginalized international first parents. Perhaps, had they insisted on better pre- and post- adoption services, with equity, access, and affordability for everyone.

I am sending a letter to my US Senators and Representative, thanking them for not co-sponsoring CHIFF, explaining my concerns, and providing suggestions for better international adoption policies. Here it is:

As an adoptive parent, I want to thank you for not co-sponsoring the Children in Families First legislation (CHIFF, S. 1530 and
 H.R. 1403). CHIFF’s intent, from their web page, is this: “We protect children by preserving families, reunifying families or creating families through adoption.” Everyone agrees that children around the globe deserve safe, loving families: it’s a laudable goal. Family preservation, domestic adoption, and international adoption are ways to achieve that goal, especially for vulnerable children. I am the parent of four children through adoption: 2 sons from the US, twin daughters from Ethiopia. My children, all in their 20’s now, are my life’s greatest blessings.

CHIFF, unfortunately, ignores many important realities of international adoption.

It fails to include the voices of adult adoptees and of first/original international parents, the people affected most directly by this legislation and the most knowledgeable about international adoption and family preservation.  CHIFF proponents appear to have made no effort in seeking out these groups, especially prior to introducing the legislation. Indeed, the main supporters of the legislation (as listed on the CHIFF webpage) are adoption agencies and adoption attorneys, who have a significant economic stake in increasing the numbers of international adoption, and do not have expertise in family preservation. Internationally adopted adults and international first parents should have a significant place at the table of any international adoption policy. That is not the case with CHIFF.

Several current, glaring problems in the international adoption community must be solved before CHIFF is even considered.

One example is that the US government currently does not provide citizenship for all international adoptees. Adoptees who were brought to the US for the purpose of adoption by US citizens prior to 2000 have been deported to Brazil, Korea, India, Germany, and elsewhere. It is regrettable that CHIFF proponents, especially adoption agencies, have been unable to move the citizenship legislation, which would affect adoptees they placed years ago, and who are now promoting legislation to expand international adoption. I hope that all supporters of CHIFF would be deeply motivated to demand the US citizenship legislation for all adoptees now, in the name of fairness and integrity, and well before advancing an enormous piece of expensive, controversial legislation.

Another example that CHIFF does not address is the huge, gaping need for genuine, rigorous pre-adoption preparation, and for substantive, effective, accessible post-adoption counseling and resources here in the United States. Surely we can craft adoption policy far better than CHIFF, in terms of preparation and counseling of birth/first parents and of adoptive parents prior to adoption, and in terms of post-adoption resources and services for everyone. 

 I’d like to see some degree of equity in counseling and services (before and after placement) for international birth parents as compared to US adoptive parents. One possibility is re-vamping the US adoption tax credit as one means of doing this. No new money–just an equitable, sane distribution of revenue (billions of dollars) that the US federal government is already providing to adoptive parents. So far, the US has given some $7 billion in tax credits, primarily for international and private adoptions, and a fractional amount for the original intent of US foster care adoptions.

 A third example: CHIFF does not address the grim cloud of corruption and fraud over international adoption. Many US families have brought children to the US only to find out the children have families who wanted to keep them, but were trafficked or otherwise brought to the US in unethical circumstances. Adult adoptees have traveled back to their home countries and learned very different stories from what the agencies told their adoptive parents. 

CHIFF minimally acknowledges the corruption that exists in international adoption. The fraud and corruption should be acknowledged, researched thoroughly, and (ideally) eliminated.

 Fourth, CHIFF does not address the tragic and disturbing practice of “re-homing” here in the US, recently cited in Reuters’ articles, which looked at re-homing practices over 5 years. Better preparation and better post-adopt services (including respite, training, access to therapists who understand adoption, trauma, and related issues) surely would have prevented some of these complex cases.

 Fifth, while CHIFF does not meaningfully address current needs here in the United States regarding international adoption policy, it would use USAID and other taxpayer money to increase international adoptions, to create new bureaucracy within the State Department, and to establish new programs around the globe. The CHIFF web page is decidedly vague on the amount: “a modest part of $2 billion” is the amount listed.

Before anything like CHIFF goes forward, before we use additional funds and resources to increase the numbers of internationally adopted children, we need, at a minimum, the following:

▪                Good data, solid research, and substantive information about current realities in the US international adoption community.

▪                Good data, solid research, and substantive information about fraud and corruption in international adoption practices.

▪                Inclusion and buy-in from adult international adoptees and from international birth/original parents, and not solely from adoptive parents, adoption agencies, and adoption attorneys.

▪                Funding and training for pre-adoption and post-adoption resources that are effective and accessible.

▪                Legislation and/or other resources that provides guidance and oversight for families in crisis, with transparency for adoption disruptions and services for children.

 I believe in adoption, when it is done in a transparent, ethical way. I believe in equitable services for all those involved in adoption, including original (birth) parents. I believe we need to address current problems in the international adoption community before undertaking huge new programs around the globe.

 CHIFF excludes vital stakeholders, is expensive, and ignores genuine needs in the US and international adoption community. It should not move forward. Surely we can do far better than this, and truly meet the needs of vulnerable children and families.

 Thank you again, for not co-sponsoring this legislation.

 Sincerely,

Maureen McCauley Evans

 

 

 

 

 

Research on Ethiopian Birth Families: A Must-Read

As an adoptive parent, I feel very strongly that the voices of birth parents need to be heard and listened to, in our own families as well as in adoption legislation and policy.

A few salient quotes from an academic research report, Birth Families and Intercountry Adoption in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia:

“70% of adopted children have a surviving birth parent in Ethiopia, making it painstakingly clear that most of these parents are not offered other types of assistance…

The conceptualization behind intercountry adoption obscures focus on the most inexpensive and highest quality option–enabling a child to remain with his/her living birthparent and assisting that birthparent to make a local plan for after his/her death…

Some of the most impoverished communities in Africa have proven capable of caring for orphans and vulnerable children, even in the context of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, when nurtured by programs that identify and seek to repair the holes in the safety net…”

These excerpts are from a 2010 thesis written by (US citizen) Sarah Brittingham for her M.A. in Development Studies at the International Institute of Social Studies in The Hague.

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Despite their obvious and vulnerable role in international adoption, birth/original/first parents have received too little attention in terms of academic work, and certainly in terms of post-placement services. This thesis sheds additional light, along with the MSW work of  Kalkidan Alelign. You can read Ms. Alelign’s important thesis in my post, Ethiopian Birth Mothers After Relinquishment: MSW Research from Addis Ababa University.

Sarah Brittingham’s research has an extensive amount of references, including research on Marshall Islands’ adoptions that is remarkably relevant to Ethiopia: “If I Give You My Child, Aren’t We Family? A Study of Birth Mothers Participating in Marshall Islands–US Adoptions.” Brittingham’s research echoes that of the Marshall Islands, in that “Few (Ethiopian) participants showed an understanding of intercountry adoption as complete severance of ties with their children. Instead, adoption seems to represent ‘a link between two families creating a relation of kinship for support and expanded rights.’”

That notion of “a link between two families” is challenging to define, as it is a form of open international adoption. I believe that will be the model for the future of inter country adoption, a model that relinquishes fear and falsehoods. If adoptions are to continue, they must be ethical, transparent, and fair.

Here is a quote from an Ethiopian birth mother, comparing her experience to that of a close friend’s:

We both gave our children through the same agency, but I don’t hear about my children. When I went to the agency to demand information, they told me contact is based on the adoptive parents’ willingness and personality. Some want a picture, calls, etc., and some don’t, and they can’t do anything about it. It is up to the adoptive parents. But I think that if it is the same agency and the same law, it should apply to all parents…

I would love to hear the insights of adoption agencies on this, on what the agreements or inferences were and are regarding post-placement contact. My sense, based on anecdotes, is that increasing numbers of adoptive parents are reaching out and contacting Ethiopian birth families on their own, but I have no hard research on that.

I do feel certain that enormous confusion exists over what information the birth families were promised, following the placement of their children. There is great hope, even expectation, among many Ethiopian birth families that their children will go back to Ethiopia, and contribute to the country, and perhaps to the birth family as well.

One participant in the Brittingham thesis says “I wish for God to give me a long life so that I will be able to see (my children).” An adoptee “believed that intercountry adoption was the best way to help her mother, stating, ‘it’s better we go outside, and when we have something of our own, we will help you.’ “

We–adoptive parents, adoption agencies, and adoption policymakers–need to hear these voices of Ethiopian original parents and of adopted persons.

We need to insist on additional research on intercountry adoption outcomes, especially as related to birth families.

We need to insist on improved, equitable services for all involved.

Many thanks to those who are researching these issues.

May those who are proposing new laws, policies, and funding genuinely hear the voices and the needs of marginalized first families.

 

 

 

 

Ethiopian Adoption Connection, and an Update on the First Families Project

Great news: a website is up and running that allows Ethiopian birth families and the adoptive families of Ethiopian children, and the adoptees themselves, to connect with each other. It is called Ethiopian Adoption Connection; click here to access it.

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This exciting new resource was developed by Andrea, a US adoptive mom of Ethiopian children, and US birth/first mother Claudia Corrigan D’Arcy, who writes the highly regarded blog, Musings of the Lame.

Andrea and Claudia have combined their considerable skills, time, and energy to create this wonderful site that allows both Ethiopian birth families and adoptive families to enter data and connect with each other. The site also has information about searchers, about online groups, and about other resources. It is in English and Amharic, and they hope to have other Ethiopian languages as well.

This project is a courageous, powerful labor of love. It meets a desperate need. Please use and share this site; please contribute to its support, if you can.

This site is a sign of positive possibilities in the adoption community, which is complex and tangled in many ways now.

Is there more to do in terms to share information between Ethiopian families and adoptive families? Sure. Ethiopian Adoption Connection has begun blazing a vital path.

In a December 2013 post, I discussed two goals of a First Families Project, designed to connect Ethiopian first families and US (or other) adoptive families of Ethiopian children:

(1) To create an infrastructure to deliver information from adoptive families to Ethiopian first families. This one is very complicated and potentially fraught with all sorts of problems, involving laws, money, emotions, unintended consequences, and more. Lots of gray areas. I’m looking forward to seeing what the possibilities are, and then bringing about positive changes.

(2) To record, honor, and preserve the stories of Ethiopian first mothers. This one has its own complexities, and will be easier to implement.

As a community, we have to keep thinking, talking, and connecting. Like many others, I am continuing to look at ways to improve the delivery of information between families, hoping to better meet that first goal.

About the second goal: In December, I wrote about The Stories of Ethiopian First Mothers, and of Their Children. All too often in the adoption process, first/original/birth mothers are deeply marginalized. This is true especially in international adoption, where first mothers are often much poorer, less educated, and less empowered than us adoptive mothers in the US or other receiving countries. Adoption agencies rarely provide any level of post-placement services to the first mothers. There is no reason to think that those mothers don’t deeply grieve the loss of their children, nor that they don’t deserve some measure of services in the days, weeks, and years after making a plan for (losing their child to) adoption.

Let me stress that while I cite first mothers here, I am well aware that first fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, and others also may be grieving and wounded, even in cases where they believe adoption is best for the child.

In the short-term, I continue to advocate for services to international first parents, before and after placement. The services should be equitable to what adoptive parents receive. I’d argue that those services need expansion as well, of course. Still, international first parents are at a huge disadvantage in terms of support and services.

In the long-term, I am working on several partnerships to record and preserve the stories of first mothers. Yes, there could be a Kickstarter project in the summer. Yes, there are travel plans afoot. It’s good stuff. I am grateful to be doing this work.

 

 

AAI, Hana Williams’ Agency, Is Out of Business: Now What?

2014 has been a rough ride for international adoption agencies: Celebrate Children International was the subject of a 48 Hours investigation, and International Adoption Guides is under indictment. The so-called Children in Families First legislation is under siege and appears to be foundering. And now Adoption Advocates International is closing. What other signs are needed to convince agencies and agency-affiliates that they need to change the way they are doing business?

On March 7, Adoption Advocates International, the Washington state adoption agency used by Larry and Carri Williams to adopt Hana and Immanuel Williams, announced it was closing its Ethiopian adoption program. Today, March 12, it appears they are closing their doors completely.

An article about AAI’s closing was printed here, in today’s Peninsula Daily News.

Many people are happy that AAI is closing, given AAI’s role in the placement of Hana Alemu and Immanuel Williams. As always in complex situations, though, there are other elements to consider. Many families in the process of adopting through AAI, not just from Ethiopia but from Burkina Faso, China, and perhaps elsewhere, are now in a difficult emotional and financial position. AAI has placed some 4500 adoptees over the last 3 decades whose records must be (I hope) kept available for them, somewhere. There are now children who will not be adopted, who perhaps legitimately needed new, safe, loving families. There are first/original parents, always the most marginalized in adoption, who may not be able to access information about their children.

Interestingly, AAI is a Hague-accredited agency, certified by the Council on Accreditation through April 2016. That COA accreditation is intended to be a high standard that signifies an agency is in excellent financial and programmatic health.

Christian World Adoptions, a South Carolina adoption agency, suddenly closed its doors and declared bankruptcy early in 2013. It was also a COA/Hague certified agency, right to the end. It startles me that 2 COA-accredited agencies within about a year can suddenly just close. What went horribly wrong in their financial status that COA totally missed?

According to the COA website:

Hague management standards apply to all adoption service providers regardless of the type of provider or services provided. These management standards promote accountability and include:

  • Licensing and Corporate Governance
  • Financial and Risk Management
  • Ethical Practices and Responsibilities
  • Professional Qualifications and Training of Employees
  • Information Disclosure, Fee Practices, and Quality Control
  • Responding to Complaints and Records and Reports Management
  • Service Planning and Delivery

When 2 COA-accredited international adoption agencies abruptly close within about one year of each other, many questions are raised about COA accreditation. Certainly it casts a shadow on the strength and value of the accreditation process for other currently accredited adoption agencies.

According to page 36 of COA’s 92 page Policies and Procedures Manual-Hague, when an agency closes, it has to provide to COA the following: a listing of all Hague adoption service(s), the closing date, detailed description of reasons for the decision, and the transition and referral plan for consumers.

In this case, I am guessing that “consumers” are the prospective adoptive parents: the paying customers. I’d like to think that COA would also demand information about the plans and needs of all the children (some of who are surely adults now) who were adopted through AAI, and even of the first/original parents.

Ethiopian adoptions have been problematic for a while, for many reasons: increased awareness of fraud and corruption, implementation of new procedures, increased costs due to labor/time of ensuring the accuracy about why children become available for adoption, and more. There have been far fewer adoptions from Ethiopia in recent years, and there is increasingly great concern in Ethiopia about the outcomes of adopted children. The majority, of course, do fine, but the reality of Hana and Immanuel weighs heavily on many minds around the globe.That’s true for other Ethiopian adoptees. Kathryn Joyce’s Slate article, Hana Williams: The Tragic Death of an Ethiopian Adoptee, And How It Could Happen Again, describes other placements by AAI, and how these Ethiopian adoptees are greatly struggling.

The recent death of Korean adoptee Hyunsu O’Callaghan surely makes all of us–adoption agencies, adoptees, adoptive parents, first/original parents–pause and reflect with sorrow as well. What now?

Indeed, it’s hard to cheer about AAI’s closing. So many doors are still left open for vulnerable families and children around the world.

This could be an incredible opportunity for adoption agencies and adoption agency-related organizations (Joint Council on international Children’s Services, National Council For Adoption, Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, for example) to reach out to those who’ve been too often excluded from adoption policy discussions: adult adoptees (yes, including those whom agencies have written off as angry and rude), international first/original parents (to whom adoption agencies have a deep, ethical obligation), and even adoptive parents who disagree with them. We all want children to be in safe, loving homes. We all agree that if adoption is a viable option, it must be transparent, and all involved must be held accountable. Some are happy to see adoption agencies close, and most of us also know that the closures don’t mean that vulnerable children are now safe and cared for.

It’s time to have some really hard conversations, and not simply because adoption agencies are closing. It’s because all voices are needed if we are going to see viable, positive change in adoption policy. Pay attention, adoption agencies and coalitions: the changes are happening now, due to the adopted adults and first parents who are stepping up, speaking out, and creating overdue change. 

Art, Storytelling, Alzheimer’s: My APH Workshop

I’m thrilled to share that my workshop “Art-Full Storytelling: Drawing Out Clients” has been selected as one of 25 to be presented at the 2014 conference of the Association of Personal Historians (APH). To anyone thinking about branching into new areas of creativity and work, I say: Go for it.

In recent years, I’ve been working on ways to combine my love of storytelling, writing, and art–both for the sheer joy of it and for income. While my professional background is in social services advocacy, I have been trained as a facilitator of ethical/spiritual wills, and have presented writing workshops related to personal stories. I’ve been building a new business model based in helping people tell their stories: even when information is missing, there are wonderful stories to be told, shared, and preserved. Sometimes we need to look at new ways to re-create and re-frame stories, in a way that honors and respects both the story and the storyteller.

Here’s the description from my APH proposal: This “hands on” workshop will provide innovative, enjoyable activities related to art, engaging clients in stories and triggering memories. A range of activities and techniques will be shown, tailored to a variety of clients. Activities include writing prompts, color, paints, markers, photos, ephemera, and more. Some activities are particularly suited for clients in early or later stages of dementia, when getting a sense of personal stories can be difficult yet sought after and still valuable. The workshop will help clients reminisce and tell their stories in creative, meaningful ways–maybe not the traditional presentations, but valuable and enduring nonetheless.

The goal is to engage through focused creativity, understanding the realities of the brain’s changes over time. I’ll provide an overview of experience with Alzheimer’s patients in early, middle, and later stages, as well as those with no Alzheimer’s symptoms. I will share art exercises that foster connections and evoke memories. 

My 84-year-old dad has lived in a memory unit of an assisted living facility for nearly 3 years, and I’ve enjoyed learning more stories from him, even as some memories fade. It’s been a powerful journey. I am in the process of getting certified by the Alzheimer’s Association in quality care of dementia and Alzheimer’s patients.

Dad with his great-granddaughter in 2008

Dad with his great-granddaughter in 2008

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Dad and Z in summer 2013. I so love these 2 amazing people–and all their stories.

I genuinely enjoy the challenges of helping people fill in missing pieces to create a valuable history. Last year, I presented for the first time at an APH conference. My workshop was titled “Adopted and Estranged Families: Rebuilding a Personal History.” You can read about it here. I’m pleased to say that my 2014 workshop “Finding the Missing Pieces,” a follow-up to last year’s workshop, has been selected as an alternate for the 2014 APH conference, if a scheduled presenter has to cancel. It’s been wonderful to refine and develop strategies for helping folks to tell their stories through innovative approaches.

Maya Angelou said it well: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” May we ask loved ones to share their stories while they are with us. May we help when missing pieces need to be found, and may we listen well.