Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Why Birth Parent Searches are Often Simple

Among the many e-groups devoted to China adoption are the newsgroups dedicated to families wanting to search for their child's birth family in China.  These groups, whose members number in the hundreds, share ideas and anecdotes about how a successful search should be conducted. 

Additionally, there are hundreds of families informally searching.  These families don't belong to any formal groups, but seek information from other adoptive parents, agencies, and other respected sources of adoption information.  They all share a common goal -- to locate their child's birth family in China. 

Unfortunately, for most of them a successful birth parent search will remain an unfulfilled dream.

It is not that birth parent searching is difficult; it is not.  In fact, locating birth families is not overly complicated.  In our recent research projects in Jiangxi Province, for example, we have located scores of birth families, many without even trying.  An adoptive family dedicated to truly learning the truth about their child's origins in China can do so, yet emotional barriers prevent most from really trying.

What are these barriers?  For one, there is a common idea among adoptive parents that a birth parent search isn't in their job description, that it is something that is best left to the adopted child.  This misguided notion assumes (incorrectly in almost every case) that the information will "keep" -- that success is just as likely in 20 years as it is today.  Unfortunately, in China next year is a long time.  Ignoring the fact that such basic sources of information such as finders, foster families, orphanage caregivers and directors will almost certainly no longer be available in twenty years (either from moving, dying, or loss of clear memories), waiting such a long time also diminishes the chances of finding hospital and police records, and probably the birth family themselves.  It goes without saying that I believe adoptive families are foolish to wait in seeking their child's birth family, since doing so almost always insures that the search will fail down the road (I am focusing on searching; whether to reveal information to an adopted child is a completely different subject, which I addressed in an essay entitled "What to Tell -- And When". 

But there is another reason adoptive families don't look -- fear.  Last year we announced to the adoptive family groups for the Hunan scandal orphanages that we had obtained the receiving logs for many of the children adopted from those orphanages.  The numbers of children listed were in the thousands, yet only a dozen families inquired about their child's record -- most apparently decided that having that information was not important to their child's future.  There is no doubt that many adoptive families experience feelings of ambivalence regarding such information -- possessing it requires them to alter the "family story", to acknowledge the impact of trafficking and money on their adoption.  Many choose to ignore offerings of such information.  I understand that impulse, we are dealing with it in our own family.  But our first priority as adoptive parents should be to obtain every shred of information we can about our children.  We ignore such information at our own peril.

Searching families ostensibly want to locate their child's birth family, yet most again act in ways that will ultimately prevent them from ever having success in their search.  Why?  Because even after all of the stories and evidence that has come out of China regarding incentive programs, Family Planning confiscations, etc., many adoptive families still cling to the idea that the information provided by the orphanage is largely true, that the director, finders and others will honestly respond to questions, and that having someone simply ask the "basics" is all that is needed to search.  In most cases, such a strategy will doom a search to failure.

To begin a successful search, families must accept and understand that there are two ways that almost all children end up in orphanages: found abandoned and reported, or pulled in through incentive programs (including Family Planning confiscations).  An adoptive family must assume that either of those situations played a role in their child's history.  Most adoptive families will fail because they don't want to consider that their child ended up in the orphanage through Family Planning activity or due to baby-buying or other incentive programs.  Unless you enter the search with your mind receptive to any possibility, you will miss key pieces of information that will lead you to the proverbial dead-end.

A successful search begins by looking at the orphanage's overall adoption patterns.  Do findings appear random?  Have any significant shifts in patterns occurred?  Does the orphanage fit the patterns for other orphanages in the area, or does it exhibit characteristics that set it apart from the other area orphanages (such as a dearth of male findings, or an abundance of infant findings).  Our Birth Parent Analysis was specifically designed to provide that information, but another source is fellow adoptive families (who, unfortunately, are almost always uncooperative).  Armed with detailed data about the "lay of the land" in a specific orphanage area, a family is ready to formulate a birth parent search strategy.

Most families begin by approaching the orphanage director, asking for information such as a police report, birth notes, etc.  Unfortunately, this is usually the last thing a family should do.  By alerting the orphanage that you are looking into your child's history, the potential exists that the orphanage will contact key people in your child's history and coach them on how to respond to your questions.  Finders will be told to stick to a "boiler plate" storyline:  "I was on my way to work, and heard a baby crying, etc., etc."  Once the orphanage contacts these key people, your chances of a successful search fade to nothing without your even realizing it.  Few will contradict the direct orders of a government official and tell you a story that contradicts what you have been told. 

Let me cite a recent example.  In researching a child's birth parents recently, we investigated the finding of a child found by a "Ms. Wei" (name changed), who worked for the orphanage.  The police report for the child indicated that Ms. Wei reported that she was on her way to the market on the morning the child was found.  As she passed the market gate, she heard some crying and glanced over and saw a baby in a box.  "What kind of parents would do such an evil thing?" Ms. Wei stated in her police report.  She went into great detail about calling the police, and the police confirmed by signature her story. The adoptive family had little reason to doubt the veracity of the events as described by Ms. Wei.

We met Ms. Wei away from the orphanage (something we learned long ago was necessary to getting good information) and asked her about the finding.  She recounted in pretty good detail the story as told in the police report, except for one difference: In our interview she said she had been on her way to work, and was passing the market.  When pressed, she finally admitted that she had not really found the child, but had been sent to pick her up from an area hospital. Her story (and the police report) had been fabricated out of whole cloth. 

A family unaware of the background at this orphanage would have accepted Ms. Wei's story, assumed that a market finding meant that locating the birth family was impossible, and never realized that the birth family was in reality a family friend. 

There is little question that if an adoptive family had approached the director and asked to talk to Ms. Wei, that he would have quietly contacted her and told her to stick to the official storyline.  An adoptive family, unaware of the finding patterns in their child's orphanage, would have then conducted an interview and received the "corporate line" about the finding.  They would have left the city never realizing how close they came to finding the truth. 

But performing a successful search required this family to acknowledge and accept the  realities of their child's orphanage -- the peculiar gender ratios, the finding location clustering, the improbable finding stories.  Our research family was willing to do that; many others aren't.  Rather, they will conduct no preliminary research into their child's orphanage, naively ask their child's orphanage director for assistance in locating and interviewing the finder, and innocently go through the steps most birth family search groups advocate.  These families will almost always meet with failure.

When we perform our searches, we make one basic assumption that has served us very well -- assume that everyone we speak to has something to hide.  In court parlance, we treat everyone as a "hostile witness".  This doesn't mean, of course, that we act rude or aggressive with finders, etc.  Rather, we probe, repeat questions, and most importantly we ask the "tough questions."  I read an account of an adoptive mother a while ago who had interviewed her daughter's finder.  She asked about the circumstances of her daughter's finding, and received the common explanation:  "I was on my way to work when . . ."  She says she studied his face to see if he was being truthful, but felt it rude to probe his story deeper.  She left with confirmation of what the orphanage had told her.  But her interview probably would have yielded more information if she had been aware that over ten children had been found at the same location, and that the orphanage displayed characteristics consistent with incentive programs.  The bottom line is to ask the difficult questions -- "Did you really find this child? Do you have an idea who the birth parents might be?  Did you receive money for reporting my child to the orphanage?"  Those are the type of questions that bring forth the truth.

There are other important points to consider, including whether to have an area resident do the asking and interviewing, or whether to do so yourself?  How does one approach police and hospital officials to get information and records?  There are many possible avenues of information, but all must be treated in just the right way to obtain that information.  And even doing everything right does not guarantee success. 

In our own research, we have discovered that a common tactic used to prevent both birth parents and adoptive families from discovering each other is to alter or switch finding information. For example, the Qichun, Hubei orphanage director admitted to one adoptive parent that “they deliberately fudged the estimated birthdate. This was routinely done, he said, specifically so that a birth family would never be able to corroborate a child's birth date should they comeback in later/months years trying to reclaim a child.”  Obviously this tactic cuts both ways -- while preventing a birth family from correctly identifying a relinquished child, it also prevents an adoptive family from having vital information for a birth parent search. 

We saw another tactic used in a recent birth parent project in Jiangxi.  While we were successful in locating numerous birth parents, many of them were birth parents for children not in our project.  This was because the orphanage had switched the police reports and finding data of our project child with another child found around the same time.  This shuffling of finding information would create obvious problems for a search.  

Not all of the hurdles of a successful search are a result of orphanage action; some involve the finders themselves.  While I have found most finders to be cooperative, often they will specifically inform us that they are unwilling to put us in touch with the birth family because of the deception that occurred in obtaining the child.  In our recent research in Jiangxi, for example, a quiet dinner with an employee of the orphanage, who was the finder of one of our research subjects, admitted that she lied to the birth family when she promised them that their daughter would be adopted by a local Chinese family and not sent to the orphanage.  She stated that this was necessary, because many people believe that internationally adopted children are used for organ donations, and thus don't survive.  Thus, even though she knew the birth family, she would not allow us to contact them since they would then know that she had deceived them.  A birth father that we located in  became ferociously angry when we tracked him down and he learned that his daughter had gone into the orphanage and had not been adopted by a local family as he had been promised.  While incentive programs often increase the chances of a successful birth family search, if the birth family was deceived into relinquishing their child to the orphanage, orphanage workers, foster families and other finders will be unwilling to cooperate for fear of reprisal from the birth family. 

Searching for birth parents requires that every assumption you have ever made about your child's finding be discarded.  It may be that the finding occurred just as you were told.  But it is more likely that your child actually was transferred, person to person, into the orphanage, and therefore a trail of custody exists.  Discovering that trail requires detective work and good interviewing skills.  Not many families do either, and for that reason will never see a reward for the expenditure of the time and money they invested into their search.

30 comments:

Stan said...

This article is interesting, but as one adoptive parent, I've got enough problems already besides looking for birth parents. I have five children, two are adopted. I personally, think it's best to focus on:

-- Helping our adoptive children deal with the very real scars of being (most probably) given away by there parents. We need to be seeking professional help to understand and help our children.

-- Working to educate our children and making sure they are fully prepared to enter adult hood as balanced confident individuals.

Anonymous said...

I would love to find more information for my daughter. However, these searches sound extremely expensive and therefore not realistic on my teacher's salary.

Anonymous said...

I have an odd dilemma, I would love to do a family search for my daughter but she is not interested at all. She fears being returned to her birth parents. She loves living in Canada, speaking English and being able to get a good education. I no longer broach the subject with her as she just doesn't want to know. She told me that she has no desire to find them as she feels that while she doesn't hate them for having to give her up or whatever reason was behind what happened, to her they would be total strangers and she can't believe that she would feel anything for them. So, I have agreed to respect her decision.

Kate said...

Does your organization offer search help after the Report? I saw that a report can be purchased, but I don't see where we can get help. It sounds like you have a good organization and good approach, how does one go about looking into it via your organization?
Kate

Research-China.Org said...

As an added benefit to those families that have ordered their child's birth parent report, we also have a large and highly informative birth parent search group, comprised of families serious about searching, or already successful in finding birth families. This group is not limited in discussion topics like other search groups, and is focused strictly on the challenges faced in China. These families bring a wide variety of experience and ideas to the table.

Brian

-N- said...

Great article!

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous 1:09 pm:

You said:

"I have an odd dilemma, I would love to do a family search for my daughter but she is not interested at all."

Your daughter sounds exactly the same as my 8 year old adopted from China. We live in the US and she has no desire to do anything related to adoption or China. She has asked me to stop talking about trips to China and birth family. But I am searching. Why? Because 8 year old girls turn into teenagers and then young adults, who will probably have their own children some day. I do believe at some point, her thinking will change and she will want more information. My best opportunity to search is while she is young and the trail is not too cold. If I wait until she is old enough to be interested, I feel I will have lost my chance. Also, I am an older mom; I'm 51 now and I realize the older I get, the less likely I will be able to search. I doubt I'd be much use to her in 20 years, when I'm 71. So I believe because I am older, I feel more urgency to try and do something now.

Anonymous said...

My children were born between 1994-1999. Do your birth parent reports cover those years? Is there a point where it is too far back to effectively search? This summmer our family visited my childrens' SWIs. I was not surprised to find that at many of them staff, buildings, etc. have changed. At my oldest's, though I thought I had a definite company name as her finding place, no one was able to locate the company.
I would love to search for my childrens' birth families and I think most of them would too, but what is the average cost?
Mari

Research-China.Org said...

While the data is from 2000 forward, the reports are still very helpful to understand where the location is, how many kids were found there, etc. It is becoming clearer that problems started before 2000, so an overview of the orphanage is still valuable. But an increasingly valuable resource is our birth parent search group, which has a wide-spectrum of experienced families that will also be able to give you support in searching.

Brian

Anonymous said...

The issue of the cost is still not being addressed.
My daughter is 13 and was found the fall of 1999. So, with that in mind, there would be no finding page. This would probably affect the process.
I too am an older Mom at 53 and I too have limited financial resources.

Research-China.Org said...

It is not possible to quantify the costs. Certainly ordering the orphanage report is of small consequence. But beyond that, some families have been able to network with people in China for free, while others have hired people to look around. Others have flown over. So much depends on the circumstances in your child's orphanage, and of their individual finding.

Brian

Anonymous said...

Brian, can you tell us what the outcome has been, so far, for those families who have found birth parents? Has it led to direct contact between adoptive and birth parents, in the form of letters? Have they traveled to China to meet birth parents? Have any of the children spent time with their birth parents?

Research-China.Org said...

It runs the spectrum -- we have a few families that have been able to go back and meet the birth family. Most have sent letters, made phone calls, etc., and some have just kept the info on the birth family for a later time. It really depends on a lot of factors -- finances obviously, but also if the adopted child is ready to be introduced to the birth family, etc. In all cases, however, the adoptive family has been in control of the interactions.

Brian

Anonymous said...

OK Brian. I understand most of the family will fail in their quest because they address directly to the CWI director for getting information. Pretty logic...

But you go even further in saying that this quest will fail as soon as the family ask the Director for the child police report because he/she will then brief every single individual that appear in that document so that the story sticks to a boilerplate.

But then, can you tell me how on earth, without the police report, would you have been able to talk to Mrs Wei?
It is clear that families should approach witnesses appart from the orphanage director, but to be able target the witness, you need the police report. And to get the police report, you need to talk to the orphanage, am I right?
The story of the snake that died the tail, isn'it?


Suzie

Anonymous said...

What if there is no finder name indicated nor very other precise information (just a vague indication of the finding place, such as the name of a road) in the police report?
Are there still some chances to find birth parents?

How to operate?

Seems difficult to do without or the help of orphanage or the help of police (which is just impossible because of corruption level there apparently).

What is your advice?

S.

Research-China.Org said...

Obtaining the police report in and of itself will not create problems, but most families then turn around and ask the director to arrange the meeting with the finder. That is where the problems start. I recommend that families simply say they would like the police report for their records, and then do all of the follow-up research away from the orphanage.

Brian

Research-China.Org said...

There will be instances where the information available through the orphanage will be of limited value. But generally, there are other valuable sources such as employees, foster families, etc. that can possibly fill in some blanks to allow you to assess what another step might be.

Brian

Jena Heath said...

Hi Brian,
Great post.
I think, in fairness though, you need to point out that parents can enter this process with an open mind, pursue information carefully (in our case, with your help and Lan's help), and wind up at a dead end anyway. Finding the finder is not always a guarantee of anything other than knowing what you don't know - and learning that your chances of finding out more are next to none. Personally, it's been very important to us to pursue information. The fact that our pursuit led to more mystery and more questions - questions that will very likely go unanswered - doesn't mean we regret it. Quite the opposite. But I suspect that in many, many cases like ours, even the most serious effort will fall short in the face of so little accurate information from China. Hope all's well and keep up the great work. Jena

Amelia said...

Brian, can you tell us what the reactions of the bio parents has been, when they have been located? Are they overjoyed about this? Or more hesitant and reserved in their reactions?

Also, of the parents you've located, what's a ballpark figure of the ratio of babies actually being left in public places, as described in the finding ads, to those who were brought into the orphanage by orphanage employees who made private arrangements with the parents? I'm not asking for exact numbers, just a general estimate.

Thanks.

Research-China.Org said...

Amelia:

Generally, the birth familie shave been happy to be located, altought some are surprised (and a few upset) to learn that their child was sent overseas.

All of the birth families that we have located relinquished their child to a "finder", so none of the children were found as described in their finding ad. But we conduct our searches in orphanages that have incentive programs, which skews the sample.

Brian

Susan Morgan said...

Brian,

After reading this great article, I'm even more convinced that for many searching families there can come a time when the media is the only way left to go. As you stated in the article..."she lied to the birth family when she promised them that their daughter would be adopted by a local Chinese family and not sent to the orphanage...Thus, even though she knew the birth family, she would not allow us to contact them since they would then know that she had deceived them..."

Once an adoptive family, after years of futile searching, learns that a "middle person" is involved who will not reveal the birth family's identity, the search hits a brick wall. At this point it seems that without the help of the media to get the word out to as many people as possible, even to the birth family themselves, nothing will happen. Waiting for a "change of heart" on the part of the "middle person" to suddenly reveal all is just not going to happen...

Susan Morgan
mosusan2004@yahoo.com

Lillie Family said...

Love this article. If anyone knows an organization that can help do the leg work for finding birth parents, let me know. I will totally screw this up and I would much prefer to pay someone to help investigate. It's not that I mind doing the leg work, I don't. I just really can't see how I am qualified to find the right ppl and ask the right questions.

FIrst things first, how the heck do you get the police report?! I highly doubt that our DD's orphanage is going to provide it.

BTW - Brian, I did order the birth parent search analysis!

Christy
www.lilliefamily.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

I didn't inquire about my daughter who came from an SWI involved in the Hunan scandal since you indicated you'd be in contact with those of us who bought your services in the past. So I'm still waiting to hear more. Also, sometimes money is a barrier to learning more, not fear. It seems we're all nickeled and dimed to death for tidbits of information which isn't always helpful. So that can be a reason many parents don't come forward.

Anonymous said...

I would really like to find my birth parents and my roots but would love to know how a minor would go about doing this because I have rarely felt where I am is right because I have no birth past. epically as I am talking child development where you talk a lot about births and the teachers ask about how you were born brings me down please help.

Research-China.Org said...

Dear Anonymous:

A lot depends on which orphanage you came form, when you were adopted, etc. If you would like you can contact me privately and we can discuss options.

Thanks for visiting my blog!

Brian

Judy Deaton said...

Can you tell me what you know about Zhongshan city CWI? We are in the process of adopting 2 girls from there. They were both supposedly found in hospital waiting rooms. Different hospitals, same city. One was 4mo.s old at finding, and deaf. One was 2weeks old and was blue around mouth and fingers from heart issues. Any insight on this? Or the best way to go about looking for the parents?

Research-China.Org said...

The easiest way to have us put together all of the important information on your kids is to order our Birth Parent Search report. While the report is based on overall information about the orphanage, one really need to look at how a specific child's finding took place, where, how old, etc., to offer any insight into how a search would be conducted. You will find the report very interesting.

Anonymous said...

We went back to "our orphanage" in Hubei province some years ago. My daughters birhfamily came to the orphanage. It created turbulence and it was obvious that neither her name nor birthdate were correct. Something I had taken for granted all the time, that they were not i.e.
I will not go into detail because I assume that this has created problems for the orphanage or the family. The family of my daughter appeared to be a quite affluent one.
The family wanted us to come with them to their house to see if my daughter recognized her former home. She never stayed in the orphanage, her own family was turned into a "fosterfamily" I assume and that is where she grew up.
Since I have written one letter to the family father but have gotten no respons. What to do now? I have the family adress and phne numbers.
Could I call them? We do have a mandarin teachers who could help with that or would that be putting the family at risk?
To the father of five who wrote, in short, that the need to deal with problems caused by being adopted/given away come in the first place: it´s all mixed together, answers help dealing with your history and how you look at yourself. But of course with five children daily life doesn´t leave much space for that, then you can only be open and let them know what you know and what you dont know.

Swedish mother of chinese/swedish girl

Research-China.Org said...

Of course you should make contact. Calling is the easiest. There is no risk that the birth family will get in trouble, as it is obvious that if anything the chances are the orphanage should get in trouble. We can help with phone calls, but you should at least make contact to maintain that connection.

Brian

Anonymous said...

Today is our daughter's 12th birthday and this interesting article caught my attention. We did a heritage tour several years ago and our guides throughout China said she was a minority girl. We agree because altho she has Chinese features she does not look "Chinese". I know that is a generalization and I use it here for brevity only. Adopted from Guangxi, perhaps Zhuang but my sense and our guides sense was no. When we visited her orphanage, the director said the same, minority girl and that there was a minority village (Yao) in the area. Her features especially hair seem consistent with the Yao people. Now for a gut check,not a definitive Y/N; after reading about the deceptions, coverups, people migrating...does the story about a minority village fit a pattern of deception you have seen previously? Perhaps experience says the Yao are less likely to give up their children or that most villages are blended monorities these days. It would seem that one could find such a village easily if in fact it stood out as a minority village and finding the birth family less daunting assuming the process was approached correctly. I do agree with the article that things change quickly in China as we saw during our trip 5 years after our previous trip. Any other comments to this "story" would be welcomed too.