Friday, February 15, 2013

"Culture of Adoption"?

When I wrote about the STUCK Documentary (and why I won't be seeing it), I used a phrase that gave me pause. "Culture of adoption". What does that mean?

Stop and think about that for a second. Or two. I'll wait.

Kami7
Photo by Kami7 on Flickr
When I really started thinking about it, I discovered I couldn't really say what a "culture of adoption" was. But it didn't sit right with me. It felt off. To be honest, it felt like it was the exact opposite of what I would like to nurture: a culture of family preservation.

What does a "culture of family preservation" mean? Well, I think it's hard for many of us to understand it, because for most of us living in Westernized countries (especially here in the US), our culture is so entrenched in family preservation that we can hardly recognize that it is a foundational belief in the way our country operates and our values as individuals and families.

A "culture of family preservation" says:

  • It is normative for parents to keep their children, regardless of how bad circumstances get. It is not acceptable for children to be placed into institutions; they belong in families.
  • Poverty is not a valid reason for a parent to relinquish a child. If you cannot afford to raise your child, we will provide you with WIC, food stamps, TANF and other social welfare programs to keep your family intact.
  • Social stigmas are not a valid reasons to separate a child from their family. Single parents and unmarried parents are capable of raising a child, and a child from a non-traditional family is no less valuable than children from a traditional families.
  • Parental or children's health problems are not a valid reason to separate families. Health care is a basic human right, and programs exist to provide health care to families so that they can remain intact. A health diagnosis carried by a parent or a child does not decrease the value of the family or determine that parent and child should be separated.
  • When immediate families cannot remain intact, it is normative for extended family (and close friends) to bridge the gap in caring for children. Grandparents, aunt, uncles, adult siblings, and close friends are called upon to care for children if the mother or father is unable to do so. This is often done informally.
  • When children cannot remain in the care of their parents, the formal systems in place to care for that child (foster care) have the goal of re-unification. While re-unification is not always possible, parents are given multiple opportunities to change themselves and their circumstances to meet the goal. If re-unification is not possible, maintaining contact with first family members and/or the child's community is encouraged (to the extent that it is safe for the child.)
  • If children cannot be maintained in their family or community of origin, multiple steps are take to ensure that a new family will be preserved, including:
    • Thoroughly assessing the child's physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual needs and clearly communicating those to prospective families
    • Thoroughly assessing a family's culture, resources, and ability to meet the child's needs to ensure the family can meet the needs of the child
    • Preparing families for the special needs of a new child through education, training, and resources
    • Providing families and children with resources and on-going assistance after placement 
While the US and other Westernized nations do not always perform each of these individual tasks perfectly, it is clear that preserving families is normative in most* situations. It's not that adoption is not a valid option, or isn't "supported", it's just that alternative options are exhausted before exploring adoption.


Ageless Love
"Ageless Love" by paulbence on Flickr
So, what does a "culture of adoption" look like? Well, I don't know, but here are some of my guesses.

A "culture of adoption" says":
  • When children cannot be maintained in their birth families, adoption is a viable solution to keep children out of institutions and in families.
  • There are many reasons why children cannot be maintained in their birth families. These problems are often bigger than any individual can solve, so the focus of efforts is placing children into adoptive families as soon as they are unable to remain in their birth family.
  • It is better for a child to be placed into an adoptive family quickly than remain in institutionalized care while re-unification efforts are explored.
  • Adoption is based on love. As long as adoptive parents are willing to love their new child, everything will work out. If adoptive parents feel prepared to parent a child, there is little reason why that child should not be placed with them.
Now, maybe I'm misunderstanding what "culture of adoption" means, but every time I hear that phrase or a phrase similar to it, this is what I see expressed. And frankly, while I "believe in adoption", and I do think it is a good choice for some kiddos, I can't get on board with a "culture of adoption." I just can't. To me, it feels dismissive of the needs of the child, the importance of the birth family, and the trauma of the adoption process.

To take it a step further, I don't think that a "culture of family preservation" and a "culture of adoption" can co-exist. You can't have both simultaneously; they are contradictory- opposites. It's like saying you are nurturing both a culture of daytime and a culture of nighttime. It just doesn't work.

What's your take? What does "culture of adoption" mean to you? Can a "culture of adoption" and a "culture of family preservation" co-exist? What does that look like?

*Infant domestic adoptions, especially agency-assisted adoptions which place intense pressure on pregnant mothers, are a clear way that the US does not perfectly maintain a "culture of family preservation." But that's a whole other can of worms.

6 comments:

marymuses said...

I've been thinking a lot about this lately in regards to my older daughter's story. (The baby's story is much more cut and dried.) I constantly ask myself, "But could we have done something to keep her with her family?" There are so many of us that adopted children who have living family - does that make all of us wrong for adopting them? Does it make their families wrong for making the decision that they did, often based on access to food and medical care? I can't say yes to those questions. I can't say no either. I think a lot of us are living in that grey area.

For my part, my heart is in family preservation now and forever, but it's also in adoption. I don't like the "culture of adoption" as it is, as I think it encourages corruption when agencies start looking to find children for families who are on wait lists, but I also know that institutional care did no favors for either of my daughters. I'd like to see more kids stay in their first families, and if that is not possible (*truly* not possible), I'd like to see them in adoptive families as quickly as possible, with little to no institutional care. I'm not sure what that would look like in a practical sense, but I hope that someone can figure it out.

rachel said...

I honestly cannot say I know of anyone any more advocating for adoption as *the* solution to the orphan crisis. To think adoption is always the solution (or never the solution) is naive and simplistic. It's much more nuanced than that.

I think we need to be very careful when throwing around words like "trafficking" and "corruption" in adoption. Jane Aronson, world renown "orphan doctor" and orphan advocate states that trafficking in adoption is rare. (You can read her insightful thoughts to the HuffPost here - http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-jane-aronson/the-trouble-with-internat_b_971226.html)

Of the adoptive parents I know, most (if not all) are working on some level to give back to their child's birth country. Some are raising money to build wells, others are fundraising for Glimmer of Hope to give back to Ethiopia. Adoptive families seem to care deeply about giving back to orgs that support family preservation, much more so than what I see people in the general public doing.

Most of the adoptive parents I know were so concerned about ethics that they hired private investigators to look into their child's stories. My husband traveled to our child's birth city with an investigator, even though he was urged not to as it was under a travel advisory from the US government.

Posts like these feel divisive to me. The feel like they are presenting a false dichotomy of extremes, oversimplifying an extremely complicated issue. And to me, they feel like they misrepresent adoptive families and agencies. Do you know how much Gladney does to give back to birth countries, as well as place older children who would likely not be adopted. Gladney's work is amazing. Most of the adoptive families I know are extremely conscientious as well.

Megan said...

This is fantastic. I think we can still believe in adoption and practice it without having a "culture of adoption". The problem is that while churches, APs, and organizations might also support family preservation there is still more emphasis on adoption, which is silly considering that 4 out of 5 children in institutions have families. If we want to make a dent in the "orphan crisis" (which is not really an "orphan" crisis) our MAIN focus needs to be family preservation/resettlement with adoption on the side for when it is needed... not the other way around.

Abide Family Center said...

First, I wanted to say how excellently you laid out this conversation. Thank you for that. I am going to both agree and disagree with your conclusion that these two cultures can't co-exist. I do not think, as two dominant cultures, that the goal of preserving families and adoption can simultaneously exist. When this is the case, the two are competing, and so much of the time, for the same kiddos. For example, to those 100% team adoption a "total orphan" is adoptable, where as those in the camp of family preservation will exhaust all efforts toward kinship care before considering adoption outside the extended family. A dominant culture of adoption doesn't leave space for better services toward family preservation, it just doesn't. Family preservation needs to be the dominant culture because it represents the biggest need. We know that the larger portion of the hundred something million orphans worldwide is not speaking to kids that need our adoption, but kids that are experiencing increased vulnerability and in need of services that help them remain in their families. We also know adoption needs to be advocated for, so that kids who can not be kept in their biological families have the chance at a family. In response to the level of need for each, adoption needs to be the subculture. Bear with me. I think they can co-exist, family preservation at the forefront- I think this is what we see being advocated for w/ domestic adoption in America. There is a need for adoption and there are people speaking up about the needs of the children here, however, the processes in place favor family preservation before a child can be adopted. In this case, family preservation is and should be the culture, as you identified, but we need people pushing for adoption of the kids that need it, creating a sort of subculture.

Abide Family Center said...

First, I wanted to say how excellently you laid out this conversation. Thank you for that. I am going to both agree and disagree with your conclusion that these two cultures can't co-exist. I do not think, as two dominant cultures, that the goal of preserving families and adoption can simultaneously exist. When this is the case, the two are competing, and so much of the time, for the same kiddos. For example, to those 100% team adoption a "total orphan" is adoptable, where as those in the camp of family preservation will exhaust all efforts toward kinship care before considering adoption outside the extended family. A dominant culture of adoption doesn't leave space for better services toward family preservation, it just doesn't. Family preservation needs to be the dominant culture because it represents the biggest need. We know that the larger portion of the hundred something million orphans worldwide is not speaking to kids that need our adoption, but kids that are experiencing increased vulnerability and in need of services that help them remain in their families. We also know adoption needs to be advocated for, so that kids who can not be kept in their biological families have the chance at a family. In response to the level of need for each, adoption needs to be the subculture. Bear with me. I think they can co-exist, family preservation at the forefront- I think this is what we see being advocated for w/ domestic adoption in America. There is a need for adoption and there are people speaking up about the needs of the children here, however, the processes in place favor family preservation before a child can be adopted. In this case, family preservation is and should be the culture, as you identified, but we need people pushing for adoption of the kids that need it, creating a sort of subculture.

Jon said...

Hi Grace, thanks for the well-written piece. I know I'm a bit late to the conversation, but I wanted to take issue with your conclusion here:

"To take it a step further, I don't think that a "culture of family preservation" and a "culture of adoption" can co-exist. You can't have both simultaneously; they are contradictory-opposites. It's like saying you are nurturing both a culture of daytime and a culture of nighttime. It just doesn't work."

I think you're missing the mark here, and let me explain why by using a different comparison. We teach people to drive safely by using classes, videos and in-vehicle instruction that encourage a "culture" of safe driving. At the same time, we train emergency workers to deal with medical trauma that results from car accidents. Are these two efforts at odds with each other? If we operate under the assumption that people are going to require treatment for injuries from car accidents, aren't we basically incentivizing people to drive recklessly? No, of course not -- both efforts, while approaching the problem from opposite perspectives, are aimed at the preservation of the driver's well-being. No amount of the former is going to obviate the latter, and vice versa.

This is how family preservation and adoption work, or should work. Family preservation -- first and foremost. But not every family can be preserved, and that's where adoption comes in. Both sides seek the well-being of the child. This is not to say there aren't adoptions that are done badly, nor that there aren't family preservation efforts that are misguided. But each effort is essential in its role.

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