It has been 2 months since I returned from New Zealand and Australia. The space between my first trip and the second has allowed me to absorb and reflect a wealth of new information. I expect to learn a great deal more as I landed in Washington DC on Monday 21st March 2016 for two a half weeks in the USA.
To date, I have understood the differences that history and policy make in the experience available to people being adopted. Open adoptions in the UK have possibly promoted a more positive attitude towards it in the general pubic; largely it's seen as an ethical and altruistic act. Older children (such as myself) are aware of their place in the process and younger children or newborns are able to access information about their past fairly easily. Importantly, birth families are complicit and upheld as a key stakeholder when their children are being placed elsewhere, even if the reasons for family relocation are serious ones. Contact is promoted and support. Information about birth parents and their identity is available. Openness is healthy for young children and it makes search and reunion easier. There are of course exceptions to these 'rules' and adults will often find a way to make processes difficult; be it hiding information from their son or daughter or preventing healthy interactions with their past.
By contrast, however, New Zealand and Australia have fundamentally different approaches. In Australia in particular, their stolen generations adoption is associated with the theft of identity; this is emphasised by the Nation's policy of changing a child's birth certificate. This happens in the UK, but when adoptions are closed the consequences are severe. The impacts of Australia's stolen generation pervades today and though a specific and extreme example, highlights the importance of openness and honesty - key themes that I will bring out of my own research. New Zealand - together with Australia - harbor a deep and complex relationship with adoption through their aboriginal communities. Both within these communities and in their (dis)connection with wider society, the term adoption maintains a certain social stigma, though many groups are working hard to address this. Though the way that adoption has developed in these countries is very different - and I am sure that the US will offer more differences still - the challenges that face effective adoption are transferable; the UK must ensure that adoption is not stigmatised by normalising it an unfortunate but normal option for when birth families no longer work as they should. Adoption should be open and never hidden from a child. Children should own their experiences and understand them.
Technology has been a subtle but regular factor. I have probed for it's relevance and application. There are several instances where technology is being used - and often by children themselves, a sign that newer generations will do so automatically. There is a sense of caution that underlines it - this is most evidence when speaking with adults and than with children (though I'm prepared for this to be challenged). I hope to bring this into the foreground during my time in the US.
I will meet some familiar faces and many new ones between the 21st March and the 6th April.
After landing in Washington DC on Monday 21st, catching up on rest and offloading some luggage at a generous friends' apartment, I will fly to Detroit before making my way to Ann Arbor, a small town of 113,000 around 45 miles West of Detroit, in Michigan State. There, I will be reunited with Kristine Freeark, a child and family psychologist and coordinator of 'Strengthening MySelf'. I wrote about them earlier in my blog, and have been fortunate enough to be invited to spend three days in Kristine's hometown to meet those involved. PARC (the Post Adoption Research Centre) will also host a Q&A evening to bring me closer to an open dialogue with those affected or interested in adoption. This community interaction will balance out ICAR's strong focus and give my project a broader perspective, covering the realities of personal experience and opinion as well as underlying theory. Hopefully, anyway.
From Ann Arbor I fly to Boston where I'll spend 5 days. Three will be in the City, where I'll meet project staff at the Centre on the Developing Child and host a focus group with three students, where we'll discuss their experiences and attitudes towards adoption. I will then travel to Amherst to reunite with Professor Hal Grotevant, whom I met at ICAR5, where we'll spend to days discussing his sector leading adoption research and how he feels technology will play a future role. My time there will include further focus groups.
I arrive back in Washington DC on the 30th March. There, I will meet with several adoption agencies and begin the process of synthesising my research before the journey home to the UK on April 6th.