Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Look at the Provinces IV: Guangxi

Most attentive observers of the China adoption program have noticed that in the past few years there has been a significant increase in the number of boys (both healthy and special needs) being adopted. Data supplied by China under Hague requirements show the total number of adoptions each year, broken out by gender.

China's data since 2005 confirm what most have suspected -- that even as the number of female adoptions has declined, the number of male adoptions has increased. While the gender ratio stood at 95.1% in 2005 (665/13,556), that ratio has steadily climbed, reaching 66.3% (1,313/3,901) in 2009. In other words, one-third of all adoptions from China currently are for boys.

Families speculate how this can be, given the conventional wisdom concerning China's cultural bias to boys: "How come there are healthy boys being adopted in such large numbers when most families seek healthy boys to carry on their family name, provide for the parents in their old age, and to work on the family farm?"

Why indeed.

In our look at Guangxi Province on our subscription blog, we focus special attention on trends in male abandonments, to see if any reasons for these changes can be determined.


Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Why We Should Find Birth Families

In a few of the comments on my last essay on interviewing birth parents, as well as in private e-mails, several families have implied that the search for birth families is best left to the adoptee, and should not be undertaken by the adoptive parents. Additionally, and more importantly, a few writers indicated that asking in-depth questions about the abandonment is not the primary reason to search for birth parents; rather, it is so that adoptees can have a relationship with them.

I understand the idea that adoptees should be empowered to search, and as adoptive parents we face a difficult challenge -- be ready when questions arise, yet allow our children to establish their own identities, identities which may or may not involve a knowledge of their birth parents. I discussed this concept in my "What to Tell & When" article. While many assumed I implied that no discussion about birth families should be instigated by the adoptive parents, in fact I believe I clearly indicated that the pace of such conversations should be controlled by the adopted child.

But what purpose do we have in searching for birth parents? Is it to provide an extended family to our adopted child? Or is it to obtain important information that will allow us as adoptive parents to accurately and definitively answer our child's questions about why they were abandoned? I firmly believe that the information about our children's history should be the primary impetus in any search.

In discussing birth parents with my own children and other adoptees, the primary "unfed" need appears to be the simple knowledge of why they were given up by their birth parents. Thus, this question must be the most important reason adoptive parents conduct searches. Although the establishment of a relationship may become more important down the road, at this point my girls express only curiosity to know the answer to that one question: "Why couldn't my birth parents keep me?"

In most cases, the answer to this question will be complicated. It may involve a gender preference, or medical issues, or premature deaths. But it may also involve money, Family Planning coercions, and deception on the part of the orphanage and others. The reality is that the real reasons our children were relinquished may have nothing to do with what we think were the reasons.

And obtaining the truth will require carefully asking difficult questions. It will require fighting back the fear we all have as adoptive parents of learning a truth that contradicts a fundamental belief we had regarding our adoption. But ultimately, knowing the truth should be our goal. We should keep that goal in mind as we do our research. As we talk with the foster families of our children, we should ask them questions about abandonment, incentive programs, Family Planning, etc. And as we search, and hopefully locate the birth parents of our child, instead of basking in the afterglow of our success, we should realize that the pursuit of our child's truth is just beginning.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Asking the Right Questions from Birth Parents

This week I had three families contact me to let me know that because of the birth parent analysis they had received, they were able to take steps that resulted in their daughter's birth family being located. While I am sure these aren't the first or that last families that will have such a happy outcome, these three families all shared a common characteristic after locating the birth family: In each case, an interview was made with the birth family, and various questions were asked. But in all three cases, the wrong questions were asked. Wrong in the sense that the true reasons their daughter ended up in the orphanage lay undiscovered.

I am sure that some of this is a result of a general reluctance to push people that one has just met, combined with a fear that asking "insulting" questions might cause the birth family to retreat and perhaps refuse further contact. Having interviewed birth families ourselves, this essay is designed to aid a family that has located a birth family in gaining as much information as possible.

In nearly every birth parent finding that I have experienced myself, or that has been communicated to me by families that have been successful, the discovery resulted in a realization that the traditional understanding of the child's abandonment was wrong. In nearly every case, instead of the child being found at the gate of the hospital as was communicated through the adoption paperwork and finding ad, for example, it was discovered that she had in reality been picked up directly from the birth family by an orphanage employee or foster mother. This makes sense when one realizes that birth family searches are most successful when the chain of custody between the birth family and the orphanage is unbroken. If a child is truly abandoned with no witnesses, establishing contact with the birth family will be much more difficult, often impossible. Because a complete chain of custody by definition implies that the orphanage was less than completely honest, adoptive families must be extremely sensitive to how questions about their child's abandonment are asked.

The first realization adoptive families must have is that the first contact with the birth families will be the best opportunity to obtain the "ungarnished" story of their child's history. Word in China travels quickly, and if it is discovered that a birth family has been located, finders, orphanage personnel, etc., will almost certainly attempt to control the story. While some adoptive families may feel that a level of trust must first be earned before the "hard" questions can be asked, doing so allows for others to come in after-the-fact and convince the birth family to change the story or to hide pertinent information.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that the birth family rarely, if ever, knows the information provided by the orphanage. Thus, instead of asking "Why did you leave my daughter at the gates of the orphanage?" ask "Can you please explain to me how you decided to relinquish your daughter, and how that occurred?" Don't assume birth dates and finding dates are accurate. Ask the birth family, "Can you remember the exact date and time your daughter was born?" instead of "Was your daughter born on March 13, 2008?" In many cases, the adoptive family will want to determine the role of incentive programs in their child's abandonment. Instead of asking "Did anyone offer you money to turn your child into the orphanage?", ask "Did anyone give you 'Lucky Money' in thanks for allowing your daughter to be adopted into our family?" By using direct, yet non-accusatory, language, the birth family will not feel guilt or shame, and be much more likely to answer the questions truthfully. If you feel disapproval at a response you receive from the birth family, do your best to mask it. If the family, for example, tells you they relinquished your daughter so that they could try again for a boy, instead of responding by asking "Why did you feel a boy was more valuable or important than a girl?" say something such as "That must have been a hard decision. What factors were most important in helping you make that decision?" What I am trying to convey here (in words that can no doubt be improved upon) is to try and keep any judgments or assumptions out of your questions. "Don't lead the witness," in court parlance.

The environment for the interview is almost as important as the questions themselves. Often families will interview the birth family while officials are near, especially if those officials were the avenues through which the birth family was found. If at all possible, minimize any questioning while others are around, such as other children, neighbors, etc. Try to establish surroundings that will make the birth family feel comfortable and in control such as dinner in a quiet restaurant, or by having the conversation in a park. The residence of the birth family is also very conducive to an interview if the birth family can successfully be quarantined from outside listeners. Position yourself so that you can watch their face, look into their eyes, study their mannerisms. This will not only create an intimate atmosphere that will build trust, but also make the birth family less likely to say something false. In any interview, have a video recorder or mp3 player with plenty of capacity simply next to you on the table. Don't point the camera at the subject, but act like you are just setting it down to talk. This will allow you to record the conversation for later re-hearing, yet not create fear on the part of the birth parent at being recorded.

By knowing the circumstances of an orphanage -- the patterns, demographics, etc. -- coupled with a direct yet non-accusatory question set, an adoptive family can get behind the "corporate story line" and learn the true reasons their child was relinquished, what factors played the largest role in that decision, and how it was that the child made their way into the orphanage for adoption.