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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East African Artists: “Crossing” Memories, Art, and (Forced?) Migration

We all struggle at times with “crossing,” the movement from one place to another, from what we know to what we don’t, from displacement of bodies, minds, and hearts. Sometimes, crossing means moving from life to death. Sometimes, it means traveling far from “home,” however we define it. Sometimes, memories cross our minds.

Last night I attended the Artist Reception for a show called Crossing: East African Artists and Social Change, held at the M. Rosetta Hunter Gallery at Seattle Central Community College. All three artists had roots in and work focused on Ethiopia and/or Eritrea. Their individual pieces of art  also provided broader views around longing, loss, searching, and migrating, both literally and metaphorically. Each artist had a theme of “crossing” in the art. Each spoke briefly about his/her work. It was wonderful.

Selam Bekele’s art included photography, collage, mixed media, and a short film. She referred to her art as “Tizita,” an Amharic word which has the sense of memory, or longing, or nostalgia in English. Having written about the fascinating, poignant story of Prince Alemayehu: The First Ethiopian Adoptee?, I looked forward to seeing Selam’s film “The Prince of Nowhere” at last night’s reception. It was a dynamic, evocative film.

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Selam Bekele, Hunter Gallery, February 2015 © Maureen McCauley Evans

In 1868, Alemayehu arrived at age 7 in England, far from his homeland of Ethiopia. The film, an exercise in crossing time and space, shows him as a handsome young man (he died at 18 years of age in 1879), in contemporary western clothing, on modern streets, in a modern classroom. His voice in the film has a British accent. Sometimes the images are blurred, and the light distorted, all reflecting Alemayehu’s life in an exile about which he had no voice. The brief film, like Alemayehu’s brief life, is poetic and sorrowful, a story of resilience and despair.

My friend Yadesa Bojia had several powerful pieces of art at the gallery, most with bright colors and passionate exhortation for the power of literacy and family. A brand new piece, exhibited for the first time, was titled “Hanna,” a heartfelt tribute to Hanna Alemu, also known as Hanna Williams. Hanna was an Ethiopian girl adopted in 2008 by a family in Sedro-Woolley, Washington. She died in May 2011, and her adoptive parents were found guilty of homicide by abuse in September 2013. Hanna died from malnutrition and hypothermia, according to the coroner, alone outside her home on a 40 degree night.

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Yadesa Bojia, Hunter Gallery, February 2015 © Maureen McCauley Evans

The painting has Ethiopia’s traditional colors of red, yellow, and green, with the image of Hanna in black outside behind the family home, beneath a stark bare tree branch. It’s wrenching to see in simplicity and vibrancy. I’ve written extensively about Hanna, and attended nearly all of the trial in the summer of 2013. Ethiopians all around in Yaddi, who is the designer of the current African Union flag, is also a singer and songwriter, and wrote about Hanna. His album information is available here.

The third East African artist was Yegizaw “Yeggy” Michael. His work included vibrant acrylic paintings about crossing the desert, and crossing the sea, from the perspective of migration and loss. He also had an amazing installation piece that depicted the tragedies of immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea.

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Yegizaw “Yeggy” Michael, Hunter Gallery, February 2015 © Maureen McCauley Evans

Some 3,000 people in 2014 are estimated to have drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean en route to Europe, according to this report. Yeggy’s art, about 8 feet long on the floor, had rocks and sand around a blue plastic sheet that held blue scarves and blue face masks. There was one black scarf, with peace symbols. Yeggy talked about how the journey these immigrants has an echo in the slave ships of the African slave trade, and how these “crossings” are terrifying and heartbreaking. We all make crossings, he noted. Some of us do not succeed.

The art will be on display at the Hunter Gallery in Seattle until February 13.

 

Racism, Trauma, and Adoption: Wake Up

Racism, trauma, and adoption are far more entwined than many people want to admit.

As a white person, I will start by saying this: Racism is real, pervasive, mostly implicit, better than it once was, and currently is damaging our culture, children, and future, in a genuine and tragic way.

As an adoptive parent of children of color, let me say that if you adopt transracially, you must make every effort possible to raise your child in a home where he sees you have friends who look like him, where she sees other children and adult role models who look like her, where you understand racial microaggressions and are comfortable talking about them, and where your approach to the child’s culture of origin isn’t an ethnic restaurant on special occasions or just artwork, dolls, and music.

Enough.

Here are two Wake Up Calls, for adoptive parents of children of color, though truly for anyone who wonders about racism and its impact.

The First Wake Up Alarm:

A 69-year-old black man, walking in Seattle in July 2014, using a golf club as a cane, was arrested, because the police officer says he threatened her with the golf club. Problem: The police department’s own video shows no such thing.

While the incident took place last summer, the video only came to light yesterday. It was obtained through a public records request by the Seattle-based paper The Stranger. Read the article with the videotape here.

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I’ve long known about DWB (Driving While Black),  but OMWWB (Old Man Walking While Black) is a new one.

Racism in the Seattle Police Department has been well-known for years, and the department is under federal investigation. Read more here.

This could be your grampa. William Wingate is a US Air Force veteran. He drove a King County Metro bus for 20 years. He was walking in daylight using a golf club as a cane. He is not mentally unstable, nor was he threatening anyone. He never swung at the police officer. He needed help getting into the police wagon, since he was handcuffed, and almost 70 years old.

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William Wingate on the way to jail. Image taken from police videotape.

He was arrested and spent a night in jail, something that had never happened to him before in his life.

If the videotape were not requested by The Stranger, we never would have known what happened to this man.

The Seattle Police have apologized, as of yesterday.

For me, this is a tipping point. As if Ferguson and Michael Brown and Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin weren’t enough. For me, it’s seeing, on videotape, an old man, who’s clearly hard of hearing, being accosted and jailed for nothing. It’s all on the videotape. The officer said in her report she was fearful of being assaulted by him. The officer, Cynthia Whitlach, has been reported as posting racist comments on Facebook along the way as well, per this The Stranger article.

I have written recently about “Being Black in Seattle: Rewards and Challenges” and “Being Black in Adoption: Seattle and Elsewhere.” It’s a sad coincidence that this case of William Wingate–the man with the golf club–should reach headlines today.

The Second Wake Up Alarm:

Racism, both violent incidents and the accumulation of micro aggressions, is a form of trauma. Don’t believe me? How about the medical profession’s bible, the DSM?

Medical Daily reported in 2013 that proposed changes in the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) could increase the potential for better recognition of race-based trauma in racial and ethnic minorities. In Psychology Today, Dr. Monnica Williams, a clinical psychologist and the associate director of the University of Louisville’s Center for Mental Health Disparities, said that in “earlier versions of the DSM, racism was recognized as a trauma that could potentially cause PTSD, but only in relation to a specific event. There had to be an incident of intense fear, helplessness, or horror for such consideration. For instance, if someone was assaulted in a racially-motivated event, then racism qualified as a sufficient trauma to be categorized as a cause of PTSD.

But now, under the new DSM-5 definition, the requirements for fear, helplessness, and horror have been removed, making room for the more lasting effects of subtle racism to be considered in the discussion of race-based traumas.”

That is an important and groundbreaking bit of news. Subtle racism can include microaggressions, which over time can erode people of esteem, energy, and hope. Microaggressions have been written about in many places, including American Psychologist and the Journal of Counseling and Development. The abstract for that latter article says that “This study examined the relationship between racial microaggressions (subtle and unintentional forms of racial discrimination) and mental health. Results from a large sample (N = 506) indicated that higher frequencies of racial microaggressions negatively predicted participants’ mental health and that racial microaggressions were significantly correlated with depressive symptoms and negative affect. Differences in the types of microaggressions experienced by various racial groups (Asian, Latina/o, Black, White, and multiracial) and counseling implications are discussed.”

Another perspective on racial microaggressions can be found in Buzzfeed. It’s received close to 3,000,000 views.

Add to that a discussion of whether adoption is a form of trauma. I wrote a post Does Adoption Really Equal Trauma? which has been shared on Facebook close to 950 times.

What happens to transracially adopted children, who may well have experienced trauma, and who are subject to racial microaggressions (if not explicit racism) as well?

The issue of trauma is a spectrum, and is influenced by individual experience and resilience. Not all adopted people, not all Asian (or other race) adoptees, and not all black people experience trauma or PTSD.

Some do, though.

For adopted children, especially but not only those of color, we need to have big, courageous conversations around racism. We need to be aware of trauma.

And we need progress in mental health and in adoption-related services.

We need more therapists of color, who have life experience with racism and with racial microaggressions, who can help their patients of color feel comfortable and safe in seeking help, and who can help educate their white colleagues as well. Can white therapists treat people of color successfully? Yes. But let’s get more therapists of color so that our children of color see themselves reflected in mental health professionals.

For adopted children, we need to value the life experience and perspectives of adult adoptees who are clinical therapists. There are increasing numbers of white, Korean, Colombian, and African-American adult adoptees who are doing excellent, important work in adoption.

We need more counselors and therapists across the board who are well-trained in adoption competency. One such approach is Training in Adoption Competency, affiliated with the Center for Adoption Support and Education.

A quote from TAC:

“What are the core knowledge areas for an adoption competent mental health professional?

An adoption competent mental health professional understands the nature of adoption as a form of family formation and the different types of adoption; the clinical issues that are associated with separation and loss and attachment; the common developmental challenges in the experience of adoption; and the characteristics and skills that make adoptive families successful. An adoption competent mental health professional is culturally competent with respect to the racial and cultural heritage of children and families and the culture of birth families.”

Another strong training resource for professionals is Dr. Joyce Maguire Pavao’s Certificate Program in Adoption Competency. My point: If you are an adoptive parent interested in therapy for yourself or your child, insist on adoption-competent therapists.

I don’t know if William Wingate, the elderly black man I wrote about at the beginning, experienced trauma. I’ve no doubt he has experienced racism. I wish him well, and I think he deserves much more than an apology.

For transracially adopted babies, children, and teens, who grow up to be adults, let’s talk openly and honestly about racism in the United States, and the intense damage it is doing to all of us. Let’s do that for all of us.

 

 

 

 

Being Black in Adoption: Seattle and Elsewhere

I’ve lived in Seattle about four years, and it’s still a culture shock for me to go to places like restaurants or malls, or Seattle Town Hall, Elliott Bay Bookstore, the Seattle Public Library, or wherever, and not be surrounded by black people. That was the norm in Prince George’s County, where I had lived for almost 30 years. My four children, all adopted transracially, all of whom identify as black, were raised in Prince George’s. They attended schools with black, white, Latino, Asian, and mixed race kids. There was no shortage of role models, or of people who looked like them.

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Birthday Party 2006. © Maureen Evans

Of course, at the end of the day, my children were raised by white adoptive parents. My children travel in at least two worlds: the one at home with people who love them unconditionally as amazing sons and daughters, and the one outside our home, with people who saw and see them as black people first, not as beloved children.

Had they been raised in Seattle, they would have seen far fewer people who look like them. Even in Prince George’s County, a highly diverse area filled with black people, their sense of identity was challenged, by white and black people. Being adopted, and then having white parents, brought extra layers of complexity.

My daughter Aselefech, adopted from Ethiopia when she was six, is considering moving to Seattle with her 8-year-old daughter. Aselefech and I have given a lot of thought and discussion as to what this move could mean for her and for her daughter.

I recently attended a program called “The Rewards and Challenges of Being Black in Seattle.” It was held at the Bush School, and was part of their Intercultural Speakers Series. The talented Tonya Mosley led the program, which included a wonderful panel: C’Ardiss Gardner Gleser of Rainier Scholars, William Witt of the Seattle Police Department, Jonathan Cunningham of the Experience Music Project Museum, and Daudi Abe of Seattle Community Colleges. You can read more about it here.

Serious subjects were discussed. Some hard truths. These conversations are valuable for everyone, including white adoptive parents of black children–especially when the family lives in a non-diverse area and the children rarely see others who look like them.

Prospect or Suspect?

The audience of about 100 people for the program was predominately white, like Seattle itself. By the end of the 2 hours, a lot of territory had been covered. A lot of voices had spoken up. One black man in the audience offered the powerful idea of “prospect versus suspect.” Are black people (including children and teens) seen by others as prospects, as people with potential and talents, or more often as suspects, people who probably committed some crime or misdeed?

The cloud of “prospect or suspect” can start hanging over children when they start school. Seattle has a troubled history with African-American school suspensions and graduation rates, starting in the late 70’s.

Th notion of being a suspect, of course, links easily with discussions about police and radical profiling. The U.S. Justice Department said about a year ago that their “investigation in 2011 found that Seattle Police Department (SPD) officers often exhibited confusion between a casual, social contact (where a person is free to leave) and an investigative detention short of an arrest, also known as a Terry stop (where a person is not free to leave). Some data and community input suggested that this confusion – as well as other problems with training and oversight – led to inappropriate pedestrian encounters that may have resulted in a disproportionate number of people of color – in particular youths – being stopped where no offense or other police incident occurred. Incidents of overt discrimination and the fact that excessive force disproportionately occurred against minorities also gave the department concern and lead to the inclusion of these issues in the settlement agreement.” Read the press release here.

The dispassionate government language is a window to the realities of being a parent of black children, and especially of being a black person subject to “overt discrimination” and disproportionate “excessive force.” It resonates for me as an adoptive parent knowing and loving my sons and daughters, worrying for them when they are seen, unfairly, as a threat or a suspect.

I hope that other white adoptive parents who are hugging their sweet little black boys and girls will recognize what can happen later in life, and surround their children with people who can teach them what it means, the good and the bad, to be a black person in America.

Hair Care, Smiles, and the Freeze

If they move to Seattle, my granddaughter will come home from school to her black mother, a role model who has experienced bigotry, and who can help her daughter navigate through racism and difference in a way that I could not do with my children. One surprisingly complex issue is hair. I did a pretty good job with my children’s hair, but there was definitely a steep learning curve. Hair is a big issue in the black community. It was only briefly mentioned at the Rewards and Challenges program, but I’d love to see a forum where the rewards and challenges of black hair are addressed. I think it would open a lot of white people’s eyes, and it’s especially important for white adoptive parents of black children.

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Updo Style © Aselefech Evans

 

One of the heartfelt suggestions provided by a woman at the program was that we all look at each other when we are walking by and say hello. She was a high school teacher. She said she was black and Filipina, and she exuded love for her students. Let’s look at each other’s faces and smile, she said. Let’s say hello to our neighbors.

Can that help race relations? It could surely help human relations. The “Seattle freeze” does not refer to weather, and it does not care about race. It’s the phenomena here of people being polite, but not especially friendly. I would guess that, for black people, their small numbers and the potential for isolation are exacerbated by the Freeze.

The Freeze makes me think of snow, which brings me to some of the reasons people love Seattle: the lack of snow and of humidity, the mild temperatures, the beautiful mountains and lakes, the hiking, the biking, the boating, the skiing. My next post will talk about some of that beauty, and its attraction for all of us. What might it mean for my black daughter to be a skier and a hiker out here?

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San Juan Island © Maureen Evans

 

 

 

Being Black in Seattle: Rewards and Challenges

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“Seattle Skyline” (© Maureen Evans)

 

 

 

 

 

About 4 years ago, I moved from Prince George’s County, Maryland, (65% black) to Seattle, (66% white), the fifth whitest city (among comparably large cities) in the US. I’m white. My transracially adopted children, all adults now, grew up and still live in Prince George’s. My daughter, adopted from Ethiopia, is considering moving to Seattle with her daughter. We’ve given a lot of thought and discussion as to what this move could mean for both of them.

I recently attended a program, held at the Bush School in Seattle’s Central District, called “The Rewards and Challenges of Being Black in Seattle.” The talented Tonya Mosley led the program, which included a wonderful panel: C’Ardiss Gardner Gleser of Rainier Scholars, William Witt of the Seattle Police Department, Jonathan Cunningham of the Experience Music Project Museum, and Daudi Abe of Seattle Community Colleges. The program was part of the Bush School’s Intercultural Speaker Series.

In 2013, Tonya Mosley produced the powerful series “Black in Seattle.” Please take the time to listen to the series here. She used her interviews and statistics as a jumping off point for “Rewards and Challenges,” which proved to be energizing, sobering, and, I’d argue, optimistic.

IMG_7512At the “Rewards” program, Tonya encouraged an “unfiltered discussion of what it means to be black in Seattle.” I’m guessing 80% of the audience was white. While some joined in the discussion, most of the conversation was among the panelists and the black people in the audience.

Here are some of my takeaways. I’ve included some Background notes, including links to more information on topics that were briefly addressed at the program.

Yes, Seattle is filled with liberal, well-educated people. That may backfire sometimes, insofar as white, well-intentioned, bright people might view themselves as non-racist, but have no black friends, no interactions with black people, and thus do not know their stories, their truths, their individual experiences.

Gentrification plus issues of housing and affordability have resulted in many black people moving south of Seattle, to Auburn, Kent, and Federal City.

(Background: The Seattle Times in November reported that “While Seattle’s median household income soared to an all-time high of $70,200 last year, wages for blacks nose-dived to $25,700 — a 13.5 percent drop from 2012. Among the 50 largest U.S. cities, Seattle now has the ninth lowest income for black households.”)

Compared to the racism and racial incidents that have occurred in some other cities, Seattle could be seen as a better place to live. That, the panelists suggested, may be due to inertia. There remains a sense of isolation and alienation for many black people in search of a connection with others who look like them.

Seattle has a culture of not wanting others to feel uncomfortable. (This manifests at intersections where drivers gesture to each other “No, you go.” “No, you.”) The liberalism can be seen in our having a gay mayor, in legalizing marijuana, in “feeding free range chickens food from the organic compost pile,” as one black woman said. How could we then have a problem with race? Because, she said, white people don’t understand the realities of being black. The white people are tolerant and not overt racists, for the most part. But neither do they understand.

Panelist CC Gleser explained the challenge as a parent of a black child, when the Ferguson decision was announced. They’d talked about it in their home. Would white teachers (and most teachers across the US are middle class white women) understand how that child feels the next day in school, and what might be on his mind? And what is it like for the child when no one else looks like him in his classroom, but while significant race-related events are dominating the media?

One comment from the panel: “Who knew pre-schoolers could be expelled?” There was discussion of children suspended for “objective” reasons (drugs, weapons) as opposed to “subjective” reasons, such as attitude and disrespect. Black children are suspended in far greater numbers than white students in Seattle. Being a white ally on these issues, said panelist Daudi Abe, often means more than having “keyboard courage.” It’s white privilege that allows white people to choose to be offended at the daunting statistics. Who has to live with the stats in real life, and what is that like, for both parents and children?

(Background: Here in Seattle, “African-American students are suspended from school more than three times as often as white students from elementary schools to high schools. More than one-fourth of black middle schoolers have received short-term suspensions every year since 1996.” There is currently a federal investigation into this reality. More information from the Seattle Times is available here. Read about preschool suspensions here.)

Many of the black people now in Seattle are African immigrants. There have been challenges, panelists said, in Africans and African-Americans working together in Seattle, and I have heard that in other cities as well. Tonya Mosley said she had done some work on this issue for her “Black in Seattle ” series, and it needed to be a whole separate segment: a lot of complexity. There are discussions currently of creating an “Africa Town” in Seattle’s International District. I had the thought about how often Africa is referred to as if it were a country, rather than a continent of 50+ countries. What would Africa Town look like here?

(Background: According to the Seattle Times, “Seattle’s overall black population has held steady in number, at around 47,000. But the composition of that population changed dramatically with the arrival of a new wave of émigrés from Africa — particularly Ethiopia and Eritrea — who settled mostly in Rainier Valley. In 2000, just 13 percent of blacks in Seattle were born outside the United States. Today, it’s 30 percent.”)

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“Rowers at Sunset” (© Maureen Evans)

 

Beyond any creation of an “Africa Town,” panelists and black audience members talked about the lack in Seattle of a black part of town, with restaurants and churches as there are in many other cities. There was an audible groan at the news that the Kingfish Cafe is closing, the latest of many black-owned, black-run restaurants to close. Having a “home place,” a gathering place with other black people where, as one black woman said, “I don’t have to explain my hair,” provides nurturing and sustenance that helps folks deal with the isolation and alienation.

(Background: I don’t know if the speaker was referring to this, but there is a children’s book called “Home Place,” by Crescent Dragonwagon. A white family hiking in the woods (Seattle!) comes across an abandoned home. The book imagines the black family that might have once lived there, planting daffodils and sitting by the chimney. If it was not the intended reference, now you know about a beautifully illustrated children’s book that does have some connection with this complicated subject.)

All of this gives you, I hope, a sense of the discussion. I haven’t yet mentioned everything that was discussed, such as policing and racial profiling, as well as the National Brotherhood of Skiers. This was a 2 hour program, and it was wonderful. It was real, as Jabali Stewart, the Bush School’s Director of Intercultural Affairs, said. “We heard things we liked, and things we didn’t like. And it was just a start. What are we going to do now?”

In my next post, I will talk about some of the lessons learned and some suggestions, by panelists and audience members, of what next needs to happen.

 

 

 

 

French (And Other) Ethiopian Adoption Connections

Great partnerships are developing among adult Ethiopian adoptees, and between them and their allies. This one is about efforts to help adult adoptees travel back to Ethiopia.

If you are not following Les Adoptes D’Ethopie, a public Facebook group for Ethiopian adoptees raised in France, you might have missed this bit of news, posted by Annette-Kassaye. Annette is an Ethiopian adoptee, raised in Montreal, Canada. She learned to speak both English and French, and now participates in Les Adoptes D’Ethiopie. Annette is a good friend of my daughter Aselefech Evans, whose blog EthioAmerican Daughter recently featured (in English and French) the story of Yared, a French adoptee. Annette and Aselefech are co-founders of Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora (EAD), a global group for adult Ethiopian adoptees only. There is also a public EAD page open to anyone here.

D’accord. Here is Annette’s recent post on Les Adoptes Ethiopie:

“Bonjour tout le monde,
Moi, Aselefech Evans, Maureen McCauley Evans allons travailler sur un projet qui faciliterait le retour en Éthiopie pour les adoptés.

Chaque semaine (ou plusieurs fois par semaine), je suis étonnée de voir autant d’adoptés exprimer leurs désire de retourner et aussi leurs craintes et réticence d’y aller seule, avec leurs parents adoptifs ou avec leurs assos. C’est fou que nous travaillons tous dans nos petits coins quand qu’on pourrait faire quelque chose de grand qui faciliterait la vie de tout le monde, autant nous, nos parents et les jeunes adoptes et les futurs adoptés qui désiront retourner un jour pour connaitre leurs origine. Bref…. je vous tiendrai au courant de ce projet, je pense qu’il y a un grand besoin. <3″

And now, an automatically generated translation in English:

Re – hello everyone,

“Aselefech Evans, Maureen McCauley Evans, and I are working on a project that would facilitate the return to Ethiopia for adoptees.

Each week (or several times per week ), I am surprised to see so many adoptees express their desire to return and also their fears and reluctance to go alone, or with their adoptive parents or with their associates. It’s crazy that we are all working in our small corners when we could do something big that would facilitate the life of everyone, just as we, our parents and young people adopted. And the future adoptees that would like to return one day to know their origins. In short…. I will keep you informed of this project. I think there is a great need. ≺3″

Aselefech, Annette, and I have been talking about this for a while. The project is in very early stages, and the focus is this:

Many Ethiopian adult adoptees would like to return to Ethiopia but struggle with the expense. Some may not have been back since they left Ethiopia as small children.

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Photo taken by Maureen Evans August 2014 Ethiopia

Some adult adoptees do not want to travel with their adoptive parents. Some adoptive parents do not want to travel to Ethiopia, and will not or cannot assist their children in traveling. Some adult adoptees would like to travel back alone, some with other adoptees, some with their partners, spouses, or friends.

Some would like assistance and support (not necessarily financial) in the arrangements for travel in Ethiopia. This would mean the usual items such as hotel/guest houses, meals, translators, tour guides, drivers, etc., but also resources in Ethiopia that are specific to adopted persons, such as adoption-competent social workers and translators with fluency in multiple languages. Connecting with other adoptees who have traveled and searched for birth family would also be important.

Some adoptees are interested in searching and spending time with their birth families. Some have not been able to locate birth family members. Some would like to participate in projects to help Ethiopia (literacy, clean water, health care, etc.) while they are visiting.

Models for this undertaking exist in Korea, where adult adoptees have been very active. KoRoot and GOA’L provide wonderful, established models of adoptee-led organizations designed to support adoptees traveling to their country of birth.

We hope, of course, to see the services envisioned in Ethiopia extended to Ethiopian birth/first families, such as translators and adoption-competent social workers.

One effort already up and successfully running is Ethiopian Adoption Connection (EAC), a database in which Ethiopian families can enter information about children they have placed for adoption, in an effort to locate them. Adoptive families and adopted individuals can enter their information as well, and already there have been several matches. The site is in English and Amharic.

Currently, an Ethiopian first/birth family is looking for news about a boy adopted at age 7 in 2007 from the Kembata Tembaro area, possibly to the US or Italy. Information is available here. Please share this with others, and take a look at all the entries on the EAC page.

EAC has a lot of helpful information, including online groups for adoptive families and adoptees, as well as this master’s thesis on Ethiopian birth/first mothers’ experiences.

Some 13,000 Ethiopian children have been adopted to the United States. Thousands more have been adopted to Canada, western Europe, and Australia. While most are still minors, many are adults. Some are turning their hearts, eyes, and feet toward their country of birth. Let’s join them on the journey.

RIP CHIFF. Hello CAPP? (Part 2)

CHIFF focused heavily on international adoption, and not so much on family preservation and empowerment. CAPP focuses heavily on improving outcomes for vulnerable children and families around the globe. Adoption, both domestic and international, will always be part of child welfare policy. As a community concerned with children, can those of us involved with adoption find common ground that both strengthens families and includes ethical, transparent adoptions? This post looks at one angle of the legislative conversations. There’s so much to say.

The information in RIP CHIFF. Hello CAPP? (Part 1) is not exhaustive regarding all that is happening with the implementation of the Children in Adversity report (APCA). So many agencies and acronyms. Public and private partnerships. Lofty goals with complex implementation. Millions of dollars. An enormous undertaking. I cannot disagree with the goals: vulnerable children and families deserve support and resources all around the globe.

CHIFF and CAPP Proponents: Overlap?

International adoption was a huge part of the failed Children in Families First (CHIFF) bill. It seems to be a tiny part of CAPP, the Children in Adversity Policy Partnership. What overlap is there between the proponents of the two?

The Joint Council on International Children’s Services is at the forefront of CAPP, as it was of CHIFF. JCICS, however, has been moving steadily away in the last 10 years or so from focusing on adoption agency services, and moving steadily toward a much broader mission of international child welfare. It still has adoption agencies as members, but fewer than was once the case (far fewer than when I worked at JCICS, from 1995-2000, certainly).

One of the biggest proponents of CHIFF, Both Ends Burning, does not seem to be involved with the CAPP. Peter Leppanen, BEB’s Strategic Advisor, is listed as a member of CAPP in a July 2014 Child Policy University Consortium document. His affiliation with BEB is not noted there. Many adoption agencies (and CHIFF supporters) are also listed as members of CAPP. The membership list may well have changed in subsequent months, and current CAPP information does not include BEB, as far as I can tell.

How much should we read into the fact that one of CHIFF’s biggest proponents is not involved significantly with CAPP? BEB has always been first and foremost an international adoption advocacy group. In November, they hosted a Global Symposium on permanency options for children. Looking from the outside, my impression is that BEB is intent on following its international adoption goals, and not committed, as least explicitly, to partnership with the Children in Adversity crowd. I hope, as BEB forges on, they will include the significant, genuine involvement of adult adoptees and first/birth parents.

The National Council for Adoption does not figure in CAPP either. NCFA supported CHIFF: “Chuck Johnson President and CEO of the National Council For Adoption said: “Children all over the world are languishing outside of family care…CHIFF re-aligns existing resources and re-prioritize how the U.S. Government serves this population of vulnerable children. NCFA enthusiastically supports CHIFF.” NCFA’s endorsement of CHIFF, as well as that of JCICS, Both Ends Burning, Christian Alliance For Orphans (CAFO), and others, is here.

In its January 2105 listing of legislative priorities, NCFA does not mention the CAPP, though they refer to CHIFF. This is not surprising: their primary focus is on US and international adoption issues.

CAFO posted its own support for CHIFF here. Jedd Medefind of CAFO has also endorsed the goals of the Children in Adversity report per this USAID press release.

Intercountry adoption is a much smaller part of CAPP than it was in CHIFF. There is minimal mention of the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption in the APCA. Clearly CAPP has a broader goal. And a cast of thousands, if not millions. It is an astonishing configuration of government, public, and private organizations. It makes my head spin.

I have no doubts that CAPP, the Global Alliance, and the attendant organizations, policies, and proposals have their fair share of challenging problems: the role of US AID, the failure of the US to approve the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the abilities of countries receiving assistance to have a role in that assistance, and so on.

Still, given the laudable goals of CAPP to improve early childhood outcomes, to preserve families, and to protect children from exploitation, will the need for international adoption be diminished?  Given the huge decline in the number of children being internationally adopted, for whatever combination of reasons, perhaps an approach that looks to achieve those laudable goals is timely.

Implications

So who doesn’t benefit from CAPP? Many of the same people who didn’t benefit from CHIFF.

CAPP does not, as far as I can tell and I would be happy to be incorrect about this, prioritize funding for pre- or post-adopt resources for internationally adopted children, nor for the birth/first parents of internationally adopted children. NCFA includes Post-Adoption Services on its list of legislative priorities. I have to wonder, as international adoption declines and agencies close, who will be responsible for providing post-adoption services to adoptees and their families, here and around the world. JCICS member agencies placed many of those international children, and they are rapidly changing their focus away from adoption services. Will NCFA step up?

Further, like CHIFF, CAPP does not address retroactive citizenship for all international adoptees. To its credit, NCFA does list “Citizenship Equality Intercountry Adoption” as one of its legislative priorities.

The issue of re-homing here in the US is not a part of CAPP, and nor was it part of CHIFF.

Retroactive citizenship and re-homing are admittedly complicated issues. They require a lot of collaboration and consensus to move at the federal level. The citizenship issue means tangling with immigration foes in Congress. On re-homing, some states have begun to look into and pass legislation on re-homing, but many international adoption advocates would like to see a uniform federal law.

Collaboration and consensus will be needed to move legislation and policies around improvement of pre- and post-adoption matters such as improvement of home studies, increased funding for adoption competent therapists/social workers, and better access to effective post-adoption resources. Providing pre- and post-adoption support to first/birth parents is especially complicated, because those parents are geographically and linguistically far removed; most cannot pay for services. None of this means we should advocate any less for them.

CAPP, it seems to me, is moving ahead with the support of far-reaching US government agencies, big name foundations, child welfare experts, and a variety of advocates. CAPP will probably have little impact on specific adoption policies in the US; certainly it appears not to have CHIFF’s intense focus.

I hope that CAPP will do or has done what CHIFF did not: Include the experiences and insights of those vulnerable children who have grown up, including adoptees and orphans. Include at the table the voices and realities, if not the actual presence, of first/birth parents who lost their children unfairly to adoption, due to poverty, corruption, fraud, social stigma, or other reasons, and prevent such tragedies from happening again.

So many important issues are hanging in the balance for internationally adopted children, and for those who are now international adult adoptees, and their families. Perhaps it will be those adult adoptees who will lead the way. Recent high level media news articles such as the New York Times “Why a Generation of Adoptees Is Returning to South Korea” and the Washington Post’s “Please Don’t Tell Me I Am Lucky” give anyone connected with adoption plenty to consider.

Will future advancements and policy decisions regarding adoption be the result of genuine collaboration and consensus, acknowledging the spectrum of experiences among adoptees, birth/first parents, and adoptive parents, and moving ahead to effectively help vulnerable children and families? I hope so. Let’s keep talking–and listening.

RIP CHIFF. Hello CAPP? (Part 1)

CHIFF is gone. What does CAPP portend?

The Children in Families First (CHIFF) legislation died a slow death surrounded with silence.  You can read the Post-Mortem here. It is possible, but unlikely, that CHIFF could be re-introduced in the 114th session of Congress, which recently convened.

What have the former proponents of CHIFF been working on, since the CHIFF legislative campaign failed?

Many (though not all) CHIFF proponents have been participating in the strategies outlined in the US Government Action Plan on Children in Adversity (APCA), a report released in December 2012. Several of the CHIFF proponents are now part of the Children in Adversity Policy Partnership (CAPP), an offshoot of APCA. APCA is, according to June 2014 information, “a demonstration of the U.S. Government’s commitment to greater coordinated, comprehensive and effective assistance to prevent and respond to the needs of especially vulnerable children. More than 30 offices across the U.S. Government continue to support programs and policies relevant to the APCA objectives globally.”

The main website for Children In Adversity is here.

IMG_7416 The three principal objectives that everyone involved with APCA supports are these: Build Strong Beginnings (focused on children under five years old); Put Family Care First (to prevent unnecessary family-child separation and promote permanent family care); and Protect Children (from violence, exploitation, abuse, and neglect.)

Each of the objectives requires significant implementation, which likely also will involve signficant funding and legislation.

The CAPP Steering Committee includes former CHIFF proponents Joint Council on International Children’s Services (JCICS), Kidsave, and the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute. Other Steering Committee members are Arms Around the Child, Child Fund International, World Vision, and Save the Children. The co-chairs of the Steering Committee are Tom DiFilipo of JCICS and Greg Mann of Save the Children. Information from JCICS about CAPP is available here, including a link to a survey which allows you to become involved with CAPP.

Government agencies working to implement APCA, along with CAPP, include (but are not limited to) US Agency for International Development (US AID), Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the National Institute of Health (NIH), the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the US Department of Agriculture, the US Department of State, the Peace Corps, and more.

There is also a Global Alliance for Children involved with APCA as well, a public-private partnership: “In response to the global and national conditions of children in extreme adversity, a group of foundation, bilateral, multilateral, NGO and private sector partners founded the Global Alliance for Children: Ensuring the Future. Through a donor advised fund, joint programs and coordinated funding, the Alliance seeks to achieve three core objectives in six countries over the course of five years.”

The three core objectives are the “principle objectives” outlined above. Three of the countries have been named so far for assistance: Cambodia, Rwanda, and Uganda.

The members of the Global Alliance include US AID, World Childhood Foundation, Childhood, Maestral International, Save the Children, Lumos, GHR Foundation, US Department of Labor, World Bank Early Child development, and USB Optimum Foundation.

One of CHIFF’s goals had been to establish a USAID Center for Excellence for Children in Adversity (USAID CECA), so this is one overlap between CHIFF and CAPP, in that the center has indeed been established, and apparently funded as well. More information is available here.

This is not by any means an exhaustive explanation about the players and policies  involved in the implementation of the Action Plan for Children in Adversity and CAPP. I urge you to take a look at the links and learn more. Huge expenditures of money and time have been and will be spent on this enormous project. If vulnerable children and families are genuinely and substantially helped, that should be applauded.

So, what does that mean for international adoption? Please see Part 2, available tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mary Mooney Pleads Guilty in IAG Adoption Fraud Case

Mary Mooney, the executive director of International Adoption Guides, has entered a guilty plea for fraud and bribery in Ethiopian adoptions. This means that the three Americans charged in this case–the others are James Harding and Alisa Bivens–have all pled guilty to charges brought against them in a Department of Justice indictment last February.

Harding and Bivens have not yet been sentenced. Mooney entered her plea yesterday. The Department of Justice press release about Mooney’s plea is available here. Interestingly, her guilty plea seems largely to involve providing false statements to the Council on Accreditation, which is the entity that accredits international adoption agencies under the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption.”Without that accreditation,” says the DoJ press release, “IAG would not have been legally permitted facilitate intercountry adoptions…and numerous families would have never retained IAG to provide adoption services.”

The IAG Ethiopian staff person also named in the DoJ indictment remains, apparently, in Ethiopia. Ethiopia has not yet made any public statements regarding IAG or the fraud and bribery by IAG, which included payments to Ethiopian officials.

These guilty pleas are very big and wonderful news for the adoptive and Ethiopian birth families involved, though of course they don’t change the devastating deception and fraud that occurred.

Sentencing hearings for Bivens, Harding, and Mooney will take place in the US District Court in South Carolina; the date has yet to be scheduled.