Adopted for 32 years and now FREE!

by Lynelle Long, Vietnamese ex-adoptee raised in Australia, Founder of ICAV

I can officially now say, “I WAS adopted” as in, it is of the past. Now, my identity changes once again and I am no longer legally plenary adopted. I am my own person having made a clear and cognitive adult age decision that I want to be legally free of the people who looked after me since 5 months old. Mostly, I wanted to be legally recognised as my biological mother’s child and for the truth to be on my birth certificate and flowing into all my identity documents for the future. This also impacts my children and their future generations to ensure they do not have to live the lie of adoption either, but are entitled to their genetic truth of whom they are born to, multi generationally.

The biggest lie of plenary adoption is that we are “as if born to our adoptive parents”. My Australian birth certificate reflects this lie. I grew tired of the untruths of adoption so I decided to take matters into my own hands and empower myself. Nine months later, on 13 December 2022, I was officially discharged from my adoption order which had been made when I was 17 years old. Previous to this, I had been flown into Australia by my adoptive father at the age of 5 months old in December 1973 and the family kept me with them for 17 years without legally completing my adoption. So technically, I was legally under the care of the Lutheran Victorian adoption agency and Immigration Minister’s care as my guardians until my adoption got completed in April 1990. These institutions however didn’t seem to followup on me nor did they create a State Ward file on me. It is still a mystery to this day how I was barely followed up on, given they knew quite clearly that my adoption had not been finalised.

My case is very unusual in that most adoptive parents want to quickly complete the adoption so they can be officially regarded as the child’s “legal guardians”. I have no idea why my adoptive parents took so long and what baffles me is how they managed to pass as my “parents” at schools, hospitals, or any places where there should be a question around “who is this child’s parents” when they had nothing formal on paper to prove their “parenthood”. It’s quite obvious I can’t be their “born to” child when I am Asian and they are white caucasians. We look nothing alike and they raised me in rural areas where I was often the only non-white, non-Aboriginal looking person.

So as this year closes, I can celebrate that my year of 2022 has been a year of empowerment in so many ways. On November 2022, I was also recognised for my years of suffering by being offered the maximum compensation, counselling and a direct personal response under the Royal Commission for Institutional Sexual Abuse Redress Scheme by the two entities responsible for me – the Lutheran Church (the Victorian adoption agency) and the Department of Home Affairs (Australian Immigration). The past 5 years I’ve spent talking to countless lawyers, trying to find a way to hold institutions accountable for my placement with a family who should never have received any vulnerable child. Finally, in some small way, I am able to hold these institutions somewhat accountable and be granted a face to face meeting as a direct personal response via the Redress Scheme. What I want them to recognise is the significant responsibility they hold to keep children safe. It is still hard to fathom how any country can allow children in with parents who look nothing like them, clearly having no biological connections, no paperwork, yet not take all precautions to ensure these children are not being trafficked. I am yet to finish with that larger issue of being highly suspicious that my adoption was an illegal one, if not highly illicit. Our governments need to be on higher alert, looking out for all signs of trafficking in children and ensuring that these children are followed up on and that they have indeed been relinquished by their parents before being allowed into another country with people who are nothing alike.

My case in the Redress Scheme also highlights the many failings of the child protection system that is supposed to protect vulnerable children like me. If I’d been adopted by the family as they should have done, I would never have been allowed this compensation or acknowledgement through the Redress Scheme. It is a significant failing of the system that those who are deemed legally “adopted” are not considered to be under “institutional care” when these very institutions are the ones who place us and deem our adoptive families eligible to care for us. I wrote about this some years ago when I was frustrated that I hadn’t been able to participate in the Royal Commission for Institutional Sexual Abuse. Thankfully, a kind lawyer and fellow sufferer as a former foster child, Peter Kelso was the one who gave me free legal advice and indicated the way through the Royal Commission labyrinth. He helped me understand my true legal status as “not adopted” at the time of my sexual abuse and it is this truth that helped my case for redress via the free legal services of Knowmore. So it’s a bitter sweet outcome for me as I know of too many fellow adoptees who have suffered sexual abuse at the hands of their adoptive families. Most will never receive any sense of recognition for their suffering and the pathway to hold individuals criminally accountable is also tough if not impossible, depending on the country and laws. In most other countries except Australia, the statute of limitations prevents most victims of sexual abuse from seeking justice. I know from personal experience that it can take survivors 40 plus years to get to the stage of being strong enough to take this route of fighting for justice. More so for an adoptee who lives their life being expected to be “grateful” for adoption and being afraid of further abandonment and rejection should they speak their truth. For some, they never ever talk about their truth as the trauma is just too great and they are busy just surviving. I know of others where the abuse played a major role in their decision to suicide.

I am 2 years into the midst of criminal proceedings against my adoptive family. Next year begins the court contested hearings and who knows what the outcome of that will be nor how long it will go for. I talk about this only to encourage other victims to empower themselves, fight for that inner child who had no-one to protect them! For me, this is what it is all about. I spent years in therapy talking about how none of the adults in my life protected me and even after I exposed the abuse, none of those in professions where child protection is part of their training and industry standard, offered to help me report the perpetrators or take any action to hold them accountable. I finally realised the only one who would ever stand up for myself, was myself. Yes, it has meant I end the relationship with that family, but what type of relationship was it anyway? They were more interested in keeping things quiet and protecting themselves then protecting or creating a safe space for me. I eventually realised I could no longer continue to live the multiple lies both adoption and sexual abuse within that family required. Eventually, I had to chose to live my truth which ultimately meant holding them responsible for the life they’d chosen and created for themselves and me.

I hope one day to also hold institutions accountable for the illegal and illicit aspects of my adoption and once I’m done with that, then I’ll feel like I’ve truly liberated myself from adoption.

Until then, I continue to fight with the rest of my community for this last truth of mine. So many of us should never have been separated from our people, country, culture, language. We lose so much and there is absolutely no guarantee we get placed with families who love, nurture, and uphold us and our original identities. 

The legal concept of plenary adoption is truly an outdated mode of care for a vulnerable child and its premise and legal concept needs to be heavily scrutinised in an era of human and child’s rights awareness. I agree there will always be the need to care for vulnerable children, children who can’t be with their families, but it is time we walk into future learning from the harms of the past and making it better for the children in the future. My lifelong goal is always for this because adoptees are the ones who spend so many of our years having no voice, having no independent people checking up on us. Adopted children are so vulnerable! Too often the assumption is made that adoption is a great benefit for us and this oversight impedes a serious deep dive into the risks to our well being and safety. In my case and too many others, it isn’t until we are well into our 40s and onwards that we find our critical thinking voices and allow ourselves to say what we truly know without fear of rejection and abandonment. Plenary adoption needs to be outlawed and simple adoption should only be a temporary solution for a temporary problem. Any form of adoption should always be the choice of the adoptee to have their adoption undone and allowed to return to be legally connected to their original families, if that is what they want.

May we continue to bring awareness and much needed change to our world so that vulnerable children will be given a better chance in the future and to empower our community of adoptee survivors!

I wish for all in my community that 2023 will be a year of empowerment, truth and justice!

Resources

Discharge / Annulment / Undoing your Adoption

In Australia, each State and Territory has its own process to discharge:
VIC, QLD, NSW, WA, SA
This process includes costs that vary between States. All Australian intercountry adoptees can seek the Bursary amount of $500 from our ICAFSS Small Grants and Bursaries to contribute to the costs of their discharge. Domestic adoptees might also access Small Grants and Bursaries via their local equivalent Relationships Australia program too.

Adoptee Rights Australia has extra info on Discharging your Adoption and what it means legally, plus a quick run down on the main points of difference between the States of Australia

Australian domestic adoptee, Katrina Kelly has a FB group Adoption Reversal for adoptees needing help with their adoption discharge

Australian domestic adoptee, Darryl Nelson has a book about annulling his adoption in QLD: A timeline of the injustice of adoption law. He also participated in an SBS Insight program with this article: How I rediscovered my birth family and annulled my adoption

Australian domestic adoptee, William Hammersley’s Last Wish: Give me back my true identity, says adopted man

Denmark intercountry adoptee Netra Sommer: Cancelling My Adoption

Denmark and Netherlands: 3 Ethiopian Adoptions Annulled – a wake up call

UK adoptee activist Paul Rabz’s FB group for Adoption Annulment Group for Adoptee Activists (note, in the UK it’s legally not possible yet to annul your adoption as an adoptee)

USA

Adoptees United: Examining the Right to end your own Adoption (webinar)

Can you Reverse an Adoption? Reversing an Adoption: Adopted child returned to birth parents (historically, legislation in countries to discharge / reverse an adoption was included to allow adoptive parents the right to undo the adoption if they felt it wasn’t working out)

HCCH – Hague Intercountry Adoption Convention : information collected from Central Authorities to summarise countries that allow annulment and revocation of adoption

Plenary and Simple Adoption

Adoption law should be reformed to give children legal connections to both of their families – here’s why

Sexual Abuse in Adoption

Lifelong impacts of Abuse in Adoption (Chamila)

The Legacy and Impacts of Abuse in Adoption (3 part series)

Broken

Sold via adoption on the Gypsy black market in Greece

Cuts You Deep

Expectations of Gratitude in Adoption

Self Care and Healing

Research: Child Sexual Abuse by Caretakers

Sexual Abuse Support

Professional Support: Relationships Australia – Child Sexual Abuse Counselling

Peer Support: Me Too Survivor Healing

Sexual Abuse Lawsuits

USA: Sexual Abuse Lawsuits – Your Legal Questions Answered (parts 1 – 3, podcast)

Accepting Responsibility as An Adoption Facilitator

by Jessica Davis, American adoptive mother of Ugandan daughter, successfully returned to her Ugandan family; co-founder of Kugatta which brings families together who are impacted by Ugandan intercountry adoption.

Last week, Margaret Cole, the woman who owned the adoption agency that trafficked Namata from her family changed her plea to guilty.

While the charges she plead guilty to don’t fully represent the depth of exploitation and injustice that was perpetuated against countless families as a result of HER actions, it is definitely a step in the right direction to see her accepting SOME responsibility. So many children have been harmed because of her greed. Margaret Cole accumulated more than $200 million through the literal blood and tears of some of the most vulnerable children and families in the world.

Today as I watched her change her plea to guilty she asked for extra “forgiveness” in way to bargain for points off her sentencing since she was “accepting responsibility”. The prosecution said absolutely not, she has had plenty of time to accept responsibility for her actions but she waited until one week before her trial and just one day after seeing the case that was mounted against her.

So many people have worked incredibly hard to bring the individuals involved in this adoption scheme to justice. I can’t thank each of them enough!

Read Jessica’s earlier thoughts this year: Pain of Loss and Joy at Seeing Her Reunified with Her Family

Read Lynelle’s blog that includes a quick look at how perpetrators have been sentenced.

Resources

Former Executive Director of International Adoption Agency Pleads Guilty to Fraudulent Adoption Scheme

Texas Mom remains free without bond after buying her son a four-year-old “adopted” girl from Poland

Defense Admits Their Client, Margaret Cole Hughes, Director of European Adoption Consultants (EAC) Earned $200m from 8000 adoptions over three decades

Owner of Strongsville Agency, Employees Charged with Conspiracy in Foreign Adoption Cases

Kids for Sale: “My Mom was Tricked”

Lived Experience Suggestions for Responses to Illicit Adoptions

On 8-10 July, ICAV was invited as an Observer at the HCCH Working Group on Preventing and Addressing Illicit Practices in Intercountry Adoption.

Attached is our latest Perspective Paper that provides our lived experience input on suggestions for How Authorities and Bodies could Respond to Illicit Adoptions in English and French.

Huge thanks to all our 60+ participating adoptees and adoptee organisations, 10 adoptive parents & adoptive parent organisations, and first family representation!

Extra special thanks and mention to two amazing people:
Nicholas Beaufour who gave a huge amount of time to translate the entire English document into French!
Coline Fanon who assisted our one and only first family member to contribute! We so need to hear more often from the voices of our first families!

There Isn’t An Orphan Crisis, It’s a Family Separation Crisis

There isn’t an orphan crisis, it’s a family separation crisis.

Vulnerable families are being targeted and needlessly separated from their children. When you come to realise that 80-90% of children in orphanages have families, we must adjust our thinking. We need to stop saying there is an orphan crisis and when we hear churches, friends, family or see facebook posts claiming these lies, we must be courageous and challenge these misconceptions. If we continue with the adoption rhetoric as it is now we are doing no good! Needlessly stripping a child from their family is not a “better life”. A child losing everyone they love and everything familiar to them is not in their “best interest”. Doing something for the sake of “it’s what we’ve always done” is irresponsible and in this regard I believe criminal. If we are aware of these realities and we do nothing to address them, even if we choose to ignore them, we are complicit. 

In developing countries orphanages are not viewed as we in the west understand them to be. Many loving parents have been convinced orphanages are a way to give their children the opportunities they were not given. Just as every loving parent does, we all want better for our children. Orphanage directors and child finders promise families a better education, 3 meals a day, upgraded amenities and a safe place so sleep all while they are still able to see their children. Sadly, the reality is often very different, especially when it is a corrupt orphanage. This type of orphanage will do everything in their power to keep the family and child apart. 

I’ve said this before and I will say this again. If you choose to adopt internationally you should not even consider this unless you are willing to invest your time and money into ensuring every effort has been made to keep that child/children within their family and culture. Trusting an adoption agency, orphanage director or any other party that is profiting from the adoption is not acceptable or enough. At first, I failed miserably at this. I was ignorant to the realities at play, and because of MY ignorance I enabled criminals to traffic an innocent child from her family. I’ve publicly made my mistakes and the realities known within the intercountry adoption community in the hopes that my mistakes and revelations through this process will enable others to do better. In all honesty, should we even be discussing orphans, adoption, etc if we haven’t properly addressed the family separation crisis at hand? It’s only after we have ensured every family has been given every opportunity to stay together that we should ever even utter the word adoption.

Written and shared by Jessica Davis during National Adoption Awareness Month.

Illicit Intercountry Adoption Project

ICAVs collaborative project, named: Lived Experiences of Illicit Intercountry Adoption. Who it Impacts & What we Recommend is looking for participants.

ABOUT

Are you an intercountry adoptee who has been adopted via illicit means? Are you a family of loss to an illicit intercountry adoption? Are you an intercountry adoptive family who received a child into the family adopted via illicit means?

What can be learnt from these experiences and what do we recommend for Governments and non- Governments, as a better response and support?

This project is the first of its kind to collect the triad voices of those impacted by illicit intercountry adoptions and will be in support of and underpinned by reference to the international standards of the CRC, the Optional Protocol (Sale of Children), and the Palermo Protocol.

WHAT YOU CAN PROVIDE

We want to hear your lived experience of having been adopted via illicit means, having lost your child, sibling or relative to intercountry adoption via illicit means, or finding out that the child you received in your family was adopted via illicit practices.

Your story can be in English, French, Dutch or Spanish with an unlimited word length.

Your story can include:

  • name(s) (pseudonym, original, adopted),
  • country of birth of the person who was adopted illegally or via irregular means,
  • adoptive country,
  • process of adoption and/or illegality/irregularity,
  • source (if any) that demonstrates illegality/irregularity,
  • impact statement including your needs & rights and to generations,
  • what has been the response so far from various stakeholders (agencies, governments, peer network, alliedhealth professionals, triad members),
  • and your recommendations on how various organisations (government and non government) could betterrespond, including services that currently exist (or don’t exist).

We welcome all voices of those impacted: adoptees, adoptive families and families of loss. If you would like to be involved, please send your experience to us at ICAV contact@intercountryadopteevoices.com or Contact ICAV.


English
%%footer%%