Adoption Stories from Adopted the Movie - A Feature Film by Barb Lee

December 19, 2007

“When Adoption Goes Wrong”: Newsweek article on Peggy Hilt

From Newsweek:

When Adoption Goes Wrong; Most Americans who adopt children from
other countries find joy. But others aren’t prepared for the
risks-and may find themselves overwhelmed.

Peggy Hilt wanted to be a good mother. But day after day, she got out
of bed feeling like a failure. No matter what she tried, she couldn’t
connect with Nina, the 2-year old girl she’d adopted from Russia as
an infant. The preschooler pulled away whenever Hilt tried to hug or
kiss her. Nina was physically aggressive with her 4-year-old sister,
who had been adopted from Ukraine, and had violent tantrums. Whenever
Hilt wasn’t watching, she destroyed the family’s furniture and
possessions. “Every day with Nina had become a struggle,” she recalls now.

As the girl grew older, things got worse. Hilt fell into a deep
depression. She started drinking heavily, something she’d never done
before. Ashamed, she hid her problem from everyone, including her husband.

On the morning of July 1, 2005, Hilt was packing for a family
vacation, all the while downing one beer after another and growing
increasingly aggravated and impatient with Nina’s antics. “Everything
she did just got to me,” Hilt said. When Hilt caught her reaching
into her diaper and smearing feces on the walls and furniture, “a
year and a half of frustration came to a head,” Hilt says. “I
snapped. I felt this uncontrollable rage.”

Then Hilt did something unthinkable. She grabbed Nina around the
neck, shook her and then dropped her to the floor, where she kicked
her repeatedly before dragging her up to her room, punching her as
they went. “I had never hit a child before,” she says. “I felt
horrible and promised myself that this would never happen again.” But
it was too late for that. Nina woke up with a fever, and then started
vomiting. The next day she stopped breathing. By the time the
ambulance got the child to the hospital, she was dead.

Hilt is now serving a 19-year sentence for second-degree murder in a
Virginia maximum-security prison. She and her husband divorced, and
he is raising their other daughter. She realizes the horror of her
crime and says she isn’t looking for sympathy. “There is no
punishment severe enough for what I did,” she told NEWSWEEK in an
interview at the prison.

Hilt’s story is awful-and rare-but sadly it is not unique. Adopting a
child from another country is usually a positive, enriching
experience for both the child and the parent. Over the last 20 years,
foreign adoption has become more popular, and Americans now adopt
about 20,000 children from Guatemala, China, Russia and other nations
each year. (In the last few years, as restrictions and red tape have
increased in some countries, the number of overseas adoptions has
begun to drop.) Longitudinal studies show that most of these kids do
quite well, but in a small but significant number of cases, things go
very badly. Since the early 1990s, the deaths of 14 Russian children
killed by their adoptive parents have been documented. (That
disclosure was partly responsible for Russia’s decision in 2006 to
suspend its intercountry adoption program while it underwent review.)

Cases like those are extreme, but clinicians who specialize in
treating foreign orphans say they are seeing more parents who are
overwhelmed by their adopted children’s unexpected emotional and
behavioral problems. And though reputable agencies try to warn
parents of the risks, not all succeed. “In the past, agencies were a
bit naive,” says Chuck Johnson of the National Council For Adoption,
which is responding to the problem with a massive education
initiative. “Now we’re urging them to give parents a more realistic
message.” Some parents struggle to find effective treatment for their
kids. Others seek to give them up. Reports that a growing number of
foreign adoptees were being turned over to the U.S. foster-care
system recently prompted the Department of Health and Human Services
to order its first national count: 81 children adopted overseas were
relinquished to officials in 14 states in 2006.

Why do some adoptions go so wrong? Clearly, it’s not the kids’ fault.
Their behavior is usually the result of trauma, mistreatment,
malnutrition or institutionalization in their home countries-problems
more common in places like Eastern Europe. But “the country of origin
doesn’t matter so much as the child’s experience,” says Dr. Dana
Johnson, director of the University of Minnesota’s International
Adoption Clinic. Some are found to suffer from fetal alcohol
syndrome, mental illness or reactive attachment disorder, an
inability to bond with a parent. Prospective families undergo an
arduous screening process, including home visits, and specify how
much disability they can handle. But even families who specifically
request a “healthy” child sometimes go home with a troubled one. In
some cases, the mismatch is inadvertent. But in others, orphanages or
adoption agencies overseas-eager to find homes for difficult children
in their care-mislead prospective parents or fail to disclose the
full extent of a child’s problems or personal history.

Emotional and even physical problems can be difficult to detect at
the time of adoption, especially in infants, and often aren’t
diagnosed until months or years later. Hilt says that’s what happened
to her. She and her husband decided to adopt after being told she’d
probably never conceive. After passing their agency’s screening, they
brought home their first daughter from Ukraine in 2001, and that went
so well they decided to adopt two Russian sisters. But when they flew
to Siberia to meet them in May 2003, they were told the sisters were
no longer available. Instead, they were told, they could adopt
Tatiana, a lively 18-month-old, and Nina, a quiet, withdrawn
9-month-old. They visited Tatiana every day for a week, but officials
never let them see Nina again. “They said she had a bad cold,” Hilt
said. Nonetheless, they signed adoption papers for both girls. But
when they returned to finalize the adoption in January 2004, they
were told that only Nina was still available. The Hilts hesitated.
They suspected a bait-and-switch, especially when officials insisted
they sign papers testifying they’d spent many more hours with the
baby than they had. “The whole process didn’t feel right,” Hilt said.
“But we figured we could love any child. You convince yourself that
everything will turn out OK.”

But from the start, Nina “literally pushed me away,” Hilt said. Over
time, Hilt found herself resenting the little girl. “We’d been such a
happy family, and then Nina came and everything changed,” Hilt says.
“I began to realize that we had made such a big mistake.” (Tatyana
Kharchendo, the doctor in charge of the Little Sun Child Home #1 in
Irkutsk, where the Hilts adopted Nina, did not directly answer Hilt’s
charges, but insisted the child “was absolutely healthy and beautiful.”)

No one is exonerating Hilt or others like her. But Joyce Sterkel, who
runs the Ranch for Kids, a Montana boarding school for disturbed
international adoptees, says she’s come to see the parents as well as
the kids as victims in these tragic cases. “It’s a horrible thing,
but I understand how some people end up killing these kids,” she
says. “They have no empathy, no affection, no love. My heart goes out
to these parents because they don’t know what to do.”

When Sterkel, a nurse, first started working with international
adoptees in the early ’90s, she didn’t see many deeply troubled
children. But 10 years ago she adopted two Russian boys whose
American parents had given up on them. One of them, a 14-year-old
boy, had just been released from a juvenile-detention center after
trying to poison his mother. Over time, Sterkel was approached so
often about adopting other children that she decided to open her
camp. Today it houses 25 to 30 kids from all over the country, and
has a waiting list. The overwhelming majority are from Russia,
Romania and Bulgaria, but she also has had children from South Korea
and Colombia. Some were bullied or raped while institutionalized or
were the children of prostitutes, drug addicts or alcoholics. “I have
gotten calls from parents who say the child they adopted has killed
the family dog, threatened to kill them, and no one will help them,” she says.

Emotional, behavioral and physical problems are not unique to adopted
children. Biological children can have the same range of issues. But
adoptive parents often assume they know what they’re getting into
because they get the chance to meet their child in advance. That was
the case when Kimble and Shellie Elmore of Los Angeles met a
10-year-old Russian child named Tania in 2005. The director of the
orphanage proudly described her as an “angel.”

But as soon as they took custody of their new daughter, her behavior
changed dramatically. “She was completely out of control,” Kimble
says. Tania would scream for hours at a time, then fall into deep
sullen silence. After signing Tania over to the Elmores, the Russian
court handed them her file. They were stunned to find that she had a
history of violence and had been transferred from one orphanage to
another. They called their adoption agency back home, but were
mistakenly told that there was nothing that could be done, that Tania
was now their legal daughter. (The American Embassy could have
helped, if they’d known.) Seeing no alternative, they boarded a plane
and brought Tania back to California. By the end of the first week,
she was admitted to a hospital psychiatric unit. She came home a few
days later, but things grew worse. She tried to stab her father with
a spike and attacked a police officer who came to the house in
response to a 911 call.

Doctors diagnosed Tania with bipolar disorder, posttraumatic stress
disorder and attachment disorder, and suggested she be sent to
Sterkel’s camp. In the past year the Elmores have exhausted their
savings and retirement funds trying to pay for private residential
treatment. “We know she’s just a child and we want what’s best for
her,” says Kimble. “But we don’t know how to help her. Adoption is
supposed to be a touchy-feely thing surrounded with the glow of new
parenthood. But no one says, ‘What if the worst happens?’ ”

Psychologist Karyn Purvis of Texas Christian University, who has done
extensive research on troubled adopted children, says many of these
kids simply don’t respond to stern lectures and timeouts. Lab workups
of her patients often reveal extremely high levels of cortisol, the
stress hormone. “The children, for the most part, were in safe homes
living with safe people,” Purvis says, “but those cortisol levels
told us that their children did not feel safe with them, even if
they’d been living safely with them for years.” Children like them
are almost constantly in a hypervigilant state, she says. They don’t
let their guard down long enough to forge affectionate relationships.

Over the past several years Purvis has developed new methods to
restore a sense of security and trust to traumatized kids. If a child
becomes violent, for instance, Purvis often responds with a “basket
hold.” She cradles the kids firmly but gently in her lap, facing
outward, with their arms crossed in front of their chests. She rocks
and quietly soothes until they calm down, then asks them to look her
in the eye and tell her what they want. Purvis’s assistants have
taken to calling her the “Child Whisperer.”

Sometimes techniques like these result in dramatic turnarounds. The
family of a 5-year-old adopted from Russia thought they had no choice
but to seek psychiatric hospitalization after she threw her baby
sister down the stairs. But after the parents adopted Purvis’s
methods, the little girl finally started talking about the serious
abuse she’d experienced. The child’s behavior changed markedly. But
her mother “changed even more,” Purvis says, “because now she has hope.”

Purvis is quick to say that her techniques don’t work with every
child, and older kids can take much longer than younger ones. “They
have to unlearn what they’ve learned,” she said. The next step, she
says, is for prospective adoptive parents to get more training before
and after they adopt. “Very few agencies are training parents to deal
with brain damage, sensory deprivation, aggression,” Purvis says. “A
lot of these parents are smitten with the hope that they’ll make a
difference in a child’s life, but they need very practical tools. I
consider myself very pro-adoption. But I’m also very pro informed adoption. ”

Peggy Hilt wishes she’d heard this message years ago. “If I knew then
what I know now,” she says, “I would have gotten help for Nina and
for me.” The best she can hope for now, she says, is that her story
will prompt others to seek that help before it’s too late.

Original article is here: http://www.newsweek.com/id/74385


Woman Arrested for Killing Infant

Filed under: Adjustment Issues,Adoption,Articles,For Parents,Korean Adoption — Tags: , — Catherine @ 10:53 am

From the Korea Times:

An American woman has been arrested in the United States on charges
of killing a baby she adopted.

Rebecca Kyrie, 28, was indicted with physical detention on Friday for
murdering Chung Hei-min, a 13-month-old girl adopted from Korea about
six months ago by the accused and her spouse David, according to The
Indianapolis Star, a local daily published in Indianapolis in the
U.S. on Sunday.

The arrest came after a three-month-long investigation by the
Hamilton County Sheriff Department.

Chung was adopted by the Kyries in June through Bethany Christian
Services and was called Chaeli by her adoptive parents.

Bethany Christian Services is a not-for-profit adoption service
provider with offices in 30 states in the U.S.

Police said that Kyrie shook the baby girl so violently on Sept. 3
that it resulted in head trauma, resulting in her death the next day.
Her husband, David, was at work at the time, and her two biological
sons were with her.

Kyrie still denies the charges. Reportedly, however, her six-year-old
son has told an investigator that his mother told him not to say what
happened to the girl.

Kyrie was known among her neighbors for being a regular churchgoer
who even performed dance interpretations of Bible stories at the
church.

“Kyrie offered no explanation for her baby condition when she called
911 on Sept. 3 and reported the child was frothing at the mouth,”
the daily quoted Maj. Mark Bowen, spokesman for the Sheriff
Department as saying. Later, however, she referred to personal
problems, according to evidence filed in court.

After the baby was taken to a hospital in Indianapolis, she was
diagnosed with a severe brain injury and placed on life support. But
Chung died after she was removed from life support equipment the next
day. The recently obtained results of an autopsy show that she died
from the so-called “shaken baby syndrome.”

The daily reported that she had not admitted to shaking the baby, and
her husband also claimed no knowledge of any prior abuse.

In an interview with Indianapolis-based TV news, 6News, her brother,
George Cooper said Kyrie, an extremely loving and caring mother,
would not have abused the child.
“There’s every possibility in my mind that this was a pre-existing
condition and that just took time to bear itself out,” he said.

The original article is here: http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/nation/2007/12/117_15633.html


December 14, 2007

International Adoption, It’s a One-Way Dialogue

From Mother Jones:

When adoptive parents like myself try to keep the lid on controversy, we do
ourselves—and our kids—no favors.

by Elizabeth Larsen

November was National Adoption Awareness Month, and the
media—including Mother Jones, which recently published my story Did I
Steal My Daughter? The Tribulations of Global Adoption—have been doing
their best to bring fresh ideas to a much misrepresented topic. The New York
Times has joined the fray with, among other things, “Relative Choices,” an
engaging series of personal essays to which readers can post comments
online. As an adoptive mother, I’m delighted with the variety of
perspectives (though I do wish more birth parents had been included and feel
that the title “Relative Choices” is off tone—most adoptees don’t have
a “choice,” nor do birth mothers buckling under economic or societalpressures).

But there are viewpoints that aren’t given a lot of real estate, most
notably the perspectives of people—adoptees, birth families, adoptive
parents—who are deeply critical of adoption. Novelist Tama Janowitz’s
essay, published on November 12, unknowingly highlighted this disparity.
Intended to be a humorous look at generational resentment, the essay employs
the term “Mongolian” to describe her Chinese-born daughter’s features and
refers to a recently published book in which Midwestern adoptees in their
30s and 40s “complain bitterly” about their experiences and as a result
blame their parents. (The book, which Janowitz doesn’t name, is Outsiders
Within: Writing on Transnational Adoption.)

It didn’t take long before the blogosphere was buzzing not only about
the Janowitz essay, but also the fact that when some of those very same
“bitter complainers” tried to post their reactions, they couldn’t get past
the Times’ digital gatekeeper.

In its FAQ for posting comments, the Times makes it clear that its
criteria for allowing users to post comments are subjective and that
abusive, vulgar, or ad hominem comments are not tolerated. In the opinions
posted for stories that were not related to adoption, it is clear that the
website favors measured language over anything that tilts toward pissed off.
But how do you explain that a post that included the line “The term
Mongolian to describe Asian features went out of fashion the year your book
was published” was nixed when a response to an article about Camille Paglia
saying “Camille, dear. Return to your Madonna-lust and leave the rest of us
alone” did make it through? Several of the responses that were not published
are posted on Harlow’s Monkey, a blog by Jae Ran Kim, who was adopted from
South Korea and is now a social worker specializing in adoption. While some
of the comments might not be personally gratifying for Janowitz, none that
I’ve read are, in my opinion, anything that the general public needs to be
protected from. In the days that followed the flap over censorship, more
dissenting voices were included in the comments, including a posting by Kim.

The online scuttlebutt behind these omissions is that the “Relative
Choices” editor Peter Catapano, who is an adoptive father, is censoring
critical voices. I have no idea if Catapano had anything to do with the
filtering—neither he nor anyone else at the Times returned my phone
call or emails. But whether or not this incident was an example of an
adoptive parent censoring dissent, I think it’s vital that we recognize why
some adoption critics would not be surprised if it was so. The truth is that
it’s almost impossible to find those voices in American media. When The
Language of Blood author Jane Jeong Trenka—a Korean adoptee and
award-winning writer who tackles the difficulties she faced growing up in a
small Minnesota town with heartbreakingly gorgeous prose—tries to
submit her writing to magazines and newspapers, she gets virtually no
takers. Meanwhile, Korean editors print everything she writes.

Why? I think when it comes to adoption, American adoptive parents
(myself included) steer the discourse. We direct adoption agencies and think
tanks. We write the home studies of prospective adoptive parents. We are
policy experts and doctors and academics and journalists. We are passionate
about adoption—an institution that has given us so much—and
therein lies the problem: In our passion, we sometimes shield ourselves from
larger discussions about the toll that adoption can take, a discussion that
is in fact gaining traction across the globe. And in doing so, we are
preventing adoption from evolving.

When I attended a reading of Outsiders Within last winter, I was struck
by how much the intensity and the passion of the writers recalled the
pioneers of second-wave feminism. That movement upended our opinions about
marriage, and the institution survived for the better. Any adoptive parent
knows that the adoptive bond is not fragile. So why do we protect it from
the same kind of scrutiny?

Reading through the comments posted on “Relative Choices” and other
adoption blogs, it’s clear to me that if you are an adoptee and want to say
something critical about adoption, you had better make it abundantly clear
that you truly, absolutely love your mom and dad or you risk getting
berated. (A notable exception to these “quit whining” directives are the
respectful comments posted to Sumeia William’s “Relative Choices” essay
titled “I Am Not a Bridge,” the most hard-hitting selection in the series.)
In fact, expecting adoptees to publicly pledge their gratitude to their
parents is holding them to a standard no one else has to adhere to. Isn’t it
true that even if we hate our parents, we still love them?

Similarly, in some adoptive-parent communities, anything questioning
the current practices in the adoption universe leads to a virtual stoning of
the messenger. When UNICEF publicly states that they support intercountry
adoption—but only after all efforts to keep children in their birth
countries (through family preservation, foster care, or domestic adoption)
have failed—or the State Department weighs in with critical
assessments of Guatemalan and Vietnamese adoptions, tirades rain down.
Meanwhile, a Guatemalan adoption attorney who allegedly offered money to a
teenage birth mother’s father in exchange for the baby is praised by some
adoptive parents for her dedication.

I’m not saying that I want all adoptive parents to agree with the steps
UNICEF or State is taking to reform intercountry adoptions. But we need all
perspectives to get more space in the conversation—otherwise, we
parents are just patting each other on the back.

Since Mother Jones published my story, I’ve taken my own virtual
knocks. (Unlike the Times, Mother Jones only filters hate speech and
propaganda.) There’s not much reward in being called an egotistical
colonizer whose self-hating tendencies have rendered me a horrible mother.
But I will admit that even some of the more stinging criticisms have made me
pause long enough to rethink my assumptions.

This is a difficult time for transnational adoption, with troubling
news stories increasing and the future, at least in some countries, unclear.
But whatever the solutions may be, I don’t think we’ll find them by closing
ranks.

Elizabeth Larsen has worked for both Sassy and Utne Reader. She wrote about
her daughter in this year’s Choice: True Stories of Birth, Contraception,
Infertility, Adoption, Single Parenthood, and Abortion, and in the current
issue of Mother Jones.

@2007 The Foundation for National Progress

Original article: http://www.motherjones.com/news/update/2007/12/international-adoption-one-way-dialogue.html


November 8, 2007

In Their Own Words

Filed under: Adoption,Articles,Korean Adoption,Links — Catherine @ 11:00 am

There is a great article in a recent issue of Mother Jones magazine that gives voice to several Korean adoptees. "In Their Own Words" features Korean adoptees recounting their experiences reuniting with their birth families in Korea. The adoptees address such issues as culture shock, birth names, and the emotional toll of a reunion. Two of the Korean adoptees featured in the article, Susan Soon Keum Cox and Hollee McGinnis, have also shared their personal and professional views on adoption in "Adopted: The New American Family."

Everyone at "Adopted" would love to hear your stories about the search for your birth parents. Feel free to share your experiences in the space below.


December 14, 2006

Language in Internationally Adopted Children

Filed under: Articles,For Parents,Health and Medical Issues — Catherine @ 10:44 am

Internationally adopted children are always at risk for language delays and disorders. These children are taken from their first language and placed into an entirely new language. Oftentimes, this transition leaves the children in a "language lurch," the period of time when their first language skills have disapeared and their new language skills have yet to fully form. Moreover, because of deprivation in orphanages, some internationally adopted children have already experienced initial delays in the development of their first language, making any attempt to learn a second language that much more difficult.

How common are language delays and disorders: There have been several studies on the preponderance of language delays in adopted children. One study that followed children adopted from Russia aged 6-9 found that 11.4% of the children had a learning disability or speech language impairment (Glennen & Bright, 2005). Overall, the children’s structural and meaning-based areas of language were strong, but the children’s pragmatic use of language (i.e., context, social relations, non-verbal communication) was relatively weak (Glennen & Bright, 2005). In another study of adopted girls from China, researchers found wide variation in the language development of the girls (Pollack, 2005). Some children performed above or at average, while others showed delays (Pollack, 2005). More research is needed to truly understand the frequency of speech delays in adopted children.

How to tell if your child is experiencing delays: It is quite common for adopted children to experience minor delays in speech, so don’t panic if you’re child isn’t hitting the same language milestones as non-internationally adopted children. Doctors have developed charts to compare language acquisition in internationally adopted children. For a copy of some of these charts, along with brief explanations, click here.

What to do if your child is experiencing delays: Go see your child’s physician. Most physicians advocate intervention as early as possible.

Other Resources:

 


Nurturing Identities in Adoptive Families

Filed under: Articles,For Parents,Race and Identity — Catherine @ 10:44 am

NURTURING RACIAL-ETHNIC-CULTURAL IDENTITIES IN ADOPTIVE FAMILIES

by Jane A. Brown, MSW

Recently, I watched from the sidelines as my eleven year-old, Chinese-born daughter learned to make dumplings from our international student, Xiang, and Xiang’s mother, in our kitchen and served them to our family. I couldn’t help but reflect on what an exciting, but complicated journey it has been for me to figure out why birth culture is important, how it is best imparted, and how to connect with those people who can truly help children assimilate the useful parts of their culture-of-origin. We– my husband and I–have been part of the adoption arena for more than twenty five years. We are still learning!

Years ago, the adult Korean adoptees began to suggest to adoptive parents and adoption professionals that learning about culture might help have help them to fit into their ethnic communities, and that that is something adoptive parents could do to empower the children they are raising Today. Ever-eager to act in their children’s best interests, adoptive parents responded with gusto. Soon, we were establishing heritage camps, Culture Days, language and dance classes. Our young children enjoyed these activities and experiences as much as their parents did, and the trend caught on– first across the country, and then around the world.

While these were and are worthwhile intentions, I recognize that much of what we do is falling short of accomplishing the original goal which was to empower our children to find and keep a place within their ethnic communities and develop healthy racial and ethnic identity. I wanted to discover why and what else we could and should be doing to promote our children’s racial-ethnic and cultural identities so that they will not continue to grow up and complain that they cannot fit into the dominant racial-cultural group nor their own racial-ethnic groups. My search has led me on a path of self-education and a journey to make significant changes in my life that are benefiting both my adopted sons and daughters, and those who were born into our family.

What our children need in order to feel a sense of fit, is first and formost, comfort with being immersed in their racial-ethnic communities because that trickles down to their feeling comfortable wearing the skin they are in. If our children feel awkward and uncomfortable in the company of fellow members of their racial-ethnic group and are silently insisting that they are not like them because they are growing up in White families, they are not going to have an ongoing desire to take and use cultural information and cultural competency skills. Racial and ethnic identity is heavily context dependent. I realized, at some point in my parenting, that all the discussions about race and culture, all the celebrations and lessons in "high" culture or language, all of the attempts to integrate birth culture into our personal lives at home (eating with chopsticks, hanging Art on our walls), and visits to our children’s birth countries was not promoting healthy racial and ethnic identification.

While our children had fun engaging with other adopted youngsters at these celebrations, gatherings, classes, and holiday celebrations, they were not gaining the opportunities they needed to be with adults and families from their racial-ethnic group in their everyday lives, nor to be in multicultural environments. The fact that these Culture Days, heritage camps, dance classes constituted "special," occasional events, and that while they involved at least a few adults from their ethnic group those individuals were hand-selected by White parents because they have a positive attitude towards adoption, meant that we were not replicating normal, typical, everyday way of life for members of our children’s ethnic community, nor were we giving our children an authentic connection with their ethnic group. We were also not providing regular, meaningful, positive, ongoing opportunities to be surrounded by and get comfortable with people who look like themselves– the very experiences that counteract the stereotypes they otherwise take in an integrate by which they "other" members of their racial-ethnic group. There were no real opportunities for our children to observe, imitate, and incorporate the ways their ethnic group members tend to interact and relate to one another; to absorb the common ways they work, play, and behave within family roles; to recognize what constitutes polite behavior and be able to replicate that; to figure out what tends to be valued, etc.. which are the very things that bind an ancestral "people" together and add up to "culture."

Those were distressing realities to face, and at first, we felt overwhelmed by what we didn’t know how to do, and by the fact that we were going to have to make some major changes in how we live in order to make a difference in our children’s lives. We had to come to the point where we recognize that our children were internalizing racism through the lack of meaningful, regular connection with adults and communities of color– and that we were responsible for that lack. And that that bears on whether and how they could or could not absorb the culture of "their people" and would want to.

We recognized that what is most important to the adoptees is gaining a sense of comfort with people who look like themselves, seeing themselves as authentic members of their racial-ethnic group, and feeling confident in how to "act their race" (as young people describe this). We shifted our focus from providing what amounts to "high culture" that has little practical application, to connecting our children with members of their racial-ethnic group on a regular basis so that they could see for themselves that there are any number of ways of being a member of "their people," and deciding what to incorporate into how they think, behave, value, and can find and keep a place in their racial-ethnic community.

Once we faced up as parents, we began to look differently at the lives we had plunged our children into and at what we could do differently. We moved. That was– for us–overwhelmingly scary, complicated, and challenging– for it meant changing jobs, selling and buying homes, taking our children out of the only home, schools and social circles they knew, and starting over. All the while not knowing whether this would bring about what we hoped that it would. While the cross-country move did immerse us in a community where there is more racial diversity, we also found that our new community is more transient, so while people come here from all over the world to do research and work, they do not stay long and our neighborhood– which we hoped would be racially diverse-is constantly and continually undergoing change. We also chose to move to an area in which there are lots of different racial-ethnic minority groups, so that its multiracial and multicultural, but there are not a large number of people who are of the same race and ethnicity as our children, and the majority is still White. We live in Arizona, where those who are Hispanic and Native American comprise most of the racial minority population, and only a limited proportion of the population is African American or Asian American. So we have to work hard to help our sons and daughters make and keep a connection with their own racial-ethnic groups. One of the most positive outcomes of the move was that my husband and I experienced and had to learn to face and process loss again– which helped us to connect in a more experiential way with the feelings our children will be processing all their lives as byproducts of having moved from one family, country, racial-ethnic group to another.

We began, in a much more conscious way, to focus on race, ethnicity, and adoption in our family discussions. My husband and I devoted more of our time and energy to understanding the lifelong ramifications of adoption loss, trauma, race and ethnicity, and then discovering and implementing practical ways to use what we were learning– to fine-tune our communication style so that we were better attuned to "hearing" the unspoken feelings, self-theories, beliefs in our children (mostly expressed through their behavioral cues); how to approach and gently explore the potential for friendships with adults and families of color; how to connect with people who could sensitize us to cultural cues (what is polite and what is not, what various ethnic groups tend to expect in terms of how people interact and behave) and start to build cultural competency. We also had to learn about racism– and face that we were neither as aware nor as sensitive as we had imagined ourselves to be.

We had to face and accept the reality that because we were born with White skin, we have been given the privilege to take much for granted and to not have to see many of the inequities or the power differential between groups, and thus, benefit from racism even though we would never have wanted that. And face, too, that our children do not have automatic entitlement to those privileges just because they live with us. We had to learn to really, authentically "see" racism, and as our eyes began to be opened to it, we "saw" more and more.

What it means and what it takes to help our children acquire cultural competency so as to be able to feel comfortable within their own skin, and gain a sense of connection to and confidence with being a part of their racial-ethnic community, plus feel kinship with the wider population of people of color has been a long, complicated, but wonderful journey for us, as parents.

We are now, as parents of a mostly-grown-up adoptive family, able to really see the benefit to our sons and daughters. They identify in a variety of ways– all of them normal. One has married a man who emigrated with his family as a teen, from her country-of-origin. They keep a bicultural household, their kids are bilingual, and they have strong ties to their ethnic community. One has married a woman of the same race and ethnicity and they are living, working, and raising their child in his country of origin. One married a fellow adoptee with shared racial and ethnic heritage. Still another has married a woman who is multiracial and multicultural, and that is their primary identification. Their extended family and friendship circle reflects that, and he has developed a career path for himself in which is familiarity and comfort with a multicultural social circle, and his ability to straddle a variety of racial and cultural groups works positively for him. We also have three children who were born to us, two of whom are now adults. They date cross-racially, and their friendship circles show us that they have deeply incorporated multiculturism into their personal identities. One has married a young man who is ALSO the non-adopted sibling in a transracial adoptive family and has a family member who is a birth parent of a grown child who grew up in Central America (was adopted transracially and internationally).

Jane A. Brown, MSW

Adoption Playshops!


Building Racial Identity

Filed under: Articles,For Parents,Race and Identity — Catherine @ 10:43 am

Building Racial Identity: Strategies and Practical Suggestions:
by Beth Hall
Article reprinted with permission from Pact: An Adoption Alliance.

General Approach:

It is important to teach your children that race is a fact of birth which no one has either chosen or earned; and that being a racist is both a state of mind and a choice. It is essential to train your children to recognize racism where it exists (not an easy task, since it also means training yourself). Talk about racism and point it out when you encounter it. Minimizing racism’s place in life may unfortunately allow your children to feel responsible for racist behavior they have experienced; to believe that they have somehow done something to deserve it; or perhaps to believe that you think this could be the case.

Specific Strategies:

  1. Look at the laundry list of your daily errands and life experiences. Whenever possible, choose to surround yourself with people of your child’s race or with other people of color.
  2. When choosing professionals such as doctors, dentists, lawyers, and so on, allow race to be a factor in your choice. It is essential that, wherever possible, you counterbalance our society’s generally negative stereotypes of and expectations for people of color.
  3. Schools are very important places for children. Whenever possible, choose a school attended by other children of color and by multiracial families, for this diversity always offers wonderful opportunities for familiarization and identification. When choosing extracurricular classes or lessons for your children, expose them to skills that will enhance their cultural competence. If they are learning to cook, then choose classes where they can cook the foods common to their ethnic heritage. Languages, art and sports: all can be chosen with an eye to building cultural competence and personal connections within your children’s racial or ethnic group of origin.
  4. When going to the mall, movies or a restaurant, drive those few extra miles if it means being somewhere frequented by other families of color. Your children benefit from every opportunity to observe and join in with others of their race, rather than always being the "only one" of color in a group; similarly, such experiences help to avoid the possibility that the only people of color whom they know are other adopted children with White parents.
  5. When taking vacations or sending your children to summer camps and other recreational activities, choose places and experiences where they can be exposed to people of their own race. Particularly if you live in a predominantly White area, these may offer some of the rare opportunities for your child to be with and around people of color.
  6. Groom your children so they look good all the time. Because of their membership in your family, they may be watched more carefully and judged more stringently by people from their own racial group(s). To give them the armor to feel good about themselves, help them to dress and groom themselves according to the "mainstream" styles of their own racial context rather than of yours. Many opportunities can be found; to offer just two possibilities, African American girls commonly wear long hair (avoiding short afros), oiled and combed (or brushed) daily and either worn up, braided or well-coifed; Latina girls often wear pierced ears from infancy. These physical manifestations not only become vehicles of good self-esteem but provide connecting links between them and other children of their race who are growing up in same-race homes.
  7. Expose your children early and often to the history of "their" people. Don’t shy away from the negative aspects of their history, for they need to understand the whole truth. Don’t just give them facts – point out why and how these facts relate to them personally. And make sure you not only teach them yourself; whenever possible, let them hear from people of their own race so they can understand the pride and importance of this shared history and experience.
  8. Hold out high expectations for your children. Skill-mastery becomes one of the strongest building blocks of self-esteem. Children of color often need the protection of personal success and accomplishment to counterbalance society’s lowered or negative expectations. Communicate to your children your belief that they can be excellent at things for which they have talent and strength and that they can do well in all things to which they set their minds. They need to know that, while it takes hard work and great stamina to overcome difficult odds, this struggle is their legacy and they should not allow others’ diminished expectations to limit their determination to achieve.
  9. Give your children the social and interpersonal skills to act "appropriately" in their cultural context as well as in yours. In order to teach this lesson, you must first explore and recognize the differences between these two. Then you need to clarify for your children the difference between acceptable behavior within the home and safety of the family and acceptable public behavior. Children of color (and perhaps particularly those raised with White parents) are always scrutinized carefully and will be susceptible to harsh judgments from outsiders. If you and your children overlook this fact, then they will have a distinct disadvantage in their interactions with the world when you’re not with them. Politeness and knowledge of appropriate social mores can go a long way to opening doors and relationships for our children.
  10. Strengthening our children’s sense of family identity and unity is essential to helping our children manage the challenges of transracial adoption. Developing and reinforcing family rituals is an important tool for creating this sense of family membership. Such rituals can help emphasize all the similarities among a family’s members, without denying the differences. Seek opportunities to create rituals that clarify family membership. These family rituals, small or large, silly or somber, can become simple parts of your family’s life and can come to define being a member of your family. They can involve things like eating family meals together at certain times during each week; having special family songs, inside jokes or conversations; or developing and maintaining ceremonies or traditions for certain events or holidays (innovative or traditional). There are millions that you can create together; whatever your family’s special blend, they are important and essential tools to help both our children and ourselves feel like fully entitled members of our families.

Copyright ©1998 by Pact, An Adoption Alliance
http://www.pactadopt.org
info@pactadopt.org


Latino and Asian Children in White Homes

Filed under: Articles,For Parents,Race and Identity — Catherine @ 10:43 am

Latino and Asian Children in White Homes
by Beth Hall and Gail Steinberg
Article reprinted with permission from Pact: An Adoption Alliance.

"We want to adopt an Asian or Latino child," said the White couple. "She or he will fit into our community with no problem."

White prospective parents sometimes approach adoption with the idea that they can successfully raise a child of a race different from their own as long as the child is from a racial background they believe will be accepted by their community. Because it results in greater adoption opportunities for them, these parents benefit most from the myth that race is not an issue for Latino or Asian children.

What supports the conclusion that minority race doesn’t matter from people without personal experience to justify it? In the public debate, it is rare to hear Latinos or Asians argue that they do not experience race as an issue. An Asian or Latino child being raised in a White family will experience the same stereotypes all Asians and Latinos face today in our country.

Caucasian people cannot fully speak for Latino or Asian people any more than they can be fully aware of what it feels like to be Latino or Asian in a race-conscious society. Though some prospective White adoptive parents also seem to take comfort in the assumption that there are no negative feelings about transracial adoptions in the Latino and Asian communities and that they will be welcomed, this belief may be false comfort. Generalizations are dangerous. Assumptions need to be tested on an individual basis. We’d guess someone trying to investigate attitudes in these communities would find a range of responses to transracial adoption, with as much resentment as support.

"Our adoption worker encouraged us to adopt a Salvadoran baby he had heard about," said the White couple. "He said there was a wonderful birth mother in Florida and the child would match us because, as Italians, we have dark hair, brown eyes, and olive skin tones. He said he was sure race would not be an issue."

When a birth mother approaches a professional service in need of a family to adopt her child, the professional normally turns to families in his or her own client base to assist in making a connection. For a variety of reasons that do not seem to include varying desires to adopt, there are more White families waiting to adopt than families of color. Adoption services are most often paid for by prospective adoptive parents. Thus, some service providers (agency personnel, attorneys, facilitators, etc.) feel that the adoptive parent is their client and that their primary responsibility is to meet the needs of these clients to find a child, rather than to be sure a home will be appropriate for the child, based in part on the child’s racial background. Professionals who are involved in the commerce of adoption and who have mostly White adoptive clients therefore benefit from the myth that race is not an issue for Latino or Asian children because it results in increased business for them.

"I hear what you’re saying, but I want to adopt an Asian child anyway," said the White prospective parent. "After all, people think highly of Asians. Everyone knows they are very smart and hard-working, so why would there be any problems? And children from Asia need homes- so, frankly, I might have a better chance."

Children do not benefit from the myth that race is not an issue for Latino or Asian children placed in White families. Stereotypes, however "positive, remain stereotypes and all stereotypes are limiting. Again and again, members of those groups labeled "automatically good at math" or "great with details" express the burden of confronting social expectations – positive stereotypes – that may not apply. They also express sadness… that the efforts of one’s hard-won accomplishments are diminished by others who account them as "natural" or genetically determined.

There is a notion among many would-be adopters that a racial hierarchy exists which makes it easier to be of one race than another. Certainly, various racial groups can point to differences in their history in the United States and in their current status as measured in socioeconomic terms. But there is not a single population "of color" that does not raise its voices against the racism experienced by all people of color in a White-dominant culture. It is inappropriate for those outside a minority culture to claim to know more than its members about their acceptance within mainstream society.

Adopted children are not genetically linked to their adoptive families. Comfortable acceptance of their dual identity comes from being valued and valuing in the context of celebrating differences. They have a right to feel part of and to participate in the culture that is their heritage as well as to feel part of the culture of the family of which they have become members. It may be harder for Asian and Latino children to make significant connections to their birth cultures because these cultures are closely associated with concrete traditions and the country of origin. Role models, adults whose daily lives reflect that culture, may be scarce.

"We feel it is very important for our Peruvian child to understand the culture of Peru and someday we will travel there with her. She is often mistaken for a Mexican American but we tell her she is Peruvian because we want her to be proud of her heritage."

Clearly these parents want to value their child’s background. No one can argue that a Peruvian child will not benefit from that someday trip to Peru. These parents seem to understand that race is an important issue for their child, but they may be creating more limits than they need to in helping her connect to her roots.

What is the value in making such a strong distinction between this Peruvian child and the Mexican Americans that people mistake her for? In the US, our largest population of Latino people is Mexican American. This means that, for many adopted Latino children, the Mexican American community is where they will find the closest connection to their life experiences as Latinos. By denying this child a feeling of connection to the Mexican Americans she meets, we deny access to a group of people who could interpret and help her gain strength in the face of the stereotypes and differences they experience in common as Latinos. Transracially-adoptive parents need to do as much as they can to minimize their child’s loss of culture and ethnic or racial identity by allowing connections and fostering identification with those with whom their children share a cultural heritage.

Who is hurt by the myth that race is not an issue for Latino or Asian children placed in White families?

Children who lose the history, traditions, and comforts of connection to others who share their racial background are the victims of this myth. Parents who take away their child’s opportunity to feel a true member of their own racial or ethnic groups are depriving their child of a birthright and diminishing the rich contributions of the child’s intrinsic culture. For a member of a minority group in America, it’s an easy leap to conclude that the insignificance of one’s cultural heritage suggests one’s own insignificance as an individual member of that culture. As it is said, race matters. Help to make it matter in a positive way in bringing up adopted children.

Copyright ©1998 by Pact, An Adoption Alliance
http://www.pactadopt.org
info@pactadopt.org


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