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.
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.