What Happened to Family First? Separating Families at the Border in 2018

toddler crying with border agent at mexico us border

 

In February, 2018, President Trump signed the Family First Preservation Services Act into law. Known as the Family First Act, this sweeping legislation was the biggest change to the structure of federal child welfare funding since 1980.  Aimed at allotting more resources to help vulnerable families remain together and limit the number of children who end up in foster care, the Family First Act is broken into three main parts. Today, we’ll focus on the parts of Family First that help keep families intact and why it’s important in June, 2018.

Family First: Focusing on Services that Help Families Remain Together

The Family First Act changed how states can use Title IV-E funding (entitlement funds that pay for child welfare) to prevent children from entering foster care systems across the United States. Before its passage, Title IV-E funds could only be spent on foster care or adoptive placements.  Under Family First, Title IV-E funds can be used to prevent children from entering foster care.  Here’s how this works:

Time-Limited Services:

  • Mental health services to help families identified as “at-risk” of being separated by foster care.
  • Substance abuse treatment services to help caregivers identified as being “at-risk” of having children removed by child welfare systems.
  • In-home parent skills programs to help parents identified as “at-risk” of having children removed by child welfare systems.

Individuals for Services Under Family First:

  • Parents or relative caregivers of youth identified as “at-risk” for foster care.
  • Youth in foster care who are currently parenting or who are pregnant.

In addition to adding time-limited services for families and youth at-risk of entering foster care, the Family First Act also removes time limits on funding for reunification services.  Under Family First, there is no limit on how long a child can receive reunification-based services once they enter foster care.  This means that a child in foster care whose goal is to return home to their family can use Title IV-E-approved services to meet that goal for as long as it remains feasible. Title IV-E funds can also be used for an additional 15 months to support a family once reunification has occurred.

In order to receive services under Family First, a formal prevention plan must be initiated with a foster care candidate that includes how the child will remain safely in the home and outline which services the family will use to achieve success under the prevention plan.  The Family First Act has invited the Department of Health and Human Services to oversee prevention planning as states begin to participate.

The Family First Act formally begins in October, 2019.  The Federal government is matching fifty percent of funds between 2019 and 2026 under Family First to approved providers.

A Cause Célèbre for Child Welfare Organizations

Research shows us that remaining with biological family is what’s best for children. Being separated for long periods of time from parents or relatives has permanent and irreversible impacts on children that can last a lifetime.  The goal of foster care should always be reunification with parents or biological caregivers, but the goal of child welfare should always be to avoid removal from family whenever possible.  When birth-families cannot remain intact and where reunification is not possible, it is the duty of ethical child welfare agencies to act responsibly to ensure children are settled with qualified, loving parents who can support them over a lifetime within the fabric of a permanent family system.

The Family First Act addresses some of the most pressing issues in foster care and family health today.  By allowing organizations to use Title IV-E funding to assist at-risk families before separation occurs, and to provide them continued support after reunification, the Family First Act has the potential to prevent the unnecessary division of otherwise healthy but vulnerable families. By expanding access to difficult-to-obtain services like mental healthcare and substance abuse treatment to parents seeking help, Family First can break the cycle of abuse and substance dependency when we desperately need it.

On February 9th, when President Donald Trump signed the Family First Act into law, the bill’s key sponsor Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL) said, “This bill makes sure that children are protected and families are not split up unnecessarily.  Our current system creates a perverse incentive to place children in foster care. Breaking up families should be a last resort.”

What Happened to Family First on the Border?

Beginning in mid-April, 2018, the Trump Administration began separating migrant children from their parents as they entered the United States at the US-Mexico border, citing a “zero-tolerance policy for illegal entry” into the country.  Reports are growing that children as young as 8 months are being housed in encampments behind chainlink fences in border states, grouped in cells under thermal blankets without toys, age-appropriate stimuli and other items critical to the developing brains of children.  The administration and proponents of family separation claim children cannot be housed together in detention with their parents, who’ve been arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, despite this being an ongoing practice over the past two administrations.

When children arrive at encampments, The Department of Health and Human Services process their intakes through the Office of Refugee Resettlement.  HHS facilities along the border have been rapidly reconverted to house children (including a Wal-Mart Supercenter), and little is known about where they will be placed after they are released from detention. Congressman Joaquin Castro (D-TX) reported witnessing an 8 month old infant at such a facility in Texas who’d been living at the detention facility for several weeks.

The dichotomy between what is happening on our border and the intent behind The Family First Act is shocking. After forcibly separating a child from their parent, the immediate effects are physical. The child begins crying, his heart rate elevates, and increased stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline can be observed. Blood pressure rises. Often, verbal children will report physical symptoms like headache and stomach discomfort.

As separation time increases, the untrained caregiver may note that the child is calming down and assume he has recovered.  This is when silent stress begins.  Particularly if a child cannot communicate with a caregiver (if the child is pre-verbal, or when a language barrier is present), depression and anxiety begin to develop. A dramatic reduction in the brain’s electrical activity can be noted. Over time, the brain’s grey matter is reduced. Conditions like PTSD, separation anxiety, panic attack disorders and impulse control may begin. Children who’ve experienced long-term separation from their primary early caregivers face an increased risk of comorbidities like heart disease, diabetes, cancer and substance abuse disorder.  On June 14th, the President of the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a Press Release calling the separation of families at the border “child abuse” and “everything we stand against as pediatricians”.  Learn more about the physical impact of family separation here.

What Can You Do to Make a Difference?

Remember that this is not a political issue- people across the political spectrum are voicing their dissent against this policy.  Protecting our borders is possible without traumatizing children. Children are being targeted and time is of the essence. Speaking out against this inhumane treatment at our country’s own borders is imperative, and your voice is a critical tool. Reminding your friends and family that how we navigate shameful spots in history is remembered individually and as groups. Adoptions Together has always stood against the separation of families within our borders, and today, we stand against the separation of families at our borders. Your stand against family separation is what is best for children and it’s what’s best for families. 

Contact your elected representative and voice your dissent against the inhumane treatment of children and their families at our borders today.

 


Kinship Care: Is It for You?

grandparents walking with two young children

As you think about your pregnancy options, have you considered kinship care, or family placement?

Many expecting parents prefer to place their child in the care of someone they already know. While only you can decide what’s right for your family, we’re here to help you explore this option.

Kinship Care — More Than Free Babysitting

The tradition of relatives helping raise a child has been around much longer than child welfare agencies. Kinship arrangements mean more than having an extra pair of hands to help with diaper changes or grocery trips, however. State and federal laws recognize kinship care as an official type of foster care.

Ever since the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980, relatives are the first to be given the choice of raising children whose parents cannot be the primary caregivers. As of September 2016, 32 percent of children in the foster care system were placed in foster homes with relatives.

What some expecting parents don’t realize is that they can explore the option of kinship care before their baby is born, similar to the adoption process.

All in the Family

Like adoption, kinship care can take many forms. Although the kinship care model typically means literal “kin” or family, it also can include a close friend who cares for your child.

In some arrangements, the birth parents maintain legal custody of their child, with the kinship foster parents assuming physical custody and day-to-day parenting responsibilities. This type of agreement allows birth parents to still make decisions concerning their child. In other arrangements, kinship parents receive both legal and physical custody of the child.

Kinship care is a common type of adoption for teenage birth parents. Often, it starts out as a temporary arrangement and becomes permanent if the relative chooses to adopt the child.

Because some kinship arrangements start out informally, kinship parents don’t always receive the same recognition or support as other adoptive or foster parents. The needs and demands of kinship parenting are just as real, however. We encourage kinship parents to seek counseling and support services from experts who can help them care for themselves and their loved ones. Kinship caregivers may also find assistance through national resources and state programs like the DC Child and Family Services Agency’s Grandparent Subsidy Program.

Family Matters

Families can be complicated and messy, and they come with their own set of challenges. Similarly, placement of a child within a family comes with many special considerations.

One of the most unique parts of kinship care is that the child’s kinship parent also has a personal connection with the birth parent. This can be comforting for older children entering kinship care, since they are going to live with someone they already know.

On the other hand, these same ties can make it difficult for kinship caregivers to “own” the role of parent from the start. While it takes time, it is important for kinship parents to model stability around roles, routines and a sense of home to the children in their care.

Another hurdle that kinship parents might not expect is the foster care system and its many policies and requirements — many have only the experience of raising their own children to guide them. And when kinship parents are the child’s grandparents, just the thought of raising a child in today’s era may be overwhelming.

Support from experts and other families bonded by this unique type of arrangement can help kinship parents provide a stable home for the children they already know and love. If you’re thinking about placing your child permanently or temporarily with a relative and want to chat with a counselor, contact us anytime via email, text message, phone or by chatting with us online.


Can I get paid to give my baby up for adoption?

“Can I get paid to put my baby up for adoption?”. We get asked this question a lot, and it’s time to talk about it.

In Maryland, it is legal for adoptive parents and licensed adoption agencies to pay “reasonable expenses” for women considering adoption for their babies. The payment of “reasonable expenses,” which generally includes necessities such as housing, food, and clothing, was already legal in 37 states, and until Maryland passed a law allowing adoption agencies and adoptive parents to help birth mothers with these costs, Maryland families and agencies were only allowed to help cover birth mothers’ medical and legal bills. As a result, some birth mothers were choosing to make adoption plans with families out-of-state so that they could receive financial assistance with living expenses while pregnant.

Help During a Tough Time

Birth mothers who were going out of state in order to receive financial assistance were not always able to find an ethical adoption agency or attorney who ensured that they received thorough counseling and legal representation. Legalizing the payment of birth mother expenses in Maryland was good news in terms of protecting the rights of birth parents. It was also good news because most birth parents are already struggling in some way, and those struggles only increase once they become pregnant. Many women who are considering adoption do not have stable housing; they live with family members, rent rooms, or stay in shelters. They are often either unemployed or underemployed, and those who have been able to find work risk losing their job once their employer finds out about the pregnancy. If you’ve ever been in this boat, then you are well aware that even a small amount of financial assistance with paying rent or buying food can make a big difference to the physical and emotional health of a pregnant woman.

Under Pressure

We also need to acknowledge, however, that financial assistance can add pressure to an already emotionally difficult situation. Even when we do a lot of counseling with birth mothers and they understand that legally they can change their minds about their adoption plan at any point until their parental rights expire, they usually still feel a deeper sense of obligation to make an adoption plan if they have received financial assistance during their pregnancy. We never want a woman to go through with an adoption simply because she feels she can’t change her mind, so the fact that Maryland women can now receive financial assistance makes providing emotional support and counseling for birth parents during their decision-making period more crucial than ever.

A Temporary Solution

And of course, whatever financial assistance a birth parent receives during her pregnancy is only temporary, which is why birth parents should always work with an adoption counselor to come up with a reasonable amount to request. For example, it probably isn’t wise for a birth mother to ask for assistance in paying rent for an especially expensive apartment that she will no longer be able to afford after her pregnancy.

If you’re considering adoption and need to chat with a counselor about financial assistance, contact us anytime.  You can reach us via email, text message, by phone, or by chatting with us online. 


How Will I Know If Adoption is Right for My Baby?

Birth mothers often ask us how they can know for sure whether their decision to place a baby for adoption was the right choice to make. We wish we could give them an answer so they wouldn’t have to wonder, but unfortunately we can’t.

No matter how well we’ve gotten to know a birth mother, we only see tidbits of her life. We don’t understand what it feels like to be in her shoes every day, what she is ready for, or what will be too difficult for her. No one but a birth parent can know whether adoption was the right choice for them.

The question is normal, though. When we make difficult decisions, we often look for signs that might tell us whether we’ve made the right one. Sometimes we find them, but other times we don’t. Trying to find meaning, to find lessons, is part of the cycle of grief, loss and healing.

But what if we stopped looking for signs, and just made them ourselves? What if, instead of waiting for them, we made meaning from our choices?

People choose adoption for all sorts of different reasons. The circumstances that led you to choose adoption for your baby might or might not have been in your control. What you definitely can control, right here and right now, is what you decide to do now that you’ve made the choice. Did you choose adoption so you could pursue your education? Use this experience to help you stay dedicated to that goal. Did you choose adoption in order to better provide for your other children? Spend extra time playing with them and nurturing them (they grow up fast!). Did you choose adoption so you could try to make some changes in your life? Remind yourself what those changes were, and reprioritize them if you need to.  Remember that we are here for you when you need us.

You won’t necessarily get a sign that adoption was the right choice for you to make. The only way to be sure is to create it yourself. There will be times when you doubt yourself, but you can use those painful moments to propel you forward. Your adoption story is a part of your life, and every step you take is a chance to write that story yourself.

Have you ever doubted your adoption decision? How have you determined whether you made the right choice?


Use PACE to Help Adopted Children Feel Safe and Supported

This post was written by the Director of FamilyWorks Together, Alisha Wolf, LGSW, MPH.  Alisha oversees the counseling, training, education, and special projects teams at Adoptions Together & FamilyWorks Together.  She received her bachelors from Skidmore College in English and Spanish and her Masters in Social Work and Maternal and Child Health from UNC Chapel Hill.  During her graduate studies, Alisha focused on issues surrounding adoption, foster care, and early childhood mental health.

As a follow-up to my blog post about playfulness, I wanted to explain in more depth each part of the PACE model: Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity and Empathy.

PACE is a way of thinking, feeling and interacting with a child that helps the child feel safe. Children with a trauma history have learned that the world is an unpredictable and dangerous place. The adults caring for these children can send messages of safety by utilizing PACE.

PACE is based on how parents connect with infants, and the model holds true for connecting to children of all ages. Creating safety gives your child the opportunity to explore the world, their family and themselves.

Below are ways you can use PACE to make your child feel safe and supported, and in turn, help maintain your relationship:

Playfulness

Read my Playfulness blog post to learn how to bring out your sillies this week—even when it’s hard!

Acceptance

The Acceptance component of PACE asks parents to accept their child’s thoughts, feelings and choices. It does not mean accepting bad behavior, but instead accepting the fundamental characteristics and traits that make your child unique and special. Acceptance can help your child’s self-confidence and understand that bad behavior does not equate to a bad self.

For example, if your child says they do not like where they live, accept that the feeling is valid and then challenge it with follow-up questions like, “Why do you say that?”

Curiosity

Showing your child that you want to get to know them and are interested in their thoughts and feelings is critical. It may be difficult to have discussions with your child in instances when you do not understand their behavior (i.e., they may not want to go to school that day), but asking questions to ascertain what they are thinking and feeling will help build and maintain trust. Combined with the concept of Acceptance, Curiosity can ensure your child feels heard and understood in a judgement-free zone.

Empathy

Empathy with all children is important. However, showing Empathy to a child who has a history of trauma is necessary to build a strong relationship. One way to practice empathy is to put yourself in your child’s shoes and try to imagine the world from their point of view, then act and speak to them with that in mind.

How have you incorporated the PACE model in your parenting? What advice would you give to new parents who want to start practicing this model of parenting? Let me know in the comments!


Adoption vs. Safe Haven Laws: What You Should Know

pregnant woman wearing white shirt cradling her belly

Adoption vs. Safe Haven Laws: The Important Differences

In the 1990s, there was a surge in the number of babies being abandoned by their birth parents. Because they were left in unsafe places, many of them died. If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed by pregnancy or parenthood, it’s easy to imagine how these parents felt when they left their babies alone: frightened, uncertain, and desperate.

In response to these deaths, many states enacted what are known as Safe Haven Laws. Safe Haven Laws allow parents to leave an infant at a designated location – usually a hospital, police station, or fire station – and as long as the baby has not been harmed, the parent will not be punished for leaving them. Proponents of the laws hoped that they would encourage birth parents who felt they couldn’t care for their children to leave them in a place where the baby could be found and cared for, instead of abandoning them unsafely where they might not be found.

The well-being of children is our top priority at Adoptions Together. We believe that Safe Haven laws work well when they keep babies from being harmed. However, we feel that it is crucial for birth parents to know that Safe Haven is very different from choosing adoption for your baby through a non-profit agency.

If you are pregnant or a new parent and feel like you need someone else to take custody of your baby, take a moment to learn about the differences between using Safe Haven laws and choosing adoption.

Difference #1: Adoption gives you time to be certain about your decision.

Everyone feels overwhelmed at times. Some problems seem too hard to solve. But most of the time help is available, even if it seems difficult to find. An ethical adoption agency will help you access resources that can help you decide whether parenting is the right choice for you.  And adoption agency’s job is to help support you and help make a plan that’s right for your family. Safe Haven placements are designed to be anonymous- you don’t get that type of support, and you can’t just change your mind once you’re feeling better; you’ve already given up custody of your child. Plus, if you decide one day that you want to know how your child is doing, you won’t necessarily have the right to get in touch the way you would if you arranged for an open adoption through an agency.

Difference #2: With adoption, you are in control.

Ethical adoption agencies like Adoptions Together put you in control of your baby’s adoption process. This means that you can choose the adoptive family you want to raise your child and that you can determine what kind of adoption relationship you’d like to have with your child’s family, whether that means yearly letter-and-picture updates, in-person meetings, or other arrangements. If you give up custody of your baby under a Safe Haven law, the baby will go into the social services foster care system and their future will be determined from there. Not only can this take up to a year – which is a long time for a baby not to have a permanent family – but you don’t have any control over who eventually adopts your baby. Nor can you specify what type of contact you’d like to have with them and with your child in the future.

Ultimately, we all want children to be safe. If leaving your child at a Safe Haven location is the best way for you to keep them out of harm’s way, then we trust you to make that choice. But we also want you to stay safe, both physically and emotionally, and we don’t want you to give up your right to be a part of your child’s life if there might be another way. If you’re in crisis and worried about caring for your baby, we hope you’ll call us or another licensed agency so we can figure out a plan – together.


Will You Spend Time With Your Baby in the Hospital?

Making a hospital plan when you decide to place a baby for adoption can be stressful. If you’ve already talked to an adoption counselor, you’ve probably heard her say, “only you know what’s right for you”, so let’s build on that and talk about how things might work in the hospital when your baby is born.

Over the years, many birth parents who chose not to spend time with their baby in the hospital have told us that they regretted that decision. Some of them chose not to see their baby because they worried that doing so would make it even more difficult to go through with their adoption plan. Interestingly, we’ve found the opposite is true. In our experience, birth mothers who see and hold their baby after delivery tend to be better able to process the adoption later on because they don’t have unanswered questions about what their baby looked like or about what it would have felt like to hold, smell, and hear their baby.

If you are in the process of making an adoption plan, you may worry that spending time with your baby will create a bond between the two of you that will then make it impossible for you to place them with another family. When blogger Liz held her baby, her baby’s birth father warned her, “Be careful Liz, you’re creating that bond…” He assumed that their spending time together would make the adoption process more emotionally difficult for Liz. But Liz’ description of that moment says it all: “Little did he know, [my baby] and I already had the most powerful bond on earth.” In the end, adoption is bittersweet no matter what; deciding not to see your baby won’t change that.

Importantly, many of the birth mothers we’ve worked who have changed their mind about adoption were the same ones who made the decision not to spend much or any time with their baby while in the hospital. In some cases, their unanswered questions and feelings became too overwhelming and they ended up going back on the entire plan. As the folks over at Birthmom Buds explain, “Many birthmoms have regretted not spending time with their baby but we have never come across a birthmom who spent time with her baby and regretted it afterward.” We’ve found this to be quite true, and so have a number of birth parent bloggers, including Janel Indingaro, who spent time with her baby and the adoptive family in the hospital:

“I have photographs of all four of us spending time in my room. In the photos we are laughing and holding this sweet precious girl and I cherish those pictures. I am glad that I had this time with the three of them which helped me find a comfort zone with everything going on around me. During my hospital stay, I had no idea of the coming whirlwind of emotions I would soon cope with…”

In fact, far from wishing she hadn’t spent time with her baby before placement, Janel wishes that she had gone one step further and had fed her baby too: “If I could change anything about the delivery room and the recovery room, it would be getting the opportunity to feed [her]. I wish I would have said, ‘I want to hold her; I want to provide food for her.’ ”

Remember, seeing and spending time with your baby doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing scenario. You get to decide how much contact you want to have. Maybe you want to look at your baby through the nursery window but not hold them. Or perhaps you’d like to have just an hour or two with your baby. You’re in control; you get to make the plan, and you can always change your mind.

And we know we’ve said it before, but……only you can know what’s right for you!


Will I Have to Tell the Birth Father?

“Do you need the father’s consent to put a baby up for adoption?”

Birth fathers have the same rights as birth mothers in most states. In order to ensure that adoption placements are legally safe, we make every effort to contact the birth father to obtain his permission to move forward with the adoption process.  Your adoption counselor is trained to make this process as smooth as safe and stress free as it can be.

More About Birth Father Consents

One of the hardest topics for our birth parent counselors to bring up with birth mothers focus on father’s rights. Many birth moms have difficult relationships with birth fathers and would do just about anything to keep from talking about him or getting him involved in the adoption process.

If they don’t know very much about him, they might be embarrassed to tell us how casual the relationship was, no matter how many times we explain that we understand casual relationships and support women. If the relationship is tumultuous, they may be mad at themselves for having had sex with him – birth moms can be very hard on themselves! We have also worked with many survivors of sexual assault, who are worried that we won’t believe them or who feel ashamed about what happened, even though we firmly believe that sexual assault is never the victim’s fault. We’ve also worked on our fair share of cases where the birth father was mean, uncaring, or just generally difficult- cases in which the birth mom often assumed that the adoption process would go more smoothly if he just stayed out of it. (P.S. We’ve also worked with some wonderful birth fathers – that’s just not the subject of this post!)

If you are worried about talking to your adoption agency about your baby’s birth father, you’re not alone. Most of the birth mothers we work with are not in a committed relationship with their baby’s birth father. Every individual person and relationship is unique and complicated, and no good counselor or social worker will ever judge your situation.  Any ethical agency should be committed to ensuring your adoption is safe and legal, so contacting your baby’s birth father is in your best interest. They should also be committed to working with you to do that in whatever way is most comfortable and least upsetting.

If you are not comfortable or don’t feel safe contacting the birth father yourself, an ethical agency will work very closely and carefully with you to make sure you stay safe and out of danger. Birth fathers who are abusive usually don’t want to be found because they know their actions are wrong and they fear being charged with a crime. Typically, in these situations when an agency makes the “good faith effort” required by law, these birth fathers often find a way to stay out of sight. And even if your baby’s birth father is not abusive but you know he is going to make things difficult for you, we promise – and any other ethical agency will promise – to stand by you and do whatever we can to make the process bearable while also following the law.

If getting permission from your baby’s birth father is holding you back from making an adoption plan- contact us and we can help.

Were you worried about talking to your adoption agency about your child’s birth father? How did it turn out?


Inspiration is in the Heart of the Beholder: An Adoptee’s Work Exploring Her Identity

This post was written by Laura X. Williams, an international transracial adoptee, who was adopted from Yiwu, China at 7 months old. Laura researches adoption and is the Special Programs Coordinator for 2018 Holt Adoptee Summer camp. She will be speaking at Adoptions Together’s annual conference, Voices of Transracial Adoptees on April 21, 2018.

 

Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.” –Fred Rogers

Mister Rogers always puts the struggle in perspective for me. Did you know his sister was adopted? As the movie theaters and nostalgic adults prepare for the release of Won’t You Be My Neighbor? on June 8th, I have been doing some deep thinking around the meaning of community, belonging, and what neighborhood looks like for internationally adopted, transracial adoptees.

Run-down on who I am and how I know what I know: I am an adoptee from Yiwu, China, adopted when I was 7-months old in 1995. My family’s labour pains began in the Hangzhou airport, the plane was the delivery canal through which I was rebirthed into my forever world, the Newark air-port solidified my delivery. “Welcome!” said America, “You are now the proud daughter of two Jersey born-and-raised white parents.”  We stayed in New Jersey for 19 years since then and have always had a cat around. Now, I’m 5-foot 5-inches college graduate who has made it her mission in life to foster collaborative adoption reform in the name of a more livable world for all.

What inspires you?

What initially inspired me or what inspires me to do what I do on a daily basis?

Pursuing the inquiry of adoption occurred to me as an innate, almost atavistic curiosity once society enlisted me into a future of higher education. Growing up being different in ways I had not chosen for myself, never felt troublesome. It just was. This was partly my attitude and partly my parents extremely proactive attempts to connect me with Chinese people in the United States. The spheres of Chinese dance, Families with Children from China, Chinese school, Also Known As, Inc., Chinatown NYC all became the interwoven fibers of who I was becoming. My parents tell me they would high-five ‘behind-the-scenes’ when I voiced a difficult adoption question:  “why was I given up?” “where are my birth parents?”, “what is wrong with me?”  They were just so happy I felt comfortable enough from a young age to talk to them about adoption things. It inspired my subconscious.

I’ve always wanted to help people. Once I learned to fold fortune tellers, I went on an 8-year-old’s campaign selling them for money I intended to send to my orphanage (update: the campaign didn’t last past my family during Thanksgiving dinner). I understood there were people somewhere (China) who somehow (orphanage) sustained me for the first 5,110 hours of my life. But is and has been a process for me to hold them in my heart as human instead of just a concept out in space. I may never meet them or be able to directly thank them for my salvation who felt me when I couldn’t feel myself? I need to understand myself, for something deep within me sings a melody of transgression. And I never wanted to land in a meaningless desk job. So, I used the tool around me of education to struggle through the lack of choice, disconnection because of it, and  a humanizing gratitude while meeting other adoptees who may be seeking the same social validation I was looking for.

Now what?

I remember in high school, sitting under dimmed spotlights, behind a microphone, in front of an audience of my first-generation Asian-American peers to tell them, “Tonight we heard raw stories of our strength and courage as Asian-Americans. I feel so connected to both the Asian-American community and the Adoptee community, I draw on the strength of both communities. I am double supported and feel empowered because I am of both.” I recurrently have to check my privilege.  When identity exploration informs each element of how we live our lives, and when part of that identity is a big question mark, no wonder it gets complex fast.

My mentor who is a transnational, transracial adoptee herself gives a great metaphor “It’s like, Bill Nye loves touching the slimy bacteria for science, while other people would rather not. It is the same in our pursuit of understanding adoption, some people would rather not go there while others like us, like to sit in the muck.” There’s something about complex “muck” of adoption that attracts people like me to interrogate and encourage myself to create meaning in our complex web of inter-connected relationships. I think we are all in a constant state of love- having to adjust our worldviews in order to love the most. That constant adjustment is my survival, my sustenance.

When I feel drained by the amount of intellectual and emotional energy I exert as an adoptee working in adoption, talking with other Chinese adoptees reminds me I am doing meaningful work. Giving the gift of validation for someone ungrounded is only the beginning of a deeper exchange. I’ve come to believe, no matter how micro a conversation may be, in the grand scheme of things, it holds the power to transform our social world. Even if it just transforms you.

Mister Rogers inspires me, my friendships guide me, my presence grounds me and I look forward to spreading the love in the neighborhood!

 


The Myth of the Careless Teenage Birth Parent

birth-mother-and-child

Let’s talk about teenage birth parents.

Who are they?

Getting pregnant, no matter how old you are, doesn’t mean you’re careless. And although there are thousands of teenage birth parents, there are even more birth parents who placed a baby for adoption as adults.

It’s time to dispel some of the birth parent myths which too many people still believe. With the help of the Donaldson Institute’s 2006 study “Safeguarding the Rights and Well-Being of Birth Parents in the Adoption Process,” we went ahead and took a look.

 

Myth: Most birth parents are teenagers.

Fact: Birth parents are an extremely diverse group.  But, statistics show that most birth moms today are high school graduates in their 20s, many of whom are already parenting other children. Only about 25 percent of birth parents are teenagers.

 

Myth: Most birth parents are drug users.

Fact: Many Americans struggle with substance abuse, and so do some birth parents, but that doesn’t mean that all birth parents abuse drugs. Every year about 13,000 to 14,000 women place an infant for adoption, and they each have their own unique situation and story.

 

Myth: Birth parents “give up” their babies for adoption because they don’t care about them.

Fact: Most birth parents choose adoption out of love for their babies and feel a deep loss after placement. Those who have open adoptions and are able to know how their child is doing as they grow up have been shown to experience lower levels of grief and greater peace of mind as time goes on. The term “give up my baby for adoption” is not positive adoption language, and we don’t use it!

 

Myth: Birth parents want to drop their babies off and never see them again.

Fact: Birth parents have the right to choose the level of openness they want in their adoption, and Adoptions Together respects the needs of those who do not wish to keep in touch. However, most birth parents say they do want to have contact with their child and their child’s family after placement, or at least receive information about how their child is doing. If you choose to place a child for adoption, we can help you decide what level of openness you’re comfortable with.

 

Myth: Sometimes biological parents don’t realize that adoption is the best choice for them and need a friend, family member, social worker, or medical professional to help them understand why it is.

Fact: No parent should be pressured into placing a child for adoption. Research shows that those who feel pressured into adoption have a much harder time healing after and adoption takes place. This is why Adoptions Together supports state laws that require thorough in-person counseling as well as waiting periods during which birth parents can change their minds.

If you’re a pregnant teenager and you’re interested in learning about your options, feel free to contact one of our pregnancy counselors at any time of day by calling 301-439-2900, or sending us a private email at pregnant@adoptionstogether.org.  Your calls and emails are 100% confidential, and we can’t reveal anything to your parents.

What other birth parent myths have you come across? Tell us in the comments!