Telling Genuine Adoption Stories

I used to think a story had a beginning, middle, and end. If I have learned nothing else in my decades as an adoptive parent and in my work as an advocate, it’s that a story has multiple beginnings, middles, and endings. It’s rarely a neat package. It’s mostly a work in progress, fluid, subject to change.

Adoptive parents often struggle with telling their children about how and why the children needed to be adopted. Their stories are, by their nature, filled with loss, and often with abuse, poverty, violence, and neglect. How these stories are held, honored, and told can be complicated.

An additional enormous complication is whether the stories are accurate. Another is whether the stories are available to the adopted person, who may search for the people and details that made up his or her life before adoption. What was thought to be The Story can turn out to be something extremely different.

On November 16, I attended the amazing, adoptee-led, adoptee-centric “Reframing the Adoption Discourse” conference sponsored by the Adoption Policy and Reform Collaborative and AdopSource. Held in Minnesota, also known as the Land of Gazillion Adoptees, it was a day filled with panels, ideas, and insights.

All the panels (Research, Policy, Mental Health, Performance, Advocacy) were wonderful, and I’ll write about each of them over the next weeks.

Today, I’m going to start with the Performance Panel.

(L to R) Katie Hae Leo, Kurt Blomberg, Chad Goller-Sojourner, Marissa Lichwick-Glesne, and (facilitator) Kevin Haeboom Vollmers

(L to R) Katie Hae Leo, Kurt Blomberg, Chad Goller-Sojourner, Marissa Lichwick-Glesne, and (facilitator) Kevin Haeboom Vollmers

Click on the names to learn more about each talented panelist (poets, writers, dancers, playwrights, spoken word artists):

Katie Hae Leo

Kurt Blomberg

Chad Goller-Sojourner

Marissa Lichwick-Glesne

I’m starting with this panel because they spoke most about stories: not only their own, but also about the nature of stories and storytelling. Katie, Kurt, and Marissa were adopted to the US from Korea. Chad was born in the US, and is African-American. All are transracial adoptees. All are now adults, who have chosen to tell some of their stories through poetry, plays, spoken word, and dance.

I’ve written about Katie before, having seen her powerful one-woman show, N/A.

Here’s a quote from the Minnesota Star Tribune article about Katie:

“All she has is stories, some of which she has made up.”

Katie is an adult. She still doesn’t have the full story of her origins, something most of us take for granted. This lack of information has been particularly complex for Katie around medical issues.

Katie, like Chad, Kurt, and Marissa, has used art as a way to tell and understand her adoption story, even in its incompleteness.

We aren’t talking about Choco, or Horace, or foxes, bears, or the moon anymore. These are the genuine stories of adoptees, who are now adults, still working on understanding and processing the realities of how they started out in one family and were moved to another. In some cases, the doors seemed to have shut firmly on the first family, though the search for truth remains.

For these four, art has been a form of activism around their adoption stories, and around adoption generally. Katie talked about how meeting other Asian-Americans in theater work helped her to better understand herself, and created a community of creativity. Kurt participated in group sports in high school, and said that helped him handle group identity. It was dance, though, that genuinely allowed him to see his body as an individual, to further gain a genuine sense of self. The power of the arts, said Kurt, is that we remember, we create stories, and we create a platform then for talking about stories.

Chad said that, as a black child in a white family, he’d “been performing all along,” and that, for him, “things make sense on stage.” Performance and the arts create an “empowerment narrative,” a storytelling that can be liberating from the harsh realities of racism and isolation, though those are a core part of the story.

Telling stories, according to Katie, is “an interruption, an intervention, to the dominant narrative” of adoption told through other voices in our society, such as adoptive parents and adoption agencies. We need more adoptee voices telling their stories through their art: “we want more intersections” of truth, art, and personal stories, because that “brings strength.”

Marissa spoke about the power of stories to educate, and how telling stories can evolve into activism. When she is in the United States, she said, she is Korean American. When she is in Korea, she is American Korean. That difference informs her art, informs her story, informs her sense of self.

Brilliant, powerful, challenging. So important to be open to deep listening, even of painful truths.

And as Kurt said, “I hope we all dance soon.” Dancing through pain, dancing through closed doors, dancing through joy and healing.

The Band-Aid of Heritage and Culture Camps: An Adoptee Perspective

“I had the privilege of attending this summer’s Ethiopian Heritage and Culture Camp in Virginia as a guest speaker. The camp is wonderful. It is designed, not only for families with adopted Ethiopian children, but for Ethiopian-American families as well. Nevertheless, most of the families there looked like mine did when I was a child. While I loved seeing the little kids and enjoyed Ethiopian food, crafts, and clothing, it was through dialogue with many adoptive parents that I was better able to understand where adoptive families stand in regards to grasping the responsibilities of raising a child of color, and how much or how little agencies prepare families…”

That’s an excerpt from a powerful article called The Band-Aid of Heritage and Culture Camps, and What They Cover Up by Aselefech Evans, an Ethiopian adult adoptee, writing as a columnist in the current issue of Gazillion Voices.

I wrote about the Ethiopian Heritage and Culture Camp here and about the Ethiopian panelists (which included Aselefech) Speaking Their Truth here.

(L-R) Nunu Worke, Aselefech Evans, Adanech Evans

(L-R) Nunu Worke, Aselefech Evans, Adanech Evans

Full disclosure: Aselefech is one of my favorite people in the world. She is also my daughter, adopted in 1994 along with her twin sister Adanech, when they were 6 years old. (Adanech is another of my favorites, along with my sons and granddaughter.) Aselefech has reunited with her Ethiopian family, and wrote one of the most viewed posts ever on my blog, Far Away, Always in My Heart. She’s presented workshops and webinars about her experiences as a transracial, older, international adoptee. She speaks candidly, and from her heart. I’ve always encouraged my children to speak their truths, and they have. That can seem like a mixed blessing perhaps, if your children are writing and speaking out about their experiences as adoptees, and as people of color, and those experiences have not always been positive.

Therein, though, lies the genuine blessing: what a gift to be able to witness the honesty and reality and insights of my daughter. She demonstrates, I believe, the fundamental truth of adoption. It is often filled with both love and loss, held together at the same time, tilting one way or the other at other times. We adoptive parents decide to bring children into our lives, and in so doing, we are part of the lost life they might have had, with the family (and culture, language, heritage, race, traditions, history) into which they were born, into which (for good or bad) most children stay. Aselefech loves her dad and me, and we love her. Now 25 years old, Aselefech has struggled with the complexity that is transracial, international adoption. We (her adoptive parents) cannot take that pain away, but we can be open to her journey, joining her sometimes, knowing that the journey is hers alone.

Another excerpt from Aselefech’s article in Gazillion Adoptees:

“As an adoptive parent, when you choose to adopt internationally you must understand the cultural ramifications of removing a child from his or her culture. You must take on the overwhelming responsibility to keep them connected to their country of origin, the place from which you have taken them. You must surround them with a variety of people who look like them. Children’s attitudes towards their own race are deeply influenced by their interactions and observations of those around them. Will most of the children muddle through and eventually form a decent racial and cultural identity if you don’t offer all of this? Maybe. But what right do you have to make them pay that price?”

Powerful words. Aselefech has gotten some pushback, asking if she’s “anti-adoption.” She’s also gotten some wonderful, positive response for her courage and candor. I’m very proud of her. Like many adoptees these days, she provides a voice from a diaspora. I hope the world listens.

Genuine Adoption Awareness: Gazillion Voices, Speaking Out

All too often, we think adoption means “babies and children who need families.” That thinking can seem especially true in November, which in the US is Adoption Awareness Month, designed to celebrate adoption and promote positive awareness about adoption. You’ll see lovely photos of happy families, stories about children available for adoption, and upbeat articles by adoptive parents of young children.

Those babies and children grow up. They experience adoption in different ways at different ages, but “being adopted” or “having been adopted” is a part of their lives, always. While adoption does not necessarily define or limit anyone, it certainly affects the understanding of family in a very different way than for those who are not adopted, or have not placed a child for adoption. Transracial and/or international adoption adds a whole other level of complexity. The spectrum of the effect is broad, and needs to be honored.

Today the 4th issue of Gazillion Voices hit the newsstand that is the Internet. It’s well worth reading (and listening to the podcasts, looking at the photo essays, reflecting on the articles).

So go read this brand new issue of Gazillion Voices, and urge others to do the same. Post your comments. Engage in dialogue. Enjoy the opportunity to listen, learn, and be challenged.

My view of National Adoption Awareness Month: “Awareness of adoption” cannot be limited to making people aware that children need families. It has to cover a much larger scale, including awareness of issues such as grief, trauma, and loss, as well as racial identity, cultural realities, search and reunion issues. My hope is that children who genuinely need new families find them, that the adoption preparation process completed by adoptive parents is thorough and challenging, that the first/birth families receive thorough, transparent, and thoughtful (non-coerceive in any way) counseling and support, before, during, and after the placement, and that the experiences of adoptees, whether positive or negative, are respected as real. My hope is that legislators, policymakers, moviemakers, and others involved in adoption will listen especially closely to the voices of adopted adults and of first/birth parents. That would be genuine Adoption Awareness.

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Not Chuffed About CHIFF: Pushing Back On International Adoption Policy

“Chuffed” is British slang for being pleased, mixed with a bit of proud.

CHIFF is the Children in Families First Act. I’ve written here about Why CHIFF Will (and Should) Fail, and here about What CHIFF Lacks, And Why It Must Be Abandoned.

I am not chuffed about CHIFF. Those two posts above explain why.

Not surprisingly, I’ve gotten some pushback from folks at adoption agencies about my views.

Why am I opposed to helping children who need families?

I’m not, it turns out. I believe adoption is a potential, positive option for children in genuine need of families. I agree that children are better off growing up in safe, loving families rather than in institutions. As is often the case, however, this is far more complicated than a warm and fuzzy scenario of homes for orphans. CHIFF is about a new bureaucracy, plus misplaced funding that ignores existing needs, and a blatant failure to include those most affected.

Many years ago, when I was working for the Joint Council on International Children’s Services (I was there from 1995-2000), we worked on several pieces of significant adoption-related legislation. One was the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption. Two others were part of the immigration bill in 1996, one requiring immunizations prior to immigration to the US, and the other mandating deportation of non-US citizens who were convicted of a felony. The immunizations issue was settled fairly easily, with prospective adoptive parents having to sign a form saying they would get their children immunized here (or get an exemption for religious reasons, for example).

The deportation issue, though, was far more complex. Adult international adoptees who had not acquired US citizenship and committed a felony were deported, regardless of having been brought here by US citizens for adoption, having been raised here their whole lives, and having no connection (language, family, school, religion, etc.) with their country of origin. This absurdity was part of the impetus behind the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, which gave (relatively) automatic citizenship to internationally adopted children. More information is available here, in my posts All They Will Call You Will Be Deportees and Citizenship Isn’t Automatic for Internationally Adopted Children to the US?.

All those legislative issues were complicated, and we are still feeling the implications certainly of the Hague Convention and of the deportation/citizenship law. When I think back of my involvement with both, I am aware of two glaring omissions from the discussions and implementation of both: very few adult adoptees or first parents were involved.

By far, it was international lawyers, adoption agencies’ staff, and adoptive parents who were the forces behind the legislative process: the same (mostly white, well-educated, politically savvy, well-off) demographic of those who are supporting CHIFF.

Had adoptees and first parents genuinely and fully been invited to share their experiences  around adoption, perhaps the Hague Convention would have been more smoothly implemented here in the US. Perhaps the Council On Accreditation would have more effective criteria for the accreditation of adoption agencies under the Hague. Perhaps consultation and input from adopted adults would have been more convincing about the need for appropriate and fair citizenship legislation.

I include myself in falling short on insisting that adoptees and first parents have a place at the table during those legislative processes. That’s why I am speaking out as loudly as possible now.

As I look at the supporters of CHIFF, I see a list comprised almost entirely of adoption agencies. Adoption agencies are not focused on family preservation–let’s be clear about that. Theirs is a different mission and focus. Family preservation is expensive, complicated, and labor-intensive. Adoption work can similarly described, though it requires different staffing, skills, evaluation, and funding than family preservation. It’s also easy to see how conflicts of interest could occur, if an agency pursues both.

Look at this, from the CHIFF Facebook page:

The CHIFF Working Group Executive Committee

American Academy of Adoption Attorneys
Both Ends Burning
Center for Adoption Policy
Child Advocacy Program at Harvard Law School
Christian Alliance for Orphans
Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute
EACH
Joint Council on International Children’s Services
Kidsave International
National Council For Adoption
Saddleback Church

CHIFF also has the support of dozens of individual adoption agencies. Why is that, if CHIFF emphasizes family preservation?

About the pushback I’ve received: I heard from one of the above agencies, saying I’d rattled a few cages. Good.

Because here’s the deal: Adoptee groups are more common, more vocal, and more effective than when I was at JCICS and other organizations. I’m not excusing my failure to include them at the time. I am saying, though, that there are plenty of organized groups now across the adoptee spectrum. There are amazing, thoughtful adoptees who are Ph.D’s and MSW’s and LCSW’s who could offer great insights into this legislation, but I don’t see their names or their affiliations on the list of CHIFF supporters. That speaks volumes to me, that the CHIFF Working Group Executive Committee and its list of supporters are predominantly adoption agencies and adoptive parents.

Interestingly, the “Likes” on the Facebook page of the Children in Families First group is 2439. The “Likes” on the “Stop CHIFF” Facebook page is 2507. A few years ago, before the empowerment that is social media, the balance would not have been so close. It’s all changing now.

Here’s another important reality that currently is often ignored. There are plenty of adult adoptees who love their adoptive parents, who are grateful to have been adopted, who recognize that their lives would have been totally different (certainly economically and perhaps otherwise) had they not been adopted. These are among the most powerful adopted adults who are speaking out, demanding change in the international adoption process, These adult adoptees love their adoptive families and they had happy childhoods. They are also speaking out about adoption, seeking change in the international adoption process, demanding transparency and integrity, and insisting on a role for themselves and for first/birth parents in the future of international adoption.

As to the notion that some of the adoptee groups don’t play well with others, and so are not invited to this sandbox: Enough. There are many, many adult adoptee groups and adoptee professionals working in adoption. If the adoption agency groups have insights and inroads to the politicians–and it surely looks as though they do–why don’t they share their skills and experience with adoptee groups?

Is anyone else struck by the fact that some adoption agencies and adoption-related organizations don’t want to hear from, talk with, or work with some adopted adults who are now speaking out? These adoptees were brought to the US by these agencies and organizations.  Have the agencies no ethical responsibility to find common ground? Even (or especially) with adopted adults who’ve struggled mightily with loss and grief, who had horrific childhoods, or who view their adoption as a painful life event?

Is anyone else struck by the fact that the international adoption agencies and adoption-related organizations are not reaching out to first parents to provide post-adoption services to them, the way the services are provided (or at least offered) to US adoptive parents? Where is the integrity in that? For that matter, I’d love to see an evaluation of the pre-placement services provided to international first parents. Do the services match what is available to US birth/first parents? If not, why not?

Is anyone else struck by the fact that CHIFF is “about reallocating a small portion of the $2 billion the US Government already spends on assistance programs for children internationally” but doesn’t say how much that “small portion” is? The US government currently provides billions in the adoption tax credit, a fragment for the adoption of foster care children but primarily allocated to international and private adoptions. Your tax dollars are already hard at work reimbursing relatively well-off adoptive parents for travel and hotels overseas. We are talking huge amounts of money here, that could be spent far more responsibly.

Is anyone else struck by the fact that adoptive parents of internationally adopted children are often able, after placement, to quickly find out the true backgrounds of their children, backgrounds that are all too often not what the agency told them? Should we ignore the fact that increasing numbers adult adoptees travel back to their country of origin and find their truth is very different from what the agency told them, their first parents, and their adoptive parents?

Is anyone else heartbroken about the fact that internationally adopted children are “re-homed” in an underground Internet system, that internationally adopted children are showing up in increasing numbers in the US foster care system, and that some internationally adopted children adopted as teens to the US are thrown out of their families when they reach 18?

I am well aware that adoptive parents and adoption-related organizations hold the most power in adoption policy–for now. I am aware that some (though not all) adoptee groups are adversarial, even hostile. But let’s not dismiss the realities experienced by so-called difficult adoptees. (Arguably, we do that all too often as shown by the dearth of appropriate post-adoption services for adopted children and teens. There could be a correlation.) Let’s not hope that they just go away, now that they’ve grown up. Collaboration, not further marginalization, is the only way to move toward well-grounded adoption policy and reform.

Let’s invite adult adoptees and first families to the table, and stop repeating the same mistakes. Let’s not pour more money and time into international adoption policy that does not adequately meet the needs of current adoptees, prospective adoptees, and constantly-marginalized first families.

 

What CHIFF Lacks and Why It Must Be Abandoned

I wrote a couple of days ago about the Children in Families First (CHIFF) Act, recently introduced in the US Senate as S.1530: Why CHIFF Will (and Should) Fail.

My main arguments were (1)  the legislation fails to include the voices of adult adoptees and of first/original international parents, and (2) the main supporters are adoption agencies, who have a significant economic stake in international adoption. Those 2 reasons are significant enough to suggest the bill is poorly grounded and inadequate (while being very expensive), and should be abandoned.

If that though isn’t enough, this post discusses additional reasons that CHIFF should be discarded.

It’s not because international adoption policy does not need to be reformed (it does), nor because children around the globe don’t deserve safe, loving families (they do), nor because family preservation should not be an essential priority (it should).

CHIFF should be discarded because it fails to include the perspectives of vital stakeholders (adoptees and international first parents) directly impacted by and knowledgeable about international adoption, though with nothing to gain financially from it, unlike adoption agencies, the bill’s current main supporters. Further, CHIFF should be discarded because it fails to acknowledge the astonishing problems facing us here in the US, while explicitly using substantial USAID and other taxpayer funds “to jumpstart implementation of a National Action Plan in 6 countries over 5 years.”

CHIFF In a Nutshell

Here’s a brief summary, drawn from their website, of the goals of CHIFF:

CHIFF “calls for programs funded with US tax dollars to focus on reducing the number of children living without families and increasing the capacity of other governments to better protect their own children.”

Specifically, CHIFF establishes a new bureau in the State Department (transforming and enlarging the current Office of Children’s Issues, apparently), as a “foreign policy and diplomatic hub on child welfare.” The new bureau will still be the Hague Convention’s Central Authority “for diplomatic purposes,” but “operational responsibilities will be under US Citizenship and Immigrations Services,” (US CIS) which is under the US Homeland Security Administration.

It “streamlines, simplifies, and consolidates responsibility for intercountry adoption cases under US CIS,” thus under the Department of Homeland Security, except for final immigrant visa processing, which remains with State. Adoption service provider accreditation will now be under Homeland Security too, not the State Department.

The new bureau is tasked with “building international capacity to implement effective child welfare systems, with particular focus on family preservation and reunification, and kinship domestic, and intercountry adoption.”

The CHIFF infographic cites adoption in 2 of the 3 potential intended results of the bill, with the third being a realignment “of foreign aid with American values.”

Here are additional reasons that CHIFF will and should fail:

CHIFF does not meaningfully address current needs here in the United States regarding international adoption policy, yet it would use USAID and other taxpayer money to increase international adoptions, to create new bureaucracy here, and to establish new programs around the globe, instilling American values.

It turns out we have plenty of work that needs to be done here at home.

  • CHIFF does not address the huge, gaping need for genuine, rigorous pre-adoption preparation nor for substantive, effective, accessible post-adoption counseling and resources here in the United States. We can craft adoption policy far better, in terms of preparation and counseling of birth/first parents and of adoptive parents prior to adoption, and in terms of post-adoption resources and services for everyone. I’d like to see some degree of equity in counseling and services (before and after placement) for international birth parents as compared to US adoptive parents. I’ve recommended re-vamping the US adoption tax credit as one means of doing this and wrote about it here.  No new money–just an equitable, sane distribution of revenue (billions of dollars) that the US federal government is already providing to adoptive parents.
  • CHIFF does not address the great, grim cloud of corruption and fraud in international adoption. Many US families have brought children to the US only to find out the children have families who wanted to keep them, but were trafficked or otherwise brought to the US in unethical circumstances. Adult adoptees have traveled back to their home countries and learned very different stories from what the agencies told their adoptive parents. One of the reasons for the slowdown in international adoptions is that adoption agencies and governments are now doing investigations about the truths of children being placed for adoption. It’s an effort by the agencies, arguably late in the game, and it’s costly and time-consuming, though perhaps will ensure more ethical adoptions. In any case, CHIFF minimally acknowledges the corruption that exists in international adoption. The fraud and corruption should be acknowledged, researched thoroughly, and (ideally) eliminated as a first priority.
  • CHIFF does not address the tragic and disturbing practice of “re-homing” here in the US, recently cited in the powerful Reuters series which looked at re-homing practices over 5 years. There are numerous reasons that re-homing has occurred, and perhaps some have been valid. But better preparation and better post-adopt services (including respite, training, access to therapists who understand adoption, trauma, and related issues) surely would have prevented some of these tragic cases.
  • The impact of the re-homing news has begun to create a global backlash. China is outraged. This article “China adoption agency furious over ‘child exchange’ report” quotes the China Centre for Children’s Welfare and Adoption as saying, “As to the report that refers to American families who are using the Internet to relocate children they have adopted and are not willing to keep raising, we are very shocked and furious.”
  • Further evidence of the global rippling effect: The Democratic Republic of Congo has just announced a 12 month suspension of adoptions, and specifically cited the re-homing of children as one significant reason. Here is a quote from the US State Department notice about the DRC’s decision: “This suspension is due to concerns over reports that children adopted from the Democratic Republic of the Congo may be either abused by adoptive families or adopted by a second set of parents once in their receiving countries.” Other countries likely have deep concerns about US adoption practices, and I would guess we will hear more in the near future.
  • CHIFF does not address the concerns of many in the adoption global community about what the Congo suspension alludes to: children being abused or killed by their adoptive parents. I have written dozens of posts about the recent Washington State trial and conviction of the adoptive parents for the murder of Hana Williams, an Ethiopian adoptee. The parents were convicted as well of first degree assault of Immanuel, also an Ethiopian adoptee. These tragic cases are not common, not representative of the vast majority of adoption, and not acceptable on any level. Note above that CHIFF specifically calls for “programs funded with US tax dollars to…increase the capacity of other governments to better protect their own children.”  Hindsight may suggest that the deaths and abuses here were preventable, but we need to be more proactive than ever in demanding rigorous scrutiny of prospective adoptive parents and in providing oversight and assistance to families in trouble. I wrote here about how the adoption community failed Hana. I also found the CHIFF FAQ answer cold and dismissive about these tragedies. I can only imagine what the perspective is of the families and governments of origin regarding these children.
  • CHIFF does not address the plight of international adoptees who are now in the US foster care system. Those numbers are difficult to know for sure, but there is clear evidence and research that many international adopted children end up in US foster care. They, like US-born foster care children, often age out and face difficult next steps. Nor does CHIFF address the international adoptees who are now legal adults and legal US citizens and who have been who have been discarded by their adoptive families, and are now struggling in “underground” communities. Many did not meet the families’ expectations (and again, this would seem to me to indicate poor preparation, or inappropriate placements, or inadequate post-adoption resources). I wrote about some of these concerns in my Case Study: Part 2, regarding the role of agencies.

There are other concerns, and I’ve no doubt other people will be writing about them. I would argue that, before we work toward increasing the numbers of internationally adopted children, and before we venture into other countries to tell them how to protect their children, we address the needs of current adoptees and their families here in the US.

Before anything like CHIFF goes forward, before we use additional funds and resources to increase the numbers of internationally adopted children, we need, at a minimum, the following:

  • Good data, solid research, and substantive information about current realities in the US international adoption community.
  • Good data, solid research, and substantive information about fraud and corruption in international adoption practices.
  • Inclusion and buy-in from adult international adoptees and from international birth/original parents, and not solely from adoption agencies and adoption attorneys.
  • Funding and training for pre-adoption and post-adoption resources that are effective and accessible.
  • Legislation and/or other resources that provides guidance and oversight for families in crisis, with transparency for adoption disruptions and services for children.

CHIFF excludes vital stakeholders, is expensive, and ignores genuine needs in the US and international adoption community. It should not move forward. Surely we can do far better than this.

When Adoptees Become Mothers

Often, when we think about adoption, we think only of babies or little children. Adoptees, of course, grow up. They are parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. The fact of being adopted or having been adopted has not changed, though the way they look at adoption–its meaning, its value, its power–may well have changed through the years.

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Lost Daughters posted this writing prompt this morning:

The prompt: In what way, if any, has your experience as an adoptee affected the way you parent? Does your adoptedness impact your children and/or your relationship with them? When you consider the choices you have made or might make in the future regarding reproduction, does adoptedness play a role?

Already there have been several thoughtful responses. I hope to read more, and encourage everyone to send this link on to anyone they know who is adopted and is a mom or grandma. I’m sending this on to my daughter; when she gave birth to her daughter almost 7 years ago, her perspective on being adopted took a whole new journey.

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Here is information about the (wonderful, powerful, amazing) Lost Daughters site:

Lost Daughters is an independent collaborative writing project founded in 2011.  It is edited and authored by adult women who were adopted as children.  Our name was chosen in the spirit of BJ Lifton’s concept of one’s Self becoming “lost” and “found” throughout the experience of being adopted.

Our mission is to bring readers the perspectives and narratives of adopted women, and to highlight their strength, resiliency, and wisdom.  We aim to critically discuss the positives and negatives of the institution of adoption from a place of empowerment and peace.

Strength, resiliency, wisdom, empowerment, and peace.

Not always the first words we associate with adoption, but consider the possibilities if we did. May we continue to listen, to speak out, and to learn.

To NPR, PBS, HuffPo, News Media: Don’t Quote Me, Don’t Ask Me

Reuters/NBC News recently published a troubling series called The Child Exchange, about how some adoptive parents are “re-homing” their adopted children with little oversight or transparency. I wrote about it in my blog post Treating Adopted Children Like–No, Worse Than–Dogs.

The information in the Reuters’ 5-part series is disturbing because of several elements. Isn’t adoption supposed to provide a child with a “forever family”? What was the adoption agency role in preparation? What is the adoption agency responsibility for post-adoption services, and for assisting the family in cases where a child may need (another) new family? How common is this practice of handing over a child with a notarized power of attorney to virtual strangers in a parking lot?

The adoption community on Facebook and elsewhere has been exploding with commentary. Many adoption-related organizations have issued press releases, and mainstream media is beginning to do some stories.

And who has been consulted and quoted? Adoptive parents, some of whom also work in leadership positions at adoption organizations.

Who has not been consulted or quoted in any meaningful way? Adult adoptees, some of whom also work professionally in adoption.

Off the top of my head, here’s a list of accomplished, knowledgeable adoptees who should be among the first to be consulted, way before adoptive parents:

The above list contains Ph.D’s, MSWs, transracial adoptees, international adoptees (Korea, Colombia, India), US adoptees–lots of professional publications, loads of experience.

I’ve blogged about the Reuters’ series, as I’ve said above, and I hope to be involved in some way with looking at possible reforms to our very broken adoption system.

But the folks that the media should be talking with first and foremost are adult adoptees.

Land of Gazillion Adoptees has offered their perspective on this recent PBS interview about the Reuters’ series. The interview featured the series’ writer, Megan Twohey, and Adam Pertman, adoptive parent and executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Institute. From LGA’s Kevin Haeboom Vollmers:

I have great respect for PBS, but it dropped the ball with this interview. You should have invited professionals who are adoptees to discuss this topic because adoptees consider the kids and teens who have been rehomed as “their people.” Would PBS only invite white individuals if it was talking about an issue that impacted the African American community? I think not. PBS also should have challenged Adam Pertman because, in many respects, individuals like him who have held the microphone in adoption are very much to blame for not bringing to light adoption rehoming, disruptions, and dissolutions to light earlier.

Read the whole Land of Gazillion Adoptees’ post here.

LGA also posted the following insightful information from the highly credentialed therapist (and Korean adoptee) Melanie Chung-Sherman, about disruptions, dissolutions, and re-homing, all issues that are not news to her (unlike to some adoption professionals):

Disruption–the legal termination of an adoption prior to finalization in a court. Essentially, this termination can take place before a child has been legally adopted into a family–whether this is by the decision of the courts, placing agency, adoptive parents, or kinship family. Most of the time, the child has been placed in a home study-approved adoptive home prior to finalization in court–exceptions can be made for kinship placements within the birth family or step-parent relationships in which a child may already be living in the home. This term has been used interchangeably with dissolution, but it is different. Under disruption definitions, in most states, the child was never formally adopted and therefore name changes, birth certificates, and legal parental privilege was never officially/legally granted.

Dissolution–the legal termination of an adoption following finalization in a court of law. This occurs when adoptive parents or the courts decide to terminate parental rights of an adoptee. The adoptee is either placed into another home study approved family by legal adoption OR returned to state care through CPS or DCFS. Adoptive families are no longer legally responsible for the care of that child. However, many children may still carry the legal name of their adoptive family on their birth certificate unless they are adopted into another family or petition a name change. This creates additional difficulty in adequately tracking the number of legally recognized dissolutions because the names have been changed from the original court petition–or in many cases, there have been jurisdictional changes since finalization. There are many courts that are now requiring families who dissolve adoptions to pay for child support/foster care until the child is 18 years old.

Power of Attorney–Since Reuters dropped The Child Exchange there has been some confusion regarding POAs and legal custody. It should be noted that a POA is not legally binding in most states. A POA grants some authority of custodial needs such as medical care, educational decisions, and basic needs so long as the child is in his/her care. It does not replace the legal custody or legal transfer of parental rights to another which can only be completed in a court of law. Many law officials are unaware of this and thus may not question a POA. **It is important to note that there are many kinship placements (such as grandparents, step, and biological family members) that use POAs to ensure that they can care and raise a relative’s child when his/her bio parents cannot–and a child can maintain their biological connection to their first family. Not all POA use should be viewed as negative or with suspicion, but more needs to take place regarding universal regulation of its use–so it is not abused and officials/professionals know the questions to ask in order to recognize the difference.

Rehoming–It is dissolution and it isn’t. Rehoming is an underground, unregulated practice between two private parties (usually strangers) transferring permanent care of a child from one home to another without the legal requirements or regulations such as home studies, background checks, education, or monitoring. It is the unofficial termination of legal rights to a child and the rendering of assumed rights to another family; however, the originating/adoptive family never legally terminated rights (through the courts) and are still responsible for the overall well-being of that child. (This is where POAs have been utilized.) At this time, it is not considered “illegal,” but unethical unless there is substantiated abuse under state child abuse definitions (can vary in specificity from state to state).

So. News media looking for insights and information on adoption issues: Don’t ask me, don’t quote me–or other adoptive parents–until you have first talked to the real experts: adult adoptees, especially those (and they are legion) with extensive and impressive professional credentials.