Wow Was I Wrong About Laura Ingraham

In my post yesterday about an international adoption conference held by the State Department, I briefly mentioned that conservative Fox channel host Laura Ingraham was a keynote speaker. I said the decision to have Ingraham there was “unfortunate.” I was wrong. I should have been far more forceful.

One of the first tenets of being a good accomplice for white accomplices in social justice work is to change your lens. My lens is that of a white Cisgender abled woman, the type that has traditionally held power and privilege in the world, second only to white Cisgender abled men. My lens is firmly socialized and established; I am a work in progress around reframing it. Another tenet for folks like me is not to center ourselves because (see the first tenet) we are pretty much always centered in history, advertising, opportunities, credibility.

When I wrote about Ingraham’s speaking at the adoption conference, I looked at it only through my lens, and centered my own experience. Ingraham wasn’t talking about me or for me or to me. I am an adoptive parent, as she is; beyond that, we have little in common. I can easily dismiss her and her impact. While I called her remarks about possibly moving migrant children into the U.S. adoption system “horrifying,” I shrugged my shoulders, and moved on.

Then I read a post by Melanie Chung-Sherman, a highly regarded therapist, a woman of color, an adopted person. Here is what she had to say about the choice of Ingraham as a speaker at the State Department conference:

“Did you know?? The U.S. Department of State felt it necessary and ever-so relevant to bring in Laura Ingraham to keynote before a closed adoption symposium addressing ‘adoption reform.’ Yes, that Laura Ingraham. 

Even worse–DOS invited fellow transracial adoptee advocates (friends of many) to speak about ‘reform’ while knowingly putting this known white supremacist, xenophobe, homophobic, transphobic, and ableist (who happens to be a TRIA parent) up on stage for them to sit and listen to from the beginning. 

It was aggressive, harmful, violent, and completely demeaning for those who have committed their lives to social justice, equity, and adoption reform. 

Yeah, I’m pissed.”

My eyes and mind were opened as I read this. I had not thoughtfully reflected on what hearing Ingraham speak might have felt to the international, transracial adult adoptees there. Once I did reflect, prompted by Melanie’s words, I realized how cloudy my lens was, and how I had centered myself.

I’ve subsequently heard that perhaps the State Department did not select Ingraham as a speaker; maybe the White House did. I don’t know much more than that. I recognize that disparate voices and varying opinions are part of politics. I understand that there were those in the audience who supported Ingraham’s remarks, and those who found them odious.

Anyone genuinely involved in adoption today should be aware that, for far too long, adoptive parents have held the microphone in adoption policy and practices, in media articles, and in the traditional, tired narrative that adoption is win-win-win and full of only happy endings. Of course there are wonderful outcomes and good decisions. Often, though, there are rough roads, lots of confusion and grief, and grappling with identity, loss, and unattainable information.

Handing the microphone, literally, to Laura Ingraham showed an astonishing lack of knowledge about what adoption conferences today should be: they should be focused on adoptees, and on birth parents. They should be the prominent speakers and guides that the government and media go to first. Having a controversial adoptive parent with anti-immigrant views at an adoption conference that for the first time centered international, transracial adoptees tainted but probably did not ruin other notable accomplishments. Next time, or at any adoption conference, there are many amazing, powerful adoptees who could be (should be) at the podium. Still, adoptees are now at the table for State Department policy formulation, and that is laudable.

As an adoptive parent, I’ll close with my promise to keep my eyes, heart, and mind more open to the voices and insights of adoptees and birth/first parents, and to keep working on my lens. I’ll close this post with the powerful words of Reshma McClintock on behalf of herself and other international adoptees who attended the State Department conference:


“Transracial/Inter Country Adoptees are one of the most resilient and determined people groups. At the US State Department Adoption Symposium we addressed adoptee voice elevation, citizenship, family preservation, rehoming, adoptee rights, and other important topics.

I used the opportunity I had to address attendees with this message: Adopted adults are the most valuable and untapped resource on the subject of adoption. We must be recognized and involved in adoption conversations. 

I‘m proud of my community and thankful for those who support the good work we are doing collectively. It is emotionally, physically, mentally, and financially exhausting, yet WE ARE OUT HERE.”

#AdopteeMovement

Is There Hope via the State Department Around International Adoption?

The U.S. State Department, responsible for the processing of thousands of international adoptions, had the audacity, courage, wherewithal, and optimism to hold a conference on adoption that includes not just the usual adoption agency folks and adoptive parents, but (wait for it) international, transracial adoptees and birth parents. Well done.

I was among those invited to the U.S. State Department’s symposium on “Strengthening the Practice of International Adoption.” So was my daughter Aselefech Evans, an Ethiopian adoptee. Neither of us were able to attend, in large part because we weren’t sure when Aselefech’s twin sister would give birth to her baby girl: the due date was September 7.

I am thrilled beyond words about my new beautiful granddaughter, who arrived on September 5. Everyone is doing well. Had Baby Aya notified us of her plans to arrived in the world, I might have joined the fascinating group invited by State. Oh to be a fly on those walls.

The symposium began yesterday and concludes later today. The agenda included topics such as caring for children in adversity, best practices in adoption, and the government’s role in intercountry adoption. There was a panel yesterday with adoptive parents, international adoptees, birth parents, and adoption service providers: I heard that was a lively conversation.

I am heartened by the fact that several adult adoptees are attending, speaking, and writing about the symposium. The list includes Dr. JaeRan Kim, who blogs brilliantly at Harlow’s Monkey, and Reshma McLintock of the powerful documentary Calcutta Is My Mother. Claudia Corrigan D’Arcy, the powerhouse behind Musings of the Lame: Exposing Adoption Truths, shared her perspective as a birth mother. How wonderful it would be if there were even more birth parents presenting, especially international ones, who are among the most marginalized voices in adoption.

Some of the usual folks such as the National Council for Adoption are also there. NCFA is not a marginalized group by any means. They’ve been mad at folks like me (who advocated against CHIFF) and particularly at the State Department, whom NCFA blames for the decline in adoptions.

One of the ways to assess an organization’s commitment to a cause is to see how their leadership reflects the cause. NCFA has, as best I can tell, one biracial adoptee on its Board of Directors, and no adoptees of color on staff. I don’t think there are any international adoptees at all on either staff or Board, never mind any international adoptees adopted at older ages. Both the Board and the staff are remarkably dominated by white people. A couple of them were adopted at birth; the Board chair was adopted, in (I’m guessing) the early 1950’s, when adoption practice was very different from today. He was a good friend of Bill Pierce’s, who some of us remember well. The current executive director of NCFA is an adoptive parent. (If I am incorrect about the transracial and international adoptees on staff or Board, NCFA, please let me know and I will correct my errors.)

I digress about NCFA because of the contrast with State’s decision to reach out intentionally to international, transracial adoptees and birth parents, not just agencies and adoptive parents. I find it unfortunate that State had Laura Ingraham, the Fox News show host, as a speaker. She’s the adoptive parent of children from Guatemala and Russia. She’s also known for describing the US-Mexico border detention facilities as “essentially summer camps” for migrant children, among other controversial remarks. In her speech yesterday, Ingraham suggested that the children entering at the border should enter the U.S. adoption system. I find this view horrifying for a number of reasons, and I understand Ingraham received some serious pushback.

I hope that the need for citizenship for all international adoptees received the attention it deserves. Take a look at Adoptees For Justice and Adoptee Rights Campaign for more information. I look forward to hearing more about how the issue was addressed at State’s conference.

International adoptions have great complexity. I think we are beginning to move away from the traditional narratives of adoptive parents and adoption agencies, and genuinely inviting and listening to international, transracial adoptees in regard to adoption policies. We need to do a much better job of inviting and listening to international birth parents as well. I’m not sure I would have predicted that the State Department would be taking a leadership role in bringing disparate voices together for “Strengthening Practice for the Future of Intercountry Adoptions,” as the conference is titled. Change is definitely in the air.

May all children have loving, safe families. May all of us keep working to make that so.

First Hearing Held on Adoptee Adam Crapser’s Lawsuit Against Holt, Korean Government

This is a very significant event: the first hearing in a court case brought by an international adoptee against an adoption agency and the country in which he was born. Adam Crapser, adopted from South Korea and deported back as an adult, has filed a suit against Holt Children’s Services and against the Korean government, arguing that both committed “gross negligence.”

The Korea Herald today posted “First Hearing in Holt Lawsuit by Korean adoptee deported from US highlights fight for transparency, adoptee rights.”

I’m disappointed to read that, at the hearing, Holt’s lawyer said that “the statute of limitations on Crapser’s adoption had passed, regardless of Holt’s responsibility.” 

That could prove to be accurate legally. Morally and ethically, though, I hope that Holt and all adoption agencies don’t just shrug their shoulders about responsibilities towards the children brought to the U.S. or elsewhere. 

Adam Crapser was abused horribly, sexually, physically, and emotionally, growing up in the family Holt placed him with. Surely there is some ethical obligation by adoption agencies, which received fees for salaries, travel, overhead, documents, and more, toward the ongoing outcomes of the children they placed for adoption. The children grow up. It is unjust and immoral for agencies not to acknowledge the role they had for the children they accepted into their care and whose adoptive parents they vetted. Agencies cannot accept the gratitude and donations of adoptive parents without also serving the needs of the adoptees whose lives were not better as a result of adoption, but were filled with abuse and neglect.

One aspect of how Adam was failed, and this pertains to thousands of other international adoptees, is that none of his various adoptive/foster parents got citizenship for him. It is an outrage that our U.S. Congress has still not passed legislation for all international adoptees, though there has been significant progress due to the efforts of Adoptees For Justice, Adoptee Rights Campaign, and others. Please take a look at their websites, gather information, and join the effort to pass legislation granting citizenship to all international adoptees.

Photo of Korean adoptees with signs written in Korean to support Adam Crapser's lawsuit against Holt and Korea.
Photo ©: Korea Herald

We in the adoption community are at an eye-opening time: finally, more adoptees’ voices are being heard and listened to (though we still need to do much better), and the traditional narrative of adoption as win-win-win is being both questioned and exposed as far more nuanced and complex than its Hallmark card reputation. We need to hear from so many more voices.

This lawsuit, regardless of its outcome, is a bellwether for the work that needs to be done in Adoption Land. People around the globe, including adult adoptees, the U.S. State Department, embassies, adoption agencies, and governments in sending and receiving countries (the U.S. both sends children outside the U.S. for international adoption and receives them for the same) are watching this case carefully.

Milton Washington: Hardwired, Black, Korean, Adopted, Storyteller

I’ve known Milton several years now. We visit with him when we are in New York City, most recently last summer. I don’t remember now how we met: a white, transracial adoptive mom from the east coast who loves to read and to write, and a black/Korean former football player who hates to read and is writing a book about his early childhood in Korea and his adoption by a black military family in the U.S. I am among his biggest fans, learning anew every time I hear about his life as a little black boy ostracized and beaten up in Korea, the son of a still unknown American soldier and a prostitute who nurtured and loved and disciplined him fiercely. When he was eight years old, he and his mom took a taxi ride to St. Vincent’s orphanage about an hour outside of Seoul; that was the last time he saw her. I learn when he talks about not fitting in, about being taunted for who he is, and about how he is “in between worlds” constantly as a Korean, a black man, and an adopted person, as well as within each of those categories.

So when I listened to this recent Adapted podcast, I again learned a lot about Milton. When I’ve been around him, he doesn’t curse very much, but he does in this interview—just letting you know. He’s 48, though maybe he’s 50. As an adoptee, he’s done many DNA tests. He’s searched for his Korean mother, and feels she may now be in California. He is writing his memoir, SlickyBoy, in no small part with the hope that he will find his mother and his bio siblings, once the book is published.

http://adaptedpodcast.com

I’ve read a draft chapter from Slickyboy: A Memoir, and it has stayed with me in a powerful way. You can read an excerpt here. This excerpt is from 2010, so has no doubt changed. “Slicky boy,” by the way, is a phase used by American GI’s for the Koreans who would steal from the soldiers. The time needed to birth this book also perhaps reveals the challenge of writing memoirs that are painful, revealing, inspiring, and hopeful, and that cut searingly close to the heart and to the bone. I am reminded also, though only as an adoptive parent, that some adoptees search over a lifetime for their true stories, identities, and place in this world.

You can listen to Milton’s podcast interview here. Adapted is “a podcast that explores the experiences of Korean adoptees, from post-reunion stories to living in Korea as adults.” There are some amazing interviews there, and I highly recommend listening.

I also recommend keeping an eye out for Milton’s book, following him on Instagram (@slickyboymemoir) and Facebook , and taking a look at his stunning photographic skills. Milton is a strong, raw storyteller. He loves his families deeply, even as complicated and painful as his life has sometimes been. He is vulnerable; he is resilient. I can’t wait to read his book, and I hope it brings a sense of peace and accomplishment for him when it is published. He hopes that the book will “blow up,” that it will bring his Korean sisters around to him. He hopes especially that it will reach his mother, so that “she can see her son proud.” I hope so too.

International Adoptee Adam Crapser Sues His Adoption Agency for Negligence And Fraud

Adam Crapser, adopted from South Korea to the US, had a horrible, abusive childhood that involved two sets of adoptive parents, neither of which ever got him citizenship. He was deported to South Korea after serving time for criminal charges. He is now suing Holt Children’s Services and the government of South Korea for gross negligence, fraudulent paperwork, and failure to adequately screen adoptive parents.

The amount of money Adam is seeking is relatively negligible ($177,000). The case could take years to get through South Korean courts. According to the AP article, Adam “said the amount of money is less important than forcing Holt and the government into a courtroom to face questions of accountability.”

Adam Crapser in Seoul, per AP https://www.apnews.com/12472d8f87944f12ae63f74a2829a410

And that may well be the most pivotal outcome of this suit: adoption agencies looking at their accountability, rather than their good intentions, and hopefully creating a dialogue with adoptees about their practices, services, and outcomes. For far too long, adoptees have been considered solely as children, despite the fact they grow up. For far too long, adoption has been considered with fairy tale wistfulness, romanticized and glossed over, the traditional narrative being win-win-win. Yes, adoption can be positive. Yes, everyone’s experience varies. Still, for far too long, there have been not just whisperings but lawsuits regarding fraud, corruption, and negligence in adoption. We are beginning to see the next wave of adoption awareness, as voiced by adoptees themselves.

I am not aware of adoptees who have sued their adoption agency, though I’ve long thought that the possibility was genuine. A class action suit would not surprise me, Adoptive parents have sued agencies multiple times, often for fraud. There have been cases of adoptees who have annulled their adoptions.

I wrote in Slate about Adam Crapser. I’ve been writing about the need for citizenship for all adoptees for years. The Adoptee Rights Campaign has been actively working on legislation to get citizenship for ALL international adoptees. There will be, once again, legislation introduced in Congress to achieve this: it’s been a struggle.

Of course, the struggle has been extremely difficult for international adoptees deported from the US to their original countries, places where they don’t speak the language, have no family or friends, and are utterly alone. Joao Herbert was killed in Brazil. Philip Clay died by suicide in Korea. Deported adoptees, adopted by American families ostensibly forever, are living in Germany, Guatemala, India, Costa Rica, and elsewhere. They truly deserve better, and it is shameful that the US government has for years allowed adoptees to be deported. These adoptees were brought here with the oversight of the US and the sending government and legally adopted by US citizens.

Adoptive parents, make sure you have all possible citizenship documents for your children, especially if they are minors. Immigration laws are in flux: protect your children fully. Adoptees, make sure your papers are in order.

Melanie Chung Sherman, a therapist and international adoptee, shared this on her Facebook page:

“I strongly encourage international adoptees over the age of 18 years old to obtain your original (not just a copy), file in a safe and secure place, OR (at a minimum) ensure that you know who and how to access the following (each birth country will have different documents that I have not listed):

–US Naturalization/Certificate of Citizenship
–US Passport
–Birth Country Passport (when you immigrated to the U.S. through international adoption)
–US Visa Approval papers
–Alien registration number 
–Adoption Finalization Decree 
–SSN card
–Amended birth certificate 
–Copy of birth certificate given by birth country
–Court papers from birth country
–Social history/referral papers (these will have the name of the agency/caseworkers/representatives in your adoption)

Far too many international adoptees do not know these documents exist. Many have been openly denied access by their adopt parents well into adulthood. Many have learned that their documents were lost, destroyed or incomplete. 

International adoptees will need their documents to prove citizenship as well as the fact that they were adopted and immigrated through international adoption. 

These documents are more than just legal papers, but a connection to their story and sense of self. It is a generational connection should they become parents and grandparents to their history as well. These documents are property of an adoptee’s life.”

My thanks to Melanie, and my best wishes to Adam for an appropriate outcome to the absurdity of his deportation. I think about the many deported adoptees often, and about those who are without citizenship here in the US. I can only imagine the conversations going on in adoption agencies and among adoptive parents.

It is past time to drop the aged adoption narrative. We must listen to adult adoptees.

 

 

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.

When International Adoptees Grow (Way) Up—and Apply For Medicare

For international adoptees now in their 50’s and 60’s, here’s a potentially disastrous concern:

When applying for Medicare, naturalized citizens (such as international adoptees) need to present their naturalization documents and birth certificate to the Social Security Adminstration.

Why could this be a problem? Some international adoptees nearing Medicare age (65) do not have U.S. birth certificates. They may not have needed them as kids the way that schools and sports teams require them today. Their adoptive parents may not have applied for one for them.

And then, of course, there is the much larger issue for international adoptees whose adoptive parents failed to get them U.S. citizenship.They do not qualify under the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, which provided citizenship only for adoptees 18 and under at the time of enactment. Some international adoptees could have great difficulty getting enrolled in Medicare when they are in their 60’s and older, and in need of prescriptions, surgery, and other medical care. As U.S. citizens, they are entitled to apply for Medicare like everyone else: if they have the right documents.

My experience around immigration-related issues and the Social Security administration is that different federal offices in different states can have different requirements for paperwork. It’s not unusual for one person to need documents in one state that are not requested in another state, or even within the same state. Very frustrating, and not unusual.

Here is advice from licensed Medicare broker, and Korean adoptee, Kara Min Yung, who alerted me to this issue:

“Please start the process at least 3 months prior to the month you will turn 65. Don’t wait, in case you are required to do anything additional. You must start part A. You can also start part B, but there is a premium. You can opt to delay part B until coverage through an employer ends. Then choose either a supplement plan and a drug plan, or a Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug plan. Don’t wait. There are certain late enrollment penalties you will want to avoid.”

Kara recommends that adoptees nearing 65 make sure they have their U.S. birth certificate and their naturalization/citizenship papers. She has helped naturalized citizens who have had problems getting Medicare, whether adoptees or not. You can contact Kara at Kruh@seattleinsgroup.com.

Korean adoptees first began arriving in the U.S. in the 1950’s. Many are in their 50’s and 60’s (or older) now. They and other international adoptees are applying for Medicare benefits now, and some are encountering unanticipated problems. This will only continue as the adoptee population continues to age.

You can check out the Medicare site for further info.

Adoptees and parents of minor adoptees should check with the Social Security Administration to be sure they are listed as U.S. citizens. Our federal government agencies don’t share databases, so even if you have a passport (U.S. State Department) or a Certificate of Citizenship (U.S. Department of Homeland Security), the SSA may not have you listed as a U.S. citizen.

Additional Resources on Citizenship for All Adoptees: Adoptee Rights Campaign

I am calling on the U.S. Congress, the U.S. State Department, and the U.S. Social Security Administration to perhaps finally understand the need for U.S. citizenship for all international adoptees. Deportation is a risk. Criminal charges for (unknowingly) voting without citizenship is a risk. Being unable to apply for financial aid is a risk. Being unable to access Medicare if you are applying at 65 is a risk. It’s an outrage.

 

Reporters: How Not To Write A Story About an International Adoption Tragedy

Today’s example (and it’s an excellent one) is from NBC affiliate WHO-TV in Iowa. Here’s the headline:

Recent Child Abuse and Neglect Allegations Hurting International Adoption

It’s a horrific story about allegations against a couple who a few years ago adopted two children, one 8 and one 9 years old now, from Ghana. Court documents reveal the children were sleeping on plastic mats, using buckets in their rooms as toilets, and were forced to stay in their room otherwise an alarm would sound and they would be punished. Somehow they got out and begged a neighbor for help, and were then removed from the home. There are apparently five biological children as well. neighbors saw the bio kids playing outside, and one neighbor wasn’t even aware that the parents had adopted children from Ghana. The children were homeschooled.

That headline, and the article, focuses not on the abused, endangered, traumatized children, but on the damage the allegations cause to international adoption.

That’s the first way this report went awry: a bizarre, heartlessly skewed headline.

But headlines are written to draw readers in, and this one fits the traditional narrative of leaving out any even vaguely nuanced sense of balance in adoption.

So let’s move on to the article itself. Who is interviewed? Why, an adoptive parent of three children from Ghana. He is a white man who does missionary work in Africa, according to the article. A quick look at Sullivan’s Acts 2 Collective shows he works primarily in Ghana and Chad. Africa is a continent, not a country: why do reporters so often fail to note specific countries?

Is an actual Ghanaian interviewed? No. Is an actual adult adoptee interviewed? No. Is an actual Ghanaian adoptee interviewed? No. Is an actual expert in transracial adoption interviewed? No. This is another significant way the article failed badly.

Jake Sullivan, the missionary parent who is the only person cited in the article, did not have any involvement in the abusive family’s adoption, and his group does not handle adoptions. He is correct in saying the international adoption process is long and complicated.

He goes on to say, and this where your eyebrows and hackles should be raised, that “Kids in Africa have a lot more freedom to move about, then you get into the United States and we have a lot of rules, restrictions. Our parenting style is much different than the African parenting style, so then you get those conflicts because you don’t understand the culture.”

Ah. So, sad as it is, the kids came from Africa, couldn’t adjust to the “parenting styles” here, and wound up being locked in grotesque, inhumane conditions.

This can be boiled down to an example of blaming the victims, a subjective view that should not be in a news article. The impression left with readers is this: The American adoptive parents imposed rules and restrictions on the African kids, and the kids apparently just weren’t able to adjust. Tsk tsk.

NO. Far more likely is that the adoptive parents were not well prepared to parent older children of color from another country. The children had experienced trauma before, during, or after being adopted (perhaps all three): such is the nature of adoption. The adoptive parents had five other children who no doubt took up their time, and the adopted children likely took a lot of time and attention as they adjusted to a startling new life in Iowa.

For a sense of perspective on demographics: Osceola, Iowa, has under 5000 residents, of whom 0.6% are black. So, pretty much no racial mentors or role models for these little kids, though that may well prove to be the least of their worries, given the disgusting and horrifying conditions they lived in with their new “family.”

All that said, the focus in the article is on how these allegations are “hurting international adoption.”

International adoptions have declined significantly, but there are many reasons: reports of abuse anddeaths, fraud, corruption, increased in-country adoptions, changing policies within countries of origin (China’s one child policy, for example), and sending countries’ overall concerns for the fate of their children sent abroad, and more. Do allegations of abuse (and actual convictions thereof) have an impact in sending countries? Sure.

Sullivan “does not condone the allegations against the abusive adoptive family.” He says “it’s something others looking to adopt can learn from.” The focus is, as is all too often the case in articles like this, on adoptive parents—not on the children, the victims.

Those little kids from Ghana have been through a lot: trauma, abuse, neglect. They will now likely be re-adopted by a new family, another huge transition. They will, hopefully, have therapy and other resources available to them for the damage that has been done, and one can hope they are resilient.

I don’t know what adoption agency the family used, what social workers did the home study, or who did follow up for post-adoption services.

It’s long overdue for reporters to look at adoption with more information and perspective. There are plenty of adult adoptees, transracially adopted adults, and adoptee-therapists who can provide insightful, helpful responses to tragedies like this one.

Here’s a better possible headline:

Internationally Adopted Children Hurt By Abuse and Neglect of Adoptive Parents

Then the article would have interviews with experts such as Ghanaian adoptees and adoptee therapists. The adoption agency would be identified.

May these children, and all children, be safe and loved.

 

 

 

 

 

Thinking of Hana Williams, Seven Years After Her Death

Had she not been murdered by her adoptive parents seven year ago today, Hana Williams would now be 20 years old. We will never know what might have been, what kind of light she may have shone in the world. We have not forgotten you, Hana. You are firmly in our hearts.

Hana Alemu (Williams), in Ethiopia

Since the anniversary of her death last year, adoptions have closed in Ethiopia, in no small part because of the reaction there to the abuse and murder of Hana in 2011, as well as the abuse of her adopted brother Immanuel. There have been other reasons given for the ban, among them the failure of adoptive parents to send in post-placement reports, failure of adoptive families to maintain the children’s Ethiopian culture, fraud and corruption, policies to promote in-country adoption, and more. I think, though, we’d be hard pressed to think that Hana’s death was not a major reason.

That she died as a result of her adoptive parents’ treatment is horrifying enough, but when those of us who attended the 8 weeks’ long trial in 2013 heard about the abuse she endured during the three years she lived in America—well, it’s almost unbelievable. Suffice to say she weighed less at the time she died (78 pounds) than she had when she arrived from Ethiopia in 2008.

Her adoptive parents will remain in jail for many more years. I often wonder how the seven Williams’ siblings are doing. The judge, at the sentencing, said it was largely their testimony that convinced the jury of the heinousness of the crimes.The Williams’ siblings witnessed the abuse of Immanuel and Hana, and then Hana’s death from hypothermia in the family’s backyard. I continue to hope they have found healing.

I don’t have any update on Immanuel. He may have been adopted by another family who could provide resources to heal the trauma, who could help him navigate well as a deaf person, and who could deal with his PTSD.

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day in the United States. Hana died three days after Mother’s Day in 2011. I’ve often wondered what her Ethiopian mother would have thought of this tragedy, and I grieve for all of Hana’s Ethiopian family.

If you are so inclined, do something for the vulnerable children of Ethiopia, or vulnerable children anywhere. May Hana’s memory bring some good to the world. May she rest in peace.