Adoptees as main stakeholders

A cartoon depicts a woman sitting on a chair in front of a table of ten white men in suits and ties. The caption says, "Describe what you can bring to this company." The cartoon is by Will McPhail
Cartoon by Will McPhail

As I mentioned, after attending the Strengthing Adoption Practice symposium sponsored by the Department of State earlier in September, I was one of several adoptees who attended a meeting with staff from the Intercountry Adoption division. This was my second meeting with the Intercountry Adoption division staff; in 2012 I was with another group of intercountry adoptees meeting with the office to express our concerns and make recommendations based on what we felt was missing at the federal level – the actual voices of those individuals who were brought to the U.S. via intercountry adoption. I wasn’t blogging much at that time, and I wish I had written a post about that experience. In preparation for the meeting, I looked up the agenda and notes from that meeting and was not too surprised that several of our talking points were almost exactly the same as the ones the current group had brought to the recent meeting. Among the 2012 concerns we expressed: How is the DoS responding to:

  • adoption disruptions and dissolutions
  • adoptee without citizenship
  • unethical adoption practices
  • the problem of cross-data sharing?

These questions are particularly salient considering that we have only seen more reports of intercountry adoption disruptions and dissolutions (and I am currently writing up my findings from my study); more adoptees have been deported since 2012, countries have closed their programs because of unethical adoption practices and several more intercountry adopted children have been killed by their parents, and we still have no cross-data sharing capability.

While we are seeing some changes, namely an adoptee citizenship bill that is gaining ground, and we have seen some agencies closed for unethical practices, we have a long way to go.

The other thing that struck me, and is hugely important to the adoptee community, is that so much of the system is difficult to understand for the average adoptee. I am no stranger to these bureaucratic systems or knowledge about the players in intercountry adoptions in the U.S. and there were plenty of a-ha’s for me at the symposium. In participating in this symposium with other adoptees and allies, it became so clear to me that one of the reasons adult intercountry adoptees are not at the table is because 1) we are not explicitly invited and 2) we don’t know who to ask!

As a group we were told that we were never intentionally excluded. I believe that. However, as a “stakeholder” group we are routinely overlooked. This is what dominant and powerful organizations and systems do – they respond based on who demands. And when it comes to intercountry adoptions, the adoptive parents and adoption service providers are the most demanding.

I believe this is because families of origin and intercountry adoptees have been led to believe that just existing is good enough and we should not demand anything more. I have never once in my 20 years of working in the adoption community heard any adoption professional call an adoptive parent or groups of adoptive parents “angry.” Adoptive parents are entitled to their anger. Adoptees, it seems, are not. Cynically, I sometimes wonder if the reason only *certain* adoptees are approached to weigh in on some of these matters is because adoption organizations only want to solicit opinions that back up their ideas.

For example, I’ve had several organizations – national organizations – recently ask me about my opinion on language for a federally funded project. Who has been asking me about my perspective on this language? All of the people reaching out to me work at adoption service provider organizations or national adoption organizations I work with (or have worked with in the past). The email being sent around asks for adult adoptee perspectives, but I have not seen this query asked on any transracial adoptee email lists or social media sites. It makes me wonder why this call for perspectives is not being sent out to the general adult transracial adoptee community. I am happy to be the one to put it out on social media where transracial adoptees gather – but so far only one person (a transracial adoptee who works at an adoption agency) has encouraged me to spread the word.

At the Department of State meeting we were told that they would be more than happy to have us participate, we just needed to ask. I gently pushed back; it’s like when organizations say they want to increase the diversity of their audience and they send out a general flyer and then are surprised when no one from that “diverse group” shows up – or worse, the organization feels justified in thinking that certain groups just don’t want to participate. I reminded them that organizations need to reach out in a targeted way with marginalized groups and consistently build relationships. Otherwise, based on history, those groups historically excluded will not really believe their participation is desired. These systems are set up to maintain the status quo through this very mechanism: we sent out a call for participation, they didn’t participate, I guess they didn’t really want to be included {shoulder shrug}.

Organizations that serve adoptive families often don’t think of adult adoptees as part of their constituency and that is a big oversight. If the whole purpose of their agency’s values and mission is about the “best interest of the child” that child IS THE ADOPTEE. Organizations need to be honest if they don’t care about families or adoptees once that adoptee becomes a legal adult. And then, be honest that the only outcomes they care about our childhood and adolescent outcomes, not long-term outcomes.

After this symposium I feel a greater urge to try to help adoptees understand the systems and mechanics of intercountry adoption in ways that are more accessible so they get involved should they desire. I am also committed to being that constant reminder to adoption service providers and organizations that adoptees are your stakeholders too – and not just the child adoptees. One of my most pressing concerns is the long-term relationship health of adoptees and their adoptive families. I have known far too many adoptees who are estranged from their adoptive parents or have poor relationships with their adoptive families. I don’t know how this could be considered a “good outcome” for any of the family members. Adoptees – a diverse group of adoptees – should always be equally represented in your organization.

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