A common term for placements for adoption is "family forever", indicating that the child has now been grafted legally and symbolically into a new home. After being abandoned (voluntarily or not) by their native family, some children remain with the first placement that follows. To their biological connections and culture, they could say "goodbye forever, family".
On the far end: some children from the Kansas foster care system have sailed for over 100 traineeships, according to a recent lawsuit. It is not unusual for some children to say "Goodbye, family forever" to multiple caregivers during their lifetime. Such was the case in a recent controversy regarding a child transracially adopted by China. Social media influencer Myka Stauffer posted an apology for "reintegrating" Huxley into another family after acknowledging that he needed more care than his family could provide:
“I apologize for being so naive when I started the adoption process, I wasn't selective or fully equipped or prepared. I received a day of online video training at home and got my Hague adoption certification, requested by my accredited adoption agency, "wrote Stauffer on Instagram.
How do you measure the intent of someone's message along with its impact? Sometimes they are different. At other times, the goal has been achieved. I think that adoption, as an institution and as an experience, can be like this.
I remember being on the playground as fourth grade pupils. A boy came up to me and teased me, "Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees, look at these!" Tilting his eyes up and down with his fingers at the same time, he ended up lifting his shirt so he could see all of his chest.
I can't say I know what that boy meant on the playground. However, at that moment, as a transracial adopted, I felt incredibly uncomfortable, foreign, inferior, embarrassed, shameful, confused and seriously out of place. I didn't tell my parents because I couldn't imagine they would understand; they were white, along with all the teachers. So, during my childhood, I generally kept those accidents for myself. It was not healthy and I paid later.
Perhaps adoption, as an institution in need of reform and redemption, does not intend to harm us in this way. Yet it shapes lives deeply, for better or for worse.
But be careful not to let the Stauffer story distract us from the wider narrative. Internationally and nationally, the adoption of the same race and transracial is the original "dissolution". There will be an impact. Therefore, we should expect mental health needs and actively prepare the way for something (and someone) better.
In her Ted Talk, adult adoption Sarah Jones recalls how, when she was adopted from Korea at the age of three, the experience overwhelmed her and stopped talking for six months. When he started talking again, one of his first sentences in English was "Sarah sad".
Research not only shows how mental health needs are intrinsically intertwined in the adoption experience, but adopted youth and adults have pleaded with those who have the power to change the way they see and serve us (I published a list on my blog for families interested in listening).
As Christians, we navigate the reality "already and not yet" of Jesus Christ who has freed us from the punishment of sin, saves us from his power over our lives here and now, and sends us towards the complete absence of rupture – there and beyond tomb. His job, not ours. Still, we are sent as his workers, his ambassadors.
What does this mean for us individually as we walk into a fallen world institutionally? How are we called to participate in a way that represents the hands and feet of a suffering Savior? And what do we do when we see an institution (and the people within it) that harm people, intentionally or because of its collateral impact? The article continues below
For me, as an authorized clinician and adult adopter, part of my professional calling is to bring this type of question into the adoptive and adoption community and serve in a way that moves people within it towards health and restoration.
The mental health of the adopted
To begin with, adoption-related needs are often associated with other mental health-related needs. This is not a personal heart control for the adoptive parents, but rather a community evaluation of the system that uses their money and, ultimately, a call to understand and serve children who are influenced by the experience of birth, abandonment , not management and adoption.
Comorbidity. Co means common, mutual or common. Soft indicates disease. Comorbidity as a mental health term refers to the presence of two or more "conditions" in a person. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) is used to classify symptoms in diagnosis (such as PTSD, depression, anxiety, reactive attachment disorder). I put the conditions in quotes because I recognize that not all clinicians find value in attributing DSM-5 labels to real people, as if they were somehow problems to solve, reduced to a kind of pathology. Can you help with insurance and get access to services? Sometimes. Can it also help to name a unique experience, a variety of symptoms and struggles? Certainly.
However, as noted psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk states, “Before reaching the age of twenty, many patients received four, five, six or more of these impressive but insignificant labels. If they receive treatment, they get whatever is promulgated as a method of managing the day: medications, behavioral modification or exposure therapy. These work rarely and often cause more damage. "
I can see it from both sides. Here are some of the common DSM-5 "labels" they adopt and which adopted people may receive at some point in their narrative:
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
Obsessive compulsive childhood disorders
Oppositional provocative disorder
Reactive attachment disorder
Post traumatic stress disorder
As an adopter and clinician, my heart sinks when I imagine how many of us might have difficulty navigating one of those symptom groups at the moment, not to mention multiple layers of them.
Just take one of these diagnoses: some research suggests that ADHD is higher among adopted subjects than unadopted peers. This could be due to increased stress related to unfavorable neonatal conditions, separation from caregivers or negligence during the foster / adoption process. There is also the additional stress of having to make sense of life's events. If an infant or child is involved in defining meaning, there may be a delay in other milestones related to emotional, cognitive and physical development. Since ADHD includes a genetic component, adoptive parents must also consider the generational impact of addiction, depression, abuse and other factors.
In all diagnoses, an important aspect here is that adoptive and adoptive placements can contribute to this stress or act as a protective factor. Sometimes they are both.
In addition to clinical diagnoses, some adoptees struggle to make sense of the death, or perceived death, of their biological / natural parents (see adoption author and activist Valerie Andrews, executive director of Origins Canada, for a dialogue on language). The article continues below
Biological parents, the original attachment figure, remain psychologically present but physically absent, an idea that social worker, professor and adoption JaeRan Kim unpack in his article on ambiguous loss. And when an adopted person does not receive social or cultural approval to mourn that loss, it becomes more difficult to heal from it. This invalidation is called mourning without rights. I would never ask the couple struggling with infertility: "Why can't you just be grateful?" We must be just as sensitive with children who navigate adoption and foster care; otherwise, we risk blocking them from such recovery.
In addition, we must consider transracial adoption and the complexities related to a white supremacist country, laws and policies (written or unwritten) that build or maintain inequity between racial groups, individuals (internalized, interpersonal) and systemic (institutional, structural ) racism, racial abuse (micro aggression) and other various forms of racialized oppression. How inconsistent is it for a country to facilitate its citizens to adopt children in their homes but to support walls, rules and attitudes against their peers and parents? Children notice it.
Comorbidity affects adopted people in many ways. It is important to say that not everyone adopts experiences with mental health needs at a clinically significant level. We do not want to pathologize children who surf for adoption and stay. We want to normalize our experiences and we want to increase awareness of our stories. If the only adoption voices you hear are those that say, "My parents were fantastic and I'm so grateful to you," then you lose the rich and essential learning for your family.
Adoption interrupts many of us from the everyday life experiences that most take for granted and that need to be brought to light. We can call it adoption, fostering, reintegration, dissolution, dissolution, interruption … but whatever we call it, our actual lived experiences will hurt.
Where do we go from here?
I am not the judge of anyone who has adopted or expressed their opinion against adoption (or "rehoming"), or even on any particular agency. A friend recently shared: "It's none of our business. We weren't there. It's between them and God."
I think there is a lot of truth in this.
My comments are not punitive; they aim to posture us as a community to consider how our laws, policies and beliefs regarding adoption are not at the service of those adopted. If we are concerned about the current and the next generation of adopted people, we must have the courage to ask those in power, trusted leaders, politicians and referees to do better.
They challenge us as Christians in two ways: our vertical relationship with God and our horizontal relationship with others.
In our relationship with God, where did we replace God with something else (or someone else)? In his book Parenting, the author and theologian Paul Tripp explicitly mentions the tendency of parents to use their children as a means for selfish purposes, robbing God of glory because they want it for themselves. Adoption is an opportunity for those distorted desires to hijack our families and institutions so that the worst of our humanity flourishes in the guise of our best humanitarian efforts.
We cannot forget the transactional nature of adoption, according to social scientists. Anthropologist Eleana Kim writes that adopted people are vulnerable to commodification, citing sociologist Sara Dorow: “Transnationally adopted children are not bought and sold, but neither are they given and received freely and altruistically; the people and institutions around them enter into social relationships of exchange, meaning and value which are both thoughtful and useful. "The article continues below
Kim adds: "This tight imbrication of commodification and care can make it difficult to distinguish between" caring parent "and" consumer parent "or between humanitarian and egocentric motivations."
In our relationship with others, how did we try to be a god or turn children into gods rather than try to serve as an ambassador of God? And when do the adopted seem more barriers between us and our desires than the same people we have been called to love?
Adoption agencies, in general, play a symbiotic role within a wider system of cultural and institutional forces, such as the stigma of children born out of wedlock, the lack of awareness and training on mental health, obstacles to education, family values based on shame, poverty, pride, nationalism, prowess, racism, religion, coercion and sexual violence. Despite real progress in some post-adoption services, I believe that many agencies themselves are not up to the kind of support and diligence that children and families need, and therefore their practices should be reformed.
If in adoption we were trying to be the hands and feet of Christ, we are also called to embrace the idea that the hands and feet of Christ were nailed to a cross by those who came to the rescue. He suffered. He faced tribulation. The adopters (not just the adopted ones) will suffer.
This is not because humans are true saviors, but because, like any good job, "taking care of orphans and widows" (James 1:27, NLT) will require the strength we do not have from us, prompting us to depend on ; actual Savior, and perhaps we will redirect our distorted motifs along the way. This does not mean that we cannot outsource our needs to qualified professionals in a particular domain or discipline. There are moments and situations in which this passage makes sense. This means that we have to count the costs of adoption and consider the institutions responsible when they hide the costs from us.
Parenting in general is a place where we must serve rather than be served. And the more we embrace that message, the more we will be a source of health and hope for those who really need it.
Those who work to be like Christ in this world will surely feel the pain of his cross. Yes, for the joy that awaits us. Yes, towards a resurrection like yours. And yes, for maintaining many lives. And by his grace God keeps us. Even when we can't.
Cameron Lee Small has been working to raise public awareness of faith, children's well-being and mental health since 2012, after meeting her biological mother in Korea. He provides excellent online services from Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he lives with his wife and family.