Wednesday, June 02, 2021

What Is "Wide-Net" Searching"?

There has been a lot of discussion on adoption groups about our initiative launched two weeks ago regarding a new approach to birth parent searching. Like anything new, there are a lot of questions. So, here are some answers. If we don't cover your question, let us know in the comments and we can add it to this article.  

1) What is a "Wide-Net" Search, and how is it different from traditional methods of search?

Traditionally adoptive families have searched for a single birth family in China: Their child's. For the past six years, DNAConnect.Org has used a different approach: Search for any birth family in the area, and hopefully that birth family will be the direct birth family of an adoptee, or will be related as an aunt, uncle, first or second cousin, etc., to an adoptee. This approach, which we have coined a "wide-net" method of searching, has many benefits over the old way. First, under the old model if a birth family came forward with a child that was born in 1995, they would not be tested or even pursued if the child doing the search was born in 2001. Unquestionably, this resulted in missed matches, since it may be that the 1995 birth family was related to the searching adoptee more distantly. By testing the 1995 birth family, it would have been discovered that they were a first or second cousin, for example. This would then allow the adoptee to locate their own birth family by way of this other family. Fully 20% of all of our matches are a result of this kind of networking.

This presupposes, of course, the use of autosomal DNA testing, which detects these non-direct relationships. So, when any birth family comes forward, rather than trying to match them to one of the adoptees in a project, they are simply tested. It is hoped that this birth family will be related to an adoptee as a birth family member, first generation relative, or second cousin. We usually test a birth sibling (not the birth parents themselves) because then we have access to relatives on both sides of the birth couple. This is important: If you test only a birth mother for example, you will, of course, not detect any relatives on the birth father's side of the family. Thus, siblings are always tested when possible. 

So, since we are searching for any birth family in an area, the posters and social media stories don't contain any specific finding, birth, or other identifying information. The posters, for example, just contain faces of adoptees from that area, ranging in age from a few years old to an adoptee in their mid-twenties. The idea is to present faces that will get the most response from as many different birth families as possible. Thus, a project participating adoptive family is not joining the project with the goal of locating their child's specific birth family, but any birth family in the area. It is numbers game -- by having as many birth families test as possible, it is hoped that the "genetic net" will catch a lot of relatives for all adoptees from that area. 

The advantages are obvious in implementation: Traditionally search adoptive families have included personal details on their search posters, information that usually is inaccurate. A birth family might be looking for their child born on March 20, and look at a poster that has their child on it, but with a birth date of April 3 since the orphanage changed or misestimated it. They pass it by, assuming that the child can't be theirs. Or an aunt, who relinquished a child in 1998 may not pass or pay attention to a poster with a child born in 2002, not realizing that her brother also relinquished a child in that year. For these reasons, child-specific posters don't gain much "viral" traction, and thus are not seen by as many people.

By reformulating our goals as a search community from the one to the many, more birth families will be located, tested, and matched to adoptees. And the more that do, the most success we will all have.

2) How much does a "wide-net" search cost? Does DNAConnect.Org charge anything for organizing and helping a project?

DNAConnect.Org is in contact with over 600 birth families from all over China, as well as birth parents we have "friended" on various search groups scattered across China. Sadly, we are not in a position to put the necessary energy into all of these areas. But we can easily help an organized group get into touch with these area contacts to facilitate searching. There is no charge for this, as it furthers our mission to "maximize the efficiency of DNA collection for searching adoptees in China."

But the projects will cost families some money, although it will be a small fraction of what individual families pay for searchers currently. Costs of reproducing color fliers and paying a local person to go to area villages to distribute those fliers in a market, by a school, etc. would be divided up among participant families, but would seldom be more than $100 per family. Some groups are hiring Jane to do these, which would increase the costs greatly, but this is not necessary. Lan can often help find a local birth sibling that can be hired for a lot less. But the project leader will work with the project group to determine how they want to conduct the search. We offer strategic support. 

So, as a bottom-line answer: Each project group decides how much a search in their area will cost. 

3) How does one join a project, and am I limited to joining just my child's orphanage group?

As is now well known, children moved around China prior to adoption. Thus, some families often wonder if joining another group might be helpful. A family whose child is from Changning, Hunan, for example, may want to join the Wuchuan, Guangdong search project, since so many children originated there. While we understand that impulse, keep in mind that we are not searching for specific birth families, but all birth families. Adoptive families in Wuchuan will be searching for birth families in that area. Thus, there is little need to join more groups than the one your child is from.

To join a project, simply email us at "BrianStuy@Research-China.Org". We will put you on our list and send you a confirmation email. If there is an established search group already up and running, we will forward your email address to the group leader, who will get you up to speed on the project. If you are among the first to write us from a specific area, we will let you know when enough families from your area have registered to form a group. Either way, you will be in a group. While some of the smaller orphanages are still needing participants, most of the larger orphanages have already got groups up and running (30 groups are already formed and operational).

4) How long does a project run?

 While most traditional search projects involve hiring a searcher to go into an area, put up a bunch of posters, and then leave, "wide-net" projects go for a long time, at least a few years. We call this the "Wuchuan Effect." We started with a single birth family in Wuchuan and through repeated social networking, leveraging successful matches, etc., have over 100 birth families located in that single area. Other areas such as Ningdu, Jiangxi and Quzhou, Zhejiang, have seen great success in the same way. So, this project runs for a long time, with new methods being employed, new and fresh social media campaigns being created, etc. Once set up, a "wide-net" project needs never to end. It is up to the families of the project.  

5) How is DNA collected once a birth family is located?

To maximize efficiency, and to make it easier on the project families, all search posters, articles, etc., have Lan's WeChat code imbedded in it. Thus, a birth family is put in direct contact with Lan once they scan her code. Lan then starts the dialogue with them -- when was your child born? How was the child relinquished? Does the birth family have any knowledge of where the child went? Was the child born in a hospital or through a midwife? Lan then arranges for a member of the birth family to be tested using an autosomal test. 

By having a native Chinese person interfacing with them directly, the birth family is much more likely to conduct a test. All birth family DNA is then processed and uploaded to GedMatch. Any adoptee interested in searching should get themselves tested as soon as possible (23andMe is the dominant DNA testing data base for Chinese adoptees) and upload their DNA to GedMatch no matter which company they use. 

I understand the attraction of hiring a searcher to search for your child's birth family, but it must be understood that due to the fabrication that took place in most situations, such an expenditure of large amounts of financial resources truly benefits only one person -- the searcher. In the vast majority of cases, this route provides little of use to the individual family, and certainly not to the adoption community itself. By pulling our energies together -- fishing with a net rather than a hook -- we will reap far more success as a community than if each of us fishes individually. 

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