Each November brings about National Adoption Awareness Month. NAAM was originally a State-based initiative that was founded to encourage the adoption of children (who are legally cleared for adoption) in the U.S. foster care system. It has become a Nationally recognized month, and unfortunately, its commonly accepted meaning has changed. Rather than sticking with the month’s original intentions, various adoption groups, agencies, and adoption facilitators alike have used the awareness of adoption this month brings to advertise all types of adoption. The misinformation that is spread as a result of aggressive marketing is only part of the problem: the actual purpose of the month is negated because attention is diverted away from the needs of those children in foster care.
As National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo) also rolls around in November, activists in the Adoption Reform blogging community take on the task of either correcting some of the misinformation spread by adoption marketing or attempt to place the focus back on foster care needs. At the beginning of the month, a lot of blog posts address the Presidential Proclamation of the month—mostly in critique. These proclamations reveal that the government has forgotten what this month is about. They also reveal that the government is either unaware of, or unwilling to admit to, a balanced view of adoption that lasts throughout the lifetime of each person it affects. So, in preparation for NAAM, which is a little over a month away, I thought I’d list what I’d like to see in this year’s proclamation.
FOCUS on the needs of foster children (and please note the rest of this post tries to do the same). Frame the adoption discussion around the needs of children. Adoption is about finding families for children who need them. It is about working together in the best interests of a child. Adoption should also be about a lifetime of post-adoption support for fostered adults and adult adoptees adopted from foster care.
INCLUDE everyone who is impacted by adoption. Of all entities, the government certainly should not be one to perpetuate the image of adoption as the shiny picturesque moment where the happy family brings home a child. Adoption involves the interaction of many systems and people who either have their own needs or are accountable for upholding the needs of others. This includes foster children; adopted children; adult adoptees; foster parents; original parents; adoptive parents; the extended family members of the original, foster, and adoptive families; and various professionals and organizations involved in the adoption system.
BALANCE the ideas that adoption, when working well, can provide homes for children who need them and that it doesn’t always effectively work this way. Balance the concept that adoption should help children with adoption’s obligation to also provide lifetime post-adoption support. Balance also means acknowledging that this month is not a celebration of the institution of adoption. Celebrate the individual people who are impacted by adoption. Celebrate instances where adoption was made better. Celebrate great accomplishments by adoptees. Celebrate the children who are resilient through life’s losses. Remember, adoption is not a celebration for everyone. A proclamation should seek to be inclusive and respectful of a variety of experiences and views.
ACKNOWLEDGE that there are problems, that the government knows what these problems are, and what ways the government is actively working to fix these problems as soon as possible. And if nothing is being done in regards to a certain issue–acknowledge that this in and of itself is a problem. Remember that an adoptee from any type of adoption may also wind up in foster care or may have some foster care experience. Therefore, problems existing within other types of adoption also intersect in foster care and foster care adoption. Just a few major issues that could be mentioned include: adoptee citizenship and deportation; adoptee identity needs and lack of birth certificate access; a lack of competent post-adoption support in the U.S.; the need for accountability and Universal Accreditation of agencies; open adoption is not legally recognizable in all States which means foster adoptees risk losing contact with their original family and siblings; the lack of tracking and inadequate sharing of information between government systems that monitor adoption and child welfare; the lack of government oversight and adequate regulation of adoption; the inadequate (or altogether absent) tracking of adoption dissolution and disruption. Acknowledge the systemic barriers that prevent foster children from having their original families preserved and that also prevent children who need an adoptive family from receiving one.
AVOID tired rhetoric. The same old adoption clichés being purported year after year sends the message that our government is not listening (and perhaps it isn’t). It’s sad that adoption can be summed up in a speech in a few lines that could be easily copied, pasted, and slightly edited from one year to the next—but that’s not the reality for those who live adoption every single day. Avoid referring to adoption as a charity project. Adoption’s proper purpose to be there for children who actually need to be adopted does not make adoptees someone’s charity project.
Will we ever have a truly balanced, respectful, inclusive NAAM proclamation? Who knows.
What would you like to see included in the proclamation?