Almost twenty years ago, November was designated as National Adoption Month (NAM). Its core purpose was to focus on the needs of children in foster care who were awaiting the permanency of adoption. With over 100,000 children in foster care waiting to be adopted at the end of 2014 and over 20,000 young adults exiting the foster care system without a permanent family connection, there is no doubt attention must be paid and more effort expended to eliminate any barrier that stands between a child or young person and a safe, healthy and permanent family connection.
The focus on foster care is absolutely critical, but as the adoption reform movement advances, NAM is taking on more dimensions. An expanded conversation is beginning to take shape, highlighting the many layers of the lifelong adoption experience. During this time of attention being paid to adoption, it is an opportunity to reframe some of the long-standing elements and ideals of adoption that have shaped perceptions, actions and experiences. When we start to unravel some of what has been hardwired within adoption and foster care adoption we can get closer to new ways of looking at things and hopefully, ultimately, new ways of transforming adoption to ensure the health and well-being of everyone in the extended family of adoption.
Often times, at the heart of challenges in adoption and foster care adoption are misperceptions about the realities of these experiences, and the stigmatizing effect they carry. In particular, the notion of rescuing a child through adoption, and the ‘luck’ this brings for the child, can burden those of us who are connected to adoption.
Designating adopted persons as ‘lucky’ simply for having been adopted is an unfortunate societal misperception that can burden the identity of adopted persons and their families in many ways. It assumes a first/birth family that would have been incapable of providing appropriate care, a fact that is not an element of every adoption experience. Parents through adoption are not left to authentically enjoy the experience of being a parent; instead they must fulfill the onerous role of ‘rescuer’. And for adopted persons, the ‘lucky’ script illustrates a life forever beholden to others. Within this narrative, adopted people are left to manage a debt of gratitude that is difficult, if not impossible, to repay, the greatest of which being an obligation of gratitude for their own existence.
While everyone’s experience is theirs to claim, the idea of the rescued, lucky child and the perceptions both obvious and nuanced that flow from this can be challenging. The Donaldson Adoption Institute (DAI) recently conducted public opinion research that demonstrates clear stereotypes continue to exist within public perceptions of the adoption community, and many that hold them are largely unaware of the stigmas these misperceptions retain. Stereotype is at the root of comments such as “that’s so good of you”, following a couple announcing that they plan to adopt. It is interwoven in the fairy tale of the poor orphan turned princess after having been adopted. Stigma is at the heart of the belief that someone without financial means is better off ‘choosing’ adoption for their child. Some children, for whatever reason, cannot be safely raised by their first/birth family. But we must never mistake a lack of monetary resources as a sole indicator of potentially abusive or neglectful parenting. Rather, if we wish to understand the role of poverty in limiting family preservation, we need to first explore the roots of socioeconomic inequality, as well as our deficient social welfare system, and how these factors inhibit possibilities for so many. A person’s choices in life will always be dependent upon the context in which decisions are made.
We do not all begin the race from the same starting point.
The reality is, parenting is an intricate experience, filled with joy, heartache, laughter, and frustration, sometimes all at the same time. This is true whether a person births their child or becomes a parent through fostering, adoption or the blending of families. Adding the notion of ‘savior’ to this already complex role does not speak to the authentic relationships that need to be created in order for family bonding and cohesion to occur. Consider also the difficulty a child will have in believing they are unconditionally loved if they have to feel ‘forever’ grateful simply to have a ‘forever’ family. Being raised in a loving and nurturing environment is a basic need that adults are responsible for providing; not a privilege a child must work hard to sustain.
Many times parents express frustration when the ‘lucky’ comments are made in front of their children; it is important not to make excuses that people may be ‘well intentioned’ when they offer unevolved statements. The problem with ignorance is that it persists in the absence of correction. There are many ways to appropriately and assertively address the stigmatizing notion of ‘rescue’ in the adoption narrative; pointing out that you are happy to be a parent or that fostering and adoption has added to your life and family, is a way to remove the burden from the child and keep adoption and fostering decisions with adults where they belong. Following up with your child when they have overheard these comments is critical as many times children will not start a conversation about the comments they hear that absolutely do weigh on their minds, creating confusion and mixed emotions. Children thrive when they know they are unconditionally loved; it is hard to know that genuinely if you have to feel a heightened sense of gratitude for such a vital element of your life- your family.
For adopted persons, it is important that we have a voice in shifting the conversation away from the idea that through adoption, we are ‘better off’. Adoption undoubtedly changes us in many ways. However for many of us, we may not know enough about our families of origin to know whether or not we are ‘better off’ having been adopted, even if many of us are doing very well. Regardless of whether or not an adopted person would have been harmed remaining with their first/birth family, feeling grateful simply for being lovingly parented does not speak to the development of meaningful and authentic family relationships, or healthy personal identity. As adults, adopted persons can make an impact on the lives of youth when we correct assumptions that do not accurately reflect the adoption experience. Although difficult at times, it is critical that we empower ourselves as a community to reframe the conversation about the core of what it means to be adopted. There are many efforts currently going on in this realm, such as the #flipthescript campaign, which began last year as a way to ensure adopted voices are heard in this critical dialogue.
During the holiday season in particular, many of us are inspired to reflect on all we have. It is true that holiday festivities almost highlight the disparities that exist in the pain and suffering of those who go without. Some people go without material security; others suffer because of the absence of meaningful human connections in their lives. For those of us who have either, or both, it is always important to pause and acknowledge these blessings, to share with those who go without, and to give thanks for what we have. Gratitude in and of itself should always be realized and expressed where appropriate. But gratitude should not be mistaken for debt. The love and security of family, although always important to appreciate when it exists, must never leave anyone feeling as though they are obliged to ‘repay’ one of the most fundamental components of any life…unconditional love. It is our job as adults to reframe the conversation. We owe it to our children to do so.
This November, let’s be grateful for the opportunity we are taking to adopt something new- a new conversation that leads to new ways of understanding and taking progressive action for adoption reform.
The Donaldson Adoption Institute (DAI) was excited to kick off our Let’s Adopt Reform National Tour with our first Town Hall event last week in NYC. Our panelists, who maintain both personal and professional expertise in the adoption and foster care adoption experience, and our moderator, award winning CNN New Day anchor Michaela Pereira, engaged in a robust dialogue surrounding many pressing issues in adoption and foster care adoption today. Our live and virtual audience, with a combined total of close to three hundred people, added meaningfully to this vital conversation with questions and commentary. All told, the evening was an inspirational start to a bold new conversation about adoption and foster care adoption that DAI is hoping to ignite throughout the country.
It is no coincidence that we chose November, dedicated almost twenty years ago as National Adoption Month, to begin a more modern conversation about adoption. Adoption makes its way into the media and discourse more frequently during this month, in a variety of ways, and it is important to harness these opportunities to educate as well as reframe some aspects of the adoption and foster care adoption experiences. At times though, not all voices are represented in the conversation. Other times, representations of adoption are polarized in a dramatic manner, positively or negatively, that exclude the “in between” experiences that more aptly depict adoption.
There have been a variety of efforts to include historically marginalized voices in the adoption discourse, such as the #flipthescript campaign which focuses on ensuring the world hears from adopted persons in these critical conversations. Movies such as Philomena highlight the experience of a first/birth mother who spent fifty years searching for her son. Television shows like The Fosters portray a modern family structure with many of the ups and downs characteristic of all parents as they navigate relationships with their children in a complex world.
Although at times we see a better balance, the reality is, misperceptions and stereotypes continue to surround the adoption experience. This fact was uncovered in DAI’s recent public opinion research, those who live the adoption experience can attest to this, and we see the stereotypes in many other spaces. The problem with these misrepresentations is that they make it all the more difficult to influence needed changes in policy and practice that would help keep families strong.
We just haven’t moved far enough or fast enough, and so, we are inspired to start a new conversation. Within this modern day dialogue, DAI hopes to unravel current perceptions and experiences in adoption in order to have the transformational conversations we need to move forward together and ultimately strengthen families. This is at the core of the Let’s Adopt Reform initiative-strengthening families. Because whatever our distinct family experience is, the idea of ensuring strong families, and the advocacy needed to reach that goal, is something that likely resonates with all of us.
We need every voice to participate as we strive to explore the issues that matter most to us, collectively brainstorm meaningful solutions, and actively advocate for policies and practices that strengthen families. Join us as we create new spaces for new conversations. Join us as we #adoptreform.
The first Let’s Adopt Reform Town Hall in New York City was an amazing success thanks to so many wonderful people who participated in this vital conversation.
CNN New Day Anchor Michaela Pereira led a thought provoking discussion on adoption in the 21st Century with panelists Amanda Baden, Gabriel Blau, Leslie Pate Mackinnon, Joyce Maguire Pavao and Nathan Ross.
Our New York City Town Hall premiered our groundbreaking public opinion research which revealed a broad consensus behind current policy issues that impact the adoption and foster care adoption community.
“We need to open up and get really comfortable with what adoption is actually about.” Said panelist Gabriel Blau.
Thank you to our participants and to all who took the time to join us in NYC as part of our live and virtual audiences!
For more pictures please click here.
To register for upcoming Town Halls, please click here.
In August, the Donaldson Adoption Institute (DAI) announced a bold new initiative that seeks to ignite a national conversation about adoption in the 21st century. Let’s Adopt Reform (http://www.letsadoptreform.org/) includes a four stop national tour, town hall meetings, and a virtual platform dedicated to leveraging the voices of our community to raise awareness about the adoption experience. DAI is kicking off National Adoption Month at the first stop of our National Tour in NYC (http://www.eventbrite.com/e/lets-adopt-reform-town-hall-in-nyc-registration-18819324105) on November 4th, 2015. We are excited to begin this next phase of our Let’s Adopt Reform initiative and will be revealing the results of our groundbreaking public opinion research that sheds light on modern day American perceptions of the adoption and foster care adoption experience.
The reality is, more Americans are connected to adoption then you may realize, with 60% reporting that they have friends or family members who have been impacted by adoption. The research also revealed that Americans rank adoption reform at the top of priority social issues, and over 80% of people support uniform, national standards for evaluating prospective adoptive parents.
At the same time, many Americans admit a lack of knowledge surrounding the realities of adoption, and the research reveals that many continue to hold stereotypes and misperceptions about adoption and those most personally connected to this experience. This lack of accurate knowledge makes it difficult to implement the necessary policy changes that keep families strong.
It is true that for many years awareness about adoption has been plagued by many inaccurate perspectives. Often times, these stereotypes are fueled by depictions of adoption in the popular media that highlight the extreme scenarios which are not representative of the more common adoption experiences. These representations fuel continued misunderstanding and can stymie progressive change.
What is heartening is the fact that more and more topics surrounding adoption are making their way into the popular discourse. Costco, for example, recently dedicated the “informed debate” section in their monthly newsletter to the issue of whether or not adopted persons should be able to access their original birth certificates. Some commented that this was an unusual place for this discussion, and wondered whether it was a worthwhile place for such a critically important issue.
The Costco Connection newsletter reaches over 8 million households, to say nothing of their online audience. It is crucial that we find avenues to include relevant and realistic conversations about adoption and foster care adoption experiences in every setting possible as a way to increase awareness and challenge the misperceptions that hold us back. We must expand this conversation far and wide if we are to achieve meaningful changes that strengthen families and ensure the well being of children.
Many of us who are closest to adoption may feel frustrated that we have talked about so many of these vital issues for years. It can feel exhausting to continue to engage in this discourse, particularly when we see some of the most important changes continue to be stalled in legislatures and through inconsistent practices that do not always lead to strong families.
This is why the conversation does need to continue but we need to do it in a very different way, and in a manner where we can use the knowledge gained to enhance what is working well but also ensure that meaningful changes occur where needed. Through Let’s Adopt Reform, DAI is inspired to lead a new dialogue, guided by our groundbreaking public opinion research, and one in which we can explore the issues that matter most to all of us. Our aim is to move that discussion to the wider community, while ensuring the voices of those most impacted are at the forefront of the conversation. In doing so, we have every hope in our ability to inspire progress and ultimately ensure strong families.
National Adoption Month brings heightened attention to the experience of the adoption and foster care adoption communities, and so it is a poignant platform to ignite this new conversation. However, these issues are relevant throughout the year. DAI will continue our National Tour at other key locations throughout the country and we welcome all voices to participate in this powerful conversation. At the conclusion of the National Tour, DAI will issue a landmark report that will combine our decades of academic research with modern public opinion research and first-hand experiences to define the core perception, policy and behavioral shifts that are needed to put strong families at the center of adoption and foster care adoption practices.
We have an amazing opportunity to raise awareness and educate about the experience of adoption and foster care adoption in a thoughtful and realistic way. Within our new vision, DAI is committed to building on what we already know is best practice, actively listening to community voices, and creating practical tools and resources in order to accelerate positive change. Our National Tour sets the stage for the conversation that needs to occur first in order for us to best support and strengthen families.
Strong families build strong communities and strong communities make a better world for all of us. Every child deserves the chance to be a part of a strong family. Join us as we elevate the dialogue and stimulate positive change. Every voice is critical to this conversation. Add yours (http://www.letsadoptreform.org/adoption-experience/) to Lets Adopt Reform and register today (http://www.eventbrite.com/e/lets-adopt-reform-town-hall-in-nyc-registration-18819324105) for our first Town Hall in NYC.
The Donaldson Adoption Institute (DAI) is excited to announce the next phase of our bold new initiative, Let’s Adopt Reform.
Let’s Adopt Reform aims to ignite a national conversation about adoption in the 21st Century to encourage change and strengthen all families. Building on what we already know and using our brand new, groundbreaking public opinion research, Let’s Adopt Reform will educate and raise awareness about adoption, inspire solidarity within the adoption community and advocate for evidence-based policy changes. Over the next several months DAI will host a National Tour featuring town hall events in four cities and create a digital platform to capture input and experiences directly from the community. Following the last stop on the tour, DAI will publish a landmark report that outlines key elements for reform.
Our national tour will kick off with a Town Hall event in New York City on November 4th, 2015, just in time for National Adoption Awareness Month. DAI is thrilled to have Award-winning, CNN New Day Anchor Michaela Pereira, as moderator for the first in our series of events. “As a news professional, I know how important provocative and productive dialogue is to raise awareness and drive positive change” said Pereira. “As an adopted person, I know how important it is to understand the beauty and complexity of adoption and family. I am looking forward to working with The Donaldson Adoption Institute to host a dynamic conversation about adoption in the 21st Century.”
Following New York, Town Hall events are also scheduled in Dallas (January, 2016), San Francisco (March, 2016), and Chicago (April, 2016). Michaela Pereira will also join DAI in San Francisco as moderator.
A key element of this next phase of the “Let’s Adopt Reform” initiative is our public opinion research. This groundbreaking report has helped us gain a modern understanding of how the American people, including the adoption community, perceive and respond to adoption, foster care adoption, and the policies surrounding both. It has provided insight into which topics need to be addressed at our town hall events and will serve as a baseline measure to changes in perception over time. DAI will share the results throughout the Tour to highlight misunderstandings that continue to exist within public perceptions of the adoption and foster care adoption experience. Using this data, DAI will expand the dialogue with an overarching goal of working in tandem with the community to engage in education and advocacy that leads to better perceptions, policies and practices.
In the coming weeks, DAI will continue to expand upon our Let’s Adopt Reform initiative by creating resources and a digital platform that seek to educate and raise awareness about the adoption experience. This will include the Adoption Experience, an online gallery where members of the adoption community can add their voices to the Adopt Reform conversation by sharing their life changing experiences.
DAI is honored to participate with the community in exploring current attitudes, opinions and concerns surrounding adoption, foster care adoption and modern family structures that have arisen from our national survey. Through our Town Hall events, Facebook Q&A’s, and a variety of digital platforms, we are hoping to ignite a conversation that will allow us all to enhance what’s working well and generate meaningful solutions for areas that need improvement.
DAI is inspired to make adoption about building strong families instead of just building towards a final court date. We’re inspired to show the world that adoption is not a mere transaction, but a lifelong transformation.
We hope you are inspired to join us. Let’s Adopt Reform.