David Guterson is well-known for his books, such as Snow Falling on Cedars. He lives on Bainbridge Island, a quick ferry ride from Seattle, with his family. Like me, he is an adoptive parent, and has followed the Larry and Carri Williams’ case closely.
Today’s Seattle Times (September 12) included this op-ed by David, urging an overhaul of Washington State adoption laws.
David writes that “efforts at adoption reform should focus on vetting prospective adoptive parents and on insuring that children are not placed in homes where they will be abused. Current preplacement and home-study practices don’t work.
After Larry Williams was convicted, his attorneys stated that he was ‘naive and unprepared to deal with’ the challenges inherent in the adoptions he had undertaken. It is exactly that sort of naiveté and lack of preparation we must address through legislation. The time for reform has come.”
I testified earlier this year in Olympia on behalf of HB 1675, a bill David cites in his op-ed, to bring about some of the changes needed in terms of preparation and home study requirements. Information about the bill is available in my post here, “In Remembrance of Hana.” David also notes in the op-ed that the bill, unfortunately, went nowhere.
Here’s hoping that the Washington State legislature will be more open and brave in bringing about much-needed changes to protect children.
I also hope the voices of adult Ethiopian adoptees will be an important part of the legislation and the reform process.
As I wrote in my post Hana’s Legacy, strong, meaningful adoption policy reform would be a long-lasting tribute to her brief but valuable life.
Lora, well said. I fully agree. As an adoption professional who provides excellent services to families, the issue is not always the agency when tragedy happens. With the most stellar of services to families, still families hear what they want to hear and sometimes tell us what we want to hear. Let’s not forget that the vast majority of families are great, wonderful and loving families who really do get it. There is no excuse for what happened to Hanna and Emmanuel or any other child that has been hurt by their adoptive parents, but it is not always the adoption agency. I was involved briefly with the task group (attended one meeting and provided some follow up via email), and I do believe that some of the changes are very warranted- namely, the person who is assessing and approving the family- we really need to take a closer look at who we allow to assess families for adoption.
Its good to have more discussion about it, unfortunately, the discussion usually heads in the same old tired views of adoption… with so many children who need homes, we should not make it harder. You can’t force people to read and understand the trauma that is adoption. You can’t force people to follow the best practice in international adoption, which would include exposure to culture and living in a more diverse area. As long a most people view adoption as a win win, and the bad outcomes are marginalized as rare, society is able to keep a blind eye to the complications of adoption and any need for reform.
What gives me some hope is the report that Washington State prepared on Severe Abuse of Adopted Children, and the recommendations made in it. Unlike some states, Washington acknowledged the tragedies occurring to adopted/fostered children. Further, they created a committee that came up with solid legislative and policy changes to better serve children before and afar the adoption process. That’s the good news.
The not-as-good news is that the legislation offered last spring died in the committee. In my fwiw view, one reason is because the committee chair was ill, and not present at the hearing nor able to shepherd the bill through, due to illness. Many folks think he would have supported the bill, had he been able to be there. He has since passed away. Some on the committee were leery of a bill that have even a vague sense of possibly treading on parents’ religious beliefs in raising their children: finding a balance among religious beliefs, discipline, and the needs/ realities of traumatized adopted children is a challenge. Yes, Washington law in regard to parental discipline has to be respected. Yes, the religious beliefs of parents have to be respected. And yes, children who have been traumatized (through abuse, neglect, witnessing domestic violence, being removed from their home/country, etc.) often respond differently to certain types of discipline than children who have not been traumatized.
All that said, I believe Washington State is on the right path. It’s a slow, frustrating journey, and legislators need to be better informed about the need for change in adoption policy. I remain hopeful.