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 Institute

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.

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.

Experiences of School Bullying Among Internationally Adopted Children: Results from the Finnish (FINADO) Adoption Study

I selected this study because many of the families with whom I work have had incidents of bullying, either as the victim or as the victimizer, in school situations. The study pulled from a rich database as part of a larger national study. If it were to be replicated elsewhere I would hope it would examine the impact of being an adopted person, in addition to the other factors mentioned, as a target for bullying.

Purpose of Study: The researchers sought to use an already existing population of international adoptees (IAs) from the Finnish Adoption Study to examine the influence of Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) diagnosis or symptoms at time of adoption to future bullying behaviors; either as the victim or victimizer. They hypothesized that the symptoms of RAD, such as lack of empathy or attunement to others’ feelings / emotions, would predispose IA’s to be victims of bullying or bully others themselves. The research defined bullying as when a child “is exposed to negative peer behavior that occurs repeatedly and involves an imbalance of power; that is the victim finds it difficult to defend himself or herself (p. 2)”.

Method:  364 IA boys and girls, ages nine to fifteen, participated in the study. They were also part of a broader study, the Finnish Adoption Study (FINADO), which recruited IA families that adopted through a legalized system from 1985 to 2007. The children and their parents were given the following self report assessments: Olweus bully/victim questionnaire, parent reported questionnaire in regard to adoption demographics, a  parental report questionnaire examining “symptoms suggesting RAD” as developed by the researchers  for the FINADO study, and the Five to Fifteen parental report evaluating at social skills, learning difficulties, and language skills. The sample was compared with a norm based group of Finnish children ages nine to fifteen from the Finnish public school system.

Results: As hypothesized the study found that those IA’s rated with mild to severe forms of RAD upon time of adoption had a greater likelihood to report experiencing bullying and bullying others , although statistically significant higher levels were only evident in 3rd and 4th grade and 7th and 9th graders.  Other results indicated that lacking social skills is also a factor in victimization for bullying.

Summary: The research has a large population from which to examine in regard to comparing IA’s to the norm population through its nationally sponsored FINADO study.  It’s cohort and longevity offers much to the IA adoption related research.  Despite this the RAD assessments have limitations as follows:  currently there are no valid and reliable assessment tools to diagnose RAD and parents completed a self report based on time of adoption, which can lead to inaccurate responses.  Although the FINADO researchers created a tool to evaluate RAD for this study, it would have been preferable for a different, non affiliated group to develop a RAD evaluation, to avoid the appearance of influencing the results to what they hypothesized.  RAD has long been the diagnosis of choice for adopted persons and/or persons in the child welfare system based on their early life experiences. However RAD is a broad based diagnosis that can be easily applied to a person without any formal diagnostic tool. It can be largely subjective. Despite these concerns this study is valuable in helping internationally adoptive families  be aware of the possibility of  and better prepare for bullying, both victimization and victimizer, and this knowledge is applicable in counseling diagnosis and treatment.

Raask,H., (2012).  Experiences of School Bullying Among Internationally Adopted Children: Results from the Finnish Adoption (FINADO) Study, Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 43, 592-611. doi: 10.1007/s10578-012-0286-1

Pre-Adoption Diversity and Self-Reported Behavioral Problems in 7 Year Old International Adoptees

My last post on ethics violations when using adopted person testimonials was important because it showcased how adopted person voices are sometimes inappropriately used in adoption advocacy and policy discourse. Amanda Woolston’s the Declassified Adoptee’s Blog post captures this issue. Adopted person voices, a diverse group, to be sure, need to be included in all aspects of adoption research and practice. And this needs to happen from a very young age.

In 2004 when I started my first research project examining adjustment outcomes for international adopted persons (IA’s) most of these publications reported on research with adolescent adoptees and their families. None, per my recollection, used evaluation measures to ask the adolescent participants’ perspectives on their adjustment. So I was pleased to find this 2012 Child Psychiatry and Human Development journal article.  The Canadian researchers, in addition to parental reports, also asked the seven year old participants in the study, to report their feelings and perceptions about their current adjustment in school and in their relationships with family and peers.  What to learn more? Please keep reading below.

Purpose of the study: Canadian researchers wanted to explore possible correlations between pre adoption adversity, height and weight growth, head circumference, and health upon adoption to current academic and relationship internalizing and externalizing problems.

Method: The research had 95 IA family participants, 69 of whom were girls. They were recruited, in part, from a different longitudinal study on international adoption. The children’s health and medical status and baseline psychological assessment information were gathered upon entrance to Quebec. At follow up evaluations, the mothers of the participants completed the French Child Behavioral Checklist (CBCL). The children completed the Dominic Interactive (DI), a pictorial, computer based, self report assessment tool that rates responses according to scales related to DSM -IV-TR disorders.

Results: Overall the research demonstrated the majority of the IA sample was well adjusted in comparison to the control group in the study. The IA group demonstrated higher levels of internalizing behaviors, most specifically, the development of specific phobias. The researchers hypothesized that intermittent and/or poor care giving pre adoption contributed to heightened sensitivity to development of anxiety symptoms, including specific phobias. They cited additional research that suggested that anxiety symptoms are exacerbated post adoption by intrusive and overprotective parenting styles. Additionally, as expected, weight/height ration at the time of adoption was negatively correlated with specific phobias, conduct disorder, and depression at the time of school age. Head circumference at time of adoption was also negatively correlated with conduct disorders at school age.

Summary: This study reinforced what other research has shown in regard to the impact of pre adoption institutionalization and poor caregiver exposure. This study is unique in that it reportedly is the first of its kind to utilize self assessment for seven year old adopted persons. This is important as it includes the perspective of the young children rather than completely relying on teacher and or adoptive parental reports.


Gagnon-Oosterwaal, N, (2012). Adoption diversity and self-reported behavioral problems in 7 year old international adoptees, Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 43, 648-660. doi: 10.1007/s 10578-011-0279-5