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.

Summer Adoption Programs

I tend to have a hard time falling asleep at night, having suffered on and off with insomnia for the better part of twenty years. Late at night, I often flip through the channels hoping for some mindless show that will help me drift off to Nod. A few weeks ago, I was watching BET’s re-run of "A Different World," the spin-off of The Cosby Show that takes place at "Hillman College"

In the particular episode I was watching that night, Blues for Nobody’s Child, Freddie befriends a young boy named Alex who turns out to be living in foster care. She follows him to a "meet and greet" event – for those who aren’t familiar with this, it’s where kids and prospective parents interact with the hopes that a "match" will be made. If you think this is like speed dating, you’d be right. In this episode, Freddie is outraged when she sees this boy walking up to families, trying his best to get their attention, only to have the prospective parents fall in love with a younger kid.

Thanks to Rich for bringing this story about a "meet and greet" on steroids to my attention. This news clip brings a few things to mind. First it reminded me of the program in which Irish children are brought to the US for the summer and stay with a host family.

However, the point of this summer vacation is not to give children in a war-torn country a respite but to have them audition for a family.

I am disturbed by the "try out" aspect of this current story. When I worked for the County we often facilitated these kinds of "matching events" where kids and prospective parents interact (let me add as an aside that the kids are almost always teenagers). On the one hand, I have a huge ethical problem with them. As much as you prepare prospective adoptive parents that the focus of these events is to get to know kids beyond a piece of paper and a photograph and that the idea is to get to know who the kinds of kids in foster care are, inevitably there is always a PAP who blurts out to a kid, "Would you like me to adopt you?" And there is always at least one kid who goes up to a PAP and asks, "Would you adopt me?" There is no way to honestly and compassionately prepare these kids for the kind of rejection they are likely to face.

It’s heart-wrenching and yet, there are almost always at least a few adoptions that happen because of these events. Because for many PAP’s, they look at the kid’s profiles and can’t really get a sense of who these kids are. Because some have opened their hearts up to tough, tough kids after spending an afternoon getting to know them. In fact, last week I attended an adoption move-in ceremony for one of my former kids, who met his adoptive father at one of these events.

Ethically, I really struggle with these things – the photographs and descriptions of kids on web sites and flyers; the "matching events," and all the ways in which children are marketed for adoption. One of my youth on my case load told me, after watching his "Thursday’s Child" segment, "I feel like I’m being sold to the highest bidder, like I’m for sale."

How could these kids in these orphanages in Taiwan deal with knowing
that they had spent the summer with a prospective adoptive family only
to find out later the family didn’t want them? Just like one of my kids asked me, as we were driving to one of these events, "I wonder which one of these people will adopt me?" As it turns out, none of them did. And still today, a year later, he waits.

I know the result of these marketing efforts and programs means some children get adopted

— but at what cost to their dignity?

— And what about all the others who put themselves on the line and never get adopted?

“Black kids less likely to be adopted” and other links

  • Adam Pertman and Shannon Gibney discuss transracial adoption and the Evan B. Donaldson report on MEPA at WBUR’s Here and Now radio show

When Theresa Alden adopted two black boys from an agency in
Philadelphia, she changed her lifestyle for them and they changed
her outlook on race. Alden, who is 50 and white, started attending a black church near
her home in Lancaster, established a network of black friends and
acquaintances, began listening to more black music and buying
children’s books by black authors."My boys will be in a minority here. How do you face the issues
that go along with that?" she said when asked about her attempts to
give them role models and points of reference.


Read the whole article here

  • Not adoption related, but a very intriguing and fascinating exploration of the idea of traveling as an extension of objectifying the "other" – "They think they have the right to go wherever they like" at Racialicious. It makes me think of all those Discovery Channel and National Geographic shows in which white "adventurers" go to these remote areas and try to "become" or get accepted into some indigenous tribe. It makes me think how we "foreign-born" children are the opposite. How we are brought to Western places and assimilated. How sometimes it feels like white people just feel entitled to "get" their culture wherever they like, whenever they like. [and yes, I know not ALL white people do this, so please do not comment on how I’m over-generalizing.]

What I was trying to say

Last week I attempted to make a critique and because of my bad judgment in timing, botched my message up completely. I wanted now to clarify what I was trying to say. People incorrectly assumed that I am anti-adoption and anti-Christianity. There were two points I made in that post last week, and this post is expanding on point #1.

I really wanted to say that people don’t need to go overseas in order to help kids without parents. I felt that there was a lot of emphasis on the family’s organization promoting international adoption. I am a staunch advocate that we need to take care of our own kids too, and as a country we are failing at that. When the earthquakes in happened in China, adoption agencies were being flooded with people calling about how to adopt the orphans. It happened in with the tsunami in Indonesia and the southeast Asian countries in 2004. Yet there are thousands of children in foster care in the United States and these kids are just as "deserving" of families as kids in other countries.

I originally linked to one of the One Church One Child programs which was founded in Illinois. Basically, the One Church One Child program was to promote and recruit adoptive families within faith organizations. The premise and belief is that since there are more churches in the U.S. than there are children in foster care, that if every church congregation would be committed to supporting the adoption of one child or sibling group from foster care then there would be no children waiting for adoption.

I am NOT saying that children in other countries are less "deserving." I AM saying that children in THIS country are JUST AS "deserving."

What I get so frustrated by is the way our society has privileged the foreign "orphan" over the domestic foster care child. I believe (and this is just my opinion) that the continuation of our country’s participation in international adoptions has not just positively affected children in these countries, but has hurt those countries – and their future children too – by enabling these countries who don’t have to have child welfare services and/or programs to continue not caring for their children because international adoption BECOMES their child welfare program.

I also really think that when people from the U.S. (and other places too) adopt despite the warnings that children are being procured illegally that we really smear adoption and make it worse.

And I am so tired of the misinformation out there about adoptees and first parents.

We/they/all of us need to look at the
underlying reasons why children are parent-less and maybe that
preventative part makes us overwhelmed. We might feel we can’t eliminate poverty, or war. We can’t control natural disasters. We aren’t able to cure AIDS. We haven’t gotten rid of chemical dependency or mental illnesses.

But we can take in a child – that much we can do.

I’ve said it again, I’m sure you have all heard it over and over – adoption should be about finding families for kids, not finding kids for families. Children are not pets at the pound. Yet, I’ve had prospective and adoptive parents get angry at me, saying that this is a nice ideal but ultimately it should be the family’s choice who they want to adopt. Foreign adoptions are preferred and the reasons that are given are usually 1)because the myth about the birth parent coming back and taking the child away and that 2)American kids in foster care are more damaged.

We put up with those opinions and biases (and by "we" I mean those of us who work in the adoption profession/industry) because we have to. The social or adoption worker’s job depends on the adoptive parents so everything is tailored to accommodate them. And that’s when the demand for certain kinds of kids over others, and the justifications that are made for illegal adoptions, makes me feel like nothing is ever going to change and that adoption is just about this big old industry of parents buying babies.

We talk about the "best interests" of the child, but let’s be honest. Who are we really catering to?

It seems like a no-win situation sometimes.

Believe it or not, I think that adoptive parents often suffer just as much as the adoptees. When adoptive parents are told that kids from foreign countries are blank slates, they have been duped. When adoptive parents are informed that birth parents in foreign countries never come looking for their children, they have been misled. When adoptive parents are told that adopting kids from other races or cultures won’t impact their lives and the kids will never have any issues related to racism or racial identity, they have been lied to. When adoptive parents are told that all they need is love and their family life will be happily-ever-after, they have been deceived.

I come to the subject of adoption through the lens of my own experiences and those of friends I know and love. I have never said that I was unbiased or that I look at these things from a completely unemotional place. The thing is, I know that I have these biases. I know that I view life through my own frames. But there are many times when I do bite my lip. There are lots of times when I try to look at the adoptive parent from their perspective. I don’t always succeed, but I am always trying.

I think that adoptive parents must recognize their biases and look at things from the perspective of the adoptee. (edited to add, and the family of origin, including the mother, father, siblings and extended relatives who might all feel the grief and loss of the adopted individual).

“American Indian Boarding Schools Haunt Many”

American Indian Boarding Schools Haunt Many

This is a series from NPR that highlights the racist underpinnings of the forcible placement of the First Nations people into boarding school.

One of the things I take very seriously is the underlying philosophy of the boarding school idea. It is not that far a stretch from some of the things I hear said to justify international and transracial adoption – perhaps not as openly racist as saying, "that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him, and save the man" (Colonel Richard Pratt, the founder of the first boarding school, in justifying the reason for forced assimilation of the Native children in Christian boarding schools).

(this photo is of one student before and during his time at the Carlisle boarding school)

I think we must look carefully at history and not blindly follow what seems to be the next idea of what is in the "best interest of the child." History often tells us that what we once believed so strongly and fervently as "best practice" is, in hindsight, potentially destructive to the very people we had hoped to protect.

We must all continue to constantly check for our own biases and prejudices.

Listen to the report at NPR here and part 2 here.

“Domestic Adoption Exceeds Overseas for 1st Time”

From the Korea Times, an article about 2007 statistics from the National Statistic Office in South Korea.

The number of orphans adopted last year declined from a year ago,
falling for the sixth consecutive year. But a greater number of orphans
found a new family here than overseas for the first time.

Local households adopted 1,388 orphans, accounting for
52.3 percent of the total, while 1,264 orphans, or 47.7 percent, found
a new home in foreign countries.

 Interesting to me was that the number of child abuse cases more than doubled. Read the whole article here.

Who deserves to be a parent?

One of the best parts about being connected to the University of Minnesota is the amazing Social Welfare archives housed in the Elmer Anderson library. On Monday, I attended the opening of a traveling exhibit at the Social Welfare archives, curated by Rickie Solinger, author of Beggars and Choosers: How the politics of choice shapes adoption, abortion and welfare in the United States and Wake Up Little Susie: Single Pregnancy and Race before Roe v. Wade. I am a big fan of Solinger’s works and was thrilled to have the chance to meet Ms. Solinger and hear her speak.

Solinger speaks a lot to the philsophy held by so many in America that motherhood is no longer a biological concept but an "economic status" and the debate is now about "who gets to be a legitimate mother in the United States – and how is that enforced?" Of course, we don’t speak of motherhood as an economic status – we speak of it as a choice that women make. But the underlying truth is that women who are poor have fewer choices if any at all.

Solinger brings up a good point. I have said it before too – and appreciate the large body of research that I can draw from to continue asking this question. Poor women are the most vulnerable of women to lose their children. And poor women of color are the most vulnerable of poor women to lose their children.

It’s not that middle class and rich women don’t relinquish children for adoption; it’s that they often have more options and thus, more "choice" about whether they are going to choose to parent. After reading Ann Fessler’s book, The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who SurrenderedChildren for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade and Fallen Women, Problem Girls:N Unmarried Mothers and the Professionalization of Social Work by Regina Kunzler, I learned that until the mid-1960’s it was mostly poor white women affected by what Solinger describes as "an embedded philosphy that punishes poor women because poor women don’t deserve to be mothers."

But for women who are poor and of color, this cuts even deeper. And it’s not just poor women of color in the US. It’s poor women in other countries too.

I remember reading an interview in which Rickie speaks about poverty affecting the practice of adoptions. Solinger states:

When I say that adoption exists on the backs of resourceless women, I am underscoring the class dimension of adoption, and also the racial and gender aspects – the conditions which make groups of women, some in this country and many others around the world, profoundly vulnerable to losing their children.

I want to underscore that adoption, as a social practice, absolutely depends on the existence of groups of women rendered deeply vulnerable most essentially today because of their poverty.

For adoption to take place, there must be groups of women who are so profoundly resourceless that they cannot claim or protect their status as mothers of their own children.

Solinger makes a salient point later on in the interview when she states that she believes that because adoption is presented to the at-large public as child rescue, what is forgotten is that the "source" – that is, mothers, provide the children for adoptive parents. According to Solinger, "The media and public policy and other opinion-builders have invariably/relentlessly conditioned Americans to “see” the baby and “overlook” the woman who gives birth to this baby."

I think this is even more evident when we think about international adoption, because the framework underlying international adoption is that the mothers are merely poor, or have the misfortune to live under some political or governmental policies that force them to place their children for adoption. This framework or philosophy does two things – it makes adopting internationally seem more "safe" and less problematic, since the poor women in those countries are seen as caring, benevolant and loving. This is in contrast to the women in the US who have their children taken away by the state child protective services, who are monsters and thus, less deserving of pity or empathy.

Solinger states:

I deeply disapprove of the practice of taking babies from the poorest women on earth so that people in the richer countries can make “families.” This will be a very, very difficult practice to alter because Americans are largely convinced that international adoption is generally a perfect example of “child rescue.” Most Americans are comfortable believing that there is no contest – a white professional couple in Boston, for example, will surely make better parents and give a Columbian child a vastly better life than the child’s destitute mother in Bogata. And so on. Again, the practice of international adoption reinforces the idea that motherhood should be a class – and race – and national privilege, and the best mothers are the rich ones in North American and Western Europe.

Throughout my professional experience in the adoption world, I have faced this conundrum many, many times and it is without a doubt one of the most difficult aspects of my work. Yesterday I was discussing with a colleague of mine this idea of motherhood as an economic privilege. She stated that for her white friends who are mothers, the discussions lately are about whether they can afford to become stay-at-home moms, while for her black friends who are mothers, the discussions are all about why they can’t get a  decent paying job.

And to add to this, the topic of adoption assistance came up this week as well. In the state of Minnesota, a child eligible for the classification of "special needs" (foster care adoption) will receive anywhere from $247 to $337 a month to help provide "basic maintenance needs." If the child has greater disabilities or diagnoses then they can receive anywhere from $150 to $500 in addition to the basic adoption assistance.*

Which makes me think about all the women who lose their children because of poverty. We’re paying adoptive parents $247 to $837 a month per child to take care of them. What would that mom, who’s minimum-wage job doesn’t cover the rent, food and medical insurance or day care be able to do with that money?

Yes, there are women who abuse their children. There are women who neglect their children (but the majority of the neglect cases are because of lack of supervision and this is often due to mental health, chemical dependency or job issues). But again, as Solinger states:

There are women in every social/economic class who are “unfit” to be mothers. The only ones who lose their children today because of their “unfitness” are the poor ones.

For the rest of the interview with Rickie Solinger by Mirah Riben, you can access the full transcript here.

* Adoption assistance in the state of Minnesota, January 2008 figures, Department of Human Services. Adoption assistance is only available to children adopted from foster care. It is not available to adoptive parents who adopt privately or internationally.

The Baby Thief: The untold story of Georgia Tann, the baby seller who corrupted adoption

This was a fascinating book. I couldn’t help but make comparisons to the current social philosophy regarding expectant mothers, poor single mothers and their children.


From the author’s website comes this synopsis:

For almost three decades, Georgia Tann was nationally lauded for her
work at her children’s home in Memphis, Tennessee. In reality she was
selling many of the boys and girls – often stolen from their parents –
to wealthy clients across America. While building her black market
business Georgia also invented modern adoption, popularizing it,
commercializing it, and corrupting it with secrecy by originating the
policy of falsifying adoptees’ birth certificates – a practice that
continues to this day.

Not only did Georgia Tann exploit women and children, she also capitalized on the zeitgeist of the times in post-WWII America and essentially "created" the adoption "market" as it is today. Anyone interested in adoption history should read this book. As I read this book I was continuously surprised by how much of the current practices in the adoption industry today is direct descendant of Tann’s unethical adoption work, and how both the courts and society still pretend that closed records are for the "protection of the birth mother" when it’s evident that no one ever really cared a damn about birth mothers.

Author Barbara Bisantz Raymond is an adoptive parent who investigated Georgia Tann. This is the story of America as well as the individual person; without a society that turns its back on the most vulnerable, a single woman – no matter how evil – could not have accomplished such horrific acts alone. This book implicates us all.

Tragedy for a Korean adoptee

From the IndyStar.

Sheridan woman, 28, charged in adopted baby’s death

December 15, 2007
by James A. Gillaspy

SHERIDAN, Ind. — Rebecca Kyrie always dreamed of adopting a child. Six months after her dream came true, she is accused of killing the Korean baby in a fit of rage.

Friday, the 28-year-old Sheridan woman appeared in Hamilton Superior Court in Noblesville to face charges of murder, battery resulting in death, neglect of a dependent resulting in death and aggravated battery.

The charges stem from the Sept. 4 death of Hei Min Chung, a 13-month-old girl being adopted by Kyrie and her husband, David.

Medical and police authorities claim Kyrie shook the girl so violently that the baby suffered fatal brain injuries.

You can read the rest of the article here.