Yesterday I attended the “Putting Families First” conference held by the Joint Council on International Children’s Services (JCICS) and the National Council For Adoption (NCFA). My workshop proposal for the conference, “Finding Common Ground in Policies and Practice, which included three adult adoptee panelists, had been rejected, but I was invited to participate on a panel titled “Predicting the Future of Intercountry Adoption.”
The audience was standing room only. I’d guess about 100 people attended.
Adoption professionals cite the Hague Convention, the Council on Accreditation, and the Department of State as reasons for the decline in the number of international adoptions. I argued that adoptions have declined because of the following:
- Fraud and corruption.
- Reports of maltreatment and abuse of international adoptees.
- The role of money in adoption: high costs to adopt; the economic imbalance between adoptive parents and first families; the adoption tax credit; online fundraisers for adoption; adoptive parents’ financial contributions to first families after adoption; and more.
- Religion: complications and misunderstandings of Christianity, Biblical interpretations, “savior complexes,” and more.
- Social media: bloggers and twitter campaigns, especially by adult adoptees.
- Increasing awareness of the need for family preservation: the economics suggest far more children could be helped that way (and kept out of orphanages) than through intercountry adoption.
I argued that if you are responsible for policies that involve children of color and immigrants, you must welcome, instigate, and engage in the complicated conversations around race, racism, systemic oppression, and white privilege.
All of these issues should be the subject by themselves of future conferences and workshops by JCICS and NCFA.
I asked these questions:
Given that there are hundreds of thousands of adult international adoptees, why are so few adoptees involved in adoption advocacy?
Please pause over that question.
Why do adoption conferences and policy meetings have almost exclusively western white people, many of whom are adoptive parents?
I believe that historic marginalization of adult adoptees is the reason. I’d argue that it’s because their voices and experiences have been marginalized in the past. From my speech: “The traditional narrative has been gratitude and integration. The adoption community, dominated by adoptive parents, has not always wanted to hear the struggles and the grief of many adoptees and first families.
Many adult adoptees do not want to express any unhappiness for fear of hurting their adoptive parents, or of being dismissed as ungrateful. That said, many adult adoptees are speaking out publicly now, creating new organizations, criticizing agencies, using social media, and publishing books. It makes no sense to ignore them. If international adoption is going to continue, adoptees—the activists, the academics, the writers, the therapists, the bloggers, the researchers, the playwrights, the poets, the artists–need to be robustly invited into development of policies and practices. They are not going away. Until they have a place at the table, international adoption will continue to decline.”
Adoptions will also decline unless the voices and experiences of international first families are documented, preserved, and shared in a meaningful way, anytime that there are policy or practice discussions. Their absence at those discussions speaks volumes about whose perspective is most valued in international adoption.
Would we be okay with a conference on Christianity that had only a few Christians attending? A conference on social work that had no social workers? Why are we okay with adoption conferences and policy meetings that are missing significant segments of the adoption community?
In terms of predictions, here are my thoughts:
- Adoptions will continue to decline unless adult adoptees and first families are included in conferences and policy discussions in advocacy groups, Congress, the Hague, and around the world.
- Adoptions will continue to decline unless fraud and corruption are overtly acknowledged, not just discussed among agency workers.
- Openness will be the norm in international adoption, and needs to be promoted by agencies as a positive development. That said, openness is complicated.
- DNA technologies and social media will expand connections between adoptees and their birth families.
- Most international adoptions will be for special needs children, another reason that pre- and post-adoption and resources must be strengthened.
While the conference goes on for three more days, I attended only yesterday. In a follow-up post, I will write about the topics explicitly missing from the conference workshops (i.e., assisted reproductive technologies, “re-homing”), and about an exchange regarding adoption activists ( a term which apparently functions as a code word for “angry adoptees”) in Korea.