Moving From TV Shows to Legislative Reforms in International Adoption

TV shows and media reports often create a big emotional response with calls to action. The recent Dan Rather show “Unwanted in America” is no exception. Since the show aired on December 2, there have been 3 Gofundme sites, dozens of Facebook posts, a Facebook page “Unwanted in America,” a big meeting at the Ethiopian Community Center in Seattle, and no doubt many other events. I wrote yesterday about the Convergence of Concern Around Seattle Adoptees. Per that post, Julie and Rich Hehn, the adoptive parents of the Seattle adoptees featured on the show, declined to comment regarding “Unwanted,” so their views are not available.

Beyond efforts to help the young people featured in the show, there has also been much outcry to reform international adoption policies. This interest is not new in itself. In recent years, there has been a huge demand for change, from many different quarters: adult adoptees, Congress, adoptive parents, governments around the world, adoption agencies, family preservation groups, first/original parents, and concerned advocates. The outcry has reached a critical mass as everyone shares many of the same concerns, but sees solutions very differently. The Children in Families First act (CHIFF) is just one example of legislation that sounded good but fell far short, for many reasons.

“Unwanted” is the latest media event to use the stories of various adoptees to shed light on several troubling occurrences in adoptive families. I will describe 4 practices here. All are happening with increasing frequency.

One is a practice called re-homing, where adopted children are moved from one family to another without a full legal and transparent process. A Reuters series detailed the problems with re-homing, and many state and federal legislators have begun looking at possible legislation.

It’s deeply troubling that a child could be transferred via a Yahoo group to strangers, with maybe a notarized letter about power of attorney. What sort of help did the adoptive parents seek and receive, before letting their children go? What legal protections does the child have in these circumstances?

Some states have already taken action. Louisiana and Wisconsin have passed laws already. Rhode Island, Ohio, Colorado, Florida, and other states are moving in that direction. The federal government has held at least one hearing on re-homing, and more will be happening next year. This is all good news. That said, any actions in response to re-homing will, I hope, insist on increased resources and services for struggling families and children.

Another area of concern to many involved in adoption is that far too many internationally adopted children are being re-placed into new adoptive homes. This process may be arranged by an adoption agency or through lawyers, and is essentially the same as the first adoption: the (first adoptive) parents’ legal rights are terminated, and new parents become the (second set of) legal parents. On the Dan Rather show, author Joyce Maynard spoke extensively about her decision to dissolve her adoption of two Ethiopian girls who now live with a new family. I have written about internationally adopted children who are now available for adoption through our US foster care system.

While this has legal transparency and protections, there is great concern about why these second adoptions are needed. Was there insufficient preparation of the first adoptive parents? Was information about the child incomplete or inaccurate? Were there resources provided to help the child and the parents? What is the responsibility of the adoption agencies?

A specific concern raised by the Dan Rather show was the size of the adoptive family. of which 3 children are homeless now. Seattle-area’s Julie and Rich Hehn have 25-30 children, depending on what news article you read. Most of the adopted children (20?) were from Ethiopia. Some of the children had/have special needs. Some were placed with the Hehns after having been adopted and then given up by other families.

Regardless of those realities, I don’t know anyone whose jaw hasn’t dropped in response to the number of children adopted. Common reactions I’ve heard are these: How were the Hehns able to adopt 20+ children? How does that fit with best practices of child welfare? Is that a family, or a group home? Children with defined special needs, with serious medical and/or developmental issues, and with histories of loss and trauma absolutely need families. These children might also especially need more individual parental time and attention, and lots of it. In terms of adoption practice, placements of 20+ children require many resources and supports to be successful.

Large families have of course always existed, and many thrive. A big family can be a positive situation for children who have spent time in an orphanage, used to the rigors and camaraderie of being surrounded by others. Still, one hopes that any family taking in dozens of children is adequately prepared and supported in raising adopted children.

A note: many people have wondered why adoption agencies don’t follow up with families after the placement. Here’s the reason: once the adoption is finalized, the adopted child is the family’s child just like any other child. The family has every right to ignore an agency’s inquiries after the child is legally with the family. Some families want nothing to do with the adoption agency after the placement. Some call on the agency for help and support. This is why pre-adoption preparation is so vital, so that families can anticipate challenges and feel comfortable in seeking help. 

A fourth area of concern is adopted children who are thrown out of their adoptive families, and who sometimes end up homeless. That has been the case for at least 3 of the children adopted by the Hehns, according to the Dan Rather show. Among other heartbreaking parts of the show was the information about how many adoptees are at a homeless shelter in Minnesota. I have no doubts that additional research will show that this is true at other homeless shelters as well.

And, yes, I know that homeless shelters are filled with people from biological families. But there has been a definite uptick in adoptees being displaced from their families as minors or as legal adults. We need to understand why this is happening.

In response to some horrific cases of abuse and worse of foster and adopted children, in 2012 Washington state produced a powerful report with many excellent suggestions for reforms in adoption practice. Regrettably the state legislature has not yet approved the needed recommendations, but advocates are hopeful that there may be progress next year. Other states and the federal government are considering legislative improvements as well.

Bottom line: Let’s watch the TV shows and read the articles about tragedies happening in adoptive families. Then let’s put far greater energy, attention, and funding to pre-adoption screening and services for prospective families, to being open to the experiences and insights of adult adoptees, to including first/original parents in adoption policy discussions, and to providing viable, effective post-adoption resources.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Convergence of Concern Around Seattle’s Ethiopian Adoptees

The recent Dan Rather AXS TV show, “Unwanted in America: The Shameful Side of International Adoption” has evoked two main impulses. One is to help the adoptees featured, who have been re-homed and/or thrown out of their adoptive homes. The other is to reform laws so that these tragic situations don’t happen to more children. This post provides an update about the Seattle-area adoptees on the show. My next post will discuss the possibilities for reforming adoption laws.

You can watch the Dan Rather show, using the password danrather, here.

Efforts to Help the Seattle Area Adoptees

The Seattle-area adoptees were adopted by Julie Hehn and her husband, who apparently adopted over 20 children from Ethiopia. I have been told Rich Hehn is dealing with a serious medical issue now. The Hehns declined to comment for Kathryn Joyce’s Slate article “Hana’s Story: An Adoptee’s Tragic Fate and How It Could Happen Again,” which has a great deal of information about the adoptees, as well as for the Dan Rather show.

I’ve seen different numbers in different reports as to how many children the Hehns adopted, and how many are currently in their home. There are two YouTube videos from 2009 that feature Julie: one is called “Julie Hehn Super Mom” available here and one is “Mother of 22″  here. Julie was actively involved with Adoption Advocates International (AAI), the adoption agency that placed the Ethiopian adoptees with the Hehns, and she frequently traveled to Ethiopia. AAI has been in the news for being the agency that arranged Hana Williams’ adoption, as well as the agency used by the family featured in the documentary “Girl, Adopted.” AAI closed in March of this year.

In response to concerns about the children adopted by the Hehns and featured on the Dan Rather show, the Ethiopian Community Center of Seattle held a meeting this past Saturday afternoon. About 150 people attended. Most were members of the Ethiopian community; a few were, like me, adoptive parents of Ethiopian children. Everyone shared a deep concern about the status of the Seattle-area Ethiopian adoptees featured on the show.

Several people spoke out against adoption. Some specifically discussed their concerns for the young adoptees. Many ways to help were offered, including resources for emergency shelter, fundraising efforts, and legal assistance. An Ethiopian aide to Seattle’s mayor was there, as were Ethiopian attorneys and other concerned professionals.

Among those attending was Pastor Berhanu Seyoum of the Mekane Yesus Lutheran Church in Seattle. Pastor Berhanu has been working with the adoptees for quite a while. He was featured in the Dan Rather show, as well as in Kathryn Joyce’s Slate article (cited above). Like the majority of speakers, Pastor Berhanu spoke in Amharic to the group. I do not speak or understand Amharic, and I appreciate those who translated for me and otherwise helped me to understand.

Pastor Berhanu has set up a Facebook page, “Unwanted in America,” which has links to 3 Gofundme pages that are apparently all involved in helping the adoptees. My understanding is that the Pastor will be handling the funds. The Facebook page also has a great summary, in English, of Saturday’s meeting, as well as details about what kind of help is needed.

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Many complicated issues remain to sort out, but the priority seems to be getting stable housing for the homeless adoptees, arranging medical assistance, and ensuring that all legal matters are clarified. Many people have indicated their wish to help, and while that is wonderful, it also takes time to make sure everyone connects. Still: there is progress.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHIFF Meeting: Suggestions For Agenda Items

For quite a while, there has been deafening public silence from supporters of the Children in Families First (CHIFF) act. CHIFF is an international child welfare bill that sounds so good and reasonable: of course all children deserve safe, loving families. It is, though, full of flaws, and never gained the momentum that the proponents (mostly adoptive parents and adoption agencies/lawyers) thought it would.

The last piece of “News” on the CHIFF website was in June. Their Facebook site has articles about adoption, but nothing for months about the legislation. Sen. Mary Landrieu, a vocal proponent of adoption-related legislation during her tenure in Congress, lost her recent election, and thus her influence will be gone from Congressional actions. She was the leader on CHIFF, which has a 5% chance of being enacted at this point.

Still, there has likely been much action behind the scenes in Washington, DC. In fact, the CHIFF proponents may be meeting again soon, for all I know. If so, I’d like to make some suggestions for the agenda:

Discussion Items for CHIFF

1–The #flipthescript social media movement during National Adoption Month (November), in which adult adoptees (US and international) have shared their experiences and perspectives. Perhaps all the CHIFF meeting participants will watch the excellent video produced by the talented Bryan Tucker featuring 8 powerful women from the Lost Daughters’ writing collective.

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2–E.J. Graff’s November article “They Steal Babies, Don’t They?” The article focuses on Ethiopian adoptions, includes documents attained through the Freedom of Information Act, and provides cross-referenced lists of adoption agencies’ activities.

3–Dan Rather’s December news show on AXS TV, “Unwanted Children: The Shameful Secret of International Adoption.” Use the password danrather to watch the show here. Ethiopians in the US and around the world, as well as the adoptive parent community, have been hard at work to help the adoptees featured in the show. More information on these efforts is available on the Facebook page “Unwanted In America.”

4–Ethiopian Adoption Connection, a free, powerful, grassroots effort which has been successfully reuniting adoptees around the globe with their Ethiopian original families. Many people have found very different information than what they were told at placement. An important corollary is the increasing amount of adoptee-centric and adoptee-led organizations in many countries, such as KoRoot and GOA’L (for Korean adoptees traveling back to Korea). The Facebook group Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora is another example of the increasing presence and power of adult adoptees, who are increasingly engaged in adoption policy work.

5–The failure of CHIFF as introduced and currently to not include retroactive citizenship for international adoptees. More information is available here.

6–The reality that international adoptions in the future will have/must have some form of openness, and thus adoption practice must include far better and long-ranging services to original families, wherever they are in the world.

7–The reality and divisiveness of racism in the US, and how that affects all families involved with transracial adoption. This is a huge, raw, real, vitally important matter. Huge.

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I’ve been a broken record on these additional concerns regarding CHIFF, which may or may not be current agenda items:

* Much needed funding for improved pre-adoption and post-adoption resources
* Federal level legislation on “re-homing” of internationally adopted children
* Lack of support for CHIFF from the State Department, from international adult adopted persons, from international family preservation organizations, and from international first parents
* Pre- and post-placement resources, support, counseling, and information for international first parents

If indeed CHIFF proponents are meeting soon, let’s hope all the above items are on their agenda. These Discussion Items are big and complicated. Resolving them will require, at a minimum, the transparent inclusion of adoptees and of first/original parents if the legislation is truly going to make viable changes in child welfare. That’s the first, overdue step.

Dan Rather’s Show: “Unwanted Children–The Shameful Side of International Adoption”

Dan Rather hosted an in-depth show on AXS TV called “Unwanted Children–The Shameful Side of International Adoption.” Use the password danrather to view the show, which is available here.

It’s a tough and important 2 hours to watch and ingest. Much of the focus is on Ethiopian adoptions, and children who have been “re-homed,” moved to new adoptive families with little oversight, assistance, or regulation. Reuters did a series on re-homing about a hard ago; information is available here.

“Unwanted Children” sheds light on some terrible child welfare practices in adoption. The idea that children can be internationally adopted to the United States, and then moved to new adoptive homes with less oversight than occurs with dogs, is deplorable.

Kathryn Joyce wrote powerfully in Slate in November 2013 about some of these adoptees as well. Her detailed, insightful article “Hana’s Story: An Adoptee’s Tragic Fate and How It Could Happen Again” was part of the impetus for the Dan Rather show.

This show, on the heels of E.J. Graff’s incisive report “They Steal Babies, Don’t They?“, is an explicit call to action for change in Ethiopian adoptions. I have spoken out about this; many, many people are deeply concerned around the globe. I hope to see a response soon from organizations such as the Joint Council on International Children’s Services, the National Council for Adoption, the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, and Both Ends Burning to demand changes in oversight and regulations, as well as solid improvement in services provided to adoptive and first/birth families.

Because: enough. I am so proud of groups like Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora, and of Ethiopian Adoption Connection, who are speaking out and working hard to give voice to those who are too often left out of adoption policy discussions: the adoptees and the first families.

As an adoptive parent, I hope to see more eyes opened to some of the realities of adoption practices today, so that the rights of all children and parents are safeguarded, and all adoptions are done with transparency and integrity.

Please note also that a “GoFundMe” campaign has been set up to help the 9 Ethiopian adoptees who “are now homeless after being pushed out of their adoptive home,” according to the fundraiser. Information is available here.

 

 

Giving Thanks for Moments of Clarity

My dad will be 85 in a couple of weeks. He is in good physical health, and well taken care of at the Harbor Care program of Putnam Farm in Massachusetts. He has lived there for about 4 years, and has made various friends, all of whom have dementia, as Dad does.  His co-residents are at different stages physically, emotionally, and cognitively. He has a friend Katherine whom he spends a lot of time with; both had spouses for some 50 years who have passed away. They have been good companions, but some days they are at odds, as Alzheimer’s robs them of words and makes them agitated or sad.

The staff at Putnam Farm is amazing. Imagine working day-to-day with people who are old, who are in declining health with failing bodies and minds. The staff treats the residents with dignity, even as the residents are inconsistent with responses, gratitude, moods, and abilities. The Harbor residents are often only there for a short time. Local hospice workers come in and conduct lovely memorial services for those who have died, even as some residents are unaware of who is alive, who is gone. Loss is the norm.

Dad needs help these days with sequencing–the ability to put your clothes on in the right order, or to take a shower the right way. He doesn’t remember the field trips, or the pizza, or the holiday parties. He sometimes gets sarcastic and mean, as a way of dealing with the puzzling changes in his brain. He sometimes misuses words, and sometimes just can’t find the right ones.

The head nurse of the Harbor Care program is Beth Burridge. She works with all the residents, monitors their health/medication needs, intervenes when residents are unhappy or uncooperative, and assesses the services each one requires. She recently sent me this email:

Hi Maureen.

I have completed your dad’s most recent assessments & service plan. They are ready for you to review & sign.

I know your dad is doing a lot of compensating conversationally & socially but, as with all the residents I come to know, there is an awareness that is able to come out from time to time. When I asked him to write a sentence, he obliged & when I read it, I was taken aback & thanked him. He said, “You have a very hard job.”

I attached the sentence to the back of the service plan. It is very touching, and made me feel very fortunate.

Safe travel,
Beth
Harbor Care Director
Putnam Farm @ Danvers

There is so much to be grateful for, even as we struggle with what seems overwhelming or unfair. Sometimes there are these moments of light and clarity, and we need to treasure them.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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Dad with his first grandson, 1987.

 

 

Adult Adoptees On TV News Shows: Flip The Script

The social media movement during National Adoption Month (November) to “flip the script” is the brainchild of insightful women at The Lost Daughters. The purpose of the twitter hashtag #flipthescript is to include the voices of adoptees in National Adoption Month, which for far too long has been dominated by adoptive parents and adoption agencies. The hashtag broadens the understanding of adoption, by adding the valuable insights of adoptees.

Rosita Gonzalez created this important #flipthescript movement. It’s gained a lot of traction on Twitter, as well as the attention of news outlets. Listen to the recording of Rosita’s #flipthescript radio interview with Adoption Perspectives radio show on YouTube here.

This morning, Aselefech Evans was interviewed on Good Morning, DC, a news show of FoxTV channel WTTG. You can watch the clip of her excellent interview here.

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Aselefech Evans on the set of Fox TV Channel WTTG’s Good Morning DC.

 

On Friday, November 28, you can see 3 more amazing people talking about why it matters to #flipthescript:

Minneapolis: Kevin Haebeom Vollmers‘ interview will air on KMSP-TV Fox 9 at Friday 11/28 at 7:45AM.

Philadelphia: Amanda Transue-Woolston‘s interview will air on Fox 29 WTXF-TV at Friday 11/28 at 8:15AM.

New York: Joy Lieberthal Rho‘s interview will air on Fox Good Day NY on Friday 11/28 at 8:40AM.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

An Ethiopian Adoptee’s Thoughts on Ferguson, Being Ethiopian, and Being Black

In response to the indictment decision in Ferguson and to conversations about race, my daughter Aselefech offered these thoughts to adoptive parents about what it means to be Ethiopian and to be black in America:

Reflections on Ferguson, and on raising black children:

It’s one thing for Ethiopians in Ethiopia to raise their children as Ethiopians. It’s completely different for white parents raising adopted Ethiopian children in the United States.
By adopting an Ethiopian child, what obligations do you have to your children? How embracing will you be of black culture? Will you take the path of least resistance and teach your children to only take pride in their Ethiopian heritage, or will you acknowledge the realities of being black?

White America will not give your Ethiopian child a pass. Your child will be subject to racial bigotry and unjust laws. Your child will be pulled over by the police. Your child will be admired for speaking good English, as if that’s a novelty. Your child will look like the majority population in U.S. prisons. Your child will rarely see herself in fashion magazines as being beautiful.

It’s not enough to eat doro wat at an Ethiopian restaurant or listen to Teddy Afro. Ethiopian children deserve to be raised with black role models surrounding them, loving them, and teaching them. We Ethiopian adoptees are Black in America. I am proud to be black, and to be Ethiopian. I want young Ethiopian adoptees to fully understand their truth.

Aselefech is a founder of Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora, a columnist at Gazillion Voices, and a contributor to The Lost Daughters. On Twitter: @AselefechE.

Ethiopian Adoptions: An Eye-Opening, Jaw-Dropping Investigative Report

E.J. Graff has written a far-reaching, detailed, urgent investigative report on Ethiopian adoptions: “They Steal Babies, Don’t They?”

Many people, including me, have been extremely concerned about the role of fraud and corruption in adoptions in Ethiopia. For far too long, according to Graff, “orphans were ‘produced’ by unscrupulous middlemen who would persuade desperately poor, uneducated, often illiterate villagers whose culture had no concept of permanently severing biological ties to send their children away.” It is heartbreaking–for the children, for the Ethiopian parents, and for the adoptive parents.

This report is an “exclusive investigation of internal US State Department documents.” These adoption-related cables, emails, and other written material were requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

There is also “an alphabetized index of every U.S. adoption agency and Ethiopian orphanage that we found mentioned in these hundreds of pages. Each item…below the name of the agency or orphanage is a link to the FOIA-ed documents posted on our site. We realize that these are raw documents, out of context, and give only partial impressions of what some Embassy staff members were thinking at particular moments. To offer a fuller picture of what was happening, we asked every U.S adoption agency named in these documents whether they would like to submit a response that might clarify, correct, or comment on anything mentioned regarding their agency.” The agencies’ responses are available here.

Graff is ultimately optimistic about the future of Ethiopian adoptions, as a result of the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, Uniform Accreditation Act which took effect in July 2014 as well as the Pre-Adoption Immigration Review (PAIR). We all want children who need safe, loving families to have them. If that happens through adoption, we all want the adoptions to be transparent and ethical–nothing short of complete integrity.

As the adoptive parent of twin daughters adopted from Ethiopia in 1994, and as a mother who met my daughters’ Ethiopian family in 2008, I know firsthand the role of inequity, economics, and heartache that adoptions can have. I also know the love and joy surrounding all of us, as we have been able to meet, talk, and learn. I am hopeful that many people–especially adoption agencies, government officials, prospective parents, adoptive parents, and Ethiopian adoptees around the globe–will read this. I am less confident that Ethiopian birth parents, marginalized and too often voiceless, will have their questions answered and their fears resolved, but that is their right, and only fair. And fairness is long overdue.

My thanks to E.J. Graff for her incredible efforts on this important article, and to the US State Department for its work to make adoptions more transparent. I applaud all those involved in adoption, in Ethiopia and around the world, who are genuinely committed to ensuring an ethical process that protects the rights of children and families.

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“Crowd Funded” Children: The Disturbing Products of World Adoption Day

Hollywood pastor Hank Frontener and others designated yesterday as “World Adoption Day.” Frontener, according to the World Adoption Day website, is the force behind AdoptTogether.org, the first crowdfunding site for adoption costs. It all sounds good, right? Look closer.

Crowdfunding is the practice of raising money by asking for contributions from lots of people–friends, family, strangers–over the Internet.

Private US infant adoptions (through an agency or attorney) and international adoptions can easily cost $35,000 or more. US foster care adoptions cost very little, so the AdoptTogether crowdfunding has nothing to do with those children.

Why is crowdfunding for adoption controversial?

For one reason, crowdfunding for adoption has the feel of raising money for charity. Adoption should not be seen as an act of charity, or of rescue, or of saving. That approach objectifies the adoptee as a “charity case,” as someone who should be grateful and pitied. That’s not a healthy way to build a family, and it’s an unfair burden for the adopted child (who grows up).

A related reason can be the association of payment for a child–not for the expenses involved in processing an adoption, but for the child. I’m sure I’m not the only adoptive parent who’s been asked “How much did they cost?” It’s demeaning and crass, and smiling while saying it doesn’t make it less repugnant. It’s particularly wrong in reference to an African or African-American child.

Another reason for controversy is that crowdfunding is an astonishing reminder of the economic imbalance between those who are adopting, and those whose children are being adopted. The families featured on the AdoptTogether page are looking to raise between $20,000 and $60,000. The children are from Africa (three from Uganda, one from an unnamed African country), from China, and from the US (an African-American girl).

People who adopt generally have a lot more money than the people who are placing their children. It’s safe to say that the US families adopting have much more cash flow than the Ugandan families, for example. The inequity is enormous. Poverty should not be a reason for a mother of father to lose their child forever, yet it happens again and again.

Imagine, for example, what $60,000 could mean to Simon, the Ugandan father of the twins featured on the AdoptTogether page, and written about in the adoptive mother’s blog (September 27 post, “the grand finale”). The twins also have older siblings in Uganda with whom they will not grow up.

The fact that I know that the name and have seen the photo of the Ugandan twins’ father is another example of why crowdfunding for adoption is so controversial: it often involves an unfettered sharing of extremely personal information. You and I now know more about these little children than they do at this point, and it’s all on the Internet forever, without their permission.

Another reason for controversy is that crowdfunding allows parents to pay for their adoptions completely, and then to receive the adoption tax credit.  In an article written by the CEO of the adoption agency Bethany Christian Services, Pastor Hank Frontener explained why he established AdoptTogether: “…many adoptions are out-of-this-world expensive – $35,000 on average for an international adoption. But…if we could crowdfund, and give people a way to be a part of an adoption financially and have a tax benefit to boot, we’d have something special.”

Indeed. The generous adoption tax credit allow families to recoup their adoption-related expenses for item such as travel, hotels, lawyers’ fees, and so on. The US government has given out $7 billion (yes, billion) in tax credits (not deductions), primarily for private and international adoptions, to adoptive parents. Read more here.

Pastor Frontener and others promoting yesterday’s first World Adoption Day invited “everyone worldwide to post a photo of themselves, their family and their friends with the hands up smiley face with the hashtag #WorldAdoptionDay.” Many did so. Others posted that hashtag along with #flipthescript, a successful, important effort led by the Lost Daughters to have the voices of adoptees included in the long-standing chorus of adoptive parents during November’s National Adoption Month. Learn more about #flipthescript here, and take a look at an excellent video about why it matters.

I tweeted yesterday about #WorldAdoptionDay along with #flipthescript. One of my tweets included a photo from the World Adoption Day store: their “Crowdfunded” tee-shirt.

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That photo, that “Crowdfunded” slogan on an ostensibly adopted child, generated quite a response, mostly of anger and frustration, and the tweets flew quickly.

Today, if you go to the World Adoption Day store and look for that shirt, you will get this:

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I don’t know if it was removed because of pressure placed on the World Adoption Day site, or if all the shirts were sold out. I appreciate the fact that the item is gone, in any case. It’s an example of commodifying a child, suggesting that there’s something cute about soliciting money from strangers to provide a child with a family.

Unfortunately, the World Adoption Day folks also thought it was cute to sell tee shirts that say “Love Child.” Sigh. Yes, maybe on some odd scale it’s less offensive than saying a child is crowdfunded. Still. “Love Child” has a different connotation than “Beloved Child,” for example, which is not one of the World Adoption Day tee shirts. Clearly “Love Child” as a product on the World Adoption Day site was considered a clever reference to the euphemism for an illegitimate child or bastard. But why should an adopted child bear the burden of reframing the definition of love child?

World Adoption Day’s main focus was to have people post photos with smiley faces on their hands, and to publicize a crowdfunding platform. Its focus was not to promote awareness of the commingling of love and grief in adoption, or to promote family preservation, or to insist that the voices of adult adoptees and first/birth parents be heard. It did not question the high costs charged by adoption agencies, nor promote the need for adoption from US foster care, for which adoption expenses generally do not need to be crowdfunded.

Let’s not crowdfund children either.

 

 

 

 

 

National Adoption Month and Awareness: Flip the Script

National Adoption Month begins today, an idea that seems straightforward until you start talking with people about it. Whose stories are heard this month? Whose interests are represented? It’s time to #FliptheScript, and hand over the microphone to new voices.

The North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC) says that, in 1990, they began raising awareness of what had been Adoption Week (the week of Thanksgiving) and   started promoting November as National Adoption Awareness Month. The original purpose was to increase awareness about the need for adoptive families for children in US foster care.

National Adoption Awareness Month in the past has been touted almost exclusively by public and private adoption agencies and adoptive parents. Like the adoption tax credit, the original focus on children in US foster care has expanded to promote adoption of children around the globe.

If we are going to do adoption right, we have to take a hard look at it. We need to listen carefully to those who have a wide range of experiences as a result of adoption: the wonderful, the good, the difficult, the traumatic. Adoption is not a Hallmark greeting card or sweet interracial family photo. It’s time to flip that script. The stories and pictures are complex, and that’s okay.

Awareness is key. We need to move toward increased awareness of adoption and of family preservation/reunification. Those are big, complicated, potentially rewarding undertakings. Let’s look beyond cute pictures and platitudes.

Let’s listen to the voices that we can truly learn from: adopted adults. Let’s move the microphone, held in the past and present by adoption agencies and adoptive parents, and hand it to them.

Take a look today on Twitter for #FliptheScript. Listen to the voices of adoptees who love their adoptive families deeply, and who have struggled nonetheless. Listen to those who had horrible, fraudulent experiences, and who have survived.

Listen to those who have been denied the most basic human right–to know who they are–because they are denied the right to access their own original birth certificates.

Look at who is talking about National Adoption Awareness Month. Sure, listen to the agencies and parents. Then give deeply to listening to those who have truly lived what it means to be adopted.

Inverted image of spider web photo, taken by Maureen McCauley Evans

Inverted image of spider web photo, taken by Maureen McCauley Evans