Article in Brain, Child magazine

CoverSU10 Many thanks to Dawn Friedman for this very nuanced article, "The Myth of the Forever Family" in Brain, Child magazine about adoption myths and specifically, the best article I've read so far on the really, really difficult and complex inner-workings on a family who is considering or has considered dissolving an adoption.

I have know adult Korean adoptees who were "re-adopted" after their first placement(s) were dissolved or disrupted, and while working in a county public child welfare agency most of the children and youth on my case load had experienced multiple adoption disruptions, and a few had experienced complete dissolutions (one after 6 years with their "forever family"). The subject, as Dawn writes, is adoptions "dirty little secret." It's something that as a child welfare professional, I struggle with. How do we both encourage adoption as a form of care for children in need of placement while at the same time be honest, real, and transparent about the needs of the children without scaring away prospective adoptive parents? What kind of "marketing" are we doing in terms of soliciting the public to consider adoption?

Adoption is not just "a way to build a family." Adoption is much more complex. I sometimes think about how the military markets and advertises for recruits and the television ads they create compared to how it is in real life. In the ads on television, it's all about looking for the best, the brightest, the ones who want action and have a lot of initiative – "Be the best you can be." In reality, it appears to be more about filling the seats with warm bodies, as the recruiters to go to the high schools and talk to all the students who don't have college plans.

Okay, so neither of these scenarios tells the whole story – just like the way the public thinks about and the way adoption agencies solicit prospective adoptive parents. In reality, the military recruits and enlists both. And in adoption it is the same. We market and accept both as well. We tell adoptive parents "You don't have to be perfect" and then we expect adoptive parents to be mental health specialists, parenting specialists, educational specialists, experts on child development and oh yeah, make sure you love them like your own too. But if you can't be all those things, oh well – the kid just needs a family, because "families are better than institutions."

On the one hand what we really would like is "the best"  (and by the best I totally do NOT consider how much money prospective parents have in the bank, what their house looks like or that they are a white, heterosexual married couple. To me, the "best" is a parent that can understand and provide for the needs of a child that has likely been traumatized, hurt, neglected in some (or multiple) ways). Not parents who expect an adopted chlid to behave like a child "born to them" (whatever that means) nor a parent who is just a temporary station, i.e. a warm body, for the child. Yet, agencies are often so desperate that they're willing to take the warm bodies. Because, as we've said, over and over again, "families are better than institutions" – and that leaves us with little choice in the end when we've set ourselves up for placing children in unprepared families just because we have this idea that "families are better than institutions" and then totally blame the families when it doesn't work out.

Anyway, please read this article, and participate in the discussion that will accompany it at the Brain, Child blog. And thanks to Dawn especially for including adult adoptees in this article as well. I am quoted, as is Astrid Dabbeni from Adoption Mosaic.

Author: JaeRan

Assistant professor at UW Tacoma, writer, and researcher.

8 thoughts

  1. Jae Ran, thank you so much for listening to me and answering my many questions. I learned a lot from speaking with you and was sorry that there wasn’t room for every fabulous thing that you said. I felt like one of the most important things in the article comes from both you and Astrid reframing the idea that kids who aren’t an easy fit (or who are really troubled) are lost causes and instead pointed out that many of these coping mechanisms make sense when we consider what they are used to surviving. It seems like this is key to addressing family’s needs without condemning anyone who is seriously struggling. Thank you!!!!

  2. What a great article on a tough subject! Honestly, I don’t feel that prospective adoptive parents are educated enough. I feel that the attitude of “just love them” is still too common in the adoption community.
    We’ve read just about every book recommended to us, watched documentaries, follow blogs. We’re not saints, but we’re continually trying to educate ourselves so we can best help our son, who’s issues are what I call “normal” adoptee issues. But I know so many families who read nothing; families who have biological kids and “know” how to parent.
    I believe with all my heart that parenting an adopted child is different from parenting a biological one. It’s not that parenting bio kids is easier, just different. I feel that all adoptees have “special needs” that bio kids often don’t have because they haven’t suffered the losses and traumas associated with adoption. Babies aren’t resilient little beings whose pasts don’t matter. They matter and they matter big.
    I don’t feel that adoption agencies are doing enough to educate parents, and weed out those who refuse to be educated, about the “special needs” of adoptees. My family is never going to “done” with adoption–our son is adopted, it’s part of who he is, and I think it will be something that comes up over and over again throughout his life. In the beginning I wasn’t prepared for that. I believed that once he’d bonded with us, the adoption was finalized, and he’d been home for as long as he was in Korea, we’d be finished with adoption. My education, as well as our four-year experience with our son, has taught me otherwise. And I’m so thankful for that education because it’s helping me be a better parent.

  3. I’m quoting you (in bulk) in my post about this article which will be posted tomorrow. Great response and your quotes in the article are awesome as well. I always enjoy reading your perspective as both an adopted adult and social worker.

  4. I agree, it’s a very good article. I dove right into it when my issue arrived in the mail yesterday, and I was amazed at the depth–though not surprised, having read other pieces by Dawn Friedman. Brain,Child is one of the few magazine outlets for long features like this.

  5. I empathize with these families who suffer through adoption scenarios they could not have fathomed or understood. I’m so pleased someone is discussing this. Any critic should walk a day or two in these folks shoes.
    I adopted internationally- healthy children who were well cared for at the ages of one and two. Nothing I read in advance prepared me for the wrath of an angry and depressed toddler. I was candid with the adoption professionals in my life about the incredible strain -they could only shrug and nod. Time and again I’ve found myself having to educate my adoption “professionals”
    If I knew then what I know now…I’m still not sure I could resist this very flawed process.

  6. “How do we both encourage adoption as a form of care for children in need of placement while at the same time be honest, real, and transparent about the needs of the children without scaring away prospective adoptive parents?”
    Yes. This is such a tough question. I don’t know the answer. But I can say that we went to every class, and even have degrees in family therapy, and we still feel a little rocked by the realities of attachment issues with our new son. It is so much different to live in it, than to read about. I wonder, if our classes had somehow captured the realities, if it would have scared half the PAP’s away . . .
    I know that dissolution is something I used to think was unfathomable. Now, I don’t know what to think. I know some families get desperate. And I agree that it is so much different than parenting a child without trauma. People who come into it without getting that have to be at risk.
    I haven’t read Dawn’s article yet, thanks for linking it! Going over there now.

  7. I adopted two girls internationally at ages 1 and 2.
    Both girls HAVE grown up acting like a child who was born to me. They are indistinguisable in behavior from my two bio girls.
    Really, I have never had any problem with them and they bring us love and joy. I hope we have given them the same. I know they would tell you they are happy and loved. We have never had a moment’s trouble with any of our four girls

Share your thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s