Thursday, August 30, 2012

Lesbian Couple Challenging Adoption Ban in Michigan

This article from the Detroit News summarizes the arguments in a case filed in Michigan by a lesbian couple raising three children but barred from adopting them because of the state ban on unmarried couples adopting:
A federal judge on Wednesday said he'll issue a ruling on a request from the state to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the ban on adoptions by unmarried couples, but not before he suggested the plaintiffs amend their suit to encompass the state's marriage amendment.

U.S. District Court Judge Bernard A. Friedman made the remark after a motion hearing in which the state asked the judge to toss out the case brought by a Hazel Park lesbian couple who are raising three children, but are prevented by the state from both being legal parents.

State law says April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse can't adopt their children as a couple, because it is an option available only to heterosexual married couples. The two say the law is unconstitutional and violates their civil rights.

Friedman said Wednesday he'd consider arguments from both sides before rendering his decision, but will first allow the plaintiffs ten days to consider amending their complaint to include a challenge to the state's ban on same-sex marriages.

"That's the underlying issue," Friedman told attorneys, noting that he's "not suggesting they do it."

"Both arguments are about marriage and how broad or narrow it should be. That's the bottom line."

Joseph E. Potchen, a lawyer with the state Attorney General's office, argued Wednesday that the suit should be dismissed because the couple failed to show the children are being injured by the law. Potchen told Friedman that the state's adoption code, as it stands, "protects children."

"Adoption is not a right, it's a statutory privilege," Potchen said.

Michigan's adoption law allows for married couples and single people to adopt children, but unmarried couples cannot.

A change to the state law would have to come from the Legislature, the attorney general's office has said.

Robert Sedler, a constitutional law professor for Wayne State University, argued Wednesday on behalf of DeBoer and Rowse.

Sedler countered that the children are "suffering injury" with the provisions of Michigan law that denies them a second parent adoption solely because the parents cannot legally be married.

"To deny this adoption harms these children. To allow it harms no one," Sedler told Friedman, urging the judge to grant a declaratory judgment to the women. "What we have here is irrationality in the literal sense of the word."
I've posted before (Why Second Parent Adoption is a Good Thing) on this issue.  I strongly disagree with the state's argument that the children are not harmed by the adoption ban and that the adoption law that prohibits this adoption "protects children."  No, it does not.  Children who should have two legal parents are left with just one.  Now, as a single mom, it's probably unsurprising that I'd argue that one parent is better than none.  But I'm not so foolish as to believe that one legal parent is adequate when there is another parent currently raising the child and eager to be a legal parent.  As I stated before:
All that a legal second-parent adoption does is makes sure that there are two parents who have the obligation to support the child financially -- even if the couple splits up. It makes sure that there are two parents from whom the child can inherit even if the second parent doesn't have a will. It makes sure that there are two parents from whom the child can receive Social Security disability and death benefits. It makes sure that the child can continue to have a relationship with the step-parent after the parents divorce, or if the biological parent dies. It makes sure that schools, hospitals, Little League teams, etc., can't treat this parent -- who has been living with and raising the child in fact -- as a legal stranger to the child.

Isn't it in the child's best interest to legalize an already existing familial relationship? It's not like saying no to the adoption will end the relationship, it's just have to limp along without the child having all the legal rights the child is entitled to.
 Have you ever heard anyone say, "The fewer parents a child has, the better!"? I didn't think so.  Under our current legal and social system, the first line of protection for children is PARENTS.  Making sure that children have as few as possible is, indeed, irrational policy.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

US: Exporting Babies

A reminder from Mirah Riben, who blogs at Family Preservation Advocate, that the U.S. is both a sending and receiving nation in international adoption, which really seems bizarre in light of the Hague Convention's insistence that domestic adoption should be preferred over international placement:
With thousands of Americans eagerly adopting and more vying to adopt, why then are American-born babies – shockingly ­– being placed out of the US by American adoption agencies?

The United States is one of a very few nations, including Great Britain, Canada and Mexico, that both imports and exports babies for adoption, or in the parlance of adoption is both a sending and receiving nation.

* * *

Why does any American child need to be taken from his or her culture to a home in a foreign land? Is it ever in a child’s best interest or are they simply commodities being transplanted because of the greed of adoption facilitators or agencies who cannot turn down any opportunity to secure a fee of tens of thousands of dollars?

While the numbers, by all counts, are relatively low, each represents the life of a child who will grow into an adult severed from his homeland: a prosperous fully functioning democracy, not a third world country or a nation in political upheaval as are many of the sending nations. How do those adopted out of the US feel when they understand their placement effectively meant that no one in their nation of birth wanted them?

How can we rationalize this practice while America is the biggest recipient of children from other parts of the world?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Inequality in Inheritance Rights of Adopted Persons

I'm teaching Adoption Law this term, and it's always interesting to cover the history of adoption with the students who tend to have never really considered the legal treatment of adoptees over time.  One issue we talk about is inheritance rights, which in the past excluded adoptees from inheriting from adoptive parents or extended adoptive family unless they were specifically named in a will.  But, I tell the students, that's the bad old days for the most part.  Now, in every jurisdiction, adoptees and biological children are treated equally under inheritance laws.  But, a new case from Massachusetts, reported at, reminds us that the effects of the "bad old days" are still felt today:
Adopted children do not have the same rights as biological children to inherit the family fortune under wills written before 1958, the state’s highest court ruled today in a closely watched case.

The ruling grew out of a dispute between Rachel A. Bird Anderson and her adopted brothers, Marten and Matthew Bird, over the meaning of the 1941 will of their great-grandmother, Anna Child Bird, the matriarch of the famous Walpole family who donated Bird Park to the town.

The Supreme Judicial Court said the law in effect when Anna Child Bird wrote the will applies today, not a 1958 law that gave biological and adopted descendents equal inheritance rights, or the 2009 law that made those rights retroactive for all time.

Anna Child Bird’s will “was created by a private person operating in the private sphere, bestowing expectations and interests on her descendants," Justice Margot Botsford wrote for the unanimous court.

“The settled law in this Commonwealth is and has been that one executing a will or trust and distributing property thereby is entitled to rely on the law in effect at the time the instrument was created," wrote Botsford, who called the concept a “bedrock principle" of Massachusetts law.

Before 1958, adopted children were not considered heirs, unless they were specifically named as such in the will.

The Boston Bar Association was one of the legal groups filing “friend of the court” briefs in the case. Lisa C. Goodheart, the association president, said today that the way the court handled the dispute will ease the minds of many families and the estate lawyers who advise them.

“This decision avoids a radical change," Goodheart said. “The long-settled rules of the road and expectations have been reaffirmed with this decision."
So certainty and predictability trumps equal treatment, which is not a terribly surprising conclusion under the law which prizes certainty and predictability.  And, even when the testator's intent is based on discriminatory notions of who counts as family, the law will insist that those biased intentions be carried out.  Sigh.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Adopting Out the Children of Illegal Immigrants IV

I wish this wasn't a continuing series, but you can read part I, part II and part III here.  And now another entry, from the Washington Post, of adopting out the children of illegal immigrants:
Nearly 45,000 such parents were removed in the first six months of this year, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Behind the statistics are the stories: a crying baby taken from her mother’s arms and handed to social workers as the mother is handcuffed and taken away, her parental rights terminated by a U.S. judge; teenage children watching as parents are dragged from the family home; immigrant parents disappearing into a maze-like detention system where they are routinely locked up hundreds of miles from their homes, separated from their families for months and denied contact with the welfare agencies deciding their children’s’ fate.

At least 5,100 U.S. citizen children in 22 states live in foster care, according to an estimate by the Applied Research Center, a New York-based advocacy organization, which first reported on such cases last year.

And an unknown number of those children are being put up for adoption against the wishes of their parents, who, once deported, are often helpless to fight when a U.S. judge decides that their children are better off here.

* * *

Critics say the parents are to blame for entering the country illegally in the first place, knowing they were putting their families at risk.

“Yes, these are sad stories,” says Bob Dane, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which advocates tougher enforcement against illegal immigration. “But these parents have taken a reckless gamble with their children’s future by sneaking into the country illegally, knowing they could be deported.”

“Not to deport them,” he continued, “gives them the ultimate bonus package, and creates an incentive for others to do the same thing.”

* * *

ICE, meanwhile, maintains it tries to work with such groups to ensure “family unity.”

“ICE takes great care to evaluate cases that warrant humanitarian release,” said spokeswoman Dani Bennett. “For parents who are ordered removed, it is their decision whether or not to relocate their children with them.”

But immigration lawyers say that is not so easy. A recurring complaint is that clients “disappear,” often sent to detention centers far from where they lived. They are routinely denied access to family court hearings, phones and attorneys. Many immigrant parents do not fully understand their rights, or that custody of their children might be slipping away.

* * *

In the little mountain town of Sparta, N.C., the family of Felipe Montes is facing a similar fight. When immigration agents deported the 32-year-old laborer to Mexico two years ago, his three young sons — American citizens — were left in the care of their mentally ill, American-born mother. Within two weeks, social workers placed the boys in foster care.

Montes and his wife want the children to live with him in Mexico, saying they are better off with their father than with strangers in the U.S. He works at a walnut farm and shares a house with his uncle, aunt and three nieces.

But child welfare officials have asked a judge to strip Montes of his parental rights, arguing the children will have a better life here. Such a ruling could clear the way for their adoption.

* * *

There are some signs of change. . . .

In another rare move, Felipe Montes, the father who wants his children from North Carolina to join him in Mexico, has been granted permission to temporarily return to the U.S. to attend custody hearings, though he must wear an ankle monitoring bracelet.

Still, Gonzalez and others say the changes are too haphazard and random, open to interpretation by individual ICE agents. And many say it seems particularly cruel that deported parents who return illegally in order to be with their children should be a priority for removal.

In Congress, California Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard has proposed legislation that would make it more difficult for local agencies to terminate the parental rights of immigrants. She calls it “heartbreaking ... that in the U.S., immigration status in itself has become grounds to permanently separate families.” It is, she said, “absolutely, unquestionably inhumane and unacceptable, particularly for a country that values family and fairness so highly.”

Friday, August 24, 2012

Disney Show Jessie Celebrates Gotcha Day

I mentioned last year about this time that Disney Channel was debuting a show about Jessie, nanny to a family with 4 children, 3 of whom were adopted. My kids have been avid watchers, and told me excitedly earlier in the week that they'd seen an ad for a new episode where they were celebrating Zuri's Gotcha Day.  So we're watching it now.

The show gave a pretty standard definition of Gotcha Day as the day an adopted child joined the family.  Oh, and we discover where Zuri is from -- Uganda.  Up until now, it's been the irritating information that she's from "Africa," as if that wasn't 54 different countries and countless different cultures. Almost immediately the show backslides, deciding to use "Africa" as the decorating theme for the party. Sigh.

Ravi, adopted from India, says for his gotcha day celebration he wants curry and an ice sculpture of the Taj Mahal.  That's where Jessie comes up with the idea of using "Africa" as the decorating theme instead of rainbows and unicorns, which Zuri wants.

Now we're hearing Luke's gotcha story, or at least his version of it -- he's a superkid from Krypton they found in the park.  Ravi's story reveals a secret, that they were expecting a baby instead of a young boy.  Now Ravi thinks he's a big disappointment.  And the parents are mad at Jessie who spilled the beans that the family was expecting a baby.  They say they weren't planning to tell him until after they died (though they hadn't quite figured out how).

Now the parents are apologizing for not having told him the truth sooner.  Oh, joy, the parents say, "There's no doubt that you were the kid we were meant to have." Family hug!

But the butler knew better than Jessie, and decorated the whole place with pink unicorns and rainbows.  Success.  But in a nod to Zuri's heritage, Dad brings her a zebra. Oh, and we discover that Dad is the one who told Luke he was from Krypton.  And he asks, "Was that wrong?!"

Zoe and Maya say they liked tonight's show.  But Maya says the parents should have told the truth to Ravi and Luke from the beginning. If he knew the truth from the beginning, Ravi wouldn't have been so sad when he found out. 

Another Adoptive Parent Tells Adoptees How They Should Feel

A new documentary, Somewhere Between, that follows teen Chinese adoptees, is generating disparate reactions. This New York Times review describes it as "[s]hining a relentlessly rosy light on international adoption and the policies that enable it."  But even "relently rosy" seems too much for the adoptive parent who wrote this review for NPR.  She acknowledged that the documentary gives voice to adoptees, but then proceeds to discount those voices as much as possible! 

She notes that one of the girls has returned to China several times to find her birth parents, but the scene where she found them makes the reviewer "squirm:"
And Haley, raised in a Christian family in Nashville, Tenn., makes several trips to China to find her birth parents.

Astonishingly, she finds them. (This almost never happens, given that the only information most families have about their daughters' origins is a form letter stating the child's drop-off location.) And though their reunion makes for a riveting set piece, it made me squirm.

To her credit, Knowlton never falls into the trap of blaming birth parents, most of whom are dirt-poor peasants forced by government policy into making terrible decisions for their newborns.

Yet watching a nervously co-operative Haley receive the DNA results confirming the paternity of the man who had stepped forward as her biological father; perch uneasily on the lap of a man she barely knew; and bear up under the caresses of the woman who, as her birth dad thoughtfully offered, had "thrown her away," I wondered whose crummy idea it was to expose the poor girl to this orgy of photo-ops, and how this "celebration" would affect her sense of who she is, where she belongs — and whether she will ever go back.
Is it the fact that the reunion is public that makes the reviewer squirm?  I don't think so. Her reaction to a scene where an adoptee describes her feelings of being caught between two countries? "Watching the tears roll down Fang's otherwise cheerful face, I wondered whether she'd be this sad if she wasn't facing a camera."  And she goes on to complain about the "dogma" in the adoption community that adoptees might actually feel loss and grief.  She admits, "I parted company with my chosen adoption listserv when I got tired of hearing about 'the holes in all our daughters' hearts.'" So in this adoptive parent's view, all those feelings are illegitimate, made up for the camera, "taught" to adoptees as part of the "dogma."
She also has a problem with any suggestion that these teens might experience identity issues: "Inevitably, though, the film makes it seem that these girls' lives are dominated by worry about who they are and whether they'll be emotionally crippled by conflicting allegiances."  How silly!  After all, this adoptive parent knows better than these teens how they actually feel as well as how they ought to feel.  HER adopted daughter experiences none of this angst! "My Chinese teen was bat mitzvahed last year; she celebrates the Jewish, Chinese and any other New Year that comes with a party. On Facebook, she brands herself as "Jew Crew," "Asian, so deal with it" and a Yankee Brit, among others. Accustomed to a polyglot world, she takes it mostly in stride."

The only time her daughter expressed any adoption angst, the adoptive mom seems to suggest, it was because someone else -- Stuart Little -- told her she should:
Her only visible adoption crisis came when she was about 8, just after we'd watched the excellent movie Stuart Little, about a mouse adopted into a loving family who nonetheless has an "empty space" in his heart. A couple of hours later, my ordinarily sunny, unflappable child burst into tears and asked piteously why her mommy had let her go.

Caught off guard, I opted for honesty and told her it made absolutely no sense to me, and who wouldn't want to be the mother of a great kid like her? After a moment, she asked for her drawing materials and drew three female figures with Chinese features ("You, me, and my other Mommy"), then said firmly, "Okay, let's play something else."
But, see, you don't need to worry about her child being "emotionally cripppled by conflicting allegiances."  See how fast she got over that artificially-created angst?!

The reviewer notes how valuable it is to hear from the adoptees themselves: "but until now most of the copious commentary on Chinese adoption has come from the parents' point of view. Now some of the girls are old enough to speak for themselves." And almost immediately thereafter, she has to tell the story of these adoptees by HER point of view, discounting any reaction from them that doesn't comport with her adoptive-parent worldview.

I haven't seen the documentary, though I want to.  I figured I wouldn't like it much because of the "relentlessly rosy" view of adoption it supposedly presented.  But this adoptive parent seems only to want a relentlessly rosy view, and this documentary didn't deliver it for her because these teens' views contradict how she thinks they should feel.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

My Article Has Been Accepted!

I am delighted to report that I've found a home for my article, 16 and Pregnant: Minors' Consent to Abortion and Adoption.  It will be published in the Yale Journal of Law & Feminism!  Here's the abstract for the article:
A minor girl’s decision about the resolution of an unplanned pregnancy is a highly contested issue. Especially contentious is the minor’s ability to consent to an abortion without the assistance of an adult such as her parents or a judge. That issue has received substantial attention from policy makers, scholars, judges and legislators. Almost no attention has been paid, however, to the decision of a minor parent to continue her pregnancy, relinquish her constitutionally-protected parental rights and place a child for adoption. In 37 states, a minor’s abortion decision is regulated differently from the decision of an adult’s, while in only 15 states is a minor’s decision to relinquish parental rights and consent to adoption treated any differently from an adult’s decision. Informed by new neuro-scientific advances in the understanding of minors’ decision-making, as well as law’s traditional treatment of minors’ decision-making in areas other than abortion, together with the legal treatment of minors’ abortion decisions, there seems little justification for leaving minors’ decisions about adoption unregulated. The justifications often advanced for the need for parental involvement in a minor’s abortion decision – the physical/medical risks, the psychological/emotional effects, and the importance of the decision – apply with equal force to the decision about adoption placement. The decision about adoption placement also differs from the abortion decision in at least one crucial respect – the legal complexity of the adoption decision, which implicates constitutionally-protected parental rights, adds another layer to the medical and moral decisions present in abortion. All states should require that minor mothers have independent legal counsel when making the decision about relinquishment of parental rights and consent to adoption placement.
You can read excerpts of the article here and here and here and here and here and here and here, if you can't wait for its official publication sometime early in 2013.

I was especially gratified that among the acceptance for the article were 3 law reviews dedicated to women's issues, and will be appearing in a law review dedicated to women's issues -- a confirmation of my belief that adoption is a feminist issue (see here and here).

Thanks to everyone who commented on previous posts on these issues; such input was invaluable.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Study on Effects of Past Adoption Experiences

The Australian Institute of Family Studies has just released its final report from a study about the post-adoption service needs of those involved in adoption, including placing mothers and adoptees.  Some key findings:

The experiences of the mothers who participated in this study would suggest that the long-term effects of past adoption practices cannot be understated. Mothers described a range of areas where practices relating to their experience of adoption continue to affect them now, including:
1. the birth process;
2. differential treatment from married mothers;
3. experiences of abuse or negligence by hospital and/or maternity home staff;
4. administration of drugs that impaired their capacity;
5. lack of the ability to give or revoke consent;
6. not being listened to about their preferences; and
7. being made to feel unworthy or incapable of parenting, particularly from authority figures.
* * *

These experiences have left many feeling they were the victims of a systematic approach to recruiting "undeserving mothers" for the service of deserving married couples. There were very few birth mothers in the study who felt that the adoption was their choice.

Persons Who Were Adopted

One of the most significant findings within this respondent group appears to be that, regardless of whether they had a positive or more challenging experience growing up within their adoptive family (roughly equal proportions of each participated in this study), most participants identified issues relating to problems with attachment, identity, abandonment and the parenting of their own children.

Compared to Australian population estimates, adoptees responding to our survey had lower levels of wellbeing and higher levels of psychological distress, and almost 70% of adoptee survey respondents agreed that being adopted had resulted in some level of negative effect on their health, behaviours or wellbeing while growing up. These negative effects included:
1. hurt from secrecy and lies surrounding their adoption and subsequent sense of betrayal;
2. identity problems;
3. feelings of abandonment;
4. feeling obligated to show gratitude throughout their lives;
5. low levels of self-worth; and
6. difficulties in forming attachments to others.
Some of these issues became more poignant when the adoptee had his/her own children, which in itself is an area for consideration in relation to the focus of current support needs.
Nothing new in these results to anyone who's been paying attention to what birth mothers and adult adoptees have been saying for years, but maybe in an officially sanctioned government study people will finally start paying attention.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Another International Adoptee Discovers She Isn't A Citizen

And though she isn't facing deportation, she sues about it! She hasn't won yet, but the Court of Appeals overruled the trial court which blocked her suit based on the statute of limitations. Here's the newspaper report:
A young woman born in Mexico and adopted by a U.S. couple as a child can sue the state for mistakenly telling her parents that she automatically became a citizen when she was adopted.

The Oregon Court of Appeals has ruled that Blanca Starr can go forward with her $1 million lawsuit despite arguments from the state that the statute of limitations has passed.

"I'm ecstatic," Starr said. "I'm just really relieved."

Starr discovered her illegal status as a teenager after she tried to get a driver's permit and then spent years in limbo -- living in fear that she would be deported from her Vancouver home. Her plight made national headlines and fueled a fiery debate over immigration.

* * *

She was 2 or 3 when her biological parents or relatives sneaked her into the United States. By the time she was 4, child-welfare workers had taken her into state custody because they believed her mother was beating her and her father was doing nothing to intervene.

When she was 5, Starr was placed in the care of Lisa and Darren Catt, who were American citizens and living in Portland. The couple adopted her when she was 8. Lisa Catt said caseworkers with the Oregon Department of Human Services told her they didn't need to fill out any immigration forms because her daughter automatically had become a U.S. citizen.

That wasn't true.

* * *

Her mother filed paperwork for Starr to become a permanent resident, but after nearly two years of waiting and paying fees, they learned it was too late. Immigration policy doesn't punish minors who enter the country illegally, but Starr had already turned 18 and was subject to a three-year ban from the United States. Worse yet, she was about to turn 19, when a 10-year ban would take effect before she could apply for residency and return.

She graduated from Columbia Christian Schools, a private Northeast Portland high school, but remained at her mom's Vancouver home while her classmates went on to jobs or college.

She couldn't work legally. Her parents, who are divorced, couldn't afford college and couldn't get financial aid for her.

Then shortly before her 20th birthday, Starr received welcome news: Federal officials said she would get a temporary U visa, given to only 10,000 people a year who are victims of crimes. Starr is considered a victim of child abuse. Her visa expires in 2014.
You can read the Court of Appeals opinion here.  The ruling isn't an unqualified win for Starr.  The court disallowed some of her causes of action, and also held that the Department of Human Services had no continuing duty to ensure that her citizenship was secured.  That last creates an unfortunate precedent for the future, I'm afraid. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Pat Robertson: Don't take on adoptees, they're "somebody else's problem"

Well, here's an interesting one!  All the folks who are sure that the Bible means for them to adopt (James 1:27: Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.   (Yes, I know the Scripture just says "look after orphans," not adopt them, but others seem to think the only way to "look after" them is to adopt them) might be surprised that televangelist Pat Robertson seems to disagree -- after all, you never know where those adoptees come from, what they've experienced, and they could grow up "weird:"
Televangelist Pat Robertson on Thursday cautioned his viewers to think twice before adopting disadvantaged children that had been sexually abused or deprived of food because they could grow up “weird.”

During Thursday’s edition of The 700 Club co-host Kristi Watts read a letter from a woman who wanted to know why men stopped dating her when they learned that she had adopted three daughters from three different countries.

“Can I answer?” Watts asked. “I was going to say because they’re dogs. … That’s just wrong on every level.”

“No, it’s not wrong,” Robertson disagreed. “A man doesn’t want to take on the United Nations, and this woman’s got all these various children and blended family. What is it?”

The TV preacher then told a story about his “dear friend” who had adopted a son with brain damage and the boy “grew up weird.”

“You just never know what’s been done to a child before you get that child,” he explained. “What kind of sexual abuse, what kind of cruelty, what kind of food deprivation, etc., etc., etc.”

“So, you’re not a dog because you don’t want to take on that responsibility,” Robertson added. “You don’t have to take on somebody else’s problems.”
I don't agree with the version of Christianity that equates caring for orphans with adopting them (I've written about that here and here and here), but I also don't agree with Robertson's version of Christianity that says you don't have to take on somebody else's "problems" (lovely way to describe children, huh?!  "Problems.").  In fact, isn't that what taking care of orphans and widows is really all about?!

Now, it's a little scary that it seems I agree with Pat about something -- people can take care of orphans without adopting them.  But we have a different reason for this belief.  My problem with it, as I've stated before, is two-fold.  First, many so-called orphans in orphanages aren't orphans at all and don't need to be adopted.  Instead, they need support to allow for family reunification.  Second, if one's motivation for adopting is to "save" an orphan, that's a dangerous reason to go into adoption, creating as it does expectations of gratitude and enforcement of corrosive inferiority (go read here for more on the problem of "rescuing" orphans).

Pat's problem with adopting orphans seems to be that they are damanged goods, "problems," not children worthy of family.  So I'd have to say, on balance, Pat and I profoundly disagree.  There, I feel better.

"I wish my mother had aborted me"

Adoptees are quite familiar to being told, if they offer any critique of adoption, "be grateful that you weren't aborted," or words to that effect.  So I thought folks might find interesting this non-sensationalized (despite the title) argument from a non-adoptee that it would have been better for all concerned if her mother had secured an abortion:
If there is one thing that anti-choice activists do that makes me see red, it is when they parade out their poster children: men, women, and children who were “targeted for abortion.” They tell us “these people would not be alive today if abortion had been legal or if their mothers had made a different choice."

* * *

Here is why it is so effective: People freak out when you tell an opposing story. I make even my most ardent pro-choice friends and colleagues very uncomfortable when I explain why my mother should have aborted me. Somehow they confuse the well-considered and rational: “The best choice for both my mother and me would have been abortion” with the infamous expression of depression and angst: “I wish I had never been born.” The two are really very different things, and we must draw that distinction clearly.

* * *

An abortion would have absolutely been better for my mother. An abortion would have made it more likely that she would finish high school and get a college education. At college in the late 1960s, it seems likely that she would have found feminism or psychology or something that would have helped her overcome her childhood trauma and pick better partners. She would have been better prepared when she had children. If nothing else, getting an abortion would have saved her from plunging into poverty. She likely would have stayed in the same socioeconomic strata as her parents and grandparents who were professors. I wish she had aborted me because I love her and want what is best for her.

* * *

The world would not be a darker or poorer place without me. Actually, in terms of contributions to the world, I am a net loss. Everything that I have done—including parenting, teaching, researching, and being a loving partner—could have been done as well if not better by other people. Any positive contributions that I have made are completely offset by what it has cost society to help me overcome the disadvantages and injuries of my childhood to become a functional and contributing member of society.
It is not easy to say, “I wish my mother had aborted me.” The Right would have us see abortion as women acting out of cowardice, selfishness, or convenience. But for many women, like my mother, abortion would be an inconvenient act of courage and selflessness. I am sad for both of us that she could not find the courage and selflessness.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Adoption, Destiny and Magical Thinking

At the NYT Motherlode blog, a topic I've found fascinating enough to post about many, many times (like here and here and here and . . . you get the idea!)  -- adoption and "meant to be:"
So in researching my recent book on magical thinking, I interviewed a psychologist about personal narratives — the way we tell stories out of our lives — and about how they might relate to perceptions of fate. He pointed me toward one of his collaborators, Miriam Klevan, a doctoral student at Northwestern University, who had interviewed 38 adoptive parents. It turns out that most of the parents had told her that their children had been brought to them by destiny.

This phenomenon grabbed me. I spoke with adoption professionals, who confirmed that most adoptive parents feel their children are meant to be theirs. And I heard from other like-minded parents. To me, seeing destiny in adoption was such compelling evidence of the strength — and occasional benevolence — of magical thinking. And, not having kids of my own, I was touched by the power of parenthood. Apparently the connection with one’s children can be so strong it feels as if the universe conspired to make it happen.

* * *

Ms. Klevan points out that adoptive parents might also feel more motivated than birth parents to believe in fate. Narratives of destiny provide a sense of legitimacy. Take one woman who told Ms. Klevan, “One little thing happening a different way would have kept us apart, but all these miraculous things happened.”

“She could have said ‘this is just a series of coincidences,’ but that’s such an unacceptable way to feel about your child. For most people, if you start going down that road, then this child isn’t yours … in order to parent effectively, parents must feel entitled to their children,” Ms. Klevan told me. It allows them to be disciplinarians and teach right and wrong. “Fate is a really useful way for adoptive parents to entitle themselves. ‘Of course I’m your mom! I was meant to be your mom! God said I was your mom! This isn’t coincidence! So go clean your room!’”
Surprisingly, the article actually acknowledges that this "magical thinking" isn't an unmitigated good thing:
But of course not everyone is as sold on the idea of destiny — even when adoption goes right. Another mother offered a more nuanced and conflicted perspective, one that resonates with how I think I would feel in her shoes. She wrote:
I don’t know if I’d say my children were “meant” to be mine — it does seem like a slap in the face to the sacrifices of their birth parents, as well as turning a blind eye to the losses my children may (or may not) feel about being adopted as they grow up.
Exactly. The "meant to be" meme is so dismissive of the pain and loss and grief of birth family and adoptees.  As I've posted before, it's what allows adoptive parents and others to talk about the baby being "born in the wrong tummy" before getting to the "right" adoptive parents.  It envisions the birth mother as a "pass-through body," on the child's journey to the inevitable family.  And for the adoptee, it shuts down any dissenting view, any ambivalent feelings, about adoption:
After all, if it was all "meant to be," doesn't it remove the ability to be sad or angry or confused or ambivalent, to express any less-than-happy emotion? You were meant to be mine, God chose you for our family, there's a special reason you're in our family, your adoption is part of God's plan -- all of these strike me as ways to make adoption inarguably positive -- and when it's inarguably positive, no dissenting views are allowed! A child may internalize that view, and then feel unable to work through the dissonance it causes when they also have feelings of pain and loss. And they may feel they can't talk about that dissonance with their parents, making it even more difficult to work through it.
My guess is the comments at the NYT will be overwhelmingly in favor of the "meant to be" meme in adoption.  It is a powerful concept for adoptive parents.  But it might not be healthy for adopted kids coming to grips with the meaning of adoption in their lives.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

One Baby, Two Moms: a Rise in Open Adoption

From the Wall Street Journal:
As Susan Edwards and Scott Cargle last month held their adopted newborn daughter Lydia in the hospital in Greenbrae, Calif., like all parents, they wondered what her future would hold.

But some things they knew for certain: With an open adoption, they will visit with their daughter's birth mother at least once a year, phone her at least twice a year and exchange a minimum of two emails a year with photos and updates. They will also take a group picture every time they meet.

As opposed to closed or confidential adoptions, open adoptions allow the adoptive and birth families some degree of contact, which can range from a single, in-person meeting to sharing photos and news periodically, to frequent reunions. In a shift over the past 30 years, the vast majority of domestic adoptions are now open. The phenomenon has become more visible over the past few years thanks, in part, to the popular MTV series "Teen Mom," which prominently features an open adoption.
In about half of U.S. states, including California, families can choose an enforceable contract agreement that firms up the relationship's parameters. Adoptions aren't reversed, but if a dispute arises, it can be settled using the court that completed the adoption or through mediation.

Ms. Edwards and Mr. Cargle say hashing out the details of how to keep in touch with the birth mother, Sarah Raetzloff, 26, helped them understand open adoption and build trust.

"It's a good thing to have the agreement, and it's not even about its enforceability," says Ms. Edwards. "Because of the contract, we all know what to expect….Having that agreement does a lot to take away the nervousness or anxiety."
Well, the oh-so-cynical me says only the adoptive parents can say so comfortably "it's not even about its enforceability," when talking about an open adoption agreement.  To the birth mother -- the person NOT in possession -- it should be ALL about the enforceability. As in, you shouldn't consider it an "agreement" unless it's enforceable. Without enforceability, your open adoption agreement means only what the adoptive parents want it to mean.

Restorative Justice & IA

From the Korea Times, an opinion piece by a man who has served as a volunteer translator for Korean adoptees reuniting with birth family:
I listened to many different stories while acting as an interpreter during the reunions of families who previously gave up their children for adoption. Approximately 200,000 international adoptees from Korea are scattered throughout the world, and there are currently close to 300 international adoptees staying in Korea to learn the Korean language and culture in order to discover a sense of identity. I have had a range of experiences while providing this voluntary interpretation service.

Some time ago, I was present at a reunion of a former adoptee with their birth family. The mother could not forget her baby for a single day after she gave him up due to experiencing devastating poverty and social prejudice. In order to forget her wrongdoing and the memory of her baby, she became a shaman. A shaman is a person who communicates with the dead because of a disturbing experience they went through in life.

I visited a shaman's house to help with interpretation, and witnessed a family’s life of agony and watched their unconscious behavior while sitting all night for one week and observing them. This woman dreamt about her son for 30 years and woke up in the middle of the night almost every night. She attempted suicide several times because of a mistake she made. Finally she became a shaman to deal with and overcome the extreme distress she experienced. The birth parents and adoptee parents both experience great difficulties.

* * *

It is not that easy to build a society that is better and more peaceful, in which everyone can live together harmoniously. When criminals are punished, this does not mean that everything has been resolved. Often, the root causes of a crime can be found in the community or even in the life of the victim himself or herself. On this basis, victims and communities also have a responsibility to take an interest in the perpetrators of crimes. The intent must be to identify the fundamental causes of crime, and by addressing these causes, create a better society and country, by seeking an alternative, namely Restorative Justice rather than punishment to truly heal scars.

I am very interested in overseas adoption and restorative justice based on tolerance, forgiveness, and repentance. First of all, I would like to research how to apply restorative justice to overseas adoption. I strongly believe that the three parties in restorative justice such as victims, criminals, and community are similar to birth families, adoptive families, and adoptees in the adoption structure. Therefore, I believe this research allows me to contribute more to family law, and hopefully one day to help others to improve the adoption structure.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Developing World’s Latest Export: Adoptable Children

From the Independent (UK):
There is something very modern about inter-country adoption. No longer are potential adopters confined to the selection of a child – a baby, very often – from a finite domestic pool, but they can, as in the modern supermarket, sample a blend of exotic variations from far and wide. Money also talks louder on the international stage. Taking a more direct route, the former Dragon’s Den star James Caan, whose estimated wealth is in excess of £100million, offered an impoverished family 100,000 rupees – about £745 – to buy a baby on a trip to Pakistan in 2010, an impulse he later apologised for.

* * *

The growing number of inter-country adoptions has unfortunately also brought with it instances of adopters getting “buyers’ remorse” when the fairytale has not been forthcoming. In April 2010, Torry-Ann Hansen of Tennessee sent her seven-year-old adopted son back to Russia together with a note addressed to the Russian authorities saying she no longer wanted him. Citing behavioural problems, she returned the child, together with his one-way Aeroflot ticket, like an unwanted purchase.

Most of those looking to adopt abroad have, I imagine, the same motivation for doing so as those hoping to adopt domestically: a desire to give a child the best possible start in life. And yet the disparities in power and wealth (as with all disparities in power and wealth) inevitably set up a grossly unequal relationship between budding parents in the west and those who “produce” the adoptees of the future in the developing world. Ethiopia accounted for nearly a quarter of all international adoptions to the US in 2010, second only to China. Adoption is fast becoming Ethiopia’s new export, perhaps soon to overtake coffee. Yet not everybody is happy with the way things are going. “We want people to invest in Ethiopia rather than take our children,” Dr Bulti Gutema, head of the government’s adoption authority, has said. Media investigations have also found evidence to suggest that some adoption agencies have recruited children from intact families.

Without wishing to sound too much like a dyed-in-the-wool nativist, one also need not go all the way to Africa or China to find deprived children. The number of kids in care in the UK has increased by 4,510 – a rise of almost eight per cent – since 2006, when there were 59,890. Yet there were 500 fewer adoptions last year, down from 3,700. Research has shown that children in care are more likely to have no educational qualifications, to become homeless, to commit crime and, in the case of girls, to become teenage mothers. We also know that for every year that a child in care is not adopted, his or her chances of finding parents decreases by 20 per cent. Do not, whatever you do, accept the idea that the “deserving poor” (if you really must use such definitions) exist only overseas.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Conflicts Between Priorities in Adoption Placements

Kinship care has long been preferred for kids who can't be parented by their biological parents. Why this preference for kinship care? First, placement with a relative usually provides the child with a continuing relationship with other relatives, including siblings, and possibly including the biological parents. Second, children adopted by relatives are less likely to suffer from identity confusion than they might if adopted by a stranger. Third, kinship placement is likely to be same-race placement, avoiding racial identity issues, too.

Kinship care usually also provides continuity -- a child raised by a grandparent, for example, is being raised by someone they have likely had a relationship with for their entire life.  And continuity of placement is afforded high priority, too.

Placing siblings together is also another recognized priority in adoption placement. Splitting up brothers and sisters is considered a negative thing.

So what should happen when kids are placed with a foster family as newborns because of neglect from biological parents, and then relatives step forward and want to adopt? And what if those relatives are parenting a sibling that the foster parents sent away after one month? This story raises these conflicts among priorities in adoption placement:
 Playing in her tiny plastic kitchen area, Jada is very much in charge. "I cook," the 3 year old announces.

Meanwhile, her twin brother Julian is outside, driving his electric car around their Roswell driveway, a confidant toddler behind the wheel.

This duo is unaware of the battle over who will raise them, and their adoptive parents hope to protect them from that battle as long as possible.

"We just decided maybe this was the time to do it," Lisa Williams said of the decision she and her husband Ted made to become foster parents more than three years ago.

Their own three children were almost grown, and they said they wanted to give back.

Ted talks about the day the twins came to them. "Imagine at noon having a very normal day, and by 6 p.m., you have three children living in your house."

Jada and Julian were five weeks old when they came to the Williams family. Their older brother Jayden was 16 months old. Lisa and Ted said three children was too much, so after a month, Jaydan was moved and they had just the twins.

* * *

When Jada and Julian were 15 months old, Tina Wilson's adoptive brother and his wife, Jeffery and Elissa Wilson, came forward and said they wanted to raise them.

Ted and Lisa wanted to raise them too.

* * *

Here is an example of the twists and turns. On February 28, 2011, Fulton County juvenile court awarded custody of Jada and Julian to Elissa and Jeffery Wilson and the twins were taken from the Williams' Roswell home and were sent to the Wilsons' McDonough home. But that only lasted nine days. That's when the Williams family successfully adopted the twins in Fulton Superior Court. They went and picked the twins up that day.

* * *

Tina Wilson's attorneys at The Fulton County Public Defender's Office would not talk to us on camera, but in a statement say Jeffery and Elissa Wilson are upstanding citizens who want to raise their niece and nephew and reunite them with their older half brother Jayden.

Tina Wilson gave birth to another set of twins a year ago. Right now, she is raising them.

"So this idea that you're going to have all of the biological mother's children raised together under one roof is an impossible dream, and it's a dream for which Jada and Julian should not be sacrificed," Rugh Johnson said.

Jada and Julian are three and a half years old.

* * *

The decision of who will ultimately raise them could come any day.
So what do you think?  How should this case be resolved?  Of course, it's too late now for what the solution should have been -- child welfare authorities should have proactively searched for an in-family placement for the twins in the first place instead of waiting around to see if anyone would step forward. 

But how would you balance these various priorities now, over three years later? Would it make a difference that the kinship caregiver is the adopted brother, not the biological brother, of the biological mother? How do you factor in the fact that there was not previous relationship between these children and the kinship caregiver?  Does it matter that not all of Tina Wilson's children would be parented together regardless of what happens? But isn't it more likely that these twins will have a relationship with Tina's other children if they are being parented by Tina's brother? Does it matter that the foster parents had the opportunity to parent the older brother and rejected him?

Pretend you're the judge.  How would you rule?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Back to School ALREADY?!

Not only was summer too short, life's too short, too! Yep, starting tomorrow I have an official third grader and sixth grader, which is frankly impossible since I swear these girls were just in pre-K last week! 

So it's that time again, posting about race, adoption, bullying and schools. After all, back-to-school for our families isn't just about new lunchboxes and which uniforms from last year still fit (none of them!).  We wonder and worry about how the school will handle a nontraditional family, how much information to share with teachers about our kids' backgrounds, whether the dreaded 'family tree' project will crop up this year, whether we've empowered our kids to handle intrusive questions and racial teasing. 

First, links to past posts collecting links on these topics, lots of great links -- start here first, if you haven't been reading the blog for a couple of years:

Back to School Adoption Resources

Adoption in School -- Samples, Handouts & Downloadables
Back to School: Resources on Bullying and Racism

Now some additional links, if you've moved beyond the basics with your kids in school:

Telling the Teachers: Adoption and School, covers both the arguments for telling and for not telling.

Children Left Behind: International Adoption in Our Schools, from Adoption Today magazine.  It's not available online, but it can be purchased as a back issue here.  And for further information, here's the abstract:
This article discusses the academic challenges faced by orphanage-raised children from overseas who have been adopted by American families, causes of learning problems in adopted children, and major roadblocks at schools due to misconceptions among school personnel regarding international adoptees. The need for persistent cognitive and language intervention to make remediation more effective and reverse detrimental trends in academic performance is stressed.

Can We Talk? How to Explain Adoption at School – Even to Fifth Graders, introducing adoption talk in the upper grades.

Friendships, Social Skills and Adoption, from the Center for Adoption Medicine, looking at why some adopted kids have social issues and tips for helping.

Adoption Awareness in School Assignments, includes some "family tree" alternative forms.

4 Tips to Stop Bullying and Bias Before it Happens: An important issue for adoptive families, since much bullying is rooted in difference -- racial differences, differences in family formation, differences in family structure.

School & Adoption: Navigating IEPs, IDEA, and Special Services, an overview of the requirement that ALL children be accommodated in public education, and services for children with learning issues.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

There ARE No Answers for Adoptees

An adult adoptee responds to the Huffington Post article I posted yesterday, written by an adoptive parent, about her and her daughter's return trip to her daughter's orphanage in search of answers:
At first, your essay upset me—angered me even. It angered me because it simplifies the issue of adoption and suggests that answers can be gotten from a magical trip and a photograph. I quickly realized, though, that I wasn’t truly angry but sad.

I wish I could tell you directly how much you are leaving out, how you are giving your daughter and future adoptive parents the wrong (and perhaps dangerous) impression. That there are answers that can make someone at peace with being adopted. Peace for an adoptee does not come from seeing the place she was left. (Or even, I might argue, how or why.) I know this. Peace is not about answers. As far as I can tell, from everything I have learned and questioned about myself, it is about accepting that there will always—always—always be questions. The answers are never really answers.

* * *

But speaking from experience, going back to your orphanage does not allow you to understand your adoption. If, Ann, you meant to talk about specific answers, like what it was like there, and who took care of your daughter when she was there, and what she was like as a baby, then I wish you had framed your essay like that. I wish you hadn’t made it sound like *adoption* had been answered, like your daughter is healed now of that deep deep loss we never truly “get over.”
Go read the whole thing, you'll be glad you did.

The politics of "colorblind" international adoption

At the Foreign Policy blog, a piece about adoption from Haiti, with reference to a new film about international adoption:
Following the questions of one Haitian-born, Canadian-raised woman, Adopted ID raises questions of identity, and the politics of international adoption.

To a lively soundtrack, which carries the film when the visuals blur, the documentary follows the emotional journey of Judith Craig Morency on her first trip back to Haiti after 27 years raised in a white Canadian family.

I saw the film at the Black Star Film Festival in Philadelphia last weekend and met the dynamic film maker, Sophia Godding Tobogo.

Judith doesn’t speak Kreyol, and knows only that she was found in a ditch and taken to a hospital when she was a few days old. Her adopted father is a Canadian minister, but she knows nothing of the birth family that she seeks.

Her story, rife with holes, is typical of international adoptees.

Most children adopted internationally do not live our stereotypical, imagined orphan tale: with deceased parents, children find their way to a dismal orphanage, to be saved by a kind hearted stranger.

It’s important to know: most children in Haitian orphanages DO have families.

* * *

A New Yorker article by John Seabrook in 2010 explored the heartbreak on the other side of the ocean: families waiting for their adopted children, losing contact after the earthquake.

But the article highlighted the complicated paternalism inherent in international adoption. Seabrook quoted Queen Latifah as saying on the “Today” show, “I want to just go and get some of them babies. If you got the hookup, please get me a couple of Haitian kids.”

Adopted ID shows some even more cringe-worthy attitudes. When Judith visits an orphanage during her own Haiti pilgrimage, a white family is cuddling with their newly adopted Haitian son. “We’re all the same color!” the teenage sister says, “I’m black on the inside”.

The film just touches on the human rights and business nuances of adoption in Haiti. But it stresses the depth of Judith’s confusion and identity crises, growing up black, Haitian but with siblings that blow off her questions, and parents that seem offended by her desire to reconnect with her roots.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Returning to the Orphanage

At Huffington Post, an account of a return visit to an adoptee's orphanage in China:
One of the cold realities of adopting an older child from China is that she comes with a lot of questions, many of which you can't answer.

We adopted our beautiful (now-14-year-old) daughter when she was five. Sophie spent the first years of her life in a Chinese orphanage -- a clean, well-staffed orphanage where she received plenty of food, decent medical care, and lots of love from her caregivers. Still, it was an orphanage and what she didn't have during those years was what she wanted most: a forever family. Us.

For nine years, she has asked us questions about her past and we have offered her our best, if feeble, answers. We couldn't tell her what we don't know and what we did know of her story was slim. Her questions have steadily mounted and this was the summer we all recognized that it was time to try to find some real answers, and the only place with them was China -- and her orphanage.

I was warned by those who had gone before us on similar journeys that we were heading down a road pock-marked with emotional landmines.

"You won't know how she reacts until she is there and it could go either way," one mom cautioned me. Her own daughter was left distraught by the visit. "Leave well enough alone," the mom advised.

Another's child who made the pilgrimage a few years ago never made it past the orphanage's front door. "She just shut down, retreated into a quiet place inside [her] that I thought we had left behind years ago."

A third mom reported that her daughter couldn't bear to look at the children still there, making for an awkward visit, followed by weeks of haunting dreams where her daughter was one of the unadopted. Survivors' guilt in a 10-year-old, her mother called it.

But I also heard from many, many more parents who told me that their children's orphanage visits went smoothly, were cathartic and helpful. They said the visits gave them some of the answers they sought and provided a connection to a long-ago but ever-present past. "Answers; we are going for answers," I told all who asked why.

I am thrilled to report that our visit could not have gone better -- and that Sophie got her answers. But what the trip gave me may have even upstaged that: I got a baby photo of my daughter taken when she was just 40 days old. I never had one. (The photo was taken before her cleft lip was repaired and she asked that it not appear here; you'll just need to trust me that she was born beautiful and that hasn't changed.)

Thursday, August 9, 2012

"So when are you gonna adopt kids?"

From the New York Times, the pressure on gay couples to parent:
When the jubilant couple were wed in June, they exchanged personalized vows and titanium rings, cheered the heartfelt toasts and danced themselves breathless. Then, as the evening was winding down, unexpected questions started popping up.

One after another, their guests began asking: Are you going to have kids? When are you going to have kids?

Tom Lotito and Matt Hay, both 26, could not help but feel moved. They never imagined as teenagers that they would ever get married, much less that friends and family members would pester them about having children.

“It’s another way that I feel like what we have is valid in the eyes of other people,” said Mr. Hay, who married Mr. Lotito in June before 133 guests.

As lawmakers and courts expand the legal definition of the American family, same-sex couples are beginning to feel the same what-about-children pressure that heterosexual twosomes have long felt.

For some couples, it is another welcome sign of their increasing inclusion in the American mainstream. But for others, who hear the persistent questions at the office, dinner parties and family get-togethers, the matter can be far more complicated.

"If I had a wish. . ."

I was talking to my kids the other night about the shooting at the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin (yes, we talk about such things, because I figure they're going to hear about it somehow, and I'd rather it be from me).  In the course of that discussion, I had to explain what a white supremacist is.  I told them that there were people who hated others who weren't white, to lots of expressions of disbelief from the girls.  I mean, who silly is that?!  What does the color of someone's skin have to do with anything?!  People are all people, after all.  And, of course, the always unanswerable question -- why?! Why do people think that way? I had to say I didn't know why some people think that way.

And kids being kids, and thus the center of the universe, they needed to know what white supremacists would think about their Chinese selves. They talked about some of the times people have said things to them about their eyes or skin -- like the Chinese eyes teasing at school, and the incident at ballet where the little girl told Zoe her skin looked dirty, like it was covered in mud, and the little boy who said Maya couldn't sit next to him because she was Chinese.  I said I didn't think those kids were white supremacists, but they were definitely ignorant.  I said I hoped they learned better before they grew up.

Maya then came up with the perfect idea:  "If I had a wish," she said, "I'd wish that those white supremacists could have black or brown skin, and then they'd know."

Indeed.  Then they'd know.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Would-Be Parents Wait as International Adoptions Plunge

From NPR:
"The era of the boom time for international adoption, I think, has passed us by," says Adam Pertman, head of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. "International adoption used to more or less occur under the radar, and it was pretty much the Wild West.

"Then people started paying attention — really paying attention," Pertman says. "And they saw the good, the bad and the ugly."

With allegations of baby trafficking and fraud widespread, the U.S. and other nations have signed onto the Hague Adoption Convention, which imposes strict regulations to ensure transparency throughout the adoption process. While Pertman says the agreement is much needed and well intentioned, he fears some countries have overreacted, shutting down adoption programs altogether as they struggle to meet the new standards.

The media has also had an impact. Press coverage was intense in 2010, when a Tennessee mother returned the 7-year-old son she had adopted from Russia, sending him back on a plane alone. Russia reacted angrily and quickly restricted adoptions to U.S. families.

Many nations also feel increasingly stigmatized for sending their babies abroad. Both Russia and China are now encouraging domestic adoptions over international ones.

In the wake of these shifts, international adoptions to the U.S. have plunged by more than half in the past eight years, from a peak of nearly 23,000 in 2004 to fewer than 10,000 last year.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Everything Old is New Again

There I am, blythely writing my article on teen pregnancy, and include this line to explain why the effects of teen pregnancy/parenting on education is less negative than in the past: "A number of legal and societal changes have also ameliorated some of the negative effects of teen pregnancy.  For example, since 1972, it is illegal for public schools to discriminate on the basis of pregnancy, which allows many pregnant girls to continue their education."[1]

And then there's this out of Louisiana:
Calling a charter school’s policy on pregnant students illegal, Louisiana education officials will require the Delhi Charter School to drop its classroom ban on pregnant students and the ability to mandate pregnancy tests for students suspected of being pregnant.
The state-funded school in Delhi, La., says in its “Student Pregnancy Policy” that pregnant girls should leave school or study at home.
* * *
“The policy discriminates against female students not just for being pregnant but even for the possibility that they might be pregnant, and treats them as though pregnancy was some kind of contagious disease by telling them they can’t stay in school,” Marjorie Esman, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, told “That is a gross violation of the law and their right to have an education.”

The ACLU says the policy violates Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the federal law that bans discrimination based on gender in educational programs, as well as the equal protection and due process clauses of the Constitution. The policy is discriminatory because it treats girls who are pregnant or suspected of being pregnant differently from all other students, the ACLU says.

“What a school should do is treat pregnancy as any other medical condition and allow the student to participate fully in anything that she’s medically capable of participating in,” Esman said, noting the policy doesn’t say anything about male students who father children.

[1] 20 U.S.C. §1681(a) (2000) ("no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."); 34 C.F.R. §106.40(b)(1)(2005)(a school "shall not discriminate against any student, or exclude any student from its education program or activity, including any class or extracurricular activity, on the basis of such student's pregnancy”). See Wanda S. Pillow, Unfit Subjects: Educational Policy and the Teen Mother (2004). Even before passage of that law, some pregnant minors sued and won the right to attend public schools.  See, e.g., Ordway v. Hargraves, 323 F. Supp. 1155 (D.C. Mass. 1971).

Monday, August 6, 2012

Finding Foster and Adoptive Families for LGBT Youth

A new program looking to develop permanency solutions for LGBT youth in foster care:
According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Administration for Children & Families, there are over 150,000 youth aged 12-20 in the foster care system in need of immediate foster placement. This is the age range when many youth first identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). Too often, these adolescents are isolated or rejected by their families of origin.

The Child Welfare League of America reports that LGBT youth are “disproportionately represented” in both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. Studies show that approximately 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBT and that well over half of these youth stay on the street because they feel “safer there than living in group or foster homes.” Social workers across the country have long struggled to find foster and adoptive families that can provide LGBT adolescents with the support they need during the transition to young adulthood.

* * *

Rich Valenza, Founder & President of RaiseAChild.US explains the four phase plan designed to find viable solutions for LGBT youth. “We have created a survey, located at our website, http://www.RaiseAChild.US and invite the general public across the nation to participate, to help us to measure attitudes and concerns about fostering and adoption. After analyzing the data, we will build an infrastructure of support to address those concerns. Then, we go back to the public with a campaign to educate, advocate and recruit safe and loving homes for these children.”
Click above or here for the survey.

Adopting From Africa, Saving the Children?

From ThinkAfricaPress:
The veneer of philanthropy regarding intercountry adoption is beginning to fade as issues are more broadly and better understood, and a dangerous connection to child trafficking becomes more prominent. It is worrying for Africa then that it has been dubbed the 'new frontier' for intercountry adoption by the African Child Policy Forum (ACPF). Despite global rates falling to a 15-year low, Africa has experienced with a threefold rise in intercountry adoption cases in the last eight years.

* * *
What is shocking is how these orphans are characterised. According to Save the Children, over 80% of children in orphanages around the world have a living parent and most are there because their parents cannot afford to feed, clothe and educate them. In Ghana, the figure is as high as 90%. In Ethiopia, the government recently attempted to trace the families of 385 children from 45 institutions; the families of all but 15 children were located.
When seen through this lens, the African orphan crisis is more of a crisis in family support. Poverty is not a reason to remove a child from his or her parent, yet this is exactly what is driving Africans to give up their children in what they perceive are temporary arrangements which will give their children stability and an education before returning home.
There is no word for adoption in most African languages and the concept is greatly misunderstood. Many African family systems have traditionally favoured informal care of children by extended family or community with no legal basis for the arrangement. Adoption agencies are accused of profiting from this misconception as parents are persuaded to sign away their children.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

"I Miss That Person"

Some Korean adoptees use a TV show in Korea to find birth relatives, and many who go searching end up staying:
The wave of immigration to Seoul is drawing Korean-Americans who were adopted into U.S. families as babies and are looking for their birth parents — some with the help of a popular TV show.

Every Friday morning, “I Miss That Person” is broadcast across South Korea, and American citizens are frequent guests. They describe birthmarks and fragmented memories in hopes their biological relatives will recognize them, and they answer questions like: “If you met your birth mother what would you say?” and “Did you experience racism growing up in the U.S.?”

Ari Alberg, 32, met his birth mother a week after appearing on the show, thanks to an uncle who realized who he was. “I said, ‘If my family’s out there, I’m interested in meeting them. I don’t harbor any grudges,'" said Alberg, who grew up in Portland, Ore., but now lives in Seoul.

Not everyone has to take such a dramatic step, but thousands have traveled to Seoul in search of their family tree.

Some put down roots. Jon Balch, 32, returned to the U.S. after connecting with his birth family. But this spring, he left Jackson Heights, Queens, for Seoul and got a job delivering wholesale ingredients to American-run restaurants.
And since this is about adoptees searching, the story has to end with the ubiquitous don't-worry-amom-is-my-real-mom quote: “I kind of feel more like she‘s an aunt,“ he said. “My mom, back in the States, she‘s awesme. She‘ll always be my mother." Will we (APs, society) ever be secure enough that these kinds of assurances can be skipped?

Friday, August 3, 2012

It Takes More Than Love

From the Today Show, a story about adoption disruption:
Famous moms like Angelina Jolie, Madonna and Charlize Theron have brought adoption into the limelight, and perhaps even made it look easy. But what happens, and who's to blame, when an adoption doesn’t work?

In as many as a quarter of adoptions of teens, and a significant number of younger child adoptions, the parents ultimately decide they don’t want to keep the child, experts say.

* * *

In the adoption world, failed adoptions are called “disruptions.” But while a disruption may seem stone-hearted from the outside, these final anguished acts are complex, soul-crushing for all concerned and perhaps more common than you'd think.

"It's heartbreaking when disruption occurs and I want to prevent it as much as possible," says Zia Freeman, a Seattle-area adoption counselor who in her 20 years in the field has dealt with at least two dozen disruptions. "We [give parents] a huge list of behaviors to expect and they're not fun. But I'll have parents come back and say to me, 'I sat through those classes and heard you say that, but I still believed it wouldn't happen to me. That I wouldn't get a kid that wouldn't respond to my love.'"

* * *

Although statistics on disruption vary, a 2010 study of U.S. adoption practices conducted by the University of Minnesota and Hennepin County, Minn., found that between 6 percent and 11 percent of all adoptions are disrupted before they are finalized. For children older than 3, disruption rates range between 10 percent to 16 percent; for teens, it may be as high as 24 percent, or one in four adoptions.

Adoptions can take anywhere from a few months to a couple of years to become final – and that window is when most disruptions occur, experts say. While some families do choose to end an adoption after that, those cases are rarer (ranging from 1 percent to 7 percent, according to the study).

"Disruption rarely occurs with infants," says Freeman, the Seattle-area adoption counselor. "But if you're talking about older children, it can be anywhere from 5 to 20 percent. It's significantly higher because of the complexities of parenting a child who already has life experiences and certain behaviors. When we're rejected and traumatized early in our development, it changes the way we function and respond to people."

* * *

According to the study, the older the child, the more likely the adoption is to fail. Children with special needs also face greater risk of disruption, particularly those who demonstrate emotional difficulties and sexual acting out.
Certain types of parents are more likely to end up giving up adopted children, as well. Younger adoptive parents, inexperienced parents, and parents who both work outside the home are linked with higher levels of disruption. Wealthier parents and more educated mothers, in particular, are also more likely to disrupt an adoption.

"I understand where that might seem odd, but I think there's a potential for less tolerance if someone's more educated or they make more money," says Brooke Randolph, director of adoption preparation and support services at an Indianapolis adoption agency.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Untying a Birth Mother's Hands

From the New York Time's Modern Love column, opening up a previously-closed Guatemalan adoption:
HELEN was across the park when we spotted each other and waved. I could tell by the way she buried her head into her sister’s shoulder that she was already crying. We were, too.

My family was in the colonial city of Antigua, Guatemala, where my daughter was born. It was our second trip since 2006, when my husband, Walter, and I hired what in adoption circles is known as a searcher to find our daughter’s birth mother. We asked if she wanted to know what had happened to the infant she had kissed goodbye on a September morning in 2004 when she was not in a position to raise her.

She did want to know. Desperately.

* * *

Our decision to open our daughter’s adoption was possibly reckless and probably naïve. We did it because her foster mother had met Helen, the birth mother, and told us she loved her very much. If American women and men deserve to know what becomes of their children, it seemed hypocritical to deny Helen what we saw as a human right.

* * *

Still, I was terrified. Were we inappropriately imposing our Oprah-style enthusiasm about the healing power of truth onto a culture that didn’t accept or even want it? Would the search expose Helen and put her in danger? What if the facts of our daughter’s adoption were so sordid we couldn’t bear them? What if we didn’t like Helen?

Most important, what if our daughter one day resented that we made such a colossal decision when she was too young to decide if an open adoption was right for her?

Most of those fears proved to be unwarranted, though we are still waiting to learn what our daughter will make of this when she is old enough to process it. But we suddenly had another challenge: How were Walter and I going to navigate a relationship with a woman we didn’t know but with whom we shared so much?