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.”

On the Eve of National Adoption Month

Did you know that National Adoption Month (NAM) ( originally National Adoption Week; now also known as National Adoption Awareness Month NAAM) was established in 1976? More importantly, its original purpose was to create awareness of the needs of children in foster care, and to get those who were eligible into permanent, safe families. That is still an extremely important purpose, one that deserves promotion and understanding.

NAM has morphed quite a bit since the late 70’s, as has adoption practice and the onslaught of the Internet. For many years of NAM’s existence, adoptive parents were the main people talking about their minor children, often sharing the children’s stories, and generally showing the traditional adoption narrative: win-win for everyone, Hallmark moments, little recognition of the complexity of adoption, loss, and trauma. Yes, adoption can be life-saving for some children, and a positive experience overall. We can acknowledge that without dismissing the complexity, the problems, and the struggles that may also occur.

Recently, the volume of adoptive parents during National Adoption Month has been decreased. As an adoptive parent of 4 now-adults, I applaud that decrease. The #flipthescript hashtag and movement started a few years ago has successfully moved the voices of adoptees to the front, to shine a much needed spotlight on the real-life experiences and honest truths of adopted people, the ones who are the true experts in adoption.

My intent during National Adoption Month 2018 is mostly to read and learn from the adoptees’ experiences. I hope that the voices and stories of birth parents, in the U.S. and around the globe, are thoughtfully heard as well.

Also for National Adoption Month, I am going to post on my blog about the MANY adult adoptee blogs, podcasts, and books that are currently available. Some I’ve cited several times over the years; some will be brand new. I am also going to post some interviews I’ve had with adult adoptees, and share their stories, personalities, and books. I will also be posting about birth parents’ blogs and books. There may be a few surprises along the way.

Please join me on this journey!

Inverted image of spider web. © Maureen McCauley

 

US Embassy-Addis and US State Department: No Role In Post-Adoption Support?

I had an idea: Ask the US Embassy in Addis if they would be interested in an event focused on adult Ethiopian adoptees who are now Americans.

They said no. I then asked the Office of Children’s Issues at the State Department. Nope.

Should our US government, the entity responsible for oversight of international adoptions to the US, have any role in post-adoption support? International adoptees are here  because the US government allowed them to enter, coordinated the adoption process, researched the background of the child and birth parents, and signed off on visas and other documents. Those are all enormous, significant, life-changing responsibilities. Does our government then close the door on adoptees when they grow up?

Since 1999, the US Embassy in Addis Ababa has processed some 16,000 adoptions. While the legal procedure has had some changes, US State Department staff at the Embassy handled a great deal of adoption paperwork; listened to many adoptive families, adoption agencies, and birth families; and worked hard to make sure all those adoptions were legal and appropriate.

The US Department of Homeland Security, of course, plays a large role in intercountry adoption as well, including issuing Certificates of Citizenship. I believed the U.S. Embassy in Addis would be a more appropriate possibility for an in-country event with adoptees, and hence I contacted them.

Adoptions have closed now from Ethiopia, for a number of reasons.The history of adoptions has been rife with challenges and controversies. That said, the US Embassy has signed off on thousands of adoptions from Ethiopia. They have been closely involved with adoptive parents and adoption agencies for decades.

I thought, perhaps naively if optimistically, that an event like this might be a chance for our U.S. government working in Ethiopia to welcome back Americans who began their lives in Ethiopia, who could provide a unique perspective on their experience as adoptees, and could provide a tremendous bridge between our two countries. Healing, transparency, communication, connections. Why not? I emailed the Embassy last May.

After several weeks, they finally wrote: “Unfortunately, we generally do not go as far as organizing conferences for groups from outside Ethiopia as our programmatic resources are focused in-country. That said, we…recommend that you reach out to adoption advocacy groups and/or Ethiopian media if that’s of interest to you.”

Huh.

After that first turndown from the Embassy, I tried again. I can share the full exchanges with anyone interested, but here a snippet.

From me to the Embassy: “I applaud the Embassy’s efforts to fund proposals that empower women, youth, and underrepresented voices, as well as to strengthen independent media through media literacy. We all believe, as Ambassador Mike said, that when Ethiopia succeeds, when it taps the potential of all its people, not only Ethiopia but the region, the United States, and the world also benefit…We have a tremendous opportunity to bring fact-based information about adoption, and to heal some of the misinformation around adoptions. You brought the Eastern Shore Network for Change to Ethiopia during Black History Month 2018 to heal history and promote constructive change, an outreach to the next generation of Ethiopian leaders. Partnerships like that one and the many others that you promote can, indeed, improve understanding and provide hope for a more equitable future.

Beautiful, complicated Ethiopia. © Maureen McCauley

A program with adoptive parents and especially adult Ethiopian adoptees would bring accurate information around a subject that has had a great deal of misunderstanding. It could promote important connections. It could build astonishing partnerships among young Ethiopian and American leaders, and between the US and Ethiopia.”

They were not interested:

“The role of the Embassy in intercountry adoption is to facilitate the lawful placement of children with American adoptive families. We do support the inclusion of all voices as you pointed out, but we hope you understand that that does not mean we can create a program for every proposal that we receive. And while we certainly think there is value in having Ethiopian adoptees share their stories and be involved in their home communities, we do not see that as an appropriate space for us to take the lead. That said, there is nothing at all preventing adoptees from organizing such outreach on their own – one potential avenue might be to reach out to adoption placement agencies that have been working in Ethiopia – and we wish you every success should you choose to do so.”

I then tried the Office of Children’s Issues (OCI) at the US State Department, the one that is the Central Authority under the Hague Convention to oversee adoptions.

Their 21 full-time OCI employees have several adoption-related responsibilities, including this one: “Working with U.S. embassies and consulates on diplomatic efforts with host governments about adoption laws and procedures.”

OCI, however, had no interest in my idea either. They noted that their focus and that of the Embassy was to complete pending cases.

“Although we understand the Embassy is currently unable to get involved in this particular event, we certainly support and encourage the involvement of private individuals and organizations in promoting these positive stories. As the Embassy mentioned, you may want to consider contacting adoption advocacy and/or child welfare organizations in Ethiopia to support these efforts. We would appreciate learning the outcome of any events you should organize.”

My response to OCI: “I understand the focus of both the Embassy and State in recent months is to complete pending cases. You note that the processing of the current cases is the focus of the Embassy. You don’t cite any other reasons to oppose this idea.

Thus I conclude that once the current cases are resolved, the Embassy and State would then be open to considering an event of some sort. Am I correct? That would be wonderful.”

The OCI response to me: “We would refer you to the Embassy’s public affairs section for the answer to that question.”

And that’s a wrap.

A few final thoughts:

Why the suggestion of working with adoption agencies is naive at best:

When the US Embassy suggested working with adoption agencies, I realized we were at an impasse. Many adoption agencies these days have slim budgets and are struggling, especially in light of the decline in international adoption. Adoption from Ethiopia has ended. Some agencies are not interested in providing post-adoption services to adult adoptees without charging fees, if they in fact offer post-adoption services at all to adopted adults. Among the reasons adoption from Ethiopia ended was because of adoption agency behavior: One adoption agency, International Adoption Guides, had its staff indicted for fraud, bribery, and corruption in Ethiopian adoptions. Another big agency, Christian World Adoptions, was the subject of a powerful expose for possible trafficking in Ethiopia; CWA suddenly closed it doors due to bankruptcy. The death of Hana Williams at the hands of her adoptive parents in Washington state is one reason that Ethiopian adoptions closed. AAI, the agency that placed Hana and hundreds of other Ethiopian children, is out of business. Many other agencies working in Ethiopia have also closed for various reasons. The new accrediting entity, IAAME, has suspended or evoked accreditation for several agencies. 

No, adoption agencies would be unlikely partners.

What the U.S. Embassy-Addis did for Black History Month:

In February 2018, for Black History Month, the Embassy sponsored three speakers from the US, specifically from the Eastern Shore Network for Change, to visit Ethiopia for a week “to heal history and promote constructive change, an outreach to the next generation of Ethiopian leaders.” The folks from the Eastern Shore (MD) organization spoke at Addis Ababa University, the African Union, the Nativity Girls’ School, the Jesuit Refugee Center, and St. Mary’s University. They held a roundtable with the Ethiopian Women’s Journalists Association, and did live broadcasts on Facebook that reached some 11,000 people. They went to a reception at the US Ambassador’s home.

As a result of seeing all the press and support that the Embassy gave to this visit, I thought they might be open to something similar for American citizen Ethiopian adoptees. I was wrong.

The idea for an event is not dead, by any means. We are pursuing other options.

I wish, though, that the US Embassy in Addis and the US State Department’s Office of Children’s Issues, having been involved with thousands of adoptions, had embraced the idea of supporting adult Ethiopian-American adoptees. Instead, they turned down the opportunity, as I see it, to promote healing, listen to adult adoptees, and advance understanding.

 

 

 

 

Nicole Chung’s Memoir “All You Can Ever Know” and the Future of Adoptee-Focused Literature

“All You Can Ever Know,” a beautiful memoir by Nicole Chung, was published October 2 and is already in its fifth printing. The book had been glowingly reviewed all over the map: the New Yorker, Boston GlobeSeattle Times, Buzzfeed, NPR,  and many more, including starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and from Library Journal.

Nicole is on a book tour that includes chatting with Trevor Noah TONIGHT on The Daily Show. Seriously. I am guessing she is the first transracial adoptee to be on the show.

It’s all off the charts, really. And here’s the thing: it’s well deserved for a book that is nuanced and elegant, telling a story that is woven carefully around family, race, adoption, and the complexities thereof. As the Washington Post noted, “Chung’s search for her biological roots, after being raised in Oregon by white parents who adopted her from Korean parents, has to be one of this year’s finest books, let alone memoirs. Editor in chief of Catapult and former editor of the Toast, Chung has literary chops to spare and they’re on full display in descriptions of her need, pain and bravery.”

There’s not really much I can add to what so many others have already said.

Still, as an adoptive parent (and we ap’s are really good at holding the mic in the adoption community), I will offer this: It’s a beautifully crafted memoir, a carefully balanced story of an adoptee’s efforts to find her way in the world, and especially to find her truth. Nicole’s reflections on her pregnancies, her birth mother, her adoptive mother, her daughters, and her sisters are candid and heartfelt. There are questions and loose ends and tangles and more questions. She’s a Korean adoptee not born in Korea. She loves her white adoptive parents and has struggled with racism and privilege. Perhaps the best part of her search and reunion journey has been the deep bond with the sister she found as an adult.

The memoir reminded me that, as an adoptive parent, as much as we deeply love our children, if we are not adopted ourselves, we cannot fully understand what it means to be adopted. If we are white, we cannot fully understand what it means for our children to be and grow up as people of color. We must acknowledge and not dismiss or minimize those truths. We must listen and learn—and read and talk.

That the book has been wildly successful does not surprise me: Nicole is a highly accomplished writer and editor. (Full disclosure: she was my editor at Catapult for my article “How My Daughter’s Pregnancy Made Me Rethink Adoption.”) The reviews, the tour, and the acclaim are deserved.

Here’s my hope: Nicole’s book (and all the accompanying attention) will open even more doors for adoptees to write and publish their stories, whether they are happy, frightening, shocking, sad, or even mundane. “All You Can Ever Know” will find a solid niche as Asian-American literature as well as adoption literature as well as mother lit and memoir. Some adoptees will embrace Nicole’s story as resonant for them; some will have had a polar opposite experience. We all need to hear the wide and fascinating range of adoptee stories, told not by their adoptive parents, but by the adoptees themselves.

I’d be remiss if I did not say that there will soon be news about the anthology by Ethiopian adoptees from 7 countries,  “Lions Roaring, Far From Home.” I am one of the editors, and while there have been significant, unanticipated delays, we are moving ahead toward publication.

Brava, Nicole! Your book is a gem. I hope you get some rest along the roller coaster of a book tour. I hope John Cho loved the memoir. I hope you continue writing (I know that’s not an issue), and I know that the rest of us will continue enjoying and learning from your stories, your candor, and your generous soul.

With Nicole at her reading at Seattle Public Library, October 4, 2018.

Tell Trevor I said hello.

 

 

 

While “All You Can Ever Know” has received amazing attention and reach, there are many other books written by adoptees as well, and hopefully even more in the future. Be sure to check out AdopteeReading.com for “books written and recommended by adoptees.”

How great if we had a large collection of books by birth mothers and birth fathers as well, from around the world,

When International Adoptees Grow (Way) Up—and Apply For Medicare

For international adoptees now in their 50’s and 60’s, here’s a potentially disastrous concern:

When applying for Medicare, naturalized citizens (such as international adoptees) need to present their naturalization documents and birth certificate to the Social Security Adminstration.

Why could this be a problem? Some international adoptees nearing Medicare age (65) do not have U.S. birth certificates. They may not have needed them as kids the way that schools and sports teams require them today. Their adoptive parents may not have applied for one for them.

And then, of course, there is the much larger issue for international adoptees whose adoptive parents failed to get them U.S. citizenship.They do not qualify under the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, which provided citizenship only for adoptees 18 and under at the time of enactment. Some international adoptees could have great difficulty getting enrolled in Medicare when they are in their 60’s and older, and in need of prescriptions, surgery, and other medical care. As U.S. citizens, they are entitled to apply for Medicare like everyone else: if they have the right documents.

My experience around immigration-related issues and the Social Security administration is that different federal offices in different states can have different requirements for paperwork. It’s not unusual for one person to need documents in one state that are not requested in another state, or even within the same state. Very frustrating, and not unusual.

Here is advice from licensed Medicare broker, and Korean adoptee, Kara Min Yung, who alerted me to this issue:

“Please start the process at least 3 months prior to the month you will turn 65. Don’t wait, in case you are required to do anything additional. You must start part A. You can also start part B, but there is a premium. You can opt to delay part B until coverage through an employer ends. Then choose either a supplement plan and a drug plan, or a Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug plan. Don’t wait. There are certain late enrollment penalties you will want to avoid.”

Kara recommends that adoptees nearing 65 make sure they have their U.S. birth certificate and their naturalization/citizenship papers. She has helped naturalized citizens who have had problems getting Medicare, whether adoptees or not. You can contact Kara at Kruh@seattleinsgroup.com.

Korean adoptees first began arriving in the U.S. in the 1950’s. Many are in their 50’s and 60’s (or older) now. They and other international adoptees are applying for Medicare benefits now, and some are encountering unanticipated problems. This will only continue as the adoptee population continues to age.

You can check out the Medicare site for further info.

Adoptees and parents of minor adoptees should check with the Social Security Administration to be sure they are listed as U.S. citizens. Our federal government agencies don’t share databases, so even if you have a passport (U.S. State Department) or a Certificate of Citizenship (U.S. Department of Homeland Security), the SSA may not have you listed as a U.S. citizen.

Additional Resources on Citizenship for All Adoptees: Adoptee Rights Campaign

I am calling on the U.S. Congress, the U.S. State Department, and the U.S. Social Security Administration to perhaps finally understand the need for U.S. citizenship for all international adoptees. Deportation is a risk. Criminal charges for (unknowingly) voting without citizenship is a risk. Being unable to apply for financial aid is a risk. Being unable to access Medicare if you are applying at 65 is a risk. It’s an outrage.

 

Realities and Remembrances Around Suicide and Adoption

My post today is a retrospective and resource guide of sorts. I am linking to my previously published posts about suicide and adoption, among the hardest topics to write about. Still. I want to honor the memory of Fisseha Sol Samuel, who died by suicide four years ago today.

There are other adoptees I’ve written about as well, who died by suicide: Gabe Proctor, Philip Clay, Kaleab Schmidt. In my own circle of deeply loved friends and family, (some adopted, some not), I know people who have had breakdowns, who have been hospitalized, who are on meds, and who have scars both visible and hidden, There are many others whom I have not written about and never will. I hold all of them in my heart. I hope you do too.

And maybe you have your own list of dear friends or family who have considered, attempted, or died by suicide. Maybe suicide is something you have considered yourself. My heart acknowledges and aches for your sorrow.

Please know that there are resources and help available. Please know that things can get better. Please know that there are people who would grieve your leaving the world, even if you don’t know them, or know them now.

Let me clear: Most adoptees don’t attempt or die by suicide. Suicides happen for complicated reasons, and adoption may or may not be a factor. That said, we need to be aware, and to talk about it. Suicide is, regardless of adoption status, a major public health concern.

It’s a cold, rainy day here today, and we are going through complicated, difficult times in the world. It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed. You’re not alone. There are no magic wands. There is still, though, purpose and the potential for joy. Always. 

Here are a few links to my previous posts. Click on them if you wish. I offer them with the hope they may be useful. May those who have died be at peace. May those of us still here be at peace as well.

Here are some other statistics and resources:

Suicide is a Leading Cause of Death in the United States

  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) WISQARS Leading Causes of Death Reports, in 2016:
    • Suicide was the tenth leading cause of death overall in the United States, claiming the lives of nearly 45,000 people.
    • Suicide was the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34, and the fourth leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 35 and 54.
    • There were more than twice as many suicides (44,965) in the United States as there were homicides (19,362).

LGBT Youth at Higher Risk For Suicide Attempts  

Preventing Youth Suicide: Tips for Parents and Educators

Suicide Prevention: How to Help Someone Who Is Suicidal

Tomorrow (October 10) is World Mental Health Day: Here is information about it from the World Health Organization.

 

Reporters: How Not To Write A Story About an International Adoption Tragedy

Today’s example (and it’s an excellent one) is from NBC affiliate WHO-TV in Iowa. Here’s the headline:

Recent Child Abuse and Neglect Allegations Hurting International Adoption

It’s a horrific story about allegations against a couple who a few years ago adopted two children, one 8 and one 9 years old now, from Ghana. Court documents reveal the children were sleeping on plastic mats, using buckets in their rooms as toilets, and were forced to stay in their room otherwise an alarm would sound and they would be punished. Somehow they got out and begged a neighbor for help, and were then removed from the home. There are apparently five biological children as well. neighbors saw the bio kids playing outside, and one neighbor wasn’t even aware that the parents had adopted children from Ghana. The children were homeschooled.

That headline, and the article, focuses not on the abused, endangered, traumatized children, but on the damage the allegations cause to international adoption.

That’s the first way this report went awry: a bizarre, heartlessly skewed headline.

But headlines are written to draw readers in, and this one fits the traditional narrative of leaving out any even vaguely nuanced sense of balance in adoption.

So let’s move on to the article itself. Who is interviewed? Why, an adoptive parent of three children from Ghana. He is a white man who does missionary work in Africa, according to the article. A quick look at Sullivan’s Acts 2 Collective shows he works primarily in Ghana and Chad. Africa is a continent, not a country: why do reporters so often fail to note specific countries?

Is an actual Ghanaian interviewed? No. Is an actual adult adoptee interviewed? No. Is an actual Ghanaian adoptee interviewed? No. Is an actual expert in transracial adoption interviewed? No. This is another significant way the article failed badly.

Jake Sullivan, the missionary parent who is the only person cited in the article, did not have any involvement in the abusive family’s adoption, and his group does not handle adoptions. He is correct in saying the international adoption process is long and complicated.

He goes on to say, and this where your eyebrows and hackles should be raised, that “Kids in Africa have a lot more freedom to move about, then you get into the United States and we have a lot of rules, restrictions. Our parenting style is much different than the African parenting style, so then you get those conflicts because you don’t understand the culture.”

Ah. So, sad as it is, the kids came from Africa, couldn’t adjust to the “parenting styles” here, and wound up being locked in grotesque, inhumane conditions.

This can be boiled down to an example of blaming the victims, a subjective view that should not be in a news article. The impression left with readers is this: The American adoptive parents imposed rules and restrictions on the African kids, and the kids apparently just weren’t able to adjust. Tsk tsk.

NO. Far more likely is that the adoptive parents were not well prepared to parent older children of color from another country. The children had experienced trauma before, during, or after being adopted (perhaps all three): such is the nature of adoption. The adoptive parents had five other children who no doubt took up their time, and the adopted children likely took a lot of time and attention as they adjusted to a startling new life in Iowa.

For a sense of perspective on demographics: Osceola, Iowa, has under 5000 residents, of whom 0.6% are black. So, pretty much no racial mentors or role models for these little kids, though that may well prove to be the least of their worries, given the disgusting and horrifying conditions they lived in with their new “family.”

All that said, the focus in the article is on how these allegations are “hurting international adoption.”

International adoptions have declined significantly, but there are many reasons: reports of abuse anddeaths, fraud, corruption, increased in-country adoptions, changing policies within countries of origin (China’s one child policy, for example), and sending countries’ overall concerns for the fate of their children sent abroad, and more. Do allegations of abuse (and actual convictions thereof) have an impact in sending countries? Sure.

Sullivan “does not condone the allegations against the abusive adoptive family.” He says “it’s something others looking to adopt can learn from.” The focus is, as is all too often the case in articles like this, on adoptive parents—not on the children, the victims.

Those little kids from Ghana have been through a lot: trauma, abuse, neglect. They will now likely be re-adopted by a new family, another huge transition. They will, hopefully, have therapy and other resources available to them for the damage that has been done, and one can hope they are resilient.

I don’t know what adoption agency the family used, what social workers did the home study, or who did follow up for post-adoption services.

It’s long overdue for reporters to look at adoption with more information and perspective. There are plenty of adult adoptees, transracially adopted adults, and adoptee-therapists who can provide insightful, helpful responses to tragedies like this one.

Here’s a better possible headline:

Internationally Adopted Children Hurt By Abuse and Neglect of Adoptive Parents

Then the article would have interviews with experts such as Ghanaian adoptees and adoptee therapists. The adoption agency would be identified.

May these children, and all children, be safe and loved.

 

 

 

 

 

Thinking of Hana Williams, Seven Years After Her Death

Had she not been murdered by her adoptive parents seven year ago today, Hana Williams would now be 20 years old. We will never know what might have been, what kind of light she may have shone in the world. We have not forgotten you, Hana. You are firmly in our hearts.

Hana Alemu (Williams), in Ethiopia

Since the anniversary of her death last year, adoptions have closed in Ethiopia, in no small part because of the reaction there to the abuse and murder of Hana in 2011, as well as the abuse of her adopted brother Immanuel. There have been other reasons given for the ban, among them the failure of adoptive parents to send in post-placement reports, failure of adoptive families to maintain the children’s Ethiopian culture, fraud and corruption, policies to promote in-country adoption, and more. I think, though, we’d be hard pressed to think that Hana’s death was not a major reason.

That she died as a result of her adoptive parents’ treatment is horrifying enough, but when those of us who attended the 8 weeks’ long trial in 2013 heard about the abuse she endured during the three years she lived in America—well, it’s almost unbelievable. Suffice to say she weighed less at the time she died (78 pounds) than she had when she arrived from Ethiopia in 2008.

Her adoptive parents will remain in jail for many more years. I often wonder how the seven Williams’ siblings are doing. The judge, at the sentencing, said it was largely their testimony that convinced the jury of the heinousness of the crimes.The Williams’ siblings witnessed the abuse of Immanuel and Hana, and then Hana’s death from hypothermia in the family’s backyard. I continue to hope they have found healing.

I don’t have any update on Immanuel. He may have been adopted by another family who could provide resources to heal the trauma, who could help him navigate well as a deaf person, and who could deal with his PTSD.

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day in the United States. Hana died three days after Mother’s Day in 2011. I’ve often wondered what her Ethiopian mother would have thought of this tragedy, and I grieve for all of Hana’s Ethiopian family.

If you are so inclined, do something for the vulnerable children of Ethiopia, or vulnerable children anywhere. May Hana’s memory bring some good to the world. May she rest in peace.

The Heartache of Another Adoptee Suicide: Rest in Peace, Kaleab Schmidt

On April 30, just three days ago, Kaleab Schmidt ended his life. He was 13. He was an Ethiopian adoptee. May he rest in peace and in power. May his family, his adoptive parents and his sisters, also adopted from Ethiopia, find healing and consolation.

Before I go on, I need to say that most adoptees do well. I do not want to pathologize adoptees in any way. I share this news with, I hope, respect for the family, for Kaleab, and for all those who struggle. We have to be able to acknowledge suicide, even as we long to prevent it.

Kaleab lived in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, in the city of Regina. According to his obituary, he loved his family, played lots of sports, was on the honor roll at school, was great with pets. He looks, from his photo, like a beautiful young man who should have had a long and wonderful life.

My understanding from folks who know is that there may have been bullying involved. It was probably bullying based on race.

My heart aches so.

What can we in the adoption community do?

We can contribute to the GoFundMe for the funeral and other expenses.

We can offer prayers for the family, if that’s our faith tradition.

We can learn about suicide prevention; that’s a U.S. based resource. A Canada-based resource for suicide prevention is here. We can learn about suicide and adoption.

We can acknowledge the reality and extent of bullying.

We can learn about and believe the realities of race-based bullying.

We can acknowledge the need for racial mirrors and mentors for adoptees.

We can hold our children close, and try to give them both room to talk as well as tools for dealing with their struggles.

We white adoptive parents can recognize and endorse the importance of race and the reality of systemic racism in our global society. We can support other families and adoptees, offering help and resources.

This is the third time I’ve written about an Ethiopian adoptee who died by suicide. Each was deeply loved by their families. Each left behind parents and siblings and others who had to recover from the loss. I am so terribly sorry for each young person and their families.

Again, I acknowledge that there are thousands of adoptees who do not die by suicide. There may well be some additional risk for adoptees nonetheless, and we would be naïve not to consider that. More research is needed.

I’m so damn sad.

May Kaleab be remembered for his life. May his family, in Ethiopia and Canada, find peace.