Sunday, May 14, 2006

Herding Cats, Part 2, “The American Adoption Congress: Class is in Session”

In part one of “Herding Cats” I provided a brief description of the difficulties in formulating a national legislative strategy to reform adoption records access. I then outlined the differing strategies of two national adoption reform organizations, the American Adoption Congress and Bastard Nation, and described how these organizations have historically implemented their strategies. I ended by noting that although the AAC and BN have had disagreements in strategies and tactics, the greatest challenge both organizations face is from the lack of capacity to fully realize their policies.

Both the AAC and Bastard Nation have relatively small memberships and, significantly for organizations engaged in national politics, small donor bases. This reflects in part the larger social matrix that these groups inhabit. Adoption reform is not, and has never been, a mass movement, although there are certainly enough adult adoptees, parents of origin and adoptive parents to create one. Adoption reform politics has historically been a small group movement, comprised at any given time by motivated individuals and their supporters. The vast majority of adult adoptees have behaved as if they are uninterested in the political movement and campaigns to assert their rights. In part this is because adult adoptees are atomized within the larger culture; there are no adult adoptee ghettos or factories to act as focal points for shared culture, issue identification and leadership development. One of the few places where adult adoptees can congregate and develop what can be described as the pre-political consciousness is in search and support groups. However, since the main thrust of search and support groups is the individual search narratives of the participants, there is an emphasis on therapeutic rather than political remedies for adult adoptee situations and grievances.

Neither the AAC nor BN has been successful in activating mass numbers of adult adoptees in their legislative campaigns. An analysis of the structures of both organizations suggests why the cultures of both organizations work against the mass mobilizations necessary to carry out national political work. In this section I will look at how the AAC’s structure determines its national advocacy strategy.

The American Adoption Congress is a 501(c)3 non-profit public charity, with the chartered objective of providing “education regarding adoption issues.” The AAC’s Mission Statement may be found by following this link.

In a political context, the AAC’s status as a 501(c)3 means that while it may qualify for tax-deductible donations and foundation grants but it must limit the amount of resources it may direct towards political advocacy. I don’t presently have the AAC’s financials, but I think that its safe to infer from their activities that the main part of their expenditures go to pay for their national and regional conferences. The AAC has had no paid staff, although they did create a paid executive director position in the late 1990’s for a time, but this position was jettisoned after a short time after an internal controversy over the fiscal prudence of the decision. Notwithstanding the dedication and hard work by individual AAC members and leaders in the adoption reform movement, all-volunteer staffing combined with the structural relegation of political work to a small percentage of overall activities render the AAC a weak organization to implement a coherent national political strategy.


In addition to structural and organizational handicaps, the main activities of the AAC highlights another highly problematic dynamic in its advocacy, the inclusion and sometime leadership of adoption professionals in the processes of political development. By folding political advocacy under the rubric of education, the AAC has ceded a great deal of ground in the process of organizational identity framing and issue identification to “experts”, who have their own professional and political perspectives and objectives.

The adoption community has been described as a three-legged stool consisting of what is termed the Adoption Triad; Birth Parents, Adoptees and Adoptive Parents. In reality, the adoption community in general, and the adoption reform movement in particular, has four legs; parents of origin, adoptees, adoptive parents and adoption professionals. By making themselves invisible within the adoption reform movement, adoption professionals have disguised not only their power, but their motivations, objectives, and strategies. But why is this problematic, especially since many of the adoption professionals involved in adoption and records access reform are themselves members of the self-described Adoption Triad and genuinely feel they are working toward the greater good of members of the Triad?

Adoption in the United States is a creature of legislation. There is no common law precedent for adoption (English Common Law valorizes blood ties and confers almost no legitimacy on adoption). In creating adoption from whole cloth, legislatures relied on the expertise of adoption workers who were in the beginning stages of becoming professionals, indeed the creation of modern adoption through statute and the rise of professional social work go hand in hand. As the subjects of this statutory creation, families of origin, adoptees and adoptive families were marginalized, their experiences and voices discounted. Adoptive parents were first to break free and advocate for themselves on the basis of consumer rights. Parents of origin and adult adoptees followed, as they became aware that they had grievances as well with existing laws and practices. Even so, adoption professionals have never surrendered their authority to define what is best for the institution of adoption and the well-being of its subject populations. Interestingly enough, this is generally true whether adoption professionals are arguing for or against specific adoption reform. The presumption of authority by adoption professionals to mediate and authenticate the adoption experience as a whole, and adoption reform in particular, is an impediment to the adoption reform movement’s political maturity. Just as in its creation, the experiences and voices of the actual people impacted by adoption are today marginalized and ignored while legislatures differ to adoption professionals.

The AAC presents itself as providing a service to the general public by providing a forum for adoption professionals who agree with their mission through its conferences and publications. By identifying itself with “experts” and professionals, the AAC has risked alienating members of the adoption community who may support adoption reform, but who may not wish to have their experiences defined or their advocacy mediated by adoption professionals. In fact, if it can be said that groups are generally comprised of self-selected individuals, the AAC may be said to be composed of individuals who do not mind the authority and mediation of the adoption professional class. This is a severe self-limitation on growth for the AAC regardless of its organizational structure.

Next, “Bastard Nation: A Band Apart”

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1 Comments:

Blogger AMYADOPTEE said...

Very excellent and very good. I am starting to round up the adoptees here in the state of Texas. Its time to start changing the laws around this country. The only way to do this is for all of us to band together and write our hearts out both in blogworld and to our legislators.

4:17 PM  

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