Day 2: ‘Draw a picture of your family doing something together’

Today was a busy day, full of some interesting insights and unexpected connections.

FAMILY DRAWINGS - ‘Draw a picture of your family doing something together’

An adopted child's drawing.

An adopted child's drawing.

I attended a presentation by Laurie Miller on children’s drawings. Despite the common use of drawings in child psychology, the technique is more rare in assessing adoptive children. Through the study they were able to perceive self-perception and family function - as you would imagine - but in the process shining a new light on the way adoptees are supported.

These pictures - you can see one above - reflect early experiences and are an interesting visual insight into the process of developmental support that can be offered to children. Again, it promotes creativity. I would be interested to see if technology could be used to help establish a system for providing children with this creative, therapeutic outlet in a more embedded way.

Interestingly, this particular study featured 48 girls and 25 boys. Far fewer boys volunteered for the project. This feels like a familiar problem! Reading about myself and my behaviour as a young boy in care, I hesitated to engage in creative or imaginative play. That has changed a little as an adult, but I saw something of myself in the challenges of this project.

ADOPTEES AS ADULTS (‘adoption is a lifelong process’)

I was beginning to ask myself how adult adoptees (as one myself) were being represented in adoption research. My questions were somewhat answered on day two with a small selection of presentations on the challenges faced by adoptees when they reach adulthood.

Margaret Grant, formerly of BAAF and now carrying out research projects in from her base in Scotland. An early study is looking at early adulthood adoptees (people aged 25 and above) - though in its primitive stages it is already unearthing some gaps in these areas, including the age of adoption. This is a consistent theme that I’m noticing - with adoption often instinctively linked to adoption from birth or early years, my own experiences (as well as some of the research coming out of this conference) tell me that adoptees who enter permanent alternative care at older ages are likely to experience their challenges in later life, in different ways. David Cross (of day two TRBI fame) spoke of trauma and key texts highlight that the effects of trauma can be passed on to family and partners. The trauma of early childhood experiences should also be part of the open, natural discussion of the self and of self-identification.

Jean Connick spoke on behalf ofVANISH - it was good to get a better understanding of their approaches. She has led a study into adopted women who have started their own families. Again, it highlighted this area as a growing and important aspect of adoption research. How this will turn into practice remains to be seen, I think.

A team from the University of Minnesota spoke compellingly about how Korean American adoptees talk about adoption with their children. They talked about socialisation - again, reminding us that adoption, unsurprisingly, is part of a somewhat natural social evolution and not simply a set of individual experiences.

The take-home message: adoption is a life-long process.

ALTERNATIVE REPRODUCTIVE TECHNOLOGIES (ARTs)

The morning was defined by a set of technologies that I’d not necessarily considered; Alternative Reproductive Technologies.

Richard Lee, from the US, talked in detail about the transracial and transnational paradox; that the identities of children adopted in these ways are dissected by loyalties to their new culture as well as their birth culture. Richard also mentioned the best interest of the child; a theme that is present through the conference but often forgotten in the midst of adult stakeholder priorities. Interestingly, he talked again of connection. This time, the idea of a child best interests said to have changed over time to provide a connection to the future that parents who cannot conceive would otherwise miss out on. This stems from the cold war era, where a nuclear family would help to allay a sense of alienation during strong social uncertainty.

A thought for the day: finding out who you are is only a problem if you don’t know who you are in the first place. The UK is blessed with a strong history of open adoption. What I think we can do better is to normalise adoption for communities by covering the concept in schools and to continue to provide children and adults with innovative opportunities to network and connect - in a positive way, and not as an indication that these experiences set people apart from the way that families are otherwise created.

One of the most contentious issues surrounding adoption appears to be the loss of identity and the secrecy of closed adoptions, where information about what is happening is kept from adoptees. Our ICAR5 Chair and adoptee, Rhoda Scherman, is 52 and still does not have the right to access information about her adoption because her State in the USA still does not permit access to the information. Australia is stricken by a history of destructive adoption practice. It seems a desperate tragedy that this can happen. Openness - both in terms of access to someones past, as well as open communication towards children - is crucial. I think technology can play a part in this. 

Diana Marre from the University of Barcelona took this discussion forward. The pictures attached tells an amazing story.

The (complex) conception of a 21st century child.

The (complex) conception of a 21st century child.

Diana talked about the journey of one particular man from Italy to father a child.  Using his sperm, an egg donor from Thailand and a surrogate Mother from Eastern Europe (with the egg transferred from Asia to Europe using a British medical courier), the surrogate became pregnant and gave birth is Spain before the child and Father moved back to Italy.

It was fascinating and eye-opening to see how families are being created today - and what this means for children who will grow up managing all of these different complexities. I would only hope that they are told, in a positive way, how they came to be and that it might not be convention, it’s certainly nothing to be ashamed about.

Any one child might have up to five adult stakeholders responsible for an aspect of their life. It is no surprises that there is such a struggle to prioritise the rights and wishes of the child. Any technological solution should empower children in a way that allows for balanced adult supervision and oversight.