WHAT IS ADOPTION?
Adoption is a legal and social process, which establishes a parent-child relationship between adoptive parents and an adoptive child. It places rights and obligations as if the child had been born into the family. It enables a child who cannot be cared for by his/her family to have a legal, permanent and stable family, which all children are entitled to. The paramount consideration guiding intercountry adoption is the best interests of the child.
ADOPTION IS DIFFERENT TO PARENTING A BIOLOGICAL CHILD
Adoption is different to parenting a biological child and raises many issues that most parents and children do not have to consider. Above all, you will need to encourage openness with the child about their adoption and their background and support them to understand the reasons for them being adopted. Adoptive parents need to keep their child connected with their origins and honour the circumstances which led to them being adopted.
Since intercountry adoption involves such a significant step in a child’s life, it is critical that only families who are well suited to parenting a child from another country, race and culture become intercountry adoptive parents.
There are enormous challenges in intercountry adoption, including issues such as:
Challenging racist attitudes in yourselves, your extended families and friends. You will be creating, by choice, a highly visible multi-ethnic family that will last throughout your lifetime and for generations to come;
Adoption has lifelong implications for all parties. Children should never be used to hold a relationship together, to fill a gap in someone’s life, to replace a ‘lost’ child, or as a social duty. Rather, a child should be loved and wanted unconditionally for his or her own sake;
Confronting ongoing racist attitudes in your communities and society in general, and assisting your child to be able to deal with the prejudices and discrimination of others throughout their lives;
Parenting a child of unknown medical background, or a background where very little is known. This has inherent issues involving the possibility of genetically transferred mental or physical illness;
Overcoming issues arising from the child’s possible early experiences of deprivation, institutionalisation or abuse;
Assisting the child to be positively disposed towards his or her background and country;
Dealing with the issues of ‘positive discrimination’, which is also a form of racism, where the child from overseas is sometimes seen as especially ‘interesting’ or ‘exotic’, or an object of curiosity, rather than as a person in their own right. This can be particularly apparent for families who already have a biological child;
Learning ways to preserve a sense of racial and cultural identity and pride and preparedness to integrate your child’s culture into your lives;
Considering the complex issues for an adopted child where there are already biological children in the family;
Considering the impact on existing children in the family of the placement of an intercountry adopted child;
Acknowledging and respecting the child’s difference, while encouraging a sense of belonging;
Addressing the considerable losses which the child has experienced;
Considering the issues of your own infertility (if applicable). The relationship between an adopted child and his or her adoptive parents can be very challenging for adoptive parents who are sensitive about their own infertility. Research and experience have shown that unresolved feelings around infertility can seriously affect a person’s ability to accept and form a healthy relationship and attachment to an adopted child and in acknowledging that the adopted child has a permanent link to another family.
It is therefore critical that issues of anger, grief, guilt and sadness have been acknowledged and dealt with and that you are emotionally ready to consider adoption as a way of creating or extending a family.
CONSIDER THE CHILD
In many cases your child will grow up in a family of a different ethnic group or race and will become aware of the differences between themselves and those they love most. There are therefore many challenges in parenting a child who has been adopted from another country and you will have to be able to think about how, for example, you will explain to and help a young child understand these differences.
An adopted child will need help in feeling comfortable about their family and background since children and young people will closely compare their experiences with others. It is therefore vital to give the child an honest, short and reasonable explanation, in age appropriate language, of why they look different from the rest of their family and the reasons they came to be adopted.
Any adopted child can experience:
Confusion over their identity and separation from their birth family;
A feeling of abandonment or rejection, which they may interpret as a message of being inherently bad or unworthy;
A sense of isolation and not belonging and of being different;
A sense of grief and loss for their birth family;
A sense of belonging to neither New Zealand nor their country of origin.
Being loved and wanted by the adoptive family does not necessarily eliminate these feelings and a child is likely to need acknowledgement and assistance in dealing with them. Children have the right to know who they are and where they have come from.
The adopted child will often have the same values, attitudes and expectations as those round them, but will look different to the rest of their family and to many in the broader community. This may be especially relevant when the adopted child is a teenager or when there are other children in the family who are the biological children of the parents.
There is considerable literature about the difficulties that any teenager faces in deciding who they are and what they want for their future. There is, therefore, the possibility that an adopted teenager may become increasingly curious about their birth parents and background at that time.
Whilst each child entering New Zealand is usually essentially ‘healthy’ there are always latent health risks. In many intercountry adoptions you will have no knowledge of either the child’s or their birth parents’ social medical backgrounds.
CONSIDER THE REWARDS
Although this information may appear somewhat overwhelming, confronting it contains some important points to consider before you apply to adopt, and is meant to stimulate you into further discussions and research. Some of these difficulties may never arise, but at least you will be partially prepared and perhaps more able to effectively deal with potential problems.
Intercountry adoption can have many rewards for all involved, and many families and adopted children have commented about the joys and satisfaction brought to their lives by the adoption process.
PREPARATION FOR ADOPTION
Becoming parents or increasing a family is always a very significant life stage. Having a child by adoption requires understanding and preparation for the particular needs of the child and your family. Some people who consider adoption may be resolving grief issues surrounding infertility. Applying to adopt may be their last opportunity to establish a family.
In some circumstances people express a preference for either a boy or girl. This could be for a range of reasons and needs to be fully explored. A child will already be named in his or her country of origin. Whilst you may have special names in mind for your child, it is very important that consideration is given to the child retaining his or her name, as this will assist in them preserving their identity and culture. This is of particular importance when a child has been given their name by their birth parents or other significant people in their early life.
If you adopt an older child who is used to his or her name, changing it without their involvement could be difficult for the child to understand or manage, as the child’s name is integral to who the child is and may represent his or her connection from their past to their future. Names form an important part of the life story and identity of all children.
It is important and helpful to discuss your adoption plans with your immediate and extended family, as well as your friends. People’s views about adoption vary greatly. Some will embrace your plans and be excited about them, whilst others may say that adoption should not occur these days due to the harms experienced by people affected by adoption in the past, or that children should be supported to remain in their country of birth rather than be adopted.
You are advised and encouraged to develop your own knowledge about adoption. It is likely that in considering adoption you will encounter an interesting and lively debate and even opposition to the concept of intercountry adoption.
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER A CHILD ARRIVES?
A child who is adopted to an overseas country is likely to feel confused and anxious at this time and the experience of joining a family in a new country may be overwhelming. This may be especially so for an older child.
Not only is the child learning about their new family, they have left behind everything they have ever known. The new family may be unable to speak the child’s language and often the child is non-verbal, or cannot speak English. The child will therefore often have limited opportunity to express their feelings and needs.
It is important that people considering adoption are sensitive to this and flexible enough to allow the child some transition time to settle into their entirely new world. Holidays and other travel are best taken at a later time. Sensitivity with limiting the numbers of family and friends visiting in the first weeks is helpful, although family and friends will be excited by your child’s arrival, and keen to meet and welcome them. Taking things at the child’s pace helps the child adjust to the new surroundings.
Where there are already children in the family, they may feel jealous or left out. Normal sibling rivalry may result which could be complicated by the adoption issues and the visual differences between the children.
HOW CAN ADOPTED PEOPLE SEEK OUT THEIR BIRTH FAMILIES?
Experience shows that many adopted people wish to reconnect with their country and culture of origin once they become adults. Many also wish to search for and make contact with their birth families. This is true for children who are adopted locally and from overseas countries. Birth parents or other family members from overseas countries may also seek information and/or contact with the child in later years as the child grows up. This is becoming increasingly common.
Overseas countries have procedures for post-adoption contact in place where it is possible for this to occur. Some adopted people from overseas who seek out their birth family or reconnect with their culture of origin, may find difficulties in coming to terms with it if they are unable to form a relationship with or communicate with these family members or their culture.
For many birth families, especially where the child had been in their care for some time (months or years in some cases) there is longstanding grief and concern for the child. It is important that in choosing to adopt from overseas you are aware of the long term issues for the child and are prepared to assist the child with the challenging aspects of intercountry adoption. This would include supporting the child to travel to his/her country of origin and/or seeking information about their birth family or relatives.
Adapted from the Government of South Australia’s Adoption and Family Service Information Booklet on Intercountry Adoption.
FURTHER USEFUL GENERAL INFORMATION