The Fourth of July is upon us, marking a great moment in history as it signifies our official independence as a nation. All across America the red, white and blue will be waving. Families will gather around to enjoy the simple pleasures of a backyard barbecue as they celebrate their pride in being an American.
The ideology of freedom is a core value in America. It is the crux of our patriotic songs, the thirteen stripes on our national flag represent the independence of the original colonies, and it is the cornerstone of our Constitution.
When the suffragettes fought for the right to vote they were seeking the freedom that comes when your humanity is considered equal to the humanity of others. When members of the LGBT community and their allies fought for the right to have their union given the credence of marriage, they did so in part based on the fundamental truth that love is a universal concept which cannot and should not be inhibited by any bigotry that holds the love of some as unequal to the love of others.
Freedom was the basis for the great dream of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, who so aptly proclaimed that if America is to be a great nation, all of God’s children must be able to meaningfully sing the patriotic hymns which pronounce that freedom should ring from every mountainside in this land where liberty is held so dear.
There are those of us who know only fractured freedom, which negates the very idea that Independence Day is meant to convey. We may not know all that freedom has to offer because of our gender, or the color of our skin, or because of who we love.
And some of us, because of the circumstances of our birth, know freedom related to our identity and heritage only as an idea instead of a lived experience. This is true for countless adopted persons in the United States who are denied access to the very document that attests to our humanity; our birth certificate.
When a person is adopted, their original birth certificate becomes sealed and a new birth certificate is issued. This amended birth certificate lists the adoptive parents as birth parents and it leaves off details that are typically included on a long form birth certificate. In some places, where the adopted person was actually born can even be replaced with another location, as though the place where one entered the world is an insignificant detail that can easily be exchanged.
The meaning of a birth certificate is both practical and personal. Practically, it is an identifying document. We use it to get driver’s licenses and passports. We use it to gain access to privileges and resources.
We use it to confirm identity, and identity is both practical and very personal.
A birth certificate is ultimately an attestation to the profound moment when we entered this world. It attaches us, in writing, to a very important family; whether we are raised by that family or not. A biological family is a factual aspect of any person’s identity. It is where we gain biological elements such as our race and ethnicity. It is where we gain our medical history, something we can all agree is vital information.
Our family of birth contributes to our nuances, strengths, and flaws. These personality characteristics can also be aspects we gain from our family of experience, those who raise us and whom we know and love as family regardless of blood ties.
Both then are quintessentially important to every personhood; the meaning of one family does not and should not replace the other. And knowledge of all parts of who we are should be a basic right.
The fact that we continue to deny this knowledge to adopted persons by concealing their actual birth certificates in most US states is a blatant human rights violation, and it contradicts the very principle of freedom we claim as so essential to the core of what it is to be in America.
This denial is also contrary to the realities of the adoption experience today. Most families who live adoption today do so in the spirit of openness, with biological and adoptive families getting to know each other and staying in touch over time out of their shared love for their child. Other people are connecting with extended family every day through social media technologies and advancements in DNA science.
The research base, and more importantly the voices of those who live adoption, are loud and clear that access to information, openness and honesty are necessary.
A birth certificate is a vital document; vital is a word that is synonymous with ‘essential’, ‘fundamental’ and ‘necessary’. But for those of us who were adopted after our birth, this document is conceived by some as inconsequential and replaceable.
The battle for civil and human rights is, in many regards, universal regardless of the issue at hand. This advocacy is uniquely personal yet inextricably uniform. Because whenever rights are being abrogated the underlying struggle is the same. It is a struggle to gain access to the tangible privileges that are denied when a person is discriminated against. But it is more intensely a struggle for the desire to be valued as human; the intangible yearning to be regarded as equal to all other persons regardless of the nuances that make us diverse within our shared humanity.
Within this framework of universality, and with deep respect for the distinctiveness of each unique human rights cause, our own dreams for the community that is called ‘adopted’ are inspired by Dr. King’s powerful declaration.
Our dream is for all adopted persons to gain access to the very information that affirms their humanity. In this dream we see our brothers and sisters in adoption made whole again not simply because of a piece of paper that proclaims their humanity, but moreover because they have the unique and intense opportunity to use this piece of paper to delve into rich exploration and potentially know all elements of their identity.
This document holds the promise of transformation that goes well beyond the simple right to gain access to it; yet it is in being given this simple right that revolutionizes how we hold ourselves as ‘adopted’ and how the society we live in regards us.
On the tenth anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights, Eleanor Roosevelt stated the following:
“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.”
The world of the adopted person can be complex. But for many of us, our desire to know our biological origins is not reflective of the love and affinity we have for our family of experience. The mom’s and dad’s who raise us are the people we run to in childhood in tears over a bad dream or joy when we make the basketball team. Our mom’s and dad’s are the people we complain about for their meddling ways and they are the people we call when we need the advice of someone who has been there and done that many times over. We are part of a family that came together differently, but is family just the same. We are people, just like anyone else, and we seek access to the document that gives us the dignity of being valued as a person. And then, our unique dream of freedom will be realized. And then we will be able to fully celebrate Independence Day.
It’s as simple as that.
Today, January 26, 2015, the United States Supreme Court issued their opinion in Obergefell, et al. v. Hodges, et al., ultimately declaring that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage. As leading child welfare organizations, we are elated that justice has prevailed and equality has overcome discrimination. Further, the court’s decision is symbolic of the commitment to strengthen families and better the lives of countless children, those who are already being raised by same sex parents, as well as the numerous children waiting in foster care for adoption.
Today’s action by the court signifies a vitally important step; this is just the first of many though that will need to be taken for us to arrive at a place in which we celebrate and embrace the richness of diversity, not simply tolerate it. In order for that to happen it will require each of us to think critically about adoption, foster care adoption and what it means to be family. We must engage in the critical dialogue and actions necessary to expand our consciousness and make certain that attitudes and behaviors are a true and genuine reflection of the changes in laws and policies.
As we work towards the deeper changes that need to occur within our societal consciousness, families will continue to need support and resources. Families will navigate the complexities of adoption and foster care adoption within contexts that may or may not transmit the court’s decision into behaviors that reflect the intent and the spirit of the law. Advocacy will also need to continue in many areas, because the equality that was gained through today’s decision runs a stark contrast to a law recently passed in Michigan which will allow adoption agencies to judge potentially qualified adoptive parents based on their sexual orientation and gender identity, under the guise of religious freedom. We must all recognize then that the work is far from being done and actively seek to expand the conversation and build solidarity in a manner that ensures the needed transformations occur.
For today though, we will pause and reflect on this profound moment, a moment which will join other powerful ones in the history of this country where we will always remember exactly where we were and what we were doing right as it occurred. We will sit in this moment, assuaged by the knowledge that today, children and families were made stronger.
As we consider our work moving forward, we are reminded of the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
We will then make sure that the light of justice and equality that shines so brilliantly through this decision today will continue to guide us in our passion for ensuring that children receive the love that they need to thrive and that families have what they need to be strong. Every child deserves to be part of a strong family. And every family deserves the chance to be strong. Strong families build strong communities and strong communities make a better world for all of us.
April Dinwoodie is Chief Executive of the Donaldson Adoption Institute. As an adopted person, April is a fierce advocate for children and families that are part of the adoption and foster care constellation. Dinwoodie was trans-racially adopted and shares first hand experience regarding challenges within adoption and foster care. She created the specialized mentoring program “Adoptment.” She is also a co-founder and vice president of the board of Fostering Change for Children, a progressive non-profit that helps drive innovation within the child welfare system.
Nicole Dobbins is the executive director of Voice for Adoption. Since a turbulent and abrupt transition from foster care at the age of 18, she has dedicated her career to advocating for children and youth in need of permanent families. She works to improve outcomes in child welfare and to ensure no youth has to experience “aging-out” of foster care without a family to assist in the transition to adulthood. Nicole is also the board president of FosterClub, the national network for youth in foster care.
Carolina Bradpiece is the Executive Director of the North American Council on Adoptable Children. Founded in 1974 by adoptive parents, the North American Council on Adoptable Children is committed to meeting the needs of waiting children and the families who adopt them. NACAC has supported LGBT adoptive families in policy and practice for almost 20 years.
Christine James-Brown is president/CEO of the Child Welfare League of America, the nationally recognized standard-setter for child welfare services. Its members include hundreds of public and private child-serving agencies in all 50 states.
This week, the Huffington Post published a piece by our Chief Executive April Dinwoodie. Below is an excerpt from the original post found here.
I think about my dad and my father a lot. As a transracially adopted person I think about the man who raised me along with my mom, and I think about the man who made it possible for me to be born. These thoughts greatly intensify, naturally, around Father’s Day.
At some point in my younger years I became very aware of my race and the differences that existed even between me and those closest to me: I was brown and my family was white. I also became aware that my biological mother was white, which meant my brownness came from my biological father. This fact made the non-existent relationship with my biological father even more complicated.
So I did what any child does when she is trying to figure out her world. I made up a story. My story involved a biological mother, Elizabeth Montgomery from Bewitched, and a biological father, Harry Belafonte. Harry and Elizabeth were too busy in Hollywood to keep me. All this seemed a reasonable (and entirely possibly) explanation to me, so I went about my childhood suppressing the unanswered questions swirling inside me with my imaginative narrative.
As I made my way into and through adolescence, Father’s Day became an even more powerful and confusing time for me. I was certainly inspired to celebrate my dad and did just that along with my sister and brothers. He was the hardest-working man I knew, had superhuman strength (kind of like Paul Bunyan) and could do magical things like stack wood perfectly and make a rock wall with precision. He was worthy of celebration! At some point, though, in the lead-up to Father’s Day, on the day of or in the days that directly followed, the questions would come…
Read More at: Huffington Post
Every day at the Donaldson Adoption Institute (DAI), we search the news to stay current on issues relating to adoption and foster care adoption in order to keep our community and the general public informed about matters impacting this large and diverse group of people. We recognize that news coverage and popular entertainment drive awareness, shape perceptions, and ultimately have the ability to influence positive or negative change. The news in this area runs a broad spectrum; some headlines raise an eyebrow, others make us smile, and still others remind us of the many changes that are needed in the system that transacts adoption. Some stories are simply bittersweet, a word that in many ways most aptly defines the reality of many adoption experiences.
This week though we find ourselves tracking a story that leaves us with heaviness and frustration. There has been quite a buzz surrounding the pending Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig Lifetime movie. Fans of the comedy duo were initially disappointed to learn in April that the movie would be shelved, yet are now seemingly revived by a Hollywood billboard that announced the film would air in June. Speculation continues surrounding the film’s airing, an ancillary detail within the broader and more important issues this film confronts us with. Regardless of whether or not it airs or if this was some colossal prank, and regardless of the leading characters, the very idea behind the film titled A Deadly Adoption is egregious.
DAI is passionate about reframing the conversation in adoption to make certain that popular culture does not perpetuate the many stigmas we work so hard to combat. And so, we wished to share some thoughts on this particular movie hype.
Right now in the United States the most recent statistics indicate that there are approximately 2 million children who joined their families through adoption. Over 400,000 children call foster care home and 101,840 children are waiting in foster care for a permanent adoptive family.
Right now in the United States some persons who were born internationally and adopted by US citizens as children have been deported, or are facing deportation, as adults. This happens when the individuals that transacted their adoptions did not, for whatever reason, file the necessary paperwork to ensure their citizenship.
Some children who have been adopted are sent away to live with other families through unregulated channels by their adoptive parents for a variety of reasons. Dubbed ‘rehoming’, this chilling practice has led to abuse and exploitation in a manner tantamount to child trafficking.
Members of the LGBT community continue to fight for the simple right to be treated just like their heterosexual counterparts and evaluated as prospective foster and adoptive parents based on their qualifications, not their sexual orientation or gender identity. This discrimination limits opportunities for children to join potentially qualified families and continues in light of the fact that over 23,000 children exited foster care last year without a permanent family.
Adopted persons who long for their original information advocate for the right to see their actual birth certificate, and have been successful so far in more than two dozen states in having that basic human right restored. Meanwhile, first/birth parents and adopted persons that have lost each other through closed systems are reconnecting every day.
These experiences, as well as research in adoption that seeks to expand best practices, finds more and more families realizing that openness is a healthier way for adoption, with first/birth and adoptive families staying connected over time. These relationships can sometimes be complex and difficult, yet offer a richness that is not available through a closed and secretive system.
There can be pain in adoption because for many, at the heart of it, is loss. Every day people struggle with the reality of impaired fertility, wondering if or how they will know the joy of parenthood. First/birth parents know the longing for a child that exists yet whom they do not parent, even if they stay in contact over time. Adopted people navigate the unique, and at times, complicated experience of knowing there is fundamental loss in gaining an adoptive family.
The world of adoption can be beautiful and it can be painful; most often, this world is a combination of the two. Some of this may seem like a plot to another made for TV movie. There is the dramatic fairy tale and the dramatic nightmare; but it is the ‘in between spaces’ where most of us live.
None of these experiences though have a place in mockery, regardless of the parody’s intent.
A Deadly Adoption, if it airs, will join a host of other movies on a variety of networks that highlight adoption in a way that undermines adoption and ultimately hurts children and families. The reality of the aggressions against and misrepresentations of the adoption community in the media is old news. There is something even more disturbing though about what appears to be a blatant caricature of an entertainment genre, at the expense of the adoption experience. Movies such as this, or even parodies of them, with unrealistic and melodramatic interpretations of concepts in adoption, continue to promote unrealistic and unhealthy views of adoption. This makes it all the more difficult to influence needed policy, practice and perceptions that keep children and families strong.
It’s exhausting when your life experience, whatever that may be, is the punch line to a joke. But when children and families lives and well being are impacted by that, it’s disgraceful. Most certainly, we are not laughing about this. And we hope no one else is either.
Last night, The Donaldson Adoption Institute was delighted to celebrate it’s 12th Annual Taste of Spring event, celebrating food, fun and friendship.
Susan Notkin expressed her pride in all of the work DAI has done and for the help we have given to so many people in the adoption and foster care communities. She also expressed how in many ways our work is beginning again with a renewed spirit and sense of urgency.
“Together, we will show the world that adoption is not a mere transaction but a lifelong transformation,” said April Dinwoodie, DAI’s chief executive.
Thanks to everyone who helped to make our 12th Annual Taste of Spring the best one yet!