What I was trying to say

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It seems like a no-win situation sometimes.

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

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

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


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
  • 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

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)

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Article in the NYT

I’m quoted in the NYT article, "De-emphasis on Race in Adoption is Critical."

Doing this article was another example in which I feel we adult adoptees always have to be vigilant in the way we are represented. I have a good working relationship with the reporter of this piece (about two years ago he had interviewed myself and several other adult transracial adoptees but unfortunately the piece did not make it to print).

However, on Saturday, I received a call from a photographer who wanted a photo to accompany the article. The photographer asked if my parents were in the city. Baffled, I asked why he wanted to know this. The photographer then said that he wanted my parents in the photo with me, and asked if I had a photo of them that could be run in this article since they don’t live close to me. I told the photographer that in principle, I objected to having a photograph with my parents because I didn’t see what my parents had to do with this article.

I was interviewed as a social worker who also happens to be a transracial adoptee. But, at almost 40 years old, I am frustrated that an article – that is NOT about ME (that is, it is not my personal story), has to include a photo of my parents. Would the photographer have asked Dorothy Roberts, a black child welfare legal scholar, to include her parents in an article in which she talks about racial disparities in child welfare? I mean, that would be relevant right? She’s black, so is her parents, and she talks about child welfare issues in the black community.

When will I be able to be seen as a separate entity apart from my parents? Yes, I was adopted. But why do I need to be seen in the context of my parent’s child at my age?

When will adoptees be able to have their professional and personal views accepted as the individuals we are?

*more articles about the Evan B. Donaldson report:

Washington Post

Chicago Tribune

Associated Press



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They’re talking about Me

I am involved in a work group that is attempting to bring an
adoption certification program to our state. This certificate program
would be a year-long curriculum for professionals working in the field
of adoption, such as adoption social workers in counties and private
agencies (both for the children and the adoptive parents) and for
therapists and mental health professionals who work with adopted
children or other members of the triad. The University will be housing
this program so MSW students could get credit or professionals in the
field can earn CEU’s (Continuing Education Units, necessary for

There is definitely a need for this. Among the three core classes
that a participant would take is one focused on the history and
practice of adoption; one on the specifics of mental health issues
around adoption; and finally a whole course on "diverse family systems"
that would definitely include transracial, international, GLBT and
other "diverse" issues around adoption. Plus, electives that would dig
deeper into some of the more needed issues.

Of the core work group, I am the only person there who is an adult
who was adopted. And, I am the only non-white person as well. And, it
goes without saying that I am the only person who was internationally
and transracially adopted (of course there are a few adoptive parents
in this group).

This is not to say that this is not a good work group, or that they
aren’t attuned to the "issues" of adoption. They are. I’m pretty quiet in this
group. As I tend to be when I first get to know people. I’ve only been
part of this work group for a month-and-a-half; a latecomer. Most of
the hard tasks have already been completed. We are now ready to launch
this proposal to the larger community and begin to raise money to start
it. I tend to observe mostly, when I’m first part of a group. I really like to see how the group dynamics are, who speaks, who says what, those kind of things. Once I get a sense of the players, I begin to participate.

This latest meeting was typical, for the most part, of the other meetings. But I have to say there was for me this moment when I realized in a
very salient way that everything that was being discussed was about me.
And in a very real and personal way.

About the adoptee.

And there I am, sitting in this group of talented and smart
professionals who (mostly) get it. And I had this "a-ha!" moment of

I was thinking about how it would be for each of them to be in the
reverse. For example, what if each of them were in a work group about
how to "work" with professional, white social workers. The group was
made up of all people of color who were adopted adults and they were
discussing all the ways in which white social workers (and therapists)
need help. Of course, we had the individual white social worker there
so they could advise the rest of us on the particular needs of the
white social worker. On the white board we’d list the psychology of
white social workers, the "culture" of white social workers, and how we
can train people better so they can work with this cultural group of
white professionals. We’d "unpack" the "culture" of white social
workers. We’d talk about the assessment tools we would create to assess
the mental and emotional behaviors of the white social workers. We’d
talk about their brain chemistry and how they developed through their
childhood and adolescence; how they might have been exposed to
pre-natal traumas or stressers that affect the way they work with
people of color. We’d talk about what it was like for them to grow up
in all-white communities and how that affected their mental health.
We’d bring out theoretical models of white social worker behaviors and
flow charts. We would discuss the latest trainings we attended on
helping white social workers realize their potential and the best
therapeutic methods that are available for treating them. Then we would
create a year-long program for people of color who interact with white
social workers, so that they could have more impact on the lives of
these white social workers.

I wonder what it would be like for the white social workers to be
the subject and object of all this scrutiny. I wonder what they would
say if a whole program was built upon their pathology. I wonder
if they would feel comfortable speaking up if they felt the work group
made assumptions. I wonder if they would cringe if someone in the group
said, "I have teenagers, I’d be open if anyone wants to adopt them" to
the chorus of chuckles from the rest of the group. I wonder if any of
them would not think it’s funny to joke about putting your kids up for

I wonder if any of them noticed I wasn’t laughing.

Life in the fishbowl

I’m about 3/4 of the way through Signe Howell’s book, The Kinning of Foreigners: Transnational Adoption in a Global Perspective
and while I’m finding it a very interesting read, I’m also finding myself surprisingly sensitive to feeling
like a caged monkey being poked and prodded for the purposes of
research and science.

I’m always conscious of being in this strange world as an adult transnational and transracial adoptee who is also an "adoption professional" and soon to be adoption researcher;  this third space,the proverbial fence or tightrope, attempting to balance or straddle (or whatever overused cliché seems applicable) between didactic notions of being.

Research has tried to define me in terms of these dyads – Am I more Korean or American? What has had a greater influence in my life, nature or nurture? Are we, as adoptees, researched from a perspective of our strengths or our pathologies? Studies seem to indicate we’re "well-adjusted" or completely f*ed up. What is given more credence, empirical research by "professionals" or the personal narrative?

And so it goes with how I’ve used my life in the adoption fishbowl thus far.

I think it’s pretty common for individuals who were adopted to use personal narratives as a vehicle for making connections – personal, psychological and spiritual – with each other. The personal narrative has been very important for me. Through sharing my experiences in exchange with other adoptees I was able to normalize my experiences and that helped bring me out of isolation which I’ve learned is so common among transnational adoptees.

The problem with sharing the personal narrative is that eventually it feels very pathological. Not only do you risk sounding whiny, but you also risk being critiqued. Unlike research, however, what’s being critiqued is your very essence. Especially when it seems people really want drama-filled, angst-ridden stories. We tend to gravitate towards Brother’s Grimm or conversely, Disney’s happy-ever-after endings. My life just hasn’t been that tragic nor Pollyanna. That’s why I bristle when people want to use strictly anecdotal evidence to prove a larger point.

I’m cognizant of this and so I set boundaries around what information I share. Knowing that everything that is written on a public blog is open to anyone with internet access means I sometimes struggle over whether to share something personal or whether to highlight yet another research study. Both are important; one must see one’s experience as both a singular existence and as part of a pattern of larger social behavior too. Sociologists and psychologists compare you with a cohort of others and
look for correlations in either your socialization and/or genetics with
your current status and rate you on some bell curve of "normalcy." 

I also question the dependence on research studies. Call me cynical too – it’s not that I mistrust all researchers who happen to also be adoptive parents – but I’ve learned to be wary because sometimes there are biased researchers. Either way, as I’ve said before, we need to take both into consideration. For example, I know that in a so-called random sample study on the "adjustment" of transnational and/or transracial adoptees the outcome might be that adoptees are "well-adjusted." Usually the metrics for what constitutes "well-adjusted" are things like mental health diagnoses, behaviors (often reported by adoptive parents, not the adopted individual), whether the adoptee has friends, or scores in a certain range on some ratings scale. If I were to take those research studies at face value, I’d have to agree that it looks like transracial/transnational adoptees do, in fact, do well.

But there are two concerns I have about these "adjustment" studies. I have the additional information of being closely connected to adult Korean, transracial and international adoptee groups and from personal narratives and anecdotal stories I would say the studies don’t show the whole picture. Many adoptees "look" from outsiders to be "well-adjusted." So as I told one of my former co-workers who once described me as an example of an adoptee who is "successful" – just because we appear this way doesn’t mean we don’t have or have had a lot of really hard times in our lives – and still, as adults, struggle to reconcile what we experienced with our adoptions. If those questions were asked differently or if the research was measuring other aspects of our lives, we might see some very different results.

Secondly, even if those numbers are small, they are important. For example, the number of adoptees I know who were physically, sexually or emotionally abused by their adoptive parents, for example, are shocking. Yet most adoption professionals and adoptive parents are extremely unwilling or unable to give this information any credence because 1) it’s not an empirical study and 2) the numbers are so small that compared to the large overall numbers of adoptees who aren’t abused by their adoptive parents, it can’t be considered legitimately an issue. This is where professionals and parents say things like, "the numbers aren’t any different than parents who abuse their biological children" or, "it’s statistically insignificant." And while both those statements might be valid, it doesn’t invalidate that some adoptees are abused by their adoptive parents and that it’s just wrong and adds another layer of trauma on that adopted individual.

All of this is not to debate the merits of research or conversely to promote the personal narrative but just to say that sometimes I step back and look at my life and realize how much bigger this whole adoption thing has become. I have spent years trying to make sense of my adoption and the majority of the work I’ve done has been with the help of other adult adoptees. I’m this weird hybrid of adoptee, adoption professional, adoption researcher. Three hats to wear, three-headed hydra, always trying to combine them all together. Neither the personal narrative nor the research tells the whole story. Both need to be considered as important aspects of explaining the experience. Sometimes science can provide a name to a feeling or behavior, but it just can not explain at the core what my experiences were or how they made me who I am today.

Sometimes I just feel strange being the subject and object of research. Every now and then, like tonight, reading a book about how transnational adoptees behave and think makes me realize how strange my life has become. I guess that’s part of the reason why I work and study adoption as well as live it in my own life. I didn’t want to always be looking at other people from inside the fishbowl.

Don’t Stop Believing

It’s a cold, grey afternoon and the promised snow we are set to receive is just beginning to mist down on my car, the lone vehicle on this long stretch of highway. Each tiny flake melts so quickly that my wipers lay slumbering on the base of my windshield. I am driving back to the cities from a pre-Thanksgiving visit with two of my clients, teenage brothers, who are living in a residential treatment center a few hours south of the Twin Cities.

Yesterday when I spoke to their case manager, I asked if I could take them off campus for lunch. They hardly get to leave their campus. They are in foster care, and this weekend when most of their peers are going home to their families for turkey and mashed potatoes, they will be in the residential center with a few staff.

"I don’t know," says the case manager. "X was in a hold this morning and he’s really been struggling this last week."

"Yes," I respond. "He told me he is frustrated that this will be his second year spending Thanksgiving in the center. All of his friends are going home." This boy and his brother have no home. For two years they have been waiting to be adopted.

With that statement, the caseworker changes her mind. I can take them out to lunch.

I wish the case manager, also his therapist, would remember how holidays trigger these kids. I wish they would remember that when they are in their warm homes surrounded by their family and friends, that these kids are left behind, wanting that family and feeling lost and alone. Every single thing they do is under a microscope. When they have a bad day and are in a bad mood, they’re "oppositional defiant" and when they go for months "behaving" well, one bad day can send them back to day one.

The staff is planning a day of board games and movies, yet they want to spend time with me, if only because I am getting them off the campus for part of a day. Or perhaps it is because my twice monthly visits this past year have been the most they get from anyone. Maybe it is because I am looking hard to find a family who will adopt them. X wants a family. Even at age 16, he says, "I still need a family to love me." 

On the way home, I am listening to the radio and the song, "Don’t Stop Believing" by Journey comes on the air. The lyrics,

Strangers waiting, up and down the boulevard

Their shadows searching in the night

Streetlights people, living just to find emotion

Hiding, somewhere in the night

I think of X and his younger brother. I think of them, how they are living to find emotion. Their county worker tells me I shouldn’t give them false hope that they will find an adoptive family, given their ages and their behaviors. But that’s my job. These kids, according to the law, have to be tracked for "adoption" as their permanency plan. That is why I talk to them about adoption. That is why they know I am their adoption worker and that I am looking for a home for them. And they want to be adopted.

I ask X if I’m giving him false hope talking to him about adoption and he says, "I’ve gotta have hope. If I don’t have hope, there’s nothing for me to live for."

And as I drive home, to a family waiting for me, I think about X and his brother.

How they are shadows searching in the night for a family. And how none of us are willing to stop believing that it can happen.

And even more about adoption disruptions and dissolutions

* Edited on 9/11/07 – If anyone can point me to any statistics on international adoption dissolutions or disruptions, I would be very appreciative. I think that the actual number of adoption dissolutions are probably much lower than 10-15%, but if you include all the disruptions that number might be a lot higher (disruptions include those that have not finalized yet). I also wanted to add that I’ve learned from some social workers I work with that some of these numbers of dissolutions occur when the child is older – teenagers – and they come through the child welfare system as runaways or juvenile delinquency or mental health cases and those dissolutions would likely not be marked as international adoption cases at that time. Anecdotally, several people in my office have told me about teens they’ve worked with in foster care who were adopted internationally and a couple have shared stories about some of their clients who were internationally adopted and ended up having children who were removed through child protection. One colleague told me that she’d once worked in a group home for teen girls and it just now struck her that she never put two and two together that she had an unusually high number of Korean adopted teens in placement there. Keep in mind, though, that I am not suggesting that internationally adopted children have a high or higher chance of ending up using child protection/child welfare services. I am just hypothesizing that they are not separated out or tracked for research or further study. — Jae Ran

The post on disruptions and dissolutions sparked a lot of conversation so I thought I would follow up on a few things. I found I was commenting to comments more than usual, so instead of filling up the comment box, I wanted to share a little more here.

The disruption/dissolution rate given to me was not a statistical "fact" but an estimate by someone I know who works for my state’s governing child welfare department. It was in a meeting I attended and was not meant to be "fact" but as a way to "enlighten" us about how little we know about international adoptions and disruptions and the abuse of children adopted internationally by their adoptive parents.

Keep in mind that most of the research and data collected is about foster care adoptions. We do a very poor job of tracking data and research on international and private domestic adoptions, as well as tracking our US kids who are adopted to Canada, England, Germany and other countries.

Additionally, according to this website, "Individual studies of different populations throughout the United States are consistent in reporting disruption rates that range from about 10 to 25 percent—depending on the population studied, the duration of the study, and geographic or other factors (Goerge, Howard, Yu, & Radomsky, 1997; Festinger, 2002; Festinger, in press)." So my colleague’s estimate of 10-15% falls right within that range.

This site also states that adoption dissolutions generally do not come to attention unless the child protection/child welfare agency in a state is involved. This means that there are adoptions that dissolve by voluntary termination of parental rights where perhaps the child is transferred custody to other people, family members or friends others and happens under the radar of the child protection agency.

Again, from Child Welfare Information Gateway:

No national data are collected on the number of disruptions and dissolutions or the percentages of adoptive placements that end in disruption or dissolution. Most of the data that are collected are for adoptions from public agencies or those under contract from public agencies. No national studies are available on disruptions or dissolutions of inter-country adoptions or adoptions from private sources. There are no national data collected on the number of independent, private, or tribal adoptions.

As mentioned above, while AFCARS includes two data elements to show previous adoption for a child in foster care—whether the child was ever previously adopted and, if so, age at adoption—those data are reported only for children in public foster care and do not capture adoption dissolutions if the children do not come to the attention of the public child welfare system. Also, some researchers have observed that these data are inconsistently reported by the States.

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Telegraph UK: “Mum has nine kids taken away”

The language used in this article surprised me. I hope there is more to this story than what is included in this article. It is very concerning as a child welfare advocate that this family was split apart without attempts at services, and the use of the word "addicted" regarding the woman’s multiple pregnancies.

There must be more going on . . .

Mum has nine kids taken away

Mother ‘addicted to having children with controlling ex-husband’
A MOTHER addicted to having children has seen all nine taken into care because of her inability to break away from her controlling ex-husband.

Six of the children have been taken away for adoption, two are in long-term foster care and yesterday a judge ordered the youngest child to be taken away from the mother and made available for adoption.

More about adoption disruptions and adoption dissolutions

Okay, I’m going to start off being blunt. When a person adopts a child and then disrupts or dissolves that adoption, they are re-traumatizing the child and they should accept full responsibility for that.

Now, I’m not saying that I always blame the parent for deciding to disrupt or dissolve an adoption.

Sometimes, overall, it is to the child’s best interest that the adoption is dissolved or disrupted. There certainly are instances when the child is a danger to himself or to others in the family and need to be removed from the home. And agencies sometimes lie or misrepresent children to prospective families and should be sanctioned for such unethical practice. But again, the child is the one who has no power and no choice in this whole matter and to be uprooted from a life and to have to adjust to a new home and new parents – much less new country and language in the case of international adoptions –  only to be kicked out of said home and end up in foster care?

I was told that around 10-15% of children adopted internationally to my state dissolve and the child ends up in foster care. I’ve heard the stories and all I can say is, when one births a child biologically who ends up having major problems the child may  end up in some out of home care (sometimes it’s foster homes or residential treatment centers or group homes) but it’s rare that a parent voluntarily terminates their parental rights to a biologically born child. Most of the youth I see in foster care are there because the courts have ordered a termination of parental rights.

Do I think a parent has the right to decide not to adopt a child who was misrepresented to them and has needs greater than what the parents think they can handle? Yes. Do it before the child is finalized. I absolutely think the parents have a right to accurate information. And I agree that it’s not in the child’s best interest to be placed in a home where the parents do not have the desire or ability to care for those needs. And that’s what I detest about this whole exchange.

Because we want to place children in good safe homes, we allow for disruptions. We have to. And that creates a practice that caters more to the needs of the secondary client (parents) over the needs of the primary client (the child).

Let me give you another example. Many prospective adoptive parents want to adopt infants. There is a high demand for *healthy infants.*

Agencies often make it known that there is no guarantee that any infant won’t develop medical, cognitive or developmental delays in the future, but who wants to hear that? Sure, we hear it and tuck that information in to the back of the mental file. At our agency, we tell parents that adopting an infant means that you know less about the child’s future. With older children, you tend to have more information. At least you likely have some history and some sense of potential risks for behaviors that the child may exhibit later on. With an infant, what you don’t know can be risky.

But as many other adoptees have said before, we’re not a tabula rasa and even as an infant with little or no information, there are risks. There are risks for children birthed biologically to parents too.

There is a high correlation between children in my state who end up using county or state mental health services and adoption status (note, correlation not causation). I’ve been told by several workers that "over half" of the cases involves children who have had at least one adoption disruption or dissolution and that includes children adopted internationally. It’s interesting to me, that many in the mental health field have negative feelings about adoption partly as a result of that.

I think a lot of adoptive parents "talk the talk" about how they love and treat their adopted children "the same as" a biological child. In terms of adoption disruptions and dissolutions, I would like to see more in terms of "walking the walk." Once a parent adopts a child and it is legally finalized, they are the considered the same as a biological child in the eyes of the law. Adoptive parents who abandon their adopted child should be treated the same as any other parent who abandons their child.

Thinking outside the box

I attended a work training last week and one of the things this trainer said really struck a chord with me. He said that we are often encouraged to think "outside the box" – but this sets up a framework that there is a box.

Wow, I loved that.

I have always felt that I tried to look at things "outside the box" and never saw it framed as set up to be an antithesis to "the box" but now I see it much differently.

I’m thinking about the work that I do and how we talk about things in terms of "best practice." As we have learned, what is "best practice" today will not be considered so tomorrow, as today’s efforts towards "best practice" are in reaction to what hasn’t worked well in the past.

Child welfare swings from one pendulum to another every decade or so. Instead of merely swinging back in the other direction as a reactionary measure to problems, perhaps it’s time to think as if there is no box and look at how we treat the vulnerable in our society in more creative ways. Otherwise, we will always just be like a tether ball whipping around the playground pole, slapped one direction or another depending on who has money and/or power at any given time.

After another work training today, I am really trying to wrap my mind around some significant paradigm shifts and this whole idea of "thinking outside of the box" keeps coming to the forefront of my mind. I have a feeling I will be writing much more in the future about this.