Who Is Responsible for the Decline in International Adoptions?

The U.S. State Department lays the blame on adoptive parents and adoption agencies. The adoption agencies, per the National Council on Adoption, say the decline is due to overly restrictive regulations and anti-adoption advocates. The voices we are not hearing enough of in this discussion are the birth/first parents and the adoptees themselves.

Last week, the State Department released figures showing the ongoing decline in numbers of children being placed to the United States for international adoption: 5372 children in FY 2016. You can read the report here.

The State Department cited three main reasons for the decline: adoptive parents failing to send post-adoption reports to the children’s country of origin; the incidences of adopted children being re-homed; and unethical practices by adoption agencies.

Post-Adoption Reports

The reports are a reasonable requirement. Sending countries want to know the outcome of children sent abroad for adoption, and adoptive parents are supposed to send the reports. Different countries have different requirements, which are essentially unenforceable once the adoption is full and final. The adoptive parents may have an ethical obligation, but their compliance is subject to their willingness. “Several countries have conditioned the resumption of intercountry adoptions on receiving post adoption reports from parents who previously adopted children from that county,” according to the State Department.

I’d be curious as to whether State has statistics on compliance, or has done research on why parents do not send the reports in. I’d guess a few reasons: Parents have so much going on with family life that the reports fall to the wayside. The parents are mad at the agency and refuse to work with them once the adoption is done. The parents don’t believe the country will ever read the reports. The parents don’t care about whether their failure to send reports will affect future adoptions. The parents are struggling with the child (or have disrupted the adoption, or have re-homed the child) but don’t want the country to know.

Some international adoption agencies have suggested to adoptive parents that the reports would also be sent to the birth/first parents. The birth/first parents may have been told they would receive reports. When the agency failed to get the reports to the families, which anecdotally I have heard many times, parents may have stopped sending them. Some send reports directly to the birth/first family, but not to the government.

Another aspect is the country of origin’s ability to maintain the post-adoption information in an archival, accessible way. That is, a country like China, Korea, or Ethiopia would potentially have received thousands of reports over many years. Does the government have the interest and the infrastructure to file and maintain the reports? Do they scan them and keep them well-organized?  The reports from the US are in English, and I doubt they would be translated into national or local languages. It is unclear to me whether the birth/first parents would have any access to the reports. However, I would argue there is an ethical obligation for the country of origin to provide it to the birth/first parents.

Unregulated Custody Transfer (UCT)

Unregulated Custody Transfer is a benign sounding phrase, but is frightening in its manifestation. The State Department equates UCT with “re-homing,” where adoptive parents hand over their adopted children, with little or no legal process or safeguards, to other people. It has happened more often than anyone would like to think, sometimes making the news, sometimes conducted in an underground. Reuters produced a significant report on the problem. Many US states have begun enacting laws and policies to reduce re-homing. The State Department has a UCT Working Group focused on “strategic for preventing UCT and for responding to UCT situations when they occur.”

Prevention, of course, is the best approach: better pre-adopt preparation, and better post-adopt resources and services.

Internationally adopted children also end up in US foster care, a legal means of moving a child to a new family. Some are listed on Second Chance, a program of Wasatch Adoptions. Both of these (US foster care and Second Chance) are technically not “re-homing,” because they are done through legal channels. Still, a great deal of controversy exists around internationally adopted children ending up in US foster care or with Second Chance.

There is, of course, an important link between the post-adoption reports and UCT, foster care, and Second Chance. Parents probably do not send reports when their children are moved from their original adoptive placement, whether legally or illegally. “Foreign countries frequently raise concerns about UCT whenever information about a child’s whereabouts is unavailable. These concerns impact their willingness to maintain intercountry adoption as an option for children,” says the State Department.

Adoption Service Provider Conduct

This issue–illegal or unethical practices by some Adoption Service Providers (ASPs) and about countries’ ability to appropriately monitor adoption activities–is far-reaching in time and complexity. The US Justice Department’s indictment of International Adoption Guides, and the subsequent guilty pleas by the top staff, for bribery and fraud is a well-known example. Other adoption agencies have been under scrutiny as well, some closing suddenly, even with full COA accreditation (i.e., Christian World Adoptions). European Adoption Consultants, an international adoption agency in Ohio, was raided in February by the FBI, with allegations around fraud and trafficking.

Agency workers in both the U.S. and in sending countries have been accused of misconduct. Facebook has regular comments in adoptive parent groups about false information about their children’s histories; adult adoptees have traveled to their home countries and found parents they had been told were dead, or mothers who had been deceived into placing their children in an orphanage. There’s no question that adoption agencies and their staffs have been under greater scrutiny in recent years than ever before, in part because of more adopted persons’ and birth/first parents’ voices being heard.

The State Department proposed new regulations last September that would attempt to address some problems in international adoption, around accreditation and other areas. Adoption agencies have been actively opposed to the proposed regs, saying that they are unnecessary, expensive, and rigid. Chuck Johnson, the head of the National Council on Adoption, told the Associated Press in January that “it was possible that under the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump, the State Department might adopt policies more to the liking of the adoption agencies.” It’s still early in the Trump Administration to see exactly what direction adoption policy will take, though the State Department’s comments on the newly released adoption numbers give us some sense. Update: While the State Department refers to the proposed regs in the narrative about the statistics, including saying they are “reviewing comments from the public on the proposed regulations,” the regs were withdrawn by State in early April. I’ll post more information when I get it.

In any case, adoption agencies frequently see administrative and regulatory policies to be more responsible for the decline in adoptions than the three issues cited by State.

Photo © Maureen McCauley Evans

The bottom line: A whole lot of work needs to be done, by a whole lot of folks (State Department, Office of Children’s Issues, adoption agencies, adoptive parents, state and federal legislators, international governments) if international adoption is going to continue in any meaningful way. Right now, there is a fairly strong current of anti-adoption momentum, via groups who view adoption as equivalent to trafficking as well as vocal individuals, primarily adult adoptees, who are demanding change.

And *if* international adoption is going to continue, adoption agencies and the U.S. State Department should make equity in pre-adoption preparation and post-adoption services to birth/first parents. Those 5372 children had families–we know that few children are actual full orphans, and many have grandparents and siblings. The birth/first families deserve excellent adoption services as much as U.S. adoptive parents do, to make sure adoption is the best option, and to encourage family preservation whenever possible.

“The Economist” Editorial: Blind to the Realities of International Adoption

The Economist, the British-based weekly news magazine, missed a valuable opportunity to present much-needed solutions for children without families. Instead, it glossed over recent history and current realities around international adoption, sounding uninformed and starry-eyed.

All children deserve safe, loving families. International adoption is one means of helping, but there are many other much-needed actions as well. Too often, people romanticize the notion of adoption without understanding its realities. Think “Annie.”

The Economist recently published two articles on international adoption. I was among many folks interviewed for Sarah Esther Maslin’s article, “Home Alone: Fewer Families Are Adopting Children From Overseas.” She addresses the issues of fraud and corruption in Romania and Guatemala, among other countries, noting the frustration that some folks have with the bureaucracy around the adoption process: “Such sluggishness infuriates overseas parents. But many sending countries say critics underestimate the difficulties of building a robust adoption system—and ask why, if people in rich countries really care about poor children in poor places, they do not fund domestic programmes to keep families together instead.”

Indeed.

Maslin’s article explains why international adoptions have decreased so significantly in recent decades, and it’s important that this information get out into the world at large. (I wrote about the issue in this post: “Lamenting the Decline in International Adoption? Take Action.”)

In addition to Maslin’s article, The Economist also published an editorial, “Babies without borders.” The editorial was superficial at best, failing to speak out to its 1.3 million readers about genuinely effective ways to help children have families.

Adoption can benefit some children and families. However, there is a bigger picture around child welfare advocacy that must be addressed.

Here is the Letter to the Editor I sent to The Economist:

In urging that international adoptions be made easier, The Economist’s editorial “Babies without borders” is naïve, clichéd, and shallow. It includes the following:

  • A stunning amount of faith that the Hague Convention has rooted out fraud and corruption, and thus it is now safe to move faster in processing adoptions.
  • A failure to mention how many adult adoptees have discovered the extent of deception in their adoptions.
  • A cavalier dismissal of the loss of culture and history when children are internationally adopted.
  • A noticeable silence about several countries’ efforts to promote in-country adoption and to reduce the cultural stigmas around it.
  • An astonishing exhortation that U.S. evangelical Christians specifically should not be stopped on their happy way to adopting.
  • A lack of awareness about the current paucity of post-adoption services which has led to tragic re-homing situations, as well as to international adoptees being placed, for example,  in the U.S. foster care system.

As an adoptive parent, I know the power of adoption. International adoption, though, helps very few of the children who genuinely need help. Increased family preservation efforts and child/family sponsorships via reputable organizations are only two of the possible  solutions to ensuring that many more children have safe, loving families.

Unfortunately, The Economist was busy humming Little Orphan Annie’s “Hard Knock Life,” and quoting it, rather than examining realities and proposing thoughtful solutions.

 

 

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Please read both Sarah Maslin’s article and the editorial, and share your thoughts with The Economist. You can e-mail letters@economist.com. Include your mailing address and a daytime telephone number.

 

Lamenting the Decline in International Adoptions? Take Action

The significant decline in international adoptions is not a time for hand-wringing. It is an opportunity for family preservation and for equitable programs to help vulnerable children and families.

The U.S. State Department has released the most recent numbers documenting the decline in the number of children being adopted internationally. In 2004, nearly 23,000 children arrived here for international adoption. Last year, there were 5648 children adopted to the U.S. from other countries. Over half of them came from 3 countries: China (2354), Ethiopia (335), and South Korea (318).

The numbers have been decreasing for several years. You can read the State Department’s data here.

I believe there will always be children, especially older kids, sibling groups, and those with special needs, for whom international adoption may be a viable option. I believe in adoption, when it’s done with transparency and integrity.

There are many reasons for the decline in international adoption numbers. Russia closed adoptions to the U.S.; China has loosened the one child policy. Many countries are moving toward increased domestic adoption. In South Korea, there have been efforts, strongly promoted by adult adoptees, to remove the social stigma against single mothers so these moms can keep their children. KUMFA is one example. As countries move to promote adoption within their own borders, the number of available children for international adoption decreases. We promote domestic adoption here in the U.S., though about 100 American children are placed for adoption outside the U.S. each year, primarily to Canada and western Europe.

Many countries are also working to curb corruption that has permeated too many adoptions. It’s a long, tortuous road to recognizing and eliminating fraud and corruption. Much of this fraud has been discovered by adoptive parents who search for their children’s original family and find previously unknown information about why the child was placed for adoption, including news that the child was not an orphan. A great deal of fraud has been discovered by adoptees themselves, in many countries, when they have searched for their own histories and families.

Many folks in adoption work say that various intended safeguards, such as the paperwork and regulatory requirements of the Hague Convention and increasing U.S. forms and programs, have created significant barriers to international adoption. Were it not for the restrictions and bureaucracy, they say, thousands more children could be adopted.

I would argue that increased promotion of family preservation would allow tens of thousands of children to grow up in loving families–in their own country. Poverty is a major reason that children are placed for international adoption. A little help changes the world.

Here are two economic points:

  • International adoptions historically have cost between $20,000 and $50,000, for one child., and thousands of U.S. parents have paid those fees. So the money is there.
  • The adoption tax credit has meant some $7 billion for U.S. adoptive parents, primarily for international and U.S. infant adoptions, and a much smaller percentage for  U.S. foster care adoptions. The money is there too, and I wish it could be re-prioritized.

Because of the decline in international adoptions, fewer Americans will be using the adoption tax credit, saving the U.S. government a fair amount of money. I would love to see the advocates of the tax credit–designed to create an incentive for action that would not otherwise occur–insist that there be funds allocated instead for aid to first families in the countries of origin from which children have been adopted. Just a thought.

Another thought is that greater emphasis and awareness be focused on sponsorship programs. Anyone who has ever considered adopting an orphan, or who has wanted to help a child whose mother has died, or who has felt helpless about the decline in international adoption numbers: Consider helping preserve existing families. Sponsor a child, a mother, a family, or a school.

Costs start at $40 or so a month. So, somewhere around $400 to $500 a year. It’s tax-deductible. Do that for 10 years, and you will have spent what one family would spend on one international adoption. And you will have helped many more families send their kids to school, get access to health care, and not starve to death. Fewer mothers will be separated forever from their beloved children.

Here are a few examples of family preservation efforts in Ethiopia: Ethiopia ReadsBring Love In, Roots Ethiopia, Selamta Family Project, Hope In Helping Hands, Encourage Africa, Connected In Hope, A Hope For Children, Project Hopeful, Children’s Hope Chest, and that’s not all. Some are Christian; some are secular. Some work in more countries than Ethiopia.

Yes, I am an adoptive parent. Yes, I have been blessed by adoption. If you believe in adoption, then you believe in keeping families together, especially families that just need a little help to stay together, or to get a school built in their remote village, or to feed their babies.

Declining adoption numbers don’t have to mean fewer children have families. In fact, if we can get the word out, tens of thousands of children could easily have families, without a whole lot of expense or paperwork.

Let’s do this.

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Children reading at the Awassa library of Ethiopia Reads © Maureen McCauley Evans

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adoptee Citizenship Act and Adam Crapser: Update

October 25, 2016: Adam Crapser to be deported.

Thousands of international adoptees do not have US citizenship, though the US approved their arrival here as legal members of US families. It’s time to make sure they are truly home in the United States.

Facts:

  • Legally adopted children are the full legal children of their adoptive parents, and entitled to all the rights and responsibilities as any other children.
  • Internationally adopted children were not provided with US citizenship until 2001, and that was only for children under 18 years of age.
  • Not having US citizenship can be problematic at best. It can result in deportation if the non-citizen commits certain crimes, such as domestic violence or aggravated felony, as defined by the Immigration and Nationality Act.
  • All international adoptees, whatever their age, should be granted US citizenship by virtue of having been legally adopted to the US.

There is legislation pending in the US Congress now to provide retroactive citizenship to international adoptees who came to the US before 2001. Most folks agree that international adoptees should all be granted US citizenship. There is much less agreement that an adoptee who committed a crime should be granted citizenship, even if the person has served their time.

But here’s the argument for citizenship: Adoptees are the full legal children of US citizens. They came here with the US government’s paperwork, oversight, and permission. Their adoptive parents were supposed to get citizenship for them. That failure should not condemn the children to legal instability and uncertainty.

S. 2275 is the Adoptee Citizenship Act. Please call your US Senator ask him/her to co-sponsor it. Republican co-sponsors are especially needed, if the bill is to move from the Senate Judiciary Committee. We are hearing that the bill is gaining traction in the Committee, which is great news. It hasn’t yet been introduced in the House of Representatives but you can also call your Representative and ask him/her to support the legislation. You can use this resource as one means to reach legislators. You can find your Congressional representatives here.

Update on Adam Crapser: Along with many others, I’ve written about Adam Crapser, a Korean adoptee who had horrifyingly cruel adoptive parents. Adam was abused throughout his childhood. His parents never got citizenship for him. Adam, now 40 years old, married and the father of three children, committed various crimes and served time for them. When he applied for a green card a few years ago, his lack of citizenship and his criminal record made him subject to deportation. My understanding is that he was recently arrested for domestic violence, and, earlier this month, Adam was placed in detention by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Washington state.

Adam’s case has gotten a lot of publicity. It’s compelling, because of the sustained abuse he suffered at the hands of people who were supposed to love and take care of him, and because of the denial of citizenship to someone who should be considered a legal citizen by the United States, to which he was brought at the age of three. Adam’s criminal record made him eligible for deportation, and it has also made many lawmakers reluctant to intercede for him. Adam, like all international adoptees, should be granted US citizenship by virtue of having been legally adopted by US citizens. If you believe in the integrity of adoption, there is no other way to see this.

There are estimated to be thousands of adoptees who need to have the Adoptee Citizenship Act passed.

Many people–adoptees, adoptive parents, policy makers, legislators–have been involved with this long overdue legislation.  Let’s hope more people join in this fight for fairness: US citizenship for all international adoptees.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Light at the End of the International Adoptee Citizenship Tunnel

Adoptive parents and adoption agency professionals: Step up with adoptees. Insist on US citizenship for all international adoptees. Contact your Congressional representatives. Share this news.

There is now progress and hope that US citizenship will be granted to all international adoptees.

It comes as a shock to many people that, for decades, international adoptees were not granted automatic US citizenship. After all, the children were approved to leave from their country of origin for the purposes of joining US families as permanent legal family members. US agencies and the US government oversaw the process on this end, via paperwork, visas, and more paperwork.

However, until the year 2000, there was no automatic citizenship. If parents failed to file for their adopted children, the children were and are at jeopardy of having uncertain or no status in the US. Despite the intent of adoption–adopted children are part of the family, just like biological children of the parents, right?–and despite the various government approvals, some international adoptees never received citizenship.

Some found that out after they got into trouble with the law, served their time, and then were subject to deportation.

The sweet, cute children who pepper adoption agency ads and whose faces appear on adoption websites grow up. Some make terrible decisions. They deserve their day in court, and they deserve to be punished. They do not deserve to be deported, as adults, to countries to which they no longer have any connection: no language, no family, no friends, nothing, never to return to the US, the place that was supposed to be their forever home.

Many of us in the adoption community are hoping that this situation is about to change. S. 2275, the Adoptee Citizenship Act, has been introduced in the US Senate by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Sen. Dan Coates (R-IN), and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR). This is very good news.

The bill closes the loophole in the Child Citizenship Act of 2000: it would give retroactive citizenship to all international adoptees regardless of when they were adopted. It is highly significant for thousands of adoptees who, through no fault of their own, were not given the citizenship promised to them by the US government, their adoptive parents, and adoption agencies. It’s significant for deported adoptees who’ve had to deal with a lot of struggles for, in many cases, minor mistakes. It’s the first US federal law that is being addressed, crafted, and pushed through the legislative process with huge adoptee leadership.

Please help with the effort to get this bill enacted.

Contact your lawmakers and tell them that they should support S. 2275 . You can do so quickly and easily via 18 Million Rising.

Spread the word. This is not a done deal. The bill has to get through the Senate Judiciary Committee, and then must pass on the Senate floor. Please share this news, and encourage others to contact their Congressional representatives.

Many thanks to the adoptees and allies who have worked tirelessly on this legislation. Let’s get this done.

 

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The Questions and Losses When an Adoption Agency Closes

An Open Letter to Adoption Service Providers, the Joint Council on International Children’s Services, the National Council For Adoption, and the Council on Accreditation

Adoption is so much more than placement. The ethical responsibility of providers and practitioners stretches out for decades. 

Increasing numbers of adoption agencies are closing these days, especially those working in international adoption. Many of these agencies were paid and certified members of  JCICS, NCFA, and COA. Many international agencies have moved from country to country over the years, opening and closing programs (Romania, Guatemala, Uganda, Honduras, Ethiopia, etc.) While there are many reasons for the moves and closures, the only consequence most people think of is that fewer children will find families. That is  significant, but there are several other huge concerns.

I am writing today to ASP’s, JCICS, NCFA, and COA to better understand.

How are adult adoptees and first/birth families notified that an agency is closing or is gone? Adoptive families are notified via emails from the agency, or through Facebook groups, or through clicking on a web site and finding it….gone. How are the birth/first families, especially in other countries, notified? What happens when people search for information a year or a decade after an agency has closed?

What happens to the records? How does an adoptee track down his or her agency records when the agency (Christian World Adoption, Adoption Advocates International (WA), Adoption Ark, International Adoption Guides, etc., etc.) shuts its doors? Agency closures represent thousands of adoptions. How would a non-English-speaking birth/first parent with limited Internet access get any records about the placement?

When adoption agencies close their doors, or close a country program, what ethical responsibilities does the agency have to the birth/first families? Adoptive families and adoptees can find (admittedly often limited) post-adoption resources even after an agency closes: therapists, online information, magazines, other adoption agencies, conferences, parent groups, adoptee groups, Facebook groups. US first/birth parents have increasingly strong voices and roles in adoption policy, though they deserve much more recognition. What are the policies on post-adoption services for international first/birth parents?

Sometimes adoption agencies serve as liaisons between adoptive parents and birth parents. Letters and photos might be exchanged via the agency, for example. A birth mother might call the adoption agency on her child’s birthday, to see if there is an update. What happens to these liaison services when the agency closes?

I know of a birth mom in Washington state for whom Adoption Advocates International  was the liaison between her and the adoptive family. They do not know each other’s names. The agency had been forwarding photo updates twice a year from the adoptive parents to the birth mom. The child is about 10. In March 2014, AAI closed. The birth mom got no notice that AAI was closing. She doesn’t know how or whether she will ever hear about her daughter again. If anyone can help with this, please contact me: Maureen@LightOfDayStories.com.

An adoption agency that is closing often hands over active or pending cases to another adoption agency. Does that second agency also handle cases such as liaison work? What are the ethical and legal responsibilities of the second agency to the families of the first agency, especially over time?

Adoption agencies, JCICS, NCFA, and COA:  In the spirit of transparency and integrity, what happens not just legally, but ethically, after an agency closes? What are the thoughtful, enforceable, pragmatic policies to help adoptees and birth/first families?

If such policies do not currently exist, what are the strategies in place to create them? Who is at the table to create these policies: adoption agency staff, adoptive parents, adopted adults, and first/birth parents?

Some of you may wonder why I’ve included the Joint Council on International Children’s Services in this open letter. Didn’t they close back in June? Wasn’t that announced at the NCFA-JCICS conference? Why is there no mention on their website of closing, no announcement, no public disclosure at all? They still accept donations. They still accept donations. Are they still offering services? Thus, I decided to include them, and look forward to the response.

 

Joint Council on International Children’s Services is Closing

Today at the “Putting Family First” conference of the National Council for Adoption and  the Joint Council on International Children’s Services, it was announced that Joint Council will close. There will be no merger with NCFA. JCICS agencies will be eligible for a membership with NCFA.

Some people will be rejoicing at this news. Others will be sad that the organization is closing.

Certainly there were some clues about this. The decline in international adoptions has meant a decline in business and revenues for adoption agencies. Many have closed. I’d argue that assisted reproductive technologies and surrogacies have meant that people who otherwise would adopt internationally are no longer doing so. The indictments, lawsuits, and bad press about agencies have not helped. JCICS did not undertake a search for a new executive director after Tom DiFilipo was fired. The JCICS Board of Directors had dwindled to 5 people.

We all wonder what this means for the future of international adoption. Children still need families, and adoptions need to be done with integrity and transparency. I’ve long said we are in a perfect storm of adoption policy and practice. There could be some significant opportunities for genuine change. Here’s hoping the voices of adult adoptees and of international first parents are at the forefront.

Status of Child Citizenship Act Amendment

Let’s not compromise on this: Adopted children deserve the same protections as non-adopted children. These protections include safety and legal status. Congress is considering two issues related to the safety and legal status of adopted children: citizenship and re-homing.

The US, for decades, did not automatically give citizenship to internationally adopted children. These children entered the US legally and transparently. But if the adoption agencies didn’t make the citizenship process clear, or the parents failed to follow through, some adoptees did not become US citizens.

An amendment to the Child Citizenship Act, providing citizenship to all internationally adoptees prior to 2000, is currently being discussed in Congress. It has not yet been introduced. Information is available here, at Gazillion Strong. None of the adoption advocacy groups–the National Council for Adoption, the Joint Council on International Children’s Services, or the Congressional Coalition on Adoption–publicizes “citizenship for adoptees” as an active, important concern for them. Maybe it is. How would we know if we are just the public, not insiders, and there’s nothing on their websites?

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) will apparently sponsor the citizenship amendment. I hope all sponsors believe that all international adoptees deserve citizenship because, by virtue of the legal process of being adopted to the US, they are part of an American family. 

Tragically, sometimes children don’t stay with their first adoptive family. Re-homing is a big safety and legal issue. Moving adopted children from one home to another with neither legal oversight nor counseling is disturbing. Some states have passed legislation about re-homing. Federal legislation has been introduced.

If adopted children need new families, protection and legal oversight must be provided. By the same token, all internationally adopted children deserve the protection and legal oversight of citizenship. As an adoptive parent, I believe that my children are entitled to all the rights and responsibilities of other families. That’s what adoption is supposed to mean.

The retroactive citizenship amendment should provide citizenship to all international adoptees whose parents failed to get citizenship for them. That would include adoptees who have committed crimes and, because they did not get naturalized as children, are subject to deportation. Therein lies some resistance to the amendment.

US citizenship should be provided to all international adoptees because they are the legal children of US citizens. Two governments (the sending country and the US) approved the adoptions. If adoption agencies failed to make clear the importance of citizenship, or if the parents failed to get them citizenship, it is not the fault of the adoptees. The end. That’s the bottom line to me.

I hope that all those advocating for the citizenship amendment–whether adoptees, members of Congress, adoptive parents, adoption agency groups, paid lobbyists–will not founder and provide retroactive citizenship only to those without criminal records. No one is condoning crime here. The adoptees who have been convicted have served their time in the US justice system. They have not gone unpunished. I know: they wouldn’t face deportation if they hadn’t broken the law. But here’s the thing. These adoptees should have the same rights as arrested/convicted children of members of Congress, or other members of US families. The adoptees do not deserve deportation. They are our legal children, our family. Adoption gave them that status.

As we now work hard to protect minor adopted children from illicit re-homing, we must also work hard for those whose parents did not get them citizenship when they were minors. Anyone who believes in the integrity of adoption and family must stand firm on citizenship for ALL international adoptees.

If not, Congress is saying that international adoptees are not (never were) genuine family members. That’s not my idea of being an American, or of being family.

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Suicide and Adoption: We Need to Stop Whispering

Update: For resources about adoption-related suicide awareness and prevention, here is information.

Just this morning, as I was getting ready to post this, I read on my Facebook feed about a 28-year-old Korean adoptee who died by suicide two days ago. I did not know her. She was the same age as my oldest son, and she had a daughter about the age of my granddaughter. May she rest in peace.

I am holding in my heart a 20-something-year-old adoptee, adopted with a biological sibling into a huge adoptive family (more than 25 kids). He is overwhelmed all the time these days, as a result of things he has done and has had done to him. He wants to go home, though he’s not sure any longer where “home” is. He is in great need of mental health services, and is intently resisting help. He is teetering on the edge of suicide.

Yes, I know most adoptees do well. But this one is struggling, and it appears to be the result of events after he was adopted. His adoptive family has abandoned him.

My two most shared blog posts (shared over 1000 times on Facebook) are “Does ‘Adoption’ Really Equal ‘Trauma’?” and “Fisseha Sol Samuel: Irreplaceably Marvelous.” Both deal with a hard side of life: trauma and suicide. The first post says, yes, adoption is trauma, and there is a spectrum of response to it. The second post was written last October following the suicide of an Ethiopian adoptee who had previously exhibited no symptoms of depression, and whose death was likely (we will never know for sure) the result of a sudden, triggering, traumatizing event in which he was overwhelmed and impulsive. Fisseha’s mother, Melissa Faye Green, has written several powerful posts as she sorts through her son’s death.

Here is an excerpt from my post about Fisseha:

“There is sobering research that says that adoptees are four times more likely to attempt suicide. It’s here in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Not lightweight stuff, and even more startling in that the mean age of the 1000 participants was about 14. Out of the total group, which included adoptees and biological children, 56 had attempted suicide; 47 of those were adoptees.”

I am holding in my heart a 14-year-old Eastern European adoptee, who is too familiar with drugs and sex, who is loved deeply by her adoptive parents, who is in various therapies, who cuts herself and threatens suicide often. She can be a bubbly, sweet teen, and also a deeply frightened and frightening out-of-control mystery.

Yes, her struggle may not be the result of being adopted, but rather of what happened to her before she was adopted. She is struggling, and those who love her are deeply worried.

No one enjoys thinking of adoption as a trauma. No one likes to talk about suicide. And, I know: most adoptees–most people generally–don’t consider or die by suicide.

That said, let’s start thinking and talking about the link among adoption, trauma, and suicide. Let’s insist that suicide awareness be a part of pre-adoptive parent training classes. Let’s demand that anyone who claims “adoption competency” in their therapeutic practice is extremely knowledgeable about suicide. Let’s actively and shamelessly share resources to prevent suicide. Let’s request workshops like “The Presence of Suicide in Adoption” as a topic at adoption-related conferences. We need to stop whispering about suicide and adoption, and to speak about it with clarity and without fear.

I am holding in my heart a 16-year-old adoptee from India, beloved by her adoptive family, mentored by an adult Indian adoptee, raised in Minnesotan suburbs, who killed herself about a month ago.

Yes, she struggled, and also was offered and received help. She may be at peace now, though all those left behind are filled with sorrow and questions.

These 3 adoptees are among the reasons that we must talk about the role of trauma and suicide in adoption.

A few weeks ago, I was at the national conference of the American Adoption Congress. The main legislative advocacy effort of the AAC has historically been access to original birth certificates, a means of allowing adopted persons to know who they are, a basic human and civil right.

What is the connection between suicide and the AAC’s legislative efforts? Well, there may be a genetic component to the likelihood of suicide. Access to one’s medical and mental health history–too often denied to adopted persons–could be a matter of life and death. Knowing about a history of depression or other mental illnesses in one’s family could mean proactive treatment and interventions. It is yet another reason that closed records are unfair, untenable, and wrong.

Here are links to two medical journal articles:

Genetic and Familial Environmental Effects on Suicide – An Adoption Study of Siblings

Genetics of Suicide: An Overview

Many adoptees are adopted into families where the adoptive parents are well off financially, have attended college, and are in highly regarded professions.The adopted children go to excellent schools and often have wonderful opportunities. Still. Take a look at “Best, Brightest–And Saddest?”, in which Frank Bruni reflects on the “suicide contagion” among teens in Palo Alto and elsewhere who are under pressure to succeed academically in highly competitive situations. The article cites a CDC report that says 17 percent of American high school students considered suicide in 2012. Eight percent said they’d attempted it.

Suicide, of course, feeds on trauma and depression, and does not discriminate based on economics and education. While the “suicide cluster” among high schoolers in “epicenters of overachievement” is discussed in the New York Times’ article above, there has also been a similar tragedy–which has not made national press–among young people in Seattle. Three young men, ages 18, 18, and 20, who were students at the Seattle Interagency Academy (SIA), died by suicide, within a 4 month period in the last year. SIA works with at-risk youth, who have struggling families and who are often homeless or on probation. Listen to an excellent podcast with the SIA principal here.

Coincidentally, there was a string of 7 suicides by adolescents on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota around the same time. No one is quite sure why this is happening, though bullying and grim prospects for the future seem to be significant.

I don’t know if any of these young people had spent time in foster care or were adopted. Certainly, though, their life paths echoed those of many young people whose families are struggling mightily, and those struggles are often the reasons that children land in foster care and/or adoption. Racism and micro-aggressions can significantly affect the mental health of transracial adoptees; I wrote about that reality here. Even adoptees placed as infants in same-race families can struggle with loss, grief, identity, and feelings of not belonging. It’s clear that many of these challenges manifest in adolescence.

This is all daunting tough stuff. I am seeking a balance: to acknowledge suicide prevention as a goal about which we can all speak in the adoption community, not over-reacting, being pro-active, and supporting each other. My next post on this subject will give some resources.

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Light Through Trees, Forest near Lake Langano, Ethiopia © Maureen McCauley Evans

Reflections on the American Adoption Congress Conference: Educate, Advocate, Legislate

I was in Cambridge, MA, recently for the national conference of the American Adoption Congress. Most of the people at the AAC conference looked like me, a white woman. I could easily have been mistaken for an adoptee from the Baby Scoop Era, or for a mother who placed a child during that time. Those two descriptions would fit most of the people there: adoptees or first/birth mothers. As an adoptive parent, I was in the minority. As a middle-aged white woman, I was in the majority.

The AAC has been around since the late 1970’s. Its legislative advocacy has been focused on open records/access to original birth certificates for adoptees. Some AAC members have been working on that goal for decades, and I am in awe of their dedication and determination. Certainly there has been major progress (see Ohio, most recently), though work remains to be done.

I first attended an AAC conference some 20 years ago, in Virginia, when Bill Pierce of the National Council For Adoption was still alive and intensely fighting open records. (This link is to all Bill’s NCFA files on closed records and more, papers which reside now at the University of Minnesota.) Bastard Nation was emerging. Activism then did not have the current (and relative) ease of social media.

Social media has of course changed everything in terms of advocacy, for open records and for many other important causes. One takeaway for me from the AAC conference was this: While opening adoption records and increasing access to original birth certificates remains a priority for AAC, the fight in state legislatures is slowly becoming moot. That’s not because more people are understanding the need for open records. It’s because Facebook is connecting adoptees and birth parents, and because old opponents of open records are retiring or dying. Also, technology around DNA is reducing the need for legislative access–people are finding their previously unknown family members via  databases (genetic genealogy) such as Family Tree DNA, 23andme, and ancestry.com.

Well.

That changes the landscape in a very big way, and suggests that the AAC conference slogan of “Educate, Advocate, Legislate” must open to new possibilities. The fight for open records on the state level remains, and is incredibly important. However, other issues in adoption are vital as well, though I heard about them mostly in conversations between sessions:

  • Rehoming of adopted children (US and international)
  • Retroactive citizenship for international adoptees
  • The adoption tax credit
  • Overhaul of the home study evaluation process
  • Support and resources for transracial adoptees, whether from the US or elsewhere
  • Support and resources for first/birth/original mothers and fathers
  • Support and resources for late discovery adoptees (I met three at the AAC conference, who had found out they were adopted at 18, 35, and 43 years of age.)

All of these are important, and deserve the time and attention of organizations like AAC and others. For what it’s worth, I don’t see these issues explicitly on the schedule for the June conference of the National Council For Adoption and the Joint Council on International Children’s Services. Hmm.

Beyond the policy and legislative actions, there are at least two additional related and complex issues must be addressed, openly and boldly, by all adoption-related organizations: racial realities in adoption and suicide in adoption.

Racial Realities in Adoption

The AAC appears to be making a solid effort at acknowledging transracial adoptees and interracial adoptive families. They have two transracial adoptees on their Board of Directors, Susan Harris O’Connor and Krista Woods. Two of the four keynote speakers were people of color: Rhonda Roorda and Rev. Dr. Nicholas Cooper-Lewter. One of the documentaries shown was You Have His Eyes, the story of transracial adoptee Chris Wilson. April Dinwoodie of the Donaldson Institute on Adoption presented a workshop called “What My White Parents Didn’t Know and Why I Turned Out Okay Anyway.” Mi Ok Bruining, a Korean adoptee, presented a workshop on “The Poetry of International Adoption.” Katherine Kim and Noel Cross facilitated a workshop on “Mixed Race Adoptees;” both are mixed race Korean adoptees. The Adoption Roundtable” featured 4 transracial adoptees. (The audience for this group was unfortunately quite small, though I get it. The potential audience might have been transracial adoptees and white adoptive parents. Neither group was significant in the conference attendees.)

The panel that got a large audience and generated a lot of conversation was “Lost Daughters: Diverse Narratives Within the Collective Adoptee Voice.” This panel included 10 of the women from the online writing collective Lost Daughters, and included same race and transracial infant adoptees, a Korean adoptee, an Ethiopian adoptee raised in Canada, a foster care transracial adoptee, and a Native American adoptee. Given that most of the AAC conference attendees are female adoptees and first mothers, it’s not surprising that the Lost Daughters panel was well-attended.

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The Lost Daughters panel at the 2015 American Adoption Congress conference

 

One of the panelists, Amira Rose, wrote a powerful article on the Lost Daughters site reflecting on her experience at the AAC conference. Her post, “Sight Unseen: Navigating Adoption Spaces as an Adoptee of Color,” is insightful, and invites thoughtful reflection.

My sense is that AAC is moving toward inclusion of adoptees and first mothers of color, and I hope they do so. The challenge is bringing people of color into a group with few people of color: who wants to be the “other,” the “only,” the token? (See Amira’s article above.) I recognize that it is my white privilege that suggests this be done, and that it could be. As the white adoptive parent of 4 black adoptees, I know there is much to be learned from adoptees and birth/first parents of color. We all need to be talking together about realities of race and racism.

Suicide in Adoption

This was not a topic of a panel or keynote, but it needs to be, and at every adoption-related conference. At the AAC conference, an adult adoptee from India talked about having been a mentor to a 16-year-old Indian adoptee who had recently committed suicide. Wrenching and heartbreaking. It’s so tempting to pause, provide sympathy, and then move on. And we can’t do that anymore. Trauma is part of adoption; depression is a reality for many people. Genetics can provide some clues, but too often adoptees do not know their own medical history. Adolescence for adoptees can be difficult in the best circumstances; add the intensity of current climate of bullying and racism, and it’s a dangerous world. The American Academy of Pediatrics published a report saying that adoptees are more likely to commit suicide than non-adoptees. I have known and heard of far too many adoptees, especially in their teens, who have considered, attempted, and committed suicide.

Educate, Advocate, Legislate. The AAC conference provided me with much food for thought (this is just a morsel), plus the joy of meeting old and new friends. I have little doubt that young adopted adults will lead the way in changing adoption policy, and I am heartened that first/birth parents are less marginalized as well. We adoptive parents need to be involved and engaged as well. And we all have to be unafraid of the hard conversations.