No eating on the premises.

It’s been a long while since I have felt like THE adoptee at an adoption conference. The ones I tend to go to now have adopted people numbering in the double digits!  That place of privilege and confidence is something I lean toward and after so long in this profession, I feel really fortunate to have the protective bubble of others like me, some with bigger personalities and others with bigger voices so I can feel supported and righteous. It feels I have earned the right and paid the time to no longer put myself in that place of being a child, the amateur.

There is this thing that happens at adoption conferences that I wonder if it happens anywhere else? As one adoptee said, “I have to sit down and stay seated,  I feel like I am a walking consultation.” I get it, completely. If it is known you are an adoptee,  you will be stopped – often – by an adoptive parent who has fashioned herself as a professional but wants to talk to you about her kid. If you are presenting, you will not get asked about your paper or your research first…you will be asked by an adoptive parent professional about how to handle the behaviors of his adolescent…usually chased with a wonder if you went through similar feelings growing up. If you are at all revealing of your adoptee status, you will be asked your “opinion” not your researched/evidence based/clinical experienced thoughts.

You will then go to your car feeling dirty, spent, exhausted.

What I wish I could say out loud, but will do cowardly in print instead, is to express the desire to respond in kind…”So, my adoptive mother read everything under the sun about attachment and diagnosed me with reactive attachment disorder. Is this normal? What can I do about her intense anxiety that I will never form a solid attachment to her?”

There is a fine line between getting educated and devouring. I get the thirst for more.  When you raise a child, you want to be able to pre-empt everything. I just attended my kids’ school PTA fundraiser.  Teachers come and are always welcome. It would never occur to me to sit with them and ponder my child and assess their skills as a teacher based on an exchange over drinks. In fact,  it’s kind of frowned upon to spend too much time hanging around them or the school superintendent, even though I KNOW there were plenty of parents who would have loved to talk Common Core and their issues about testing.

When I speak on a panel,  I get prepared. I am ready for anything. I know how I will deflect the very personal and intimate questions to a hungry audience waiting for that checklist of things they should and should not do as the “very good” adoptive parent. When I come to talk about the work I do, perhaps I am less prepared or perhaps I am just weary of having to own that other preparation I have to do in addition to the presentation at hand.

So here I am with that icky feeling I get when at one of these adoption conferences pondering my options as to what I need to do to arm myself and be better prepared.

My dear friend M suggested posting a sign at every adoption related conference or gathering that reads, “PLEASE DO NOT EAT THE ADOPTEES!” I thought this was funny but now I am seriously considering it.

I feel so consumed by the firing squad adoption conferences require me to withstand. It’s nerve-wracking enough to make sure my presentation is good, that my case summaries make sense, that I have met the ethical standards of disclosure…I don’t really want to be doing free consultations and cheerleading for anxious parents. I don’t think I was invited to validate their choice to adopt but to discuss the very real issues adoptees struggle with. I do love bringing up my adoption identity in the context of the work I do, but it’s on my terms and how I believe it is at times, the most necessary tool in my box to engage a young client. It is not lost on me that I value and do use my adoption status. But it’s mine. It’s all mine to use at my discretion,  just as it is for all those adoptive parents. It is not all of me though. When I speak about attachment or trust or empathy, it’s not because I am unfinished in my adoption. It’s because I have most clearly done a ton of thought and work around it. I don’t come up with an understanding of a client based on how I see my adoption or the nature of my relationship with my adoptive parents. It’s because I have sat for hours and hours, years and years listening and reflecting, seeking and translating patterns of thoughts and behaviors joining my clients in their quest for more insight to themselves.

Do I sound defensive? Yup. I suppose I am. First we have to identify ourselves as “adult” adoptees, emphasizing very literally that we are adults. Now we have to prove our professionalism. Not sure if this is adultism or adoptionism, but it’s one -ism too many.

My new script has become this..
Adoption is different. It has it’s own developmental sine curve. At times it overlaps with what others typically know as a milestone and then there are times we adoptees hit those marks earlier or later or higher or lower. What I have come to believe is that this is all normal.  If it doesn’t make sense to you, get informed but please please do not consume the adoptees in the room, they need to be treated with respect and viewed as complete, whole human beings.  Please engage with kindness.

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Launching of the Handbook to implement the Guidelines for Alternative Care for Children

It is a dangerous thing having friends who actually want better for you.  I get regular emails from a dear friend who is always letting me know of the greater world of international child welfare enticing me to fantasize of the possibility of doing social work in the way I dream.  Even living so close to New York City, it is rare to get the chunk of time needed to engage.  Lucky for me, I married the right man who endorses just about every chance I get to play with my fantasy.

Sent email reading…“Please make it home in time to pick up the kids from school, skip taekwondo, stay home to work on the cars for the pinewood derby so no one needs to be shuttled about and I will be home by 5:30 to put dinner on the table.”  Thus, by 3PM, I am sitting in UNICEF house to witness the Launch Event of Moving Forward: Implementing the Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children.

Facilitating the presentation was Susan Bissell, Associate Director of Child Protection at UNICEF.  In my mind, Ms. Bissell has the most amazing job.  More pointedly, she has the most amazing memory.  I met her once and she has been gracious to remember me every time I make contact with her.

Jennifer Davidson, Director for the Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland shared the process in developing the Handbook.  She offered that in launching this Handbook offers a new paradigm.  To me, she offered hope that there were real tools to use from the simple front line practitioner to the government of a country to change the way we see the care of a child who needs intervention and others to take the charge in giving them care.  The writers chose to highlight programs from countries – none represented twice – implementing various recommendations.  From the US was the adoption agency, You Gotta Believe!, an agency that specializes in finding homes for adolescents and kids who age out of foster care.  Anyone who has ever heard Pat O’Brien, Executive Director of this organization, would walk away believing in him and his mission.  I still remember a marvelous story Mr. O’Brien shared years ago of a creative mother, a curse word and a birthday cake.

Third to speak was Cecilia Anicama, Programme Specialist to the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Violence against Children.  What stood out of Ms. Anicama’s presentation was the affirmation that we need to prevent institutionalization.  That statement wasn’t made to pander to the audience as she knows all too well, there will always be children who need to be cared for outside of their family of origin.  But institutionalizing a child exposes a child to violence six times higher than a child who is placed in foster care.  Ms. Anicama specified this violence in terms of bullying, abuse and violence by other children.  An affirmation again of what I learned living with the children of the orphanage I came from.  It felt like “Lord of Flies”, I don’t think I was far off in that analogy.

Minister of Social Welfare of Indonesia
Inspiring that a country that actually commits to implementing the guidelines and use the Handbook as a tool to inform government.  A country that espoused a “system of child welfare as institutional care” in 2005 with 8000 child care institutions where 90% of the children are not orphaned or abandoned has a right to be optimistic about their changes as by 2011, Indonesia set a national standard of care that targets education, health, parental support and social welfare for children.  I think the standout statement was when Minister Sunusi admitted to a governmental re-evaluation of the funding of institutions and suggested that funds were changed to family support with a comprehensive assessment of a child’s needs.

Listening to Minister Sunusi, I had the fantasy that someday, the Minister of Health and Welfare of South Korea would say something along the same lines.  While talking to one of my orphanage brothers recently, I am reminded our orphanage is still a home to children, not one legally free for adoption.  My old Home exists for the parents to temporarily place their children while they get their act together, get a job, get remarried, etc.  But I know, rare is the kid who escapes the stigma of being an “orphanage kid” as rare is the kid who gets to leave the Home before the age of 16, forever a second class citizen.

The room was nearly 60 plus full of people and I felt so small and inconsequential knowing that many were doing the work that this Handbook was recommending.  Hard questions were asked about how to promote this new paradigm of child centered thinking where there is so little in the way of funding and resources.

Language was the most profound concept for me while listening.  Global initiatives and working with people who use words differently, speak differently, will push one to be polite, respectful, circumspect, careful and very specific.  With dissonance there comes even more care in the choice of words without losing the passion for the work that needs to be addressed.  There was the call to make a distinction between “residential care” vs. “institutional care”.  Too, culture was all enmeshed in the rhetoric.  It was brought up that there is an Eastern European country that has physicians encouraging parents to place their special needs newborns into an institution, eschewing these babies away.  I know they are not the only one choosing to hide away their less than typical babies to be raised in aggregate care rather than in the arms of humans, especially their parents, who will touch them, reach out to them, be touched by them, see them with potential.  An education not just for a society to change the way they see their children, but the education may even begin with the most educated of society.

Adoption was everywhere in the discussion.  My ears perked every time I heard the word being used.  It was refreshing to hear it in the context of a list of alternatives for children, in neutral but necessary terms. I believe that is where the word adoption is suited best, within a context of options.

The paradigm I was hearing and envisioning was a space in which the child was the source and center of intervention options.  I hope I was getting that right.

Please read the complete Handbook with me.  I am halfway through.  http://www.alternativeguidelines.org

Good News, With Thanks, Still Skeptical

Last week the Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare came out with a press release as they move toward ratification of the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption.  The small but mighty group of Korean adoptees working in Korea and the many who support them Stateside declared this to be a document worth many thanks.  Here in New York, I am skeptically saying thanks.

In reading the translation of this press release, I am left with tons of questions and lots of curiosity.  Just how does Korea think she will honestly, transparently and fruitfully fulfill on her words.  All these services outlined, who will do this work?  What will their biases be? There aren’t enough social workers in Korea to meet all these demands.  My own experience in social work school and talking to my fellow Korean international students, not a one was going back to Korea to provide clinical services, nor had much interest in child welfare issues.  None were curious about adoption, family work, family preservation or institutionalization.  Those who expressed interest were not going back to Korea, they were staying here to get more training and do clinical work here in English.

I am left wondering if we really think we will get all that is promised in this document?  Are we setting ourselves up?  The Hague Convention does little to address the growing need for full post-adoption services.  We can’t even hold our own country accountable for the patchwork quilt we call PAS.  Dare I join in the celebration when all I could do was sigh a sad sigh?  The group of adoptees in Korea pales in comparison to the tens of thousands overseas.  For most it remains an impossibility to go to Korea, look at their records and gain cultural competence.  For most, the journey of understanding their adoption must be done in the context of living overseas.  Organizations like the Overseas Koreans Foundation has dismantled the ability for Korean Adoptee organizations to seek funding for their work.  If such a foundation doesn’t recognize Korean adoptees as overseas Koreans, then this new statement is useless to me and countless others who cannot or will not live in Korea and consider themselves Korean Americans.

If search and reunion and access to full files by US agencies remain inconsistent, how do I expect to trust a country to be their word when they consistently fail to respond to an adoptee sitting across the table from them in tears asking for more information?  Taking these records away from the agencies in Korea means that bureaucrats will be the gatekeepers of this invaluable information?

All of this boils down to money.  Is there enough money for PAS, family preservation and subsidies to increase aid to unwed women who want to parent their children?  Will PR really work to raise the numbers of domestic adoptions?  Ratifying the Hague will not change the antiquated system of educating and supporting children adopted domestically.

There is one glaring omission in this translation.  What will happen to the children still in care, in orphanages, in foster homes, in crisis from being separated from their families.  I would like to believe this statement by the Ministry of Health and Welfare is more than just making amends for the past, but also looking at a way to fundamentally change the way Korea views international adoption, domestic adoption and child care now and in the future.  There will always be vulnerable children.  There will always be a need for adoption and a system that responds to the need to care for children not in their families of origin.  Anecdotally, I am seeing older children adopted from Korea and the amount of services and assistance families need to care for them is mounting.  These are not children that Korean families are willing to adopt.

I acknowledge the Ministry for a beautiful document with words of promise and an attempt to meet the demands of adult adoptees seeking change.  Included is the step forward toward ratification of the Hague Convention, something that I think South Korea is long overdue in pursuing.  But like the Hague, we have come to see that no one document will change the perception of how adoptions should be conducted or how the records of the children soon to be adults, whose lives fundamentally change from adoption, should be preserved or honored.  Now many years later, we in the US have come to realize that that there remain many more concerns and still children in questionable adoptive homes with more in-care waiting for a change in their future.  But if the simple acknowledgement was what we needed, then I suppose this press release is a great first.

I realize all of this sounds like I have a case of “Monday morning quarterbacking.”  I am not in Korea challenging, toiling and advocating.  I fully realize the sacrifice it takes to do that and I selfishly covet my life here as a mother (then a social worker) just living life.  But I am not idly wanting either, waiting for others to do the work for me.  I hope these words will penetrate in some small fashion as my peers move forward in seeing these promises come to action.

I am taking this goodwill seriously though. For the likes of Jane Jeong Trenka to believe this is great, then I am willing to stay engaged but not feeling so generous with my thanks.  My soju is still in the fridge.

UNICEF

I can remember clearly the yellow walls and Holly Hobby bedspreads in my room the night I arrived in America.  On the wall were a few pictures, one was a poster of UNICEF – three color blocked children sitting on top of a white dove.  That poster was on the wall for the duration we lived in that home.  I loved that poster.  I took it to mean that there was a group of people who looked out for all children, no matter their color.  It embodied a sense of hope for me. I remember wanting to work for UNICEF.  It is on my bucket list to someday be a part of UNICEF in a project in some way.

One of my first writing projects when I worked at the EBD Adoption Institute was to write a paper comparing the UN Rights of the Child and the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption.  I was struck by how much these two documents had in common and remain curious as to how the United States felt it was ok to ratify the Hague but not the UNRC?  If I stick to typical social situations and pop culture as my source, I find adoption is still second-best, for some completely abhorant to the possibility of having a “child of my own.” I know, I am oversimplifying it, but for those conspiracy theorists among us, I am certain the thought of market forces impacting adoption plays a huge factor in the Hague being ratified and the other stuck having only been signed.

Now, I literally living my dream chance.  It isn’t UNICEF, but so close, an international NGO that is one answer to the plight of children who are without parents.  Between assisting them craft their position statements on adoption and spending half of September with the APRC group to draft a position paper on the North Korean Refugee Adoption Act of 2012, I realize my stand on adoption is gaining clarity.  It isn’t so much whether adoption should or shouldn’t happen.  That ship has sailed centuries ago.  It is about when and how it should happen if we believe the child is the central focus, the client.  Our definition of “child” and all he/she is entitled to keeps evolving, but I am glad that UNICEF hasn’t changed their perspective, or has it?  This sentence caught my eye in particular – For individual children who cannot be cared for in a family setting in their country of origin, inter-country adoption may be the best permanent solution. I appreciate the choice of words here and can well imagine how many hours it took to craft such a sentence.  What I am struck by is the contrast in perception that UNICEF is a major roadblock to international adoption.  With a sentence like that, how can anyone believe all this venom is warranted?  Furthermore, what is so wrong about a leading international organization, created to support families and protect children from exploitation, making a stand that adoption not be the main priority?  Color me naive, but I am totally OK with UNICEF being there to be the stalwart bar set on how we prioritize adoption.  As long as there are articles that read like this – The Evangelical Adoption Crusade , we need them to stay that way.

I thought I would post what UNICEF has on their site about their thoughts on inter-country adoption.

UNICEF’s position on Inter-country adoption

Since the 1960s, there has been an increase in the number of inter-country adoptions.  Concurrent with this trend, there have been growing international efforts to ensure that adoptions are carried out in a transparent, non-exploitative, legal manner to the benefit of the children and families concerned. In some cases, however, adoptions have not been carried out in ways that served the best interest of the children — when the requirements and procedures in place were insufficient to prevent unethical practices.  Systemic weaknesses persist and enable the sale and abduction of children, coercion or manipulation of birth parents, falsification of documents and bribery.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child, which guides UNICEF’s work, clearly states that every child has the right to grow up in a family environment, to know and be cared for by her or his own family, whenever possible.  Recognising this, and the value and importance of families in children’s lives, families needing assistance to care for their children have a right to receive it. When, despite this assistance, a child’s family is unavailable, unable or unwilling to care for her/him, then appropriate and stable family-based solutions should be sought to enable the child to grow up in a loving, caring and supportive environment.
Inter-country adoption is among the range of stable care options.  For individual children who cannot be cared for in a family setting in their country of origin, inter-country adoption may be the best permanent solution.

UNICEF supports inter-country adoption, when pursued in conformity with the standards and principles of the 1993 Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Inter-country Adoptions – already ratified by more than 80 countries. This Convention is an important development for children, birth families and prospective foreign adopters. It sets out obligations for the authorities of countries from which children leave for adoption, and those that are receiving these children. The Convention is designed to ensure ethical and transparent processes. This international legislation gives paramount consideration to the best interests of the child and provides the framework for the practical application of the principles regarding inter-country adoption contained in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  These include ensuring that adoptions are authorised only by competent authorities, guided by informed consent of all concerned, that inter-country adoption enjoys the same safeguards and standards which apply in national adoptions, and that inter-country adoption does not result in improper financial gain for those involved in it.  These provisions are meant first and foremost to protect children, but also have the positive effect of safeguarding the rights of their birth parents and providing assurance to prospective adoptive parents that their child has not been the subject of illegal practices.

The case of children separated from their families and communities during war or natural disasters merits special mention.  Family tracing should be the first priority and inter-country adoption should only be envisaged for a child once these tracing efforts have proved fruitless, and stable in-country solutions are not available. This position is shared by UNICEF, UNHCR, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Hague Conference on Private International Law, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and international NGOs such as the Save the Children Alliance and International Social Service.
UNICEF offices around the world support the strengthening of child protection systems. We work with governments, UN partners and civil society to protect vulnerable families, to ensure that robust legal and policy frameworks are in place and to build capacity of the social welfare, justice and law enforcement sectors.

Most importantly, UNICEF focuses on preventing the underlying causes of child abuse, exploitation and violence.

New York 22 July 2010

A perfect storm

A perfect storm has been brewing this summer of 2012.  Perfection in that the most eclectic group of adoptees have said yes to joining forces.  Individually, we have contributed to the adoption community spinning in separate universes.  Again, our singular experience of being adopted has unified us.  Some of us are born in the US, others born overseas, some adopted here and still others adopted elsewhere but have returned to their motherland, the USA.

So the Adoption Policy and Reform Collaborative (APRC) has been created to further support our individual efforts to change the way adoption is viewed, spoken about, thought about and legislated about.  To head things off is a stellar letter that I hope you will all read.

I confess in reading the letter, supporting it and promoting it, I need to make some amends.  To me, this letter provoked me to think about the ethical obligations I have to my fellow adoptees in encouraging them to speak and share their very personal stories.  As a collector of stories, I have cherished them and in their retelling, try hard to honor the power and lessons learned.  I readily encourage adoptees to go and talk.  I loved doing the “speaking circuit” as my own narrative gained clarity.  I saw the power in the messages of pain, grief, balance and insight into what it means to be an adopted person.  Yet, in my earnestness to get our collective voices louder, I think there were times I failed to protect the storytellers.  They had been asked to be vulnerable, cry and often times wrap it all up in a nice neat package when they weren’t ready or done being angry or pained.

This reminds me of a time when being a part of a non-profit in NYC for international adoptees we came to a crossroad.  We had logged in at least a hundred hours driving all over the tri-state area speaking on panels sharing our stories and giving voice to the adopted experience.  We answered the most mundane of questions like “how do you identify yourself?” to the most personal, “how do your parents feel about you now?”  We answered them truthfully and earnestly grateful for one person in the room to “get it” and hopefully parent their child differently.  And we did it all for free.  The evolution of a paid speaker’s bureau began to take root.  In the organization’s growth, we began to feel empowered to ask for money in exchange for our travel and time.  The asking was extremely hard for us and we felt a bit embarrassed to ask for an honorarium just to hear about how our life turned out.  In the asking, we held ourselves accountable to be agents of change for way the future generations of adoptees were going to see themselves.  What I gleaned from that experience though was the knowledge that my story had value, merit and was worth a few dollars.  The honorariums were an acknoweldgement of a life with achievements and a symbol of gratitude.

I still trip over myself in asking to be paid but more often than not, I am offered.  Astounding.  And when I am denied, I can walk away without feeling guilty or shameless.  It has been over a decade since my last “speaker’s bureau” and I feel I have garnered the bona fides to be considered a professional in this field who haappens to have an interesting adoption story.  But I am reminded in reading this letter by the APRC that I have more work to do in empowering the voices of adoption.  In that role, it may mean that I help someone say no to sharing their story.  So thank you SBA, SWH and JRK for reminding us to remain vigilant in our work.

One last apology to my fellow APRC members.  This should have been sent out weeks ago.  In truth, you can’t say you are an advocate and let little things like what a parent is ordering their kid for school lunch get in the way!  Have to check my priorities once again.

Moving forward

The Olympics was full ON in my house.  To which, the TV has been awfully quiet this week.  My big guy has already mourned the loss even though it meant his TV watching repetoire has resumed.  It’s been a little over a week since the Summer Olympics in London has ended.  Michael Phelps has won back my USA spirit but Oscar Pestorius of South Africa took my heart.  There was great debate when the US Women’s Volleyball team played South Korea.  Who do we root for?  Even more, why was I cheering for an athlete who was not from either of those countries?  Greatness, sportsmanship, grace, victory was sweet no matter who was playing.  This is the first year my boys are old enough to tolerate the epic nature of the Olympics.  It was great fun.

Now that it is all over, I can only imagine what the athletes must be feeling.  Is there a letdown after the euphoria of being a part of THE international arena?  Phelps said of the last Olympics, he went through a slump afterwards, a bit of a depression.  I can relate.

A great athlete?  I am not.  But I can appreciate the work up to a great conference, an audience with a national representative, speaking in front of the President of South Korea.  When you have but minutes to persuade and look informed enough to be called upon again, it is a marathon preparing for these mental feats of public speaking.  So my silence these last few weeks have been just that, a bit of a letdown, a decompressing.

Day to day, I live a rather ordinary existence.  Sweatpants, tee shirt, barefeet existence of a mother breading chicken for lunch, yelling to get off the IPAD and the perpetual plea to stop tormenting the dog.  So, when the time comes for me to clean up and choose the right non-suit thing to wear it is nerve wracking.  To mobilize the family into “Mommy has to go on a business trip”-mode is a marathon all unto itself.  I don’t know how other Mothers do this on a  regular basis.  I will need to color even more white hairs on my head.  A hot mess is what comes to mind during the preparation process.

Then come the moments, the times when I forget that I am anything but a social worker.  Singularly focused on not messing up, my heart starts pumping so hard and my hands start to shake.  To get a chance to speak about adoption in the context of the work I do is the 100M dash!  The first of two events, meeting with the Special Advisor to Children’s Issues, Susan Jacobs.  Make no mistake, this is a smart woman who is brilliant at the craft of disarming any adversary, diplomatic enough to hear your perspective and straight forward to let you know she is a human being above all else.  No notes, she spoke and responded to the issues.  I like her.  I especially like her proclivity for a well made handbag.  I like her because she is real, she does not pretend to be more important and does not let you feel like you were just patted on the hand and pushed along.  Still, she did not say all that the participants in the room had wished.  She made no excuse that her task at hand right now is Universal Accreditation and getting other nation states to work on full ascension to the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption.

What I appreciated most about the meeting was that every one of us invited to come and speak on adoption issues was an adopted person.  But it was not that identity that walked into the room first.  It was our credentials as professionals that were acknowledged.  We were not there to talk about our stories, our challenges or our families.  It might have been disappointing for the others in the room waiting to hear a great tale, but it was wonderful for me to be seen for what I do, not who I am.  What I got out of that meeting was that this was the beginning.  An odd concept really that this is the first time such a meeting happened at all.  It is perhaps my biggest bone of contention that this continues to occur – the adopted person is the last to be heard from.  What were we waiting for? We are citizens of this country just like everyone else.  Adoptive parents and agency representatives come demanding facetime with the Ambassador.  It is not lost on me that it took an adopted person on staff to make this a reality.  This shouldn’t be.  We were invited to call, to email, to stay in touch.  Time waits for no man.  I intend to stay in touch.

Second event, the meeting with CCAI – The Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.  Declassified Adoptee said it all when it comes to this meeting.  Again, the same reality from my point of view.  This would never have happened had it not been an adoptee agitating, blasting and being downright pestering to get us an audience.  I am left with the same thought, what’s wrong with us?  Why do we wait?  What are we waiting for?  We are not children anymore, why do we wait to be called upon?

I learned a new word in this process.  Stakeholder.  Thus far, the stakeholders are the ones who get invited to the meetings, are privy to the updates of changes in policy and bend the ear of legislators.  In order to be at the table, you must be a stakeholder in the form of an organization, group or collective.  The only adopted people who customarily attend are those representing organizations that support international adoption and want to see it continue.  I have no issue on this representation, just because we are adopted does not mean we are the same, believe the same nor have the same agenda.  But it was curious that it takes an adoptee to be a bee in a bonnet, unwelcome at first, to give voice to others who have a different stake in the adoption process.  The rest of the stakeholders are adoptive parents either in the form of directors of trade organizations or actual legislators.  I don’t think there are any Congressional representatives who are a part of CCAI who are also adopted.  This truly baffles me.  And during this lull, I have been ruminating over just why that continues to be so.

Perhaps it is part of that narrative burden we adoptees carry around with us?  The part where we are identified by the moment we, as children, come into our families.  Adoptive parents get their wish, they become parents and are forever the parents regardless of whether we adoptees stay connected to them.  Our birthparents remain too, as parents to us, regardless of whether we reunite or not.  So, while they are stakeholders in this adoption world, it seems to me, we should be the major stakeholders.  We have the most at stake.  If an adoption goes well, we are the success story.  If not, we are the victims or the damaged ones.

That is as far as my brain got before shutting down.  I got into a slump.  Being home makes it so easy to forget what just happened.  Within hours, I am back in my sweatpants and getting down to the business of running a household, walking the puppy for the tenth time and trying to read Harry Potter to keep up with P.  My euphoria of “change maker!” has to be put on hold for a bit.  Perhaps that is the real reason we adoptees have not mobilized in the same way.  It is hard to live life and change life at the same time.  Resetting my compass means that at times advocacy, adoption, work is not number one on the list.  Harry Potter is far too exciting to put down just yet!

This time it feels different though.  My trip to Washington was amazing and fruitful.  Things are moving forward with new players in the mix.  I am glad I got invited to the party.

No words

From a recent adoption conference.  As a good friend and fellow adoptee said to me…”orphan is the new evangelical code for fundraising.”

This was posted by another adoptee who came to present at this conference.  She could not have this thing hanging on her shoulder.  Would you?

And people wonder why we adoptees are so enraged and feel so invisible…

Training

I spent the weekend getting trained on Attachment Focused Coding System by Reiner and Splaun (2008).  I was excited about getting this training for a few reasons.  For one, I had been feeling like an underachiever while so many of my colleagues are pursuing their Ph.D and thought getting certified in something might alleviate some of my envy.  Second, there are times when saying, “I am just a clinican” feels lacking and completely unsophisticated.  Third, I have always gravitated toward the Adult Attachment Inventory to be used as a possible tool in preparation for perspective adoptive parents.  Fourth, I have been a long “fan” of Miriam Steele ever since hearing her do a talk about attachment in children in foster care/adoption, I was intrigued.  She so compassionately showed how the parents who found more “success” in parenting a child with a complicated history were the ones who were, themselves, more securely attached human beings.  I am oversimplifying all she shared, but I walked away thinking, finally someone who is not putting the narrative burden on the child!

When this traning came up, I jumped at the chance to return to the New School for Social Research (http://www.newschool.edu/nssr/center-for-attachment-research/)  I had been there a long time ago with a family and watched with fascination as they deciphered the interactions between a newly adopted child and his parents.  As a non-researcher, I wanted to see if getting training in the administering of “story stems” might bolster my clinical understanding and interpretion of my clients and their interactions with their parents.  I have more work to do before being fully “certified.”  I have more coding to do and more thinking about the practical application of what I learned before feeling brave enough to administer anything.  It did give me more words to describe a child though and create a narrative around how he might view his parents, adoption and himself.

If there was one thing I got out of this weekend, it was something the presenter said on the first morning of her presentation..”Attachment patterns are not about the child alone.  It is about the specific parent-child relationship.” And there you go.  Can we now focus on something else besides a child’s attachement?  Can I stop feeling like I have to fix the child or work on a child so he attaches to his parents?  Can “the relationship” now be a solid third client in the room? The “attachment of the child” is quickly wearing on me and I was relieved to hear this while being in a room of post-docs and fellows, several of whom are studying Reactive Attachment Disorder in children.

I recommend any clinician to spend time with researchers in their field of choice.  They speak a different language and it is a language I was happy to familiarize myself with.  It helped me better understand the importance of words and looking at transactions between a parent and child in separate, discrete terms.  This parsing out of attaching or rejecting behaviors in a parent are actually the very negotiations a child does in reading his parents.  Learning to distinguish these nuances actually informed me of the “inner working model of a child” (another great concept!) and how he sees his world as secure, safe, dangerous, helpful or not.  It also showed the amazing resilience in children no matter how complicated their environment or situation.

My hats off to my colleagues jumping into this line of work and taking on the brutal task of analyzing and decoding our relationships.  I hope I can be in your company a little longer.  At least to provide you with a great set of data for analysis!