International Adoption in 2030: Predicting the Future

Although my workshop proposal for the Joint Council on International Children’s Services and the National Council For Adoption conference was rejected (read about it here), I was invited to participate on a conference panel called “Predicting the Future in Intercountry Adoption.” This post is a starting point for my remarks. I would welcome the thoughts of others, especially adult adoptees, on their predictions.

Here’s a glimpse into the future of international adoption, even as soon as 15 years from now: Adult adoptees hold the microphone in terms of adoption policies and practices. Part of their involvement will be insistence on improved post-adoption services. Transracial adoptees continue to deal with racism in a world where too often racism is dismissed. Thousands of adult adoptees, many raised by white parents, return to visit and to live in the countries where they were born. Many find out that the information their adoptive parents were given is wrong. Many who were told they would never find their first/birth family do, in fact, find them. The unadopted siblings (those who stayed with the birth/first family) of international adoptees search and find their adopted sibs via Facebook or or other Internet connections. Birth/first/natural mothers and fathers will begin speaking out and sharing their truths, and their stories will be translated, preserved, and honored.

How prepared is the adoption community for these changes? How well are agencies and others addressing the realities of racism, identity, and grief after adoption?

A glimpse at the past, from which we are supposed to learn: “Adversity, Adoption,and Afterwards,” a longitudinal report by the British Association for Adoption and Fostering, looked at the lives of about 70 women adopted from Hong Kong to Britain in the 1960’s. The average age of the women in the study was 48. Most did well. Still, “The majority of the women encountered racism not just in childhood and adolescence, but also as adults in current day Britain. Some said that they were able to seek support from their adoptive families, or others close to them, in coping and managing racist incidents, while others described feeling isolated and not able to share this with anyone. For some it was not easy living with the fact of being from a different ethnic background and visibly different from their adoptive families. This could result for some having a sense of not belonging or not feeling able to identify with either white British or Chinese communities. By mid-life most of the women who experienced this had found ways to adequately deal with such feelings, which is not to minimise how difficult this had been for some.”


While it’s good that by mid-life (!) most of the adoptees had found ways to adequately deal with feelings of not belonging and not identifying with their communities, that’s a long time to endure those feelings.

Recently, the global adoption community has been rattled by two mainstream media articles about adult adoptees. One was Shaaren Pine’s article in the Washington Post, “Please Don’t Tell Me I was Lucky To Be Adopted.” Another was the New York Times magazine cover story, “Why a Generation of Adoptees Is Returning to South Korea.”

There are some 250,000 Korean adoptees all around the globe. They are the oldest ones, in their 50’s and 40’s, many in their 20’s and 30’s. They are the bellwether activist adoptees in many ways. Fifteen years ago, in 2000, the Donaldson Adoption Institute published an insightful report based on the first Gathering of Korean adoptees in 1999. In the section on Experiences with Discrimination,”The majority of respondents reported that they had experienced some form of discrimination while they were growing up.” Race (70%) was cited more often as problematic than was adoption (28%). As we continue to struggle with race in the US and around the world, helping transracial adoptees negotiate the world as people of color is vital. When will we learn?

International adoption numbers have declined in recent years. While that may likely continue, there were about 250,000 international adoptions between 1999 and 2013; many were under a year old. We would do well to look at adoptees who will be young adults in the next decade or so. One example: Between 1999 and 2013, about 14,000 Ethiopian children were adopted to the US. Between 2007 and 2012, some 11,000 Ethiopian children arrived here from the US, about 80% of the total number between 1999-2013. (Statistics from the US Department of State) They will be entering adolescence and early adulthood around 2030. Those high volume years (2007 to 2012) have been cited as having a high degree of fraud and corruption.

Many Ethiopian adoptees here in the US and around the globe are still young children, and many of the families have already found inaccuracies in their child’s stories: Ethiopian mothers are still alive, children were not orphans, documents were falsified. Blame can go all around, but the point is: How will the adoption community best help these thousands of now-children who will be adults in the next 15-20 years?

My hopes for the future include these:

  • Adoption agencies will actively reach out to and welcome adult adoptees from around the globe to share their experiences, so as to better prepare for the upcoming wave of young adult adoptees in the next decades.
  • Adult adoptees who choose to do so will continue to speak out about their good and bad experiences. Adoptive parents and all others in the community will listen, without dismissing or marginalizing them as “angry,” “ungrateful,” or any other pejorative terms.
  • Appropriate, equitable services will be provided to birth/first parents around the globe, including provision of short-term and long-term resources and communication.
  • The adoption community will acknowledge and proactively address the realities of racism. This is complex and vitally important work, and we haven’t done a good job so far.
  • Here is a vision of past and future: the Adoption Museum Project, a physical space that explores the story of adoption, and a website and off-site programs that expand the work. How exciting is this. The Grand Opening event on April 16 in San Francisco will be “Operation Babylift: Adoptee Voices,” about the 1975 airlift (40 years ago!) of 2,000 Vietnamese children. The panel discussion will be moderated by the poet Lee Herrick, an adoptee from Korea.

IMG_8517Please join me in predicting the future. More importantly, please join me in creating a future  of international adoption that honors the realities of all those involved, and insists that no voices are marginalized. I welcome your thoughts and ideas.


6 thoughts on “International Adoption in 2030: Predicting the Future

  1. maureen I fully enjoy each of your messages, as an adult adoptee it is good to see there are some advocates out there – I think as an adopted adult I still have questions about what questions I should, could ask…. many of us were taught the past is in the past and we shouldn’t question what our biological heritage is.
    Pluto – YES!

    • Thank you so much. I am happy to be an ally. You are not alone, in both asking questions and having some hesitancy in doing so. Please feel free to say more, and add your thoughts. Your voice matters.

  2. Hi Maureen, While I think that your comments make a good case for racism encountered by transracial adoptees, I wanted to hear more about the loss and grief (sense of not belonging) involved for the vast majority of adopted persons. You cite the number of Ethiopian Adoptees, can you cite the total numbers of international adoptions during that period to put the numbers in context. Were Ethiopian children the largest contingency of adopted persons during the time frame you cite. What about The numbers from a South America, China, and Korea? I also would like to hear more about absence of post adoption services and what services adult adoptees and their families wish they had in the way of services. What’s missing in terms of services? I just saw Laura Callen of the Adoption Museum Project and we are planning a day of healing for members of the adoption triad at Spirit Rock in 2016. Are you planning on coming to see operation Babylift? If so, let me know. I’d love to see you. I hope my comments are helpful and not hurtful. You are out on the cutting edge of advocacy for transracial adoptees. I bet that’s why you weren’t accepted. Keep up the good work Maureen!

    Cindy Sent from my iPad


    • All great questions and comments, Cindy! Thank you. I have looked at the other numbers, though I’m most familiar with the Ethiopian adoptees and so wrote about them. I plan to write more. I focused here on racism, because it is such a huge and raging topic in the news right now. Absolutely loss and grief are part of the reality in adoption, and deserve more discussion.

      As to post-adoption services, I think one needs just to look at Facebook postings to see what services are being requested. Adoptive parents do not consult their agencies about items such as citizenship, food/eating issues, sensory disorders, speech delays, trauma concerns, etc–they post their questions on Facebook, usually but not always in private groups. While there is lots of experience and good information available that way, it is also hit or miss, and that’s not a great method for getting help. I’m working on explaining this more clearly in a post or two lol.

      Please tell me more about the day healing at Spirit Rock in 2016. That sounds wonderful. I am trying to find a way to get to LA for the Operation Babylift program. Hoping the money tree in my backyard will bloom in the warm weather.

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful, important comment, Cindy.

  3. How about adding that every adult adopted person will be considered a legal party to their adoption, with full access to all associated records, particularly identification of their first parents?

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