A Universal Right

journey

Last month, several media outlets revealed the story of an adopted person in Iowa who had petitioned the Iowa courts to release the names of her biological parents based on medical need. Reportedly, she had struggled with alcoholism and mental health issues for several years, and her treatment providers believed that access to her full information would assist her recovery.

This woman’s petition traveled through the lower courts, arriving at the Iowa Supreme Court, where the justices unanimously decided that this woman’s mental health needs did not warrant releasing the identities of her biological parents. Many of the same tired arguments appeared in narratives about this case, such as the lifelong anonymity guaranteed to biological parents when they relinquished their parental rights to adoption, as well as the assumption of harm that may befall biological parents should their identities be revealed without their permission.

The majority of states continue to deny adopted persons the right to access their original information. Because of this, adopted persons may turn to the court system for relief; however, they are frequently denied access by the courts even when medical need is documented. The reasons for court denial can range from being “too sick” or “not sick enough” for the information to make a difference.

In the Iowa decision, it appears that the judgment was based in part on the perception that there was no assurance the adopted person would actually be able to overcome her mental health problems if she were granted access to her own information. This person wasn’t even given a chance to try and work through the difficulties that understandably result when a person is forced to journey along life’s circuitous path without basic navigation tools.

The truth is that no person should have to be “too sick” or “not sick enough” to access their own vital information. And surely we’re past the debate surrounding whether or not this information makes a difference for an individual’s emotional and mental health. The research is clear that it does and personal experience also supports this truth, regardless of whether or not someone is adopted.

journey

We all want to know our full story; this is a human need not an adoption need. What’s needed in adoption is to view those of us most closely connected to this experience through this human lens. When we do so, we will see that the desire to know all parts of what makes us who we are is universal, transcending the circumstances surrounding one’s birth. This is not a need that can be diminished by asserting the rights of one over the rights of another. The birth experience is equally shared between parents and child; each has an equal right to full knowledge of this primal human experience.

What’s also needed in adoption is for those of us most closely connected to this experience to continue to engage in meaningful dialogue within and outside our community to combat misperceptions and ensure humanity in policies and practices that impact our communities. At The Donaldson Adoption Institute, we are preparing for the final stop of our Let’s Adopt Reform National Tour in Chicago, Illinois on April 28th. When we first started out on this journey last November in New York City, some people expressed that they were tired of having the same conversations about adoption repeatedly with little change in certain critical areas, such as access to original information for adopted persons. The court decision in Iowa is certainly reflective of antiquated perspectives that contradict all we know about best practices and lived experiences in adoption. As we continued our four-city tour throughout the United States, we saw that people had plenty to say, and that the conversation does help us move forward and realize the necessary steps for movement in the adoption and foster care adoption experiences.

We must continue this conversation and envision new and innovative ways to communicate the adoption experience in order to ensure vital changes in policy and practice. It’s daunting, yet, necessary. Please join us in Chicago where we will continue to ignite a new dialogue about adoption in the 21st Century until decisions like those we saw in Iowa become obsolete in the wake of every state allowing adopted persons to access their original information without restriction.

Transaction to Transformation

 

The Donaldson Adoption Institute (DAI) launched our Let’s Adopt Reform initiative in August 2015 to ignite a national conversation about adoption and foster care adoption in the 21st century. The reality is, with all that we know about adoption and foster care adoption, we still have more work to do. We know that openness and transparency is best practice in adoption, yet we still see countless adopted persons struggling to access vital information about their own identity. We all know families need education before an adoption takes places, and support after, in order for families to thrive. Yet many families continue to struggle without access to necessary resources. We know that that a marketplace exists in adoption, which privileges some over others and distorts the essence of what family building should be about.

We’re excited to release the above video that tells the story of Let’s Adopt Reform and highlights just how vital this conversation is to inspiring solidarity within the adoption community and advocating for needed change in adoption policy and practice. Show your support for Let’s Adopt Reform and add your voice to the conversation by signing our Open Letter.

DAI’s bold, new vision to move away from a fractured and transactional adoption process to a more uniform and transformational process where everyone – expectant parents, first/birth parents, adopted persons and adoptive families and professionals – are better prepared and supported.  When families are strong communities are strong and when communities are strong the world is a better place.

Join us as we Adopt Reform!

There’s No Room for Adoption Stigma in Ads

Misperceptions about adoption have led to thoughtlessness by individuals and brands as they make emotional elements surrounding adoption the punchline to a poorly crafted joke. We saw this last month in an ad created by Priceline within their new campaign that something’s on the line with every vacation. For one of these scenarios, Priceline chose a couple who was intending to adopt from Eastern Europe, but returned when child they had anticipated bringing home was not a child at all, but rather a large, unkempt adult man. The couple in the commercial seems unfazed by the outcome of this trip, relieved instead they had taken the opportunity to “scope out” their prospective child before committing.

Priceline ultimately removed the ad when many members of the adoption community came together to “shout” their indignation at this insensitive portrayal of such a deeply personal and emotional experience. This solidarity demonstrates the adoption community as a group can effect powerful change. Although we are grateful that Priceline has pulled the ad from their YouTube page, it is critical that we harness our energy to make sure commercials such as this aren’t even created at the outset.

In the United States, there are currently over 100,000 children in foster care waiting to be adopted. Last year, over 22,000 children exited foster care on their own without the support of family. Between 1999 and 2014, over 250,000 children were born internationally and adopted by parents in the United States. According to the most recent statistics, 1 in 8 couples will experience the pain and uncertainty of impaired fertility, not knowing how or if they will ever become parents.

 

According to public opinion research conducted by The Donaldson Adoption Institute (DAI), 60% of Americans have some personal connection to adoption, either personally or via a friend or family member who has or is adopted. If you talked to these people, they would tell you that adoption is an intricate experience that brings with it both joy and pain. That’s why many of us who are connected to adoption aren’t laughing at Priceline’s advertisement.

Priceline is a company that helps people plan vacations by offering discount rates on airfare, hotels and transportation. Expanding a family is an incredibly human experience; not a business deal. Priceline’s insensitive ad treats family building as a one-time transaction instead of a lifelong transformation. These depictions harm children and families in many ways.

According to DAI’s research, less than half of the adoption community believes we are appropriately represented in the media. Many of us report experiencing stigma throughout our lives because of our connection to adoption. For better or worse, inappropriate and offensive depictions of the adoption experience impact perceptions, and this makes it all the more difficult to create necessary changes in adoption and foster care adoption.

Rather than mocking the adoption experience, some industries have chosen a solicitous approach to including family diversity as a theme in their advertisements. Last year, director Mark Molloy tastefully captured adoption in an emotional Zillow commercial; Wells Fargo has also thoughtfully included adoption within their advertising campaigns. While no one is suggesting any commercial, sensitive or not, can truly portray the complexities of this life experience in 45 seconds, at minimum brands should not be derisive when illustrating this sensitive topic.

A different kind of conversation about adoption, foster care and family must emerge in order to educate and unravel the misperceptions, which we hope would make brands like Priceline think twice about the messages they deliver. We also hope they would be compelled to think beyond the joke and about the millions of people that represent the extended family of adoption – birth families, adopted persons and adoptive families.

There is beauty, complexity, joy and pain associated with the adoption and foster care adoption experiences. We must engage in a new conversation that is deliberate and productive in order to usher the necessary changes so that ads like Priceline don’t even make it onto our screens. We hope you will join DAI in our Let’s Adopt Reform initiative, which seeks to inspire a new conversation about adoption in the 21st century and ultimately ensure strong families.

 

Because that’s what’s really on the line here: children and families. Let’s not make it harder to keep them healthy and strong.

 

Register today for the last stop of our Let’s Adopt Reform National Tour in Chicago and add your voice to this critical dialogue: http://tinyurl.com/ChicagoTownHall

Add Your Voice and #AdoptReform

Family Silhouette 3

A recent ad by Priceline, which mocked an intercountry adoption gone awry, sparked an outcry from many members of the adoption community that ultimately led to Priceline removing the ad from their YouTube page. This is another example of how, when we come together as a community, we can effect change. We now must harness that energy in a proactive way to make sure ads like this don’t even make it onto our screen.

The Donaldson Adoption Institute (DAI) launched our Let’s Adopt Reform initiative this past August in order to ignite a new conversation about adoption and foster care adoption, highlight what’s working and encourage reforms where needed. Through our Town Hall meetings, we seek to engage in a critical dialogue with members of our communities, allies, and others to thoughtfully explore the issues that matter the most and ultimately generate solutions that keep families strong and kids safe and healthy.

There are many pressing issues that members of the adoption and foster care adoption communities face on a daily basis. These include the dire circumstance of adopted persons who are without citizenship, parents who turn to unregulated channels to ”rehome” their adopted children, and the countless children awaiting adoption in our foster care system— many of whom will ultimately exit without family support. These are the issues we see on the news, sometimes sensationalized, often misrepresented, yet they gain attention nonetheless.

There are also micro-aggressions, such as the stigma and stereotype that impacts our community and influences perceptions; we need no further an example of that than the Priceline ad. We can pretend that Priceline may not be aware of the emotions involved in adoption, the bittersweet nature of all adoptions, or the ups and downs of this profound journey. But in reality, it shouldn’t take an adoption expert, or having a personal connection to adoption, to realize that this is not a circumstance for comedic mockery. Because this is about family. And surely, all of us know that family is sacred no matter how we come together.

Still though, we find ourselves having yet another conversation where we educate people and hope to inspire others to realize that when they mock us, it hurts families and children. More than that, it makes it difficult for us to influence the needed changes in policy and practice.

It’s exhausting to continue to have these conversations, but we must do so, and at this point, we must do so in a different way. Even though we’ve all been talking about many of the same issues for many decades now, we still haven’t come far enough in our efforts to strengthen families and make sure that kids growing up in today’s modern world can feel good about themselves and their family. We know openness and transparency is necessary for healthy identity development, yet we continue to see the majority of states barring adopted persons from being able to access this vital information. We know that people need education before an adoption takes place and support throughout this journey, yet we continue to lack the standards and regulations necessary to ensure access and provision.

We know that adoption should never be a business transaction, yet we continue to see the influence of money and privilege take priority over the well-being of parents and children.

It is a relief that those of us connected to adoption and foster care adoption are a robust and diverse group of people who are not daunted by the significant issues that impact our communities. We see our strength in those who have successfully advocated for adopted persons to access their original birth certificates and those who continue to tirelessly fight for this right. We see our courage in kids who were abandoned by a foster care system become adults  who are making sure no child is left to fend for themselves on their 18th or 21st birthday — a time when we need family guidance the most. And we see our tenacity in parents who take on a corporation that thought it was ok to mock certain families, and not back down until they win. This win goes beyond the tangible moment the Priceline commercial was pulled. This is a win that is reflective of our power when we raise our voices, stand in solidarity together, and say enough.

We are inspired by this example of families who embraced a difficult conversation, added to it, and sought change. This is an example that should inspire all families. Every family has joys and challenges. All of us need to refocus our energy to ensuring every family has a chance to be strong.

We urge every person to join us in our initiative to adopt reform. Register today for our upcoming Town Hall in San Francisco on Friday, March 4th. Share your experience in our online platform that creates a space to communicate about how adoption and foster care adoption has impacted your life. Sign our open letter and stand with us as we move this conversation towards necessary actions.

Every voice is important, and we need every voice to declare loud and clear that it’s time to adopt reform.

#adoptreform #shouttogether

 

 

 

Inspiring Change through Research

Lasso Support Through Education

In 2006, DAI published a paper that explored, in part, an expectant parent’s right “to make the placement decision in a fully informed manner, devoid of pressure or coercion.” (Smith, 2006). Yet research on what is provided expectant parents in crisis is scarce. To fill that void, DAI is working with researchers, Elissa Madden and Scott Ryan at the University of Texas at Arlington on The Options Counseling Project, a way to better understand if, or how, these rights are being respected. In this first phase, the experiences of first/ birth parents are being explored in-depth, both as an expectant parent and beyond. We are seeking to know how the counseling, support and information, given from a variety of sources prior to relinquishment, effected the decision making process. We are also seeking to know how, or if, the services and information they received prepared them for the reality of their experience.

“I was encouraged to believe I wasn’t enough.”

“When I decided I wanted to parent, they told me to think about how devastated the adoptive parents would be if I changed my mind.”

“I was never told that some adopted kids struggle with feeling abandoned or unloved by their birthparents.”

“I was an afterthought at best, an obstacle at worst… my counseling was basically being told where to sign my parental rights away.”

”We didn’t talk about parenting at all.”

These are the words of first/birthparents I have worked with describing the counseling they received during their crisis pregnancies. For the past twenty-eight years I have listened to the voices of first/birth parents on blogs, in books, in the media and, most importantly, one on one. I have worked with first/birth parents grappling with the trauma, grief and pain of their experience. I have also worked with struggling expectant parents in crisis.

For many first/birth parents, articulating this very painful part of their life is difficult. It often seems that it is an experience without words, only deep feeling. As Project Lead for the Options Counseling Project, I and others at DAI, have worked closely with principle researcher, Elissa Madden, to make sure that the questions asked can access that vast continuum of feeling as clearly as possible. Giving voice to what has been rarely, if ever, spoken is challenging. It is, however, also empowering to be heard. This research gives first/birth parents the opportunity to be heard and for their experience to be a part of positive reform.

Research is often the first step in changing laws, policies, and practice. DAI’s commitment to protecting the rights of expectant parents is foundational in this research. Currently, only 11 states have language that addresses the need for informed consent, and only a handful require 2 to 3 sessions of counseling. There are no states that define standards for care in a crisis pregnancy. Additionally, very few programs in Social Work, Counseling and Psychology address counseling parents in a crisis pregnancy. As a result, professionals providing services often look to those that employ them for guidance and informational materials. Research is vitally needed to inform not only practitioners and policy makers, but families, friends and communities that are looking to support expectant mothers and fathers in crisis.

If you are a first/birth parent, please take this opportunity for your voice to be heard. If you know a first/birth parent, share this link with them. Be a part of this vital piece of research.

Brenda Romanchik, LCSW

Project Lead, The Options Counseling Project