. . . has been fabulous! I feel like a bit of a groupie, though, as I'm excited about meeting some of the "names" whose work I've read or viewed. The keynote speaker yesterday morning was Dorothy Roberts, and I've used several of her law review articles in my classes. She's a wonderful writer, and I've been hooked on her since reading her article on prosecution of drug-addicted mothers. She starts with a really powerful illustration of how we divide our concern for the baby from our disdain for the drug-addicted mother: "A former slave named Lizzie Williams recounted the beating of pregnant slave women on a Mississippi cotton plantation: 'I[']s seen n***** women dat was fixin' to be confined do somethin' de white folks didn't like. Dey [the white folks] would dig a hole in de ground just big 'nuff fo' her stomach, make her lie face down an whip her on de back to keep from hurtin' de child.'"
Her talk at the conference was about racial disparities in the foster care system. Black children are 4 times more likely than white children to be placed in foster care, though the figure is higher is some locations. She showed statistics for San Francisco, where black children are 19 times more likely to be removed and placed in foster care. She noted that most services to children, most money spent, is for placing them in foster care, with only a small fraction for services that would improve their situations in their homes. We see parenting as exclusively private, with each family exclusively responsible for their own welfare. So social services are for families who have failed in their child rearing responsibility. That allows the solution to be "blame-the-parents" rather than looking at societal impediments to child rearing – poverty, job discrimination, lack of education, etc., and seeking to alleviate those problems so the conditions that lead to removal don't arise.
The second session I attended was entitled "Identity Paradoxes," and focused on conflicts in adoptees' identity formation. His theme throughout was that we should strive for "both/and" instead of "either/or." Instead of "I'm like my adoptive parents" or "I'm like my birth parents," it becomes "I'm like my adoptive parents in some ways and like my birth parents in some ways." The presenter used very entertaining photos to liven up his points. Not much new there, though.
The third session, entitled "Walking in the Shoes of the Relinquished Child," used experiential exercises to illustrate adopted children's life experiences. When we first started, one of the presenters picked out people to move to a different chair in a different part of the room, leaving all their stuff behind. Takes all of 1 second to see the point of that exercise, right?! In another exercise, we were given little mirrors, asked to look into it and name a feature or personality trait we got from someone else. Then we were asked to turn the mirror over to the blue-painted side. Does anyone not see the symbolism? Adoptees were asked not to participate in this exercise, which I thought was awkward, and then was infuriating when all the non-adopted persons were asked to describe how the blank side of the mirror made us feel, and the adoptees were not allowed to speak to this. So, some interesting exercises that would probably be good for training PAPs, but the presentation ultimately left a sour taste in my mouth.
Fourth, I attended an adoptive parent support group. I was sitting and chatting with "Nancy" before everyone got there, and then when it came to introductions and she said shat she did and that she'd authored two books I realized I was talking to THAT Nancy -- Nancy Verrier of Primal Wound fame! And a nicer, humbler person you'd never meet! I also exchanged blog addresses with another adoptive mom (Hi, Shannon!), and didn't realize until I got back to my room and typed in the address that I'd visited her blog many times before -- Peter's Cross Station.
Most of the adoptive parents attending the support group had older kids, and were disappointed at how little guidance they got about adoption issues at the time they adopted (20 to 30 years ago). Their kids didn't talk about their adoptions, seemed perfectly well-adjusted, and then the teenage years hit and the troubled kid inside came out. One adoptee is currently in prison, another in trouble with the law and in enforced counseling. The parents are here playing catch-up, trying to learn everything they wished they had known 20 years ago. Very sad, and very uplifting to see these adoptive parents are not giving up on their kids. But I'm not sure we're doing any better at training prospective adopters now -- yes, there is TONS of information available, but you have to dig into it on your own, without much guidance from adoption agencies.
Last, but not least, was the evening showing of Adopted. I had a chance to meet Barb Lee, the director, and she gave us a bit of an update on Jennifer, whom she says is doing fine. There's an update on the newer DVDs, but I bought mine early enough not to have that update. It was interesting to watch the film with this audience. When I watched it with my Adoption Law class, that audience didn't understand enough about adoption issues to groan and laugh and commiserate and boo -- THIS audience did! After the showing, several people in the audience said it should be shown to mainstream audiences, and Barb says it's been turned down by everyone -- HBO, PBS, you name it. She said bluntly, "People don't like Jen." That certainly was the reaction of my Adoption Law class, steeped as they are in the adoption myths about being lucky to be adopted, being grateful, etc.
So, that's the conference to date. The mix of attendees is interesting. At the first session, they asked people to stand up in groups -- birth parents, adoptees, adoptive parents, professionals connected to adoption. Birth parents were the largest group, I think, and adoptive parents the smallest.