According to the Children’s Bureau, “National Adoption Month is an initiative of the Children’s Bureau with a goal to increase national awareness and bring attention to the need for permanent families for children and youth in the U.S. foster care system.” However, as an adoptee, I think it’s important to use National Adoption Month to highlight the adoptee experience.
In an effort to turn the conversation towards adoptees, and those advocating for them, I sat down with founder, Cathy, and advocate, Jessica, of Adoption Reunion Search and Support (ARSS) to talk all things adoption, advocacy, and more!
LJS: What inspired you to start ARSS?
Cathy: As an almost 60-year-old adoptee, I have come to understand all sides of the adoption triad. I started my own journey in 1978, when I was barely knowledgeable on how to search and what was available to me. During that journey, I discovered how there really wasn’t much support out there.
Since my reunion in 2000, I have volunteered my time to help others with their own personal journeys. My own search was agonizing, and I told myself after I found my birth family, I was going to help others so they wouldn’t encounter the same struggles I had – I was going to pay it forward.
I wanted to give back to the very small (at the time) adoption community, which had in its own limited way helped me a lot. From this, stemmed my passion. People, families, and lives coming together is what is important. I felt I could create a safe place for all members of the triad – meaning adoptees, adoptive families, and biological families – to find resources and help with search information that wasn’t available until very recently. This is when ARSS was born. July 2017.
Every adoptee’s journey is important. We created a space for support, for others to talk to each other, which is a valuable asset. Some adoptees never truly feel safe discussing their feelings with non-adoptees – we provide a space where they can share their feelings and be supported. I believe no matter what you find at the end of your journey, whatever your outcome may be, good or bad – it is the journey that is important. You have found something that most people take for granted – yourself. What more can any of us ask? So, my passion for helping a ‘search’, for analyzing DNA, completing adoptees families, letting someone cry out their frustrated feelings, or listen to a wonderful reunion story – is what gives me inspiration. ARSS has been a true labor of love for not only myself, but for our Angels as well. And Jessica’s unrelenting time and attention has really ignited our social media. She has really brought this Facebook, IG social world to me.
LJS: You talk a lot about the triad, can you shed more light on what that is?
Cathy: Believe Adoption.com‘s terminology of the Adoption Triad is the best way to explain,”A term used to describe the three-sided relationship that exists in an adoption between birth parents, adoptive parents and the adoptee, each of which is interrelated and interdependent on the others.”
LJS: Thanks for sharing, Cathy! Can you talk more about how the adoption community supported you throughout your search?
Cathy: The only real support I had was PA Adoption – I can’t even remember their name fully. I went to neighborhood get togethers (here in California), where adoptees would sit together and try to share what they had found since we really had nothing. Since my search was in Pennsylvania and I lived in California, I really had to rely on librarians, phone books, medical records departments (those people who were willing to answer questions, before HIPPA laws took place). These were the real heroes for me. Since then, our adoption community has grown by leaps and bounds. With the help of social media – as opposed to snail mail to libraries across the country – our community is so much bigger.
LJS: Jessica, what made you want to get involved with ARSS? What do you feel you’ve learned from the adoptee community and how do you use that knowledge to support adoptees who are searching?
Jessica: I grew up with Cathy’s son and after hearing her story I became intrigued in learning more about and from the adoptee community. I never knew the struggles – not only ethically, but emotionally – adoptees must overcome because adoptees carry their trauma throughout their lives. It has been eye opening to listen to countless stories and learn adoptees’ perspective of adoption based on their own experience. Most are so inhumane I completely support their feelings towards adoption. I can’t ever say I understand, especially since every adoptee has their own unique story, but I hope as I continue to learn I can grow as an advocate for adoptees’ voices to be heard.
LJS: What do you think is the biggest challenge adoptees face?
Cathy: The most challenging aspect of being adopted is that we are not treated the same as non-adoptees. Our obstacles are huge. The biggest of course, being that we are not allowed by law in most states to have what is rightfully ours – our unchanged original birth certificates. Now that DNA has come to the forefront, I am hoping that it will eradicate the state government’s involvement in keeping records closed. We need open records for all adoptees!
Jessica: Though I can’t speak as an adoptee, I would like to say as an advocate one of the biggest challenges adoptees face is human rights. Denied access to their own records – it is mind boggling that a human is denied access to their OWN information. As ID rules continue to change in the United States – and most states require birth certificates to obtain identification – adoptees are at an unfair disadvantage. Most states requiring birth certificates won’t even allow adoptees access to their birth certificates, so what are they supposed to do then? It is so corrupt and wrong how adoptees are denied basic rights.
LJS: For TRAs like myself, obtaining accurate documents is huge. Additionally, I’ve heard the validity of existing documents is also an issue, as the stigma of single motherhood in some countries prompts documents to be falsified to avoid public shame. Do you think our government needs to take steps to ensure access to documents, and strive to preserve the integrity of those documents, on an international level?
Cathy: Yes, of course. Obtaining accurate documents is a huge obstacle for all of us. Until we are playing by the same rules as everyone else, with respect to international adoptions, accessing our records will always be a challenge. We need undoctored records! I am not sure the government would ever strive for adoptee integrity. It will take us to help make those changes within our governments, locally and federally.
LJS: What are ARSS’s feelings about NAAM? Why?
Cathy: This is a very complicated question. It brings up a lot of personal feelings. NAAM, to me, has nothing to do with adoptees. It was created by President Obama to celebrate a month of falsehoods and lies. The non-adopted community has tried very hard to make it seem that adoptees are put into “forever homes” with loving and adoring adopted parents, but fails to acknowledge the pain, secrecy, and sometimes inhumane system failures. Adoptees are understandably offended.
Some NAAM supporters highlight the “adoptee success stories” as a way to promote more couples to adopt, but this shouldn’t be the focus of NAAM. Where are adoptees in this process? Why aren’t we celebrated? Well because, quite frankly, our voices and experiences shine a light on the corruption of the adoption industry and hit them where it truly hurts – their wallets. We don’t matter, we just cause problems for the bureaucrats. We take the ugly mask off an even uglier pig. Where is our recognition? What about the 7 million children who are already children of adopted families who are now grown adults, and who still do not have the right to their very own “Original Birth Certificate”. What about us? Why don’t WE matter?
Jessica: I agree with Cathy, it has nothing to do with adoptees but rather the adoption industry. If it truly was about adoptees, they would have the platform and the script would be flipped!
LJS: I agree that too often, the adoption narrative tends to focus on adoptive parents rather than the adoptee experience. When the adoptee’s journey is highlighted, I feel it’s always rooted in reunion. But there are other stories out there – important stories which need to be told. What can adoptees do to bring their stories to the forefront?
Cathy: We have to keep on keeping on…. keep blogging, keep tweeting, keep hashtagging. We have to keep us relevant. Unfortunately, there are way too many disturbing stories of adoption, and of adopted horrible parents. This is what needs to be told. For the few success adoption reunion stories, the successful ones, the international adoptees, good and bad – these voices all need to be heard.
Jessica: Cathy is 100% right, keep your voices going and don’t let anyone quiet you!!
LJS: What is on the horizon for ARSS?
Jessica: We hope to continue to grow our community, so we have more voices to share and learn from. Each voice that speaks is another step towards making our voices heard. We hope we can make positive changes for adoptees and adoption all together. We would love if our petition became a staple in the adoptee world and actually gained traction in opening records for all adoptees in the US! As we continue to grow, we hope we can grow the “Best Genes” program so that those unable to DNA test have the resources to make that a reality. So much has changed since we first started and we are ever evolving, we can’t wait to see what is ahead for ARSS!
Cathy: This year I felt it was most important to keep pushing our petition, #adopteesrightsmatter. The more people we can put ourselves in front of, the better for pushing our agenda for open records. We started the petition as a platform to come together and make our voices heard! We need to stand together; we need to spearhead a campaign to raise “awareness” to be part of a movement. Let’s get on our soap box. Let’s wear our “green ribbons”, let’s wear our adoptee related apparel, let’s connect with our congress members, let’s educate. Together we can make a difference. We as the adoption community, need to help in making the changes WE want, and WE need. If we all get involved, maybe we can help change the negative environment on opening our original birth certificates. This is a positive direction so that we can continue to Flip the Script!
LJS: How can someone become involved with helping in ARSS’s mission?
Cathy & Jessica: There are a number of ways to become involved with ARSS whether you want to follow our page to stay up to date or interested in becoming a Search Angel. The options are endless!! We have different support groups, petitions to be signed, guest blog opportunities, Search Angel applications and endless social media posts to interact with.
1. Help open records for all adoptees in all states by showing your support by signing the #adopteesrightsmatter petition can be found here. Give adoptees the freedom that we all deserve as humans.
2. Join one of our Facebook groups. This is a safe place for fellow members to speak amongst their peers. Whether you are a first mom or dad and/or adoptee, there is a community for you – please join!
3. Interested in helping with searches? Have experience with DNA? We could use your help as a volunteer Search Angel. If interested please visit the questionnaire so we can get to know you better here.
4. Interested in being one of our guest writers on our blog? We would love to have you and hear what topic is of interest to you! Email us if you would like to write a blog or a topic you want to see in the future.
The views and opinions expressed by Cathy and Jessica of Adoption Research Search and Support (ARSS) in this interview are those of Adoption Research Search and Support (ARSS), and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of Lauren J. Sharkey.