Update on “Lions Roaring” Anthology

The road to publication has been bumpier than we had hoped, but that often happens with labors of love. My co-editors Kassaye Berhanu, Aselefech Evans, and I are incredibly thrilled to be partners on the first anthology by Ethiopian adoptees, Lions Roaring, Far From Home. We are moving ahead in good ways.

Here’s what we have been working on:

  • Selecting and editing 28 essays. The writers are from the U.S., Canada, France, Holland, Sweden, Spain, and Australia. They range in age from 8 to 47.
  • Reaching out to potential partners to assist with funding for production costs and translations (Dutch, French, and Spanish).
  • Acquiring the license for e-book publication.
  • Beginning to format and upload material for publication.
  • Reaching out to potential “celebrity” guest writers.
  • Making connections with potential partners in Ethiopia, for sharing information and promoting the book. (We would love to get it translated into Amharic, though that’s another significant potential expense. We’re working on it.)
  • Figuring out the best way to acquire the front and back cover art.
  • Lining up pre- and post-publication reviewers.
  • Setting up the book’s Facebook page (under construction but will be live soon.)
  • Keeping up with our own family responsibilities, work, job searches, health, bills, travel, and so on.

I greatly appreciate the patience of our wonderful essayists. We will soon be working with them on the promotion of the book, which we hope will include readings in various cities (hopefully sponsored by adoptee, adoptive parent and other groups). I will be asking the writers to record brief video clips reading excerpts from their essays, to be used in promoting the book.

Original artwork © Maureen McCauley Evans

The learning curve has been steep on this book, but we are getting near the finish line. (It will be so much easier on the next one!) We are grappling with funding for the production and translation costs. Please keep in mind that revenue from book sales will go toward establishing a guest house/resource center in Addis for returning adoptees from around the globe.

We are honored by the gifts of the stories in this book. The essays are straight from the heart of the adoptees, who have dealt with the joy, the sorrow, the racism, the confusion, the reality that is international adoption. Thanks for being with us on this journey. Our plan is that the next update on Lions Roaring will be the publication announcement!

 

 

 

Does Our US Congress Believe in Adoption?

If they did, the Adoptee Citizenship Act  (S. 2275) would have already passed.

If they believe that adoption is a way that children become part of forever families, there should be no hesitation to support this bill.

If they have ever supported the need for orphans to have families, they should pass this bill.

If they have children and grandchildren they love, they should pass this bill.

Thousands of children were adopted to the US for decades. Some of their American parents failed to get them citizenship. It was not the failure of the adoptees, who came here with the full oversight and the permission of the US government.

The Adoptee Citizenship Act would give retroactive citizenship to all international adoptees brought to the US prior to 2000.

Why is guaranteeing US citizenship for internationally adopted children even an issue?

A small percentage of those adoptees whose parents failed to get them citizenship have gotten into trouble with the law, served their time, and are now subject to deportation, due to an immigration law that should never have included adoptees. Some have been deported. At least one has died after having been deported.

Some in our Congress believe that if an adoptee is convicted of a crime, and serves his time in jail, it is okay to then deport him forever out of the US. That perspective tells us that they do not believe in the integrity and value of adoption.

The bottom line: In failing to support this bill, members of Congress are saying that adoptees–who were promised a forever family, who arrived here legally as the children of American parents–are not really genuine family members, and they thus can be deported. The US government approved the international adoption. The US government should now approve citizenship for all international adoptees.

Many children of our Congressional representatives and other elected officials have gotten into trouble with the law. I hope the children were treated fairly by our justice system and, if found guilty, served their time. I doubt the sons or daughters of our elected officials were then deported away from the only family they have ever known, forever. Adoptees should be treated fairly as well.

There are many adoptive parents and grandparents in our Congress, and many whose staff members have adopted or were adopted themselves. If they are not supporting this bill, they are saying, “It is okay to deport adoptees, because they are not really part of our family.” And that is just not true.

Adoptive parents and adoption agencies should promote this legislation and contact their Congressional representatives. The 161 members of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute–a third of our Congress–tout the value of permanency for children in need of parents, and celebrate Angels in Adoption. Every one of them should be demanding passage of this bill, saying it is long overdue, and it is right and fair for adoptees.

Ask your member of Congress: Do you believe in adoption? Then sponsor and vote for the Adoptee Citizenship Act.

You can find out who your Representatives and Senators are here. You can send a message about the Adoptee Citizenship Act here. Please contact them today.

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Appeals Court Info on Williamses’ Case

There will be an appeals court hearing for Larry and Carri Williams on Monday, November 16, at 9:30am.The address is One Union Square, 600 University Street, Seattle.  I wrote about the hearing here, and I want to share some additional thoughts, especially if you were interested in attending.

It is a public hearing; all are welcome. There will be 20 minutes of oral arguments for each case, so the hearing itself will last about 40 minutes. There will be no decision made that day by the judge. It is not a huge room, and attorneys for other cases get preference in seats, but there is certainly room for the public. You may want to allow time to get through the security and get a seat.

I know there is great interest in the case, and enormous support for Hana. It will be great to have a strong showing of folks in court for Hana. I want to be sure everyone understands that this is a brief event, a legal process, lawyers talking to the judge. I will be there, and I know several others in the Seattle area who are planning to attend. If you can easily attend, wonderful. If you are unable to be there. we know you are joining us in spirit, and we will update you as soon as possible after the hearing.

Many thanks for all those who have kept Hana in their hearts.

 

 

Update on Hana Williams: Larry and Carri Williams Have Filed an Appeal to Their Murder Convictions

Hana Alemu (Williams)

Hana Alemu (Williams) Photo from Facebook page: Remembrance of Hanna Williams

In late October 2013, Larry and Carri Williams, the adoptive parents of Ethiopian adoptee Hana Williams/Hana Alemu, were convicted and sentenced to jail for Hana’s murder and associated torture. You can read about their sentencing here.

Larry and Carri have filed appeals of the conviction, and the Seattle Appeals Court has scheduled oral arguments for the appeals on Monday, November 16, at 9:30am. I will be there, and I hope many other folks in the Seattle area will be there also. A good showing by the public on Hana’s behalf could be a powerful statement to the judges. Many thanks to all who have kept Hana in their hearts.

I feel certain that many folks in Washington State, in the US, in Ethiopia, and around the globe will be watching this case closely.

We haven’t forgotten you, Hana.

Another Adoptee Suicide: Unspeakable Pain

This week I heard about the death by suicide of a young Ethiopian adoptee, reported by his US family to be about 12 years old, living in America since 2013.

My heart aches for everyone–for the boy, for his family in Ethiopia and here in the US, for all of us.

Adoption can be full of great joy, many gains, and lots of love. It can also have deep layers of grief, loss, and trauma. I do not know the circumstances of this most recent death. I do know that adoptees attempt suicide at higher rates than non-adoptees, and do so at alarmingly young ages. One source of information is Pediatrics: “Risks of Suicide Attempt in Adopted and Non-Adopted Offspring.”

My post “Suicide and Adoption: We Need To Stop Whispering” has had thousands of views in the last few days. Please take a look also at my post “Resources Around Trauma and Suicide in Adoption.” There is lots of information there about suicide prevention, depression and PTSD resources, strategies to talk about suicide awareness, and more.

Save this number somewhere: 1-800-273-8255, available 24/7, 365 days a year. Their website is here: Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

I am saddened by how many people I know in the adoption community who have considered suicide and who have attempted it. Almost everyone in the adoption community knows personally of adoptees who have died by suicide.

Let’s keep talking about the realities of depression and trauma, and encouraging others to talk about their loss and fears, especially around adoption, without judgement or dismissal. It’s tough stuff. We have to do it.

There is a GoFundMe account for the family of the young man who died by suicide. Since I’ve been asked about it several times, here is the link.

May everyone find compassion and healing.

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Candles at a Vancouver BC Church. © Maureen McCauley Evans

 

 

 

 

 

 

Predicting the Future of Intercountry Adoption at the JCICS-NCFA 2015 Conference

Yesterday I attended the “Putting Families First” conference held by the Joint Council on International Children’s Services (JCICS) and the National Council For Adoption (NCFA). My workshop proposal for the conference, “Finding Common Ground in Policies and Practice, which included three adult adoptee panelists, had been rejected, but I was invited to participate on a panel titled “Predicting the Future of Intercountry Adoption.”

The audience was standing room only. I’d guess about 100 people attended.

Adoption professionals cite the Hague Convention, the Council on Accreditation, and the Department of State as reasons for the decline in the number of international adoptions. I argued that adoptions have declined because of the following:

  • Fraud and corruption.
  • Reports of maltreatment and abuse of international adoptees.
  • The role of money in adoption: high costs to adopt; the economic imbalance between adoptive parents and first families; the adoption tax credit; online fundraisers for adoption; adoptive parents’ financial contributions to first families after adoption; and more.
  • Religion: complications and misunderstandings of Christianity, Biblical interpretations, “savior complexes,” and more.
  • Social media: bloggers and twitter campaigns, especially by adult adoptees.
  • Increasing awareness of the need for family preservation: the economics suggest far more children could be helped that way (and kept out of orphanages) than through intercountry adoption.

I argued that if you are responsible for policies that involve children of color and immigrants, you must welcome, instigate, and engage in the complicated conversations around race, racism, systemic oppression, and white privilege.

All of these issues should be the subject by themselves of future conferences and workshops by JCICS and NCFA.

I asked these questions:

Given that there are hundreds of thousands of adult international adoptees, why are so few adoptees involved in adoption advocacy?

Please pause over that question.

Why do adoption conferences and policy meetings have almost exclusively western white people, many of whom are adoptive parents?

I believe that historic marginalization of adult adoptees is the reason. I’d argue that it’s because their voices and experiences have been marginalized in the past. From my speech: “The traditional narrative has been gratitude and integration. The adoption community, dominated by adoptive parents, has not always wanted to hear the struggles and the grief of many adoptees and first families.

Many adult adoptees do not want to express any unhappiness for fear of hurting their adoptive parents, or of being dismissed as ungrateful. That said, many adult adoptees are speaking out publicly now, creating new organizations, criticizing agencies, using social media, and publishing books. It makes no sense to ignore them. If international adoption is going to continue, adoptees—the activists, the academics, the writers, the therapists, the bloggers, the researchers, the playwrights, the poets, the artists–need to be robustly invited into development of policies and practices. They are not going away. Until they have a place at the table, international adoption will continue to decline.”

Adoptions will also decline unless the voices and experiences of international first families are documented, preserved, and shared in a meaningful way, anytime that there are policy or practice discussions. Their absence at those discussions speaks volumes about whose perspective is most valued in international adoption.

Would we be okay with a conference on Christianity that had only a few Christians attending? A conference on social work that had no social workers? Why are we okay with adoption conferences and policy meetings that are missing significant segments of the adoption community?

In terms of predictions, here are my thoughts:

  • Adoptions will continue to decline unless adult adoptees and first families are included in conferences and policy discussions in advocacy groups, Congress, the Hague, and around the world.
  • Adoptions will continue to decline unless fraud and corruption are overtly acknowledged, not just discussed among agency workers.
  • Openness will be the norm in international adoption, and needs to be promoted by agencies as a positive development. That said, openness is complicated.
  • DNA technologies and social media will expand connections between adoptees and their birth families.
  • Most international adoptions will be for special needs children, another reason that pre- and post-adoption and resources must be strengthened.

While the conference goes on for three more days, I attended only yesterday. In a follow-up post, I will write about the topics explicitly missing from the conference workshops (i.e., assisted reproductive technologies, “re-homing”), and about an exchange regarding  adoption activists ( a term which apparently functions as a code word for “angry adoptees”) in Korea.

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New England winter. Photo © Maureen McCauley Evans

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Tempest of Rachel Dolezal

The story of Rachel Dolezal doesn’t have legs: it has octopus arms and labyrinthine twists. Its reach and longevity have been astonishing, and speak to the fragility and pain of understanding race in this world.

I wonder about giving so much attention to someone who has not brought something good into dialogue. That, of course, is too often the nature of information and media today.  The people laboring in civil rights and human rights–doing positive, life-changing work–will never get the kind of coverage that Rachel Dolezal has received.

Among the many mysteries of the Dolezal story has been the role of adoption and the meaning of “transracial.” As the white parent of four transracially adopted children, now all young adults, I’ve never been and never will be black or biracial. I believe I’ve been an imperfect ally, aware of both racism and of white privilege, aware of the need for mentors and role models for my children, aware that exclusion, indignities, and micro aggressions are part of my beloved children’s lives.

The novelty of Rachel Dolezal has captured many keyboards, many hours of time by many people. As someone long involved in transracial adoption issues, I hope to see conversations about race and identity continue, especially in a public forum, though not necessarily focused on one individual. We have such a long way to go, and so many people in our racial and adoptive community continue to be voiceless and vulnerable.

All that said lol, as an ally, I’d be remiss if I did not mention these articles about the realities of transracial adoptees in light of the Dolezal discussions. Important words here.

“Transracial Lives Matter: Rachel Dolezal and the Privilege of Racial Manipulation”

“Rachel Dolezal Draws Ire of Transracial Adoptees”

“Open Letter: Why Co-Opting ‘Transracial’ in the Case of Rachel Dolezal is Problematic”

 

Remembering Hana: May 12, 2011

Hana Alemu (Williams)

Hana Alemu (Williams)

Rest in Peace. Rest in Power. Rest in Paradise. Hana Alemu, we are thinking of you today and honoring the life that ended much too soon.

It was four years ago today that she died outside her adoptive family home, from malnutrition and hypothermia, having suffered through so much.

Many people have kept her memory alive, and remember Hana as a source of inspiration to fight for the safety and well-being of all children.

Her cousin Haimanot helped raise Hana in Ethiopia before Hana came to the US. Haimanot has a potentially life-threatening medical condition for which she has received surgery, but will need more. You can read about her here, and you help by donating to or sharing the fundraising site here. Haimanot is working hard to survive and thrive. Any help you can give her would be wonderful.

Hana’s adoptive parents, Larry and Carri, remain in jail in Washington State, having been convicted in September 2013. Both filed appeals in fall 2013 to their murder convictions, and the process is moving slowly through the appellate courts.

Today, let’s think of Hana. May all children be loved and safe.

 

 

Invitation to Share Information on Adoptees and Suicide

I reached out to Forefront, a nonprofit suicide prevention organization here in Washington state, about depression, trauma, and suicide in the adoption community. I asked if they might consider highlighting adoptees in some way on their website, to provide information for them and their families.

Today I was invited to be a guest author for their blog, as well as to offer other ideas of how I think they could bring awareness to this issue on their website.

I am honored to do so, and am very appreciative of Forefont’s response and their openness to receiving and providing this information.

I want to open this up to adult adoptees to share in the writing of the blog post and the provision of information. It may or may not have been my status as an adoptive parent that opened this door, but I would like to go through it with the voices and insights of adult adoptees. I know so many who have amazing professional credentials as therapists and researchers, who have hard-earned experience with depression and trauma, and who have had loved ones attempt or die by suicide. Please: send me an email at Maureen (at) LightOfDayStories.com and let me know if you would be willing to help shine more light on the role of suicide, and suicide prevention, in the adoption community.

First/birth parents are welcome also, of course, as are adoptive parents, siblings, spouses/partners, and others. We need many voices. Suicide affects all of us, and we must work together on prevention.

Here’s some information about Forefront. Please check out and support their website.

“Mission: Forefront advances innovative approaches to suicide prevention through policy change, professional training, campus and school-based interventions, media outreach, support for persons affected by suicide and program evaluation.

Vision: We envision Washington State as a community where there is no suicide. To achieve this goal: 1) the public needs education that suicide is preventable including how to help those affected by suicide; 2) individuals in crisis have to have rapid access to effective treatment for behavioral health disorders; 3) strategies need to be implemented that prioritize emotional wellness and suicide prevention readiness within healthcare systems, schools and campuses, and by employers; and 4) progressive state policies that support the aforementioned conditions must be enacted.

Goal: Reduce the suicide rate in Washington State by a minimum of twenty percent by 2020. Once successful, Forefront will broaden its outreach to other states where the rates of suicide in the U.S. are the highest.

At Forefront, we know most suicides are preventable and that the time to act is now.”

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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.