One of the reasons I don’t write much about adoption anymore is that it’s pretty much impossible to have any sort of discussion about the issues that are now important to more without setting off a firestorm. Online “dialog” doesn’t lend itself well to gray, which is where my head is at on a couple of key adoption issues right now.
Not citizenship, unfettered adoptee access to original birth certificates, adoptive parent responsibility to protect their children’s legal status and ethnic and genetic heritage, for-profit adoption or “pregnancy counseling” by adoption agencies, to name just a few things that I still see in black and white. These, in my opinion, are non-negotiable, and critical to correcting the injustices that exist in adoption - just want to make sure they don't get lost in the mush of what follows.
What has been occupying my adoption related thoughts recently is simply whether or not adoption should exist. Some of you may believe there is no justifying adoption in light of current and past injustices, and that institutions - orphanages, group homes, etc. – are better for children than adoption, intercountry or domestic, presuming they offer nurturing care rather than just warehousing the children. Much better for kids to grow up in their countries in a community of other children just like them than to be sent away to strangers.
There are certainly instances in which I would agree with this. When I hear from intercountry adoptees who are struggling with parents who ignore their racial, ethnic and genetic identities, or who demand gratitude and withhold love when it isn’t delivered, it’s hard not to question whether adoption was best for that individual, harder still to come to any conclusion other than it wasn’t.
But what if adoption agencies were able to weed out parents like this? What if respecting a child’s heritage was as important during a homestudy as having a safe house and economic resources? What if adoption agencies could weed out the people who saw adoption as their right but signaled that they were to ignore their responsibilities?
I expect a reaction to this along the lines of That's impossible, agencies are more concerned about revenue, so the risk of placing children with families who care nothing for their identities is too great.
There is an at least equal risk that group care facilities and foster care will fail to nurture children at all, however. It bothers me that this seems to be getting lost in the debate.
I believe the following are pretty accurate statements:
There are good and bad children’s homes. There is no global oversight of child welfare practices. Some children who enter these systems are therefore at risk.
There are good and bad adoptions. Global standards for conducting adoptions (e.g. the Hague Convention) aren’t universally accepted or followed, and there is even less agreement on what it takes to adoptive parent successfully. Some children who are adopted are therefore at risk
If this is correct, then everyone who is concerned about children should be working toward several, ostensibly competing, ends: stopping as many of the controllable circumstances (poverty, attitudes toward single mothers, and many more) as possible that make orphanages, foster care and adoption necessary; improving group child and foster care for every child that must receive it; and focusing adoption on the needs of individual children, including competent adoptive parenting, rather than on filling the demands of prospective adoptive parents.
I don’t write much – at all, really - about my kids here anymore. They’re grown, and they deserve their privacy. But I want to share one thing that has challenged me as a parent as well as my interest in adoption reform: When I look at the facts regarding our children’s Korean parents and the circumstances of their adoptions, I can say that in a perfect world neither adoption should have happened, but in light of each situation that adoption was better than the alternative for one, and not necessarily for the other. Neither believes their particular situation is a model for all adoptions. In a way, my kids' adoptions are a little microcosm of the adoption debate, and consideration of their circumstances deserves a whole lot better than knee-jerk ideology.
If anyone else out there gets what I'm trying to say, please comment or contact me. It would be good to know there are others – adoptees, adoptive parents and first parents – who are struggling with the same conflicts and would like to have some un-ideological dialog about it. Maybe we can find a place to do that.
I learn best when information is presented to me and I am allowed to digest it. I also learn best when the information is someone’s firsthand experience, rather second- or third-hand academic dissection or opinion. When it comes to adoption, I also learn best from first parents and, above all, adopted people. They have given my adoption education its ah ha moments.
Filmmaker and Korean adoptee Deann Borshay Liem has been my greatest teacher. I wonder sometimes where my adoption education would have gone had I not seen First Person Plural back in 2000. The film had just been released, and in a stroke of luck, the event's host, Korean Focus Metro DC, was able to bring Deann to the program. The audience, a mix of adoptees, adoptive parents and adoption agency staff, was clearly moved, to tears. The discussion that followed the film demonstrated just how deeply it had touched the audience.
Deann’s second, and more recent, film on the subject of adoption from Korea is 2010’s In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee. Deann goes head on with adoption fraud in this one, as she searches for a Korean woman named Cha Jung Hee, with whom her identity was switched before she was adopted by American parents. Like First Person Plural before it, this film is direct and never preaches. It simply presents this egregiously unjust situation, allows you to absorb the shock of knowing this was happening with Korean adoption, and then draw your own conclusion.
Deann is working on a third film, Geographies of Kinship: The Korean Adoption Story, and she is seeking your support to make it a reality. Geographies of Kinship can earn $75,000 if that amount is pledged by July 31. The drive just started, and almost $16,000 has been pledged already. To get to $75K, Deann needs everyone to make a donation (they can be as small as $1 and as large as you choose) and also to share this announcement with your friends, families and communities.