Dima Yakovlev Bill, Russian Adoptions, and Dissolutions by Death

Many in the adoption community are discussing the December 28th Dima Yakovlev Bill or ban on Russian children adoptions by US citizens. Dima Yakovlev was the original name of a toddler Russian boy, adopted by US parents, who was left in a hot car in the summer months and died. The news has brought forth high emotions on social media and in the articles’ comments sections. The themes that are most common seem to be the following: the United States has many children needing homes, why go abroad? Adoptive parents (majority white) choose Russia to adopt same race, white children, and thus do not have to worry about cultural socialization, and finally, white adoptive parents do not want to adopt children in the US because they are of color and because first parents can still be involved. All of these are valid points but don’t address the current ban, it’s purpose, and motivation.

This ban, clearly retaliatory in nature, came after the US instituted Magnitsky Act. That law imposes asset freezes and visa restrictions on Russian officials linked to the death of whistleblowing lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in a Moscow jail in 2009 and other alleged human rights abuses. Now Russia is reportedly outraged by abuses of Russian children that happened in the past decade and instituted this ban. This is incongruent at best and a downright fabrication at worst.

Last summer a group of adult adopted persons, self included, many of whom are founding members of the Adoption Policy and Reform Collaborative (APRC) met with members of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI) on Capital Hill to discuss many policy concerns. Among them was adoption dissolutions and disruptions and the fact that these largely go unmonitored.

Here is an excerpt of what I said:

I will take a moment to highlight the Dissolution by Deaths for internationally adopted children. We are grateful for the Forever Family Forever Dead tribute found on the Daily Bastardette blog. It acknowledges the over 18 Russian children who have died because of murder or gross negligence by their adoptive/forever parents. More recently we acknowledge the death of Hana Williams, an adoptee from Ethiopia, who was slowly starved and tortured to death at age 13 by her adoptive parents. Dissolutions by death or less drastic means are NOT monitored in a central database. Agencies are NOT held accountable for reporting dissolutions.

If these deaths were truly the motivation for this ban than Russian most certainly would not have entered into a new negotiation on international adoptions with the United States as recently as November 2012 and this ban would have been enacted years ago. Perhaps after Artyem was returned at age 7 by a US mother who reported that she no longer could parent him. What is outrageous is the timing of this ban and impact on Russian children in institutions.

Yesterday, on the President of Russia homepage, this post revealed new orders to establish policies that would encourage more inter country adoption and provide support for adoptive families. Vladimir Putin indicated that maybe the quality of life in Russia was not as good as elsewhere (meaning the USA) but questioned why they are sending their children to live abroad when they should be caring for them at home. Somewhere I read that he questioned their loss of national identity and culture. These also are valid points. Ones that are made frequently in the international adoption arena. My hope is that Russia is serious in its new policy mandates to care for its thousands of institutionalized children.





Cultural Tourism in Transnational Adoption and the China Daily Interview

Every so often I am asked to comment on a news story about adoption. This was the case when NPR’s Weekend Edition interviewed me about the seven year old boy heartlessly returned via airline to Russia or when Good Morning America online wanted more information about Genetic Sexual Attraction. Sometimes I feel good about these interviews and the information I was able to convey. Other times I am left feeling like I could have said more such as the Creating A Family Interview about adoption disruptions and dissolutions.

Last week I was approached by China Daily, a Bejing based, English newspaper, to offer recommendations/advice in regard to adoptive families relocating to China to foster the identity development of adopted Chinese children. The article “Positive attitude to adoption” can be found here. I offered two pages of recommendations, all proofread by my mom, a former English teacher and resident proof reader to everything I do, and fully aware of the possibility that none of it could end up in the article. But the most important information did. Here is an excerpt of my response email:

I know the answer to #6 is not a popular one among adoptive parents because it calls into question white privilege and the need for them to make some difficult decisions regarding their families. I would really hope that you would include this response as many families will read China Daily versus doing research at a University, like I do for both my educational pursuits and my practice. I am not a Chinese adopted person, but am a Colombian adopted person. I feel quite strongly about this subject and greatly enjoy my work with this population and children from all over the world. I truly appreciate being asked to contribute.

Here is question #6

6) If adoptive families who would like to live in China don’t have a chance to do so — or are not comfortable living in a foreign country — what other helpful experiences or activities closer to home would you recommend?

– I know that some adoptive American families send their kids to Chinese language school, enroll them in Chinese cultural/art classes or regularly celebrate Chinese holidays. How important are activities such as this in raising an adopted Chinese child?

The answer below is for both questions/comments

It is extremely important that adoptive families understand the concept of “Cultural Keeping” versus “Cultural Tourism”. Quiroz’s 2012 article examining discourses by Chinese and Guatemalan adoptive parents on listserves highlights the benefits of Cultural Keeping, defined as those activities that provide cultural socialization including contacts and engagement with members of the child’s ethnic/racial group, memberships in cultural organizations, and relocation to a community that shares racial and ethnic similarity to the adopted child. “Cultural Tourism” is the most common way adoptive families incorporate their child’s heritage in family life via attending culture camps, purchasing and displaying cultural artifacts, attending cultural celebrations, but not necessarily fully embracing the child’s racial/ ethnic community in their daily living. It is important that adoptive families strive towards Cultural Keeping to fully help their child develop a sense of biculturalism versus Cultural Tourism which is much easier to enact but has not been shown to be nearly as beneficial in helping an adoptee develop biculturalism. Another excellent source of information on this topic is the Beyond Culture Camp study (2009) from the Evan B. Donaldson Institutehttp://www.adoptioninstitute.org/research/2009_11_culture_camp.php

The reporter included this information in the article. If you are interested in reading the 2012 article on cultural tourism the reference can be found below.

Quiroz, P.A. (2012). Cultural tourism in transnational adoption: “Staged authenticity” and its implications for adopted children.Journal of Family Issues,33 (4), 527-555. doi:10.1177/0192513X11418179.



The Misappropriation of the End of Times and Adoptee Racial Identity

Very recently, many throughout the world went into unneccessary panic over the misreading of the Mayan calendar. When a majority culture takes aspects of a minority culture with the goal to make it “fit” into their culture, misunderstandings and misuses, like what we experienced with the Mayan calendar, can occur. Yesterday, NPR’s Science Friday featured two scholars of Mayan studies. They explained the following; at the height of the Mayan era, they were a powerful and highly functional society with the capabilities to create sophisticated calendars;  Mayan are still alive and well today, mainly living in Guatemala, and many, Westerners included, misunderstood and, therefore, miscalculated the meaning of the Mayan calendar which resulted in the panic we witnessed yesterday.

I wish we heard more about the successes and acheivements of the Maya people during this frenzy. When working with Latino clients, especially adopted adolescents, I frequently note that many Latinos have a Native American heritage. This is not often discussed or acknowledged. My point in highlighting this part of their heritage is to remind them (and myself) that our ancestors were powerful, proud, intelligent, creative, and highly industrious people. Connecting to that sense of cultural continuation is important to ground oneself to who she is as a person, a culture, a nation today.

Last month the American Counseling Association showcased a Brown Paper, “Lifting Latinos up by their ‘Rootstraps’: Moving beyond Trauma to a Healing Informed Model to Engage Latino Boys and Men” by the National Latino Fatherhood and Family Institute. It described how their lost connection to their native ancestry has negatively impacted the community. The Brown Paper describes interventions to address trauma using connections to this ancestry as an alternative to current treatments. It is time for increased acknowledgement and access to this aspect of cultural heritage be recognized and attended to in treatment. For Latino adopted persons this recognition can assist in facilitating and reclaiming the culture and heritage that is often lost to them.

Ethics in Multicultural Practice

I am a Latina person who was raised in suburban Philadelphia. There were very few Latino or Hispanics, as this group was called at that time, in my community and school. I learned by the second grade that it was easiest to pretend I was Italian than risk social isolation and teasing if I disclosed my original home country.  This dodging and weaving of my true identity made adolescence that much more complicated. I think about this a lot as the holidays approach and I make my way home to be with family. The surrounding area of my growing up town has changed demographically. Mexican and Central American taquerias and mercados replaced most of the former Italian owned stores and eateries. Every time I make the drive back home I wonder if and how my identity integration would have been accelerated or not if I grew up with this community in such close proximity.

So I was particularly saddened when I saw yet another unpleasant story out of Penn State. This story is not of the same tragic magnitude as the disgraceful news of last year, but rather another glimpse into racism and long held stereotypes. A sorority posted a photo of their Mexican themed party. Most wore sombreros and serapes. They held signs that said “Will mow lawn for weed and beer” and “I don’t cut grass, I smoke it”. I thought about the large percentage of my graduating class that went to Penn State. I did not even visit knowing that my goal was to get out of the state as soon as possible. And I thought about how things seem possibly worse than they were 20 plus years ago. The sorority apologized for upholding “untrue stereotypes”. But the truth is that many janitorial staff, grounds crews, and child care workers remain largely populated by Latinos. There are many reasons for this and I will not go into them here but all the reasons remind me that we still need to be especially mindful and sensitive to providing culturally sensitive and quality services to immigrant and minority populations.

By choice I live in an ethnically and racially diverse area of northern Virginia. The local Family and Child Services department utilizes independent therapists to work with Spanish speaking immigrant first families seeking reunification with their children. I applied to be one of the therapists and am finding that I exceedingly enjoy this aspect of working with this population. It combines all the things I am most passionate about: parent and child relationships, trauma and its impact on families, the Spanish language, and cultural awareness. I am often horribly outraged when I learn about the injustices many clients have endured during their time in this country and this includes extremely poor mental health service delivery. I am fully aware of the privilege I have experienced and continue to maintain, as a documented citizen with a professional position and economic means, when I work with these families. The Penn State episode reminds me that we still need to be hyper-vigilant towards ensuring social justice, multicultural and racial sensitivity issues are taught thoughtfully and passionately in higher education counseling, social work, psychology, and marriage and family therapy programs.  We have a lot of work to do.

David Brodzinsky Lecture: 3 Decades of Adoption Research

Yesterday I attended a 3 hour workshop offered by the “grandfather” of adoption psychology, Dr. David Brodzinsky. His book, Being Adopted: The Lifelong Search for Self, from 1991, is still one that I recommend to members of the adoption constellation. His workshop reviewed his decades of research and clinical interventions. Although the workshop had enough meat to really be a week long intensive I was excited to review old but important concepts. Mainly his identification with grief and loss in the adoption system, especially “disenfranchised grief”, and its impact on all members of the constellation. He acknowledged that there are many many other concerns and issues that are present in adoption but grief and loss are not to be forgotten. Another interesting perspective for me was experiencing the workshop within a majority Caucasian crowd – many of whom self identified as adoptive parents. After the St. John’s Adoption Initiative Conference and its diversity of perspectives I realized, again, how crucial it is to continue to offer the St. John’s and other conference like it where adopted person and original family perspectives are offered directly and with great respect. I am not implying that other conferences are not respectful, rather, historically speaking, many adoption conferences are products of adoptive parent viewpoints and stances. St.John’s Adoption Initiative and the growing adopted person as professional movement offers much needed balance.

Ethics in Adoption Practice: Utilizing Adopted Persons, Birth Parents, and Adoptive Family Perspectives Ethically

Some may recall that in September the Adoption Policy and Reform Collaborative (APRC) submitted the following letter to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. I am pleased to say that I had an opportunity to speak with one of the conference organizers and not only did we have a productive conversation but she also offered recommendations for future panel presentation best practices.

The letter sparked interest by a DC metro area adoption agency, Adoptions Together, to request that I lead a three hour CEU workshop on this topic for their staff. I was enthusiastic to put together this workshop and present on October 16, 2012. Please see the workshop summary below:

Adoption and child welfare agencies historically have offered panels comprised of adopted persons, birth parents, and/ or adoptive parents, to train prospective adoptive families and other social service or mental health professionals. Little is known about best practices when offering such panels. Potential ethical issues surrounding confidentiality, dual relationships, conflicts of interest and testimonials for advertising are often under examined if recognized at all. This 3 hour workshop will address ethical issues and solutions to common potential pitfalls that agencies increasingly encounter. Specifically, the workshop aims to address the following:

  • Review the ethical codes of conduct for the four major mental health professions as they relate to adopted person, birth/first parent, and adoptive family publicity
  • Offer best practice guidance on selecting, preparing for, and debriefing panel participants
  • Explore how to best utilize both the personal and professional perspectives of each member of the triad in agency practice
  • Consider alternatives to panel presentations and testimonials for recruitment and advertising purposes.

The workshop was engaging and thought provoking for both the participants and myself. Most exciting was the agency director announced by the end of the workshop that systemic agency changes such as consent forms and post panel mental health check ins would be applied immediately in preparation for an upcoming panel.

A summary of best practice guidelines are below:

  • A careful review of each helping professions codes of ethics in regard to dual relationships and testimonies must be in place PRIOR to using panel participants.
  • Agencies/ child welfare groups should create “panel committees” to review ethics, appropriateness of panel candidates and usage, and plan for pre, during, and post training and mental health safeguards.
  • Consent forms outlining both the risks and benefits of panel participation should be issued, reviewed, and signed by the panel participants prior to the actual panel engagement. Consent forms should be placed in participants’ agency files with additional documentation of the consent review process, the individual risks and benefits to the potential participant, and a safeguarding plan for mental health care.
  • Training and preparation for panels should follow the Case Family Programs and Foster Care Alumni Strategic Sharing recommendations.

The APRC will soon issue a policy statement offering these best practice guidelines with the goal of national agency support and eventual implementation.


Racial Socialization in Cross Racial Families

I chose this article as it continues the discussion on racial identity preparation in adoptive families and includes cross racial families, which the author defines as families where one of the parents or guardians is Black. She uses the terms of African descent and Black interchangeably in this article to describe individuals included from African American, African, Caribbean and other persons from the African Diaspora (p 250).  On a personal note I was also highly interested in the inclusion of cross racial, non adoptive families, in this research as it directly applies to my family constellation.

Purpose of Study: The study aimed to examine how family racial socialization impacted their children’s experiences of racism in school and institutional settings and what differences, if any, where to be found between families with white or non Black parents/guardians versus families with at least one parent/ guardian of African descent.  Racial socialization is described “as the transmission of information, norms, and values about race and ethnicity to children (as cited from Hughes et al., 2006, p. 232).”

Method: The researcher pursued a qualitative study with two guiding questions. These are as follows: Research “Question 1: How do cross-racially raised individuals experience racism in schools?”  And “Research Question 2: How do cross-racially raised individuals perceive their parents/guardians’ efforts toward racial socialization (p. 235)?”

The study interviewed ten adult women, multiracial of African descent, between the ages of 20 to 43 years, who were recruited via outreach to Black/African college student groups, transracial adopted persons groups, scholars and professionals in the education and social welfare fields, and via word of mouth. The research utilized the Extended Case Method and critical race theory to create the interview questions and to guide the analysis. Eight of the interviews were face to face and audio taped and two were done via the telephone with detailed note taking by the interviewer.

Results: Several themes were drawn from the interviews. Under the category of “Experiences of Racism at School” the emergent themes were as follows: 1) Racism at the individual level, IE being called a “negro” during a Martin Luther King Jr. celebration event at school 2) Institutional Racism, IE Black children over representation in special education settings and/or being the only black person in a higher achieving class, 3) Racism within the Family IE rejection from extended family members for adopting a black child and/or partnering with a black person.

Under the category of “Family Approaches to Racism” the themes were as follows: 1) Who’s talking about race and racism? IE “Parents and guardians who openly acknowledged the reality of racism and the impact it could have on their child focused on preparing their children for bias, strengthening the child’s sense of self, and passing on cultural traditions and values (p 240)” and 2) Who’s not talking about race and racism? IE “In contrast to those families who used direct or modeling techniques to teach their children about racism were families who emphasized colorblind or egalitarian approaches, avoided conversations about race and racism, and sometimes denied their child was also Black (p. 244)”.

When examining the adoptees who were interviewed another theme including the intersectionality of race, adoption, and abandonment as evidenced by the following participant response:

“There is a risk involved in resisting the denial that your parents have put on you for so many years; the risk is that if I come out as this person of color, if I come out as a Black person and acknowledge that I’m Black there’s a possibility that you aren’t gonna love me anymore because your whole lives you’ve been telling me that Blackness is wrong. So how do I maintain my status as a Black person in this family if I acknowledgemy whole self and if I do it at what cost do I do it? . . . And I see this now in the kids I work with. Even if their parents are liberal and like “I know you’re Black” . . . there’s something still going on there about being able to be a whole Black person (p. 246).” 

Discussion: The research found that families with at least one Black parent/guardian spoke more openly about race and offered more guidance on responding to racism versus families with white parents or no parent/guardian of the Black race not directly addressing this subject. The researcher was clear that the study did not look for information on why some families do or do not address the issues of race and racism but posited many possibilities. These, gleaned from previous research, include fears that talking about it will hinder the child’s potential, the child will not understand, and will make them angry or bitter.  For White persons these fears are compounded by not wanting to be perceived as racist and not acknowledging white privilege, and interfering with attempts to remain “colorblind”.

Implications: This study adds more information to the growing body of literature for adoptive parent training and now cross racial parent training on the racial socialization and preparing for racism when raising children of color. The quotes from the interviews were at times, quite poignant, and expressed the pain, hurt, and fear that individuals experienced as children when confronted with both direct and more subtle (micro aggressions) forms of racism. On a personal and professional note I was delighted to notice that many of the authors cited were persons with whom I have interacted both professionally and personally and once again am humbled to be in the company of such expert scholars and practitioners in the field.

Snyder, C.R. (2011). Racial socialization in cross racial families. Journal of Black      Psychology, 38, 228-253. Doi: 10.1177/0095798411416457

Reclaiming culture: Reculturation of transracial and international adoptees

In 2003 when I first became engrossed in adoption counseling and psychology there was one name that showed up everywhere in regard to trans racial adoption identity, counseling, and research.  Dr. Amanda Baden, now an Associate Professor at Montclair State University, authored and or co-authored many groundbreaking articles on adoption in the counseling psychology field in the early 2000’s. She was one of the editors of 2007 Sage Publications The Handbook of Adoption, the first graduate level textbook covering the history of adoption and its clinical practice with triad members.  My MFT research project on young adult Colombian adoptees was incorporated into a chapter in the book on Latin American adoptions. I first met her in 2009 at an adoption conference in Indianapolis.  She is a welcoming, humble, and encouraging person. She has advanced the practice and is a role model to so many as a trans racially adopted person herself.  As part of the planning committee for this year’s Adoption Initiative Conference in New York City I have learned and grown from her leadership. More so I am thrilled and honored to be presenting on a panel with her at the conference on adoption counseling.  So it is no surprise why I picked this article on reculturation, co authored by Dr. Baden, whom I respect and admire. It is relevant, completely on target, and accurately conveys a theoretical framework for clinical practice in counseling.

Purpose of Study: The authors describe how upon adoption many trans racially and internationally adopted persons (TRIA’s) lose their connection to their original culture and racial/ethnic group. This is especially the case when adopted by White parents. Current descriptions of immigrant acculturation or enculturation do not suitably describe the process by which TRIA’s attempt to reconcile the dissonance between their adoptive family culture and lost cultural practices.  The term by which they describe the unique process some TRIA’s engage in to reclaim their lost original culture, racial and ethnic identity, is called Reculturation.

To reclaim may suggest that something was lost or abandoned

at some point and that it must be rescued from a “wrong”

state and restored to a “natural” state (“Reclaim,” n.d.). For

TRIAs, to be adopted out of their birth culture and raised in

a “foreign” culture is sometimes viewed as unnatural because

of the mismatch between race and culture (p. 4).

Model: The Reculturation process is described in five phases. These are as follows:1) Enculturation Begins – in utero and post birth exposure to sounds, smells, language of birth family and culture 2) Relinquishment and Temporary Care – residence in orphanage care and / or foster care frequently provided by members of the birth culture 3) Adoption: Enculturation Stops, Assimilation Begins – through language acquisition, among other ways, to majority White culture of adoptive parents 4) Immigration – a process that is very different than “typical” immigrants in regard to visa and citizenship acquisition (among other things) 5) Assimilation Continues – adapting, adjusting, and fitting in with the dominant culture and 6) Reculturation Process and Three Approaches to Reculturation – this phase describes the late adolescence, young adult, adult period process by which TRIA’s seek information about their birth culture. The ways by which they do so include the following modes: Education, Experience, and Immersion. Possible outcomes of the reculturation process are described in five themes. These are 1) Adoptee culture 2) Reclaimed culture 3) Bicultural 4) Assimilated culture (explored) and 5) Combined culture.

Discussion: The reculturation process applies to both trans racial domestic and international adopted persons. It offers a theoretical framework and language to describe a process for mental health counselors, school counselors, and educators to competently work with and address the needs of the TRIA population. Professionally,  Reculturation Theory EXACTLY describes a process I have observed and assisted clients and their families work through in counseling practice. I am excited to have more language and a clearly delineated framework to aid in understanding and empathy.

Baden, A.L., Treweeke, L. M., & Alhuwalia, K.M. (2012). Reclaiming culture: Reculturation of transracial international adoptees. Journal of Counseling and Development, 90, 387-399.

Adoption Counseling as a Specialty Area for Counselors

Purpose of Study: When I first started as a counselor specializing in adoption related issues I frequently spoke about the virtual shut out of professional counselors in adoption related social services.  Some states required licensed social workers only to perform home studies and guide families through the adoption process. Many agencies and child welfare offices would not hire non social work degreed and licensed staff.  This article, published in the Journal of Counseling and Development in 1997, offers information on how and why professional counselors are skilled and trained to work with adoption related issues.  Since its publication, the field of adoption has altered, to include decreased numbers of international adoptions, fewer infant adoptions, more open adoptions, and has broadened to donor egg adoption and overseas surrogacy. Despite changes in the field, social workers still dominate as practitioners and professional counselors still work to gain entrance and credibility. This article, although 15 years old, lays the groundwork for why professional counselors need to be included in the adoption field.

Review: The article described how the CACREP accredited counselor training curriculum prepares professional counselors to assist adoptive parents, adopted persons, and first/birth parents in all aspects of the adoption process. This includes pre adoption counseling, counseling to determine adoption planning, and post adoption counseling, both in the immediate and long term post adoption process. Specifically, it noted training in counseling interviewing and technique skills, family counseling training, and human lifespan and development as helpful factors.  She also included school counselors roles in guiding teachers and school personnel to de stigmatize adoption in the classroom and to possibly offer school guidance groups for adopted persons.

Discussion: The author provided clear examples of how counselors are best suited to work with members of the adoption triad in different developmental phases of the pre, during, and post adoption process. She describes some developmental lifespan challenges that may impact clients in this category and how a professional counselor’s skills would be beneficial. Given the age of the article many factors in adoption clinical work were not addressed (as they may not have been as widely known at the time) and it mainly focuses on what appears to be infant adoption rather than exploring the unique dynamics of older child adoption and / or adoption from the child welfare system. An updated journal article should include these additional factors as well as information on attachment processes, trauma, and the changing demographics of the adoption field.

Janus, N.C. (1997). Adoption counseling as a specialty area for counselors. Journal of       Counseling and Development, 75, 266-274.