Actions speak louder than words

From the "You said it better than I could" shelf, I would like to bring your attention to this great list that atlasien from Upside Down Adoption created in response to a question posed in last week's Racialicious post about Rebecca Walker's quote on adoption.

A reader named Melanie asked,

 "what are the options then for orphans living in any country, including
the US? As a person who simply wants to be a parent and is completely
not interested in doing so biologically, how can I work towards justice
and transparency in the US (where I live) and in other countries where
orphans/orphanages/adoption is concerned?

…I am genuinely interested in what POCs and/or those against transracial
adoption feel is the best way to serve children, any children who are
orphans. As a perspective AP, I read a lot of criticism of adoption but
very rarely does anyone move or point to a solution. Maybe there isn’t
" (comment #37).

Atlasien has kindly given me permission to post her response:

The options for children in crisis are: living with parents,
living with extended family, living in a group home or orphanage,
living in foster care, some sort of guardianship arrangement,
independent living with supports, informal or formal adoption. Or a
combination of any of these. Adoption is sometimes the best solution,
but most of the time, it’s not. And one thing I learned in the last few
years that surprised me… although foster care is generally better than being in a group home, being in a good group home is much better than bad/inconsistent foster care.

Things you can do in this country:
– Get educated about issues in domestic adoption/foster care here in the U.S.
– Actively work to dispel myths about domestic adoption/foster care here in the U.S.
– Volunteer as a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate, called Guardian ad litems in some states)
– Volunteer at a group home as a mentor
– Become a foster parent (a good one, not one of the bad ones)
– Become a social worker (a good one, not one of the bad ones)
– Advocate for specific, targeted, effective reform in the system.

For international adoption:
– don’t adopt internationally unless you have strong ties to that
country (e.g. your ancestors are from there, your relatives are from
there, or you can speak the language)
– don’t adopt from any country where you can’t keep easily keep the
child in contact with many people closer to their culture of origin.
– if you adopt internationally, work to establish contact with your child’s biological family.
– educate yourself, work to dispel myths and also try to combat the silencing of adoptees and others in mainstream media
– take adoption corruption seriously
– support homegrown organizations working for social change in the
country; don’t assume that foreign-led organizations and foreign
charity leaders understand the whole picture.

Overall, putting charity and adoption hand-in-hand is dangerous. It can be insulting to adoptees… adoptees should ideally be wanted; they should neither be a living penance, nor a prize for winning a moral contest.

If you want to work for an NGO, work for an NGO. If you want to
adopt, adopt… and acknowledge and try to deal with the ethical issues

One foster care adoption blogger I follow once wrote “You can only save a child once. After that, it’s called parenting.”

I love that quote, because I actually don’t think it’s possible to take the salvation narrative entirely
out of adoption. In fact, if the adoption wasn’t about “saving” in some
way — if the child would have been better off without adoption anyway —
then that’s really, really unethical. But the salvation narrative
should be limited and contextualized; it shouldn’t drown out the
child’s own story, or the story of their original family (which is
usually more about tragedy than salvation).

Author: JaeRan

Assistant professor at UW Tacoma, writer, and researcher.

19 thoughts

  1. Since you are studying in the field, I wonder if you could address the assertion that group home care is better than foster care or adoption. I know that Newt Gingrich, et al were hot to bring back orphanages, but the studies that I’m aware of state unequivocally that most children do not fare well in group homes or orphanages, certainly not in comparison to foster care or adoption. Two studies that I’m aware of are the Casey study from 2002 ( and a 2008 study regarding juvenile delinquency in the context of foster or group homes ( However, I don’t keep up with all of the literature in the field.

  2. Things you can do in this country:
    -Actively work to get legislation enacted in all 50 states that would keep an adoptee’s birth certificate unaltered/unsealed and to unseal/unalter the ones currently in that “state” of existence.

  3. An interesting post. My DH is Chinese American (his brother lives in China as well, moved back, as opposed to born there), my DS adopted from there, and a SN child. Although I don’t know if I would go this far, we did stop going to our local FCC group. In the name of preserving the culture for their children, some of the parents would be horribly offensive to DH (“you don’t speak Chinese? Tell me about tis obscure holiday?” O.k. people this will be your child someday. Your child who has never lived in China, has no idea, is an American, and you’re being racist.)
    I could certainly go on but DS is waiting for me to read.

  4. I thought her posts in that discussion were awesome.
    But focusing on foster care in particular – my only experience is having lived in them for several years myself. Beginning at age 10. Coming from a very disrupted existence – one parent not there, the other schizophrenic.
    The families I stayed with were all very nice and treated me well. But I never felt safe and I was always anxious to get out of there. Maybe it was just my experience, but I did not feel that it was anything more than emergency shelter.
    This isn’t to argue for adoption or group homes. Just my own anecdote.

  5. I’ve attended meetings with adoptees from Korea who felt that no searching should be done until the “child” was old enough to decide to search him/herself, understanding all the ramifications – what do you think?
    “- if you adopt internationally, work to establish contact with your child’s biological family.”

  6. Thanks for all the kind words! Wow, I’ve been doing a lot of “guesting” this week! Here I go with another humongous comment!
    @Mara: I totally agree, open records is a reform initiative that SHOULD be a no-brainer, but there are some very regressive interests blocking it.
    @Julie: I wouldn’t ever want to assert that group homes are better than foster care. But I asserted that GOOD group homes are better than BAD foster care. I came to that conclusion after reading a lot of stuff from foster care advocates who are also former foster children, such as Lisa — — and prairieguy — Also from reading Yondalla — — who specializes in fostering teens.
    What I learned is that children have a lot of different needs. Some teens that come into the system need AND want a new family. Some of them need a family but don’t truly want one, so if they’re placed, they’ll almost certainly sabotage their placement. Some of them neither need nor want a new family. And of course some of them are terribly confused and don’t know what they want at all.
    If, when I was 15, all my family died suddenly in a freak accident, I don’t think I would want to be either fostered OR adopted OR put in a group home. I was a very independent teen, in fact I was basically living on my own when I was 15… not because of any family argument, it was with my mother’s OK. Anyway, if such a tragedy happened, I would want some kind of guardianship situation, or independent living with supports, but I absolutely would not want an entirely new, stranger family as a replacement. The thought would be horrifying. That hypothetical situation wouldn’t be representative of most kids in foster care… but what experience is? Kids in foster care so many different backgrounds and needs. I just think we should concentrate the most on adopting the children who would really benefit the most from adoption and/or most want adoption.
    Of course the danger is that this kind of thinking is used by some social workers to say “this child is unadoptable” when they are really not… I think there are abuses in both directions: children being denied adoption that need and want it, and children being adopted when it was not really in their best interests.
    Some children/teens come from such dysfunctional backgrounds, and were so traumatized and abused, that they don’t function well in a family setting. If they get put in a family setting, they will put the family through hell, and they’ll disrupt, and the child will end up right back where they started. One solution is to place them with super-therapeutic parents who are dedicated to parenting 100% of the time, keep the kids under constant supervision, get them therapy every single day, give them all the structure and stability they need. Who has the resources and skill level to do that? Very few people. So you train and pay the people more and more… and add more aides… and you end up with something that looks an awful lot like a group home.
    Also, a group home designed to really help the child and not warehouse them — a good residential treatment center — is not incompatible with foster care and/or adoption. The ideal for RTCs is to only use them for short periods of time until the child stabilizes, then move them back into a family setting.
    I think that overall, good foster care is better than good group homes, and group homes should only be used for older children and/or children with severe psychiatric problems, but a balance between the two is necessary. They both have their pluses and minuses in different situations. Newt Gingrich is a monumental idiot and I agree with nothing he says… any argument that we should “go back to orphanages” is just stupid. I’ll take a look at those links.
    @Lori: I totally disagree with that argument. It’s a huge cop-out. It’s basically saying, “I refuse to take any responsibility for a single bit of the hard work of searching and reunion. Instead, I will just dump it all on my kid’s shoulders when they turn 18.” Also, searching in international adoption is so hard, if you wait, you are just increasing that chances that people will move away, get sick and die, lose paperwork, and so on. By waiting, you are passively removing choice from your child. But you are not removing a choice if you search for your child when they are younger… the adoptee always has the choice, when they become an adult, to STOP contact. And stopping contact is a lot easier than starting it.

  7. @Lori: I didn’t see that you mentioned the wait-to-contact thing as coming up at meetings of adoptees (I initially read adoptive parents instead). I have heard a lot of adoptive parents repeating that argument, which is why I just overread “adoptees”.
    I’m still suspicious of that argument, and I have seen it advanced by way more adoptive parents than I have by adoptees.
    I think my argument still stands. When we have children, we are responsible for making decisions for those children. And contact with biological family is a responsibility because it relates to the welfare of your child. Your child can always refuse to have contact once contact is established. It’s sort of like saving for college or doing college prep work with your child… sure, they might not end up going to college eventually, but that doesn’t absolve you of the responsibility for helping them prepare for it when they are a dependent on you, and under your care.

  8. I would mention that just because you adopt domestically in US does not mean it is the same race. I think adopting a Black or Hispanic child from foster care if you are white is just as bad as adopting a transracial child internationally. You still MUST maintain those ties to the community or risk the child growing up with severe issues of feeling like they are not “real” and not fitting in with their culture. If you know that you cannot do this, then I would recommend not adopting a child of different race. If that means not adopting, then so be it. or maybe it means moving to a different city where you can provide that connection. Adopting a child is not a right, it is a gift.

  9. One additional layer to add to Atlasien’s comments on some kids not wanting to be adopted: My understanding/supposition is that many kids say they don’t want to be adopted because they don’t really understand what adoption is. They may think it is a rejection of their birth family and/or think it will prevent them from having any further contact with birth family members, not to mention being freaked out by the concept of living with strangers.
    On that note, I think that a preferable scenario to placement with an unknown family would be adoptive placement with kin (including non-relatives who have a pre-existing, positive relationship with the child). This is one of the concepts behind Family Finding (e.g.:
    One benefit that youth ideally get from adoption that they won’t get from a group home (that is, if they can’t be reunified with family) is a life-long, supportive relationship. The goal of identifying and supporting such relationships–even when adoption is not possible–is another goal of Family Finding.

  10. I’m torn on establishing contact with biological families when the child is young. I agree that there are lots of reasons to do it and especially asap if possible with international adoptees. However I think it differs for each child. In my own case I think it would have brought a lot of conflict if my aparents had managed to establish contact with my bioparents when I was still a child.

  11. I think there is conflict on both ends of who searches and when. Hard for APs to try to create and maintain a transracial/national relationship, but then hard for adults who feel estranged from their birth nation/culture. It’s painful either way. Personally, I would choose a lifetime of struggle with the relationship than struggling in my adult life with a relationship that may never come to fruition (I’m an adoptee).

  12. Korean adoptee searches are a bit different from most of the current developing nation adoptions – the country has good records, decent healthcare and not a lot of internal migration. There’s a huge difference between growing up always knowing about your birthfamily and having a relationship, and having it suddenly start when you’re a young child/teen. If you come from a closed adoption, being able to take back some of that autonomy and identity by choosing when *you* want to search and controlling that search is really important.
    But in most places, waiting is a choice to refuse to search. If I had waited to search, I would’ve never tracked down my kids’ birthfamily, or their siblings. Their birthplace is demolished, there’s no paperwork – landmarks are gone and so on.
    I can understand mediating the contact, especially early on when the relationship is still being worked out between both sets of parents, but then again, I know adoptive parents who deliberately refused to search out of fear of the birthfamily or what they would find, then years later when the cute baby turned into a questioning unhappy child (not always! But again, you can’t tell with a baby if they’re going to be an adoptee who needs to know or an adoptee who doesn’t), desperately looking for answers and kicking themselves for the delay and what it cost their kid.

  13. Dale, just a note. Korea is like that NOW. But for adoptees such as myself, born in the 1960s and earlier, it was still recovering from the War. There was no healthcare then, the records from those eras (actually, all records from the mid-1980s and earlier are pretty much non-existent).
    People forget that South Korea began its adoption program for the same reasons other international programs begin – because of extreme poverty and conflict in the country.

  14. Another note to Dale, your website is fascinating. I think it should be brought to the attention to Anti-Racist Parent, where there is a discussion about a Rebecca Walker quote equating international adoption to child slavery.
    re: birth family searches and the adoptee perspective – many adoptees feel it should be their choice. They do not want adoptive parents doing the search. However, I personally disagree, I think that adoptive parents should be trying to get as much truthful information the *minute* they adopt, and continue to check up regularly. The problem stems I think from adoptive parents who want to search on behalf of their kids and their kids are older now, later elementary or teen years – then the child or teen might feel like they don’t want to do a search for information or for the family.
    I think its best to do it early and have it be a regular part of the adoptive family’s life from the very beginning.

  15. I’m not sure about the animosity towards groups such as FCC. Of course, I’m new to the parenting side of adoption. But these parents are having conversations that my own parents never dreamed of having, and while it’s not perfect, it is progress. There is no way to eliminate the racial boundary, nor the elements of abandonment and salvation. Aren’t those the themes that have shaped our lives? I will continue to attend FCC and be the voice of the adult adoptee. I can only represent my own perspective, but it is the least I can do. It’s nice talking to you again Jae Ran.

  16. I have a question and a request for advice? I have 3 beautiful young sons, 2 bio and one adopted from S. Korea.
    It was our understanding that only our adopted son (at age 7 or 8) could request contact info, if available, for his birth mother, and that no one else could have this information without him asking for it. IS that not true?
    I would very much like him to meet his birth mother, if it is safe for her (we have her story – it may not be), but my DH, who was adopted, is adamantly opposed to ANY contact with birth parents unless directed by the adopted child. As he was adopted and I wasn’t, I hardly feel like I can argue with him on this, but I don’t want to do a disservice to our son. Your thoughts? (Please)

  17. I just saw that the blog owner is taking a break – I am open to anyone’s thoughts on my comment above. Please keep in mind that disrespecting my DH’s feelings about this, as he was adopted and I was not, are not an option for me.

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