Book review: Selling Transracial Adoption

downloadI recently finished Liz Raleigh’s book, Selling Transracial Adoption: Families, Markets and the Color Line.

The research that is the basis of this book is incredibly important and ground breaking. As a self-described systems person, I was thrilled to read a book that really explores practice, and Dr. Raleigh’s research does this well. I appreciate the thoughtfulness of the research approach itself and the care in which the stories of the adoption professionals are told.

Throughout this book, I found myself nodding my head in agreement often; I’ve heard similar things from adoption professionals I’ve worked with over the years, and in an interesting turn, many of the things I’ve heard from adoptive parents over the years are echoed in this book as well. There were multiple times when I wanted to say out loud to someone, “Yes! What this worker said is almost word-for-word what [adoptive parent] said!”

…which then led me to a question – in what ways is the “script” so entrenched in our culture that the discourse of adoption is not just predictable, but frighteningly verbatim? It’s almost as if certain discourses of adoption are so culturally embedded that when we think we are describing processes, feelings, behaviors and/or thoughts about adoption in our own unique way that in reality we are only parroting what we have heard a million times before? I almost wanted to do a side-by-side comparison of Selling Transracial Adoption to my dissertation study because the discourses are so parallel.

But to get back to my original review: another part of what I appreciate so much about this book is that it shows the systems processes that are often larger and broader than what individuals tend to recognize. Adopting a child is very much experienced as an individual/family action with individual and/or a couple’s motivations and desires. Whether a person is adopting or parenting children born to them, most of us don’t think about how our own parenting motivations and processes contribute to larger social, cultural, capitalist, bureaucratic and institutional systems. Within intimate family spheres, we also can dismiss the injustices that are present in the larger systems and when it comes to adoption, this is particularly true when thinking about race and disability.

Some readers might be challenged with the main arguments of this book, particularly if you come from an individualistic perspective. Some parents might also feel that their choices to adopt are pathologized; I encourage you to read through and think less of your own particular story and really pay attention to Dr. Raleigh’s sociological analyses. This isn’t about any one family or any one adoption agency. I thought it was very clear that this book is not about blaming individual adoptive parents, adoption workers or adoption agencies. This book does, however, ask us to thinking about how the racism, ableism, and adult-focus (even within a supposed “best interest of the child framework) of our culture and society (in the U.S. at least) plays out the way we practice adoption. This book really asks us to step back from our own personal stories and ask a couple of important questions:

  • In what ways does our social and cultural environments mask our individual choices? That is, are we being misled to believe we are making independent and ethical choices regarding adoption or is the structure of the adoption industry actually leading us through well-established channels in ways we don’t even know?
  • Why has adoption become one of the social services that has become financially stratified in ways that mirror consumer/business services – where the child becomes commodified?
  • How can adoptive families reconcile the reality of this racially commodified “service?”

I highly recommend this book – if you are a social worker and you work in, or are considering, child welfare/adoption work, this is a MUST READ. I would include this as a required text for anyone who thinks they want to do adoption-related work.

Review: The Hundred Year Flood by Matthew Salesses

hundred year One of my personal goals this year is to read more books by authors of color, and to that end I’ve committed to reading only fiction by authors of color. I was excited to receive an advanced copy of friend and fellow Korean adoptee writer Matthew Salesses’ new novel, The Hundred Year Flood.  I am a big fan of Salesses’ writing. I enjoyed Matthew’s books, I‘m Not Saying, I’m Just Saying, Different Racisms, and his essays on the Good Men Project and recently published on The Offing. Matthew is one of the most prolific and productive writers I know! I don’t know how he balances all of his different projects (in addition to his teaching, his PhD candidacy and his family). I read The Hundred Year Flood on a recent weekend trip, mostly on the plane. I seriously paused a couple of pages into the first chapter to just savor and admire the poetry of Matthew’s prose. Matthew’s writing is beautiful. The main character in this novel is 22-year old Thomas, known as Tee, a Korean adoptee. The novel is set in both present time where Tee recovers in the hospital, and in flashbacks set in Prague where Tee has been spending the past year in search of himself and where Tee receive the injury that leads to the current hospital stay. There are now many memoirs written by Korean adoptees but I’ve been frustrated and disappointed with the limited portrayals of Korean adoptees in fiction over the years, particularly by non-adopted Asian American writers like in these novels. I think I’m always wary about how Korean Adoptees are presented in fiction because they often feel very stereotyped to me, and so focused on the adoption part that it seems there is nothing else to them. I feel strongly that adoptees are so much more than their adoptee identity and yet it has not been easy to find representation in either film or on the page that adequately gives us nuance and complexity. So I was appreciative that while adoption does play part of Tee’s journey, it is not all of it; finally we get to read a story about a person whose adoption status is one aspect of their identity and their story, not the sum game. I won’t say much more about the plot of the story in hopes you will get the book for yourself and read it. I will say that much of Salesses’ writing is just my cup of tea (sorry, couldn’t help it!) all the way around. I liked the splashes of magical realism and the unique and powerful imagery in the writing and was sad when I finished reading, wanting more of Tee’s story. Which is always a good thing, to end wanting more. The Hundred Year Flood will be available in August.

Using adoption as a threat

The other day I was working at a coffee shop while my son was at his karate practice. A family of three, including a mom, dad and what appeared to be their four-year old, were getting ready to leave. The little girl was stalling, as little girls are wont to do, and as the parents began the familiar negotiation of trying to get a child to cooperate, Mom says to her daughter, “If you don’t get your coat on, we’re going to leave you here, and you’ll be adopted by strangers. I don’t know who they will be, but you’re going to have to live with them. Look, your dad is leaving. Better hurry up or you’ll have to live with strangers.”

I immediately posted this on my Twitter and Facebook page, resulting in a very interesting conversation on Facebook. Almost immediately several adoptee friends responded with comments like, “oh hell no!” and the expected chorus of “What the…”, etc. But one of the details I held back for a few minutes was the race and ethnicity of the family, because I had a feeling it was a detail that mattered.

Threatening to put a child up for adoption if they don’t behave or cooperate is not a new phenomenon and I think it’s probably uttered from parents who have absolutely no intention of ever following through. As a coercive parenting strategy it is, of course to many of us who were adopted or have adopted, extremely offensive and I wondered aloud if it was a particular cultural parenting strategy.

The family in this story, from my observation, appeared to be South Asian Indian. Both parents had heavy accents, their daughter did not. I might assume (incorrectly perhaps) that the parents were first generation or 1.5 generation immigrants because of the accent, although I know that is not reliable evidence. I have heard from other children of immigrant parents similar threats of abandonment.

That this threat works is telling – as one friend on Facebook said, “Is it possible that such a threat would be used by an immigrant family because the risk of being taken and “adopted by strangers” is or was real in their country? In that context it might have been a true warning at one time that, over time, has become colloquial. This isn’t to say it’s an appropriate phrase to use to admonish a child, rather to find a rational reason someone might say it.” I also wondered about that, it was my first reaction.

A few friends who are children of immigrant families chimed in and I thought their comments were really worth thinking more in depth. They talked about cultural contexts for these threats. One said, “I think it is to remind a child to understand the value of parents and to use shame to enforce attachment. In certain cultural context, it is not as horrid as it sounds to American ears. I’m not saying that I would ever say to my kids but I think context is important, particularly individualistic vs collectivistic cultures.” Another responded, “this is a common threat among immigrant families. My parents did not say this to me (at least I don’t remember hearing it) but as an immigrant child growing up around other immigrant families I did hear this from time to time…the difference is context.”

Regardless of the reasons the threat of leaving a child to be adopted by strangers (or a more active threat of “putting you up for adoption”) is uttered to a child, or the race or culture of the person saying it, I think this threat says a lot about how we have constructed adoption; that adoption is the child’s fault and that adoption is a bad thing. There is also an acknowledgment in this comment that there is nothing that could be worse for a child than to have to live with strangers away from the comfort and love of his biological parents. How deep these thoughts are embedded in our cultures! What are the differences between cultural groups and in which cultures might this be seen as acceptable and which are not? Are there differences across socioeconomic class as well? Some friends said they’ve heard this from white families too and that it’s not just immigrant families. I recall hearing the phrase “sold to Gypsies” as a threat back in my childhood too – do people still say that?

I have known adoptees whose adoptive parents have threatened to “send them back” and as we know all too well, there are some who have followed through and literally “returned” their adopted children a la Torry Hansen. If anything, this threat is effective because it gets to a fundamental fear of abandonment. As someone who was adopted, it hits way too close to home.

Adoption conferencing in NYC


Right now I’m sitting in the student coffee shop/lounge area of St. John’s University in Queens, NY waiting to check in for the 8th Biennial Adoption Initiative conference. This is the third one that I have been fortunate enough to attend and the kick off to a busy month of conferencing for me. In addition to this one, I will be attending the MN Adopt conference featuring Rhonda Roorda, and presenting at the International Social Work Conference, the Society for Disability Studies conference and the Korean Adoptee Adoptive Family (KAAN) conference – and that’s just June!! I’ll also be presenting sessions for parents at the Catalyst Foundation Vietnam Culture camp. For a detailed description of the topic sessions you can click here for a full list.

I’m very excited for the presentations at this conference and looking forward to seeing how the presenters respond to the theme – power, privilege, politics and class in adoption. I appreciate the title, “sleeping giants” – more eloquent but just as apt as my usual phrase, “the elephant in the room.”

Over the past few years since I stopped regularly blogging here, I’ve still been observing and watching carefully how the world of adoption is shifting and changing – the discourse in particular has really changed. I think there are a number of reasons for this, there is not one or even a couple of things I think I can point to as a link to this change – but I feel it.

I see it in the increased ability to know what other adopted individuals are doing in terms of research, art and activism around the world. I see this shift in the way adoptive parents are stepping out loudly to protest against unethical adoption practices and to challenge their fellow adoptive parents on their privilege. I see it in the much more collaborative groups I’ve witnessed in the past couple of years, groups that have diverse people, experiences and opinions but still manage to come together to work towards a common goal. It’s been interesting to witness how much attention is given to journalists who find themselves reporting on the unethical aspects of adoption and the animosity shown to them that was previously reserved toward “angry adoptees” or the few adoptive parents that critiqued the all-rainbow-and-unicorn adoption veneer. I’ve also witnessed a subtle but growing change in the attitudes of adoption agency workers in my regular work, although there is a long way to go in this area.

My own interests in adoption research continues to change and grow. I continue to think of race but largely in terms of intersectionality, as one aspect of the adoption experience along with disability, gender and class. And since I am interested in the system – that is the larger institutional network that makes decisions about placement based on their determination of which children are and are not “adoptable” and which parents are or are not allowed/approved to parent – I am most interested right now in the role of institutions and systems that work with adopted persons and parents (birth/first and adoptive).

So all of this is to say I’m excited for the presentations coming up in the next few days, and seeing old and new friends and colleagues. My head often feels like it’s swimming with ideas, thoughts, new information to absorb and reflect upon…and this weekend won’t be any different. Look for more reports on what ideas are currently being discussed in adoption-land!

Interview with Deborah Jiang Stein about adoption themes in literature


Happy New Years to everyone!

Here in the upper Midwest we are experiencing the Coldpocalypse. -21 degrees as I type, with -40 windchills throughout much of my state. I am feeling incredibly fortunate to have a warm house with heat, food in my fridge and an employer who told me to work from home today. 

FB_sepia_headshotI am also fortunate to have friends and fellow adoptee professionals such as Deborah Jiang Stein, author of two incredible books (Even Tough Girls Wear Tutus and the upcoming Prison Baby) with whom I can have invigorating conversations. 

Deborah invited me to have one such conversation about adoption themes in literature. Please read it at her blog here

While I don't believe in making "resolutions" I DO hope that 2014 sees more blogging here. I really miss it. And despite what is likely my most busy semester in the last decade coming up here, there are a lot of exciting things happening in my world that I hope to have time to share.

So Happy New Years to all!


Reflections on the KAAN 2013 conference and launch of Gazillion Voices Magazine


Last weekend I attended the KAAN 2013 Conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It was a somewhat spontaneous decision, meaning that I did not submit a proposal months ago when the call came out, and that spending the money to attend in a year when I have many other conferences to attend seemed out of the question. Another reason why I had no intention of attending is that many years ago I did attend some KAAN Conferences and I left both (2002 and 2004) with the impression that it definitely did not meet my own personal needs as an adult Korean adoptee.

But several things have happened over the almost decade span of time since I last attended KAAN. One important change involved the addition of some Korean adoptees I really respect and care about in leadership positions within the organization. Another was the general progressive shift in the purpose and “feel” of the conference mission. What seemed to me an over-reliance on the “feel-good/let’s not talk about anything difficult” goal of connecting Korean adoptive parents with other Korean adoptive parents, and Korean adopted children with other Korean adopted children and a “celebrate Korean heritage!” mentality in the organization has changed over time to an acknowledgement of race and white privilege in transracial adoption, and the importance of the full, lived experience of adopted individuals. Whereas before it seemed the goal was to show non-adopted Korean role models, a recognition of adopted Korean adult role models seemed to be evident. Also an earlier sense of only showing “positive” adult adoptee perspectives (i.e. those who were uncritical of Korean adoption) has been replaced by an acknowlegement that adoption is not always sunshine and rainbows, and that positioning adoptees as pro or anti adoption is unproductive and polarizing. I was told by several people that the current leadership was amazing to work with and really believed in the importance of adult adoptee leadership (and they were right!).

And then the most compelling reason of all – the chance to see some dear transracial adoptee friends who live scattered around the U.S. See, for many of us, it is these interactions with those whom we’ve cultivated deep friendships over time at adoption-related conferences that help us endure the long droughts of transracial adoption isolation and segregation we experience in our daily lives. In particular, it was the opportunity to attend panels led by adoptees and to have discussions at dinner or over drinks and stay up until the wee hours of the night critically deconstructing, sharing experiences, strategizing ways of coping and supporting and validating each other that compelled me to cold-call the organizers at KAAN and ask if I could still get involved.

This year KAAN did something I wouldn’t have seen a decade ago – they invited transracial adoptee speakers who are not Korean adoptees. And they (parents, adoptees) talked about commonalities among transracial and international adoptees, and about racism and white privilege. This is a welcomed change for me. In my own personal and professional work I have been spending less time with Korean adoptees and more time developing relationships among other adoptees. This is a reflection of my own growth, because I see my own adoption story and narrative as interconnected to other adoptees.

One of the greatest benefits of being privileged to attend graduate school has been the opportunity to really deepen my understanding and knowledge of the historical roots of child placement and adoption and look at the arc over time for how children have been conceptualized and how adoptions have changed and morphed in terms of practice and law (but ultimately with the same underlying theoretical basis, at least in the U.S.). When I learned about the orphan trains, about the Native American boarding schools, the Indian Adoption Project, when I read Regina Kunzel and Dorothy Roberts and Rickie Solinger – I realized how interconnected Korean adoption is with Native American Indian adoption and transracial adoption of African American children, and the immigrant Catholic children who were adopted to Scandinavian protestant farm families in the midwest through the orphan train movement, and the children adopted from Ethiopia and Haiti. Displacement, isolation, racism, cultural erasure, unaddressed grief and loss, these are all commonalities we adoptees have. We transracial adoptees also have many commonalities among “baby scoop” era white domestic adoptees from the maternity home generation.

In his keynote at KAAN, Dr. John Raible emphasized this point, our commonalities across race and situation, with a lot of passion and intensity. I’m sure there were some, adoptees and adoptive parents alike, who were taken aback at his bold challenges but I was heartened that John challenged the old paradigms about transracial adoption. John is not just about helping how we conceptualize transracial adoption evolve over time, his ideas are revolutionary.

Sometimes it seems that when it comes to adoption and child welfare, the pendulum swings back and forth from an emphasis on removal and placement to family presevation. At least in the U.S. that is what many child welfare professionals have said. But as I was recently reminded, it is perhaps not so much of a pendulum swing but a spiral – what seems to be a circular movement away from, then back to, a certain paradigm. But even when it seems like things are coming back to where we started, maybe in truth it has changed in fundamental ways so that even what looks like a circle from looking at it top-down is actually many degrees separated when looked at from the side view.

Cover of August 2013 issue of Gazillion Voices

Yesterday, a project I am involved with, Gazillion Voices, launched its monthly online magazine. This is also revolutionary in that Gazillion Voices is the first ever adoptee-led publication. Unlike every other publications on adoption, this one does not relegate adoptees to the sidelines, in an “Ask the Adoptee” advice column or limited to one or two stories by an adoptee author. Gazillion Voices is challenging, provocative, and most importantly – led by adult adoptees and includes majority adult adoptee voices.

Kevin Vollmers, one of the editors of Gazillion Voices magazine, and I were debriefing the KAAN conference as we waited for our flight to take off back to Minnesota. We both agreed that it feels we are on the precipice of some incredibly big paradigm shift when it comes to adoption. I’ve been feeling it for about a year now, ever since the CCAI and the State Department (including Ambassador Jacobs) met with a grassroots group of us adult adoptees to hear our collective concerns  for the first time last July.

I am so proud to be part of a community of revolutionary adoptees. With social media platforms, it appears like this adoption revolution is new and those of us with blogs and websites can appear to be doing new and groundbreaking work. But we recognize we are not the first. We are incredibly grateful and humbled by the incredible work of so many adoptees who have been doing this work for decades, without much acknowlegement and very little fanfare. In fact, many adoptees have taken the hits for years on our behalf. Adoptees have been working in policy, advocacy, community organizing, research, academia, and very importantly through art for decades. We in this current generation of adoptee rebels are not taking their hard work for granted; no, we are trying to continue the work and will pay it forward – so that the next generation of transracial adoptee leaders can take it to the finish line.



Thoughts about the MN Supreme Court ruling in contested adoption case

I was honored (and more than a little overwhelmed) to be interviewed on MPR News to discuss the implications of the MN Supreme Court case ruling in favor of foster parents over paternal grandparents in a contested adoption case. 

You can listen to the interview below:



In preparing for this interview, I read over the court's decision, as well as the dissents (
Download MN Supreme Court Opinion – Dunning case). I wanted to share some of my thoughts about this case, the court's ruling/dissents, and expand more on the implications of this case. 

I am not a legal expert or scholar so this is my perspective from a child welfare scholar standpoint. Back in early January, I was contacted by Olivia LaVecchia from the City Pages. Olivia was writing a story about this case and was looking for my thoughts as a child welfare scholar. Although none of my quotes were included in the article (the executive director of my Center, Traci LaLiberte, was included) Olivia did let me know later that I was helpful in providing broader contextual information for her as she wrote the story.

As I shared with Olivia, and mentioned briefly in the MPR interview, I saw this case as a story about what happens when systemic issues and communication and collaboration between systems fail. There have been comments on news sites, blogs and facebook discussions that largely are sympathetic to the foster parents, in sum pointing to the attachment and bonding that has been formed by both the children to the foster parents and vice versa. And there is no doubt that that has happened; there is no doubt in my mind that these parents have been wonderful, stellar and committed caregivers to these children; nor is there any doubt in my mind that to disrupt this placement would be very traumatic and emotionally heartbreaking to the children and the parents both.

The problem to me is that had earlier issues regarding kinship identification, kinship placement, and interstate collaboration and communication been practiced as required and with the best interests of the children in mind, then we wouldn't be having this discussion at all because these kids could have been placed with the relatives as their first placement, and the bonding and attachment would have been with the grandparents.

I had several pages of notes prepared for the interview and had such a short time to discuss with Mr. Picardi, but here is some expansion of some of the systemic issues that I believe were at play in this case: 

1. The interstate compact on the placement of children (ICPC) is an agreement that is in place in all states to provide assistance and oversight in placing children in foster and adoptive placements across state lines. But the ICPC is problematic to actually practice in real life and often fails children and families. Each state does adoption differently; how each state practically processes ICPC requests differ as well. 

2. One of the things that complicated this particular case is that a federal law that regulates how long children can be in placement before moving ahead with the "permanency plan" (that is, terminating parental rights and moving toward adoption or legal guardianship if reunification with family is determined to be not in the child's best interest) called the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA). Since these two girls in this case were placed as newborns, the minute they are placed with the foster family, that timeline clock starts ticking, and for children under 8, that means six months before the permanency review hearing is supposed to take place determining their plan for permanency.

Think about how this disadvantages relatives who come forward to adopt. In this case, because of the delays from the grandparent's state, the paperwork for the ICPC wasn't done in time to comply with the law. So the grandparents were screwed in part because of the fact that their state did not complete the ICPC process in a timely way, and because Minnesota did not have the resources or the ability to make the other state finish the paperwork.

3. We now practice something called "concurrent permanency planning" in child welfare which means that instead of planning for a child to be reunified with his or her parents and then, if that does not happen, we start planning for permanency (adoption or legal guardianship) in a sequential way, we are now by law required to do both at the same time. So the track is to place the child in the first foster placement with someone whose job is dual – to help support the child's reunification with the parents and also commit to adopting the child (or assuming legal guardianship) in case there is a termination of parental rights.

This is a terribly difficult job to do. To work to care, nurture and support a child, while helping support the child through the reunification process, and then to also adopt is asking a lot of families. As a result there is an unintended consequence to setting up the system this way. Many families sign up to do concurrent permanency planning (also known as legal risk placements) as their first choice for adoption because they often get babies and younger children (as in this case – both girls were placed as infants from the hospital).

Many social workers I've worked with have talked at length about how difficult it is to have foster parents who are concurrent permanency placement homes really do a good job helping in the reunification process  - and can you blame them? It would be difficult. For those doing this type of placement, in Minnesota the chance of the child becoming available for you to adopt is about 20%. That means most families will see 4 out of 5 of the children they care for reunite or go to relatives. For famililies who hope to adopt by becoming a concurrent permanency placement, it means lots of loss and lots of unknowns.

BUT – that is what they signed up for. And so while it's hard, and while I empathize and have compassion for the difficulty, it is SO FRUSTRATING to work with foster parents who half-heartedly or half-assed support reunification because they're really hoping for a TPR so they can adopt. It feels like you're being lied to, as the social worker, and it feels like they're manipulating the system. Sometimes it even feels like they're sabotaging the reunification – and if there is a relative interested then watch out for fireworks because foster parents often feel claim to those children because they've put in the sweat and tears.

Again, I feel a lot of compassion for concurrent permanency foster parents. They have a TOUGH job. And they are underappreciated. But they do have a job, and that is to support reunification.

4. The relatives should, when at all possible, be the concurrent permanency placement option. When families live in different states, or even in different counties, this can be mishandled. This is politics at play, between states and counties. When done well, relatives that are the concurrent permanency option end up being able to keep children in the larger family systems, as well as provide the stability and safety children need, without multiple placements and transitions. So when states and counties do not do a diligent search for relative placements or don't engage with relatives from the beginning, then families lose out on the opportunity to become the concurrent permanency placement.

Now, readers will chime in and say things like, the families were not appropriate, we couldn't find anyone who could pass the background check etc., the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, the family wouldn't work with us, etc., etc. 

Yes, these issues always come up. And for most of them, the easy way out is to just go ahead and rule them out because why not? A worker only has so much time and here we have eager concurrent permanency foster parents jumping at the chance to take in the kids. So you can fill in the rest of the story. Engaging relatives becomes more of a check-list and a rule out, rather than using social work skills and really working with the relatives because you believe its the right thing. Instead of advocating on behalf of relatives who are scared of the system (particularly if they're families of color and they have historical reason to be suspicious of government agencies who separate families), helping them get good legal representation, working to help them push past red tape and other bureaucratic barriers what ends up happening? Social workers do all the above for the FOSTER PARENTS not the relatives. 

5. Contested adoption cases like these are rare, but when they occur they seem to have the following elements – foster parents, often who are white and middle or upper class, who feel entitled to keep the children, and have the means to hire the best and most prestigious/premiere adoption attorney and often with the support of a local or state legislator – and biological or relatives, often of color, working class, who do not have the knowledge of the system enough to know what kind of attorney would best represent them, and without support of local politicians. 

6. Then in many cases, there are racial issues too. They are not additional, or separate, but intersectionally entwined with everything else. 

7. In this case, the foster family said at one time that they would help make sure the children had a relationship with their relatives. Yet out of frustration with the court case, they expressed that now they no longer would do that. I hope that this is just momentary frustration but it shows how little this is about the children and how much it's about grown up adults acting like children. Also, I was personally disturbed that the child who is named after the grandmother is not called by that name by the foster family. One more clue that the foster parents don't value the relational connection to the biological family.

So, that is a very long post that doesn't even begin to cover this case! And keep in mind that there are details I don't know and/or can't begin to cover them all, but I want to end with this. 

Nobody wins, really, in this situation. The girls have lost their opportunity to be raised with their biological family and even if the foster parents do the right thing and change their mind about having a relationship with the grandparents, the girls will not know their grandmother in the way they could have. While the foster family and their attorney hired experts to say that the attachment would be traumatic to these girls (and I believe that yes, it would be very difficult), I feel they patently overplayed the reality that these girls have the capacity to attach to the grandparents. The kids who struggle with attachment are the ones who never had the opportunity to attach in early life. These girls, by the very fact that they are strongly attached, definitely would be able to attach to other caregivers. The people in this case who are having more difficulty with the attachment are the foster parents.

In addition we often, regularly, move children who have been in placements even longer, because it's the right thing to do. I sometimes use this analogy. Let's say a child has been kidnapped by a stranger who treats them like their own and years later is found. That child may have grown up attached and bonded to the kidnapper but once found, they will still have to be taken away and returned to the custodial parent(s). We have to because it's the ethical thing to do, the right thing to do, even if we know that it means causing trauma by separating the child from the only parent they know. Now, don't get angry and leave comments that I'm calling the foster parents or the relatives kidnappers because I'm not – but this just shows how easily we can justify certain elements such as attachment to caregivers in ways that benefit us when it is about us and not about the child. Rather than thinking about it in the larger context of what's best for the children.

For their part, the relatives also believed it was their entitlement to have the girls, and as a result they and the foster parents created an atomosphere that really poisoned what could have been a lifelong supportive system of care for these girls. 

There is a common saying among many of us who work in child welfare – a child can never have too many people love them. If only the adults in this case believed this as well. 

Discussing a contested adoption ruling on MPR


Tomorrow morning I am scheduled to be a guest on Minnesota Public Radio to discuss the Supreme Court's ruling in a contested adoption case. The conflict, which was profiled by reporter Olivia LaVecchia for the City Pages in January, centers around the adoption of two little girls. The lower court had ruled in favor of the foster parents that had cared for both of the girls since their births and the grandmother in Missouri who had been trying to adopt them for nearly the same amount of time. 

The show is scheduled to air at about 11 am. I'll post a de-brief after the show.

Adoption is both/and, not either/or

A long time ago I wrote a post titled "Adoptee vs. Adoptee" outlining some of the challenges that critical adoptees receive from others – including adoptees – particularly those who think adoption should not be criticized or in any way challenged and adoptees who participate in the unproductive "pro-adoption/anti-adoption" dichotomy. 

Lately I've been involved in a similar situation but from the flip side, this time involving an adoptee who publicly shamed me for working with adoption organizations (and their leadership) the adoptee does not support. 

A few days ago I participated in some facebook conversations that brought me back to some of my earlier Harlow's Monkey posts and I had some nostalgic moments re-reading some of my archived articles. Life has sure changed for me since those early days in 2006 when I started the blog. As I re-read through, I thought it was interesting how my thoughts and beliefs about adoption (as well as my tone) have evolved over time. Back then the political stakes were low and I could just be a (mostly) anonymous, outspoken adoptee working with other adoptees and foster youth. Now I'm more public and work more in the arena of research, training and educating those who will work in the area of child welfare, permanency and adoption.

Perhaps the one thing that has remained constant, however, is the struggle to keep balanced on the tightrope. I am still navigating and negotiating and explaining myself to adoptees who are angry that I critique the adoption industrial complex and those who are angry that I seem to be supporting it. The only difference is that in some ways it feels there is more at stake and definitely more politics to navigate now than there was five years ago, but the level of mistrust and suspicion among adoptees is still ever present.

And that makes me wonder how much of this is just human nature, and how much of it is about the structures – politically, institutionally, etc. – that just keep us feuding with each other instead of focusing on working together to dismantle the oppressive institutions.

It is much easier to take all or nothing sides on an issue, but I won't participate in arguments that force me to choose from an either/or situation. Because for me it's never either/or, it's almost always both/and. 

Adoption is not either a family building issue or a big business, it's both/and. Adoption is not the solution or the problem, it's both/and. We can't be focused only on the child or the family, we must be mindful of both. And a child's best interests are not unilaterally separate from the family's and vice versa – the child's best interests can also include the family or community's best interests. Adoption should not be only thought of through the lens of children or through the lens of parents. Both matter.

Trying to reform adoption isn't the same as just moving a few parts around and calling it good to go, and neither is it eliminating the practice all together. There will always be children whose parents are unable, for whatever reason, to care for them. There will be some children who will fall through the cracks in their extended family and kin community. There will always be some parents who don't want to parent the children they have and will find way to not have to parent them. The problem is that adoption is still too often posed as an either/or solution – adoptive family vs. biological family – instead of both/and. Open adoptions are starting to change this paradigm, but we have a long ways to go. I'm not willing to call for a total end to adoption until all the reasons children are placed for adoption have been resolved.   

I've been thinking a lot about the either/or and both/and paradigm shift thing in terms of my profession a lot over the past several years. Social workers in particular grapple with the meaning of the work they do, because it often is positioned as either "helping individuals" or "advocating for social justice" and these two values are seen as dichotomous. I call this the starfish and the dragon dichotomy. We need to be doing both, of course. We can't just save the starfish and ignore the reason for why all the starfish are washing up on shore, neither can we just head off to slay the dragon and let people drown in the river. 

Adoption reform can happen through grass-roots organizing and it can happen through working within institutions to be an agent of changes and in my own opinion, change and reform happens most successfully when both occur at the same time.