How True to the Foster Care & Adoption Experience is the New “Annie”?

AnnieLittle Orphan Annie, the spunky girl with the can-do spirit, has been part of American entertainment since the 1920s. Now audiences can experience a new spin on this rags-to-riches story – and its complex themes of race, class and culture – with the recent release of the new “Annie” movie. What can we learn from the movie about how our culture views adoption in the 21st century?
1. Having Annie’s eventual adoptive dad represented as a person of color is an aspirational and hopeful message – although still far from the norm.  
The new “Annie” is no longer an orphan, she is a foster kid.  While no one wants to see any children experiencing the child welfare system or foster care, it is an unfortunate reality for many. A 2008 Donaldson Adoption Institute report “Finding Families for African American Children: The Role of Race & Law in Adoption from Foster Care” (over 100,000 downloads since it launched), finds that African American children who come into contact with the child welfare system are disproportionately represented in foster care, and are less likely than children of other racial and ethnic groups to move to permanency in a timely way. The National Survey of Adoptive Parents conducted in 2007 found that 63 percent of children adopted from foster care have white parents, as do 71 percent of children adopted within the United States, and 92 percent of children adopted internationally.

The report did find that a substantial portion of adopted children have black parents, including 27 percent of children adopted from foster care and 19 percent of those adopted privately within the United States. The modern day version of “Annie” includes a more diverse group of players (“Annie” is played by Quvenzhane Wallis and the “Daddy Warbucks” character now known as “Mr. Sparks” is played by Jamie Foxx). While children of color do indeed get adopted by adults of color, it is not the norm.

2. Annie’s quest to find answers and a connection to her biological family is all too familiar to those within the foster care and adoption community.
In both feature films (the 1982 and 2014 versions) as well as in the musical, Annie is on a mission to find a connection to the family that she has been separated from. Her authentic longing for answers and a reunion with her biological parents comes to life in the poignant song lyrics of “Maybe” where she fantasizes about her parents: “Betcha they’re good, why shouldn’t they be? Their one mistake was giving up me!”

Today, with fierce advocacy and activism, states are opening birth records and there is a movement towards more openness in adoption, which can ultimately benefit all members of the adoption community. A DAI report, “Openness in Adoption: From Secrecy and Stigma to Knowledge and Openness,” found that the primary benefit of openness is access by adopted persons – as children and continuing later in life – to birth relatives, as well as to their own medical, genealogical and family histories. Adolescents with ongoing contact are more satisfied with the level of openness in their own adoptions than are those without such contact, and they identify the following benefits: coming to terms with the reasons for their adoption, physical touchstones to identify where personal traits came from, information that aids in identity formation, and positive feelings toward their birthmother.  Ultimately, everyone benefits from more openness and ethics in adoption.

3. Annie’s first/birth parents remain a mystery.
One thing is certain: Annie is deeply curious about her beginnings and committed to the dream of one day being reunited with her parents. We see Annie as she hangs on to tiny bits of her narrative and holds out hope for a reunion with her biological parents. What we don’t see are her actual parents. A couple pretending to be her parents surfaces to claim a payoff, but soon their motives are revealed, and Annie and the audience are left without answers.

In the movies and in real life, first/birth parents are often invisible or misrepresented. Advocacy and activism from first/birth parents and the wider adoption community — as well as more openness during the foster care and adoption process — are gradually lifting the secrecy, shame and stigma that have surrounded adoption for far too long. Resources like The Lynn Franklin Fund enable DAI to further its mission with a focus on positively impacting the lives of existing and future first/birth parents, as well as expectant parents who are considering their options.

4. In the end Annie gets adopted. How can we make sure there are more happy endings for youth in foster care?
While we are left to wonder if Annie ever connects with her biological family, in the final scene of the movie we see she and Mr. Sparks singing, “Together at last…nothing on earth will ever divide us.” This makes for a beautiful Hollywood happy ending, and while adoptions from foster care don’t usually end with a big musical number, many are indeed happy endings. Sometimes the happiest ending means reunification with the biological family.

Whether a family is reunited or an adoption is finalized, the key to happy endings for youth in foster care begin with sound laws, policies and best practices that are carried out by professionals that have resources to train and prepare parents. For many years, DAI’s national “Keeping the Promise” initiative has provided extensive examination of what post-adoption services states are providing, who is eligible to receive them and how they are being funded. This is just one piece of the puzzle in helping to move adoption and foster care from transaction to transformation.

Foster care and adoption narratives make for compelling Hollywood scripts, but the reality of the experience is often very different from the fantasy portrayed on the big screen. The new “Annie” offers us all an opportunity to take a look at how we can narrow that gap — and tackle the real-world obstacles standing in the way of real-world happy endings.

More discussion on pet adoption than human adoption during National Adoption Month

MEDIA ADVISORY: For Immediate Release 

CONTACT: April Dinwoodie – (212) 925-4089 –

New York, December 3, 2014 –The Donaldson Adoption Institute (DAI) today released a social media analysis of National Adoption Month (NAM), revealing that conversations about pet adoption continue to be more robust than those about human adoption.

DAI, a research hub for ethical adoption laws, policies and practices, analyzed social media messages surrounding NAM and found that even with the legacy of powerful organizations focused on foster care adoption and the addition of new dynamic voices, the conversation about human adoption lags behind that of pet adoption.

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The Real Problem with Kim Kardashian’s Adoption Fairytale

Who says no to Kim Kardashian? A young woman named Pink, that’s who. During a family vacation to Thailand, the reality show star visited a children’s home and fell in love with Pink, one of the young women living in the home.

On Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Kim said, “I literally cannot stop thinking about her. I told Kanye, I was like, honestly, this girl is so sweet and so cute, like, I would honestly adopt her.”

Pink politely said “no thank you” to the idea of being adopted by Kim, saying she “realized it wouldn’t be good for me, because I would have to leave so much behind. I wasn’t ready for that.”

Pink has become the unexpected break out story of National Adoption Month – a time that has traditionally placed the spotlight on raising awareness of the need for adoptive parents for children in foster care. However, Pink’s story is an important one – and reveals the complex reality behind Kim’s adoption fairytale.

It turns out that Pink already has a mother – Rose – who lives in a nearby village and comes to visit her every day. Following the 2004 tsunami, the family has struggled financially. In an effort to provide her child better education and care, Rose made the difficult decision to send Pink to the children’s home.

“I spoke to my mum about Kim and she said, ‘When you finish high school and you can look after yourself, I will give you permission to go and live with Kim if you want to go,” Pink said.

Poverty should not be the driving force behind international adoption. In the United States, a family can spend up to $50,000 to adopt a child from another country. In many cases that money might be better spent on supporting the biological family of the child and keeping her within her community of origin. If Kim wanted to make a real difference for Pink, she could reunite Pink and her mother.

As Pink explained, “Everyone wants to have a different or a better life, I suppose. But when I thought about it, I realized it wouldn’t be good for me, because I would have to leave so much behind. I wasn’t ready for that.”

Intercountry adoption can be a viable option but only when transacted ethically on all sides and truly in the best interest of the child. Adoptive parents and professionals have an obligation to be certain that this is the case, every time. We already know so much about what works and what does not, now we need to be sure we share what we know widely to help dispel the myths so often in the public eye.

As both a professional encouraging adoption reform and an adopted person, I am grateful that more people have been properly introduced to Pink and see beyond the fairytale. Perhaps one young woman sharing the realities of her situation can help to shift the conversation and provide a more candid and productive discussion about the complicated realities facing children and families today.

Influencing Change: DAI’s 2014-15 Annual Report Available Now


The past year has been one of incredible change in the adoption and foster care communities–and for DAI as well. From turning the tide on open records in New Jersey to the continuing decline in intercountry adoption, from safeguarding lesbian and gay family rights to securing needed funding for post-adoption services it has been quite a year! To find out what DAI did to meet these challenges, I invite you to click here for your first look at DAI’s 2014-15 Annual Report.

The report highlights our work in each of our 4 pillars (The Adoption Experience, Foster Care Adoption, Adoption Support Services and The Modern Family); spotlights our efforts to understand the impact of the internet on adoption; offers Board members’ reflections on what DAI means to them; and most importantly acknowledges the people without whom we could not do any of this work—our wonderful and generous donors.

Available electronically on our website today, print versions are in the mail now. If you are not already on our mailing list and would like to receive a hard copy, please drop us a note at


April Dinwoodie, Chief Executive

Profile: Amanda Baden Ph.D.

CaptionWe are honored to profile DAI Senior Fellow, Amanda Baden, Ph.D. Amanda is an Associate Professor in the Department of Counseling and Educational Leadership at Montclair State University in N.J. She is a licensed psychologist with a clinical practice in Manhattan. Her research and practice focus on adoption triad members, transracial/international adoption issues, racial and cultural identity, and multicultural counseling competence. She is on the editorial board of Adoption Quarterly and co-chairs the Biennial Adoption Initiative Conferences in New York. She is a columnist for Families with Children from China journals across the U.S. and she is an editor of the book, The Handbook of Adoption: Implications for Researchers, Practitioners, and Families. In 2005, she received an Angel in Adoption award from the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.

How long have you been working in adoption research/reform?

I began doing adoption research while a graduate student 20 years ago. I started by studying the identity of transracial and international adoptees and have continued in that line of research. I have also expanded my work to include adoption competence, counseling for the adoption kinship network, and other adoption-related topics.

How has your personal adoption experience inspired or influenced your work over the years?

I am an adult transracial and international adoptee. I was adopted from Hong Kong and raised by white parents who were in a mixed faith marriage. My personal experiences have undoubtedly influenced my work. I have been able to understand the dynamics of adoption in a way through the lived experiences that I have as well as the experiences that have been shared with me by my peer adoptees. I am also an adoptive parent and, although that role is newer, I have been able to understand the adoption experience in an additional way that informs my understanding of adoption even further. To truly understand the impact of adoption, I believe we must really explore the meaning we make of our heritage as well as the lived experiences we have that are affected by our various identities. Heritage and our identities are heavily influenced by race, ethnicity, and culture and too often the literature minimizes these issues. My work has been centered on explicitly looking at the multiple and mixed influences that race, ethnicity, culture, and adoption have on identity development among adoptees.

How has your work changed over the years?

My work has continued to evolve and grow. I now study the other adoption stakeholders (adoptive parents and birth parents) as well as the adoptees themselves. As a counseling psychologist, I have combined my research and practice interests and am now focusing on the clinical competence of counselors and therapists who work with adoptees and their families. My work with the Adoption Initiative that holds biennial conferences at St. John’s University for the past 14 years has also been important in my development. I’ve had the opportunity to meet some amazing scholars and practitioners who have greatly influenced my work. My connection to DAI as a Senior Fellow has also been a wonderful experience. The opportunity to work with amazing scholars like Ellen Pinderhughes, Ruth McRoy, and Hal Grotevant has been a great privilege. My critique of adoption and adoption practice is more informed and more nuanced based on my involvement in research as well as my work as a practicing psychologist.

What has been one of your biggest “ah-ha” moments?

This is a hard question! I think it might have started with my work on a paper that we published in 2012. I had been thinking about culture camps as cultural immersion experiences, but then I tried to understand them and the racial-ethnic socialization experiences they provide. I realized that, like others folks of color, transracial and international adoptees themselves were often trying to exert effort to understand themselves as racial and cultural beings; however, unlike others, they were seeking to reclaim a lost cultural perspective that they lost upon adoption. We named that process reculturation to depict the experience of attempting to acculturate to what is often a minority culture. It was really exciting to finally name that process that is somewhat unique to transracial and international adoptees.

What do you love most about your job?

I love the freedom that I have in my work. I am lucky to get to study other people’s ideas, to develop new ideas, and to work with some wonderful people in the process.

Why do you think the search and reunion project is an important one at this time?

So many adoptees and birth parents have embarked on searches and have been frustrated and blocked as they attempted to get information about their heritage. The attitudes toward adoption continue to reflect fear and suspicion toward those who search for birth family ties. As more states begin to move toward changing policy and allow access to original birth certificates, this is the perfect time to reform and reconfigure current practice and training for those who assist with searches and reunions. However, to achieve this reform and to support searchers, we must first understand what current practice is for search facilitators. This project will allow us to better understand the training, experiences, and practices of those who do this important work.

If you could change one thing about the practice of adoption/people’s attitudes toward adoption what would it be?

If I could change anything, it would be attitudes about adoption. I would work to decrease adoption stigma by raising awareness of all of the judgmental and pathologizing attitudes toward adoptees, first parents, and adoptive parents.

What are you working on now?

I am currently working on the Adoption Search and Reunion Project with DAI and some students. I am also working on a newer construct in the literature (microaggressions) that I have applied to the adoption experience. I have written about adoption microaggressions and I’m working on two projects related to adoption microaggressions and racial microaggressions experienced by adoptees, adoptive parents, and international transracial and domestic adoptees. I am also working on a study exploring the effect of the late discovery of adoption on adoption status on adults who were adopted and learned of their adoption later in life.