New Statistics and Ongoing Concerns Around International Adoption Numbers

The US State Department recently released FY 2018 intercountry adoption statistics. Predictably, the numbers continue to decline: 4059 children were adopted to the US from some 90 countries, down by 655 from last year, and down by some 20,000 since the all-time high of 22,991 in 2004. Adoptions from India and Colombia were two countries that showed a slight increase in adoptions since last year.

Many folks do not realize that the US is also a “sending country” and has been for years. The Hague Convetion on Intercountry Adoption has made the statistics public. Adoptions from the US numbered 81 this year, with 38 of the children coming from Florida. Many of the children went to Canada and The Netherlands.

I hope you take a look through the report. The statistics are fascinating. Here are a few interesting points:

The median range of fees for Adoption Service Provider (adoption agencies) had a low of $3500 for adoptions from Togo, to a high of $32,310 for adoptions from Canada.

There are 4 reported disruptions cited in this report. According to State, these are “cases in which there was an interruption of a placement for adoption during the post-placement (but pre-adoption) period.”

But wait: “In addition, information received from the Department of Health and Human Services…indicated 72 cases of children from other countries entering state custody as a result of the disruption or dissolution of an adoption.”

My understanding is that these children were placed in the US foster care system and then could remain there or be re-adopted. Statistically, that’s a tiny amount: less than 2% of the total number of children brought to the US for adoption. Ethically and practically, though, it’s a sad, complicated number. I can only imagine the trauma that these children have been through and will potentially endure, as a result of leaving their home country, being placed in a new family, losing that family, and potentially drifting among placements.

The State Department also notes some serious, ongoing concerns about adoption practices. One example is the failure of adoptive parents to file post-adoption reports with the countries of origin. This request, while worthy insofar as the sending countries are concerned about the outcomes of their children (are they alive? healthy? in school? safe?) is unenforceable. Not receiving the reports can make sending countries reluctant to send more children for intercountry adoption.

Another concern is the so-called orphan hosting programs. “FY 2018 saw increased reports from countries of origin regarding hosting programs, which are often used to identify potential adoptive families for older children. A hosting program refers to a brief homestay visit in which a child from another country is issued a non-immigrant visa for the purpose of a temporary stay with a family in the United States. Several countries raised concerns that hosting was being used to identify children who had not yet been determined to be eligible for intercountry adoption and were being used by certain persons to circumvent intercountry adoption procedures and legal requirements. Toward the end of FY 2018, the Department became aware of more than one country moving toward restricting intercountry adoptions because of concerns about these types of activities.”

Many of State’s other concerns are even more troubling.

One concern is Unregulated Custody Transfer. UCT refers to a disturbing and more- common-than-we-would-like-to-think practice. “UCT, also known as “re-homing,” is the practice of adoptive parents transferring custody of a child to another individual or group without involvement of relevant authorities. UCT/re- homing is inclusive of all types of adoptions: public/foster, private, and intercountry,” according to this Fact Sheet from US Children’s Bureau.The precise number of children affected by UCT is difficult to ascertain by the very nature of UCT: it falls under the public radar. That said, according to Reuters, some 70% of children involved in UCT were internationally adopted.

Rep. James Langevin (D-RI) has introduced the Safe Home Act (HR 1389) to address the concerns around UCT; the bill is co-sponsored by Re. Don Bacon (R-NE). The proposed legislation would consider UCT to be child abuse, would allow state child welfare agencies to investigate UCT, and would provide funds to do so.

Another disturbing development noted by State is “efforts by adoptive parents to permanently return adopted children to countries of origin. The Department is aware of several instances in FY 2018 of adoptive parents who were considering or had already sent an adopted child back to their country of origin. These events raise serious concerns in both the Department and in the foreign country. The facts of each situation differ, but the reasons shared by adoptive parents to the Department for such returns include: concerns that the child was improperly separated from birth families to whom they wished to return; false or fraudulent information received during the adoption process; and medical or behavioral issues or previous abuse of the child that the family was not aware of prior to the adoption placement.”

An important point not to be overlooked here is that there are unknown numbers of cases of fraudulent adoptions where children were adopted under illegal and/or unethical circumstances. That is, the adoption took place illicitly (the child was kidnapped, the birth/first parents did not receive adequate or appropriate information about the adoption process, the people signing off on the adoption documents did not have the legal rights to do so, etc.). Some first/birth parents then take steps to regain custody of their child. Keep in mind that many birth/first parents do not have easy access to lawyers, are deeply impoverished in comparison to adoptive parents, may have been duped by family members or adoption agency personnel, and are often marginalized people within their own country. These circumstances can mean that birth/first parents whose children have been fraudulently adopted have enormous barriers to break through to be able to even inquire about the fate of their children, never mind ask for their return. It’s horrifying to think that there are untold numbers of parents heartbroken and grieving the loss of their children due to corrupt adoptions which took place through no fault of the parents, and whose voices are never heard.

Here is a case where the adoptive parents returned their adopted child to her Ugandan mother, once the fraud was uncovered: “The ‘Orphan’ I Adopted from Uganda Already Had A Family.” It’s bittersweet and highly complicated. I’d speculate it is the relative abyss of economic disparity between adopters and international first families that prevents more birth parents from being able to have their children back.

And would you find it disturbing to know that there are American families who know that their children were adopted under fraudulent circumstances, who know that the mothers want the children back, and who refuse to even tell their adopted children any of it? Not only do they close the door on returning the children who were illicitly adopted (and I understand how complicated that could be), but they also refuse to even have any contact with the birth family who are grieving and heartbroken. They refuse to send or share photos, or otherwise update the Ugandan mothers. I can’t imagine what the adopted children will think when they are older and learn their truth. I feel confident this is not limited to Uganda.

The statistics are interesting, but it’s the stories behind them that are wrenching. We need to listen to adult adoptees, and we need to keep demanding that the voices of birth families are sought out, welcomed, uplifted, and believed.

Those Pesky Post-Adoption Reports to Ethiopia

The U.S. State Department this week posted a notice ostensibly reminding adoptive parents to keep sending in post-adoption reports (PARs) to Ethiopia. Although adoptions from Ethiopia have ended, the Ethiopian government still wants proof that children are alive and well-cared for. The State Department notice says that “Adoptive parents are to submit post adoption reports every six months for five years following the adoption and then annually until the child reaches the age of 18.”

State asked all service providers who facilitated adoptions from Ethiopia to reiterate this requirement to adoptive parents in accordance with 22 CFR 96.51 (c). If you don’t happen to have the Code of Federal Regulations near by, here you go. That CFR reference makes me think that maybe the folks promulgating this info aren’t in as close contact with adoption agencies as might be helpful. Nothing wrong with a good CFR reference, of course: lawyers are important.

Here’s the thing: Many adoption agencies (adoption service providers) have closed. Others have told the adoptive families that PARs aren’t needed anymore. Others have given the families information about the PARs that varies from what is proscribed in the recent State Department notice. Some parents have been told to file reports 3, 6, 9, and 12 months after placement, then annually. Some are told to file reports til the child is 15.

Some adoption agencies have very detailed specifications about what should be in the reports. Some are more lackadaisical and vague about the reports. Some agencies tell families to send the reports to them, and the agency will forward it on to Ethiopia. In the past, my understanding was that reports were to be sent to the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs.

The new State Department notice, however, tells parents they can email their PARs to the Ethiopian Embassy in DC. That, I believe, is a new development. Parents can email copies to the US Embassy in Addis. I have no info about why reports are now to be emailed to the Embassy rather than the Ministry, nor about what happens to them after they arrive there, nor if there are any privacy safeguards around who has access to the reports, nor if there is a particular person who is responsible for them, nor what happens to them once they are ensconced in the Embassy’s database.

And here’s another thing: Parents are inconsistent about sending the PARs to Ethiopia in any case. There is no enforcement mechanism for these reports, no penalties for not sending them. Some parents get busy and forget; others refuse to send them, for a variety of reasons.

I understand and support the rationale behind requesting post-adoption reports: Ethiopia understandably wants to know how the children are doing. But are the reports actually read? Is that really what is happening here, when reports are sent in but (as I’ve heard anecdotally) they are then piled up, untranslated, unsorted, inaccessible?

Perhaps the saddest and most frustrating part is that some adoption agencies told the Ethiopian families that they would have access to the reports. That would have been ethically appropriate: many Ethiopian families are desperate to know what happened to their children. That was not the outcome of the reports, though. Through their own initiative, many adoptive families are in regular contact with the Ethiopian families, and share information, photos, and updates that way, through translators and other helpers. Many more, though, are left to wonder and mourn. The remarkably successful, valuable organization Beteseb Felega/Ethiopian Adoption Connection has reunited families around the world; please consider donating to them.

I last wrote about The Problem of Post-Adoption Reports and Ethiopian Adoptions in April 2018.

In that post, I made these suggestions around the ongoing quest to get PARs.

There are concrete steps:

  • The Ethiopian government can confer with organizations such as Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora. Many Ethiopian adoptees around the globe are already actively helping vulnerable children and families in Ethiopia, whether their own families or via nonprofits or businesses, and many more would welcome the opportunity to do so.
  • The government can invite adult adoptees to return to Ethiopia and help them with getting to know their country of origin.
  • The government and adoption agencies can provide follow-up services for Ethiopian mothers, fathers, grandparents, and siblings who have been impacted by adoption.
  • The government and adoption agencies can insist on post-placement reports from Ethiopian birth families. I’d like to hear from agencies about why this isn’t done currently, in terms of best practice for all those affected by international adoption.

This is a new one:

  • The Ethiopian government could ask for post-adoption reports from adult adoptees. Imagine what they could learn, if they are genuinely wanting to understand the impact of adoption.

These steps could help achieve several important goals: to increase family preservation, to promote in-country adoption, and to bring light and transparency to Ethiopian adoption history. 

I have long wondered why Post-Adoption Reports are not required from birth/first parents. If adoption work is done ethically, shouldn’t they be asked how they are doing? Or asked how adoption has impacted them? Shouldn’t the adoption agencies ask if there is anything they need? I realize this would be difficult: families may live in remote areas; translators would often be needed; some folks would be difficult to track down; services to the Ethiopian family would not bring in revenue. Still. I’ve never understood while post-adoption follow-up with first families isn’t considered best practice by social workers.

Until we stop excluding adult Ethiopian adoptees and Ethiopian birth parents from Post-Adoption Reports, there will be no substantive change in adoption practices—and those practices needs a lot of change.

Perhaps our U.S. State Department could share these ideas as well. I for one would be grateful for that.

Latest Turbulence in International Adoption Agencies: Wow

Recent years have seen a lot of discussion about the decline in numbers of international adoptions. Recent days have seen a lot of news about how international adoption agencies are responding to the decline.

A relatively minor roil to start: Yesterday, the US State Department announced that Children’s Hope International has “voluntarily relinquished” its Hague accreditation status. Thus, CHI may not independently provide international adoption services. The State Department announcement doesn’t share the news that CHI has merged with Nightlight Christian Adoptions, known perhaps primarily for its controversial “Snowflake embryo adoptions.” CHI thus will continue to operate in international adoptions under the Nightlight umbrella. Nightlight has Hague accreditation, according to the sole accrediting entity, Intercountry Adoption Accreditation and Maintenance Entity.

The much bigger news was the merger between two large adoption agencies, Holt International in Oregon and World Association for Children and Parents (WACAP), announced on February 7. You can read Holt’s announcement here, and WACAP’s here.

Here’s a quote about the merger from Holt’s CEO, Phil Littleton, who is also an adoptive parent:

“By merging with WACAP, we have an unparalleled opportunity to combine our resources and knowledge to help more orphaned and vulnerable children both in the U.S. and in countries around the world. In recent years, many agencies specializing in international adoption have closed and others have struggled. Longevity and sustainability have been especially difficult for some agencies whose primary source of revenue is adoption. But through robust philanthropic efforts, Holt has grown the mission-critical funding we need to continue our increasingly difficult work in international adoption. At the same time, WACAP’s expertise — particularly in finding loving, trauma-informed families for children in the U.S. foster care system — will be an incredible asset and strengthen our efforts to help children here in the U.S.”

Here’s a quote from WACAP’s CEO, Greg Eubanks:

“For our Board of Directors and our Senior Leadership, many of whom are adoptive parents, it was a choice worth making. We have always held Holt in the highest regard for both its breadth and quality of services as well as its ethical and inclusive practices. When we began to connect with Holt leadership and staff at all levels, we quickly confirmed that we are a good match. By combining our expertise and resources, our mission will go on.  As a part of the Holt organization, we will continue to serve children and families, both internationally and in our own communities.  We will work to ensure every child has a loving and secure home.

This merger will also allow us to continue the expansion of services to children in the foster care system.  (Boldface in original)

For years, WACAP has found adoptive families for children in foster care, over 800 children as a matter of fact.  As we continue that work, and implement innovative recruiting efforts for adoption, we are now seeking families to become foster parents.  These families will provide temporary care for children of all ages until they might reunite with birth parents or relatives, or until they are legally free for adoption.”

Among the issues that Holt will be dealing with is the lawsuit by Korean adoptee Adam Crapser against Holt and the government of South Korea. In late January, Crapser filed what the Associated Press called a “landmark lawsuit” over “gross negligence regarding the way he and thousands of other Korean children were sent to the United States and other Western nations without accounting for their future citizenship.” Crapser is among thousands of adoptees for whom their parents failed to acquire citizenship; he was deported in 2016 back to Korea.

The Adoptee Rights Campaign estimates that there are tens of thousands of other adoptees who do not have citizenship, and could be in danger of deportation. Adoptees have been killed and have died by suicide after being deported. At a minimum, many have been isolated, depressed, and harmed by being returned to countries with which they have no connection, language, work opportunities, family of friends—because they were adopted by Americans to ostensibly have a better life with a forever family.

NBC recently aired a segment about these tragic deportations.

An adoptee from India, who lived in Oregon for decades having been adopted through Holt International, was deported back to India and has struggled ever since.

Neither Holt nor WACAP mentions either deportations nor citizenship issues in their press releases about the merger.

Without big and small adoption agencies robustly, frequently, and collaboratively speaking out about deportation and citizenship, as well as about the genuine concerns of international adoptees and first/birth parents, we are not moving ahead in any meaningful way.

I feel confident we will see more adoption agencies closing, or merging and then closing. On a certain level, that will only leave more adoptees and birth parents without access to their records, without access to post-adoption services, and without recourse to redress the fraud, trauma, and corruption. Until international adoptees AND first/birth parents (not adoptive parents, not adoption “experts”) have many, many seats at the table in the international adoption agency community, I don’t see how the future of international adoptions can even be considered fully and ethically.

Aselefech Evans, Ethiopian Adoptee, Speaks With the BBC about PM Abiy’s Recent Adoption

A few days ago, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia and his wife were granted permission to adopt an Ethiopian child. The little boy, about two years old, will have three siblings in the Abiy family.

In 1994, 6-year-old Aselefech Evans arrived in the US from Ethiopia along with her twin sister. They were adopted by white parents in Maryland, and have two brothers who were also adopted. I am their adoptive mother. I love them all beyond words. I also recognize the challenges they have faced, as adoptees, as black people, as transracial adoptees.

Today, Aselefech was interviewed by the BBC’s Newsday program about the PM’s adoption. Her interview is available here.

I am so proud of her. It is not easy to do a brief phone interview on a nuanced, multi-layered subject. She spoke straight from her heart and her intellect. When she received the link from Newsday, she reflected on it this way: “I think after listening to the interview, i stayed true to my lived experience while honoring the complexities of adoption, But the conversation can’t stop here. Adoptees and birth parents need to be leading this discussion.” Absolutely true.

Aselefech reuniting in Ethiopia with her mother. Photo ©: Maureen McCauley

Adoptions from Ethiopia ended in January 2017. Some 15,000 Ethiopian children were adopted to the US over a span of about 20 years; hundreds if not thousands went also to western Europe, Canada, and Australia, among other places. Slowly and steadily, we are hearing the voices of these adoptees, sharing good and bad experiences, demanding change, wanting to re-connect with Ethiopia, working with Ethiopian NGOs to promote family preservation, searching for birth family, wondering about DNA, and so much more. Their voices are invaluable. Hopefully we will eventually hear from Ethiopian first/birth parents, as well as grandparents, siblings, and other family members.

The fact that the Prime Minister and the First Lady of Ethiopia have chosen to adopt publicly sends a big message in a country that has thousands of children in orphanages, as well as a history of informal adoptions and an understanding of adoption that varies greatly from that of the West. Maybe there will be stronger impetus toward family preservation, toward promoting social programs that keep children (who are often not orphans) out of orphanages. Maybe more Ethiopians will adopt in-country, meaning that children will retain their language, heritage, and culture.

Aselefech has been a long-standing proponent and advocate for family preservation. Having reunited with her Ethiopian family, she has said that some questions were answered, and some never will be. As an adoptive parent, I work toward a world where adoption isn’t needed: where medically fragile children can be cared for in their own country and with their own family of origin; where all children are safe and loved; and where no mother has to lose her child due to poverty or social stigma. In the meantime, I advocate for transparent, ethical adoptions that have resources for everyone, before and after the adoption.

I am hoping that Aselefech will write more. She blogs at EthioAmericanDaughter, and tweets at @AselefechE. She is the co-founder of Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora. I hope that other adopted people continue to write also, and to share their stories.

To close out this post, I want to remind folks of the great work being done by a number of organizations in Ethiopia. One is Bring Love In, an NGO in Addis that creates families with widows and orphans, rather than international adoption. Another is AHope For Children, which provides support to HIV+ children and aims to preserves families and reduce stigma. Another is Ethiopian Adoption Connection/Beteseb Felega. They have created a database for Ethiopian families and adoptees to find each other. We also support the work of Selamta, of Roots Ethiopia, and of the Lelt Foundation. There are many excellent organizations working to strengthen vulnerable families to prevent separation, to empower women, and to keep children in families. Please support them.


International Adoptee Adam Crapser Sues His Adoption Agency for Negligence And Fraud

Adam Crapser, adopted from South Korea to the US, had a horrible, abusive childhood that involved two sets of adoptive parents, neither of which ever got him citizenship. He was deported to South Korea after serving time for criminal charges. He is now suing Holt Children’s Services and the government of South Korea for gross negligence, fraudulent paperwork, and failure to adequately screen adoptive parents.

The amount of money Adam is seeking is relatively negligible ($177,000). The case could take years to get through South Korean courts. According to the AP article, Adam “said the amount of money is less important than forcing Holt and the government into a courtroom to face questions of accountability.”

Adam Crapser in Seoul, per AP https://www.apnews.com/12472d8f87944f12ae63f74a2829a410

And that may well be the most pivotal outcome of this suit: adoption agencies looking at their accountability, rather than their good intentions, and hopefully creating a dialogue with adoptees about their practices, services, and outcomes. For far too long, adoptees have been considered solely as children, despite the fact they grow up. For far too long, adoption has been considered with fairy tale wistfulness, romanticized and glossed over, the traditional narrative being win-win-win. Yes, adoption can be positive. Yes, everyone’s experience varies. Still, for far too long, there have been not just whisperings but lawsuits regarding fraud, corruption, and negligence in adoption. We are beginning to see the next wave of adoption awareness, as voiced by adoptees themselves.

I am not aware of adoptees who have sued their adoption agency, though I’ve long thought that the possibility was genuine. A class action suit would not surprise me, Adoptive parents have sued agencies multiple times, often for fraud. There have been cases of adoptees who have annulled their adoptions.

I wrote in Slate about Adam Crapser. I’ve been writing about the need for citizenship for all adoptees for years. The Adoptee Rights Campaign has been actively working on legislation to get citizenship for ALL international adoptees. There will be, once again, legislation introduced in Congress to achieve this: it’s been a struggle.

Of course, the struggle has been extremely difficult for international adoptees deported from the US to their original countries, places where they don’t speak the language, have no family or friends, and are utterly alone. Joao Herbert was killed in Brazil. Philip Clay died by suicide in Korea. Deported adoptees, adopted by American families ostensibly forever, are living in Germany, Guatemala, India, Costa Rica, and elsewhere. They truly deserve better, and it is shameful that the US government has for years allowed adoptees to be deported. These adoptees were brought here with the oversight of the US and the sending government and legally adopted by US citizens.

Adoptive parents, make sure you have all possible citizenship documents for your children, especially if they are minors. Immigration laws are in flux: protect your children fully. Adoptees, make sure your papers are in order.

Melanie Chung Sherman, a therapist and international adoptee, shared this on her Facebook page:

“I strongly encourage international adoptees over the age of 18 years old to obtain your original (not just a copy), file in a safe and secure place, OR (at a minimum) ensure that you know who and how to access the following (each birth country will have different documents that I have not listed):

–US Naturalization/Certificate of Citizenship
–US Passport
–Birth Country Passport (when you immigrated to the U.S. through international adoption)
–US Visa Approval papers
–Alien registration number 
–Adoption Finalization Decree 
–SSN card
–Amended birth certificate 
–Copy of birth certificate given by birth country
–Court papers from birth country
–Social history/referral papers (these will have the name of the agency/caseworkers/representatives in your adoption)

Far too many international adoptees do not know these documents exist. Many have been openly denied access by their adopt parents well into adulthood. Many have learned that their documents were lost, destroyed or incomplete. 

International adoptees will need their documents to prove citizenship as well as the fact that they were adopted and immigrated through international adoption. 

These documents are more than just legal papers, but a connection to their story and sense of self. It is a generational connection should they become parents and grandparents to their history as well. These documents are property of an adoptee’s life.”

My thanks to Melanie, and my best wishes to Adam for an appropriate outcome to the absurdity of his deportation. I think about the many deported adoptees often, and about those who are without citizenship here in the US. I can only imagine the conversations going on in adoption agencies and among adoptive parents.

It is past time to drop the aged adoption narrative. We must listen to adult adoptees.

 

 

Suicide, Adoptees, The Military

Is there any correlation or intersection among adoption, military service, and suicide? I don’t know. Here’s some sad news: 25 year old XinHua Mesenburg, adopted from China when he was 8 years old and a Senior Airman in the US Air Force, died by suicide on January 5.

XinHua’s adoptive father posted about his son’s death on his Facebook page. The family is, of course, devastated.

https://www.airforcetimes.com/news/your-air-force/2019/01/07/father-posts-heartbreaking-note-after-andrews-airmans-apparent-suicide/

Did you know that 20 military veterans/active service members die by suicide every day? An incredibly tragic statistic. More information is available here.

I’ve written a lot about adoptee suicide, and about resources. Hard as it is, we need to keep listening, learning, and speaking out about suicide prevention.

May XinHua’s family find peace and healing.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 800-273-8255

CrisisText Line: Text to 741741

The Delicate Dance of Writing About Suicide (And Adoption)

Writing about suicide is thorny. There’s the possibility of raising awareness, providing resources, sharing strategies for prevention, and helping others.

There’s also the possibility of instigating copycat suicides, of overstepping boundaries of privacy, and of sensationalizing a tragedy.

It is a delicate dance. I’ve written many times about adoptee suicides, and I have never done so lightly. If I have to write about it again, here are my thoughts.

Suicide is probably one of the most difficult topics for humans to talk about and think about.

Historically, there has been shame associated with suicide. It has been considered a crime. Some religious beliefs say that those who die by suicide will not get into heaven, and that causes an additional layer of heartbreak for survivors.

“Removing the shame surrounding suicide can and does offer healing. Whoever suffers, whether victim or survivor, needs to know they’re not alone. Others have been lost, too, and they can show us a way out of hell and back to life.” Read more here, about “Suicide and Shame.”

We need to talk about suicide prevention, and about suicide, trauma, and adoption. We need to talk about the fact that adoptees, according to a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics, are four times more likely to attempt (not commit) suicide. We must be aware of that, and also balance it by not viewing all adoptees as fragile or broken. Balance and discernment are important.

That said, I’m not sure I can understate the role of bullying in child/teen suicides. Cyberbullying and bullycide are terms we all need to be familiar with. Share this information with friends, teachers, pastors, therapists, school principals, guidance counselors, the PTA-PTO, and anyone else. Have it on your radar. Don’t let others dismiss the impact that bullying can have on children and teens. Don’t dismiss it yourself.

 

This is a painful, important article: “Child Suicide Is Plaguing the Black Community At an Alarming Rate.” If we add the complexity of being adopted, of being transracially adopted, of being internationally adopted, and of being adopted at an older age, we can see an intersection that deserves care. Add on issues around sexuality, gender, and violence, and it’s even more complex.

According to the CDC, suicide is the second-leading cause of death among young people ages10 to 24, and LGBTQ youth are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to heterosexual youth. In a national survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality, 40% of transgender adults reported having made a suicide attempt in their lifetime and 92% of these individuals reported having attempted suicide before the age of 25.

Teen Vogue published “How To Talk To Your Friends About Suicide.” An excerpt: “…having open and responsible conversations about suicide can actually help prevent it. ‘For every one person that dies by suicide here in the United States, there are about 278 other people that think seriously about suicide but don’t kill themselves,’ John Draper, PhD, Director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, tells Teen Vogue. ‘What that tells us is…the overwhelming majority of suicides are prevented; and they’re prevented because people talk with each other and talk with others in ways that get help. And if we are more supportive with each other or find ways to help people through a crisis, or find ways to help ourselves through a crisis…we can get to the other side of it.’ ”

Another article that may be of interest is this one, also from Teen Vogue: “How To Talk About Suicide” “When the media or popular YouTubers share painful imagery but don’t offer support or information for what to do when you’re in crisis, it can leave vulnerable individuals feeling hopeless and alone.”

Point taken, and it’s an important one. I’ve posted often about suicides, and also about resources.

When I write about suicide, I will always provide support and information. Here are some important new ones.

Share this one with therapists and others:  “The Best Way to Save People From Suicide”

Dr. Ursula Whiteside is among those cited in the article. Based in Seattle, she is an expert in DBT, or Dialectical Behavior Therapy. I have known many folks, especially pre-teens and adolescents, who have benefited from DBT. Dr. Whiteside and the author of the article above, Jason Cherkis, held a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) session recently to discuss the article and suicide prevention. I asked Dr. Whiteside for suggestions specifically for adoptive parents who worry about their kids, and this was her reply:

“If you could teach parents and kids basic things about the function of emotions (communicate to self and others, motivate behavior) and reinforcement and validation principles, that would be huge. Check out DBT in Schools for ideas. Also “Don’t Shoot the Dog” for reinforcement principals.”

I know how scary the subject of suicide is, how frightening it is for parents, for anyone. I am convinced we can do a better job in supporting each other by talking about suicide and especially about suicide prevention. We are seeing a statistical rise in suicides and suicide attempts, especially among children. Let’s create an informed community. Let’s keep learning, and talking.

Someone is available 24/7 to talk: Call 1-800-273-8255. This is the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

You can also text 741741, and someone will respond—usually within 13 seconds. Counselors will listen, and can provide resources for you. You don’t have to be suicidal to text—they will talk with you if you need someone to listen, if you have a friend who is talking about suicide, or if you are feeling suicidal. Here’s great info about using this text resource: The Five Biggest Myths About Crisis Text Line of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Here’s a list of international suicide hotlines.

Here is a page with international suicide hotlines as well as other resources.

There is help and support. You are not alone. 

 

An Adoptee’s Reflection on Trauma, Love, and Adoption

Every Thanksgiving, one of the most wonderful and emotional traditions in my family is to light a candle for the people who aren’t there: for those who have died, who are alive but far away, who aren’t with us for whatever reasons. Sometimes the person lighting the candle says the names out loud of the people he is thinking about and missing. Sometimes the person just lights the candle, then smiles, or tears up. We leave the candles on through the meal.

Adoption, for all its joy, happens only through loss. Children have lost or lose their first family in order to be adopted. That can be necessary, if the child was in danger or had been abused or neglected to the point of needing a new family. But it’s still loss: loss of what could have been, or should have been, or would have been if only…

Adoptive parents, you can love your child deeply. Your child can love you deeply as well, and also feel grief and trauma that are real. It’s okay. It may manifest in different ways over time, in angry words or silent tears. There may be what seem puzzling outbursts at certain times of year—traumaversaries are real too. Join your child on the journey: encourage conversation, honor their grief, know that every child is different, love them, be silent with them, respect their realities at 3 or at 30.

I am a mother because of adoption. I love my children more than I can possibly put into words. Each of my children has been affected, in different ways, by the fact of being adopted. I am a firm believer that the stories (events, memories, traumas, happiness) they have lived through are theirs alone to tell.

My daughter Aselefech Evans has chosen to tell her truth today, to share her lived experience. This is a beautiful, poignant, and powerful essay. Please read, reflect, share.

The Unwanted Arrival of Trauma in Adoption

 

And maybe light a candle to keep warm the realities of those who are both present and absent in our lives.

Another Adoptee Suicide: So Much Heartache

Suicide is the second leading cause of death (after accidental injuries) for people between 10 and 34 years old. It is the fourth leading cause of death for people between 35 and 54 years old. And the numbers have been on the rise in the last decade.

When an adoptee dies by suicide, there is a special poignancy and pain in the adoption community. We all have our own reasons for our reactions. As an adoptive parent, I cannot imagine the pain my children would have endured to die by suicide; nor can I imagine the pain of survivors.

Here’s the bigger lens on that poignancy and pain: The traditional and widely accepted adoption narrative is that adoption means a better life than a child would otherwise have had. That’s certainly the intent. “Better” is a relative term: better because of economics, education, safety, or what? That can be a contentious bit of defining.

When an adoptee dies by suicide, especially at a very young age, there is an extra layer of wondering. Adoption is supposed to mean a better, happier life: why would an adoptee kill himself? Adoptive parents are supposed to be the better option: what happened? (And of course, sometimes there was nothing that any parent or anyone else could have done to prevent the death.) How does an adoptee’s death by suicide affect the birth parents, who (we hope) placed their child legally and transparently, in the hope that the child would be better off?

Such sorrow. A loss like no other. No easy answers.

I recently heard about the death by suicide of a young Ethiopian adoptee. Upon reflection, I have edited this post to delete personal information. If I caused more pain, I deeply apologize.

I am hopeful that the rest of us will continue to learn about suicide, even as it is so deeply difficult to think about. Talk about it, especially if you have pre-teens or teens. Please learn, and help your family learn, about suicide prevention. About trauma. About depression. About how all that can sometimes play out in adoption.

Please learn also about the role of race in adoption, about how important it can be for adoptees to have racial mirrors, mentors, and role models. I get a lot of pushback about this, but I am convinced that adoptees raised in racial isolation—without others who look like them—suffer in terms of identity and otherwise, no matter how deeply loved they are by their adoptive family. I do not understand families who bring children from around the world and raise them in racial isolation. If the child had to move, maybe the family has to move too.

Learn from adult adoptees. Read the essays of Dear Adoption. Look through books written by and recommended by adoptees at AdopteeReading. Here’s a list of Best Adoptee Blogs. That’s just one list, and there are many other wonderful adoptee blogs. Twitter can connect you with an abundance of adoptee bloggers and writers. Read Karen Pickell’s Adoptee Lexicon, for one example, about the words we use during National Adoption Month (November, every year).

Most adoptees are resilient. The vast majority do not attempt or die by suicide. I do not want to pathologize adoptees or adoption. Nor do I want to minimize the very real and painful struggles some adoptees go through.

I’ll close this post with an article by a resilient adoptee who offers many valuable insights: “I’m Adopted, But I Won’t Be Celebrating National Adoption Month.” Thank you, Stephanie, for sharing your story so openly and powerfully.

May all those who leave this world by suicide rest in peace and in power. May their families find healing. May we all do better in this world.

Some Additional Resources:

One important takeaway: it is a myth that talking about suicide will plant the idea, or cause someone to attempt it. Take a look at It’s Time to Talk About it: A Family Guide For Youth Suicide Prevention. A quote: “Talking about suicide does not cause suicide. In fact, by asking questions, you may prevent suicide by showing the  youth that you care and are there to help.”

Talking to kids about suicide is hard. Here’s a good resource about doing that, as well as about warning signs, about helping a child after a friend has died by suicide, about cyberbullying, and more: Talking To Your Kid About Suicide

Risk of Suicide in Adopted and Nonadopted Siblings  This is the often-cited study by the American Academy of Pediatrics which showed that adoptees are four times more likely to attempt suicide (not die by suicide) than non-adoptees.

The Mental Health of U.S. Adolescents Adopted in Infancy  

Healing Series: Suicide A podcast by the stellar AdopteesOn. The presenter is Melissa K. Nicholson.

In Newport, Thinking of the Hart Family

National Adoption Awareness Month, 2018

The horrific story of the Hart family plunging off a cliff last March made headlines around the world, perhaps most searingly in the adoption community.

Adoptive parents Jennifer and Sarah Hart drove their 6 children down the west coast, from Washington state through Oregon on to California. Their journey began on March 23, 2018, and ended in death three days later.

Based on cell phone pings, the family was in Newport, Oregon, on March 24. I’m in Newport now, at a conference/retreat totally unrelated to adoption or the Harts.

That said, as I was driving here, I had the family on my mind. In part, that’s because November is National Adoption Awareness Month. I had all 6 adopted children—Davonte, Hannah, Markis, Jeremiah, Abigail, and Sierra–in my heart and on my mind.

Newport was one of the last places where the Hart family was known to be. Did they stop to look at the stunning ocean here at Nye Beach? Did they get coffee at the Human Bean or the Starbucks drive-through? Did the kids stretch their legs and poke around the Bayfront?

Where’d they sleep? Did they sleep?

They were all dead two days after they were here in the town where I am now.

The bodies of Devonte and Hannah Hart have still not been found.

May they all rest in peace.

Nye Beach, Newport, OR Photo by Maureen McCauley. November 2018

Further Reading:

JaeRan Kim, Ph.D., an adopted person, wrote on her blog, Harlow’s Monkey: Thoughts About the Hart Family.

Stacey Patton, PH.D., an adopted person, wrote this for Dame magazine: “Why Jennifer and Sarah Hart Killed Their Adopted Children”

Michele Sharpe, an adopted person, wrote about the family here: “The Hart Children: Curse of the Adoptee.”