Article about racial identity in transracial adoption

Happy new years to everyone. It’s a good thing I didn’t “resolve” to blog more frequently as that would have been one resolution (like many others) that would have been broken right from the start!

To gently ease back into blogging, I’ll begin by sharing an article about transracial adoption and racial identity by journalist Hope Rurik, who interviewed me in December for this article, Research, experts say racial identity important after adoption.

JaeRan Kim, who was adopted from South Korea at age 3, said culture camps, cultural festivals and even restaurant outings all became popular after her generation of adoptees, which includes Trenka, had grown. She said giving children the tools they need to grow into an adult of color in the U.S. requires more than a restaurant visit.

She said the wide disconnect from language and culture often makes it more difficult for intercountry transracial adoptees to connect with ethnic communities in the U.S. than it is for American transracial adoptees.

“Anyone can go out and buy food or costumes from another country,” she said, “but it’s the feeling like you’re part of an ethnic community as a person of an ethnic background that you don’t necessarily get.”

Read the article in full here.


Summer updates

I have been traveling for a lot of work-related duties this summer, and have a lot to process. Unfortunately, much of my thoughts are too personal to share on a public blog and although I’ve not been too shy in the past to voice my thoughts on a wide range of topics, I am somewhat torn between sharing some of my thoughts on this blog and protecting people’s privacy. If I can figure out a way to write some of my thoughts without being too publicly invasive, I’ll do so. It would be good to figure out a more consistent groove on the blog either way.

Just some highlights:

  • I spent a week in California at an adoption family camp, where I was privileged to be one of the keynote speakers, facilitated three workshops for parents, two workshops for the teens, and one workshop for the teens and their parents. By far the best part of going to Pact Camp is the opportunity to be with other adult transracial adoptees who are creating, sharing, advising, counseling, educating and mentoring adopted children and youth and their adoptive parents. One of the things that has been difficult is the in-between state we adult transracial and international adoptees who work with adopted individuals and families find ourselves. We are often considered less expert than the Professionals and Adoptive Parents who do the same work. We are also routinely criticized by other adult adoptees for working at camps such as Pact because we are seen as perpetuating the adoption industry. It is such a thin tightrope that we walk. I’m eternally grateful that I have found a cohort of adult transracial and international adoptee professionals that just get it, and with whom I can share both the joys and the frustrations of doing this work.
  • I attended the Summer Institute for Indian Child Welfare in my home state of Minnesota. For several days I learned about best practices in tribal child welfare services by those who are the experts – the tribes. I have to say I was very, very impressed by the speakers and the special opportunities for learning that I was privileged to be invited to participate. One of the biggest takeaways from this conference was that not only are some of the tribes that took over their child welfare services from the state governments doing exemplary work in their communities, that the outside world should be implementing their practices. Shouldn’t every child have active efforts conducted on their behalf? Shouldn’t every placement be determined on a hierarchy of the best interest for a child’s continuation with their family and community (placement first with family, extended family, community, and with new resources outside the community as a last resort)? My greatest frustration in leaving this conference was the huge disservice our child welfare service practices have done to children and families. What arrogance do we as a system of care have that we think children thrive better when completely severed from their families and communities, not to mention cultures? I challenge any adult to think about what it would be like to be forced to move away to a strange new place and start over without anything from your former life and prohibited from talking to anyone from your former life – family, friends, colleagues, everyone – and told to be grateful for it. Imagine being in a witness protection program only you had no choice over whether you wanted to be in the witness protection program because someone else decided it was in your best interest. I would guess it would be your last choice, chosen only if there were no other options available. Now imagine that you have to do this as a child. And that, sadly, is what we are doing to thousands of children each and every day.
  • I presented at a shelter that provides crisis counseling, services and beds for youth that are experiencing homelessness. I was asked to present because in the past few years, this agency has seen a big rise in the number of teens who were transracially or internationally adopted. These teens have either run from their adoptive homes or were kicked out by their adoptive parents. While reunification is the goal, the counselors have been challenged by the difficulty with working with the adopted youth and his or her parent(s). One staff person told me that nearly all the youth they saw at the center during one recent month were adopted.
  • I am continuing to work on my dissertation proposal as well and hope to be finished in early September, so I can begin to collect data for my research and thesis. I am also continuing with my “day job” which is to coordinate the Permanency and Adoption Competency Certificate through my university, that will begin this fall.
So in a nutshell, that’s what I’ve been up to this summer. Hope summer has been good for you as well.

The long and winding road to a PhD

Is this in line with my previous post, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain?”

The grim reality of being in a graduate program!

I had to laugh at the statement “for many, the appeal of the “life of the mind” – being buried in books and surrounded by the intellectual elite – is the ultimate fantasy” because it is so true. In a way I was really fortunate that I had several friends in the middle of or recently finished with doctoral degrees when I began mine, so I had a heavy dose of reality to counter my fantasy. Even so, I often find myself realizing that like a stubborn teenager who thinks “it won’t happen to me,” many of the very things my friends warned me about are indeed part and parcel of graduate school.

The Long and Winding Road to a PhD
Via: Online PhD Programs

Looking in the mirror: professional virtual boundaries & social media

In my first year of my doctoral program I was fortunate to meet a colleague who had as much online/social media experience as me – few of my fellow social work colleagues and faculty in our school used (even now) online social media much beyond LinkedIn for professional contacts and maybe Facebook for personal connections –  forget about blogging, Tumblr, Twitter or the like.

When I began graduate school my department did not use social media sites to promote and market their activities and programs. I asked if I could create and maintain a Twitter site for the Center and now I share Twitter duties with other graduate students. I enjoy working with others in the Center to think about how to effectively use social media to promote the Center’s activities.

One of the things I make sure to emphasize when I talk about using Twitter or other social media (our Center also has a Facebook page and a blog) is the reciprocal nature of social media. A lot of professionals use Twitter and Facebook in a one-way direction to share their organization’s (or professional) activities/news/etc. But I often remind others who are starting to use Twitter professionally that it’s not just about a mass news blast to the “Twitterverse” but that social media done best is done relationally. That means paying attention to who else is out there that is similar to you or your organization and “following” or “liking” their social media page. It means thanking new followers on Twitter for following you. It means when someone you follow or like posts, a news story link or message that you “re-tweet” or “share” rather than posting it as your own. It means commenting on other blogs and linking other blogs on your blog as well.  It means making connections between fellow online relationships that you think would benefit from knowing each other.To me this is what social work is all about!

Anyone who knows me knows that one of my mantras in almost all social work (and beyond) situations is parallel processing. So in the same ways that we social workers tend to think about social media as a client (practice) issue, I want to encourage our profession to see it as a professional and organizational issue as well, beyond the issue of just client concerns (i.e. clients engaging in problematic behaviors on social media sites) which is where most of the emphasis on social media is currently situated.

Continue reading “Looking in the mirror: professional virtual boundaries & social media”

Virtual Boundaries: Ethical Considerations for the Use of Social Media in Social Work

My colleague Ericka Kimball and I are presenting on ethical considerations in the use of social media in the social work profession for our local chapter of NASW this afternoon. A lot has been discussed already about the professional-client dyad or using social media for professional development, but we are focusing on the ethical sticky issues that crop up between colleagues and within agencies or organizations regarding social media.

Here is the description of our presentation:

Virtual Boundaries: Ethical Considerations for the Use of Social Media in Social Work
Ericka Kimball, MSW, LGSW, U of MN-Twin Cities
Jae Ran Kim, MSW, LGSW, U of MN – Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare
The National Association of Social Work (NASW) and Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) published standards for the use of technology is social work practice in 2005.  This guide provides a starting point in considering ethical guidelines of the use of social media in personal and professional contexts. However, given the rapid adoption of social networks and microblogs since 2005, there are some areas that need further consideration.  This presentation will begin the discussion of examining the personal and professional uses of social media; the benefits and pitfalls of using social media; and the ethical issues and policies that guide the use of social media by social workers.

Whose voice is telling the story?

Last week I finished reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. I first heard about the book when I saw Skloot on the Colbert Report and what intrigued me most was not the science behind the story but that the cells that had gone on to impact medical science in such immeasurable ways had been taken without Lack’s knowledge and the development of ethical standards for conducting research.
Without giving away too much of the story (although most of it is now widely known) here are my thoughts. For the most part, the story is told in a compelling way, starting with the author’s imagined scenario of Henrietta’s visit to Johns Hopkins to have a”knot” checked out. Skloot tells the story of Henrietta and the impact of her cells on medical science while alternating between her history, her children’s stories, and those who played a key role in how her cells were used in medical research.

Several pages into the section of the story where author Skloot delves into Lacks’ history, I began to feel uncomfortable. Skloot discusses her methodology for creating imagined scenes based on interviews with those who knew Henrietta and extensive research but I was still uneasy about how Lacks was characterized. While I imagine that Skloot was attempting to bring Henrietta out of the shadows, so to speak, and humanize the person whose cells had been unacknowledged for so long, it seemed contrived and – exactly what Skloot didn’t want to do – exploitative.

To me, the real gem of this book is that Skloot makes public the way research involving humans has often been unethical. I took a fascinating course about moral and ethical dilemmas in family decision making a few years ago, and many of the issues Skloot brings to the surface in her book we discussed in this class; questions about who owns human tissue once it’s no longer attached to the person? When does an individual’s concerns about biomedical ethics supersede the greater good for all? Should important decisions be made by others if a person is deemed not competent or knowledgeable enough to make that decision when it comes to their health and medical procedures? Continue reading “Whose voice is telling the story?”

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

I’ve often called research the equivalent of the scene in the Wizard of Oz where Dorothy and friends are quaking in their ruby slippers at the booming voice and larger than life head of the Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz, only to find, thanks to Toto’s curtain-revealing revelation that the powerful Wizard is just an ordinary man.

Last week, a story was published in Psychology Today by Santoshi Kanazawa, faculty at the London School of Economics, that claimed there was objective evidence that African American women are less attractive than women of other racial and ethnic backgrounds (the original article was pulled, but you can find it here). The so-called evidence for this “finding” was, as it turns out, not objective at all. In fact, the author of the study, known for his provocative research and articles, used a data set in which the “data” about the attractiveness of African American women was based on researcher observations and ratings of the sample – in other words, it wasn’t the sample that was asked to measure attractiveness, it was the researchers who rated the sample themselves (in this case, participants in a longitudinal study that followed participants from adolescence to young adulthood).

The data Kanazawa used and obscurely referred to was taken from the National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health (Add Health Study). The Add Health study does not survey how American adolescents define or measure attractiveness. Rather, Kanazawa used the data in which researchers themselves “objectively” measured the participant’s attractiveness. Continue reading “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain”

Inside the mind and heart of an internationally adopted child

This afternoon, a children’s novel I ordered online arrived in my mailbox and a few short hours later I had devoured the book. Betti on the High Wire is the story of a young girl, Babo, living in an unnamed country devastated by war. Babo finds herself unexpectedly adopted by Americans (or “melons” as Babo refers to them because of their round, pink faces) and soon she is living in an unnamed town in the U.S. with a new name, new sister, new parents – and she vows to never “adapt” or forget where she came from.

Author Lisa Railsback was inspired to write the story from her work volunteering in a refugee camp. As a Korean adoptee, I am often skeptical about how international adoption is portrayed in novels, particularly the feelings and thoughts of the internationally adopted child themselves. Often I find children’s books about international adoption to be largely about making adoptive parents feel better as much as they may be outwardly intended to reassure the internationally adopted child. Babo/Betti is a complex child and I found Railsback’s conception of what Babo/Betti thinks and feels about her experience being adopted by Americans, and having to leave everything she has known and loved in her country – especially her chosen family there – to be the most realistic and complex portrayal that I have read.

Adoption books for children being what they are – that is typically all nicely resolved in the end, this book doesn’t exactly challenge the dominant narrative about adoption. The unnamed country is, after all, portrayed in pretty stark terms, providing exactly the American-style justification for taking Babo away. Babo and the other children of course must be dirty, mostly illiterate, scavenging for food, etc., yet remain likable (i.e. not prone towards Reactive Attachment Disorder). And while Railsback does critique the consumerist, materialist and consumptive patterns of Americans to some extent, as well as portray how mean white American children can be towards children who are different, it is unlikely that a real internationally adopted child of this age would adapt as quickly as Betti does in the book. While the choice to make Babo able to speak some English helps the reader, it is pretty unrealistic in my opinion and serves more as a device to move the character through the story plot more quickly than it is realistic for most older, internationally adopted children (such as the little girl adopted in the movie Wo Ai  Ni Mommy, who would have been close to Babo’s age in the story).

Even so, I recommend this book for its most nuanced portrayal of an internationally adopted child’s inner thoughts and feelings that I’ve read so far. If I were an adoption agency, I would require all prospective adoptive parents to read this book before any child adopted internationally was placed in their home.


It’s been a busy few months but I am finally coming up for air! I am in the exam phase of my doctoral program and just submitted my specialized exam paper, as well as completed all my final assignments for the last of my courses. Hard to believe that I am now finished with my coursework! It feels great, but I have to admit that I am one of those students who LOVES to take classes. I always enjoy learning new things. I’m eying another certificate program but have to hold myself back….maybe one day I’ll be able to take more classes.

Additionally, in the midst of finals I was traveling for fun and for business, presenting at a conference and taking a training and preparing for a webinar which I just presented today. The summer is going to busy too, but not nearly to the same extent. I’m presenting for the local chapter of the NASW’s conference in June, keynoting at an adoption family camp in July, and in between working on my dissertation proposal. Exciting times ahead!

Technology and child welfare

I am so excited to be affiliated with the Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare for many reasons, one of which is the conference they held yesterday, “Social Media, Smart Phones and Safety: How Technology is Changing Child Welfare Practice.” I attended the first presentation by Dr. Dale Fitch but had to leave to attend my fellowship seminar. However, lucky for all, the entire conference will be available online. Our center also publishes a companion magazine, the CW360, which you can download here.

I am a pretty heavy user of social media and technology and have been encouraging my fellow colleagues and classmates to embrace all the potential these technologies have to offer our profession. Yes, there are risks, but there are always risks. The key, I think, is to be proactive rather than reactive. Yesterday, we heavily tweeted the conference using the hashtag #cwtech (for those of you on twitter, if you want to follow our conversation you can do a search for #cwtech and you will see the conversation). You can also follow us on Twitter @CCASCW_MN.

You can watch the conference here. If you have feedback, please let me know so I can pass it on to our staff at CASCW.

“Still not racist, I have a _____ friend”

Little did I know that Tea Party activist Marilyn Davenport stole the “I can’t be racist, I have a Black friend” line almost word*for*word. Congratulations, Ms. Davenport! Her actual words:

“Oh, come on! Everybody who knows me knows that I am not a racist. It was a joke. I have friends who are black. Besides, I only sent it to a few people—mostly people I didn’t think would be upset by it.”

Let’s see if everything on the “I can’t be racist” list can be checked off:

√  You don’t know me (so you don’t know if I’m really a racist or not)

√  You don’t get the joke (you must not have a sense of humor)

√  I have friends who are Black (sometimes stated as “my Black friends thought it was funny/didn’t think it was racist)

√  Oops, I only meant to send this to friends (who I think are racist like me)

What was the outcry about? This photo that was attached to her email. It was a supposed to be a birther’s “joke” about questioning Obama’s birth certificate.

Saturation (I can’t get no)

I’ve been working on a literature review for my specialized exam, and I have come to a familiar spot – the point where I realize that I have to stop gathering more information and get down to business with what I’ve got.

I’m the type of person who can’t quite trust that I’ve chosen the best representation of the literature. There’s always more to be found, other studies I’m sure I haven’t read, elusive material out there that I haven’t found that I’m just positive is that golden nugget I’m looking for that will tie everything all together in a nice, neat bow.

Yes, that is a large part of the reason I haven’t updated the blog! I’ve been spending most of my evenings reading and hunting down more articles and books. I think I’m finally at the point where I’ve reached saturation in the literature and nothing else I find is giving me new information. So to misquote the Rolling Stones once more, although I can’t always get what I want, sometimes I get what I need.

On to writing!!

“I can’t be racist, I have a ______ friend.”

Earlier this week Love Isn’t Enough featured a post titled, “It does still matter if you’re black (or white) by a blogger named Jennifer (the post was originally published at Mixed Race America.)

Jennifer writes,

“A friend recently told me that many white students will say that they have an African American friend but most African American college students don’t claim to have any white friends (or friends of any other racial group). The disparity, a researcher noted, was that the white college students were counting, as friends, black students who sat next to them in the classroom or who lived in the dorm–people they chatted with and were friendly with. But the African American students counted as friendly only people they had significant ties to–whom they socialized with outside of a classroom or dorm environment.”

I did a little research into this, and found a WSJ article by Jonathan Kaufman from 2008, that I think was the genesis for the quote above. In this article, Kaufman writes,

Following a recent discussion in one of his classes about the campaign, in which most students expressed support for Sen. Obama, Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, a Duke sociologist, asked his white students how many had a black friend on campus. All the white students raised their hands.

He then asked the black students how many of them had a white friend on campus. None of them raised their hands.

The more he probed, Mr. Bonilla-Silva says, the more he realized that the definition of friendship was different. The white students considered a black a “friend” if they played basketball with him or shared a class. “It was more of an acquaintance,” recalls Mr. Bonilla-Silva.

Black students, by contrast, defined a friend as someone they would invite to their home for dinner. By that measure, none of the students had friends from the opposite race. Mr. Bonilla-Silva says when white college students were asked in series of 1998 surveys about the five people with whom they interacted most on a daily basis, about 68% said none of them were black. When asked if they had invited a black person to lunch or dinner recently, about 68% said “no.” He says his own research and more recent studies show similar results.”

When people say racist crap, like recently when my local radio station KDWB played a song stereotyping Hmong people (Minnesota is home to one of the largest populations of Hmong in the U.S.) to the tune of “Tears in Heaven,” their response, when we complained to the station, was that “some of our Hmong listeners thought it was funny.”

The same old tired regurgitated twist on “I can’t be racist, my _______ friend thought it was okay.”

Continue reading ““I can’t be racist, I have a ______ friend.””

Determining “best interests?”

I was recently part of a discussion that focused around disabilities and social inclusion and since then I’ve had a bunch of thought rattling around in my mind about how we as social workers determine what  is in someone’s “best interests.”

The basis of all of these thoughts comes down to this: at what point is a person considered so vulnerable and unable to “speak for themselves” that it is appropriate for the service professional or social worker to act against their own code of ethic (advocating for self-determination) and take away the option of choice because it was determined to be against that person’s “self-interest?”

We must negotiate that line or continuum, not just a daily basis, but multiple times in our interactions with, and decisions regarding, vulnerable persons. Our professions are pretty good at giving lip service to “empowerment” and “advocacy” and “self-determination” until we decide that the “client” is not acting in their “best interest” (according to OUR standards, of course) and then we step in to “protect” them.

Maybe this subjectivity is less ethically “sticky” if the client is causing harm either to him/herself or to someone else; but what about those areas in which harm isn’t exactly evident or in which the harm to self or others is much more subtle? For example, this discussion centered around social inclusion and persons with disabilities. More specifically, the conversation began with ways in which direct support staff or professionals working with clients who exhibit these characteristics can “encourage”  social inclusion in the greater community. Someone in this group stated they thought that some of the examples given were more coercive than “an encouragement” and that the people in question (clients) did not appear to have given consent to enter these “friendships” with community members (in fact, it seemed more about the community members who volunteered/mentored the person with the disability than an equal relationship).

Several years ago I worked in a residential group home for persons with disabilities. One of my duties was to take the residents out into the community – for example, to movies, the mall, the library, to parks, etc. Our job was not to “help” the residents “make” friends, our job was to facilitate their interactions in the community. Some of the residents did not want to have friends, in the community or otherwise. They would tell you directly that they had all their social needs met by family members who visited and occasional (and rare) conversations with staff. Part of the lack of interest in socialization had to do with their disabilities, and other parts may have been due to personality or temperament. After the discussion from last week, now I wonder what I would have done if part of my job duties had been to “find” friends for the residents. There seems to be no guidelines for this – helping our vulnerable clients “make friends.” What is the power dynamic in these relationships, when we are basically encouraging volunteer mentors from the community and asking them to befriend persons who are vulnerable?

Either way, if forcing residents who have low thresholds for social interaction and engagement makes them feel bad, do we make them anyway? Could one argue that a client is self-harming [emotionally] if it is determined that a person needs social interaction and s/he refuses?

How do we facilitate choices for clients while also determining what’s in their best interests and subtly (or not so subtly) imposing our views on them? I’m not talking about social exclusion here – I am not advocating that we do not consider the social needs of the people we work with. I am asking about those clients who have low thresholds for social interaction and how much we force it upon them, because we think it is in their best interests?

Calling all “angsty adoptees”

Says the search term used to link to this blog.That’s a new one for me.

I guess it’s a change from being called an “angry adoptee.”

I wonder when I’ll be considered a “gangster adoptee.”I’ll get my fedora and zoot suit ready.

It’s all in the same continuum of challenging the status quo.

Re/view: Choosing ethnicity, negotiating race

When you are part of a small and specific population, you tend to be hyper-aware of representations of “your group.” So when I heard about Mia Tuan and Jiannbin Lee Shiao’s book, Choosing Ethnicity, Negotiating Race: Korean Adoptees in America, I immediately put out a query to my Korean American friends to see if anyone had heard of the authors or this book.

Since 2006, I have been keeping track of the “call for participants” for research on Korean adoptees that I’ve come across through different venues (most often list-serves and organization newsletters). Since I’ve started counting, there have been 23 calls specifically involving Korean adoptees and another five for transracial adoptees (ETA: that have put out widespread calls for participants- there have been several others I have been aware of that did not advertise or use the internet to find their sample).

Of those, 11 studies specifically involved looking at racial identity; 9 studies sought to understand the Korean adoptee “experience” and 4 were what I call “well-being” or “adjustment” studies. While I get that racial identity is a huge part of understanding the transracial/international/Korean-adoptee experience, I’m waiting for research that stops pathologizing us and am hopeful that more research like Eleana Kim’s work will come out that centers the adoptee as the agent of change and action, not merely a passive subject of study.

There are many aspects of the Korean adoptee experience that are not being studied or researched. I swing between feeling that “my community” is saturated with research while at the same time acknowledging that there is so much more to be learned and understood.  Continue reading “Re/view: Choosing ethnicity, negotiating race”

Elizabeth Taylor

Elizabeth Taylor was a “celebrity adopter” but unlike today’s celebrities, never made a big deal about it. In fact, it was hard for me to find a photo of her with her daughter! She died today at age 79. Condolences to her family.


Elizabeth Taylor with daughter Maria Burton



Treating difference

– otherwise known as the post in which I ruminate on the “other” and whether inclusion or exclusion is the answer.**

We (those of us who fit in to a dominant group) like to tell people who don’t (the other) how they should live. And then we often expect gratitude from them for our generosity in thinking about their “best interests.”

One of the books I’m currently reading is “Developmental Disabilities and Child Welfare.” by Ronald Hughes and Judith Rycus. This book, published in 1998, is a good primer for anyone looking to become more informed about how child welfare professionals need to understand and respond to children in the child welfare system with disabilities. While reading this book earlier today, I was struck by the author’s discussion about the importance of the inclusion of children with disabilities into mainstream settings (here I believe they mostly are referring to educational settings, but could definitely be expanded to all settings in which typically developing children interact).

The authors stress that segregation is a disservice to both individuals with disabilities as well as to society in large, because for the individual it 1) denies the person the opportunity to be part of the same world as anyone else, 2) it sends a message that they inherently can’t participate in the same activities as the rest of society, and 3) singles them out for special treatment rather than treating them as their typically-abled peers.

The disadvantage to society at large is that segregation perpetuates the stereotypes and myths about persons with disabilities, and that society will not recognize the many contributions that are made to society by persons with disabilities . The authors write, “An extension of this myth is that people with disabilities prefer life and activities with ‘their own kind.’ It is true that years of segregation can contribute to feelings of anxiety and fear when a person with a disability is confronted with an integrated environment…This myth is often a rationalization to cover and reinforce our own discomfort in the presence of persons with disabilities” (p.23). Continue reading “Treating difference”

What I’m Reading

Here are the books I’m currently reading (not including all the articles I’m reading for my current literature review!)

Surviving your dissertation: A Comprehensive Guide to Content and Process, by Kjell Erik Rudestam & Rae R. Newton






Choosing ethnicity, negotiating race: Korean adoptees in America, by Mia Tuan and Jiannbin Lee Shiao






Feminism for real: Deconstructing the academic industrial complex of feminism, edited by Jessica Yee







Developmental Disabilities and child welfare, by Ronald C. Hughes & Judith S. Rycus






Formed families: Adoption of children with handicaps, edited by Laraine Masters Glidden






Kornel Esti: A novel, by Dezso Kosztolanyi

Subject or Object

Photo by Luigi Diamanti

I’m re-posting a blog post I wrote about three years ago on my other blog, that I initially titled “Life in the Fishbowl.” I wrote this post when I was reading a lot of academic books and peer-review articles about transracial and transnational adoption written by academics and adoptive parents (more on that later) and reflecting about how they relate to me, the subject and/or object of study. When I wrote this post I had been accepted into my current doctoral program, so I was also conscious about the research I was about to undertake and what the perspective(s) would be from “the other side” of the research.

As I’ve made my journey through school, one of the things I’ve been struck by is how little discussion there has been overall about insider/outsider issues – not just in terms of research (and what discussion I’ve had on insider/outsider research has been mostly contained in my qualitative research class) but also in practice.

In some areas of the “helping professions” there is a lot of emphasis on practitioner insider knowledge. Chemical dependency treatment and domestic violence are two areas in which it seems that a personal experience as a client is considered expertise. This is not so in child welfare, where my research areas reside, or in disability studies (my collateral area). I have met a very small handful of practitioners or researchers that come to child welfare as a client of child welfare services. That is, there is a very small group of foster care alum or adopted persons or birth families that have been *in the system* as a client of child welfare services that currently work within these systems as professionals. The most often recognized member of the foster/adoption “triad” that works in the child welfare system is the foster or adoptive parent – who are in some ways overrepresented – and they are often  put up on a pedestal as bastions of knowledge because of their lived experience.

But what about the now grown-up children and/or the birth parent, how do we contribute to this knowledge base? Well, unfortunately we are often considered suspect. Two things happen frequently when we talk about system changes that we think need to happen: 1) we are tokenized and 2) our objectivity is questioned, and we are told our personal experiences are merely one story, irrelevant to the larger body of peer-reviewed, quasi-experimental, large nationally representative data set that found X, Y or Z. I have told this story before – I was once told by an adoption professional that my lived experience as a transracial, transnational adopted person did not make me an expert on adoption. Somehow, this person believed that their experience as a professional made them more of an expert on my own lived experience than mine. This is what is frustrates me about the social work profession.

It is interesting to me that adoptive/foster parents aren’t considered to be subjective. In fact, in the social work and psychology field many research studies about adoption are conducted by adoptive parents who fill dual roles as parent and academic. Some even mention their adoptive parent status or their personal experiences within the articles they publish. Where are the research studies by adult adoptees and/or formerly fostered persons? Are we silent on our status? And if so, why? Have others experienced what I have – when wrestling with insider/outsider questions in research and practice – been told I was “too close” to the topic and that I should find another area of research? (My guess is that similar to other areas of research/practice, such as mental health, social work professionals with insider knowledge have also largely remained silent. How sad. I find role models like Kay Redfield Jamison very inspiring).

Some of us choose to work within the system as an agent of change. Others take a more grass-roots approach, organizing to put pressure on the policies and procedures from outside the system. In my adult life, working on behalf of the rights of adopted and fostered persons, I have taken both approaches at different (and sometimes at the same) times.

Personally, I don’t think the solution to these hard questions about how one approaches research and practice from within a population that one is also a member of should be to choose something else. I think that we need to dive in to the ethical dilemmas that are inherent – remembering that there are also ethical issues when researching people that are members of a group in which we know nothing about. Two sides, perhaps, of the same quandary – how much of our own experiences (or lack of) go in to our research and practice? And how reflective are we of our positionality?

And with that question, here is the re-post from April, 2008 on my former blog, Harlow’s Monkey:

Continue reading “Subject or Object”

The future of social work?

This past month I’ve had a few conversations with fellow social work graduate students of color. I have wanted to write an honest post for some time now about what it is like on a daily basis to be a social worker of color and navigating through this profession that professes to be about equality, empowerment and social justice but often continues to perpetuate oppression for any of us who are not White, straight, cis-gendered, able-bodied, middle-class, native-born, English-speaking, non-Christian and/or highly educated (and woe to any who claim more than one of these identities or statuses).

I wrote a lengthy post today, but ended up erasing it all. See, I realize that I might just come across as whiny. Inevitably, as I’ve had these conversations more often than I care to, I’ll just be called “angry” or “reverse racist,” that I only see the negative side of things and that I’m ignoring all the good that has been done in the name of social work and social workers. That I’m not recognizing that they just want to HELP PEOPLE.

In my experience,there are two kinds of social workers. Those who want to “help people” and those who want to “work for social justice.”

My fear is that this is actually the future of social work.

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We have a long way to go, Baby

Today is International Women’s Day. Did you know it was the centennial anniversary of IWD? Yeah, I didn’t. I read a lot of news blogs and websites, and let’s just say here in the U.S. there has been sparse publicity or discussion about this yearly event, surprising because it is the 100 year anniversary.

In other countries, especially Europe, International Women’s Day is much more celebrated and talked about. Here in the U.S., it is pretty much a non-issue.

On the IWD website, I watched a video about how women in Russia receive flowers and “more compliments than even on their birthdays” each March 8th. Yet I couldn’t help thinking, who cares about flowers and compliments, when women and girls still receive less pay for equal work, are at grossly disproportionate risk for sexual and physical violence, and have higher poverty rates. And while we, in the U.S., talk endlessly about the reproductive rights of women around the world, here at home women are also facing challenges to our reproductive rights.

So, please, men – if you really want to support women on International Women’s Day, skip the flowers (especially since the majority of the cut-flowers in the U.S. come from the South American floriculture industry) and compliments.

Instead, be our ally. Take a stand for equal pay for equal work. Intervene when men make jokes about domestic and sexual violence against women (yes, that includes not giving Charlie Sheen a pass or purchasing shirts like this). Tell our Congresspersons that you support women’s reproductive rights.

Don’t put us on a pedestal.

Rather, stand with us in solidarity.

Could you make it?

In the past twenty-plus years that I have been a working adult, there have only been two short periods of time in which I had full-time, above minimum-wage, benefits-earning employment. There are a number of reasons for this – the major one being that I did not have a college degree until I was 35 years old. I worked a lot of retail jobs or jobs where I took care of other people, often those who were vulnerable, such as adults in a group home or day care settings. My first full-time with benefits job was as a tailor for a major department store, so although I had benefits I still made only slightly above minimum wage and a huge portion of my earnings went to daycare expenses. Employment at most of my jobs meant working nights and/or weekends.  I remember when I first started my first full-time, post-MSW job in a child welfare organization and had weekends off and finally realized what everyone else meant by looking forward to the weekend.

Last night I had an appointment with a tax accountant. Last year was the first time I used a professional to complete my taxes. Just the idea of having the privilege of paying someone to do my taxes made me reflect on my employment history and what it means to be a middle-class person.

This past week, my friend and colleague Ericka tweeted about this website, a joint effort between McKinney and Urban Ministries of Durham called SPENT.

The aim of this interactive activity is to get people to think about homelessness and poverty and how, even trying to do the “right” things, a person can find themselves spiraling into poverty. Through SPENT, players are asked to make choices with their opportunities and money should they find themselves suddenly unemployed with only $1000 in the bank. Will they make it through the month with any money left?

I’ve been lucky – I had a partner who has always had stable employment and that helped. In addition, with the exception of when our daughter was born and we didn’t have enough insurance to cover the hospital bills which meant we were paying off hospital bills for years, for the most part since then we have been fairly healthy and have not had significant out of pocket health care bills. Somehow we always managed. There were times when between the two of us we worked four to five full and part-time jobs at one time in order to make ends meet; when we were hoped the $50 after paying our bills was enough to cover our expenses until next payday – like gas for our shared car (considering ourselves lucky if it didn’t break down); when I learned how to stretch our groceries, and only bought thrift-store clothing – and not because it was the “fashion” but because we had no other option.

I often wonder, when I encounter new MSW students, how many of them have personally known poverty. I wonder if they know what it is like be poor. I have been poor, but I have never been in poverty.

I love this interactive game, and I think it’s a brilliant combination of social media technology and social justice education. I think every BSW and MSW student should play this game and it should be required in social work programs.

To try SPENT for yourself, click here.

Childhood exposure to domestic violence

On my drive home from work today, I heard this story about the impact on children of witnessing domestic violence. I appreciated that this Minnesota Public Radio Youth Radio Series story was written and reported by a youth who lived the experience. So often we get the Interviewer, who relies on the “Expert Opinion” with a little bit of a personal story to provide the emotional content. For this story the opposite happened, the story was told first-hand; the reporter interviewed the Expert and reflected on the expert’s opinion and how it related to her own experience. I appreciate when the person affected is considered an authority in their own right.

I also appreciate that Ms. McMurray chose to interview an expert I know and respect, my advisor Jeff Edelson, Director of the Minnesota Center Against Violence and Abuse (MINCAVA). The story is important and Ms. McMurray did a thoughtful, and I’m sure difficult, job sharing how witnessing domestic violence as a child has impacted her life. Being a “poster child” for an issue can be a cathartic and healing endeavor; it can also be exploitative and filled with pressure. I hope that for Ms. McMurray, it was the former. I hope that when she tells her story, she is allowed to control how much she shares and to whom she shares. Young people who are asked to speak about their experiences with trauma or violence are easily exploited by adults for a “cause.” Ms. McMurray has a strong voice of her own, and I appreciate that she was willing to share it so publicly.

You can listen to the story through the player here,
or for the transcript and audio, click here for the Youth Radio website.

What are sick days for?

Why, to update the blog, of course.

My partner is out of town this week, which of course meant that the kids and I would end up getting sick. Isn’t that the way it always is? So sitting here in bed with my laptop (because a grad student is never far away from a laptop and work), working on an article I’m writing with a colleague and a very overdue freelance project, I thought I would pop in and at least pretend to update the blog.

I have been thinking about lots of things lately, and intending to blog about them. Instead, I’ve been finding myself posting links on twitter or my facebook page just to remind myself that I intend to blog about these news stories. Some of the many things I’ve been thinking about:

  • I saw “The King’s Speech” last weekend and it made me think about childhood abuse and disabilities.
  • Why adoptive parents who adopted children internationally did not get their children’s citizenship resolved (here, here and here), resulting in adult adoptees whose citizenship is now being questioned if they get into legal trouble and are being deported to their country of birth (despite not having citizenship there either, since citizenship is terminated upon being adopted to the receiving country). This guide from Ethica is aimed towards internationally adopted individuals. I am glad to have my citizenship papers in a secured place.
  • A news story from the UK in which the government is attempting to eliminate consideration of a child’s race and/or ethnicity regarding adoptive placements that sounds similar to the MultiEthnic Placement Act/InterEthnic Provisions here in the U.S. and what that means for the child who will be placed transracially.
  • The use of “advertising” children for adoption, as this blogger discusses. What do the youth themselves think about it? Well, several I have worked with have told me they felt like they were being sold.
  • Adopted persons who adopt

In my mind, I have a thoughtful, lengthy post for each of these items and more….in reality, this list will have to suffice for now!

Does the benefit of an exposé outweigh ethical problems?

I’m taking a class this semester called Disability Policy and Services. In last week’s first session we saw the documentary, Willowbrook: The Last Great Disgrace, an expose of the dehumanizing treatment of institutionalized persons with disabilities.

We were asked to write a summary response to the documentary. While the film precipitated the world’s attention to the plight of those who were institutionalized, I couldn’t help feeling really uncomfortable about watching the documentary.

The words I wrote in my notebook immediately after the film include: exploited, victimized, re-victimized, hopeless, helpless, sensationalized.

As much as I understand that Geraldo Rivera’s expose did SO much to bring attention to the disgraceful treatment of those institutionalized at Willowbrook and other institutions, the first thought that ran through my mind as the cameras panned on the naked, dirty residents was whether the film was exploiting these residents once again, for the purpose of journalism. Did they have consent? Could they even have elicited consent? Would I want my family member, naked and dirty and running through an institution be filmed for the whole nation and world to see? I understand that the purpose was to highlight how awful the living conditions (if you can call it that) were, but I felt viscerally that they were still portrayed as inhuman.

I am all for the use of journalism to highlight inequity; I just wish it didn’t also sometimes exploit the very persons they are claiming to respect. One more thought – I guess what I’m asking is, to what extent is it justifiable to exploit the vulnerable? We might say the ends justified the means…but that makes me really uncomfortable…I’d love other people’s thoughts about this.

Below is the trailer for the documentary.

A new year begins

I’m not a New Year’s Resolution type of person – for many years, as a younger adult, I chose instead to write letters to myself, similar perhaps to the holiday newsletters that people sometimes include in their cards around Christmastime. These letters were retrospective reflections of the past year – the ups and the downs – and thoughts about how I could encourage myself to continue with the things that went well and working towards changing what didn’t work for me. Over the years I would re-read the past year’s letters and reflect on what had (or more often, hadn’t) changed over the years.

After having children and getting busier with life, I stopped writing those letters. A year ago, inspired by a friend of mine, I began a new New Year’s tradition – rather than vague goals and a list of tasks or things to do, I choose a word that I want to guide my actions over the coming year.

Last year’s word was “intention.” I had been feeling pulled in many directions, feeling like I was bad at saying “no” to things even though with a full-time graduate school schedule, 20 hour a week Research Assistant position, and parenting two teenagers, I didn’t have the time to do everything I was being asked to do on a volunteer basis. Sometimes when you work really hard to get to a point of competency, the push-pull of suddenly being asked to contribute to a lot of things by Important People is both a blessing and a curse. Having a well-known blog and all that came with it certainly added a lot of wonderful things to my life but it also contributed a lot of stress and uncompensated time that often took me away from the things I should have been focusing on instead.

So, I chose the word “intention” in order to fill in the sentence “I want to live my life with _______.” Having a guiding word really helped me make some tough decisions. Rather than doing things because I felt obligated, out of guilt, or just because the opportunity was presented to me, I began to ask myself if doing this particular task was an intentional thing or if I was just going with what someone put in front of my face. I ended up cutting out several items from my life and while it was difficult at times, it was absolutely the right thing to do.

So as we approached the beginning of 2011, I began reflecting on what I would choose for my guiding word for the year. I decided it would be “compassion.” Compassion for others, of course, but also compassion for myself too. As my family and friends would say, I am often my own worst critic (and I have a pretty sharp tongue). I want my guiding word to help me reflect thoughtfully about the actions I take this year, and think about whether they are compassionate to me and to any other people who are involved. This is not to say that I will be a doormat or let people walk over me; that would not be compassionate to anyone.

Rather, since the purpose of compassion is to feel the suffering of others – I am operationalizing “compassion” by thinking of it in terms of trying to think about other people’s perspectives and not jumping to conclusions or taking personally actions of others.

Finally, although I don’t typically make “resolutions” I do admit I have a small goal I want to do this year – blog more! I’ve had a good “break” from the time-consuming blogging of my past blog and want to blog more than I have on this blog over the past six months or so.

Are you a resolution type of person? Or do you have any other New Year’s goals? I’d love to hear about them!

Webinar presentation

On December 9, 2010 I will be presenting:

Passages: A Lifetime Perspective on the Developmental Tasks of Adopted Persons (#2006)
Presenter: Jae Ran Kim
Date: Thursday, December 9, 2010
Time: 1:00 PM to 2:30 PM (CST)

Jae Ran Kim, distinguished adoption presenter, reseacher and AHA Advisory Group member, discusses the model created by psychologists David Brodzinsky, Marshall Schecter and Robin Marantz Henig to illustrate how the developmental tasks of adoptees differ from those of non-adoptees, and how these unique differences manifest throughout the adoptee’s lifespan. Kim also discusses ambiguous loss, a construct originally hypothesized by Pauline Boss, author of Ambiguous Loss: Learning to Live with Unsesolved Grief, and how it impacts the lives of people within the adoptee community.

For more information on how you can register for this webinar, click here.

Part 2 – Discriminating against parents of color in the child welfare system

This post was published on Harlow’s Monkey blog in April 2008.

ShatteredbondsIn trying to figure out how to begin this post on communities of color and child protection issues, I found it difficult to know where to begin and where to end. Trying to finger the exact places and times that the child welfare system discriminates
against communities of color is like trying to pick out which piece of hay in the haystack is to blame. The issues are so intertwined that it is impossible to sort through.

The discrimination occurs on micro, mezzo and macro levels; everything from the federal legislations that either purposely targeted communities of color or structurally supported hidden bias against these populations to the individual
social worker whose inexperience or bias resulted in discriminatory treatment. Most of the time, it’s a combination of many levels of discriminatory interventions by the child welfare system and society at large.

To begin, I feel it is important to clarify some definitions and themes that you will often see in discussions and research about communities of color and child welfare:

  • When we talk about research we need to keep in mind that correlation does not equal causation. One thing often miss-communicated in articles about child welfare is when a correlation becomes misrepresented as causation. For example, there is a correlation between being poor or in poverty and having
    child protection interventions. This does not mean that being poor or in poverty causes child protection interventions; it means that of those people involved in child protection there is a stronger likelihood of being poor or in poverty.
  • Over-representation refers to a group’s percentage or number is larger than other groups. An example of over representation would be the number of African American men in prison in the U.S. in 2003. Of the 1,316,415 men in prison that year, 586,300 were African American versus 454,300 white males. African American men are overrepresented.
  • Disproportionate refers to a higher percentage in a given circumstance than in the overall population. An example of disproportionate would be that African American children were 21.4% of the children in foster care for the state of Minnesota in 2003– despite the fact that African American children made up only 5% of the overall population.

There are two important books that are must-reads for anyone interested in examining the historical and current practices of child welfare discrimination towards the African American population. These are Dorothy Robert’s Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare and Children of the Storm: Black Children and American Child Welfare by Andrew Billingsly and Jeanne M. Giovannoni. I believe every single social worker who works in the child welfare system should be required to read these books.

Continue reading “Part 2 – Discriminating against parents of color in the child welfare system”

A discussion about race and relationships

Tonight I’ll be a guest panelist speaking about the role of race in interpersonal relationships in a post-show dialogue for the play, Cowboy vs. Samurai, produced by Mu Performing Arts at the esteemed Guthrie Theater. I’m looking forward to this play and to the discussion afterward; not only am I interested in interracial and multiracial families from a research and academic perspective, but it affects me personally as well. Join the cast of Cowboy vs. Samauri, Professor Rich Lee from the University of Minnesota and myself for the discussion. If you miss tonight’s performance and post-show discussion, there will be another post-show dialogue on November 24th with author David Mura and Asian American scholar SooJin Pate.

Information on the show (you can click here for more info)
The Guthrie Theater presents a Mu Performing Arts production of Cowboy Versus Samurai
by Michael Golamco
directed by Randy Reyes

The lives of the only two Asian Americans in the tiny town of Breakneck, Wyoming, are turned upside down when the beautiful Veronica Lee, a Korean American teacher from New York City, moves to town. Cowboy Versus Samurai is a romantic comedy that re-imagines the Cyrano de Bergerac story in which the “nose” is race. This production features actors John Catron, Sun Mee Chomet (Macbeth), Kurt Kwan (Mu’s production of Yellow Face) and Sherwin Resurreccion (M. Butterfly).

A brief history of child removal/child protection (part 1)

This post was first written in February, 2007 on my Harlow’s Monkey blog.

Seesaw_1 One of the first things that a social worker who focuses on child welfare issues soon realizes is that the practice of child welfare is fraught with several inherent value and ethical conflicts.

At the core of this conflict is the question of whose rights take precedence: the parent or the child.

Over the past 200 years, our society has struggled with this conflict. Thus, at some points in history we will find that the rights of the child are considered more important; at other times we see laws and policies that support the rights of the parents.

We tend to think that child abuse happens squarely within the context of a nuclear family and often, we blame those who are responsible for the day to day care of said child or children. But I agree with Pecora, Whittaker, et. al (2000) who also place the responsibility for care of children in the hands of society at large – on the community, social and institutional levels. With that perspective, we might claim that any society or community that does not provide safe housing, adequate nutrition and education or violence-free environments as committing child maltreatment.

Shireman (2003) points out that on an institutional level, for example, our society is guilty of maltreatment when “schools, legal authorities, or institutions designed to care for children and families fail to provide adequately for all children.” To me, this includes the structural discrimination that negatively targets certain populations. I’ll delve into this further in my next post, but think of things such as equal education, housing, medical care, finance, employment, etc. that have/continue to purposely discriminated against some populations. If we are structurally contributing to suppressing the opportunities for targeted populations, and those children suffer as a result, then we are guilty for the maltreatment of those children.

This is not to say that individual parents should not be held responsible for the care and treatment of their children; but I believe that our institutions and policies also need to be responsible.

Continue reading “A brief history of child removal/child protection (part 1)”

Thinking about privilege

I have a pink copy of this t-shirt that I wear regularly. As you can imagine when I wear it at school, I get smiles and comments such as, “I should get one of those!” When I wear it out in the community, I don’t get such unabashed love but neither do I get the kinds of reactions others have received. Then again, that’s largely because my community is not homogeneous (I’m avoiding the “D” word, as I explain later). I often find that people are resistant to talking about privilege, especially those who have it and don’t like feeling guilty at real or imagined finger-pointing by those of us who talk a lot about privilege.

My son attends a charter school and I am on their “diversity” committee. I put “diversity” in quotes because I find the term so over-used and loaded in meaning. Despite how I feel about the terminology, though, I am passionate about helping the school become a compassionate and inclusive school for everyone, students and staff – and not just referring to the typical markers of race, ethnicity and gender but the many ways that we “other” others because “they” are different from “us.”

During our last meeting, I was given a copy of this list of privileges that many of us have. I’m a big fan of Peggy Macintosh and her well-known Knapsack of Privilege, but in many ways I like this one even better. This list created by author John Scalzi really highlights how many privileges we have – even those of us who are not white, male, or middle class. I’m a Korean American woman, and I have many of the privileges so eloquently stated in Scalzi’s blog post. I encourage you to read it for yourself.

I’m excited that the white privilege conference is going to be in my home town this year.

Rage against the machine*

* with apologies to the band (I was college undergrad when the band was popular)

I thought I’d cross-post some of the blog posts I wrote on my other blog about child welfare. My other blog is focused heavily on adoption, so I wrote several posts to help articulate some of the broader contexts that influence and impact what happens specifically regarding the adoption process in the United States. This post from March 2007 in particular reflects my experience working for a large public county child protection/child welfare program.


It’s a precarious position for anyone who tries to be an agent of change within any institution. It can be difficult to balance the needs between individual people and systems that were created to help and instead have become so bureaucratic that it is a wonder anyone is helped at all.

When I was in graduate school for social work, we were often told that social reform and social justice were as important to the profession as the ability to empathize and help. Truthfully, however, the field of social work is quite polarized.

I would say the majority of the people in the field (and most of them are women) came into the program because they wanted to "help people"  (I could go into a whole separate post about how women are valued in our society and why that created an over-representation of women in the "helping professions" because that deserves an investigation as well. But I’ll leave that for another day).

Many of my colleagues spoke passionately about how their personal spiritual beliefs "called them" to the field.Well, I have no argument with that because in a way I also feel "called" to my work, though not by a sense of spiritual duty. My "calling" if you can call it that, was based on many goals;  first, I did not want to participate in a profession that was based on the production, marketing or selling of consumable goods. Secondly, I wanted to try to be an agent of change within the field and represent as a voice not included in the existing framework (as both a person of color and as an adoptee). Third, I strongly felt I could contribute to critiquing and challenging the current paradigms of practice and research.

I think "helping people" is a nice goal too. And I believe that it is very important. But in my view, having only a tight focus on "helping people" is limiting. We can "empower" people to change their lives on a singlular basis and I believe that is all well and good. But without looking at the rest of what is happening in the forest, we might be encouraging people to try and work within an overall system that is set up to fail them and send ’em right back to your doorstep.

We give a lot of lip service to the abstractions of  "social reform," "social justice," and "empowerment." But it would be more accurate to say that a great deal of social work involves social control more than our obligation to empower the people we serve. And, in fact, I have difficulty with the concept of "empowerment" because as one of my insightful fellow grad students once stated,"empowerment is a gift we bestow on our [clients]." We’re speaking about privilege here, because as social workers we have the power and control (backed up by our government and agencies) to make people do certain things in order to receive services. Right, we don’t just believe in the welfare state – people need to prove or earn their way to services.

What we are really about is telling people how to fix their lives the way we think it should be fixed, as arbiters of whatever framework of morality we believe.

The result is a push-pull between "worker" and "client" (on a tangent, let me just say that I really despise the way social work has chosen to appropriate business/market economy language – as if the people who use services are free to choose among a buffet of options).

The push-pull in adoption services is balancing the needs of prospective adoptive parents and the children who become adopted. I’m not selling goods, but I’m definitely selling ideologies. In order to make prospective families and children in foster care appealing to each other’s social workers, we use marketing strategies. Wednesday’s Child or Thursday’s Child as many "markets" call them are features of foster care children in newspapers. Just like the puppies and kitties they feature for adoption on other days. We use brochures and flyers and videos of the kids to show prospective adoptive parents. And prospective adoptive parents are asked to make brochures and flyers about themselves so the children’s social workers can determine if they look like "a good match." Many adoption agencies have web sites where prospective parents can look at featured children and read a little blurb about the child. If that doesn’t seem eerily like shopping on the internet, then you are not being honest with yourself.

It’s one part marketing and one part matching services like an on-line dating service would provide. Which begs the question: who is the real "customer" in this transaction? The prospective parent, or the child?

Continue reading “Rage against the machine*”


One of the regular blogs I subscribe to in my RSS feeder is PostSecret. If you haven’t heard of PostSecret yet, it’s a blog hosted by Frank Warren (who has also written numerous books), and according to his web site, PostSecret is “a community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a postcard.” Each Sunday he publishes “Sunday Secrets” a blog post of postcards that people send in to him.

The internet is the perfect environment for this kind of secret confessional. I read Sunday Secrets each week because I know I’ll find at least one card that really speaks to me. This past week there were two of them that as a child welfare scholar I found moving.

The first one, pictured above, spoke to me because I think that people outside the field believe that child protection workers enjoy taking kids away from their parents. While I am sure there are some punitive and cynical child protection workers – in fact I’ve met some and worked with some – I have never met a worker who finds pleasure in it. I have seen them express heartbreak over having to consider whether they need to remove a child from their parents. It is not an easy decision to make and I have to believe that if there comes a time when the worker does not agonize about whether the trauma of removing a child is worse than the trauma of leaving them there, then that is a sign that it’s time to put in for a transfer. It should never be a rote decision; even when using the “tools” of the trade – structured decision making forms and assessment checklists and the like – the decision to remove a child is often a mixture of art and science.

Because the other side of the coin might be represented in the postcard below. What I found sad about this postcard is that this person did not call social services on behalf of their nieces. This postcard leaves me with many questions. If the children were removed, would the author of the card be willing to take those kids? How involved is the extended family? Has the family been supportive of those children and the parents in the past or have all efforts failed? How long have the children been at risk?

The dilemma I have struggled with for a long time now is this: when we take a child away from their parents because we are afraid of their safety and well-being, then the state has made a promise that they will be treated better in another home. However, this is not being done very well. Foster care is not a substitute for a family. Institutions are often worse and many foster homes are merely small institutions. So the push in child welfare is to move the child to “permanency.” That means adoption. However, most of the kids do not get adopted. So where do we put our resources? Towards family preservation? Towards improving foster care? Towards tighter deadlines for termination of parental rights and adoption?

When I see this postcard above, I wonder why this person chose to do nothing and hope that some day, someone would call child protective services for them.

Presentation on using social media in the classroom and beyond

As promised, here is a link to the Prezi of our presentation at the Council on Social Work Education Annual Program Meeting. Our presentation was about how to use social media – in the classroom (going beyond the closed technologies like Moodle or Web CT); as a recruitment tool for schools of social work, and for individual faculty professional development.

One of the things we found out is that while many schools of social work are talking about using social media and have added facebook pages or twitter accounts, that few of them interact with these technologies because they want to – more prevalent was the incorporation of social media because it is the “new thing” or because everyone seems to think organizations have to have a twitter now. But if it’s not used well, then what’s the point?I believe one of the strengths Ericka and I have is our extensive use and knowledge of social media prior to entering the academy.

Prezi is a new way of presenting that goes beyond the linear and more static presentation form of powerpoint or keynote. Here is the link to see the presentation for yourself. I believe you will have to sign up for Prezi to be able to make it interactive; if you are a student or educator you can get a free upgraded version but you can also sign up for a basic program and it’s free!. Enjoy!

Prezi of Moving Beyond Moodle


Please vote today!! Like many others, I get quite cynical sometimes thinking about our political system and the nastiness that often accompanies elections. But I don’t take for granted that I have the right to vote, and I’m encouraging everyone else in the U.S. to get out there and make your voice heard.

Social media and social work

I’m currently in the midst of putting the finishing touches on my presentation for the Council on Social Work Education conference/annual meeting in Portland OR, which begins tonight. Along with two of my colleagues, including Ericka Kimball, we are presenting a think tank on connecting the community to our professional scholarship through social media to enhance and develop our classroom teaching experiences, as a tool for being a presence out in the community, and for academics as a way to share ideas, network and professional development.

The three of us believe that blogs, twitter and social network sites have great potential for facilitating a social work profession-community connection. We will post our presentation on our blogs too as an open source.

Exams…and now the waiting ensues

This morning, I printed out my final drafts of my preliminary exam answers. The past few weeks have been a blur. I discovered that children and partners are like cats; they do not like closed doors. Even so, it has been wonderful to have so much support as I have bundled myself into my office with stacks of books and chocolates.

Of course now the waiting begins. Six weeks at least, they tell me, until I find out if I passed my exams.

In the meantime, I’ll be ruminating on the philosophy of Bart Simpson and 30 Rock.

Quoted in Brain, Child Magazine article

CoverSU10 Many thanks to Dawn Friedman for this very nuanced article, “The Myth of the Forever Family” in Brain, Child magazine about adoption myths and specifically, the best article I’ve read so far on the really, really difficult and complex inner-workings on a family who is considering or has considered dissolving an adoption.

Dawn interviewed me and a few of my thoughts were included in the final article.

You can also participate in the discussion that will accompany it at the Brain, Child blog.

What motivates us?

My partner sent this to me today, knowing that it warms my social work-y heart. I think that social workers often feel that this is a no-brainer. I haven’t yet met a social worker who went into the “business” for money and financial reward. In fact, we brag about it sometimes, don’t we?

Yet, the reality is that many social workers who work in government or public social services do feel tied to “the golden handcuffs” – making more money than in the non-profit world. We are always concerned in public child welfare, for example, on how to improve worker performance. Child protection workers, due to the nature of the job, often make more money than other public social service workers, for example. Yet even with the higher salaries (compared to other social work jobs) and government benefits, there is a lot of worker turnover.

I thought this video was intriguing for a number of reasons. First, it highlights the idea (based on research) that $ tied to performance does not improve worker productivity – in fact it makes it worse in many cases. Second, I liked the idea that giving workers a sense of mastery and autonomy is huge in increasing worker productivity.

Which leads me to wonder how much this also applies to our “clients” or the people who are served by social work services. We talk a lot in this profession about autonomy, mastery and empowerment. I talk a lot about parallel processing; how much more would child protection workers be able to help families actualize these concepts if workers themselves felt it was achievable in their own lives?

Reading radical social work history

Well, it’s that time of year. Finished with my course work for the year and now looming ahead is the mammoth project that is studying for my preliminary exams next fall. So for anyone else out there who has completed this phase of graduate school and is willing to share some tips, I’m all ears!

The first thing I’m doing is looking at my long reading bibliography and trying to figure out which readings will be the most important to tackle. I’m kind of on a history binge right now, perhaps because I finished an interesting social welfare history course last semester, and these two books were not covered in our class. I wish they had been, because these two books cover the voices of a different group of people, people mentioned briefly but not in depth in the other social work and social welfare history texts.

I finished “The Road Not Taken: A History of Radical Social Work in the United States” by Reisch and Andrews and just started “Poor People’s Movements: Why the Succeed, How they Fail” by Piven and Cloward.


Social Work Blog Awards

Natalia at Active Social Work blog is hosting a Social Work Blog Award!


The categories are:

  • Adoption/Fostering: this category should include blogs written under the topic of adoption or fostering services.
  • Children and Families: this category should include blogs written under the topic of Children and Families social services.
  • Diary/Personal: this category should include blogs written by social workers or social work students who maintain a journal about their activities.
  • Educational: this category should include blogs written for or by social workers with educational value.
  • Informative/Policies: this category should include blogs of informative nature about social work policies, news, etc.
  • Adult Social Services: this category should include blogs written under the topic of Adult Social Services and includes palliative social work .
  • Mental Health: this category should include blogs written under the topic of mental health services

The submitting stage will last until the 1st of September 2010, followed by the voting stage until the 31st of December 2010. And the results will be announced on the 1st of January 2011.

Do you have a favorite social work blog? Go to Active Social Work and send in your nominations!

IKAA Gathering Korea 2010


The International Korean Adoptee Associations (IKAA) Network will
host the IKAA Gathering, the third of its kind, scheduled to take place
from August 3rd to August 8th 2010 at the Lotte Hotel in Seoul, Korea.

The IKAA Gathering is held only once every three years in Seoul, Korea
and continues to gain momentum and significance as the most
internationally inclusive and largest Korean adoptee conference in the
world. With each Gathering in Seoul, the attendance garnered has grown
at an impressive rate, from over 400 participants representing over 15
countries in 2004, to over 650 participants from over 20 countries in
2007. The IKAA Gathering 2010 is expected to continue this tradition of
development and maturity, anticipating the participation of over 800
adult adoptees.

In addition to cultivating community among adoptees, the IKAA
Gathering 2010 will differ in its efforts to promote dialogue and a
greater understanding between the global Korean adult adoptee community
and Korean society. This Gathering will encourage cultural exchanges
that provide both communities with the opportunity to forge
international relationships and become active participants in Korea’s
globalization project by offering programming that includes “membership
training” and team-building activities, as well as a business seminar
and professional networking events with Korean nationals.

Additional new programming at the IKAA Gathering 2010 will feature
a mini-film festival, which will also be open to a Korean audience, and
an “Adoptee Amazing Race,” a series of activities specifically tailored
to adoptees returning to Korea for the first time. The Gathering will
once again host the highly successful Korean Adoptee World Cup soccer
match, a comprehensive range of workshops, forums, and presentations,
an ArtGathering, and the Second International Symposium on Korean
Adoption Studies (SISKAS), where scholars from around the world will
present their research.

Early registration for the IKAA Gathering 2010 ends on March 15,
2010.  More information about registration, flight, and hotel prices
and discounts is available at

Formally established in 2004, IKAA is the largest existing network
of international Korean adoptees, reaching out to thousands worldwide.
Common for all IKAA associations is that they have demonstrated
long-term stability, their organizational structure and membership are
comprised overwhelmingly of adult adoptees, they have a long history
and experience working with adoptees, and they organize activities and
events for their members on a regular basis.

IKAA_Gathering_2010_Banner_120x240_v4 International Korean Adoptee Associations (IKAA)

was established to better serve the Korean adoptee community, create a
strong communication forum, build global relationships and provide a
location where Korean adoptees can turn when in need of a resource.

The mission of the IKAA Network is to enrich the global adoption
community, promote the sharing of information and resources between
adult adoptee associations, strengthen cross-cultural relations and
innovate post-adoption services for the broader international adoptee

IKAA Network Organizations

Adopted Koreans’ Association (Sweden) | Arierang (The Netherlands) | Korea Klubben (Denmark) | Racines Coréennes (France) | AK Connection (Minnesota, USA) | Also-Known-As, Inc. (New York, USA) | Asian Adult Adoptees of Washington (Washington, USA)

IKAA Gathering 2010 Supporting Organizations

Korean Adoptees of Hawai’i (Hawai’i, USA) | Asian Adult Adoptees of British Columbia (Canada) | Boston Korean Adoptees (Massachusetts, USA) | Forum for Korean Adoptees (Norway) | Korean Adoptees of Chicago (Illinois, US)