I had the opportunity to talk with a sociology professor at Old Dominion University in Virginia. Dr. Roderick Graham has a video series of conversations about racial inequality and I was invited to talk about Korean adoption.
I recently finished Liz Raleigh’s book, Selling Transracial Adoption: Families, Markets and the Color Line.
The research that is the basis of this book is incredibly important and ground breaking. As a self-described systems person, I was thrilled to read a book that really explores practice, and Dr. Raleigh’s research does this well. I appreciate the thoughtfulness of the research approach itself and the care in which the stories of the adoption professionals are told.
Throughout this book, I found myself nodding my head in agreement often; I’ve heard similar things from adoption professionals I’ve worked with over the years, and in an interesting turn, many of the things I’ve heard from adoptive parents over the years are echoed in this book as well. There were multiple times when I wanted to say out loud to someone, “Yes! What this worker said is almost word-for-word what [adoptive parent] said!”
…which then led me to a question – in what ways is the “script” so entrenched in our culture that the discourse of adoption is not just predictable, but frighteningly verbatim? It’s almost as if certain discourses of adoption are so culturally embedded that when we think we are describing processes, feelings, behaviors and/or thoughts about adoption in our own unique way that in reality we are only parroting what we have heard a million times before? I almost wanted to do a side-by-side comparison of Selling Transracial Adoption to my dissertation study because the discourses are so parallel.
But to get back to my original review: another part of what I appreciate so much about this book is that it shows the systems processes that are often larger and broader than what individuals tend to recognize. Adopting a child is very much experienced as an individual/family action with individual and/or a couple’s motivations and desires. Whether a person is adopting or parenting children born to them, most of us don’t think about how our own parenting motivations and processes contribute to larger social, cultural, capitalist, bureaucratic and institutional systems. Within intimate family spheres, we also can dismiss the injustices that are present in the larger systems and when it comes to adoption, this is particularly true when thinking about race and disability.
Some readers might be challenged with the main arguments of this book, particularly if you come from an individualistic perspective. Some parents might also feel that their choices to adopt are pathologized; I encourage you to read through and think less of your own particular story and really pay attention to Dr. Raleigh’s sociological analyses. This isn’t about any one family or any one adoption agency. I thought it was very clear that this book is not about blaming individual adoptive parents, adoption workers or adoption agencies. This book does, however, ask us to thinking about how the racism, ableism, and adult-focus (even within a supposed “best interest of the child framework) of our culture and society (in the U.S. at least) plays out the way we practice adoption. This book really asks us to step back from our own personal stories and ask a couple of important questions:
- In what ways does our social and cultural environments mask our individual choices? That is, are we being misled to believe we are making independent and ethical choices regarding adoption or is the structure of the adoption industry actually leading us through well-established channels in ways we don’t even know?
- Why has adoption become one of the social services that has become financially stratified in ways that mirror consumer/business services – where the child becomes commodified?
- How can adoptive families reconcile the reality of this racially commodified “service?”
I highly recommend this book – if you are a social worker and you work in, or are considering, child welfare/adoption work, this is a MUST READ. I would include this as a required text for anyone who thinks they want to do adoption-related work.
Each year University of Washington Tacoma invites faculty to present on their research and I was fortunate to be asked to participate in this year’s Lightening Talk. These are very short presentations (5 minutes!) with timed slides. It was challenging to condense a research study into 20 slides in five minutes, but here is a video of my presentation, highlighting the findings of our study on Korean adoptee parenting.
For more information about this study, please click here.
The St. John’s/Montclair University Adoption Initiative conference holds a special place in my heart because it was the site of my very first academic conference back in 2006. This year I was honored to win the Outstanding Pre-Dissertation Scholarship Award for my dissertation study. Below, I am with fellow winners, Outstanding Practitioner Award Susan Harris O’Connor, Outstanding Scholar awardee David Smolin, and Dr. John Raible representing Gazillion Voices for the Outstanding Practitioner Award, and conference co-chairs Dr. Amanda Baden and Dr. Rafael Javier.
The Adoption Inititative conference has always been good to me. Fresh from my MSW, I presented a paper comparing whether or not the “best interests of the child” included a child’s culture in ICWA and MEPA/IEPA. I also participated in a book signing with Dr. John Raible and Dr. Kim Park Nelson (pictured below) for Outsiders Within.
This conference has been significant to my professional development in another way: seeing so many adoptee scholars presenting and keynoting! At that time, I did not know that I would end up enrolling in a doctoral program and that one day I would be invited to be a keynote speaker myself. It is through this conference setting over the years that I have learned from and been inspired and encouraged by other adoptee scholars and have found my peers, particularly among adoptees of color. It is incredible to connect with so many and they have been incredibly kind and helped me in ways I can’t even express.
I attend a lot of conferences in my field and in those, I am the lone (or one of a very few) adoptee-scholar doing research on adoption. In social work the field is dominated by adoption scholars who are adopted parents. In fact, Dr. Amanda Baden just a few days ago at the conference mentioned a well-known adoption researcher whose research I am critical of, and it turns out that this researcher is an adoptive parent. But as Jenna Cook articulated in her presentation that she was accused of doing “me-search,” I have to ask why aren’t adoptive parents accused of doing “me-search” in the same way adoptees are? Why are adoptive parent researchers and practitioners given extra credibility for their personal experiences shaping their professional work when adoptee researchers and practitioners are accused of trying to work out their “personal agenda?” Jenna and I agreed that when a cancer researcher goes into the field because they lost a loved one to cancer, no one gives them the side-eye to accuse them of having a personal bias.
In the past there were an awful lot of adoptive parent researchers doing studies on adoptees – particularly transracial and transnational/intercountry adoptees. Are we doing well? Are we adjusted? How many items about us are marked on the Child Behavior Check List? These studies, to me anyway, overwhelmingly feel like they are less about adoptees and more about trying to answer questions and assuage the fears of adoptive parents. Much of the adoptee scholars have also conducted research on adoptees – not as “me-search” but I believe as a means of providing alternative views on the experience from the actual subject’s point of view. Adoptive parent scholars and scholars without any connection to adoption sometimes just miss asking certain questions that adoptee scholars ask.
I’ve noticed (because of Jenna, Dr. Elizabeth Raleigh, Dr. Baden, Dr. Indigo Willing, Dr. Raible and others) that things are changing in terms of who and what aspect of the adoption experience adoptees are studying.It shouldn’t be a surprise then that some of us are actually, as Dr. Indigo Willing describes it, “reversing the gaze” and focusing our attention and our questions to adoptive parents or others participating in the adoption experience (such as agencies and non-adopted siblings). This comes again from different questions that adoptees, based on our lived experiences, ask that perhaps others just would not have thought of because their lived experiences are different. I hope that those of us “reversing the gaze” are able to contribute to the body of knowledge about adoption. I met a couple of Chinese adoptee scholars in their early academic careers who are doing amazing and groundbreaking work and am so excited to watch for them and their work over the years.
In some ways I think my overall thoughts about the conference mirror some of my feelings after watching the panel following the screening of the film, Somewhere Between, which kicked off the conference. I’ve seen the film several times and have attended talkbacks with the film’s director Linda Goldstein Knowlton or film participants Fang Lee and Jenna Cook several times now. This panel was different because not only were Linda, Fang and Jenna on the panel but they were joined by participant Haley and moderated by Angela Gee (participant Ann is in China and was unable to attend).
Like all documentaries, films freeze their subjects in a certain place and time. And, like much of the early research on adoptees, this film centers their questions on adoptees who are still children – teenagers in this case, but in any case, not adults that have had the ability to have some time, distance, and space to begin to independently think about what adoption meant to them without the interference (and support) of their adoptive parents. And so this is what I think is the biggest problem with the film – that it purports to be an honest portrayal of these articulate, thoughtful and likable Chinese adoptees’ thoughts and feelings and experiences – yet directed by an adoptive parent and moderated completely by the reality that these adolescent adoptees will eventually be watching the film with their adoptive parents by their side (as one of them said).
Fang, Jenna and Haley, in their panel afterward, clearly had their own thoughts and feelings about adoption, largely changed over the past 5+ years – something that I think is fair to say from my view in the audience seemed to be something of a surprise to director Knowlton. Knowlton, like the adoptive parent researchers conducting studies on adoptees, was attempting to answer her own questions related to her experience as an adoptive parent and maybe didn’t realize that of course they were going to grow and change in their view and look back on this experience – and on adoption – differently than Knowlton.
Knowlton says in the beginning of her film that this film was for her Chinese adopted daughter and that she was seeking to understand the experience from the girls that had come before – and if that is so, then there was a certain “type” of girl that Knowlton was hoping to be role model for her daughter and these four succeeded in modeling the smart, emotionally stable, thoughtful and likable Chinese adoptee – not the “angry adoptees” or critical adoptees that most adoptive parents want to run away from and avoid like the plague. The thing is, the critiques these smart, emotionally stable, thoughtful and likable young women now have about adoption sound similar to the “angry” and critical adoptees views that were avoided in the film or presented as being only from older Korean adoptees.
Of course, it is impossible to say whether these young women would have come to their current positions and opinions about adoption on their own without having been part of this film or not – it definitely introduced them to a wider adoption community and through that, perhaps more knowledge of the spectrum of adoption politics in a way that many of us without the benefit of being thrown into that community don’t find until much later in life. On the other hand, Haley’s story really resonated with me – not the search and reunion aspect, but being raised in a conservative, evangelical family and having very uncritical views on adoption that changed dramatically once I went off to college. For a long time, I moderated my answers about adoption to protect my adoptive parents, not to be honest about my thoughts and feelings – something Haley discussed as having done in the film. And even without an adoption community I went to college and ended up having completely different views than my adoptive parents.
So how did this panel relate to my overall thoughts about the St. John’s conference? Both the film and traditional adoption research has emanated from a paradigm that was all generated from adoptive parent perspectives that tend to conceptualize adoption as only impacting the adopted person through childhood and adolescence and largely ignored the lifelong effects that adoption has on a person. St. John’s has, like the panel of the young women from Somewhere Between, opened up a space for adoptees to take ownership of their own experiences without the adoptive parent moderating it on behalf of us. Adoptive parents are now having to defend their positionality in ways that were previously unquestioned. And I’m thankful that the Adoption Intiative conference has never shied away from centering on the adopted person, wherever they are in their journey.
Are you an adoptive parent of an internationally adopted child with a disability?
Since the finalization of your child’s adoption, has the child been placed out of the home – either temporarily or permanently – in a group home, residential treatment center, foster care or another adoptive family?
If so, I am interested in speaking with you. I am looking to interview adoptive parents of internationally adopted children with disabilities for my doctoral dissertation research.
Who: Minnesota adoptive parents whose internationally adopted child:
- Is currently between 6 and 21 years of age
- Has a disability diagnosed at least 6-months ago (or more) by a medical professional, mental health professional, or school professional for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) including (but not limited to):
- Intellectual/Developmental disability including Austism Spectrum Disorders
- Mental health disability
- Learning disability
- Physical or medical disability including sensory (vision/hearing) impairment
- Is currently, or has in the past, been placed in any of the following for any length of time other than for respite care of a 72-hour hold:
- Foster care
- Residential treatment center
- Group home
- Hospital treatment center
- With another caregiver (in legal or informal transfer of custody)
- With another adoptive family after a dissolution of the adoption
What is involved: I am asking adoptive parents for about 60 to 90 minutes of their time to interview them about their experiences. Participation is voluntary and your information will be protected and confidential. Your participation in this study will never be disclosed.
Why: Adopting a child with disabilities can be both challenging and rewarding. Parents who have adopted children from outside the United States with mental health and intellectual/developmental disabilities sometimes struggle to find appropriate pre- adoption education and/or post-adoption support to help them manage the challenges of parenting a child with a disability. The purpose of this study is to inform adoption practices and improve adoption supports for families that adopted children with disabilities.
How: To participate in this study, or to find out more information about this study, please contact JaeRan Kim at email@example.com (personal research email), firstname.lastname@example.org (university email) or 612-626-3831.
You can also download my recruitment flyer.
This study has been approved by the University of Minnesota Institutional Review Board #1301P26761
Another repost from my other blog that was written during my hiatus.
Originally written March 25, 2011.
When you are part of a small and specific population, you tend to be hyper-aware of representations of "your group." So when I heard about Mia Tuan and Jiannbin Lee Shiao's book, Choosing Ethnicity, Negotiating Race: Korean Adoptees in America, I immediately put out a query to my Korean American friends to see if anyone had heard of the authors or this book.
Since 2006, I have been keeping track of the "call for participants" for research on Korean adoptees that I've come across through different venues (most often list-serves and organization newsletters). Since I've started counting, there have been 23 calls specifically involving Korean adoptees and another five for transracial adoptees (ETA: that have put out widespread calls for participants- there have been several others I have been aware of that did not advertise or use the internet to find their sample).
Of those, 11 studies specifically involved looking at racial identity; 9 studies sought to understand the Korean adoptee "experience" and 4 were what I call "well-being" or "adjustment" studies. While I get that racial identity is a huge part of understanding the transracial/international/Korean-adoptee experience, I'm waiting for research that stops pathologizing us and am hopeful that more research like Eleana Kim's work will come out that centers the adoptee as the agent of change and action, not merely a passive subject of study.
There are many aspects of the Korean adoptee experience that are not being studied or researched. I swing between feeling that "my community" is saturated with research while at the same time acknowledging that there is so much more to be learned and understood.
Tuan and Shiao seek to understand how and in what ways Korean Americans identify themselves and how their identity/identities "are chosen, discarded, or revised over time (p.12). So here are my thoughts about this book and how I, as the "subject" (not literally, I was not a participant in this study, but I am part of the population being studied) view the discussion.
I'm always pleased when I read articles/studies that focus on the adult adopted person's experience (although once again, our voices are mediated through outsiders so some aspects of their analysis will be limited). Because so much of adoption as a practice is focused on the adoption of a child, people tend to think of adoption as an event. But as others have stated, adoption isn't a single-time event (that would be the finalization of an adoption) – adoption is something that affects adopted persons, birth parents and adoptive parents throughout all of their lives. Traditional studies look at outcomes for children, often fairly soon after placement although there have been some notable exceptions, and rarely has there been the opportunity for longitudinal studies which could follow a cohort of adoptees for a long period of time – especially adulthood.
I bring this up because we're so focused on making sure the immediate benefits of adoption are studied that we haven't thoughtfully delved as much into how an adopted person makes sense of their adoption experiences in their 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond. Other than Brodzinsky and his colleagues, not much research has been conducted on the whole life experiences of adopted persons. An experienced adoptive mom (I call adoptive parents whose children are now adults "experienced") I know shared with me that she often tells newbie adoptive parents that the majority of their lifelong relationship with their child will be as adults and that pre- or new adoptive parents are often taken aback at this statement.
One of the aspects of the study I was disappointed in was the sample. The authors describe that due to their proximity to the Holt adoption agency, they chose to solicit their sample from families that had adopted through Holt (the authors do acknowledge the limitations of their sample and recruitment, which I appreciated).
In addition to the ease of securing participants for the interviews, having access to Holt enabled the researchers to have case files. I was bothered by this for a few reasons. First, it was never clear to me why the researchers needed the case files and how information they gleaned from the files added to their research.
Second, without understanding why and in what ways information from the case file was considered important for the study adds another layer of concern from the point of view from an adopted person who is unable legally to have access to my adoption files. It is disconcerting to know that someone else, through permission of my adoption agency, can have access to that information without my consent.
[ETA 4/19/11: I received an email from Dr. Shaio, informing me that he and Dr. Tuan did not look at case files. In the book (p. 15) they wrote that Holt "provided access to its placement records" and I incorrectly interpreted that to mean case files. I am happy to stand corrected and to know that case files were not accessed for their study.]
As a researcher myself, this is something that I have struggled with. I have participated in research in which I have access to case files that the subject of the files are not allowed to see for themselves. I hope other researchers understand just how privileged they are to have access to such personal information that as the client, I/we can never have. I'm not saying this is necessarily wrong in principle – but I am saying it is an ethical issue that researchers MUST think about. It's not the same thing as having one's medical records or case files used for research because when I go to the doctor I sign a form that gives consent for my records to be used in research. As an adopted person (or as a fostered alum would be) I am not given permission to withdraw my consent. I don't even get asked. Researchers go through the agency or the adoptive parent, not the adopted person.
The other thing I was sensitive to was that the researchers chose to contact the adult adoptees through their families. They sent out letters to adoptive parents, asking them to forward them on to the adoptee. This could only work if the adoptive parent and their adopted child were in contact and/or on speaking terms; and because not all adoptees ARE in contact with their adoptive parents (including some I know of personally who were adopted from Holt) this has the potential to skew the sample because it is dependent on the adoptive parent. Perhaps sending a call for participants through other means in addition to the adoptive parents that still have ties with Holt would have generated a sample that provided a more diverse voice. And once again, it is looking at the adoptee through the lens of the family (adoptive parents), even though the authors were quite clear it was the adult adoptees' voices they were seeking to understand. From my view, it appeared as though the authors chose not to engage with, or were unaware of, adult adoptee organizations who might have been able to help in soliciting participants.
Despite these concerns, overall I was pleased with much of the book. I especially appreciated that the authors problematized the adoptive parents' "colorblind" mentality about adopting a child of color – if that color were "yellow" and not "black." I really liked that the authors expanded David Kirk's theory of "shared fate" to analyze how adoptiveparents accept/reject racial difference in addition to adoption.
While the stories and words of the adopted Koreans that participated in this study rang familiar in terms of their descriptions of childhood experiences, their more recent discussions pertaining to race, culture, and constructing identity did not fully match the spectrum of adoptees. There was very little discussion of the networking (social and otherwise) of Korean adoptees around the world, which was interesting to me in light of the fact that Holt was the first to do adoptee camps and also have been big in organizing yearly "Motherland" tours. There was one mention of the Gatherings (1999, but not the 2004, 2007 ones), no mention of adoptee list-serves and blogs which have been around since the 1990s, and very little mention of books written by Korean adoptees (including memoirs, anthologies and scholarly work).
In the end I gave this book 3 1/2 stars out of 5. I think that the audience for this book is actually adoptive parents. There would be much for adoptive parents to learn, especially if they are not familiar with the concept of "shared fate" and I think the adoptee voices do, to a large part, mirror much of what I have heard from adult adoptees over the past 12 years I have been involved with the Korean adoptee community.
My dear friend and amazing scholar, Kim Park Nelson, just gave me permission to post the link to her dissertation, Korean looks, American eyes: Korean American adoptees, race, culture and nation.
This project positions Korean adoptees as transnational citizens at
intersections within race relations in the United States, as emblems of
international geopolitical relationships between the United States and
South Korea, and as empowered actors, organizing to take control of
racial and cultural discourses about Korean adoption. I make
connections between transnational exchanges, American race relations,
and Asian American experiences. I argue that though the contradictory
experience of Korean adoptees, at once inside and outside bounded
racial and national categories of "Asian," "White," "Korean," and
"American," the limits of these categories may be explored and
critiqued. In understanding Korean adoptees as transnational subjects,
single-axis racial and national identity are challenged, where
individuals have access to membership and/or face exclusion in more
than one political or cultural nation. In addition, this work
demonstrates the effects of American political and cultural imperialism
both abroad and domestically, by elucidating how the acts of
empire-building nations are mapped onto individuals though the
regulation of immigration and family formation. My methods are
interdisciplinary, drawing from traditions that include ethnography,
primary historical sources, and literature. My dissertation work uses
Korean adoptees' own life stories that I have collected and recorded in
three locations: 1) Minnesota, home to the largest concentration of
Korean adoptees in the U.S.; 2) the Pacific Northwest, home to the many
of the "first wave" of the oldest living Korean adoptees now in their
40s and 50s; and, 3) Seoul, Korea, home to hundreds of adult Korean
adoptees who have traveled back to South Korea to live and work. In
addition, I use Korean adoptee published narratives, archive materials
documenting the early history of transnational adoption, and secondary
sources in sociology, social work, psychology and cultural studies to
uncover the many layers of national, racial and cultural belonging and
significance for and of Korean adoptees.
A pdf of the dissertation is available through the University of Minnesota Digital Conservancy. Link is here.
November is always one of the craziest months in the Harlow's Monkey household. Numerous family birthdays, a holiday, plus gearing up towards the end of the semester (for both me and the kids), plus this year, some added bumps and lumps (some positive, some not-so-much) that all families go through. So I never got to the promised posts about the Evan B. Donaldson report during National Adoption Month after all. And even though it's not intentional, maybe that's just actually kind of perfect for me. As you might expect, I have mixed feelings about "National Adoption Month" in general. It was created to be an awareness/campaign to encourage foster care adoptions and has been co-opted into a flowery, sunshine and unicorns, all-out saccharine pro-adoption free-for-all. I was sick of it, of course, especially the multiple "fundamental Christian-adoption" notices in my gmail inbox thanks to google alerts, and glad that I had too much going on to deal with it. Plus, I've been plowing through the ADOPTION USA: Chartbook based on the 2007 National Survey of Adoptive Parents study just released as well (and of course, I want to write about that too). My head is swimming!
However, I did want to continue with my thoughts about the Evan B. report, so here goes…
One of the stand-out statements that I took my highlighter pen to was this one on page 18 describing a study by Lee (2009) which surveyed 248 adopted Korean American adolescents and their parents.
- cultural socialization/pluralism (teaching about the history of Koreans and other minority groups, celebrating Korean culture, developing relationships with other Asian or Korean children)
- preparation for bias (educating children about discrimination, stereotypes and racism against Koreans and other groups, discussing how the child's life might be affected by racism) and
- promotion of mistrust (teaching a child to avoid others who might take advantage of the child due to race).
Of course, I think this is significant and pretty telling. It shows that parents are likely more comfortable with the "cultural socialization" duties, including things like going to ethnic restaurants and attending culture camps or culture schools (especially if the cultural socialization is more about the adopted children socializing and the adoptive parents socializing). What it says in my interpretation is that adoptive parents don't mind so much the fun cultural stuff, what they don't like, and are uncomfortable with, is the preparing kids for racial bias aspect of transracial adoption.
Talking about race is scary stuff. It's scary in my own household, when I talk about it with my teen and my tween, and it always has been. I mean, who likes to tell their children that there are people in this world who might dislike them or even try to hurt them just because of the way they look? But what's scarier to me is thinking that they'll come face-to-face with this on their own without any preparation or understanding of where they can turn to for support. And not only that, I can role model for my kids what to do in situations. When I encounter certain racialized situations, we talk about them at home and talk about my response, and they get the chance to talk about what they would do in those situations.
This is going to be tougher for white adoptive parents with kids of color, since their experiences with racialized discrimination is going to be different. This is why it is so important that white adoptive parents are part of a diverse community, with trusted friends that can help them navigate some of these harder areas of parenting children of color in a racialized world.
When I was working for the County and would attend pre-adoption trainings, I was always amazed at how the prospective adoptive parents were willing to talk about all the potential developmental, cognitive, and mental health needs of children in care, but balked at frank discussions around race. Many prospective parents will acknowledge that they don't think they have what it takes to parent a special needs child, but will rise up in anger if anyone suggests they don't have what it takes to parent a child of a different race or ethnic origin.
Read how the Korean American adult adoptees responded in the Evan B. survey:
- 78% experienced racial discrimination as a child
- 48% experienced racial discrimination by childhood friends
- 38% experienced racial discrimination by their childhood friends' parents
- 75% experienced racial discrimination by their classmates
- 39% experienced racial discrimination by their teachers
What were the top actions/activities that influenced a more satisfied sense of racial identity for the adult Korean adoptees in the survey? The top responses were:
- travel to birth country (74% found it was or thought it would be helpful)
- attending racially diverse schools (73% found it was or thought it would be helpful)
- having child care providers, teachers or adult role models of the same race/ethnicity (73% found it was or thought it would be helpful)
And what I thought was interesting was comparing it to what was considered least helpful:
- having traditional objects (such as dolls, etc.) from birth country (49% perceived this to be helpful)
- having contact with birth relatives (47% found this to be helpful)
- studying traditional martial arts from country or traditional dance classes (38% perceived these to be helpful)
Finally, what were the things that Korean adoptees were most likely to have participated in as children or youth?
- 84% had cooked or dined on Korean food - 68% rated it helpful
- 80% had siblings (although note that the survey did not ask if siblings were adopted, or if they were also adopted from Korea) – 63% rated this helpful.
- 79% had read information about their country on the internet, 71% found it helpful.
- 74% were in regular contact with people of same race/ethnicity – 67% rated it helpful.
- 73% had books about adoption – 68% found them helpful
- 72% had traditional objects (dolls, etc.) from birth country, only 49% found those helpful.
The Evan B. report summarizes this portion of the study by stating that:
Overall the majority of Korean adoptees (61%) identified opportunities to engage in experiential supports – including culture camps, but particularly to build ongoing relationships with adopted adults and other minorities – as being helpful.
I want to end with this quote from the study (p.48):
One of the study's limitations is that those adoptees born/adopted in
the late 1970s to 1989 would have had much greater access or
opportunity to specialized Korean culture camps. Korean culture camps
did exist back then, and in fact Holt first started their camps in
1983. I, as a "2nd wave" adoptee would have been 15 years old that
year. A local family camp for Korean adoptees in Minnesota, Kamp
Kimchee, began in 1978. For me, I would have liked to have know what
the age breakdown was for those who attended camps and those who did
not, and if there were any correlations between ages/year adopted and
some of the other variables such as how one identifies
racially/ethnically. My hypothesis would be that it would make a
The executive summary of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute study, Beyond Culture Camps: Promoting Healthy Identity Formation in Adoption begins with the quote from one of the study's Korean adoptee participants:
As a social worker, I immediately recognized the position this beginning quote meant to convey – what we call a "strengths-based approach" to an issue. My impression is one of, "hey, we may have had some identity issues, but now we're okay!" I wonder whether if this had been written for an academic audience in a peer-review journal, if that would have been the quote that opened the report. It's a bias – one can never quite remove bias – and I believe was intentionally framed this way. I'm not going to give an opinion as to the merits of this approach, but I did want to begin stating this because I think it's important for people to understand that all research has its biases and limitations. The questions that are asked, the way the report is written – even the fact, as Sang-Shil writes in her blog post here, that if this is about adult adoptees, why are children featured prominently on the cover? say something about the way a research study is framed.
I look at this study from multiple perspectives – as someone who fits the demographic of the study participants, as a social worker who has worked in the adoption industry, and as a new researcher.
Some of the feedback I've been reading centers on the idea that the findings aren't anything "new." Well, I both agree and disagree on that point. I agree that the results don't seem surprising to anyone who has been around a lot of transracial adoptees. If you've read my blog, or any of the other Korean adoptee/transracial adoptee blogs, or read Outsiders Within or participate in some of the Yahoo groups like IAT, then no, these findings are nothing new. We (meaning adult transracial and transnational adoptees) have been speaking out publicly for a good 20 years or so now. When I read the results, I just nodded my head in affirmation, like a non-verbal "yep."
From a research perspective, however, this report is significant, since in many disciplines these days (especially social work and psychology) the Very Big People want "evidence based research" and so this study goes a long way in providing some of that. Anecdotal stories are considered non-significant since they are just "one person's view." This study of 468 adult adoptees (of all race/ethnicity) so far is hailed as the largest sample of adult adoptees surveyed (and the Korean adoptees made up the largest portion of the adoptee respondents at 179 participants). This study now produces some "evidence" and even more important to me, evidence that reflects changes from some older studies that reported little or no struggle with identity for transracial adoptees.
One of my big criticisms of a lot of the previous studies on transracial adoption is that the questions they ask and the measurement instruments that were used (that is, surveys or interviews) were either misleading (to me), or did not ask the kinds of questions I thought were important, or relied on adoptive parent reports about the adoptee's identity or asked children and youth themselves. Why would I think asking the child/youth a problem? I've said it before, but for those of you who haven't heard it before I'll state it again – when it comes to asking transracial and international adoptees (or maybe even same race adoptees) questions about adoption and identity, the questions often seems framed in ways that make me wonder if the adoptee would answer honestly.
Remember, that for an adoptee there may be a subconscious worry that there is a "right" answer, and adoptees are often very protective of their adoptive parent's feelings. When I look at some of the older studies and see answers to different questions that seem to contradict each other, it makes me wonder if or how much the adopted child or youth answered more according to what s/he thought would be safe versus how they truly felt. I have no way of knowing and I could be way off base, but those are some of my concerns about some of the older studies I've read. I don't discount those studies all together, however, and I think it's important to consider the responses by younger transracial and international adoptees. I just think that we need to be critical thinkers and to realize that there are some limitations to those studies.
Beyond Culture Camp expands on the previous assumption that identity work is done mostly in adolescence and tapers off as the individual becomes a young adult. I was not at all surprised personally to see that in this study, the Korean adoptees reported that racial and ethnic identity development not just continues but grows throughout adulthood – 60% reported that racial/ethnic identity was important to them by middle school, 67% during high school, 76% through college and 81% by young adulthood. I might hypothesize that adult adoptees may feel less of a burden to answer in a way that protects their adoptive parent's feelings (of course, I could be wrong about that, but I think adults answering an anonymous survey would be more likely to be honest and less likely to try and protect adoptive parents).
In addition, what children and youth think about race and ethnicity when they live in a home where they are the minority is likely going to be very different than what they think if as a young adult or an adult they move to a more diverse place and have a diverse group of friends and acquaintances. The study states:
In this study, I think it's important to consider that it was aimed at adoptees 18 years or older. The study was conducted from October 2006 to February 2007, so the youngest of the adoptees who responded would now be about 20-21 years old (if they were <1 year at the time). Adopted adults responding to this study would h
ave been adopted in 1988-1989 or so or earlier.
One note – the NYT article and other folks have been writing as if this study was of the "first wave" or "first generation" of Korean adoptees, but that is not true. Many of us who study Korean adoption or are part of the Korean adoptee community would classify the first generation of Korean adoptees as those born and/or adopted during or in the first decade after the Korean War, so those from 1950-the mid 1960's. I just barely escape that designation because I was born in 1968.
A few other notes about this study – the average age of the respondent was 31 years old, and 82% were women. Fifty percent married or partnered at the time of the survey, 26% had children and of those with children, 31% had adopted children (I find that fascinating and would like to see more research done on this topic!). Of the 88% of the respondents who had siblings, 74% of them had at least one sibling who was also adopted (although the findings do not specify if they were of the same race/ethnicity or not).
It is important to keep in mind that the participants in this study are not a randomized sample and therefore the findings cannot be generalized beyond the scope of the study participants. For example the report states that 62% of the respondents belong to an adult adoptee organization, 73% are members of an adoptee listserve or e-group, and 49% had participated in an adoption conference. Frankly, that seems awfully high to me. It makes me wonder if these numbers reflect an active participation in adoption related organizations and groups led to participating in this study, and if so whether these findings say more about adoptees that interact with other adoptees. I wonder about the adoptees who are more isolated or don't care about or don't participate in transracial or international adoption related activities. I myself saw the call for participation on several list-serves and on blogs and or adoption-related newsletters.
So this ends my first blurb of random thoughts about the study, and I apologize if it doesn't flow well. I didn't really have time to edit it. Over the rest of the month I will continue to post on the findings of this study.