Adoption Beat

September 10, 2009

God Bless McClatchy Newspapers!

Filed under: Uncategorized — adoptionbeat @ 10:33 pm
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Disclaimer: Although I try to keep myself out of my blogs about media coverage of adoption, my interest is rooted in extensive knowledge of the social phenomenon so it is hard to withhold examples from my experience. I find that this is one of those occasions when I cannot take the reporter out of the story.

Those of us who have lamented inadequate, even misleading, coverage of adoption by the nation’s news media are beside ourselves with joy at the rash of recently published insightful articles.

We are no longer prophets wailing in the wilderness.

John Rosemond, a psychologist, and McClatchy columnist exposes “attachment” disorders for what they are – a malady designed to tap the bank accounts of well-heeled adoptive parents rather than an attempt to actually do something to benefit adopted children. In fact, there are some who have sought to extend this kind of “help” to adopted adults as well.

Read his column here: http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/lifestyles/family/s_641589.html

The science is sloppy but effectively preys on people who are already insecure and unprepared for reality. Whenever I read about some of the bizarre therapies that are employed to help adoptees bond with their adoptive families – including a birthing simulation that has resulted in at least one child dying from the procedure – I am appalled not only by the ignorance of some parents but also what might be termed criminal exploitation of these folks by so-called professionals. And I fail to understand how any state board could license someone to practice this kind of voodoo!

Rosemond calls a spade a spade and he acknowledges that health care, including mental health care is an entrepreneurial exercise in which members of the “helping” professions can exploit the reverence we assign to anyone in health care by leading us down a primrose path under the guise of helping us.

Kudos to Rosemond for speaking out. There will be no shortage of practitioners who will vilify him for this. And Kudos to McClatchy for publishing his viewpoint. There are triad members who could benefit from counseling to resolve anger issues and to put the experience in perspective. Regardless of how an adoption situation came about, at some point, those injured by it need to pick themselves up and move on. The kind of psuedo-scientific approach that Rosemond decries is not a positive contribution to the situation.

This kind of professional malpractice occurs because those party to adoption are particularly vulnerable. Whether you are (1) a mother who was shamed, coerced or tricked into surrendering a child to adoption, or who truly made a decision in what seemed to be the child’s best interests, or (2) an adoptive parent frustrated by an inability to reproduce the old-fashioned way or (3) an adoptee with perfectly logical but unanswered questions about your origins – you represent a gold mine to an unscrupulous practitioner.

Decades after surrendering a child to adoption, most women deal daily with regret, shame, and deep sadness. They grieve the loss of their child. Regardless of how uncomfortable it makes us to think about it, a family cannot be created through adoption until another family is destroyed by it. Sometimes, that may be in the best interests of the child. But, in most instances, the child can never know with any certainty that this is the case because the facts of their adoption are hidden.

Couples who have love to give and want a child truly suffer from infertility. For anyone who longs to hold their own child in their harms and provide love and care and watch that child grow into an independent person, not being able to conceive is a terrible disappointment. The overwhelming majority of these couples, understandably, come to adoption as a last resort. A fact that is not lost on a reasonably intelligent adoptee, even when they know that their adoptive parents love them. Adult adoptees can deal with this reality. Teen adoptees may anguish over it.

It is also true that adolescence is fraught with angst. I doubt that even one percent of American children passes through adolescence without conflict with their custodial parents regardless of their biological connection. It is a right of passage in a society that keeps us children long after our bodies have reached adulthood, wracked by the attendant hormonal changes. Regardless of what Dr. Phil says about our brains not reaching maturity until after age 21, you could make a case that young adults are deprived of life experiences that bring wisdom, that consequential experience is what helps them to mature. Mistakes always provide us with more experience that wise choices. As much as we wish to protect the ones we love from the consequences of their own actions, to do so does not necessarily benefit the people we love.

In the case of adoptees, the law views them as perpetual children without the requisite skills to manage their own affairs. Even after they become adults, sealed records means they are denied the opportunity to examine or question decisions made on their behalf when they were infants in most states.

Because society repeatedly inflicts sadness, disappointment and shame on members of the triad over the course of years, it’s probable that this group, as a whole, has a slightly higher percentage of fragile or troubled individuals. But quackery is not going to cure their ills. So I question the contention that wrapping a tween so tightly in a blanket that she chokes to death on her own vomit is going to produce a healthy parent-child relationship.

Many psychological disorders grow out of fear. Children fear not being loved and being different from their peers. Discovering they were adopted when they are old enough to understand what it is gives rise to those fears. Children who always know they were adopted, even before they know what that means, are far less likely to suddenly wonder if they are loved or why the were rejected by their family or origin.

Let’s take the case of a Korean-born adoptee, call her Mae*, who endured the taunts of schoolyard bullies because she looked different from her siblings and everyone else at the small elementary school had reason to feel she was not accepted. Unfortunately, this was reinforced at home where the decision to adopt her was not supported by both parents. Kids are not stupid! They read body language and make comparisons and they know the score. Mae grew up angry and looked for love in all the wrong places. She was not psychotic! But being deprived of love turned her into an even more rebellious teen than she might have been otherwise.

Anger is an issue that frequently comes to the fore in triad members. If you are a triad member, how many women do you know who 30 or 40 years afterward are still angry with themselves, if no one else, that they were talked into signing away their parental rights. While I know a good many women who are happily reunited with their offspring, a number of women of my acquaintance who found the child they surrendered are worse off because of what they found.

Adoptees who were the victims of bad placements – we only know about the ones who speak out – often harbor misplaced anger. My friend, Lee*, was date raped and persuaded that she should surrender the child to adoption in a state several hundred miles from her home to avoid any further connection with the troubled young man who raped her. It was certainly the best course of action for her and her family. She grieved the loss of her daughter and longed to find her. She had no way of knowing that her child had been placed with a couple whose marriage was falling apart because of the wife’s alcoholism. After she finally drove her husband away, the adoptive mother tried to keep the adoptee from going away to college. The adoptee found her natural mother by the most bizarre coincidence when she was 18. Probably because there was no counseling offered to either of them, the adoptee went from joy at finding acceptance with her natural mother to complete estrangement resulting from her anger at being “given away.” She is now pursuing her masters in social work (and that’s a whole other blog).

How about men who never knew they had fathered a child until it was too late? Some of them have fought successfully to reclaim their biological offspring and, in the process everyone touched by the situation has been wounded. Was it love that kept the adoptive parents from giving the child back to his /her parents? And what was it that tempted the adoption agency and the court to make this life-changing decision for the adoptee without dotting all the “eyes” and crossing all the tees?” When this writer was placed for adoption in 1952 no one even bothered to notify the putative father. He was a possible complication that could be avoided. Anyone even marginally affected by adoption sees the folly of that approach.

The parties to adoption need to be protected from profiteers both before and after adoption takes place. Attachment disorder therapists are just one more group that stands in line to profit from human frailties exaggerated by adoption.

* Names changed to protect my friends and colleagues.

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.

June 11, 2008

Getting it right

Filed under: Improving media coverage of adoption — adoptionbeat @ 1:50 am
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When presenting a workshop on publication design, I illustrated my points about design elements by using examples of newsletters that contained major design flaws. One wiseacre asked if I had any samples of newsletters that featured good design. I did, I had planned to unveil them a little later in the presentation as I showed how the problem designs could be fixed. But the point was well taken.

So let me applaud an example of good reporting: http://www.examiner.com/a-1413852~Bureaucrats_running_down_the_clock_against_parents.html.

Barbara Hollingsworth, reporting for The Examiner, tells a story of good intentions gone sadly awry. What makes it even sadder is that adoption reform activists predicted this result before the law was even passed.

Congress, with the best of intention, passed the 1997 Adoption and Safe Families Act, which allowed states to terminate parental rights of children who had been in foster care longer than 15 months. Child welfare officials have long been able to remove children from abusive homes and many of these children suffered the lack of a permanent home as a result. Although some parents were unable to get their act together and make a home for their children, they refused to sign away their parental rights so those children were sentenced to foster care until they aged out. While we know this is not in the best interests of the child, society has been reluctant to tear dysfunctional families apart as long as there was even a slim chance that they could be healed.

Foster care allowed, and encouraged, continued contact between children and their parents and their extended families. Most adoptees would probably advocate that child welfare locate blood relatives capable of stepping forward to provide that permanence. And only in the event that no such appropriate custodian could be found that placement with an adoptive family be considered.

The problem with that approach is that if you are truly committed to making every effort to heal families and reunite children with their family of origin is that you have to give the process time. And during that time, children grow quickly. Before you know it, they are not cuddly infants or cute toddlers but damaged and perhaps defiant adolescents. They are harder to place with an adoptive family. And they may also have sibling bonds that adoption could break

Unfortunately, Congress in its infinite wisdom felt that solution was to hurry this process and that money could solve the problem of long-term foster care. It is certainly helping to shorten the length of time that children spend in foster care but whether or not it is truly in the best interests of the child is debatable.

Because states receive a $4,000 cash bonus from the federal government for each child adopted from foster care (multiplied by the percentage that the state exceeds its adoption goal) it gives child welfare workers a powerful financial incentive to terminate parental rights.

According to the federal Administration for Children and Families (ACF) state child welfare agencies did so more than 79,000 times nationwide in 2006, legally separating children from their families of origin. “And since infants and toddlers are much easier to place in adoptive homes, they’re often targeted for removal by overzealous social workers based on flimsy or anonymous evidence of parental abuse or neglect,” Hollingsworth writes.

She reports that child welfare officials have a battery of tactics they can use to run out this 15-month clock that starts ticking as soon as a child goes into foster care. Among those are forced psychological testing, the filing of legal motions and other delaying tactics that give child welfare the clear advantage.

Bureaucrats have disproportionately more time and financial resources to wage a legal battle for custody against parents who “basically have to prove their own innocence.” She adds, “individuals and parents are considered guilty as charged by anonymous tipsters whose hidden motivations are never brought to light.”

They only have to outlast the natural parents by 15 months. That alone is sufficient legal justification to terminate parental rights.

Hollingsworth estimates child welfare agencies must lay out an average of $20,000 to keep a child in foster care compared to $8,000 to provide in-home services for troubled families. On the face of it, one wonders that the “bounty” paid to agencies that manage to wrest children away from their parents and place them for adoption manage to break even.

But the reality is that this process keeps a lot of professionals on the payroll – lawyers, social workers, therapists, psychologists – and they profit from families being torn apart. As anyone who has ever investigated adoption in any depth soon realizes, the way to report the phenomenon is to follow the money. It requires much more of an investment of time and money by the media to do that than to do the kind of reporting we so often see.

Hollingsworth concludes “although CPS’ stated goal is family reunification, the reality is that these agencies reap a second financial windfall when the forced separation between child and parent becomes permanent.”

I might add that although the stated goal of the media is to provide fair and balanced coverage of important societal issues, the reality is that one-sided stories about the trials and tribulations of couples longing to bring someone else’s child into their home or the occasional reunions of adoptees and birth relatives are easy to do, require few sources and if the media makes no attempt at providing balance, pretty cheap.

 

 

 

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