Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

As you can see, my two -- Wendy Darling from Peter Pan and Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz -- went trick-or-treating with a Greek goddess, a pirate and Eyore. I hope your crew of tricksters had as much fun as we did, because we had a ball!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Is Your Halloween Costume Racist?

From Gawker:
Some Halloween costumes offend the senses. Some are just plain offensive. Here's a handy guide to 12 racially charged Halloween costumes, whether you can get away with wearing them, and what to do if you accidentally bought a racist one.

* * *

'Asian Doll'

Whereas geishas occupy a grey area (Oscar-winning movies have that effect), mishmash pan-Asian "doll" costumes get a resounding "nay." Ditto "Asian Costume," "Sexy Asian Girl," and this "Chinese Take Out Costume." (That last one is just begging for gross jokes about "eating out.") Do not wear these costumes. Possible exception: You are an Asian female who likes to spend Halloween confronting fetishistic creeps and making them uncomfortable. Proceed with caution, though, because that joke can backfire.
Gawker also covers other racist costumes -- "Sexy Squaw,"  "Harem Girl," and the like.

Oh, and if you don't want to take advice from Gawker, and want something a little more high-brow, look at this post about racist Halloween costumes from Sociological Images.

And did you know you could find racist Halloween costumes for your pets?

"How come you speak our language?"

We've had beautiful weather the past couple of days;  Friday after school we decided to play on the playground for a while before going home for piano lessons.  There were two boys already playing when we got there, about the same age as my girls, but not from their school since they were in a different uniform.  The kids played well together, but I didn't know afterwards that the boys had lots of questions for the girls.  Zoe doesn't remember exactly how the questioning started, but she said she had to explain adoption to them.  One asked if she spoke some other language, and Zoe told them she spoke Chinese. 

I didn't hear anything about it until we were leaving.  One boy asked, pointing at me, "Is that the girl who adopted you?"  Zoe said, "Yes, she's my mom."  Kinda funny question since both girls had called me Mama as they were playing, one time even running away from the boys while playing tag, and telling them that "Mama" was "base," so they couldn't be tagged while touching me.

Then the last question from the 7-year-old -- "So how come you speak our language?"  Zoe handled that question with aplomb -- "I was just a baby when I came here.  I learned English the same way you did!"

And that was that.

While we were driving home, I asked the girls what they thought of the questions the boys asked.  They said it was OK.  I asked if they get tired of having to answer those kinds of questions all the time, and both said they didn't mind.

They are far more charitable than I am!  I told them sometimes I feel annoyed by all the questions, but they insisted they really didn't mind.  Still, we reviewed the W.I.S.E. Up strategy and I reminded them it was always OK to just Walk away or say It's private.  And it is always their choice whether to Share or Educate.

Friday, October 29, 2010

ABC Picks Up Adoption Drama

From the Hollywood Reporter:
ABC has picked up a drama project from Private Practice star Taye Diggs.

Diggs is partnering with writers Kiersten Van Horne and Cara Haycak for Match, an ensemble drama centering on the ethically complex world of adoption. The show will examine how families are made and broken as the protagonists -- a Los Angeles-based team of lawyers, doctors and caseworkers -- struggle to make dreams come true.
If the drama puts the emphasis on the ethics part instead of the "dreams come true" part, it will be highly dramatic AND valuable.  We'll see.

Thursday, October 28, 2010


In time for Halloween, an interesting post from Robert Krulwich at NPR, Chinese & European Monsters Strangely, Eerily Similar:
I couldn't help but notice that with every conceivable shape available, the Chinese came up with monsters that look like the West's monsters. Here’s Toby Lester's list:

The Loppy Ears (who "have such big ears they flop down onto their shoulders")

The Feathered Folk (who "can fly, but not very far")

The Hairy Folk (covered in hair "like a pig")

The Mushroom People (whose aspect was like "a meat fungus")

The Progenyless Folk (a boneless race who, because they eat only air "are clear-headed and live a long time")

So the Chinese imagined Big-Eared monsters and so did the Europeans. The Chinese have air eaters, the Europeans Apple Sniffers .The Chinese have a face-on-my-chest monsters, ditto the Europeans.

* * *

Two thousand plus years ago, Europeans and Chinese had very, very little contact but somehow they imagined a startlingly similar cast of frightening and fantastic creatures.
Go to the article to see drawings of these Chinese and European monsters.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The right not to tell

From the New York Times Motherlode blog, a post by adoptive mom Ilie Ruby about sharing -- and not sharing -- her children's stories:
Everyone wants to know the story of how we adopted three children from Ethiopia. But do I have a right not to tell it, existing as I do right out here on the front line, looking as I do, a Caucasian mom with three African kiddos? Taking my children to the grocery store or to the library without announcing where they came from? Do I have a right to live in the world, fully and enthusiastically and not announce my history or that of my children? I think, yes.

* * *
When we started talking adoption, especially interracial adoption, with other adoptive parents we were told that we would be shocked at the number of people that would ask about our child’s background, effectively his or her life story.

I naively didn’t believe that this would happen. After all, you wouldn’t randomly knock on someone’s door and ask them to share with you private traumas and personal struggles. . . . Still, not a week goes by that I am not asked if my children’s parents are dead, if they are orphans, what happened to them, whether they are “related,” how we “got” them, whether they suffered starvation or other forms of trauma or abuse and how long they were in an orphanage. I am routinely followed by a well-meaning librarian throughout our local library as she tells me stories about orphans. I am stopped at least twice a week by strangers who ask if my kids are “mine.”

Whose Standards?

An interesting article, Whose Standards?, about the difference between state accreditation of an adoption agency and Hague accreditation of an adoption agency, focusing on Celebrate Children International, a Florida-licensed agency denied Hague accreditation based on serious allegations of improper practices.  The Florida department licensed the agency despite receiving the same complaints that prevented Hague accreditation:
The difference between the state's evaluation of Celebrate Children and the Council's assessment reflects in part a challenging and confusing regulatory landscape.

As a practical matter, state licensing agencies can't send their investigators to countries such as Ethiopia and Guatemala to check out complaints about suspect adoption practices. In addition, Florida and other states are hamstrung by state laws written decades before Americans began adopting large numbers of children from abroad.

"International adoption was never on the legislatures' radar screens," says Joni Fixel, a Michigan attorney who has represented a number of prospective adoptive parents in lawsuits against adoption agencies. "They were really focused on what do we need to do to make sure our domestic adoptions are done absolutely correctly, and there's huge gaps because there's this no-man's land called international adoption," says Fixel.

The Council's refusal to accredit Celebrate Children also reflects the difference between the state's standards for compliance and the Hague standards, however.
 So how does this agency stay in the business of international adoption if they are not Hague-accredited?  By dealing with non-Hague countries like Ethiopia, of course:
Information in the agency's licensing file shows that Celebrate Children has turned to Ethiopia as adoptions from Guatemala slowed and eventually ground to a halt. Guatemala became the No. 1 source for children adopted overseas by Americans in 2008 but closed its borders to adoptions in 2009 after reports of widespread corruption, violence and fraud. (While Guatemala implemented the Hague Convention in 2008, the U.S. government doesn't consider it to be Hague compliant.)

In 2007, Celebrate Children reported gross receipts of $5.152 million to the Internal Revenue Service, with 84% of that revenue derived from adoptions in Guatemala, according to an audit. By 2008, Celebrate Children's gross receipts dropped to slightly more than $2 million. One year later, in 2009, the agency's board reported that Celebrate Children was "surviving off Ethiopia" and "Sue agreed to take a pay cut to stay open."

By 2010, Celebrate Children was on better financial footing. "The company is as financially sound and profitable as it was back in October of 2008," minutes from a March 14, 2010, board meeting state. "Ethiopia as a country program has been very profitable to date. Approximate cash balances are $625,000 in the country fee account ... and $115,000 in the office account." "Sue is back to full salary," the board reported.
(Kinda hard to argue that adoption isn't a business with board minutes like these, huh?)

One proposed solution to this problem of minimal licensing requirements is to make state licensing requirements the same as Hague accreditation requirements:

Nistri [spokesperson for the Florida Department of Children and Families, which licenses agencies] acknowledges that the Hague standards are more stringent than the state's. She says she'd welcome a change in state law to make Florida's standards conform with Hague. "We always would prefer to align with a larger federal organization like that, a federal accreditation like that. Their expertise in the development of the Hague has to do with knowledge and exposure to international practice, so we would love that."
My proposed solution, which would show a genuine commitment to the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, would be for the U.S. to prohibit adoptions from countries that are not Hague signatories. Until we take that step, more and more international adoption will be from countries with questionable commitments to doing adoption right, through agencies who are only minimally regulated.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Attachment Parenting & Adoption: Is It Ever Too Much?

An adoptive mom asks that question here:
Before I became an adoptive parent, I did my fair share of reading and planning for our new baby. I had in mind how I hoped to parent, but I also knew that my husband [and] I would need to be flexible. We were definitely committed to practicing attachment parenting. Little did we know exactly how much practice we were going to get.

As soon as our son was placed in our arms, we knew we were going to have to take the attachment parenting lifestyle very seriously. As an adoptive parent, you sometimes hear phrases such as "less than ideal" used to describe orphanage conditions. Well, our son’s emotional and physical condition when he came to us made it apparent that "less than ideal" would have been good.

We committed ourselves to doing everything possible to help our son adjust, learn to trust, become comfortable, feel safe and eventually love us. We did that through our own version of attachment parenting, which, if I’m honest, may have taken it to a whole new level. While some things didn’t work because of circumstances, we overdid others.

For example, despite our best efforts, our son couldn’t co-sleep. His behaviors made it apparent that not only was he rarely held, but he had very little personal interaction. He just couldn’t get comfortable with people in such close proximity in the beginning. We ultimately moved him to a crib in his own room, but our responsiveness to his needs was intense and immediate. Some nights, he woke 15 or 20 times. My husband or I would literally run to him -- there was no delay. I even broke a toe one evening, sprinting up the stairs, although, truth be told, I have a history of breaking toes.

We held him whenever he would allow it, which was seldom in the beginning, and spent a lot of time sitting on the floor with him, as close as possible, helping him adjust to being touched and comforted. We held him close and tightly when we fed him, always maintaining eye contact, never allowing him to take his bottle from us, even when he struggled mightily. We didn’t allow anyone else to feed or bathe him.

It probably sounds ridiculous…unless you’ve been there.
Yep, doesn't seem like too much to me, sounds just about right!

Monday, October 25, 2010

"Would you sit with me?"

The other day, Zoe and my mom were having a conversation about what the world was like over 50 years ago, and Zoe asked my mom if it was true about Rosa Parks, and other African-Americans, having to sit at the back of the bus.  My mom told her it was true, and Zoe asked where she would have to sit.  Now, I've had the same conversation with Zoe many times, and I've blogged about the application of Jim Crow laws to Asian Americans, but it's a subject Zoe obviously needs to revisit. 

My mom said she wasn't sure where Asian Americans had to sit on the bus, and Zoe asked, "Well, if I had to sit in the back, would you sit with me?"

Of course my mom assured her that she would sit with Zoe, that she wouldn't let her sit by herself on the bus.

But the question seems like such a cry for belonging, it hurts to hear it.  Zoe needed reassurance that, even in the midst of racial division, she still belongs with her family.  She was seeing herself as a little girl sent to sit by herself, alone and abandoned, at the back of the bus.  Amazing how adoption issues arise when the conversation is about SOMETHING ELSE altogether.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

70-Year-Old Wants to Adopt

OK, it's actually a harder question than you think!  At Adoption Under One Roof, there's this story:
Is 70 too old to adopt a 7 year old boy? A little over a year ago my agency asked me to take another teenage girl, with a catch. She came with a 6 year old brother. . . . These children had just entered foster care, the victims of severe neglect. The agency thought they could really benefit from the attention a grandmother could lavish on them, and they were right.

My little boy arrived even smaller than expected. He was wearing size 3, and I had to run out and buy a car seat for him. At 6 years old, he was quite a bit smaller than my 3 year old granddaughter. Of course, that caused myself and my teenagers to hold and snuggle him even more, something he desperately needed. Over a year has passed and the agency is looking at terminating the parents’ rights, making my sweet little boy and his teenage sister available for adoption. Because the sister is over the age of 14, she can choose whether or not she wants to be adopted. She has chosen to stay with me until she graduates. I just cannot imagine giving up my little boy.

Normal procedure is not to allow a person more than 50 years older than a child to adopt a particular child. I am 63 years older than him, still in good health and active. I am waiting for the agency and courts to make a decision on whether or not they will allow a 70 year old single woman to adopt a 7 year old boy.
So what's the answer?  Should this 70-year-old be allowed to adopt?  Should brother and teen-age sister be split up? Is my argument that there shouldn't be an absolute bar based on age, that it should be decided on a case-by-case basis, sounding better? Or is this case proof-positive that there should be an absolute line drawn? If you were the judge, what would you do in this case?

Indian Court Won't Open Records

From the Mumbai Mirror, a follow-up to this story:
A Netherlands-based clinical psychologist who was adopted in Mumbai has lost her almost 10-year old battle to find her mother. The Bombay High Court ruled on Friday that a promise made to an unwed mother while she was handing over her child, allegedly born out of an illegitimate relationship, cannot be broken.

The HC was hearing a petition filed by Daksha Van Dijck, 35, and Anjali Pawar-Kate of the international NGO Against Child Trafficking.

Daksha was adopted by Dutch national Johan Van Dijck in 1975. When she came to India in 2001 and 2007 in search of her biological parents, she smelt an adoption racket. She was allegedly told by the Shraddhanand Mahilashram — the orphanage-cum-adoption centre which gave her away — that she was an abandoned child. However, Daksha could not find a police report which could substantiate this claim. She lodged a complaint with Matunga police against the centre on February 9 last year stating it should have maintained her confidential information files as mandated by the Supreme Court.

She filed the petition in May this year. In it she has alleged that the orphanage authorities are hiding facts about her birth because she could have been kidnapped for adoption. In June the HC had directed it’s registry to trace the records of the adoption related case. Though the records were traced, they were hardly of any help as they consisted of just a four-five line order.

On Friday, advocate Anjali Purav, appearing for Shraddhanand Mahilashram, submitted before the court that it had promised Daksha’s unwed mother that her (mother’s) identity will not be revealed to anyone. So if Daksha was to be provided with the information about her mother, the promise would automatically be broken.

* * *

The bench also agreed with Shraddhanand Mahilashram on the point of concealing the identity of the unwed mother and hence dismissed the petition.
It seems strange that the court first ordered that the records be tracked down, and then won't follow through.  And despite the court order, the agency only turned over "just a four-five line order," described as unhelpful in searching for her birth mother, even though it seems that they had the name of the birth mother all along!

The promise of confidentiality to birth mothers is often the excuse for closed records in the U.S., too. Elizabeth Samuels, a law professor at the University of Baltimore, has done research on adoption law and relinquishment papers.  She has concluded that lifelong anonymity was never promised to birth mothers.  In fact, she says, "lifelong anonymity was not offered to birth mothers; it was imposed upon them." 

Makes me wonder what promises were made in India . . . .

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Offering to Buy a Baby

Wealthy British entrepreneur James Caan offers to buy a baby, according to this BBC report:
TV cameras filming his charity work captured the multi-millionaire offering 100,000 rupees (£725) for the baby.

He told the girl's parents his brother desperately wanted to have a baby and would be able to provide the best possible life for her.

Mr Caan said he responded emotionally, rather than rationally.

The entrepreneur, born in Pakistan, was looking for a village he could help rebuild in the wake of the August floods that wrought devastation on his country.

The flooding across a swathe of Pakistan left some 2,000 people dead and affected up to 20 million people.

In one village, Mr Caan came across a newborn and made the offer of money in return for the baby.

His exchange was recorded by ITV News.

"I'm being 100% serious," he said to his translator. "My brother lives here and he desperately wants to have a baby.

"We could give this little baby the best life she could ever have."

However in an interview with BBC Radio's 5 Live, he said he regretted his actions.

"In that moment of emotion, you immediately feel there's something you could do," he said.

"What can you do to increase that child's survival? So I offered to help the family by offering to adopt the baby and then on reflection realised that the baby belongs to the family and the village and I'm really here to adopt a village, not a baby."

He said what he did was "clearly not the right thing to do" and he had not been thinking rationally.
I'm glad he regrets the offer and realizes it was wrong -- but what is wrong with our culture that a first emotional response to poverty and crisis is to REMOVE the child from the family, rather than to improve the conditions of the family?  Less wealthy people don't necessarily offer cash -- but they "save the child" via adoption, even when there are living family members who could care for the child if given a little assistance.  Sigh.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Celebrity Adoption: Rod Stewart, Birth Father

Celebrity stories are usually about adopters;  this one is about the reunion of Rod Stewart and the child he relinquished for adoption 46 years ago:
Seven-time father Rod Stewart was virile long before he was rich, and the rocker-turned-crooner is now rekindling hs relationship with the daughter he gave up for adoption when he was a teenager.

Mod Rod told Joy Behar he was "absolutely stone broke" when Sarah Streeter was born and had no other option. "She was put up for adoption when I was 17 or 18, I think," the rocker said Thursday.

Stewart has had sporadic contact over the years with his daughter, now 46, but the two have gotten closer following the deaths of her adoptive parents.

"Since her mom and dad have died, we've tried to come together and be close together, and it's working out pretty well," Stewart said. "I never felt like I was her dad, because I didn't take her to school, change her nappies, there was no paternal thing there, but I'm trying."
I wish I were surprised by the fact that contact was only sporadic before her adoptive parents died, and that they are only now building a real relationship.  But I hear so often from adoptees who won't search or who won't have a relationship with birth parents for fear of hurting their adoptive parents.  What a shame.

Transracial Adoption: Family & Struggle

From ABC News, a report about transracial adoption (from March, but it just came across my radar) -- and it focuses on the voice of adult adoptee Phil Bertelson (yay! I love it when the media LISTENS to adult adoptees!):
A few days ago, Duke and Lisa Scoppa adopted two Haitian orphans, 4-year-old Erickson and 4-month old Therline.

"I just always felt like it would be a really enriching experience for us and for everybody involved, really," Lisa Scoppa said.

Among the things that lie ahead for the Haitian children adopted by white American parents are a better life materially and a chance to grow up in a loving family.

But some black children who were adopted by white parents say there's another side of the story.

"I didn't feel like I was seen or understood," said Phil Bertelsen, who was 4 when he was adopted by a white family and then raised in a mostly white New Jersey suburb.

Bertelsen and other black adoptees tell a similar tale: They felt estranged from the people around them who they instinctively knew from an early age were different from them, and yet cut off from their own racial identity and culture.

"In my teens, I became hungry to be a part of some kind of black community, black identity," Bertelsen said. "What was missed primarily was, you know, strong familiar representations of black life other than the ones I was getting through popular culture and otherwise."

He grew up to be a documentary filmmaker and made his first movie, "Outside Looking In," about transracial adoption. In it, he confronts his own parents for the first time.

"Ultimately, I am a part of your family," he told them in the film. "I use my name with pride. But I am also an African-American in your family and, you know, you have to see me as that."
I missed Bertelson's documentary at the adoption conference -- Thursday night they showed it and three other adoption films, but I didn't arrive in NYC until late that night.  I guess I'll just have to buy it to have another chance to see his film!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Links: Talking Adoption

Here are some links I've run across recently giving advice about talking to your children about their adoptions:

Who Are You and Where Do You Come From? From the blog MotherlyLaw, comparing what she knows of her biological children and what adoptive parents don't know, and using it as a springboard to offer tips on talking to kids about adoption.  Links to some good books for kids.

Questions About Adoption, from, a site of the American Academy of Pediatrics, reminding parents they have to use the words "adopted" and "birth mother" and "birth father." (I said the same thing here!)

How to Help Your Child Process The Past, from Judy Miller at Parenting Your Adopted Child; if you focus only on the rosy story of adoption, you're not doing your job.

Talking About Difficult Birth Circumstances in Adoption, reminding us that our children need to hear difficult things from us, not from someone else, if they are to trust us.

Talking With Your Adopted Teen:  It's Possible and Important, from the North American Council on Adoptable Children, information on the special challenges of talking to teens about adoption.

Nothing really revolutionary in any of these, but great information for all of us!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Keeping the Promise: Post-Adoption Services

Speaking of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. . .

Adam Pertman, their director, mentioned at the adoption conference that they were going to release a report this week on post-adoption services.  And now they have -- Keeping The Promise: The Critical Need for Post-Adoption Services to Enable Children and Families to Succeed.  From the Executive Summary:
Several months ago, when the media focused the nation's attention on yet another sensational adoption story - this time about a Tennessee mother who put her 7-year-old son on a plane back to Russia – all sorts of disquieting questions flowed through people's minds. They ranged from the rhetorical ("What kind of mother would do such a thing?") to the important ("Are children in orphanages being adequately cared for before adoption?") to the inadvertently stigmatizing ("If a child can be so easily `returned,' is adoption really permanent?").

Most child welfare and adoption professionals watched the drama with better-trained, more-experienced eyes, however, and so they raised very different questions. For example: "Did the mother get accurate information about the boy before adopting, as well as training and education, so she would be prepared for the challenges of parenting a child who had been institutionalized?" And, most pointedly: "Were post-adoption services readily available to her so that she could help her son, and herself, rather than giving up?"

Over the last two decades, our nation has seen steep increases in the number of adoptions from foster care in the United States and from orphanages abroad – which, combined, make up the vast majority of non-stepparent adoptions; i.e., we have made considerable progress in finding enduring families for girls and boys who have suffered from abuse, neglect, multiple placements, institutionalization and other pre-adoption experiences that can cause them physical, psychological, emotional and developmental harm. Now the paradigm has to shift, and our priority must be not only to achieve permanency, but also to assure that adoptive parents receive the supports they need to raise their children to healthy adulthood.
The findings are fascinating, including discussion of why some adopted children are at risk of physical, developmental, psychological, and emotional issues, and the "protective factors" in children and families that can help ameliorate the problems.  I'll write more about it after I've digested this lengthy report.

Challenges Associated with Being Transracially Adopted as Evidenced by Research

OK, here's the second installment from the research panel at the St. John's adoption conference.  The presenter was Susan Smith from the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute.  She gave us a fantastic handout, and most of what's here is from the handout.  The information, researched-based, about the challenges facing transracial adoptees is so valuable -- I hope you'll share it with everyone you know!

Developing comfort with physical appearance: Many transracially adopted children, particularly those with dark skin, express the wish to be white. A Netherlands study of transracially adopted 7-year-olds (the same age as Maya, btw) found:
For many children a white skin color was so desirable that they rubbed themselves with white body lotion, cream or white chalk, or, alternatively, tried to ‘wipe off’ the brown color. One boy wrote a white skin color at the top of his list of gifts wanted from Sinterklass during several years.
The same study found that children adopted from Sri Lanka and Colombia who expressed the wish to be white or to have been born into the family had more behavior problems as reported by teachers and parents. This wasn’t the case for Korean children, who had lighter skin than that of Sri Lankan and Colombian children.

Several studies have found that transracially adopted children struggle more with acceptance and comfort with their physical appearance than do children in same-race placements. Appearance discomfort has been linked to higher levels of adjustment difficulties in transracially adopted children and young adults. One study found that those raised in heavily white communities were twice as likely as adoptees living in racially mixed communities to feel discomfort with their racial appearance. And recall that in the Institute’s Beyond Culture Camp study, 78% of Korean adoptees considered themselves to be white or wanted to be white as children.

Belonging and feelings of inclusion/exclusion: A study of transracially adopted Korean young adults found that experiences of belonging and exclusion in interactions with whites and Koreans contributed to racial and ethnic identities. Two patterns were identified: “personal identities” that are primarily self-created and “relational identities” that are more affected by experiences of belonging and exclusion. The adoptees in the study reported experiencing belonging with their families and friends and a sense of exclusion from some whites based on race, and a sense of exclusion from some Koreans based on culture. In the Beyond Culture Camp study, Korean adoptees were less likely than white adoptees to feel welcomed by others of their own race.

Cultural competence: How do you incorporate being Korean, Chinese, or African-American into your identity when you are raised by white parents in the U.S.? Early studies, as well as more recent ones (citing a study as recent as 2003), found parents adopting transracially were more likely than not to minimize racial differences and emphasize a color-blind approach. Families tended to acculturate their children into the majority culture and often did not help them integrate their own race into their identities.

Big mistake on the part of parents! Studies of transracially adopted adults found that those who received support from their parents for cultural socialization to their birth culture perceived their parents as warmer and more affectionate and had greater feelings of belonging than did adoptees whose parents did not offer such support. When cultural socialization was provided by parents, the adoptees’ sense of marginality decreased and self-esteem increased. A 2007 study found greater cultural socialization was associated with fewer aggressive and delinquent behavior in Asian adoptees.

Unfortunately, according to studies, most adoptive parents provide relatively low levels of cultural socialization opportunities when their children are young (primarily through books or cultural events) and the levels of cultural socialization decline further as their children grow into adolescence.

In the Beyond Culture Camp study, Korean adopted adults who scored higher on the Cultural Socialization Scale (indicating parental efforts to provide socialization to the child’s racial/ethnic group) reported having more positive parent-child relationships and family functioning, and having higher life satisfaction and self-esteem. Thus, cultural socialization is linked with other positive outcomes, not just cultural competence.

Incorporating race/ethnicity in identity without lower self-esteem: The Beyond Culture Camp study found that racial/ethnic identity was of central importance to the Korean adoptee respondents at all ages, and continued to increase in significance to young adulthood. Sixty percent of them indicated their racial/ethnic identity was important by middle school, and that number grew during high school (67%), college (76%) and young adulthood (81%). Positive self esteem and comfort with racial identity were strongly associated for Korean adoptees, and those who felt comfortable with their racial identity were more likely to have a stronger ethnic identification, higher life satisfaction, and to have experienced less racial teasing.

Coping with discrimination: A key life skill for transracially adopted individuals is the ability to cope with discrimination, particularly when adoptees belong to racial groups that experience significant discrimination. One study of different racial/ethnic groups of transracial adoptees found that African Americans, particularly males, experienced the highest level of discrimination. Studies of transracially adopted adolescents and young adults have found that perceived discrimination is significantly associated with behavior problems and psychological distress. The Culture Camp study found that transracially adopted individuals who reported less racial teasing came from more diverse communities and more functional families, and they also as adults had more positive adjustment outcomes (higher life satisfaction and self-esteem).

The manner in which parents respond to these challenges facilitates or hinders children’s development: Recent research has focused on parents’ approaches to cultural and racial socialization and examined how different approaches affect aspects of their children’s ethno-racial identity and psychological adjustment, finding that when parents facilitate their children’s understanding of and comfort with their own ethnicities, the children show more positive adjustment in terms of higher levels of self-esteem, lower feelings of marginality, greater ethnic pride, less distress, and better psychological adjustment.

Too Old to Adopt?

From an Australian newspaper:
A NUNAWADING couple say they have been denied a chance to adopt a disabled child because they are considered too old.

Craig and Janet Coulson applied to the Department of Human Services in a bid to adopt a special needs child.

The couple, in their mid-50s, are already full-time carers of two disabled children.

They adopted Tayla, 15, and Claudia, 7, when they were 22 months old.

Tayla suffers from cerebral palsy, scoliosis, is blind and is fed through a tube while Claudia has Down syndrome and arthritis in her legs and arms.

Mr Coulson said it was made clear by the department that their age was the black mark against them.

“We don’t understand, after we have proven ourselves, why can’t we at least look after one of the kids in state care?” Mr Coulson said.
I've blogged before about age as a factor in adopting.  I took the position that there was no age which should be a per se barrier to adoption, that age should not be used as a proxy for lack of energy or poor health or absolute life expectancy.  A lot of people in the comments disagreed with me!  So what do you think about this story?  BTW, the department denies that age was the barrier.

Oklahoma! Staged With All Asian American Cast

Intriguing idea, reported in Playbill:
National Asian Artists Project and Nikole Vallins will present a fully staged reading of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! Oct. 25 at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row.

* * *

“The setting is Oklahoma territory in the early 1900s, just on the cusp of joining the union and creating a new, unified identity in an unknown frontier. It is a time when hardworking people of the land band together to create a community, and a perfect setting to explore and rediscover what it means to be American,” stated director Lee, who is also on the NAAP Board of Directors. “For these reasons, Oklahoma! became the ideal work to initiate NAAP’s Rediscover Series, an opportunity to explore classic works with an Asian American company of artists.”

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Research: Adoption by Gay Men & Lesbians

The last panel at the St. John's adoption conference was all about research, and the three panelists were researchers at the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute.  They are doing such good work there, and it's going to take me several posts to cover what each panelist talked about, so here goes the first one!

Dr. David Brodzinsky (yes, that Brodzinsky, the author of Being Adopted: The Lifelong Search for Self, one of the most important adoption books out there) spoke about his research on adoption by gay men and lesbians.   He confirmed what I had read previously -- research shows that there is no difference in the parenting competence of gay or lesbian parents and heterosexual parents; there is no difference in the psychological or social adjustment of children raised by gay or straight parents; children of gay and lesbian parents are no more likely to self-identify as gay or lesbian than children of heterosexual parents; although the children of gay and lesbian parents are likely to be teased because of it, studies do not show any maladjustment because of it. And when kids adopted by straight parents and kids adopted by gay or lesbian parents are compared, there are no differences in adjustment.

Dr. Brodzinsky discussed existing barriers to gay and lesbian parents wishing to adopt -- legal barriers (Mississippi, Utah & Arkansas have explicit bans on gay adoption); societal prejudice/homophobia; religious beliefs limiting agencies who will work with gay/lesbian parents; and stereotypes, misconceptions and myths influencing adoption professionals.  In surveying agencies, he said, 60% of agencies said that they worked with gay and lesbian parents, but only 39% had ever placed a child with gay or lesbian parents.  Fifty percent of agencies said they would like to have additional training for working with this population. 

Dr. Brodzinsky said that adoption professionals definitely needed additional training.  They need to understand the law, the fact that in most jurisdictions gay couples cannot adopt as a couple.  Agency personnel need to understand and come to terms with their own attitudes toward gays and lesbians, and to learn about the research that debunks myths and misconceptions.  Social workers doing home studies need training on how to address sexuality issues.  He noted that most agencies operate on a "don't ask, don't tell" basis when it comes to sexual minorities, and that from a counseling perspective, that's a bad thing.  The social worker can't ask about issues like when and how the couple plans to explain to their kids, how they would handle a break-up and visitation for the non-legal parent, etc.

FYI, the Institute has two reports about issues relating to adoption by gay men and lesbians:  Eliminating Legal and Practice Barriers to Gay and Lesbian Adoption From Foster Care, and Expanding Resources for  Children: Is Adoption By Gays and Lesbians Part of the Answer for Boys and Girls Who Need Homes?

"I Love My Hair!"

From NPR:
A little Muppet girl has started a sensation. The unnamed puppet with an afro sings a love song to her hair.

"I Love My Hair" debuted on the Oct. 4 episode of Sesame Street. It was posted on the show's YouTube page — and then women began posting the video on their Facebook pages.

African-American bloggers wrote that it brought them to tears because of the message it sends to young black girls.

Joey Mazzarino, the head writer of Sesame Street, is also a Muppeteer who wrote the song for his daughter. Mazzarino is Italian. He and his wife adopted their 5-year-old daughter, Segi, from Ethiopia when she was a year old.

Mazzarino says he wrote the song after noticing his daughter playing with dolls.

"She wanted to have long blond hair and straight hair, and she wanted to be able to bounce it around," he tells NPR's Melissa Block.

Mazzarino says he began to get worried, but he thought it was only a problem that white parents of African-American children have. Then he realized the problem was much larger.

In writing the song, he wanted to say in song what he says to his daughter: "Your hair is great. You can put it in ponytails. You can put it in cornrows. I wish I had hair like you."

Monday, October 18, 2010

Western Australia Government Apologizes . . .

From Western Australia Today:
When Julie found out she was pregnant at 18 she was so afraid of the consequences she left WA, went East, and ended up hitch hiking from Sydney to Queensland to have her illegitimate child.

Julie, who did not want her surname published because her own mother still fears the stigma attached to unwed mothers, was one of thousands of women forced to give up their children through aggressive adoption practices in public hospitals between the 1940s and early 1980s.

When the West Australian government tomorrow becomes the first in the nation to apologise to generations of single mothers who were stopped from seeing, touching or naming their babies immediately after they were born, Julie will be in State Parliament.
A powerful government act . . . .

Where Do Our Children Fit In?

One of my favorite presentations was by Jungyun Gill: Where Do Our Children Fit In? White Mothering of Asian Children and the Construction of Racial and Ethnic Identities.  Dr. Gill presented her research about  white adoptive mothers' attitudes toward racial and ethnic identity formation in their adopted Asian children.  Her research is based on lengthy interviews with 38 women who have adopted from South Korea, China and the Philippines. The average age of the adopted children was 15, and the range was from 3 to 20 years. She shared some quotes from the interviews and explained two patterns in "fitting-in" strategies-- color-blind mothering and color-conscious mothering.

First quote from a mother with a 20-year-old daughter who was adopted from Korea:
I had people ask me, when she was six months old, "Does she speak Korean?" She doesn't speak.  She's a baby!  Um. "What do you feed her?" I feed her baby food, formula.  She's a baby! . . . But with our c hildren, their identity is much more complex.  While they may veel in some ways white, my daughter has said that, that it always surprised her that people perceived her strictly as Asian when she didn't feel any different from her Caucasian friends . . . so her identity would be that much more difficult to figure out.  Exactly how does she fit in? . . . They look around their dinner table, and their face doesn't resemble anyone else's . . . They go out into the world, particularly when they are not with their parents as they get older, and the world just all assumes that they have a little Korean mom at home making kimchi . . . So yeah, it's more, I think, sort of coming to terms with their own identity, how do they fit, you know, where does being Korean fit into their world, how important is it?
Dr. Gill defined "color blind mothering" as the rejection of the concept that race matters to the white adoptive parents themselves or to their Asian child.  The mothers in this group responded to issues of race with statements such as, "Every kid has issues.  I was teased about being tall;"  "I'm Irish, and it's not a big deal;"  "It's about who you are, not what you look like."

She said "color-blind mothering" used an "assimilative" fitting-in strategy, believing it best for the adopted Asian child to conform to the adoptive environment and try to fit in and be as  "American" as any white American child.

"Color-conscious mothering" accepted the concept that race does matter in the lives of both the white adoptive parents and their Asian children. These mothers used a "birth culture" fitting-in strategy, trying to connect their adopted Asian children with aspects of the culture of their country of origin.  Dr. Gill further divided this group into passive and active types.  She illustrated the passive type with this quote from the mother of an 11-year-old and 5-year-old adopted from Korea:
I do feel like I should make him do certain things and I do feel that I have to push him to learn a little bit about Korea and to go to something that is a connection with that heritage and a connection to being adopted. . . .  My feeling about being a mother of children from another country, I don't want to make them feel at this young age that they are so different than me, that they have to do things that are different than the rest of the family.  Like I don't want my children to feel outside of the family.  I don't want them to feel different within the family.
This passive color-conscious mothering distances the mother from the child's birth culture.  It is the child who should do things to connect to the birth culture;  there isn't a sense that the family should change in response to that birth culture. The active type color-conscious mother (14-year-old adopted from the Philippines, 3 year old adopted from Thailand)  said this:
I think that from starting at an early age just very subtly we have little Filipino traditions like at our Christmas celebration.  The Filipinos have this little tradition where the grandmother throws gold coins in the air, chocolate coins, and all the grandchildren gather around to do that with my mother.  So little things like that.  We have a tradition in our house where every month I make at least one Thai dish. . . . One of the neat things I think is that now my extended family is interested in the Philippines and Thailand. . . . It's part of who we are as a family now.  My husband is Irish and I'm Scottish.  We're not just who we were anymore.  We are a Thai, Filipino American family.  So it's part of who we are now as well, too, not just who our kids are.
Dr. Gill said that the "birth culture" fitting-in strategy was the mothering strategy of most women in the study.  How, then, did they come to choose this strategy?  She said that in most studies of mothering, it is learned from our own mothers and from our mothering friends.  But for adoptive mothering -- for the adoption and race and culture issues -- our own mothers and friends often have no experience.  So the agency and the social worker becomes the "reliable source" on this issues. She interviewed social workers about what fitting-in strategies to employ and heard this:
Well, we feel that it's in the best interests of children. . . . And we feel like it's important for the parents to help the children feel a sense of pride in their native culture, where they've come from so that they feel that they are both, you know, say Koreans and Americans. . . . And so we provide for their best, you know, adjustment and over-all self.
Given the power that agencies and social workers hold during the adoption process, there's now a "standardization" of the "birth-culture" fitting-in strategy.

She identified several implications of standardization of this model. First, it seems to rely on an ideology of cultural pluralism, where each culture is equally valuable -- the family is Irish, Scottish, Filipino, Thai.  But being Irish or Scottish isn't the same as being Filipino or Thai.  The racial component, the external expectations are different and not necessarily addressed in the model.  Second, standardized "birth-culture" fitting-in may over-emphasize culture as "product," rather than lived experience.  Third, the standardized "birth-culture" model is financially expensive and time intensive, and thus assumes an upper middle class adoptive family.  This might particularly harm single-parent families with less financial resources.
Her presentation was mostly descriptive, not prescriptive -- not saying what should or should not be done.  But I found the descriptions, and insights into adoptive mothering around the issue of culture, fascinating.
I also found this interesting article from Dr. Gill on line:  Towards a comprehensive understanding of motherhood: Insights from the experiences of adoptive mothers of Asian children.  (Skip to page 15 if you want to read the research findings, and skip the theoretical framework.) Enjoy!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Adoption in the Media

One of the panels at the conference was about representations of adoption in the media.  An audience member mentioned this report about a 13-year-old girl accused of poisoning her adoptive family:
The Orange County Sheriff's Office is investigating an incident in which a 13-year-old girl is accused of poisoning members of her family, reported.

Investigators said the girl confessed to putting roach and rodent poison, as well as dog feces, in food eaten by her adoptive mother. They also said she placed hand soap in her drinking water.

There is concern that the family's two biological children may also have been poisoned. It is believed that girl's actions began sometime in early 2009 and continued through April of 2010.

The adoptive mother told investigators that recent toxicology tests have shown traces of arsenic in her blood, and for the past year, she has seen her health deteriorate. At this point, she has refused to press charges against the girl.

Neighbors said the family provided love and a home for the girl, whom they adopted from Mexico years back, and even sent her to a private school.

"I was shocked," said an acquaintance of the family, who told that she had received an e-mail from the family asking neighbors to keep them in their prayers.

The Florida Department of Children and Family Services reported that mental health services were provided months ago, when the family needed assistance.

Orange County detectives said these are acts of domestic violence and the investigation will continue before charges are sent to the State Attorney's Office.

In the meantime, the incident report states that the girl is staying at a health care facility, because she has been categorized as a threat to her family and society.

If a charge is brought against the girl, it likely would be for felony poisoning. Because she is adopted, she can not be deported.
So what do you think of this article in terms of media reporting about adoption?  More about what the panel said later -- I'm on the plane home and can't reach my notes!

Adopted Children Bring Growing List of Problems With Them

A report from the American Academy of Pediatrics annual meeting,  in the Internal Medicine Digital News, discussing both medical and psychosocial issues (I found the latter a great reminder of important points, so I've highlighted it in red -- scroll down if you want to skip the medical stuff):
It’s hard to grow up in an orphanage – quite literally. Small stature figures prominently on a growing list of problems that children adopted from abroad are bringing to the United States, according to two adoption specialists.

“More children are being placed in-country,” said Dr. Elaine Schulte, medical director of the International Adoption Program at the Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital, one of two speakers who outlined current trends in international adoption at annual meeting of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “Fewer healthy children are available for international adoption, and families are pushed to accept sicker children.”

The number of foreign adoptions to the United States has dropped roughly in half from 2004 to 2009, when it reached 12,753, according to figures from the U.S. Department of State cited by Dr. Schulte. Those children available are more likely to come with serious medical problems. Among the most common are cleft lip and palate, congenital heart disease, Down syndrome, orthopedic problems, amniotic band deformities, and infectious disease such as hepatitis B and C, and HIV.

Only 20% of internationally adopted children have no special medical or developmental issues; in 60%, these problems are mild to moderate and in the rest, severe, Dr. Schulte said.

* * *

Families who want to adopt get very little information about the children’s backgrounds and health, and are getting even less time than in the past to decide whether to take these children home.

The adoption process itself can lead to health issues. The adopting families may encounter infectious diseases in the general population of the child’s country, and they may be infected by the child they are adopting. “I always remind them that they have to take care of themselves,” said Dr. Schulte, herself the mother of two children adopted from China. “What are you going to do if you get sick, and you have to take care of the child?”

* * *

The second speaker, Dr. Sarah H. Springer, medical director of the International Adoption Health Services of Western Pennsylvania, recommended a wide range of lab tests, including a CBC, lead level, stool test for ova and parasite (O&P) (3), rapid plasma regain (RPR) or VDRL (Venereal Disease Research Laboratory) tests for syphilis, hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg), hepatitis B surface antibody (HbsAb), hepatitis B core antibody (HbcAb), hepatitis C virus (HCV), HIV-1 and HIV-2, a tuberculin skin test (PPD) or an interferon gamma release assay (IGRA) test if the child is older than 5 years of age. These should be rechecked after 6 months, because some diseases take that long to seroconvert.

Whatever immunization records the child brings are unlikely to meet the AAP and CDC standards. “You can’t take anything you get from another country at face value,” said Dr. Springer, also of Kids Plus Pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. One increasingly common exception is immunizations supervised by the U.S. State Department. Even if records do meet standards, you should check titers.

* * *

Among the common psychosocial issues likely to crop up in this visit are the following:

• Malnourished youngsters may hide food in their pockets, their beds, or even their cheeks. They also may eat ravenously. Dr. Schulte’s advice: Let them have as much food as they want so that they will lose their fear of scarcity.

• Some children are affectionate with everyone because they are so starved for attention. They must learn to distinguish between strangers and family.

• Some are stubborn or angry, testing to see whether their new families really want to keep them. Parents must simply insist that they will always be there for these children.

• Other children may cling to one parent, crying uncontrollably if left for even a minute. Dr. Schulte advised helping these children by playing with them on the floor until they let go, then getting up to leave, promising to return and fulfilling the promise each time. Caregivers can start with separations of a couple of minutes, then gradually increase the interval.

• Adopted children may not sleep well. Because they often fear abandonment, Dr. Schulte advised against using “cry-it-out” technique to teach them good sleep patterns.

• Many children rock themselves or display other self-stimulating behavior which they embraced because they didn’t get any other stimulation.

• Internationally adopted kids have elevated rates of schizophrenia, bipolar disease, fetal alcohol syndrome, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and a host of other mental illnesses.

So after that first visit, see the children often. Many will grow swiftly, catching up to their normal height, overcoming emotional challenges, and recovering from illnesses. Others will need years of special education and other support.
If you're about the travel, or have recently returned from an adoption trip, I'd highly recommend sharing the whole article with your child's pediatrician. It includes specific information for billing and insurance purposes.

I know personally that the recommendation to retest kids six months after the first testing  is important -- Zoe tested negative for TB exposure the first time and positive for TB exposure the second time.  We were so fortunate that our EXCELLENT pediatrician knew to retest, so we could promptly treat Zoe and avoid future problems.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Navigating Open International Adoption

Wendy Owens and I co-presented at the conference, the subject being openness in international adoption.  Wendy covered the practical considerations of opening a closed international adoption, and maintaining that relationship across borders and cultures. She's given me me permission to share her INVALUABLE outline with you here!
Preparing and Navigating Open International Adoption

by Wendy Owens
Ph.D. candidate, Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Opening a Closed Adoption

Coming to the Decision to Search/Opening the Adoption
Assuming you are an adoptive parent, who are you doing it for?
Is the child asking?
How do you deal with the unknowns and sometimes small chance at finding first families when speaking to your child?
Examine the whys beyond the curiosity.
Is there really a window of opportunity?
What are you hoping to achieve? Openness? Medical information? History?

Planning Ahead/The Possibilities
Do you know the language? If not, do you have a trusted translator?
Do you have the time/money to devote to the search?
Legwork--Availability--Social networking
What are you willing to do to get the information you seek? Lie? Bribe? “Donate”?
Can you travel in-country? Researching adoption culture in the country. If you locate them, will you tell the child? Will you tell them you are looking?
What if they are addicted/sick/dead?
Will you ask for DNA? Navigating that request. Locating companies/policies.
Hearing the hard…circumstances of abandonment/relinquishment.
What if they do not want a relationship (assuming you do)?
If your goal is information only, what do you do when they ask to meet/see/visit the child?
What if they ask for money or are in desperate need of it?
How often can the child visit? Have contact--what type?
Dealing with siblings that are being raised in the first family home.

During the Search/Location
Exhausting all avenues/checking every lead
Emotional overload/Frustration
Control--letting go
Logistics of obtaining DNA
Will you travel to meet them? Who will go?
Privacy--theirs/the child’s/family
Contact--address/PO Box/agency/friend
Study/learn about birth culture

Establishing and Maintaining Relationships

First Contact
Recording those first moments.
Honoring their wishes while meeting your child’s needs
Establishing snail mail, email, telephone/Skype calls
Sharing your family and values/culture
Holidays and birthdays
Relationships with other children in the home.
New roles

Trust Building/Cultural Barriers
Balancing obligations--keeping focus on the obligation to your child
Privacy--within the birth culture and at home with family/friends
Acceptance and tolerance of different parenting expectations
Taking the Western hat off--coping with privilege Protection--does not equal seclusion/exclusion.
Balancing/maintaining the child’s relationship until they are old enought o write/call/visit on their own.
--delicate balance
--establishing ground rules
--changing stories or “saving face”

Sharing and Community
Finding community--adult adoptees, first parents, AP’s helping their children through reunion
Loneliness--coping with ignorance and society
Loss of friends--adoption community fleeing.
I really appreciate Wendy sharing her experiences in search and reunion in international adoption.  She has thoughtfully laid out the many difficult issues in deciding whether to search, the considerations in how to search, and the challenges of maintaining an open relationship over miles, through language barriers, and around cultural differences.  Thank you, Wendy.

That's Entertainment!

I know, I know, I've posted this before!  But Darryl "DMC" McDaniels was the lunch speaker today at the adoption conference.  I heard him speak last year at the American Adoption Congress conference, and heard him and Zara Phillips perform this song.  You have to love a rapper who can drop a rhyme with "original birth certificate!"

Just like before, McDaniels was funny and sincere and touching about his discovery at age 35 that he was adopted and his search for his birth parents. And he finished it up with an a capella rendition of "I'm Legit." (Can you call rap "a capella?!")

I admit it, I'm a real research geek, love data, just eat up both quantitative and qualitative studies, I even call myself a "research-based" parent -- yes, mothering instinct is a wonderful thing, but I want RESEARCH!  So I've really, really, really loved this conference!!!!!!!!

But I've loved the "entertainment," too.  Not only did we get DMC's story, but adoptee Susan Ito,  performed "The Ice Cream Gene," described in the program as follows:
"The Ice Cream Gene" is a one woman solo performance by adoptee Susan Ito.  It brings to life her first meeting with her birthmother in a hotel room in 1980.  Will they like each other?  Will they like the same ice cream?  Follow their emotional roller coaster in a Midwestern Holiday Inn.
With no set, no props, she brought to life that nervous 20-year-old eager to be liked, stunned to learn that her mother gave the name on her original birth certificate to her second child, Susan's newly-discovered little sister.  Very emotional. Can't wait to read her 1999 book, A Ghost at Heart's Edge: Stories and Poems of Adoption.

More later about all the great presentations, all the research that makes my heart go pitty-pat!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Racial Politics and the Business of Adoption

Greetings from New York City!  I'm really enjoying the adoption conference! I saw lots of really great presentations, and Wendy and I did our workshop this afternoon, and I think it went well. I'm pretty worn out, but I'll give you a quick rundown of the first session, a panel discussion of Racial Politics and the “Business” of Domestic Private Adoption.  The panel was quite distinguished -- Beth Hall from Pact, an Adoption Alliance; Joe Kroll from the North American Council on Adoptable Children, and Dr. Ruth McRoy from the Boston College Graduate School of Social Work.

They talked about the history of transracial adoption, about fee schedules that charge less for the adoption of African-American infants, and about the barriers to African-Americans adopting (I found that part particularly interesting in light of this cartoon).
The panel showed a number of adoption agency websites that discussed disparate fee schedules -- $14,000 for African-American children, $22,000 for Caucasian children, for example.  The websites often grouped Asian & Latino children with Caucasian children, reserving their special fee category for African-American children.  How offensive to devalue African-American children in this way!  Even when the intention is good -- to make it more attractive to adopt "hard-to-place" children -- this two-tier fee schedule perpetuates racist value systems. It harks back to the ugly period of slavery in American history -- commodification based on race.

Agency websites are almost exclusively geared to white adoptive parents.  They'll talk about their "traditional" adoption program and their African-American/Bi-racial children program;  placing white children with white families is "traditional," placing African-American children with white families is something else, and where, then, does placing African-American children with African-American parents fit?

In discussing barriers to African-American families adopting, the panel noted that economic disparities across racial lines made it difficult for African-Americans to adopt -- even at the reduced rates.  There are agencies that serve African-American families, and they fund-raise so they charge no fees, and have no trouble placing children with African-American families.  African-American families can also be leery of white agencies, which frequently don't even have staff of color, fearing that involvement might lead to loss of the children they are already parenting.  African-American families can also be disadvantaged by inflexible standards that have a disparate impact -- like restrictions on family size, weight requirements, expectations of nuclear family as exclusive caretakers, and the like.  And while we sometimes justify transracial adoption on the assumption that African-Americans won't adopt, agencies do very little recruitment of African-American families.

White privilege explains the persistence of the myth that African-Americans won't adopt.  It allows white parents to have complete access to children of color to adopt.  When same race placements are made of African-American children, white parents feel discriminated against.  It is likely the first time that they've been told that their race is a disadvantage to them.

A very thought-provoking program this morning, and great stuff afterwards, too!  More about that later!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Open Hearts, Open Minds Adoption Conference

I'm so excited!  I leave today for New York City for an adoption conference -- Open Hearts, Open Minds: The Ethics of Adoption in the 21st Century.  It looks like it will be a fantastic conference;  click here to see the conference program.

Wendy Owens, a frequent commenter here, and I are presenting a workshop on openness in international adoption.  I'll talk about the legal aspects and Wendy will share her experience being in reunion with her daughter's birth parents in China.  I'm really looking forward to the discussion.

If you are attending, give a shout out in the comments so I can look for you!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

International Adoption and Diplomacy

Remember when, in 1999, U.S. planes, acting under the auspices of NATO, accidentally bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade?  In our usual egocentric fashion, the China adoption community was very concerned over how this would affect adoption from China (I've admitted to similar egocentricity, worrying how the 9/11 tragedy would affect my travel to China to adopt Zoe).  The encouraging conventional wisdom at the time was that surely China wouldn't shut down adoptions over something unrelated to adoption. . . .

From an Irish newspaper today:
Russia’s Ambassador to Ireland has warned that an adoption agreement between both countries may be in jeopardy because of an Irish government investigation of stolen passports.

The stolen Irish passports were later used to set up fake identies for an “Irish” couple living in New Jersey and spying on Americans. The couple were arrested by the FBI who informed the Irish government of the theft.

Ambassador Mikhail Timoshkin raised the concerns after a meeting with Debbie Deegan, director of Irish charity To Russia With Love. Deegan had revealed that a passport of a member of her organization had been stolen and used by Russian agents.
I'm not really surprised to see international adoption as a tool of diplomacy, are you?  Certainly we've seen arguments that international adoption is a positive element in diplomatic relations between countries, with adoptees spoken about as "bridges" between the two countries.  Some have argued that the State Department, which is the Central Authority for purposes of the Hague Convention, is reluctant to investigate charges of corruption in international adoption for fear of jeopardizing diplomatic relationships with important allies or trading partners (hint, hint, how much money do we owe China?!).  So yes, international adoption will always be a diplomatic football.

Growth in Ethiopian Adoption Bucks the Trend

From the Associated Press:
As the overall number of international adoptions by Americans plummets, one country — Ethiopia — is emphatically bucking the trend, sending record numbers of children to the U.S. while winning praise for improving orphans' prospects at home.

It's a remarkable, little-publicized trend, unfolding in an impoverished African country with an estimated 5 million orphans and homeless children, on a continent that has been wary of international adoption.

Just six years ago, at the peak of international adoption, there were 284 Ethiopian children among the 22,990 foreign kids adopted by Americans. For the 2010 fiscal year, the State Department projects there will be about 2,500 adoptions from Ethiopia out of fewer than 11,000 overall — and Ethiopia is on the verge of overtaking China as the top source country.
The report suggests that this enormous growth spurs worries about corruption without mentioning any specifics (like here,  here,  here,  here, and here for reports of corruption in Ethiopian adoption), but goes on to say:
However, a high-level U.S. delegation — led by Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Susan Jacobs, the State Department's special adviser on children's issues — came back impressed from a visit to Ethiopia last month in which they met President Girma Wolde-Giorgis.

"What's encouraging is they want to work with us, they want to do it right," Jacobs said in a telephone interview. "Other countries should look at what Ethiopia is trying to do."
(I posted previously about the visit of the delegation to a pilot project designed to help Ethiopian orphans in country.)

The primary sources quoted in the article are from adoption agencies, and the article makes no mention of specific charges of corruption, so it isn't surprising that the article paints a "rose-colored glasses" version of adoption from Ethiopia.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

High Economic & Social Costs of Gay Adoption Bans

Love it when adoption issues go main-stream -- here the Center for American Progress addresses State antigay adoption policies:
A Florida appeals court unanimously decided last month that a state ban on adoption by gay men and lesbians was unconstitutional (Florida Governor Charlie Crist also said that the state will stop enforcing the law). This is a reminder that the struggle for LGBT equality extends far beyond the headline issues of repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” passing the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, and achieving marriage rights for gay couples.

The victory in Florida is a huge win for advocates of children’s rights and well-being as well as those working for LGBT equality. But several states still unfairly target gay men and lesbians who want to adopt or foster children.

These policies should be overturned. They do nothing to serve our nation’s foster children and have high economic costs. What’s more, evidence shows that gay men and lesbians make just as good parents as their heterosexual counterparts, and the public increasingly supports gay adoption rights.
FYI, the Florida Department of Children & Families (who lost in the Florida appeals court) announced today that it will not appeal the court decision.  That means that the intermediate appellate court's decision will stand, and Florida's ban on gay adoption is invalidated. 
But that doesn't answer the question in other states.  The court decision in Florida was based on Florida's own state constitution, not on the Federal Constitution.

Family Connections

From the British Association for Adoption & Fostering, a dad's post about the complications of his adopted son's family:
My 9 year old son was asking me the difference between step-brothers and sisters, and half-brothers and sisters, so this gave us an opportunity to sit and talk about how children are created and how he relates to his (half) brother who we have also adopted.

He then sat down and drew this picture (below). At first I couldn’t work out what he’d drawn, but then he explained; along the top row were his birth mother, birth father, and the other 2 men his mother had had children with. Along the middle line were all his siblings. Finally along the bottom, was me and my partner, and the other adoptive parents that make up his siblings families.

Despite all the training, it wasn’t until I looked at this diagram, that it really brought home the complexity of my boy’s life.
Go to the site to see the drawing.

Adopted from Colombia

From the blog, Adopted from Colombia, some great recent posts:

My Return to Colombia, a post from an adoptee about being adopted, being a guy, returning to Colombia, and meeting birth family.

Today is My Birthday, describing the oscillating emotions of happiness and sadness on this day.

Are You OK With Being Adopted, discussing the difficulty of answering this question, internally and externally.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Not Always Love at First Sight

Friday was the 9th anniversary of meeting Zoe for the first time.  We watched the video of that first meeting, which Zoe LOVES to do -- she'd be willing to watch it every day, I think!  I have to admit that the video makes me cringe a little bit at my ignorance.  It's not just that I didn't know how to change a diaper and smeared diaper rash cream all over Zoe and me;  it's my perception of the event then and my realization on looking back on that moment now.

When handed to me, Zoe didn't cry. She clutched me like she'd never let me go.  She fell asleep in my arms.  Awwww!  At the time, I thought it a sweet display of trust.  Now, I look at the video and I see a child terrified, clinging to me because I was the only thing there, shutting down and checking out by going to sleep.

This blog post reminds us of the disconnect between what we, as parents, might expect in that first meeting and the reality of that first meeting:
When we think about having children, most of us tend to idealize the images. We picture smiling, rosy-cheeked cherubs reaching for us, giggling with happiness. We see them playing in our sunny backyards by day, tucked peacefully into their soft little beds by night. Birthday parties, school clothes, vacations at the beach – ah, it is the stuff of Norman Rockwell!

Becoming a parent through adoption has been even further romanticized. Many books and articles have been written about that first magical meeting, often proclaiming, “It was love at first sight!” The darling baby immediately cuddles up to the doting parents, and they all appear to live happily ever after. The adopted child is an angel, the parent a hero.

There are undoubtedly cases of this actually happening. If you actually had this glorious experience, then on behalf of all the rest of adoptive parents, let me say that we hate you.
So, do we have reason to hate you?!  How was that first meeting?  How did you perceive it then?  Has that perception changed?

"Mean-Girl" Bullying -- in Kindergarden?

Is "mean-girl" bullying starting younger?  This New York Times piece says . . . maybe:
Mean-girl behavior, typically referred to by professionals as relational or social aggression and by terrified parents as bullying, has existed for as long as there have been ponytails to pull and notes to pass (today’s insults are texted instead). But while the calculated round of cliquishness and exclusion used to set in over fifth-grade sleepover parties, warfare increasingly permeates the early elementary school years.

“Girls absolutely exclude one another in kindergarten,” said Michelle Anthony, a psychologist and co-author of the new book “Little Girls Can Be Mean.” When her own daughter was manipulated by a “friend” into racing down a slide booby-trapped with mud, making it appear to a group of boys as though she’d soiled her pants, Dr. Anthony was taken aback. “You don’t expect to run into that level of meanness in a 7-year-old.”

But at a time when teenage cyber-bullying is making headlines, parents fear that the onset of bullying behavior is trickling down. According to a new Harris survey of 1,144 parents nationwide, 67 percent of parents of 3- to 7-year-olds worry that their children will be bullied; parents of preschoolers and grade-school-age children are significantly more likely to worry than parents of teenagers. Such fears may be justified. One recent survey of 273 third graders in Massachusetts found that 47 percent have been bullied at least once; 52 percent reported being called mean names, being made fun of or teased in a hurtful way; and 51 percent reported being left out of things on purpose, excluded from their group of friends or completely ignored at least once in the past couple of months.
The article admits that there are few longitudinal studies to answer whether bullying is starting younger, or if it is just recognized in younger kids by more-attuned parents and teachers, or if it is an exaggeration of hyper-vigilant helicopter parents.  The article is well worth a read, and includes some exploration of what might be causing mean-girl bullying to start younger.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

An Auspicious Day

Did you have a good day today?  It is supposed to be an auspicious day -- 10-10-10!  From China Daily:
Tens of thousands of lovers across China tied the knot on Sunday, the auspicious "10.10.10" day (October 10, 2010), as Chinese believe three "10"s in a row means absolute perfection.

Choosing auspicious dates to get married is a time-honored custom in China. At weddings, perfection can be symbolized in images of the moon, the number 10, or a 10-layered wedding cake.

In Shanghai, 10,150 couples had registered for marriage at civil affairs offices by 6 pm, or about 33 times the figure on an average day. It also set a new daily record in Shanghai, exceeding the marriage registries on "9.9.9" day (September 9, 2009) and "8.8.8" day (August 8, 2008) - two other auspicious days popular among newly-weds.
And from the Ventura County Star, a slightly different definition for 10-10-10:
Kids turning 10 or couples getting married today — on 10-10-10 — might be pleased to know that the No. 10 is lucky, according to those familiar with both Chinese and Western numerology.

“The number 10 means ‘complete’ or ‘full,’” said Lixon Durborow, secretary of the Ventura County Chinese American Association. “Of course, 10-10-10 means complete, complete, complete. It’s really, really good.”
We had a fun day -- beautiful weather and great fun at the girls' school's Fall Festival. I hope your day was complete perfection!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Out of the Mouths of Babes

From the American Anthropological Association, this article, Out of the Mouths of Babes: Children, International Adoption and Disaster Relief:
International adoption, a practice that arose as a temporary form of disaster relief, has sprawled into a global institution that arguably breeds disasters of its own and sustains inequalities. Just when it seemed the dust was settling following the January quakes that crippled the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, this August media reports surfaced profiling the ramifications of the Obama administration’s emergency baby lifts.

Under the humanitarian parole program, which suspends visa requirements in times of emergency, since January around 1,150 Haitian orphans immigrated to the US. Not surprisingly, because these adoptions were arranged with alarming speed, there were failures to check whether children were in significant danger, whether they were legitimate orphans, or even whether their proposed adoptive parents were fully committed to their care.

Not only have these failures left Haitian children in US foster care limbo, and unnecessarily displaced others never actually in harm’s way, but they hint at ways in which good intentions are often undermined by the cultural and structural variability of adoptions and orphanages in different countries and communities. While lawyers, adoptive parents, and governments have called for systemic reform to international adoption, what role (if any) should anthropologists play in such disaster prevention and rehabilitation?
The article concludes, "Hence, what seems to be missing from the debates about international adoption today is precisely the kind of contextual, cultural knowledge anthropology is known for, which could give life to children’s experiences, voices, dependencies, kinship cultures, and family systems."

I'm looking forward to hearing more from this author -- according to her bio she has been doing work in my daughters' home province:
Erin Raffety is a PhD candidate in anthropology at Princeton University. Her research considers the intersection between traditional practices of Chinese kinship and fostering with modern, global processes of international adoption. Her fieldwork studies Chinese foster families Nanning, Guangxi Autonomous region. Additional research interests include the anthropology of childhood, socialism and post-socialism, and the state and reproduction.

Friday, October 8, 2010

China News -- Nobel Peace Prize

In case you've been in a cave today:
Liu Xiaobo, an impassioned literary critic, political essayist and democracy advocate repeatedly jailed by the Chinese government for his activism, has won the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of “his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.”

Mr. Liu, 54, perhaps China’s best known dissident, is serving an 11-year term on subversion charges, in a cell 300 miles from Beijing.

He is one of three people to have received the prize while incarcerated by their own governments, after the Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in 1991, and the German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky in 1935.

By awarding the prize to Mr. Liu, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has provided an unmistakable rebuke to Beijing’s authoritarian leaders at a time of growing intolerance for domestic dissent and a spreading unease internationally over the muscular diplomacy that has accompanied China’s economic rise.
 In response to the awarding of the prize to a dissident who advocates for democracy and increased freedom, including freedom of the press, China promptly "erased news of the prize from Chinese Web sites, removed Liu’s name from Twitter services, and jammed a CNN broadcast from Oslo."

Thursday, October 7, 2010

U.S. Withdraws from Guatemala Adoption Program

From the U.S. State Department:
On October 5, 2010, the United States withdrew its letter of interest in participating in a pilot program to resume processing of intercountry adoption placements for a limited number of older children, groups of siblings, and children with special needs. The letter of interest had been previously submitted to the Guatemalan Central Authority for Adoptions, Consejo Nacional de Adopciones (CNA), in response to its November 2009 announcement of this limited pilot program.

The U.S. decision to withdraw its letter of interest is based on concerns that adoptions under the pilot program would not meet the requirements of the Hague Intercountry Adoption Convention. Specifically, the United States believes that more safeguards for children should be in place before the CNA could start processing new intercountry adoptions. In addition, the Guatemalan Government has not yet provided specific details for how adoption cases under the pilot program would be processed under Guatemala’s new adoption law.

The United States remains open to resumption of intercountry adoption placements from Guatemala, but will consider such a resumption only when it is confident that a Hague-compliant system is in place, including strong safeguards against abuses and resolution of the issues that led to corrupt and fraudulent practices prior to the 2007 halt in new adoptions.
The State Department says this applies only to new adoptions, and won't affect pending adoptions.