November 11, 2009

A generation fights to reform adoption laws

Must read: A generation fights to reform adoption laws.

I understand this far too well:
They found that in some cases an orphan hojeok (family registry) is produced for a child sent for international adoption, even if the child has a family. Contradictions were also found between the records held by adoptive parents and those kept by the adoption agency.
Which is why we have to think long and hard about this:

The majority of children relinquished for adoption in Korea are the children of unwed mothers. Of the 2,556 adoptions in 2008, international and domestic, 2,170 were the children of unwed mothers. Others were from low-income families or broken homes.
This picture will look different in Ethiopia, China or Russia or whatever placing country you may talk about, including the U.S. (yes, American children are adopted abroad.) Understanding these underlying causes for adoption is absolutely key to avoiding corrupt adoption practices.

Kudos to everyone in Korea who has been working to improve Korean adoption law and practice: Jane Jeong Trenka, TRACK, Reverend Kim Do-Hyun of KoRoot and those who weren't named in the article.

November 10, 2009

Beyond Culture Camp: New Donaldson Report

From the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute,
a new report on adult adoptee identity issues:
Beyond Culture Camp: Promoting Healthy
Identity Formation in Adoption.

From the study's website:

The principal recommendations of the 112 page study include:

Expand parental preparation and post-placement support for those adopting across race and culture. Such preparation should include educating parents about the
salience of race across the developmental course, instruction about racial identity development and the tasks inherent in such development, and assistance in understanding racial discrimination and how best to arm their children to combat the prejudice and stereotypes they will face. Preparation also should include the understanding that seeking services and supports is a positive part of parenting - i.e., it is a sign of strength, not failure.

Develop empirically based practices and resources to prepare transracially and
transculturally adopted youth to cope with racial bias. This study, as well as previous research, indicates that perceived discrimination is linked with greater psychological distress, lower self-esteem, and more discomfort with one's race/ethnicity. Hence, it is essential to arm transracially adopted youth with ways to cope with discrimination in a manner that does not negatively impact their identity.

Promote laws, policies and practices that facilitate access to information for adopted individuals. For adopted individuals, gaining information about their origins is not just a matter of curiosity, but a matter of gaining the raw materials needed to fill in the missing pieces in their lives and derive an integrated sense of self. Both adoption rofessionals and the larger society need to recognize this basic human need and right, and to facilitate access to needed information for adopted individuals.

Educate parents, teacher, practitioners, the media and others about the realities of adoption to erase stigmas and stereotypes, minimize adoption-related discrimination, and provide children with more opportunities for positive development. Generations of secrecy, shame and stereotypes about adoption (and those it affects) have taken a toll, as the respondents in this research make clear. Just as discrimination based on color, gender, sexual orientation and religion - all components of people's identity -
are broadly considered to be socially unacceptable, adoption-related discrimination also should be unacceptable. Professionals and parents also need to be better informed about the importance of providing diversity and appropriate role models.

Increase research on the risk and protective factors that shape the adjustment of adoptees, especially those adopted transracially/culturally in the U.S. or abroad. More longitudinal research that combines quantitative and qualitative methods is needed to better understand the process through which children, teens and young adults progress in confronting transracial adoption identity issues. Additional research is also needed on the identity journey experienced by in-race adoptees - and, pointedly, more of the studies of every kind need to include the perspective of adopted individuals themselves.

More about the report in this New York Times article, Adopted From Korea and in Search of Identity.

November 9, 2009

I wish I was in Berlin

20 Jahre Mauerfall - the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. If ever an event gives me hope for the future, it's this one.

I wish I could have been there then.

And I wish I could be there now.

November 5, 2009

Signs and wonders

I read something recently on an adoptive parent's blog that's been keeping the wheels turning this week.

I'm not going to link to the blog in question unless permission is granted (if you figure out who you are, please leave a comment or send an email, and I'll add the link) because my goal in this post isn't to create more discord, it's simply to voice a few more thoughts about the discussion I read there.

The blogger is clearly devoted to her Christian faith, and therefore attracts others of like mind. The post I read linked to several others on the subject of adoption and Christianity, including one of mine. The ensuing comments, whether they agreed or not, were thoughtful and respectful. One of the commenters made the frequently-seen point that Christians are called to adopt because God set a precedent by adopting humanity. It got me thinking about the dangers of looking for signs and affirmations for the things we want to do.

Humanity has always loved signs. My own Catholic faith is loaded with them, which for me is a problem, because logic is my comfort zone. This doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t appreciate the serendipity that sometimes accompanies life’s events. It's all over my kids’ births and adoptions, and to someone who might be seeking it, point to a higher power’s approval of their presence in my family.

First, there’s the peculiar coincidence of their birthdays: they share the same one (don't ask) which happens to be Sikmogil 식목일 – Korea’s Arbor Day. If ever an image can conjure up adoption, it’s that of the tree: roots and branches, transplanted trees, and more. It was hard not to see providence at work here. My children’s roots are in Korea, but couldn’t be nourished there. By moving them here, their branches will thrive and can join our family tree!

Then come the arrivals. There are, as those of you who have adopted from Korea and are Catholic may know, 103 Korean saints, martyred in the 19th century and canonized in 1984. The Boy arrived on the Catholic feast of Andrew Kim Taegon, Paul Chong Hasang and Companions. His name is the same as one of the martyrs. What is God telling me here? He must be saying that this child was meant to arrive here, to this country, and join my family and my faith! He iced this cake by selecting another of these saints as his confirmation patron.

The Girl’s arrival also came with a message. She arrived on the feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, patron saint of soldiers and promoter of scholarship and learning. Hmmm. What’s God saying with this one? That this child will be a fighter of some sort? Maybe a scholar? If that happens, I’ll know she was meant to be ours! Well, The Girl is certainly a good student and fighter, no question about that! And when it came time for her to choose her confirmation saint, she chose St. Joan of Arc, another soldier saint. See? It's true!

I'd be a liar if I said these signs have no meaning to me. But I'd be a fool if I took them at face value.

Fact is that although a transplanted tree can survive, it should first be helped to thrive where it grows. Fact is, too, that when a tree must be moved, it should only be done with respect for where the roots first grew, for their desire to return, and with a care for those who experience the tree's departure in sadness.

Fact is that identifying a cultural coincidence is meaningless if we as adoptive parents ignore our responsibilities to respect and nurture our kids’ heritage, to protect their birth histories, and to welcome their birth families into ours.

Fact is that raising children out of poverty to be scholars and strong citizens isn't just the purview of adoptive parents - poor parents have the very same right. Helping their families to achieve the means we enjoy should be our primary focus.
When signs affirm something we desperately want to be true, they serve our wants and desires rather than the truth. This feeling is so comforting that some of us try to retrofit life events into them, even when the connections are forced and the messages perverted. I find this particularly sad when the sign is taken from a holy book, and when it excludes other equally-important messages from that same holy book demanding different behavior.

No action is moral if it ignores the bad fruits (think Matthew 7 16) that result from it. This happens in adoption; this good thing that so many promote has led to some appallingly rotten fruit from people who know how to game the system for personal, institutional or governmental profit. Even when an individual adoption is done ethically, if the adopter never gives a backward glance to the families left behind or forward glance to the rights of the adopted, the fruit is just as rotten.

Promoting material and social justice for surrendering parents and equal access to identity for adopted people has to be the starting point for any discussion of adoption. Promoting adoption without equally addressing these, and not just paying them lip service, creates a lie by omission, an untruth. This seems so incredibly clear to me, I honestly don't understand why people don't see it.

Maybe a sign would help.

November 2, 2009

National Adoption Awareness Month: Cause for celebration?

It’s National Adoption Awareness Month - as if you haven’t been bombarded from every direction with announcements, events, celebrations, fundraisers and on and on and on. I wonder sometimes if my kids are asked about adoption more in November than other times of the year, but I suppose this is one of those things that we who live much of our lives in the adoption world are more tuned into than the average person. They've never mentioned it, so I suspect they're not even aware it exists.

I'm not interested in all the hype surrounding November's adoption focus - I wish instead that we could use National Adoption Awareness Month to step away from our deeply held points of view to consider the broader picture for awhile. I'd love to have the opportunity to get around a table with people who think just like me and nothing like me to discuss the challenges that face us all. It's really easy to view the entire experience of adoption through a single lens when you spend most of your time looking through it, and to lose sight of the fact that not every experience is the same.

So what do I really believe about adoption? What's my lens? Well, I believe that if parents aren't given the resources to parent, the adoption of their children by others is an inherently unjust act by governments, agencies and individuals, including me. I believe that the shame and stigma placed on single women in particular must stop. I also believe that secrecy has no place in adoption, and that in this country, our closed birth record laws are deeply unjust.

But as I say this, I have to acknowledge that there are children in every country on the planet whose parents will not parent them, even if sufficient resources are made available. As firmly as I believe women and families should be given the resources to parent their children, I believe children who are truly alone in the world, or whose parents and families refuse the assistance offered, deserve to grow up in families – in their birth countries if at all possible, but when not, in families in other countries. However, those families MUST recognize that they hold their children’s histories, heritage and genetic connections in trust, and must raise them in full knowledge of the identities that belong to them and them alone.

These two points of view conflict sometimes - no, practically all the time. This is probably why the adoption community is so polarized; it's hard to live in the paradox zone all the time. You question everything, and always feel like your point of view is on quicksand. Maybe my advanced age (heh) gives me an advantage; one of the things I've noticed lately is that I say it is what it is a lot - because it really IS what it is. And so it is with adoption: I find good in what dismays, and evil in the best of intentions.

And there is a lot of good work being done – look at what the Korean adoptee communityhas accomplished for themselves and single mothers in Korea! Adoptee organizations like ASK, G.O.A’L. and TRACK, and many hard-working individuals, are changing attitudes and laws in Korea. Other groups like MPAK and Adoptees for Children are doing equally good work on behalf of ethical adoption practices here and in Korea. Adoptive parents, too, are working for change: look at the Korean Unwed Mothers Network founded by Rick Boas, which has added its voice (in a blog, too) to the work being done in Korea by adoptees and unmarried mothers themselves.

There’s little room for differing points of view, though. I was incredibly disappointed to see a member of one group publicly insult someone with another point of view by name in a Facebook communication not long ago; that serves nothing but the ego of the insulter. It makes me wonder, too, if and how kids like mine – not particularly focused on adoption, comfortable in their Korean and Asian identities, and happy in our family – will be welcomed into the broader Korean adoption community. Will their identities and family be questioned with You drank the kool-aid or You’re in the adoption fog? Or will they be respected? It makes me sad to think that this may await them as they develop their own connections in the adoption community.

So am I celebrating National Adoption Awareness Month? Well, no. I celebrate my family every day of the year, so I don’t need November for that. According to the AdoptUSKids 2009 National Adoption Month Toolkit, there are 130,000 children available for adoption right now, which isn’t something to celebrate. Single Korean mothers are fighting an uphill battle to gain public support; heck, unmarried American women are still falling prey to unscrupulous adoption agencies. Religious zeal and skewed notions of charity in adoption have put the rights of poor or unmarried parents at risk. Adoptee birth certificates remain sealed in the majority of states.

No, no celebration here. Instead, I’ll be thinking of my kids’ Korean mothers and fathers, and praying that those I believe are still alive are well. I’ll be giving thanks for the incredible honor of being mom to two of the most amazing individuals on the planet. And I’ll be renewing my commitment to do what I can to promote justice on their behalf.