Adoption Beat

July 16, 2010

Late to the party, still worth reading

Filed under: Uncategorized — adoptionbeat @ 10:17 am
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I invite you to check out Jackson Adam’s piece in the Illinois Times:
http://www.illinoistimes.com/Springfield/article-7517-birth-records-opened-but-not-enough.html.

I was surprised to be contacted months after the bill passed the Illinois Senate but delighted to speak with a journalist who gave every sign of not having already made up his mind. That is  something that Triona Guidry, point person for Adoption Reform Illinois had to contend with from so-called professional news organizations such as AP when the bill was in the works. When I went to journalism school, I was taught that reporters were supposed to be unbiased or, failing that, fair and balanced. It was the reporter’s job to present all sides to an issue to the best of his/her ability.

Since I have been on the other side of the news desk where adoption reform is concerned, I have been appalled by some of the stories I have read and mightily disappointed that major news organizations show little or no interest in hearing about this issue from the perspective of those whose life it changed profoundly and permanently.

At one time, I might have believed that a reporter would have difficulty identifying a parent who surrendered a child, or possibly even identifying an adult adoptee to interview. I might have believed that sources available were unwilling to be quoted and/or identified. But now I know this is not true. And I’ve known that for some time.

Over the years, I have suggested to adoption reform activists that they make themselves known to their local media. One idea is to fill out a Rolodex card with your name, triad position and contact information and send it to local editors and news directors with a brief note saying that you are always happy to answer the media’s questions about adoption issues from your point of view as someone intimately involved in the process. I still think it is a good idea.

Illinois was a particularly disappointing loss for reformers who successfully defeated the forerunner to this bill two years earlier with an effective and well-targeted public information campaign. Had we been able to get our act together this time around, some think it might have worked again.  But we will never know because that’s how it is with opportunities once lost.

But it does serve to remind those of us who work for adoption reform, and those of us who report it, that apathy condemns us to fail.  Reporters who were happy to parrot the bill’s sponsor were described among those of us who saw through the propaganda as having “drunk the Kool-Aide” and there was plenty of it to go around.

Adoption has a warm, fuzzy image, more appropriately descriptive of pet adoption. How I wish the animal welfare folks had not hitched their wagon to that star. I have adopted, or been adopted by, many pets over the years. It’s not the same as human adoption but it is often treated about the same way by reporters.

Adopting a pet from a shelter, or taking in a stray instead of taking it to the shelter, may very well be saving that pet’s life. We have slightly better support mechanisms for human orphans. One of the biggest differences between pets and children involved in adoption is that most of the pets really are orphans. Most adopted persons were not.

Adoption of a child is both a joyous and a tragic occurrence in most instances.  But unless you have been one of those children, or one of those parents who surrendered a child, you may never think about the tragic side of it at all.

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September 10, 2009

Tired of warm, fuzzy coverage?

Filed under: Uncategorized — adoptionbeat @ 12:44 am
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Recently several eye-opening articles have breathed fresh air in media coverage of adoption among them is an article in The Nation entitled “Shotgun Adoption” by Kathryn Joyce, which appeared on September 14.

Articles like this one mark a distinct departure from the typical coverage of adoption and they do not appear with any frequency. According to the magazine “Research support was provided by the Puffin Foundation Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute.” Those who have long lamented the media’s superficial coverage of adoption issues were gratified by the coverage but the question remains, why should a private charity be needed to underwrite journalistic enterprise.

Read the story at: http://www.thenation.com/doc/20090914/joyce.

The typical media treatment of adoption is more likely to be a saccharine story of an adult adoptee locating his/her family of origin. Not that these stories are not touching; and they do serve to make a case for adoption reformers’ contention that women who surrender a child to adoption were never promised confidentiality and most did not want it. A typical story of this ilk can be found at http://www.northlandpress.com/CLreunited9109.html full of reportorial errors and lacking balance because a general assignment reporter does not do his homework.

Writing in The Nation, Joyce masterfully employs narrative as she describes a 32-year-old pharmacy technician, pregnant and unmarried who sought support from Bethany Christian Services, a faith-based organization that has found adoption to be such a profitable undertaking that it is the nation’s largest adoption agency. Masquerading as concerned Christians seeking to support young women who must make difficult decisions, Crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) prey on women at a desperate time coercing them into choosing adoption.

CPCs offer of free housing and medical care is, to pregnant women willing to sign away their children. Bethany christian Services is not the only CPC to emply techniques akin to those of abusive spouses, namely to isolate the pregnant woman from friends and family. Bethany placed this young woman in the home of a “shepherding family” whose job it is to reinforce her decision to place the child for adoption, a decision that allows Bethany to profit.

CPCs that have sprung up around the country in the aftermath of Roe v. Wade are, today, funded largely by $60 million in federal abstinence and marriage-promotion funds, a legacy of the Bush administration’s payback to right-wing Christian groups who supported his election. Despite the fact that a number states have rejected this funding because of the strings that come with it and despite campaign promises to stop federal efforts to impose a religious agenda on Americans financed by their own tax dollars, the trend continues.

Joyce writes: “The National Abortion Federation estimates that as many as 4,000 CPCs operate in the United States, often using deceptive tactics like posing as abortion providers and showing women graphic antiabortion films. While there is growing awareness of how CPCs hinder abortion access, the centers have a broader agenda that is less well known: they seek not only to induce women to “choose life” but to choose adoption, either by offering adoption services themselves, as in Bethany’s case, or by referring women to Christian adoption agencies. Far more than other adoption agencies, conservative Christian agencies demonstrate a pattern and history of coercing women to relinquish their children.”

Bethany promised this young women that her medical bills would be paid but never mentioned that they were not planning on shelling out the money. They helped her to apply for Medicaid to make those payments. Guess what? She could have applied to Medicare without the agency’s assistance and without surrendering her child.

A child that is still an abstract concept is very different than one that is a reality. This mother’s maternal instincts kicked in after she gave birth. She had second thoughts, intensified no doubt by the fact that South Carolina is not one of the 17 states that recognize open adoption in its statutes. When she wavered Bethany swept in to the recovery room coerce her into going through with the adoption. And they rushed her through signing relinquishment papers, scooped up the child and took the mother out of the hospital before she was even discharged.

Once Bethany had the child, the mother was discarded. Joyce recounts that after weeks of trying to reach a Bethany post-adoption counselor she finally reached the woman who had “shepherded” her into surrendering her child only to be brusquely dismissed.

Lest the reader think this is an isolated case, Bethany is ranked poorly by birth mothers on a website that rates agencies: http://www.adoptionagencyratings.com. Since the article appeared in The Nation, the website has gone offline but the information can still be found cashed. Not only did mothers who surrendered a child give it a thumbs down but several adoptive parent observed that these (birth) mothers were subjected to coercion.

This is not a new phenomenon. Anyone who has been paying attention can tell you that instances of coercion in adoption stretch back to approximately the same time period that records were sealed in many states – the late 1930s and early 1940s. Adoption historians refer to the period from the end of World War II to the early 1970s as the “baby scoop” era. For more information about this period of adoption practice in the USA, see Ann Fessler’s, The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade.

“… Single motherhood was so stigmatized that at least 1.5 million unwed American mothers relinquished children for adoption, often after finishing pregnancies secretly in maternity homes. The coercion was frequently brutal, entailing severe isolation, shaming, withholding information about labor, disallowing mothers to see their babies and coercing relinquishment signatures while women were drugged or misled about their rights. Often, women’s names were changed or abbreviated, to bolster a sense that ‘the person who went away to deliver the baby was someone else’ and that mothers would later forget about the babies they had given up. In taking oral histories from more than a hundred Baby Scoop Era mothers, Fessler found that not only was that untrue but most mothers suffered lifelong guilt and depression.” [Quoting from Joyce’s article]

When Maryland reform activists first began to lobby the state legislature for adult adoptee access to their own records (a matter of course before January 1947 when records were retroactively sealed) an experienced social worker testifying before the judiciary committee reminded the legislators that adoption was about “finding a home for a child who needs one, not about finding a child for a couple who wants one.”

In reality, adoption has not been practiced according to that standard in the USA since the late 1930s. Roe v. Wade might have signaled a kinder, gentler industry since unmarried pregnant women might have gained more power in the process except that, at about the same time, birth control became widely available and single motherhood gained social acceptance. The result was a shortage of healthy white babies available for adoption, the commodity that fueled a profitable and largely unregulated industry.

Why is it then that it has taken 30 years for the mainstream media to recognize that there is a story here? Or that it is potentially as big a story as Enron, Blackwater or the Downing Street memo? Child trafficking is, after all, a momentous social issue. Why is it that adoption is distorted by being used to describe the purchase of a Cabbage Patch doll or euated with rescuing a pet from the animal shelter? The issue is far more complex and the media has done a substandard job, in the main, of covering this aspect of life in America.

The Nation, the Puffin Foundation and Kathryn Joyce have done a stellar job of putting adoption in perspective.

May 31, 2009

It must be hard to love an adopted child

Filed under: Uncategorized — adoptionbeat @ 1:40 am
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Bonnie Miller Rubin, who I have been told is an adoptive mom, writes in the Chicago Tribune expressing how adoption advocates are offended by a tagline promoting a new Warner Bros. movie, Orphan.

Read the article here:
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-talk-adoption-moviemay30,0,663858.story

”Particularly offensive, say advocates, is the tagline in the trailer: ‘It must be hard to love an adopted child as much as your own.’” Adoptive parents are worried about how their children may react to seeing this trailer in theaters.

It’s hard for me, as an adoptee, to see how people get so up in arms about the suggestion that somehow adoptees are, possibly, not so lovable. After all, if we ask questions about how we came to be adopted, we are shushed and sometimes called “ungrateful” for our privileged status because we even ask such questions. And I have to wonder why Rubin does not cite the reaction of anyone who is adopted in her article. My initial reaction to that omission as a journalist, much less as an adoptee, is that her reporting is incomplete. It’s not like there aren’t millions of adoptees over the age of 21 that she could have asked to comment.

Movies are a make-believe media. The newspaper is not. And yet, adoption most often makes its way into the news or op-ed pages of the newspaper when adoption is a factor, contributing or not, to some drama. Or it is presented as a warm, fuzzy story about creating a happy family without being counterbalanced by the fact that one family had to be torn apart to create another. Other warm, fuzzy stories tell of adoptees and families of origin who search successfully but rarely hint of the resistance searchers face, and never tell that search was necessary only because the truth is not available to most adoptees and never to the family of origin in sealed records states.

I have to believe that most of us grow up with loving adoptive families who accept us as we are and do not try to make us over in our adoptive parents’ image. But I know of situations where that is not true. So do we all. Just like the “thousand stories in the Naked City” there are thousands of adoption stories, some of which are horror stories.

The orphan in popular culture has been an object of pity and ridicule long before movies were invented. In praise of such stories, they usually feature the adoptee perspective. The classic children’s fairy tale “The Ugly Duckling,” tells the story of a swan, who somehow comes to be hatched along with a clutch of ducks only to be teased unmercifully by his siblings as ugly and awkward until adulthood transforms him into a beautiful swan. My friend and colleague, Dennis, wrote his doctoral thesis on this subject. Not surprisingly, he grew up in foster care after a failed adoption.

But the angst felt by persons who are transported into alien cultures by way of adoption is grist for the screenwriter’s mill. My favorite was the Star Trek character Worf, a Klingon orphaned by war and rescued by the Federation equivalent of a GI, who, with his wife, reared Worf as his own child. I’m sure that some future Star Trek will explore the development of an Intergalactic treaty that forbids the adoption of alien offspring outside their native culture. I often wonder if the writer who developed that story line was a transracial adoptee. I prefer Worf to the Ugly Duckling because Worf has post adoption issues that make him more believable as an adoptee in my experience.

Humans as a species have very ambiguous feelings about adoption. I like to start with Jesus of Nazareth who was adopted by his mother’s husband, Joseph, and raised as his son but with full knowledge of his ancestry. Indeed, without knowledge of his paternity, Jesus would probably not have followed the path in life that led him to be crucified. I have always found it puzzling that the Roman Catholic Church has been so insistent on keeping secret the true origins of a child adopted through its social service arm. But, of course, the children for whom they arrange adoption were not born to virgins. I guess that makes a big difference.

None of the church-sponsored adoption agencies escape censure on this point, not even Jewish Social Services even though it has an example of Moses, whose Egyptian adoptive mother did not hide from him the fact that he was a Hebrew child and, if Cecile B. DeMille can be believed, she followed him out of Egypt.

Society has generally regarded adopted children as some kind of second-class child substitute. If a Royal couple adopted a child, he or she would not inherit the throne. If you apply for admission to a prestigious genealogical group such as DAR, you must be related by blood to your Revolutionary War ancestor, no matter who reared you. We are indeed separate and unequal.

While I give credit to adoptive parents for pointing out how wrong it is to have a movie slap us in the face with evidence of how society regards us, I would rather they all worked alongside us to change how we are regarded legally. I would rather they insisted on enforceable open adoption. Adoptive parents are not legally bound to have our names changed when we are adopted so we could be allowed to retain our own identities, or at least given a choice when we are older.

May 26, 2008

Why blog about reporting adoption

Filed under: Improving media coverage of adoption — adoptionbeat @ 7:41 pm
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How the media reports on adoption issues is something that I have thought about for a long time but not had time to address. Now I am ready to begin investigating with specific criteria in mind. I want to identify instances in which the media fails to meet its own standards for well. I’m sticking to legitimate news standards for this exercise. Bias is another investigation.

 

 Last year, I did several email interviews with triad members regarding their impressions of news coverage of adoption and got interesting feedback. The same impressions I have formed are widespread and not specific to one corner of the triad. But to explain what I know to the media with my findings, I need proof (examples).  

 

As you read adoption articles in the newspaper and online sources, I know you already evaluate what you read informally. I’d like you to take time to more formally evaluate what you read by comparing it to the criteria journalists use to define good reporting. And send me what you find that really misses the mark by journalism’s own definitions.  

 

Reporting isn’t considered “good reporting” unless it meets certain standards:

* Accurate 

* Properly attributed

* Complete

* Balanced and fair

* Objective

* Brief and focused

* Well written

 

I have refocused my investigation on four of the standards above where I think that ignorance or bias is most likely to surface. My major areas of concern are these:

 

Inaccuracy

An example of inaccuracy that has serious implications for the triad community is when either mother of an adoptee is labeled the “real” mother since both women perform actions that make them a mother. Using the term “birth” mother is “subtly pejorative” although if that describes you, you may not think it subtle. We may have to live with this term for a while because it has traction, however, it remains an area that offers us an opportunity to educate reporters, editors and the public as long as we do it in a calm and rational manner. If you find an example of inaccuracy, I’d like to know about it. In fact, I’d like to have a copy and a bibliographic citation of the offending article. (By that I mean only name and date of publication — if I actually get to the point of needing a footnote, I’ll call the newspaper.)

 

Incompleteness

Completeness is a double-edged sword because reporters are loathe to leave out any fact the discover but sometimes the issue of adoption, while not relavant to the story, is included anyway. The typical example is when an adoptee kills his parents. His adoption may or may not have been at the heart of what happened. Early reporting can’t tell so if a neighbor happens to mention that the kid being arrested was adopted then it gets into the story. On the other hand, a story about a woman who surrendered a child to adoption and then changed her mind cannot be told without explaining who the child is to her.

 

Unbalanced or unfair

Balanced and fair is where you will probably find the most problematic reporting. General assignment reporters are usually newbies in the newsroom. They have no specialty so they are sent ont to cover any story that the editor considers not requiring a reporter with specialized skills. At small newspapers, that can be most stories. So in doing his homework — we are giving this rookie the benefit of the doubt — he Googles the National Council for Adoption. He doesn’t know and NCFA will not point out that they are a lobbyist group rather than a professional association of adoption workers. So, he will get their spin and not realize that he should be getting another side from Child Welfare League of America. Until and unless triad members are listed in the phone book as such — look in the yellow pages under adoption and you will find agencies, not individuals who’ve been subjected to the process — reporters will only think to get our perspective if they know our connection to adoption.

 

To that end, I suggest that every support group out there buy a bunch of Rolodex cards and type them up with the heading “adoption” and list the names of several members from all corners of the triad who are willing and able to speak articulately to adoption issues and send these to local media people. In fact, it would be a great idea for your group to walk into the newsroom — not as easy as it used to be — and pass your cards around to everyone in the newsroom during Adoption Awareness Month in November.

 

Objectivity

Although objective reporting is the goal, news reporting is rarely completely objective — it’s a human failing. So we try to be sure a story is fair and balanced. News reporting is unfair if the reporter:

* Omits facts of major significance

* Includes essentially irrelevant information

* Consciously or unconsciously misleads or deceives

* Hides reporter biases or emotions behind subtly pejorative words

* If innocent people are hurt  

If you find a news item that falls into the above category, send it to me. You can always email it to me via pennagal@gmail.com. Be sure that you look at media coverage objectively. It’s not easy when the issue is adoption!

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