On Friday, July 13, 2012, I was invited to be a guest on MPR’s Daily Circuit Roundtable show. The show was a response to a broadcast earlier that week that focused on the trend toward fewer international adoptions that have been occurring since 2004, when international adoptions to the U.S. peaked at over 22,000.

Here is the broadcast of the roundtable discussion: click here

The original show focused tightly on the business side of international adoptions spurred by the recent news that Children’s Home Society and Family Services, Minnesota’s longest-running adoption agency, had merged with Lutheran Social Services in large part due to the loss of millions of dollars in revenue over the past few years because of declining numbers of international adoptions. Both the StarTribune and Daily Planet as well as MPR covered the merger and in doing so framed the issue as a matter of supply and demand. Had CHSFS and LSS merely been two businesses and  “adoptable children” been replaced by “widgets” I am sure no one would have given this story much notice.

Here is a link to the original discussion: click here

However, two things happened that led to this story getting a LOT of notice.

First of all, for many reasons, the decline in international adoptions actually is about supply/demand and the commodity that led to the loss of revenue unfortunately is “adoptable children” and that in itself gets attention since no one likes to think of children as merchandise. The focus on the merger and the loss of millions of dollars due to the decrease in the number of international adoptions makes children seem like widgets, even when that is not the intent by the majority of the professionals and other players involved in adoptions. Unfortunately, the host of the Daily Circuit, Tom Weber, kept going back to the decline in numbers, using discourse and rhetoric such as “precipitous drop,” “precipitous decline” and “plummeting.”

Even when the guests, representatives from LSS and CHSFS, Dr. Dana Johnson from the International Adoption Clinic at the U of MN, and an adoptive parent, stated there were good reasons behind some of this decline in number of international adoptions, the continued use of “chicken little” rhetoric (i.e. the sky is falling!) sets the paradigm so strongly in one way that to see it any other way is framed as bad. Deeper discussions into the reasons why declining numbers of international adoptions may be a good thing were not really given space, even as the guest speakers attempted to do so. I see this as an issue with the way the media understands and reports on adoption. Clearly there needs to be more nuanced discussions about adoption in the media. There is a precedent for thoughtful reporting on adoption by public radio outlets – a few years ago Sasha Aslanian produced a wonderful, deeply thought provoking and nuanced series about adoption in her piece, “Finding Home: 50 years of international adoption.” Ms. Aslanian sits only a few feet away from the producers and reporter at the local MPR station and could have been one resource on accurate reporting on adoption.

Why is this distinction important to me? The hyperbole about “falling numbers” within the context only of how this affects adoptive parents does several things:

  • it sets up adoptive parents as victims and is thus adult-centric without looking at the best interests of children
  • it automatically frames high numbers of international adoptions as the goal
  • in a global context it speaks to American entitlement at the expense of developing nations and their concerns about managing the welfare of their children
  • it does not address how sending nations are attempting to provide better care and better options for their children

The second thing that happened is that there was a noticeable absence of representation in terms of the guests that were asked to be on the program. Two agency directors – one from LSS and one from CHSFS, along with a doctor specializing in pediatric medicine and internationally adopted children, and an adoptive parent – were invited to be on the show. Three of the four participants were also adoptive parents so the adoptive parent perspective and the agency perspectives were strongly represented. However, there was not any internationally adopted person on the show.

There are many professionals who are also internationally adopted persons who could have contributed to the discussion and as is typical, none of them were invited to participate. Adult adoptees work in adoption agencies, are researchers, and work in policy organizations.

During the show, a Korean adoptee (blogger Kevin Ost-Vollmers from Land of Gazillion Adoptees) asked why no adult adoptees were represented in the show and why were we left out of the conversation. In addition, Kevin challenged the participants to address the need for post-adoption services. In response, the Daily Circuit posted a blog post asking for adult adoptees to write in their comments about the adoptee experience.

Many adult adoptees challenged the blog post, asking why adult adoptees were being asked to comment on their personal experiences rather than address the central questions – what do adult adoptee professionals and researchers have to say about the declining numbers of international adoptions. I think that media outlets such as MPR and others (notably the NYT is also terrible in this regard) only view adult adoptees for their personal stories and human interest potential. While the personal narrative is one important aspect of the overall discussion it is a limited one and serves only to silo adoptees in terms of their personal stories.

Let me give you some examples. Would MPR have done a show on the African American experience and only invited white panelists?

Would they have done a show on women and only invited men?

Would they have done a show on LGBT policies and only invited heterosexual panelists?

That is what they are doing when they do a show on adoption and do not invite adoptees.

In other words, it would be like stating that African Americans can speak to their personal experiences with racism, but to have scholarly or policy discussions, well we couldn’t find any African American scholars or policy experts so we had to go with white ones.

As a result of the backlash among the adoptee community, MPR decided to do a show called “The adoptee experience.” In their description they wrote:

During Monday’s show, we discussed the drop in international adoptions in Minnesota amid tighter regulations. St. Paul-based Children’s Home Society and Family Services hasn’t been bringing in enough money to sustain adoption services with the declining numbers, so it is merging the adoption program with Lutheran Social Service.

Adult adoptees have been at the forefront of advocacy for changes that put a child’s interest first. We’ll discuss how these changes may be contributing to a decline in adoptions.

However, it was a bait and switch. What ended up happening was not a discussion about how adult adoptees have been at the forefront of advocacy for changes that put a child’s interest first. No, we were asked to talk about the impact of race and culture in international adoptions. Not that the impact of race and culture is a bad topic of discussion (although it tends to be the ONLY discussion adult adoptees are allowed to have), it’s just not what I wanted to talk about.

I wanted to talk about why I want to change the framework of fewer numbers of international adoptions as being a crisis for adoptive parents. As a child welfare scholar and former worker, I want to see a whole lot of “less”:

  • less numbers of children being abused
  • less numbers of children being neglected
  • less numbers of children and parents living in poverty
  • less numbers of children whose parents have died in war or natural disaster
  • less numbers of children being raised without a sense of their culture or the country in which they were born
  • less numbers of women whose options are so limited that adoption becomes their only “choice”
  • less numbers of children kidnapped for adoption
  • less numbers of children illegally taken from their parents for adoption
  • less numbers of children raised in orphanages
  • less numbers of countries who can’t care for their children and thus have to place them for international adoption

In other words, the only thing I want MORE of is more family security, safety, and permanency and honestly international adoption is not the only way to achieve that for children. It is ONE option among many that can be a way to achieve those goals of permanency, stability, and child well-being.

I have to say it was an incredibly frustrating experience. As a remedy, the adult adoptee community did what they have long done and what many other groups shut out of the mainstream media have had to resort to – we did it ourselves. Kevin and Land of Gazillion Adoptees produced their own show and invited Dr. Kim Park Nelson and myself to answer questions submitted by the adoption community.

To hear the “Talk with me about…Everything” podcast featuring myself and Dr. Park Nelson, click here.

EDITED TO ADD 8-10-12: Apparently National Public Radio just did the same thing as MPR. Once again, no adult adoptees were included in the creation of this story.


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