“Crowd Funded” Children: The Disturbing Products of World Adoption Day

Hollywood pastor Hank Frontener and others designated yesterday as “World Adoption Day.” Frontener, according to the World Adoption Day website, is the force behind AdoptTogether.org, the first crowdfunding site for adoption costs. It all sounds good, right? Look closer.

Crowdfunding is the practice of raising money by asking for contributions from lots of people–friends, family, strangers–over the Internet.

Private US infant adoptions (through an agency or attorney) and international adoptions can easily cost $35,000 or more. US foster care adoptions cost very little, so the AdoptTogether crowdfunding has nothing to do with those children.

Why is crowdfunding for adoption controversial?

For one reason, crowdfunding for adoption has the feel of raising money for charity. Adoption should not be seen as an act of charity, or of rescue, or of saving. That approach objectifies the adoptee as a “charity case,” as someone who should be grateful and pitied. That’s not a healthy way to build a family, and it’s an unfair burden for the adopted child (who grows up).

A related reason can be the association of payment for a child–not for the expenses involved in processing an adoption, but for the child. I’m sure I’m not the only adoptive parent who’s been asked “How much did they cost?” It’s demeaning and crass, and smiling while saying it doesn’t make it less repugnant. It’s particularly wrong in reference to an African or African-American child.

Another reason for controversy is that crowdfunding is an astonishing reminder of the economic imbalance between those who are adopting, and those whose children are being adopted. The families featured on the AdoptTogether page are looking to raise between $20,000 and $60,000. The children are from Africa (three from Uganda, one from an unnamed African country), from China, and from the US (an African-American girl).

People who adopt generally have a lot more money than the people who are placing their children. It’s safe to say that the US families adopting have much more cash flow than the Ugandan families, for example. The inequity is enormous. Poverty should not be a reason for a mother of father to lose their child forever, yet it happens again and again.

Imagine, for example, what $60,000 could mean to Simon, the Ugandan father of the twins featured on the AdoptTogether page, and written about in the adoptive mother’s blog (September 27 post, “the grand finale”). The twins also have older siblings in Uganda with whom they will not grow up.

The fact that I know that the name and have seen the photo of the Ugandan twins’ father is another example of why crowdfunding for adoption is so controversial: it often involves an unfettered sharing of extremely personal information. You and I now know more about these little children than they do at this point, and it’s all on the Internet forever, without their permission.

Another reason for controversy is that crowdfunding allows parents to pay for their adoptions completely, and then to receive the adoption tax credit.  In an article written by the CEO of the adoption agency Bethany Christian Services, Pastor Hank Frontener explained why he established AdoptTogether: “…many adoptions are out-of-this-world expensive – $35,000 on average for an international adoption. But…if we could crowdfund, and give people a way to be a part of an adoption financially and have a tax benefit to boot, we’d have something special.”

Indeed. The generous adoption tax credit allow families to recoup their adoption-related expenses for item such as travel, hotels, lawyers’ fees, and so on. The US government has given out $7 billion (yes, billion) in tax credits (not deductions), primarily for private and international adoptions, to adoptive parents. Read more here.

Pastor Frontener and others promoting yesterday’s first World Adoption Day invited “everyone worldwide to post a photo of themselves, their family and their friends with the hands up smiley face with the hashtag #WorldAdoptionDay.” Many did so. Others posted that hashtag along with #flipthescript, a successful, important effort led by the Lost Daughters to have the voices of adoptees included in the long-standing chorus of adoptive parents during November’s National Adoption Month. Learn more about #flipthescript here, and take a look at an excellent video about why it matters.

I tweeted yesterday about #WorldAdoptionDay along with #flipthescript. One of my tweets included a photo from the World Adoption Day store: their “Crowdfunded” tee-shirt.

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That photo, that “Crowdfunded” slogan on an ostensibly adopted child, generated quite a response, mostly of anger and frustration, and the tweets flew quickly.

Today, if you go to the World Adoption Day store and look for that shirt, you will get this:

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I don’t know if it was removed because of pressure placed on the World Adoption Day site, or if all the shirts were sold out. I appreciate the fact that the item is gone, in any case. It’s an example of commodifying a child, suggesting that there’s something cute about soliciting money from strangers to provide a child with a family.

Unfortunately, the World Adoption Day folks also thought it was cute to sell tee shirts that say “Love Child.” Sigh. Yes, maybe on some odd scale it’s less offensive than saying a child is crowdfunded. Still. “Love Child” has a different connotation than “Beloved Child,” for example, which is not one of the World Adoption Day tee shirts. Clearly “Love Child” as a product on the World Adoption Day site was considered a clever reference to the euphemism for an illegitimate child or bastard. But why should an adopted child bear the burden of reframing the definition of love child?

World Adoption Day’s main focus was to have people post photos with smiley faces on their hands, and to publicize a crowdfunding platform. Its focus was not to promote awareness of the commingling of love and grief in adoption, or to promote family preservation, or to insist that the voices of adult adoptees and first/birth parents be heard. It did not question the high costs charged by adoption agencies, nor promote the need for adoption from US foster care, for which adoption expenses generally do not need to be crowdfunded.

Let’s not crowdfund children either.

 

 

 

 

 

Adoptive Parents: It’s 2013. Do You Know Where Your Kids Are…Searching?

Long ago, the biggest issue facing many adoptive parents was how to tell their children they are adopted, and to help them process and understand that.That’s certainly still important. Parents have to be aware of developmental stages, of children’s questions and silences, and of how to share information appropriately.

The Very Big And Common Questions are these: Why was I adopted? Where is my birth mother now? Do I have brothers or sisters?

When sharing information with their children, adoptive parents, of children from the US or from anywhere in the world, can no longer rely solely on what was given to them by the adoption agency at the time of placement. That information may or may not be accurate, may or may not have been translated accurately, may or may not be complete, may or may not be outdated quickly.

It all becomes startlingly irrelevant in the face of the Internet: the gaping maw; the dark labyrinth; the source of information, rumors, unchecked lies. And perhaps your children’s main activity.

While lawmakers across this country continue to deny adopted adults their basic civil/human rights–access to their own birth certificates–plenty of people are searching and reuniting with their first families.

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Adoptive parents should be with their children on the journey to search for first family. In the case of international adoptees, traveling to the country of origin is hardly the only way to learn one’s story. Parents should be offering to assist, letting their child guide them, but being responsible, aware parents. This is most important during pre-teens and teenage years, when kids are knowledgeable about Internet use, wondering about their past, and struggling to figure out their identity. Some kids won’t want to search; some won’t be ready.  And some will be searching on their own.

A few realities:

*  As an adoptive parent, you have some control over what your child does on the Internet. Short of denying access at all, you will likely not have complete control. And if you deny access at home, your clever child can easily access the Internet in the library or at a friend’s house or on a friend’s phone. So learn and monitor and talk about it.  A lot.

*  Your child could easily be contacted by members of his or her birth family. This is an increasingly common occurrence.  Your child may well have Internet-agile siblings in other parts of the country or world.

*  Secrecy in adoption has never really helped anyone.  We don’t need a new spin on this of adopted children (teenagers, young adults) secretly searching and lying about it. We need parents who partner with and support their children on this complex journey.

*  Surprises are also not usually a goal in an adoptive search, though they are often an element. They make reunions even more complicated. The decision to search should be done thoughtfully, transparently, and patiently–and with loved ones helping out.

*  Once people find each other, which can happen quickly, that’s nowhere near an end.  It’s an enormous, complicated beginning. No one should be alone for that either, especially a young person.

There are approximately a zillion resources available for searching. Facebook, Google, and Tumblr are the most obvious, and probably the most common. Here are some other sites.

An excellent starting point is PACT: An Adoption Alliance. Here is their terrific list of resources for search and reunion.

An overview of search and reunion issues is on adoption.com.

International Soundex Reunion Registry This is a mutual consent registry–both parties have to register for a connection to be made. If the birth parent has registered here, it’s possible to make a quick connection.

Another source is the American Adoption Congress. They have extensive information about adoption reform, including facilitating reunification with birth family. AAC has state reps who can help navigate the state laws that control access to birth records (the laws vary for every state).

There’s a group called Adoptees in Search that’s based in Colorado; much of the info is about Colorado, but their site has additional information.

This site G’s Adoption Registry has information about “Search Angels,” folks who volunteer their time and skills to assist people searching for birth relatives. They usually work for free. Some are astonishingly knowledgeable and helpful; it can be a mixed bag.

Parents can and should look into some of the DNA services. If you or your child take a basic DNA test, the data can be included in a huge database, and it is possible to connect with (previously unknown) relatives. Of course, there are a lot of considerations in doing this. I wrote this blog post recently that gives further information and resources.

And if you think the power of Facebook in America is a big deal, have you looked at social media around the globe? Heard of VK? According to Wikipedia:

VK (Originally VKontakte, Russian: ВКонтакте, literally “in contact”) is the biggest social network service in Europe, it is available in several languages but popular particularly among Russian-speaking users around the world, especially in Russia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Belarus, and Israel. Like other social networks, VK allows users to message contacts publicly or privately, create groups, public pages and events, share and tag images, audio and video, and play browser-based games.

As of December 2012, VK has at least 195 million accounts. VK is…the second most visited website in Russia. In December 2012 VK had an average of 43 million daily users.

I know of adoptive parents of Russian-born children who have searched and located birth family members via VK. I know of adoptees who have been contacted by siblings, some known about previously, some not. Translation services abound on the Internet, so it’s possible to easily send messages even without knowing another language.

I’d guess that the VK model will become more prevalent in other hemispheres as well.

It’s a small world. Live in it with eyes wide open. Be with your children on their journey.

Oversharing About Adoption on the Internet

I’m looking forward to Thursday’s CHSFS webinar on privacy issues around adopted children’s stories on the Internet. Registration and other details are available here. Please join Aselefech and me (July 18, noon-1pm Central US, 10am Pacific US, 1pm eastern US, 8pm Ethiopia and FInland, 2am Korea.) Don’t see your time zone listed here? Check out a World Time Map. I love maps.

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We’ve thought a lot about this topic, my daughter/co-presenter and I. We have finished the PowerPoint, and a couple of slides are included here. Sneak preview. There is so much to talk about and think about. It’s going to be a lively conversation.

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It’s complicated, but some things seem clear.

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If you are not able to join us, CHSFS will have the recorded webinar available. I wrote about the webinar previously here.

I plan to write further about the subject as well, because there are volumes to say about what, how much, and with whom adoptive parents should share information on the Internet–especially if the information belongs to an adopted child, who grows up to be an adult.

Privacy in Adoption: Sacred Cow or Tired Scapegoat?

Next Thursday, July 18, Aselefech (my daughter, Ethiopian adoptee, young adult) and I will present a webinar titled “Whose Story Is This? Protecting Your Child’s Privacy.” Details and registration are available here; the webinar is being provided as an educational event by Children’s Home Society and Family Services.

We will be talking about how, when, and whether parents should share their adopted child’s story. In the course of researching and preparing, I’m reminded at every turn about how the Internet and social media have changed everything in adoption, certainly since I adopted my children 20+ years ago, and indeed within the last 10 minutes.

The notion of “privacy” (sharing information only with those to whom it is relevant) seems quaint, if not archaic, in the context of Internet.

In adoption, there was a time when the prevailing wisdom was that children (mostly placed same race, as infants) didn’t need even to be told they were adopted.  Transracial adoption, open adoption, and better awareness of adoptees’ rights have changed all that. The pendulum of social media has swung so heavily that now prospective parents post on-line regularly looking for babies, adoptees (somewhat) easily find their first family on-line, and adoptive parents blog in great detail about their adoption process, their family, and their children’s history and issues.

One study I came across said that 92% of children in the US have an Internet presence before the age of 2. Wow.

Of course, it’s not just parents promoting their children via photos and cute stories. The kids are following Mom and Dad’s example. The Sesame Workshop/Joan Ganz Cooney Center published a report in 2011 that 25% of all 3 year olds go on-line daily. By age 8, close to 70% of children use the Internet any given weekday. Some 50% of children age 6-9 are online daily. I realize much of that time is spent on games and apps, but as the child grows, that changes.

In my anecdotal experience, 100% of teenagers are on-line (texting, sexting, chatting, Tumblring, Instagramming, FaceBooking) 100% of the time.

Given these realities–that everything has the potential to be shared with everyone, around the globe, to infinity and beyond–how much privacy should an adopted child have regarding his/her story? How much sharing by adoptive parents is too much?

But the real question may be this: Whose needs are being met?

In the webinar, Aselefech and I will talk about that question, plus the statistics and some real-life (if you consider the Internet real-life) examples.

Here is one I am mulling over; there are dozens of similar posts on-line. An adoptive parent has a public blog, and posts about an 8-year-old child. The child’s multiple mental health diagnoses, medications, and disturbing behaviors are described. Reaction to the posting is mixed: some people are hugely supportive and grateful, some people are outraged and saddened. The parent says the child gave consent and permission to share the story. The parent posted the child’s story in an effort to remove the stigma of mental illness, and to encourage other families to seek help and know they are not alone. If the subject were cancer or autism, would the criticism have been as strong?

I struggle with the notion of whether a young child can genuinely give consent: maybe the child wanted to please the parent, and agreed without really knowing what the disclosure of personal information could mean, especially in the future. It’s within the legal rights of parents to share whatever information they want about their children, but there is a moral or ethical element to consider as well.  As my mom used to say, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” There is no question that many people were grateful for the blog’s openness, and supported the writer fully. I question whether a child’s privacy should be sacrificed to help strangers–that seems to me to be the dilemma.

A few final thoughts: There is no such thing as privacy on the web. Not even in “closed” or “secret” Facebook groups. Can you say “screen shot”?

Whatever you post lives on for at least 7 years, or, more likely, forever.

A survey by GuardChild.com reported that 52% of the girls surveyed could read their parents’ email. which suggests that an equal percentage does so. Passwords matter, parents.

And so does privacy.

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My thanks go to Cindy Rasicot for her insights and ideas about all this.

 

Webinar on Privacy and Children’s Stories

A robust, controversial, emotional, and complicated topic: Privacy and adopted children’s stories.

How much is too much to share? Do adoptive parents have the right to share some or all of their child’s information? If yes, with whom–friends, family, strangers in the grocery store? What about sharing a child’s personal story (or behaviors, medications, history) on a blog or in a Facebook group?

My daughter Aselefech and I will be talking about this knotty topic via a live webinar Thursday July 18, noon-1pm cdt, sponsored by Children’s Home Society and Family Services. Information about the webinar is available here.

Feel free to send me any thoughts, questions, comments prior to the webinar, either here on the blog or to maureen@lightofdaystories.com.

There’s a lot to talk about…

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