Some of you have probably seen this optional Facebook profile picture template used by people in your personal networks to promote November as National Adoption Month and National Adoption Awareness Month (NAAM). I have seen adoptees and adoptive parents alike with this border, but I will not put this overlay on my profile picture. I have been undoubtedly affected by adoption, but I would never say that “I am touched by adoption.” Adoption pulled, tugged, and dragged me across the world without asking me. Adoption demanded that my core identity, family, and nationality change. Adoption forces me to live a life in question of basic information like my birthdate, place, name, and medical history. People would not say that individuals have been “touched” by home foreclosure, refugee status, or other forms of displacement, and it doesn’t make sense in the context of adoption, either. Using positive rhetoric, like “I am touched by adoption,” doesn’t leave room to acknowledge the actual aspects of adoption that need awareness. Hopefully the first lesson of this NAAM was to use language conscientiously.
Everyone knows about adoption, so having a month dedicated to awareness on it seems unnecessary. Earlier last month, I posed the question on Twitter, “What would it look like if November was National ADOPTEE Awareness Month instead of National Adoption Awareness Month? Of what or whom do people need to become aware?” As NAAM wraps up and the holiday season rolls in, it is important that we don’t forget the issues in adoption that actually need attention. These issues are relevant year round, not just in November. Below, I’ve listed some of the facts on adoption that we must be aware of and what it means for adoptees.
According to a 2013 study by the University of Minnesota, adoptees are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their non-adopted peers. This study comes after one conducted earlier in Sweden that garnered the same results. It is hard to seek help on one’s own, but it is even harder when society collectively tells adoptees, through positive adoption rhetoric and suppression of adoptee voices, that their type of grief is not valid. The thing about grief is that their is no end-date when one day it just stops. Dealing with grief and loss is a life long process of learning how to balance joy and pain simultaneously. Those who support adoption must support adoptees. Supporting adoptees means having continuous post-adoption services, recognizing that adoptee identity issues do not end with childhood at age 18, having access to adequate and informed mental health practitioners, giving as much information as possible to adoptees (original birth certificates, files, photos), and uplifting adoptee voices as the true experts on the adoption experience.
Adoption as a Risk Factor for Attempted Suicide During Adolescence by Gail Slap, Elizabeth Goodman and Bin Huang, 2001
Adopted Teens may be at Higher Risk for Suicide by Kathryn Doyle
While adoption should be a permanent process for children, what does common adoption terminology like “Forever Family” mean when adoption is not a permanent solution for so many? According to the Children’s Bureau, between 10-25% of U.S. adoptions disrupt (before an adoption is finalized), and between 1-6% dissolve (after an adoption has finalized), but this figure is hard to collect and does not include all of the children privately rehomed online. There are no authorities monitoring what happens to internationally adopted children once they come to the United States. A considerable percentage of children who are rehomed will be rehomed another time, meaning that these young lives will have experienced not only one or two, but three significant losses in a short amount of time. Children of color, those with disabilities, and those who have experienced sexual/emotional abuse are most likely to have their adoptions dissolved. For these adoptees, use of terms like “forever family” is cruel and signifies a false hope.
Adoption Disruption and Dissolution by Children’s Welfare Information Gateway
The Child Exchange by Reuters Investigates
The Global Orphan Crisis, promoted most strongly by the Christian church, is a myth. UNICEF and global partners define an orphan as a child under 18 years of age who has lost one or both parents to any cause of death. Of the 140 million children classified as orphans, only 15.1 million have lost both parents. The vast majority of orphans are living with a surviving parent, grandparent, or extended family member. These children should be supported to stay in their families and communities rather than adopted internationally. Another aspect of this myth is that there are all of these healthy babies languishing without families. Evidence, however, shows that 95% of orphans are over the age of five, and these children are hardly ever the ones people think of when they promote adoptions.
Orphans by UNICEF
The Lie We Love by Foreign Policy
Latin America, Ethiopia, and Vietnam (reopened 2015) have all shut down their international adoption programs at some point due to corruption. Figures show that three quarters of adoptions from China involve fraud or trafficking. Regardless of the region of the world or which countries have been deemed “more ethical,” the same patterns emerge for major sending countries in international adoption over and over again. I am of the belief that when human lives are exchanged for money, even in well-intentioned ways, there will be corruption.
For Adoptive Parents, Questions without Answers by John Leland
Kidnapped and Sold: Inside the Dark World of Child Trafficking in China by Charlie Custer
Meet the Parents: The Dark Side of International Adoption by Scott Carney
As November 2018 turns into fragmented moments of the past, it is important to continue uplifting adoptee voices. These perspectives may not be so prevalent or vocal now that NAAM is over, and so it will require people to be proactive in seeking this knowledge. I know that highlighting the corruption and stigmas in adoption are not always the easiest pieces to read, but it is necessary if we are to ever have ethical global adoption practices and adequate support services for adoptees and their families. The current system is not working, and the mainstream media’s approach of portraying adoption only in a positive, altruistic light will not promote the necessary changes. Let’s keep the spirit of NAAM, National Adoptee Awareness Month, alive.
Additional Resources: The Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism – Fraud and Corruption in International Adoptions by Brandeis University