There is a man right now in the United States facing the possibility of deportation. His name is Adam Crapser. Some people may start reading this and wonder why the Donaldson Adoption Institute (DAI) is writing about this. We are writing about this because this is not simply a citizenship issue, it is an adoption issue. Or rather an issue of how some adoptions have been transacted in this country. For many years, DAI and others have been researching and investigating the issues that matter most to our community and yet, with all that we know, there are still cracks in the foundation and critical problems with laws, policies and practices surrounding adoption. Adam Crapser’s experience constitutes a failure of the adoption system and the adults who promised to care for him.
Born in South Korea and adopted by US citizens as a toddler, Adam was abused and neglected by his adoptive family who ultimately abandoned him when he was 10. Adam spent time in foster care, was adopted a second time, abused again, and then abandoned by this second family as a teenager.
Adam has had tumultuous years in life. Surely we can all agree that a chaotic and abusive upbringing could challenge any one of us. A series of poor choices led to Adam’s involvement with the criminal justice system and he paid the price for his crimes by serving time in prison. He has shared in interviews that he has now turned his life around. But in seeking to turn his life around, Adam is facing yet another battle. A battle that could have been avoided all together had a basic key principle been upheld when he was adopted: the best interest of the child.
Because even though both families legally finalized Adam’s adoption, no one followed through to ensure Adam’s permanency in this country through the filing of citizenship paperwork. In 2000, the United States passed the Child Citizenship Act granting automatic citizenship to any child who was adopted by US citizens with one caveat; the law only applies to adopted persons who were under the age of 18 when it came into effect.
Adam was an adult in 2000 so the law doesn’t apply to him.
Adam is not the only person adopted into the United States from another country who has faced deportation as an adult. Although no specific statistics seem to be kept on these tragic situations, advocates estimate that this is an issue that could impact thousands and has already impacted at least 40 adopted persons to date.
Adam was abandoned physically, psychologically and emotionally by his two adoptive families as well as the system of adoption. Now, the United States is turning their back to him. Adam didn’t ask to be brought to the United States as a child. He didn’t ask to be adopted. Adults made that happen. Adults who are seemingly absent now as Adam struggles to have his very existence acknowledged in a country that promised him a ‘forever family’ so many years ago.
Adoption either provides the same legal rights and protections as any other family or it doesn’t. We cannot have it both ways.
Ideally, in any adoption there is a system in place to provide oversight and protection in ensuring the child’s best interests are being met. This means that the child is being well cared for, is free from abuse and neglect, and also that the necessary practical steps have been followed to guarantee the appropriate paperwork has been filed. In international adoption, this means that all steps have been taken to ensure the child benefits from all the privileges and rights of citizenship in the country they will know as home through adoption. For some reason this part of Adam’s adoption was left undone.
There are a variety of solutions to this injustice. To begin with, the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 needs to be amended to grant retroactive citizenship to all persons adopted internationally to the United States, including those who are now adults. This amendment needs to allow those adopted persons who have already been deported to return to this country if they wish.
We hope every person in this county right now would write to their legislators to tell them this amendment needs to be enacted immediately. You can visit Keep Us Home to learn more about the steps you can take to support Adam and those who are working so hard to stop his deportation.
There are also other factors at play that require our attention. Some have speculated that at times families may not file citizenship paperwork because they weren’t aware they needed to do so, or, they may have found the paperwork too burdensome so they put it aside. The former is the responsibility of the professionals who engage in the transactions of adoption placements. Pre and post adoption education and support services must become stronger to ensure families are prepared in every regard to parent through adoption. This includes certifying that families are aware of all steps necessary to ensure safety, well being, and permanency for a child.
The notion though that the filing of necessary paperwork may be perceived as burdensome by some families leaves us without words.
Facing a possible deportation trial is burdensome. Trying to get your life on track after living a childhood fraught with abuse, neglect and upheaval is, at a bare minimum, burdensome.
And it is within this idea that some elements pertaining to the adoption of a child may be perceived as so laborious they can be ignored, that a cultural shift is absolutely needed in adoption. There are a variety of papers that need to be completed and filed surrounding any adoption matter. There will be oversight, home visits, phone calls, and court dates. A person who becomes a parent through adoption signs up for that. Professionals who engage in the work of adoption placements sign up for that. A child does not. Adam did not. It is the adults then that are responsible for the follow through; ensuring the total well being of a child cannot and should not ever be perceived as burdensome.
Deportation proceedings against Adam Crapser need to be immediately dismissed. After this, the United States should as a collective society, offer our sincerest apology to Adam and every other adopted person in this country who has suffered because their ‘best interest’ was secondary to the fact that certain transactions were deemed unimportant or burdensome.
After years of research and lived experience we know what is needed to make adoption work, and to ensure the lifelong well-being of adopted people we need it to work. We write about Adam, in the hopes of shedding some light, offering support, and most pressingly so every single one of us, whether you have a connection to adoption or not, will stand as a united community to send the message that what’s happened to Adam and others like him is not okay.
From here we must all engage in the transformation necessary to ensure that adoption, at every step of the way, remains not only in the child’s best interest but also in the best interest of the adult they ideally will become.
Ohio has a lot to be proud of. Cleveland is home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Neil Armstrong was from Wapakoneta, Ohio. Seven U.S. Presidents were born in Ohio. In 1852, they became the first state to enact laws protecting working women.
There is indeed ‘much to discover’ in Ohio, a tagline that has added meaning for the 400,000 adopted adults born there between 1964 and 1996 who may well discover much thanks to the passage of legislation allowing them access to their own vital records. Beginning on March 20th, 2015, these adopted persons will now enjoy equality with adoptees born before and after this time frame in Ohio who are already allowed almost unrestricted access to their original birth document. Ohio becomes the ninth state to open birth certificates to adopted adults from a previously closed period.
Birth certificates are a vital record, yet they have been denied to countless persons who are adopted in the majority of US states for many years. Advocates in Ohio, undaunted by a context making reform efforts challenging, pressed on for more than 25 years until their efforts became successful in 2013 when Governor John Kasich signed Substitute Senate Bill 23 into law.
The magnitude of this event must not be underestimated, yet it often is by those who are unaware of the challenges facing adopted persons throughout the United States. The need for access to a true document of one’s birth runs the spectrum from the practical to the personal. With this access comes knowledge of one’s biological origins. It allows adopted persons to gain cultural, ethnic and genetic information that has the potential to be life saving. In 2004, the United States Surgeon General initiated the Family Health History campaign based on the fact that knowing a family health history can save your life. Every person that goes to a new doctor’s appointment is confronted with a form asking them to fill out their medical history, a form that those who are adopted often leave blank.
Some adopted persons may seek their original information for more personal reasons. They may have hope of making contact with original family members who have been lost to them. They may wish to engage in genealogical research. They may simply want to hold in their possession the document that attests to the profound event of their own birth. Regardless of their reasons, they shouldn’t have to defend the basic need for their own vital information.
The fight for access to original birth certificates surpasses both the personal and the practical. This is an issue that speaks to the very core of human rights. For what else is it to be human than to have your own birth acknowledged? All of us are born first…it’s the only way we get here. Yet some of us are told that the facts of our birth must be kept secret, locked away in a dusty file cabinet in the offices of the state registrar, only to be seen if enough people come together and fight for a right that every other citizen takes for granted.
Beginning with the adoption reform movement in the 1970’s, advocates in many states have been working hard to communicate to legislatures that adopted persons have the right to possess their own birth document. This advocacy reflects best practices in adoption that highlight the need for openness. The Donaldson Adoption Institute (DAI) has conducted research demonstrating that the vast majority of adoptions that occur today are created with adoptive and birth families knowing each other’s identity and staying in touch over time as this honesty is considered in everyone’s best interest, most especially the adopted person.
We must always remember that the ‘best interest of the child’ has long since been the standard of adoption proceedings. And in considering the best interest of the child, we need to do so in a way that reflects their development over time. Denying adopted persons access to their own vital information negates the spirit and intent of laws that guide adoption placements.
There are those who predict catastrophic results should states allow adopted person’s access to their actual birth document. Yet these predictions have not borne out in reality. Data from states that give this right to adopted persons demonstrate that these laws have benefited those connected to adoption. The majority of birth parents welcome contact from the child they gave birth to and adopted persons have shown that, like any other adult; they are capable of managing their own personal information. And there is no research to suggest that promises of anonymity impact whether a person will choose abortion versus adoption, another offensive speculation that is not grounded in any fact.
The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer once stated that “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident”. The journey to this third stage is often long and arduous. But through diligence and persistence, advocates in Ohio have ensured that a fundamental truth is now accepted: all human beings have a right to their actual birth document.
Congratulations, Ohio. DAI applauds you.
DAI is honored to profile Gary Mallon, the Julia Lathrop Professor of Child Welfare at the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College in New York City as well as Executive Director for the National Center for Child Welfare Excellence.
Gary has spent his entire professional life working in child welfare. Since starting as a line child care worker at St. Dominic’s Home in 1976, he has served as Director of Grace House (1979-1986); and worked at Green Chimneys Children’s Services (1987-1997), the first mainstream child welfare agency in the country to work toward improving practices and policies that enhanced the lives of lesbian, gay, bi, and trans children, youth, and families.
How long have you been working in adoption and foster care?
I started in child welfare on January 24, 1976, so just the other day was my 39th year in child welfare.
What motivated your initial interest?
As a kid I was part of the CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) and we did social justice work at a place near where I lived called St. Dominic’s Home for Children in Blauvelt, NY – we called it an orphanage – but it was a child welfare agency, we had no idea at the time. I thought after volunteering there, this would be a great place to work, helping kids and families. I then went to Dominican College, also in Blauvelt, NY and while going to college, I started working as a child care worker in a cottage with what we called in those days, “the baby boys” – ages 6 -13 years old. Working as a child care worker was very different than I thought it would be, the kids had lots of challenges, all the kids were African American and Latino and the staff were all white –we had, in those days, no cultural competency training and there was a lot of ignorance on our part about the families of the children.
Gary, you literally wrote the book on “Gay Men Choosing Parenthood.” So much has happened in the last 10 years, how do you think the book would be different if you were writing it today?
Oh, I think I would have many, many more people to interview and probably lots of Dads with very different experiences. I interviewed a group of 20 men who I called then, the pioneers of the Gay Dad movement, so I think if I were to re-write that book today, it would be a very different story than the stories of those 20 brave men and their children.
Much of your academic and practical work has centered on LGBTQ youth in foster care. What are some of the unique challenges they face in finding permanent families?
I think all youth in the foster care system face challenges in finding permanency. LGBTQ youth, although things have gotten much better for them in many child welfare settings, depending on what part of the country they live in, have some unique challenges. But the challenges lie with our society and the adults that care for them, not the youth themselves. There is still a lot of work that needs to be done here. Working with LGBTQ youth in foster care was one of the greatest joys of my professional life — I adored them – loved working with them — I cannot understand why some still have such an issue with them. That frustrates me, but, we have come a long ways, and yet still more needs to be done.
How has your personal adoption experience inspired or influenced your work?
I am deeply affected in my work, by my own personal experiences with foster care and adoption. I have been a foster parent and I am an adoptive parent, so I always say that I talk, the talk and walk the walk. Doing it and talking about it, are two very different things. I feel like, I know about foster care and adoption on a much deeper level than the person who “studies” adoption and foster care – not to say in any way I am better than they are, not at all, but my personal experience has informed my work in deep and meaningful ways. I am still affected every day when of my former “kids” reaches out to me on Facebook or when my daughter calls me to tell me something that happened to her that day.
How has your work changed over the years?
I am older. After 39 years of doing this work, I am still thrilled and delighted that I made the choices that I have made, but some days I realize now as I am aging, that I can only do three things, not the five or six things a day that I used to do. I am also distressed some times, by some of the changes I have seen in the field – too much blah, blah, blah about outcomes and evidence based practices – what happened to care, compassion, empathy, competence, building relationships and meaningful engagement of families? I am all for using science to inform our practice and holding folks accountable via measuring outcomes, but some of the professionals who are leading the way in this regard, have never spent five minutes in the field and that bothers me. And, now that I’m old, I can just say that and not worry about what people think of me for saying that. I think in some ways it is a natural process of aging both in the body and in the profession; it’s not the same field we initially started in. But, despite that, I still very much love child welfare and what we do as a profession, I have never done anything else, never wanted to, and it has been a worthy lifetime commitment for me.
If you could change one thing about the practice of adoption/people’s attitudes toward adoption what would it be?
I would LOVE to get professionals to believe that youth really need permanent, loving, lifetime families. I still hear way too much – “Oh, these kids don’t want a family, they want to be out on their own.” I know some of my former kids who at 33 and 43 are still floating out there, like a boat without an anchor, because we did not do our jobs and connect them to lifetime families. So, yes, if I could change one thing it would be to change our professional colleagues’ mindsets that older youth do not need or want families.
What are you working on now?
Right now I am working on a bunch of projects. My colleague, Peg Hess and I just published the second edition of Child Welfare for the 21st Century, published by Columbia University Press. I have a couple of other writing projects that I am doing, I have been around so long that I am now doing the 2nd and 3rd editions of books I wrote in 1998. I am also doing some wonderful evaluation work on caregivers for older adolescents, family finding, and continue to do training and technical assistance on LGBTQ issues and foster care – so, I am still busy and still feeling passionate about this wonderful work that we have been called to do – I hope to continue for as many more years as I am able to be productive, and then I am gonna retire and raise French Bulldogs.
The world of adoption has radically changed over the past decade. Declines in international adoption, the impact of the internet and social media, the movement of access to information including original birth certificates and tools like genetic testing, the shift to more openness and the spread of marriage equality are just some of the elements of the changing landscape of adoption as well as the modern family.
Here are some important topics we’ll be thinking about and acting on this year.
1. Access to Information: For many years adoptions were closed, meaning adopted people and their birth parents–who we also refer to as “first parents”–had no way of ever reconnecting. Today, 18 states offer varying levels of access (or are awaiting the start of such access) to adopted persons’ original birth certificates (OBCs). The debate rages on in the remaining 32 states, but in the meantime, adopted people and original families are turning to the internet, social media, volunteers, paid professionals, and DNA testing to uncover information and locate their families of origin. DAI will continue to support advocacy efforts to ensure that the OBC access movement presses on and we will be working to help set clear definitions and standards for openness in all aspects of adoption so every adopted person is allowed the basic human right of knowing who they are.
2. Openness in Adoption: Openness is becoming the norm (at least in theory), with closed infant adoptions shrinking to a tiny minority of about 5 percent, according to a 2012 DAI report. Of the remainder, 40 percent are mediated, which means there is an agreement among the first/birth parents and adoptive parents for some type of contact post-adoption, and 55 percent are In addition, 95 percent of agencies now offer open adoptions. Adoptive parents, birth parents, and adopted persons in open adoptions all report that these changes are positive: more openness is associated with greater satisfaction with the adoption process and has life long benefits. Let’s face it, openness can be complicated, especically in adoption, as it challenges traditional ideas of parenting. “Yet, the changing landscape of the Modern Family presents all of us with new and different types of relationships, each of which come with challenges and strengths. The extended family of adoption is no different; although unique in many ways, the skills and resources we use in nurturing and responding to other relationships in our lives can easily be used in the relationship between birth and adoptive families. Look for DAI’s training “Openness in Adoption…What a Concept” to be released later this year.
3. Re-homing: The term “re-homing” is usually associated with pet owners seeking new homes for their animals. But a Reuters investigation shed light on a disturbing practice of unregulated child custody transfers in which parents seek to transfer custody of their adopted children to new parents, all without state oversight. These unregulated child custody transfers are a chilling example of why we need greater pre- and post-adoption support and education. It is an unethical and dangerous response from parents unable to continue to care for children they have adopted. Typically these families have adopted internationally; some have defended their actions saying that adoption officials did not tell them the truth about their child’s history and that they lacked support to manage their new family. Regardless of the reason, these illegal actions must be stopped. More comprehensive parent prep and access to services is needed along with continued investigation to ensure that adoption is safe and ethical. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently sought DAI’s input on unregulated child custody transfers, also known as “re-homing.” At the request of Congress, GAO is investigating the practice and we hope this is an indication of more attention being paid to this and other critical issues involving vulnerable children.
4. International Adoption: We can’t talk about unregulated child custody transfers without talking about the changes on international adoption. Rates continue to decline in the U.S., peaking in 2004 at 22,991 international adoptions and falling dramatically, to under 8,668 by 2012, according to the U.S. Department of State. The problem is not demand, which remains high. Rather, more countries are emphasizing family preservation and domestic adoption, and restrictions have gotten tighter as well. Policy-makers must ensure that stronger systems of checks and balances are in place to avoid fraud and post-adoption disruptions and adoptive parents and professionals have an obligation to be certain that all inter-country adoptions transpire ethically and in the best interest of children.
5. Race Relations and Transracial Adoption: Transracial adoption accounts for a significant percentage of adoptions each year in the United States. Yet race relations in the United States remain fraught, particularly in the wake of the deaths of young men of color at the hands of law enforcement and the ensuing protests. Now more than ever we have to ask ourselves the hard questions: How do differences in race impact children who have been adopted by parents of another race? What additional supports are needed by these families to navigate and embrace the realities of becoming a multi-racial family?
6. Birth-Parent Rights: Countless women have lived for years with the emotional loss of separation from their children. While many women have lifted their voices in the spirit of healing and advocacy, many remain silent and alone and are often misunderstood. And what about first fathers? Birth-father rights have been diminished at best and outright discarded at worst, even when a biological father comes forward with the intention to parent his child. Some states, such as Utah, have decided to tighten some requirements to ensure birth fathers are not fraudulently disregarded in adoption plans. Other states are moving in the opposite direction. Advocacy is needed to ensure our current laws are not reflective of historical practices of the 60’s that traumatized many birth parents for decades after. DAI’s Lynn Franklin Fund is a unique, dedicated source of funding for research and advocacy on the issues and concerns that matter most to first/birth parents.
7. Adoption Equality: Although the majority of states currently permit same-sex marriage, the LGBT community continues to face discrimination when it comes to adoption. Some states, including Michigan and Indiana, are seeking to pass bills that, under the guise of protecting civil liberties and religious freedom, would allow institutions, including adoption agencies, to refuse service to LGBT persons. Equality should mean that lesbian and gay couples have the right to pursue the same family-building options as all other Americans. It is critical that legislation does not limit the right of people to become parents because of their sexual orientation and that the professionals that are charged with transacting adoptions are equipped to meet the needs of new family structures.
8. Child Welfare Worker Retention: There are so many needs facing the U.S. foster care system, but one of the most critical is retention and training of the all-important workforce. So much responsibility is placed on this core group of professionals and burnout is rampant. The impact of this high turnover on families must not be discounted, particularly for children who linger in the foster care system, suffer with multiple placements, and are without the love and permanency of family. We need practical solutions for child welfare agencies to maintain a consistent, steady and qualified work force.
Is 2015 the year in which a more unified effort from advocates, reformers, community members, professionals, and politicians succeeds in shifting perceptions about the adoption experience? Will family preservation be more a part of the conversation? Will we see changes in policy and standards surrounding ethics, openness and practical support and services for ALL families before, during and long after an adoption is final? Finally, can we move adoption and foster care from a series of transactions to even more thoughtful transformations? Let’s make it so.