Tag Archives: international adoption

Eye-opening Insights Into International Adoption, Orphans, Special Needs and “Re-homing”

To read this column on The Huffington Post, go to: http://huff.to/1aFxZ4t

A chilling story has been getting considerable attention in the news during recent weeks: Adoptive parents around the U.S., feeling unable to cope with the severity of their children’s problems, are using the Internet to informally move them into new families — without any professional guidance, support, monitoring, supervision or regulation. The process is called “re-homing,” and it clearly needs to be addressed (i.e., stopped) with targeted laws, policies and practices.

At the same time, this phenomenon needs to be viewed as more than a window into the struggles of a relatively small number of people. Rather, it should be understood as a cautionary tale about what can happen when parents are not prepared for the needs of the children they adopt, and don’t receive the necessary training, support or services to meet those needs (see “Keeping the Promise“). It also should be seen as the tip of an iceberg of unmonitored, unregulated adoption-related activities taking place on the Internet (see “Untangling the Web“).

Finally and pointedly — in the context of a new study by the Donaldson Adoption Institute titled “A Changing World” — the “re-homing” story should be understood as an insight into the emerging realities of intercountry adoption, because nearly all of the children in the news being “re-homed” were adopted from abroad.

The Adoption Institute study shows that a growing number of the girls and boys being adopted from other nations today are not the infants of adoption’s recent past but, instead, are older and sometimes have serious special needs. As a result of this new reality, the study recommends (among many other things) that best practices be created, reshaped and implemented to enable all their families to succeed and, for those with severe problems, to prevent the kind of distress that leads desperate parents to seek radical solutions like “re-homing.”

“A Changing World” represents the most extensive independent research into intercountry adoption to date, including into the regulatory framework/treaty called the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption (HCIA). The research was conducted over the past two years by scholars at Tufts University and the Institute; among its components are surveys of about 1,500 adoptive parents, adoption professionals in the U.S. and other “receiving” countries and countries of origin, as well as interviews with senior policymakers in 19 nations.

Key findings in the study, based on the responses from parents and professionals, as well as an extensive literature review and additional research, include:

• More children are remaining in orphanages for longer periods of time, thereby incurring the increased developmental and psychic harm that comes from being institutionalized, while also diminishing their prospects for ever moving into a permanent family.

• Though many prospective parents chose intercountry adoption to avoid contact with children’s families of origin, a fast-growing number change their minds and seek connections — which is leading to a growing increase in international open adoptions.

• Many countries of origin, including the largest ones such as China, are increasingly allowing the intercountry adoption primarily or exclusively of children who have special needs, are older, and/or are in sibling groups (to be adopted together).

• While the overwhelming focus for children in U.S. foster care is finding permanency domestically, American officials are also endorsing adoptions for some of them into families abroad. Ninety-nine children were adopted out of the U.S. last year..

• There is greater transparency and consistency in the international adoption process, as well as an increased focus on the best interests of and protections for children who need families, though there is great variability from country to country.

• The ongoing changes in the world of intercountry adoption have contributed to a steep drop in numbers (from a peak of almost 23,000 adoptions into the U.S. from abroad in 2004 to fewer than 9,000 last year and to rising costs that can exceed $50,000.

Based on its analysis of the research findings, the Institute’s recommendations include:

1. To the greatest extent possible, countries of origin should provide more-complete and accurate diagnoses/records on medical and mental health issues; these are often lacking, so it is more difficult for adopting families to prepare for and meet their children’s needs.

2. Receiving countries should offer more training and resources to help countries of origin improve their child welfare and adoption systems, thereby helping more children while showing that their primary interest is not just increasing intercountry adoptions.

3. Receiving countries should provide preparation, services and supports for adoptive families; the research found they too often do not know where to turn, and the help they need sometimes is not available. Preparation on special needs and openness is critical.

4. To the extent possible given economic and social realities, countries of origin should develop and provide better adoption education and supports for domestic families. The goal should be that more children can be placed in families in their own communities.

5. Adoption practitioners should provide more and better information for prospective and adoptive parents about the prospects/realities of making and maintaining contact with families of origin, and about positive ways to navigate possible relationships.

Intercountry adoption has changed comprehensively in the last few decades — and is still in the midst of its transformation from a robust but largely unmonitored process through which tens of thousands of infants and toddlers moved into new homes annually, into a smaller but better-regulated system serving primarily children who are older and/or have special needs. At the same time, uncountable hundreds of thousands (and probably far more) of boys and girls of all ages remain institutionalized in countries around the globe, many if not most with minimal prospects of ever living in a family or reaching their potential.

The accumulation of greater knowledge about adoption is critical to shaping, improving and implementing the laws, policies and practices that are ostensibly designed, first and foremost, to serve these children’s interests and to enhance their prospects for better lives.

Adam Pertman, President

Ellen Pinderhughes, Senior Fellow

Donaldson Adoption Institute

 

Untangling the Web: A Groundbreaking Project – and a Request for Help

Social media and other elements of new technology are instigating life-altering changes in every aspect of adoption. These historic shifts range from creating challenges and opportunities for child-placement, counseling, outreach and other professional practices; to facilitating search and reunion to an extent never before imagined; to complicating the ability of courts, agencies and parents to determine the nature of contact between minor children and members of their families of origin.

In short, for good and for ill, the Internet is rewriting the rules of adoption.

I’m writing today – along with my colleague at the Donaldson Adoption Institute, Dr. Jeanne Howard — to tell you a bit about (and ask your help on) an important new research project that Jeanne is leading for us. It is titled “Untangling the Web: The Internet’s Historic Impact on Adoption” and it aims to achieve several objectives over the three years we plan to devote to it (funding permitting):

  • Gain a better understanding of what’s happening and its implications.
  • Offer knowledge-based findings and recommendations on effective/best practices for all the affected professionals, families and individuals.
  • Provide information and resources to enable all parties to deal more thoughtfully and effectively with the changes that are forever reshaping adoption.

Here’s how you can help: If you have examples, ideas or any other feedback from your professional or personal experience that could inform our work – issues in law, policy, practice or everyday life that we should be looking at, large and small – we would greatly appreciate hearing from you.

This means illustrations of how the Internet has improved or harmed aspects of adoption; stories of how social media have led to wonderful reunions or problematic ones; instances of positive, affirming communications or terrible ones (such as an abusive adult ignoring a court order and contacting a child) and whatever other issues you have seen, have concerns about, or think we need to research/address.

To share your input: Please send an email to this address: InternetProjectAI@gmail.com.

Let us know in your message whether we can contact you to get further details or clarification on the information you provide. Also, feel free to forward this blog – which also is being circulated as an emailed letter – to anyone on your own lists whom you think might be able to contribute. We will carefully review all messages and may use some as examples in our publications.

Your thoughts and examples will be invaluable to making this groundbreaking project a success, so thank you enormously in advance for taking the time to help. 

Jeanne Howard, Research Director

Adam Pertman, Executive Director

Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute

 

 

Adoption in the Media: What Do Pregnant Women, Killers and Crying Babies Have in Common?

August 8, 2012

To read this column on The Huffington Post, go to: http://huff.to/RACl6J.

When we don’t fully understand something, we’re prone to make mistakes when dealing with it. This not-very-profound truism popped into my head a few days ago as I was thinking about how to lead into a new commentary – the one you’re reading right now – about the negative repercussions of the secrecy, stigma and shame that permeated adoption for generations and, alas, sometimes still do.

Here are just a few of the examples I was considering as a jumping-off point, and I did not make any of these up: A new reality show called “I’m Having Their Baby,” which films pregnant women as they agonize over the decision of whether to place their newborns for adoption; a headline in a New Jersey newspaper, “Did They Adopt Their Killer?” atop a story about a 26-year-old man accused of murdering the father and grandmother who had brought him up “as their own” for two decades; and an online poster of two infants, the laughing one assuring the crying one, “Dude! I’m joking, you’re not adopted!”

Ah, welcome to the wonderful world of adoption, a place where women are baby-delivery devices for other parents, where men slay the people who raise them because they are not biologically related, and where the very idea of having entered a family in this way is so unnerving that it makes you weep.

It’s tempting to look at all this and conclude that the problem is the media, which too often succumb to the sensational without doing their homework – or caring – about the accuracy or consequences of their seize-the-second hyperbole. So, for example, was the status of that New Jersey family relevant in any way to the murders that were committed, because that’s the implication of the headline, and what’s the message it sends about adoption generally? And, of course, the internet provides a forum for every kind of random notion anyone can conceive, and there are lots out there that are far more toxic than the suggestion that being adopted is an insult; but it’s worth asking what that poster’s impact might be on adopted people (especially children) and, again, what’s the message it sends about adoption generally?

While the media play a significant role in perpetuating misinformed myths and negative stereotypes relating to adoption, however, they obviously did not create those beliefs and I’m confident they rarely transmit them with bad intent. Rather, journalists and television producers and regular folks who post pictures on Facebook primarily reflect the perceived truths of their culture – and the unfortunate fact is that we are still living with the remnants of the bad old days of adoption, when unwed mothers were routinely pressured to give up their babies; it was common not to tell children they were adopted (remember: we keep secrets about things we’re embarrassed about or ashamed of); and adoptive parents were often viewed as having second-best families that might even include “bad blood.”

Combine all those elements with another truism about secrets – that it’s very hard to learn anything about them – and here we are. That is, we’re learning more and more about the realities of the tens of millions of people affected by adoption but, as a culture and as individuals, we retain some of the lingering misconceptions that can undermine their lives.

The title of the new cable show “I’m Having Their Baby” is one of the best examples I’ve seen in a long time, even without getting into its content. I genuinely believe the creators of that program did not mean to transmit any hurtful messages relating to adoption; I’m sure, instead, they saw an opportunity to get strong ratings with episodes chock-full of drama, pathos and empathy, all the while demonstrating just how excruciating the decision to part with one’s child can truly be.

My professional life is all about educating the world about adoption’s realities, including the tough ones, but pregnant women serving as baby carriers for other people? That emphatically should not be among them. Use this title for a show about paid surrogates, not one about women whose options – and, vital to keep in mind, whose preferences – also include parenting the children to whom they give birth.

For the women on screen, is simply participating in something called “I’m Having Their Baby” not-so-subtly letting them know what they’re supposed to do? Will it unwittingly serve as a message to other pregnant women, and to prospective adoptive parents, as well? More broadly, will it communicate to everyone watching that this is what adoption is all about? In 2012, after we’re made so much progress on women’s reproductive rights and on best practices for everyone involved in adoption, am I really still asking these questions?

Adoption is not just about child placement. It is also about family diversity, about equal rights, and about treating everyone involved with respect and dignity. We couldn’t do that very well during an era when we lied to our own children, drove women underground and shamed nearly everyone else involved. Looking back, we can argue – whether it’s a rationalization or a fact – that those practices simply reflected the mores of their time and, besides, there was a lot we didn’t know.

Well, the times have changed, and we know very much more. So now what’s our excuse?

 

An Unnerving Reality: We’re Deporting Adoptees

May 29, 2012

To read this column on The Huffington Post, go to: http://huff.to/K9NYiR.

Imagine that your daughter, whom you raised from infancy, was convicted of forgery. You certainly wouldn’t be surprised if she were prosecuted for that felony and, while it would be heartbreaking, you’d expect her to be punished, probably even imprisoned. Now let’s add one more element to this real-life scenario: How would you feel if the penalty imposed on your 30-year-old child – who suffers from multiple sclerosis – was deportation to another country where she knows no one and doesn’t speak the native language?

I am not making this up. It is happening today. It is obviously devastating to the woman facing a jarringly disproportionate punishment for the crime she committed, but it is also much more than that. It is a vivid example of the unfairness and inequality that sometimes exist in the world of adoption.

What may be most unnerving is the fact that this is not an aberration; while it is hardly commonplace, it has happened again and again. And there has been virtually no media attention, or public outrage, or embarrassment on the part of immigration officials, or concerted effort to reform law and policy so that people who were adopted into their families are placed on a level playing field with their biological counterparts.

Here’s the core of the case: Kairi Abha Shepherd was adopted from India into the United States in 1982, when she was three months old. Her mother, a single woman in Utah, died of cancer eight years later, so Shepherd went on to live with guardians for the remainder of her childhood. More details are in this news story from last week: http://bit.ly/KzkIP5.

In short, Shepherd’s adoption took place before 2000, when a new federal statute conferred automatic U.S. citizenship on most children adopted internationally into this country; the law included a retroactive provision, but she was adopted a few months before it kicked in. So the adults in her life were supposed to fill out paperwork for her to become a citizen – but, like many others, they either didn’t know or, for whatever reasons, never got around to doing it.

As a consequence, when Shepherd was convicted in 2004 of forgery to feed a drug habit, U.S. authorities did what they do to many felons who don’t have documents showing they are Americans: They started deportation proceedings, which are now coming to a head. It doesn’t seem to matter that Shepherd has lived as an American for all but a few months of her life, and it is an extraordinary price to pay for a bureaucratic oversight made by the adults who raised her.

Again, this is not an aberration. Last year, a 31-year-old mother of three, who was adopted from Korea when she was eight months old, was held at a federal detention center in Arizona and faced deportation after a second theft conviction. It’s unclear what happened to the woman, who was not named (http://bit.ly/KiQ65Q) but the bottom line was the same: Her adoption took place before the period covered by the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, and neither she nor her parents ever applied for citizenship for her. So, even though she had lived in the U.S. nearly all her life, had given birth to three children on our nation’s soil, had never as much as visited Korea and didn’t speak the language, federal authorities wanted to send her “back.”

There are more examples, too, dating back at least 15 years; indeed, in my book Adoption Nation, I write about a young man who was adopted into the U.S. as a child, convicted of car theft and credit card fraud, and deported at age 25 to Thailand, where (same story) he knew no one and didn’t speak the native tongue. Can you imagine anything comparable happening to someone born into his or her family, whatever the offense? Of course not.

People who break the law should unequivocally pay an appropriate price for their offenses. But I think it can fairly be argued that the reason some are being ejected from the only country they’ve ever known is not because of the crime they’ve committed – but because they were adopted.

This feels grievously wrong. We should be shocked, we should be outraged, and we should do whatever is necessary to halt the cases already in progress and to prevent this from ever happening again.

 

What a Week on the West Coast!

June 13, 2011

I sometimes joke (though it’s no joke) that I advocate for children by leaving my own! I try hard to make my business trips as short as possible, but I sure didn’t succeed last week; in fact, I was gone Monday through Saturday, cramming in as many meetings, educational presentations, media appearances and book-promotion events as possible to further the mission of the unique organization that I’m so proud to lead  (www.adoptioninstitute.org).

Other than being a bit tired – this have-suitcase/will-travel stuff is really for younger souls – I’m feeling good about what I was able to accomplish. I’m also feeling grateful that my son and daughter are teenagers, so they virtually didn’t notice I was gone. Yes, I’m kidding; I know they noticed but, as much as I love them, I also know they didn’t mind so much and, by now, they also understand my work is all about making the world a better place for them and all the people like them.

So … here are just few highlights, minus the boring business stuff:

  • Tuesday, June 7: Started the day with an appearance on “Sacramento & Co.,” a morning show on ABC (see it here: http://tinyurl.com/News10Pertman), then led a luncheon discussion on LGBT adoption issues, sponsored by the Our Family Coalition in San Francisco; and ended the day by attending/speaking at a book-launch party for “Adoption Nation,” which was hosted by my friend and Institute supporter Reese Relfe at the spectacular home of her mother, Genelle. Big thanks to Reese, Genelle and all the other folks who made this wonderful event happen.
  • Thursday, June 9:  A thought-provoking meeting with two senior execs at the Williams Institute at UCLA, followed that evening by an invitation-only event at the Los Angeles home of two more friends and Institute supporters, Helaine and Glenn Ross, to whom I’m very grateful. There was lots of good discussion there about the Adoption Institute and my book, as well as great conversation with guests who included the actors Nia Vardalos, Ian Gomez and Scott Lowell, as well as many terrific people without screen credits to their names.
  • Friday, June 10: I hadn’t known it, but there are live, “televised” news programs on the web, and I was invited for an interview on one; here’s the link: http://tinyurl.com/FoxPertman. That evening, we had a terrific crowd show up for a public reading/signing of “Adoption Nation” at the Jeanie Madsen Gallery in Santa Monica. The discussion was lively and engaging – largely focusing yet again on the work of the Adoption Institute, as well as on the personal stories of the people who attended – and I feel very lucky and grateful to Jeanie for her generosity in donating such a beautiful venue. Thanks as well to the two Mias; you know who you are!
  • Saturday, June 11: I woke up way too early thinking of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. You know: “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home . . .” And off to the airport I went.