My day of reckoning with the Lutheran Church

What does it mean to be accountable?

Wow! What a day! 

On Friday 3 November 2023, I spent 4 hours in a mediated session with one of the organisations who accepted responsibility for my sexual abuse by my adoptive family. This was enabled as a direct result of the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Sexual Abuse. My claim took approximately 2 years and on 8 Nov 2022, my claim was accepted by 2 of the 3 institutions that I had nominated: the Lutheran church and the Australian Department of Home Affairs (Immigration). A victim can elect if they wish to have a Direct Personal Response (DPR) or not in which the apology is given to us face to face. I chose to hear their apology directly.

The role of the Lutheran church in my sexual abuse is that they had assessed my adoptive parents and given them permission to adopt a child from overseas. This adoptive family went on to sexually abuse me over many years from as early as 5 years old until I was 14 years old. In August of 2020, I had finally been brave enough to report my multiple abusers to the police.

In April 2023, the police case against my adoptive father ended. He did a deal with the prosecutor in exchange for reduced charges, of which he then went on to plead guilty to only 1 of the 4 charges, that charge was termed indecent assault, the other 3 charges were related to the many instances across various years. He is now on the Sex Offender Registry for the next 8 years. The other males (family / extended family) whom I reported to the police were let off due to being minors at the times of the crimes and due to the difficulty of proving their intent at that age. One of those had already suicided years earlier.

Providing me firstly with financial compensation showed me in action that the Lutheran church took my hurt seriously. Apologising and listening intently to what I needed to say .. wow! If only my adoptive parents had done what I’d asked for years while I had waited and stayed in the relationship, hoping that we’d be able to deal with the past. I had asked numerous times over 2 decades to take us to professional help, to help the family heal. But they never did. My adoptive father apologised a couple of times in letter and in person, but that was it. Towards the end, when I asked for financial compensation he declined stating he “didn’t believe in blood money”. What we ultimately needed was something like this royal commission process that allowed me to be compensated as an action, followed by a process of truly hearing, listening, reflecting, and connecting.

I have given so many talks in my many years of speaking and advocacy, but within the first 5 minutes of meeting with the Bishop in this DPR, I was overcome with emotion. Sitting across from me was the man who represented the Lutheran church in Australia and New Zealand, Bishop Paul Smith. As a victim of sexual abuse from whites males in power, it was a daunting moment to speak up for myself to a man who represented so much. But he patiently waited and then listened as I managed to get myself back together to go through what I’d prepared to talk about. 

Lynelle & Bishop Paul Smith

My purpose for the DPR was to ask the very top level of this institute to understand the deep impact their failings had on my life, long term and to see if they’d be willing to learn from those lessons and not just give me a token apology.

I talked about the relevant parts of my story that related to their ongoing foster care organisation – Lutheran Care. I talked about the impacts of needing thorough assessment of prospective parents, conducting followups, keeping proper records and having processes that ensured they take their responsibilities seriously. We children have to live the lifelong consequences of their assessments of parents, we have no say, we have no ally to turn to should those parents be unsafe. We are so much more at risk as adoptees, at least fostered children get followed up on to check if they are safe.

When Bishop Paul Smith spoke, his apology was genuine, heartfelt and from a place of remorse that his institution had caused so much hurt. It really was healing to hear and see that acknowledgment in person. 

Karen, an executive from Lutheran Care Specialist Services was also present. She too offered her apology and all of us together went on to have a wonderful conversation about the many issues I’d raised. The mediator Franca was professional and sensitive, doing a excellent job of leading us through and helping to clarify where needed and to record any outcomes agreed upon. My support person SC was just wonderful. Leading up to the day, she’d been the one guiding me and liaising with the Lutheran church when I got frustrated at the lack of experience and communications. SC has been a guiding light, encouraging me to be true to what I needed. I so appreciated her being there for me through out this process!

I was actually expecting a token apology and had very low expectations of the DPR process but I have been pleasantly surprised with how much it truly helped me heal a huge part of the hurt. I felt seen, heard, validated and recognised for the hurt that had occurred due to the Lutheran negligence to do their role properly and thoroughly as an adoption agency. 

The importance of having chosen a male figure to give my apology, is the representation on so many levels of how powerful white men in my life had failed me in so many ways. The most recent being in April this year, when my adoptive father pled guilty. The magistrate at the sentencing probably didn’t know I was on the online portal watching and listening. The language and way in which the magistrate spoke was appalling and another experience of a white man in power minimising my experience and demonstrating more empathy for my adoptive father than for me, the victim. The experience of the sentencing was extremely traumatic, especially to hear my many years of abusive experiences minimised by the magistrate who said my adoptive father “must have suffered a momentary lapse in judgement”! He praised my adoptive father for saving the state money by pleading guilty, he said he’d never seen anyone so remorseful and even questioned the defence attorney as to whether my adoptive father had to be placed on the Sex Offenders Registry.

I’ve not been able to talk about this publicly until now, 7 months later because it traumatised me so much! It was another example of a powerful white man in Australia doing me harm and refusing to recognise the responsibility they hold to treat vulnerable people with dignity and respect. That magistrate in turn reflected my adoptive father who also failed to treat me with dignity and respect in my childhood. Thankfully, Bishop Paul Smith was a different white powerful man who took his role seriously and validated my pain and could hold a lengthy conversation that was meaningful, thoughtful and sensitive to deep trauma.

I also thank the universe I was sent to Australia by that questionable Vietnamese lawyer who facilitated my displacement for if I’d been sent to any other country in the world – I would never have the opportunity to have healing like this. Australia, for all its flaws in royal commission processes and outcomes, the process does actually offer a far better route for victims than the police and criminal route which actually causes further trauma for many and definitely no justice for the victim. My wish is to have a powerful process like the royal commission for us intercountry adoptees, as victims of illegal adoptions! But that is another discussion which I leave for later.

Sharing this hopefully gives you some insight into how powerfully healing the day was. I await the official letter of apology I’ve asked for as a followup. It will be framed as a huge memento signifying how much I’ve lived through, the courage it took to get to that day to face the highest in power in the Lutheran church in Australia, and share my vulnerability hoping that it would be respected, heard, and validated. I have waited a long time to have my day of reckoning and it has been worth all the work and effort!

Thank you Bishop Paul Smith, Karen, Franca, SC, Tim, and Kathy for ensuring my DPR went smoothly and was a success.

I now await to hear from the Australian Department of Home Affairs (Immigration) as to when they will meet with me. It has taken them 6 months to respond to my request. Time will tell when, where and how that will go.

Resurser

Adoption, abuse and exclusion from the Royal Commission

Adopted for 32 years and now free!

Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse: reports

Victims of Illegal Intercountry Adoptions speak out at the UN

Adoptee presenters to the UN Committees and Special Rapporteurs

20 September 2023 is the first Year Anniversary of the publication of the UN’s Joint Statement on Illegal Intercountry adoptions.

I’m still buzzing with the incredible energy from the event and working collaboratively with our global community to present to the UN Committees and Rapporteurs as victims of illegal intercountry adoptions!

Our community is amazing when we can harness our power and work collectively!

It’s no small feat to overcome the individual traumas, in and ex-adoptee group politics, national and global politics, the power struggles and toxicity that can deter many individuals from stepping up to become an advocate whilst living the ongoing consequences of our illegal adoptions. But on 20 September we showed what can be achieved when we work together!

To watch the UN event again click here on this länk. To read the UN’s summary click här.

To read ICAV’s collective paper that I presented in my 5 minute speech, presenting our lived experience and suggestions for how to move forward, click engelsk, spanska, and franska.

The paper represents input from adoptive countries (9): Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Netherlands, Sweden, UK, USA; and birth countries (19): Chile, China, Colombia, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Greece, Haiti, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Mali, Peru, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Uganda, Venezuela, Vietnam.

To read my speech and hear our top 4 priorities of action, click här.

To watch the incredible family voices of 3 countries of origin, see short 5 minute videos below which we played at the UN meeting.

Click on CC for subtitles in English

I’m so proud of the many who contributed and worked with ICAV to make the UN event the success that it is. Thank you for your trust in ICAV to represent your voice, to work with us to present, and to Voices Against Illegal Adoption (VAIA) for making this possible! May we one day see the end result of our efforts, which will still take no doubt years more work to achieve, but the momentum is growing as we push for the changes needed!

UN Committee members and Special Rapporteurs, France and Ukraine speakers, and Tamil mother

Resurser

Is my adoption illegal or illicit? (an easy to read guide)

Voices Against Illegal Adoptions (VAIA) Speak at the United Nations

One adoptee’s thoughts on the UN Joint Statement on illegal intercountry adoptions

Let’s talk about illegal and illicit intercountry adoptions

Webinar: Lived experience of illegal and illicit adoption (hearing from the adoption triad)

Governments finally recognising illicit and illegal intercountry adoption practices

Lived experience suggestions for responses to illicit adoptions (first ICAV global collaborative paper for the Hague Working Group 2020)

Degrees of being trafficked in intercountry adoption

Beauty in Diversity

There IS beauty in diversity! It’s a universal truth that we don’t have to be white skinned and fair to be considered beautiful but for so many transracial and intercountry adoptees like me, we can often grow up feeling like we are not as beautiful, especially when raised in isolated areas or with few racial mirrors.

Growing up in rural Victoria, Australia was challenging for me as I was often the only person of colour except for some Aboriginals. I absorbed an unspoken assumption that white is best and hence I felt ugly and ashamed of my ethnicity because I was always surrounded by white peers in the community, on the media, and within my adoptive family. These feelings were enhanced by comments I received all the time of being saved och rescued by white people and culture and assumptions of how lucky I was.

My white adoptive family were never taught that we would grow up feeling different, they were naively told, “Love her like your own and everything will be ok”. So my Asianness was rarely acknowledged, my country barely spoken about except in negative ways, and Asian people were considered “foreigners” but yet when I questioned this, the answer would be, “Oh, but you’re not one of them!” My family certainly didn’t understand how to help me look after my long black straight hair, or my darker skin. I got picked on for my flat nose and slanted eyes. Is it little wonder I grew up hating how I looked? I know I’m not alone in my experience because when I speak with some black adoptees, they also mention the lack of understanding by their white families on how to look after their black skin and hair, how people want to touch their hair as if it’s exotic and how they are treated by strangers because of the hue of their skin.

As a young adolescent, looking in the mirror and having my photo taken was immensely challenging as it confronted me with my non-whiteness. I internalised the shame of how I was different and doubled with feelings of abandonment and rejection, it meant my feelings of inferiority as a person of colour, ran deep within and it took me many years to learn self love!

So from this perspective, I wanted to utilise the ICAFSS small grants funding to create an event in Sydney, Australia that would give some adoptees the opportunity to feel proud of who they are, as people of colour, as a diverse group who share the complexities of this journey that only other transracial and intercountry adoptees can relate to.

I created a day where 10 adoptees could come together, be taught how to apply makeup on our differently hued skin and varying shaped eyes, have our makeup be fully done for us, get a portrait photo taken, followed later by going out to celebrate over a sumptuous meal.

Check out our short video of our incredible day together! It was just beautiful to see the joy and pride these adoptees felt in connecting together, learning about how to take care of themselves, and enjoy being in space with people like themselves!

We need more occasions like this in our community to help bring us together and celebrate our diversity! Aren’t they just a gorgeous bunch!

Huge thanks to

Lisa Johnstone from Relationships Australia ICAFSS for taking time out of her day to spend helping me setup, clean up, and supporting us all
Linzi Ibrahim for sourcing and organising the professional make up artist – Shay Gittany and assistant Chris
Relationships Australia NSW for providing us free use of their office and facilities
Relationships Australia ICAFSS for the funding via the Small Grants program
Australian Federal Government DSS for making this possible via ICAFSS



Reunion and Beyond Webinar

On 30 July, I ran our Reunion and Beyond webinar, part 2 of this series in searching and reunion in intercountry adoption. I couldn’t be more proud of our 8 panelists who did an incredible job of sharing some of the nuances and complexities involved! Thank you to each of them!

Ae Ra (born in Sth Korea, raised in Belgium), Alex (born in Romania, raised in Germany and New Zealand), Jonas (born in Haiti, raised in Australia), Sam (born in the Philippines, raised in the Philippines and the USA), Maria (born in Greece, raised in the USA), Ben (born in Guatemala, raised in the USA), James (born in Colombia, raised in Australia), and Raya (born in Russia, raised in Canada).

For those who are time poor, I’ve provided a time code so you can flick to the relevant parts. For those who want a summary of our key messages, they are also included as a pdf.

Time code

00:00:00 Intro – Lynelle
00:01:32 Why this webinar
00:07:16 Introduction of panelists
00:07:22 Ae Ra
00:09:17 Jonas
00:10:33 Maria
00:11:25 Raya
00:13:10 Ben
00:15:42 Alex
00:16:52 Sam
00:20:40 James
00:23:05 Questions 
00:23:15 What do you recommend in preparation for reunion?
00:23:30 Maria
00:28:33 Ben
00:32:20 Raya
00:35:25 What challenges have you faced in reunion?
00:35:42 James
00:40:22 Jonas
00:43:19 Raya
00:45:48 Ae Ra
00:49:35 Tips for a media facilitated reunion
00:50:05 Alex
00:51:34 How to deal with differences in language and culture?
00:51:51 Ben
00:55:38 James
01:01:04 What role do I want for adoptive family in / after reunion?
01:01:26 Alex
01:03:10 Jonas
01:06:34 Ae Ra
01:09:47 How do I support myself in reunion?
01:09:53 Jonas
1:11:14 Maria
1:16:12 Sam 
1:21:19 How do we manage the financial requests?
1:21:42 Sam
1:23:58 Alex
1:26:12 Ben
1:29:30 What’s it been like to find answers to your questions?
1:29:41 James
1:31:58 Raya
1:34:39 Sam
1:36:52 What role should government and adoption agencies have in reunion?
1:37:12 Ben
1:39:18 Maria
1:42:49 Ae Ra
1:45:56 Closing remarks and thanks

Summary of Key Messages

Klick här for the Summary of Key Messages

Resurser

Part 1, Searching as adoptee experts in intercountry adoption

Summary of key themes from ICAVs 2016 Search and Reunion Perspective paper

Intercountry and transracial adoptee experiences of search and reunion

Roadmap to Reunion: a framework for a successful adoption reunion

International search and reunion: a conversation with Susan Cox

Complex family relationships in international adoption: Search, reunion and contact by Amanda Baden

Exploring the role of social media and technology in intercountry adoption reunions: considerations for social work practice

Ten things adoptees want their birth families to know about reunion

Adoption reunion: 5 things I have learned as an adoptee by Angela Barra

An adoption reunion roadmap (written by birth mother)

Preparing for search and reunion by C.A.S.E

Stages of reunion

What every adoptive parent should know about search and reunion

ISS Australia’s Review of their Intercountry Adoption Tracing and Reunification Service (ICATRS) 2016 – 2018 (provides lessons learnt and what the data demonstrated after 2 years of the service)

Huge thanks to the Australian Federal Government, DSS for providing Small Grants through Relationships Australia ICAFSS which allowed compensation to the panelists for their time and expertise.

Adoptee presentation to New Zealand

On 26 June, a panel of 6 transracial and intercountry adoptees adoptees from the ICAV network presented to the New Zealand Oranga Tamariki Ministry for Children teams who work in adoption on a variety of questions.

Click below to watch our webinar:
(If you are using Google Chrome, click on “Learn More” to view the video)

Time Code

For those who are time poor, I have provided a time code so you can skip to the parts you want to hear:

00:18 Peter McGurk intro
00:41 in English
03:47 Lynelle welcome and introductions of panelists
05:22 Alex K
06:09 Alex G
7:25 Bev
08:58 Gabby
10:58 Mike
11:38 Importance of consulting with a wide range of generations impacted by adoption – Lynelle
13:00 What is ICAV
15:46 ICAVs Vision
16:32 ICAVs main achievements
18:49 ICAVs key achievements Australia
22:20 ICAVs current priorities
24:28 What are some of the distinct stages adoptees go through in our lifetime
33:52 The need for post adoption support services
34:11 Alex
37:46 Mike
40:22 Bev
42:07 Understanding racism
42:19 Mike 
46:15 Gabby
51:51 Search and reunion
52:14 Alex 
1:02:35 Key messages for workers in adoption
1:03:01 Alex
1:05:56 Gabby 
1:09:28 Bev
1:13:32 Main issues for Central Authorities to think about – Lynelle
1:22:34 Peter and close

Key Messages

For those who would like a Summary of Key Messages, click här for our pdf.

We thank Peter McGurck and the New Zealand Oranga Tamariki Ministry for Children for asking us to present to their adoption teams!

Resurser

ICAVs resources on Search and Reunion

ICAVs resources on Racism

ICAVs Video Resource for Professionals (with subtitles in English, French, Spanish, Italian and Swedish)

ICAVs advocacy over the years

Reunion and Beyond

As the second part of our ICAV Webinar series on Sökning och återförening inom internationell adoption, on 29 July (Europe / USA timezone) / 30 July (Australia timezone) we will be presenting to you our next webinar, Reunion and Beyond.

Here’s an introduction to our amazing panelists:

Ervenotte Lassus-Harbord

Ervenotte is a 46 year old adoptee from Haiti sent to a French family in 1985. She currently works and lives in the UK, having built her own life with a husband and two children. She is a very creative person who loves art, music, languages, and travelling.

Ervenotte reunited with her Haitian family in 2010 and they are still in great connection regularly.

Alexander Kuch

Born in Romania, adopted to Germany and living most of his life in New Zealand, Alexander has been involved with I’m Adopted  in New Zealand as a Board Director since it was established in 2015. Within this role at I’m Adopted, he provides resources, raises topics, creates events and gives support for those in the adoptee community. He’s also been involved with ICAV partnering together in 2021 for the documentary screening and discussion of Reckoning with The Primal Wound held in Germany.

As a Romanian adoptee, communities like I’m Adopted och ICAV are important not just for adoptees who have been adopted internationally but adopted from everywhere. A highlight was sharing his adoption journey in a TEDx talk and co-presenting adoption research at ICAR6 with Dr.Scherman in Canada in 2018.  

Professionally, Alexander is a sustainability strategy consultant and he enjoys meeting new people, traveling and having adventures with a highlight being a 134m bungy jump.

Maria Heckinger

Maria was born in Patras, Greece in 1953. At 3 years of age she was adopted by a family in San Diego, CA., USA. Her childhood was challenging with a wonderful, loving mother but an unstable father who agreed to adoption to save his marriage.

Maria began a 31-year teaching career and traveled to Greece for the first time in 1984. Through sheer serendipity she found her orphanage and then her birth mother, a woman with many secrets. It took 10 years before her birth mother would tell about the rest of the extended family. They spent the next 34 years gathering as a family as often as possible.

In a story that reads more like fiction than fact, Maria chronicled the unlikely tale of her mother-and-child reunion in the book, Beyond the Third Door: Based on a True Story.

Maria travels to Greece, enjoys playing pickleball with friends, and spending time outdoors in the beautiful Pacific Northwest.

Sam Roxas Chau 姚 (Yao)

Roxas Chua  姚 (Yao) was born in Manila, Philippines. He is a foundling and was adopted by a second generation Chinese family living in the Philippines. He found out he was adopted at age 12 and sadly, his family had no intention of telling him.

Roxas-Chua 姚 is also a student of poetry, visual and sound arts. He is the author of Fawn LanguageSaying Your Name Three Times UnderwaterEcholalia in Script, and Kära någon någonstans, an adopted-person’s audio podcast journal. His poetry and calligraphy works have appeared in various local, national, and international journals. His art and writing intersects with various disciplines and has led him to speak at universities as a visiting author.

Roxas-Chua 姚 recently completed an Artist-in-Residence program at the Portland Chinatown Museum and he is currently creating musical scores for independent film.

Renate Ae Ra Van Geel

Renate Ae Ra Van Geel was born in South Korea but moved to Belgium in order to be adopted. She is 38 years old and is married with two children.

She found her Korean parents, sisters and brother 11 years ago. Only after both her adoptive parents died was she able to come out of the fog and dive into ‘the process’.  It has been a valuable but very bumpy ride ever since. She visited Korea 3 times over the last 2 years, including one time with her husband and children.

As a psychological consultant she counsels and coaches mostly adult adoptees and she is also part of Adoptee & Foster Care (AFC) based in the Netherlands and Belgium.

Ben Fossen

Ben Fossen was adopted from Guatemala at 4 months old in 1990 to a family in the USA. He is an engineer, investor and entrepreneur. He co-founded Adoptees with Guatemalan Roots, a global community of people adopted from Guatemala and currently serves as its Board Chairman.

Ben has been back to Guatemala 30+ times and reconnected with his birth family in 2015. He is very close with them and visits multiple times a year and they have welcomed him as a member of the family.

Ben was involved in lobbying the Guatemalan government and President to get services for Guatemalan adoptees that were approved and implemented in 2021.

James Kinnaird

James was born in Cali, Colombia in 1993 and was separated from his Colombian mother and adopted to an Australian family at the age of 1 year old. Via a long and tumultuous journey of self discovery and unraveling the truths of Colombia’s history of illegal and illicit adoptions, James reached out to the adoptee community on social media in search of his biological family. Not expecting much, he was overwhelmed by the offers of help and assistance within 24 hours of posting his search information. One of the groups, Plan Angel reached out and it was within a very quick timeframe, that his mother had been located and they were speaking together.

In 2021, James was involved in ICAVs Video project for Professionals that developed a much needed resource to educate teachers, doctors, and counsellors about the lived experience of intercountry adoptees.

Outside adoption, James enjoys basketball, music, video games, fishing, travel, history/international relations, music festivals, salsa dancing, reading, a good fiesta, bar hopping, practicing Spanish, cooking and being a snack addicted coach potato.

Raya Snow

Raya was born in Ivanovo, Russia in 1989. At the age of 8 she was privately sold by a biological great great aunt to people in Canada and taken into custody by a Russian speaking family. She now consider herself not an adoptee but a displaced person, trafficked from her birth country into another. 

Raya is a contributor to Fireside Adoptees and helps with support, graphics, promotion and hosting weekly chats. She has also been involved with Att räkna med det primära såret, promoting the documentary and offering resources. In past years, she was in the team from I’m Adopted, interviewing adoptees, sharing about her life as an adoptee and connecting with other Russian adoptees.

With all the struggles and trauma many adoptees face, Raya has decided to undergo certification in trauma informed coaching to help adoptees acknowledge their grief and re-teach the brain new ways of thinking which allows adoptees to notice their trauma responses and the ways it affects them in the present. Raya believes we can’t change the past but we can change where we are in the present by diving deeper into ourselves

Lynelle Long – ICAV Host

This incredible team of panelists and webinar host and ICAV Founder, Lynelle Long, look forward to sharing our lived experience with you at our upcoming webinar. If you wish to attend the webinar Reunion and Beyond, click on the RSVP button below:

Resurser

Part 1 of this webinar series, Söker i Intercountry Adoption som Adopterade Experter

Webinarium för att söka i Intercountry Adoption by Adoptee Experts

On 23 April 2023, ICAV ran a panel webinar to bring you the expertise of our Search professionals around the world, sharing their best words of wisdom for what to consider when undergoing searching in intercountry adoption. They directly represented adoptee organisations from Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, Sth Korea, Haiti, Colombia and Greece.

Watch the webinar here:
Obs! Om du tittar i Chrome klickar du på knappen Läs mer för att titta på videon

Timecode

For those who are time poor and want to skip to the sections that are relevant, here is a timecode to assist:

00:20 Intro, Welcome, Purpose
04:30 Intro of panelists
04:39 Marcia Engel
06:48 Rebecca Payot
09:29 Jonas Desír
10:25 Linda Carol Trotter
12:55 Kayla Curtis
15:22 Hilbrand Westra
17:44 Benoît Vermeerbergen
21:00 Celin Fässler

Questions / Answers

23:28 What does the general search process involve? – Kayla
27:30 What should adoptees to do prepare? – Linda, Marcia
35:51 What are some of the outcomes? – Jonas, Kayla, Linda
46:50 Some possible barriers to expect? – Rebecca, Linda
56:51 What ethics to consider? – Marcia, Kayla
1:06:40 What should a search cost? – Rebecca, Linda, Celin
1:11:46 Who to trust? Hilbrand, Jonas
1:16:16 What issues to consider in DNA testing? – Benoît
1:19:18 What outcomes can result with DNA testing? – Benoît
1:20:40 What DNA tests do you recommend? Benoït, Marcia
1:23:51 What are the advantages of using an adoptee led search org? – Celin, Marcia
1:28:28 What was involved in becoming a trusted Government funded search org? – Celin
1:30:36 What is needed most from Governments to help adoptees in our searching? – Hilbrand, Marcia

Summary of Key Messages

Klick här for a pdf of our Key Messages from each panelist

Resurser

Huge thanks to the 26 adoptees who wanted to share their experiences of searching so that others can gain a deeper understanding. They represent experiences of 13 birth countries (China, Colombia, India, Malaysia, Morocco, Peru, Philippines, Romania, Russia, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam), sent to 9 adoptive countries (Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Scotland, Sweden, UK, USA).

ICAVs newest Perspective Paper on Söker i Intercountry Adoption

For more resources, see our Searching & Reunion page

Låt oss prata om illegala och illegala adoptioner mellan länder

There’s a resounding silence around the world from the majority of adoptive parents when adult intercountry adoptees start to talk about whether our adoptions are illegal or illicit. Why is that? Let’s begin the conversation and unpack it a little.

As an intercountry adoptee, I was purchased through illicit and illegal means and it has taken me years to come to terms with what this means and how I view my adoption. I’m not alone in this journey and because of what I hear and see amongst my community of adoptees, I believe it’s really important for adoptive parents to grapple with what they’ve participated in. This system of child trafficking in intercountry adoption is widespread! It’s not just a Guatemalan, Vietnamese, Sri Lankan or Russian issue – it impacts every country we are adopted to and from, beginning back in the 1950s enmasse, through to current day adoptions. The 1993 Hague Convention came about because of the vast number of illegal and illicit adoptions. The Hague could possibly blind adoptive parents into believing their adoptions cannot be illegal or illicit because they went through the “approved” process and authority. But while a Hague adoption is less likely than a pre-Hague private or expatriate adoption to have illegal and illicit practices within, it is no guarantee because the Hague lacks mechanisms to enforce and safeguard against child trafficking.

To date, most adoptive countries have also not curbed or stopped private and expatriate adoptions that bypass the Hague processes. This means illegal and illicit adoptions are very much still possible and facilitated through a country’s immigration pathways and usually the only role an adoptive country will play in these adoptions, is to assess visa eligibility. This remains a huge failing of adoptive countries who assume a birth country has all the checks and balances in place to prevent illegal and illicit practices within private and expatriate adoptions.

If you aren’t grappling with what you’ve participated in as an adoptive parent, you can be sure your adoptees are, at some point in their lives. More so these days, as the world around us changes and country after country (Nederländerna, Belgien, Norway, Schweiz, Sweden, Frankrike) eventually investigates and recognises the wrongs done historically in intercountry adoption. Germany, Denmark och Australien are countries where adoptees are currently pushing for their governments to investigate. Support comes from the UN who last year, issued their joint statement on illegal intercountry adoptions.

It’s important we have these discussions and be truthful with adoptees about illegal and illicit practices that are our adoptions. In ICAV, we grapple with the reality, especially when it comes to searching for our origins and finding out the truth. Here’s a webbseminarium I co-facilitated two years ago on this topic. As you’ll see from the webinar, we are all impacted by these practices – adoptees, adoptive parents, and our original families.

When I first started ICAV in 1998, I didn’t want to discuss the darker sides of adoption. I blindly mimicked what I’d heard – being grateful for my life in Australia and thankful that my life was so much better than if I’d remained in Vietnam. It’s taken me years to educate myself, listening to fellow adoptees around the world who are impacted and advocating for our rights and for the dark side of adoption to be dealt with. I’ve finally come to understand deeply what the adoption industry is and how it operates.

My adoptive parents couldn’t deal with my questions or comments about being paid for in France, or the questions I had about the Vietnamese lawyer who facilitated my adoption. They jumped to his defence. But there is no evidence I am an orphan and my 40+ years of searching for the truth highlights how illegal my adoption is, to date: no relinquishment document, no birth certificate, no adoption papers from the Vietnam side, only a few personal letters written from lawyer to adoptive family and an exchange of money to a French bank account, then the Victorian adoption authority processed my adoption 16 years after I entered Australia with parents who were questionably “assessed and approved”.

I’m a parent of teenaged children and I know what it’s like to have those tough discussions on topics we aren’t comfortable with. I’m sure many adoptive parents must feel doubts and possibly a sense of guilt looking back in hindsight, for not looking into things more, pushing away doubts about the process, the costs, the facilitators, in their zeal to become a parent at all costs. If you feel guilt or remorse as an adoptive parent, at least you’re being honest about the reality of intercountry adoption. Honesty is a good place to start. What’s worse for adoptees is when our parents deny and defend their actions despite data that indicates there were plenty of signals of illicit practices from that country or facilitator. Being honest will help your adoptee start to trust you can take responsibility for your actions and not pass the buck to the “other” stakeholders who also contribute to trafficking practices. 

The difficult part for us all, is that there are rarely any supports or education on this topic from those facilitating adoption or supporting it – either as pre or post adoption organisations. Even less support exists for those who KNOW it was illegal or illicit adoption and no-one guides us as to what we can do about it except our own peer communities. This needs to change! It should not be the responsibility of the impacted community to provide the industry and authorities with education and resources on what it means to be a victim of the process and how to support us.

At ICAV, we have been attempting to fill this gap because the industry continues to fail us in this way. Here is our global paper we compiled of our responses we’d like from governments and authorities. I hope those who feel guilt or remorse will turn that feeling into an action to demand better supports and legislation for impacted people and speaking up to hold governments and agencies accountable. That is how you’ll help us in my humble opinion. The fact that so many parents who participated in trafficking practices are silent is only damning your adoptee to have to fight the system by themselves. 

Thankfully, the work I was involved in, to represent adoptees in the Hague Working Group on Preventing and Addressing Illicit Practices in Intercountry Adoption, has concluded with a published toolkit in which Central Authorities are now provided a template for how they could respond to queries from victims of illegal and illicit adoptions. Sadly, this toolkit, like the 1993 Hague Convention is not enforceable and so, it requires those of us who are impacted to spend much time and energy pushing governments and authorities to respond to us in an appropriate manner.

If you are an Australian and you’d like to support us in our push for an investigation by an independent body into Australia’s history of intercountry adoptions, you can participate in our survey as an adoptee or as an adoptive parent. We aim to gather high level data showing the human rights abuse patterns throughout the birth countries and the ongoing lack of adequate responses from the Australian government and authorities. Prior to this, we created a letter with signatures from the community which was sent to every Australian Central Authority, every Minister responsible for Adoption at both State and Federal level, and to our Prime Minister and State Premiers.

For the benefit of many, I felt it important to provide an easy to read document on what an illicit and illegal intercountry adoption is. My heartfelt thanks to Prof David Smolin who did the lion share of creating this easy to read document. I’m honoured to know some incredible adoptive parents like David who spend their lives advocating and working with us to change this global system.

AntiRacism Online Workshops for Transracial Adoptive Parents

Förra året sprang jag en webbseminarium om erfarenheterna mellan och transracial adopterade har med rasism för att bidra till att öka medvetenheten och ge röst åt dessa gemensamma erfarenheter som en gemenskap. För att ytterligare ta itu med bristen på resurser till vårt samhälle på detta område har jag använt finansieringen via Relationer Australien Små stipendier och stipendier att hyra Nyans, a lived experience company who specialises in anti-racism workshops. Together, Hue and ICAV are offering a much needed space for adoptive parents to discuss, raise awareness, and process some of these issues involved in race, racism, and intercountry / transracial adoption.

Our workshops are free and will be provided as a three part series, as an anti-racism program tailored specifically to Australian intercountry and transracial adoptive parents. Parents from other countries are welcome to join, understanding that the program is being delivered from an Australian perspective (but still relevant to other countries) and in an Australian timezone. Each workshop is capped at 40 to ensure maximum benefit for participants.

The first workshop in the program will cover an introduction to race and racism, developing our understanding and critical thinking around systemic racism and injustice. The second workshop will explore whiteness or white dominant culture, and the ways that our attitudes, and ways of life are impacted by these cultural systems, particularly in an intercountry adoption context. Adoptive parents will complete their series with a workshop on allyship, developing skills for challenging racism when they see it, and supporting their adoptive children through their experiences.

Här är lite information om Hue och dess handledare, Elsa, som jag har arbetat med för att skräddarsy dessa workshops för att passa vår gemenskapsupplevelse:

Nyans är en ras- och social rättvisa organisation grundad av två färgade kvinnor som levererar en rad träningsprogram som är tillgängliga, engagerande och styrka baserade. Deras workshops underlättas av personer med levd erfarenhet för att ge deltagande och nyanserade lärandeupplevelser för alla kunskapsnivåer. De ger också löpande stöd och konsultation till organisationer som vill genomföra meningsfulla förändringar i sina policyer, processer och arbetskultur.

Elsa (hon/hon) är en queer, judisk och kinesisk färgad kvinna. Hon är pedagog, facilitator, arrangör och artist. Hon är en av grundarna av Hue, en antirasism och social rättvisa organisation som tillhandahåller utbildning och rådgivning till organisationer. Tidigare var hon utbildningsdirektör på Democracy in Color och satt två mandatperioder i styrelsen och QTIBIPOC styrelsekommitté för Switchboard Victoria. Hon har en bakgrund inom socialt arbete och psykologi och skrev sin avhandling om hur mångrasiga människor från flera minoritetsarv engagerar sig i sina etniska identiteter. 2020 belönades hon med en av Out for Australias 30 under 30 år, för HBTQIA+ förebilder och ledare och 2022 var hon semifinalist för 7NEWS Young Achievers Awards for Community Service and Social Impact. Hon brinner för att plattforma levd erfarenhet, bygga gemenskapskraft och helande i processen.

De viktigaste datumen för workshops för adoptivföräldrar är: 23 juli, 6 augusti, 20 augusti med start kl. 13.00 AEST. Varje workshop pågår i 3,5 timmar med pauser emellan. Input och deltagande uppmuntras via smågrupper. Det här är ingen sitta och lyssna-workshop men om det är det du känner dig bekväm med att göra, så är det också ok.

If you would like to RSVP as an adoptive parent to participate in our workshop for adoptive parents only, please click on the RSVP image:

Stort tack till Australiens federala regering, DSS för att göra detta möjligt via finansieringen genom Relationer Australien ICAFSS, Small Grants and Bursaries program.

Sökning i Intercountry Adoption av Adopterade Experter

On April 23, ICAV will be providing a webinar on some of the complex issues involved in searching in various birth countries, but with specific knowledge of Colombia, Ethiopia, Haiti, Greece, Korea, and Sri Lanka.

Our webinar will be unique in that we are not only bringing our lived experience as individuals, but also presenting as a global resource, highlighting the adoptee led organisations who provide a formal search and support services. Our panelists hold the dual role of knowing intuitively how complex searching is as individuals having done their own searching and also having decades of experience in providing formal search and support services to the community.

ICAV knows intuitively what the latest forskning (p231) conducted within the Korean adoptee community shows – i.e.,, that intercountry adoptees find their peers and adoptee led organisations to be the most helpful in their searches. There’s nothing better than those who live it knowing intuitively how to best provide the services we need as a community.

If you’d like to be part of our audience, click here to RSVP.

Our 8 panelists are:

Marcia Engel

Marcia is the creator and operator of Plan Angel, a nonprofit human rights foundation currently based in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Her organization has a powerful mission: helping Colombian families find their children who were lost to child trafficking and adoption.

For fifteen years now, Plan Angel has grown a strong community with over 1,000 families in Colombia. The foundation helps these families search for their missing adopted children all over the world, hoping to one day reconnect them with each other. Marcia and her foundation have reunited hundreds of families and continue to support them after their reunion.

Linda Carol Forrest Trotter

Linda is a Greek-born adoptee, adopted by American parents and found her biological family in Greece five and a half years ago. She is the founder and president of The Eftychia Project, a nonprofit organization that assists and supports, free of charge, Greek-born adoptees searching for their roots and Greek families searching for their children lost to adoption.

In addition to its Search and Reunion program, the Eftychia Project, in collaboration with the MyHeritage DNA company, distributes DNA kits for free to adoptees and Greek families. To date, The Eftychia Project has facilitated the reconnections of 19 adoptees with their Greek families.

The Eftychia Project also actively advocates on behalf of all Greek-born adoptees with the Greek government for their birth and identity rights, including transparency about their adoptions, unfettered access to their birth, orphanage and adoption records, and the restoration of their Greek citizenship.

Kayla Curtis

Kayla is born in South Korea and adopted to South Australia. Kayla has been searching for her Korean birth family for over twenty years. She returned to Korea to do ‘on the ground’ searching using posters, newspapers, local police, and adoptee search organisations. In the absence of having a reunion with birth family, she has built a meaningful relationship with her birth country and Korean culture and proudly identifies as Korean-Australian.  

In her professional life, Kayla works as a Senior Counsellor for the Intercountry Adoptee and Family Support Service (ICAFSS) at Relationships Australia.  

Kayla is a qualified Therapeutic Life Story Worker and has a Master’s in Social Work as well as extensive experience working in the area of adoption both in government and non-government, providing counselling, education and training, community development and post adoption support.  In this role, Kayla supports intercountry adoptees with searching and navigating this uncertain and complex process between countries, as well as offering therapeutic support to adoptees, on this journey. 

Jonas Désir

Jonas

Jonas is a Haitian adoptee raised in Australia who has spent many years assisting his fellow Haitian adoptees to search for their families in Haiti. He was adopted from Haiti at 6 years old and eventually was able to find his mother in Haiti. Today he is happily married with children and works a lot to help mentor other younger adoptees and help adoptive families.

Benoît Vermeerbergen

Benoît was born in Villers-Semeuse, France under “Sous X”. This means that his parents and especially his mother did not want to be known or found. His birth certificate literally only shows X’s as parents’ names. Growing up Benoît had a lot of questions trying to understand all of this. After his studies, he purposely began working for the ‘Population Services’ in the hope of discovering more information about his birth mother. 

During this process and the years that followed, Benoît helped so many other people in their search (for example, trying to find their biological birth parents), that he made genealogical research his main source of income. It has always been and will always be his greatest passion in life! 

Genealogy and adoption therefore are his field of specialisation. In the past couple of years he has also started working in the field of ‘DNA’. In 2019, he found his biological mother through this method. Today, he cooperates with a lot of genealogical and adoption related authorities and helps to invent and build many adoption related platforms. Although Belgium is his home country, he also has experience in doing research abroad, i.e. Australia, Mexico, and The Netherlands.

Rebecca Payot

Rebecca is the founder of the association Racines Naissent des Ailes and co-founder of Emmaye Adoptee’s Family Reunion. Adopted in Ethiopia at the age of 5, Rebecca is a graduate in early childhood psychology specialising in adolescents in identity crisis. She has worked for 20 years in international adoption in France as a consultant and speaker on quest of origins. She is the author of her first book entitled “The Quest of Origins, a Miracle Remedy for the ills of the adopted?”

Hilbrand Westra

Hilbrand is a Korean adoptee raised in the Netherlands and has the longest track record, working with and for adoptees in the Netherlands since 1989. Internationally, his name is well known and disputed at the same time by the first generation of intercountry adoptees because he dared to oppose the Disney fairytale of adoption. He is also the first adoptee in the world to receive an official Royal decoration by the King of the Netherlands in 2015 and is Knighted in the Order of Orange Nassau for outstanding work for adoptees and in the field of adoption.

In daily life, Hilbrand runs his own school in systemic work and is a renowned teacher and trainer nationally and his work has sparked great interest in the UK. He spends time bridging the work in this field between the Netherlands and the UK. Hilbrand is a confidant and executive coach for leaders and directors in the Netherlands and also works partly with the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science.

Celin Fässler

Celin is adopted from Sri Lanka to Switzerland and is the Communications Manager and Board Member at Tillbaka till rötterna. Back to the Roots is a Swiss NGO founded in 2018 by Sri Lankan adoptees. Its main goal is to raise awareness of the complex search for origins and to support adoptees in their searching process. Since May 2022, Back to the Roots has been funded by the Swiss government and the regional districts in order to provide professional support to adoptees from Sri Lanka to Switzerland.

Sarah Ramani Ineichen

Sarah is adopted from Sri Lankan to Switzerland and is the President of Back to the Roots and may present jointly with Celin in this webinar.

The webinar will be recorded and made available at ICAVs website.

If you have questions you’d like to see addressed in our webinar, please add your comments to this blog or Kontakt us.

Stort tack till Australian Government, DSS for funding this event via our Relationships Australia, Små stipendier och stipendier.

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