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  1. Debbie -

    Responses to Sunday Observer

    03 February 2013 1:58pm

    As one of the Hong Kong Adoptees involved in this study I feel that I am qualified in some manner to speak on this topic.
    Identity is a strange concept – easy to dismiss if your existence, your facial features, your place in society is not challenged. But for those of us who do not fit neatly into the accepted and perceived norms of UK society and culture it is an entirely different matter.
    People say that things have changed that we have moved on. As a British-Hong Kong Chinese/East Asian and transracial adoptee I beg to differ. My front line experience both in the work place and on the streets is that racism and prejudice is if anything, alive and well, kicking, spitting and slamming the door in our ethnically defined faces.
    This study I hope would be taken for what it is, perhaps the first step into better understanding the condition, the challenges, the traumas and the legacy that transracial adoption leaves. It can be both positive and negative. The influencers of that are those who have the power to effect change, policy makers and the family makers. Those who seek to aid people who wish to adopt. This study is by no means a doom and gloom study. But neither is it a fairytale “and they all lived happily ever after”. There are cautionary tales in there; there are red flags that we as a responsible society ignore at our own peril. Adoption is not about the needs of the adopting family, it’s about the needs and what is best for the child. If we society seeks to endorse and continue to support transracial adoption then it must take responsibility for what transracial adoption can do to a child. It must therefore surely put in place processes, procedures assistance and guidance that will minimise and negate the negative effects. It has to acknowledge and accept a wider spectrum of human and cultural expression. Inclusion of all aspects of the child and embracing that and accommodating that not ignoring, devaluing or” stripping” away those components. Transracial adoption should in my personal view be the last resort when all else has failed.
    More research needs to be done and more transracial adoptees need to be heard and listened to that cover the full spectrum experience. But those voices need to be listened to and not dismissed. Who amongst us has the right to dismiss another’s experience – we may not agree with that experience, we may find that experience difficult to relate to, but just because we have no knowledge or understanding of that experience by no means should belittle or negate the validity of that experience.

    04 February 2013 1:21am

    The BAAF research included a written questionnaire which enabled them to compare the Hong Kong cohort to a control group ie there was a comparative study. Why not ask questions instead of making assumptions? This was followed up by personal interviews, thus providing quantitative and qualitative information. Many of us found the questionnaire extremely hard to do as we felt the pre-set responses gave a false and misleading impression about our childhoods, forming a correlation between negative childhood experiences and adoption which was not true for most of us. In fact, while the questionnaire barely touched upon questions of race, identity, culture or belonging, it also did not enable us to point to the fact we were brought up in the 1960’s when parenting was very different from today. A huge number of parents – non-adoptive and adoptive alike – would be in prison today if they disciplined us as they did back then.
    It was in the follow-up in-depth interviews that we were able to discuss the issues around culture and identity. I’m really quite astonished that so many readers have missed the point here: Britain may (or may not) be a more tolerant place today – ask Romanians, Bulgarians or Doreen Lawrence – but the issue of cultural identity is perennial, universal and exists whether or not one experiences racism. I have spoken to somebody who adopted a Chinese girl: his plan to ensure she understands her Chinese heritage is to take her to Chinese New Year and Chinese restaurants. This seems to be quite a common approach and one which is, presumably, regarded as acceptable by social workers despite being laughable. My experience was thus: although told frequently to go back to where I came from during my childhood, I had the protection of my parents and family; as a teenager and young adult beginning to strike out independently, I felt alienated by my inability to speak Chinese languages, ignorance of routine etiquette, etc. I deliberately avoided contact with the Chinese community as I did not feel I belonged there either. Meeting other HK adoptees through the BAAF research, I know this has been a very common experience. I’m astonished at supposedly intelligent readers not understanding how that life experience has impacted on some people’s mental health. I’m also quite flabbergasted to find readers telling us we should be grateful. Why should we be more grateful than natural off-spring for lifestyle choices made by others?
    The qualitative study points to positive outcomes for the majority in relation to health, relationships, work, etc. A number of the orphanages in Hong Kong were run by Christian missionaries who insisted we were placed with practising Christian families in the UK. This, together with the costs involved in bringing us over, meant that we were typically placed with middle class families. Therefore our outcomes stood a high chance of being positive relative to the control group.
    Like Lucy Sheen, I am neutral on the question of transracial adoption. Life is a series of ‘what ifs’ for everyone. Had we been left in Hong Kong, who knows how our lives would have turned out? Far more girls than boys were abandoned, suggesting worse outcomes. However, had we been left in Hong Kong, we would not have been ethnic minorities as we instantly became on entering the UK, and would not have experienced years of racism and cultural alienation. I believe transracial adoption should be the last resort for a child, and should certainly not be the answer for needy adopters who unfortunately seem to have had the Government’s ear on the issue from the start. Some of us are very concerned that the Government will take the BAAF’s qualitative study as it supports their agenda, and will ignore the much richer, nuanced personal studies which carry many red flags on transracial adoption.
    I was slightly puzzled by the reference to ‘mixed-race couples’ in the title; no wonder readers are confused. The overwhelming majority of adopters in the UK under the Hong Kong adoption programme in the 1950’s-60’s were married White couples. So far, I have met two adoptees whose adoptive fathers were Chinese, married to English women.
    Transracial adoption is not akin to having your own mixed race child – something which should be obvious enough not to need saying. Funnily enough, I am married to a Black man; whereas he has passed his Caribbean heritage on to our mixed race children, I could only pass on an English heritage as I have no Chinese heritage, apart from my face.

    05 February 2013 1:32pm

    @kageyone – Thank you (and Lucy Sheen) for your reflections. I am on the other side of this issue (white middle-aged would-be adopter) but I totally accept that the only issue is the well-being of the child.
    However, I am somewhat disturbed by the presentation of this report. I have not read the full thing – it is only available by mail-order and not posted online – so it may of course have the answers to my questions. But my two questions are:
    1. The main Observer story presents this report entirely negatively on adoptees’ experiences, and says that this is a “challenge” – ie argues against – the government’s plans to make transracial adoption easier. Yet I cannot find this conclusion easily from the report’s press release or its authors. The press release (which focuses on the orphanage aspect, admittedly, as much as the adoption experience), quotes Julia Feast, one author, as concluding “the findings in the main are very positive”. The pitfalls are clearly delineated, and she says that the challenges should not be underestimated (and of course she is right) while another author presents a very unrealistic alternative scenario where these issues might just be glossed over altogether (it seems to me unrealistic anyway – all adoptions now insist on the importance of race awareness, not just transracial ones). But there is nothing on the surface to justify the spin the Observer has put on this report. Rather it would seem to argue for processes to be made easier with much more support on offer as to how to negotiate the race and identity issues.
    2. The two case studies in this article appear to be illuminating but on examination seem less so. The article is “balanced” in that it contrasts a “good” experience with a “bad” experience but this is not helpful unless we know whether the other 70 subjects group at one end of that spectrum or the other, or both (a very polarised reaction) or neither – ie somewhere in the middle. This is quite important for our overall understanding.
    In general, I am concerned whether the author has objectively assessed the report, or whether he is influenced by the political conclusions, or those that BAAF wish to push. I wonder whether BAAF, which has some record of hostility to transracial adoptions whether in- or inter-country, should be seen as a neutral arbiter of how their research is presented, though I am prepared to be told my concerns are baseless. But I note, for example, that in the Independent article on the same subject, which by no means glosses over the problems, Julia Feast is quoted as saying “this group of people did much better than we predicted” and that they “did just as well as people adopted domestically”. If that is a true reflection of the report, the Observer’s approach seems to me to be scandalous – it would be more truthful for it to conclude that an important critic of Gove’s reforms has found in an authoritative study much more evidence in favour of them than it predicted.
    The issues involved in trans-racial adoption seem to me in fact to be reasonably clear: firstly, in in-country trans-racial adoption, how long should adoption agencies “hold out” for ethnically “matching” adopters before turning to the “second best” (you say “last resort”) transracial adoption; and secondly, how easy should the relevant UK agencies make inter-country (especially transracial) adoption?
    There can be no doubt that once adoption has taken place, identity and race issues are incredibly important. My fear – based on some anecdotal as well as personal evidence – is that the negative attitude of relevant agencies, including in the past if not now BAAF, is counterproductive. Transracial adoption happens and is allowed, but the hostility and negativity of those agencies who should be helping what is a difficult and testing experience means that once the adoption is achieved, parents who need and indeed in my experience very much want help in identity areas are discouraged from asking for it. Or, as one parent said more succinctly, in a moment of frustration, “Sod them”. That is leaving aside the fact that (at least in China) the difficulties experienced by adopters from countries where these issues are seriously discussed mean that, ironically, more abandoned children end up in places where attitudes are more akin to Sixties Britain.

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