This article has been co-authored by Dr Hannele Nupponen (Doctor of Education with over 30 years’ experience in early childhood and child protection).
It’s that time of year again, National Adoption Awareness Month, where you will hear emotive catch cries via glossy marketing campaigns in the mainstream media by lobbyists. You will see celebrities spruiking the word permanency which appears to be the new euphemism for adoption. You will hear dire accounts of children being shifted around foster care and how permanency (including adoption), will be the panacea.
Further, and inexplicably, what you may not hear throughout this month is the voice of adult adoptee activists who speak about a range of issues including but not limited to:
1. How adoptee issues and rights are ignored. What are these? According to the Australian Adoptee Rights Action Group (note that some American Activists are also members) these rights include:
o Ending of the legal severance from our family of origin and false identity by the issue of replacement birth certificates.
o The right for adoptees to cancel or discharge our adoptions without undue difficulty.
o The abolition of all laws such as vetoes or contact statements that seek to control the lives and behaviour of adoptees.
o The right to be included on our original parent’s death certificates so our descendants can trace their ancestry.
o Inheritance rights. According to Dr Catherine Lynch, disinheriting children at the point of adoption constitutes legal theft. She further argues that “inheritance rights are not really “replaced” by inheriting through adoptive families because all other children have a right to inherit off the family they live with anyway under Family Provision Laws.” To that end, adoptees should retain their inheritance birthright to their original parents’ estates (e.g., family heirlooms and photos).
o They oppose the practice of advertising children for adoption in newspapers and on the internet.
o They are lobbying for Government to undertake ongoing welfare checks post adoption and to gather statistics on adult adoptee outcomes (across our lifespan) which are currently not kept. They assert, if adoption is going to be used as a permanency option (within the child protection sphere) then Government needs to maintain responsibility for the welfare and well-being of adopted people.
2. UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. During this month you may not have your attention drawn to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child for which Australia is signatory and the United States has yet to ratify. Research tells us that poverty and adoption are inextricably linked. Accordingly, human rights instruments are important because they emphasize that poverty and other structural inequalities should not be the mechanism that separates children from their family of origin. Furthermore, and under this convention, children have a right to their birth name and nationality and wherever possible, to be a part of their family of origin aligned with articles: 7, 8, 9, 10, 20 and 21.
3. Adoption does not guarantee a better life. It’s important to recognize during this month that adoption does not guarantee a child’s protection, safety or permanency. Surely, and at a minimum, National Adoption Awareness Month, should be about highlighting the complexity of issues and championing the rights of adult adopted people and listening to our issues as well! Further, an emphasis on permanency and adoption can shift the focus away from the importance of early intervention and prevention and how we can work towards family reunification.
4. The Importance of Early Intervention and Prevention by Dr Nupponen. Empirical evidence suggests that the best way of promoting holistic health and welfare of children and young people, is through the support of the biological family and the creation of safe communities for families. Family and cultural background has a strong bearing on how children are raised and how this impacts on all aspects or their health and wellbeing, social, emotional, physical, and cognitive growth. Support and early intervention should be based on the diversity of families’ needs, there is no ‘one way’ rather many ways to support families, based on their individual strengths, needs, goals and life journey. Support and early intervention needs to build on the child, family, and community strengths to enhance capacity, resilience and address identified risks and/or problems.
Further, support and intervention need to focus on outcomes and needs to reflect contemporary research and evidence of what works best for children and families in all areas of the domains. Strong consideration needs to be targeted toward prevention and early intervention, to negate issues escalating into the crisis point of removal of children from their biological families. This should always be the very last resort when all other avenues have been thoroughly exhausted. Importantly, where children have been removed, the first point of call needs to be kinship care, and where this is not possible then foster care with the goal being re-unification. Again, whether kinship or foster, the planning needs to include all stakeholders, to ensure that the child/young person is the recipient of consistent, holistic care and support, based on his/her cultural background that is part their rightful heritage. The child/young person should be given the right to retain his attachment to biological family, and develop further attachments with extended families. Children/young people need to be supported to not lose their identity, belonginess and their right to their families.
How can you help? By listening and engaging constructively with adult adoptees and activists who talk about issues. You can seek out adoptee sites that provide an insight into the issues and complex life-long experience of being adopted. There are too many to include but some that I am familiar with are:
Shout out to Adoptee Rights Law for the hashtag: #AdopteeRightsAwareness