Is There Hope via the State Department Around International Adoption?

The U.S. State Department, responsible for the processing of thousands of international adoptions, had the audacity, courage, wherewithal, and optimism to hold a conference on adoption that includes not just the usual adoption agency folks and adoptive parents, but (wait for it) international, transracial adoptees and birth parents. Well done.

I was among those invited to the U.S. State Department’s symposium on “Strengthening the Practice of International Adoption.” So was my daughter Aselefech Evans, an Ethiopian adoptee. Neither of us were able to attend, in large part because we weren’t sure when Aselefech’s twin sister would give birth to her baby girl: the due date was September 7.

I am thrilled beyond words about my new beautiful granddaughter, who arrived on September 5. Everyone is doing well. Had Baby Aya notified us of her plans to arrived in the world, I might have joined the fascinating group invited by State. Oh to be a fly on those walls.

The symposium began yesterday and concludes later today. The agenda included topics such as caring for children in adversity, best practices in adoption, and the government’s role in intercountry adoption. There was a panel yesterday with adoptive parents, international adoptees, birth parents, and adoption service providers: I heard that was a lively conversation.

I am heartened by the fact that several adult adoptees are attending, speaking, and writing about the symposium. The list includes Dr. JaeRan Kim, who blogs brilliantly at Harlow’s Monkey, and Reshma McLintock of the powerful documentary Calcutta Is My Mother. Claudia Corrigan D’Arcy, the powerhouse behind Musings of the Lame: Exposing Adoption Truths, shared her perspective as a birth mother. How wonderful it would be if there were even more birth parents presenting, especially international ones, who are among the most marginalized voices in adoption.

Some of the usual folks such as the National Council for Adoption are also there. NCFA is not a marginalized group by any means. They’ve been mad at folks like me (who advocated against CHIFF) and particularly at the State Department, whom NCFA blames for the decline in adoptions.

One of the ways to assess an organization’s commitment to a cause is to see how their leadership reflects the cause. NCFA has, as best I can tell, one biracial adoptee on its Board of Directors, and no adoptees of color on staff. I don’t think there are any international adoptees at all on either staff or Board, never mind any international adoptees adopted at older ages. Both the Board and the staff are remarkably dominated by white people. A couple of them were adopted at birth; the Board chair was adopted, in (I’m guessing) the early 1950’s, when adoption practice was very different from today. He was a good friend of Bill Pierce’s, who some of us remember well. The current executive director of NCFA is an adoptive parent. (If I am incorrect about the transracial and international adoptees on staff or Board, NCFA, please let me know and I will correct my errors.)

I digress about NCFA because of the contrast with State’s decision to reach out intentionally to international, transracial adoptees and birth parents, not just agencies and adoptive parents. I find it unfortunate that State had Laura Ingraham, the Fox News show host, as a speaker. She’s the adoptive parent of children from Guatemala and Russia. She’s also known for describing the US-Mexico border detention facilities as “essentially summer camps” for migrant children, among other controversial remarks. In her speech yesterday, Ingraham suggested that the children entering at the border should enter the U.S. adoption system. I find this view horrifying for a number of reasons, and I understand Ingraham received some serious pushback.

I hope that the need for citizenship for all international adoptees received the attention it deserves. Take a look at Adoptees For Justice and Adoptee Rights Campaign for more information. I look forward to hearing more about how the issue was addressed at State’s conference.

International adoptions have great complexity. I think we are beginning to move away from the traditional narratives of adoptive parents and adoption agencies, and genuinely inviting and listening to international, transracial adoptees in regard to adoption policies. We need to do a much better job of inviting and listening to international birth parents as well. I’m not sure I would have predicted that the State Department would be taking a leadership role in bringing disparate voices together for “Strengthening Practice for the Future of Intercountry Adoptions,” as the conference is titled. Change is definitely in the air.

May all children have loving, safe families. May all of us keep working to make that so.

4 thoughts on “Is There Hope via the State Department Around International Adoption?

  1. Congratulations on your precious new grandbaby! Here’s hoping that the State Department does even more to learn from international adoptees, and that the Justice Department does (far) more to protect them.

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