This piece was written for the Benevolent Society: Post Adoption Resource Centre newsletter. Their centre provides post adoption support to adoptees in New South Wales (NSW), Australia.
In the late 1990s, I was in my mid 20s and searching for support as an adoptee born overseas, outside of Australia. At that time, I didn’t even have the language to understand how adoption had affected me, I only knew that I had struggled and was reaching out to try and find support somewhere. I came across the Post Adoption Resource Centre (PARC) in my search but I had initially tried the AA type programs, thinking there must be an “Adoptees Anonymous” somewhere to join into. There wasn’t, so when I found PARC led by Sarah Armstrong, I went and joined in with one of their adoptee days where you meet face to face and talk. PARC took us through guided sessions. I found it really useful but the biggest thing I noticed was there was nothing discussing looking different to one’s family/community, nothing on searching and returning to an overseas country, and certainly nothing on racism or the issues I lived as a person of colour adopted into a white society. So I spoke to the PARC team afterwards and asked if there was anything available more specific to my experience. I didn’t even know the term “intercountry adoption” then. All I knew was that I enjoyed meeting the adoptees but they were all born in Australia except me. So I still felt different and quite alone. I enquired about whether there were other adoptees like me reaching out to PARC. They told me yes, occasionally. I said, “Well if you ever run something for us, I’d love to know about it and if you have those adoptees wanting to connect to someone like them, pleas share them my name and contacts.”
And so some time later, PARC did followup and contact me. They asked me if I wanted to be involved in their new book project where we as transracial adoptees could share our stories to help people better understand our lived experience. I said of course and I jumped at the opportunity. I remember trying to figure out what I’d write about, but once I started, it all flowed.
It was quite a lengthy process to get our book project published, finished, and launched. I think it was around 3 years from start to end? But during that process I ended up being honoured to meet the fellow adoptees who also shared in our book, The Colour of Difference. Participating in the book changed my life and PARC had been sharing my name/contacts to adoptees just like me, so over time, once the project finished, I made up my mind that I would volunteer and continue on from the connections we had made, to form a network to support each other.
So from the almost 30 adoptees from the project and those early days, I built what was then known as the InterCountry Adoptee Support Network (ICASN). We focused on sharing our stories, connecting to each other, and meeting face to face in capital cities. We had State Representatives to facilitate social contact and Country of Origin Representatives to help adoptees with their birth country specific resources and needs. From those early days we connected in closely with the various post adoption organisations around Australia and participated in education events, utilising our lived experience to help inform the future adoptions.
The book had also been part of the funding from the NSW Department of Community Services (DoCS) headed up by March Griffin at the time. I connected with Mary Griffin and her team of social workers and ended up being asked to speak and share my story to their team for training. It was the most vulnerable day of my life but the lovely PARC social worker, Petrina Slaytor came with me as my support and I told my story for the first time to people who were not adoptees, but professionals. Wow, it was such an empowering experience to receive their validation and encouragement to keep doing what I was doing – sharing my story, connecting to fellow adoptees, providing a peer support space. I still have the lovely Petrina and Mary in my life today and they have been some of my most incredible supports throughout my life.
In 2014, after having a couple of years of break due to having my own young family, I decided to continue on from ICASN and to refocus and rename it InterCountry Adoptee Voices (ICAV). This was to reflect the new focus from not just peer support, but to now begin actively advocating at government levels for our needs and rights and to ask that our voices be included in all policy and legislation discussions. I could no longer ignore the very visible global issues I heard daily, after having hundreds of adult intercountry adoptees join into ICASN from all over the world. I realised I was definitely not alone in my journey but that our experiences were replicated all over the world for intercountry adoptees.
In 2016, during government consultation at Federal level, my idea of having a follow on book was taken up by our Australian government. They funded a sequel to our book The Colour of Difference, via International Social Services (ISS) Australia who had been funded to provide our much needed Search and Reunion service. In 2017, we launched the followup book, The Colour of Time to demonstrate how our stories changed over the 15 year time span since we published The Colour of Difference.
Fast forward to today in 2022, ICAV is now representing on behalf of intercountry adoptees from all over the world at international levels – The Hague and the United Nations (UN). We are advocating for our rights and needs and we are ensuring our voices are included in policy and legislation discussions that determine the future of other intercountry adoptees. Recently, I address the UN Committees on the topic of illegal and illicit adoptions from lived experience. It is such an honour to be working in collaboration with so many intercountry adoptees from all over the world.
So from a book project that PARC initiated 24 years ago, ICAV has grown to become one of the leading intercountry adoptee advocacy networks in the world.
Who would have thought that connecting into PARC, sharing my story in the book The Colour of Difference, would have made such an impact on me, and then flow onto all the adoptees who have joined into ICAV today. What a ripple effect!
Huge thanks to PARC for making this all possible! And I’m so excited to see our book being printed again and made available in hardcopy! It’s incredible to hear from adoptive parents of the newer generations who share with me what a difference it has made for them and their adoptee to read our books, The Colour of Difference, The Colour of Time, which helps to normalise our journey and educate those who want to better understand our lived experience.