"Project SRC (Search, Reunion and Correspondence)"

I work at a foster-care agency that values courageous leadership. This core value is one reason I chose to accept a position to develop a Post-Adoption department for Amara. It is both outstanding and aggravating that I've already seen this value play out. 

Shortly after I arrived at Amara, I discovered neglected requests for contact between adoptive families, birth families, and adoptees, within case files. I found signed documents requesting information about themselves from their files, letters sent from birthparents to their biological children that were unsent, as well as an adoptee and her birth mother who desired to connect but weren't connected!  While absolutely devastating to discover these errors, historically, this problem is not rare especially for child welfare organizations with a long history like ours. Typical staff turnover and thousands of cases worked on over the almost 100 years that Amara has been in operation has meant that there are files that have been overlooked. Post-adoption file neglect is a likely a nationwide problem within agencies - it is alarming, and injustice and easy to shove under the rug. In fact, I've read numerous reports and heard firsthand stories of agencies that "had a flood" or "experienced a fire" causing them to "lose" all of their files. 

I proposed to our leadership team that we review all files between 1950 and 2000 to ensure that all requests were properly followed up on, to reconcile any errors made, return correspondence (letters, photos, cards) to their rightful owners or intended recipients, or—in some cases—reach out directly to individuals whose cases might be more complicated. In my opinion, the next steps are clear. Information contained within adoption files don’t belong to us (agencies), nor does it belong to the dust that has made its home on the files. They belong to the individuals (adoptees) for whom the information inside pertains. Of course, there are sealed record laws, which prohibit individuals from having access to their file, but we do have the ability to share all non-identifying information without judgement about which info we should share and which we should omit.  Full transparency is in an adoptee's best interest. As is the opportunity to fill holes, complete ones narrative or repair emotional harm that may have been wrought because of neglected files - even if decades have passed. In my perspective, taking collective responsibility for any error(s) or oversights that our agency may have made over the past few decades far outweigh all potential risks. 

The quick response from Amara's Executive Director to move forward with "Project SRC," is evidence of that courageous leadership value that I have admired since joining Amara.

Project SRC is being undertaken with full support of the organization and I'm being supported by a team of hand-selected advisors as we deliver decades old, sometimes very difficult news.

Three cheers for doing the right thing!

How Does My "Good Fortune" Impact You, My Dear Friend?

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I'm currently at an altitude of 36,608 feet, and am flying at 475 miles per hour from the East Coast back to Seattle. This past weekend, I journeyed to Pittsburgh to speak at an event for foster and adoptive families. I delivered a keynote speech, which included a short video from a recent conversation my birthmom and I had. The video clip is quite emotional - the quote vulnerability begets vulnerability is on full display as my birthmom and I seek to know each other better through a series of difficult questions. I choose to share the very personal clip because it helps demonstrate that while being in an open adoption relationship is an experience that assists adoptees to fill in those holes in their lives and has the potential to support positive identity development, that challenges remain baked in to the relationship building experience. 

Sitting in the front row at the event was my dear friend, Emily. She also serves in an Executive Assistant role for me, for which a duty includes being a source of emotional support during events such as these. Emily is a transracial adoptee, adopted from Korea and raised in Nebraska. She and I connected a few years ago after I read one of her blogs about her quest to find her birth family (you can find it here). She wrote:

A search for him would not be possible, as there was no identifying information left in my file. I found myself reading the summary over and over, trying to feel my birth parents through the words on my screen. It sounds odd, but that was the beginning of my grieving period over the loss of them both.
— Emily Thornton

Reading Emily's words pierced through me, as although being in reunion hasn't been easy, I realize that at least I had the great fortune to even work to develop a relationship!

Emily and her husband hosted me for the remainder of the weekend, taking me to all of the best food spots in Pittsburgh and introducing me to the most delicious London Fog I've ever tasted (#BiddlesEscape). We spent time discussing the event. While debriefing, Emily shared how emotional she felt while watching the video clip of the conversation with my birthmother. She emoted about how she longed for an experience like that some day. She shared that she didn't allow herself to cry at the time because she was due to speak after me on a panel and had to "keep her composure." 

Emily is not just a good friend who is also a transracial adoptee. She is a transracial adoptee, a good friend, and one for whom a relationship with her biological family has been elusive. Knowing that she wants what I have (a relationship with my biological family) does not prohibit her from speaking honestly with me about the emotions it stirs up when hearing me talk. Nor does it prohibit me from speaking about the difficulties that are present for me while I navigate building relationships.

I feel a deep sense of good fortune in the fact that I was able to find my birth parents out of the sea of 7 billion people on this earth. However, being in a reunion doesn't quite feel like good fortune as so many aspects cause anxiety, questioning and sadness. I'm thankful to explore this with someone like Emily who understands this paradoxical conundrum. Still hopeful that she's able to find her Omma someday. 

Presenting About Post-Adoption Services During My Recent Trip To The Rudd Adoption Conference

Pictured L to R:     Hal Grotevant , Rudd Family Foundation Chair in Psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst     Steve Kalb, PhD Candidate, Holt International Children’s Services, Director of Adoptee Services    ME!, Amara’s Director of Post-Adoption Services

Pictured L to R:

Hal Grotevant, Rudd Family Foundation Chair in Psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst

Steve Kalb, PhD Candidate, Holt International Children’s Services, Director of Adoptee Services

ME!, Amara’s Director of Post-Adoption Services

In early April, I journeyed to Amherst, Massachusetts to present at the UMASS Rudd Adoption Research Program Conference. The conference is an annual gathering of academics from all over the United States where the biggest names in research, including Ruth McRoy and Ellen Pinderhughes, were on hand to represent their work on family preservation, openness in adoptions for birthmothers, minority recruitment, and racial identity development.

Armed with preconceptions of what an academic research conference would be like, I carefully studied up on recent cutting-edge research and publications. I feared that my lack of academic credentials would leave me woefully unprepared to communicate or that my decade of direct practice within the adoption field would pale in comparison to the caliber of folks I’d be interacting with. As an adoptee without any advanced degrees, I felt an immense honor, duty and responsibility to ensure that my presentation matched the rigor of my counterparts.

But as I mingled with other speakers and presenters at the Chancellor’s home for the pre-conference reception, I quickly learned that my anxiety about interacting with such esteemed professionals was unfounded—silly, even. Although many conversations were laced with academic jargon, I was able to make sense of their profundities.

I was attending the conference to give a presentation with fellow adoptee and adoption services colleague Steve Kalb of Holt International Children Services entitled “How Adoptees Are Shaping Post-Adoption Services.” We were humbled to be invited, as it conveyed the message that there is value in hearing from adoptees who are serving as adoption professionals. And we were proud to share about the great strides adoptees have taken to influence post-adoption services best practices, such as the creation of open source transracial adoption training tools like The Adopted Life Series and child-centered programs such as the Holt Adoptee Camp.

 

Read the rest of my piece here.

 

Is There Something You're Not Sharing With Your Adopted Child? Why?

Last year, I received a phone call from Susan*, an adoptive mother in Ohio. Susan explained that her 8-year old child's biological father had just committed a murder and that the local news would be covering the story. With panic in her voice, Susan asked; "How do I shield him from seeing this? He knows his birth-father, so he'll recognize him on the 5 o'clock news. I don't want him to know that he's related to a murderer!"

I happened to be in Columbus, Ohio the following week as I was consulting with the Office of Children and Families Department in their adoption unit, so I offered that we meet while I was in town. She breathed a sigh of relief, while I inhaled deeply hoping Susan might be amenable to my approach. My straightforward, adoptee-centric stance on sharing difficult information has long been that fearing the worst is worse than knowing the worst. I was about to advise her to tell her son about his birth fathers' crime.

Susan and I had a few phone conversations leading up to my arrival. She shared about her son’s developmental age and his ability to handle difficult information. I learned of his temperament and about the other aspects that combined to create his busy life. We discussed the potential what-ifs, and her concern for his emotional well-being and ramifications if she chose not to tell. Ultimately, Susan decided that now was the right time and thus she and I were able to work together to inform her son about his birthfather’s crime in a way that he was able to handle. We also offered space for him to ask any questions that he may have. His first question? "Can we go drive by the jail? I want to see where he lives now." So we did.

Susan texted me a few months later, stating that her son often wants to make a point to drive by the prison when they're on their way to his dance lessons, basketball practice or simply to the grocery story. As they drive by, he typically inquires about 8-year old stuff, for example "Do they celebrate Christmas in jail?" or "Does he get to play any video games?" or “What kind of food do you think he gets to eat?”

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On Friday, March 30th, I will be continuing my Honestly Curious series on Facebook Live. I've invited Beth Hall, co-author of Inside Transracial Adoption, to join me to discuss scenarios which may elicit fear and apprehension on the part of adoptive parents. The Facebook Live medium allows viewers to comment during the broadcast, so we can respond in real-time. I'd love to hear from you! What difficult truth are you wondering about sharing with your child about their history? 

 

*Susan is not her real name to ensure privacy.