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!


Is Open Adoption the Cure for Adoption Loss?

image c/o missleaman.com

Sometimes it seems like all we ever talk about here at Adoptions Together is Open Adoption.

We talk about the research that shows that birth parents who have ongoing contact with their adopted children have lower levels of grief after placement and feel more at peace with their decision than do birth parents with closed adoptions.

We talk about how open adoption can provide reassurance for birth parents who might otherwise assume the worst about how their child is doing.

We talk about how openness mitigates any feelings of abandonment that children may have and helps them form a strong sense of self.

We talk about the importance of post-placement contact agreements and how much we wish they were legally enforceable everywhere.

All these things that we talk about are true – but they are not the whole story.

A few years ago, one of our birth parent counselors explained it this way: “openness is not the ‘solution’ to the pain of loss.” Yes, open adoption is the healthiest form of adoption when it’s possible – but it doesn’t “solve” the grief and loss that every birth parent experiences. It helps birth parents to process those painful emotions, but it doesn’t get rid of them.

In some ways, open adoption is more difficult for birth parents than is closed adoption. Some birth parents worry that they may be confusing their child about who their “real” parent is (although we have not seen this happen in the adoptions we’ve facilitated). More significantly, seeing and hearing from your child is wonderful, but it can also serve as a reminder of your loss.  It’s a tradeoff – you might experience negative feelings and memories, but you also get to see your child living and thriving in the world.

We hope you know that our strong feelings about open adoption don’t mean that we don’t understand how painful adoption can be, even in this form. People with closed adoptions and those with open adoptions both struggle with grief and loss; choosing which one is right for you means carefully considering both your emotional needs and the needs of your child.

What have your experiences with open or closed adoption been like? How do you feel about having one type of adoption versus another? Please tell us in the comments section below.

 


When Adoptee Rights Clash with Birth Parent Rights

image c/o www.washingtonblade.com

When a child is placed for adoption, their original birth certificate – the one that names their birth parents and that identifies them by the name their birth parents gave them – is “sealed,” or made private. In most states, the sealed certificate cannot easily be reopened.

Many people whose lives have been touched by adoption support the relatively recent movement to give adoptees access to their original birth certificates so that they can see their original name and the names of their birth parents. Sixteen states, including Maryland, now open or partially open adoption records to adoptees once they reach a certain age (in Maryland this age is 21). Many adoptees have used the information to search for their birth families.

“My Birth Certificate, My Rights”

People who support the unsealing of records believe that:

  • Everyone deserves to have access to their own information
  • Keeping original birth certificates sealed perpetuates shame about adoption
  • It is healthy for adoptees to know where they came from
  • Adoptees need to know who their birth parents are so they can access important medical information
  • Adoptees and birth parents should be able to communicate with one another if they want to

“My Adoption Plan, My Rights”

On the other hand, people who do not support the movement for unsealing records argue that not all birth parents want their children to have identifying information about them and that giving adoptees access to their original birth certificates violates these birth parents’ right to confidentiality. Historically, adoption professionals have promised birth parents that their identifying information would never be shared. Plus, it is important for birth parents to have some control over who knows about their decision given that adoption is often shrouded in secrecy. So the question becomes…

Whose Rights Come First?

We at Adoptions Together have generally supported the opening of adoption records because we have seen adoptees use the information to make connections with their birth parents that improve their well-being and the well-being of their birth parents. However, we are also very strong proponents of birth parents’ rights, so the idea of giving adoptees access to information that a birth parent may have specifically wanted to keep private doesn’t sit very well with us either, especially given that each birth parent has their own reasons for choosing whether or not to remain involved in their child’s life.

What do you think? Do adoptees have the right to their original birth certificates and to communicate with their birth parents based on that information? Do birth parents have a right to privacy from their biological children if they want it? What would you do if you find out that your child had seen their original birth certificate and now wanted to communicate with you? Tell us what you think in the comments section below!


The Opioid Crisis and the Child Welfare System: Launching a Response in the Face of a Landslide

The Rise of Opioid Use in the United States

 

Since the turn of the millennium, the number of overdose deaths in the United States attributed to opioid addiction have more than quintupled.   Individuals across the country facing opioid addiction struggle with access to safe treatment, support systems, and post-treatment care to successfully transition into sober living.  As the opioid epidemic surges, child welfare agencies face the overwhelming challenge of coping with some of its most vulnerable victims: children impacted by opioid use.

 

 

Child Welfare Agencies Across the Nation Struggle in the Face of the Opioid Epidemic

As the number of individuals struggling with addiction across the nation rises, so increases the demand on public foster care systems whose purpose is to provide temporary safe haven to children whose families cannot safely care for them.  When a parent is charged with a drug-related offence and incarcerated or ordered to enter a treatment program, children are often placed with a foster family during this time.

Foster care systems in states like Indiana are seeing a surge in the number of opioid related case entries over the past few years.   “We’ve gone from having 2,500 children in care, three years ago, to having 5,500 kids in care. It has just exploded our systems,” says Indiana juvenile court judge Marilyn Moore, who oversees cases in Indianapolis.  In Florida, the number of children living in foster care has tripled due to opioid related deaths.  In Philadelphia, systems are responding to the crisis by allowing foster care providers to apply for waivers that allow them to care for more than the state-mandated number of children per-home.  From 2014 to 2016, capacity waivers went up nearly 50%. More foster kids mean more stress on those foster families.

The Opioid Crisis is Disproportionately Impacting Women

As the scientific community continues to gather and analyze data related to opioid use across the United States, another fact is becoming clear: the use of opioid drugs is disproportionately impacting women.  Overdose deaths attributed to prescription pain relievers among women increased more than 400% from 1999 to 2010, compared to 237% among men.  Heroin overdose deaths among women have tripled in the last few years. From 2010 through 2013, female heroin overdoses increased from 0.4 to 1.2 per 100,000.

The number of opioid-related deaths among women is growing at an alarming rate.

So why is this data concerning for child welfare agencies? As the number of women struggling with opioid substance use rises, the number of infants born with prenatal exposure is also increasing.  Between 2000 to 2009, prenatal opioid exposure increased from 1.19 to 5.63 per 1,000 hospital births.  A few of the major barriers limiting access to prenatal substance abuse counseling and care include stigma surrounding substance use and pregnancy, risk of punishment related to prenatal substance abuse, and a lack of access to comprehensive, specialized treatment programs designed to care for pregnant women struggling with substance abuse disorders.

How Can We Effectively Handle the Burdens of this Epidemic?

  1. Remember that addiction is a disease. Individuals struggling with substance abuse challenges can be effectively treated by mental health professionals and deserve compassion and respect from their communities. Remaining focused on treatment and recovery is an ethical imperative for child welfare professionals and part of laying the foundation for community healing.
  2. As child welfare agencies struggle to respond to the burdens of the opioid epidemic, systems must dedicate resources to recovery-based programs with the goal of healing, not punishment. The more families fractured by addiction, the more challenging the work for systems designed to create healthy futures for children. By investing in the health of parents, we invest in the health of future generations.
  3. The disproportionate ways in which opioid abuse effects women across the United States directly impacts infants and children in our communities. Removing stigmas associated with prenatal substance abuse treatment, offering options for pregnant women to enter treatment programs without the risk of punishment, and expanding access to comprehensive substance abuse treatment programs that specialize in prenatal and postnatal exposure is a first step in removing barriers to keeping families together in the face of substance abuse challenges.
  4. In particular, child placement agencies must face the opioid crisis using a multi-pronged approach. First, by building and maintaining a network of community partners to act as a strong referral sources for clients who are struggling with substance abuse disorders, placement agencies can ensure that clients have access to treatment when they are ready.  Next, by communicating to your community that your placement plans include a strong referral network to treatment programs, your agency can help to ensure women and families struggling with substance abuse are able to access treatment. Additionally, by educating your teams to remain judgement-free in the face of challenging substance abuse issues across the country, we can signal that our doors are open to women and families who need our assistance during some of their most difficult times.  Finally, educating potential adoptive and resource families about the realities of parenting infants and children born with prenatal exposure ensures that we are continuing to build a qualified, loving pool of families for infants and children impacted by the opioid crisis.

If you or a client you work with is currently pregnant and struggling with opioid addiction and would like to discuss this with one of our counselors, please contact us confidentially: https://www.adoptionstogether.org/pregnant/speak-to-a-counselor/


Using Faith to Discriminate: Why Faith-Based Adoption Legislation Matters for All Adoptive and Foster Families

This week, Adoptions Together has been contacted by several LGBTQ families interested in pursuing adoption who’ve expressed concern about recent discriminatory legislative efforts in Georgia. Today, we focus on the broad sweeping impact of “faith-based” adoption legislation and how it effects all families.  This post was written by Adoptions Together Marketing Specialist, Samantha Skrok.

What’s Happening in Georgia?

Recently, the Georgia Senate passed Senate Bill 375, which would give private and public adoption and foster care agencies license to discriminate against couples based on their religious beliefs.  Known as the “Keep Faith in Adoption and Foster Care Act”, proponents of the bill claim it would allow more agencies to act in the interests of children, broadening opportunities for kids living in foster care to achieve permanency in stable homes.  Opponents of the bill point out that enacting such legislation closes the door on qualified parents whose faith doesn’t align with child welfare agencies and their employees, preventing them from serving as adoptive resources for children in need of families.

The Rise of Faith-Based Adoption Legislation

 

The total number of states allowed to discriminate against families based on religious beliefs comes in at seven (North Dakota, South Dakota, Michigan, Virginia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas).  Since the United States legalized same-sex marriage on the federal level in 2015, five states have passed laws allowing public and private adoption or foster care agencies to refuse services to clients based on their religious beliefs.  Alarmingly, Texas, South Dakota, Mississippi, and Michigan have all passed faith-based legislation permitting agencies to refuse services to children in addition to potential adoptive families.  If we include Georgia, the first few months of 2018 could see Americans in eight states facing faith-based adoption legislation that targets families based on religious grounds.

 

Who Is Being Targeted by Faith-Based Adoption Legislation?

That’s a good question without a simple answer- the easy answer is that children waiting to be adopted by qualified families are the largest victims of faith-based legislation.  Nearly 118,000 children are waiting to be adopted from public foster care systems across the United States today.  Faith-based legislation allows both public and private agencies to reject potential adoptive and foster parents based on their religious beliefs.  The most common targets of faith-based legislation are LGBTQ individuals, like Fatma Marouf and Bryn Esplin whose application to foster refugee children through Catholic Charities in Texas was rejected due to their sexual orientation.  The result is that more children wait for longer periods of time to achieve stability in permanent families.

However, the Human Rights Campaign points out that faith-based legislation can be used to target families from all backgrounds.  In its brief “Disregarding the Best Interests of the Child: License to Discriminate in Child Welfare Agencies”, the HRC points out that, “Parents can be rejected because the agency has an objection to them for any reason, including interfaith couples, single parents, married couples in which one prospective parent has previously been divorced, or other parents to whom the agency has a religious objection.”  This should be of concern for all families interested in growing through adoption or foster care.

Why is this a Concern for Ethical Child Welfare Professionals?

Simply put, children waiting for permanency need more qualified adoptive parents. Faith-based legislation does not achieve this- it does the opposite.  By working with all families, regardless of their religion, marital status, or sexual orientation, agencies grow permanency opportunities for children who desperately need them.  Research shows that LGBTQ youth in particular are over-represented in the foster care system, making them a vulnerable target for maltreatment and discrimination.  Faith-based laws that allow agencies to mistreat populations designed to protect them at the top level is a failure of systems by its very definition.

More than two million LGBTQ couples, individuals and families across the United States are interested in serving as family resources for children through adoption and foster care.  LGBTQ families are currently raising more than 3% of children living in foster care across the country.  The American Academy of Pediatrics supports full access to adoption and foster care rights for same-sex couples as part of promoting growth of stable and healthy families for all children.

 What Can You Do to Discourage the Passage of Faith-Based Adoption Laws?

1. Contact your elected representatives to voice concern for the growing trend of this discrimatory practice designed to target families and provide vulnerable children with less stable futures. Your voice is valuable. Find your elected representative here. Find your Senator here.

2. Support organizations like the Human Rights Campaign whose mission it is to protect the rights of families and children like yours who desire to grow through adoption.

3. If you’re considering adoption, choose an agency whose mission it is to provide services to all families, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, gender identity, or sexual orientation. Discrimination serves no one and limits our ability to make progress toward healthy futures for all families and children.  To find an agency that serves LGBTQ families as part of its mission, use the HRC’s All Children, All Families map.


Why We Love Post-Placement Contact Agreements

 

Open adoption is part of Adoptions Together’s mission. We think open adoption is part of healthy adoptive relationships. Let’s talk about one feature of open adoption that keeps birth parent and adoptive family relationships strong: the Post-Placement Contact Agreement!

birth-mother-and-child

We love post-placement contact agreements so much that we think they should be part of every state’s adoption laws – keep reading to find out why!

What Is A Post-Placement Contact Agreement?

A post-placement contact agreement is a plan for how birth parents and adoptive parents will keep in touch with one another until their child turns 18. The agreement might include exchanging letters and pictures, getting together every year, or some variation of the two – or both.  This is how open adoption relationships stay healthy.

Birth and adoptive families often talk about openness before placement happens, but having a physical contract makes the plan clear to everyone and gives each party concrete steps they can take to benefit from their adoptive relationship. It sets the stage for openness right from the get-go, which is great because a child’s connection to their birth family is an important part of their identity, and because birth parents who have ongoing contact with their children generally have a smoother healing process after placement than those with closed adoptions.

What’s the Law Got to Do With It?

We are glad that post-placement contact agreements are legally enforceable in Maryland and Virginia and believe that other states should include them in their adoption laws as well. Making the agreement a legal document underscores the importance of openness and also reminds birth parents, adoptive parents, and agencies how important it is to keep the promises they’ve made to one another. Making contact agreements part of every single adoption would also make cases where the reality of an adoption doesn’t match the birth parent’s expectations much rarer.

How do you feel about your post-placement contact agreement? Has your experience matched your expectations? Do you think these agreements should be legally required and enforceable?


Guest Post: Birth Parents Don’t Want a “You’re So Courageous and Giving” Parade

Birth Parents Don't Want

image c/o www.salem-news.com

In this edition of Birth Mother Stories, Ellen shares a response to a blog post about birth parents on TV. We wanted to share her words again in Birth Mother Stories since they relate to a post on the same topic.

I happened to see a commercial for this show [with an adoption plot] and as a birthparent my response was “Oh there we are – hiding in the bushes, ready to pounce and be crazy.” Besides knowing it is a stereotype (why would adoption searches be so popular if everyone was out there threatening each other?) I also think it is sad. The piece I think professionals and society in general miss is this: birthparents don’t want a “you’re so courageous and giving parade” when we place our children for adoption.

The circumstances that bring us to these decisions are often traumatic and paralyzing. The grief, depression and ongoing sadness is such an opposite of the world’s views: either you were so loving, courageous or there is some deeply crazy thing about you. Many adoptive parents, friends, acquaintances, professionals have some of these extreme views. Some don’t. The fact is: there are no societal rituals/acknowledgement of losing a child in this particular way. Birthparents aren’t the only ones. Other people have terrible circumstances in their lives for which people are afraid or ignore them. Many birthparents I know are expected to go back to work right away “because their child is now safe and secure in a family,” to take care of other children who may be in the family, go out with friends because “that’s all over with now” and continue with life as usual. Obviously, this post led me to report some of the “insider knowledge” that all birthparents know but often feel there’s no use in saying. I think it’s useful because a birthparent may read this and it may be one of the only places they see that it’s OK to be exactly who they are after placement – the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s not pretty or fun – it’s messy.


The Four Birth Parents You See on TV

image c/o threepeascreate.blogspot.com

Ah, television.

The Adoptions Together staff have done their fair share of binging on Netflix shows or staying up late at night to watch bad reality TV. But we’ve also done our fair share of cringing when we see adoption portrayed in the shows and movies we watch. Why, in a country where adoption has changed so much over the past fifty years, does the media have such a hard time wrapping its head around the idea of modern adoption? One blogger perfectly summed up media portrayals of birth parents by dividing them into four stereotypes: “the Juno,” the bad mother, the martyr, and the “baby stealer.”

1) “The Juno,” she explains, is based on “the blockbuster movie that shaped a generation’s opinion of birthmothers as people who make an adoption plan, walk away, don’t look back, and conclude ‘I think he was always hers.’” Sure, there are some birth mothers who do not feel a bond with their baby or grieve after placement, and that’s okay – but it’s rare. Very, very few birth moms can simply walk away after placing their baby and not need time to heal. Oversimplifying the emotions that usually come with birth parenthood is dangerous for women and men who are considering adoption and is unfair to those who have struggled with their adoption decision.

2) She also talks about the stereotype of birth parents as bad parents, “incapable of caring for and wholly unworthy of raising her children.” Movies like The Blind Side and Black or White show birth parents as substance abusers who don’t love or care about their children and don’t deserve to raise them. First of all, to say that all birth parents struggle with drug or alcohol abuse is blatantly incorrect. Second of all, the fact that a birth parent has struggled with substance abuse does not mean that they do not love their children. Even in cases where a child has to be removed from their birth parent’s care, it’s important to remember that each individual birth parent has their own complex set of struggles and emotions. Why judge someone whose life we know nothing about?

3) Then there is the martyr stereotype, where birth moms are portrayed as being “self-sacrificing heroes,” like on the MTV show 16 and Pregnant. The psychologist who hosts the show, Dr. Drew, praises women who choose adoption, calling them “so incredibly mature” and “selfless.” He’s not wrong – adoption can be a mature and selfless choice. However, parenting can also be mature and brave. Every person’s situation is different – in fact, every individual pregnancy is different – and there is no reason to advocate one decision over the other.

4) Finally comes the “baby stealer” stereotype. You might have seen the season of the show Glee where the cheerleader who placed her baby for adoption vowed to “get her back.” This stereotype is particularly harmful because most adoptions today are open, and promoting the idea that birth moms who have contact with their children will scheme to take their babies away from their adoptive families hurts the progress we’ve made in educating adoptive families and the general public about the benefits of open adoption. It also paints a picture of birth parents choosing adoption without thinking at all about their decision and then freaking out after they’ve made it. In reality, most birth parents think long and hard about their adoption decision; many agonize over it, and change their minds multiple times before choosing this option.

It’s easier, we suppose, for TV stations and movie producers to approach the topic of adoption when they can fit everything there is to know about birth parents into one of these neat little categories. Understanding birth parents as real people, with good and bad qualities just like everyone else, is more difficult than simply assuming their decisions to be easy, selfish, selfless, or just poorly thought out. By sensationalizing adoption stories and oversimplifying the lives of birth parents, the media doesn’t have to really consider the complexity or difficulty of adoption or try to understand the deep emotions that accompany it.

What do you think about how adoption is portrayed on TV and in the movies? Did these portrayals affect your decision or how you felt afterward? Tell us in the comments section below!


Acquiring U.S. Citizenship for Internationally Adopted Children

Acquiring U.S. Citizenship for Internationally Adopted Children

 

The foreword of this post was written by Dawn Musgrave, Associate Director and General Counsel of Adoptions Together & FamilyWorks Together. Dawn represents the agency in adoption cases and oversees its business operations, including finance, human resources and information technology systems.  Dawn is an active advocate for the rights of children, particularly those impacted by the public child welfare system, and frequently consults with policy makers on matters relevant to families and children.

Foreword
by Dawn Musgrave, Associate Director and General Counsel

Over the last few months, I’ve received several calls from parents who adopted their children internationally more than a decade ago and need guidance on how to obtain proof of their child’s U.S. citizenship.  In a few cases, the child wants to sign up for military service and their Russian birth certificate is raising eyebrows with military personnel.  In other cases, parents are finding they need additional proof of citizenship so their child can obtain a driver’s license.  Yet other parents are concerned about proving their child’s citizenship in light of increased government and media attention on immigration and deportation.

Regardless of the reason, the place I turn for answers is in a blog post written several years ago by Irene Jordan, LCSW-C, who ran our international and home study services departments for many years.  Although Irene passed away in 2016, her knowledge and experience in these matters continues to guide families through this complicated issue.  Given the increased attention on citizenship, this seems like a good time to re-post Irene’s blog about international adoption and citizenship.

*****

 

U.S. Citizenship for Internationally Adopted Children
By: Irene Jordan, LCSW-C
Director of International Adoption and Home Study Services (1994 to 2015)
Adoptions Together

 I recently got a call from a frantic adoptive parent: “I took my son to the MVA to apply for a learner’s permit. They said he has to have proof of U.S. citizenship. They told me that his Maryland birth certificate is not proof of citizenship, since he was born overseas.  I’m not even sure if my son is a U.S. citizen!  Help! What do I do?”

Such calls are not unusual.  Whether or not your internationally-adopted child is a U.S. citizen depends on a number of factors.  Even if your child is a U.S. citizen, you may not yet have proof of citizenship.  It is crucial to ensure both that your child has U.S. citizenship, and also that he/she has proof of that citizenship.

  • Is my child a U.S. citizen?

The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 allows certain foreign-born children adopted by U. S. citizens to automatically acquire U. S. citizenship when they enter the United States.  In order to automatically become a U.S. citizen, the child must meet the following requirements of the Child Citizenship Act:  have at least one adoptive parent who is a U.S. citizen; be under 18 years of age; live in the legal and physical custody of the adoptive parent; and the adoption was finalized in the foreign country under the laws of the foreign country and of U.S. Immigration.

The Child Citizenship Act took effect on February 27, 2001. Adoptees who met these requirements on that date automatically became U.S. citizens.  Adoptees who were 18 years of age or older on that date did not acquire American citizenship from the Child Citizenship Act. In addition children whose adoptions were not finalized in the foreign country under the laws of the foreign country and of U.S. immigration did not automatically acquire American citizenship from the Child Citizenship Act.

  • My child meets the other criteria. How do I know if my child’s adoption was finalized in the foreign country under the laws of the foreign country and of U.S. Immigration?

The last requirement for the child to qualify for automatic citizenship under the Child Citizenship Act is that the adoption must have been finalized in the foreign country under the laws of the foreign country and of U.S. Immigration.  If the adoption overseas was final under the laws of the foreign country, and of U. S. Immigration, your child will have entered the U. S. with an IR-3 immigration visa. Children with an IR-3 visas automatically become U.S. citizens when they enter the U.S.

Adoptions from Russia, China, Guatemala, Latvia, Lithuania, Vietnam and Azerbaijan are all finalized in the foreign country.  However the Child Citizenship Act also requires that the adoption was finalized under U. S. Immigration regulations. Those regulations require that the child be visited by the sole adoptive parent (in the case of a single parent) or by both adoptive parents before the adoption was finalized. Adoptive parents are required by the foreign adoption laws in Russia, Lithuania, and Azerbaijan to visit the child before completing the adoption. Therefore if you adopted from one of those countries, your child should have entered the U.S. on an IR-3 visa, and is a U. S. Citizen.

Adoptions from China, Guatemala, Latvia and Vietnam do not require both parents to see the child before the adoption was finalized.  If the sole adoptive parent or both parents did not see the child before the adoption was finalized, then the child will have entered the U. S. on an IR-4 visa, and is not a U.S. citizen until the adoption is finalized in the U.S.  Children with IR-4 visas obtain a Resident Alien card (sometimes referred to as a “green card”.) Please note that many of the children from these countries were visited by the sole adoptive parent or by both parents before the adoption.  Those children entered the U.S. on an IR-3 visa, and are therefore U.S. citizens.

Adoptions from Korea are not finalized overseas.    Families adopting a child from Korea need to finalize the adoption in the U.S. so that the child will meet the requirements for U.S. citizenship.

If your child entered the U.S. on an IR-4 visa, the adoption should be finalized in the United States under your state’s regulations. Your child acquires citizenship in the U.S. when the adoption is full and final in the U.S.  The adoption decree and the birth certificate from your state, however, do not serve as proof of citizenship.

  • What documentation do I need to serve as proof of my child’s citizenship?

There are 2 forms of proof of citizenship: a U.S. Passport and a Certificate of Citizenship.

Beginning in January 2004, USCIS has issued Certificates of Citizenship automatically to children who qualify as citizens under the Child Citizenship Act.

If your child entered the U.S. before January 2004 on an IR-3 visa, you can apply for a Certificate of Citizenship by filing the N-600 application. You can also apply for a U.S. passport as proof of citizenship.

If your child entered the U.S. on an IR-4 visa or an IH-4 visa, you can apply for a Certificate of Citizenship by filing the N-600 application after you have finalized the adoption in the U.S. You can also apply for a U.S. passport as proof of citizenship after you have finalized the adoption in the U.S.

  • How do I apply for a certificate of citizenship?

If your child entered the U.S. on an IR-4 visa and the adoption has been finalized in the United States, you can apply for a certificate of citizenship by submitting Form N-600 Application.  Information and the form can be obtained through the USCIS website.  This site also provides the fee information and the address to which to send the form.

With your application, you will send a copy of the adoption decree from the court in your state.  You will need to submit 2 photos of your child. The filing fee should be paid by certified check or money order. Send copies of the required documents, unless specifically asked to send originals after your application has been reviewed. It is recommended that the application be submitted through a delivery service that can be tracked, such as Federal Express or UPS.

If your child entered the U.S. on an IR-3 visa before January 2004, you can apply for a Certificate of Citizenship by submitting Form N-600 Application as above. You will not need an adoption decree from the court in your state.

  • How do I obtain a U.S. passport for my child?

If your child entered the U.S. on an IR-3 visa, then you can apply for a U.S. passport at any time. If your child entered the U.S. on an IR-4 visa and the adoption has been finalized in the United States, you can apply for a U.S. passport.  You and your child will need to go in person to a passport office or satellite location. A list of locations nationwide that accept passport applications can be obtained through the Department of State website.

You will need to send a certified copy of the final adoption decree (with translation if the decree is not in English). You will also need to send the child’s foreign passport, showing the immigration stamp in the passport, or the child’s permanent resident card (“green card”).  The foreign passport will be returned with the child’s new U.S. passport. You will also need to send proof of identity of the American citizen parent(s).  Submit these documents with the passport application, passport photos of the child, and fees. The forms and full instructions can be obtained through the Department of State website here.

  • What if my child was adopted under the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoptions? Is she a U.S. citizen?

A child whose adoption was finalized in the foreign country under the Hague Convention (including recent adoptions from China) will receive an IH-3 visa, and will automatically be a U.S. citizen. The requirement that the sole or both parents visit the child before the adoption is finalized has been eliminated under the Hague Convention.  A certificate of citizenship will be issued and mailed to you automatically by USCIS.

  • My daughter was over age 18 at the time that the Child Citizenship Act took effect on February 27, 2001. Is she a citizen?

If your daughter was over 18 at the time that the Child Citizenship Act took effect, it is possible that she is not a U.S. citizen. Although legislation has been proposed to retroactively give citizenship to foreign adoptees who turned 18 before the Child Citizenship Act took effect, this legislation has not yet been passed. Therefore it is very important to determine if she is a citizen and for her to apply for naturalization if she is not a U.S. citizen.  She may have a Permanent Resident Card, giving her the immigration status of a lawful permanent resident. The Permanent Resident Card may have expired, but the Lawful Permanent Resident status does not expire unless she travels outside the U.S. for more than 6 months.

Check to see if you have a Certificate of Citizenship or a Certificate of Naturalization for her.  If not, your daughter should apply for naturalization in order to gain citizenship.  It is strongly recommended that she do this in order to avoid any risk of deportation or any potential denial of the application for naturalization.  The Application for Naturalization, form N-400, is available on the USCIS website.  If you need an attorney to assist you with immigration issues, check the website of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

For additional information about the citizenship status of adult adopted persons, check the Guide to U.S. Citizenship for Adult International Adoptees at the Ethica.