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.

Discussing a contested adoption ruling on MPR

SplitTheBaby

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.

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.

Restoring Family Links – the International Committee of the Red Cross

Restoring contact between families separated by armed conflicts and natural disasters

What
to do if you are looking for a missing relative? Every year, armed
conflicts, other situations of violence and natural disasters leave
countless people seeking news of family members.

Restoring family links means carrying out, in those situations, a range
of activities that aim to prevent separation and disappearance, restore
and maintain contact between family members, and clarify the fate of
persons reported missing. It involves collecting information about
persons who are missing, persons who have died, and vulnerable persons
such as children separated from their families and persons deprived of
their freedom. It also involves tracing persons unaccounted for,
organizing the exchange of family news and the transmission of
documents when normal means of communication have broken down,
organizing family reunifications and repatriations, and issuing travel
documents and attestations.

more about the Red Cross Family Links program:

Who are the separated family members assisted by the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement?

We assist people who have been separated from their family members or
whose relatives are unaccounted for as a result of conflicts,
disasters, migration or other situations requiring a humanitarian
response.

Certain groups of people are particularly vulnerable and have specific
needs that we seek to address. These include children who may find
themselves separated from their parents as a result of armed violence,
arrests, poverty or disasters. Equally vulnerable are elderly people
who may not be able to fend for themselves. Detainees make up yet
another group, and keeping them in touch with their families remains of
utmost importance to us.

What is the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement doing to assist separated family members?

A person's well-being depends to a large extent on the ability to stay
in touch with loved ones, or at least receive information about their
welfare. Receiving news from a loved one or being reunited with one's
family can change everything. It can end the anguish for a
five-year-old and her parents who get back together or help a survivor
of a natural disaster to reassure his family that he is alive.

The Movement has a worldwide Family Links Network comprising the ICRC's
Central Tracing Agency, together with its tracing agencies in ICRC
delegations, and the tracing services of national Red Cross and Red
Crescent Societies around the world.

The role of the Family Links Network is to restore and maintain contact
between family members and to clarify the fate of persons reported
missing. We restore family links by offering separated family members
telephone services, enabling them to exchange written messages,
creating websites adapted to specific contexts, responding to
individual tracing requests and reuniting families. Our work also
involves collecting, managing and forwarding information on dead and
missing persons.

The Movement has long-standing experience and extensive expertise in
restoring family links. Through the Family Links Network, we are able
to provide services across national borders in full transparency and
with the consent of the authorities concerned. Therefore, as a
Movement, we are in a unique position; we have a global network with
the potential to assist people who are separated from their families,
wherever they may be.

For more about the Red Cross and its programs to help families who have been separated, see the following links:

A ten-year strategy to strengthen the restoration of family links
Restoring contact between families separated by armed conflicts and natural disasters

And before you send money to an agency promoting adoptions from Haiti, why not read this statement first and donate money to help restore families who have been separated as a result of the earthquake.

Haiti: helping restore family links severed by the earthquake

Is international adoption protecting the child or a breach of human rights?

In this Conducive article, author Roelie Post, who spent years uncovering the fraud embedded in Romanian adoptions chronicled in her book Romania For Export Only, The Untold Story Of The Romanian ‘Orphans’ offers her perspective. From the article:

Author
Roelie Post wants to distance herself from pro and anti-adoption labels
and direct the discussion back to the heart of the matter: whether
intercountry adoption is a child protection measure, if children have
rights in their own country, and if intercountry adoption is ultimately
a breach of such rights? Post ends with the crucial question: can
intercountry adoption be legislated without it leading to a
demand-driven child market?
Romanian banned intercountry adoptions, Post will describe the experience and the consequences for other countries.  

You can read the article in full here.

Language barrier at CPS

A very disturbing article about how CPS bungled the case of a Chinese-American family. Clearly this child could have been raised by relatives, yet because the caseworker and the agency did not provide interpreters and basically operated out of a white, English-language framework, this child has now been with his foster parents long enough for the courts to consider it in his best interests to remain with them.

As a former public child welfare worker, I believe the agency and caseworker completely mishandled this case and operated out of a white supremacist framework. Harsh words, maybe, but there was a complete lack of best practices here.

Language Barrier at Child Protective Services

For the first year, Baby Raymond lived happily with
his family. Then the agency took him away and even though his
Chinese-American family fought to get him back, they couldn't find the
right words.

If Raymond loses access to his extended family, there is a good
chance he will never be apprised of the facts surrounding his removal
from their lives. This story has tried to present the unvarnished
facts, which are buried in a bungle of oft-­puzzling court orders and
about 1,000 pages of trial testimony and exhibits. Hopefully, if
Raymond ever chooses to read anything about that part of his life, he
will have the time to look at the primary sources.

And if he chooses to read anything else, I hope it would be this:

Raymond, due to language and geographic issues, it has been
difficult to illustrate exactly how much your Aunt Connie loves you,
and how this ordeal has torn her, and the rest of your family, apart.

However Connie appeared to the jurors, her words on paper express a
woman unsure of her tongue and unsure of the legal system, who was
stumbling over herself to, in her words, "try to explain so the jury
member can understand better."

By the time your mother's case went to trial, it really ceased to be
about the truth and about what was best for Raymond Liu. It was purely
adversarial. It was about using your family's lack of English and lack
of legal sophistication against them. And it worked. Sure, it was also
about pointing the finger at CPS. And you can make up your own mind
about that.

This is an extremely long-winded way of saying you have to believe
this: Your Aunt Connie loves you. She fought hard for you. She and your
Aunt Ling were there for the first year of your life. They had such
respect for your grandmother, who they always wanted you to be with, so
she could care for you like she cared for them. And you have to believe
this: You were happy.

You can read the entire article here (it is very lengthy)

Transnational Adoption and the “Financialization of Everything”

From Conducive Magazine, a new online publication, is this article by Jane Jeong Trenka. You can read the entire article here.

Transnational Adoption and the “Financialization of Everything”

International adoption is often seen as a mutually beneficial relationship between children in need of a home and financially stable adults wanting to raise a child. But it is also big-money business. In line with neoliberalism, or the hollowing out of government services, many adopted children are born to single mothers who are offered little to no resources to care for their children. International adoption agencies have stepped into this gap by offering homes, and making a profit in the process. The transformation of adoption into a global business creates a further incentive not to assist mothers, who may turn to adoption out of desperation, not desire. Adoptee activists are working to shed light on this issue. Focusing particularly on South Korea, author and co-founder of Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoption Community of Korea (TRACK) Jane Jeong Trenka argues the process should be re-engineered to put the money and fateful decisions back where they belong: with the mothers and their children.  TRACK is now working with the Korean government to get the the voices of birth parents and Korean adoptees heard in South Korean adoption law revisions.

One of the arguments I have been trying to make for several years as a social worker who has worked for adoption agencies is one that Jane points out as well – that adoption is a band-aid and that social workers, adoption agencies and society should be working to eliminate the pre-existing conditions that lead to adoption as a service. Jane writes,

The adoption agencies would like to portray themselves as the leaders of the movement to end the monetary incentive behind transnational adoption.  They would like to be perceived as the people who originally came up with the wonderful idea to preserve families instead of separating them.  But, let’s look at this logically.  The ideal situation, which everyone seems to pay lip service to, is for children to stay with their own families in their own countries.  Therefore, the adoption agencies should be working to put themselves out of business.  The agencies say that they are doing wonderful work in “sending countries” to support families, but the reality is that the adoptions themselves fund this work. In other words, supporting vulnerable families is directly at odds with their main source of revenue.  Adoption agencies exist because of adoption, not in spite of it.  Their work to support families will therefore always be half-hearted.  This contradiction exists on the organizational level.

On an individual level, the very jobs that adoption agency workers keep, with which they support their own children, are dependent on keeping the existing order intact.  In other words, if the adoption agencies stop doing adoptions, a lot of people are going to have to get job retraining.  On the other hand, people who do not have any business ties to the adoption industry have no vested interest in continuing adoptions or constantly renewing their customer base.

Please read the whole article.

Re/Defining Orphans

Two very important statements about the definition of orphans. One of the main points – that within the the US and other economically developed nations, "orphan" is a term to describe a child who has lost both parents to death (as in, children in these nations are considered orphans if they’ve lost both parents to death*). However, as UNICEF and other NGOs define the term, in the 1990s, "Orphan" was used to describe a child who had lost one or more parents. This is no small consideration as it changes the scope of justification in terms of how children in need are deemed appropriate for different kinds of services both in country and abroad.

[* Edited to add: As Rich brought to my attention, the U.S. State Department’s definition of who counts as an orphan is here. This definition defined by the INA is not what I was referring to above; as I should have worded better. I meant that when people in the U.S. consider children living in this country "orphans" they mean those with two parents deceased.For the purposes of international adoption, orphan is defined by the State Department similarly as UNICEF and the Hague Convention.]

Unicef’s definition of orphans
Ethica: Majority of Global "Orphans" have families

This paragraph from Ethica sums up how I feel about the over-justification of saving "orphans" from foreign countries.

13 million orphans is still a vast sea of needy children, and a number
which far exceeds the number of children adopted each year. But of
special note is UNICEF’s comment that 95% of all orphans are age 5 and
over.
This contrasts sharply with the demographics of adoptions to the
U.S. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services 2006
statistic on orphan visas granted to American families adopting
children from abroad, only 3,337 of the total 20,705 children adopted
that year were age 5 and older.
Ethica recognizes that the majority of
younger children who have been internationally adopted legally
qualified as orphans under U.S. immigration law, and were recognized as
orphans by their birth countries. However, these statistics indicate
that babies orphaned through parental relinquishment do not constitute
the majority of the orphan population.
While it is true that many
children who have a surviving parent may still require placement in
adoptive families, these statistics also challenge the adoption
community to look carefully at assumptions that current practices are
based upon.

UNICEF has been demonized among some groups of adoption agencies and adoptive parents for what they believe is an anti-adoption philosophy; however I fully support UNICEF’s hierarchy of placement decisions which follow the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-Operation in Respect to International Adoption:

  • Recognizing that the child, for the full and harmonious development
    of his or her personality, should grow up in a family environment, in
    an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding,

  • Recalling that each State should take, as a matter of priority,
    appropriate measures to enable the child to remain in the care of his
    or her family of origin,

  • Recognizing that intercountry adoption may offer the advantage of a
    permanent family to a child for whom a suitable family cannot be found
    in his or her State of origin,

  • Convinced of the necessity to take measures to ensure that
    intercountry adoptions are made in the best interests of the child and
    with respect for his or her fundamental rights, and to prevent the
    abduction, the sale of, or traffic in children

It is NOT that UNICEF is completely anti-adoption; what they ARE is an organization justly concerned with ETHICAL practices.

For children who cannot be raised by their own families, an appropriate
alternative family environment should be sought in preference to
institutional care, which should be used only as a last resort and as a
temporary measure. Inter-country adoption is one of a range of care
options which may be open to children, and for individual children who
cannot be placed in a permanent family setting in their countries of
origin, it may indeed be the best solution. 

…At the same time, lack of regulation and oversight, particularly in the
countries of origin, coupled with the potential for financial gain, has
spurred the growth of an industry around adoption, where profit, rather
than the best interests of children, takes centre stage.  Abuses
include the sale and abduction of children, coercion of parents, and
bribery, as well as trafficking to individuals whose intentions are to
exploit rather than care for children.

How one can be opposed to that, I don’t comprehend.

Boys and Girls

I attended a training yesterday, for professionals in the adoption world. The speaker was talking about what beliefs we as adoption workers bring to our work. I thought it really was an appropriate and timely discussion and I wish we talked about this more openly in our field.

One thing the presenter brought up was that in her experience (mostly with international and private agency domestic adoption) is that the majority of prospective adoptive parents want girls, and Asian girls specifically if they are adopting internationally. She says that in the international sphere at least (and she works for one of the biggest and most respected agencies in our area), they have to do special "marketing" for boys. The presenter wondered aloud why that was.

After the presentation, I offered my hypothesis.

1) Asian girls are seen as being submissive, obedient, and more easily assimilated. We’re cute, when we grow up we’re "exotic" and as one person in the audience today mentions, we’re "smart."

2) Little boys of color grow into MEN of color. And there’s nothing more fearsome than a Man of color. Unless it’s an Asian man, and then the stereotype is that of an emasculated man.

In my experience, the preference for girls (when adopting) is overwhelming, crossing all racial lines (same-race and transracial). Yet strangely, for people I know who have children by birth, the stated preference seems to be boys or no preference.