Making Families Through Adoption


Nancy E. Riley & Krista E. Van Vleet

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  • Contemporary Family Perspectives

    A Series by Pine Forge Press, an imprint of SAGE Publications, Inc

    Series Editor

    Susan J. Ferguson

    Grinnell College

    Volumes in This Series

    Families: A Social Class Perspective

    Shirley A. Hill

    Making Families Through Adoption

    Nancy E. Riley and Krista E. Van Vleet


    Families and Health, Second Edition

    Janet Grochowski

    Global Families, Second Edition

    Meg W. Karraker

    Key Issues in American Family Policy

    Janet Z. Giele

    Family Caregiving in Later Life

    Twyla Hill


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    Series Preface: Contemporary Family Perspectives

    Susan J.FergusonGrinnell College

    The family is one of the most private and pervasive social institutions in U.S. society. At the same time, public discussions and debates about the institution of the family persist. Some scholars and public figures claim that the family is declining or dying or that the contemporary family is in crisis or is morally deficient. Other scholars argue that the family has been caught in the larger culture wars taking place in the United States. The current debates about legalizing same-sex marriage are one example of this larger public discussion about the institution of the family. Regardless of one's perspective—viewing the family as declining or caught in broader political struggles—scholars agree that the institution has undergone dramatic transformations in recent decades. U.S. demographic data reveal that fewer people are married, divorce rates remain high, at almost 50 percent, and more families are living in poverty. In addition, people are creating new kinds of families via Internet dating, cohabitation, single-parent adoption, committed couples living apart, donor insemination, and polyamorous relationships. The demographic data and ethnographic research on new family forms require that family scholars pay attention to a variety of family structures, processes, ideologies, and social norms. In particular, scholars need to address important questions about the family, such as, What is the future of marriage? Is divorce harmful to individuals, to the institution of the family, and/or to society? Why are rates of family violence so high? Are we living in a postdating culture? How do poverty and welfare policies affect families? How is child rearing changing now that so many parents work outside the home and children spend time with caretakers other than their parents? Finally, how are families socially constructed in various societies and cultures?

    Most sociologists and family scholars agree that the family is a dynamic social institution that is continually changing as other social structures and individuals in society change. The family also is a social construction with complex and shifting age, gender, race, and social class meanings. Many excellent studies are currently investigating the changing structures of the institution of the family and the lived experiences and meanings of families. Contemporary Family Perspectives is a series of short texts and research monographs that provides a forum for the best of this burgeoning scholarship. The series aims to recognize the diversity of families that exist in the United States and globally. A second goal is for the series to better inform pedagogy and future family scholarship about this diversity of families. The series also seeks to connect family scholarship to a broader audience beyond the classroom by informing the public and by ensuring that family studies remain central to contemporary policy debates and to social action. Each short text contains the most outstanding current scholarship on the family from a variety of disciplines, including sociology, demography, policy studies, social work, human development, and psychology. Moreover, each short text is authored by a leading family scholar or scholars who bring their unique disciplinary perspective to an understanding of contemporary families.

    Contemporary Family Perspectives provides the most advanced scholarship and up-to-date findings on the family. Each volume contains a brief overview of significant scholarship on that family topic, including critical current debates or areas of scholarly disagreement. In addition to providing an assessment of the latest findings related to their family topic, authors examine the family utilizing an intersectional framework of race-ethnicity, social class, gender, and sexuality. Much of the research is interdisciplinary, with a number of theoretical frameworks and methodological approaches presented. Several of the family scholars use a historical lens as well to ground their contemporary research. A particular strength of the series is that the short texts appeal to undergraduate students as well as to family scholars, but they are written in a way that makes them accessible to a larger public.

    About This Volume

    Making Families Through Adoption examines a critical family formation process—adoption. Currently, only 2.4 percent of U.S. families are formed through adoption. Historically and cross-culturally, however, the circulation of children through adoption or fostering has been a common practice. The authors, sociologist Nancy E. Riley and anthropologist Krista E. Van Vleet of Bowdoin College, argue that the current discourse on adoption is all about choice but that in reality, adoption is immersed in cultural and social beliefs, economic transactions, and political realities. Their research reveals that while adoption has distinctive qualities across certain cultures, social inequality is at the root of most adoptions: Women of lower statuses often give children to women and families of higher social statuses.

    This book, Making Families Through Adoption, provides a comprehensive look at adoption in the United States and in other cultures. Riley and Van Vleet begin their analysis with working definitions of adoption, fostering, and child circulation. They then examine child circulation practices in other cultures to see how these practices are windows into the larger society. Adoption reveals broader social and cultural norms, including the meaning and attributes of family. Next, Riley and Van Vleet examine adoption in the United States using a historical lens.

    They are particularly interested in U.S. historical constructions of what constitutes family and how the value and roles of children have changed over time. After laying this cross-cultural and historical groundwork, Riley and Van Vleet focus on adoption in the contemporary context. The next three chapters investigate U.S. adoption practices in depth by first looking at the influence of socioeconomic status, marital status, and sexual orientation of potential parents on adoption. They also examine how the characteristics of children and governmental policies influence these seemingly private decisions to adopt. The authors then explore race, ethnicity, and racism in adoption and fosterage systems in the United States before turning their attention to transnational adoption.

    Making Families Through Adoption is relevant to courses on the family, social inequality, cross-cultural studies, and public policy. This book is a valuable resource to teachers and students in beginning to advanced courses in sociology, anthropology, women's studies, social work, policy studies, and family studies. It also finds an audience among individuals who may work with families, adoption, and foster care, such as social workers, counselors, and other human service providers.


    Although each of us has been doing research on issues related to family and kinship for many years, the impetus for coauthoring a book about adoption grew out of our conversations with each other about teaching, research, and everyday life. We are very grateful to a group of colleagues with whom we have shared many challenging and exciting discussions about the literary and social-scientific representations of motherhood and family: Susan Bell, Sara Dickey, Elaine Hansen, Emily Kane, and Mary Beth Mills. Thanks to Susan Ferguson for her editorial insight and her efforts to pull together an excellent and timely series. We would like to express our appreciation for David Repetto, Astrid Virding, Kelle Schillaci, Maggie Stanley, and Barbara Corrigan; their efforts have made this a better book and working with Sage, a pleasure. We thank Bob Gardner for his help on the tables and figures throughout the book. Nancy Grant assisted us with producing the maps. Thanks to singer–songwriter Mary Gauthier, manager Mark Spector, and artist Lilli Carre for use of the CD image, “The Foundling.” We are grateful to the following institutions for their generous financial support: Fulbright Hays, Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, Bowdoin College, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. An initial analysis of Van Vleet's ethnographic work on relatedness in the Bolivian Andes has been published in Performing Kinship: Narrative, Gender, and the Intimacies of Power in the Andes (Van Vleet 2008).


    For Huamei, Sarah, and Fern Isabel and Sophia

  • Conclusion

    On a recent flight to Beijing, one of the authors sat next to a woman, Clarice, who was on her way to China to adopt a baby girl. Clarice described the difficulties she had gone through in the process of arranging this transnational adoption. It had taken Clarice four years of work and waiting to get to this moment, the moment where she was now able to travel to China, go to the orphanage, and bring home her newly adopted daughter. Clarice spoke of the mixed feelings she had. On the one hand, she was tremendously excited; she described how she and the rest of her family (her husband and three biological children, who were traveling with her on this journey to China) felt elated. They talked about how they were doing the right thing. Clarice was sure that her family and this child would be better off; they were ready to give this child the family that any child deserved, and they themselves would benefit as much as the child would. But she also wondered about what she was doing, about how, while she believed she was doing the right thing, she also wasn't completely sure. She wondered, What does it mean to take a child from her culture and plant her in a very different one? What would it mean for a Chinese child to grow up in an all-white family? How was it that she benefitted from this process only because a mother in China was losing her child? Clarice and her family had spent many resources—time, money, energy—to get to this point. She worried that perhaps her daughter would grow up and resent having been pulled from her culture in this way. And she talked about how she hoped her daughter would understand that if it were not the right thing to do, Clarice had done it carefully and thoughtfully, and with the best intentions.

    That conversation, taking place over the Pacific on the long flight to China from the United States, was a reminder of how adoption is always about individuals. Most adoptions happen only after enormous effort on the part of many people. And talking with this very thoughtful, compassionate woman was a reminder that in many cases this work includes soul searching, reflection, and questioning as birth and adopting parents, relatives and friends, adoption officials and courts try to decide what is the right thing to do—for the birth parents, for the adopting family, and for the child. What does it mean to keep the best interests of the child at the forefront of adoption decisions? It is often difficult to know, and the answers are rarely simple or easy to find.

    Even as we keep in mind the individual people whose work and care are necessary for any adoption to take place, we also acknowledge that adoption is about much more than individuals. Employing a sociological imagination in examining the processes and practices of adoption allows us to recognize that adoptions are simultaneously about individuals, communities, societies, and the global world. Moreover, such a perspective enables us to shift between these points of focus without losing the sense that each is significant. Focusing on individuals, we can see how adoption fulfills significant needs and desires. In many societies, including the United States, raising children is a valued part of being an adult. Some adults may be unable or unwilling to bear a biological child and turn to adoption to find a child and to build a family. In other situations, adults other than parents may have rights to and obligations for raising children, temporarily or permanently, and most adults may view fosterage or adoption as the best and most successful way of raising children. For individuals who, for an array of social, political-economic, or personal circumstances, are unable or unwilling to care for and raise their own children, adoption and fosterage may allow a long-term solution that takes into account the well-being of the child as well. Finally, children who have lost their parents through death, abandonment, or other circumstances or have been removed from the care of their parents may find a new family, a mutually caring group of people with whom to live, through adoption or fosterage.

    For the communities in which these individuals live and interact, adoption serves important functions as well. Raising children requires considerable resources on the part of individuals, the community, and the society: Time, money, knowledge, attention, commitment, and emotional engagement are all necessary pieces of raising children. If parents are unable to provide these resources, someone else must; in many places, this means that local, state, and/or federal governments or private entities support children. Adoption and fostering can relieve these systems of some of the pressures and may provide children with a richer environment and more stable community in which to make the transition to adulthood. As Native American proponents of the Indian Child Welfare Act have shown, communities also benefit from children through their very presence, through the role children play in maintaining and transforming cultural and communal life. Children and adults benefit from the interaction between generations and in contexts in which they feel safe and comfortable.

    Adoption also speaks to larger social institutions and structures. Without a sociological lens, one that allows us to bring individual and societal perspectives into the picture, we would be unable to explain why some children, and not others, circulate among families; why some people adopt or foster children and others do not; and why some avenues for adoption or fosterage are available and other are not. We need that sociological imagination, then, to make sense of the patterns of adoption, both within particular societies and between them.

    Throughout this book we have used a comparative perspective, which illuminates the role of adoption and other kinds of child circulation in countries outside the United States and underscores how adoption and child placement are interwoven with the social and cultural context. That context includes the role of children in the family and society, norms about family and family making, and the relationship between the community and family. Thus, in many west African societies children have long been raised by adults other than their biological parents. But not just any adult takes on the role of foster mother or foster father; usually the circulation of children helps to cement the relationships among family members who belong to the same patrilineal kinship group even though they may live far from each other in rural communities or urban neighborhoods. To be raised by people other than birth parents is both commonsense—for otherwise children would not develop the skills, strength, and emotional maturity they need as adults—and valuable to the maintenance of broader family ties. In other social and cultural contexts, different assumptions, ideals, and institutions correlate with different arrays of practice. As we saw, Muslim families are reluctant to adopt nonrelated children because of the ways that Islamic rules about families are interpreted, and Andean families are willing to foster the children of strangers because those children may eventually become kin through everyday practices such as the sharing of food and space.

    The patterning of adoption and fostering is also evident at different historical periods in the United States. For instance, during the 1950s and 1960s, a nascent public system and private institutions supporting adoption enabled young white women who found themselves pregnant outside of marriage to deliver their children; these institutions encouraged them to relinquish their children for adoption and attempt to take up their old lives again. White married couples, who were looking for a way to have children without going through the biological process of birth, could also use this system to find children. For young black women, and women of other racial and ethnic minorities, these avenues were not available. With few adoption services available to blacks, and with a nonporous black/white color line, young women who were dealing with unplanned pregnancies and couples looking to adopt had to find other routes. Many African American families and communities responded by making provisions to help in these situations. Some unmarried mothers raised their children in their own family homes; some adults took on the task of raising children—their own and those of others—under difficult circumstances, but they nonetheless provided the resources, especially the time, love, and commitment, that the children needed to become adults. Whereas U.S. society stigmatized all girls who were pregnant but not married, white middle-class girls were urged to delay parenting, and black and poor girls were not. Recognizing the ways social and political-economic resources and relationships are structured within a society at large helps us to gain insight into the differing ideals of, and constraints on, individuals, families, and communities as they act to care for children.

    When we look for patterns of adoption, we can see clearly how adoption follows lines of inequality within and across societies. From a certain angle, it makes sense that children would move from those families with fewer resources for rearing children to those with more resources. From another angle, the movement of children also illuminates the power relationships that structure societies and international relationships. When adoptive parents from a wealthier country, such as the United States or Norway, stress that a child from a poorer country, such as Guatemala, is better off with them, they ignore the lack of state support available to poor women for keeping and raising their own children should they so desire. Global political and economic relationships shape adoption and fostering practices, whether it is the educational and economic pressures that make it more likely that rural families in Benin send children to urban relatives or poverty and state violence that affect how well families can support children in the Andes.

    Along with illuminating how certain children come to be adopted by particular adults within one society, bringing a sociological perspective to adoption helps us comprehend the complexities of global relationships, the intertwined dependencies and the cracks of inequality along which we all live in today's world. To highlight these mutually reinforcing hierarchies, Ana Teresa Ortiz and Laura Briggs (2003) suggest that we consider the various forms of adoption in the United States and how those connect to global relations of power. As we have discussed throughout the book, private adoptions, public or private agency adoptions, and transnational adoptions are all legitimate forms of adopting children, but they are also used by different adopting parents for different reasons. Looking at these different ways to build families through adoption also gives us clues about wider societal values and norms. In particular, Ortiz and Briggs compare transnational adoption from Romania and adoption from the American foster care system. In both cases, they argue, the children tend to be older and thus have some possibility of previous difficulties in their lives that might suggest future problems of adjustment. Adoption from Romania is more expensive and more difficult than domestic American adoption, and studies indicate that the extent of the problems that children have after adoption is similar for both groups of children. Why then, these authors ask, would parents choose the more difficult route? They argue that answering this question, understanding the attraction of such transnational adoptions, is possible only when we look at the two processes together and understand that each fits into the larger American social landscape. They demonstrate that parents’ choice to adopt from Romania reflects many American social values and norms, including the ways that Americans see poverty differently in the United States and in a poor country such as Romania. Romanian children are seen as “savable,” needing rescue, innocent, and without extra baggage. The children in the American foster system, on the other hand, are seen as “damaged goods.” Usually coming from poor families within the United States, children in the U.S. foster system are seen as carrying all the baggage that is presumed about the American poor: that there is something “intrinsically pathological and completely irredeemable” (Ortiz and Briggs 2003:40) about them. At least implicitly, these patterns of adoption suggest that many Americans assume that intervention might work in the case of poor innocent children from overseas but not in the case of children from the domestic foster system.

    Sara Dorow (2006b) comes to similar conclusions in her examination of adoptions from China. She discusses the “white noise” of blackness that pervades many of these adoptions, where parents prefer to adopt from China implicitly or even explicitly because the children are not black (Dorow 2006b:210ff; see also Kim 2008). Here, discourses of racial inequality and available forms of adoption within the United States collide with the social, political, and economic constraints on families and adoption within another country. One result is that foreign children are seen as able to be rescued in a way that poor American children—particularly poor black American children—are not. In addition, many parents believe that Chinese adoptees can arrive with “clean slates” and adopting parents will not have to deal with the messy business of birth parents who may want some determined or undetermined future relationship (Dorow 2006b). That is often true, in fact; open adoption records mean that birth parents and children in the United States may develop a relationship. Adoptive parents may initially resist this threat to creating an “as if” biological family, although many parents eventually learn that not having knowledge of birth parents may make the adoption and the child's adjustment and search for connections and identity more difficult later in their lives.

    These perspectives remind us just how complex adoption is. Adoptions in the United States invariably cross lines—of color, nationality, race, ethnicity, religion, and socioeconomic class, among others. When individuals cross those lines, when they disrupt assumptions of the normal boundaries between groups or challenge notions of singular and essential identity, they have to deal with sometimes difficult consequences. Individuals who cross these boundaries, through adoption or other means, may come to appreciate the richness of the lives and identities they move among and come to recognize the value of multiple subjectivities.

    When we listen to adoptees, those adopted within the United States and those adopted from other countries, we see how complex these adoptions and subsequent family experiences can be. Adoptions today frequently cross lines of race and ethnicity, even in those cases in which it is other borders—such as national borders, in the case of transnational adoption—that draw most attention. The ways that many adopted children and their families and communities must deal explicitly with issues of race reveal many of the social and cultural lines that divide our societies, lines that often go unnoticed until they are crossed. In an interview with researchers Rita Simon and Rhona Roorda (2000), Donna discusses what it meant to be a black child growing up in her adoptive white family in the 1970s and the advantages and challenges that produced. She reports,

    My family has provided me with a resource. Race has been hypersensitized in our home. I have discussions on race that I don't think a lot of people have in their homes. They have to go to school to take a class on race whereas it was a reality in my home. We learned to deal with it and freely discuss it. We don't always agree, but we are comfortable in expressing our opinions. (Simon and Roorda 2000:39)

    She continues this theme later in the interview, when she explains that as an adult she identifies as black and that most of her friends are black and explains how her self-identity developed in the midst of a white family:

    I did not take my blackness for granted as many black people do. They don't think about greens and cornbread, about how they raise their families or socialize, about how they walk and talk. I never took blackness for granted because I was the opposite of everyone related to me. I had a heightened awareness of my blackness. I never had a problem being black and never wished I was white. (Simon and Roorda 2000:37).

    In these ways, Donna's family and adoption experiences were obviously central to the development of her own ideas about race, and the efforts of her white adoptive parents to connect her to black individuals, communities, and issues were, in her mind, successful in helping her to develop a strong black identity.

    But she also describes how she and her family experienced many incidents of racism, receiving hate mail and having a burning cross placed on their front lawn. Clearly, her notions of race were also influenced by what happened outside her family; responding to a question about whether race was an issue, she says, “It was definitely an issue because race is an issue in the larger society and I was a black child living in a white family—so race was an issue” (Simon and Roorda 2000:35). When asked directly about transracial adoption, she says that she believes that “a black child should, if possible, be placed with a black family” but concedes that she would rather have a child “with a family who loves the child rather than in foster care” (Simon and Roorda 2000:38). Donna emphasizes the need for white families to expose black children to their “own culture” (Simon and Roorda 2000:38), just as others argue for the need to provide black children with strategies for dealing with the realities of racism. Although Donna's views are certainly not the only ones voiced among transracial or transnational adoptees, Donna's experiences highlight the ways that white families—and the communities around them—are challenged to deal directly and explicitly with “the hard nut of race” (Rothman 2005:88), the social construction of identity, and the process of making a family in ways that they might not have otherwise.

    Socioeconomic class and poverty are also key elements in adoption, and here too, adoption raises issues well beyond adoption. We know that poverty is central to the relinquishing or removal of children in the United States. (Remember, in Norway, where government economic support of children and families is strong, nearly no children are relinquished.) Given that, how do we reconcile the number of children in foster care with our commitment to the best interests of the child? How do we attend to the needs of foster children in our country in ways that support birth parents, foster parents, potential adopting parents, and the children themselves? Is it better for children to remain with their birth parents, perhaps with government aid, than to be raised in another setting?

    Similar complexities are present in transnational adoption. Ethiopia exemplifies the ambiguity of these processes. Because of war and disease, especially HIV/AIDS, Ethiopia struggles to provide for nearly 5 million orphans (“Strained by AIDS Orphans” 2004). One of the world's poorest countries, Ethiopia is struggling to deal with this burden, among many others. Partly to ease that burden, the Ethiopian government has begun to welcome foreign adoptions. Foreign adoption agencies have been instrumental in helping Ethiopia set up a system to handle foreign adoptions (including transitional foster homes for future adoptees), and some children are now able to find permanent stable homes because of these new programs. At the same time, some Ethiopian officials worry that while outside help has made a difference, the country may not be quite ready to handle a large number of such adoptions (Gross and Connors 2007). Other officials recognize that these foreign adoptions, while helping to relieve some economic pressures in caring for orphaned children, do not solve the major problems. One official admitted, “Adoption is the last resort because it doesn't help alleviate poverty in Ethiopia” (“Strained by AIDS Orphans” 2004). Transnational adoption certainly solves several needs at once—finding homes for children without them and finding children for parents who often are desperate to have children—but it does not deal with the underlying issues that lead to the large numbers of orphaned and abandoned children, including poverty, disease, and war.

    In this book we have also shown that as often as adoption efforts are directed toward making as if (biological) families, adoption and fostering also signal an acceptance of new and diverse family forms. In 2008, The New York Times ran a story (Winerip 2008) that illustrates how adoption can help to structure a family. When Moriah, a 19-year-old woman, became pregnant, she decided that she wanted to bear her child and find adopting parents to raise him. She began to search for adoptive parents who she thought would fit with her own ideas of a good adoption: parents who would allow her continued contact with her child, even as the child would be theirs. She found such parents in Liane and Kerry, who lived in another state. This couple believed that such an adoption—one that was not only open but allowed the birth mother a place in the child's life—was best for the child. In this family, certainly one configured differently than the closed adoptions promoted in the United States several decades ago, the birth parents and their own families have a relationship and regular visits with the adopting parents and the child. Because of the deliberate efforts of everyone involved, the child, Phelan (whose name was chosen by both birth and adopting parents), has a large kin network with which he spends regular time.

    While this kind of adoption is not for everyone, it does suggest how adoption has helped to create diverse family forms in the United States and just how families—all families—are produced and created through the efforts of people. Adoption, of course, is not the only way this has happened. High divorce rates, along with a high rate of remarriage, has made “blended” families common in most communities; never-married single parents are also now an increasing percentage of parents in any community. Adoption is another set of practices for “doing” family or making families: Adoption has allowed people who would otherwise not have had an opportunity to be parents to create families. And it is this lesson that is perhaps the most obvious lesson to be learned from adoption: the ways that families are socially constructed. What we might think of as a natural grouping of people in a family becomes, after studying adoption, clearly a group that works at doing family. As we have seen, even with no biological or genetic connections, adoptive families resemble other families in how members associate with and care for one another. These similarities underscore that it is not necessary for families to have biological ties to be constructed or maintained. On the other hand, as we look at how people and authorities have handled adoption—who is allowed to adopt and who is not, which children are adopted by which parents—we see that in the United States, we continue to look to biology for our models of the best families. Adoption may reinforce that model as adoptive families strive to be like “regular” families and as states intervene in the definition and structuring of families. At the same time, adoption also challenges the biological model because of all the ways that adoptive families are clearly “normal families” yet at the same time sometimes visibly unlike birth families. Adoption is thus a crucial part of social life in the twenty-first century, allowing alternative pathways for constructing families and challenging us to reflect on and renovate our conceptions of family, society, and self into the future.


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    Websites Consulted

    Further Exploration

    We present a range of materials about adoption that readers may find useful. This is just a selection of the myriad of materials available.

    Movies (Full-Length)
    Casa de los Babys. 2003. Director: John Sayles.
    Six American women, who are in a(n) (unnamed) Latin American country to adopt babies, discuss issues of motherhood, adoption, and relationships between the United States and other countries.
    Juno. 2007. Director: Jason Reitman.
    Juno, a 16-year-old pregnant woman, decides to continue her pregnancy and place her child with an adopting family whom she chooses and gets to know during the pregnancy.
    Losing Isaiah. 1995. Director: Stephen Gyllenhaal.
    A white social worker adopts a child abandoned by a mother addicted to crack. Years later the black birthmother finds out that her son is not dead as she thought and goes to court to get him back.
    Mother and Child. 2010. Director: Rodrigo García.
    Three women whose lives have been shaped by adoption: Karen had a baby at 14 and gave her up at birth; Elizabeth grew up an adopted child; and Lucy looks for a baby to adopt.
    Rabbit Proof Fence. 2002. Director: Phillip Noyce.
    This film is set in western Australia. Three half-aboriginal children are removed from their mother by the government and sent across the country to be “reformed” and socialized into white society. This is the story of their ordeal in the boarding school and effort to return to their mother.
    Secrets and Lies. 1996. Director: Mike Leigh.
    A successful black woman traces her birth mother and finds that she is white. The developing relationship reveals “secrets and lies” found in many families.
    Then She Found Me. 2007. Director: Helen Hunt.
    A schoolteacher in New York deals with several crises at once as her husband leaves, her adoptive mother dies, and her birth mother appears.
    China's Lost Girls. 2004. (National Geographic).
    This film follows a group of American parents to China where they adopt daughters.
    Goodbye Baby. 2005. Director: Patricia Goudvis (New Day Films).
    This film is about the growing practice of U.S. citizens' adopting Guatemalan children. It presents perspectives of Guatemalans as well as adoptive parents about this practice.
    First Person Plural. 2000. Deann Borshay Liem (Independent Television Service, PBS).
    A Korean adoptee traces her Korean roots and wrestles with her identities as American, Korean, and daughter.
    Adoption History Project, University of Oregon:
    This website covers a range of topics in the history of adoption in the United States.
    Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption:
    This site presents the full text of the Hague Convention.
    International Korean Adoption Service (InKAS):
    This is a site that serves the needs of Korean adoptees, giving aid in finding birth parents and visiting Korea, among many other activities.
    National Adoption Information Clearinghouse:
    This website provides data and information about adoption.
    Memoirs and Remembrances
    Bensen, Robert, ed. 2001. Children of the Dragonfly: Native American Voices on Child Custody and Education. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.
    Fessler, Ann. 2007. The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades before Roe v. Wade. New York: Penguin.
    This is the story of unmarried women who gave up children for adoption before changes in the United States such as birth control, the legalization of abortion, and the acceptance of single motherhood.
    Johnson, Mary Ellen, comp., and Kay B.Hall, ed. 1992. Orphan Train Riders: Their Own Stories. Baltimore, MD: Gateway Press.
    McCabe, Nancy. 2003. Meeting Sophie: A Memoir of Adoption. Columbia: University of Missouri Press.
    Pilkington, Doris. 1996. Rabbit Proof Fence. New York: Hyperion.
    The story of how three aboriginal girls, forcibly removed from their families, return home.
    Rothman, Barbara Katz. 2005. Weaving a Family: Untangling Race and Adoption. Boston, MA: Beacon.
    A white sociologist, who is also the adoptive mother of a black daughter, explores the issues of race, family, and motherhood.
    Russell, Beth. 2004. Forever Lily: An Unexpected Mother's Journey to Adoption in China. New York: Touchstone.
    This is the story of an American woman who ends up adopting a child in China only after her friend is unable to care for the child.
    Simon, Rita J. and SarahHernandez. 2008. Native American Transracial Adoptees Tell Their Stories. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.
    Trenka, Jane Jeong. 2003. The Language of Blood. St. Paul, MN: Graywolf Press.
    This is a memoir of a woman adopted from Korea by white parents in Minnesota. She returns to Korea to meet her Korean mother and siblings.
    Trenka, Jane Jeong, Julia ChinyereOparah, and Sung YungShin, eds. 2006. Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption. Cambridge, MA: South End.
    This book contains art, poetry, memoirs, and essays on the challenges of and from transracial adoption.
    Kingsolver, Barbara. 1993. Pigs in Heaven. New York: HarperCollins.
    Taylor, a white mother, adopts Turtle, an abandoned Native American girl. We see the difficulties when two separate claims—here an adoptive mother's and the child's Cherokee tribe's—both have some legitimacy.
    Lee, Wendy. 2008. Happy Family. New York: Grove Press.
    This is the story of a Chinese American immigrant who becomes a nanny for a white American family with a child adopted from China.
    Patchett, Ann. 2007. The Patron Saint of Liars. New York: Perennial.
    This novel takes place in a rural home for unmarried mothers. We meet several women who live at the home and come to understand some of the complexities of parenthood.
    Tyler, Ann. 2007. Digging to America. New York: Ballantine Books.
    Over several years, two very different American families—a white American family and an Iranian American family—develop a relationship over their common experience of adopting Korean daughters.
    Academic and Policy Treatments of Adoption Issues
    Bargach, Jamila. 2002. Orphans of Islam: Family, Abandonment, and Secret Adoption in Morocco. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
    Brown, Caroline and LisaRieger. 2001. “Culture and Compliance: Locating the Indian Child Welfare Act in Practice.” Political and Legal Anthropology Review24(2): 58–75.
    Dorow, Sara. 2006. Transnational Adoption: A Cultural Economy of Race, Gender, and Kinship. New York: New York University Press.
    Gordon, Linda. 1999. The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
    Herman, Ellen. 2008. Kinship by Design: A History of Adoption in the Modern United States. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
    Jacobsen, Heather. 2008. Culture Keeping: White Mothers, International Adoption and the Negotiation of Family Difference. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press.
    Johnson, Kay. 2004. Wanting a Daughter, Needing a Son: Abandonment, Adoption, and Orphanage Care in China. New York: Yeong & Yeong.
    This book offers an exploration of how so many girls end up abandoned in China, the role of sons and daughters in Chinese families, and how China's population policies play a role in these issues.
    Marre, Diana and LauraBriggs, eds. 2009. International Adoption: Global Inequalities of the Circulation of Children. New York: New York University Press.
    This is a collection of articles dealing with various aspects of transnational adoption.
    Melosh, Barbara. 2002. Strangers and Kin: The American Way of Adoption. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
    This is a comprehensive history of adoption in the United States.
    Modell, Judith. 2002. A Sealed and Secret Kinship: The Culture of Policies and Practices in American Adoption. New York: Berghahn Books.
    This book examines issues of adoption such as open and sealed adoption, the search for birth parents, and routes of placement of children for adoption.
    Roberts, Dorothy. 2002. Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare. New York: Basic Books.
    Legal scholar Roberts examines the disproportionate number of black children in the U.S. foster care system and its effects on black families and communities.
    Rothman, Barbara Katz. 2005. Weaving a Family: Untangling Race and Adoption. Boston, MA: Beacon.
    A white sociologist, who is also the adoptive mother of a black daughter explores the issues of race, family, and motherhood.
    Solinger, Rickie. 1992. Wake up Little Suzie: Single Pregnancy and Race before Roe v. Wade. New York: Routledge.
    This book examines the very different experiences of black and white unmarried women during the period from 1945 to 1965.
    Solinger, Rickie. 2001. Beggars and Choosers: How the Politics of Choice Shapes Adoption, Abortion, and Welfare in the United States. New York: Hill and Wang.
    Solinger traces the meaning and use of choice for different groups within the United States and how its use reflects issues of race, class, and gender.
    United Nations Population Division. 2009. Child Adoption: Trends and Policies. New York: United Nations.
    This volume contains adoption statistics and policies for most countries across the world.
    Ward Gailey, Christine. 2010. Blue-ribbon Babies and Labors of Love: Race, Class, and Gender in U.S. Adoptive Practice. Austin: University of Texas Press.
    Special Issues of Journals
    2001Law and Society Review36: “Nonbiological Parenting
    2003Social Text74: “Transnational Adoption
    2009Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology14(1): “Cultural and Political Economies of Transnational Adoption

    About the Authors

    Krista E. Van Vleet is an anthropology professor at Bowdoin College. Her research focuses on the practices and politics of kinship and gender in the Andes. She is particularly interested in how native Andeans produce relatedness in their everyday interactions and in contexts shaped by the transnational movements of people, images, ideas, and commodities. Her first book, Performing Kinship: Narrative, Gender, and the Intimacies of Power in the Andes (2008, University of Texas Press) intertwines folk stories, personal narratives, and interviews with detailed descriptions of people's social relationships in a rural Bolivian community. Her more recent research explores discourses of family, gender, and morality among Andean Catholics, international missionaries, and evangelical Protestants in Cusco, Peru. She is also currently engaged in research on the interrelationships of narrative and nonverbal expression and is exploring the use of digital video in research and teaching.

    Nancy E. Riley is a sociology professor at Bowdoin College. Her research focuses on family, gender, and population and China. She is interested in how the recent changes in China have affected women's lives in families. She has recently finished a monograph, Laboring in Paradise: Gender, Work, and Family in a Chinese Economic Zone, based on her research in Dalian on the family lives of married women factory workers. Her current projects include an edited volume exploring the connections between gender and demographic changes and a new project on domestic adoption within China.

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