New Research Recommends Big Changes In Counseling For Expectant Parents Considering Adoption

The Donaldson Adoption Institute has released an important new study by Baylor University advocating substantive improvements to the current ways expectant mothers are counseled about adoption.

A team of researchers worked with 223 birth/first mothers who had placed a child for adoption within the last 25 years, as well as with 141 adoption professions who counsel and facilitate adoptions. A second phase of the research included interviews and more detailed analysis with a smaller group.

A few of the findings, according to a Baylor University press release:

  • It was common for birth mothers to express concern about their lack of financial stability during their pregnancies. Financial concerns were often cited as reasons why birth mothers first considered, and ultimately elected, adoption.
  • While some of the women had very positive experiences during their decision-making and relinquishment process, others indicated that the information and support they received from the agency or attorney was insufficient to help them fully consider their options and make the best choice for their child. For these birth mothers, the decision to place their child has had a lifelong impact on them and is one they greatly regret.
  • Much of the information that adoption professionals reported discussing with new expectant parents focused on adoption-related concerns rather than full consideration of all of the parents’ options. Less than half of adoption professionals specifically mentioned discussing information related to parenting their child or methods for helping expectant parents problem-solve how this might occur.

The Baylor report, based on two years of work, provides several policy recommendations, including these:

• Mandate adoption agencies and adoption attorneys to develop and/or provide free access to pre- and post-relinquishment services for expectant and birth parents. These services should include individual and family counseling provided by a licensed clinical professional.

• Mandate that adoption agencies and adoption attorneys must provide expectant parents with a standardized, informed consent that details the possible outcomes associated with relinquishing parental rights to a child for adoption, as well as potential outcomes that the child may experience.

• Increase and standardize education for expectant parents and prospective adoptive parents about the strengths, limitations and legalities of post-relinquishment contact, including the rights of adoptive parents to decrease or eliminate contact in some states.

• Mandate biannual ethics in adoption continuing education for adoption professionals. This curriculum should address ethical challenges related to working with expectant parents, birth parents, extended family members, prospective adoptive parents and other adoption professionals. The curriculum should also emphasize the importance of options counseling, including full informed consent and access to supportive services.

The adoption professionals themselves called for additional training on grief and loss related to relinquishment. That is revealing.

The Baylor press release quotes one birth mother who “felt pressure to sign papers immediately after having the baby. ‘It was horrible,’ she said. ‘I can tell you right now, if the lawyer hadn’t shown up in my room when I was in kind of a haze from giving birth, I don’t know if I would’ve signed the papers. I should’ve had time.”

U.S. states vary on the amount of time parents have after birth to give consent to placing their child for adoption: 16 states allow consent any time after the birth; 30 states have a waiting period of 12 hours to 15 days before the consent can be given. There is a lot of variation among the states.

“Revocation of consent” refers to the ability of the parents to change their minds about placing the baby for adoption. The time period also varies among states, from 3 days to 180 days. More information on consent and revocation times is available here.

I am on the record opposed to birth mothers signing papers in the delivery room and handing their baby over to the adoptive parents without a decent time to recover after birth and ensure that adoption is the right decision. I’d challenge anyone who has given birth or had any significant surgery/medical procedure to consider whether they’d feel fine about signing significant legal papers right after the delivery or surgery, especially if they were pressured to do so, and especially if the papers related to one’s child being permanently removed, oftentimes with no further contact ever.

As an adoptive parent, I find this university study and the policy recommendations a breath of fresh air in adoption practice. I hope that this information gets to many of the law firms and adoption agencies working with expectant mothers, and that prospective and current adoptive parents insist that the law firms and adoption agencies are aware of this research.

I believe adoption can be a viable option, and the right decision for the first/birth parents, the adoptee, and adoptive parents, if it is done with transparency and integrity. Acknowledging the power (economic, in particular) in adoption held by adoptive parents is critical.

We have a long way to go in improving services and counseling to expectant mothers in the U.S. who are considering adoption, and especially those who are in a temporarily difficult situation but could keep their children if they had better (any) counseling and better awareness of other resources.

And imagine if this level of services and counseling were mandated to be provided to mothers around the globe who place their children for international adoption–because we are way behind on equitable treatment for them.

 

If you missed the link at the beginning of this post, the Donaldson Institute-Baylor University study Is available here.

 

 

http://www.adoptioninstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Understanding-Options-Counseling-Experiences-in-Adoption-Qualitative-Study.pdf

International Women’s Day and Economic Equity in Adoption

Today, International Women’s Day, is meant to highlight the economic power and significance that women have in global economies. I struggle to honor that notion when I consider the astonishing imbalance of power in adoption, especially in terms of domestic infant adoption in the US and of international adoption.

I recently was a small part of a Twitter conversation with a new Florida law firm focused on adoption that posed this question on behalf of expectant mothers: “Can I get paid for placing my baby up for adoption?” That was the first tweet the new firm posted on February 9, so we have a good idea of their priorities and marketing strategy.

 

This law firm will indeed help with financial assistance for expectant mothers who agree to place their babies for adoption. This is legal, with variations among states. The assistance can include rent, food, cell phone, medical expenses, and “possibly more.” Depending on the contract signed between the mother and the prospective adoptive parents, assistance can continue for four to six weeks after the birth. If the mother changes her mind, she may be liable for reimbursement of expenses. There is, of course, no financial assistance from the law firm to keep the child.

The law firm I tweeted to never responded to my tweets, and has since blocked me. No surprise, no big deal. The reality is there are plenty of other law firms and agencies advertising the same way.

The Twitter exchange reminded me of the tremendous economic imbalance between adoptive mothers and expectant/birth mothers, a disparity that is too rarely discussed and has significant implications for the way adoptive parents talk about adoption and birth parents with their children.

Today, on International Women’s Day, I am struck, not for the first time, by what the disparity in economic power and leverage between adoptive mothers and expectant/birth mothers signifies for motherhood. I am well aware of that disparity, as an adoptive mother through US and international adoption. We pay significant amounts of money; they place their child with us. It is relative wealth that makes us mothers, and scarcity of funds that makes them mothers who may never see their children again. We have the legal means to ensure that outcome, as well as the wherewithal to establish geographical and emotional distance.

I recognize that women have a right to place their children for adoption, and would argue that it must be done in a non-coercive way that creates a level playing field for everyone, not just the women (and men) with money: Not when a few weeks of financial help means a lifetime of sadness. Not when adoption is a permanent solution to a temporary situation. Not when adoption agencies close and are no longer intermediaries between birth families and adoptive families, and leave no ways for the birth family or the adopted person to get information. Not when international mothers are told that their babies will come back some day and help them, and they don’t understand (or aren’t told) that legal adoption in the US means total severance of parental rights.

We adoptive mothers, on this International Women’s Day, can do much to forge equity with expectant mothers and with those mothers who have placed their children for adoption.

  • We can keep up our agreements in open adoptions. Obviously, safety is always a factor. Still, we may be able, even in difficult cases, to share information through an agency,  mediator, liaison, or family member. That would be so much better than slamming doors, because circumstances can change, children grow up, and information can change lives.
  • We can support our children’s journey to search and reunite, without fear. That might mean welcoming their mothers into our lives, or hearing about their visits, or something else. We can be with them if there are dead ends or secondary rejection. We can learn why it may matter to some adoptees to search, and why birth parents may be waiting to know if their baby is alive and well. We can support open records, and access to original birth certificates. As adoptive mothers, our voices are especially compelling to legislators. Use your power.
  • We can support family preservation efforts, here in the US and around the world. When we hear that international adoptions may be ending, for example, we can look at ways to continue to help children.
  • We can reject placement of babies with adoptive parents in delivery rooms, when women are physically and emotionally exhausted. We can be at peace with the mother having time to decide, after birth, if adoption is the right choice for them. We adoptive mothers can testify for more time for revocation of consent, for better enforcement of open adoptions, and for thoughtfully allocated assistance to first/birth families.
  • We can acknowledge that some first/birth mothers will experience a lifetime of grief. If we adoptive parents cannot bear the thought of our beloved child dying, can we understand what placing a child for adoption might mean to some first/birth mothers? Can we bring her into our lives somehow, certainly through empathy if not through actual connections?

Mother and child at Nye Beach, OR Photo © Maureen McCauley Evans

 

I am a mother through adoption, and I love my children more than I can say. I recognize that they had mothers before me, and that all of them (my children and their first mothers) have had complex, sometimes painful, sometimes joyous, events as a result of (or in spite of) adoption. I recognize that adoption can absolutely be the best decision for parents and children, and a lifesaving action for children as well. I know it can be also be a divisive, cruel, and unethical transaction.

On International Women’s Day, may we commit to working together as women and mothers in the adoption community.

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.