As the field of international adoption undergoes change, so do key support organizations, like FCC groups and other international adoptive family support groups. While people in urban areas often are a part of an international group that focuses on their child’s birth country, the less densely populated communities often band together with all parents of internationally adopted children in a particular region of the US.
At Lotus Travel, we see the changes and challenges faced by these grass roots organizations as they provide a network of support and services for adoptive families. In that interest, we are beginning a new feature column in this newsletter focused on the work and efforts of various groups like this around the country.
IC: One challenge many groups face is to remain engaged, active and relevant to adoptive families, as their children become too mature for the simple traditions such as the Lunar New Year dragon dance. I’m hearing from groups around the country that as kids enter the middle school years they want less and less to do with events or traditions that distinguish them from their peers. What has been your group’s experience around this issue?
JG: Well, yes we feel it too, and I feel it personally keenly, as my daughter is at the age of 13. Of course, she mostly doesn’t want to be associated with younger children or categorized in with them in any way. What seems to work beautifully with this age is to engage them by giving them a task or responsibility to take on. For example, my daughter and her best friend, who was also adopted from China, took over the responsibility for running the ‘store” during our Lunar New Year event this year. The woman who had run it in the past wanted a break and when I put those two in charge of the store, it became such a fun project for them. The parent attendees bought a lot more items from the kids and the store sales went through the roof! The funds we raise at the store mean we can break even on the party or make a little for our group’s expenses. It was for a good cause. Among families who attend events regularly, those two girls are the main participants at their age, so they appreciated being given independent tasks and not being grouped with the younger children. For other activities, sometimes they are in charge of child care for the youngest members of the group, while parents attend a workshop. These types of opportunities have turned out to be ideal situations to recognize their increased maturity and independence.
We also found a successful Korean adoptee, a local TV reporter and announcer, who acts as a mentor to the older girls, getting together with them once a month for bowling, go-karting, or hanging out to watch a movie together. She is both a positive role model and a potential confidante on teen adoption issues.
IC: So, is your group being methodical about this?
JG: Well, I think it happens more organically most of the time. When a parent is also an FCC leader, you come up with a solution to keep your child involved otherwise, parents let them drift away from important cultural connections. Some people will tell me, “Well, my child has another activity, such as basketball, that evening, so we cannot make it.” For me, that would not work, as I made a commitment to instill in my child an appreciation of her culture. I made a promise when I adopted her, and it’s a promise I’ve taken to heart. Yes, I agree it takes work to make the events interesting and relevant for differing ages, but that is why these support groups are so important. Really, these groups are parent driven, so it’s up to us. There are a number of parents in our group who have grown in leadership and taken on responsibility for different projects and events, so it has grown over time. It’s a great group.
IC: Do you have a lot of event activities during the year?
JG: We have several main events during the year. These include the large Lunar New Year event; an Eastern European cultural event, an annual summer picnic; an adoption fair, and the Heart of the Matter parent education seminar. We have a lovely, informal Christmas gathering, which is a potluck meal event. We also hold informational parent meetings on adoption issues typically once per month. Last year, we helped a local university develop a week-long Chinese Heritage summer day camp, which was so successful that it has become an annual event. We also encourage families to sign up their children for local Chinese language and Chinese brush painting classes.
IC: Your group seems quite active, particularly given the fact that your organization is relatively small. To what do you attribute the active nature and success of your?
JG: When I became president several years ago, I really threw all of my energies into this venture and applied my organizational skills and time into making programs interesting and relevant to the majority of the families attending. Naturally, I focused on information and programs that would be of interest to my own daughter and developed activities and functions that met my and my daughter’s needs at that time. As I look back I see that we didn’t provide anything relevant for the older kids at that time. Over a period of years, others have taken on increased leadership roles and expanded offerings and activities the offers. It has just grown from there.
IC: One of the challenges many groups around the country are facing right now is the reality that international adoptions have slowed. Is that impacting your group in any visible way?
JG: Well, yes, the adoption fair that we host and organize has had up to 100 visitors in past years and many adoption agencies attended and provided information. This most recent adoption fair, only 9 people participated, so that’s clearly a dramatic change in the numbers of interested people exploring international adoption in our area. Agency representatives spent much of the time visiting with each other and made use of the time anyway. However, I’m not certain we will host another one during this next year.
IC: It sounds like many things have gone really well for your group. What is something that you wished would have been more effective?
JG: Well, I think the most disheartening aspect of this has been trying to establish an open connection for families who struggle with post-adoption challenges, such as attachment strain, or other difficulties, some that even escalate into an adoption disruption. While our group attempts to be a resource for parents experiencing any such difficulty, it seems that we have not been as effective in supporting families as they face these challenges. I’m not certain what the answer is here, but I would like us to find a more effective way to help and support each other.
IC: Possibly this is where the online community provides a valuable service of being able to seek help in a more anonymous, confidential manner, since reaching out for help in this regard can be feel so very risky and may put parents in the position to feel like they’ve failed.
JG: Yes, I wish we were in a position to more be more effective for these families, but it can be intimidating to reach out for help when you’ve waded through the process of completing an adoption and finally have a family. I do think our groups offer each other a lot, and I’m thankful to be part of an active thriving group which offers my family so much. I look forward to hearing about things other groups are doing as well.
IC: Jessica, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me regarding these important issues. Maybe this interview will provide some ideas for other international adoption support groups experiencing a drop in interest as their children mature. I also think the topic of supporting families post-adoption is one worth exploring. Maybe some other groups will be willing to share their experience in this area.JG: You’re welcome. I am glad to share with you what’s worked for us as an organization.