January 14, 2013

The crux of the matter

I read an article by Jane Jeong Trenka in the MPR News this morning: How to stop languishing and get your self adopted.

Jane never pulls punches, so if you are an adoptive parent who is looking to assuage that Concern you may be feeling about your role in intercountry adoption, you won't find it here. You will find some good food for thought, however, that is an important segue from my post last week. Jane challenges society's unwillingness to adopt the kids who really need adoption, and in the process gives a slap in the face to "orphan" adoption promotion programs that encourage adoption generally but don't acknowledge that the needs may be far different than the desires of adoptive parents. Jane identifies four key characteristics needed to ensure the adoption of any child:

1. Be young.
2. Be white.
3. Be alone.
4. Be an orphan.
I don't agree with everything Jane says here, and also know that many adoptive parents who start their journey just as Jane describes us change our attitudes as we learn just what adoption means to our children. But adoption statistics, like the ones in my post, bear out that children who aren't young, aren't white and who have siblings and/or first family connections will be unlikely to be considered for adoption or adopted by the typical prospective adoptive parent, who will be seeking an infant adoption.

There are two things we need to do to straighten out this situation.

First, we need to end the notion that adoption is in any way shape or form connected or a response to infertility or abortion. These two attitudes push women facing unplanned pregnancies to bear their children specifically for the purpose of adoption, and also give prospective adoptive parents the idea that adoption is the logical next step when infertility treatments fail.

You have no idea how much I believed that last one, no idea.

Second, we have to end the notion that the only people responsible for adopting the kids who really need families are the infertile. Although we live in a time in which we have entire political structures claiming that we have no social responsibilities, I believe we do, and our first priority should be our kids.

Do we cross borders to do so? Or do we make global decisions that every country is responsible for its own, case closed? This is where it gets really sticky, I think, but perhaps if we made progress correcting the two misconceptions I describe, the answer to this last question would become clearer.

Yes, very good food for thought indeed. Thanks, Jane!

January 10, 2013

One concern cocktail, please

My friends are smart, really smart. They have taken up the slack for me more times thank I can count, which happened again this week in a FB group I belong to that was discussing Jessica O'Dwyer's article for the New York Times Motherlode blog, An Adoptive Parent Won't Take the Blame.

I understand where Ms. O'Dwyer was trying to go with this article, but don't believe she actually got there. Yes, I agree that adoptive parents may not be the cause of corruption in all intercountry adoption programs, but sure are catalysts in some and enablers pretty much across the board.

So I said to my smart friends in this FB discussion that I do feel guilty about having been involved in adoption injustice, and that it motivates me to get involved and do something about it. Martha Crawford of What a Shrink Thinks pointed out that these feelings are actually something called Concern, which Martha described as an Empathy - Responsibility cocktail. She mentioned someone called Winnicott, whom I with zero psychology knowledge do not know, but you may.

Yes, empathy and responsibility are closer to what I feel about being an intercountry adoptive parent than breast-beating guilt. They are healthy and encourage engagement, care and action, much more productive than denial or inactive guilt. They are nothing to be afraid of, nothing to deny; in fact they are something we all can embrace.

Amazing what naming your demons can do for you. I find this so helpful that I think maybe I should start taking psychology classes.

Or get a therapist.

January 8, 2013

One size doesn't fit

Well, that little endeavor certainly crashed and burned. I thought I had learned my lesson after the last effort, but apparently I needed one more smack in the head to get it: You can't separate your "voices." You get one, and you have to figure out how to make all the pieces, which may not always fit together, speak in harmony. So I guess if I want to occasionally blather on somewhere it will have to be here.

I tried an angry voice and actually liked it a lot, but found it made me a lot angrier than I wanted to be in general, and also pushed me to write more for the reaction than from my heart. And then I tried a happy voice and didn't like it at all. I'm a pretty happy person, but when I'm talking about adoption I guess I just can't divorce the bad from the good.

So here I am again. I think I'll level set, because I think the three or four of you who may still check in here deserve to know what's been eating at me. I think I can sum it up by saying my experiences as an adoptive parent have felt way out of sync with my thoughts on adoption reform. Writing and speaking and talking almost exclusively about the bad stuff these past few years has put me into a corner that hasn't allowed me to reflect on the rest of my and my family's experience. I'm an ordinary person, but I believe those experiences have value and can be helpful to families just starting out.

Why, you may ask, do you feel so cornered? I'll give you an example. Before I ditched the last failed blog, I wrote that I believe saving adoption is worth the effort. A friend commented that we should look to Sweden's model, which by providing sufficient support to single mothers has reduced such adoptions to something like eight a year.

Honestly, it made me angry, not at my friend, but at the fact that I felt I had to defend what is, in my opinion, sort of a no brainer. I could have responded there, but I think that blog was already a gonner in my head, so here's what I would have said, by numbers. The foster care and adoption statistics come the 2011 AFCARS report, and the surrender stat from Child Welfare Information Gateway and Evan B. Donaldson reports.

  • Children in foster care in 2011: 400,540
  • Children in foster care waiting for adoption 2011: 104,236
  • Children waiting for adoption whose parental rights were terminated in 2011:  61,361
  • Children for whom adoption was a case goal in 2011: 94,629
  • Children adopted in 2011: 49,866
  • Surrenders: ~14,000
[Note 1/10/13: A friend suggested that we should ditch the "voluntary" label because it is misleading and in many (most? all?) cases incorrect. So I'm striking it out here and will bear this good advice in mind when talking about this in the future. Thank you, Suz!]

14,000 surrenders are not an insignificant number. However, when we succeed in reducing or ending these, adoption will still be in the picture (presuming we agree that children for whom they are an option deserve families rather than institutional care). We should work to ensure these adoptions are truly the best option for the child, to ensure they are ethical, to protect these adoptees' right, and to prepare the adoptive parents for their important responsibilities.

I know that these are U.S. domestic adoption statistics and that numbers will vary by country, but the drivers will likely include tragedy and surrender in varying ratios. If I'm right, the challenge remains the same the world over: stop the unnecessary adoptions and ensure the ones that take place are focused on the child and not the adoptive parents.

Two articles came across my radar screen over the past couple of days say what I'm trying to say far better than I can. The first is a 2007 article by Hollee McGinnis for the New York Times Relative Choices blog that I read back then and am glad I found again. This in particular struck a chord with me:
Personally, I am not for adoption or against it. I can see its value and also its limitation. What I am for are choices. The argument for me is not whether international adoption should be abolished or promoted, but rather how to maximize options for children so that all can reach their full potential, be it with those who bore them or those willing to adopt them at home or abroad, or for those children who have no option but to grow up in an institution.
The other is an intelligent, wise guest post by JaeRan Kim for the Riley's in Uganda. Read it, save it, and read it again and again. JaeRan makes a lot of important points in this article, but these two, from separate paragraphs in the article, hit home:

... I do not think that international adoption should never be an option – but it should child specific and the last option. And it should never, ever be solely because an adoptive parent desires to adopt. Adoption should be about finding families for children, not children for families, and families who want to adopt a child from another race, culture and country should be prepared to show they are the best option for that child. Having a two story house, private school options, music or soccer activities – those only show that someone has money, not the qualifications that are best suited to parent a child that has experienced separation, abandonment, and trauma in a culturally sensitive way. ...

... People gripe a lot about those “anti-adoption” folks. I think that when adoption is seen as a commodity and a right that adults have then sure that might look hostile. But being “anti-adoption” to me says something different – the goal is not to increase adoptions but to decrease them because children are being cared for in their families and communities. I say all the time that as someone who works in adoptions, I’m working to make my job obsolete because children are safe in their families and communities. ...

I'm trying to work on both fronts: to make adoption unnecessary and to make it ethical and child focused. This puts me at odds with myself, but what can I do? It is what it is, and I'm not fighting it anymore.