Monday, October 31, 2011

Beating the New "Baby Blues"

Some people call it "Post-Adoption Depression", because it can happen for adoptive parents just like parents who give birth to children. It’s often compounded by travel fatigue, jet lag, and experiencing the unexpected during your adoption process and trip. Your new child’s arrival may also trigger some old emotions for you related to loss, infertility, or other difficult life issues.
    • Have patience with yourself, as well as with spouse, child, family. As much as you can, limit the demands on yourself (emotionally, physically, and time-wise). Practice saying ” NO ” to requests outside your new parenting tasks, except to take time off to de-stress and relax.
    • Be aware of the many stressors in your everyday life, and try to minimize these wherever possible (delegate, time out, etc.)
    • You will be juggling many balls as you are also recovering physically and emotionally from your adoption trip. Keep these stressors separate in your mind from the typical stressors of a new child…everything isn’t baby’s fault or because you aren’t a good enough parent.
    • Let the dishes and the dust go: At this point a clean is probably the sign of overstressed parent with not nearly enough time for a new child.
    • Give yourself time to be sad or angry, but also find ways to be positive when possible; at the end of the day, find at least one blessing to count.
    • You do not have to prove to anyone (including yourself) that you are the perfect parent and radiantly happy at all times. Children need real parents, not perfect, plastic ones.
    • ”Happily ever after” and “love at first sight” are both rare. Most of us just bump along, since there are always bumps in the road.
    • After the first two weeks, either switch with your spouse or gradually introduce a sitter/caretaker to your child, so that you can take some time away to recharge. Later, schedule a regular time away on night a week with a spouse or close friend to spend on yourself (no talking bills or kids).
    • Keep visitors away or to an absolute minimum during the first few weeks.
    • Get someone trustworthy ( perhaps one who volunteered to help) to take care of things like chores, meals, laundry, errands, so that you can rest and recover, and focus on playing with and getting to know your new child in positive ways.
    • Be prepared to redirect or deflect intrusive questions or comments by others about your adoption choices or parenting style, and occasionally allow yourself  to feel smug about the fact that those who criticize usually don’t know anything about international adoption or about you.
    • Check in with your support systems, especially those from the adoption community who may understand better some of your challenges.
    • After the first weeks if you feel things are getting out of control –or you are- get someone to take over some of your (preferable non-child) duties for a while so that you can have time to calm down, de-stress and talk out your frustrations and needs with someone who will listen and understand.
    • If you can’t seem to get a handle on things after several weeks, look to your agency, support group, a counselor, or mental health professional for some additional guidance and assistance. Parenting is not an easy job.
Attachment and International Adoption.  From Choices and Challenges in International Adoption by Joan McNamara ©2009

Friday, October 28, 2011

Adoption Institute Announces Partnership with Adoption Today Magazine

NEW YORK, October 28, 2011 - Adoption Today magazine and the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute proudly announced today that they are forming a strategic partnership to further their missions of improving the lives of children and families around the world through greater understanding of key contemporary issues in the realms of adoption, foster care, orphan care and child welfare.

As a result of this partnership, the Adoption Institute will gain a significant new means of disseminating reports about its cutting-edge research, commentaries on significant issues, and information about its programs, projects and advocacy initiatives. Adoption Today, in turn, will provide its readers with more and better knowledge about the range of topics on which the Institute conducts its unique work.

Richard Fisher, the publisher of Adoption Today (and its sibling publication, Fostering Families Today), said he views the partnership as a way to "give back" to the adoption community and feels that supporting the Adoption Institute is a "great way to do that because it's such a vital player. The Institute is unique in its impact on policy, practice and real people. And it's the most trusted source of research and advocacy in our field."

To further the Institute's work, for the next year Fisher will donate $2 from every new Adoption Today subscription to the Adoption Institute. Click here to subscribe or call 888-924-6736. "We're very enthusiastic about the opportunity to share our work, our mission and our vision with such an important publication and, of course, with its readers," said Adam Pertman, the Executive Director of the Adoption Institute. "We not only appreciate Richard's generosity, but also know that he's providing us with a wonderful opportunity to educate more people and, hopefully, improve more lives as a result."

The mission of the Institute, which was founded in 1996, is to "provide leadership to improve laws, policies, and practices - through sound research, education and advocacy - to enhance the lives of everyone touched by adoption." Since 1998, Adoption Today has strived to publish the most accurate, honest and timely articles to provide the adoption community with information to make quality, informed decisions regarding family formation and the well-being of children. To request an interview or to learn more about the two organizations, contact Pertman at 617-763-0134, or Fisher at (888) 924-6736.

Visit the Institute's website, and Adoption Today.

The Adoption Institute's other partners include: the Child Welfare League of America, Spence-Chapin, LifeCare, Adoption Learning Partners and Adoption Quarterly.

Adam Pertman, Executive Director
Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute
120 East 38th St, New York, NY 10016
617-763-0134 (direct cell)
Adoption Institute 

Please check out my blog.

Click here to order my book.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Love and Legislation: The International Politics of Inter-country Adoption

Alison M. S. Watson | August 17, 2011

Credit: Bergius
Probably not since the first wave of inter-country adoptions took place in the aftermath of the Korean War has there been so much attention focused upon the very personal decision of taking a child from one country, and placing him/her permanently within a family in another. Between 1999 and 2010, 224,615 children—often girls, and most aged two and under—were adopted into the United States,1 whilst overall, Sweden, Ireland, and Spain lead the field in terms of inter-country adoptions per 100,00 inhabitants in each country (10.18, 9.45 and 7.79 respectively).2

In an increasingly celebrity-obsessed culture, inter-country adoption can appear to demonstrate the very worst of what wealth and fame can bring—the ability to treat children as commodities, "buying" them to create not only the family that you desire, but the one that publicly appears to elevate the adopter to some form of "saintly" status. It may also appear to imply neo-colonialism, with the common assumption that inter-country adoption implies that a child is "saved" from a poor country by bringing it up in a rich one.

Behind such appearances, however, is the real story of inter-country adoption—and it is a story that demonstrates a number of things that are of significance not only to each family touched by adoption, but also to the wider discourse of international affairs, and to the ethical dilemmas that surround it. In an era supposedly characterized by a desire for pluralism, multi-culturalism, and hybridity, the many dilemmas of inter-country adoption demonstrate how far we have come, but also how far we still have to go.
Although the number of inter-country adoptions is certainly large, the figures should be seen in proportion. UNICEF estimates suggest that there are around 140 million children who have lost at least one parent, whether as a result of poverty, conflict, or disease. The greatest proportion of these children live in Africa, whilst the largest numbers of orphans are in Asia.3

For the vast majority of these children, adoption is not an option, whether because it is unnecessary—they may still be being cared for within their families, whether by their surviving parent or by extended family; because it is unlikely—some children may be seen as "unadoptable" for a variety of reasons, such as age, disability, or HIV status; or because it is impossible, for example in societies where there is no history of adoption or where the societal infrastructure cannot support it. Where it works, however, it seems that inter-country adoption can actually help to change the culture of adoption in the adoptees' native country, so that in the longer term more children are cared for within their own communities. In China, for example, there is now evidence that as the number of inter-country adoptions has increased so has the number of Chinese families willing to consider domestic adoption.

As interest in inter-country adoption has grown, so has the desire of the international community to create a regime that they hope will ensure that the practice is not only legally appropriate but also ethically sound. This desire has been aided at times by some very high profile cases—often in the wake of conflict and natural disaster—where legality and ethics appear to have left the room. A recent example is the now famous case of January 2010 when Haitian police arrested and charged ten American nationals from the Idaho-based charity New Life Children's Refuge, who wanted to take orphans from the quake to an orphanage in the Dominican Republic for subsequent adoption into the United States. Actions such as these demonstrate the increase in "demand" for inter-country adoptees that happens at such times, something indeed that Haiti has recognized in its vocal acknowledgment of its intention to join the Hague Adoption Convention. Questions remain, however as to the efficacy of the Hague Convention and what the present legal regime surrounding inter-country adoption is really designed to achieve.

The Hague Convention of May 29, 1993 on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Inter-country Adoption (Hague Adoption Convention) protects children and their families against the risks of illegal, irregular, premature, or ill-prepared adoptions abroad. This Convention, which also operates through a system of national Central Authorities, reinforces the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC - Art. 21) and seeks to ensure that inter-country adoptions are made in the best interests of the child and with respect for his or her fundamental rights, and to prevent the abduction, the sale of, or traffic in, children.

These are goals that all should be able to agree on, and of course the UNCRC would appear to have a clear mandate, given that it is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history. However the UNCRC is a document that is arguably flawed in that rather than giving children real rights, it instead lays down the obligations that adults have to them, all couched in terms of a western idealization of childhood that can actually curtail the rights of those children whose lives cannot live up to that ideal. Moreover, the Hague Convention has currently been signed by only 87 countries and ratified by 83, and the majority of those who have ratified it are countries who in inter-country adoption terms would be "receiving" countries rather than "sending" ones.

This does not mean that those countries who have not signed and/or ratified it do not set a priority on the best interests of the child. Rather that they may not see adoption as a significant issue or, indeed, that they may not be able to afford to implement the regulations that the Convention requires, such as ensuring that, after the possibilities for placement of the child within the State of origin have been given due consideration, an inter-country adoption is in the child's best interests; and that the persons, institutions and authorities whose consent is necessary for adoption, have been properly counseled and notified of the effects of their consent, in particular whether or not an adoption will result in the termination of the legal relationship between the child and his or her family of origin.4

For this reason, many of the "receiving" countries, for example the U.S. and the UK, will have national legislation in place that covers adoptions from Hague Convention signatories AND from non-Hague Convention signatories. The U.S. is in the unique position of being a signatory to the Hague Convention, but of not being a signatory to the UNCRC, the latter a decision that appears to be informed by the notion of the primacy of the family, and in particular the role of parents, as well as the concern (often expressed by conservative Christian groups) that the UNCRC in some way undermines parental rights and authority.5 Such a position is particularly ironic given that so many U.S. agencies specializing in inter-country adoption have a clear Christian focus in their activities, and also given that so many adoptive parents cite a calling from God as the catalyst for their adoption journey.6

The debate surrounding inter-country adoption is not made any clearer by the somewhat negative tone that some of the most powerful intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations (NGO's) that advocate for children assume in their views.

For example, UNICEF states that it supports inter-country adoption, when it is carried out in line with the standards and principles of the Hague Convention, but that it is a practice that can also pose significant problems and risks if children are unnecessarily denied the opportunity to live with their parents or relatives and/or are exposed to trauma and long-term emotional problems. UNICEF also states that the financial aspects of international adoption can encourage malpractice and accelerate the proliferation of poor quality orphanages, as well as diverting resources from the development of good quality alternative care for children in their own communities.

There is no doubt that there is truth in such statements—adoption does have a life-long impact on any child, and there are indeed financial incentives that can encourage malpractice. But many would argue that the amount of lip-service paid to these issues is out of proportion with the extent of these malpractices themselves. This is not to say that cases of corruption and child laundering do not take place—they absolutely do; however seeing inter-country adoption as somehow commensurate with such malpractice is to take a distorted view. Moreover, such sentiments take much away from the majority of bona fide adoptive parents who often spend significant time ensuring that their adoptions are ethical, and on trying to minimize the long-term ill effects on their child.

Similarly, Save the Children states that:
While intercountry adoption may, in some circumstances, be the best option for some children, adoption does not address the root cause of its existence, namely poverty, wars and natural disasters. If the economic, social and protection needs of citizens in developing countries could be met, there would be little need for intercountry adoption. Consequently, families in developing countries should be supported so that children are able to be cared for in the context of their own families, communities and culture.
Again, this is a laudable aim, and no-one should ever seek to take away a child from his/her birth family when the possibility exists that they could remain. But the problem is that for so many children, despite the best efforts of NGO's, such a possibility does not exist—whether because of poverty, or illness, or separation—and when this is the case inter-country adoption is one of a range of options that are available. Furthermore there are few who would claim that adoption is a solution to the root causes of its existence. Of course the ideal solution is an end to poverty and wars, and creating better coping mechanisms after natural disasters in developing countries. Yet the current reality is that for individual children who cannot be cared for in a family setting in their country of origin, inter-country adoption may be the best permanent solution.

In a recent open letter to former President Bill Clinton, founder of Worldwide Orphans Foundation Jane Aronson stated that:
The destruction of international adoption has become the cure for a misdiagnosed disease. Uninspired, bureaucratic, desperate decision-makers in governments, including our own, and in large child welfare organizations, raise the cry of "trafficking" and the rest is inevitable: to protect the children and stop the trafficking—stop adoption."
Policymakers might make better use of their time if they actually tackled the root causes of inter-country adoption that continue to exist in developing countries—the searing poverty and inequality, and the soaring levels of HIV infection—rather than spending so much time trying to legislate it out of existence. Whilst no one is denying that adoption needs to be transparent, ethical, and in the best interests of the child, I would argue that when done right, inter-country adoptions can be beneficial for all concerned—because the real story of inter-country adoption can be seen in the thousands of children who have received better life chances as a result, and the thousands more who have been denied that possibility.

Indeed, the real questions we should be asking are: What is our current international system, and the legislation that supports it actually designed to do?: Is it to help those who are in need, or is it to allow policymakers—whoever they may be—to think that they have? 

The author would like to thank the editors, Madeleine Lynn and Oliver Richmond, for their comments during the writing process. All errors remain the author's own.




3 "UNICEF Data on Orphans by Region to 2010 [Chart]," in Children and Youth in History, Item #293

4 Hague Conference on Private International Law, Intercountry Adoption section

5 Kilbourne, Susan, "Placing the Convention on the Rights of the Child in an American context," Human Rights, 26.2 (Spring, 1999): 27(5).

6 Evidence of this can be seen in the many "gotcha day" videos on YouTube that document, the journey towards adoption that so many families have made.

Copyright © 2011 Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Hopscotch Adoptions Newsletter: Playgrounds, Fall 2011

In this issue:
  • Letter from the Executive Director
  • Program Updates
  • Different Like Everyone Else
  • Did You Know?
  • Here and There...
  • Koloyan Project
  • Welcome Home!
  • You Said It...We Heard It!
  • Helpful Resources
  • If We Hadn't Met Before

Download Playgrounds, Fall 2011 (PDF)

Adoption Institute Release: A Major New Study and Best Practice Standards on Gay/Lesbian Adoption

For a full report, go to:

Aiming to Increase Families for `Waiting' Children, Institute Releases

New Research on Gay/Lesbian Adoption and Recommends Best Practices

NEW YORK, October 20, 2011
- Despite laws in some states that impede the practice, a growing number of lesbians and gay men are adopting children in the United States - at least half of them providing families for boys and girls from foster care and 60% adopting transracially, according to the results of an extensive new survey by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute.

The survey is part of a broad, four-year-long research project by the Adoption Institute that culminates in the publication today of a 68-page report, "Expanding Resources for Children III: Research-Based Best Practices in Adoption by Gays and Lesbians," which provides important new information about and insights into the perceptions, experiences and needs of non-heterosexual adoptive parents.

"We know the majority of adoption agencies readily work with gay and lesbian clients, and our research shows that most want guidance about how best to do that," said Adam Pertman, Executive Director of the Adoption Institute. "Our hope and belief is that by providing greater knowledge to professionals, policy-makers and the public, the result will be more families for the children who need them."

In addition to the statistics cited above, major (and interesting) findings in the Institute's report include:

*About one-third of the adoptions by lesbians and gay men in our new survey were "open," and the birth families' initial reactions regarding sexual orientation were very positive (73%). Interestingly, male couples more often reported being chosen because of sexual orientation than did lesbians, saying birthmothers expressed a desire to remain the child's "only mother."

*Over 10% of the children adopted were 6 or older - a population generally perceived as more difficult to place - and 25% were at least 3 years old. Interestingly, the household incomes of respondents were high - and more so for the male parents, $212,380 vs. $115,467, indicating (among other things) that more lesbians adopted as individuals and more gay men as couples.

Among the report's recommendations, primarily intended for practitioners and policy-makers, are:

*Remove legal and cultural barriers so that all qualified, vetted prospective parents can be considered, notably including the passage of "gay marriage" laws, because the social institution of marriage brings clear long-term psychological (and other benefits) to children.

*Provide training, recruitment and educational tools to increase professional competence for working with non-heterosexual parents, and offer pre- and post-placement services to better enable those parents to deal with adoption issues and those relating to their sexual orientation.

"Expanding Resources for Children III" is being published just days before another major research-based report, "All Children Matter: How Legal and Social Inequalities Hurt LGBT Families." That report, which is being endorsed by several child welfare organizations including the Adoption Institute, is being released next week at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C. The report will be available on 10/25 at

The components of the Adoption Institute's "Expanding Resources for Children" report included an extensive review of adoption practice literature and research on gay and lesbian family life, a national survey of gay/lesbian adoptive parents, a separate national survey of adoption agency practices (which informed this report but the results of which are still being analyzed and not included here), and an interdisciplinary book entitled Adoption by Lesbians and Gay Men: A New Dimension in Family Diversity, edited by Institute staff members David Brodzinsky and Adam Pertman.

The report also draws from and follows up on three previous publications of the Adoption Institute in this same realm: 1). Adoption by Lesbians and Gays: A National Survey of Adoption Agency Policies, Practices and Attitudes (2003); 2). Expanding Resources for Children: Is Adoption by Gays and Lesbians Part of the Answer for Boys and Girls who Need Homes (2006); and 3). Expanding Resources for Children II: Eliminating Legal and Practice Barriers to Gays and Lesbians Adopting from Foster Care (2008). In addition, it is informed by the work of the Human Rights Campaign, the British Association for Adoption and Fostering, and Dr. Gary Mallon of Hunter College, among others.

The background for the new report includes these findings from the Institute's past works:

*Lesbians and gay men adopt at significant rates, with over 65,000 adopted and 14,000 foster children in the U.S. residing in homes headed by non-heterosexuals. Children growing up in such households show similar patterns of adjustment as those raised by heterosexuals.

*At least 60% of U.S. adoption agencies accept non-heterosexual parental applicants, and almost 40% have knowingly placed children with them - meaning almost any lesbian, gay man, or same-sex couples can find a professional to work with them.

For more details about "Expanding Resources for Children III" or to schedule an interview, please contact Pertman at 617-763-0134 or

The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute is the pre-eminent research, policy and education organization in its field. Its mission is to provide leadership - through sound research - that improves the lives of everyone touched by adoption. Its award-winning website is

Adam Pertman, Executive Director
Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute
120 East 38th St, New York, NY 10016
212-925-4089/ 617-332-8944
617-763-0134 (direct cell)

Please check out my blog:

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Hopscotch Newsletter, Playgrounds, is Re-introduced

Hopscotch Adoptions is pleased to re-introduce our newsletter, Playgrounds.  Playgrounds will appear on Hopscotch's website each quarterly and a link to Playgrounds will be sent to you by email.  If you have any problems opening the link, please contact Megan Gardinier, Senior Administrative Assistant.

If you have a topic, photo, accomplishment or story idea, we want to hear from you.  Michelle Moreau, MSW is collecting news for our next installment.

Thank you and enjoy!

The Waiting Game: Coping With Stress During The Wait

loveInternational adoption is universally stretching over longer processing times. With the introduction and implementation of Hague procedures and regulations, the process to adopt a child is much longer when compared to a few years ago. Longer wait times for adoption can result in greater anxiety for prospective adoptive parents, as they worry about issues like bonding, health and adoptions falling through. Hopscotch is pleased to share this terrific and insightful article, by Dawn Davenport, on anxiety and adoption and how to help to put these issues into perspective.

This article is shared with permission of Dawn Davenport, Executive Director of Creating a Family, a nonprofit providing education and support for adoption and infertility, and host of the weekly podcast-Creating a Family: Talk about Adoption and Infertility available for listening or downloading at

Hopscotch Welcomes our Bulgarian Partner Foundation

Hopscotch Bulgarian Partners
Vesta Foundation
Hopscotch was honored to receive representatives from Vesta, our Bulgarian partner foundation. We look forward to working together in the recruitment of families for Bulgaria’s waiting children. If you are considering adoption of a child or children, you’ll want to put this program at the top of your list to look further into.

Many families have travel restrictions due to professional careers or child care limitations. Don’t let this be a barrier to bringing home your child. Hopscotch suggests one or both parents travel for a first trip of 5-7 days to meet and register with your future child. The second trip one or both parents may travel or an escort can be arranged to bring your child home.

Hopscotch’s Bulgaria program assists children aged 12 months through 16 years. Families seeking a relatively healthy Bulgarian child, especially between the ages of 1 and 4, should expect to wait for a referral for approximately 30 months or more, from the point of dossier submission to the Bulgarian Ministry of Justice. Relatively healthy children of school age or children with special needs of any age may be referred much faster. The Bulgarian Ministry of Justice is committed to matching children with appropriate families and makes its best effort to refer children who correspond to a family’s gender, age, and health parameters.

However, on occasion a child may be referred that is outside of the family’s USCIS approval or personal parameters. In such cases, the family is never obligated to accept the referral. A subsequent referral will be issued by the MOJ, but there is no guarantee how soon a second referral will be received. Each referral is made with substantial medical and social records for your review. Many waiting children are available from Bulgaria and from time to time, Hopscotch may present a family with the profile of a waiting child for consideration. Siblings or unrelated children can also be adopted from Bulgaria. Bulgarian children are beautiful. Many of them are of Roma or Turkish descent and have an olive complexion, brown eyes, and dark hair.

To learn more, you may be interested in connecting with other Hopscotch families to learn more about adoption with Hopscotch and from Bulgaria (see below).

Lackamp Family
Delong Family
Craig Family

For the most up to date IAC statistics on international adoption from Bulgaria, be sure to visit Hopscotch’s Bulgaria program page on our website.

Sharing Safety - Two Triad Women Join Forces to Help Improve Conditions for Mothers in Other Countries

Tuesday, November 23, 2004 

Robin Sizemore and Medge Owen felt a bond the first time they met. And it wasn't just because Owen was administering an epidural that eased Sizemore's labor pains.

In June, while Owen looked for a good spot to place the epidural needle, Sizemore mentioned that she had two adopted children from Georgia.

Owen asked: "The Georgia beside Turkey?"

Sizemore was delightfully shocked. Most people would have asked: "Oh, you mean Atlanta?"

The women soon discovered that they were deeply involved in humanitarian projects in neighboring countries.

Owen, an obstetric anesthesiologist, is founder of Kybele, a nonprofit group working to improve obstetric anesthesia in Turkey, among other countries. Owen first started working in Turkey while a medical resident.

Her husband, Can Unal, a molecular biologist, is Turkish.

Sizemore helps coordinate relief projects for orphans in Georgia.

"I got excited," Sizemore said. "I said that I was taking a medical team to Georgia the first two weeks of October. And she said, 'Oh, really?' I'm taking a team to Turkey in September.'"

Sizemore asked her to come over to Georgia when she finished in Turkey. She hoped that Owen could introduce modern anesthesia techniques to doctors.

"I'm on the plane," Owen said.

Their chance meeting could result in improved childbirth conditions for Georgian women, many of whom deliver children without pain relief.

She brought by some material about her organization to Sizemore's room. They talked more and realized they had much in common. Sizemore is 40, and Owen is 42. They both gave birth to children when they were 40.

"We found out that we had similar life stories," Owen said. "We had young children yet we were traveling back and forth every three months or so to countries that are side-by-side."

"Essentially, we've both become convinced that divine intervention brought us together for a greater common purpose," said Owen, who is an associate professor of anesthesiology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

The two women recently returned from Georgia. With Sizemore acting as her guide, Owen spent four days meeting doctors and learning how they use anesthesia.

Sizemore, who lives in High Point with her husband, James, and children Karina, 8, Kelley, 5, and Reese, 5 months, worked on several of her projects while in Georgia.

She helped bring over a team of orthopedists from the United States who performed corrective foot surgery for orphans. Another team helped renovate a dentist's office in one orphanage.

Sizemore became involved in the plight of Georgian orphans after adopting her daughter, Karina, in 1995.

The country, a former republic of the Soviet Union, was reeling after years of civil strife. The infrastructure was collapsing. Heat was so scarce that people ate their meals wearing mittens. Chickens and dogs roamed the hospital where the Sizemores adopted their daughter.

Karina was an undersized 3-week-old infant when the Sizemores first saw her. She was kept in a dark room and was rarely held.

"She truly suffered. My God, it was awful," Sizemore said.

Several Georgians rallied to help the Sizemores adopt the girl. They offered lodging and helped them wade through bureaucratic red tape.

This generous spirit, in the face of such bleakness, inspired Sizemore. She quit her job as an account executive at a local TV station and eventually became the Georgian liaison in charge of relief projects for Carolina Adoption Service, a nonprofit international adoption agency.

Later, the Sizemores adopted Kelley, who is also from Georgia.

She visits Georgia every two to three months to develop and manage projects for orphans and other children in need.

Sizemore and her team visit orphanages, hospitals and government officials. They have installed generators, built running water systems, renovated parts of orphanages and supplied clothes and school supplies for children.

Owen's work fits perfectly with Sizemore's vision of how to improve the overall quality of life for Georgian children.

"My work is humanitarian relief for the children of Georgia, but obviously that care begins at or before the birth of a child," Sizemore said.

She talked to several women in Georgia about pregnancy and was surprised to learn that they did not have epidurals, a regional anesthetic injected into the spinal column that relieves pain during childbirth.

"It shocked me to imagine a general population being fearful of epidurals," Sizemore said.

Though epidurals have been widely used in the United States for about 30 years, doctors in many countries are unfamiliar with how they should be administered, Owen said.

In Turkey, Owen discovered that doctors used general anesthesia for women undergoing Cesarean sections. The result is a high maternal death rate.

According to Owen, the number of deaths during a C-section is 17 times greater with general rather than regional anesthesia.

General anesthesia also denies the woman the chance to see her baby at delivery.

Doctors in developing countries are eager to learn about regional anesthesia, Owen said. They have been to conferences and read about it, but they don't get the chance to practice it.

"I use the analogy of swimming," Owen said. "Just because you go to a conference about swimming doesn't mean that you're able to get in the water and swim. It's the same with this technique. It really takes someone getting in the water with you and showing you how to swim."

During her four-day visit in Georgia, Owen discovered a different set of challenges from those in Turkey.

Women are afraid of C-sections and know little about epidurals. As a result, they suffer through childbirth without any option for pain relief.

Sometimes, the women forgo epidurals for cultural reasons, Sizemore said.

"Women feel that if they don't experience the full depth of pain they feel less of a woman," she said. "I could take being less of a woman."

Other women have even been convinced by doctors that epidurals will harm their babies. Though complications are rare, side effects include headaches, backaches and nausea.

Epidurals cost about $42 in Georgia, an exorbitant amount to pay when the average monthly wage is $15.

"You do epidurals primarily for comfort," Owen said. "Women have a right to be comfortable."

Owen visited a hospital in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, and was pleasantly surprised to learn that about 30 percent of pregnant women get epidurals (by comparison, Owen said that about 80 percent of women at Forsyth Medical Center receive epidurals).

Their methods were outdated and the epidural kits they used were "bare-bones minimum," Owen said.

Owen said she hopes to train more doctors in Georgia how to administer regional anesthesia, much as she did in Turkey. Next year, she would like to return to Georgia with a team of doctors that would include an obstetrician, a neonatalogist and two obstetric anesthesiologists.

Owen and Sizemore also plan to learn more about the kinds of equipment and drugs hospitals need to increase the availability of epidurals.

"We're not there to force epidurals down everyone's throat but to teach techniques and safety," Owen said.

"We're in 2004, and the technology is there, and women can make a choice." 

Post script: Fast forward to today, Kybele, Inc, now has active programs in  Armenia, Croatia, Egypt, Ghana, Georgia, Romania, Turkey and Mongolia

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Abandoned in Guatemala: The Failure of Intercountry Adoption Practices

This month a documentary by reasontv has been released regarding the elimination of intercountry adoption in Guatemala.  The video shows a side of the elimination not often discussed in the media.  We encourage our colleagues and friends to view and distribute the video at your discretion.  The video can be found by clicking here.

Background and Joint Council’s position

On January 1, 2008, under significant scrutiny and amidst allegations of corruption, child trafficking and unethical practices, Guatemala implemented the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption. Guatemala’s participation in the Convention was applauded by the many governments and NGOs who had insisted on changes to the practices in Guatemala and vigorously supported Guatemala’s participation in the Hague Convention. Joint Council advocated for systematic reform, rather than elimination of services to children.  Joint Council’s President & CEO, Tom DiFilipo states, “Eliminating corruption was the goal.  Ensuring children live in families in a legal and ethical manner should have been.”

The implementation was seen by many as the answer to corruption and unethical practices.  Unfortunately the manner in which Guatemala implemented the Convention has not resulted in an ethical intercountry adoption system or a stable child welfare system; it has resulted in no intercountry adoption system and an almost non-existent child welfare system. The implementation of the Convention has indeed succeeded in adding protections. But it has also failed in its role to serve children.  Protecting children and families from harm is one of the primary roles of the Guatemalan government and their efforts must be recognized and supported. However, much like the scrutiny and attention by the international community exposed the corruption of the prior system, this same community must now refocus their attention to bring to light Guatemala’s ineffective implementation of the Convention and its subsequent impact on institutionalized children and Guatemalan families.

The formation of a spectrum of services including Family Preservation, Kinship Care, Domestic Adoption and Intercountry Adoption is desperately needed to ensure that children retain their right to a family and are protected from the detrimental effects of institutionalization, or even an unnecessary death. Joint Council calls on all stakeholders who previously asked for reforms to move with speed in order to provide these much needed services.  Again, Tom DiFilipo, “Adoption reform in Guatemala has not resulted in the prosecution of criminals, nor has it served the best interest of children.  What it has done is force thousands of children into orphanages, onto the streets, or even worse.”

As part of Joint Council’s ongoing Guatemala 5000 campaign and the passage of the Ortega Law, we have continually advocated for the ethical and legal finalization of all adoptions initiated prior to the closure of intercountry adoption in Guatemala. Joint Council in partnership with its member organizations and the Guatemala900 again call for a swift conclusion to all pending adoption cases and the immediate implementation of the much needed services which will provide more Guatemalan children with the ability to grow and thrived in a safe, permanent family.

Determination and a Love of Reading: From Orphanage to Scholar!

Armen Kazazean with
just a few of the 500 books
he whipped through
this summer.
Armen came home when he was just two years old.  He has easily grown into his family and shares a family passion for reading.  We can hardly wait to see how his determination and love of books will shape his life.  He will do something extraordinary, he’s just that remarkable of a little boy.  Read more…

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Hopscotch Adoptions List of Questions for Your Child's Caregiver

The biggest moment of your life is before you.  Taking final custody of your child, far from the support of family and friends, can feel intimidating.  It's natural to feel anxiety, doubt, excitement, and even fear, when thinking of meeting your child's needs, seamlessly from orphanage or foster care, to your waiting family.

Becoming a parent comes with a lot of sudden responsibility and we hope you feel supported and prepared.

You have probably already consulted with an International Adoption Specialist if you are matched with a referred child.  You can also count on your  International Adoption Specialist to provide you with a list of questions before you travel.

Hopscotch has a few suggestions, too.  When you travel to bring your newly adopted child home, be sure to take a list of questions for your child's caregiver.  Your child's transition will be less traumatic, the more you know from the caregiver.  If your child is attached to a particular caregiver, this person would be the best source of information about your child's needs and habits.
Suggested Care Giver Questions:
  1. Is your child attached to a particular caregiver and if so, whom?
  2. How much food or formula does your child need?
  3. How often does your child eat and on what schedule?
  4. Does your child feed from the bottle easily?
  5. Does your child drink fast or slow?
  6. Where can similar bottles and nipples be purchased locally?
  7. Are there any issues  with spitting up after feeding?
  8. Does my infant have any issues with gas? How do you burp your infant?
  9. What temperature do you serve food or bottles?
  10. What brand of formula is your child currently drinking?
  11. What ingredients are in your child's food and how it is prepared?
  12. Ask if your child has any known food, medication or seasonal allergies?
  13. Is your child currently taking any medications and if so, what medications, how much and how often are they administrated, where can they be found and for what purpose is the medication given?
  14. If your child has a special need, ask to meet with your child's doctor(s) before you depart the country to learn the most about your child's current treatment plan.
  15. What is your child's sleep schedule?
  16. Does your child take naps and if so how long?
  17. What time does your child go to sleep at night?
  18. What time does your child typically wake in the morning?
  19. Does your child have any favorite games?
  20. How is your child typically clothed in the day and evening?
  21. Is your child dressed in layers?
  22. Does your child rely on a pacifier?
  23. Does your child typically wake up happy or crying?
  24. What position does your child like to sleep in?
  25. Is the sleeping room noisy, quiet, light, dark, warm or cool?
  26. How does your child like to be carried or held?
  27. Has your child been recently sick with congestion, stomach or fever?
  28. How much does your child currently weigh?
  29. How many stools does your child typically produce per day?
  30. How often does your child bathe and does your child like or dislike bath time?
  31. What is your child's general temperament or disposition?  Is your child happy, fussy, calm, active, etc?
  32. Is your child soothed by music, quiet, movement or stillness?
  33. How is your child calmed when crying?
Of course, you will have many more questions.  Hopscotch hopes this general list will help you with a smoother transition once you take custody of your child.  Knowing the answer to these questions, specific to your child, will reduce your child's trauma in experiencing change and alleviate your sense of helplessness in finding your child's place of comfort.

Bonding starts when a child feels safe and comfortable in your care.  So don't miss out on this opportunity to jumpstart your family bonding.  When abroad, don't hesitate to contact your International Adoption Specialist doctor or agency if you are experiencing any concerns related to your child's transition.  We are here to help.     

Friday, October 14, 2011

What is Referral Counseling?

Once you receive your ”official” referral by the sending country you are working with (and occasionally upon your “unofficial” referral prior to that), you will get a short, descriptive report on the child that is being referred to you.  This is the referral information you will use to decide if this child is the right one for your family…and your family is the right one for the child.  Since many of the Hopscotch families are not local to the Hopscotch office, most of the referral counseling will be via telephone or email rather than face to face.  Generally, you have about two weeks to decide on an “official” referral, if you even need that long.

Sometimes the country will send several kinds of reports and observations, perhaps with photos and maybe even a video (rare but possible.)  No country, program or individual case is ever alike and reports can be as different as fingerprints.  Information varies from country to country and case to case and can be limited due to differences in medical terminology or evaluation standards.  In some instances, there is no report until the family travels to meet their potential referral.  That is why it is very important to take this into consideration when choosing a country program that is right for your family.

At Hopscotch, we will always do our best to obtain as much information as we can about your referral so that your decision to accept or decline can be as informed as possible.  When certain information or testing is just not available, we will tell you that too.  Hopscotch will also try to interpret the formal language of the referral into every day, practical language so that you can get a sense of what this information might possibly mean to the child and to your family, now and in the years to come.  However, you should always seek professional medical resources for the definitive interpretation of the information provided to you by the sending country.  This is where referral counseling comes into play.

We strongly encourage families to contract with an International Adoption Medical Specialist about the referral information, if it is provided in advance.  If referral information is insufficient, or simply not available due to country restrictions, it is especially important to establish a contractual relationship with the IA Specialist prior to traveling to meet your referral.  This will enable your IA Specialist to assist you in evaluating your referral while you are in country and before you officially commit to the child.

As stated before, Hopscotch will do everything we can to obtain as much information as possible on your referral to help with your questions, but we are always at the mercy of the sending country who may or may not be able to provide that additional information.  Whenever possible, we will try to connect you to other Hopscotch families who have adopted children with similar information to the child you are considering.

Every so often, the situation arises where a more immediate decision is required.  You are never pressured to accept a referral of a child if you are not comfortable with the child or the time frame.  It is okay to say you choose to pass if there is not enough time or information to make a decision.  A lot of families have anxieties or questions but still decide to take a “leap of faith” in accepting or declining a referral.  There are no penalties for turning down a referral for appropriate reasons but, just like the timeframe to the first referral, the timeframe to another referral cannot be accurately predicted.

In an international adoption, a family has to be comfortable saying “no.”  If you are uneasy about receiving limited to no referral medical information then international adoption may not be the right direction for your family.  Hopscotch respects the laws and stipulations of every sending country but we also respect the enormity of the decision you are about to make.

Even when a family knows right away that this is the child for them they usually still have a lot of questions.  Hopscotch will be available to you throughout your adoption journey.  Even after the formal adoption of your child in the child’s country, Hopscotch will continue to be available to you.

After you finalize your adoption in country you will transition to post-adoption or post-placement counseling.  Your home study worker, who is usually the one who will be completing the post-placement reports, will make a minimum of two at-home visits with you.  Be honest in your family needs and any concerns you may have.  Without your frank participation both during and after your adoption, Hopscotch cannot be the valuable resource your family may need.

I hope this gives you a broad outline of what is involved in referral counseling.  If you have additional questions or concerns, please let us know.  We are here to help.

How Do You Save the World? One Child at a Time! | April 2011 | Download PDF

Robin Sizemore, Medge Owen
and Parker Lovell
Three mothers. Three diverse careers. One massive project for orphans, half a world away. How do you save the world? For three local women who’ve joined forces, the answer is: One child at a time.

Medge Owen, Robin Sizemore and Parker Lovell are all powerful, successful women in their own rights. But as a triumvirate, their energy and passion is palpable – and contagious.

Working together, this local doctor, executive director of an international adoption agency, and business owner of a horseback riding academy, are planning to adopt – but not just one child. They’re adopting at least 35 children, living 5,100 miles away, in Teshe, a poor suburb of Accra, Ghana.

The children are fostered with a pastor and his family in a small, rented, cement structure. Ranging in age from 3 to 14, they’re boys and girls, each with the same hungry, eager eyes. They share tattered clothing, shoes and mattresses. They often are without running water and electricity. There are no toys. But at least they’re safe.

Owen recently met these children through Percy Gogoe, a Ghanaian child advocate, during one of her frequent humanitarian trips to Ghana. Owen is founder of the international humanitarian/education organization, Kybele, Inc. Through Kybele, Owen takes teams of doctors and nurses into developing countries, such as Ghana, where they teach safe child-birthing practices to local care givers.

“I was deeply moved by what this preacher and his family are doing for these orphaned children,” Owen said. “When children are sent to traditional orphanages in Ghana, it’s frightening. There is overcrowding, little supervision and poor medical care. Children sleep outside on the ground in places where there is no sanitation. So this one remarkable Ghanaian family said ‘No more.’ And they started opening their home to children who don’t have a home. These kids are so beautiful, and they have so much promise -- so much that they can give to the world. And this one poor family is trying to save them alone.”

When Owen returned to Winston-Salem, where she is Director of Maternal and Infant Global Health Programs and Professor of Obstetric Anesthesiology at Wake Forest Baptist, the Ghanaian children remained in her thoughts. Over breakfast with her friends, Robin Sizemore and Parker Lovell, the idea to join efforts to help the Ghanaian children began to take shape.

“Of course, we can’t literally adopt all these children,” Owen said at the breakfast. “But we can adopt them in spirit, and help make their lives better by providing funds for school, supplies, and clothing. We have the power to do that.” The weight – and challenge – of her words titillated the air at The Dessertery on Stratford Road. Sizemore and Lovell immediately wanted to help. Sizemore, a former account executive for WFMY, and now Executive Director of Hopscotch Adoptions, Inc, founded the agency in 2006 in High Point, NC. Since then, she's helped hundreds of children from Armenia, Bulgaria, Georgia, Ghana and Morocco find permanent families. She specializes in the placement of children with special needs.

Sizemore is also the adoptive mother of two children from Georgia. In 2004, while in labor with an unlikely and surprise pregnancy, Sizemore met Owen while Owen provided pain relief for Sizemore’s labor via an epidural.

The two women quickly became friends and close colleagues in the world of child advocacy. Sizemore is a member of Kybele’s Board of Directors, and she accompanied Kybele to Ghana in 2008. Through that visit, a successful adoption program was launched in Ghana. Since then, nearly 30 Ghanaian children have since been adopted by American families.

Lovell and her family operate Cash Lovell Stables & Riding Academy in Winston-Salem, NC. The barn’s youth club, Lovell’s Little Bits, is well-known for its philanthropic work with and for children. Owen’s daughter, Jozy, is an active member of Lovell’s Little Bits, and Owen and Lovell have worked together often on humanitarian projects. Two years ago, Lovell’s youth club adopted a school in Afghanistan, supplying the entire school with educational supplies and children’s backpacks.

“I am always looking for ways to teach our children how to give back, how to instill in them the desire and passion for helping others and changing the world,” Lovell said. “I knew my children could relate to these children in Ghana, which is English speaking. They can imagine living in a rickety shack with a dirt floor. They can imagine what it would feel like to have no parents, no food or clothing, and no toys. They will be able to help these children, and communicate directly with them. I’m hoping that life-changing friendships on both sides will develop.”

Lovell said that when Owen and Sizemore first spoke of the Ghanaian children and their needs, she immediately felt a calling to help.

“In this country, so many of us can’t comprehend the kind of poverty that much of the world endures daily,” she said. “I want our children to see the world through broader eyes. I want them not to be afraid to push the boundaries and reach outside their comfort zones. I want this generation to believe that they can change the world. Because if they believe they can, then they will.”

The women’s work formally begins on Friday, April 8th, when Percy Gogoe, the child advocate from Ghana, will be in Winston-Salem. He, along with families who’ve adopted Ghanaian children through Hopscotch Adoptions, will gather at Cash Lovell Stables in Winston-Salem. Members of the barn’s youth club, Lovell’s Little Bits, will brainstorm the project and set short and long term goals.

Also at the meeting will be a team of local women, all brought together by the triumvirate of Lovell, Owen and Sizemore, who will act as the project’s board of directors.

“We each are connected with brilliant, wonderfully-compassionate women from all walks of life who want to help,” Sizemore said. These women will be instrumental in the project’s success.

One of those women is Nancy Hawley, Vice President of Manufacturing for RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co.

“When I learned of these children, and learned about Medge’s first-hand, on-the-ground ability to see that the children are helped by our work, I knew immediately that I wanted to be involved,” Hawley said.

One of the reasons that many people are often leery of international philanthropy, Owen explained, is that often there is no way to track the donations of goods and money. But with Owen’s and Sizemore’s frequent trips to Ghana, and their network of partners on the ground, the project’s work should be easy to track and document.

In addition, there are tentative plans to organize an advocacy trip from Winston-Salem to Ghana in the next year to 18 months which will be open to those who are working on the project.

“We’re in this to make a difference for these children, and to teach our children how to make that difference,” Lovell said. “That is the kind of exponential change that fires me up. If children, on both sides of the ocean, grow and learn through this project, we will have truly changed the world.”

The project’s kickoff is open to the community, and those who are interested in learning more are invited to attend. Date: Friday, April 8, 2011 Time: 6 pm. Place: Cash Lovell Stables is located at 2210 Darwick Road, Winston-Salem, NC 27127.

“Our plan initially is to explore the needs of this group of children,” Sizemore said. “Then we will work together, in our professional and civic communities, to fill those targeted needs. We will raise funds, collect needed goods and items, and coordinate their delivery – all the while conducting an awareness campaign to broaden our support base.”

And if along the way, some of these children find adoptive families . . .

"The best place for a child is in a permanent, stable and loving family," Sizemore said. "But when that is not an option, we have the privilege and obligation to assist these children within their own communities. Having our own community reach out to vulnerable children abroad is particularly gratifying, and made even stronger by involving and connecting children to children."

About Robin Sizemore, Medge Owen and Parker Lovell

Robin Sizemore

Robin was a recipient of the "Angel in Adoption" award in 2008, by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, in recognition of her service to children since 1995. She is an adoptive mother and has been an adoption professional since 1995. In addition to placing children in forever families, Robin has been politically involved in issues of child welfare: she has brought educational opportunities to a variety of officials in Georgia and Armenia, spearheaded cooperative humanitarian efforts, and hosted numerous international delegations through the U.S. State Department and Ministries in other countries which are associated with institutionalized children. Robin has a warm rapport with the wide range of individuals involved with children in need, including government officials, orphanage directors and staff, hospital and humanitarian aid administrators, and adoptive families and children alike.

Medge Owen

Medge Owen, M.D., is Director of Maternal and Infant Global Health Programs, Professor of Obstetric Anesthesiology at Wake Forest University and the founder of Kybele, Inc. She has long been interested in international women's health care issues. She received a Fulbright scholarship in 1997-99 to Turkey to improve childbirth conditions, and she coauthored the first Turkish textbook of obstetric anesthesia. She has worked and lectured in countries around the world and has received numerous teaching awards. She is married with one daughter who has joined her during Kybele related travel.

Parker Lovell

Parker Nash Lovell, and her husband, Cash Lovell, operate Cash Lovell Stables & Riding Academy in Winston-Salem – a third-generation equestrian business. Parker is a former investigative newspaper reporter who worked with Pulitzer Prizewinning papers such as The Orlando Sentinel and The Charlotte Observer. She earned her Master’s Degree in Journalism from Columbia University in the City of New York. Parker’s passion for inspiring and teaching children through their love of horses is well-known. The barn’s motto is: Horses Raise Great Kids. Cash Lovell Stables & Riding Academy is one of the largest, most successful riding academies in the country – one that is routinely singled-out for excellence by the American Saddlebred Horse Association (ASHA). In recent years, Lovell’s Little Bits Youth Club, has raised more than $50,000 for local charities. Their philanthropic work is well known throughout the local and national equestrian communities.

Second Class Citizen, Again??

Recently the National Benefits Center (NBC) hosted a teleconference for both adoptive parents and agency representatives regarding the topic of Bringing Your Internationally Adopted Child to the United States.  The teleconference discussed the steps that should occur with USCIS after a family returns home to the United States with their adopted child.

Since I have been assisting children into families for more than 15 years, the teleconference lacked new information for the most part.  However, we did learn about a significant and disturbing new requirement that leaves me thinking about how far away we are in recognizing an adopted child as a legitimate and equal part of a family.

In the past, any child that entered the US under a full and final adoption decree, coupled with an IR3 or HR3 visa, was automatically granted full US citizenship upon reaching US soil, per the Child's Citizenship Act of 2000.

Not so today!  If your child enters the US between the ages of 14-18 years of age, your child is not automatically bestowed US citizenship, regardless if they have entered the US with an IR3 or HR3 visa.

Before your child is granted US citizenship they must be issued an appointment to attend a Naturalization Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America ceremony by their local USCIS field office.

Once your child has successfully taken an Oath, only then will your 14-18 year old child be granted US citizenship.

I have never considered adoption as anything paramount to the priceless gift of a family forged of love.  How did it happen that our country now requires our adopted children to pledge an oath to our country as a criteria to be a legitimate part of our nation?  I am deeply saddened that my country has attached this new requirement and, in doing so, has effectively relegated  our children to the status of second class citizens 

Post Script: One agency representative of Carolina Adoption Services astutely asked the teleconference moderators what provisions would be made for children who have not yet mastered English to effectively take the Oath.  To date, there are no provisions in place to address this obvious issue.