A match made in hell for adoptees?

I first came into contact with the Intercountry Adoption Centre (IAC) many years ago. They were hosting our transracial and transnational adoptee group at the time. It was decided that they would rebrand our group ‘International Searchers.’ You don’t need a degree in English to work out the connotations attached to this rebranding. I was told by quite a few adoptees that this name is what drew them to join, in the hope that they would find help to trace their birth families across borders.

That help never came. We would sit and talk about the frustrations of being people of colour in a white privileged society and how this has affected our entire lives. How being raised in a white adoptive home meant we internalised that racism. Our parents claimed to be ‘colour blind’ but the world around us was far from it. Social workers were privy to those meetings and one of them, a Black staff member, spoke of how she was raised by a white mother and had grown up with racism. This does not equate to understanding how it feels to be a transracial and intercountry adoptee. Her lack of knowledge and reflection on what it means to be separated from your biological family and raised without any genetic mirroring was quite shocking. We were not advised or supported on what routes to take to trace our biological families or how to navigate foreign bureaucracy. I was even approached after one meeting by another member of staff to say they did help with tracing – for a fee!

On 1st July 2023, IAC joined the Coram Group. The amalgamation would enable them to “transform the lives of vulnerable children worldwide who…need a loving home in the UK” they proudly announced, but let’s take a closer look at this collaboration. Coram has a history. I’ve visited the Foundling Museum a number of times for various events and what shocks me is the absence of the children whose lives they moulded. Where are their stories and where are their portraits? There are large portraits of the founders hanging from frames everywhere. Noble men and women who did right by society at the time. The foundlings they ‘rescued’ are voiceless, faceless; they exist but are hidden. This is how many of us adult adoptees feel today. We are no longer living in times of colonial empire. Gone are the days of the workhouse, although poverty is rife and coexists with the privileged aristocracy just like in the days of Thomas Coram. The founders believed they were helping the children who had been deserted by their mothers because of poverty and stigma. Sounds familiar, right?

IAC is the only organisation in the UK that facilitates international adoptions and proudly lists their ‘special programmes’ — countries with which they have negotiated to be the exclusive supplier, as if they are purchasing excess or unwanted children from orphanages. As history tells us the word orphan is a global term to mean a child who has been abandoned, but we all know there are so many stories of those same children who have grown into adults, and learned after years of tracing that their birth families were forced to give them up; some were even illegally traded. 

What I find astonishing is IAC’s refusal to acknowledge that these children had a history prior to the orphanages they ended up in. They have participated in the removal of these children from their countries of origin and have an absolute duty of care to ensure that all their identifying paperwork is intact. They have a moral duty (though sadly not a statutory one) to assist us on a governmental level to return to our countries of origin and reinstate our citizenships if we choose to reconnect with our roots. Taking a child from an orphanage and replanting that human being thousands of miles away from their native home comes with a responsibility to see that that child grows into a whole intact adult with complete knowledge of why they were left and where they came from. We should not be attempting to navigate the long and difficult process of trying to contact organisations in our native countries for documents pertaining to our biological history without the help of a registered governmental intermediary and interpreters provided and paid for, where needed. Alongside this, all avenues for access to cultural heritage should be made available to the intercountry adoptees that they place here in the UK. 

Let’s remember that we were children but children grow up into adults and those adults want answers as to who they are and where they came from. Coram IAC owes it to us and our next generation. We are not ornaments or souvenirs, we are people with a past history and an origin story that belongs to us. We have every right to demand that you respect that, help us to form into the healthy adults we deserve to be, and find the sense of belonging we all need in order to feel whole. We are not superheroes or mythical figures as Coram would have us believe, we are real and we exist. We deserve to be seen and heard. 

Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash