One size doesn't fit

Well, that little endeavor certainly crashed and burned. I thought I had learned my lesson after the last effort, but apparently I needed one more smack in the head to get it: You can't separate your "voices." You get one, and you have to figure out how to make all the pieces, which may not always fit together, speak in harmony. So I guess if I want to occasionally blather on somewhere it will have to be here.

I tried an angry voice and actually liked it a lot, but found it made me a lot angrier than I wanted to be in general, and also pushed me to write more for the reaction than from my heart. And then I tried a happy voice and didn't like it at all. I'm a pretty happy person, but when I'm talking about adoption I guess I just can't divorce the bad from the good.

So here I am again. I think I'll level set, because I think the three or four of you who may still check in here deserve to know what's been eating at me. I think I can sum it up by saying my experiences as an adoptive parent have felt way out of sync with my thoughts on adoption reform. Writing and speaking and talking almost exclusively about the bad stuff these past few years has put me into a corner that hasn't allowed me to reflect on the rest of my and my family's experience. I'm an ordinary person, but I believe those experiences have value and can be helpful to families just starting out.

Why, you may ask, do you feel so cornered? I'll give you an example. Before I ditched the last failed blog, I wrote that I believe saving adoption is worth the effort. A friend commented that we should look to Sweden's model, which by providing sufficient support to single mothers has reduced such adoptions to something like eight a year.

Honestly, it made me angry, not at my friend, but at the fact that I felt I had to defend what is, in my opinion, sort of a no brainer. I could have responded there, but I think that blog was already a gonner in my head, so here's what I would have said, by numbers. The foster care and adoption statistics come the 2011 AFCARS report, and the surrender stat from Child Welfare Information Gateway and Evan B. Donaldson reports.

  • Children in foster care in 2011: 400,540
  • Children in foster care waiting for adoption 2011: 104,236
  • Children waiting for adoption whose parental rights were terminated in 2011:  61,361
  • Children for whom adoption was a case goal in 2011: 94,629
  • Children adopted in 2011: 49,866
  • Surrenders: ~14,000
[Note 1/10/13: A friend suggested that we should ditch the "voluntary" label because it is misleading and in many (most? all?) cases incorrect. So I'm striking it out here and will bear this good advice in mind when talking about this in the future. Thank you, Suz!]

14,000 surrenders are not an insignificant number. However, when we succeed in reducing or ending these, adoption will still be in the picture (presuming we agree that children for whom they are an option deserve families rather than institutional care). We should work to ensure these adoptions are truly the best option for the child, to ensure they are ethical, to protect these adoptees' right, and to prepare the adoptive parents for their important responsibilities.

I know that these are U.S. domestic adoption statistics and that numbers will vary by country, but the drivers will likely include tragedy and surrender in varying ratios. If I'm right, the challenge remains the same the world over: stop the unnecessary adoptions and ensure the ones that take place are focused on the child and not the adoptive parents.

Two articles came across my radar screen over the past couple of days say what I'm trying to say far better than I can. The first is a 2007 article by Hollee McGinnis for the New York Times Relative Choices blog that I read back then and am glad I found again. This in particular struck a chord with me:
Personally, I am not for adoption or against it. I can see its value and also its limitation. What I am for are choices. The argument for me is not whether international adoption should be abolished or promoted, but rather how to maximize options for children so that all can reach their full potential, be it with those who bore them or those willing to adopt them at home or abroad, or for those children who have no option but to grow up in an institution.
The other is an intelligent, wise guest post by JaeRan Kim for the Riley's in Uganda. Read it, save it, and read it again and again. JaeRan makes a lot of important points in this article, but these two, from separate paragraphs in the article, hit home:

... I do not think that international adoption should never be an option – but it should child specific and the last option. And it should never, ever be solely because an adoptive parent desires to adopt. Adoption should be about finding families for children, not children for families, and families who want to adopt a child from another race, culture and country should be prepared to show they are the best option for that child. Having a two story house, private school options, music or soccer activities – those only show that someone has money, not the qualifications that are best suited to parent a child that has experienced separation, abandonment, and trauma in a culturally sensitive way. ...

... People gripe a lot about those “anti-adoption” folks. I think that when adoption is seen as a commodity and a right that adults have then sure that might look hostile. But being “anti-adoption” to me says something different – the goal is not to increase adoptions but to decrease them because children are being cared for in their families and communities. I say all the time that as someone who works in adoptions, I’m working to make my job obsolete because children are safe in their families and communities. ...

I'm trying to work on both fronts: to make adoption unnecessary and to make it ethical and child focused. This puts me at odds with myself, but what can I do? It is what it is, and I'm not fighting it anymore.


Susan P. said…
Margie, glad to see you're writing again! Sometimes I have to back off my blog because I find myself having to focus on negative things, when generally I am a content person. I loved my parents, love my husband and children, and cherish my six grandchildren. But all of that doesn't make sealed birth certificates OK, and I remain disgusted at how adult adoptees are treated in this country. Will things change anytime soon? Who knows? But it's nice to know there are many out there, like yourself, who recognize that to serve adoptees well, adoption must change.
Rebecca Hawkes said…
"I'm trying to work on both fronts: to make adoption unnecessary and to make it ethical and child focused." Yup, I'm right there with you. I also echo Susan - glad to see you writing again!
Psychobabbler said…
Margie, may I reframe that? It doesn't have to be looked at as being at odds with yourself. That's a very either-or, polar way of approaching things. It fits the way things have tended to roll in adoptionland, but it doesn't fit the reality that we live in a world of nuance. I have chosen to look at it as having the flexibility to embrace the value of multiple perspectives...
Margie said…
Susan and Rebecca, thanks very much. Here's hoping I finally come to grips with this frustration so I can get back to writing with pleasure again. I have missed it!

PB, you are always the wise one. And you're right: I know there's far more nuance involved with these issues than I express here. Strangely, though, when I try to puzzle it out I always end up in that either or position. I need to find a way to start looking at things on a spectrum rather than from their end points.
gogo grrrls said…
There's doing something, or having done something in those realities... and then there's what you hope for. I don't see them as conflicting, tho I understand its frustration. I like both/and vs either/ or.
This post really helped me know you better. Thank you.
Lisa V said…
I think it's really hard for us that live in the gray areas of adoption. I feel much the same as you do. I'm glad to see you writing here again.
Kohana said…
Hi Margie,
I haven't been here for awhile so I guess I've missed what has happened on your blog recently, but this post resonated with me. After leaving America and gaining some distance from my focus on adoption reform, I have reconnected with my initial passion for child advocacy, including adoption for children who are in need of families. I think as long as the focus is on domestic infant adoptions, the conversation is largely about reform, but if you step back to see how we are addressing the global needs of children, that is just one piece of the puzzle. I have come to peace with taking a break from that battle, important as it is, to engage in other areas of advocacy, and our specific family's needs.
Margie said…
Kohana!!! It is so good to see you stop by!

Actually, nothing happened here, it's been happening in me. I have simply been trapped in a box of my own making, which I created by putting myself in the position of being unable to speak my mind about issues because it offended one side of the adoption community or the other, or usually all at once.

Over the past two or three years I have started new blogs that focused on aspect of my thoughts or another, but honestly that doesn't work. The problem was me. I can't say I'm comfortable with myself quite yet, but I beginning to understand what it driving my feelings and believe it will get better.

I will catch up on your blog soon, I went over for a quick look and it looks like you are doing well - wonderful! Thanks so much for commenting!
Suz said…
"14,000 voluntary surrenders are not an insignificant number."

Indeed. I bristle a bit at the word "voluntary" as it is likely highly misleading. As we both know (me more than you) voluntary is not always the case. A mother that signs a TPR may not have done it voluntarily. I was likely grouped in that statistic in 1986 and my surrender was far from voluntary. I would prefer to see something like "14,000 surrenders".

Voluntary supports the agenda that all mothers want to and are happy with their decisions. Moreover, that the surrenders are a good thing. Can we just state the numbers without adding qualifiers?
Margie said…
Suz, I let the wording of the report direct what I wrote, so take a look above and know that I will pay attention to this in future.

I know that many if not all of those surrenders are far from "voluntary." Using that language perpetuates the notion that they are. I'm glad you called this out, thanks!
suz said…
I assumed you got it from the report, that was my point. Did not think you added it.

Creative framing by the writers of the report.
Margie said…
But I passed it on, which shows how easy it can be for misconceptions and falsehoods to perpetuate themselves.

It's more than creative framing, it's a misrepresentation of the circumstances. But it's been used so much to distinguish these surrenders from those for reasons of abuse or neglect that people accept it as fact.

I should have been more observant, glad you caught it.

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