Adoptees and Suicide: Resources and Thoughts for Adoptive Parents (And Others)

As the White adoptive parent of 4 Black children (two born in the U.S., two born in Ethiopia; now adults in their 30’s), I have learned a great deal about both the joys and sorrows of adoption. One of the sorrows is that some adoptees struggle mightily with depression and trauma, no matter how deeply they are loved. This can become especially pronounced in adolescence. For those adoptees who are placed in abusive adoptive families, I can only imagine how horrific, lonely, and devastating their struggle must be.

Many adoptees do just fine. I don’t want to pathologize adoption or adoptees. That said, I urge all of us adoptive parents in particular to get a deeper understanding of suicide prevention, and to know that there are signs, treatments, and actions we can take.

I know of at least four Ethiopian adoptees who died by suicide. A (not adopted) Ethiopian 7th grader died by suicide a few years ago here in Washington; his parents are immigrants. They, their family, and their community have been devastated by the loss, as is, I am sure, any parent whose child has died by suicide. The parents and other family members need support and hope, which can come in many forms, as they try to recover and heal.

In my writing on adoption, I always try to promote the voices of adult adoptees, their lived experiences, their stories, and their professional expertise. 

Here are some examples of the voices we should be aware of and learn from, even as we are talking about the wrenching subject of suicide. There is a Facebook page Stop Adoptee Suicide set up by and for adoptees; there are some great resources listed on the page. There will be an Adoptee Remembrance Day October 30 organized by the adoptee leadership of Adoptees Connect. The page Intercountry Adoptee Memorials was created by Intercountry Adoptee Voices (ICAV) to honor those who adoptees who died by suicide or at the hands of their adoptive family.

Besides a willingness to read, and to make efforts to help families recover and heal, what can we do? 

Know that talking about suicide will not make someone suicidal. In fact, it can reduce the risk. Learn more here. That’s the site of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

Consider consulting with therapists who are adoptees. Here is a list, created by Dr. Chaitra Wirta-Leiker, of U.S. based adoptee-therapists. Dr. Wirta-Leiker is herself an adoptee and is also an adoptive parent.

Listen to adoptee-led discussions.

* One great podcast is Canada-based AdopteesOn; the Healing Series on suicide is thoughtful and powerful.

* Another excellent resource is AdoptedFeels, an Australia-based podcast hosted by two international adoptees, which had a 3-part series on adoption and suicide. Look here for the episodes.

 * Adapted podcasts (for Korean adoptees living in Korea and elsewhere) has had at least two episodes related to suicide.

* In September, Adoption Mosaic will hold a “We the Experts” program on suicide and adoption. The experts are adoptees. Non-adoptees (adoptive parents, partners, friends, support folx of adoptees) are invited to attend as well, and agree to be silent: to intentionally listen and learn. Stay tuned for more information soon.

 When looking for resources for your child, look for adoption-competent therapists. Ask what their training is in adoption and trauma. The Center for Adoption Support and Education has trained more than 1800 therapists in 18 states via a curriculum called Training for Adoption Competency. 

Keep these resources handy:

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number: 1-800-273-8255 (Note: in 2022, there will be a 3 digit number for folx to call, but that is not in service yet. Keep using the number provided above until then.)

The Lifeline page has a link for resources for youth who might be struggling.

The Crisis Text Line can be reached  by texting HOME 741741 in the U.S. and Canada. You can text 85258 in the UK, and 50808 in Ireland. It is available 24/7.

Here’s an article I wrote on Adoptees and Suicide Risk, for a publication of Adoptive Families Association of British Columbia.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the role that racism and bullying (including cyberbullying) can play in the lives and deaths of adoptees.

The parents of Kaleab Schmidt, an Ethiopian adoptee who died by suicide in 2018, are working hard to get their school system to face the racism and racial bullying that their son endured at school. Kaleab had many struggles: abuse in Ethiopia, the loss of both Ethiopian parents, deep trauma endured there as a little child. If you believe that adoption itself is a trauma (the separation from one’s mother, the deep grief of losing one’s only known family, and in the case of international adoption, losing one’s country, language, history, and heritage), then you understand that Kaleab experienced many traumas. Add to that the blatant racism and bullying he received as the only Black student at his school, and the fact that (from the reports) no genuine effort appears to have been made by the school to address the bullying or the racism, and your heart continues to break.  

Racial mirrors matter. Surround adoptees with people who look like them. Racial isolation is painful. 

  • The Adopted Life blog of Black transracial adoptee Angela Tucker has several posts, videos, and interviews about the impact of racism on adoptees.

“The Harris Narratives: An Introspective Study of a Transracial Adoptee by Susan Harris O’Connor, a Black transracial adoptee; “In Their Voices: Black Americans on Transracial Adoption” by Ronda M. Roorda, a Black transracial adoptee, and “Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption,” edited by Jane Jeong Trenka, a Korean transracial adoptee, are just a few examples of books written by (as Adoption Mosaic says) the experts in adoption: adoptees.

For more general information: Here’s a British site about Racism and Racist Bullying. Here’s information from the U.S. National Education Association on How to respond to incidents of racism, bullying, and hate in schools. There is a link in the article to some additional resources. I realize most school are doing remote learning, but the information is still relevant. Given that many kids are home and spending lots more time on social media, online bullying exists as a real and ugly possibility. Here’s one resource about cyberbullying directed toward teens. Here’s another more general one for children and teens: Cyberbullying.

Kaleab Schmidt, who died at 13 years old, was a victim of cyberbullying, among other racist incidents, according to an inquest requested by his parents. “School officials testified there was allegedly a Snapchat group called ‘I Hate Kaleab Schmidt’ created by students at Greenall High School.”

Imagine if that were your child.

We all need to work harder at protecting children from racism and other forms of abuse.

If your White adoption social worker did not prepare you well for transracial adoption (and I feel safe in saying that was the case for many adoptive parents), there are plenty of adoptees who can provide incredible information and insights. Listen to them. If your adopted child is a victim of bullying in school or on the web, especially of adoption- or race-related bullying, advocate fiercely for them. I realize some bullying can be inevitable, but racial-based bullying can be horrifyingly intense for a transracially adopted child whose white parents haven’t experienced racism. When the children grow up and go out into the world, the racism can be gutting.

This has to stop. Hard work and hard conversations must happen. May Kaleab and all those who died too soon rest in peace and in power.

San Juan Islands, 2016 &Copy; Maureen McCauley

 

 

 

2019 Stats on Intercountry Adoptions: Declines and Omissions

The U.S. State Department has released the 2019 international adoption statistics. There were a total of 2971 children adopted to the U.S. last year. There were 4059 in 2018; numbers have been dropping for years. Of that 2019 total, about half came from 4 countries: China, Colombia, India and Ukraine combined. From the U.S., 56 children were placed for international adoption in Canada, Mexico, Netherlands, and elsewhere. In 2018, there were 81 U.S. children placed for adoption overseas, according to the State Department.

Please read through the report and look at the numbers. Here are some phrases you won’t find:


• “citizenship problems and deportations of adult adoptees,”
• “post-adoption services offered to birth parents,”
• “the tremendous need for better training for prospective parents in regard to racial identity and racism in the U.S.,”
• and “we are deeply involved with other nations to improve efforts for adoptee search/reunion and family preservation.”

You will absolutely see phrases like this:


“…to advocate for the protection, welfare, and best interests of children in need of permanent, loving families, and to assist prospective U.S. adoptive parents in realizing their dreams of creating or expanding their families.”


“…the ultimate aim of preserving and enhancing the viability of intercountry adoption in the United States.”


I have so much to say, and hope to provide a more detailed post later. In the meantime, here are some pull quotes from the report, followed by my brief comments in italics.


“In September 2019, we hosted an Adoption Symposium, “Strengthening Practice for the Future of Intercountry Adoption,” which convened more than 120 interested stakeholders, including representatives from adoption service providers (ASPs), advocacy organizations, U.S. government agencies, and the U.S. accrediting entity, Intercountry Adoption Accreditation and Maintenance Entity, Inc. (IAAME), as well as adoptive parents, birth parents, adult adoptees, and Congressional staffers.”


My understanding is that adoptees were few in number, and there was one birth mother, who was born and raised in the U.S., and placed a child here in the U.S. I’d guess that the ASP reps included many adoptive parents in their numbers. I do give credit for State reaching out for one of the first time to include adoptees and birth parents at the table, and I understand they did a great job, but there is still a very long way to go.

“While the overall number of intercountry adoptions to the United States declined from the previous year, 75% of that decline can be attributed to the decrease of intercountry adoption from two countries, China (a decrease of 656) and Ethiopia (a decrease of 166). In both cases, the reductions result from continued social, economic, or legal changes the Department previously observed and reported in those countries.”

In 2018, the Ethiopian Parliament officially ended international adoptions not, as is demurely phrased here, due to “continued social, economic, or legal changes,” so much as deep worry about the status of their children such as Hana Williams, who was murdered by her adoptive parents. The Ethiopian government also expressed concerns about the racism that permeates America, and stressed the need for in-country adoptions.


Additionally, there have been significant cases of fraud, corruption, and bribery in international adoption via U.S. agencies and/or their partner staff overseas. U.S. adoption agency staff have been indicted and convicted, and more than a few agencies have closed suddenly due to bankruptcy.


In any case, reports about the decline in the number of international adoptions should always include the perspectives of adult adoptees and of first/birth parents. When they are included in significant, meaningful numbers in these policy conversations, then perhaps genuine progress can be made in attributing reasons for the decline.


“The Department also hosted events overseas with members of the adoption community to discuss key issues in the adoption process. For example, U.S. Embassy Bogota hosted an Adoption Open House with more than 40 participants representing 15 U.S.-accredited ASPs, the Colombian Authorized Adoption Institutions, the Colombian Central Adoption authority, and the Office of Children’s Issues.”


Please note who is not listed as participating in the Open House: adult adoptees and first/birth parents. The U.S. Embassy in Bogotá missed a big opportunity there not to have the perspective of the thousands of Colombian adoptees and birth parents to discuss key issues in the adoption process.

“The Department’s new Senior Advisor for Children’s Issues, Michelle Bernier-Toth, appointed in December 2019, shares the commitment expressed at the Symposium and is actively engaging foreign government officials to advocate for the protection, welfare, and best interests of children in need of permanent, loving families, and to assist prospective U.S. adoptive parents in realizing their dreams of creating or expanding their families.”


There are elements of hope in this statement about advocacy for the protection, welfare, and the best interests of children, though there is tremendous disagreement in the adoption community as to what that should look like. What’s glaringly missing here is a strong, ethical call for family preservation, for orphan prevention, and for significant improvement in medical and mental health care for vulnerable women and children in particular. Arguably, I realize, that’s part of the mission of other U.S. government offices as well. Nonetheless, how great it would be to see it voiced in a report like this.


State’s ongoing focus on adoptive parents (mostly white, well educated, politically connected, and relatively well-off enough to both raise the $40,000-$50,000 to adopt and then get the adoption tax credit for it) and relative silence on, say, the post-adoption needs of international birth parents, or the citizenship status of adult adoptees, truly needs to change.(Citizenship is handled primarily through the Department of Homeland Security. State issues passports, a vital form of proof of U.S. citizenship.) Commenting this way about the help given to “adoptive parents in realizing their dreams of creating or expanding their families” continues the traditional and outdated Hallmark adoption narrative. I know: many adoptees do great, but many suffer abuse, neglect, depression, anxiety, and a disconnection with their culture and racial group. Imagine if we were routinely transparent and accurate about that. Imagine if our U.S. State Department worked with other countries to research status and improve outcomes of first/birth parents around the globe, after they placed their children for adoption. It is so easy to keep forgetting about that most vulnerable group. But: many international adoptees have found that they were never orphans, that their mothers thought about them every day, and that some of them were trafficked. The truth is coming out more every day.


Imagine if the State Department, working with other international governments, assisted international adoptees in realizing their dreams of searching for and reuniting with their families.


“Lastly, in FY 2019 families outside of the United States adopted 56 children from the United States to seven countries: Canada (24), the Netherlands (17), Mexico (6), Ireland (5), Belgium (1), Switzerland (1), and the United Kingdom (2).”


Most of the American children appear to have been placed from agencies in Florida and New Jersey. It’s often a shock to Americans to find out that the United States is also a sending country for the purpose of international adoption. I have heard, only anecdotally, that some black birth mothers decide to place their children overseas to escape the racism so prevalent here, and that some birth mothers wanted to place with gay couples and were prevented from doing so in the States. The U.S. didn’t used to keep any statistics about how many U.S. born children were adopted oversea. When the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption came into effect in the U.S. in 2008, we like every other sending country had to keep statistics on the numbers of outgoing cases. I do not believe statistics are kept on the race nor the outcomes of these placements. In any case, we do place our American children for adoption overseas.


Let me place the necessary “not all” disclaimers. Not all adoption agencies have corrupt, selfish, uncaring staff. Not all adoptees are unhappy. Not all birth parents suffer. There are efforts being made to help in terms of family preservation and orphan prevention. There need to be more of those efforts. So many more children could be helped.


Here’s the thing, though, about international adoption in 2020. There are hundreds if not thousands of international adult adoptees who are writing and speaking out about their experiences. We need to listen to them. The U.S. government has yet to agree that all international adoptees should be granted U.S. citizenship. That must change. Adoptees are still being left out of adoption policy-making. The post-adoption fate of first/birth mothers, fathers, siblings, grandparents, and other family members is rarely even considered, never mind studied or documented. The radical inequity of post-adoption services provided to international birth families compared to American adoptive families is astonishing, and we need to do a far better job here.


The statistics next year will be even lower, due to COVID-19, due to bans on air travel and closed visa offices. All around the world, nonprofits, governments, and businesses stopped. Adoptions have too, for the most part, during the pandemic.


So. Read the report. Listen to adoptees. Help empower women, educate girls, and support medical and mental health aid around the globe. Help preserve vulnerable families.

Fugglers, Golliwogs, and Ugly Adoption Narratives

Update August 5, 2020: Although this was originally published a year ago, it’s gotten quite a lot of views the past several weeks in the UK. Could someone please tell me where it was posted there? Thanks very much.

Fugglers: The (not) funny, ugly sensation with human-like teeth,

an adoption certificate, and a golliwog. They need to be stopped.

A popular plush toy with human-like teeth, marketed as repulsive, is filling up shelves on Target, Amazon, and many other sites. Here’s why we need to protest, and why the Fuggler company needs to revamp the marketing.

It’s not because of the weird human-like teeth, nor because of its general ugliness, which the company revels in. Creepy but whatever.

It’s not because of oversensitive parents. 

It’s because Fuggler uses an insulting, tired, ages-old marketing trope of adoption to promote these toys. 

“Adopt at Your Own Risk!” 

“Look deep into the vacant eyes of all the Fugglers up for adoption. Narrow it down to the one who repulses you the least. Or the most—we don’t know your life.”

“Take a hot sec to consider why you’re sabotaging your own happiness.”

Yep. That’s actually what they are saying. And in the final step of the Fuggler Adoption Process, “Remove your Fuggler from its box with great caution. Immediately regret your decision.”

Pretty funny, right? No. Not today, in a world where adult adoptees continue to be marginalized and their voices suppressed. Not in a world where actual human adoptees are re-homed liked animals. Not in a world where adoption, which can be full of love and joy, is also full of trauma and grief. Making fun of adoption should never be considered a terrific marketing ploy.

Stop.

To make things worse, there is at least one Fuggler that is a golliwog. Don’t know what that is? It’s a racist caricature, known well in England, with dark skin, big white eyes, big red lips: its roots are in the racism of minstrel shows and the depictions of Little Black Sambo. Did you know that British writer Agatha Christie published Ten Little N****** in 1939, a children’s poem about the deaths of 10 black children, the cover of which showed a golliwog lynched, hanging with blood dripping down? Here’s the cover, which at the time was well-received and accepted:

Here’s the golliwog in Fugglers:

The Fugglers come in many colors. This one should have been discarded, and made in a different color, with different eyes, and without red lips. 

Here’s the golliwog with its adoption certificate:

Please join us in demanding the removal of the racist golliwog toy. End the production of the dark brown Fuggler with white eyes and red lips. There are lots of other colors that can be used. It’s an easy fix.

Remove the outdated, harmful, grotesque adoption language. Surely you can come up with a better marketing approach in 2019

Contact SpinMasters, the Canadian-based branding company for Fuggler, at SpinMaster.com. On Twitter, they are @SpinMaster and @spinmasteruk.

Contact Fugglers at fuggler.com. On Twitter, they are @fugglers and on Insta, they are Fugglers.

The Delicate Dance of Writing About Suicide (And Adoption)

Writing about suicide is thorny. There’s the possibility of raising awareness, providing resources, sharing strategies for prevention, and helping others.

There’s also the possibility of instigating copycat suicides, of overstepping boundaries of privacy, and of sensationalizing a tragedy.

It is a delicate dance. I’ve written many times about adoptee suicides, and I have never done so lightly. If I have to write about it again, here are my thoughts.

Suicide is probably one of the most difficult topics for humans to talk about and think about.

Historically, there has been shame associated with suicide. It has been considered a crime. Some religious beliefs say that those who die by suicide will not get into heaven, and that causes an additional layer of heartbreak for survivors.

“Removing the shame surrounding suicide can and does offer healing. Whoever suffers, whether victim or survivor, needs to know they’re not alone. Others have been lost, too, and they can show us a way out of hell and back to life.” Read more here, about “Suicide and Shame.”

We need to talk about suicide prevention, and about suicide, trauma, and adoption. We need to talk about the fact that adoptees, according to a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics, are four times more likely to attempt (not commit) suicide. We must be aware of that, and also balance it by not viewing all adoptees as fragile or broken. Balance and discernment are important.

That said, I’m not sure I can understate the role of bullying in child/teen suicides. Cyberbullying and bullycide are terms we all need to be familiar with. Share this information with friends, teachers, pastors, therapists, school principals, guidance counselors, the PTA-PTO, and anyone else. Have it on your radar. Don’t let others dismiss the impact that bullying can have on children and teens. Don’t dismiss it yourself.

 

This is a painful, important article: “Child Suicide Is Plaguing the Black Community At an Alarming Rate.” If we add the complexity of being adopted, of being transracially adopted, of being internationally adopted, and of being adopted at an older age, we can see an intersection that deserves care. Add on issues around sexuality, gender, and violence, and it’s even more complex.

According to the CDC, suicide is the second-leading cause of death among young people ages10 to 24, and LGBTQ youth are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to heterosexual youth. In a national survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality, 40% of transgender adults reported having made a suicide attempt in their lifetime and 92% of these individuals reported having attempted suicide before the age of 25.

Teen Vogue published “How To Talk To Your Friends About Suicide.” An excerpt: “…having open and responsible conversations about suicide can actually help prevent it. ‘For every one person that dies by suicide here in the United States, there are about 278 other people that think seriously about suicide but don’t kill themselves,’ John Draper, PhD, Director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, tells Teen Vogue. ‘What that tells us is…the overwhelming majority of suicides are prevented; and they’re prevented because people talk with each other and talk with others in ways that get help. And if we are more supportive with each other or find ways to help people through a crisis, or find ways to help ourselves through a crisis…we can get to the other side of it.’ ”

Another article that may be of interest is this one, also from Teen Vogue: “How To Talk About Suicide” “When the media or popular YouTubers share painful imagery but don’t offer support or information for what to do when you’re in crisis, it can leave vulnerable individuals feeling hopeless and alone.”

Point taken, and it’s an important one. I’ve posted often about suicides, and also about resources.

When I write about suicide, I will always provide support and information. Here are some important new ones.

Share this one with therapists and others:  “The Best Way to Save People From Suicide”

Dr. Ursula Whiteside is among those cited in the article. Based in Seattle, she is an expert in DBT, or Dialectical Behavior Therapy. I have known many folks, especially pre-teens and adolescents, who have benefited from DBT. Dr. Whiteside and the author of the article above, Jason Cherkis, held a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) session recently to discuss the article and suicide prevention. I asked Dr. Whiteside for suggestions specifically for adoptive parents who worry about their kids, and this was her reply:

“If you could teach parents and kids basic things about the function of emotions (communicate to self and others, motivate behavior) and reinforcement and validation principles, that would be huge. Check out DBT in Schools for ideas. Also “Don’t Shoot the Dog” for reinforcement principals.”

I know how scary the subject of suicide is, how frightening it is for parents, for anyone. I am convinced we can do a better job in supporting each other by talking about suicide and especially about suicide prevention. We are seeing a statistical rise in suicides and suicide attempts, especially among children. Let’s create an informed community. Let’s keep learning, and talking.

Someone is available 24/7 to talk: Call 1-800-273-8255. This is the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

You can also text 741741, and someone will respond—usually within 13 seconds. Counselors will listen, and can provide resources for you. You don’t have to be suicidal to text—they will talk with you if you need someone to listen, if you have a friend who is talking about suicide, or if you are feeling suicidal. Here’s great info about using this text resource: The Five Biggest Myths About Crisis Text Line of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Here’s a list of international suicide hotlines.

Here is a page with international suicide hotlines as well as other resources.

There is help and support. You are not alone. 

 

An Adoptee’s Reflection on Trauma, Love, and Adoption

Every Thanksgiving, one of the most wonderful and emotional traditions in my family is to light a candle for the people who aren’t there: for those who have died, who are alive but far away, who aren’t with us for whatever reasons. Sometimes the person lighting the candle says the names out loud of the people he is thinking about and missing. Sometimes the person just lights the candle, then smiles, or tears up. We leave the candles on through the meal.

Adoption, for all its joy, happens only through loss. Children have lost or lose their first family in order to be adopted. That can be necessary, if the child was in danger or had been abused or neglected to the point of needing a new family. But it’s still loss: loss of what could have been, or should have been, or would have been if only…

Adoptive parents, you can love your child deeply. Your child can love you deeply as well, and also feel grief and trauma that are real. It’s okay. It may manifest in different ways over time, in angry words or silent tears. There may be what seem puzzling outbursts at certain times of year—traumaversaries are real too. Join your child on the journey: encourage conversation, honor their grief, know that every child is different, love them, be silent with them, respect their realities at 3 or at 30.

I am a mother because of adoption. I love my children more than I can possibly put into words. Each of my children has been affected, in different ways, by the fact of being adopted. I am a firm believer that the stories (events, memories, traumas, happiness) they have lived through are theirs alone to tell.

My daughter Aselefech Evans has chosen to tell her truth today, to share her lived experience. This is a beautiful, poignant, and powerful essay. Please read, reflect, share.

The Unwanted Arrival of Trauma in Adoption

 

And maybe light a candle to keep warm the realities of those who are both present and absent in our lives.

Another Adoptee Suicide: So Much Heartache

Suicide is the second leading cause of death (after accidental injuries) for people between 10 and 34 years old. It is the fourth leading cause of death for people between 35 and 54 years old. And the numbers have been on the rise in the last decade.

When an adoptee dies by suicide, there is a special poignancy and pain in the adoption community. We all have our own reasons for our reactions. As an adoptive parent, I cannot imagine the pain my children would have endured to die by suicide; nor can I imagine the pain of survivors.

Here’s the bigger lens on that poignancy and pain: The traditional and widely accepted adoption narrative is that adoption means a better life than a child would otherwise have had. That’s certainly the intent. “Better” is a relative term: better because of economics, education, safety, or what? That can be a contentious bit of defining.

When an adoptee dies by suicide, especially at a very young age, there is an extra layer of wondering. Adoption is supposed to mean a better, happier life: why would an adoptee kill himself? Adoptive parents are supposed to be the better option: what happened? (And of course, sometimes there was nothing that any parent or anyone else could have done to prevent the death.) How does an adoptee’s death by suicide affect the birth parents, who (we hope) placed their child legally and transparently, in the hope that the child would be better off?

Such sorrow. A loss like no other. No easy answers.

I recently heard about the death by suicide of a young Ethiopian adoptee. Upon reflection, I have edited this post to delete personal information. If I caused more pain, I deeply apologize.

I am hopeful that the rest of us will continue to learn about suicide, even as it is so deeply difficult to think about. Talk about it, especially if you have pre-teens or teens. Please learn, and help your family learn, about suicide prevention. About trauma. About depression. About how all that can sometimes play out in adoption.

Please learn also about the role of race in adoption, about how important it can be for adoptees to have racial mirrors, mentors, and role models. I get a lot of pushback about this, but I am convinced that adoptees raised in racial isolation—without others who look like them—suffer in terms of identity and otherwise, no matter how deeply loved they are by their adoptive family. I do not understand families who bring children from around the world and raise them in racial isolation. If the child had to move, maybe the family has to move too.

Learn from adult adoptees. Read the essays of Dear Adoption. Look through books written by and recommended by adoptees at AdopteeReading. Here’s a list of Best Adoptee Blogs. That’s just one list, and there are many other wonderful adoptee blogs. Twitter can connect you with an abundance of adoptee bloggers and writers. Read Karen Pickell’s Adoptee Lexicon, for one example, about the words we use during National Adoption Month (November, every year).

Most adoptees are resilient. The vast majority do not attempt or die by suicide. I do not want to pathologize adoptees or adoption. Nor do I want to minimize the very real and painful struggles some adoptees go through.

I’ll close this post with an article by a resilient adoptee who offers many valuable insights: “I’m Adopted, But I Won’t Be Celebrating National Adoption Month.” Thank you, Stephanie, for sharing your story so openly and powerfully.

May all those who leave this world by suicide rest in peace and in power. May their families find healing. May we all do better in this world.

Some Additional Resources:

One important takeaway: it is a myth that talking about suicide will plant the idea, or cause someone to attempt it. Take a look at It’s Time to Talk About it: A Family Guide For Youth Suicide Prevention. A quote: “Talking about suicide does not cause suicide. In fact, by asking questions, you may prevent suicide by showing the  youth that you care and are there to help.”

Talking to kids about suicide is hard. Here’s a good resource about doing that, as well as about warning signs, about helping a child after a friend has died by suicide, about cyberbullying, and more: Talking To Your Kid About Suicide

Risk of Suicide in Adopted and Nonadopted Siblings  This is the often-cited study by the American Academy of Pediatrics which showed that adoptees are four times more likely to attempt suicide (not die by suicide) than non-adoptees.

The Mental Health of U.S. Adolescents Adopted in Infancy  

Healing Series: Suicide A podcast by the stellar AdopteesOn. The presenter is Melissa K. Nicholson.

In Newport, Thinking of the Hart Family

National Adoption Awareness Month, 2018

The horrific story of the Hart family plunging off a cliff last March made headlines around the world, perhaps most searingly in the adoption community.

Adoptive parents Jennifer and Sarah Hart drove their 6 children down the west coast, from Washington state through Oregon on to California. Their journey began on March 23, 2018, and ended in death three days later.

Based on cell phone pings, the family was in Newport, Oregon, on March 24. I’m in Newport now, at a conference/retreat totally unrelated to adoption or the Harts.

That said, as I was driving here, I had the family on my mind. In part, that’s because November is National Adoption Awareness Month. I had all 6 adopted children—Davonte, Hannah, Markis, Jeremiah, Abigail, and Sierra–in my heart and on my mind.

Newport was one of the last places where the Hart family was known to be. Did they stop to look at the stunning ocean here at Nye Beach? Did they get coffee at the Human Bean or the Starbucks drive-through? Did the kids stretch their legs and poke around the Bayfront?

Where’d they sleep? Did they sleep?

They were all dead two days after they were here in the town where I am now.

The bodies of Devonte and Hannah Hart have still not been found.

May they all rest in peace.

Nye Beach, Newport, OR Photo by Maureen McCauley. November 2018

Further Reading:

JaeRan Kim, Ph.D., an adopted person, wrote on her blog, Harlow’s Monkey: Thoughts About the Hart Family.

Stacey Patton, PH.D., an adopted person, wrote this for Dame magazine: “Why Jennifer and Sarah Hart Killed Their Adopted Children”

Michele Sharpe, an adopted person, wrote about the family here: “The Hart Children: Curse of the Adoptee.”

On the Eve of National Adoption Month

Did you know that National Adoption Month (NAM) ( originally National Adoption Week; now also known as National Adoption Awareness Month NAAM) was established in 1976? More importantly, its original purpose was to create awareness of the needs of children in foster care, and to get those who were eligible into permanent, safe families. That is still an extremely important purpose, one that deserves promotion and understanding.

NAM has morphed quite a bit since the late 70’s, as has adoption practice and the onslaught of the Internet. For many years of NAM’s existence, adoptive parents were the main people talking about their minor children, often sharing the children’s stories, and generally showing the traditional adoption narrative: win-win for everyone, Hallmark moments, little recognition of the complexity of adoption, loss, and trauma. Yes, adoption can be life-saving for some children, and a positive experience overall. We can acknowledge that without dismissing the complexity, the problems, and the struggles that may also occur.

Recently, the volume of adoptive parents during National Adoption Month has been decreased. As an adoptive parent of 4 now-adults, I applaud that decrease. The #flipthescript hashtag and movement started a few years ago has successfully moved the voices of adoptees to the front, to shine a much needed spotlight on the real-life experiences and honest truths of adopted people, the ones who are the true experts in adoption.

My intent during National Adoption Month 2018 is mostly to read and learn from the adoptees’ experiences. I hope that the voices and stories of birth parents, in the U.S. and around the globe, are thoughtfully heard as well.

Also for National Adoption Month, I am going to post on my blog about the MANY adult adoptee blogs, podcasts, and books that are currently available. Some I’ve cited several times over the years; some will be brand new. I am also going to post some interviews I’ve had with adult adoptees, and share their stories, personalities, and books. I will also be posting about birth parents’ blogs and books. There may be a few surprises along the way.

Please join me on this journey!

Inverted image of spider web. © Maureen McCauley

 

Adoptive Parents: How Can You Best Participate in National Adoption Awareness Month?

By insisting on letting the voices of adoptees and of first/birth parents be heard.

November is National Adoption Awareness Month, an event which, like adoption itself, is far more complex that it may seem on the surface.

The word “awareness” is pivotal. Originally, the month was intended to bring focus to the need for adoptions from foster care. That focus, like the original intent of the adoption tax credit, has grown much larger, blurrier, and even controversial. What could be controversial about adoption, you ask? Children in families, feel good narratives, tear-jerker holiday specials, cute videos, win-win. Here’s the thing: there are valid elements in all that. There are also harsher realities that are often excluded in the understanding of the adoption mainstream, and we all have to be willing to look at and acknowledge them, perhaps especially this month.

Photo © Maureen McCauley

So, as an adoptive parent myself, I urge adoptive parents to look for and listen especially to the voices of adult adoptees and of first/birth parents this month.

Here are a few sites, in random order. There are many more. I’ll be posting more though the month, as well as interviews with adult adoptees and with first/birth mothers.

Dear Adoption (Essays by adoptees)

Lost Daughters generally, and about #flipthescript specifically (A collective of women writers who were adopted or fostered)

AdopteesOn (Podcasts of interviews with adopted adults)

The Adopted Life (Blog and more by a U.S. transracial adoptee; subject of Closure documentary)

I Am Adoptee (Resource group created by adoptees for adoptees)

Musings of the Lame (Blog by a U.S. birthmother)

Saving Our Sisters (Family preservation site working with women considering placing their children for adoption)

Anti-Adoption (Facebook group focused on publicly exposing the problems in adoption)

Only Black Girl (Blog of U.S. transracial adoptee)

Adoptee Rights Campaign (Advocating for U.S. citizenship for all international adoptees adopted to the U.S.)

First Mother Forum (Where first/birth/real/natural mothers can talk and vent)

There are many more. I urge adoptive parents to use this month to learn, to feel uncomfortable and challenged, and to seek ways to educate themselves and others about the full breadth of adoption.

A Brief Explanation of Why International Adoptees Get Deported

Yesterday the New York Times published an article that is getting a lot of attention: “Deportation a ‘Death Sentence’ to Adoptees After a Lifetime in the U.S.” 

I made the mistake of reading the comments on the tweet of the article, and wanted to clarify a few questions that repeatedly came up.

Why weren’t they citizens? Why did Obama deport them? Why did Trump deport them?

Until 2001, internationally adopted children were not automatically citizens. It was up to their adoptive parents to naturalize them.

Some parents got their children naturalized; some didn’t. Why not? They didn’t know. Their adoption agencies didn’t tell them. They forgot. They lost track of time. They didn’t want to. They found out late and tried to but the government agencies fouled up with paperwork.

Some adoptees assumed they were citizens automatically by being adopted to the U.S., and then found out as adults that they were not. It is, as I understand it, possible but extremely difficult to get citizenship as adoptees after age 18.

As a result of the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), anyone who is not a U.S. citizen and is convicted of a felony (the definition of felony can vary widely among states) is subject to deportation.

That 1996 law included by default international adoptees, who arrived here in the US legally, as immigrants, as the children of U.S. citizens, whose parents failed to make them U.S. citizens.

Neither President Trump nor President Obama are responsible for the deportation of international adoptees. The 1996 law was signed by President Clinton (who also signed the Child Citizenship Act), and was the product of a GOP Congress.

The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 granted citizenship automatically to children under 18, though the process depends on the visa with which the child traveled. Years in the making, the CCA had a hard time getting approval in what was then an anti-crime, anti-immigrant climate (see the 1996 law). Making the legislation retroactive was a goal, but was a deal breaker for many in the Republican Congress. As someone who was among the many people advocating for the legislation, I remember trying to get the CCA through was not at all easy.

Even in 2000, as today, many legislators did not see adopted children as real family members. Many saw them as immigrants and nothing more. That mindset continues in the current Congress, and across America.

There have been adoptees deported since the 1996 IIRIRA, to Korea, Brazil, Germany, Mexico, Colombia, Japan, El Salvador, India, Thailand, Philippines, Argentina, Guatemala, and Russia. There well may be more that haven’t received press attention. There are probably some adopted adults who thought they were citizens, committed a felony of some sort (could be bad check writing to murder), who served time, and who are in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) now. There are probably thousands of internationally adopted adults who don’t know they are not citizens. Some might get in trouble with the law, get convicted, serve their time, and get deported.

Sending countries, including South Korea which has the highest numbers, are concerned (and rightly so) about the U.S. citizenship status of the children they have sent for adoption.

Legislation has been introduced in Congress for years to provide citizenship retroactively to the legally adopted children of U.S. citizens who were over 18 when the Child Citizenship Act was signed. It has not yet been introduced in the current 115th Congress. My sense is that there has been resistance in Congress because these adoptees have committed crimes (some of which are minor or are first offenses), and because the Members of Congress do not see international adoptees as genuine family members.

I am not aware of any other country which adopts children internationally and then allows them to be deported.

Adoptive parents need to make sure their children, whatever age, are official U.S. citizens, and have not only their passport (via the U.S. State Department) but also (via the U.S. Department of Homeland Security) their Certificate of Citizenship. Since government agencies use different databases and do not necessarily talk to each other, parents also need to check specifically with the Social Security Administration to make sure their child is listed as a citizen there too.

By the way, the cost of a Certificate of Citizenship is currently $1,369.00. That’s the fee charged by our government to get permanent proof of citizenship. Waiting times are several months to over a year.

There is now an office committed to reporting crimes by “undocumented immigrants.” Adult adoptees, brought to the U.S. legally with the permission of the U.S. government by U.S. citizens who failed to get them citizenship for whatever reasons, could be included there. Those cute little kids grow up. Some commit crimes, which nobody sanctions, and which happens in families all the time. They serve their sentences. They are then deported from the land that welcomed them to democracy, safety, and a better life. Some, like Phillip Clay, are deported and commit suicide, Some, like Joao Herbert, grow up in Ohio, sell a small amount of marijuana, are deported as a result of that first offense, and are killed.

A ‘death sentence’ is not too strong a phrase for the reality that the American government refuses to confer citizenship on people (children. orphans) who were brought legally to the U.S. by U.S. citizens to be adopted, who had no control over getting naturalized except through their parents, and are now subject to deportation. Yes, they committed crimes, some incredibly minor, and served their time as a result, like U.S. citizens do all the time.

It is shameful that the American government did not provide American citizenship automatically to orphans (according to U.S. law) who were brought to America, grew up in America with an American family, lost their original language, family, culture, and heritage, and whose parents (intentionally or inadvertently) failed to get them citizenship.

Welcome to the United States, little children.