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”


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.