Nov 30 - Positive Adoption Language
Category: FoJ Point of View
It is said that actions speak louder than words, but choice of words determines the connect that is establish between two individuals. This is especially true for adoption, where people continue to use stereotype phrases, popularised through Bollywood and fiction - completely oblivious to the disastrous impact it causes to the child, and their families. It is time we start embracing Positive Adoption Language (PAL) in addressing situations, processes or actors in adoption.
The most abused term, to begin with, is "adopted child". I have seen experienced counsellors, parents, policy makers, ministers, film makers inadvertantly using the term. As if this is the only term to refer to a child in adoption. This phrase qualifies the child for life. It adds an adjective to the identity. It infact distorts the identity. A person sports several identities, We are a son, a third born, the eldest or the youngest, a career girl, a nphew or an aunt. We do not keep qualifying ourselves. So why use the phrase "adopted" child. Adoption was an event that took place in the past. You do not remain adopted throughout your life. The correct phrase to use is "the child who was adopted". Slightly longer, but correct - technically and emotionally. We would love this change to come about in the soceity where even parents can tell that they have two children, one of whom "was" adopted - and not "is adopted"
The next errant term is an "older child" - when referring to any child above 2 years of age. CARA is to be singularly blamed for this usage, as their youngest category of referral is 0-2 yrs, and any child above 2 yrs is refeerred to as "an older child". Considering that there are close to 18,000 parents registered for adoption in the sytsem, we can imagine the impact cause dby misuse of this xpression where 18,000 people use this term, day in and day out to refer to any child older than 2 yrs. A child of 4 yrs, 6 yrs or even 10 yrs is still a child. It needs love, care, guidance. the very phrase "older child" seems to rob the child of its entitlements as a child. It rushes them to grow up and deliver the expectations of the parents, the first one being as hasch as - you do not even qualify to be adopted, as you are an "older child" Contrast this with the attitude of our doting mothers towards children born to them - who they just cannot stop pampering. Such sons and daughters, even at the age of 20, are kids and showered with spolit love, while a 3 year old child in an institution is old enough not to be taken care of. there is no substitute for this term. the expression "older child" in reference to adoption should simply go away. In the west, children of even 17 years of age have been adopted, who were on the verge of aging out of the system at 18 yrs. Parents who adopt them, do not consider them to be "old enough". We should do the same.
Another phrase that needs correction is that of "real parents" or "adoptive parents", in referring to the child's parents. This is laughable for it seems to suggest that parents who adopt are not "real" and further qualifies them, like "adopted child". It is more apporpriate to use the term "birth parents" and "parents-in-aoption" if we do require to qualify the parents with regard to adoption. One of the most painful expressions in adoption is that of "illegitimate" child. Simply because antecedents of the birth parents are not known, it is wrong to assume that the child is illegitimate. Even if the child were born out of wedlock, it is the relationship that stands to be qualified, and not the child. Upon a close look, even the relationship does not merit to be "illegitimized" because it forces the mother to relinquish the child. If only we accepted such relationships many children would remain with their mothers. Mere ostracisation of single motherhood creates further challenges for adoption of children, as many people stay away from adoption (even if becomes inevitable, and they struggle to come to terms with it) because of the notion that children in adoption are "illegitimate"
Closely related to the baove is the phrase of a child being "given up", "abandoned" or "surrendered". Thses are a result of unintelligent fiction and film making, by the most educated lot, to extract sympathy and cretae a melodrama. Sadly, this phrase is further perpetrated by CARA with the their usage in adoption guidelines. The correct phrase to use is children placed into adoption.
Similarly, we should stop using the phrase "infertile couple" - as it qualifies the parents over all other identities that they may sport. It is more appropriate to refer to them as people affected by infertility.
It is time we stop qualifying people, situations and highlighting their past or their limitations. It is important for us to focus on how they can be enabled and empowered to beat the odds.
Positive Adoption Language can go a long way in communicating what we think about adoption, and influencing the same. the language used for adoption is a child's window to adoption, even before the child realizes that he or she was adopted. If a child relates to adoption (as a concept) positively, their own association of being adopted would develop a positive identity. Whereas, if we continue to express adoption through a sling of demeaning, self-depracating pitiful adjectives, adoption woudl remain a subject of bemoanment - for self or others. If it is self, it will become humanly impossible for us to pull the child out of the disappointment. If it is others, we shall become insensitive as a society, to what a child in adoption goes through.
Back to Unmasking Adoption