Sunday, December 23, 2012

Culture, Christmas & Adoption

Somehow, in all the years I've watched Miracle on 34th Street, I've managed to miss this scene until this year, where a Dutch girl comes to see Macy's Santa.  The mother explains that she's newly adopted, having spent time at an orphanage in Rotterdam.  The point of the scene is that Santa can converse with her in her native language, thus proving to doubting Susan that he is the real Santa.

But what I see is the importance of language and culture in transcultural adoption.  Look at how somber the little girl is while waiting to talk to Santa, and then look how her face lights up when he can actually talk to her in the language she knows! This isn't about the miracle of Santa Clause to me, it's about the importance of culture. . . .

According to the trivia section of IMDB, "In the untranslated dialogue with the Dutch girl, Santa Claus asks the child what she wants for Christmas the girl says she wants nothing, telling Santa she got her gift by being adopted by her new mother." Sweet, yes.  But it doesn't change the optics about how important culture is, nor is the importance of culture inconsistent with  the girl's happiness with being adopted.  It's possible to both mourn the loss of culture and love one's adopted family. 

So this 1947 movie got right something we sometimes forget today -- international adoption involves both loss and gain.  And adoptive parents do the right thing when they try to keep their kids connected -- even in imperfect, incomplete ways -- with their birth cultures (No, I don't believe there's anything I can do to ensure that my children will truly experience their birth cultures living with me in America, but I also think I can do things that recognize and honor their birth cultures). 

Holidays, including Christmas, can be a great time to bring a touch of your child's birth culture into your home.  Consider these past posts:

 Christmas and Adoption
A Touch of China Christmas Tree
A Touch of China Christmas Tree II

Monday, December 10, 2012

Unmarried Fathers v. Married Fathers

This story out of Utah sounds like just another adoption story where the biological father of a child is ignored in the adoption process:
A legal tug-of-war is playing out in Utah between adoptive parents and the father of a 21-month-old girl.

A Utah judge recently ordered the adoptive parents to give the child to the biological father, Terry Achane of South Carolina, said his lawyer, Scott Wiser.

The adoptive parents, Jared and Kristi Frei, have countered with a legal motion to keep the girl, whom they've raised since she was born, attorney Larry Jenkins confirmed.

That sets up months, if not years, of more legal wrangling and uncertainty about who will raise Leah Frei.

The Freis, who live in a Provo suburb, legally adopted her through an agency in 2010. They have four biological children and two adopted children, including Leah.
But this story is far from ordinary, as the next paragraph makes clear:  "The birth father says Tira Bland, his wife at the time, traveled from their Texas home while he was away on military service in South Carolina and gave birth in Utah. She signed off on an adoption in Utah to the Freis without his knowledge or consent, Wiser said."

HIS WIFE AT THE TIME. . . . He was MARRIED to the mother of the child at the time of conception and at the time of the child's birth.  That AUTOMATICALLY makes him the LEGAL father of this child.  That makes this case FAR different from all the cases of unwed fathers who are ignored in the course of adoptions.  The law makes clear distinctions between married fathers and unmarried fathers.

Fathers not married to the mother of the child are not necessarily legal fathers.  In Lehr v. Robertson, the Supreme Court says that unmarried biological fathers have only an opportunity to become legal fathers, they are not legal fathers by reason of biology.  Unmarried fathers have to DO SOMETHING to grasp the opportunity to be legal fathers:
The significance of the biological connection is that it offers the natural father an opportunity that no other male possesses to develop a relationship with his offspring. If he grasps that opportunity and accepts some measure of responsibility for the child's future, he may enjoy the blessings of the parent-child relationship and make uniquely valuable contributions to the child's development. If he fails to do so, the Federal Constitution will not automatically compel a State to listen to his opinion of where the child's best interests lie.
So when it comes to unmarried fathers, and whether they have any legal rights when their biological child is adopted out, we ask what they DID to grasp their opportunity to be legal fathers.  Did he support the mother financially and emotionally during pregnancy?  Did he live with the mother and child as a family unit?  What has he done to develop a relationship with the child? Has he supported the child financially and emotionally? And in more recent times, we ask, did he file in the putative father registry of the state in which the child is being placed?

Under this kind of fact-specific inquiry, there can be considerable disagreement over whether a biological father has sufficiently grasped his opportunity to be a parent.  That's how courts can ignore him in adoption placement -- the court just finds facts that show he did not grasp his opportunity to parent.  Now he isn't a legal parent, and he has no say in the adoption placement. He doesn't even have any parental rights that need to be terminated before the child can be adopted.

But married fathers don't have to DO ANYTHING -- they are legal fathers. Says the Supreme Court in Lehr,  "The most effective protection of the putative father's opportunity to develop a relationship with his child is provided by the laws that authorize formal marriage and govern its consequences."  See?  Once he's married to the mother, he has grasped his opportunity to be a legal parent, and he need not do anything more.  He is the legal father, and the child cannot be adopted out without his consent and without the formal termination of his parental rights based on that consent.

So, yeah, cases that ignore unmarried fathers who desire to parent are morally outrageous, but they're legally ambigous.  But a case that ignores a MARRIED father?  That is a new low in adoption placement.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Adoption "Service" Projects in School

OK, I’m going to try not to make this a rant – and you know just how hard that is for me!!!  I recently learned about a “service project” at a local private school [not my kids’ school] that is making my head explode.  Basically, the 6th grade kids are going to visit Gladney Center for Adoption, be given a tour of the campus and a presentation about adoption.  Then, the students will be working on a card that will be attached to a superhero puzzle and given to current and future birth mothers.  (A superhero puzzle?!   Apparently that’s in support of a new campaign called Brave Love, which according to the school, “targets women who are facing an unplanned pregnancy and encouraging them to consider the choice of adoption by using their bravery and selfless love for their child.”)

OK, where to start?!  I have so many objections to this “service” project, I can hardly figure out how to organize this.  So I’ll start with a summary: 

1. This is NOT a “service” project, because there is no actual help provided to anyone who needs help. 
2. Even if one can identify someone being helped, 6th graders are still concrete thinkers who need a more concrete object to get anything out of a “service” project.  

3. Even if the 6th graders can figure out who is being helped, they may land on the idea that the object of charity is adoptees, and given that there are adoptees in the class which the school fully knows, it shines a light on THEM as objects of charity.  Kids at this age – whether adopted or not – are usually at a developmental stage where they HATE being different or standing out.  They really don’t need to have a project that points out how they are different from all of their classmates.
 4. Even if you don’t care about the feelings of these adoptees, and want to do a project related to adoption, there are ways to truly help, like focusing on providing ACTUAL AID to prospective birth mothers and post-placement birth mothers, not just giving them a card and a stupid puzzle, or offering ACTUAL AID to orphans abroad or older kids in foster care in need of adoptive homes. 

5.  Using kids to express a viewpoint not universally agreed-upon – like how relinquishing is a statement of brave and selfless love! – is compelled speech, using them as little unpaid lobbyists for a public policy viewpoint that they are not really mature enough to form independently. 
To explain further:

First of all, if you don’t know anything about this “new campaign called Brave Love,” I suggest you read Claud’s post about it over at Musings of the Lame.  Essentially you’ll find that Brave Love is practically a wholly-owned subsidiary of Gladney Adoption Center.  And why is Gladney interested in the organization?  Consider this interview with the Gladney Center CEO and Brave Love Board member  Frank Garrott:
Q: What's Gladney's biggest challenge today?

A: Growth in a flat to declining market. Domestic infant adoption continues to shrink overall. On the international side, countries shut down or slow down adoption and we have to contend with the volatility. But we believe tough times create opportunity. We have a game plan and the will and capability to see it through.

Q: How does Gladney set itself apart from others in the field ?

We are working hard to lead our field toward greater collaboration and away from the mindset that we need to view each other as competitors. We believe that "a rising tide lifts all boats."

Q: What are the trends in domestic infant adoption?

A: More and more young women are choosing to be single parents. Combined with those choosing the abortion option, that leaves less than 2% who decide to place their baby for adoption. We have to do a better job of educating the public that adoption is a wonderful option.
So, Gladney needs to endorse projects like Brave Love to counteract a flat market in domestic adoption?  Doesn't seem like the problem is not enough parents wanting to adopt (the demand side), it's not enough mothers wanting to place (the supply side).  So, imagine your 6th grader – adopted or not – being involved in this project.  Your little darling gets to help Gladney develop the supply side!

Is this really a SERVICE project?! Exactly who are they providing a service to?!  What service are they providing?! My kid’s 6th grade class had their "service" project culminate last week -- after designing a cookbook, soliciting recipes, drawing pictures to illustrate it, they sold it and used the money to go shopping at a local discount store for clothes and toys for 56 needy kids. It's pretty easy in a project like that to figure out who is being helped, what service is being provided. 

But here, with the Brave Love project? Are they helping birth moms? Not so sure about that. Even if you absolutely love newborn adoption, even if you are the most “pro-adoption” person in the world, do you really think it is a service to prospective birth moms to send them a card and superhero puzzle?!  Lordy!  My kid’s class made Christmas cards for retired nuns at a local Catholic nursing home.  That’s a nice thing.  But is it SERVICE?!  I don’t think so!  And 6th-graders are still pretty concrete thinkers.  I don’t see how they “get” any lesson from this Brave Love project about helping others, when it’s pretty difficult to figure out who is being helped!

If you want a service project to help prospective birth moms, and you are super-duper pro-adoption, then how about doing something to offer post-adoption support for birth mothers? Or how about this – a project to help poor young mothers parent!  Collect disposable diapers, for instance – hey, if she decides to parent, she has diapers for the baby, and if she decides to relinquish, the diapers can go with the baby as a starter set for the adoptive parents!

Maybe the objects of this “service project” are kids relinquished for adoption? Are we helping them by encouraging prospective birth mothers to relinquish? That only works if you think it's better for kids of poor moms to be adopted by better-resourced parents, or for kids to be raised by a two-parent married couple than a single mom.  And those are not exactly universally-held viewpoints (says this single mom!). And if the “object” of this charity is the adoptee, then how is that a good idea as a school project WHERE THERE ARE ADOPTEES IN THE CLASS?!  The LAST thing these kids need is to have their classmates view them as charity cases!

But suppose you do want to have a service project that benefits adoptees, despite the charity-case problem? There are other ways to do it that DIRECTLY benefit truly needy kids – say, older special needs kids in foster care, who might need clothes or toys at this holiday season. Guess what?  Gladney even has a program for placement of older special needs children currently in foster care!  Instead of helping out Gladney’s newborn adoption program, how about helping these kids who really need help?! Or maybe Gladney’s orphan support programs abroad? Collect formula for orphans in Ethiopia, collect toys for orphans in Colombia. . . . (I'm not really endorsing these programs -- I don't know enough about them -- but I'm just suggesting that there are lots of CONCRETE ways to really help if you're looking for them).

Seems to me the only object benefitting from this service project is the adoption agency itself. Which makes this “service” project really a lobbying project. It's coercing the KIDS to express a public policy position. It's an awful lot like when a local ISD forced the kids to write out something they'd lose if Robin Hood educational funding took some of their considerable tax revenue and sent it to poor school districts. Kids were told all about how they wouldn't get to have a computer room, and how so-and-so would lose their job, and how the sports programs would suffer. . . . And then until they wrote something for the "chain," which would be taken down to Austin for a rally, the kids couldn’t go out to recess! Guess what?! Not all kids, nor all their parents, think that the Robin Hood plan is a bad one! The schools were essentially turning the kids into unpaid lobbyists of the schools’ position.  And that’s what this Brave Love project looks like, too, making the kids little salesmen for Gladney's newborn adoption program.

And then to do it on an issue that might have a high degree of sensitivity for an adopted child, knowing IN ADVANCE that there are adopted kids in the class?! Maybe not all adopted kids are at a place where they want to go to an adoption agency and work on separating moms and babies! Maybe not all adopted kids feel like having the entire class's collective noses rubbed in how adopted kids are charity cases! Maybe not all adopted kids want to feel conspicuous and different about being adopted! Maybe not all adopted kids think birth mothers are brave for relinquishing!  When I talked about this project with my 6th-grader, wondering what she thought of it, she said, “Well, I think sometimes it’s brave for birth mothers to keep their babies, like in China where it would be brave to defy the government’s one child policy.”  (Hah!  Think Gladney would hand out her card and superhero puzzle encouraging prospective birth mothers to be brave and parent their children?!).

I know, I know, if I don't want my child to participate in such a project, I could always just tell the school she would not be participating.  That way she wouldn't feel conspicuous and different.  Right, let's treat her differently in such a conspicuous way, so that she won't feel different and conspicuous!  Kind of puts a parent between the proverbial rock and hard place, huh?

So this project isn’t happening at my kids’ school, why am I writing about it – not my business, right?  Well, I’m hoping that if some other adopted kid’s parents are trying to figure out how to explain to the school that an adoption-related service project is A VERY BAD IDEA, maybe this post can give you some ways to explain it!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Sixth Grade History Fair: International Adoption

Well, here it is -- the culmination of a lot of work for the 6th Grade History Fair!  Zoe selected the topic herself:  International Adoption.  I'll walk you through the board a little, so you can get an idea of what all she learned and shared.  To the left is the historical timeline, showing the start of international adoption after World War II, proceeding through the Korean and Vietnam Wars (including Operation Babylift), the growth of international adoption after the fall of the Soviet Union, the increase as China came on line, the corruption scandals that closed Vietnam, Cambodia and Guatemala, the Hague Convention passage, etc.  To the right, is the part Zoe was most interested in, "Spotlight on China."  She talked about the one child policy, orphanages and foster care in China, and the adoption process.  In the center of the board, Zoe covered why children ended up available for international adoption, why parents adopted internationally, problems with international adoption, the passage of the Hague Convention, and the growth and then decline in international adoption.

It was a tough project for Zoe, for both academic and emotional reasons.  As an academic topic, international adoption is pretty challenging for 6th grade, especially since it's hard to find just a few sources that cover the breadth of the topic and are comprehensible to a 12-year-old (even a smart 12-year-old like mine!).  Synthesis of multiple sources was the hardest academic challenge for Zoe with this project.  If I knew at the beginning of the project what I know now, I probably would have tried to direct her to something more limited, like maybe focusing on the Vietnam Babylift or just on China adoption.  Oh well, in 8th grade, she has to do History Fair again -- so remind me in two years -- SMALLER, EASIER topic!

In terms of emotional content, there was a lot of hard stuff -- war, poverty, social upheaval -- in both the history and present time of international adoption.  Yes, many history topics are grounded in tragedy, and some 6th graders did handle these topics, but I think for Zoe it really hit closer to home because of her personal connection to international adoption. Even more difficult, this is the first time that Zoe has really confronted problems of trafficking and corruption in adoption. 

Still, I think it was overall a positive experience for her.  She was certainly pleased with herself, as you can tell  in the photo below (Maya had to be included in the picture because she also starred in the display board as we used some of our own pictures to illustrate topics on the board, and the red binder in front of the board included pages from each of their adoption-trip albums).

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Poverty and Adoption

Interesting piece on poverty, adoption and inequality, based on a new study of attitudes of adoptive parents toward their children's birth mothers:
Reproductive health academic and activist writing contains no shortage of articles devoted to untangling the various intersections between access to abortion, abortion stigma, and poverty. The same thoughtful commentary and analysis has been applied to parenting and motherhood, exploring ways that different mothers are subjected to stigma and societal judgment for their reproductive choices based on race and social class. Yet, when it comes to adoption, the intersections with poverty are just as complicated and deserving of analysis yet less examined by those who care deeply about reproductive health, rights, and justice. Since November marks the beginning of National Adoption Awareness Month, we decided to come together to review some new research on adoption and poverty.

* * *

It remains true, however, that the women who relinquish or place children for adoption are almost always of a lower socioeconomic status than the families that adopt their children.

How, then, do the intersections between adoption, poverty, race, and class play out today? How are birth parents—most likely living in open adoptions, where they have ongoing contact with their child and his or her adoptive family—affected by these social differences? A new paper by sociologist Kathryn Sweeney examines perceptions of birth parents held by their counterparts: their own children’s adoptive parents.

Sweeney’s primary thesis is that the way our culture understands poverty broadly influences the way adoptions are lived individually. She relates the culture of poverty (that is, the socially-conservative American model for explaining inequality which attributes poverty to an inherent laziness or lack of personal responsibility in low-income communities) to adoption by saying:
“[adoption] perpetuates culture of poverty arguments by assuming that removing children from families is a solution to poverty; removing children implies that the families they are born into are inadequate to raise them… The focus on failures means that connections are lacking to larger economic systems that lead to placements by disempowered birth mothers and give privileged adoptive parents access to children.”
Through 15 in-depth interviews with White adoptive parents, Sweeney examined how they perceive their child’s family of origin, and how those perceptions are influenced by broader ideas of a culture of poverty. The narratives of adoptive parents – even those adoptive parents who recognize the structural causes of poverty—focus on individual choice, individual responsibility, and courage and altruism in making adoption decisions. Many viewed birth parents as making “bad choices” that led to their pregnancy, and described a “pathology of poverty” in which the negative traits associated with poverty were viewed as contagious—and, consequently, the adoption was a redemptive way out. Not so different, then, from the type of “redemption” that Solinger describes as being available to women 50 years ago.

Though a small study, the implications here are profound. Sweeney’s findings represent challenges for those in the adoption community: agencies that unwarily allow culture-of-poverty discourses to influence discussions of adoptions; adoptive parents who view their child’s family of origin as substantially different from their own; birth/first families who attempt to negotiate ongoing openness in their adoptions across a cultural divide that is both real and manufactured; and adoptees who must develop an identity that reconciles both their adoptive parents’ ideas of their original families and their own feelings about their origins.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Zoe's History Fair Project: Reflections on International Adoption

Sixth grade, and it's time for History Fair.  Zoe chose international adoption as her topic.  She still has a week before the display board is due, but the rough draft of her "reflection paper" is due tomorrow.  Here's what she came up with:
            I chose my topic on international adoption because I am adopted from China. Being adopted internationally means leaving your home country and birth culture and first language, and having to learn the culture and language where you live now. You lose your first family, too, in adoption.  But you get a new family to love you and take care of you forever. And in your new country, you can still learn about your first language and birth culture and home country, but it can be hard work.
            Because I’m adopted, I thought I knew a lot about adoption.  I do know a lot about adoption from China, but I didn’t know much about how international adoption started.  I didn’t know there were problems with international adoption.   And I didn’t know about the Hague Convention, which was passed to fix some of those problems.

            International adoption started after WWII. Children orphaned in the war were adopted in Belgium, England, and the U.S. Transracial adoption means adoption where the race of the children and the parents are different. An example of that would be an African American family adopting a child or children from China. Some of the first transracial adoptions in America were white families adopting Japanese children after the war.
            International adoption often happens in very poor countries. Example: China was a very poor country. Another example is Guatemala because the money that international adoption brings to Guatemala caused people to break laws to find children to offer for adoption. Sometimes, people would buy children so they could then place them in adoption for large adoption fees. Sometimes children were stolen from birthparents. Many countries worried that the adoption process in poor countries was not being handled right. That’s why governments got together and drafted the Hague Convention.

            The Hague Convention has a really long title: The Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption. The Hague Convention was drafted in 1993 and since been signed by almost 90 countries. The Hague Convention sets out rules for sending countries to make sure that children to be adopted really need families and don’t already have families. It also makes rules for receiving countries to make sure adoptive families will be good families for kids.
            “Sending countries” mean countries that send orphans to be adopted and “receiving countries” mean where the adopted parents live. Some examples of sending countries are China, Russia, South Korea, Guatemala, and Ethiopia. Some examples of receiving are the U.S., France, Canada, Spain, Italy, and England. I was surprised to learn that the U.S. is also a sending country! Some children from the U.S. have been sent to Canada and The Netherlands to be adopted.

            I’ve learned with this project that some parts of international adoption are sad and some parts

are happy. Some sad parts are that sometimes adoption doesn’t always work the right way like in

Guatemala. Some happy parts are that children have families.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Should the Adoption Tax Credit be Renewed?

At the New York Times Room for Debate page, a discussion of the adoption tax credit, pro and con.  The MOST AMAZING thing is that a birth mother and two adoptees are included in the debate!  Here's a sample of the debate:
Children’s lives depend on the renewal of the adoption tax credit. Most adoptive families need it in order to afford adoption, which costs an average of $30,000. Most of our applicants at spend $30,000 to $50,000, and sometimes more depending on the circumstances and travel involved.

Many American families seeking to build their families through adoption can provide for a child on a day-to-day basis but cannot pay these fees in full and up front. So these large costs present insurmountable financial obstacles.


The Adoption Tax Credit originated mainly as an incentive to find families for special needs children who needed homes. (At the time it was nonrefundable, meaning it would only offset any taxes owed, but would not apply to families with too little income for a tax liability.) Lobbyists from the adoption industry pushed to expand the credit.

This increased the demand for adoptable children and adoption agencies responded by finding more mothers at risk to increase their own profits. Historically, as the adoption tax credit went up, agencies followed suit and raised their fees as well.

For a mother facing relinquishment, that same credit could very well be the bit of certainty she needs to parent her own baby. She would know how to pay off medical bills, or pay for day care, or take time off from work to enjoy her child.


The adoption tax credit should not only be renewed, but Congress should once again allow it to be refundable – available even if an adoptive family doesn’t have an income tax liability to apply against -- as it was in 2010 and 2011.

A refundable credit would ensure that more families of modest means can provide homes to vulnerable children. When children are adopted from foster care the credit can help care for children with special needs, and keep brothers and sisters together. A 2007 study showed that families who adopt from foster care have, on average, lower incomes than other adoptive families.

* * *

Unless the tax credit is refundable, many children would remain in expensive foster care. Analysis has shown that each adoption from foster care saves the government up to $235,000, so legislation encouraging adoption from foster care — like a refundable adoption tax credit — can both help vulnerable children and save taxpayers money.


The original intent of the adoption tax credit was to help families adopt through foster care, because, as Senator Mary Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana, said, those parents “are of lower income than those adopting with an agency or internationally.”

But extending the tax credit to families who wish to adopt internationally, in 2001, was a misplacement of resources and effort. It benefits American families, often upper middle class and white, but not struggling families overseas.

* * *

Many children adopted internationally, said Mary Martin Mason of the Minnesota Adoption Resource Network, have post-traumatic stress disorder or fetal alcohol syndrome, “as well as traumatic orphanage experiences that are overwhelming to parents who try to parent with traditional techniques. These children are in jeopardy of adoption dissolutions if their families can’t find adoption-competent therapists. Funding post-adoption supportive services such as therapists for adoptive families is truly needed.”

Allowing the adoption tax credit to cover international adoptions only adds to this problem.


As an adoptee who’s just begun to learn about my birth family, I can honestly say adoption saved my life. If my biological mother had raised me after I was born, or if I grew up in foster care, I cannot imagine where my life would be.

There are more than 100,000 children in foster care. They can live in three to as many as 12 different homes before they age out of the system. When they do age out, they have no parent’s arms to run to when life has the best of them. They have no place for guidance, financial assistance in case of an emergency or help in fulfilling their dreams. Just 2 percent of foster children earn a bachelor's degree or higher, and studies have shown that most prison inmates have been in foster care at some point in their lives.

These children deserve and need a place to call home, but the high cost of adoption deters many families from considering it. The adoption tax credit is one of the most important resources for them.

 Please comment on the New York Times site, and whatever your opinion, please compliment them for including multiple voices not usually included in these debates.  This is really a HUGE DEAL!