The general public can be forgiven if they think that National Adoption Awareness Month is a promotion of adopting infants. That is not the purpose and it could have been titled better.
Thousands of children and youth are currently in foster care and waiting for a permanent home within the embrace of a loving family. In 1976, then Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis announced an Adoption Week to promote awareness of the need of children in foster care to be matched with an adoptive family.
In 1995, President Bill Clinton expanded the awareness week to the entire month of November. Three years later, President Clinton directed the US Dept of Health & Human Services to expand the use of the internet as a tool to assist in finding homes for foster care children seeking a stable home.
There actually is a National Foster Care Month – May. Foster Care is intended to support families. It is not intended as a substitute for a child’s parents.
Only 5 percent of all children adopted in 2017 were 15 – 18 years old. The risk of homelessness and human trafficking is increased for teenagers in foster care. Average time in foster care is 31 months.
It burgeons like a night mushroom beneath a protective cover of fallen leaves that look sickly and forlorn. The leaves are the symptoms that protect and in some strange way nourish the spores of the hidden genius that it may arise at the right time, possessed of its own unique and unadulterated powers.
~ Jean Houston, A Mythic Life
I think that those people cut off from their own, whether adoptee or foster child and their original parents, are in the early stage of changing the myth. The unicorns and rainbows story of how wonderful it is to be plopped into a stranger’s world. We are seeing that it is an outmoded perception and it needs to change or go away. These individuals now speak up loudly to help those unaware to see what is going on.
Life is complex. The child (and even the matured individual) who has been impacted may be scarred by a trauma, those who haven’t been subjected to it may struggle to understand.
Finding a way to make sense of it all is something I have been doing for a couple of years now. A good starting place for my own self has been to accept and acknowledge the sad and tragic circumstances that are part of the thread of continuity which makes me who I am.
For those adoptive parents and foster care givers, it is critical to see, not only the trauma and the wounds and certainly to address those, but also to seek to see the core self that is at the deepest level of the soul, before those impacts arrived. What are the natural talents and capacities, yes gifts, this child has to give to the world ? Nurture those !! Even as you attempt to heal the wounds that will always be within the personality.
Maybe it’s a woman thing. Today, I am happily experiencing a long distance (via telephone) “reunion” with my adoptee mom’s cousin. I had previously spoken with her brother and it was all about family origins and lineage but I already had researched and discovered most of it myself.
So, today, it is some insight into the more emotional questions that have haunted me since receiving my mom’s adoption file from the state of Tennessee. She was a Georgia Tann – Tennessee Children’s Home Society baby.
Much this cousin has shared with me was as my heart suspected already. But it was nice to receive a confirmation and not just my wild imagination making up stories. There have been too many stories in my immediate family already in attempts to fill in gaps that couldn’t be filled during my parent’s lifetimes.
With this cousin, I feel more complete now. This part of my family line was less developed.
My parents were both adoptees. They died without any reunion. It has been left to me to find my own closure with the circumstances. Obviously, I would not even exist had their adoptions never happened. Therefore, I am grateful for my own blessing, including that I wasn’t given up for adoption as well. I also acknowledge the sadness and tragedies that came before I was born.
My first awareness of the impacts of adoption on my parents was the Georgia Tann, Tennessee Children’s Home Society scandal. There are a huge number of adoptees that have been impacted by what happened in Memphis.
So, the only “anger” I was aware of was related to criminal behavior in adoption practices. I thought that was what the anger was about.
As I have revealed my origins, my original four grandparents (both of my parents were adopted), I have also become involved in more generalized adoptee groups. I have begun to learn what the issues are and also about how those issues affect not only the adopted child, but the original parents as well as the people who adopt and raise these children.
It has finally coalesced for my own self to be about identity. It was a lack of identity beyond my two parents that troubled me in my middle school years. It is interesting that the issue of not knowing where one originated troubles adoptees almost universally, while many people who have no adoption impact in their own families seem to not even care about who their ancestors were.
I think it is because the adoptee KNOWS that they don’t know. While any other person not affected by adoption “knows” that if they ever became interested, someone in their family line could clue them in.
There are some descendants who I am grateful have embraced me and my need to know. Others seem dismissive or reluctant to welcome in “the stranger”. I simply have to accept that I have been given some gifts of identity that some adoptees are still struggling to obtain.
Sealed adoption records which began as early as the late 1920s have done a lot of harm to an adoptee’s ability to know where they come from. Unbelievably about half of these United States still refuse to open the records to adult adoptees. This is simply wrong. No other citizen of this country is denied knowledge of their origins.
I love to read stories about happy adoptee reunions. They do not always turn out well. I do believe that the need to know is universal in adoptees, even when they think otherwise. Human beings are not meant to have no continuity, no connection to their origins and genetics, only a black hole leading into the past. I have experienced a black hole beyond my parents and I now have the information they lacked.
My mom yearned for a reunion she never realized. She once wrote to me in an email – “When I found out that my Mother was dead and my Father’s whereabouts unknown, the purpose of my search sort of fizzled out. I just felt that as a Mother I would be devastated to lose a child and never know what happened to it.”
So I love happy stories of adoptee reunions when the adoptive parents are supportive and encouraging of their adopted child’s need to know. Today, I read a very nice story about a young man named Alex. His parents were high school students and he was adopted when he was only 5 days old. His adoptive parents are Jewish.
Alex was a Communication Arts major at the University of Wisconsin and was taking a documentary film-making class. He needed a personal project and decided he wanted to look for his biological mother and document the development of his search. His adoptive mother had his baby bracelet that came home with him. It had his biological mother’s name on it, Trina Dunn. He used Google and found four women named Trina. One turned out to be the right Trina. The reunion is happy and he has discovered another “family” religious perspective. His original genetic family is Catholic and his parents have been married all these years.
Another story I read today was about Jenna, who was helped to find her original mother thanks to DNA and MyHeritage. Their DNA Quest project is a pro-bono initiative offered to adoptees who have little information to aid a quest of their own.
Jeanna says, “When you’re adopted, you have no idea of the background that led up to your adoption. I didn’t know if she would be accepting. She was, and everyone in her family was completely accepting.” Jenna says she now feels a sense of completeness that was lacking in her life.
If you are an adoptee and want to search for your genetic origins – know it is your basic human right to discover where you came from. If the reunion doesn’t go well, you will know that at least you tried. There is so much guilt and shame attached to any mother giving up a child that it is not always possible to overcome the damage. Her response to your effort is not about your worthiness but about her emotional wounds.
How does one preserve the identity and heritage of a baby dropped off under Safe Haven laws ? Is this a case where adoption is the only recourse ?
Safe-haven laws are statutes in the United States that decriminalize the leaving of unharmed infants in specially designated places. The child then becomes a ward of the state. Safe-haven laws typically allow the original parents to remain nameless in a court proceeding to determine the child’s status.
Some states treat safe-haven surrenders as child dependency or abandonment and a complaint is filed against the parents in juvenile court. Other states treat safe-haven surrenders as adoption surrenders and void all parental rights.
Of course, eventually, the ease of accessing inexpensive DNA tests and the matching sites 23 and Me as well as Ancestry may reunite the child with some member of their original family.
Yet, in the meantime, what to do ?
Critics argue that safe-haven laws undercut temporary-surrender laws, which provide the buffer of time for parents who are unsure about whether to keep or relinquish their children. Supporters argue that anonymity protects infants from potential abuse by their parents. Fathers can find themselves shut out of the child’s life without their knowledge or consent.
And I still do not have the answer to my initial questions . . .
A lawsuit filed by a non-Native American couple in Texas claims the ICWA discriminates on the basis of race and infringes on states’ rights. It will be heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit.
The federal law, passed in 1978, mandates that states prioritize placing Native American children up for adoption with members of their family, their tribe or other Native American families — a remedy to policies that had previously empowered the government to take native children from their parents without cause and eradicate their tribal identity.
The Texas couple, Chad and Jennifer Brackeen, sued the U.S. Interior Department in 2017 after their petition to adopt a Native American toddler they had fostered for more than a year was challenged in state court. Texas Child Protective Services had removed the boy, called A.L.M. by the court, from the custody of his paternal grandparents and placed him in foster care with the Brackeens.
He lived with them for 16 months, according to court documents. They sought to adopt him with the support of his biological parents — members of the Navajo Nation and Cherokee Nation — and his paternal grandparents. The ICWA requires, however, that a child’s tribe be notified before an adoption placement is approved.
The Navajo Nation located a nonrelative Native American family in New Mexico willing to adopt the boy, though that placement ultimately fell through. The Brackeens eventually successfully petitioned to adopt A.L.M. and are trying to adopt his younger sister.
In October 2018, a federal judge in the Northern District of Texas agreed that much of the ICWA is unconstitutional. Defendants in the case, include the federal government and the Morongo, Quinault, Oneida and Cherokee tribes. They have appealed that decision.
The Circuit Judge, James L. Dennis, wrote that the ICWA aimed to classify children not by race, but by politics. The definition of “Indian child” under the law is broad, he wrote, and extends “to children without Indian blood, such as the descendants of former slaves of tribes who became members after they were freed, or the descendants of adopted white persons.”
In a statement affirming ICWA intentions, tribal leaders wrote –
“We never want to go back to the days when Indian children were ripped away from their families and stripped of their heritage.”
The ICWA was passed in 1978 in response to what was viewed as a family separation crisis for American Indian and Alaska Native communities. Studies showed that 25 to 35 percent of all native children were being removed, and of them, 85 percent were placed in homes outside their families or tribes. This happened even when suitable family members were willing to foster or adopt. Those trends followed decades of mistreatment of Native American communities by the U.S. government.