Is Randall Pearson A Grateful Adoptee? Is That A Good Thing?

When my kids were little, I used to hear fairly often how saintly and noble and exceptional I was for having adopted. I don’t know if it was because of the choice to adopt, or because the adoptions were transracial, or because my daughters were six years old when they arrived from Ethiopia: clearly, different folks were motivated by different reasons. Their dad and I got comments like “How lucky these children are!” and “I could never do that!” I guess “that” was adopting, or white people adopting black children, or adopting older children—I don’t know. We would accept, demur, and deflect the ostensible compliments.

It took me a while to understand the impact of the remarks about the luck of the kids and the saintliness of us parents. I felt fortunate—I wanted kids, and these four are blessings—don’t most parents feel that way? But in adoption, there’s always an undercurrent of rescue, which is a step away from saving, and from saviorism, a word often preceded by “white.”

The object of a rescue is often understandably grateful. People who are saved from some dire outcome are grateful.

Ergo—adoptees are supposed to be grateful.

And that is a complicated, contentious, disturbing, problematic statement, one which is often discussed in many an adoption circle.

We can all be grateful to our parents, especially if they have been kind and good to us.

But should adoptees be grateful they were adopted? Were they truly saved from a dire outcome?

Do they owe us, their adoptive parents, a special note of gratitude for having “chosen” them, and raised them?

Is adoption a kindness, one that our adopted children should thank us for?

“This Is Us,” a series on NBC, resonates with many in the adoption community, especially transracial adoptees and their adoptive parents. (Spoiler alert) When Randall became the replacement child for the triplet who died, the Pearson family had no idea what awaited any of them. A kind doctor arranged for the white parents to take the abandoned black baby home from the hospital with them in 1980. Now, in 2016, Randall is 36.

The final episode of this season’s “This Is Us,” a show which I have been enamored with, takes place on Christmas Eve. There is a flashback scene where, coincidentally (this is a show that thrives on coincidences), the doctor who delivered Randall’s siblings (and gave Randall to the family) is in the hospital at the same time that Kate (Randall’s sister) is undergoing an appendectomy. The kids are all around 10 years old.

The Pearson parents, Jack and Rebecca, tell the kids that Dr. K was responsible for their family, and now, since Dr. K’s family can’t get to the hospital, “tonight we’re gonna be his” family.

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Randall meanders into the gift shop, and buys a snow globe for Dr. K. In presenting the globe to the doctor, Randall says, “My dad said you’re the reason they adopted me. So thank you.”

I know firsthand there were some adopted adults whose eyebrows went up and hearts sank at that line.

 

Dr. K is kind and complimentary about the snow globe, and about his role in the adoption. “Only thing I did that day was nudge a man in a direction he already wanted to go.”

A sentiment that unwittingly speaks to the lack of agency by the adoptee, omits the role of the mom, and is silent on what direction Randall’s birth parents may have wanted to go in.

Dr. K goes on to say to Randall, “If at some point in your life, you find a way to show somebody else the same kindness that your parents showed you, well, that’s all the present I need.”

Adoption as kindness: there’s a much bigger picture, and I recognize that many folks don’t want to hear it, think I’m being negative, and wish I would lighten up.

I love my children beyond words, and I know that my joy has come at a price, for them and for their first families. They love us, their adoptive parents, deeply. Each has experienced and dealt with loss and trauma differently. Their view of gratitude around adoption is multi-layered, and theirs to express.

I don’t think my children should be grateful to be adopted. Maybe they should be appreciative and thankful for sacrifices their dad and I have made for them, but that’s what parents are supposed to do. We hope they will do their best for their children.

But adoption is based in loss. It’s supposed to take children from a bad situation into a “better” one, and sometimes that happens. Adoption should certainly be an option for abused and neglected children, when parents can’t or won’t take care of their children and keep them safe. Adoption shouldn’t be a permanent solution to a temporary situation, when, with a little help, parents could raise their children. Adoption can be positive and powerful, when done with transparency and integrity.

As an adoptive parent, I am often stunned at how rarely the losses (or existence) of birth parents are mentioned, as well as the grief that adopted children/adults may experience as a result of having been adopted.

To its credit, “This Is Us” has a strong birthfather story line. On his 36th birthday, Randall found his birthfather William, and it turns out that William had desperately wanted to know his son. Rebecca, Randall’s adoptive mother, closed that door for 36 years. (Randall is now in danger of going from a grateful adoptee to another stereotype, an angry adoptee. The writers of “This Is Us” have a lot on their plate.)

I both understand and despise Rebecca’s choice in cutting William off. As a white, middle class, non-drug addicted parent, she held the power. (Indeed, we white, well-educated, non-addicted parents have traditionally held the power in adoption, and have often been considered saviors and rescuers of our children, especially of brown and black children, and of orphans. What a burden that places on our children.) She exercised her power, and it was not a kind decision. I hope the show continues to unpack the nuance and heartache of what seemed “best” to her.

I hope also that those who were a bit teary at that scene of Randall expressing thanks with the snow globe realize that tears fall for many reasons in adoption, and not necessarily for gratitude or kindness.

 

Here are some adoptees’ perspectives on the complexity of gratitude in adoption:

 http://the-toast.net/2015/11/19/adoption-and-toxic-gratitude/

http://www.declassifiedadoptee.com/2013/02/who-is-entitled-to-my-gratitude.html

http://www.thelostdaughters.com/2015/04/dear-adoptive-parents-burden-of-adoptee.html

How My Granddaughter Changed My Perspective on Adoption

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2011 Reunion in Ethiopia. Photo © Maureen McCauley Evans

I am pleased to have an article on Catapult.co today, titled “A New Light: How My Daughter’s Pregnancy Made Me Rethink Adoption.”

I am the parent through adoption to four amazing, wonderful, beloved children, now all in their late 20’s. When my daughter Aselefech, adopted from Ethiopia when she was 6, became pregnant at 17, all our lives were changed. I had worked in adoption professionally for several years. I couldn’t imagine, though, even before she was born, my granddaughter being placed for adoption.

 

 

My article includes the story of my daughter’s re-connection with her Ethiopian mother. My granddaughter is her granddaughter as well, always and in all ways that matter.

I have often spoken out about how first/birth parents deserve far more support and resources than they currently receive, and that their voices are among the most marginalized in adoption. I have also spoken out about the need for greater emphasis on family preservation. There surely is a place for ethical, transparent adoptions, and there surely are children who will benefit. That said, we need to do a better job of supporting those mothers and fathers who want to keep their children, and of providing resources and communication for those who do place their children.

My eyes were opened in many ways because of my daughter’s pregnancy and my granddaughter’s birth. A decade later, and we have all met/reunited with my daughters’ Ethiopian family. I have learned so much, about love, privilege, and family, in ways I never could have predicted.

 

AdopteesOn Podcasts: Listening, Learning, Healing

Sometimes we have stories in us, and don’t realize how much we need to tell them. Or we have the stories bubbling around, but don’t know who to tell, worrying that we might sound foolish, or ungrateful, or angry. AdopteesOn provides a venue for sharing tough truths, and offering resources for healing.

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Haley Radke, of AdopteesOn.com

Haley Radke is an adoptee, a Canadian, a mom to two little boys, and the host of AdopteesOn podcasts, where adult adoptees tell their stories of search, reunion, and secondary rejections.

Haley is in reunion with her birth/first family, and she blogged about it for a while, then stopped. She looked around for other adoptees’ podcasts, and found few. So, she decided to set up AdopteesOn, and is now finishing up Season One.

“I really don’t have to ask my guests many questions,” she said. “Everyone pours out their heart. For so many, they might not have ever told another person their stories. The stories are valuable in themselves. Hearing someone’s voice telling their stories takes it up another notch.”

Consistent themes are a feeling and fear of rejection, as well as a wish to be perfect. Some talk on the show anonymously, because their adoptive parents don’t know how the adoptee truly feels. “These are often people who haven’t had a voice. At the moment of adoption, the adoptee is usually the only one who didn’t have a voice or a choice in what happened to him or her. I wanted to make a space for people without a platform, to give adoptees the voice they deserve.”

The stories focus on search, on reunion, and on rejection and connections after reunion. Landric, for example, found his birth mother when he was 36, and learned he had  younger siblings. He is coming to terms with the years and family lost to him, having been raised as an only child and now being the big brother of four.

Carrie, on the first show, talked about using postcards to track down her birth mother, who then refused any contact. Carrie was able, years later, to reunite with her birth father. For the first time, she could see family resemblances. Her conversation with Haley has a lot of laughter, though it’s the kind that is on the edge of tears as well.

Carrie was Haley’s first guest, Landric was the tenth. Today (October 21) a new interview will air. The guests so far have been primarily American, same race adoptees; there will likely be more diversity in upcoming shows. The podcasts are available free to a worldwide audience, and new ones are posted every other Friday. Haley always includes a variety of resources, including books and blogs related to the subjects discussed in each podcast.

“The healing aspect is a big focus,” said Haley. “My being an adoptee makes a big difference in connecting with my guests. I sometimes feel so much the same way they do.” At the same time, “it can be very hard to hear the stories; it’s very emotional. My guests may have some hard days after we talk. They are all super brave.” Haley has been contacted by many people, especially those without a blog or a public persona, who had not previously known other adoptees and had never really talked about adoption with anyone else. For them, listening to the AdopteesOn stories has opened new doors to people who “get it,” who understand what means to be an adoptee: what it means to search, to reunite, to be rejected, to connect.

“I’m so honored to share these stories, to be trusted with them,” said Haley. As an adoptive parent, I have greatly enjoyed listening to the 10 podcasts so far. I hope AdopteesOn continues to grow.

 

There is no greater agony than an untold story.                                                                    ~Maya Angelou

And don’t forget to tune in also to Out of the Fog!

 

 

Adult Adoptees Speaking “Out of the Fog”

 

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I believe a lot of our lives are spent asleep, and what I’ve been trying to do is hold on to those moments when a little spark cuts through the fog and nudges you. ~Rufus Wainwright (Photo © Maureen McCauley Evans)

How familiar are you with being in the fog or out of the fog, in terms of understanding adoption?

“Out of the Fog” is a new Canadian radio magazine where critical, thoughtful, lived perspectives on adoption are brought to the forefront. It is co-hosted by Kassaye MacDonald, co-founder of  Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora, and filmmaker Pascal Huỳnh. The first episode aired this past Friday. It featured Shaaren Pine, whose Washington Post article “Please Don’t Tell Me I’m Lucky to Be Adopted” last year generated a lot of conversation.

I hope “Out of the Fog” also generates a lot of listeners, conversation, and the occasional controversy. Last Friday’s show was a great debut, as the speakers talked about the complexity of growing up as the only adoptee/only person of color, about adoption prevention versus family preservation, about struggles with depression and suicide, about reproductive rights versus reproductive justice. Big important topics. The show airs every first Friday of the month on CKUT 90.3FM at 8:30am EST.

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Friday Harbor, WA (Photo © Maureen McCauley Evans)

“Out of the Fog” is part of an evolving, important perspective on adoption. Betty Jean Lifton, writing in “Lost and Found: The Adoption Experience,” might have been the first to voice the “great sleep” of adoption. In the years since Lifton’s book was published in 1979, the idea of the great sleep has evolved into a fog: the sense that some folks connected with adoption are in a fog, not wanting or able to see the clear, full reality of adoption. Like Lifton, Deanna Doss Shrodes and Laura Dennis are adoptees. In Adoptee Restoration’s blog post “Shaking the Adoption Fog Out of Adoptees,” Laura defines the fog as “that hazy perception that everything about adoption is simple, straight-forward, beautiful, and most importantly, not to be questioned.” First/birth mother Claudia Corrigan D’Arcy provides another thoughtful perspective in “The Birthmother Shift–12 Years in an Adoption Fog.

“Out of the Fog’s next episode will be on November 4, 2016. November is National Adoption Awareness Month. I’m looking forward to that show. Well done.

Be sure to like and follow Out of the Fog on Facebook.

 

Small Town Football, Schizophrenia, and Transracial Adoption: A Devastating Perfect Storm

In the U.S., we have lots of small towns where high school sports are entrenched. There are many traditions, and much enthusiasm, for the games, the players, and the coaches. Playing high school football is tough work: memorizing dozens of plays, completing and repeating complex drills, working through pain, following instructions that are yelled, living up to history and traditions of the team. Sometimes there is also character building, camaraderie, and excellence in sportsmanship.

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Dietrich High School football team practice

I can understand why young men in high school, especially in a small town, would want to be on the football team. I can understand why those who didn’t play sports would feel like excluded outsiders. Take tiny Dietrich, Idaho, for example. Why not try out for the Blue Devils team? The whole town (all 330 people) would know and maybe love you.

 

If you were part of an unusually big (25 kids) family, your family was the main reason the town had a black population at all, and you were a black 17-year-old who wanted to be part of the team and the town, maybe you’d try out for football. Maybe your only role models for black men were pro football players that you’d seen on tv. Maybe you’d hope to fit in, be part of a community where, as a transracial adoptee, you felt like an outsider, an “other.”

I get that.

What I don’t get is why a teen with disorganized schizophrenia would be considered by his parents or his coaches as a good candidate for lineman on a small high school football team.

The adoptee’s mother has said in news reports that her son, adopted at age four, was exposed to drugs and alcohol (Fetal Alcohol Effect or Syndrome?) before he was born, and was diagnosed with disorganized schizophrenia. “He struggles to carry out tasks that involve a sequence. When writing the first sentence of an essay, for instance, he may forget the point of the project. He carries this huge backpack” full of all his books so he can be sure to have the one he needs, the teen’s adoptive mother told news media.

People with disorganized schizophrenia have disorganized speech and thinking, and grossly disorganized behavior, They often have a flat affect, and inappropriate emotions and facial responses. Treatment for disorganized schizophrenia is more difficult than most of the subtypes of schizophrenia. They can be successful in life, of course–with support.

A teen with disorganized schizophrenia would not likely be safe or successful on a high school football team, unless appropriate safeguards and resources were in place, where people (coaches and teammates) were willing to work with him closely and intensely.

For this teen, playing football had to have been a nightmare. “As a lineman with the football team, the teen could seldom avoid jumping offsides; the quarterback’s play calls confounded him,” say news reports. Imagine–under the best circumstances–how that affected the teen himself, and imagine the responses of his coaches and teammates.

Add to that baseline the horrific racist taunting that (apparently) the coaches and the high school staff knew about and condoned. Add to that physical bullying in the locker room. Add to that being humiliated by teammates taking naked pictures of him on the team bus.

Add to that sexual assault by 3 teammates–a coat hanger in the rectum.

I hope that the alleged criminals–his teammates–are prosecuted to the full extent of the law, for “forcible penetration by use of force or a foreign object,” and for every possible charge. The federal criminal lawsuit will take time to wend its way through the system, as information is gathered and witnesses deposed. I wonder if one of the witnesses will be Hubert Shaw, who owns Dietrich’s feed lot, and is related to the main defendant, John Howard. Shaw is quoted saying about Howard and the other two defendants: “They’re 15-, 16-, 17-year-old boys who are doing what boys do.”

The adoptive family has filed a $10 million civil lawsuit, and that will no doubt take a long time to settle as well. The Dietrich school system has a $2 million annual budget. Maybe they have a lot of liability insurance. I don’t know how that works. I am heartened that the Dietrich School coaches, principals, and other staff members are explicitly named in the suit. They must be held accountable. Everyone who let this teen down in such a cruel, traumatizing way must be held accountable.

The mentality of small town sports can be overwhelming and consuming. Football is a tough, unforgiving, complex sport.

Adoption is complex, and can be traumatic. Children adopted at older ages (and 4 is older in adoption) have likely gone through some difficult experiences, or otherwise would not be placed for adoption. Adoptees often need and can benefit from clinical and other support services, especially in the teen years.

Transracial adoption has its own challenges. A good adoption agency and any adoption-competent licensed therapist would recommend that families have access to resources, role models, racial mirrors, same race mentors, and a deep understanding of racism (both on an individual and systemic level).

Treatment of mental illness often involves medications, therapies, counseling, and other services. Schizophrenia is particularly serious. I agree that stigma needs to be removed from mental illness. But mental illness is real, and should be treated with appropriate care.

There’s so much misunderstanding of special needs and of mental illness, of the realities of racism for people of color, and of the complexity of adoption. What a devastating perfect storm for this teen in Idaho.

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flipping the Script: Predicting the Future of Intercountry Adoption

What would you predict about the future of international adoption? Who will be part of creating that future?

I have an article in the November issue of Adoption Today called “Predicting the Future of Intercountry Adoption.” That was the title of a panel I participated on at the Families First Conference last June. The conference was co-sponsored by the now defunct Joint Council on International Children’s Services and the National Council For Adoption.

Adoption Today asked if I would write an article on the same subject for them, and so I did, covering many of the points I offered at the Families First conference. Here is a brief summary of my predictions from a June blog post:

  • 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/first families.
  • Most international adoptions will be for special needs children, another reason that pre- and post-adoption and resources must be strengthened.

I hope you will take a look at my article and the others in Adoption Today.

Tomorrow, National Adoption Awareness Month (November) begins. While the commentary has historically been dominated by adoptive parents and adoption agencies, the voices of adoptees and first/birth parents are increasingly being heard. The social media movement #FlipTheScript by adoptees was powerful last November in opening eyes and in questioning long-held narratives that included only adoptive parents and adoption agencies.

I’ve no doubts that this November will see an even greater expansion of #FlipTheScript. That’s another hope-filled prediction, and I am looking forward to reading and learning. We need all the voices, and we need to understand that adoption casts a wide net. Engaging and listening are the only ways to create a better future.

May this November truly bring about an increased awareness of the genuine needs of children (who grow up!), and a deeper understanding of the far-ranging realities of adoption.

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Forest, trees: a manipulated, colorful view of reality. © Maureen McCauley Evans

 

“What Do You See?” Music Video: Family, Struggle, Resilience, Awe

“What Do You See?” is a lovely song by the talented musician-singers Mr and Mrs. Something.

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Today, they released the song, as well as a music video that has a story line about family, parenting, struggles, and resilience. When you watch the video, you will see and hear Mr. and Mrs. Something, and you will see my daughter, my granddaughter, and me. The video is available here.

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Bryan Tucker and Brian Lee, filming Mr. and Mrs. Something, August 2015.

The director of the video is Bryan Tucker, who directed and produced the prize-winning documentary Closure (the story of Angela Tucker‘s search and reunion), among other works. Bryan came up with the story line concept, a merging of the lyrics and a story of a family, and approached us about being in the video.  It was a brand new experience for us, and was a lot of fun. I have a whole new appreciation for the art of making top-notch videos–so much time and so many details.

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Bryan Tucker and Brian Lee, filming the video for “What Do You See?” August 2015

The lyrics and the music are strong and challenging:

What do you see…the dream that has died, or the hopes yet to be?

Someone who’s loved and lost, or someone who’s learned patiently?

The song and the video are about everyone: the struggles, the failings, the fallings, the willingness to get back up. They are about mothers and daughters, parenting, interracial families, raising children, loving each other, being angry or hurt, laughing, cheering each other on, hanging in, showing up.

We’ve heard today from dear friends who saw the video and know us (including in our unpleasant, imperfect, not in the video moments), and from strangers who saw themselves in the lyrics or story: adoptees, Ethiopians, single moms, women of color, grandmothers, dancers, aspiring ballerinas, adoptive parents, step parents, mothers, daughters, fathers, sons.

Wherever we are, we can choose to see the best in each other and ourselves, even in the midst of all our imperfections.

‘Cuz I see a will to rise again from every fall.

I see a soul that’s filled with awe at the wonder of it all.

What do you see? 

You can (and should!) download the song for free, for the next 2 weeks. Mr and Mrs. Something’s album Setting Sail will be released on November 17, 2015. We are honored to have been a part of it.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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