I was recently contacted by a researcher who wanted to know if we could share our experiences of how searching and reunification impacts us. I decided it was a good reason to put together a long overdue Perspective Paper.
I didn’t realise this paper would end up being a book as it includes over 40 intercountry adoptees, contributing 100 pages!
Questions asked to stimulate the kind of responses I was seeking were:
What country of origin are you from? What country of origin were you adopted to and at what age?
What do you think it was that made you search? Was it something you always wanted to do or did you reach a point in your life that instigated the desire? What were your expectations?
How did you go about conducting your search? What resources did you utilise? What obstacles did you encounter?
What outcome did you have? What impact has that had upon you? How has that impacted your relationship with your adoptive family?
What has the experience been like of maintaining a relationship with your biological family? What obstacles have you encountered? What has been useful in navigating this part of your life?
How have you integrated your search and/or reunion in your sense of who you are? Has it changed anything? In what ways?
What could be done by professionals, governments and agencies to help assist in Search & Reunions for intercountry adoptees like yourself?
These questions were guidelines only and adoptees were encouraged to provide any further insight to the topic.
All types of outcomes were included, whether searches were successful or not.
This resource will provide adoptees with a wide range of perspectives to consider when contemplating the issues involved in searching for original family. The paper will also provide the wider public and those involved in intercountry adoption a deeper understanding of how an adoptee experiences the search. Governments, agencies, and professional search organisations have direct feedback on what they can do to improve the process for intercountry adoptees.
The latest LifeWorks press release from newly established intercountry adoption vendor LifeWorks (with no prior experience in intercountry adoption support) is frustrating and disappointing to say the least! Another AU$3.5m on top of the $20+ million spent on establishing the 1800 Hotline for prospective parents! Not to mention this appears to be a duplication of State provided services already for prospective parents who have been approved and waiting! Overall by 2019, the Australian government will have spent $33.6m yet to date, not one cent has been spent on providing services for existing adult intercountry adoptees who’s numbers are far greater than the number of children who will possibly enter the country in the next 3 years – taking into consideration the declines in intercountry adoption in Australia and reflected around the world! Last year only 77 children arrived to Australia via intercountry adoption.
I’ve been involved now in advocating for the rights of adult intercountry adoptees in Australia and worldwide since 1998. I was granted the only officially allocated “adoptee representative” role out of 15 in the Rudd government’s establishment of the National InterCountry Advisory Group (NICAAG) which began in May 2008 as a result of recommendations from the 2005 Senate Enquiry into Overseas Adoption in Australia under the Howard government. NICAAG’s role was to consult and advise the Attorney General’s Department on InterCountry Adoption matters. The other 13 roles were adoptive parents, a couple of them in dual roles of professionals or researchers, and one other adoptee whom WA had wisely included in their two state roles. At that time, I felt like the token adoptee. A couple of years later, the group included a another official adoptee role and a 1st/natural/biological mother and other professionals who were not also adoptive parents.
At the time of closure of NICAAG by Tony Abbott in Dec 2013, we had already identified many gaps in service provision and the Australian Government was already working on harmonising services for prospective parents across States/Territories, restricted within the reality of our various State & Territory family laws that underpin adoption. This $33.6m could have been better spent in providing for the “gaps” that NICAAG had identified. One of the largest areas was and still is, post adoption support services for existing adult adoptees and adoptive families – especially during teenage and early adult years. For example, psychological counselling services to train professionals (doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, teachers) in understanding the trauma that adoption is based upon and the added complexities intercountry adoption brings; education material for teachers to be provided in schools, and churches, community centres, to help young adopted children grow up in environment’s where their adoption experience is more deeply understood outside their immediate adoptive family; funding for adoptee led groups to better provide what is already given but on a voluntary basis; hugely needed reunification and tracing services; healing retreats for adult intercountry adoptees; DNA testing and a central DNA database that includes the DNA of relinquishing adults; research into the long term outcomes of intercountry adoption, the stages of development where post adoption support is most necessary, and intercountry adoption disruption rates.
Receiving governments continue to promote and push intercountry adoption as “the solution” for many child welfare issues and yet they do so with little research to support their claim that it is a solution focused “on the best interests of the child”. Perhaps in the short term as a solution to poverty or lack of options of stability for many birth families, intercountry adoption might be seen as the best outcome, but what hasn’t been measured is whether there is a positive emotional, cultural, social, and financial outcome for the adoptee or the biological family in the long term!
Research conducted in other receiving countries like Sweden have shown that intercountry adoptees suffer at a much greater rate from mental health issues and are far more likely to become recipients of social welfare. Yet Australia has done little to no research on how we Australian intercountry adoptees fare in the long term and what is not looked at is the long term cost to the country. By providing children to families via intercountry adoption, the Australian government is not only spending millions to help them achieve their dream, but also it could be costing millions in the long run due to the unresearched outcomes happening in reality. My point is, if Australia wants to provide children for families then you also have an ethical responsibilty to ensure these children’s outcomes in the long run are as positive as possible.
Last year I spent time gathering together the interested adult intercountry adoptees and lobbying the Australian government under Tony Abbott leadership, who dismantled NICAAG and left the intercountry adoption community with little avenue for community consultation. Now in the Malcolm Turnbull leadership nothing has changed except to continue on with the push to spend money on the appearance of increasing the number of children bought here .. but despite the amount of money spent so far and the promises of Tony Abbott’s era, not one extra child has yet arrived nor one day taken off any “red tape” process. So what is all this money being spent for? Just how logical is this push given the worldwide trend for sending countries to look at better providing for their own and therefore the reduction in available children for intercountry adoption? Not to mention our own domestic child protection issues need a lot more focus and consultation within the local adoption/permanent care community. And just who is measuring the outcomes of all these millions spent?
As an adult intercountry adoptee, I have to question the sense in spending all this money when it might otherwise have helped us deal with the issues already here, faced by adoptive families and adult intercountry adoptees on a daily basis. Or to be more pragmatic and focused on the “interests of the child”, we could have assisted sending countries, like Vietnam, establish the much needed infrastructure to support their own families especially in the special needs/disability area, eliminating the need for intercountry adoption.
The Australian government has been too affected by lobbying efforts of those whose interests are not first and foremost about the children who grow up but about their desire to form a family because of their wealth, power, and privilege in a world full of inequalities.
I ask, when are our Australian politicians and government going to treat us as more than just token adoptees in their consultations and spending?
Is it Normal to Question when we have a Positive experience of Adoption?
I interviewed Fiona for a couple of reasons, the first being I have been connected to Fiona for many years because she and I ended up being adopted into families with the same surname that isn’t a common last name. Naturally I had a curiosity about her life and her experience because as adoptees we are aware of how easily we could have been adopted into a totally different family, country, culture, life than what we otherwise have had. As an adoptee and the older I get, the more I see it for what it is – a random lottery whereby an adoption agency or facilitator had the power to allocate us to whichever family had been successful when they submitted a request to adopt.
Secondly, I knew Fiona had been adopted from Hong Kong and I haven’t had many adoptees share on our website who’s origins were from Hong Kong (apart from my previous post on Lucy Sheen). Thirdly, Fiona is seemingly “well adjusted and happy” in her adopted land and family but one point I’d like to highlight from Fiona’s experience was pretty much summed up in her own words – when we spoke, she asked “Is it normal for an adoptee at my age to wonder about my origins?” My answer was “absolutely!” We adoptees seem to always get to some point in our lives where we have a natural curiosity for where we came from and who we were born to. It could be as early as 6 or 7, in our teenage years, in our mid 20s when we are busy establishing ourselves and forming our own identity outside our immediate families, and sometimes even later in our 30s, 40s or beyond. Sometimes the birth of our first child, or the birth of a child to someone close to us like a brother or sister – this event can trigger our curiosity and feelings that may have laid buried up until then.
Many adoptees like Fiona who have lived what they term “a pretty good life” get a bit shocked to have this rude “awakening” especially when they’ve had wonderfully supportive adoptive families and almost feel like they’ve been a bit “disloyal” or ungrateful for their “wonderful life”.
I’d like to suggest that it is completely natural to wonder at some and many points in our life about our origins and the questions of why, who, how, and when we were given up.
Thank you Fiona for sharing your experience with us! Read Fiona’s story here.
Abandoned Adopted Here is an adoptee coming-of-age representation en masse whereby we see for the first time the older aged intercountry adoptees of the 1950s and 60s giving insight as to how they navigated the space between two identities, cultures and countries.
I loved seeing so many creatives/artists in one medium reflecting on their journeys and sharing with such openness on what it means to be transracially adopted.
As an inter-country adoptee from the 1970s era, I loved being able to see a reflection of my own experience! The words many shared, describes mine, yet they are the older generation who I hadn’t publicly heard a lot from. Lucy has enabled them to find their voice which is so important in modelling to the next generations of adoptees growing up! I also learnt about the mass movement of Hong Kong children to Britain interwoven with the history of Britain and how it was so similar to my experience of coming to Australia prior to the multicultural era!
The film is an honest portrayal of the difficulties we navigate to fit in and ultimately how we reconcile and embrace the differences between our identities we were born into but lost versus the identity we inherit from being adopted.
Abandoned Adopted Here also sharply portrays the lack of preparedness adoptive parents had in those early 50-60s days and how it impacted on the adoptee – of being forced to conform to their white surroundings, stifling their natural curiosity questions which could have allowed openness but instead emphasised Britishness.
The documentary depicts the common struggle most transracial adoptees share of being judged at a physical level by people who don’t know us and then their shock when we open our mouths and speak with such clear adopted-tongue accents!
I love how the film interweaves excerpts from Lucy’s play which gives us an in-depth look at her own personal struggles, layered with the other artists and showing the commonalities inter-country adoptees share.
Abandoned Adopted Here is not just for adoptees, it challenges East Asians in general to “own” their input to the British empire’s history and expect to be included!
On Monday 7 December, I met in Sydney with Federal Minister Christian Porter who looks after Australian Social Services portfolio, which includes adoption. I presented him with a copy of the book The Color of Difference: Journeys in Transracial Adoptionand DVD The Girl in the Mirror (huge thankyou NSW Post Adoption Resource Centre, Benevolent Society who donated the copies!) The book was instrumental in ICAV’s early beginnings and my own experience of the power of “group” i.e. sense of belonging with people who shared a common experience – and it is uniquely Australia’s first collation of intercountry adoptee’s sharing about the experiences of being adopted.
Our meeting went for only 30mins (cos he’s a very busy fellow!) He started by making note that this was highly unusual to meet face to face with an organisation not receiving Federal Funding.
Next, Minister Porter referred to the success of migrants who are allowed to enter Australia and assimilate well and become quite prosperous if they work hard – I think his inference was that this happens also with intercountry adoptees. He also mentioned he has Korean adoptees in his extended family who have done quite well for themselves! He asked how many intercountry adoptees are in Australia and when it was at its peak in terms of children arriving. I provided estimates based on my recall of Peter Selman’s statistics.
At his asking, I shared with him the following:
– about our beginnings of loss and how adoption is a lifelong journey and that at different stages various issues can come up (he asked for further details on these issues so we talked about race, identity, feelings of difference to our adoptive families and I dropped in Nancy Verrier’s book The Primal Wound as a reference). I asked him to imagine how he’d feel being the only white person in a black family.
– I highlighted the biggest issue for adoptees (domestic and international) is that our identities and inheritance rights get obliterated in the process of adoption because we get given a new or false identity.
– that we need lifelong support systems in place and as per research (eg Swedish) international adoptees can suffer more from mental health, depression, suicide, imprisonment rates than the non adoptee population.
– that the Korean adoptees worldwide are leading the way in pushing for changes to their sending country to ensure better supports and options are in place for our biological families.
He asked specifically about our views on the push for adoptions to be faster and with less red tape – I told him this might all be happening but the reality is worldwide international adoptions are on the decline and it is in the hands of sending countries who are now finding more local solutions first, which is in the interests of the child. I also said as per United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child adoption should never be the first resort.
I also spoke about some of the pitfalls of intercountry adoption, namely that the 1993 Hague Convention on InterCountry Adoption allows the exchange of unlimited amounts of money for a child and that this, together with the lack of legal framework to prosecute any wrongdoing, except for falsifying documents which has minimal consequences, allows the very dark sides of international adoption to occur ie trafficking.
He asked specifically had I met with AdoptChange and Deborra Lee Furness, when I said yes he asked what my views were. I mentioned we clashed because I raised the issue that their name at the time “Orphan Angels” was a one sided view of adoption ie not taking into account the experiences of adoptees and our sensitiveness to spreading the impression of us (the orphans) needing to be “rescued” by white wealthy westerners (the angels). I said the organisation needed to embrace political sensitiveness around including all people’s experiences of adoption, not only adoptees but also biological families and the truths about adoption i.e. that it is about serving the interests of the adoptive parents just as much as serving the interests of the child in need.
Minister Porter made mention that it was good ICAV was not too extreme on either end of the spectrum because it makes it easier for Govt to work with us and find commonalities on how to tackle issues.
He ended by making it known that there was an open door for us to himself and his Chief of Staff, Danielle Donegan, who was present and Paula Gelo (who ICAV met in previous Federal meeting) and that he was impressed by our work to date with Federal Govt.
He spoke about the need for reform giving example of how so many children in WA were in out of home care but only 3 adopted but acknowledged the pendulum can swing too far on each extreme and that it was about finding a balance. I mentioned the huge number of domestic adoptees in Australia who would also like to be consulted with to share their views on Australian adoption policy.
I asked what his intentions were for intercountry adoption and he noted he wasn’t going to get involved or change the current direction or mechanisms in place. I spoke about how we have had a 45 year history of intercountry adoptions in Australia and that we hope to work with Government to focus on improving things for adoptees and families involved. I stressed that if Government wants to keep costs to a minimum long term, we need the right supports in place to ensure positive outcomes. I also mentioned how Post Adoption Support for current adult adoptees continues to fall between the gaps of responsibility in the Australian Commonwealth-State Agreement.
All in all, I felt it was largely positive given the Minister requested the meeting. I feel the efforts over the past 17 years of building our adoptee networks and pushing for adult intercountry adoptees to be recognised in their own right to be consulted with by Government in policy is bearing fruit. It’s also a breath of fresh air from the previous Abbott Govt to see current Federal Government actively consulting those who are involved and impacted the most!
Many thanks go to Flora Carapellucci who recommended ICAV to the Minister for his second round of meetings on InterCountry Adoption!!
Sometimes in the media we read stories of the adopted child who was murdered at the hands of their adoptive parents. Most will judge and know that situations like this are wrong but even with murder as the worst case scenario, most will do nothing to demand from Governments and Adoption Agencies that something be done to fix what is obviously a problem. And unless there is an advocate for that child, no-one will hold anyone truly accountable for such terrible actions.
Not all adoptees get killed physically. I want to propose that some adoptees get killed emotionally and live to struggle to make sense of their adoption, their life, and why they have to live and face their awful situation compounded by the actions of those who supposedly “have their best interests” at heart.
I want to share the reality of two people adopted from Vietnam who are identical twins. Their experience highlights how so many people blindly assume adoption is “in the best interests of the child” and that we “gain” from being raised in a white Western world … but the twin’s reality will hopefully challenge these assumptions and help us to question and ask ourselves, at what point is international adoption not in the best interests of the child? The truth is, being allocated adoptive parents who are going to be a positive influence in an adoptee’s life is like a random lottery. There are many good wonderful adoptive parents but there are far too many who are the opposite!
The twins experience makes me angry, as it should you! Where is the accountability of their adoptive parents, the agency Holt who facilitated and vetted these adoptive parents, and the two Governments in questions – Vietnam and the USA for not only allowing these girls to be adopted internationally but for doing nothing after the fact to ensure their best interests were indeed being met? Why do Govt and Agencies see adoption as ending at handover to the adoptive family? Why is it that intercountry adoptions have been going on for over 50 plus years and yet we still do very little to stop and change the way adoption occurs (or even have a process to check to know whether an adoption should be stopped) and to at least hold people accountable for further damaging the lives of those who are most vulnerable?!
Why do we speak about ensuring “the best interests of the child” and yet do nothing to actually put in the necessary steps to check and recheck or even attempt to measure whether these are attained? How can we consciously continue to go on with intercountry adoptions with no changes affected when so many of these types of realities are occurring? And please, don’t tell me that this is a one off case … that is just denial! You only have to read on Pound Pup Legacy‘s website the names of those international adoptees who have already been murdered by their adoptive families – but it doesn’t list the names of adoptees who have been sexually, physically, or emotionally abused by their adoptive families or extended families, and still live to face the ramifications!
I’ve met through Social Media and face to face hundreds of intercountry adoptees and there are too many who have had to face extra complications, extra hurts, and extra pains at the hands of our adoptive families and those who have facilitated our adoptions. We receive little to no help at all to cope and we certainly receive little support because the blind thoughtless viewpoint is that we should be grateful and happy to be given what most wrongly assume is “a better life”. Often when we do share these harsh realities, we get gunned down by opponents who like to gloss over the full kaleidoscope of adoption experiences and tell us we are just “ungrateful, angry adoptees” who represent a small percent of the overall. So does this then justify our terrible reality because for the large majority – they have gained a better life?!
I hope this story makes you as angry as I and that you help demand from your Governments an end to adoptions as we have done in the past and if they can’t put laws and processes in place to protect innocent vulnerable children, then we really should be questioning why we are allowing international adoptions to occur in the first place! There is no legal recourse for adoptees like this .. or at least there hasn’t been enough legal precedents with negative consequences to reduce damaging adoptions like this from occurring! I hope during my lifetime we will see a change on this!
Note: I’m not denying that many adoptees can and do flourish in intercountry adoption as my many previous posts and articles will attest to. What I’m bringing to attention is the voiceless adoptees who DO suffer and for whom, there is nothing done to improve international adoptions to ensure we at least learn from the past and try to prevent lives being damaged in the same ways into the future.
Most in the intercountry adoption arena are aware of the dramatic fall in intercountry adoptions around the world and the remaining smaller number of intercountry adoptions is mainly of older aged child (ie above 5 yrs of age), sibling groups, and children with special needs. It is important when people consider adopting internationally they truly think about the impact adoption has on the life of the child at all stages.
I would like to share my friend’s story who is adopted from Thailand because we rarely hear from the perspective of the person adopted at an older age and what it’s like to have clear memories throughout life and particularly the struggle during intial transition when adoption occurs. It is also nice to hear the voice of an adult Thai adoptee.
If we are to continue to internationally adopt older aged children, we need policy makers and adoption experts at all phases (pre adoption, at adoption handover, and post adoption) to be aware of the many issues that arise and to improve funding of and access to services for the family and adoptee to ensure positive outcomes.