It’s not too late to take action, even after 40 years

by Anti-Racist Parent Columnist Jae Ran Kim, originally published at Harlow’s Monkey

People all over the world are talking about the return of an adopted Korean child by a Dutch diplomat and his wife. I’ve written about disruptions and dissolutions before, namely here and here. I think one of the aspects of this case that is alarming people is the fact that the girl was 4 months old at the time of the adoption and had lived with her adoptive parents for 7 years.

A disruption is when the child is returned before the adoption is finalized. Disruptions often happen after a child is placed in the home a few months, but sometimes in the case of international adoption, it can occur when the family meets the child and decides not to go through with the adoption.

Once an adoption has been finalized, if the parents “return” a child it is called a dissolution. Dissolutions always occur after the legal status of parent and child has been established in a court of law. In the United States, for parents to dissolve an adoption they have to voluntarily terminate their parental rights in court.

We often think of disruptions or dissolutions as being something that happens fairly soon after the adoption, perhaps within months or a few years. It’s rare that we hear about an adoption dissolving 7 years later. But in my line of work, that’s not unusual. I have on my case load two siblings who were in foster care, adopted, and re-entered care six years after the finalization. We hear about the disruptions that happen in China or Guatemala because with other prospective families traveling in groups together, it’s going to be known. I want to know how many kids were adopted internationally and then years later when kids turn into teenagers (and normally get ornery and rebel), how many of those families dissolve with no one watching?

One of my frustrations has always been finding reliable statistical data on disruptions and dissolutions. In my earlier post “And even more about adoption disruptions and dissolutions” I asked for anyone who had reliable numbers to contact me. It turns out that the Department of Health and Human Services actually did keep track of the number of international adoption “disruptions” in 2006. According to this Newsweek article, “When Adoption Goes Wrong” there were 81 international adoption disruptions or dissolutions from 14 different states last year. Of course, we still don’t know how many international adoptions have dissolved over the 50+ years of international adoption to the United States. Anecdotally, I know of several adult Korean adoptees who spent time in foster care.

The return of Jade seems especially egregious because from the news reports out there, the reasons seem highly superficial; that Jade’s parents Raymond and Meta Poeteray had two biological children after thinking they were infertile, or blaming Jade’s issue with being a picky eater. My guess is that neither of these issues were the real reason Jade was abandoned.

Jade’s parents probably believed that adopting a child would make their lives complete and never thought much about the reality of having an adopted child. There is speculation that their status as a high ranking diplomat, wealthy and educated and with many connections, helped them adopt Jade. Whether or not it’s true, perhaps they just felt incredibly entitled to have what they wanted and at the time they wanted Jade. But whatever reasons they had for adopting, it seems they never really truly claimed her as their child. They didn’t obtain citizenship for her so now Jade is a girl without a county. They didn’t attach to a child they had at 4 months old. I wonder how much pre-adoptive training this couple had. Or were they too “privileged” to have to go through training?

The Poeteray’s blame Jade for the dissolution, but my guess is they were unprepared to deal with their own emotional baggage in terms of adopting transracially and internationally. Unfortunately there are a lot of adoptive parents out there who have the same misconceptions, and a lot of adoption agencies who will allow them to sit in merry little la-la land.
But it’s not just about assigning blame. Agencies get a terrible rap for misleading clients and withholding information and for not properly training them about all the needs these kids have. And yet – we also get a ton of negative feedback for being too “harsh” and “negative” and focused on the awful behaviors. Not to defend agencies, but is it really the agency’s fault that pre-adoptive parents don’t want to hear anything negative? In September, I spoke on a panel with two other adult transracial adoptees and we received negative feedback. The difficult part of all this is balancing our responsibilities to be honest and tell the truth while not scaring away prospective families for the children we have who need adoptive homes.

Sometimes I think we’ve gone about this whole thing all wrong. The kids who are in need of adoptive homes – are NOT ordinary people. They have, in their young lives, gone through enough loss and sorrow to render them extraordinary. My profession likes to call these kids “special needs.”

So why do social workers look so hard for “ordinary” parents. Maybe we need to look for “extraordinary” parents. Maybe average parents aren’t good enough and we should be looking for parents with “special abilities” to parent “special needs.” And by average parents, I mean that being white, middle class, and having a house with a picket fence and a two car garage just isn’t enough to entitle someone to adopt a child.

And I certainly don’t mean that having lots of money or connections is good enough either.

Some of the best adoptive parents I’ve met have very, very modest means. They don’t have the cleanest houses, the wooden play set in the back yard, or a nice minivan with sliding side doors. Their living quarters are cramped, cluttered and chaotic. And they’re perfect for parenting kids whose lives have been messy emotionally and mentally. They don’t expect their adopted children to be some perfect living doll up on a shelf. They know their kids will be messy for years to come. And instead of being upset that these kids don’t live up to their expectations, they’ll be right there in the mess with them.

There is just no way to predict how prospective adoptive parents are going to be as real-time parents after the finalization occurs. Just as there’s no way to really predict how the children are going to be. We’ve all heard the horror stories of the children who seem like quiet little angels and once home turn into abusive, antisocial, reactive-attachment-disordered hellions. This is why prospective adoptive families must do their homework. It’s just not going to be excusable to be naive any more. Too many people are getting hurt.

So what does an adoptive parent do if they feel they were wronged by adoption and their child turned out not to be the lovely little doll promised by the agency? Good thing there’s this guy. He’ll help you get your justice – even after 40 years, it’s not too late to take action against a wrongful adoption.

Of course, what recourse does the child have, if she was unlucky enough to have parents who misled her into believing that they would be her “forever family?” Ah, she’ll just get relegated as a “bitter” adoptee.

Jae Ran Kim, MSW is a social worker, teacher and writer. She was born in Taegu, South Korea and was adopted to Minnesota in 1971. She has written numerous articles and essays and is most recently published in the anthology “Outsiders Within: Writings on Transracial Adoption” from South End Press. Jae Ran’s blog, Harlow’s Monkey, is at http://harlowmonkey.typepad.com/

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