Adoptive Parents Help Children Recognize Roots

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Today's story comes from The Seattle Times and is titled, "Adoptive Parents Help Children Recognize Roots". 

 

The story addresses the benefits to adopted children and their adoptive parents of maintaining an awareness and link to the child's culture of origin. 


 

Historically, adopted children were sheltered from any such knowledge.  Many did not (and still do not) know that they were adopted.  This concept has generally been abandoned.  However, the article does discuss particular challenges placed on adopted children who are of different ethnic/racial extraction than from their adoptive parents.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that a child be placed with a family of the same racial and cultural background whenever possible.

 

For most adopted children, their functional outcome is good-to-excellent.  Still, adopted children face special issues, and adoption itself is considered a risk factor for mental health disorders including conduct diorder, antisocial personality and drug abuse.  Children who are international adoptees are at particular risk for infectious diseases (about 60%), like hepatitis, CMV, tuberculosis or HIV.   Many of these children have developmental delays and growth retardation.


 

The primary care clinician plays several important preventive and supportive roles, including at the time of pre-adoption, post-adoption and for older adoptees.  Issues to address may include: When and how to tell the child s/he is adopted; and to maintain a keen understanding of the sequence of developmental issues regarding the adopted child's understanding of her/his adopted status as s/he develops (kids focus on different issues and need access to different information to answer questions, depending on their age and development).  For example, preschool adopted children are generally accepting of being adopted, school-aged children fantasize about their birthparents as being more appealing than their adoptive parents, and adolescents have concerns about special attributes (eg, mental health, physical appearance, and talents) of their birthparents.

 


RESOURCES ON ADOPTION:

Go to http://depts.washington.edu/dbpeds

Select "Resources for Community"

Select "Adoption"

 

(You'll find 2 resources --- one addresses adoption in general, and assists in identifying regional adoption resources.  The other addresses issues related to the post-institutionalized child, and the common health and psycho-social consequences to adopted children who were formerly institutionalized).



 

And that's today's Developmental/Behavioral Pediatrics: IN THE NEWS!




Sunday, August 13, 2006



Adoptive parents help children recognize roots

By Charlotte Hsu

Seattle Times staff reporter

The Fritch family of Snohomish celebrates Christmas twice a year.

In December, they have a dinner featuring roast turkey and pecan pie, reflecting Eric Fritch's American heritage. At that time, they also indulge in plum pudding and share little wrapped treats called Christmas crackers — a salute to the customs of Fritch's English wife, Sharon Kiddle.

Then in January, the family honors Orthodox Christmas with a meal served on lacquered dishes, on a table adorned with Russian nesting dolls — a nod to the birth culture of Fritch and Kiddle's adopted children, Anastasiya and Alexander, who are 6.

No one could tell by looking that Ana and Alex are not the couple's by birth. But like many parents who adopt from Russia or Eastern Europe, Fritch and Kiddle have made their family multicultural.

While media attention has centered on Asian adoption in recent years, U.S. adoptions from Russia are now second only in number — there were 4,639 last year — to the 7,906 adoptions recorded from China.

Though Caucasian families with European and Eastern European children are often not visibly unconventional, some nonetheless are choosing to do as many of their mixed-race counterparts have done in exposing their children to the culture of their birth.

Because of confidentiality laws in Russia, tracking down a birth mother is hard for children adopted from that country, said Jamie Herlich, Russian program team leader for the World Association for Children and Parents (WACAP), a Seattle adoption agency.

So connecting these kids to Russian culture can help satisfy a human craving to know one's roots, she said. "As an adopted child, you always have that sort of curiosity about where I came from."

Velizar Mandeville, 16, who lives near Kirkland, traveled to Bulgaria in July with his adoptive parents and brother, stopping at the orphanage where he lived until he was almost 4.

"As a kid you always wonder what it's like — you see pictures," he said. "You think you remember, but not really. ... It fills a little empty hole."




When he was younger there were times when he wanted to forget about his heritage, to be American and "feel like everyone else." But now he's glad he knows about Bulgarian culture, and he wants to learn the language.

White parents who adopt European children rarely come across the external pressures that mixed-race families may experience — no curious glances from waiters wondering why white parents are reprimanding Asian kids, no questions from strangers at the supermarket wondering aloud, "are those kids yours?" said David Ptasnik, who runs the Seattle agency Americans Adopting Orphans.

Yet European adoptees do come from distinctive cultures.

Don and Jessica Thomson of West Seattle, who adopted from Russia, preserve their children's history in subtle ways.

On a hallway wall is a photograph of Moscow, the backdrop the famous turreted crimson building in Red Square where the family traveled in 2001. They still call the children — Mary Alexandra and John Pavel — "Sasha" and "Pasha," the nicknames used at an orphanage on Sakhalin Island, a remote place off the Russian mainland's east coast.

Sasha has siblings in Russia whom she may be able to meet someday, though little is known about Pasha's past. But at least he can know something of the country from which he came, the Thomsons said.

Mia Tuan, a University of Oregon associate professor of sociology, said learning about birth culture can help adoptees develop a sense of self.

"It helps to instill a sense of pride — 'I came from something that was rich, something legitimate that has a long history,' " Tuan said.

Much of the advice agencies give parents about birth culture stems from what they learned from U.S. adoptions of Korean orphans after the Korean War, when it was common for parents to ignore culture.

Tuan and a colleague conducted a study about five years ago, speaking to 61 Korean adoptees. Many said they could not trust or seek guidance from parents who wouldn't discuss race and culture.

Figuring out how much culture is enough is hard, said Jim Vevang, a WACAP social worker. Toddlers usually want to be like their parents, so adoptive families may find themselves force-feeding culture to young children, he said. But by high school kids often show interest.

Kiddle is president of the Washington chapter of Families for Russian and Ukrainian Adoption, Including Neighboring Countries, which organizes seminars on parenting issues and hosts an annual winter carnival of Russian and Eastern European dance, food and music.

"We all realize our kids' lives didn't start the day we adopted them," Kiddle said. "They had roots and existence before."

Kiddle, 48, who stays at home with the children, and Fritch, 45, a sawmill owner, met in 1992 on a boat ride to the Great Barrier Reef, where each was alone on vacation. Eighteen months, nine overseas trips and dozens of phone calls later, the two were married. Later, because of their ages, they found it difficult to have children.

Adopting Ana and Alex took two frustrating years. Now, a scrapbook page dated July 27, 2002, reflects images of a wedding the family attended that day.

There is a picture of Ana and Alex carrying silk flowers, a horseshoe and a rolling pin. It is an English custom to offer the latter two items to the bride for good luck and well-being, Kiddle said.



With the snapshot is a note in delicate black script: "We decided to combine this English tradition with the Russian tradition of ubiquitous flower giving," it reads. "Odd numbers of flowers are given at happy occasions — white for innocence, red for love."


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