Adoptees on PRI: Public Radio International

Co-editor Kevin Vollmers and contributors Laura Klunder and Shannon Gibney were featured in a story on PRI: Public Radio International, about the Gazillion Voices magazine.

You can hear it on the PRI website or below:

 

 

 

Or here on the Minnesota Public Radio site

20130802_080113adoptees_39

 

Photo of Vollmers, Klunder and Gibney by Jennifer Simonson for MPR News.

 

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Twins separated by adoption

What happens when intercountry adoptees find out they have birth family they never knew existed? Lately it seems there have been several adoptees publicizing their discovery. And many are twins who were separated. WTF is up with that? 

I wanted to highlight some of these projects so here you go. Please support. 

 

"aka Dan" is a documentary project chronicling Dan Matthews' journey to Korea in summer 2013, centering around his struggles with identity and family during the IKAA (International Korean Adoptee Association) 2013 summit, his first live concert performance in Korea, and his reunion with his Korean birth family. Accompanying the documentary project will be a full-length music album inspired by his experiences.

And here is one by actress Samantha Futerman who discovered her twin sister, Anais, adopted to France. Their project is called Twinsters.

 

 

On February 21, 2013, Samantha, an American actor living in Los Angeles, received a message via Facebook that would drastically change her life. It was from Anaïs, a French fashion design student living in London. Anaïs' friends viewed a KevJumba YouTube video featuring Samantha. They were immediately blown away by the identical appearance of Samantha & Anaïs. After a few light Google stalking sessions, Anaïs & her friends discovered that both girls were born on November 19, 1987 & adopted shortly after. Anaïs knew immediately that it was possible for Samantha to be her biological twin sister & reached out to her through Twitter & Facebook.

And last, Deann Borshay Liem's film, Geographies of Kinship, feature a Korean adoptee Michael Holloway who reunites with his twin brother who was kept by his birth family (starts at about the 2 minute mark and again at 4:32).

 

More stories about twins separated through adoption

From The Week: 9 Incredible Stories About Identical Twins - see #3, #5 and #9

From MSN: Twin brothers reunited in China

From The Nation: Twins separated at birth reunited after 25 years

From Huffington Post: Bao Lulin and Yang Yanfei, identical twins separated at birth, find each other 24 years later

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.

New report on the impact of the internet on adoption

Last week, lost amidst the horror of Friday's events, the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute released a report, "Untangling the web: The internet's transformative impact on adoption." 

Using-Computer

I first heard about the report via this NPR story that came across my newsfeed. I gave the article my typical 5 raspberries on a scale of 1-5 for it's framing and ignoring adoptees and birth/first parents, which is typical since MPR simply can't seem to figure out that anyone other than adoptive parents matter in this transaction we call adoption. In addition, this particular story comes perilously close to sounding like baby-buying. 

The New York Times, which I often give at least 5 1/2 raspberries to for its poor framing and coverage of adoptees surprisingly began its story discussing how adoptees and birth/first families have used the internet to search and connect and find support (I wasn't surprised after learning who wrote the story, however, as I have spoken with reporter Ron Nixon and have found him to be incredibly more nuanced about adoption than most reporters). 

The Adoption Institute report covers both – how the internet and social media and social networks affect the pre-adoption process as well as the life-long impacts on adoptees and birth/first families that most people don't even consider in the emotional first days of an adoption placement. 

As the report states, "the internet is having a profound, permanent impact on modern adoption." It has had many beneficial effects on my life both personally and professionally, and yet I also see the many ways that the internet and use of social media and social networking sites have also harmed people.

Before I was blogging, I found online discussion groups and that is where I found my virtual community. Even though I grew up in a state that claims to have the highest per capita rate of Korean adoptees, growing up I didn't know they existed. Internet groups were my way of dipping my toes in the water, reaching out to meet others and learn that my experiences were similar to others.

And then I discovered blogs and adoptee bloggers and for a while there was a whole group of us. Sadly most of the others have quit. The blogs were also where I found adoptive parents, domestic adoptees, foster alum and birth/first parents. Blogs were an amazing way for me to get to know the other parts of the adoption constellation. 

As a county worker I used social media sites and the internet to look for family members, extended relatives and other former important people for the youth on my case load. The internet was a place where youth's profiles were sometimes uploaded as a tool for recruitment. The youth also could create Foster Club accounts and connect with others in foster care. 

There tends to be a lot of concern about the ethics of the internet in both pre-adoption recruitment and marketing, as well as in the post-adoption search and reunion areas. I agree that both of these areas are ripe for unethical and illegal activities – however I believe strongly that the internet is a tool, not a cause- and that the internet and social media sites are merely one more place where people behave, in both positive and negative ways. The instantaneous nature of the internet makes such behavior visible on a larger scale, to a larger number of people and harder to erase (which is itself practically impossible these days). 

Another issue I have is when adoptive parents over-share about their children, in particular the really negative stuff. There is one blog which I will not link to that several people over the past few months have told me to check out, where the adoptive parent gives great detail about her daughter's mental illness. While I fully support the intent to educate and find support, I think we need to remember that when talking about someone else's life, particularly a child's, we are adding vulnerability to an already vulnerable person. When a parent lays out their child's mental health problems, medical history, problem behaviors, it is out there for everyone. I think it's particularly hypocritical to be criticizing young people for sharing TMI on the internet when I see adoptive parents as being quite egregious in that department myself. Adoptive parents are not the only ones that share too much on the internet – adoption workers sometimes do as well. Agencies need to be thoughtful about what information about children is shared on the internet. Public profiles garner the page hits and inquiries, but may be violating the child's right to privacy. Just because a child is in foster care through no fault of their own is no reason to broadcast his or her information on the internet.

A few minor grievances: in the section about the internet's impact on information, support and affiliation for adoptees, the report perpetuates that adoptees are "young" by stating "[b]ecause they are by definition the youngest members of the adoption community…" (p.22). This is irritating since I am in my mid-forties and don't think adopted persons my age and older need to continue to be lumped together with children, youth and young adults – particularly since I am the same age or older as many adoptive parents and/or birth/first parents – so why are adopted persons always described as the youngest member of the triad? We are not children. Several of my adoptee friends are grandparents!

 I agree with the report's findings that key stakeholders need to come together to work on how best to safeguard children and families from unethical and illegal adoption practices and to craft a best-practices standard guide. However, the report lists stakeholders as "key organizations and experts in the fields of child welfare, foster care and adoption" (p. 53).  Last time I checked, adopted persons, first/birth parents and adoptive parents were both stakeholders and experts too and any best practice guide should also include those voices. 

For the whole report, see "Untangling the Web: The Internet's Transformative Impact on Adoption" on the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute web page. You can also read the executive summary. 

 

ETA: 1:54 pm. I just learned today that Adam Pertman, Executive Director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, will be on NPR's Talk of the Nation discussing the report. I will link to it when it becomes available. 

4:27 pm. The link to the discussion is now available here. You can also listen to it here below.

MPR Talk of the Nation – Internet and Adoption

A chorus of starfish

I recently returned from a business trip to find my adoptee
friends and allies engaged in numerous discussions both on- and off-line about
the May 10th New Yorker article, “The Last Babylift: Adopting a Child from Haiti”
by John Seabrook and the subsequent NPR interview with Seabrook and Fresh Air
host Terry Gross
. A fellow friend and scholar, Korean adoptee Kadnexus, offered
a critique of the NPR story. Mr. Seabrook himself found the blog and commented,
setting off a series of comments from adult adoptees, adoptee allies, and
adoptive parents.

Up until yesterday, I had intended to deconstruct Mr.
Seabrook’s comments as exemplary of how adoptive parents dismiss the adult
adoptee voice – and indeed he is dismissive and at times very patronizing and
demeaning. I also was torn between the two – no, three – different “hats” I
wear – the first as an adult adoptee of color who was transracially and
transnationally adopted, second as an adoption scholar and researcher, and
third as a social worker and former adoption worker. Each of these perspectives
from my own life, and I could maybe even add another hat, that of a parent,
informs how I see Mr. Seabrook’s initial New Yorker essay as well as the
comments he offers at the Kadnexus blog.

Each of these perspectives (and indeed, they are so
intertwined it may be impossible to separate any of them) has a definite view
of the article, NPR interview, and the author’s comments on the Kadnexus blog.
In the end, I have decided not to deconstruct Mr. Seabrook’s comments (of which there are several) on Kadnexus’
blog in full. I want to say I am disheartened that Mr. Seabrook does not show
the kind of compassion he claims to have for his adopted daughter to the adult
cohort of adoptees of color that she will someday join (and I don’t mean an
organized “group” – I mean that some day this child will grow up and by the
experience of being adopted transracially and transnationally, will be counted
as one of us, whether she ever personally chooses to engage in a social way or
not). You can all read Mr. Seabrook’s comments for yourself.

I decided instead just to highlight a few things that were
brought up by Mr. Seabrook in his New Yorker article, which for the record let
me state that I found interesting and in many ways both refreshing and
problematic.  I also want to claim
a broader space. So, although Mr. Seabrook’s New Yorker piece is the jumping
off point for my thoughts here, I do not want to paint Mr. Seabrook as some
kind of ogre. He is, in fact, all too typical of many adoptive parents,
especially those early in the journey.

First of all, it is clear that Mr. Seabrook was aware of the
complexities of adopting a child from a foreign country. He spends a lot more
time than many of the other articles I’ve seen in the New York Times
(especially the blogs), Slate, Salon, etc. by adoptive parents. I thought Mr.
Seabrook highlighted a lot of the difficulties of being an adoptive parent in
light of the complications and complexities.

A few things stand out for me, however: first, in terms of
adult adoptees (for which, it turns out, he is not as understanding of the
nuances) he describes Mei-Ling Hopgood’s memoir as “bittersweet” – and I’ve
noticed that Ms Hopgood’s memoir is often held up as the “good” one. Is it
because by the end of the book, Hopgood comes to appreciate her adoptive parents
more after her birth family reunion, and writes about adopting herself someday?
Jane Jeong Trenka, on the other hand, he dismisses as “bitter.” Is this because
her narrative counters his own justification for adopting internationally? When
he writes that he and his wife chose international adoption in part because
birth parents in other countries “don’t change their minds about giving up
their children” that is in direct contradiction to the fact that Trenka’s mother
sits outside the social worker’s office every day for months in order to find
her daughters. Is it because Trenka’s adoptive parents are so unwilling,
(unlike Hopgood’s) to engage in the paradox of transnational adoption that
makes Jane come off as “bitter?” Because that to me would emphasize and kind of
clarify that maybe having a less rigid sense of entitlement as an adoptive
parent actually improves an adoptive parent’s relationship with their child
through adulthood.

Mr. Seabrook also valorizes the Holts and Pearl Buck because
they were willing to look beyond the race matching in adoption that brought
them to the critical attention and animosity of American child welfare
agencies. It isn’t just that the Holts and Buck’s “radical notion – that love
could transcend any cultural barrier – was ridiculed within the adoption
profession.”
What is not explained are the reasons why agencies in the
U.S. found the Holts and Buck problematic. Yes, at the time there was an
emphasis on race matching but let’s not forget that the majority of the adoptive
parents
at the time demanded matching by race, religion and other physical
features. Having just spent several months researching the Child Welfare League of
America archives and the International Social Service archives
, there is more
to the these organizations concerns about Holt and Buck than Seabrook’s
assertion that their opposition was solely based on race matching. The majority
of adoptive parents – even in today’s multicultural society – are not rushing
to adopt children of different racial, ethnic or national origin.

Child welfare agencies such as the CWLA and ISS
were opposed to the growing international adoptions sponsored by Holt and Buck
because of their concern about corruption and coercion of birth families, and
because of the lack of preparation by American adoptive parents. The CWLA in
fact had long been concerned about independent adoptions (and Seabrook fails to
mention that for many years, the Holts operated as independent facilitators
conducting proxy adoptions – that is, no home study of the prospective adoptive
parent, and the child was adopted by the American family sight unseen,
delivered to them without having full information about the child). CWLA and
ISS were opposed to American families adopting children without the auspices of
agency oversight over concern about the child. What CWLA, ISS and other
organizations were espousing were standards based on the best interest of the
child, not on the best interests of the prospective parent. It is because
children who were adopted by white American families were being rejected as
they grew because of the racial, physical, and intellectual differences that
led agencies to recommend “matching.” Other adoptive parent scholars and
academics have written about this in greater detail, especially Ellen Herman in
her book, Kinship by Design.

To me, the most disturbing aspect about this whole “conversation”
over at Kadnexus is Seabrook’s own words in the comments. Time after time he
makes demeaning, sarcastic comments about the adoptees who responded to his
article. Obviously, “we” struck a nerve. We criticized his decision –
HIS DECISION – to adopt a child from Haiti (and furthermore, to write about it
in a way that felt very disrespectful to many). We, those of us who as children who had NO DECISION
about our adoption experiences, can be criticized but somehow he should be
immune from critique? As a journalist, shouldn’t Seabrook know that once he puts something
out there in a published forum that it is open for critique, the same way
people often critique my work and that of adult adoptees? I won’t even get into the whole part of Mr. Seabrook’s
assumption that because of his critique, Kadnexus must “have had an unhappy experience.” I, and many
others, have written about this in the past.

As an adoption scholar, I thought he started to do some
research but let his own subjectivity as an adoptive parent skew what research
he studied. From his comments it looks like he only read research that
validated what he thought, which is really, really easy to do. After all, the
majority of the research on transracial and transnational adoptees look at us
while we’re kids, many of the findings are based on what white adoptive parents
reported about their kid’s views (not the adoptee themselves), and most use
white, middle class measurement standards of “well-being” and racial identity,
not those developed to reflect diversity in race, ethnicity, culture or
especially socioeconomic class. In his article, I believed that he had an understanding of structural problems. But in
his personal comments at Kadnexus, he emphatically only ascribes importance to
the individual. I suppose it’s a version of the starfish story. As a social
worker, I hear this all the time and I don’t like it, because it totally strips
away personal responsibility to do anything on a larger level. We may “make a
difference” in the life of one “starfish” but we do nothing to address what is
happening in the ocean that is causing all the starfish to wash ashore. Mr. Seabrook states in his comments that those of us who critique from a structural level are "Clever people making clever arguments their esteemed colleagues will
esteem without any heart in the arguments at all. Not that this
endeavor isn’t important to one’s career, but from my perspective it’s
very far from the point."
I would disagree with Mr. Seabrook. I think some of us critique because we actually care about MORE people than just the cute child that is adopted. We actually care about the child's country and community and what inequalities in a global world mean to all of us.

As a social worker and former adoption worker, I question
whether he sees his own adoption experience as finding a family for Rose or finding a
“Rose” for his family.  I’m
heartened by his family’s commitment to raise his daughter in a diverse area,
and that his family has ties to her community. That will certainly help. I
worry, however, that his comments show that he views Rose as a “rescue project” and
himself as a savior. From a child development point of view, is Mr. Seabrook
prepared for the potential times in the future when Rose may come to have
questions or feelings about her adoption experience? I would want to suggest
that Mr. Seabrook and his wife read Vera Fahlberg’s excellent book, A Child’s
Journey Through Placement.

As a parent, I can see that Mr. Seabrook’s love for his
child is immense and he ferociously defends his parenting towards a “happy”
(his words, not mine) place. As a fellow parent, I understand wanting our
children to be happy. I want that too. I’ve never met a parent who wants their
child to be miserable. Yet I also know, as a parent, we have blind spots – and
we cannot shelter our children from pain nor force happiness onto them. We can
set the stage for them, and we can do everything possible to create a stable
and nurturing place for them, what I call the “soft place to land” when the
world is not so friendly or loving. But Mr. Seabrook and other adoptive parents
must make sure this includes a soft place to land in terms of adoption and
race. Because as a parent, you can’t guarantee that the world will accept you
and treat you fairly based on who you are and your merits alone – but as a
family, you can and must.

And finally, as an adult adoptee of color, I am so proud of
being part of an amazing and awesome community of adoptees who have so
eloquently articulated and offered to engage in dialogue with Mr. Seabrook and
the general public at large. There are many myths we still need to deconstruct.
We are often demeaned, mocked, and treated like children.  It's frustrating – when we talk about our personal experiences, we get accused of trying to over-generalize the adoptee experience and inappropriately apply our personal stories to other adoptees. When we talk in terms of structural critique we get accused of not seeing the "heart" of the matter.

Mr. Seabrook is not alone in doing
this, and I am giving him the benefit of the doubt that he never thought his
words and ideas would be so challenged by us. If his, and other adoptive
parents, take-away from all this is that adult adoptees of color are “angry” or
“bitter” or whatever, then all we, and our adoptive parent and non-adoptee
allies can do, is continue to make our voices heard, and support each other in
compassionate and caring ways, and know that in addition to making a difference
in the life of a starfish that we didn’t stop there – in the end, we at least
tried to make a difference for all
the starfish – and everyone else who shares the ocean. Remember, those of us adult adoptees raising our voices – we were those starfish. What we're saying now is, don't forget about the rest of them.

Documentaries that represent our stories?

Dvd
Last Saturday I did a training for a local adoptive parent support group, along with two others, both adoption professionals (and adoptive parents of grown children themselves). One of the other trainers asked me if I'd seen Adopted and asked what I thought of the film. I had to confess: I have not seen the main portion of the movie. I have watched all the collateral materials, all 2 hours of interviews with many people who I know personally (and most of whom I know either by name or professionally).

My take on the educational materials, which were originally supposed to be the film before the filmmakers decided to take it in a different direction, is that they are pretty good. I would recommend those portions for adoption agency trainings. I know some of the sections are supposed to be more "challenging" (but honestly I don't know that they challenge enough – or at least I always think we could push prospective adoptive parents even more) but they are definitely sufficient and with a few exceptions I thought they were honest and educational.

But, as I told my fellow trainer, I have not been able to bring myself to watch the main film – the stories of Jen and Jacqui & John. I can not do it. I know it will bring up too much emotional baggage.

So, I was wondering how many of you have seen this movie, and what are your thoughts? Would you recommend it to prospective adoptive parents? What did you think of the filmmaker's choice to follow these two families? If you've seen the whole movie (including the collateral materials), what do you think about the film conceptualized initially as the collateral materials with the stories of the two families added later? Does that change how you think about the movie? If you are an adoptive parent, do you think John and Jacqui represent your story? If you are an adopted person, do you think Jen's story resonates with you?

I plan to watch the whole film, I really do, and I will write up my thoughts after I see it. But in the meantime, I'd be interested in what others of you think of the film.

Any takers?

George Clooney Photo by: Jay Ackerman
George Clooney Places Himself Up for Adoption | George Clooney


George Clooney has made an offer few can refuse: He has placed himself up for adoption.

"I always wanted to be adopted, but I couldn't find anyone,"
said the star, speaking at a Newseum event in Washington, D.C., with
his father, former Ohio news anchor Nick Clooney, and veteran
journalist Bill Small on either side of him.

"Will you adopt me?" George said to Small. "I'm very wealthy. I'll take care of you."

From People magazine online

Request for Adult Korean Adoptees in Minnesota

I'm passing on this request from Minnesota Public Radio

What does ending adoptions from South Korea
mean to you?

Last month, South
Korea announced plans
to end international adoptions
by 2012.  Minnesota has one of the largest Korean American adoptee populations
in the country, and Minnesota Public Radio News wants to learn how this change
will affect our state.

If you were adopted from a family in Korea or know someone who was, how
will this halt to adoptions change your life or your community?

 

Share your insights by clicking
here

International adoptions, in general, have declined in recent years,
mostly as countries including the United States struggle to enact and
enforce fair practices.  Still, it’s been estimated that 50
percent
of Minnesota’s
Korean Americans are international adoptees.  Now that the call to end
these adoptions is becoming a reality, how will your community deal with the
change

How, specifically, is your family and community reacting to this news?
Is this a victory for KoreanAmerican
adoptees, a defeat, or is it bittersweet?  How will this change affect you
personally?

Share
your insights
and experiences, your fears and observations. Then please
pass this message along to a friend who has experience with this issue.

Best,

Whitney Stark

Minnesota Public
Radio News
Public Insight Journalism
wstark@mpr.org
(651)290-1302

“Adoption Numbers”

An interesting article in the Washington Post by Jeff Katz about why, despite the high number of people who say they want to adopt, so few actually do.

According to this article, it is not that adoptive parents want only same-race placements, or children without special needs, or babies. Of the 600,000 women polled who stated they wanted to adopt:

  • 521,400 survey respondents said they would adopt a black child. In
    fact, there were 41,591 black children in foster care waiting to be
    adopted — or, 12.5 prospective parents for each waiting child.
  • 351,600 respondents said they would adopt children ages 6 to 12.
    There were 46,136 children ages 6 to 12 in foster care — or, 7.6
    prospective parents for each waiting child.
  • 185,400 said they would adopt a child age 13 or older. There were
    30,654 children age 13 or older in foster care — or, six prospective
    parents for each waiting child.
  • Additionally, 181,800 respondents said they would adopt children
    with severe disabilities, and 447,000 said they would adopt two or more
    siblings at once.

Why is this? According to Katz:

We have found that for every 1,000 people who call a public child
welfare agency seeking to adopt, only 36 do so. Far too many parents we
have interviewed describe the agencies they dealt with as bureaucratic
and unwelcoming. Far too many agencies view their primary response in
adoption as screening out "bad" parents rather than recruiting good
ones.

Some sobering thoughts. Of course, I have a few other questions, such as, what is the racial breakdown of the respondents? In terms of the figure "521,400 survey respondents said they would adopt a black child. In
fact, there were 41,591 black children in foster care waiting to be
adopted — or, 12.5 prospective parents for each waiting child," what does this mean for the black prospective or interested adoptive parents. And why is it phrased as if one of the reasons children aren’t adopted is because of their race? This (to me) makes it seem like they’re only talking about transracial adoption.