Angelina Jolie and the Traumatization of Orphans

Update: Angelina Jolie has refuted the context and accuracy of this incident, via Vulture, Variety, and others. I have not yet heard a response from the writer of the original Vanity Fair article cited in this blog post, and I hope that writer speaks out also. A controversial description like this one, of a casting call involving orphans and manipulation, should have raised red flags for fact checking prior to publication.

 

Why would Angelina Jolie exploit orphans?

Thousands admire her, as well as her rainbow family, even as some are bemused by her behaviors. My guess is that Angelina Jolie years ago gave up caring about what other people think of her, and goes ahead with her creative journey, sharing personal information when the time is right. The new Vanity Fair cover story is one such example, in which she talks about life after Brad, dealing with health issues, and her days as a cleaning up and cooking mom.

Jolie also talks about her new Netflix movie, First They Killed My Father, and her time in and love for Cambodia. Her first son, Maddox, was adopted from there in 2002, and Jolie is a Cambodian citizen.

In Vanity Fair, Jolie talks about the casting for her movie, and this is where the heartache really begins.

“To cast the children in the film, Jolie looked at orphanages, circuses, and slum schools, specifically seeking children who had experienced hardship. In order to find their lead, to play young Loung Ung, the casting directors set up a game, rather disturbing in its realism: they put money on the table and asked the child to think of something she needed the money for, and then to snatch it away. The director would pretend to catch the child, and the child would have to come up with a lie. ‘Srey Moch [the girl ultimately chosen for the part] was the only child that stared at the money for a very, very long time,’ Jolie says. ‘When she was forced to give it back, she became overwhelmed with emotion. All these different things came flooding back.’ Jolie then tears up. ‘When she was asked later what the money was for, she said her grandfather had died, and they didn’t have enough money for a nice funeral.'”

Looked at orphanages, circuses, and slums, specifically seeking children who had experienced hardship?

Set up a game?

Rather disturbing?

How about exploitative, cruel, and arrogant? To knowingly impose trauma, humiliation, and shame on little girls, many of whom have likely experienced tremendous losses, including the loss of parents? Yes, deeply disturbing.

Not surprisingly, Jolie is receiving a lot of criticism for this.

The Telegraph in the UK reports that this incident has sparked outrage. Business Insider says the casting method is being deemed cruel. Twitter is busy on #AngelinaJolie.

I’d venture that the adoption community is divided about Jolie. Many people outside the community think it’s warm and wonderful that she adopted a bunch of cute kids, and I have no doubt that many people looked into adopting because Angelina adopted and People magazine wrote all about it. Many people within the community express concern about celebrity adoptions, making a tempting trend out of the intense complexity of international, transracial adoption.

The Vanity Fair article describes Jolie’s adoption process in Cambodia:

“…she visited an orphanage in the provincial town of Battambang, having promised herself that she’d go only to one, that she wasn’t going to shop around. But Jolie felt uneasy as she wandered the rooms, meeting the children. ‘I didn’t feel a connection with any of them,’ she recalls.

‘They then said, ‘There’s one more baby.’ Baby Maddox was lying in a box that was suspended from the ceiling. She looked at him. He looked at her. ‘I cried and cried,’ she recalls.”

I have no idea what agency Jolie used, or the details of the adoption process. Most countries don’t allow prospective parents to “shop around,” the phrase Vanity Fair uses to describe Jolie’s process. This commodification of children in adoption is but one of many reasons that international adoption has declined.

Cambodia has suspended adoptions several times in the last decade, largely due to trafficking. Jolie has also adopted from Ethiopia and from Vietnam, both of which have also essentially closed to international adoption. Jolie’s daughter Zahara, from Ethiopia, was not an orphan; there have been several media stories about Zahara’s Ethiopian mother wanting to hear from Zahara.

While most internationally adopted children have living parents or other close family members, and very few are actual orphans, the children have lived through tremendous trauma and dangers. The children still in orphanages and slums around the world deserve compassion, family preservation, literacy, and safety.

The Cambodian children who were recruited to try out for a part in a movie–children from orphanages and slums–were treated cruelly by people who should know better, especially an adoptive parent.

Angelina Jolie is a powerful, beautiful, wealthy, western woman. I’ve no doubt she has done much good in the world. I am sure her presentation in the media has flaws and inaccuracies, but, as presented in Vanity Fair, this movie casting method, this exploitation of impoverished children, speaks only to selfishness and creative focus gone tragically awry. My heart aches for the now forgotten, cast aside orphans and other vulnerable children.

 

 

Here’s one way to help: The Cambodian Children’s Fund.

Korean Adoptees, Scholars, Activists Call For End to International Adoption

A large and impressive group of scholars, activists, adopted persons, and adoption practitioners has sent a Declaration Calling For An Immediate End to the Industrial International Adoption System from South Korea. (My thanks to @Koreanadoptee76 for the link; see swedishkoreanadopteesnetwork.wordpress.com.) Directed to the government of South Korea’s president Moon Jae-in, the declaration calls on the government  to do the following:

  • Terminate international adoptions from South Korea
  • Improve support for unwed mothers and for their children
  • Implement comprehensive post-adoption services
  • Audit adoption agencies
  • Address citizenship failures
  • Provide adequate services to deported adoptees

The signatories are many. This is an impressive, important document, not just in terms of South Korea, but for international adoption globally.

Korean adoptees are the largest and oldest group of international adoptees. They number in the hundreds of thousands, and range in age into their 60’s. Their decades of experiences provide solid information about the impact of adoption: some good, some bad, all over the spectrum. Many in the adoption community look to them as historians of an important past and as bellwethers of the future of adoption.

Having this group of academics, activists, adult adoptees, and many adoptee organizations call for an end to international adoption from Korea is extraordinarily significant. The call, which I’d argue has been simmering a long time, is partly in response to the tragedy of Korean adoptee Phillip Clay’s deportation and suicide, partly to the deportation of other adoptees from the U.S., partly to the need for better post-adoption services, and partly to demands that more resources be provided to single mothers in Korea, an economically vibrant country.

Another significant point is that these adult adoptees are also calling for better preservation and management of adoptees’ records. So many adoptees have returned to Korea (and other countries) to search for their adoption records, hoping to find their birth families, only to be told the records do not exist or were destroyed in a flood or a fire. Others have found their records only after multiple requests and incredible perseverance, often at high emotional and financial cost.

The maintenance of records by orphanages, adoption agencies, and countries of origins is vital. The records allow adopted persons to know their truths, to know their identities, to know who they are–all basic human rights. This is not a matter of paperwork–for some, it is restoration, salvation, freedom.

The deportation of international adoptees from the United States is one of the most shameful practices of our country. I can only imagine how the sending countries (Korea, Brazil, India, Germany, Mexico, and many more) feel about the fact they sent their children here and we in the United States did not grant them automatic citizenship until 2000, and still have not made citizenship retroactive for those whose parents failed to naturalize them. Talk about broken trust.

Adoptees are not the only ones publicly calling for an end to international adoption. Take a look at this powerful post by the adoptive mom of two now young adults from Korea: Off the Fence, at Third Mom blog.

I am still on the fence. Adoption can change the lives for the better for children, not just in terms of economics. I believe it should be an option. That said, I deeply respect the views and the writers of this Declaration. The traditional narrative of rescue and saviorism must end, along with the fraud and corruption–and it may not be possible to ever end fraud and corruption. Orphan prevention and family preservation have to be paramount. We adoptive parents should be speaking out strongly for both of these, as well as for citizenship for all international adoptees and for post-adoption services for adoptees and for first/birth families.

Please share the Declaration.

 

IAG Sentencing Rescheduled Yet Again

Update: The sentencing hearing for defendants James Harding, Alisa Bivens, and Mary Mooney has now been set for August 10, 2017, 10:00am, Courtroom 2, the Waring Judicial Center, 83 Meeting St, Charleston, SC,  before Judge David Norton.

 

 

To perhaps no one’s surprise, given the years this process has taken, the sentencing hearing for the three International Adoption Guides’ defendants, all of whom pled guilty about three years ago, has been rescheduled from July 13 to Thursday, August 17.

The sentencing hearing for Mary Mooney is now scheduled at 10am, for Alisa Bivens at 10:30am, and for James Harding at 11am. The hearings will take place in Courtroom 2, at the Waring Judicial Center, 83 Meeting Street, Charleston, SC, before Judge David Norton.

I have no idea why the sentencing has been rescheduled. It could be for the judge, for the probation officer, for the defendants, for the lawyers. I have been told that these delays are not unusual when it comes to sentencing for federal crimes.

Here’s hoping for justice.

 




 

An Academic Analysis of Ethiopian Illegal Adoptions: A Sobering Roadmap

“Children for Families: An Ethnography of Illegal Intercountry Adoption From Ethiopia,” an article by Daniel Hailu, Ph.D., in Adoption Quarterly, provides a stunningly clear road map of how illegal adoptions have occurred in Ethiopia. His research corroborates many anecdotal experiences, discusses the impact of Ethiopian sociocultural views, and offers suggestions for reform.

The issue of illegal adoptions from Ethiopia has been simmering for years. I don’t think anyone has statistics on how many adoptions have been legal or illegal. Families have shared stories on Facebook. Adult adoptees have learned, after search and reunion, that their adoptive parents were not told the truth about why adoption was needed. Birth/first families were deceived or coerced into placing their children in an orphanage. Blame can be focused on many people: adoption agencies, police officers, brokers, government workers, adoptive families, first/birth families, and almost anyone involved with adoption and fees.

Adoptions from Ethiopia have declined dramatically in recent years. In May of this year, the Ethiopian government suspended adoptions, though it appears that children who were in the legal custody of their adoptive parents have been allowed to leave Ethiopia. I posted recently about the upcoming sentencing hearing of three International Adoption Guides’ officials, who have pled guilty to charges involving fraud and corruption in Ethiopia. A frequent source of debate on Facebook among adoptive families is whose adoption was fraudulent, whose adoption agency was checked out thoroughly, whose adoption was “clean.” Some prospective and new adoptive families discount the stories of families who have discovered lies and deceits in their children’s adoptions.

Dr. Hailu’s article describes how illegal and unethical adoptions occur. He interviewed 54 “informants,” people intimately engaged in adoptions in Ethiopia. He writes:

“At the root of illegal adoption are fabricated documentation and false testimonies that establish the legal basis for the subsequent adoption processes. Informants reported that these bases could not be established without the support and protection of local authorities, including some police officers.

An orphanage involved in illegal adoption perceived four major advantages in involving local authorities, as summarized by an informant:

First, local authorities facilitate identification of brokers from within the local community where orphanages have no other trusted link.

Second, officials in clandestine support brokers in recruiting children: The authorities identify children for potential adoption and also coax parents and guardians into giving their children away for adoption.

Third, the official expedites issuance of a letter of testimony that the orphanage needs from the kebele (neighborhood or ward) administration or the social court in order to take the case to the First Instance Court.

Fourth, the officials buffer the orphanage from any allegations that may be posed by any higher authority against recruiting an ineligible child.”

No one disputes, I hope, the role that money has played and continues to play in adoption. Between 1999 and 2016, some 15,300 Ethiopian children arrived in the U.S. Using a fee of $30,000 per adoption, some $459 million went from the U.S. to Ethiopian adoptions. Granted, not all of it went to Ethiopia. Still. Millions of dollars poured into Ethiopia from adoptive families, not just to the adoption agencies, but also to the orphanages, and to others working in the network to secure children for adoption.

Here is one matter-of-fact and chilling quote:

“The following description of a country representative of an adoption agency regarding the relationship between adoption agencies and orphanages is shared by several other informants in the industry:

‘Take my case as an example. I have entered adoption agreement worth millions. Neither UNICEF nor any government subsidizes me. Rather I get the money from adopting families. They expect me to give them babies. My boss expects babies. So, I expect the babies from the orphanages to whom I agreed to give part of the millions. It is a clean supply and demand relationship that exists among adopting families, adoption agencies, and orphanages. Essentially, we are providing children for families rather than finding families for children without parental care.’ ”

And how would country representatives or brokers convince families to place their babies and children in the orphanages, and thus for adoption?

That method, according to Dr. Hailu’s article, is also matter-of-fact and chilling.

“Three techniques were identified that brokers applied to coax parents and guardians into voluntary relinquishment of parental rights. The first was to appeal to the natural wish of parents for the future well-being of their children.

An informant explained:

As a first strategy, “Brokers would convince parents/guardians that it was better for the child to grow under better care than suffer with them: They promise that the child would be sent to [a] good school, eat well, [and] wear nice clothes and would generally live comfortable life. The brokers also give them the false promise that they would get to see the child once in a while whether the child is adopted locally or internationally.”

These promises have generally proven false, of course. Many adoptive parents and adopted persons have encountered Ethiopian birth parents who beg them to find out about the children they lost to adoption and have never heard from, despite the “promises” they were given. One important resource is Beteseb Felega—Ethiopian Adoption Connection, which has reunited many adoptees with their Ethiopian parents. Whether the adoptive parents had made the promise or not, many Ethiopian parents were told there would be contact. I’ve heard of adoptive parents finding out that the Ethiopian parents hoped to know if their children were alive and well—and the adoptive parents refused to respond. I hope they can face their adopted children and tell them this someday, as the children will grow up and likely find out their truths.

The second strategy of brokers to acquire children is to draw the attention of parents or guardians to their poverty and entice them with a promise of economic gain that they would potentially accrue by giving their child away for eventual adoption.

Another informant explained:

“The broker calls the attention of guardians to the financial assistance and visits that some guardians who have previously given away their children may have obtained from adopting families. There may be many such stories known to the people that brokers use for their purpose. For example, adopt[ive] parents of a child had sent money to the biological parents in our area, who used it to open their own beauty salon. Some guardians have reported to have come to the orphanage for the purpose of giving their bank account number to the adopting family in anticipation of transfers.”

The issue of how, whether, and how much adoptive families contribute to the financial support of their children’s Ethiopian families is a hot button topic. Some people feel it encourages other Ethiopian families to place their children for adoption, hoping to get a financial return, a concern borne out by Dr. Hailu’s article. Other parents feel it is their ethical right and responsibility to send their child’s siblings to school, or to buy a goat, or to wire money on a regular basis. It’s complicated. There is no question there has been an impact, in any case. I hope there will be more studies done, by the Ethiopian government or by academics, on the financial contributions to birth/first families.

In the third strategy, the broker capitalizes on the socially constructed prestige that could be accrued out of having a child living abroad.

“A related enticement is the social prestige that can be derived out of forging familial linkage with a ferenji (i.e., a white person). Although guardians are the main targets, these coaxing rhetorics have a stronger influence on older siblings of the child being prepared for adoption, who consider this a special opportunity presented to their younger siblings. This is due to increasing globalization that is creating an image of opportunities and affluence that may be available in the freng hager (i.e., the country of white people).

Consequently, in addition to persuasion by brokers, siblings who are too old to be adopted put pressure on their parents to place their younger siblings in the hope that the above reported social and economic benefit may eventually trickle down to them as well.”

Many adoptive parents have been told their children were abandoned. Dr. Hailu’s informants describe how the abandonment is staged.

“Staged abandoning of a child takes the form of a play in the theater. The play is written and directed by the broker. He also casts the characters and assigns them roles. In this drama the parents/guardians are coaxed into leaving the child at a predetermined place and time that is out of public view.

Soon after the child is seemingly abandoned, an assigned person reports the case to a predetermined police officer. The police officer who is ready to take on his role goes to the site and takes the child to the police station where all necessary records are made. The police officer then takes the child to the temporary custody of the orphanage on whose behalf the broker has directed the drama. The case is then taken to the First Instance Court.

Abandoned children pose much less procedural and legal challenges for orphanages. To begin with, the strategy is, informants reported, generally applied with infants who had not yet developed verbal capacities lest the child leak information regarding his or her guardians or the staged abandoning.”

While there is much information in this article to process, some of which is familiar to many, some of which will be eye-opening and jaw-dropping, Dr. Hailu also offers some solutions.

A referral system could enable unparented children to benefit from NGO services, and hence avoid institutional care and intercountry adoption. Hailu writes that “In Ethiopia, there already exist thousands of NGOs that provide community-based services to children. For example, 275 NGOs that are operational in Addis Ababa in 2013 had implemented more than 291 child-focused projects investing Birr 703, 641, 865 (Hailu, 2013). But there is currently no referral system to connect the children in need to the services that could be provided.”

Dr. Hailu also writes that “Informants reported that the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, when making decisions based on the recommendations of its regional counterparts, generally does not undertake an independent investigation about the child’s social economic status. This is partly because it lacks the institutional capacity to travel to the child’s locality of origin to conduct the investigation, and partly because regional governments could construe the attempt at independent investigation by the federal government as interfering in their autonomy.”

I believe Dr. Hailu is suggesting here that independent investigations by MOWA, if feasible and done with transparency, could provide oversight and confirmation of accuracy of reports from the regional governments.

Changing sociocultural attitudes about adoption in Ethiopia could also, Dr. Hailu suggests, help to minimize illegal adoptions.

In testifying that a child is an orphan or abandoned, “witnesses see their false testimony as an act of benevolence, or even socially required action, to both the child and family. If they refuse to falsely testify, they could be regarded as miqegna (literally means one who does not wish the good of others), with potential negative social repercussions. Therefore, transforming the cultural and social-psychological allure within local communities is a critical strategy to minimizing illegal intercountry adoption.

This may involve preventive interventions of systematic and sustained public education regarding child rights, the adverse impacts of institutional care and intercountry adoption on children, and legal adoption processes. It also requires protective interventions of strict legal enforcement against participation in illegal intercountry adoption.”

In terms of the financial incentives inherent in international adoption, Dr. Hailu writes that “criminalizing direct adoption-related transactions between adoption agencies and orphanages” could be effective. “This will require setting up a centralized agency under a relevant ministry managed by a public/private partnership. The agency may be part of a national social welfare system that may be mandated to undertake individualized assessment of each unparented child and refer the child to various alternative care options including intercountry adoption.

As part of the welfare system, institutional care providers may be given subcontracts or grants by the centralized agency (and not by adoption agencies) to provide institutional foster care until a better placement is found for the child. Measures to ensure accountability and transparency in the operations of the agency need to be put in place in order to prevent officers of the agency from establishing corrupt relationships with adoption agencies and orphanages.”

There are many possible ways to curb or perhaps end fraud in adoptions from Ethiopia. They require diligence, funding, infrastructure, marketing, training, and sustainable capacity. I know many people and organizations argue that ending international adoptions is the only way to end the fraud and corruption. I know others who say that adoptions should continue only for children with special needs who cannot get appropriate (life-saving) care in Ethiopia. Others argue that adoptions, not life in abject poverty in an orphanage, would be best.

I’d argue that family preservation, orphan prevention, and in-country adoption are goals that everyone who cares about Ethiopian children should prioritize. I’ve written about the many ways to help children in Ethiopia: If Adoptions Decline, What Happens to the Children?

I hope Dr. Hailu’s article, which is available here (a paywall), will be widely read by anyone connected with Ethiopian adoptions, or who has an interest in child welfare. Although I was familiar with much of this information anecdotally, it is quite powerful to see it set in academic terms.

Ultimately, of course, it is Ethiopia’s decision to decide how to end fraud in Ethiopian adoptions, and how to make enact policies that best help children. I believe there are many in the adoption community who are watching the next steps carefully, and who are willing to help. I hope that, in addition to the usual government workers or international lawyers or lobbying groups, Ethiopian adoptees and birth/first families play a vibrant role in any discussions.

A Brief Explanation of Why International Adoptees Get Deported

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to the United States, little children.

“Rematriation” Through Art: Mothers’ Voices

Please consider supporting the work of Daniel Drennan ElAwar’s powerful art, “Mothers’ Voices: A ‘Rematriated’ Adoptee’s Art Residency.” Born in Lebanon, adopted to the United States, Daniel is a writer, artist, and advocate for conscientious and provocative examination of history, dissidence, and activism. In his Kickstarter information, he says he believes “this project is of particular interest to communities of all kinds affected by dispossession, displacement, and disinheritance” of Southwest-Asian women, especially mothers.

The art he is creating–a series of prints with Arabic calligraphic quotations, poetry, and proverbs–“will portray women at the very limits of a society’s allowance of their expression; capturing moments of righteous anger that break through the stasis of the status quo and reveal an unmatched latent power; a literal creative energy and force. For example, the Palestinian woman fighting off the soldier abducting her son; the Bahraini mother exclaiming to neighbors that she refuses to cry despite being delivered the clothes of her son executed by firing squad; the Syrian mother breaking through a border fence of barbed wire; the Lebanese woman reacting to police preventing her from protesting for her kidnapped son’s return.”

In Daniel’s work, there is joy, sorrow, and controversy, linked together in the challenging way that adoption itself often is. I am a big believer in the power of art to challenge our thinking, to make us uncomfortable, to evoke dialogue. Daniel’s writings always give me much to think about, and I have no doubt this art, and his memoir, will do so as well.

As an aside of sorts, this is a more volatile, controversial time in adoption than I have seen in the last few decades. More adoptee voices are being heard in expressing their truths, often to the discomfort or resistance of adoptive parents. More first mothers, in the US and globally, are speaking out, and are being encouraged to do so, slowly, yes, but it is happening. Here’s hoping we hear from first fathers and siblings and grandparents as well. An adoptive parent of two children from Korea has called for an end to international adoption. I’m going to post my response to Margie’s thoughtful, heartfelt post soon, but am still sifting through my thoughts.

In the meantime, please take a look at Daniel’s project. I wish him well in this project, and in his next venture, teaching at Emily Carr University in Vancouver, BC.

 

Ethiopian Adoptee Gabe Proctor, NCAA Champ, Died By Suicide

Earlier today, I wrote about the death by suicide of a deported Korean adoptee, Phillip Clay. I am deeply saddened to report another adoptee suicide.

Ethiopian adoptee Gabe Proctor was just 27 years old, and died by suicide this past Saturday at his adoptive parents’ home in Vermont. The obituary shared by his family said he had struggled with depression from which he could find no escape.

Originally from Mekelle, Ethiopia, Gabe was adopted along with his to Ethiopian siblings in 2000. They grew up in Vermont. He graduated from Western State Colorado University, where he was a world-class distance runner. He was a professional runner in the marathon and half marathon.


A runner friend shared her memories about Gabe here.

Donations in honor of Gabe can be sent to Hope for Youth Ethiopia. The address and more information are available here. His funeral service will be held in Vermont on Friday, May 26.

How many more times can we hear about these deaths, and not work harder to learn about depression and suicide prevention, especially among adopted persons?

My small contribution is to post fairly often about this painful reality, to share information about the trauma of adoption, as well as to provide suicide prevention resources for individuals and families.

I hope that more adoption agencies, counselors, and therapists will take note of the role of depression, trauma, and suicide prevention as they relate to adoption.

Depression can be oppressive. It is very real. It is an illness which can affect people no matter their circumstances.

My deep condolences to Gabe Proctor’s friends and family. I cannot imagine their sorrow.

 

 

 

Phillip Clay, Deported Korean Adoptee, Reported to Have Died By Suicide

I have seen this tragic news on several Korean adoption-related sites, including ASK Korea and Global Overseas Adoptee Link in Korea, which issued this press release on Facebook:

“PRESS RELEASE BY GLOBAL OVERSEAS ADOPTEES’ LINK 2017 MAY 23RD

Phillip Clay, a Korean American adoptee, who was deported back to Korea in 2012, was found dead on Sunday (21st) around 11:40 PM outside of an apartment building in Ilsan downtown about 35 minutes away (by bus) from his place. CCTV shows that he was alone in the elevator when he went up to the 14th floor from where he jumped.
His American adoptive parents as well as the US embassy have been notified.
All research shows that adoptees are overrepresented in statistics on mental health issues and suicide.

The funeral is hosted at Myungji hospital by Holt Adoption Services, the adoption agency that facilitated his adoption. Representatives from Korea Adoption Services (중앙입양원) and the Ministry of Health and Welfare 보건복지부 as well as several representatives of overseas adoptees from NGOs working with adoptees paid their respects.

“Philip was not well known in the community of overseas adoptees living in Korea and did not have a lot of friends here but his suicide affects us all deeply as we all came from the same circumstances and it could be anyone of us who chose to take our own life. Choosing to take your own life because you do not see any other way out to ease your pain and to die alone like this MUST affect anyone who hear about it,” said AK Salling, Secretary General for Global Overseas Adoptees’ Link (G.O.A’.L), an NGO run by adoptees in Seoul. “Sadly, adoptees didn’t get a chance to be involved in the funeral arrangements but we do urge adoptees to attend the funeral to pay their respects. The coffin will be carried by adoptees so at least in his death he will be surrounded by people who understood him, his own kind.”

He had a difficult life but this is not an isolated incident and must not been treated like an isolated case. Hopefully his tragic death will bring about some positive change in the outlook on adoption, post adoption services and the impact deportation has on an individual.

Adam Crasper, another deported adoptee, who arrived in Korea last year, also paid his respects today: “I am grateful to be part of a small group of adoptees and likeminded souls contributing to the betterment and welfare of the Korean adoptee community. I am because we are.”

(명지병원 3호선 화정역 line 3 Hwajang station area)
Although Philip was not a practicing Christian, Wednesday May 23rd at 1:00PM there will be a Christian ceremony at the hospital.

Any adoptees who wish to attend can gather at the G.O.A’.L office 10.30am and go to the hospital together. After the ceremony, at 5pm, G.O.A’.L will have a small wake at the office in Digital Media City, Seoul, Mapo-gu, Worldcup-bukro 44gil 37, 5th floor.”

 

I do not know what demons Philip Clay may have struggled with. The American Academy of Pediatrics did a study finding that adoptees are four more times like to attempt suicide than non-adoptees. Many people have written about the connection of adoption, trauma and suicide.

Neither do I know why Phillip Clay was deported. It is likely that he committed a felony (and served his time), did not have U.S. citizenship, and thus was deportable under immigration law. He did not have citizenship perhaps because his adoptive parents failed to get it for him. I understand he was in his early 40’s, so likely arrived here in the 1970’s, well before 2000, when citizenship became automatic for adoptees 18 and younger (though there is still significant paperwork involved). I have written many times about the need to provide all international adoptees with citizenship, to keep them from being deported. Korean adoptee Adam Crapser was the one most recently in the news, but there have been dozens deported from many countries. There are estimates of thousands of adoptees without citizenship. An adoptee from Guatemala recently learned she was not a U.S. citizen when she applied for a driver’s permit. All adopted persons need to have their Certificate of Citizenship.

The United States has failed far too many internationally adopted children (who grow up!) by not automatically providing citizenship to them. Legislation has been pending in our U.S. Congress for quite a while to confer citizenship on adoptees who arrived in the United States prior to the Child Citizenship Act. The Adoptee Rights Campaign and many others have been working for years to get legislation passed.

It is a matter of fairness: when internationally adopted children join their new families, they deserve all the rights and responsibilities of legal family members, as sons, daughters, sister, brothers.

May Phillip Clay rest in peace.

 

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.

Update on Ethiopian Adoption Suspension: All Cases Will Be Denied

The Ethiopian Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MOWA) will resume processing of adoption cases, but will issue only denials, no matter where the adoptive parents are from or where they stage in the process.

That information was part of a U.S. State Department update today regarding the suspension of Ethiopian adoptions. State will continue to urge the Ethiopian government to allow processing of cases in the pipeline prior to the April 21 suspension. However, Ethiopian ministries are having meetings throughout May and have been unresponsive to requests to meet with State.

The full State Department update from today is available here.

I posted information about the April suspension here: Ethiopia Suspends Adoptions.

 

Remembering Hana Alemu Today, and Reflecting on the Murders and Suicides of Adoptees

Six years ago today, on May 12, 2011, 13-year-old Ethiopian adoptee Hanna Williams, born Hana Alemu, died from hypothermia and malnutrition in the backyard of her adoptive home. In September of 2013, her adoptive parents, Larry and Carri Williams, were convicted of her murder, and will be in prison for decades to come.

While many of us adoptive parents of Ethiopian children have mourned her death, I don’t think we can underestimate the impact Hana’s death has had in Ethiopia. The news of her death made headlines there, and the subsequent trial and sentencing of her adoptive parents reverberated in many corners and conversations in Ethiopia. The circumstances that led to Hana’s death–the isolation of eating outside from the rest of the family and not being allowed to participate in Christmas or birthdays, the punishments of water on sandwiches and frozen vegetables for dinner, having her head shaved for cutting the grass too short, having food withheld as punishment, being forced to shower outside, being hit for failing to stand the right way, and being locked in a small, dark closet for hours at a time–are harrowing at best. The jury at the parents’ trial agreed that the treatment met the standard of torture, and that is not an easy legal standard to reach.

Hana Alemu (Williams)

For Ethiopians in government and in the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, for the average Ethiopian aware that thousands of Ethiopian children were sent each year to other countries for adoption, and for the Ethiopian parents who have placed children for adoption, the news of Hana’s life and death after only three years in America was heartbreaking and infuriating. My sense is that her death has been an undercurrent in considerations of policy changes regarding international adoption from Ethiopia.

We can say it was a rare case, and that’s true. It does not give solace. There may be some resolution in knowing that Larry and Carri Williams will be in jail for over 20 more years. That knowledge though is tempered by the fact that Immanuel, the other Ethiopian child they adopted and abused, will probably be haunted for the rest of his life by the trauma of his time with them. Their 7 biological children, who witnessed the abuse and testified about it at their parents’ trial, have also been badly damaged by the abuse and the death–which several of them witnessed–of Hana.

None of us can know what went on in Hana’s mind and heart as she endured the cruelty of the people who were supposed to love her and keep her safe. Three-year-old Hyunsu O’Callaghan, adopted from Korea, was killed by his adoptive father about four months  after he arrived in the United States. Hana and Hyunsu’s fates crush the popular narrative of adoption: the orphan in search of a family, the parents who take her in, the happy life then lived by everyone.

Another crushing blow to the fairy tale narrative is the reality and tragedy of suicide in the adoption community. Again, yes, it is rare, for which we are all grateful. Still, when we hear about the death by suicide of adopted persons, especially for example the suicide of a 14-year-old Korean adoptee just 11 days ago, all of us in adoption need to look at ourselves and what we are doing to educate and help.

I don’t know if there is a unique poignancy to the deaths of adoptees, but it feels that way. Adoption is supposed to mean a better life, right? That can be true (depending how you define “better”), but another larger and vital truth is that adoption follows loss. Loss can also be trauma. Adoption can be full of love and equally full of deep sorrow and grief. Many people struggle with depression and anxiety, and as a society, we are still reluctant to recognize those struggles as real. As an adoptive parent, I have known many adoptees, both young children and adults, who wrestle with depression that may well be rooted in having been adopted. That’s true for people growing up in deeply loving families who provide all available resources for mental health challenges, as well as for those whose adoptive parents are abusive. For those who get help, the struggle can still be difficult. For those who don’t, it can be excruciating. Add in the complexity of growing up as a person of color in our racist society (much of which does not/will not believe we live in a racist society), the bullying which has aways existed but is exacerbated by social media, the lack of racial mentors/mirrors/role models for adoptees, and a history of neglect and abuse prior to adoption, and it’s easy to see how a delicate balance can be tipped into despair and worse.

Please let me offer some takeaways from these haunting deaths:

Adoption is rooted in loss, in the cases of infants placed at birth with adoptive parents, in the cases of children removed from abusive or neglectful situations, and in the cases of adopted children who grow up with loving families. It doesn’t mean therefore all adoptees are doomed to despair and ruin. It does mean that as adoptive parents, we must be aware of the role that trauma and loss can play as our kids grow up, and even well into adulthood.

The screening process for prospective adoptive parents must include serious discussions about possible struggles with depression and anxiety for adoptees. Parents need to hear directly from adopted persons about their struggles. Anyone involved with preparation for prospective adoptive parents and with counseling of parents and adoptees must step up their services prior to adoptive placements to encourage families, after placement, to reach out for help and not live in isolation, as the Williams’ family essentially did. There is no shame in asking for help in difficult circumstances, whether children or parents are struggling.

Everyone, with or without a connection to adoption, should file away the phone number of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255. If the Def Jam artist Logic can release a song about it, the rest of us can surely keep the phone number, share it when needed, and learn about suicide prevention. There are many resources available to anyone considering suicide and to anyone who fears that someone may attempt suicide.

And please do not think I am ignoring the needs of first/birth parents, and the loss and trauma that they experience. While my focus here is on Hana and other adoptees after an adoptive placement, I recognize that first/birth parents also need support and resources for depression or other challenges post-placement.

I keep Hana in my heart. What happened to her should never have happened to any child. The notion of children dying by suicide is wrenching as well. I know many adult adoptees are especially grieving the loss of their young counterparts, and looking for more ways to help. We need to keep conversations open, especially around adoption, depression, and loss. We need to acknowledge the pain and complexity, to speak up for vulnerable children, and to offer help to struggling families.