Tag Archives: adoption

Lion: A Tale of Intercountry Adoption

In Search of Happier Beginnings and Joyful Endings

What if our number one priority was the well-being of children across the globe?

I recently saw Lion, a film that tells the story of Saroo Brierley, an Indian boy who is separated from his mother, brother and sister in India. Saroo is quickly adopted by an Australian couple and raised in Hobart, Tasmania with his new family. The film touches on topics I’ve been working on for the past 25 years of my career, including in my current position as Executive Director of International Social Service, USA. I was curious to see how realistically Lion would portray these issues.

Lion movie resized

Lion addresses some of the complexities of the intense bonds between biological children and their parents and siblings; between adoptive children and their parents and siblings; and between adoptive and biological families. It also shows how easily children can become separated from their families and how difficult it is to reunite them in countries where child protection infrastructures are in the early stages of development. The film portrays how vulnerable children can be when they are separated from their families through a brief shot of street children trying to find a safe place to sleep, to a shot of those who intend to harm them such as the police and child traffickers, and through depictions of people who are indifferent to lost, hungry, dirty children.

Lion‘s Nod to Intercountry Adoption Challenges

We, as child protection experts, have struggled for decades to figure out how to properly care for children who lack the support and protection of families. Starting In the late 1940s and early 1950s, intercountry adoption evolved into a popular care option; families in countries such the U.S., Canada, Australia and across Europe became eager to adopt children from poor, war-torn, or communist countries including India, Haiti, South Korea, Russia and China, to name a few. The film briefly acknowledges some of the challenges surrounding intercountry adoption. Lion shows the limited methods of searching for family, the reasons why some families choose to adopt, the lack of transparency in sharing medical, mental health and behavior histories of adoptive children, the experience of raising a child with disabilities, and the fear that adoptive families have about their capacity to support their children.

Saroo’s Journey

In Lion, we watch the adorable and brave Saroo (Sunny Pawar) grow up into a seemingly well-adjusted, bright, young man (Dev Patel). Then, we see Saroo fall apart when memories from his early childhood haunt him: he struggles with the reality that he has another family, is confused about his cultural identity and grapples with the fact that he does not know how to find his family and if they are alive or dead. We feel his growing panic, pain, and deep-seated desire “to know.” Any parent who has lost track of his/her child in the grocery store, and any child who has lost his/her parents in a crowd, understands this sense of relentless urgency to reconnect. This must be a fraction of the pain Saroo felt for more than 16 years. We watch this panic paralyze Saroo, alienating him from his friends, girlfriend and family.

What if?

What if Saroo’s mother had enough money to support her family? What if Saroo and his brother and sister attended school? What if Saroo only had to work before or after school near the family’s house? Saroo and his brother would NOT have had to stray so far from home to earn money to help feed his family, and Saroo would never have become separated from his family. Investing in FAMILY STRENGTHENING, by providing cash assistance, employment, parenting training/support and education for children, is critical to prevent family separation and to protect the long-term well-being of children. Unfortunately, very few countries invest enough (if at all) in the full range of family strengthening activities. Countries that do have some of the highest indicators of child well-being. Countries that don’t, including the United States, pay far more for the costly consequences of family separation. This puts children at greater risk of being trafficked, abused, neglected, harmed, and becoming involved with criminal behavior including gangs and terrorist groups in adolescence and adulthood.

How Investing in Child Protection Systems Could Have Changed Saroo’s Life

What if, in addition to family strengthening, we invest in child protection systems that, together with legal systems, provide the framework to care and protect vulnerable children? What if we support the development and enhancement of child protection services, including birth registration, social services, and training for social workers? Then, family separation would be a solvable problem. Building social work capacity to prevent and address consequences of separation is critical to the health and well-being of all children. The ability to work across jurisdictions would better protect the historic numbers of people on the move today who are crossing, or separated by, borders.
Having enhanced child protection systems would enable trained social workers, like those in the International Social Service network, to talk to Saroo, search for his family, and reunite them. Saroo could be linked with reintegration services that would ensure a smooth transition. Social workers could visit him and his family and continue to connect them to the resources they need to keep Saroo safe within his family and community.

While we all like joyful endings, the bottom line is that we need to work much harder on HAPPY BEGINNINGS. It’s wonderful when people reunite after a long separation. But it’s even more wonderful when those bonds are not severed for long or are never severed in the first place.

Stay tuned for updates from my upcoming trip to India to visit my esteemed colleague Ian Anand Forber Pratt, MSW, National Program Director, Centre of Excellence in Alternative Care of Children (India) Children’s Emergency Relief International (CERI). While there, I will attend and speak at the National Symposium on Family Strengthening: Deconstructing Alternative Practices in the Current Legislative Framework and learn about the many wonderful ways in which India is developing its child protection systems.

Julie Rosicky, Executive Director
International Social Service, USA Branch Inc.

11 Key Takeaways from The Ties That Bind

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The key finding of the 6th annual International Social Service conference is that we have failed to do our due diligence in protecting children in our country. Through the creation of benign euphemisms, we have trivialized key circumstances that threaten the safety, well-being and permanency of children within our borders. We have emphasized the rights of parents and other adults at the expense of protecting our kids.

The growing problem of parents abducting their children is not called kidnapping, or treated as a violent crime against children. We call the abandonment of adopted children “re-homing” and fail to prosecute it as a crime. The advancement of reproductive technologies has placed primacy on the prospective parents’ rights to produce a biologically-related child with no thought given to the product of these technologies; the child. Finally, we have created a parallel, and less useful, child protection system for children who enter our borders without appropriate adult care. The result is that unaccompanied children do not get the same protection and care as our citizen children and are at great risk for violence, trafficking and deportation without adequate pre- and post-arrival services.

The key issues and actions that must be addressed by the next administration include:

  1. Create a National Resource Center on Cross-Border Child Protection that will provide technical assistance and training for judicial and legal stakeholders as well as public and private child/family services providers on best practices in child protection/welfare cases that have a cross-border dimension.
  2. Support the creation and passage of a Federal law that defines the re-homing of adopted children as child abandonment and includes strong penalties for perpetrators.
  3. Support the creation and passage of new laws to protect the rights of children who are the product of Assisted Reproductive Technologies including surrogacy, donor conception and embryo adoption.
  4. Mandate donor registration on a National Donor Registry.
  5. Develop, and financially support, repatriation and reintegration programs for children and families removed from the U.S. through immigration enforcement.
  6. Invest in upgrading The Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) to include child outcomes both for children within the U.S. and for children who are placed with relatives overseas. States must comply with reporting requirements, and there should be penalties for states who who refuse to comply with these requirements.
  7. Advocate for consistent home study assessment standards to ensure all children, including unaccompanied children being placed with sponsors, foster children, children placed in kinship care, and children placed with relatives overseas, are placed in homes that have been thoroughly and properly vetted.
  8. Increase funding for family-based services to prepare adoptive, foster or kinship families, and international sponsors for parenting children. Create support services for families to prevent or appropriately address disruptions and prepare for reunification after extended separations.
  9. Create stronger exit controls to prevent parental child abduction.
  10. Invest in enhanced parental child abduction prevention programs.
  11. Advocate that states create statutes to treat parental child abduction with the same urgency as stranger abductions.

We Never Outgrow the Need for a Family

ISS-USA Reflects on National Adoption Month with Thomas Waterfield

November is National Adoption Month: a time to increase awareness about the need for adoptive families for thousands of children in the U.S. waiting for permanent families. This November, National Adoption Month sheds light on the critical need for finding families for older youth. More than 20,000 children age out of the U.S. foster care system every year without ever having found a permanent family. For more information on National Adoption Month, please see the Children’s Bureau’s Adoption Month page.

There is no specific day or month dedicated to intercountry adoption, yet there are millions of children around the world living without the care and protection of a family. We believe that our work is not done until every child is reunited with a family whose only goal is the safety and well-being of that child. It matters not where that family is from, nor whether they are biologically related to the child. If it is in the child’s best interest to be placed with a particular family, then all necessary steps must be taken to ensure that the placement occurs. It is the right of every child to have a family, and domestic and intercountry adoption are two ways to promote and protect that right.

ISS-USA became involved with intercountry adoption in the 1940s but substantially decreased its involvement through the 70’s and beyond. Yet, ISS-USA remains linked to the past through our archived adoption records and requests for assistance to find and connect adoptees to their biological families. At our recent 90th Anniversary celebration, we were honored to meet the grandson of the Hollywood icon, Jane Russell. Ajaye and his wife, Taylor, attended our 90th Event on behalf of his family, and in particular on behalf of Thomas Waterfield, Ajaye’s Dad, who was adopted by Russell in 1951.
jane russell
Thomas was 15 months old in 1951 when Russell and her husband, Bob Waterfield, former Los Angeles Rams NFL star, adopted him. Thomas’ biological mother, Hannah Kavanagh, was living in London at the time and wanted to give her son a better life. Her family was living in deep poverty, and Hannah wanted better for her son. Hannah’s family migrated from Scotland to Ireland. They barely survived living in Northern Ireland, as they were living in extreme poverty with limited access to food and other basic necessities. Hannah eventually met her husband near Galway, Ireland, and together they immigrated to London. It was while the Kavanaghs were in London that Hannah read about Jane Russell’s scheduled command performances for the Queen of England. Hannah reached out to Jane Russell by letter, and the two met to arrange the informal adoption of Thomas. Jane Russell went on to establish her own adoption foundation to help orphans around the world find homes. This organization, the World Adoption International Fund (WAIF), was initially the international adoption and fundraising branch of ISS-USA. While ISS-USA’s focus shifted and the organizations parted ways to focus on their respective missions, their history is intertwined.

Thomas is now a musician living in Arizona. He has been back to Ireland on many occasions to visit his biological family and plans to return to Ireland in the next year. He hopes to release a book later in 2016 detailing his life and family’s involvement in the field of intercountry adoption.

While ISS, in most parts of the world, is no longer involved directly with intercountry adoption, we continue to advocate for adoptees, biological family members, and international treaties designed to protect children outside of the care of their families. The work of the ISS Federation has been central to the development of best practices in intercountry adoption and to the drafting of guidelines on alternative care measures for children separated from their biological families. ISS-USA, and many of our partners around the world provide information and technical assistance to key stakeholders in the domestic and intercountry adoption process. It is our hope that each and every child has the opportunity to find a permanent family either at home or abroad. To learn more please visit www.iss-usa.org and www.iss-ssi.org.