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.

I’m tired of adoptive parent confessionals

Several folks have sent me links about the Slate article, "I did not love my adopted child" and the companion piece on NPR.

I hadn't written about it here because frankly sometimes it just seems too much. And because I'm trying to finish writing 3 research papers! 🙂

But I finally had to take the time to at least jot down a few thoughts:

  • I give her a few points because at least to some degree she recognizes that the typical "happy-happy-joy-joy" adoption narrative serves to hurt everyone involved who does NOT experience a smooth transition, a good "fit" between adoptive parent and child, post-adoption depression on the part of adoptive parents, post-adoption grieving on the part of the child and all the ways in which adoption is nothing less than this perfect way to "grow a family"
  • The author does clearly state what I think a lot of us have said in the past – prospective adoptive parents often think they're more prepared for the difficulties of adopting than they really are. It's easy, I think, for prospective adoptive parents to think, "not me, not my child."
  • To some degree I can even appreciate the "there- but-for-[fill in saving grace here]-go-I" sentiment, which I think all of us who claim to have an ounce of compassion often say

But –

  • I truly hope that the author is using a pseudonym. For the child's sake. I can't even imagine some day that child g00gling her adoptive mother's name some day and finding this article in which her mom confesses to not loving her
  • Is it not completely clear in this article that the child was TRAUMATIZED by being adopted? Being adopted as a toddler (3 years old in this case, which I really relate to because I was the same age when I was adopted) is considered by many to be one of the WORST times a child can be adopted. 
  • There seems to be a total lack of empathy for what the child went through being pulled from her foster parents to a strange white family in a strange country where EVERYTHING – language, food, sleeping, parenting, noise, environment, people – was different.

In general this was another adoptive parent's "I did it to help other adoptive parents" self-confessional, a la Tedaldi, but it once again attempts to elicit sympathy for just how hard it is for adoptive parents who have to struggle with pathologically ill-behaved adoptive children (or in other words, kids who did not live up to the adoptive parent's expectations of being so happy to attach to a new caregiver -  i.e. them). For parents who claim this is about the best interest of the child, whose interest is truly valued in these articles?

Where is the acknowledgment of the adoptee's perspective? Why do these articles merely continue to pathologize adopted children without really recognizing the trauma of the adoption experience itself? Lots of attention seems to be spent on the pre-adoption trauma – the triple bad boys of pre-adoption experiences (abandonment, institutional life, pre-abandonment abuse or neglect). What about the trauma of ripping a child away from the only people this child knew and placing them in a foreign country? What would Dell'Antonia have wanted for her biological son if he had to have been taken away from her and sent to China to an adoptive family who wanted to "grow their family?" Would she have recognized the trauma her son would have felt in that scenario? My guess is yes. My guess is she never recognized that the fact her adopted child was so attached to her foster parents was in many ways a good thing – it meant her daughter had the capacity to love someone. My guess is that it didn't really matter. It was more about her daughter's lack of attachment to her. Which is ridiculous, right? I mean, you don't expect to go on a first date with someone and immediately fall in love. Why would you expect that from a child?

Consumer warning labels

Over the past several days, of course like everyone else, I have been catching news stories here and there about the 7-year old Russian adoptee who was sent packing back to Russia after his adoptive mom decided she couldn't handle parenting the child after a few months. This morning I happened to see both CBS's morning show and NBC's Today show segments.

What gets me is how much of a "consumer reports" story this has become. This story seems to have become about

  1. Was it right for an adoptive mother to send the child back by himself (not even as much was it right to return the child and dissolve the adoption)?
  2. Are Russian adoptees "more damaged" than other adoptees?
  3. How can prospective adoptive parents be good consumers and lessen the likelihood of getting a child with RAD or other psychological problems,
  4. Is Russia going to stop the market of children for adoption? and
  5. What about the poor parents in the process of adopting who now may either lose the opportunity to adopt "their" child or may be in limbo for a long time?

In addition to some news reporter standing outside of Torry Ann Hansen's house, the news show host often interviews some "expert" (always an adoptive parent or some psychologist or social worker who claims to know something about adoption – but there is NEVER an adult adoptee) like on the Today show when Matt Lauer interviewed an adoptive mom who wrote a book about Russian adoptions. She said the usual things, blah blah blah. Matt Lauer's questions seemed to be eerily similar to stories about consumer recalls – and both Matt and the adoptive parent "expert" dismissed that adoption "returns" happen, in a fairly nonchalant way. Like, yeah, it happens. Moving on, 'are Russian kids more f-ed up than other kids?' Matt wanted to know.

Why are no mainstream media outlets asking how this is going to affect the child in question? Why have no media outlets asked an adult person who was adopted internationally and "disrupted?" 

ADOPTEES HAVE FEELINGS! Plus, guess what? Some of us are experts in adoption disruptions. Want to know what it feels like to be an adoptee who was kicked out by their adoptive parents? There actually are a lot who could answer that question for you.

We are not packages to be sent back because we didn't come according to standardized factory specifications. Maybe we should start putting consumer warning labels on children:

Warning: Hand made. Each one is different, therefore no two will be alike. Actual product may differ from the one shown in advertisement. NO RETURNS.

Returning an adopted child

Thanks to Peach for first posting this story, another in what I call the "buyer beware" category.

From ABC News: Oklahoma couples wants to return adopted child to the state.

I'm wondering why the family doesn't believe the residential treatment center who says the son is no longer a danger.

I hate that the video clip begins with the mom acting all caring, talking to their son on the phone (if she's really doing that, my hunch is it's set up to elicit sympathy for the mom).

This is the part that gets me – and it's not that I'm not sympathetic to the family. I've worked with children who have been abused and neglected. I do understand that some kids have a hard time blending in to an adoptive family.

The article states,


There are 11,0000 children in Oklahoma's adoption system. This year,
only 13 adoptions have been dissolved — an expensive and lengthy legal
process that's similar to a divorce.


The Wescotts can't afford it, so they're trying to have the law changed.

The Wescotts are part of a group seeking changes in state law
that would allow adoptive parents to return custody of foster children
to the state in certain circumstances.

"If a family can show that they have exhausted every resource
… every opportunity they can … to save their families and this is
what they're left with, then I think they should have this as an
option," said Tina Cox of the Adoptive Parent Support Group. "No one
should be held hostage in their own homes."

Listen to the commentary afterwards too.

Minnesota couple caught up in apparent adoption fraud

I don't know if this happens as often in other countries, but this seems to way more common among Indian adoptions. I personally know of one family (that also dissolved the adoption) when a family adopted a "3-year old" girl from India who turned out to be at least 6 years older than it was stated (they found out when she began going through puberty at supposedly 6 years of age). I've heard of several other cases of Indian children being many years older than their adoption papers say.

5adopt1220 From the Star Tribune.
A Minnesota couple were excited to become parents of sisters from India
— until they made a shocking discovery that raises questions about the
U.S. effort to stop international adoption fraud.

In court papers that paved her way to Minnesota, Komal is described
as a 12-year-old girl from northern India, eligible for adoption in the
United States.

She liked to assemble puzzles and briefly attended fifth grade, but
the 112-pound orphan displayed a violent streak that soon left a Mayer,
Minn., couple wondering if they were told the truth about the two
Indian siblings they spent $30,000 trying to adopt.

Within months of their arrival, and before the adoption became
final, Komal confessed: She was 21. Her younger sister, Shallu,
admitted she was 15, not 11 as advertised. The sisters said they were
told to lie about their ages and backgrounds by orphanage officials and
an India-based representative for Crossroads Adoption Services of
Edina, which handled the failed placements.

To read the rest of the story, click here.

The story that continues to annoy me just won’t end

Anita Tedaldi appeared on the Today show yesterday. I was watching the Today show when they made the announcement that she would be on, but had to go to work and school before her time slot.

Here is Lisa Belkin at the New York Times Motherlode blog writing about Anita’s appearance. This part made me laugh out loud:

“as a journalist, I fiercely believe that sunlight is almost always
better than darkness, and that shining a spotlight on all corners of a
topic is the only way to understand it.”

Keep on keeping on, Lisa.

Visit msnbc.com for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

The Today show write up is here.
Lisa Belkin’s Motherlode blog story is here.

Story of adoption disruption in the New York Times Motherlode blog

from the New York Times Motherlode blog comes a personal story about disrupting an international adoption. Apparently the Motherlode blog has published several posts about adoption. I made the mistake of reading the comments afterwards which is usually a mistake, but I'm sure I saw a few familiar names representing a more balanced view of the typical adoption narrative.

Terminating an Adoption

Regular Motherlode readers have already met Anita Tedaldi, who blogs at ovolina.com. She has written a few guest posts about being a military spouse. But she has never before written anything like this.

A few months ago, when another guest blogger wrote about secondary infertility,
many of the comments were along the lines of “why don’t you just
adopt?” and some of the responses were in the vein of “adoption is not
always that easy.” In the middle of that I heard from Anita, who asked
to share the story of D., her adopted son (she has used her real name
here, but changed his), whom she raised for 18 months before she
relinquished him to another family last year, when he was about
two-and-a-half years old.

The termination of an adoption is a fraught topic, raising questions
of love and loyalty and the definition of parenting. Anita’s tale will
make some of you angry, but she hopes it will trigger a deeper
understanding of how fragile and fierce the bonds of adoption can be.

** ETA: Oops, forgot to add the link again. You can read the whole article here.

Liberia: What happens to the Child When Adoption Fails?

Read this compelling article in the Liberian Journal by Heather Cannon-Winkleman. I had the fortune to meet Heather when she was in Minnesota, before she returned to work in Liberia. Heather is intimately knowledgeable about international adoption/orphanage care in Liberia. She has been actively working to educate people both in Liberia and around the world about some unethical practices that are happening in the country. Heather's positions about adoption have been formed by actually working in orphanages in Liberia, including one that used to focus on providing services to children in orphanages until adoption proved to be more profitable. In our conversations I have learned about some very unethical practices happening in the country.

Heather writes,

What is most startling is that many of these disruptions occur under the radar. Currently, there is no universal tracking or monitoring system to determine how many children have experienced failed adoptions and where they are placed. Also, there is no system that ensures these children are receiving the quality care they deserve and the necessary counseling or therapy to treat their mental health issues causing their displacement. This lack of an oversight mechanism has caused many children to become lost in the system and eventually forgotten. For right now many children are being processed through underground networks in attempt to re-adopt them without going through proper or legal channels [7]. These attempts to cover up the disruptions are often from the efforts of adoptive parents or placement agencies who are avoiding to disclose this unfavorable fact. This is probably how so many children adopted outside the U.S. are put on planes and returned to their birth nations to languish in uncertainty.

There are some organizations that provide help for distressed adoptive parents and adopted children. They can find solace from a few adoption disruption resource providers that can help with counseling, re-adoption, disruption prevention, and respite care for the children or parents. However, these providers either specialize in children with special needs, up to age three, certain nationalities and various states [8]. This is why there needs to be a global system that helps children of all ages and from all nations with or without special needs, that oversees all aspects of the pre- and post-disruption process to guarantee the rights of the child.

As the issue of disruptive adoption continues to go unmonitored, there has been little attention given to this real concern in the many online forums or blogs of adoption advocacy groups who seek to gain from this highly profitable industry.

Heather blogs at Uniting Distant Stars.

Update: Heather has asked that I link to this website, which is an account of a group of people advocating on behalf of a group of Liberian-adopted children being abused by their adoptive parents. Please check out the website for more information on how you can help.

[7] Underground Network moves children from home to home. This 2006 USA Today article investigates the issue of Tennessee couple running an underground network for a disrupted adoptions and also being charged with abuse of their own adopted children. Ronald Federici, a neuropsychologist in Alexandria, Va., and author of Help for the Hopeless Children who has adopted seven children was cited saying "Dump and run — it happens all the time." says Ronald Federici, a neuropsychologist in Alexandria, Va., and author of Help for the Hopeless Children who has adopted seven children…. He says there are hundreds of e-mail chat rooms in which people who adopted children are trying to find new homes for them outside the public system…. "They don't want to sell the kids. They just want to get rid of them," he says, explaining the children may have health problems the adoptive parents never expected. "It's not the merchandise they bought." He says many of these parents are looking for the cheapest and fastest placement. USA Today 18 Jan 2006 by Wendy Koch.

[8] The Joint Council on International Children’s Services (JCICS) website lists eight adoption disruption resources offering a range of services.

Number of adopted children returned to care has doubled in five years

From the Times Online (UK). It appears that this article focuses more on the children adopted from the foster care system. I wonder how many (if any) of these children are internationally adopted. Also, I would be interested to know if by "return to care" they are referring to those children whose adoptions were finalized or not. In the US, being "returned to care" would likely refer to only children adopted from foster care since children adopted internationally who end up in the system are considered "new" cases (since they were formerly part of another country's child welfare system). Semantics sometimes makes it difficult to get the full story.

Additionally, I found this story only reinforced a lot of negative stereotypes about children who have been in the foster care system, as well as the typical view that children are "left to suffer at
the hands of dysfunctional natural parents." Whether this means straight out physical or sexual abuse or whether it might be poverty-driven neglect (which is very, very common) I don't know – but it does very much make a difference – for me.

Number of adopted children returned to care has doubled in five years

The number of adopted children who have been returned to care homes because
their new parents cannot cope with them has doubled in the past five years.

Data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that the number has
increased by a third in the past year alone as parents struggle with often
challenging children who have suffered years of neglect or abuse in their
natural families.

Going back into care after living with an adoptive family is a traumatic
experience for children, and for the adoptive parents who have to accept
their only chance of having a family has gone. It is also a huge cost to an
already over-stretched system with the children likely to need expensive
specialist care.

The increase in breakdowns comes despite a fall in the number of children
being adopted. Only 4,637 children were adopted in 2007, the lowest number
since 1999.

Read the whole article here.