Another Lawsuit By An Adult Adoptee: Guatemalan Adoptee Sues Orphanage

Alex Guibault, a 28 year old adoptee from Guatemala, has recently sued his orphanage Casa Aleluya for violent physical and sexual abuse. Alex now lives in Canada, having been adopted at the age of 19. He spent about 12 years in the orphanage: the police placed there at around 7 years old. The lawsuit alleges “vile, violent, and horrendous acts” against Alex and other children in the orphanage, which is, according to a CBC article, run by “Build Your House on the Rock, a Louisiana based Christian group.”

One of the Build Your House programs is Casa Aleluya, a 501(c) 3 non-profit “providing medical, educational, and spiritual care for children and a loving place they can call home. These children grow up healthy and happy while learning the love of Christ.” Their website shows several former children who grew up at Casa Aleluya as Ministry Leaders now. The orphanage can have more than 500 children receiving care at any given time. Over 6000 abused and neglected children have received food, shelter, education, and hope in the more than 30 years since the orphanage was founded, according to the website.

Alex was adopted by a Canadian family several years ago, though he is apparently still working on getting Canadian citizenship. He spends time in Guatemala, including helping children who live on the streets and in other difficult circumstances. The lawsuit will likely takes years to make its way through the courts.

I titled this post “Another Lawsuit by an Adult Adoptee” for a reason. While adoptive parents have sued adoption agencies for various reasons over several decades, adult adoptees have brought fewer lawsuits. That is changing. While I would not say there is a massive trend, I would say it’s a bellwether of sorts.

Here are some examples:

Nine adoptees from Mali who were raised in France filed for fraudulent adoption.

Three Ethiopian adoptees successfully had their adoptions annulled. Two of the adoptees had been raised in Denmark; one grew up in the Netherlands.

Kara Bos, a Korean adoptee raised in the U.S., filed and won a lawsuit in Korea to be recognized as a daughter of her biological father.

Adam Crapser, a Korean adoptee raised in the U.S., filed a lawsuit against both Holt Children’s Services and the Korean government for “gross negligence. The first hearing was held in Seoul in August 2019. Crapser, who had a childhood full of abuse by adoptive families, was deported to Korea in 2016 due to criminal charges and the fact that he did not have U.S. citizenship.

In Alabama, the brother of an adoptee tortured for years by adoptive parents filed a lawsuit against the parents. The adoptive parents have been convicted and are in jail for two years, then probation for three. The adoptee weighed less than 55 pounds at 14 years old.

In 2017, Sixties Scoop Survivors (babies born to “unwed mothers” and scooped from their mothers at birth) reached an agreement with Canada wherein Canada will pay between $500-800 million in restitutions. Funds are intended to go to indigenous children adopted in the 1960’s by non-indigenous families in Canada, Europe, and the U.S. The restitutions are for the loss of their cultural identities, family, and communities.

In the U.S., the quest by adoptees for their own Original Birth Certificates (OBC) and for their medical history has often involved litigation, court cases, and money. This is a struggle that has gone on for decades.

All international adoptees should have been automatically granted citizenship, but that is not the case. The legislation for citizenship has not yet been approved by the U.S. Congress, and that is an outrage.

This is not an exhaustive list, though neither is there an enormous amount of litigation by individual adoptees. Litigation is an expensive, draining process, financially and emotionally; state and federal legislation can be slow and tedious, requiring a great deal of time and effort. Still. That adoptees are filing lawsuits and legislation at all is a shattering of the traditional narrative around adoption, and these adoptees must have their truths honored. My heart aches for every one of them, but that is not the point. We in the adoption community cannot dismiss the harsh and unfair experiences of some adoptees who had no agency in their adoptions and who were part of the societal understanding that life would be better because of adoption.

US State Department Invites International Adult Adoptees to a Town Hall

The U.S. State Department recently sent out this invitation for international adoptees to participate in a virtual Town Hall to talk about their lived experiences. If you are an adult international adoptee, I hope you will consider attending. Please, everyone, share this invitation.

From the U.S. State Department:

Invitation to Adult Adoptees: What would you like policy-makers to know about the lived experience of intercountry adoptees?

Event:     Town Hall: Adult Adoptee Lived Experience
Date:       November 13, 2020
Time:      12:00pm to 1:30pm EST
RSVP:     Adoption@state.gov  (NLT November 10, 2020) – Response should include your name, email address, and if willing to share, the country from which you were adopted. Participation details will be sent by email on November 12, in the afternoon, to those who RSVP’d. 

The Office of Children’s Issues, U.S. Department of State, invites interested adult intercountry adoptees to a virtual town hall meeting with Marisa Light, Chief of the Adoption Oversight Division, on Friday, November 13, 2020, 12:00 – 1:30 p.m. EST

In adherence with the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation on Intercountry Adoption, the Department believes that children “should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding;” that priority should be given “to enable the child to remain in the care of his or her family of origin;” that intercountry adoption should be considered only when “a suitable family cannot be found in [the child’s] State of origin;” and that measures should be taken “to ensure that intercountry adoptions are made in the best interests of the child and with respect for his or her fundamental rights, and to prevent the abduction, the sale of, or traffic in children.”  

We are the U.S. Central Authority for the Convention, and we uphold these principles in our day to day work. As policy makers, we place a priority on ensuring that persons with lived experience have a seat at the table in discussions that inform and impact the development of public policy that impact the adoption community. Adult adoptees are important stakeholders whose voices and varied perspectives are critical to our work.  

We appreciate wide dissemination of this invitation to internationally adopted persons who may be interested in participating. We are particularly hoping to reach adult intercountry adoptees who may be unfamiliar with the role we play in intercountry adoption or whose voices we haven’t heard before.  

We recognize that some adult intercountry adoptees are also adoptive parents and/or professionals working to facilitate intercountry adoption. While we respect the integration of these multiple aspects of an individual’s identity, we request that participants in this situation limit their sharing to their experiences specifically as adoptees since we have other venues for sharing perspectives more focused on adoptive/prospective adoptive parents and adoption professional experiences. We thank those participants in advance for their understanding of the importance of providing an opportunity to focus on adoptee concerns and feedback.  

In recognition of the sensitive nature of the topic for some, this meeting will not be recorded. Those who cannot attend are welcome to submit comments in writing to Adoption@state.gov. We look forward to hearing from you. 

Sincerely,

Office of Children’s Issues
Adoption Oversight Division
U.S. Department of State

This invitation was from the Adoption Notices that the U.S. State Department sends out to those who subscribe: you can subscribe to the Notices here.

Adoptee Remembrance Day: Today

The last couple years have seen a dramatic increase in the number of adult adoptees writing blogs, speaking at conferences, posting on Facebook and Instagram, creating groups, and otherwise sharing the truths of their lived experiences and professional qualifications. There have, of course, been adult adoptees vibrantly active in adoption for decades: their voices, however, were often drowned out by the dominant force of adoptive parents. That is changing, and that is wonderful.

Today is Adoptee Remembrance Day, an event created by Adoptees Connect. I applaud Pamela Karanova for her incredible hard work, including the way she has partnered with many other amazing adoptees and adoptee-led organizations.

Adoptee Remembrance Day is a day to reflect on loss in adoption. The traditional narrative is the warm, fuzzy version of orphans finding loving, forever homes: end of story. The reality is far more complex. Many adoptees were not orphans at all. Some ended up in brutal, abusive homes. Many struggle with grief, trauma, and depression, including those with loving adoptive families. There can be a lot of love in adoption: there can be a lot of sorrow as well, and we must acknowledge that.

So today, on Adoptee Remembrance Day, we have an opportunity to reflect on the complexity of adoption from the perspective of the experts: adult adoptees.

We can remember adoptees who have died by suicide, a painful reality. We can remember and honor adoptees who have died at the hands of their adoptive parents. (I’ve written often about Hana Williams, the Ethiopian adoptee whose adoptive parents we’re convicted for her murder.) We can act to help provide citizenship for all international adoptees, and to end the deportation of adoptees. We can listen to adoptees, and rise their voices.

I invite my fellow adoptive parents, and everyone in and out of the adoption community, to join me in spending time today listening and learning about Adoptee Remembrance Day.

Here is the link to the Adoptee Remembrance Day site.You will find loads of information, an incredible agenda, podcasts, music, and more. I am deeply grateful to everyone who is speaking out on this important day. These adult adoptees are sharing their genuine and profound truths. May this be another big step toward creating adoption policies that are fair, transparent, and focused on adoptees.

“Adoptees, Mental Health, and Suicide Awareness”

The role of suicide and mental health in adoption are topics most people don’t want to hear about. As an adoptive parent, I’ve been writing and speaking out about it for years, and I know how painful and difficult it can be. That said, we need to talk and learn, and work toward suicide prevention and better mental health.

This Saturday September 12, Adoption Mosaic will host a panel called “Adoptees, Mental Health, and Suicide Awareness: Breaking the Silence, Breaking the Stigma, as part of their “We The Experts” series. The experts are adoptees, who share their lived experiences, as well as professional expertise. If as an adoptive parent you ever wished you could be a fly on the wall for discussions like this one, here’s your chance to listen to and learn from adoptees. I want to give credit and respect to the adoptees who will participate: they will be helping so many others with their courage and experience.

The focus on the “We the Experts” events is adoptees. Please share this event (and others in the We The Expert series) with adopted adults and others who may be interested. Non-adopted folx are welcome to attend: as listeners, as learners, as supporters of adoptees. Not as experts, not as authorities, not as dominating voices.

As an adoptive parent, I learned a lot about adoption as my kids were growing up. My sons were babies from the US when they were adopted; my twin daughters were 6 years old when they arrived from Ethiopia. All my children identify as Black; their adoptive dad and I are White. My children are all now adults in their 30’s. 

Over the years, we have had a lot of conversations about adoption. My four children’s perspectives on adoption vary greatly, around wanting or needing to search for birth family, around how they react to friends asking about their birth parents or why they were adopted, around trust, grief, Mother’s Day, and fairness. As children, they participated in adoptee camps and workshops, more or less willingly depending on age and mood. They dealt with memories or the lack of them, with baby photos or lack of them, with family tree assignments (never lacked them). As adults, they have settled into their identities, on their own terms, subject to change.

Questions and issues around adoption don’t end magically when adoptees turn 18. Children grow up. They seek out partners and relationships, and adoption can influence both. They have children themselves, who are not adopted and whose parents were. Those biological connections are powerful. As a mom, a grandmother, and the parent of adoptees, I continue to see the impact of adoption, and to learn.

One of the best ways I’ve been learning recently is through Adoption Mosaic’s “We the Experts” series. Depending on the topic, we get to listen to adopted adults talk about their experiences as parents, and how being adopted has affected their relationships with their children. We can learn why or why they chose to search for their birth family, how they have retained or rejected the religion they grew up in, what their relationships with their fathers have been like, and most recently, how they view DNA testing. In August, there was a great conversation about LGBTQ+ folx and adoption. The panelists talked about coming out to adoptive families, sexual orientation and how it can affect reunion, how dating and adoption can intersect (among other intersectionalities), and more. There was so much to say they held another session the following Saturday, and I have no doubts many conversations are still going on.

The panelists are consistently amazing and insightful. The adoptees attending the events ask great questions and share thoughtful comments. Astrid Castro, a Colombian transracial adoptee and thought leader in adoption, is the founder of Adoption Mosaic, and she facilitates the discussions. I especially urge adoptive parents, whatever age your adopted child is, to take advantage of the opportunity that is Adoption Mosaic’s We The Experts series. 

Adoption Mosaic has several resources about adoption and suicide posted on their facebook page as resources for the September 12 panel.

I want to also note a few other resources, by and for adoptees. One is Stop Adoptee Suicide, an Facebook page that provides resources. Another is this post from Intercountry Adoptee Voices (ICAV), “Dealing With Adoptee Suicide.”

Another important event will be Adoptee Remembrance Day, October 30, 2020. “Adoptee Remembrance Day is a day to recognize all of our brothers & sisters who are adopted, that didn’t survive adoption. It’s also a day that signifies an acknowledgement of loss for adoptees because before we’re ever adopted we experience the biggest loss of our lives that’s continuously ignored by our world today. Over the years, the adoptee community has had multiple conversations on creating a day set aside for adoptees, but we’re ready to bring this to life as a way to raise awareness and honor those adoptees who are no longer with us. It’s important that we don’t forget them and after all we’ve lost, adoptees deserve a day just for them.” – Pamela Karanova. Pamela is the force behind Adoptees Connect, whose goal is to “focus on putting adoptee voices first by creating a safe and valuable adoptee-centric space, created by and for adoptees, where their voices can meet and be heard.”

In recent years, the number of adopted adults who are speaking out about adoption has increased greatly. Each one has an important perspective to share, and I am glad to see their wisdom being acknowledged. Discussions around mental health and suicide remain challenging, in and outside of adoption, and each of us feels a terrible sorrow at the news of an adoptee dying by suicide. September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Let’s keep learning, together.

A crisis text line is available 24/7. That link will take you to text lines in other countries as well. In the US, you can talk to a counselor right away by texting HOME to 741741. If you or someone you know is in an emergency, in the US call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or call 911 (or your country’s emergency number) immediately.

Transracial Adoptive Parents: Will You Fight Racism, or Will You Ignore It?

Transracial adoption is essentially built on racial inequity. The vast majority of transracial adoptive parents, especially those who adopted internationally, are White, and the children they adopt are often placed for adoption due to the pervasive economic disparities that are a result of race. I wonder if there are any White adoptive parents who have not been told that they have given their adopted Black or Brown children a better life. That usually means better schools, safer neighborhoods, and higher standard of living.

It would be so wonderful, a privilege really, if we could just stop talking about racism. Imagine if there were genuine equity in our society, in education, health care, employment, income, housing, and more. No voter suppression. No laws needed about discrimination based on Black natural hair. No teaching Black sons where to put their hands when Driving While Black. No Asians being harassed or worse for the “China flu.” No verified, well-researched reporting of income disparities among races.

That would be great. And we aren’t there yet by any means. In the wake of George Floyd’s death, we Americans seemed poised to take a look at our history as a country, understand the legacy of racism, and genuinely begin to heal. As the White adoptive parent of Black children, I’ve seen personally how racism has affected my children, in overt and covert ways. They are strong, successful people. They and other Black people have dealt with racism every day, individually or systemically. We White adoptive parents who have raised and are raising Black and Brown children know we hold economic and other power by virtue of our race. We cannot bury our heads in the sand. We must continue to learn, and to prepare our children for the world that is not racism-free.

Yesterday, President Trump issued an order pertaining to anti-racism trainings for federal government agencies and workers. It seeks essentially to bury the history and current entrenched system of racism in America, and to deny the reality that Black and Brown people live through in terms of inequities in health care, education, housing, environmental justice and more. 

Under the President’s new order, trainings for federal workers that mention white privilege or assert that racism is part of our country’s foundation “engender division and resentment” and “undercut” the federal government’s “core values.”

Who feels resentment? The White people who are not and never have been affected by racist policies in the U.S., and don’t want to hear about it.

Racism—via slavery, segregation, redlining, denial of voting rights and more—is indeed part of our country’s foundation. We are at a pivotal time to face that reality and make positive changes to end systemic racism. 

However, our current leadership calls anti-racism trainings “anti-American.”

The President has instructed the OMB Director to ensure that “federal agencies cease and desist from using taxpayer dollars to fund these divisive, un-American propaganda training sessions.” 

Federal agencies are to list all government contracts related to trainings about critical race theory and the idea of white privilege, and then do anything they can to cancel the contracts. 

Black scholars like Dr. Derrick Bell and Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw are among those who developed critical race theory. White privilege is real, and disrupting it is part of anti-racist work, so that we live in a genuine anti-racist society. 

This may be one of our President’s most disturbing decisions yet. Watch who supports it, and who opposes it.

It would be nice to wish racism away, but that’s not what 400 years of American history tell us. That’s not what Black scholars, PhDs, and highly skilled researchers tell us. That’s not what Black friends and family tell us. That’s not what many transracially adopted adults have said here, here, here, and here. (There are lots more examples, if you want to look.) That’s not what Harvard Business Review tells us. That’s not what Doc Rivers tells us. It may be what some White men tell us, the White men that have traditionally held power in the U.S.

As the White parent of Black children whom I love beyond words, I will continue to acknowledge racism, to learn how it affects me and them, and to work to end racism and inequity. It’s the least I can do, with eyes wide open.

US State Department Imposes Sanctions, Fines on Ugandan Officials Involved in Fraudulent Adoptions

The U.S. State Department has imposed financial sanctions and visa restrictions on Ugandan officials involved in fraudulent adoption schemes. This is a highly significant and public declaration. You can read State’s press release here. The State Department press release includes a link to a U.S. Treasury Department press release as well.

Adoption Agency Staff of “European Adoption Consultants” Charged By Federal Grand Jury With Fraud, More


A federal grand jury today charged Margaret Cole, Robin Langoria, and other employees of European Adoption Consultants (EAC) with fraud, money laundering and bribery in connections with adoptions from Uganda and Poland.

EAC had been granted accreditation under the Hague Convention for Inter-Country Adoptions by the Council on Accreditation. That accreditation is considered a sort of gold standard in the realm of international adoption agencies: it involves a substantial amount of time and work and fees to receive.

In 2015, EAC had a complaint lodged against it for a case in China. In December 2016, the State Department debarred EAC, and their Hague accreditation status was revoked. The IAMME website (IAMME became the sole Hague Convention accreditor in 2018) states this: “Nature of the Substantiated Violations: The Department of State temporarily debarred adoption service provider, European Adoption Consultants, Inc. (EAC) from accreditation on December 16, 2016, for a period of three years.  As a result of this temporary debarment, EAC’s accreditation has been cancelled and it must immediately cease to provide all adoption services in connection with intercountry adoptions.

The Department found substantial evidence that the agency is out of compliance with the standards in subpart F of the accreditation regulations, and evidence of a pattern of serious, willful, or grossly negligent failure to comply with the standards and of aggravating circumstances indicating that continued accreditation of EAC would not be in the best interests of the children and families concerned.”

The FBI raided EAC in 2017, and the agency closed. Cole had founded EAC in 1991.

Grand jury documents were unsealed today in Ohio, where EAC was located. EAC had worked in adoptions in Bulgaria, China, Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Honduras, India, Panama, Tanzania, and Ukraine, in addition to Uganda and Poland.

It’s impossible to know how much heartache has happened to families and children as a result of this.

Here is the full article from Cleveland.com.

Why Is the U.S. State Department’s New System For Accessing International Adoption Stats So Terrible?

The U.S. State Department had changed its International Adoption Statistics page so that it is unwieldy, time-consuming, and frustrating.

Terrible optics: it’s almost as if the Department were trying to make information about adoptee immigrants difficult to access.

There are two descriptors, both somewhat misleading: “All Years Adoption Statistics” and “Total Adoptions.” Both are shown as 278,745.

However, and this has been the case for many years, State publishes its international adoption stats only from 1999. Adoptions began in significant numbers after the Korean War, in the early 1950’s. I don’t know why the thousands of adoptees in the 64 years between, say, 1955 and 2019 are not included by State in the “All Years Adoption Statistics.” It means that tens of thousands of adoptees are simply not included, contributing to the invisibility of adult adoptees and the silencing of their voices.

A bold new feature on State’s site is a vaguely interactive map, as if the hemispheric location of a country of origin is the main point of interest. On brand for the State Department, I suppose, but not so much for understanding the complexity of international adoption. When you click on a country name, it shows up on the map with a blinking pink outline that then fades. The color of the country depends on how many children were placed for adoption from it. There is an alphabetical listing of sending countries, each of which has a little sorta quadrilateral shape next to it that ranges in color from yellow to orange to brown. What does that signify, you ask? Click on the house shape at the upper right of the map to find out. (Spoiler: The legend explains that the colors correspond to the number of children adopted, greater/equal to 81637, then greater/less than 6421, then greater/less than 235, and so on. Yes, those are the actual numbers used.)

Anther new feature about that alphabetical listing of countries (and whether they are Hague signatories or not) is that you must go through the entire list EACH TIME you are looking for a piece of data, say adoptions by year in Guatemala, or, heaven forbid, Zimbabwe. You will start each time with Afghanistan (sometimes Albania). This will be true if you are looking at 2015 stats for China, then want to switch to 2016 stats for China. Start with Afghanistan… and keep on scrolling.

Another option as a source of the numbers of international adoptions is a non-governmental site, the Johnston Archives. with loads of footnotes and a caveat from the researcher William Johnston: “Data are from multiple sources, sometimes using inconsistent methods or reporting periods (e.g. fiscal year vs. calendar year) such that time series may not be uniform. Some data are incomplete.” It’s a fascinating list nonetheless. As you scroll down the pages, you see how international adoption exploded globally in the 1980’s onward.

And that brings us back to the unfortunate fact that the Adoption Statistics page of the U.S. State Department only shows the past 2 decades. There are tens of thousands of adoptees now in their 40’s, 50’s, and older. But they appear nowhere on the stats page. They should. There are ramifications on citizenship issues, for example. (More on that soon.)

There are links to the State Department’s Annual Reports, which began in 2008. That’s the year (on April 1) that the Hague Convention on Inter-Country Adoption went into effect for the U.S., and the annual report became mandated. The FY2008 report is filled with adorable photos of children, plus about 4 pages of a list of adoption agencies. The FY2019 Annual Report is 10 pages of text and tables. One blurry cute kid photo.

In the FY2019 report, there is no list of agencies, though there is a link to the agency info on the sole accreditor (IAAME, the International Adoption Accreditation and Maintenance Entity) page; the list of agencies is 176 pages. It’s not that there are thousands of agencies; they space out the list of the countries where each agency works plus the addresses of the offices.

Interestingly, on the same link as the list of agencies, IAAME also has a “Substantiated Complaints and Adverse Action Report” which is 188 pages.

Adoption is a complex set of numbers. I am no statistician nor historian, yet I find this information fascinating. It’s quite a rabbit hole, as we say in the U.S., a path of information that if followed leads to more and more things to follow. Information is power, after all, though it’s what we do with it (learning context via interviews, research, and reports; critiquing and citing sources; double checking!) that is vital. When what should be public information is difficult to access or even find, we do a disservice to the people involved.

I’ll close with another controversial point: I realize that the State Department has information/reporting mandates which it meets per the Hague adoption convention. Still. Information on iU.S. international adoption should include statistics on birth/first families as well as on adoptees, and they (not only adoptive or prospective parents) should be involved, encouraged, and welcomed to comment on not only the statistics but the policies over a lifetime.

woman draw a light bulb in white board
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Blackstone Buys Ancestry.Com: Ramifications for Adoptees?

The private equity firm Blackstone has purchased the DNA testing giant Ancestry.com for $4.7 billion. According to Reuters, Ancestry.com is the world’s largest provider of DNA testing, which includes finding family members as well as medical information.

DNA testing companies have marketed mightily to adoptees, in the U.S. and internationally. Because U.S. and international adoptees are often prevented legally from obtaining their original birth certificates (aka the basic human and civil right that we non-adoptees take for granted) and often have limited medical histories, they are wooed by the DNA companies to get around laws and thus access their own information. For some adoptees, it’s been wonderful; for some, it’s been complicated. For some, it’s a dead end of fourth and fifth cousins, and little help otherwise. “If I’m Adopted, Should I Have DNA Testing?” gives an overview by a genetics counselor. It was, however, written in 2018, and a lot has changed since then.

There have been increasing concerns about the preservation and sharing of DNA, including by law enforcement officials. In February, six months ago, Pennsylvania police had a search warrant to gain access to Ancestry.com’s database of 16 million DNA profiles. Ancestry refused. It’s possible that situations like this could go to the Supreme Court. In any case, other DNA companies do share their DNA data with police, scientists, marketers and others, and may not be making that reality clear to their customers.

For international adoptees, DNA testing is often the only way to gather information short of traveling to the country. Two Chinese adoptees who were first cousins found each other via DNA testing—and also found they lived 12 miles apart and were from the same orphanage in China. IamAdoptee did a series of posts about DNA testing for Korean, Chinese, and Colombian adoptees. Adoption Mosaic recently held a We the Experts panel (the experts being adoptees) about “Adoptee Liberation or Exploitation: Pros and Cons of DNA Testing.” The adoptees were from the U.S., China, Korea, and Colombia, and had a variety of perspectives about why they chose to use or not use DNA testing.

Some Black adoptees have expressed concerns about DNA databases that might be used by police, given the concerns over police violence against Black people and inequitable incarceration rates. For example, “One fear is its potential to place innocent people under police suspicion. In her book Inside the Cell: The Dark Side of Forensic DNA, New York University law professor Erin Murphy warns that the practice of searching for genetic relatives could cast wide nets of suspicion over families, and lead cops to test a person’s DNA despite no independent evidence linking them to a crime.” Some DNA companies retain DNA and share it in an unregulated way, which has significant current and potential ramifications.

One option for Black people is AfricanAncestry.com, which says this on its webpage:

  • We do not maintain a database of customer information.
  • We do not sell or share customers’ personal or genetic information.
  • We do not provide customer information to law enforcement.
  • We do not biobank your genetic material. All genetic material is destroyed at the lab.

AfricanAncestry.com describes itself this way: “the world leader in tracing maternal and paternal lineages of African descent having helped more than 750,000 people re-connect with the roots of their family tree.” It may be an option for Black adoptees from the U.S. and from Africa.

With Blackstone, a billion dollar corporation, now owning Ancestry.com, also a billion dollar corporation, the stakes around privacy and information have grown daunting indeed. For adoptees, DNA testing is a possible avenue to access relatives and medical history, but at what price?

More U.S. states need to allow adoptees access to their original birth certificates. Adoptees in Massachusetts are currently working on this, as are advocates in other states. Adoption agencies and lawyers need to insist that all available information provided about adoptees at time of placement is as accurate, thorough, and current as possible. Adoptive parents need to demand the same at placement. Knowledge of who your parents are, and an accurate medical history, should not be exceptional, costly, and arduous information to obtain.

Adoptees and Suicide: Resources and Thoughts for Adoptive Parents (And Others)

As the White adoptive parent of 4 Black children (two born in the U.S., two born in Ethiopia; now adults in their 30’s), I have learned a great deal about both the joys and sorrows of adoption. One of the sorrows is that some adoptees struggle mightily with depression and trauma, no matter how deeply they are loved. This can become especially pronounced in adolescence. For those adoptees who are placed in abusive adoptive families, I can only imagine how horrific, lonely, and devastating their struggle must be.

Many adoptees do just fine. I don’t want to pathologize adoption or adoptees. That said, I urge all of us adoptive parents in particular to get a deeper understanding of suicide prevention, and to know that there are signs, treatments, and actions we can take.

I know of at least four Ethiopian adoptees who died by suicide. A (not adopted) Ethiopian 7th grader died by suicide a few years ago here in Washington; his parents are immigrants. They, their family, and their community have been devastated by the loss, as is, I am sure, any parent whose child has died by suicide. The parents and other family members need support and hope, which can come in many forms, as they try to recover and heal.

In my writing on adoption, I always try to promote the voices of adult adoptees, their lived experiences, their stories, and their professional expertise. 

Here are some examples of the voices we should be aware of and learn from, even as we are talking about the wrenching subject of suicide. There is a Facebook page Stop Adoptee Suicide set up by and for adoptees; there are some great resources listed on the page. There will be an Adoptee Remembrance Day October 30 organized by the adoptee leadership of Adoptees Connect. The page Intercountry Adoptee Memorials was created by Intercountry Adoptee Voices (ICAV) to honor those who adoptees who died by suicide or at the hands of their adoptive family.

Besides a willingness to read, and to make efforts to help families recover and heal, what can we do? 

Know that talking about suicide will not make someone suicidal. In fact, it can reduce the risk. Learn more here. That’s the site of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

Consider consulting with therapists who are adoptees. Here is a list, created by Dr. Chaitra Wirta-Leiker, of U.S. based adoptee-therapists. Dr. Wirta-Leiker is herself an adoptee and is also an adoptive parent.

Listen to adoptee-led discussions.

* One great podcast is Canada-based AdopteesOn; the Healing Series on suicide is thoughtful and powerful.

* Another excellent resource is AdoptedFeels, an Australia-based podcast hosted by two international adoptees, which had a 3-part series on adoption and suicide. Look here for the episodes.

 * Adapted podcasts (for Korean adoptees living in Korea and elsewhere) has had at least two episodes related to suicide.

* In September, Adoption Mosaic will hold a “We the Experts” program on suicide and adoption. The experts are adoptees. Non-adoptees (adoptive parents, partners, friends, support folx of adoptees) are invited to attend as well, and agree to be silent: to intentionally listen and learn. Stay tuned for more information soon.

 When looking for resources for your child, look for adoption-competent therapists. Ask what their training is in adoption and trauma. The Center for Adoption Support and Education has trained more than 1800 therapists in 18 states via a curriculum called Training for Adoption Competency. 

Keep these resources handy:

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number: 1-800-273-8255 (Note: in 2022, there will be a 3 digit number for folx to call, but that is not in service yet. Keep using the number provided above until then.)

The Lifeline page has a link for resources for youth who might be struggling.

The Crisis Text Line can be reached  by texting HOME 741741 in the U.S. and Canada. You can text 85258 in the UK, and 50808 in Ireland. It is available 24/7.

Here’s an article I wrote on Adoptees and Suicide Risk, for a publication of Adoptive Families Association of British Columbia.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the role that racism and bullying (including cyberbullying) can play in the lives and deaths of adoptees.

The parents of Kaleab Schmidt, an Ethiopian adoptee who died by suicide in 2018, are working hard to get their school system to face the racism and racial bullying that their son endured at school. Kaleab had many struggles: abuse in Ethiopia, the loss of both Ethiopian parents, deep trauma endured there as a little child. If you believe that adoption itself is a trauma (the separation from one’s mother, the deep grief of losing one’s only known family, and in the case of international adoption, losing one’s country, language, history, and heritage), then you understand that Kaleab experienced many traumas. Add to that the blatant racism and bullying he received as the only Black student at his school, and the fact that (from the reports) no genuine effort appears to have been made by the school to address the bullying or the racism, and your heart continues to break.  

Racial mirrors matter. Surround adoptees with people who look like them. Racial isolation is painful. 

  • The Adopted Life blog of Black transracial adoptee Angela Tucker has several posts, videos, and interviews about the impact of racism on adoptees.

“The Harris Narratives: An Introspective Study of a Transracial Adoptee by Susan Harris O’Connor, a Black transracial adoptee; “In Their Voices: Black Americans on Transracial Adoption” by Ronda M. Roorda, a Black transracial adoptee, and “Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption,” edited by Jane Jeong Trenka, a Korean transracial adoptee, are just a few examples of books written by (as Adoption Mosaic says) the experts in adoption: adoptees.

For more general information: Here’s a British site about Racism and Racist Bullying. Here’s information from the U.S. National Education Association on How to respond to incidents of racism, bullying, and hate in schools. There is a link in the article to some additional resources. I realize most school are doing remote learning, but the information is still relevant. Given that many kids are home and spending lots more time on social media, online bullying exists as a real and ugly possibility. Here’s one resource about cyberbullying directed toward teens. Here’s another more general one for children and teens: Cyberbullying.

Kaleab Schmidt, who died at 13 years old, was a victim of cyberbullying, among other racist incidents, according to an inquest requested by his parents. “School officials testified there was allegedly a Snapchat group called ‘I Hate Kaleab Schmidt’ created by students at Greenall High School.”

Imagine if that were your child.

We all need to work harder at protecting children from racism and other forms of abuse.

If your White adoption social worker did not prepare you well for transracial adoption (and I feel safe in saying that was the case for many adoptive parents), there are plenty of adoptees who can provide incredible information and insights. Listen to them. If your adopted child is a victim of bullying in school or on the web, especially of adoption- or race-related bullying, advocate fiercely for them. I realize some bullying can be inevitable, but racial-based bullying can be horrifyingly intense for a transracially adopted child whose white parents haven’t experienced racism. When the children grow up and go out into the world, the racism can be gutting.

This has to stop. Hard work and hard conversations must happen. May Kaleab and all those who died too soon rest in peace and in power.

San Juan Islands, 2016 &Copy; Maureen McCauley