Missing Pieces
Missing Pieces by Lisa Ritter Starr

Filling in Blanks One Space at a Time

by Lisa Ritter Starr

Nowhere in adoption do children face more missing pieces about their lives as they do in international adoptions. While adopting orphaned, abandoned, or otherwise unparented children from other countries is no doubt a loving, rewarding, and socially responsible choice, there are special issues involved in this type of adoption that parents must address.

During the year I volunteered for Holt International Children's Services in Eugene, Oregon (http://holtintl.org), I got a good look at how a large international adoption agency is handled. Although such agencies are located throughout the country, an overwhelming number of international adoption placements nationwide are made through Holt, whose roots date back to just after the Korean War.

Harry and Bertha Holt, parents already of six biological children, heard about the orphan children of this war and worked to bring back eight of them to join their family in Creswell, Oregon. This actually required a change in international adoption law, but the Holts were not afraid to pioneer change. In fact, since that first adoption, they have worked to gain permission for U. S. adoptions from several countries, including China, the Philippines, Romania, Guatemala, and Ecuador.

My first impression of the agency came directly from the people who worked there. After all, I thought, a business is only as good as its people, so I watched them busy at work whenever I could. I was happy to observe that these people were "good" in the most traditional vein: caring, genuine, good-humored, dedicated, honest, and sincerely interested in the well-being of each child looking for a home. Whenever a match was made between family and child, the Holt staff shared in the good news as if they were personally involved. And in fact, in their own ways, they were.

I couldn't help thinking, however, about the birth families. Holt's policy states that their first objective is to keep children in their birth families; second, to place them in their own countries; and as a last resort, to place them overseas. I knew that children were often abandoned and so the birth family was unknown. Still, I wondered about the children and their origins. Would they be curious about where they came from? What did the parents know about the culture of their children's first country? Would they be able to teach, or encourage their children to learn, about their homelands?

Such "training" is required neither by federal law nor by every international adoption agency. However, some agencies have instigated their own requirements of their expectant parents. In the September 8 issue of the Sunday Denver Post (http://DenverPost.com), staff writer Jenny Deam reports about some cultural aspects of international adoption in her article, "Why Not Take All of Me?"

Featured in the article is Katy Robinson, a woman adopted at age seven from Korea and author of the memoir, "A Single Square Picture." Robinson is among the oldest internationally adopted Americans. While growing up, she felt a definite sense of lack regarding her native culture. They didn't have much information about it at the time, but people like Robinson could have benefited greatly from her parents' education and training in these issues.

Agencies these days follow the progress of these first adoptees as closely in order to learn as much as they can about the problems and successes of this relatively new kind of family. They now know that many children may try vehemently to deny their native culture, having felt odd or been teased for being different. Many silently yearn for more information about or immersion in their native culture. Some want to know who their birth families are, or they want to be around people they look like or can relate to in a physical or cultural way.

While it is easiest to provide access to or information about the birth family in domestic adoptions, international adoptions can also do something to help child and adult adoptees satisfy their natural curiosity. The Adoption Alliance in Denver is an agency that actually requires all parents to complete 20 to 24 hours of cultural training. Others don't push it, but they make sure that such training and information is available for those who want it.

In order to help their children grow up and feel like whole adults, parents of internationally adopted children may want to inoculate themselves against the issues that these children often face - even if their own agency does not provide this assistance, others do. There may always be a few gaps in the adopted person's history, but this is not necessarily a "bad" or even uncommon thing. At least parents can try to educate and equip themselves to provide whatever their children might need.

There isn't much more, or less, that true parenting requires.

Article cited:

Dean, Jenny. "Why Not Take All of Me?" Denver Post, September 8, 2002. See: http://www.denverpost.com/cda/article/print/0,1674,36%257E171%257E827292,00.html

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