Going Back, Giving Back: An Ethiopian Adoptee Runs For Ethiopian Orphans

My daughter Aselefech–an Ethiopian adoptee, part of the African diaspora, a mother herself–will be running a half-marathon in Ethiopia this August. And head’s up–she is doing so to give back to her country, by raising funds for an organization that is dedicated to family preservation, finding families in Ethiopia for Ethiopian orphans.

How beautiful and wonderful is that?

Aselefech and her twin sister, adopted at 6 years old, now 25 years old, have reconnected with their first family in Ethiopia. Aselefech wrote about her journey here: Far Away, Always in My Heart.

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One of their older Ethiopian brothers now lives in Seattle; the siblings have gotten to know each other well, again.

Aselefech with her brother (reunited in 2009) and her daughter. Photo: December 2012

Aselefech with her brother (reunited in 2009) and her daughter. Photo: December 2012

Aselefech is finishing up her undergraduate degree, and moving toward a master’s in social work. She writes honestly and powerfully as a columnist for Gazillion Voices, sharing her experiences with racism, with grief, with love, with loss. She’s done webinars, YouTube videos, conference workshops, and adoptee seminars, talking about the joys and the challenges of being adopted, internationally and transracially.

And now she will return to Ethiopia for the third time. Her daughter and I will be there too. We will visit with her Ethiopian family. My granddaughter will meet her Ethiopian grandmother, and play with her cousins there. Aselefech will run 13 miles with Ethiopians and others in her home country, to raise funds (via Crowdrise; please stay tuned) for Ethiopian family preservation.

Konjo. Beautiful. From sorrow and loss, we can find joy and hope.

Build Families, Not Boxes: Family Preservation in Korea

Baby boxes have found a resurgence in Korea, and adult adoptees are speaking out against them, saying that abandonment is not a solution when family preservation could and should be the priority.

Statistics indicate that, since the end of the Korean War, between 150,000 to 200,000 Korean infants and children have been adopted from Korea, primarily to the US but also to France, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway.

They are now the largest group of international adoptees, and the oldest as well, many now in their 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, and older.

These adoptees have thus had a few decades to reflect on their experiences, and are now speaking out in powerful ways. Many have returned to Korea, to search for relatives, to re-connect with their lost culture, and to find out the truth behind their adoptions. Some have moved to Korea, as visitors and as long-term residents.

Many have become active in adoption policies, in a country whose market economy now ranks 15th in the world. International adoptions have declined from Korea in recent years, as adoption laws have changed and adult adoptees’ voices have been better heard. The stigma of “unwed mothers” still exists as one reason for adoption, and that is slowly changing, finally.

That’s not to say that change has been easy, or uncomplicated. There have been many emotions, perspectives, and politics.

The goal of family preservation has to be the priority. Children should stay with their mothers and fathers, if it is safe for them. Also, children grow up. They should have the right to know who they are, the truth of their stories, even if they are adopted–maybe especially if they are adopted.

Around the world, children enter into care leading to adoption in many ways. One is “baby boxes.” These are actual boxes into which babies can be placed, the door then closing and a bell ringing to let the people on the other side know that a baby is there. Baby boxes have been around since medieval times, it turns out, when (it’s safe to say) few social services existed for babies whose parents could not care for them, whether due to social stigma, poverty, or significant medical or other reasons.

The increased use of baby boxes in Korea has become a source of concern, even outrage, for many Korean adult adoptees and their allies.

KoRoot is an organization run by Korean adoptees in Korea that helps adoptees who are returning to Korea. They have a guesthouse, and their staff helps with translation, tours, and more.  They also advocate on adoptee related issues in Korea. Recently, KoRoot has been working together with adult adoptees, unwed mothers, and allies who are committed to the human rights of infants and single mothers. 

Support KoRoot’s efforts to build awareness and families: not baby boxes. From their Facebook page:

We believe that every person has the right to family, and that we have a responsibility to help preserve families that are targeted by economic and social injustices. Moreover, we are distraught by the media’s celebration of the Baby Box as a humanitarian effort, while the fight for family preservation led by unwed mothers and adult adoptees has been overlooked.

How can you help?

KoRoot invites you to participate in our #BuildFamiliesNotBoxes social media takeover on Wednesday, January 22, Seoul, South Korea.

We’re raising the question: How do you define family? Share your story at #BuildFamiliesNotBoxes.”

Please also support the important work of the Korean Unwed Mothers’ Families Association, which advocates for the rights of unwed pregnant women, unwed mothers and their children in Korea. KUMFA’s goal is to enable Korean women to have sufficient resources and support to keep their babies if they choose, and thrive in Korean society. KUMFA was founded by and for unwed mothers themselves.

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Perilous Journey: “48 Hours” Investigates International Adoption

On Saturday January 18, at 10pm edt/pdt, the US TV-newsmagazine 48 Hours (on CBS) will focus on international adoption. More specifically, it will (according to promo materials) discuss the fine line between adoption and child trafficking.

Betsy Emanuel, whose story is the subject of the book Finding Fernanda, will discuss her adoption journey in Guatemala, and the Owens family will discuss theirs in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The main focus appears to be the adoption agency Celebrate Children International, which was involved with both the adoptions above. CCI is a small adoption agency in Florida. Their Facebook site is here.

Susan Jacobs, the US State Department’s Special Advisor for Children’s Issues, will also be on the show.

You can see a brief CBS video by clicking here. Titled Perilous Journey, the show, according to the CBS site, is about “Heartache, heartbreak and a ’48 Hours’ journey into the world of international adoptions. Maureen Maher investigates Saturday, Jan. 18 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.”

 

A Conversation Between Jenni Fang Lee and Aselefech Evans

Update: Here’s the YouTube link for the conversation.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NDC3NlSI60I&feature=share

Save the Date–December 9, 9pm edt

Google+ Hangout

An Adoptee Conversation

Join Cindy Rasicot, MFT,  of the wonderful blog Talking Heart to Heart, and me on Monday, December 9, at 9pm eastern (6pm pacific) for a conversation between Jenni Fang Lee and Aselefech Evans.

Aselefech Evans and Jenni Fang Lee

Aselefech Evans and Jenni Fang Lee

Jenni Fang Lee was adopted from China when she was 5 years old, and raised in Berkeley, California. She is one of the young women featured in the acclaimed documentary Somewhere Between, and is now studying sociology and economics at Mt. Holyoke College in Massachusetts. She returns to China each summer to volunteer at an orphanage, and has created a start-up designed to teach Mandarin and Chinese culture to Chinese adoptees and their families. According to her blog fangtopia.wordpress.com, Jenni’s passions lie in both entrepreneurship and non-profit work, specifically directed towards women and children.

Aselefech Evans was adopted from Ethiopia, along with her twin sister Adanech, when she was 6 years old. Like Jenni, she is a columnist for Gazillion Voices. Aselefech has presented numerous workshops and webinars about transracial adoption, racial identity,  hair care for adopted African-American children, her search for and reunion with her Ethiopian family, and more. She is a candidate for a BSW at Bowie State University in Maryland, and plans to go on for her master’s in social work, potentially working in post-adoption services.

Aselefech and Jenni met recently in person at the adoptee-led, adoptee-centric conference “Reframing the Adoption Discourse” held in Minnesota. Both young women share much in common, and also have had distinct differences growing up as transracial adoptees in the US. This will be a fascinating discussion.

Cindy and I are looking forward very much to hosting this conversation. Please plan to join us.

I’ll be posting more details soon as to how to join the Hangout. In the meantime, please save the date.

We will be recording the conversation and posting it on YouTube as well!

Not Chuffed About CHIFF: Pushing Back On International Adoption Policy

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

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

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

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

Why am I opposed to helping children who need families?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look at this, from the CHIFF Facebook page:

The CHIFF Working Group Executive Committee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Getting Un-Stuck: Adoption Alternatives

I wrote about Stuck last week, the documentary about the need to increase intercountry adoption. I have mixed feelings about publicizing it further.  However, as an adoptive parent, I feel compelled to speak out against it. I’m not against adoption–I’m against creating a culture of adoption. We can do so much better than that, and help so many more children, without adopting them.

“Stuck” has done well in gaining momentum and attention: heartwarming stories about orphans have long been popular.

The problem is that the stories are often not true.

First, as in this example about Cambodia, many “orphans” involved in international adoption are not in fact orphans.  Another example is Haiti. Many children in Russian orphanages are not orphans.

Children around the globe who are called orphans by adoption agencies in fact have family (or village or community) members who could care for them, and keep them in their country of origin, with their language, culture, history, culture–and maybe even family.

Second, adoption is only one alternative, though it’s the one that evokes a warm response (or desire to rescue) and fuels the marketing fire of Both Ends Burning. There’s a much bigger picture here, if we let the smoke clear.

Many children could stay in their home country if aid or training were available to alleviate the crush of Third World poverty. The amount of money to keep children with their families is dramatically less than international adoption fees, which range from $20,000 to $50,000–to adopt ONE child.  Imagine if even 10% of that went to training or a kickstart small business micro loan. Many more children and families would be helped.

Slowly, more programs are emerging to address this, and also to “re-settle” children with family members. One example is here, in Uganda. Mark and Keren Riley are doing amazing things there, perhaps most importantly creating a model that can be replicated by other countries.

Another viable alternative is sponsorship programs, which would allow (many more) children to stay with their families.

All of this requires a re-framing of thinking about adoption and child welfare services, especially by adoptive parents. We may be in the best position to advocate for fewer children to be adopted. This is not because we don’t love our children. I love my children more than I can say. It’s because we adoptive parents are in a unique and powerful position to argue for family preservation first, for children to be raised in their family of origin whenever possible. If you value family, it’s the only position you can take.

Stuck on Family Preservation

Stuck, the currently-touring-a-city-near-you documentary, has big money and (I’d guess) good hearts/intentions behind it. The organization behind it (Both Ends Burning) decries the decline in international adoption and exists “to create a culture of adoption.”

I believe in adoption, when it is done transparently, ethically, legally, thoughtfully, after all other options have been considered and exhausted.

However, I so wish that “family preservation” had the big money, big bus, volunteers, and media outreach that “international adoption” has in this Burning movement. See what happens when I exchange those words in their Vision and Mission:

“The Both Ends Burning Campaign is uniquely positioned to be the central umbrella organization to promote a culture of *Family Preservation* and to implement policy change.”

“We are also producing a feature-length documentary film that will serve as a catalyst in educating the world about the importance of *Family Preservation*, and the current crisis it is in.”

“*Family Preservation* can serve as a champion for human potential, and as a responsible society we should be encouraging and promoting the practice of *Family Preservation.*”

So very much money and energy and publicity is going into this organization, the film, the media campaign. So many more children and  families would be helped through family preservation than through adoption.