We here at Land of Gazillion Adoptees are pleased to announce that later this week we’ll be posting a podcast conversation with Korean adoptee/Adoption Therapist and Consultant Melanie Chung-Sherman. For those of you who don’t know, Melanie runs her own practice in the Dallas/Fort Worth area and is also an associate professor at Collins College. She has a long history in adoption, including stints as: the Russia and China Adoption Coordinator for Buckner Children and Family Services; Director of Adoption (Texas) for Dillon International; and Program/Clinical Director of Foster Care Program for Kornerstone Adoption and Foster Care.
Below Melanie teases her podcast with a conversation about adoption disruption/dissolution, i.e., “rehoming.” Enjoy.
After catching up with Kevin, he asked me about my new endeavors as an adoption therapist, branching out with my own private practice, etc., when the topic came up – adoption disruption/dissolution and the new term being used now, “re-homing” or “re-placement.” (As most can imagine, these terms were not coined by adopted persons.) I got Kevin’s response immediately – dead silence, followed by a candid remark that only he can deliver. [Editor’s note: Kevin’s response was, “Are you fucking kidding me..?] In my 12+ years of working in adoption, I have experienced one too many adoption and foster care breakdowns. Each one haunts me. I struggle with this the most. Although the overall numbers are quite low, one adoption disruption/dissolution is too many. This is one of the compelling reasons why I started my own practice (in the hopes of helping families and professionals so that adoptions do not breakdown and ultimately do not start for the wrong reasons) so that I can speak my mind unfettered by anyone else’s agenda, except the child’s.
Disruption is before an adoption is finalized in court and dissolution is after an adoption is finalized (for those sensitive to legalese, I occasionally use these interchangeably). The majority of articles written on this subject (along with whatever limited research is out there beyond census by the Child Welfare League of America) are written by adoption professionals, and some who are not necessarily professionals, but profess expertise. It is interesting to note that the vast majority of authors have also disrupted. I have yet to find anything by adoptees that have experienced this firsthand, and want to encourage someone to come out of the shadows and say something.
There is literature out there discussing how parents can “move on” after dissolving an adoption. Some of the literature even give advice about adopting again, suggesting that the disruption/dissolution had nothing to do with the parents and everything to do with the child. Some of these articles even compare the parent’s feelings of disruption/dissolution to a miscarriage or stillbirth, which is problematic. As an adoptee, I find that comparison repugnant. From the adoptee’s perspective, it is a death all over again and not by choice. It is an affirmation of an internal voice that was waiting for the shoe to drop, reminding us that there is a legal out. Adoptees don’t get to just move on, and are not afforded that privilege, particularly for our children of color.
I know what happens to each child after a failed adoption. They are labeled with the scarlet letter “A” – abandoned again. Finding another placement for these kids is difficult. Nevertheless, there are agencies, attorneys and workers that will approve parents who have dissolved an adoption to adopt again.
I remember the ill-advice from others who told my parents to “just send him back” (referring to my brother, a Korean adoptee) when things got tough for my family. I learned from a young age that there was a socially acceptable legal loophole for the big people to get “out” when you are not biologically connected. I remember thinking if it could happen before, it can happen again. Better watch out. Thankfully, my parents did not give credence to that sick advice. Looking back, though, that episode impacted me more than I understood as a child. I’ve heard other people compare disruption/dissolution to divorce, which is between two consenting adults and, for the most part, a mutual agreement to terminate a committed relationship. Adoption is not between two consenting parties, but decisions made on behalf of child by adults in power. Plain and simple. Ultimately, dissolving an adoption is an adult decision that falls squarely on the shoulders of the adults before, during and after the placement of a child; for every disruption/dissolution that I have been a part of, I am just as much to blame for failing each child.
Suggesting that disruption/dissolution is anything less, only places blame on the child. And let me be very clear to anyone reading this and considering the stories of “kids too out of control” or “dangerous.” It is not the child’s fault or decision to be “re-homed” or placed into the world of adoption to begin with. Why should a child trust an adult after multiple placements? Who gave an adult the right to claim instant obedience, gratefulness and attachment over any other human being, let alone one who has experienced the trauma of abandonment, institutionalization, abuse and neglect? When unrealistic expectations (usually connected to a parent’s motivation to adopt) and fantasies overshadow the needs of the child without professional help and intervention, things will start to go bad.
This is the dark side of adoption that people rarely mentioned, and one that is typically pushed to the outer fringes in the adoption community for obvious reasons. There are many different players. And, like any other aspect of adoption, child welfare and placement is extremely complex, messy and a legal nightmare, not to mention the emotional and psychological fall-out. So, let’s not sugarcoat this practice because there is no way to “nice up” legal abandonment – and sometimes illegal abandonment. One of the most troubling cases in my past was when an adoptive parent abandoned their child back to the birth country at a very young age (this never hit the media). What was more disturbing and downright frustrating was watching all of the other adults scatter to avoid liability. However, I have also witnessed the power of redemption and true commitment following an adoption dissolution when another family stepped up to a very difficult situation when no one else would.
In my podcast this week with Kevin, I will further discuss adoption disruption/dissolution. There is an entire movement behind “re-homing” that involves private agencies, facilitators, adoption professionals, counselors, adoptive parent networks, attorneys, court systems, and places of worship, in particular branches of the evangelical movement. It remains unregulated and underreported for a variety of reasons. It is not limited to international adoption, but permeates all forms of adoptive placement. What I will discus in the podcast is not to satiate anyone or anything, but shed light on a practice that has been going on for some time. The conversation will not be comfortable. It will be messy, complex, and controversial. I will not suggest ending adoption or banning it altogether because I think that would be equally reckless, but I will discuss the need for awareness, education, regulation and accountability for all involved.