Important New Academic Research About Ethiopian Adoptees

Hewan Girma, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies in the African American and African Disaporic Studies Department at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro. She is also a brilliant, thoughtful, kind person, whom I have had the pleasure of knowing for several years.

I am delighted to share two recent articles by Dr. Girma.

One is Respecting Names: Ethiopian transnational adoptee name changes, retention, and reclamation.

From the Abstract: “…this paper examines how the personal names of transnational adoptees can be used to displace from and alternatively reconnect with home cultures. More specifically, transnational adoptees discuss the loss, retention, and reclamation of original ethnic names through the lens of ethno-racial respect and culture keeping. Moreover, studying Ethiopian adoptees, who typically differ from their adoptive parents in ethnicity, birth nationality and/or racialized identity, will elucidate how an immigrant background and a Black racial identity plays a factor in adoptee naming experiences.”

There are so many intersections here for Ethiopian adoptees, and names play so many roles. This is an important article for Ethiopian adoptees, adoptive parents, researchers, other adoptee communities, the Ethiopian community, and more.

An Ethiopian little girl in a white dress walks along a road near green trees.

The other article is Outsiders within: examining Ethiopian adoptee experiences through a diasporic lens. Dr. Girma co-authored this article with Alpha Abebe, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Communication Studies & Media Arts, McMaster University.

From the Abstract: “Based on 20 in-depth interviews with adult Ethiopian adoptees residing in the US, this paper discusses the points of dis/connection between Ethiopian adoptees and the larger Ethiopian diaspora. We focus on how Ethiopian adoptees navigate their inclusion/exclusion as peripheral actors across social groups, as well as the active work they engage in to negotiate their diasporic identities, belongings and personal politic.”

You may recognize the allusion in the article’s title to Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption, the seminal, valuable book edited by Jane Jeong Trenka, Julia Chinyere Oparah, and Sun Yung Shin. The book is discussed in the article, as is Marcus Samuelsson, the global history of Ethiopian adoptions, and the lived experiences of adoptees.

One phrase from the article was particularly powerful to me, that the narratives of the adoptees reflect “a journey of sensemaking.”

For information on how to obtain a PDF of the articles, please leave a comment here or email me, 

Thank you, Drs. Girma and Abebe, for this significant and much-needed research.

Why You Should Read and Share “Lions Roaring Far From Home”

Yesterday was Adoptee Remembrance Day, and tomorrow is the start of National Adoption Awareness Month in the US. It is a fitting time to learn more about adoption, or better understand the experience of being adopted, or hear a variety of perspectives on what “being adopted” means.

Here is an amazing collection of essays by adoptees, stories told in their own voices: Lions Roaring Far From Home: An Anthology by Ethiopian Adoptees.

The book includes essays and poems by 32 writers, ranging in age from 8 to over 50, and raised in six different countries (Canada, France, Sweden, Australia, the Netherlands, and the U.S.). The perspectives on adoption vary, and that is one of the strengths of the book.

It is the first (and currently only) anthology by Ethiopian adoptees.

It received advance praise from Lemn Sissay, Nicole Chung, and Shannon Gibney, all acclaimed writers who are also adoptees.

The cover of the book "Lions Roaring" is a painting of an Ethiopian woman with one hand on her hip and the other on the back of a roaring lion.

The stunning cover art is by the incredibly talented Ethiopian artist Nahosenay Negussie.

We are grateful to the folks who have read the book, and those who have shared a review and stars on the Amazon site.

We hope more folks will read it, talk about it, and share it with others.

It is a groundbreaking book, reflecting the hearts of our writers and the realities of adoption.

Please help us get the book into the hands of Ethiopian adoptees, other adoptees, Ethiopians, adoptive parents, adoption agencies, adoption therapists, and others.

Thank you.

Adoptee Remembrance Day 2023

Today, October 30, is Adoptee Remembrance Day.

Why an Adoptee Remembrance Day?

  • To publicly mourn and honor adoptees who have died;
  • To raise awareness of crimes against adoptees by adoptive parents;
  • To raise awareness around adoptee suicide; and
  • To recognize that some international adoptees, through no fault of their own, do not have US citizenship, and that some have been deported.

From the Adoptee Remembrance Day Facebook page: “We are opening October 30th to be our day of truth, transparency, and remembrance for adoptees all over the world.”

There is a Virtual Candlelight Vigil today via Facebook at 5pm eastern.

Lions Roaring Far From Home: An Anthology by Ethiopian Adoptees is dedicated to Ethiopian adoptees like Hanna Williams who died at the hands of their adoptive parents, as well as to Ethiopian adoptees who died by suicide: they include Amanuel Kildea, Ashkenafi Jitka Lom, Fisseha Samuel, Gabe Proctor, Kaleab Schmidt, Tadesse Söhl, Mekbul Timmer, Seid Visin, and all those who have left us too soon. The book also has an essay by Mike Davis, a deported Ethiopian adoptee,

The cover of the book "Lions Roaring" is a painting of an Ethiopian woman with one hand on her hip and the other on the back of a roaring lion.

May they rest in power and in peace. May their memories be eternal; may their memories be a blessing. May their friends and families find peace and healing as well.

Another Adoption Agency Closes—and Charges Adoptees for Their Own Records

Dillon International, a 51-year-old U.S. international adoption agency based in Oklahoma, having placed for adoption some 7000 children from a dozen countries, “will no longer provide adoption services, home study services, and post-placement/post-adoption supervision services” as of September 30, 2023.

Why? According to Dillon: “The ever-declining number of intercountry adoptions combined with the increasing costs of maintaining Hague accreditation were primary factors considered in the decision.”

The closure does not surprise me. It’s been a bit of a trend for international adoption agencies in recent years.

What if an adoptee wants their own adoption file from Dillon?

“Adoption file contents will include all adoptee background information, legal documents, and referral pictures (if available) provided by the birth country to Dillon International. In most cases, all of these records should have been received by the adoptive family.”

Ok—but wait:

“There will be a $50 service fee to aid in the retrieval of the file, digitization of the content and emailing to the recipient.”

That is outrageous. It is disrespectful to adoptees to have to pay for their own information from an adoption agency. No agency should be able to withhold an adoptee’s own documents unless the adoptee pays up.

Yet another barrier for adoptees to acquire their own information.

Mila Konomos, aka @the_empress_han, is an adopted/displaced person from South Korea, and she created an adoptee-led petition asking Dillon to do the following:

  1. Remove the $50 fee required to access our adoption files.
  2. Schedule meetings between Dillon’s Board of Directors and adoptees to discuss a long-term plan for accountability.
  3. Guarantee that every person adopted through Dillon receives their complete adoption file and all relevant information without unnecessary delays or restrictions.

Those seem reasonable goals. It is unfortunate at best that these items must be requested. I have signed the petition, and I hope that others do as well.

Thank you for creating the petition, Mila.

Adoptees (or their parents, if the adoptees are minors) have until December 31, 2023, to request the files, which could then take some six months to receive.

Also, “Per Dillon policy, we are only able to provide digital copies rather than original documents.”

When an adoption agency closes, the records and files must be carefully preserved: they hold adoptees’ identities and incredibly important information, including original documents.

According to this news story from KTUL ABC 8, this is where “Lifeline Children’s Services comes into the picture. Lifeline is newly licensed in Oklahoma for both domestic and international adoption and was recruited by Dillon to help families with the transition.”

Lifeline appears to be based in Alabama, has many offices (including this new one in Oklahoma), provides adoption services in the U.S.and in 19 other countries, and is accredited under The Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoptions.

I hope adoptees can find a way to access their own original documents, as well as the digitized version, via Lifeline or otherwise.

I did not see anything on Dillon’s page that talks about any services that will be provided to the international birth/first parents in follow-up with this closing. They do have a list of Support Groups and other services for adoptees and adoptive families, but nothing for first/birth parents.

Adoptees Estranged from Their Adoptive Families

Among adoption’s more complicated realities is the role of estrangement: adoptees who become estranged from their adoptive parents.

On Saturday, October 14, (10-noon pacific/1pm-3pm eastern) Adoption Mosaic will host its 50th “We the Experts” panel (the experts being adoptees) on “Adoptees and Adoptive Family Estrangement.”

From Adoption Mosaic: “Estrangement is rising in adoptive families. Historically adoptive families have not been adequately informed of the trauma of adoption, and adoptees often feel disconnected to their adoptive families.”

Some of the topics that may be discussed by the four adoptees on the panel include the following:

“When did you realize that estrangement could be an option for you and your adoptive family?

What was it like to go through this separation?

Were you able to find support, either from friends or the adoptee community?

How are you creating your own sense of community after estrangement? Does the phrase ‘chosen family’ speak to you?”

As an adoptive parent, I recognize this is a tough topic to think about, to experience, and to talk about. And of course it’s painful for everyone, especially adoptees. So let’s talk about it, listen to and learn from adoptees, and work together to heal in community (and that can look different for everyone).

Note: In transparency, please know that I am a co-facilitator for Adoption Mosaic. In fact, we start our Seasoned Parents 6 week class today for adoptive parents of adult children. In the past, we have had parents who are estranged from their children, or are close to estrangement. Sometimes it’s been the adult adoptees who ask their parents to take the class. One of the main objectives of the class is to help adoptive parents talk about hard things with their adult children, whether it’s race, trauma, addiction, grief, estrangement, commodification, or another tough subject.

The Dance of Adoptive Parenting: A Podcast Episode

Recently I had the honor to be a guest on Lori Holden‘s award-winning podcast, Adoption: The Long View. Our topic was “The Dance of Adoptive Parenting: When to Lead and When to Follow.”

I am still certainly a work in progress as a parent, even as my children are all adults and I have two granddaughters. We need to keep learning, and making mistakes, and remaining curious, I think, even as our children grow up. The impact of adoption is lifelong.

Here are a couple of pull quotes from the podcast:

If you have a chance to listen to the podcast, please let us know your thoughts. Thank you!

In addition to hosting her podcast, Lori is a writer, workshop leader, adoption coach, and adoptive parent. Her newest book is Adoption Unfiltered: Revelations From Adoptees, Birth Parents, Adoptive Parents, and Allies” The book’s other co-editors are Sara Easterly (an adoptee) and Kelsey Vander Vliet Ranyard (a birth parent). It will be published December 1; you can pre-order it here.

I am among those quoted in the book, and am looking forward to the publication and to the conversations the book creates. The adoption community is incredibly active these days, with podcasts, books, and more. Lots of voices, some conflicts, some challenges, lots to think about.

Some Words from our Ethiopian Poets, on National Poetry Day

Lions Roaring Far From Home Anthology


Today is National Poetry Day in the UK. While poetry can (and should) be celebrated all year round, we thought today might be a good day to celebrate our “Lions Roaring” poets.

Here are some excerpts.

Andi Tarikua Cass from the US wrote about being a “Warrior of the Lion:”

“i come from a place of fighters, warriors, brave people who never backed down from what they believed in…”

Hana from Canada wrote a “Brave Family Song:”

“We have one family that is in Ethiopia, Ethiopia.

And one family that is in Canada, Canada.

I love this FAMILY so much.”

Helen Rose Samuel from the US shared a poem she had written in memory of her beloved brother Fisseha: “The Art of Goodbye.”

“Who taught you, of knots and ties, to sever?

Who taught you the art of goodbye?

Who failed to teach you the art of goodbye?

Perhaps, then, your goodbye wouldn’t have been forever.”

Australian Tamieka Small‘s poem is “Waiting For When the Sky Won’t Fall:”

“You don’t know what it’s like

To look at the people who love you,

Expecting to see a reflection.

But you see nothing at all,

a blank canvas, a ghost, a wall.”

Heran Tadesse, raised in the Netherlands and now repatriated to Ethiopia, wrote about “Home:”

“Home is where my soul finds healing

And my being becomes whole

Living my dream

And witnessing the unseen

Dance through life

Synchronise to rhythm

Seek and find

Home within.”

Deep gratitude to each of these poets for sharing themselves in the powerful words of their poems.

The cover of the book "Lions Roaring" is a painting of an Ethiopian woman with one hand on her hip and the other on the back of a roaring lion.

Today, at the United Nations: Adopted People and First Families Speak Out on Trafficking, Corruption in Adoptions Around the World:

Adoptees, and increasingly first/biological/original parents, are speaking out about the fraud, corruption, and deception that have occurred globally in international adoption.

Today, the United Nations’ Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED) held a session on illegal intercountry adoptions. You can view the event here via United Nations media.

Look at the description of the Committee: “The CED and its Secretariat work daily to support victims, civil society organizations, National Human Rights Institutions and States to search for and locate disappeared persons, eradicate, punish and prevent this crime, and repair the damage suffered by the victims.”

What is the correlation of the Committee’s mission with adoption? Searching for and locating “disappeared persons”–adoptees and bio/first/original parents. Eradicating and punishing the crime of fraudulent and corrupt adoptions. Preventing the crime of illicit adoptions and/or child trafficking. Providing reparations to the victims—adoptees and bio/first/original parents.

The adoptees who spoke out at this UN event and who are speaking out in many other spaces are not teenagers: they are adults, with lived experience and, in some cases, also with extensive professional and academic credentials. Many of these folks are parents and grandparents themselves. They may have grown up in the US or France or Greece or elsewhere. They may have been born in Chile, China, Kenya, Venezuela, Mali, Haiti, or elsewhere.

In any case, as a global movement, they are united in calling for the overhaul and/or elimination of international adoption, for legal procedures allowing annulment of adoptions, for the creation of databases (including DNA) which provide full access to accurate records, and for the right to reparations, including from adoption agencies and governments that in essence sold children under the guise of adoption.

It is a perfect storm in adoption right now. Social media has allowed adoptees to connect with each other wherever they may live. Technology (translation apps, for example) and DNA testing have opened doors to allow identification of relatives, and of the truth. Adoptees who have traveled to their countries of origin have often found their histories are not what they and their adoptive parents had been led to believe. Birth/first parents, often marginalized economically and socially, are being contacted and are also speaking out.

In addition to watching the UN meeting on video, take a look at this report from Inter Country Adoptee Voices, a major force in organizing the UN events. “Victims of Illegal Intercountry Adoptions Speak Out” was prepared for today’s UN event, a one year anniversary of the 2022 presentation. From the report’s Introduction: “One year on from the UN working with some of us intercountry adoptees and many other experts around the world to publish their Joint Statement on Illegal Intercountry Adoptions, we celebrate the allyship and support to share our messages as survivors and victims of illegal intercountry adoptions.”

The victim and survivor statements provided in the ICAV report “provide representation from the following countries: Adoptive countries (9): Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Netherlands, Sweden, UK, USA; Birth countries (19): Chile, China, Colombia, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Greece, Haiti, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Mali, Peru, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Uganda, Venezuela, Vietnam.”

The ICAV report, like today’s United Nations event, is sobering. For some folks, the report and UN meeting may seem over-reactive, isolated, and unnecessary. They are not. They are the green leaves of seeds that have been germinating for too long, and are now rising robustly in many parts of the world.

Adoption Mosaic’s Program for “Seasoned Adoptive Parents”

I consider myself a “seasoned” parent in that my kids are all in their 30’s and I have two grandchildren. Adoption remains part of all of our lives, an undercurrent of sorts.

Adoption Mosaic’s 6-week online program for Seasoned Adoptive Parents looks at why we parents chose to adopt, and what we have learned in the intervening years. “Seasoned parents” have children who are legal adults; the kids may even be in their 30’s or 40’s or older. As Adoption Mosaic’s director/founder Astrid Castro has written, “At Adoption Mosaic, we believe adoptees should not be solely responsible for educating and supporting their adoptive parents in becoming adoption-fluent…

Our hope in offering this course to adoptive parents of adult children is to help create stronger family bonds between adoptees and their parents.”

The curriculum for “Seasoned Parents” was developed by Astrid, the Director snd Founder of Adoption Mosaic and an adopted person from Colombia. I also helped develop the curriculum. Astrid and I have co-facilitated the first two “Seasoned Parents” programs. Jordan Davis, a Black transracial adoptee and current PhD candidate, will also be co-facilitating, which will be wonderful. We’ve been working together to make the curriculum even stronger.

In this course, we talk about adoption in a historical context, and about some of the current big issues, especially as adopted adults are speaking out more. We talk about adoption as an industry, about the role of race, about the concepts of gratitude and anger and adoption fog. We work on ways to talk about these things with our children, and with other folks. And we do this with compassion and openness, meeting people where they are, hoping to create community and growth.

This fall will be the third time we have offered this program at Adoption Mosaic. The parents who have taken the class adopted their children from the US and internationally; many were transracial adoptive families. Some parents were estranged from their children, and hoped to find a way back to . Some were asked by their children to take the course. Some wanted to better understand the realities of adoption today, far from the time they had attended their adoption agency’s classes.

If you are an adoptee who thinks their adoptive parents might learn from the course, and you are uncertain what to say to them, feel free to schedule a free consultation with Astrid.

Learn more about the Astrid and Adoption Mosaic team here.

“Seasoned Adoptive Parents” will be offered online for 6 Wednesdays starting October 11 through November 18, from 4pm to 5:30pm Pacific time.

Please join us! Please also share the word about this “Seasoned Adoptive Parents” class!

Suicide Prevention Awareness in the Adoption Community

This is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, a good time to learn about suicide and to work to prevent it. It’s a tough topic, and its role in the adoption community is painful.

Here are some resources, from adoptees and other experts.

Adoption Trauma as a Risk Factor in Suicide: Tomorrow night, Wednesday September 20, 5:30 pdt, join an on-line discussion with Lina Vanegas, MSW, a consultant, speaker, writer, displaced person from Colombia, and Mila Konomos, a poet, artist, dissident, survivor of adoption trade from Korea. You can get the Zoom link via Instagram: linaleadswithlove and the_empress_han. Be sure to follow both of them on IG.

A frequently cited research study is Risk of Suicide Attempt in Adopted and Nonadopted Offspring, via Pediatrics., from 2013. One of the findings was that adoptees are four times more likely to attempt suicide than non-adoptees. JaeRan Kim, Ph.D., assistant professor at the University of Washington-Tacoma and an adoptee from South Korea, provides an important and insightful perspective on that study and others about the linkage between adoption and suicide: Research on Adoptees and Suicide.

(Note: I have seen the 2013 report often cited as saying adoptees are four times more likely to die by suicide than non-adoptees. That is incorrect. I recognize that “four times more likely to attempt suicide” is also a grim reality. The distinction between attempts and actual deaths, though, is important.)

In October 2022, a panel of 4 adult adoptees talked about how trauma and suicide had affected their lives. Here is the YouTube video, via United Suicide Survivors International: Adoption and Suicide Prevention: Adult Adoptees Speak Out.

Inter Country Adoptee Voices has many articles and webinars on the complexity of adoption and suicide, from the perspective of the lived experiences of adult adoptees.

International Research:

In November 2022, the Department of Social Services in Australia published INTERCOUNTRY ADOPTION AND SUICIDE IN AUSTRALIA: A Scoping Review. While it contains an overview of academic and other reports, it also cites the need for much more research.

Comparing Childhood Characteristics of Adopted and Non-adopted Individuals Deceased by Suicide “The aim of this study was to compare adopted with non-adopted individuals deceased by suicide to find a potential specificity in adopted individuals deceased by suicide. Results show significant differences: a higher incidence of ADHD, mental health comorbidity and Cluster C personality disorders among adopted individuals. Moreover, adopted individuals have higher adversity scores prior to the age of 15.” (2022, Quebec, Canada)

What about trauma? Accounting for trauma exposure and symptoms in the risk of suicide among adolescents who have been adopted “Although much remains to be explored about the association between adoption and risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors, the current study indicates that traumatic stress plays a critical role.” (2022, USA)

Executive function and early adversity in internationally adopted children “Although adoption offers a protective context that promotes cognitive development, difficulties in executive processes are still evident after an average of seven years in the adoptive family. Adoptive parents should be equipped with strategies to satisfy their child’s needs, and targeted interventions could be implemented to prevent future difficulties in their development.” (2020, Study of Russian children adopted to Spain)

Increased risk of suicidal behaviour in non-European international adoptees decreases with age – A Swedish national cohort study

“Non-European international adoptees are at particular risk for suicidal behaviour in youth, probably due to enhanced identity problems. The decreasing risk of suicide with age and over the decades in non-European international adoptees suggests that some of their difficulties may be transient and can be addressed socially and professionally. Postadoption clinical services are particularly important for late adoptees and in the transition from childhood to adulthood.” (2020, Sweden)

Relationship Between Adoption and Suicide Attempts: A Meta-analysis From “Conclusions: The adoption situation can increase suicide attempts; it predicts at least two times more cases of suicide attempts among adopted people than in the general population…” (2020, Colombia)

Much more research is needed, especially in the adoption community. In the meantime, we all can continue to learn, and to promote the prevention of suicide.