Where Russia goes, will others follow?

 

Artyom_savelyev--300x300

From the New York Post

International adoption has been in the news a lot lately. In the days prior to the Christmas holidays, newsfeeds were abuzz with the reports that Russia was going to enact legislation effectively closing down adoptions to the U.S. as a retaliation for the U.S.'s recent legislation approving sanctions to Russia for human rights violation.

This past week, China also made news, but interestingly this story about baby buying and corruption for international adoption was posted in the international version of the NYT and not the U.S. version. 

23adoptee-graphic-articleInline

From the New York Times

People are naturally outraged, and the usual pundits have weighed in. Many are saying Russia is putting politics over children, saying children are being punished by not being able to be adopted.

Except that let's remember Russia isn't banning international adoption outright, it's banning adoption to the United States

Just under 1000 children were adopted by American families last year, a little less than a third or so of the total number (3,400) of Russian children placed for international adoption from the country. 

Whether the bill was passed as a retaliatory political statement or not, it is striking to me that they chose to enact such politics through what they thought was something that would get people's attention: international adoption. I also believe that had the U.S. not had so many problems already regarding adoptions from Russia, this may not have been the road Russia would have taken.

When you consider the return of Artyom by the Tennessee adoptive parent Torry Hansen, or the abuse of Masha Allen by her adoptive father, or the Ranch for Kids, the residential placement that specializes in treating Russian adoptees, or the deaths of Russian adoptees due to the abuse or neglect of their U.S. adoptive parents, is it really any wonder that Russia would make this move?

A total of 19 Russian adopted children (3% of the estimated 60,000 children adopted from Russia) have reportedly died (see this account or this one). And for those of you who say only 3%, the percentage of children in the general population who died in the U.S. due to abuse and neglect is around 0.2% (2010 figures). I find this particularly egregious since supposedly adoption is to be the safety intervention for a child who has already experienced abuse, neglect and abandonment.  [ETA 9:49 pm: Thanks to readers who pointed out the percentages should be 0.03% (not 3%) and 0.002% (not 0.2%) above.]

Clearly the move is political, however I think that this was a natural and expected reaction from Russia. Without all the problems involving Russian adoptees over the past two decades, and without the U.S. being more concerned about the entitlement of American parents to adopt children at their demand than other children's human rights (for example, the U.S. still has not ratified the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child) then I don't think Russia would have taken this move. Clearly the problems involving Russian adopted children over the past two decades alone was not incentive enough to create this ban and recently the U.S. and Russia had worked on a bilateral agreement concerning protections of children adopted to the U.S.

So Russia made a political move. As if the U.S. doesn't do that as well, all the time. And perhaps maybe 1000 children in Russia won't get adopted by American families. That doesn't mean they won't get adopted. They could still go to other countries, or be adopted domestically in Russia since the country has also been working hard on improving their domestic adoption practices. Several years ago I spoke with a delegation of Russian child welfare professionals, judges, and orphanage directors. They spoke about their biggest challenge in domestic adoption – getting people to consider adopting sibling groups, older children and those with disabilities…..hm. Sounds familiar, like all those American families who won't adopt our children in foster care with siblings, who are older, and who have disabilities.

I predict that Russia won't be the only country that will ban or impose even more strict criteria for adoption in the near future. And the U.S., being resourceful, is already working on other countries to open adoption programs. When it comes to international adoption I see it as a re-work of this old metaphor – when one door closes, we break open windows. 

Where is the outrage and concern for children's safety and well-being in other parts of the world? Or do we only care for them if they're considered "adoptable" and available to Americans?

 

More:

NYT: Putin signs bill that bars international adoption, upending families

CNN: Families in 'limbo" after Russian adoption ban

Guardian: Russia's ban on adoption isn't about children's rights

Advertisements

New memoir by an adoptee

This book (along with the one by Korean birth mothers) arrived in my mail box this weekend. I read a draft of the other book but my friend, Sarah Park, a Professor of Library Science, gave me the heads up on this one! I'm very excited since there are so few books written by Native adoptees about their experiences. And, in a happy coincidence, I've been doing research lately in the Social Welfare History Archives, looking through the Child Welfare League of America collection, and had just read through the Indian Adoption Project documents. The Indian Adoption Project was a joint program by the CWLA and the Bureau of Indian Affairs that specifically promoted the adoption of Indian children to white families from 1958-1967.

320_8146257

One Small Sacrifice: Lost Children of the Indian Adoption Projects.

The Foreign Adopted Children’s Act (FACE) and Families for Orphans Act

If you are an adoptive parent, you are likely to have heard about these two pending legislative acts. Maybe you've even called your legislators and indicated your support. The Joint Council on International Children's Services (JCICS) has been encouraging adoptive parents to sign a petition in support.

However, many of us do NOT support this legislation, and the thing I find interesting is that I have been contacted by adult adoptees from both sides of the international adoption debate, as well as adoptive parents and social workers asking me to post about these two legislative acts.

In particular, the FACE act would serve to demolish any and all of connections to our birth countries of origin. It would ERASE our histories, broaden the lies already in place through the amended birth certificates and in essence, creates more of a cloaked process. International adoptions, to be entirely ethical MUST be transparent.

I encourage all adoptive parents and adult adoptees to read the following response from Ethica regarding the Families for Orphans Act and the FACE.

Foreign Adopted Children's Act (FACE):

Introduced in the Senate as S. 1359 (Senators Landrieu and Inhofe) and in the House as H.R. 3110 (Rep. Watson and Boozman):  A bill to provide United States citizenship for children adopted from outside the United States, and for other purposes.

Ethica opposes passage of the FACE Act.  Ethica
believes the FACE Act, if passed, would harm adopted persons and their
birth- and adoptive families in a number of ways, including:

  • The bill is intended to eliminate the U.S. immigrant visa process, which means it eliminates the safeguards put in place to help ensure that children placed for adoption are legally in need of homes abroad
  • By conferring citizenship retroactive to birth, Ethica believes the bill creates a legal fiction and diminishes adoptees’ birth history
  • While eliminating the visa process may save adopting families a
    small amount of money toward the large costs of adopting, there is no
    guarantee that the Department of State will not charge similar or even
    higher fees for services it will provide under this bill.
  • The bill may create additional hurdles and costs for adopted persons in the future as they attempt to claim benefits and privileges they are otherwise entitled to in their countries of birth
  • Eligibility for adoption of a particular child is generally
    determined by the “competent authority” of the child’s country of
    origin.  The bill does not address eligibility for adoption in
    countries that have not designated a competent authority
  • The suitability of the adopting parent is based on the person’s
    ability to support the child and appropriate criminal background
    checks.  The bill does not address existing federal requirements for
    homestudies of prospective adopting parents.
  • Enacting this bill may stall adoptions in process
    It is unclear how this bill will affect provisions of the Intercountry
    Adoption Act (which implemented the Hague Convention).  Instead of
    speeding up processing by bypassing the visa system, confusion in
    interpretation and the development of new processing procedures,
    particularly for Hague countries, will likely create delays for
    adopting families and children.

Ethica believes that adoptees and other immigrants should be able to
become President, but pursuing the right to presidency should be done
in a way that does not erase personal histories.

Ethica also wholeheartedly agrees that citizenship procedures should
be improved for adoptees, and believes that adoptees not covered under
the Child Citizenship Act (including adopted persons who have been
deported) should be conferred U.S. citizenship. However, this bill goes
far beyond these measures and has the potential to hurt more than help.


Families for Orphans Act:

House Bill 3070 sponsored by Congresswoman Diane Watson (D-CA) and Congressman John Boozman (R-AR)
Senate Bill 1458 sponsored by Senators Mary L Landrieu (D-LA) and James Inhofe (R-OK)

A bill to encourage the development and implementation of a
comprehensive, global strategy for the preservation and reunification
of families and the provision of permanent parental care for orphans,
and for other purposes.

Ethica opposes passage of the Families for Orphans Act.  Here are some reasons why:

  • The Families for Orphans Act, if passed, would give the United States unilateral power to develop global child welfare strategies
    by providing financial incentives for other countries (including
    through debt and trade relief) to send their children abroad for
    international adoption.
  • Instead, the United States should be participating diplomatically
    with other nations in developing global child welfare strategies, for
    example, by finally ratifying the United Nations Convention of the
    Rights of the Child.
  • The bill legalizes an overly broad definition of “orphan”, capturing
    countless numbers of children who already have loving families,
    potentially including, for example, children who reside in boarding
    schools away from their primary caregivers.
  • This bill augments existing financial incentives for countries to
    favor international adoption by offering additional financial
    incentives, including technical assistance, grants, trade, and debt
    relief from the United States, which may sacrifice established child welfare principles by favoring international adoption over local solutions.
  • Reunification efforts are “time-limited” which may cause original families to be unnecessarily separated from their children.
  • Conflicts exist with various definitions in the
    bill.  For example, long-term kinship and guardianship arrangements
    which are considered “permanent” care under the bill may simultaneously
    be considered long-term foster care arrangements, which are considered
    to be temporary care under the bill.
  • The bill requires “cultural norms” to be taken into account, but
    only to the extent consistent with the purposes of the bill.  The bill
    permits the United States then to essentially disregard a country’s cultural norms.

Ethica supports the strengthening of global child welfare systems. 
However, we believe that this would best be accomplished by working
through existing frameworks of technical assistance and aid, ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
to demonstrate the commitment of the United States as a global
partner in securing and upholding children’s basic rights, limiting the
definition of orphans to those children truly in need of permanent
caregivers with placement decisions made without the influence of money.

Ethica has the contact information for all the legislators at their website. Please go there now and read their full position statements.

Comments will be closed here – instead I encourage you to go to Ethica and to your legislators.

Using adoption as proselyzation or indoctrination

A report from NPR about "Spain's Stolen Children" :

In recent years, there's been a movement in Spain to dig up the dark
secrets of the Franco dictatorship — but there's one atrocity that is
only now coming to light.

It involved the stealing of thousands
of children from leftist parents so they could be indoctrinated in
fascism and archconservative Catholicism.

Uxenu Ablana, 79, was
one of those children. He is still afraid to talk about his childhood
because it evokes a part of Spain's past that many people in the
country would rather forget.

Read the rest of the article here.

As one of the commenters said, it's reminiscent of what we did to the Native Americans in this country and the indigenous Aborigines in Australia.

It is always important to know our history, so we aren't doomed to repeat it.

The journey has just begun

It was a historic day yesterday. I was teary watching the electoral votes add up, the former red states now turning blue, and being with close friends and my kids as we watched Obama become the 44th President. My daughter will get to vote in the next Presidential election – perhaps she will choose to vote Obama for a second term.

But there are some signs that all is not right. As talking heads on the television stations talked about the end of racial barriers, several states were limiting rights for GLBT’s. Arkansas passed a law that would not allow single persons to adopt (code for preventing GLBT persons from adopting). California’s proposition 8 looks like it will win. Other states passed anti-gay measures.
In addition, there was this piece in the New York Times today:

Among the more unusual measures on this year’s ballots was one in Florida that would repeal an old clause in the state constitution that allows legislators to bar Asian immigrants from owning land. The repeal would be symbolic, as equal protection laws would prevent lawmakers from applying the ban. With 78 percent of precincts reporting just before 11 p.m., the vote was close, with 52 percent voting to preserve the clause.

I hope that the United States doesn’t fool itself into thinking that we are now an "all for one, one for all" country. We still have a long way to go. I can guarantee that I will continue to be racially discriminated against even with a Black president. My children will continue to be racially discriminated against even with a Black President. My GLBT friends will not have the privileges and rights that I enjoy.

We are not a post-racial country now. Racism hasn’t been eliminated. We’re just starting to take these issues seriously.
We are headed in a better direction, but have by no means reached the promised land. Not until every citizen is allowed the same rights and privileges of citizenship.

Vote

I was raised to keep your politics stuffed inside, not worn on your sleeve (or bumper sticker). However, this year I’m wearing my Obama in hangul with pride.

Obama_hangul

Adoptive parents – be sure to check YOUR parent’s racism

How nice for Angelina. I wonder how Grandpa Jon feels about his rainbow-colored grandchildren. No wonder she avoids him.

We, as parents, are well aware of the importance of our teachers who teach and program our children. We also know how important it is for our children to play with good-thinking children growing up. Sen. Barack Obama has grown up with the teaching of very angry, militant white and black people – the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Louis Farrakhan, William Ayers and Rev. Michael Pfleger. We cannot say we are not affected by teachers who are militant and angry. We know too well that we become like them, and Mr.
Obama will run this country in their mindset…

quoted from his op/ed in the Washington Times. Thanks to Disgrasian for the tip.

More thoughts about MEPA

The more I think about MEPA, the more I have come to believe that the legislation not only disadvantages children of color, but it disadvantages the white adoptive parents of those children of color.

Here are some more of my thoughts regarding MEPA.

The major criticism of pre-MEPA practice was that children were being delayed or denied an adoptive home because of race. On it’s face value, I agree with that sentiment. Race as the sole factor is not the only thing that should be considered when placing a child into an adoptive home.

However, what I strongly disagree with is making it illegal to educate or require some self-assessment for prospective adoptive parents on the cultural and racial consequences in a transracial adoptive placement.

If we think about idea of children being "denied and delayed" placement based on race-matching in the same breath we talk about prospective adoptive parents being singled out or asked to participate in extra pre-adoption education, to me there is a false connection between the two.

Children in foster care who are waiting for adoption are not substantially delayed a prospective adoptive home because pre-adoptive parents must take a day-long class on diversity issues. The thing is, pre-adoptive parents must go through the training and the home study process anyway, before they can even adopt. Most pre-adoptive parents don’t know who they are going to adopt when they step in the door. The matching part is done after the training and approved home study.

In other words, the assessment of the readiness of a pool of pre-adoptive parents must be done anyway. Preparing prospective adoptive parents is done before the social worker begins to consider them for any specific children, unless the prospective adoptive parent is a relative or kin. So the argument that requiring additional trainings or self-assessments prior to the home study makes children "languish in foster care" doesn’t make sense to me.

I also want to point out that I really strongly believe we need to stop thinking that race is the only important thing to consider in adoption. I think that more broadly, culture can be even a bigger obstacle. Culture would include things like language, religion and spirituality, socialization and even food.

For example, I know of one youth who was adopted by a family who was a strict vegan. The child, a 12-year old at the time, was a big meat & potatoes kind of kid. Believe it or not, it wasn’t the child’s past history of abuse and attachment disorders that caused the placement to fail – it was the fact that the parents wanted the child to be vegan and refused to cook anything with meat.

Church is another big issue. Another example: a child that has grown up in a Pentecostal church with an African American congregation. This is the place where this child feels safe and secure and feels connected to a community. She wants to continue attending this church if adopted. What would be the emotional cost to this child if she was placed in a home that required her attendance at a Catholic church? Again, this is the kind of cultural consideration that could disrupt a potential adoptive placement.

I often wonder if this is part of the reason so many adoptive parents want younger children – so they can "imprint" their values and beliefs and culture on a child before they’ve had a chance to develop their own identities. There is more of an evolution in thinking about children as blank slates from even a decade ago. While I understand that sentiment (wanting to imprint one’s values and beliefs on to a child), the majority of those kids "lingering and languishing" are older kids, 8+ years, with siblings. For families adopting these kids, they must understand that they have personalities and identities – whether acknowledged or not – and our laws and policies are telling those kids and prospective adoptive parents that a big part of their identities don’t matter and aren’t important.

When we make preparation for transracial adoption as diametrically opposed to an adoptive placement then we are in more trouble than we even know. Are there really only two choices here – train and prepare adoptive parents for a transracial adoption or force a child to linger on ad nauseum in foster care or an orphanage? Are we trying to say that each can only be considered as linked to the other? Is it not possible to do both at the same time? Are we that singular and uncreative in the way we think and behave?

(Think of it in this way also – voluntarily making it a point to be educated on transracial adoption issues can only make your home study look better to a social worker. If I had two home studies – both white families with comparable strengths – and one of them was more educated and prepared for a transracial adoption, given all other things being equal which family do you think I’d want to place my African American child with?)

Continue reading

Adoptees rights to birth certificates

I have been supporting the Minnesota Coalition for Adoption Reform since 2004, the group in our state that has been trying to get an Adoptee Access Bill passed that would allow adult adoptees to receive their original birth certificates. The bill passed the house and senate this last session but the governor vetoed it.

One of the reasons he gave was based on the long-held myth that "birth mothers were promised privacy" and that adoptees would go searching for their birth mothers and disrupt their lives. However, the research strongly shows that the majority of birth/first mothers are open to contact with their children.

At one of the get-togethers for MCAR, I had the chance to see relinquishment papers from birth/first moms who are now in their 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s. None of their papers included privacy statements. These women were not guaranteed that their children would never find them; it is impossible for anyone to guarantee that. Adoptees search and find birth/first parents all the time, and birth/first parents search and find their children all the time.

I am part of a group of adoptee researchers and we meet on a monthly basis to discuss research on adoption issues. One of the things brought up as we discussed this latest veto by our governor is that despite the long-held "best interest of the child" belief, everything is about the rights and privileges of other parties involved in adoption – the birth/first parents and the adoptive parents. The adopted individual has no rights. We don’t have the right to the most basic of information.

From The Past, Unsealed by Linda Baker in Adoptive Families magazine:

Concerns about privacy and breach of confidence have always been
foremost in the argument against open records. But according to
Elizabeth J. Samuels, an adoption expert and associate professor of law
at the University of Baltimore School of Law, this stance is at odds
with U.S. adoption history. One of the biggest misconceptions about
sealed records, she says, is that they’re meant to protect the
birthmother’s identity. On the contrary, she notes, “historical
research has shown that the concern was to protect adoptive families
from possible interference or harassment by the birthparent.” The law
has never guaranteed lifelong anonymity for birthparents.

Consistent with this history, adds Samuels, are findings that an
overwhelming majority of birthparents do not object to, or actively
support, adult adoptee access to records—regardless of how they felt
when they first placed the child for adoption.

Here is a link to one adoptive parent’s support of the Adoptee Access bill. My only hope is that we’ll have a new governor next time around; one that will consider the importance of adoptees to have their family and medical history as everyone else has the right to have.

MEPA/IEPA

A long, long while ago (as I brush off the blog-brain cobwebs) I wrote that I was going to tackle the Multi-Ethnic Placement Act (MEPA) and I never got around to it. With the report that came out yesterday from the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, I figured this was a good time to tackle the subject. This post examines my thoughts about the legislation.

I have been interested in the MEPA and it’s follow-up legislation the Interethnic Adoption Provisions Amendment (IEPA) for some time now. It was the basis of my MSW paper, “Considering Culture in Placement Decisions: Conflicting Best
Practices for the Indian Child Welfare Act and the Multiethnic
Placement Act”  (and the subject of a presentation at the St. John’s Adoption Conference in New York in 2006).

It’s not just the language used in MEPA and IEPA that confounds me, it’s the whole philosophy behind it. Why are social workers prevented from helping adoptive parents examine and consider their abilities to parent a child from a different race and/or culture? And why do prospective adoptive parents get so ruffled when asked to examine and consider their abilities to parent a child from different race and/or culture?

If you were the social worker and you had a child on your case load that was hearing impaired, would you feel you could only place that child in a home with hearing impaired parents? Or, would you consider a family who was hearing, but either knew ASL or was willing to learn ASL for the child?

See, it’s not just about race-matching, which is what people always think MEPA is about. MEPA/IEPA wasn’t just created to prevent race-matching in placement, it also effectively declared that asking adoptive parents to even consider the racial, cultural or ethnic needs of a child or their ability to parent a child cross-racially or culturally was illegal. This isn’t just about giving a child a bed and a roof and 3 square meals a day. This is about parenting and raising a child in a loving and nurturing home; a home that loves and nurtures a child’s racial and cultural identity.

Although MEPA/IEPA language does not specify the following, here are some of the reasons states or agencies were fined for violating the law:

  • In 2003, social workers in Ohio were accused of discriminating against
    a white couple by requiring them to prepare a plan to address the
    child’s cultural needs and to evaluate the racial demographics of their
    neighborhood. The state paid $1.8 million in fines.
  • In 2005, a social service agency in South Carolina was fined $107,000
    after workers used a database to match children to prospective adoptive
    parents, which the federal government said overemphasized race.

MEPA and IEPA don’t specify the trainings or questionnaires, etc. but
these were tools that were being used by agencies that were found to be
in violation of MEPA. Therefore, the Office of Civil Rights and the
Administration of Children, Families and Youth came up with a guideline
(here at http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/mepa/interneval.html) that includes the following below (RCNO stands for Race, Culture, National Origin):

How does the agency ensure that the following practices do not occur?

[In other words, that persons interested in adopting or fostering across RCNO lines are required to]:

  • answer additional questions because of the interest in adopting or fostering across RCNO lines?
  • take additional training courses because of the interest in adopting or fostering across RCNO lines?
  • move to a more diverse community?
  • write additional narratives, such as a transracial adoption
    plan, because of the interest in adopting or fostering across RCNO
    lines?
  • have additional caseworker visits because of the RCNO context?
  • justify their interest in children of a different RCNO?
  • meet different or higher licensing or approval standards in
    order to become a foster or adoptive parent of a child of a different
    RCNO?

If the philosophy behind MEPA was truly about the best interests of the child, all the needs of the child would be considered for a placement. INCLUDING the needs for the child to be raised in a culturally sensitive home. This is not to say that white parents can’t be culturally sensitive – but the the philosophy behind MEPA is that it doesn’t matter either way (As my husband called it, it’s the "Don’t ask, don’t tell" of child welfare, only we’re talking about parental racism instead of sexual orientation).

MEPA isn’t about helping African American kids to permanency; it’s about privileging white adoptive parents who are angry that they couldn’t get the child they wanted because a social worker wanted to find a racially-matched home. Why is it that all of the court cases involved in MEPA are because white adoptive parents are protesting being asked to show that they can meet the racial and cultural needs of the child? I think that is so telling. I can’t even begin to tell you how often prospective adoptive parents get angry at adoption social workers for discussing transracial adoption. It’s like they think we believe they’re stupid or they feel entitled to get what they want without having to have any education. Immediately people think that they’re going to get called a racist for being white. I really wish prospective adoptive parents could stop thinking it’s all about them, and start thinking about their future child!

The other issue with MEPA/IEPA is that no one seems to care about the other part of the legislation – that is the recruitment and retention of a pool of adoptive families that reflects the diversity of the youth in care.

The recruitment and retention part means that if a county agency has 60% of children in their care who are African American, than approximately 60% of the prospective parents in the agency’s pool of families at any given time would be African American. But because the fines and penalties are only enforced with the placement part and there are no fines or penalties if agencies don’t follow the recruitment and retention part, guess which part of the law gets the focus?

MEPA is known for its champion, Senator Howard Metzenbaum. Metzenbaum himself believed that race and culture should be considered, although not as the sole factor, in placement, stating "Let me
make my position clear: If there is a white family and a black family
that want to adopt the black child and they are equal in all respects,
then the black family ought to have preference." (Congressional Record Senate S14169, October 5, 1994)

Continue reading