Bolivian Adoptee Anthology Book Review

I was really excited when I heard there was a book created by a global network of Bolivian adoptees! I LOVE that we are hearing from them because although they are not as numerous as the Colombian or Chilean cohorts of intercountry adoptees, they are part of the large numbers who have been sent out of South America as children. Their voice, like all groups of intercountry adoptees, is really important!

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Communal Histories of Displacement and Adoption. It covers a wide range of 20 Bolivian adoptee experiences adopted into adopting countries in Europe (Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, France, Netherlands, Norway), the USA and Canada. What I immediately responded to was the beautiful artwork that draws you in visually, providing a sense of the colourful, vibrant Bolivian heart and soul within these lives, despite the effects of displacement and adoption.

I feel the choice of the word “displacement” in the title is very progressive, a reflection of the wider adoptee journey of awakening. It has taken the global community of adoptees many decades to come to terms with and find our own voice about being the products of forced adoption, i.e., being removed from our countries against our will. Adoption is something that happens to us, never at all our choice and not always in our best interests as many of us attest to decades on, and some of these voices include this sentiment in this book.

What I also love is that this book is funded by the Belgium Adoption Support Centre – Steunpunt Adoptie, a non-profit organisation subsidised by the Belgium government. They are mainly responsible for post adoption services and in the past few years, they support adoptees via their annual call for adoptee led projects. The Network of Bolivian adoptees twice received funding: for the first Bolivian adoptee meeting in Brussels in 2019; and then for the book in 2020. Let’s hope this encourages other countries around the world to provide funding for adoptee led projects like this anthology!

The book is a nice short read (98 pages) with a wide range of writing styles. If you have a spare hour or two and want to better understand the lived experience of Bolivian adoptee voices, I highly recommend you grab a copy!

You can purchase the book at this link.

Resources

Facebook group for Network of Bolivian Adoptees

Related resource: Colombian Adoptee Anthology Book Review

Embracing Therapy as an Adoptee

by Oleg Lougheed, adopted from Russia to the USA. Founder of Overcoming Odds.

I remember the first time I went to therapy.

I was ashamed of it.

I disliked every aspect of it.

I saw it as a sign of weakness.

Out of all of the things I looked forward to, this was at the very bottom of my list.

I remember the drive over.

“Why do I have to go here?”

“I don’t need this.”

“This is stupid.”

With each remark, I became more and more angry.

I remember exiting the car.

Not a single word, arms folded together, sprinting ahead of my parents in frustration.

“Welcome!” said the receptionist.

I didn’t respond.

“Through the double doors to the right, please.”

As I opened the double doors, my eyes immediately met them.

A room full of kids who were much younger than me.

I scanned the entire room.

Everybody was doing something.

Some were putting together puzzles.

Others were drawing.

“This is not for me,” I whispered.

I made my way toward the spot.

The spot I became far too familiar with throughout my life.

The corner of the room.

I sat there in silence, waiting for the clock to strike 8 PM.

“How are you doing?” asked the therapist on duty.

No response.

It took weeks before I said my first words.

I remember sitting in the corner of the room when the therapist approached me.

I couldn’t hold it anymore. I broke down.

Fighting back tears, I told her everything.

I told her how much I missed my birth family.

I told her that I was being bullied at school.

I told her about the struggles back home.

I felt a huge relief with each spoken word.

Unfortunately, this was one of the last sessions.

I turned back to what I knew best, silence.

It wasn’t until 10 years ago, I spoke the word, “therapy” out loud.

I was a freshman in college.

I needed someone to talk to.

The past was on the back of my mind.

I went straight to the counselling/mental health department.

I wasn’t ashamed of it anymore.

I remember the walk over.

The feeling of empowerment with every step I took.

I accepted therapy into my life, on my own terms.

Going to sessions helped me tremendously.

They helped me process and reframe many of my past traumatic experiences.

They helped me get curious about the subject and the stories I chose to believe in.

The stories of it being seen as a sign of weakness, not a strength.

The stories of therapy as something I should be ashamed of.

Curiosity helped me change many of these narratives.

Curiosity helped me embrace therapy as a part of my identity, part of my life.

For more from Oleg, read his last blog Adoptee Fear and Vulnerability
Follow him at Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn @overcomingodds

Money never makes up for what I’ve lost as a First Nations Canadian

by Jen Etherington, born as a First Nations Canadian and adopted into an Australian family.

It looks like the final payments for the sixties scoop has started going out. I get mixed feelings about it and the process.

I feel a sense of loss of culture, family and country. I’m not saying I’m not grateful for my adoptive parents and all that life has given me here in Australia but it also doesn’t mean that I don’t feel the sense of loss for everything else.

My bio parents died when I was 9 years old and that hope of meeting them was gone forever. My partner and I are currently listening to Harry Potter and I cry because I can relate to the loss of his parents and how he feels, as well as the pining to know about them. People from home in Canada tell me stories about them and I get so happy and so sad at the same time.

I see posts from bio cousins about different cultural events and traditions and I feel sad that I don’t know my culture. People here in Australia get excited when I tell them I’m First Nations Canadian and ask about my culture and I don’t have anything for them.

My bio parents didn’t have any more children because they didn’t want them to be taken away (or so I believe). I always hoped I’d have a long lost sibling out there.

I feel a big sense of loss about my last miscarriage because that was my last chance at experiencing a biological connection.

Anyway, the payment was $25,000 and I know there are people out there where this amount of money will help and make a difference but I also feel like it’s kind of hush money. I don’t feel like it is much for what happened to so many of us.

Further Reading

$25,000 settlement for Sixties Scoop Survivors, a “Slap in the Face”

Where do I belong?

by Charisse Maria Diaz, born as Mary Pike Law, cross cultural adoptee born in Puerto Rico

Pote de leche are Spanish words for “milk bottle”. Where I was born, this is how someone is described when they are too white. Yes, too white. That is what I was called at school when bullied. In my teens, I spent many Sundays sunbathing in the backyard of our home. This was one of the many ways I tried to fit in.

My tendency has been to consider myself a transcultural adoptee and not a transracial adoptee, because my adoptive parents were Caucasian like me. Recently, I realized their looks do not make my experience too different from the experience of any transracial adoptee. I was born in Puerto Rico from an American mother and English father and adopted by a Puerto Rican couple. Puerto Ricans have a mix of Native Taino, European and African genes, our skin colors are as varied as the colors of a rainbow. The most common skin tones go from golden honey to cinnamon. For some, I looked like a little milk-colored ghost.

My adoptive mother told me that an effort was made by the Social Services Department, which oversaw my adoption process, to make the closest match possible. She said the only things that did not “match” with her and my adoptive father were my red hair and my parents’ (actually, my natural father’s) religion. I was supposed to be an Anglican but was going to be raised as a Catholic. This was part of the brief information she gave me about my parents, when she confessed that they were not dead as I had been told at 7 years old. She also admitted that I was not born in Quebec, which they also made me believe. I was born in Ponce, the biggest city on the southern shore of the island. She gave me this information when I was 21 years old.

So, at 21 years of age, I discovered that I was a legitimate Puerto Rican born in the island, and also that my natural father was an English engineer and my natural mother was Canadian. I was happy about the first fact and astonished about the rest. Suddenly, I was half English and half Canadian. At 48 years old I found my original family on my mother’s side. Then I discovered this was a misleading fact about my mother. She was an American who happened to be born in Ontario because my grandfather was working there by that time. I grew up believing I was a Québéquois, after that I spent more than two decades believing that I was half Canadian. All my life I had believed things about myself that were not true.

I learned another extremely important fact about my mother. She was an abstract-expressionist painter, a detail that was hidden by my adoptive family in spite of my obvious artistic talent. I started drawing on walls at 2 years old. My adoptive parents believed that art was to be nothing more than a hobby, it was not a worthy field for an intelligent girl who respected herself and that happened to be their daughter. This did not stop me, anyway. After a bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication and a short career as a copywriter, I became a full-time painter at the age of 30. To discover that my mother was a painter, years later, was mind-blowing.

Identity construction or identity formation is the process in which humans develop a clear and unique view of themselves, of who they are. According to Erik Erikson’s psychosocial stages of development, this process takes place during our teen years, where we explore many aspects of our identities. It concludes at 18 years old, or, as more recent research suggests, in the early twenties. By that age we should have developed a clear vision of the person we are. How was I supposed to reach a conclusion about who I was, when I lacked important information about myself?

My search for my original family started when there was no internet, and it took me more than 20 years to find them. I did not arrive in time to meet my mother. A lifelong smoker, she had died of lung cancer. I connected with my half-siblings, all of them older than me. They were born during her marriage previous to her relationship with my father. Two of them were old enough to remember her pregnancy. They had been enthusiastically waiting for the new baby, just to be told that I was stillborn, news that hurt them so much. Before she passed away, my mother confessed to my siblings that I was relinquished for adoption. Through them, I learned what a difficult choice it was for my mother to let me go.

During my search, well-known discrimination against Latinos in sectors of the American culture gave me an additional motive to fear rejection. I didn’t know I had nothing to worry about. My siblings welcomed me with open arms. Reconnecting with them has been such a heartwarming, comforting, life-changing experience. We are united not only by blood, but also by art, music, literature, and by ideas in common about so many things, including our rejection of racism. It was baffling to learn that my opinions about society and politics are so similar to my natural parents’ points of view, which were different, and sometimes even opposite to my adoptive parents’ beliefs.

My siblings remember my father, their stepfather, fondly. With their help I was able to confirm on the Internet that he had passed away too. His life was a mystery not only to me, but to them too. A few years later, I finally discovered his whereabouts. He lived many years in Australia and was a community broadcasting pioneer. A classical music lover, he helped to establish Sydney-based radio station 2MBS-FM and worked to promote the growth of the public broadcasting sector. His contributions granted him the distinction of being appointed OBE by the British government. My mind was blown away for a second time when I learned that he had dedicated his life to a field related to mass communication, which was my career of choice before painting. My eldest half-brother on his side was the first relative I was able to contact. “Quite a surprise!”, he wrote the day he found out that he had a new sister. Huge surprise, indeed. My father never told anyone about my existence. Now I got to know my half-siblings and other family members on his side too. They are a big family, and I am delighted to keep in touch with them.

My early childhood photo

With each new piece of information about my parents and my heritage, adjustments had to be made to the concept of who I am. To be an international, transcultural, transracial adoptee can be terribly disorienting. We grow up wondering not only about our original families, but also about our cultural roots. We grow up feeling we are different from everyone around us, in so many subtle and not so subtle ways… In my case, feeling I am Puerto Rican, but not completely Puerto Rican. Because I may consider myself a true Boricua (the Taino demonym after the original name of the island, Borikén), but in tourist areas people address me in English, and some are astonished to hear me answer in Spanish. More recently, I have pondered if my reserved nature, my formal demeanor, my cool reactions may be inherited English traits. And getting to know about my parents, even some of my tastes, like what I like to eat and the music I love, has made more sense. But in cultural terms I am not American or British enough to be able to wholly consider myself any of these. Where do I belong, then? And how can I achieve completion of my identity under these conditions? It is a natural human need to belong. Many times I have felt rootless. In limbo.

A great number of international adoptees have been adopted into Anglo-Saxon countries, mostly United States and Australia, and many of them come from places considered developing countries. The international adoptee community, which has found in social media a great tool to communicate, receive and give support, and get organized, encourages transracial and transcultural adoptees to connect with their roots. My case is a rare one, because it is the opposite of the majority. I was adopted from the Anglo-Saxon culture to a Latin American culture. I never imagined that this would put me in a delicate position.

Puerto Rico has a 500-year-old Hispanic culture. I am in love with the Spanish language, with its richness and infinite subtleties. I feel so honored and grateful to have this as my first language. We study the English language starting at first grade of elementary school, because we are a United States’ territory since 1898, as a result of the Spanish-American war. We are United States citizens since 1914. We have an independentist sector and an autonomist sector which are very protective of our culture. Historically, there has been a generalized resistance to learning English. In my case, I seem to have some ability with languages and made a conscious effort to achieve fluency, for practical reasons but also because it is the language of my parents and my ancestors.

In 2019 I traveled to Connecticut to meet my eldest half-brother on my mother’s side. That year, a close friend who knew about my reunion with natural family told me that someone in our circle had criticized the frequency of my social media posts in the English language. Now that I am in touch with my family, I have been posting more content in English, and it seems this makes some people uncomfortable. But the most surprising part is that even a member of my natural family has told me that I am a real Boricua and should be proud of it. I was astonished. Who says I am not proud? I have no doubt that this person had good intentions, but no one can do this for me. Who or what I am is for me to decide. But the point is some people seem to believe that connecting with my Anglo-Saxon roots implies a rejection of Puerto Rican culture or that I consider being Puerto Rican an inferior condition, something not far from racism. Nothing could be farther from the truth! I was born in Puerto Rico and love my culture.

Puerto Rico’s situation is complicated, in consequence my identity issues became complicated. I am aware of our island’s subordinated position to a Caucasian English-speaking country; that this circumstance has caused injustices against our people; that our uniqueness needs to be protected and celebrated. Being aware sometimes makes our lives more difficult, because we understand the deep implications of situations. There was a time when I felt torn by the awareness of my reality: being Puerto Rican and also being linked by my ancestry to two cultures which for centuries dedicated their efforts to Imperialism. I am even related through my father to Admiral Horatio Nelson, a historical character that embodies British imperialism. How to reconcile that to my island’s colonial history and situation? Where I was going to put my loyalty? To feel that I was being judged for reconnecting to my original cultures – something every international adoptee is encouraged to do – did not help me in the task of answering these difficult questions.

Even when they were not perfect and made mistakes, my natural parents were good people with qualities I admire. The more I get to know them, the more I love them. The more I know them, the more I see them in me. If I love them, I cannot reject where they came from, which is also a basic part of who I am. Therefore, I have concluded that I cannot exclude their cultures from my identity construction process.

To connect to these cultures until I feel they are also mine is a process. I am not sure if I will ever achieve this, but I am determined to go through this process without any feelings of guilt. To do so is a duty to myself, to be able to become whole and have a real, or at least a better sense of who I am. And it is not only a duty, it is also my right.

Why are Dutch Adoptive Parents Silent En-masse?

by Hilbrand Westra, born in South Korea and adopted to the Netherlands; founder of Adoptee & Foster Care (AFC) Netherlands

An international headache

Adoption is political! Last week there was an article in the Dutch newspaper Trouw by Sam van den Haak. The headline and subtext state:

Support adopted children who are looking for their own parents with a fund
Parents spend tens of thousands of euros to adopt a child. But if adopted children want to find their own parents, there is no money for that. That’s not right, thinks Sam van den Haak, who was adopted from Sri Lanka herself.

It is hopeful to see that since 1989 where I was very involved by providing my critical input to counterbalance adoption debates, more and more adoptees are today emerging who seem to follow in these footsteps. And although I have withdrawn from this shadowy, and at times dangerous, political domain of adoption, I must nevertheless make a comment about the constant protection of adoptive parents by many of these adoptees. These adoptive parents are silent every time and it seems that they are once again sitting out this ‘storm’.

But where Van den Haak talks about prospective parents, it is actually about her adoptive parents at the same time. And it is actually not entirely true that adoptive parents were not aware, or could have been, that there might have been a lot wrong with intercountry adoption (the legal jargon for overseas international adoptions).

A prospective parent who had studied the matter could have known that in most cases there was at least a scent of something not right to it. Now it is mainly shifted by them to governments and adoption mediators – these are organizations that are remarkably often set up by and for adoptive parents.
#STOCKHOLMSYNDROOM

I understand that many adoptees do not wish to criticize their adoptive parents because in many cases that is their last straw to cling to when it comes to a tangible family to belong within. But without these 30,000 adoptive parents in the Netherlands, we would not have the consequences we now see. And if all those adoptive parents did indeed mean well with us, why do they always remain silent en masse and refuse to seek redress from the Dutch government and force it to make better provisions for adoptees who are impacted?

In the meantime, the Ministry of Justice set up an operation smokescreen by organizing a so-called “national consultation” that cost thousands of euros with external consultants who had done little to no preliminary research to create the idea that there would be unbiasedness and room for participation. During one of those first rounds in Utrecht, I already outlined the outcome. The ministry dismissed that as incorrect and premature. Hundreds of hours were in it for participants in these meetings, but in the end I was right. No money for adoptees for things as Van den Haak advocates, but a questionable counter function for post adoption support.

The entire operational execution and money goes to the FIOM in Den Bosch (ISS Netherlands), which also has a questionable reputation in the adoption history by being one of the early facilitators of intercountry adoption.

The whole exercise of the Ministry of Justice could have saved us wasting effort and the money involved could have gone to adoptees. But as is often the case, logic is lacking on these types of cases, and that frustrates many adoptees.

In a personal capacity, Hilbrand Westra

Original Dutch

ADOPTIE IS #POLITIEK (Tammy Chu)
Een internationaal hoofdpijn dossier

Vanochtend stond er een artikel over #adoptie in dagblad Trouw van Sam van den Haak.

Het is hoopvol om te zien dat er sinds (1989) mijn kritische tegenwicht in het adoptiedebat, steeds meer geadopteerden opstaan die in deze voetsporen lijken te volgen. En alhoewel ik mij uit dit schimmige, en bij tijden gevaarlijke, politieke domein van adoptie teruggetrokken heb, moet ik toch een kanttekening plaatsen bij het telkens in bescherming nemen van #adoptieouders door veel van deze #geadopteerden. Deze adoptieouders zwijgen telkens als het graf en het lijkt erop dat ze deze ‘storm’ wederom uitzitten.

Maar waar Van den Haak het over wensouders heeft, gaat het eigenlijk tegelijkertijd over haar #adoptieouders. En het klopt feitelijk ook niet helemaal dat adoptieouders niet op de hoogte waren, of hadden kunnen zijn dat er wellicht van alles mis was met interlandelijke adoptie, het juridische jargon voor overzeese internationale adopties.
Een beetje wensouder die zich verdiept had in de materie had kunnen weten dat er in de meeste gevallen er op z’n minst een luchtje aan zat. Nu wordt het door hen vooral afgeschoven op overheden en adoptiebemiddelaars. Organisaties die opvallend genoeg vaak juist zijn opgezet door en vanuit adoptieouders. Hoe dan?

#STOCKHOLMSYNDROOM

Ik snap wel dat vele geadopteerden als de dood zijn om hun adoptieouders te bekritiseren. Want dat is in veel gevallen wel hun laatste strohalm als het om een tastbaar #gezin gaat. Maar zonder deze 30.000 adoptieouders in Nederland zaten we nu niet met de gevolgen. En als al die adoptieouders het inderdaad zo goed met ons gemeend hadden, waarom zwijgen ze dan telkens massaal en weigeren ze bij de Nederlandse overheid verhaal te halen en deze te dwingen betere voorzieningen te treffen voor geadopteerden?

Intussen werd er door het Ministerie van Justitie een operatie rookgordijn opgezet door een zogeheten landelijk overleg te organiseren wat duizenden euro’s koste met externe consultants die nauwelijks tot geen vooronderzoek hadden gedaan om de zweem te creëren dat er sprake zou zijn van onbevooroordeeldheid en ruimte voor medezeggenschap. Tijdens een van die eerste rondes in Utrecht, schetste ik de uitkomst al. Door het ministerie werd dat weggewuifd als incorrect en te voorbarig. Honderden uren zaten er in voor deelnemers aan deze bijeenkomsten, maar uiteindelijk kreeg ik gelijk. Geen geld voor geadopteerden voor zaken zoals Van den Haak bepleit, maar een twijfelachtige loketfunctie voor adoptienazorg.
De hele operationele uitvoering en geld gaat naar het Fiom in Den Bosch dat ook een discutabele reputatie in de adoptiegeschiedenis er op nahoudt.

De hele exercitie van het MVJ had ons dus bespaart kunnen blijven en het geld wat daarmee gemoeid ging naar geadopteerden kunnen gaan. Maar zoals wel vaker, logica ontbreekt op dit soort dossiers, en dat frustreert menige geadopteerde.

Op persoonlijke titel, Hilbrand Westra

Adoptee Fear and Vulnerability

by Oleg Lougheed, adopted from Russia to the USA. Founder of Overcoming Odds.

I missed my birth family.

I wanted to see them again.

But, it wasn’t possible anymore.

Instead, I had to settle for what was.

The phone.

Me, hearing their voice as it traveled thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean.

A voice that was filled with elements of fear and love.

Them, hearing my voice.

Reassurance of me being alive and that things were going well.

The wait between the calls was tough to handle.

Each call brought up many emotions.

Emotions I wasn’t prepared to deal with.

I wasn’t taught how to be with my emotions while living in Russia.

Part of me wanted to try something new.

I turned to my adoptive parents.

Yet, every time I’d turn my shoulders and open my mouth, it would immediately close.

I felt that sharing those emotions with them would make them feel less than or as if they did something wrong.

So, I kept them to myself.

Hidden, depths below the surface.

Invisible.

It wasn’t until some time later, I was able to share what I was going through.

The narrative that I believed in, making my parents feel less than or as if they did something wrong, wasn’t serving me anymore.

I broke down while sitting in my bedroom with my adoptive mom by my side.

Looking back at it, she played a huge role in helping me understand how to feel and talk about what I felt.

Her choosing to listen to me made me feel safe.

Her words after I was done sharing provided the much needed comfort and reassurance that was okay to feel how I felt.

Her curiosity in me and about me became a stepping stone in helping me feel for years to come.

For more from Oleg, watch his TedX talk, Overcoming Odds
Follow him at Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn @overcomingodds

Search and Reunion in Intercountry Adoption

Search & Reunion: Impacts & Outcomes

In 2016, ICAV compiled a world’s first resource of our lived experience voices sharing the ups and downs of searching and reunions, specific to intercountry adoption. No such resource existed like this before and yet, as adoptees, one of our hugest challenges across our lifespan, is contemplating if we want to search, what’s involved, and figuring out how to go about it. I wanted to provide a way to address these questions so I asked ICAV adoptees to share their experiences, focusing on lessons learnt after looking back in hindsight. I also asked them to share what could be done by authorities and organisations to better support us in our search and reunion process. I published our perspective paper in english and french and it ended up being a 101 page paper (book) covering the experiences of adoptees from 14 birth countries, adopted to 10 adoptive countries.

Given one of the core topics for discussion at the recent Hague Special Commission is Post Adoption Support, I felt that it was timely to re-share our paper and provide a summary of what it captures for those who don’t have time to read the 101 pages and for the benefit of Central Authorities and Post Adoption organisations to learn from our experiences.

Summary of key themes from ‘Search and Reunion: Impacts and Outcomes’ by InterCountry Adoptee Voices (ICAV) 2016

Issues and challenges faced using tracing services:

  • The need for specialised counselling is a recurring theme throughout most stories, particularly to prepare adoptees for the first meeting, delivered from someone who understood and specialises in intercountry adoption
  • Searches are often conducted through social network sites that can leave adoptees can vulnerable and not properly supported to engage with birth families
  • Privacy issues and barriers
  • The need for access to birth records to help with birth reconnection
  • Several cases mentioned issues with passport and visas
  • Adoption agency would not disclose identifying information about their birth family due to privacy
  • Transparency of services and where to access them
  • Assumption that birth records are accurate, despite corruption
  • The sense of ‘rebuilding your history’
  • Challenging to maintain a relationship with birth family due to language and cultural barriers
  • Need more standardised laws  and processes for adoption agencies to follow when adoptees are seeking their information
  • Laws passed to allow adoptees access to their files
  • More support is needed for adoptees in counselling, and translation when searching
  • Facilitated counselling service that assisted with the search and reunion process from beginning to end
  • Listing of adoptees as mentors who have been through the process
  • Stories of adoptee searches and their reconciliation of those searches would provide emotional support to other adoptees thinking of beginning their own search

Suggestions for improved support for adult adoptees when searching for birth families:

  • Documentation is the key and open adoption is the best way to lend support
  • The need for interactive support groups and to know where to find them
  • A comprehensive education for adoptive parents to help them manage the lifelong issues for adoptees, and affordable counselling for all parties in the adoption process, and particularly to have access to this support regardless of the stage of the adoption process
  • Having a social worker ‘check in’ on people who are adopted throughout their lives
  • Maintenance of a database to allow the search to be conducted with access into other databases such as births, adoptions, deaths and marriages in each country
  • Some adoptees want adoptive families to have mandatory training that helps them manage adoptee issues up to the age of 18 – education in language, culture history, the importance of having all the documents, the value in making regular visits together to the country of origin
  • Include adoptee DNA testing done, Y or N on the adoption file

Key quotations from adoptees about their experience of reunification:

“Adoption is a life long journey and even to this day I have fresh revelations of my adoption. The “general” impact has been one of profound empowerment which arose from great anguish.”

“Although I had a session with a very good psychologist before my reunion, I still feel there was so much more I should have been made aware of. I wish I had been directed to other adoptees willing to share their experience of their reunion with tips, advice and support.”

“It was devastating for me to realise my birth family are basically strangers and if I wanted a relationship with them, I would have to sacrifice the life I built after they rejected me and re-alter the identity I have struggled to develop, just to fit into their expectations.”

“The biggest obstacles for search and reunion in my experience have included:

Being a ‘tourist’ in my country of birth. I found it surprisingly confronting and difficult to have people of the same nationality assume I was one of them and then having to explain my adopted situation.

Post reunion i.e., working through the consequences of opening the door to the past – it is irreversible! I should have been better prepared and better supported for the post reunion aspects and consequences.”

“It took many years to properly come to terms and to get my head around my adoption after reunion. It has undoubtedly affected my identity and the course of my life for the best. My adoption has become something I have grown to appreciate and evolve with. Learning my life should have ended before I was even born, has made me incredibly grateful and motivated to do something with my life.”

“Primal wounding when separated from mothers is exacerbated by the mystery of unanswered questions.”

To read the full ICAV Perspective Paper: Search & Reunion – Impacts & Outcomes in English or French, see our collection of Perspective Papers.

Abby Forero-Hilty at the Hague Special Commission

by Abby Forero-Hilty, adopted from Colombia to the USA; Co-founder of Colombian Raíces; author of Decoding Our Origins
Speech for Day 3, Session 1: Introductory Post Adoption Matters Panel

Artwork by Renée S. Gutiérrez, co-author of Decoding Our Origins

Top 3 Areas of Concern based on the Post-Adoption Services Discussion Paper with excerpts in italics.

1. (2.4.2. Raising awareness of post-adoption services)

Points to Consider:

The best way to ensure that adopted people are receiving relevant, targeted, and high-quality post-adoption services is by having trauma- and adoption-informed adult intercountry adoptees working with the adoptee community to compile a list of such services. These adult adoptees would be PAID for their services. Intercountry adoptees, especially those who are trauma- and adoption-informed, are the only true experts in the needs of intercountry adoptees. Their expertise must be recognised, financially compensated, and required in the provision of any and all post-adoption services. We recognise the paucity in the number of trained, licensed, and qualified intercountry adoptee providers and therefore acknowledge that qualified non-intercountry adoptee providers can also be beneficial (with significant trauma- and adoption-informed training).

Recommendations:

  • All post-adoption services should be provided free of charge to the adopted person (and family of birth) throughout their lifetime, recognising that each adopted person is different and that some individuals may request/require support starting early in life, while others might only start on this journey decades after their adoption.
  • Adoptive families should be assigned a trained, trauma and adoption-informed intercountry adoptee who can serve as a single point of contact for the adopted person, to ensure they have confidential access to these services when they need them.
    – The State should ensure that the adopted person knows how to – and is able to – access this person
  • Access to full birth records and identifying information on the adopted person’s mother and father
    – Birth records must be easy and confidential for the adopted person to access at any point in their lifetime
  • Assistance in translating and understanding the birth records and other associated adoption paperwork (as each country is different, this must be country-specific assistance)
  • Preparation and education on race and racism (in cases of transracial adoption, the White adoptive parents cannot equitably provide the necessary social and cultural preparedness to adopted children of colour as they are not members of the adopted child’s racial and cultural community. White adoptive parents in White dominated spaces do not have lived experiences of being targets of micro-aggressions and racism.
  • Reculturation, or the process by which intercountry adoptees reclaim their original cultural heritage, should be supported through education and immersive experiences such as birth country trips to their country of origin.
  • DNA testing and databases are models of adoptee support in several countries with problematic adoption practices. DNA testing and country sponsored databases should be promoted, supported, and maintained at no cost to adoptees or first family members.
  • Citizenship (country of birth) re-acquisition support and processes should be offered to adoptees who desire to become dual or full citizens of their countries of birth.

Psychological, emotional, and mental health support via psychotherapy and counselling modality/modalities as chosen by the adopted person and offered by trauma and adoption-informed providers.

2. The right of the adoptee to obtain information about their origins is well established in international law, in particular in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC, Arts 7 and 8) as well as in the 1993 Adoption Convention (Art. 30).

Questions:

  • How is the collection of true and accurate information on the identities of the natural mother and father ensured?
  • When and by whom is that information checked and confirmed in both the sending and receiving countries?
  • What procedure is in place to absolutely ensure that that information is preserved and can be given directly to the adopted person – without having to go through the adoptive parents?

Recommendations:

  • There should be no barriers in place (such as minimum age requirement, consent of birth and/or adoptive parents, etc.) in order for the adopted person to easily and confidentially access their own familial information.
    – Some central authorities require adoptees to provide a psychological referral and proof of ongoing counselling (presumably paid for by the adoptee) when the adoptee contacts the central authority for birth family information and search. This practice is unfair and must end.
  • The desire for confidentiality on the identity of the birth parents, either by the birth family or adoptive family, should never be a reason to deny the adopted person their identity. They have the right to their identity. That right should supersede any other party’s desire for secrecy. The secrecy in adoption must end.
  • Central Authority websites must have a clearly marked section for adoptees of all ages to access information on birth family search and reunion:
    – There must be a transparent and simple procedure for accessing this information that is clearly presented on the website;
    – This information must be presented not only in the language of the country of origin, which most transnational adoptees will not be able to read and understand, but also in a language the adoptees themselves can read and understand, e.g., English or German;
    – This information must be made accessible to adoptees with vision and/or hearing impairments
  • What is truly in the “best interest” of the adopted person must be prioritized.
    – Denying someone the truth of their identity is never in anyone’s best interest.

3. Regarding the professionals involved in the post-adoption services, some States arrange for the same professionals to prepare prospective adoptive parents (PAPs) and provide post-adoption services, 30 while in other States the professionals are different ones. 31 For other States, the professionals involved depend on the region and / or the case at hand

Questions:

  • What qualifications do “professionals” have?
  • Who determines who a “professional” is?
  • There is a major conflict of interest when the “professional” is “preparing” the Prospective Adoptive Parents AND providing post-adoption services to those displaced by adoption.
    – How can the “professional” who is responsible for facilitation adoptions also be providing adoptees with post-adoption services? There is substantial mistrust in the adoptee community of “adoption professionals” who facilitate adoptions – and rightfully so.

Recommendations:

  • In some instances, professionals who both facilitate adoptions and also provide post adoption services may be engaged in dual roles with adoptees and their adoptive families, creating an ethical dilemma. Hence post-adoption services should be provided by separate parties and entities than the adoption service providers.
  • Intercountry adoptees, who are often transracial as well, who have undergone training in the social service field and or are licensed mental health providers, are poised to be in the best position to lead and guide post-adoption services given their lived experiences and extensive training. Ideally, post adoption service providers will represent a broad array of birth/first countries to better serve adoptees from various sending countries.
  • Although we strongly recommend that qualified intercountry adoptees are at the frontlines of facilitating and providing direct post-adoption services, we recognise the need for quality post-adoption services exceeds the potential numbers of professionally trained intercountry adoptees available. Therefore, we would be supportive of non-intercountry adoptee post-adoption service providers if they are licensed mental health providers, have evidence of adoption-informed training to include significant education and understanding of culturally responsive strategies as they apply to intercountry adoptees.

Read our previous post: Adoptees at the Hague Special Commission

Colin Cadier at The Hague Special Commission

by Colin Cadier, adopted from Brazil to France, President of La Voix des Adoptés
Presentation at Session 1, Day 1: Voices of Adoptees Panel

Mesdames et messieurs les représentants des Etats signataires, les délégués et représentants d’associations, d’autorités nationales ou internationales,

Je salue cette espace d’expression ouvert aux acteurs de la société civile, et notamment nous Personnes Adoptées, concernés directement par le sujet qui nous mobilise aujourd’hui et les jours à venir. Je tiens à remercie particulièrement Lynelle LONG (InterCountry Adoptees Voices) pour avoir invité La Voix des Adoptés à se joindre à sa délégation, et également le Bureau Permanent, en la personne de Laura MARTINEZ avec qui j’ai eu l’occasion d’échanger de nombreuses fois, notamment ces dernières semaines pour nous aider à préparer ce panel.

Je m’appelle Colin CADIER, je suis né en 1980 à Recife (Brésil), adopté à 15 jours par un couple Français dits “expatriés”, je réside aujourd’hui à Marseille (France) où je travaille dans l’administration territoriale en lien avec l’international… Je suis binational (franco-brésilien), tricullturel (franco-sudamericain) et quadrilingue (si je me permets de compter l’anglais). 

Depuis 2019, je suis le Président de La Voix Des Adoptés, une association de droit français, existante depuis 2005 qui agit sur tout le territoire (avec des antennes à Paris, Lille, Lyon, Tour, Marseille) en lien avec de nombreux pays (Brésil, Colombie, Guatemala, Roumanie, Vietnam, Bulgarie ) qui participe aux réunions collégiales d’un organe consultatif traitant particulièrement des sujets liés à l’adoption internationale (aux côtés d’autres associations) et intervient par les témoignages de ses bénévoles auprès d’associations partenaires qui accompagnent notamment les parents/familles candidates à l’adoption. Outre les Groupes de Paroles, et les événements culturels ou conviviaux organisés par la quarantaine de bénévoles investis, nous animons une WebRadio, développons un Jeu pédagogique sur l’adoption et nous travaillons conjointement avec notre Autorité Centrale qui a participé à notre récent séminaire annuel de formation de nos bénévoles, l’Association Racines Coréennes (de 10 ans notre aînée), le SSI France, l’AFA, la Fédération EFA et bien d’autres associations nationales ou locales, en France ou à l’étranger.

Au regard des nombreuses demandes que nous recevons des personnes adoptées faisant des recherches sur leurs origines, force est de constater qu’en l’absence d’un référentiel mondial reconnu par les autorités des Etats concernés, un certain nombre de personnes nées dans certains pays puis recueillies dans des foyers d’un autre pays – au cours des dernières décennies du siècle passé, rencontrent des difficultés à accéder aux informations sur leur famille de naissance, ou sur les circonstances de leur naissance jusqu’à leur arrivée dans leur nouveau foyer… Rédiger et adopter ce nouveau texte en 1994 qui a été ratifié progressivement par un très grand nombre d’Etats soucieux d’établir un cadre structuré sur les conditions spécifiques pour “donner une famille à un enfant” (tout en veillant à respecter le meilleur intérêt de l’enfant), a constitué une avancée majeure. Quant aux modalités d’application dudit texte, chaque Etat signataire en la responsabilité au regard de sa législation et de ses politiques publiques en matière de protection de l’enfance… La diversité des situations socio-politico-économiques des Etats, du rôle des différents acteurs publics ou privés, impliqués, démontrent qu’il demeure encore des points à améliorer.

La convention de La Haye prévoit bien des dispositions concernant les informations détenues par les autorités sur les origines de l’enfant et leur accès avec des conseils appropriés (articles 30 et 31), mais un certain nombre de personnes adoptées devenues adultes recherchent des informations sur leur origine et se heurtent à des fins de non recevoir. Les motifs peuvent être très variés, selon la date, le lieu de naissance et les conditions dans lesquelles la procédure d’adoption s’est déroulée, il existe souvent un écart voire un fossé entre les informations disponibles et celles recherchées par les personnes adoptées dans leur enfance.

C’est pour cette raison que nous, association d’adoptés et EFA (association de parents adoptants/adoptifs), avons adressé un courrier aux trois ministres de tutelle de l’autorité centrale française pour demander la mise en place d’une commission d’experts indépendants dans le but d’éclairer sur des pratiques qui malheureusement laissent AUJOURD’HUI des personnes sans réponses à leurs questionnements. Et pourtant, ces adoptés n’ont d’autre choix que de se tourner vers les autorités compétentes (les autorités centrales et celles intervenant dans la protection de l’enfance) pour tenter d’obtenir des clarifications ou des explications.

Il est vrai que dans le cadre de la récente réforme engagée par le gouvernement français concernant les structures en charge des politiques publiques de protection de l’enfance, notre association a été invitée à prendre part aux instances de gouvernance de la nouvelle entité en cours d’installation. Nous sommes très reconnaissants de cette place qui nous est accordée d’autant plus que nous comptons apporter notre savoir “expérienciel” sur les questions liées à la Recherche des Origines et la mise en place de dispositifs d’accompagnement (administratif, socio-psychologique) ou d’assistance juridique pour les personnes adoptées, et idéalement avec des mécanismes (ou instruments) de coopération avec les autorités compétentes (centrales) des pays dits de naissance.

Nous espérons voir la nouvelle structure se doter des moyens nécessaires pour pouvoir répondre à la demande des personnes adoptées. Il est à noter que de nombreuses personnes adoptées (aujourd’hui adultes, majeures révolues) correspondent à des adoptions qui ont eu lieu avant 1993, comme en témoignent les statistiques (puisque le nombre d’enfants nées et adoptées à l’étranger a diminué de façon progressive mais plutôt significative au fil des années jusqu’à nos jours – passant de plusieurs milliers par an à quelques centaines). Même si pour la plupart des adoptions qui ont eu lieu à partir des années 2000, les données sont disponibles et accessibles, il n’en demeure pas moins un besoin d’accompagnement au moment notamment où la personne adoptées exprime son souhait éventuel de retrouver les membres de sa famille de naissance… Certaines autorités centrales se proposent de faire le nécessaire, d’autres sont démunies ou ne disposent pas des moyens légaux, humains, matériels ou financiers nécessaires… Enfin le paysage des structures privées lucratives ou non lucratives n’en n’est pas moins varié : des personnes peu scrupuleuses ou malveillantes, aux bénévoles dévoués mais pas forcément “préparées” ou outillées pour faire face à des situations humaines complexes voire dramatiques, sans oublier la barrière de la langue… Tout cela nous conduit aujourd’hui à attirer votre attention Mesdames et Messieurs sur cette réalité: Comment orientons nous les personnes adoptées qui sont notamment plus âgées que vos respectifs organismes (créés à partir des années 2000), ou celles qui rencontrent encore, dans certains cas, des difficultés à trouver les informations sur leurs origines ? 
Dialoguer, coopérer et proposer des actions conjointes, constituent un moyen possible et positif pour permettre d’avancer, de répondre aux besoins des personnes adoptées ou des associations qui comptent sur le pouvoir d’intervention des autorités compétentes.

Je Vous remercie pour votre écoute et vous souhaite des échanges riches au cours au cours des prochains jours.

English Translation

Ladies and gentlemen, representatives of the signatory States, delegates and representatives of associations, national or international authorities,

I welcome this space of expression open to the actors of civil society, and in particular to us Adopted Persons, directly concerned by the subject that mobilizes us today and in the days to come. I would like to thank in particular Lynelle Long (InterCountry Adoptees Voices) for inviting La Voix des Adoptes to join her delegation, and also the Permanent Bureau, in the person of Laura Martinez with whom I have had the opportunity to exchange many times, especially in the last few weeks to help us prepare this panel.

My name is Colin CADIER, I was born in 1980 in Recife (Brazil), adopted at 15 days by a French couple called “expatriates”, I now reside in Marseille (France) where I work in the international territorial administration. I am bi-national (Franco-Brazilian), tri-cultural (Franco-South American) and quad-lingual (if I allow myself to count English).

Since 2019, I am the President of La Voix Des Adoptés, an association under French law, existing since 2005, which acts on the whole territory (with branches in Paris, Lille, Lyon, Tour, Marseille) in connection with many countries (Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Romania, Vietnam, Bulgaria ), which participates in the collegial meetings of a consultative body dealing particularly with topics related to international adoption (alongside other associations) and intervenes through the testimonies of its volunteers with partner associations that accompany in particular parents/families applying for adoption. In addition to the discussion groups and the cultural or social events organised by the forty or so volunteers involved, we run a WebRadio, develop an educational game on adoption and work jointly with our Central Authority, which took part in our recent annual training seminar for our volunteers, the Korean Roots Association (10 years older than us), ISS France, AFA, the EFA Federation and many other national or local associations, in France and abroad.

In view of the numerous requests we receive from adopted persons researching their origins, it is clear that in the absence of a worldwide reference system recognised by the authorities of the States concerned, a certain number of persons born in certain countries and then taken into homes in another country – during the last decades of the last century – encounter difficulties in accessing information on their birth family, or on the circumstances of their birth until their arrival in their new home. The drafting and adoption of this new text in 1994, which has been progressively ratified by a very large number of States anxious to establish a structured framework on the specific conditions for “giving a family to a child” (while taking care to respect the best interests of the child), constituted a major advance. As for the modalities of application of the said text, each signatory State is responsible for its own legislation and public policies in terms of child protection. The diversity of the socio-political and economic situations of the States, and of the role of the different public or private actors involved, show that there are still points to be improved.
The Hague Convention does provide for provisions concerning information held by the authorities on the child’s origins and their access with appropriate advice (articles 30 and 31), but a certain number of adopted persons who have become adults seek information on their origins and are refused. The reasons may be very varied, depending on the date and place of birth and the conditions in which the adoption procedure took place, there is often a gap or even a gulf between the information available and that sought by the adopted persons in their childhood.

It is for this reason that we, the adoptees’ association and EFA (adoptive parents’ association), have sent a letter to the three ministers in charge of the French central authority to ask for the setting up of a commission of independent experts with the aim of shedding light on practices which unfortunately leave people without answers to their questions. And yet, these adoptees have no choice but to turn to the competent authorities (the central authorities and those involved in child protection) to try to obtain clarifications or explanations.

It is true that within the framework of the recent reform undertaken by the French government concerning the structures in charge of public policies for the protection of children, our association has been invited to take part in the governance bodies of the new entity currently being set up. We are very grateful for this place that has been granted to us, especially since we intend to contribute our “experiential” knowledge on issues related to the Search for Origins and the setting up of support mechanisms (administrative, socio-psychological) or legal assistance for adopted persons, and ideally with mechanisms (or instruments) of cooperation with the competent (central) authorities of the so-called countries of birth.

We hope that the new structure will be equipped with the necessary means to be able to respond to the demand of the adopted persons. It should be noted that many adopted persons (now adults, past the age of majority) correspond to adoptions that took place before 1993, as the statistics show (since the number of children born and adopted abroad has decreased gradually but rather significantly over the years until today – from several thousand per year to a few hundred). Even if for most of the adoptions that took place from the 2000s onwards, the data are available and accessible, there is still a need for support, especially when the adopted person expresses his or her possible wish to be reunited with the members of his or her birth family. Some central authorities propose to do what is necessary, others are deprived or do not have the necessary legal, human, material or financial means. Finally, the landscape of private profit-making or non-profit-making structures is no less varied: from unscrupulous or malicious people, to dedicated volunteers but not necessarily “prepared” or equipped to deal with complex or even dramatic human situations, without forgetting the language barrier. All this leads us today to draw your attention Ladies and Gentlemen to this reality: How do we guide adopted persons who are notably older than your respective organisations (created from the 2000s onwards), or those who are still encountering, in some cases, difficulties in finding information on their origins?

Dialogue, cooperation and proposing joint actions are a possible and positive way to move forward, to respond to the needs of adopted persons or associations who rely on the power of intervention of the competent authorities.

I thank you for listening and wish you rich exchanges during the next few days.

Read our earlier post: Adoptees at the Hague Special Commission

Adoptees at the Hague Special Commission

Next week on 4-8 July, the 104 signatory countries of the Convention of 29 May 1993 on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption will gather online together at the Special Commission meeting to discuss Post Adoption and Illicit / Illegal Adoption matters. It is a significant event that happens usually every 5 years and this marks the first time there will be broad representation of intercountry adoptees attending as Observers. Historically since 2005, International Korean Adoptee Association (IKAA), the network representing Korean adoptee interests has been the only adoptee organisation to attend. In 2015, Brazil Baby Affair (BBA) was the second adoptee led organisation to attend with IKAA. Due to COVID, this current Special Commission meeting was postponed and over the past years, I can proudly say I have helped to spread the knowledge amongst adoptee led organisations of HOW to apply and encouraged lived experience organisations like KUMFA (the Korean mothers organisation) to represent themselves. This year, we proudly have 6 adoptee led organisations representing themselves and their communities. We have progressed!

Back in 2015, I wrote the blog titled Why is it Important to have Intercountry Adoptee Voices on this website. Many times over the years I have advocated about the importance of our voices being included at the highest levels of government discussions. So I say again, our voices are immensely important at these highest levels of adoption policy, practice and legislation discussions.

Some critics might say we change nothing in intercountry adoption by attending these meetings, however, I would like to suggest that merely seeing us represent our adult selves in numbers, helps governments and authorities realise a few key points:

  • We grow up! We don’t remain perpetual children.
  • We want to have a say in what happens to future children like ourselves.
  • We help keep them focused on “who” we really are! We are not nameless numbers and statistics. We are alive people with real feelings, thoughts and a myriad of experiences. Their decisions MATTER and impact us for life and our future generations!
  • We help them learn the lessons from the past to make things better for the future and remedy the historic wrongs.
  • We are the experts of our lived experience and they can leverage from our input to gain insights to do their roles better and improve the way vulnerable children are looked after.

One of the advantages of the framework of the Hague Convention, is that it creates opportunities like the upcoming Special Commission where adoptees can have visibility and access to the power structures and authorities who define and create intercountry adoption. Domestic adoptees lack this framework at a global scale and are disadvantaged in having opportunities that bring them together to access information and people which is important in advocacy work.

I’m really proud of our team of 8 who are representing ICAV at this year’s meeting. I have ensured we cover a range of adoptive and birth countries because it’s so important to have this diversity in experiences. Yes, there’s still room for improvement, but I’ve been limited by people’s availability and other commitments given we all do this work as volunteers. We are not paid as government or most NGO participants at this upcoming meeting. We get involved because we are passionate about trying to improve things for our communities! Equipping ourselves with knowledge on the power structures that define our experience is essential.

Huge thanks to these adoptees who are volunteering 5 days/nights of their time and effort to represent our global community!

  • Abby Forero-Hilty (adopted to the USA, currently in Canada, born in Colombia; Author of Colombian adoptee anthology Decoding Our Origins, Co-founder of Colombian Raíces; ICAV International Representative)
  • Cherish Asha Bolton (adopted to the USA, born in India, President of People for Ethical Adoption Reform PEAR; ICAV USA Representative)
  • Colin Cadier (adopted to France, born in Brazil, President of La Voix Des Adoptes LVDA)
  • Jeannie Glienna (adopted to the USA, born in the Philippines, Co-founder of Adoptee Kwento Kwento)
  • Judith Alexis Augustine Craig (adopted to Canada, born in Haiti; Co-founder of Adult Adoptee Network Ontario)
  • Kayla Zheng (adopted to the USA, born in China; ICAV USA Representative)
  • Luda Merino (adopted to Spain, born in Russia)
  • Myself, Lynelle Long (adopted to Australia, born in Vietnam; Founder of ICAV)

We represent ourselves together with our adoptee colleagues who represent their own adoptee led organisations as Observers:

I’m not expecting great changes or monumental happenings at this upcoming meeting, but it’s the connections we make that matter whether that be between ourselves as adoptees and/or with the various government and NGO organisations represented. Change in this space takes decades but I hope for the small connections that grow over time that accumulate and become a positive influence.

The next few posts will be sharing some of the key messages some of our team put together in preparation for this Hague Special Commission meeting on Post Adoption Support and what the community via these leaders, wish to share. Stay tuned!

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