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Friday, August 15, 2008

Guest column - Chris Futia

What is your advice to any adoptive family or an adoptee that may be looking for any advice from you on birth family search?

I have heard of successful searches, but in those cases the children were usually older at adoption or the adoptive parents had documents identifying names or villages upon which searches could be focused.

I would advise parents who have almost nothing that they are highly unlikely to be successful, although spending 3 months in India following every lead personally could yield success. The “birthsearch” profession has not yet started up in India as it has in places like Guatemala, although once again it is difficult to search without a place to start.

I think one important thing to realize is that if a birthfamily connection is made, it will be a permanent one, and not without its challenges. Of course, the birthmother may wish to remain anonymous to begin with, but even if contact is established, the relationship can be problematical. There is such a huge gap in education, health, expectations, economic status, etc. True understanding and the formation of meaningful and enduring bonds can take many years.

You organize heritage tours for adoptive families in the US to visit India, tell us how you go about organizing such tours and what are the outcomes? Tell our readers also how they can get in touch with you if they ever want to be a part of your heritage tours.

I began by taking my own children to India, and then discovered that it was much more fun to go with another adoptive mom and her child, so we would each have a “friend” to share things with. From there, I was persuaded by friends to actually lead a tour. My first tour was in 2002, and I have done one every two years since then. I have truly had to learn as I go, but I have a wonderful travel agent here in the US and I discovered a first-rate agent in India on the internet through a lengthy search some years ago. He was one of the first to work with clients outside India, and since that time, he has arranged all my tours and trips to India for countless friends. So having good people to help makes a big difference.

It takes about a year’s work for me to organize a tour. When you have 20 people to worry about, you have to choreograph every single toilet break. You have to plan every aspect of every day and ensure that all arrangements are properly made. You have to estimate costs, sign contracts, collect money, and pay bills. You have to give detailed advice on myriads of topics, from how to use an Indian toilet to what anti-malaria medication to take. You have to prepare your travelers so that they know what to expect and can begin enjoying themselves from the first day.

Fortunately, God has gifted me with an overabundance of organizational skills, and I always felt that it would be a waste to use them all to “build shareholder value” for my company. Leading the tours makes me feel that my life means something, that I have done something that perhaps few others could do. And it gives me great joy to share “my” India with other American families and their adopted children. My goal is that everyone should feel sad when it is time to leave, and I have achieved it on every tour to date.

Your outlook and understanding on adoption from India in general seem to have changed over the period of few years, how did that happen?

My outlook and understanding on adoption is a constantly-moving target, though at any one time I am quite vociferous about my opinions! For a long time, I felt that it was absolutely wrong to try to find a birthmother in India, for fear of turning her life upside down so that she might lose her home and children. Then I began to hear that even the most reluctant birthmothers eventually decided to meet their children and continue contact with them. Their extended families were much more understanding than anyone had expected.

As far as adoption corruption is concerned, I think we were all very na├»ve back in the ‘80s and ‘90s. We saw our orphanages and adoption agencies as saintly organizations that nobly saved children’s lives. Now I know enough about my children’s own adoptions, and the adoptions of many other children, to understand that the corruption that is rife in Indian society is not absent from the world of adoption. Money changes hands, identities are “whitewashed”, and while in the end the child may grow up with a better life, it is also important that they know that their “story” (whatever it may be) probably has some elements of a fairytale.

I now know that some children are stolen, or purchased under duress. Many parents have sent their children to orphanages so they could get an education, yet when they returned their child had been sent to Europe or the US for adoption. I know that some orphanages have essentially “sold” children to the highest bidder. The US agencies have claimed to be completely ignorant of all of this, but this seems very disingenuous to me. They have really not stood up to answer the questions that have been brought to them about what they knew and when they came to know it.

It is impossible to say what percentage of inter-country adoptions from India are “dirty” in some way, but 10 years ago, I would have said 10%. Now I would go much higher. Today, many US agencies still charge more than the CARA-approved fees for adopting a child from India. The additional funds are called “humanitarian aid”, but no reckoning is made of where this aid goes and what is done with it. I suspect that in many cases, it is simply a payment to keep the pipeline open between the US and India so that the agency can remain solvent.

In India itself, more children are placed with families “under the table” than through legitimate adoption agencies. The number of children going to other countries has diminished year by year. So there are long waiting lists to adopt children all over India. And still, millions of female babies go “missing” every year. It is all a big puzzle and I do expect that my views will continue to change.

What is your message in general to any PAP’s and adoptive families?

I am no more qualified than most adoptive parents to offer advice. We all have unique experiences and perspectives. But I will definitely share one of my favorite metaphors. My children came to me as tiny infants. So, they were little sprouts, with only two tiny leaves on a miniscule stem. We transplanted them, fertilized them, made sure they had enough water and sunlight, and tied them gently to a “stake” to make sure that they grew up straight. But they are still the plants that they were meant to be. We have to accept that many traits are highly dominated by nature rather than nurture.

To me, this means that we must not allow ourselves to be in denial if our children have issues requiring extra help and understanding. When a child has, for instance, physical, emotional or neurological issues, the earlier that help is provided, the better the outcome for the child. The only other comment I can offer is that no one can really predict based on referral information what type of child they are adopting. Our third child was officially labeled as “special needs” because he had mildly malformed feet. But, as mentioned earlier, he is actually developmentally disabled and severely mentally ill. The problem with his feet became a nonentity very quickly.
Adoption is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you are going to get, but these are YOUR chocolates and it is up to you to make the most of what you have. It is best to go into adoption with your eyes wide open and a minimum of “must have” expectations.

'Guest column - Chris Futia' is concluded.

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CARA official will be featured tomorrow in 'Guest Column'.

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