In cognitive therapy, there’s a useful technique called “What If.” It’s used for taking fear-filled thinking down a notch. “What if I am fired?” “What if my brother keeps drinking?” “What if my child loses the scholarship?” The idea is that listing possible solutions calmly can give us a sense of control, and can ease the sense of helplessness. Sometimes fears are reduced, and possible solutions increased.
Ethiopian adoptions are at a critical tipping point. While the number of children being adopted from Ethiopia has decreased, signficant numbers of adoptive families are taking their adopted Ethiopian children back to visit their birth families. I wouldn’t say it’s common yet, but as a trend it’s on an upswing.
Among the lessons learned from these trips is that while some Ethiopian families are getting current information (and photos, maybe more) about their children, many other first families are not. US and Canadian families report that, during their visits to Ethiopia with their adopted children, they are often besieged by other, grief-stricken Ethiopian parents. These are not the families of their adopted child who is visiting, but of other children who have been adopted and never heard from again, despite assurances or misunderstandings that there would be word.
Two questions (at least) come to mind.
Were the children placed for adoption in an ethical, transparent way?
What were the families told about whether there would be future communication about the child?
The answers to both questions can be fear-filled, for first families, for adoptees, and for adoptive parents.
What if we changed the way first families are treated in the international adoption process?
What if the US adoption industry and US government saw the first families as equal to adoptive parents in the way that services are provided?
What if first families received the equivalent of the counseling and classes that pre-adoptive parents are required to have?
What if the counseling was provided to them by a well-trained professional social worker, who speaks their language?
What if the legal rights and responsibilities were clearly and consistently explained to the first families, with a witness? What if they had time to think over their decision before signing legal agreements? What if adoption agencies videotaped the explanation of rights and responsibilities when explained to the first family, and provided adoptive families with a transcript?
What if we adoptive parents insisted that adoption agencies made a much greater and more visible effort to ensure that first families received the letters and photos that adoptive families send to first families?
What if adoption agencies made sure that the letters were translated accurately, that the language of the translation was the same one the birth family used, and that the letter would be read to the birth family if they were illiterate?
That is, what if post-adoption services were considered as valuable, accessible, and viable for first families as they are for adoptive families?
What if adoption agencies provided equivalent services to wealthy American prospective adoptive parents as to poor uneducated Ethiopian birth parents?
Because that’s surely not the case now. Is everyone okay with that?
“What if first families received the equivalent of the counseling and classes that pre-adoptive parents are required to have?”
To the counseling – not if it is the “birthmother” counseling that expectant mothers in the US receive – the one that the NCFA created that seems to work to tear them down so they realize they are thinking only about themselves – so then they can start to understand adoption is the only option. Did you know you can take at least part of the course on-line?
Really good questions. Some of the questions you pose should be marginally reframed and asked at the screening for prospective adoptive parents.
There’s much that needs reframing in adoption. I’m happy to start with some of my questions. The points in my post (and a few other issues) will be part of my upcoming workshop at the upcoming conference of Joint Council on International Children’s Services, and umbrella organization of international adoption agencies and other groups. I am very familiar with NCFA. I presented a workshop (I think) at their conference eons ago, May be time again.
On line counseling? For a woman in crisis? Convenience at quite a cost.
Thanks so much for your comment.
No, not on-line counseling – you can take at least part of their training on-line. What I have read of the documents it sounds like directive rather than non-directive counseling. Hence my point of not offering that conseling to Ethiopian mothers. Real counseling – that would be good.
Thanks. Excellent point about directive and non-directive counseling. Real counseling for first families–without implicit or other coercion, conducted in a mutual, fluent language by someone with a genuine awareness of cultural considerations and with access to resources beyond adoption (and willingness to share them), available before and after placement (if that’s the decision)–that would indeed be good. I’m still learning, but it seems pretty clear to me international first mothers get very little of this. No surprise there, sadly.
“The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong with the world.”
Maureen, numerous times this afternoon I’ve thought of that sentence you posted on your FB.
As you know, I’m one of the families that travels back and hears accounts of Ethiopian families desperate for news. It is very disturbing.
It couldn’t be clearer that many (most?) adoption agencies view Ethiopian families as incubators, as expendable, as one-dimensional, as a means to an end, as less than fully human. What is just as disturbing is that I think there are lots of adoptive families who have similar beliefs about the families of the children they are now parenting.
I believe that it is both classist and racist in the extreme.
Until the adoption industry and adoptive families begin to truly see the inherent dignity of every human being and act accordingly, true adoption reform will not happen. If we can get to the point where the framework around adoption is rooted in a social justice framework, I believe your “what ifs” will be closer to becoming “what is.”
Beautifully said, Chris. Straight from the heart and right on target. Thank you for speaking your truth.
Really interesting focus Maureen.
Thanks, Cindy. I’m hoping to start some challenging conversations. Lots to think about.