It’s not too late to take action, even after 40 years

People all over the world are talking about the return of an adopted Korean child by a Dutch diplomat and his wife. I’ve written about disruptions and dissolutions before, namely here and here. I think one of the aspects of this case that is alarming people is the fact that the girl was 4 months old at the time of the adoption and had lived with her adoptive parents for 7 years.

A disruption is when the child is returned before the adoption is finalized. Disruptions often happen after a child is placed in the home a few months, but sometimes in the case of international adoption, it can occur when the family meets the child and decides not to go through with the adoption.

Once an adoption has been finalized, if the parents "return" a child it is called a dissolution. Dissolutions always occur after the legal status of parent and child has been established in a court of law. In the United States, for parents to dissolve an adoption they have to voluntarily terminate their parental rights in court.

We often think of disruptions or dissolutions as being something that happens fairly soon after the adoption, perhaps within months or a few years. It’s rare that we hear about an adoption dissolving 7 years later. But in my line of work, that’s not unusual. I have on my case load two siblings who were in foster care, adopted, and re-entered care six years after the finalization. We hear about the disruptions that happen in China or Guatemala because with other prospective families traveling in groups together, it’s going to be known. I want to know how many kids were adopted internationally and then years later when kids turn into teenagers (and normally get ornery and rebel), how many of those families dissolve with no one watching?

One of my frustrations has always been finding reliable statistical data on disruptions and dissolutions. In my earlier post "And even more about adoption disruptions and dissolutions" I asked for anyone who had reliable numbers to contact me. It turns out that the Department of Health and Human Services actually did keep track of the number of international adoption "disruptions" in 2006. According to this Newsweek article, "When Adoption Goes Wrong" there were 81 international adoption disruptions or dissolutions from 14 different states last year. Of course, we still don’t know how many international adoptions have dissolved over the 50+ years of international adoption to the United States. Anecdotally, I know of several adult Korean adoptees who spent time in foster care.

The return of Jade seems especially egregious because from the news reports out there, the reasons seem highly superficial; that Jade’s parents Raymond and Meta Poeteray had two biological children after thinking they were infertile, or blaming Jade’s issue with being a picky eater. My guess is that neither of these issues were the real reason Jade was abandoned.

Jade’s parents probably believed that adopting a child would make their lives complete and never thought much about the reality of having an adopted child. There is speculation that their status as a high ranking diplomat, wealthy and educated and with many connections, helped them adopt Jade. Whether or not it’s true, perhaps they just felt incredibly entitled to have what they wanted and at the time they wanted Jade. But whatever reasons they had for adopting, it seems they never really truly claimed her as their child. They didn’t obtain citizenship for her so now Jade is a girl without a county. They didn’t attach to a child they had at 4 months old. I wonder how much pre-adoptive training this couple had. Or were they too "privileged" to have to go through training?

The Poeteray’s blame Jade for the dissolution, but my guess is they were unprepared to deal with their own emotional baggage in terms of adopting transracially and internationally. Unfortunately there are a lot of adoptive parents out there who have the same misconceptions, and a lot of adoption agencies who will allow them to sit in merry little la-la land.

But it’s not just about assigning blame. Agencies get a terrible rap for misleading clients and withholding information and for not properly training them about all the needs these kids have. And yet – we also get a ton of negative feedback for being too "harsh" and "negative" and focused on the awful behaviors. Not to defend agencies, but is it really the agency’s fault that pre-adoptive parents don’t want to hear anything negative? In September, I spoke on a panel with two other adult transracial adoptees and we received negative feedback. The difficult part of all this is balancing our responsibilities to be honest and tell the truth while not scaring away prospective families for the children we have who need adoptive homes.

Sometimes I think we’ve gone about this whole thing all wrong. The kids who are in need of adoptive homes – are NOT ordinary people. They have, in their young lives, gone through enough loss and sorrow to render them extraordinary. My profession likes to call these kids "special needs."

So why do social workers look so hard for "ordinary" parents. Maybe we need to look for "extraordinary" parents. Maybe average parents aren’t good enough and we should be looking for parents with "special abilities" to parent "special needs." And by average parents, I mean that being white, middle class, and having a house with a picket fence and a two car garage just isn’t enough to entitle someone to adopt a child.

And I certainly don’t mean that having lots of money or connections is good enough either.

Some of the best adoptive parents I’ve met have very, very modest means. They don’t have the cleanest houses, the wooden play set in the back yard, or a nice minivan with sliding side doors. Their living quarters are cramped, cluttered and chaotic. And they’re perfect for parenting kids whose lives have been messy emotionally and mentally. They don’t expect their adopted children to be some perfect living doll up on a shelf. They know their kids will be messy for years to come. And instead of being upset that these kids don’t live up to their expectations, they’ll be right there in the mess with them.

There is just no way to predict how prospective adoptive parents are going to be as real-time parents after the finalization occurs. Just as there’s no way to really predict how the children are going to be. We’ve all heard the horror stories of the children who seem like quiet little angels and once home turn into abusive, antisocial, reactive-attachment-disordered hellions. This is why prospective adoptive families must do their homework. It’s just not going to be excusable to be naive any more. Too many people are getting hurt.

So what does an adoptive parent do if they feel they were wronged by adoption and their child turned out not to be the lovely little doll promised by the agency? Good thing there’s this guy. He’ll help you get your justice – even after 40 years, it’s not too late to take action against a wrongful adoption.

Of course, what recourse does the child have, if she was unlucky enough to have parents who misled her into believing that they would be her "forever family?" Ah, she’ll just get relegated as a "bitter" adoptee.

Thanks to Ungrateful Little Bastard for providing many of the links for this post.

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16 thoughts on “It’s not too late to take action, even after 40 years

  1. I forget where I have heard this, but one plausible speculation is that there was child sexual abuse of some kind going on in the family. This would explain the bizarre reasons they gave as a cover up.
    I’m a bit cynical about finding “extraordinary” instead of “ordinary” parents. That takes a lot of money and resources, and there doesn’t seem to be the political will to grant those resources. And then there’s the keeping them after the finding them, which is a huge problem in foster parenting.
    Japan’s social system also has problems knowing how to handle “stateless” children. This is one reason why I think our American rule (shared by most Latin American countries, too) of citizenship by birthright is so important. Stateless children born into second-class citizenship should be a shameful thing for any nation.

  2. I think the agency we went through was unusual in that a good part of our home study process was spent in a group workshop setting, trying to impress upon us that as much as we desperately wanted to be parents, we would in fact be parenting children with special (i,e, adoption related) needs. And they also spent a good amount of time having us try to start to grasp how it might feel for our children to be raised in a transracial household. I remember feeling more than a little churlish at times that the social workers kept placing the emphasis on what our children would need and the losses they would come to us with, when, dude, I just wanted a baby already! Ok, so my agency possibly wasn’t the norm.
    But there is SO much information out there. There are SO many resources. It’s inexcusable to claim ignorance anymore. And tangentially, I have to say I am deeply sorry to have ranted against “angry adult adoptees” earlier in my blogging, ah, career. I know parenting is a process but I wish I hadn’t felt quite so defensive. But the longer I parent my daughter, the less I can defend my earlier points of view.

  3. have you come across an english site that has the dutch consol’s statement of why they returned jade? at a dutch site he says it’s because of a serious illness and it was taking a toll on the family. something of that sort anyways. the translation i got didn’t give the illness’s name…
    this is a thought provoking entry…i guess the question remains: how certain, how confident can a child be in believing that they’re finally with their “forever” family? (personally, “forever” family is too sugar-coated for me)

  4. It might be interesting to know that an adoption through the Korean civil law does not require going through an adoption agencies. None of the four adoption agencies were involved in this adoption… well, you do the math

  5. Diplomat ‘dumped his adopted child because she did not fit in’
    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/europe/article3048747.ece
    “The South Korean Consulate in Hong Kong said that Mr and Mrs Poeteray had complained that Jade was not adapting to Dutch culture or food. “That is the reason they gave for why they want to discontinue the relationship,” a South Korean official said.”
    “Dutch newspapers tracked down a former babysitter yesterday who took care of Jade when she was a baby in Indonesia. She too was bemused by the fate of the little girl whom she remembers as a quiet but normal child. “I took care of her in the evenings, while an Indonesian woman was with her in the daytime,” she told De Telegraaf. “But Meta did not treat as her real daughter.”

  6. Russian children are also often disrupted or dissolved because of their special needs, mainly FAS. Unfortunately, in my experience, agencies are not upfront with prospective parents regarding the special needs of adoptive children.
    Whether it be sensory integration, attachment, or medical needs, agencies need to educate parents on how to parent differently.
    Hiring nannies to parent and assuming children will get better with time won’t cut it. We have taken a proactive approach with our son and his medical issues. We fired our first ped. for not testing for H Pylori (which our GI said was one of the worst cases he had ever seen), we have moved to a better school district for Early Childhood services, and we do whatever we can for him. It makes the difference.
    Are we exceptional? No. We just love our son.
    Great post.

  7. Thank you for one of the best posts I’ve seen on this subject. Our agency provides excellent pre-adoption education, and they are in fact frequently accused of being “harsh” and “negative.” Your perspective on this is very helpful.

  8. Great post, thoroughly enjoyed reading it.
    I do agree with your notion of looking for “extraordinary parents.” However, maybe we can also help parents grow from “ordinary” to “extraordinary” through pre-adoptive education.

  9. The Child must be so hurt and confused. I can’t imagine what, if anything, could induce me to re-abandon my child. Wish there was something we could actually do…
    Love yoour blog – so much truth and honesty is not easy to come by when many in our community would prefer flying ponies and lollipops.
    Hang tough.
    Missy
    Mom – Messy, average but loving every second of my child’s childhood.

  10. When it comes to adoption placement, particularly for older or more difficult kids, I think states and SW’s need to rethink how they find “appropriate” families. This will sound self-serving, but having adopted five daughters, all at ages 8 or 11, over the past 28 years,from foster care, and having successfully parented all of them (though at least one isn’t leading a particularly successful adult life), I think SWs need to be looking for people like me. Yet, the truth is, I was passed over time and time again when I first applied to adopt. I didn’t cook, didn’t go to church, didn’t like crafts and was a bit of a loner. In terms of personality, I was (and am) loud, obnoxious, aggressive, argumentative and had zero childcare experience. The first four characteristics served me well as an attorney but SWs weren’t so sure it made me good parenting material. Well, surprise! My little darlings had no clue what to do with a mother, but their behaviors meant that my lawyering came in handy. Establishing IEP’s with recalcitrant school districts, convincing juvenile court judges that sending my kids to residential treatment was neither in their best interests nor society’s, dealing with floored neighbors–all of that used my legal skills, not my mothering ones. Most of my actual parenting consisted of hanging in there by my fingertips. SW’s insisted that difficult kids needed a stay at home parent, but I think getting out of the house, having a job to go to where I was viewed as a reasonably competent person saved my sanity. And then there was the fact that I was a single parent–most SWs were looking for two parent families.
    After I successfully parented my first daughter (who had been the terror of my smalltown DHS and was headed into permanent foster care), there was a greater willingness to place children with me. And I developed a stronger sense of what kind of child was right for me. But it was still a fight every time to get adoption committees to listen.

  11. “Of course, what recourse does the child have, if she was unlucky enough to have parents who misled her into believing that they would be her “forever family?” Ah, she’ll just get relegated as a “bitter” adoptee. ”
    Exactly the point. No one is advocating for the child, at all. It is always the child that is without representation.
    I personally know of a Ukrainian child who fell into the system again and was dumped back in his home country after his adoptive family realized his “issues” (severe RAD) were too much for them to handle. They sold him ON THE INTERNET to another family who ran off with him (along with 13 other foster children) to another state.
    Why has there been no legal recourse?
    Because there is no one to really represent these kids, nor any money backing them. A sad state of affairs.
    The laws need to change.

  12. As a director of a domestic adoption exchange, I should point out that we also get plenty of situations in which bioogical parents decide to place an older child for adoption. Obviously we can’t call that “returning” the child, but there are clearly situations in which a parent no longer feels able to parent a child. Sometimes there may be secret reeasons they don’t want to reveal, but I would say that if a parent feels that way about a child, the child is better off being somewhere else!

  13. Another dissolved MN adoption story here:
    http://www.topix.com/forum/city/hudson-wi/TC6TNEJRP60DE113C
    http://nl.newsbank.com/nl-search/we/Archives?s_site=duluth&p_multi=GF|&p_product=DU&p_theme=du&p_action=search&p_maxdocs=200&p_text_search-0=alex%20AND%20bignell&s_dispstring=alex%20bignell%20AND%20date(last%20180%20days)&p_field_date-0=YMD_date&p_params_date-0=date:B,E&p_text_date-0=-180qzD&xcal_numdocs=20&p_perpage=10&p_sort=YMD_date:D&xcal_useweights=no
    There is another adopted former USSR teenager living in the same residential treatment facility.

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