Upcoming conferences

It’s been a while, but as National Adoption Month comes to a close today, I wanted to pass on a couple of items that you might be interested in.

The Indiana Adoption Network is hosting a conference this coming April, so save the dates! You can learn more about the organization through their newsletter, and the website. The conference, to be held April 21-22 2017 in Bloomington, Indiana, has the theme, “Building Bridges.” For more information about the conference and to register, click here.

Another conference to keep in mind is the California Adoption Conference hosted by Pact, An Adoption Alliance. This conference will be held March 24-25 2017 in Oakland, CA, includes a Professional Training Day (March 24th) and an all-audience day (March 25th). For more information about the conference and to register (opens January, 2017), click here.

Finally, I want to thank Healthline for naming Harlow’s Monkey one of the best adoptee blogs of 2016! I am very honored and appreciate the recognition – especially since I am in some great company! Please visit Healthline and see their full list of top adoptee blogs.

The Best Adoptee Blogs of 2016

KAAN 2016


I’m looking forward to being at the Korean Adoptee Adoptive Family Network (KAAN) conference coming up this weekend in Pittsburgh. KAAN was founded in 1999, and serves  Korean-born adoptees of all ages,their families through birth, adoption or marriage, other Koreans and Korean-Americans, social workers, adoptees from other backgrounds, community leaders, and more. Each year the conference is located in a different place so that local Korean adoptee-affiliated community members can participate.

The sessions I’ll be participating in include:

Luncheon and Midday Keynote: Legacies of Korean Adoption on Global Child Welfare with Oh Myo Kim PhD.

  • By 2004, it is estimated that the number of intercountry adoptions had reached almost 45,000 adoptions per year (an increase of 42 percent from 1980). While the establishment of a global adoption network has no doubt reshaped the demographics of receiving countries, it has also had often overlooked implications for sending communities. Through three case studies (South Korea, Guatemala, and Uganda), this presentation will explore the following questions:
    1) What cultural, social, and economic factors allowed for the movement of children across national borders?
    2) What has been the impact of international adoption on local sending communities?
    3) Lastly, what support can Korean adoptees offer as members of a larger international adoptee community?



Am I Ready To Search for My Birth Family? With Aeriel A. Ashlee M.Ed.Jannie Kruse, and Hollee McGinnis MSW, PhD candidate
  • Beginning the search for your birth family is a big step. How can you tell if you are ready for the range of emotions and answers you might find? Join in this frank conversation with other adoptees. Leaders will share some of their experiences and give advice on how to prepare.


Re-centering Our Conversations About Race with Erica GehringerKatie Bozek Ph.D., LMFT, and Susan Harris O’Connor MSW

  • Many mainstream conceptions and narratives of race focus on white people’s feelings and experiences. Intended for more €œintermediate€ and €œadvanced audiences, this session aims to challenge these narratives by recentering our conversations around people of color, the people most negatively and directly affected by race-relations in the United States. Comprised of adoptees from different professional angles, we will discuss behavioral, educational, and media techniques that can be used to “retrain” ourselves to not allow the conversation to derail back to a white audience.



Photo: Benson Kua. Image used through Wikimedia Commons

Some ways you can help the victims of the Pulse shooting and their families.




One of my mini-goals has been to get back into blogging, both here and at my other blog. But after such a long absence, it’s kind of like facing a blank page with no idea where to begin. Where does a person even begin to try to recap?!? I have been procrastinating until I had coffee with a colleague I admire who mentioned my blog, and that has inspired me to start up again. It’s not that I have nothing to say, anyone who knows me knows I can’t stop talking about child welfare and adoption. Maybe it’s that I have SO much to say, I just don’t even know where to begin.

I thought maybe what might help me get back into the groove would be to create a list of topics that I want to write about now that the hectic academic year is winding down, so here it is – my list of topics that I’ll hopefully be writing about over the next couple of months while on my summer schedule.

  • What I’ve been researching and writing about
  • Adoption and child welfare related books and articles that have inspired or interested me
  • News stories related to adoption I have some opinions about
  • My virtual Adoption and Permanency syllabus (based on a course I developed for MSW students with some additional thoughts and resources)
  • Updating my resource page

So for the few folks still checking back, “hello!” I hope all has been well in your worlds!

Support the Adoptee Citizenship Act S.2275!

I have exciting news to share, and a call for your support.

On Tuesday the bipartisan bill S. 2275 Adoptee Citizenship Act was formally introduced in the Senate by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and co-authors Senator Dan Coates (R-IN) and Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR). This is legislation that many of us in the adoptee community have been seeking. Back in 2012, this was one of our main talking points that we brought to the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Initiative (CCAI) meeting of adoptees and legislative staff.

The Adoptee Citizenship Act:

  1. Gives retroactive citizenship to all international adoptees regardless of when they were adopted, ensuring that all intercountry adoptees are citizens of the U.S. – even those adopted prior to the 2000 Child Citizenship Act
  2. Gives a clear pathway for deported adoptees, who’ve served their time/resolved their criminal histories, to come back to the US.

In essence, the bill fixes the loophole in the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 which only granted citizenship for children brought to the U.S. for adoption who were under 18 years old at the time, creating a situation where those adopted at a time when our adoptive parents had to naturalize us to become a citizen fell through the cracks.

We know there are thousands of adoptees whose adoptive parents did not follow through with their naturalization and thus, risk deportation. This bill is significant for the thousands of adoptees who, through no fault of their own, were not given their citizenship promised to them by the US government, their adoptive parents, and adoption agencies. The bill also provides a pathway for deported adoptees who have already been deported or who are currently detained because they lack citizenship.

But there is still work to be done and legislators need to hear from you about why this needs to pass. What we need from you:

  • Call your lawmakers. Go to this website created by 18 Million Rising.
  • When contacting your legislators, we are asking that you don’t discuss this in terms of adoptee rights or immigration rights. We are asking that you frame it as “righting a wrong, and remedying a loophole in the Child Citizenship Act of 2000.” Please tell your legislators that you support the bill as it corrects the CCA 2000.
  • Spread the word. Although we believe the bill has a strong chance of passing, it still needs to go through committee before it’s sent to the floor for a vote. The more Senators hear from you, their constituents, the better. Please tell everyone who is an ally to call.

This bill is a significant accomplishment for the adoptee community. It is the first legislation pertaining to adoptees that was crafted by and significantly informed by adoptees. We are so thankful that Senators Klobuchar, Coates and Merkley responded to our call for action and understood that this has been an injustice for thousands of intercountry adoptees. I am also beyond grateful for the adoptees and adoptive parents that have put in countless hours of work into working with the legislators who authored this bill.

Please spread the word and tell your friends and family to call your legislators to support S.2275!

Powerpoint slides for Pact presentation on adoptee activism

I just wrapped up several days of working at Pact camp in California where I presented three times. My keynote on Saturday was on adoptee activism and interrupting white supremacy.

One of my main messages is that adoptees should be the ones controlling the discourse about adoption and that adoption professionals and non-adopted persons should be supporting adoptees rather than attempting to silence us.

Additionally, transracial adoptees in particular need for adoptive parents, adoption professionals and non-adopted persons to stand up against the individual and systemic racism and oppression of our communities. I challenged the adoptive parents at Pact camp to go beyond the complacency of being an “ally” and instead become interruptors of white supremacy.

For the families who wanted the slides, I am posting them here for you to download. Please contact me if you need clarification on any of the slides.

Pact slides Adoptee activism 2015

Transracial adoptees speak out on the co-opting of “transracial” in the Rachel Dolezal case

Over the past few days I was honored to be part of a group of adoptees and adoptee allies in forming the response below about the inappropriate usage of the term “transracial” applied to the Rachel Dolezal case. I myself played a very small role in this response, and am thankful to have been included.

I am working on an individual response to this as well, taking a deeper look at the transracial adoption aspects of Dolezal’s family.

In addition to the great list compiled by Dr. Kimberly McKee, I have resources as well. Please see:

My recommended reading list for professionals and parents are here and here.

An Open Letter: Why Co-opting “Transracial” in the Case of Rachel Dolezal is Problematic

June 16, 2015

Please direct all media inquiries to Kimberly McKee, PhD at mckee.kimberly@gmail.com.

This past weekend the world took to social media to dissect the events surrounding Rachel Dolezal, the former president of Spokane’s NAACP chapter who came under heavy scrutiny for falsely representing herself as black. As part of this real-time discussion, the term transracial is being co-opted to describe Dolezal identifying as black despite being born white.

As members of the adoption community — particularly those of us who identify as transracial adoptees — we are deeply alarmed by the gross mischaracterization of this term. We find the misuse of “transracial,” describing the phenomenon of a white woman assuming perceived markers of “blackness” in order to pass as “black,” to be erroneous, ahistorical, and dangerous.

Transracial is a term that has long since been defined as the adoption of a child that is of a different race than the adoptive parents. The term most often refers to children of color adopted by white families in the Global North, and has been extensively examined and documented for more than 50 years by academics and members of the adoption triad: adoptees, birthparents, and adoptive parents.

Dolezal and others have perpetuated the false notion that a person can simply choose to identify as a different race or ethnicity. As extensive evidence-based research and first-person narratives have shown, we do not live in a so-called “post-racial society.” Damaging forces like racism make it virtually impossible for those with black or brown bodies to simply “put on” or “take off” race in the same or similar manner that Dolezal has employed. For transracial adoptees, navigating and negotiating the racism in our families, schools, and communities is a regular and compulsory part of our lives.

We also join others who have raised concerns about the misappropriation of the word “trans,” and the analogy made between Dolezal’s deception and the experiences of transgender people. For transgender people who have struggled to live their truths in the face of horrific violence and discrimination, we reject this flawed comparison and find it to be irresponsible and offensive.

As our collective cultural awareness and knowledge of racial and gender identities continue to evolve, it is clear that our understanding of them, as well as our understanding of the relationship between them, is outmoded and in need of better expression. The widespread and acute public response to Dolezal signals the pressing need for critical thinkers of all backgrounds to turn their attention to refining language and theory to better reflect our ever-changing lived experiences.

Writer and adoptee Lisa Marie Rollins recently wrote about Dolezal’s deception and how it derails meaningful conversations about adoption and race. As Rollins explains, the process of transracial adoptees asserting ourselves as people of color is often challenged by either white people or the very communities that mirror our racial and ethnic identities.

In Dolezal’s interview on NBC’s Today show, she justified passing as “black” in order to be recognized as her son’s parent. This questionable and even extreme approach to parenting goes against how families with transracial adoptees should actually tackle issues related to race. Scholars including Barbara Katz Rothman, Heather Jacobson, and Kristi Brian, among others, have examined how adoptive parents incorporate and support familial understanding of their children’s birth culture.

Adoption scholar Dr. John Raible affirms how a deeper consciousness of issues related to race may occur among white families with transracial adoptees. But this does not mean that white parents become people of color in the process. Instead, adoptive families need to create spaces for transracial adoptees to explore and construct their own identities.

Many of us in the adoption community have experienced the complex, tenuous, and life-long process of claiming our authenticity, making Dolezal’s claims and the current discussion all the more destructive.

We invite people to become active allies of transracial adoptees. It begins by listening. Actively listen to those who speak about and from the transracial adoption experience.

If you are an ally, we challenge you to examine the various ways that you appropriate our voices, cultures, and identities. Stand behind those of us who are working to dismantle this racist narrative that abuses, discredits, and erases the lives of transracial adoptees, and erases an entire field of academic inquiry. And use your privilege to lift up marginalized voices that need to be heard.

Finally, we encourage people to take time and explore the many articles, organizations, and experts who have worked on transracial adoption issues in order to educate themselves on this important current issue.

Co-opting the term transracial to describe Dolezal’s behavior exposes the deep denial and erasure of decades of research, writing, and art of transracial adoptees. That’s why we need everyone to stop trying to make this new definition of “transracial” happen. It’s not (and should not) be a thing.


Kimberly McKee, PhD
Assistant Director/Advisory Council Member, KAAN (the Korean American Adoptee Adoptive Family Network)
Grand Rapids, MI

Krista Benson
PhD Candidate, The Ohio State University
Adoptee Ally

Katie Bozek, Ph.D., LMFT
Transitions Therapy, PLLC
Grand Rapids, MI

Erin Alice Cowling, PhD
Hampden-Sydney College
Adoptee Ally

Martha M. Crawford, LCSW
Adoptive Parent, Psychotherapist
Author, What a Shrink Thinks blog

Sarah Park Dahlen, PhD
St. Catherine University
Adoptee wife, ally and researcher
Minneapolis, MN

April Dinwoodie
Chief Executive and transracial adoptee
The Donaldson Adoption Institute

Erica Gehringer
Land of Gazillion Adoptees
Ypsilanti, MI

Shannon Gibney
Writer, Educator, Activist, Adoptee, Co-Chair, MN Chapter of Adopted & Fostered Adults of the African Diaspora (AFAAD)
Minneapolis, MN

Shelise Keum Mee Gieseke
Land of Gazillion Adoptees

Rosita González
Transracial Adoptee, Author, Artist, Lost Daughters Editor
Madison, WI

Susan Harris O’Connor, MSW
Practitioner, Educator
Author, The Harris Narratives: An Introspective Study of a Transracial Adoptee
National Solo Performance Artist of her Racial Identity Theory narrative
New England Regional Director of American Adoption Congress

JaeRan Kim, PhD, LISW
Researcher, educator, and author of Harlow’s Monkey blog
Minneapolis, MN

Andy Marra | 홍현진
LGBT advocate and writer
New York, NY

Lisa Marie Rollins
PhD Candidate, University of California, Berkeley
Writer, Playwright, Researcher
Founder, Adopted & Fostered Adults of the African Diaspora
Oakland, CA

Matthew Salesses
PhD Candidate, University of Houston
Author of The Hundred-Year Flood, Different Racisms: On Stereotypes, the Individual, and Asian American Masculinity
Houston, TX

Stacy L. Schroeder
Adoptive Parent, Sibling of Adoptee, and Adoptee Ally
Executive Director/ President, KAAN (the Korean American Adoptee Adoptive Family Network)
Camp Hill, PA

Dwight Smith
Transracial Adoptee
Pact’s Adult Adoptees & Foster Alums of Color Advisory Board member
Advocate/Mentor for Bay Area adoptees and foster youth of color

Julie Stromberg
Author, Editor
Lost Daughters, Board Member
Pennsylvania Adoptee Rights

Amanda H.L. Transue-Woolston, MSS, LSW
Adoptee, Author, The Declassified Adoptee blog, Founder, Lost Daughters, Founder, Pennsylvania Adoptee Rights
Greater Philadelphia Area

Angela Tucker
Transracial Adoptee, Author, Speaker
Seattle, WA

Kevin Haebeom Vollmers
Executive Director, Gazillion Strong

This letter was originally at Medium and has been cross-posted here with permission. In addition, please see the following articles that have referenced this open letter or sites that linked/posted to the statement. The response has been overwhelming, and I will continue to update this as more come in as best as I can.
Thank you to the many others who linked on Facebook, tweeted, and shared the link to the Open Letter!

Reframing the Adoption Discourse conference

It's a busy weekend in adoption land!


Tomorrow night is the 2013 Minnesota Transracial Film Festival. I'm excited to see the films:

  • Ramsay Liem and Deann Borshay Liem's film "Memory of Forgotten War" as the backdrop to the emergence of international adoptions.
  • Jaikyong Choi's "Where Are You Going, Thomas?" chronicles the life of a biracial Korean adoptee from the Korean War era who becomes a successful inventor.
  • Tammy Chu's "Searching for Go-Hyang" follows the lives and experiences of twin Korean adoptees growing up in the 1970's who travel back to Korea to meet their Korean family
  • Bryan Tucker's "Closure" explores the search for self that domestic adoptee Angela embarks upon as she searches for and reunites with her birth family.

and the panel about transracial adoption films with Deann Borshay Liem and Ramsay Liem, Angela and Bryan Tucker, Thomas Park Clement, Dawn Tomlinson, and Jenni Fang Lee. This year's film festival has already sold record pre-show tickets and is sure to have a lively discussion.

Saturday is the Reframing the Adoption Discourse confernce. It's hard to believe that what started as an idea by the Adoption Policy and Reform Collaborative in July, 2012 is going to be actualized.

I'll be participating in the Activism and Social Change panel, and co-facilitating a panel on mental health. For the schedule, click here

To read the bios of the presenters, click here.

It's not too late to attend – click here for more information about the venues and registration information.

NPR’s round table on adoption

I am re-posting this from my other blog, because I think it's relevant to the readers here who may not be familiar with my other blog. Although this event occurred this summer, I wanted to bring people's attention to it for a couple of reasons. First, in typical fashion, mainstream media outlets still have a difficult time seeing adoptees as experts. We often receive comments or responses such as "well this topic was supposed to be about X,Y, or Z" as if adult adoptees did not have expertise beyond their personal lived experiences.

Second, I wanted to highlight the amazing advocacy that happened as a result of the original roundtable discussion and the ways in which adoptees and our adoptive parent and professional allies roundly rejected the status quo mainstream media exclusion of adult adoptee voices. I am super proud to have been part of this project and thank everyone who helped make it happen. 



 On Friday, July 13, 2012, I was invited to be a guest on MPR's Daily Circuit Roundtable show. The show was a response to a broadcast earlier that week that focused on the trend toward fewer international adoptions that have been occurring since 2004, when international adoptions to the U.S. peaked at over 22,000.

Here is the broadcast of the roundtable discussion: click here

The original show focused tightly on the business side of international adoptions spurred by the recent news that Children's Home Society and Family Services, Minnesota's longest-running adoption agency, had merged with Lutheran Social Services in large part due to the loss of millions of dollars in revenue over the past few years because of declining numbers of international adoptions. Both the StarTribune and Daily Planet as well as MPR covered the merger and in doing so framed the issue as a matter of supply and demand. Had CHSFS and LSS merely been two businesses and  "adoptable children" been replaced by "widgets" I am sure no one would have given this story much notice.

Here is a link to the original discussion: click here

However, two things happened that led to this story getting a LOT of notice.

First of all, for many reasons, the decline in international adoptions actually is about supply/demand and the commodity that led to the loss of revenue unfortunately is "adoptable children" and that in itself gets attention since no one likes to think of children as merchandise. The focus on the merger and the loss of millions of dollars due to the decrease in the number of international adoptions makes children seem like widgets, even when that is not the intent by the majority of the professionals and other players involved in adoptions. Unfortunately, the host of the Daily Circuit, Tom Weber, kept going back to the decline in numbers, using discourse and rhetoric such as "precipitous drop," "precipitous decline" and "plummeting."

Even when the guests, representatives from LSS and CHSFS, Dr. Dana Johnson from the International Adoption Clinic at the U of MN, and an adoptive parent, stated there were good reasons behind some of this decline in number of international adoptions, the continued use of "chicken little" rhetoric (i.e. the sky is falling!) sets the paradigm so strongly in one way that to see it any other way is framed as bad. Deeper discussions into the reasons why declining numbers of international adoptions may be a good thing were not really given space, even as the guest speakers attempted to do so. I see this as an issue with the way the media understands and reports on adoption. Clearly there needs to be more nuanced discussions about adoption in the media. There is a precedent for thoughtful reporting on adoption by public radio outlets – a few years ago Sasha Aslanian produced a wonderful, deeply thought provoking and nuanced series about adoption in her piece, "Finding Home: 50 years of international adoption." Ms. Aslanian sits only a few feet away from the producers and reporter at the local MPR station and could have been one resource on accurate reporting on adoption.

Why is this distinction important to me? The hyperbole about "falling numbers" within the context only of how this affects adoptive parents does several things:

  • it sets up adoptive parents as victims and is thus adult-centric without looking at the best interests of children
  • it automatically frames high numbers of international adoptions as the goal
  • in a global context it speaks to American entitlement at the expense of developing nations and their concerns about managing the welfare of their children
  • it does not address how sending nations are attempting to provide better care and better options for their children

The second thing that happened is that there was a noticeable absence of representation in terms of the guests that were asked to be on the program. Two agency directors – one from LSS and one from CHSFS, along with a doctor specializing in pediatric medicine and internationally adopted children, and an adoptive parent – were invited to be on the show. Three of the four participants were also adoptive parents so the adoptive parent perspective and the agency perspectives were strongly represented. However, there was not any internationally adopted person on the show.

There are many professionals who are also internationally adopted persons who could have contributed to the discussion and as is typical, none of them were invited to participate. Adult adoptees work in adoption agencies, are researchers, and work in policy organizations.

During the show, a Korean adoptee (blogger Kevin Ost-Vollmers from Land of Gazillion Adoptees) asked why no adult adoptees were represented in the show and why were we left out of the conversation. In addition, Kevin challenged the participants to address the need for post-adoption services. In response, the Daily Circuit posted a blog post asking for adult adoptees to write in their comments about the adoptee experience.

Many adult adoptees challenged the blog post, asking why adult adoptees were being asked to comment on their personal experiences rather than address the central questions – what do adult adoptee professionals and researchers have to say about the declining numbers of international adoptions. I think that media outlets such as MPR and others (notably the NYT is also terrible in this regard) only view adult adoptees for their personal stories and human interest potential. While the personal narrative is one important aspect of the overall discussion it is a limited one and serves only to silo adoptees in terms of their personal stories.

Let me give you some examples. Would MPR have done a show on the African American experience and only invited white panelists?

Would they have done a show on women and only invited men?

Would they have done a show on LGBT policies and only invited heterosexual panelists?

That is what they are doing when they do a show on adoption and do not invite adoptees.

In other words, it would be like stating that African Americans can speak to their personal experiences with racism, but to have scholarly or policy discussions, well we couldn't find any African American scholars or policy experts so we had to go with white ones.

As a result of the backlash among the adoptee community, MPR decided to do a show called "The adoptee experience." In their description they wrote:

During Monday's show, we discussed the drop in international adoptions in Minnesota amid tighter regulations. St. Paul-based Children's Home Society and Family Services hasn't been bringing in enough money to sustain adoption services with the declining numbers, so it is merging the adoption program with Lutheran Social Service.

Adult adoptees have been at the forefront of advocacy for changes that put a child's interest first. We'll discuss how these changes may be contributing to a decline in adoptions.

However, it was a bait and switch. What ended up happening was not a discussion about how adult adoptees have been at the forefront of advocacy for changes that put a child's interest first. No, we were asked to talk about the impact of race and culture in international adoptions. Not that the impact of race and culture is a bad topic of discussion (although it tends to be the ONLY discussion adult adoptees are allowed to have), it's just not what I wanted to talk about.

I wanted to talk about why I want to change the framework of fewer numbers of international adoptions as being a crisis for adoptive parents. As a child welfare scholar and former worker, I want to see a whole lot of "less":

  • less numbers of children being abused
  • less numbers of children being neglected
  • less numbers of children and parents living in poverty
  • less numbers of children whose parents have died in war or natural disaster
  • less numbers of children being raised without a sense of their culture or the country in which they were born
  • less numbers of women whose options are so limited that adoption becomes their only "choice"
  • less numbers of children kidnapped for adoption
  • less numbers of children illegally taken from their parents for adoption
  • less numbers of children raised in orphanages
  • less numbers of countries who can't care for their children and thus have to place them for international adoption

In other words, the only thing I want MORE of is more family security, safety, and permanency and honestly international adoption is not the only way to achieve that for children. It is ONE option among many that can be a way to achieve those goals of permanency, stability, and child well-being.

I have to say it was an incredibly frustrating experience. As a remedy, the adult adoptee community did what they have long done and what many other groups shut out of the mainstream media have had to resort to – we did it ourselves. Kevin and Land of Gazillion Adoptees produced their own show and invited Dr. Kim Park Nelson and myself to answer questions submitted by the adoption community.

To hear the "Talk with me about…Everything" podcast featuring myself and Dr. Park Nelson, click here.

EDITED TO ADD 8-10-12: Apparently National Public Radio just did the same thing as MPR. Once again, no adult adoptees were included in the creation of this story.