At the International Adoption Clinic, I often discuss racial and ethnic identity development with families (and children themselves). More and more, adoptive parents are exploring numerous ways to support positive racial/ethnic identities for their children. One way to do this is to visit the child’s birth country. Studies show that children who are adopted internationally into U.S. families benefit from traveling to their birth country. Thankfully, there is a group in Wisconsin dedicated to helping families do this: The Ties Program—Adoptive Family Homeland Journeys.
The Ties Program has been supporting children’s racial/ethnic development for nearly 20 years and leads specialized travel to 16 countries. Each tour allows families to learn about the culture and history of the country, as well as participate in experiences specific to their child’s history (for example, visiting the orphanage from which the child was adopted or connecting with nannies/foster parents who provided care before adoption).
Participating families are supported through the experience with focused “Parent Talk” times (led by an adoption professional) and children’s “Connect and Chat” (often led by an adult who was adopted during childhood). These meetings provide emotional support and reassurance for all family members during an emotionally charged experience.
I witnessed the incredible impact these trips have on children (adopted or not) when I first traveled to Cambodia with The Ties Program in December 2010. During this two-week trip, I led “Parent Talk” times and offered support during individual meetings with birth families.
Throughout the trip, informal play (like Duck, Duck, Goose, shown in the photo with Dr. Wilson standing) provided children with invaluable opportunities to know the people with whom they shared their heritage were warm, wonderful people.
I will return to Cambodia in December to support a new group of families. As before, I’m looking forward to this trip – not only for the honor I will have supporting families during such a special time, but also for the growth I continue to experience in understanding the complexity that some of us encounter to truly find “home” and “identity” as Americans.
~ Samantha L. Wilson, PhD, psychologist, Child Development Center, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin