Friday, April 30, 2010

Tomorrow Starts APA Heritage Month

You knew that, right? May is the month set aside for celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander American heritage. But why May? Just a random choice? Apparently not:

In May 1990, the holiday was expanded further [from a Congressionally adopted week-long celebration] when President George H. W. Bush designated May to be Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. May was chosen to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese to the United States on May 7, 1843, and to mark the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869. The majority of the workers who laid the tracks were Chinese immigrants.
Who knew May was a significant month for Asian Americans even before it became APA Heritage Month?!

Click here to see last year's post about APA Heritage Month, including links to lots of good sites with information about Asian & Pacific American heritage.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Chinese Orphan, Never Adopted, Seeks to Finish College Education

Miao Miao Dang grew up in a Chinese orphanage, with scoliosis, never adopted. She is now in the U.S. attending school to become a social worker so that she can work with orphans. The American family who was supplying her educational costs can no longer do so, and she's looking for help to complete her education. She tells her story at her blog:
I was born in a small city, LuoYang, in China, and my entire childhood was spent at the orphanage. Due to the one child-policy, most people tend to want boys. My biological parents abandoned me after I was born with a physical defect called scoliosis, so I do not know what they looked like and I do not have any information about my family history. Living in an orphanage, life was different from a family life. The nannies usually told me what I was supposed to do while I was young. I had to remember what I should do or what I should not do. There are many different ages of children living together, and I remember there were many girls of different ages who shared a room with me. In a family life, parents usually give a lot of attention to their children and remind them what they need to do. Having lived at the orphanage, I observed what life is like being an orphan. I learned to be self-motivated.

* * *

I am very interested in working with adoption agencies because my life experience helps me understand how important it is for children to have a home when they are young. Then they can have a better future. Now I am junior at Seattle University. I sincerely hope I can finish my education in Seattle then start my future. I look forward to new adventure and to become a professional social worker.
More information about her in an article in the Seattle University Spectator. Love Without Boundaries shared it on their facebook page and said, "We met MiaoMiao when she lived in the Luoyang orphanage during our cleft surgery trip there in 2005. She is such an amazing girl and has overcome so many odds. We wanted to share this article about her as we are all hoping and praying she finds a way to finish her degree."

Black-Asian Unity/Disunity

A call for Black-Asian unity in the face of recent violent crimes against Asians by Blacks in the San Francisco area:

Black-Asian Unity: Why we need to talk about race relations beyond individual incidents

Since publishing my first book, “BlAsian Exchanges, a novel” two years ago, I have often been asked to speak about the real-life common history of Blacks & Asians that is highlighted throughout my book. This includes the true story about Richard Aoki, a Japanese American, who was one of the founding members of the Black Panther Party, the NAACP’s opposition to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, and Black and Asian American students joining protests to promote ethnic studies at college campuses in the 1970s.

The interest is generated by the fact that many of these transracial connections between both Asians & Blacks involve a specific history of collaboration that mainstream media and traditional academia ignore but most people – especially Asians & Blacks – want to hear.

I believe that Asians, Blacks and the rest of the community should keep this common history in mind and consider talking about it at future community meetings and social gatherings as we try to grapple with whether incidents like the April 16 killing of Tiansheng Yu are hate motivated or random crimes.

Hearing about our commonalities – be they political or social – helps break the ice and creates the necessary bridge to discuss issues like race that can be hard for any community to discuss, particularly given America’s hesitancy to take up such concerns.
NAACP Hopes to Diffuse Tension Between Asians and Blacks in San Francisco

Rev. Amos Brown and leaders of the San Francisco chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) convened a group of
community, church and civil rights leaders from San Francisco’s Asian Pacific Islander and African-American communities to discuss and create a response to the recent string of violent incidents in the Bay Area involving members of the two communities.

* * *

Rev. Amos Brown told the group that the NAACP denounces these violent acts, saying, “when young African Americans prey on vulnerable Asians, that’s a no – no.” He stressed the historic advocacy role of the NAACP in the outrage over these incidents saying, “when marginalized people like blacks, gays or Asians are wronged, somebody has to speak up on their behalf.”
You'll recall the violence between Black and Asian students at South Philly High School last year (and perhaps this year as well.) This has been a difficult issue to talk about. Our expectation of racial violence is that it will be majority group v. minority group. When it is between minority groups there's this feeling of having to "choose sides," to compare the degree of oppression each group has experienced. Because certain racial groups, like African-Americans, get tagged as "criminals generally," those who buy into that stereotype want to judge them quickly as the wrongdoers and those who find that stereotyping wrong want to leap to their defense. Other racial groups, especially Asian Americans, are often stereotyped as passive, the perfect victims, which often helps them avoid blame for racial violence (for example, very few reports of the violence at South Philly High mention that the attcks that hospitalized 26 Asians was purportedly in retaliation for an attack on a disabled African-American student by 4 Asians (not to excuse the retaliation; even if the report of an attack by Asians against a Black student is true, the retaliation was as wrong as the intial attack)) -- but who wants the stereotype of perpetual victim?

All of these are tentative thoughts and questions. I'd be interested in what you think. As they grow older, our children of color will be having this conversation, too.

Also, at Racialicious there's a great post on this needed conversation, Talking About the Things We Do to Each Other.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Free Online Chat: Talking to Kids About Artyom

Adoptions Together, an adoption agency that describes its services as follows: "we offer a holistic approach to permanency including education, therapy, and other support services to all families touched by adoption, foster care, kinship care, and guardianship," offers a free online chat on how to talk to your kids about Artyom's return to Russia by his adoptive mother:
On May 5th at noon, we will be offering a free online chat with an adoption counselor to discuss how to approach a conversation with your children about this event so that you can allay their fears and concerns.
The website also recounts this advice for talking to your child about this difficult incident:
The week the story broke, after a busy day with the media, I sat at the dinner table with my family sharing our day. My 11th grade daughter shared that in school that day not only had they talked about this event, but they had watched a news story about it. She then turned to me and said, “Thank you mommy for not sending me away when you found out I was a problem child.” For a moment I was surprised because after more than eight years as my child I imagined that she no longer wondered if and when she would be rejected. I assumed at this point she understood that she would always be my daughter. It was a great reminder that many adoptees never stop wondering, and events like this can trigger this deep-seated fear.

Hearing stories like this in the media may create insecurity for children who were adopted and can challenge the image of the authenticity of our families. We cannot protect our children from the energy outside of our homes so it is really important to proactively communicate with them about these difficult adoption stories. It is a wonderful opportunity to hear how your child is feeling and what they are thinking, and to reassure them that you love.

I don't know anything more about the agency or the quality of its services, but thought this might be a good opportunity for anyone who has specific questions they'd like to discuss.

Beyond the Reunion

At Adoption Mosaic, Melissa of Yoon's Blur guest posts about after-reunion complexity:
I am a Korean-American adoptee who met my biological parents for the first time (last year in June of 2009) since my relinquishment in 1975. Since then, I have officially entered into what is often referred to as “post-reunion.”

Post reunion often receives less attention, I think, in part, because it is less glamorous and less emotionally climactic than the process of search and reunion. Hearing the story of how I searched for seven long years and the details of the first moments of coming face to face with my Omma and my Appa are much more enthralling and riveting. It is this phase of the adoption experience that brings simultaneous tears to our eyes and smiles to our mouths. But the actual reunion is only the beginning of a long, and often arduous and daunting, process. I find it unfortunate that post-reunion is so grossly neglected, because it can often be the stage in the process that can last the longest, can be the most fragile and complicated, and requires long-term support that is often lacking or underdeveloped.
The whole thing is a must-read, whether you think your child will ever have an opportunity to reunite with birth family. It reveals so much about the emotions of adopted persons, whether in reunion or not. I'm grateful for Melissa's honest sharing.

Sandra Bullock Adopts

From People:

Bullock reveals exclusively in the new issue of PEOPLE that she is the proud mother of Louis Bardo Bullock, a 3½-month-old boy, born in New Orleans. "It's like he's always been a part of our lives," Bullock, 45, says. She and husband Jesse James, 41, began the adoption process four years ago. . . . Bullock says she is now adopting as a single parent.
Oh, and the story mentions nothing so indelicate as the race of the child. Only the photos reveal how far removed she is from this study's findings.

P.S. I said jokingly in the comments that any family would look better in a home study by not having Jesse James, Bullock's soon-to-be ex-husband, in it. And that was before I read Dawn's post on the subject at This Woman's Work and was reminded of Jesse James' Nazi fetish. Yikes!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Spring Photos

Just because . . . .

Adoptive Parents Sue Agency

A family sues Bethany Christian Services for misrepresenting the health of the Russian child they adopted:
Chip and Julie Harshaw vividly remember the first time they met a little 18-month-old boy named Roman in a Russian orphanage. It was December 2003.

"I remember squatting on the floor with some toys and hoping he would want to come over and interact with us which he did," Julie Harshaw said.

The adoption was arranged by Bethany Christian Services -- the largest adoption service in the country. The Virginia Beach couple made it clear to Bethany in their application that they wanted to adopt a child with a good prognosis for normal development. They put their trust in the agency and were assured Roman was fine.

"Our case worker had told us their doctor had gone over to see him physically examined him and that he was healthy and on target," said Chip Harshaw.

A month later, Roman settled into his new surroundings, immediately doting on his big brother Daniel. But over the next several years, the Harshaws say Roman developed from an on-the-go toddler to a child prone to violent tantrums.

"It would happen over anything and everything," said Julie.

There is a hole in his bedroom wall where the couple says Roman slams the door. He pulled several of his baby teeth out with a pen cap and threatened his sister Grace several times. "Roman went over and grabbed a two-by-four on the side and came up behind her and she had her back to him and he was going to hit her with it to stop her from leaving."

The Harshaws took Roman to many doctors and eventually a specialist diagnosed him with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Last year, they filed a federal lawsuit against Bethany Christian Services. In legal documents obtained by, the Harshaws claim Bethany misrepresented Roman's health.
We call these lawsuits "wrongful adoption" suits. We saw a slew of them starting in the late 80s, though the history of hiding information or misrepresenting facts started much earlier.

In the early 20th century, there was actually fairly full disclosure about children to be adopted. Many of the kids were older, so hiding background information wasn't really possible. And the newly-professionalized social work movement favored disclosure. The popularity of the eugenics movement, with its focus on inheritable traits, also led to full disclosure. By the 50s, though, adoption practices changed. Agencies were more interested in hiding unpleasant information so as not to stigmatize adopted children, or harm their self-esteem. If the adoptive parents didn't know negative information, they wouldn't have to disclose it to the child later.

The first really big wrongful adoption case was Burr v. Stark County Board of Commissioners in Ohio in 1986. In that case, the agency told the adoptive family of a newborn that the child was healthy and born to an 18-year-old birth mother. When the child had serious health problems, including being diagnosed as mentally retarded, the parents got a court order to open the sealed adoption records. Turns out the birth mother was a 31-year-old mental patient who was psychotic and had a mild mental deficiency. It was also suspected that the birth father was also a mental patient at the same hospital. The agency also knew that the infant had had a fever a birth and was developing slowly. None of this was disclosed to the adoptive parents. The adoptive parents won the suit, and were awarded damages for past and future medical treatment and educational help.

The Burr case is a pretty clear case of fruadulent misrepresentation -- not only did the agency fail to disclose information, they gave false information. Wrongful adoption suits can also be brought just for failure to disclose, even without the misrepresentations. A suit can even be brought for negligence -- even though the agency didn't know anything negative, they should have known, depending on the jurisdiction. Not all states recognize a negligence cause of action for wrongful adoption.

Most of the wrongful adoption caselaw involves domestic adoption. But as international adoption has grown, so has caselaw about international wrongful adoption. In the international context, courts recognize that the agency's access to information is limited, and so long as there is no affirmative representation about the health of the child the agency avoids liability.

The Harshaws case will be interesting to follow. One fact on their side -- the agency apparently had a doctor examine the boy and report that he was healthy and on target. But it could be there were no signs of FAS at that time, and the doctor didn't miss anything, in which case there wouldn't be a misrepresentation. More interestingly, the adoptive father says the agency backtracked about the doctor's exam -- "they said, 'Oops Dr. Dubrosky never saw Roman." If that's true, that the doctor never saw the child but they represented that he had, that will be VERY damaging in the lawsuit. Certainly, this will be one to follow.

As always, this post is not intended as legal advice. Consult your own lawyer before taking any action. I've simplified and omitted to make the issue of wrongful adoption more understandable for lay readers.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Russian Adoptees Get 2nd Chance at Montana Ranch

From the New York Times today:

EUREKA, Mont. — Hundreds of adopted children, most of them Russian, have come here to northwest Montana to live and perhaps find healing grace with the horses and cows and rolling fields on Joyce Sterkel’s ranch. Some want to return to the families that adopted them, despite their troubles.

Others, like Vanya Klusyk, have seen far too much of what the world can dish out. Vanya, 17, suffers from fetal alcohol syndrome, which affects his reasoning ability, his impulse control, his intelligence and even his height. Then there were the beatings in the Russian orphanage, he said, where he lived from age 8 to 14, until a couple from California brought him to America.

* * *

An international adoption can be a journey into the waters of the unknown, and sometimes the rocks and shoals — for the parents, the child or both — are too much to negotiate. Ms. Sterkel’s remote ranch, five miles from the Canadian border in a homesteader’s valley that got electricity only around 1960, is for some of those families the end of the line.

* * *

Ms. Sterkel can be just as tough in talking about some of her own clients, like the adoptive parents of a Russian boy who was recently brought to the ranch with early signs of fetal alcohol troubles. The parents had agreed to pay $3,500 a month for the boy’s keep, but they knew, they said, that whatever happened, they just could not take him back.

“That’s when it’s sad — they haven’t exhausted all the possibilities,” Ms. Sterkel said.

* * *

Critics say the ranch, and places like it that focus on experience as therapy — exposure to nature, animals and rules of ranch life — are islands of unreality that do not fundamentally address a child’s problems.

“All it does is give them a hiatus,” said Ronald S. Federici, a clinical neuropsychologist in Virginia who mainly treats foreign adoptees.

Dr. Federici has tracked international adoptions since 1992 and estimates that about 4,000 from Eastern Europe alone have foundered — with children being sent into state care or to places like the Ranch for Kids or back to their home countries. He said that while he respected the impulse behind the ranch, permanent improvement could not happen without a spine of rigorous medical and therapeutic treatment.

* * *

About 70 percent of the roughly 300 children who have come here, Ms. Sterkel said, do go back to their adoptive families — though she admits she often loses track after that. Of the remaining 30 percent, the younger ones are often readopted, while adolescents typically go into the federal Job Corps program.

Creating Support Groups

From a newspaper article about a family that formed a Chinese language and culture class after adopting from China:

To be the only Chinese child in a predominantly Caucasian community where even your parents are white can be quite frightening and confusing to a little kid.As Melinda Douros reported in an e-mail interview, her daughter Mei An got very excited on the first day of kindergarten when she saw another Chinese adoptee.
“Look, Mom,” Mei An whispered, “a girl with a face like mine!”

* * *

Adoption agencies and child development experts strongly encourage parents to give their Asian children opportunities to meet their peers. Actually, the parents don't need much encouragement, as they discover for themselves they need mutual support as much as their children do, according to Prof. Ann Moylan, Ph.D., California State University, Sacramento. She said she has seen similar cohorts of adoptive families with foreign-born children self-organize in other communities.

I'm glad to see the usual article about local families adopting internationally branching out to include information about the importance of language and heritage. I would have been more impressed if the article had talked about the importance of non-adopted Asian role models, and race and racism as well. Oh, well, you can't have everything, I suppose. . . .

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Perpetual Foreigners & Arizona's Immigration Law

I'm sure you've been following the news about Arizona's new law designed to root out illegal aliens:

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed a bill Friday that requires police in her state to determine whether a person is in the United States legally, which critics say will foster racial profiling but supporters say will crack down on illegal immigration.

The bill requires immigrants to carry their alien registration documents at all times and requires police to question people if there is reason to suspect that they're in the United States illegally.
What does that mean for you? Well, if you have children of color, it could mean a lot to them. If your child came from abroad, he or she is an immigrant. Yes, the Arizona measure is intended to weed out ILLEGAL immigrants, and our children emigrated legally. But we know that people of color are seen as "perpetual foreigners," which I've written about here and here. And when focusing on illegal immigration, police are likely to catch legal immigrants, naturalized citizens, and birthright citizens in their net as well. And before long, our children, when old enough to be out without us, are going to have to carry proof of their LEGAL status so they won't get pulled in by a doubting police officer. Carrying papers -- not the America I expected my immigrant children to live in.

Artyom: Where Does the Blame Lay?

Interesting that these two stories came together in my "international adoption" google alert. One decries the focus on adoptees-as-damaged-goods narrative that Artyom's return has caused; the other blames Russian orphanages for producing damaged adoptees!

Scary Adoption Stories Send Us Off Track:

It's too easy to trot out the worn, "Well, you just don't know what you're getting," as though we parents of biological kids have never lost a minute's sleep raising ours.

"It's always the 'adopted child.' We tend to want to attribute the child's behavior to the fact that the child is Russian," said Mary Beth Galey, international adoption manager for Lutheran Social Service.

Adopted Boy's Return Highlights Problems in Russian Orphanages:

Russian orphans suffer from psychological disorders at much higher rates than do orphans in many other countries. Last year, sociologists reported in the journal Pediatrics that Russian and eastern European adoptees were three to seven times
more likely to have mental problems than Chinese and Korean adoptees.

* * *

[A]t least some of the blame for the children's problems must be placed on flawed child-rearing practices common in Russian orphanages. These facilities offer a time capsule of a medicalized approach to child-rearing that was popular in the Unites States decades ago, before the critical importance of children's attachment to their caregivers was widely recognized and before we realized how damaging orphanages can be.
So what do you think? Who is right?

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Worst Part is Not Knowing

As I mentioned before, Zoe's music class at school has been studying the musical, Annie. She hasn't been bothered by it, and has talked to me several times this week about how much she likes the songs. After seeing the first part of the movie, she said she thought Annie was lucky that her birth parents left a note saying they would come back for her. Now Zoe knows the whole story, including the fact that fake birth parents came for Annie, trying to extort money from Daddy Warbucks.

Still, yesterday she said she wished she were Annie. When I asked her why, she said, "You know." Usually when she says that, I do know -- it has something to do with her birth parents. But I couldn't quite figure out how. After all, Annie didn't find her birth parents, she got fake birth parents. I said that, and asked how that would make her want to be Annie.

Zoe said, "Don't you remember? After Annie came back, the president said they'd tried to find her birth parents but they had died a long time ago."

I'm still not getting it -- "You want your birth parents to be dead?"

"Nooooooo! I just don't KNOW if they are alive or dead! At least Annie KNOWS."

Ahhh. Now I get it. The not knowing has always been hard for Zoe. Zoe often shares that she worries about whether her birth parents are alive or dead. When I told her about the recent earthquake in China, I had to assure her it was no where near where we think her birth parents are -- while also telling her truthfully that I don't know for sure. And maybe there's a little more here, too, though Zoe didn't articulate it. At least there was a reason Annie's birth parents didn't try to find her, they were dead. Maybe Zoe would be more comfortable if there was a similarly good reason her birth parents haven't found her.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Jillian Michaels: Adoption = Rescue

At Huffington Post:
'Biggest Loser' trainer Jillian Michaels has a hard little body and she plans to keep it that way. Michaels, 36, tells Women's Health she is unwilling to become pregnant because of the way it would change her body.

"I'm going to adopt. I can't handle doing that to my body," she told the magazine. "Also, when you rescue something, it's like rescuing a part of yourself."
And don't you know that, even with these views, she'll find a social worker to approve her to adopt. . . .

Thursday, April 22, 2010

APs Prefer Girls, Non-Black Children

Have you seen this?

US parents looking to adopt a child prefer girls over boys, and non-black children over African-Americans, according to a new study carried out by a group of economists.

The team from the California Institute of Technology, the London School of Economics and New York University studied five years worth of data from 2004-2009 culled from a website run by an adoption intermediary.

They were able to see which babies attracted most applications from adoptive parents, and how much the parents would need to pay to finalize the adoption.

They found that a non-African-American baby was seven times more likely to "attract the interest and attention of potential adoptive parents than an African-American baby," said Leonardo Felli, an economics professor at LSE. But there was not a similar preference in favor of Caucasian babies over Hispanic babies, even though all the adoptive parents in the sample were Caucasian, Felli said.

The research also uncovered a unexpectedly strong preference in favor of girls, which were a little over a third more likely to attract the attention of adoptive parents than a boy, he said. "With biological children, the literature shows that there's a slight but significant preference for boys over girls," said Leeat Yariv, an associate professor of economics at Caltech. "But in adoption, there's a very strong preference for girls over boys."

I posted before about the girl preference, including some speculation as to why, and this study seems to confirm the gender preference. Is anyone surprised by the findings about racial preferences?

You can find the whole study here.

Chinese Dancing Handkerchief

Maya is so proud of herself! Today she amazed all of her kindergarden friends with this trick with the Chinese dancing handkerchief. We've had it forever, from one of our many Chinese culture outings [FCC Culture Day? Tulsa Heritage Camp? OCDF Weekend? Chinese Language Camp?], but I couldn't remember what it was called. We had to look it up so we could say something other than "the twirly thingamabob," which is what it's been up to now.
All she's talked about this week has been the upcoming talent show for her class (her class is "Class of the Week" this week, and Class of the Week gets to have an in-class-no-parents-invited talent show, which was even more exciting than the other perk for being Class of the Week -- the ability to wear non-uniform tennis shoes, even sparkly ones!).
How much fun to have a chance to SHINE in front of her classmates, and how much more fun to do it with a CHINESE trick! If you've been reading here for a while, you know that Maya isn't always thrilled to be "different." Today, she was just glowing about having shown her class how amazing it is to know cool Chinese tricks!
[Don't you love her played-all-day-no-I-don't-need-to-brush-it hair!]

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Language Learned in Childhood Not Lost

From Scientific American, hope for adults who want to re-learn a language previously learned -- but forgotten -- in childhood:
What happens when a language learned as a child is forgotten over time? Many adoptees and emigrants have no conscious memory of their native tongue, but a new study suggests at least some information remains in the brain. A team from the University of Bristol in England showed that English-speaking adults older than 40 who had spoken Hindi or Zulu as children were able to relearn subtle sound contrasts in these languages, but adults who had never spoken the languages could not—even though the childhood speakers had no explicit memory of the languages. Because memories are neuronal connections that get reinforced with regular access, the finding means that even connections that have not been reaccessed for decades do not disappear completely, as previous evidence had suggested.

Talking to Kids When Adoption is "Breaking News"

I received the March/April 2010 e-Newsletter from Center for Adoption Support & Education (C.A.S.E.) today; it isn't on their website yet, but you should be able to find it on this list soon. One topic addressed -- not surprisingly -- was Artyom being returned, unwanted, to Russia by his adoptive mother,, and talking to kids about that "Breaking News:"
We must be aware of the implications of this "Breaking News" upon the lives of our children. We must find the language to speak with them about what they saw, what they heard, or what they may have read. One mother said to her 11 year old son, "We don't know what happened, but this mother did not ask for and get the help she needed to parent this little boy. She had other choices and what she did sounds heartless. I am sure you feel bad for Artyem, just as I do. I believe he will find a family who will know how to take care of him. It must have been hard living in orphanage and then coming to a strange country, not knowing how to speak English, not knowing anyone and missing the orphanage and the other children who lived there. He must have been really scared."

Just as my colleagues at C.A.S.E and I received countless questions this week, it is possible that your children/teens may have been or will be faced with comments and questions as well. Many of you have reached out to C.A.S.E,and embraced our WISE-Up Program for your children. Now is the time to revisit the tool that helped your children respond to difficult, intrusive questions pertaining to foster care and adoption. For those of you, who may not be familiar with this tool, please visit our website at to learn more about the WISE Up Program.

While we cannot change what happened to Artyem no matter how much we would
like to, we can protect and support our children, and reassure them that they are safe, loved and guided by adults who will be there forever. In times of a tragedy, we think about what we can do. My answer is tonight, hug your sons and daughters, open lines of communication regarding this sad story and send them into the world tomorrow with the tools to handle whatever questions may come their way. And remember, you're not alone; C.A.S.E is here to help support you and your children in your journey as an adoptive family.
I like the idea of reviewing the W.I.S.E. Up book with my kids since now is a time they might get some uncomfortable comments or questions about adoption.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

If Birth Mothers Can Do It, Why Can't Adoptive Mothers?

In response to this post about Artyom's adoptive mother sending him back to Russia with a note saying she no longer wished to parent him, Anonymous commented:
So if I understand this correctly, the sentiment around here is that: It's okay for the birth parents to give up their child, but not okay for adoptive parents to give up their child.
Short answer -- YES. I hear this question each time there's news of an adoption disruption, as if we were comparing apples and apples. If you are even marginally aware of the circumstances in which birth parents relinquish a child for adoption, you couldn't even pretend that this is an apt comparison.

Within the U.S., the most common reason for relinquishment for adoption is an unexpected and/or unplanned pregnancy, combined with economic limitations (including a lack of education which limits financial resources). Outside the U.S., in all the sending countries in international adoption, the number one reason for relinquishment is poverty.

Compare this to the adoptive parent who disrupts an adoption. Adoptive parents as a whole are better educated and have higher incomes than the population at large. Adoptive parents quite deliberately and intentionally become parents -- nothing unexpected or unplanned there. Adoptive parents are more likely to have jobs, accounting for that higher than average income. Adopted children are more likely to have health insurance than childre in the population at large. Adoptive parents are more likely to have taken parenting classes. Adoptive parents tend to be older at the time they enter parenting than the population at large.

Consider Torry Hansen, Artyom's adoptive mom. She's 33, she's a college graduate, she's a registered nurse. She's employed at a Veteran's Administration hospital, which means she has government health insurance for herself and her child. She has a home. She has a family support network nearby. She has enough money for an adoption, two trips to Russia for herself, and a plane ticket back for Artyom. She has internet access. She lives in America, which automatically makes her more empowered than any birth mother in any sending country in the world.

Can one seriously compare her decision to send Artyom away, alone, with a note saying she no longer wished to parent him, to the decision of an impoverished birth mother in Guatamala? To the decision of an impoverished birth mother in China, who makes her relinquishment decision in the shadow of poverty and government rules she has no control over? To the decision of a Korean birth mother who will be so stigmatized by an out-of-wedlock birth that she's likely to lose her job, be unable to get housing, be precluded from marriage in the future, and have her child stigmatized as illegitimate, too? Can you even compare her decision to that of a 17-year-old in America, whose pregnancy has not been supported by the birth father or her parents, who knows little about welfare support, who sees little assistance in raising her child on the income she can earn with a GED?

I know that not every adoptive parent or every birth parent fits the profiles I've outlined, but the vast majority do. That's why it is a false analogy to claim that what adoptive parents do when they terminate an adoption is no different from what birth parents do in relinquishing a child for adoption. It's insulting to birth parents to make the comparison.

And frankly, it's insulting to adoptive parents, too. It assumes that the intentionality with which we enter parenting means nothing. I do hold adoptive parents to a higher standard. I like what prospective adoptive parent Joanna had to say at her blog, Waiting for Two:
I expect better from adoptive families. Oh yes, I expect better, because adoptive families must go through more to be parents. You must really want it, to have your home checked, your background checked, and to go through hours of parental training. When you sign up to adopt, no one tells you it will be easy.
Yes, we should be able to expect better from adoptive families. As Zoe put it, "a promise is a promise, especially in adoption."

Reading Narratives of Adoption

At Conducive Magazine, an interview with author and scholar Marianne Novy, introduced as follows:
Misunderstandings and misconceptions continue to surround adoption. Especially critical is the idea of secrecy. Jennifer Kwon Dobbs had the opportunity to talk to Professor Marianne Novy about these issues. Marianne Novy was born in 1945 in Cleveland, Ohio, and was raised there by her adoptive parents, whom she joined when one month old. A pioneer in the field of adoption studies, Novy is the author of Reading Adoption: Family and Difference in Fiction and Drama and Imagining Adoption: Essays on Literature and Culture. She has been instrumental in developing adoption and literature as a critical area of literary study. She is also the co-founder of the Alliance for the Study of Adoption and Culture (ASAC).
A few passages that struck me:

Actually, there are many kinds of secret histories involved in adoptions. Some information is suppressed by closed records. Most birthparents have not discussed their experience. But additionally, while celebrity transnational adoptions make the newspapers, not that many people can imagine what it is really like to grow up as a transnational adoptee or a transracial adoptee. And adoptive parents also are likely to have many experiences that the general image of adoption doesn’t prepare them for.

* * *

In my book in progress on outsiders, I will discuss Shakespeare’s bastards as well as Othello and Shylock. And I expect to put together a book of my writing on recent memoirs and novels about adoption. In Reading Adoption, I discussed a lot of novels and plays that simplified an adoptee’s experience and suggested that only one set of parents counted. There have been a lot more recent works that give a more complicated picture. I’m thinking of novels like Gish Jen’s The Love Wife, or Maile Meloy’s Liars and Saints or Ann Patchett’s Run. Or memoirs like Catherine McKinley’s The Book of Sarahs or A. M. Homes’ The Mistress’ Daughter. I’ll write about these in a book eventually, I hope.

I've added the books mentioned to my reading list!

Racist much?!

A friend, who happens to be a doctor, sent me the link to this article:

Sarah Colwill commonly suffers from migraines, but when an extreme headache caused her to call an ambulance last month, woke up in the hospital with an accent sounding more like someone who grew up in China rather than England, the Daily Mail reported.

Her new Chinese accent has made her voice unrecognizable to family and friends.
“I have had my friends hanging up on me because they think I'm a hoax caller,” she said. “I speak in a much higher tone now, my voice is all squeaky.”

Colwill was diagnosed with Foreign Accent Syndrome, a rare condition that damages a part of the brain that controls speech and word configuration. She is currently undergoing speech therapy, but doctors are unsure her natural voice will ever return.

“I have never been to China. It is very frustrating and I just want my own voice back but I don't know if I ever will,” she said.

My-friend-the-doctor included this comment with the link: "Clearly this woman has brain changes to her speech center.... but GET REAL about the "Chinese Accent." I find that stereotyping based on her gibberish!!"

Monday, April 19, 2010

An Adoptee Speaks About His Two Disrupted Adoptions

Finally! The New York Times brings us the voice of an adopted person in all this discussion of disruption (I've mentioned before my frustration that the NYT doesn't include adoptees in their debates about adoption):

And, finally, this morning on my parenting segment on PRI’s radio show “The Takeaway,” I had a chance to talk to Orlando Modeno, who left a comment here on
Motherlode last week describing his life after his adoptive parents “gave him back.” He was 10 years old when he was taken to Woodstock, N.Y., from Colombia, to be the son of parents who spoke no Spanish, when he spoke no English. Four years later, they terminated their rights and he went to live with another family, who eventually “returned” him as well.

In an e-mail to me, he agreed to share his story further:

I think it’s important to educate people about how traumatic it is for an international adoptee to be uprooted from his/her homeland. My objective is to raise awareness among potential adoptive parents so they really understand what adoption really is from an adoptee’s point of view and how it will affect an adoptee.

For me, it was a rupture that split me apart, a fragmentation of my identity (both culturally and psychologically), it stymied my emotional and psychological growth, it affected my ability to trust people (and myself), and to develop healthy emotional attachments with anyone. I felt destroyed in every sense of the word.

Included is a link to the radio show.

Some Statistics on Disruption

Some interesting, though a bit dated, statistics on adoption disruption in this LiveScience article, The Dark Side of Adoptions: Why Parents & Kids Don't Bond:

While bonding may be slow, most adoptions work out. According to a review of American adoptions in the book Clinical and Practice Issues in Adoption (Greenwood Publishing Group, 1998), 80 percent of placements make it to legalization. After the paperwork is in, the success rate was 98 percent.

But in extreme cases, the adoption "disrupts," and the child is sent back to the agency or foster home. This process is rarely as dramatic as Artyom's unaccompanied flight from Washington, D.C., to Moscow, but the case matches previous research in other ways. The risk of adoption disruption increases with age, from less than 1 percent in infants to up to 26 percent for kids adopted after age 15, according two 1988 studies.

The second of those studies, published in the journal Social Work, found a disruption rate of 10 percent for children adopted between the ages of 6 and 8. Artyom was 7 when he came to America.
I think we would all see inuitively how disruption rates would rise with the age of the child when adopted, but it's interesting to see that research backs up that intuition. I would not, however, have thought the rates as high as those quoted in the article.

Disruption rates are hard to come by, since they usually happen under the radar, and look just like any old adoption. Add to that the fact that any record-keeping that happens is in each individual state, it's really hard to get a complete picture. That's why I'm happy any time I run across statistics about disruption, no matter how dated.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Talking About Artyom With My Kids

Since Artyom’s story has come out I’ve been hyper-vigilant about the girls catching wind of it. I haven’t had the news on at all while they’re awake, and I’ve been careful about leaving the blog up where they may see it. I’ve been grateful for the tendency of restaurants to have their TVs tuned to sports channels. I’ve thought that I need to ask my dad not to have the TV on a news channel when we visit. I’ve wanted to keep them completely away from news that an adoptive parent would give away her child. Me, the grand proponent of speaking openly and honestly with my kids about the hard issues in adoption.

But how can I tell them about adoption disruption? About adoptive families that kick out their adoptive kid when biological kids come along? About adoptive families who give it less than 6 months before deciding it’s all too much? About adoptive families where the other children watch Sponge Bob while their adopted brother is “re-homed?” About adoptive families who make promises and don’t keep them?

Reminded in this post from John Raible of the ubiquity of the news about Artyom and the chances of someone else telling my children, and the effect of hearing about it out of the blue, I decided we needed to talk about it.

I started by telling them that I had seen a story about adoption on TV that made me mad and sad. “A lady adopted a 7-year-old boy from Russia, then she decided she did not want to parent him, so she put him on an airplane all by himself and sent him back to Russia.”

Zoe’s immediate and shocked response: “But she promised when she adopted him that she would love him and take care of him forever!”

“I know,” I replied, “that’s why I’m so mad and sad.”

We talked for quite a while about how Artyom must have felt on the airplane – alone, scared, confused, sad -- say the girls. And they think he must still feel that way, plus really mad at his adoptive mom. That's Maya's picture of Artyom as sad and mad (notice his hands are fisted in the "mad" drawing).

The girls wanted to know what was going to happen to Artyom, whether he’d go back to the orphanage or find another family. You can see Zoe’s note to God, hoping Artyom would find the perfect family who would never give him away.

I told the girls that a lot of people were really mad about what the mom did to Artyom. In fact, I said, Russia is so mad it wants to stop all adoptions to the U.S. Even as I said this, Zoe was shaking her head. What about the people who want to adopt from Russia? Interesting that she would think first about prospective adoptive parents, and not about kids not being adopted. She's obviously clued into the fact that adoptive parents are the actors and adopted kids are objects acted upon. (And this might be an area where Zoe and I will have to disagree – I don’t think a suspension of adoptions right now is a bad idea.)

The girls also wanted to know what would happen to the mom. They both think she should go to jail, my punitive little darlings! (I didn’t explain the difficulties of criminal charges in Tennessee, or I’m sure I would have put them right to sleep.)

We talked about how they felt about hearing the story, and true to the theme of the discussion, they both said they were sad and mad – sad for Artyom, and mad at the mom. After all, Zoe said emphatically, “A promise is a promise, especially in adoption.” I asked them if hearing about what happened to Artyom made them feel worried that the same thing would happen to them. They both said no, and I said, “I think it’s pretty normal for adopted kids to worry that they might do something bad and be sent away. Do you ever feel that way?” Again, the answer was no. Maya said, "You promised to love us and take care of us forever, and you don't break promises." Yes!

I wanted to emphasize that there was no way they could ever do anything that would make me give them away, so I said, “Think of the worst ever thing you could do, okay?” Maya says, “Kicking Zoe.” I said, “Maya, that’s a bad thing, and I wouldn’t like it if you did that, but if you kicked Zoe I would still love you and you would still be my daughter and I would still keep you forever.” Zoe then says, “Kill Maya?” Without blinking (that took some doing!), I said, “Zoe, that’s a bad thing, and I wouldn’t like what you did, but if you killed Maya I would still love you and you would still be my daughter and I would still keep you forever.” (And I really mean that, by the way. In fact, I recently said to another adoptive mom when we were talking about disruptions, “I promised forever, and I meant it. If that means holding my child’s hand in the death chamber when she’s executed for murder, then so be it.” I know it's easy to say when you haven't experienced it, but it is something I think about as a criminal law nerd.)

The conversations turned to promises between the girls that they would never kick or kill each other, and then off in a completely different direction.

Zoe said another interesting thing – I can’t remember what prompted it or when in the midst of this conversation she said it. She said, “It’s like he has two birth mothers now.” I couldn’t get her to elaborate on it, but I thought it showed how she has internalized her birth family’s actions as abandonment, even as we talk about the reasons they couldn’t parent her. The definition of "birth mother" doesn't rely on biological relationship in this formula; instead, birth mother = abandonment.

We’ll talk more about the birth mother issue later, because of course there are some differences between a poor, disempowered woman in China (or Russia) and an educated, employed woman in Tennessee who quite deliberately set out to parent. Zoe may know that in her head, but it certainly hasn’t made it to her heart. I also explained that Artyom’s birth mother was sick, that she couldn’t take care of him because she drank too much alcohol. Zoe said, “Why doesn’t she just quit?! Then she could take care of him.” (Hard to explain alcoholism and addiction to a 9-year-old and a 6-year-old – by the end of my explanation, Zoe was worried about drinking the communion wine! I'm thinking I'll definitely need a "do-over" on this one.)

I’m so glad we had this conversation. I got the chance to explain that woman’s actions before my kids heard another version on TV or, worse, from some kid in their class who’d probably suggest that I would put them on a plane back to China. I can’t believe it took me so long to remember the importance of inoculating my kids against wrong-headed views of adoption, of making a pre-emptive strike. How about you? Have you talked to your kids about Artyom, about adoption disruption?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Must Read John Raible

John Raible is always a must-read, but his last three posts have been phenomenal. He writes passionately as an adopted person and an adoptive parent, in the wake of the story of Artyom's abandonment:

Learning from Artyom's plight
The first thing I thought of when I learned the news about little Artyom was, “How rejected the poor kid must feel.” As an adopted person myself, I carry with me an undying, lifelong sense of rejection that I trace back to my relinquishment as a baby. The very next thing I thought of was how scared of further rejection other adopted children of all backgrounds must be feeling. Whether from Russia, China, Korea, and other nations abroad or whether adopted from foster care or through private measures with no agency involvement, young adopted children must be wondering, even if they don’t verbalize it, “Will my parent send me away like Artyom? Will they get tired of parenting me, too?” The third thing I wondered was, “What is the other child in the Tennessee family’s home feeling and thinking? Who is checking in with him about his emotional state?”

I tried really hard in my previous post to warn people of the coming troubles confronting adopted kids, thanks to the media hype over Artyom the Russian reject. But guess what? I’m extremely ANGRY that more adoptive parents–of which I am one, don’t forget–are not outwardly condemning the Tennessee woman who washed her hands of her maternal responsibilities by sticking her adopted son, Artyom, on a 10-hour flight across the ocean BY HIMSELF. With that infamous, horrific letter: “I no longer wish to parent this child.”

* * *

Give me a freaking break. Are no other parents outraged? Are no other parents shouting down the growing chorus of “let’s not judge her until we’ve walked in her shoes” bull crap being thrown out there in the online adoption community?
Sticking with a wounded child

With my recent posts, I have expressed my utter disappointment at the flawed state of international adoption. I have ranted about my disgust with wavering and uncommitted adoptive parents who bail on the kids they willingly set out to adopt. Now that I found a slightly calmer mood of reflection, I will do something I don’t normally do. I will disclose personal family information about my boys, the older children I adopted from foster care when they were 6 and 13 respectively.

* * *

So I do not tell parents to “hang in there” lightly. Seeing your out-of-control child sinking deeper into the court system and moving closer and closer to the prison system is nothing short of terrifying. The feeling of being treated like a criminal myself whenever I go to visit my incarcerated child is something I would not wish on even my worst enemy. But I always try to remember this: there are plenty of sons in jail who were born into their families, and others locked up who went through foster care and/or were adopted. Sons (and daughters) who break the law, who terrify the neighbors, and who wreak havoc and cause irreparable harm exist in all kinds of families. I would guess that it is hard for most parents of imprisoned kids to
admit that their children have become victimizers and criminals. Yet even so, as
parents, we continue to love them, pray for them, and hold onto hope for their
recovery and a brighter future.

Not a joking matter

An adoptive father, incensed after watching a CBS Early Show segment of comedians taking on the week's news, blogs about it:
After a few jokes about Sarah Palin, the comedians decided to tackle a topic that surprised me: The decision made by a mother this week to send her adopted son back to Russia with nothing more than a note in his backpack explaining that she didn't want him anymore.

* * *

Honestly, there's nothing funny about the situation at all, so I was surprised to see it in the CBS clip. My surprise turned dark when comedienne Maureen Langan made a joke that went a little something like this:

"This could be a good thing. It could lead to an increase in domestic adoptions. After all, sending a child back on Jet Blue is a lot cheaper than sending a child back on Air Kremlin."

* * *

Had Ms. Langan stopped there, maybe it would be easy to excuse her for pushing the envelope just a bit too far. The problem is she didn't stop. In fact, her next joke was even worse. When speaking about the future of the abandoned boy involved in this case, Ms. Langan said something that went a little like this:

"Now that he's back with his drinking buddies, he'll be fine."

Are you kidding me?

You're going to poke fun at a child who has lost his family twice during the course of his first decade on earth? Don't you think that's a bit harsh? Shouldn't we feel regret that there are children in the world who are stuck in conditions we wouldn't wish on
anyone? Is it really funny to laugh about a life ruined?

* * *

Nope. Not in my mind.
Mine, either.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Butterfly Ball

OK, I admit it, sometimes single parenting is a bummer. Like tonight, which is the father-daughter dance at Zoe's and Maya's school. Each year, I get to angst over what to do about the Butterfly Ball.

Get Grandpa to take them? He took Zoe in first grade (Maya wasn't yet at that school), and after two hours of pounding music at top volume, he said "NEVER AGAIN!" And I certainly don't have the heart to talk him into it, what with the oxygen tank and the electric scooter and all. . . .

Skip it? We did that last year, and no one seemed traumatized by the failure to go. Still, I hate that my children miss out on anything because of my decision to parent alone.

Take them myself? It's a father-daughter dance. I'm not a father. And doesn't it just highlight the fact, to them and everyone else, that they don't have a father if I take them myself? That seems awkward. I don't mind feeling awkard, but I very much mind them feeling awkward, or the center of unwanted attention, etc.

Find a daddy substitute to take them? I've toyed around with that, but the only real possibilities are dads of other girls at Zoe's and Maya's school, and no way would I want to interfere with their daddy-daughter time. Other male friends of mine are pretty much strangers to the girls, and that doesn't seem very enjoyable for them.

But we lucked out this year -- one of the dads we know invited the girls to join him and his daughters at the ball. The girls were thrilled, and while I won't seek out a dad to take them, thus interfering with daddy-daughter time, I certainly will jump at the opportunity when offered!

So, the girls are at the Butterfly Ball as I'm typing this, and instead of wallowing in a rare evening alone, I'm missing them and feeling a bit left out of the fun. Oh, well, I know they'll be home soon and I'll get to hear all about the dance, and feel happy that my little butterflies were included in the fun of the Butterfly Ball.

Preventing adoption disasters

The New York Times Room for Debate blog addresses how to prevent adoption disasters, featuring the usual suspects (they pull out the same cast of characters for each debate about adoption, and as usual no one participating in the debate is an adoptee):

David Smolin, Cumberland Law School
Peter C. Winkler, social worker
Diane B. Kunz, Center for Adoption Policy
Elizabeth Bartholet, Harvard Law School
Pretty much all four posts are summarized in this quote from David Smolin:

Unfortunately, the adoption myth in the United States sends the message that the love and care found in any normal American home is enough to heal any child. This myth leads to numerous inadequacies: inadequate evaluation of children prior to adoption; inadequate preparation, training and selection of prospective adoptive families; and inadequate post-placement services.

If any good comes out of this awful episode with Artyom's return to Russia by Torry Hansen, it will be the increased discussion of the difficult issues in adoption that are generally ignored by the media, prospective adoptive parents, and adoptive parents.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

It's Official: Russia Suspends Adoptions

From the New York Times:

Russia formally announced on Thursday that it would suspend all adoptions of Russian children by Americans, responding to the case of a 7-year-old boy who was sent back to Moscow alone last week by his adoptive mother in Tennessee. The case of the boy, who was named Artyom in Russia before he was adopted last year, has caused widespread anger here, and Russian officials said new regulations had to be put in place before adoptions by Americans could proceed.

* * *

More than 200 American families are in the process of adopting Russian children, and those cases will not be allowed to conclude until the new rules are approved, Russian officials said.
P.S. 4:20 p.m. Maybe not so final after all, as Elizabeth notes in the comments. The New York Times hasn't withdrawn its story, but the Washington Post, under a headline still reading, "Russia suspends all adoptions to U.S. families, " writes that the status of Russian adoption is unknown right now, after a Foreign Ministry spokesman announced that all adoptions were suspended:

But the Russia Education and Science Ministry, which oversees international adoptions, said it had no knowledge of an official freeze. A spokeswoman for the Kremlin's children's rights ombudsman said that organization also knew nothing of a suspension.

And in Washington, the U.S. State Department said the administration had gotten conflicting information when it sought clarification from Russian officials about the status of adoptions. Spokesman P.J. Crowley said the U.S. was continuing to seek clarification. "Right now, to be honest, we've received conflicting information," he said.
I wouldn't be surprised if the confusion continues for a while -- Russia may not be interested in clarifying things until after the meeting between them and the State Department delegation coming to talk about a bilateral agreement on adoption.

But who knows. . . .

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Torry Hansen, who sent Artyom back to Russia, is looking to adopt again.

Adoptive parents defend Torry Hansen.

Buddha Baby?!

People Magazine sent fruit basket to Torry Hansen.

Getting weirder and weirder . . . .

Life After Operation Babylift

NPR piece on a new book, The Life We Were Given, a book about the Vietnam babylift:
In 1975, the U.S. government airlifted nearly 3,000 displaced children out of wartime Vietnam. "Operation Babylift," had the best of intentions, but it also had profound consequences.

To begin with, many of the children were too ill to survive the flight, and one of the planes crashed, killing nearly 80 children. Also, the documentation on most of the children was sketchy at best, and at times, falsified. Some of the children were not actually orphans.

In The Live We Were Given, Dana Sachs explores the legacy of the evacuations. She focuses on the actions of three adoption agencies that were responsible for evacuating more than half the children. And she tells the stories of the children and their adoptive American parents.

There's an excerpt from the book at the NPR website. I just downloaded the Kindle version, so I'll let me know what I think after I've read it!

Lucky One

From AdoptiveFamiliesCircle blog Inconceivable Family:

Have you ever heard someone tell you that your child is “so lucky to have you”? I suppose most parents hear that at some point and maybe it’s just that I’m particularly sensitive to this as an adoptive parent. There is something about, “She’s so lucky to have you” that sounds as if Anna is somehow indebted to me - and what’s worse is that I hear as often, “imagine where she’d be if you hadn’t adopted her.” I don’t know… it just rubs me the wrong way.

First, it’s ME who is lucky to have her. . . .

Second, imagining where she’d be had we not adopted her is not in my frame of mind. But I can very easily imagine where I’d be had we not adopted her. It’s a little place commonly known as HELL.

Click here to read the whole thing.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

I Did Not Love My Adopted Child

An interesting article in Slate, with an adoptive mom (China) exploring Artyom's story and comparing it to her own struggles to love her adopted child. Among the many interesting points made:

The stories adoption agencies include in their material, the books, the blogs—even the very signatures of the parents on adoption forums ("mom to DD Mei Mei, joyfully home since 2007") all speak of an experience that's supposed to be wonderful. Your child is "home," his or her orphaned life has ended, your respective travels are over, and you have been united into one big forever-family. Even the politically correct terminology surrounding adoption insists that once it's legal, it's a done deal—your child "was" adopted (not "is"), and now you are its mother, amen. We do not want adoption to be a process; we want it to be a destination—and that makes us even angrier when it doesn't work out that way. Torry Hansen betrayed her son, and she betrayed our belief system. We were willing to accept him as her son, and she wasn't, which makes her the villain.

This is not really anyone's fault. Humans seem to have an overwhelming need for a tidy narrative, which in adoption almost always butts up against the uglier reality. The law understands that, which is why, however wrong Hansen's actions seem to us, putting her adopted son on a plane back to Russia does not appear to have been illegal. Rash, yes, and ugly, but not against the law—because the law still recognizes that adoptive parenting of older children is different than parenting from birth. What's next is for the rest of us—jaded but experienced adoptive parents and the adoptive professionals who surround us (often adoptive parents themselves) to stop relying on adoption education and social workers to convey the darker realities of attachment disorders, institutional delays, and post-adoption depression and start talking about them ourselves.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Driver Speaks

Remember that Artyom's mom (actually, it seems the grandmother was in charge of this, too) surfed the web to find a driver to pick up Artyom at the Moscow airport? Here's the website she found: The driver, Arthur Lookyanov, has a very full account of his email correspondence with the grandmother, meeting Artyom at the airport and driving him into the city, and the reaction when he delivered him to the Ministry of Education and Science. The driver stayed with Artyom through all the rigamarole that followed. It's a fascinating and disturbing account. You can see the picture Artyom drew for Arthur during the drive from the airport and leave a comment at Arthur's website by clicking here.

Ten Things Birth Mothers Want Adoptive Parents to Know

Check out the list at Adoption Under One Roof from a birth mother in an open adoption, and let me know what you think. Here are a few that resonated with me:

5. I hope that you will teach my child about her beginnings - about where she was born and who I am.

6. I hope you will teach respect to my child by showing respect for me in your discussions.

7. I wish I could be there to answer my child's questions about adoption, but I trust you to answer them truthfully as best you can.

8. I will never stop thinking about my child. She will always be a part of who I am.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Criminal Liability For Sending Artyom Back?

Whether it was immoral to send Artyom -- alone -- back to Russia is a pretty easy question. It is.

But was it criminal? Is Sheriff Boyce of Shelbyville, Tennessee right when he says,"This is a touchy deal and I'm not sure if anything illegal has been done or not"? And does the question turn on whether Artyom is a U.S. citizen, as Bob Tuke, a Nashville attorney and member of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, opines? And does it matter whether the adoption was final?

OK, before I try to answer those questions, a few caveats: I am not licensed to practice law in Tennessee. Or in Washington, D.C. Or in Russia. Nothing I say here is intended as legal advice that anyone should act on. Please consult your own attorney before taking any action. Any opinion offered here is, as always, solely my own, and not that of my employer. My conclusions are based only on the facts as have been reported by the media. There. That should do it.

Oh, and maybe one other warning is called for -- I've really let my real law geek run free on this post!

Let's do the low-hanging fruit first. The citizenship thing -- does it matter? Artyom is very likely an American citizen. A child adopted internationally by an American citizen parent (by both parents if a married couple is adopting), where the adoption is finalized in country, becomes a U.S. citizen automatically upon crossing through immigration at the point of entry into the United States because of the Child Citizenship Act of 2000. But it is apparently possible to simply gain legal custody in a Russian court, rather than finalize the adoption in Russia,and have to finalize the adoption in the U.S. If this is what happened here, then Artyom is not a U.S. citizen.

But does it matter? Think about this for a minute -- do you really think this would be OK if the child wasn't a U.S. citizen? If my nephew from France visited me for the summer, could I abuse, neglect, or abandon him and say, "It's OK, he's not a U.S. citizen!" Ridiculous! Whether Artyom is a U.S. citizen is irrelevant when it comes to legal charges in the U.S.

Suppose the adoption wasn't final? Would that make a difference here? NO! If a child is in your custody and care, you cannot abuse, neglect or abandon the child, even if you do not have legal custody or are not the legal parents. The Tennessee statute below makes it a crime for "any person" to abuse or neglect a child in subsections (a) & (b); only the endangerment subsection (c) applies to a parent or custodian, defined as "the biological or adoptive parent or any person who has legal custody of the child." Seems clear that the mother here is either an adoptive parent, having finalized the adoption in Russia, or has legal custody of the child under a Russian court decree. So even subsection (c) would apply.

If the abuse/neglect/abandonment is an act of ommission -- the failure to do something -- instead of commission -- affirmatively doing something -- the mother might try to argue that she does not have any duty to act on the grounds that the adoption isn't final. In the U.S., there is no general duty to care for other people; the typical law school example is that a stranger can watch a child drown in a shallow pond and do nothing, and won't incur criminal liability. In the U.S., we only have a legal duty if there is a special relationship (ex: parent/child) or a contract (ex: lifeguard) or a statute giving rise to a duty (ex: injury to the elderly).

But a duty of care can also arise from taking on the care of someone else, even if no special relationship/contract/statute created a duty. Even if there is no final adoption or legal custody order, and nothing giving the mother an obligation to care for Artyom through contract or statute, she has assumed that duty anyway, and the law would recognize the existence of a duty of care. So, again, whether the adoption is final is irrelevant to criminal liability.

Those were, believe it or not, the easy issues here! But Sheriff Boyce has a point; it's a complicated deal.

One big issue will be where the wrong occurred, because that will tell us which jurisdiction's law applies. Say, for example, that it qualifies as abandonment, abuse and/or neglect to put a child alone on an international flight with no expectation that the child will return. Did that happen in Tennessee or Washington, D.C.? Or did the abandonment, abuse and/or neglect happen in Russia? These aren't insurmountable problems -- generally when a crime occurs partly in one U.S. jurisdiction and partly in another U.S. jurisdiction, both jurisdictions can bring charges. But it's possible that the crime here, if any, occurred only in one jurisdiction, and it might not be Tennessee. And when it comes to prosecuting U.S. citizens for crimes committed wholly abroad, we presume that "extraterritorality" was not intended unless a statute expressly says so. There isn't a statute that expressly criminalizes child abandonment, abuse and/or neglect committed in a foreign country by a U.S. citizen.

If we say that the crime happened in Tennessee, we might have a problem. Tennessee does not have a statute that criminalizes child abandonment. Child abandonment can lead to the involuntary termination of parental rights in Tennessee, but the definition of abandonment for that purpose wouldn't cover the conduct here (kind of funny that despite what she did, she's still the child's mother in Tennessee!). Tennessee defines abandonment to mean failing to visit and/or support a child for four consecutive months, and further states, “'abandonment' and 'abandonment of an infant' do not have any other definition except that which is set forth in this section, it being the intent of the general assembly to establish the only grounds for abandonment by statutory definition."

We'd have to try to bring charges under the basic child abuse and neglect statute (section 39-15-401) which reads:

(a) Any person who knowingly, other than by accidental means, treats a child under eighteen (18) years of age in such a manner as to inflict injury commits a Class A misdemeanor; provided, however, that, if the abused child is eight (8) years of age or less, the penalty is a Class D felony.

(b) Any person who knowingly abuses or neglects a child under eighteen (18) years of age, so as to adversely affect the child's health and welfare, commits a Class A misdemeanor; provided, that, if the abused or neglected child is eight (8) years of age or less, the penalty is a Class E felony.

(c) (1) A parent or custodian of a child eight (8) years of age or younger commits child endangerment who knowingly exposes the child to or knowingly fails to protect
the child from abuse or neglect resulting in physical injury to the child.

(2) For purposes of subdivision (c)(1):

(A) “Knowingly” means the person knew, or should have known upon a reasonable inquiry, that abuse to or neglect of the child would occur that would result in physical injury to the child. The risk must be of such a nature and degree that the failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary
parent or legal custodian of a child eight (8) years of age or younger would exercise under all the circumstances as viewed from the defendant's standpoint; and

(B) “Parent or custodian” means the biological or adoptive parent or any person who has legal custody of the child.

(3) A violation of this subsection (c) is a Class A misdemeanor.

I think we'd have problems under subsection (a), unless we can show that Artyom suffered an actual physical injury from the conduct. Although “injury” is not defined by statute, Tennessee courts have said that the definition of “bodily injury” in another statute is instructive. Bodily injury is defined there as follows: "a cut, abrasion, bruise, burn or disfigurement; physical pain or temporary illness or impairment of the function of a bodily member, organ, or mental faculty.” Going on "mental faculty" is a possibility, but a harder sell than physical injury for a number of reasons, including proof, possible pre-existing mental disability, etc. Still, seeing the photos of that obviously exhausted, befuddled boy after that long flight might persuade a jury of injury. But is sending a child alone on a long flight treating him in such a manner as to inflict injury? A lot of parents who send a child alone on an airplane to meet a noncustodial parent or relatives would say no. Of course, this mom sent the boy to be met by a total stranger -- if that stranger had abused the boy, that might be different. But luckily for the boy, the person turned out to be trustworthy. One thing that makes this case different is that the mother never expected the return of the child, which would make a difference in an abandonment case, but probably not in an abuse and/or neglect case.

And according to case law interpreting this statute, a conviction under subsection (b) can't be sustained unless there is an actual, deleterious effect or harm to the child's health and welfare -- the mere risk of harm is insufficient to support a conviction. Part of what's so shocking here is what could have gone wrong in sending the boy to a total stranger alone on an airplane -- he could have been abused by a stranger, he could have become lost, he could have been kidnapped. But those things didn't happen, and risking the child's health and welfare doesn't count as abuse under this statute. So the argument would have to be that sending the child alone on an international flight adversely affected the child's health and welfare.

Subsection (c), with the focus on child endangerment, seems on the surface to be the best possibility -- knowingly exposing the child to or failing to protect the child from abuse or neglect resulting in physical injury to the child. But again, this subsection requires a showing of actual injury, not just a risk of injury.

Sooooo, charges against the mother in Tennessee based on putting the child, alone, on an international flight, to be picked up by a stranger, and with the expectation that the child would not return to her custody, would be difficult. I can't say it's impossible, but it will depend quite a bit on how the prosecutor and the judge interprets the law, and whether there's evidence of physical injury.

An adoptive mother said this in a blog post at the Daily Beast:

There are more than 2 million adopted children 18 and under in the U.S., 13 percent of them foreign born. These children are no less a part of their families than children who were conceived naturally, or through in-vitro fertilization, or born using surrogate mothers. Their parents should be treated, legally and otherwise, just like any parent. So I hope the Hansens are charged with abandonment. But most of all, I hope that Artyom, and all children everywhere, end up in families that believe with all their heart that the kids are really theirs.
I think we can all agree with this. But unfortunately, treating ALL parents the same in Tennessee includes the possibility that the Hansens committed no crime.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

She Just HAD to Be Single

In case you've missed it in all the coverage of the adoptive mother who returned her son, Artyom, to Russia alone on a plane, is single. Or as this article says, "a 33-year-old, unmarried nurse." (Is it just me, or is there a difference between being a "single mom" and being an "unmarried mom?" Looks to me like they are signaling the stigmatizing "unwed mother.")

Great, just what we need, a poster child for why singles shouldn't be allowed to adopt. And yes, people are going there. A quick read of the first 100 or so comments to the article above revealed the following comments from 5 separate commenters:
Adoption by a single parent is not really a good idea.

What is the story on the adoptive mother, was she a single mom? Not a good idea for her to adopt in the first place.

in first instance he should not be adopted by a single mother this is unbelievable!

Single mother adopting - that says something about the silly twit right there.

A single mother adopted him? Who was in charge of THAT for God's sake?

Sigh. Yes, I know that's only 5% of commenters. And two commenters called foul on blaming this on single parenthood. And this is just anecdotal, not an accurate gauge of public opinion. But somehow it doesn't make me feel better. . . .

Friday, April 9, 2010

Russia Furious over Returned Boy

Ya think?! So furious they are threatening to suspend adoptions to the U.S., and so furious they've suspended the license of the adoption agency, WACAP (which has a fairly good reputation, btw, though they certainly missed something here). And more details are coming out about the situation, including what the boy's "crimes" were that merited being returned, how he made it through security, and what might happen next to the adoptive mother:

Russia threatened to suspend all child adoptions by U.S. families Friday after a 7 -year-old boy adopted by a woman from Tennessee was sent alone on a one-way flight back to Moscow with a note saying he was violent and had severe psychological problems.

The boy, Artyom Savelyev, was put on a plane by his adopted grandmother, Nancy Hansen of Shelbyville.

"He drew a picture of our house burning down and he'll tell anybody that he's going to burn our house down with us in it," she told The Associated Press in a telephone
interview. "It got to be where you feared for your safety. It was terrible."

The boy arrived unaccompanied in Moscow on a United Airlines flight on Thursday from Washington. Social workers sent him to a Moscow hospital for a health checkup and criticized his adoptive mother for abandoning him.

The Kremlin children's rights office said the boy was carrying a letter from his adoptive mother saying she was returning him due to severe psychological problems.

"This child is mentally unstable. He is violent and has severe psychopathic issues," the letter said. "I was lied to and misled by the Russian Orphanage workers and director regarding his mental stability and other issues. ...

"After giving my best to this child, I am sorry to say that for the safety of my family, friends, and myself, I no longer wish to parent this child."
"Giving my best?" A whole 6 months?! Wow, she beat Anita Tedaldi's record. And in January, they told the social worker doing a post-placement follow-up that everything was just fine. And less than 3 months later they send him back. Ugh.

Nancy Hansen, the grandmother, told The Associated Press that she and the boy flew to Washington and she put the child on the plane with the note from her daughter. She vehemently rejected assertions of child abandonment by Russian
authorities, saying he was watched over by a United Airlines stewardess and the family paid a man $200 to pick the boy up at the Moscow airport and take him to
the Russian Education and Science Ministry.
Well, that explains getting through security, doesn't it? The boy went through security with the grandmother, and wouldn't have had to go through it again at the Washington airport. Sheesh.

And how about this part?

"The Russian orphanage officials completely lied to her because they wanted to get rid of him," Nancy Hansen said.

She said the boy was very skinny when they picked him up, and he told them he had been beaten with a broom handle at the orphanage.
Knowing he'd been starved and abused, they were willing to send him back to that. Not an ounce of feeling for this child. Utter selfishness.

And it looks like not just Russia is furious -- here's the quote from the American Ambassador to Russia:

The U.S. ambassador to Russia, John Beyrle, said he was "deeply shocked by the news" and "very angry that any family would act so callously toward a child that they had legally adopted."
I'll ditto that.

Though the grandmother vehemently denies that they "abandoned" the boy, the law might see it differently:

Bedford County Sheriff Randall Boyce also said Torry Hansen was under investigation and expected to interview her Friday afternoon.
The article also mentions the ULTIMATE adoption disruption -- the recent deaths of several adopted Russian children at the hands of their adoptive parents -- including one just last month.

I know that biological families abandon, abuse, and kill their children, too. Is it "worse" when adoptive families do it? YES. Adoptive families as a group have more money, more education, and more access to help. I expect more of them. Adoptive families enter into parenting intentionally, so I expect more of them. I'm an adoptive parent, so I expect more of them.

P.S. The Daily Mail (UK) has photos of the mother, the boy, and the letter. And reports that the adoptive mother DID NOT TELL the boy she was returning him, simply that he was going on "an excursion to Moscow."

Disruption News: I Can't Keep Up

Thanks to a Facebook posting by Harlow's Monkey, this article about an 8th grade boy who brought a gun to school in Minnesota, and turns out to have been adopted from Russia at age 3 and disrupted at age 10:

"His needs far exceeded what the normal or even the super-family -- the two-parent home that we had and the love we had to give -- his needs far exceeded what we could do," his mom said. "We exhausted all of our resources -- financially, emotionally, spiritually -- I mean, all of the resources we had."

After years of trying to find proper treatment, the couple said, they came to a heart-breaking, guilt-filled conclusion that still brings tears: When it comes to serious mental illness, sometimes love -- even sacrificial, unconditional love -- isn't enough. They gave up their parental rights in August.

"We still think of him as our son. He will always be a part of us," said the mom. "... We pray for him daily. We remember him."

"But yet, we're afraid of him," said the dad.
An undoubtedly hard situation -- a child bringing a gun to school and threatening students obviously has issues. But has disruption made it better for anyone? And why are his former parents speaking so freely to the media about this poor child? I'm reminded of Anita Tedaldi's self-serving confessional tour concerning a child no longer hers. And in criminal defense terms, this isn't perhaps the best kind of media report for him. . . .

Thursday, April 8, 2010

More on Artyom

New Worlds of Adoption Conference

At the Transracial Korean Adoptee Nexus, a great overview of the New Worlds of Adoption Conference, which explored the intersection of research and policy. I was particularly intrigued by this part about adoptive parents and post-adoptive services:

Dr. David Brodzinsky, Professor Emeritus of Developmental and Clinical Psychology at Rutgers University, co-founding member and Senior Research fellow of the E.B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, thinks that there are unrealistic expectations placed on adoptive parents to understand their adopted children. He says that perhaps it is this that needs to be corrected before any solid strides can be made moving forward.

And while I do believe that these expectations may seem daunting, I don’t find them any more daunting than an expectation that if an adoptive parent decides to adopt transracially, then he/she should make an effort to understand the complexities and ramifications of raising a child of color in America. Perhaps it’s not the expectations that need to be reduced, but the methods and ways in which we educate parents both pre- and post-adoption.

Yet at the same time, Dr. Brodzinsky also brought up some important issues regarding the status of post-adoption services.
Read the whole list of problems, but these are a few that really struck a chord with me:

1) Inadequate Training of Professionals – Both for child development and in mental health capacities, professionals are just not being trained well enough to support the needs of adopted children and families. And as I mentioned before, he believes it’s hard to stay current on newly emerging research and intervention methods.

4) Adoption Issues vs Non-adoption Issues – He says that all too often, adoptive parents and clinicians make the mistake of either overly pathologizing their child’s perceived adoption-related issues, or downplaying its significance.

8) Inadequate Adoption Records – What information is available to adoptive parents at the time of adoption? Unfortunately, some parents are not given the complete story of their children and, as you can imagine, this can lead to problems later on.

10) Comfort Levels for Adoptive Parents – Adoptive parents still struggle to be open to understanding and discussing sensitive issues. Unrealistic goals, he explains may be a factor at play here.
Thanks a million-kajillion to KAD Nexus for bringing this information to us! Please. go read the whole thing. Lots to think about there.