Lari Cannon is an adoption consultant, counsellor and parent trainer with over 20 years of experience around the globe. I first met Lari earlier this year at the Squirky Book #2 launch in Kuala Lumpur, which had a tie-up with OrphanCARE where she currently works. Just before the event, I had a brief but strangely confessional conversation with her on parenting, and I personally felt so comforted by her advice I thought it’d be good to have a little e-mail interview with her here!
How did you get involved in adoption work?
I have a counselling degree. It was my work experience in orphanages around the world and with adoptive families that led to my desire to gain further education in this field. After 10 years experience working with the adoption triad (adoptee, adoptive parents and birth parents), I did a postgraduate certificate in adoption.
How did you end up working in Asia and OrphanCARE?
I moved to Malaysia in 2009 due to my husband’s job posting. I was working with American Adoption Professionals Abroad helping families living in Asia adopt from all around the world! I first volunteered at OrphanCARE (OC) in 2013 by speaking and advocating for adoption and also speaking on deinstitutionalisation. In the US, adoption is much more common and open. Seeing adoptive, multi-racial families, families with adopted children with special needs is very common. Schools are educated and support and embrace families that choose to adopt. This is not so common in Malaysia at this time.
Malaysia, like many other Asian countries, is just now starting to talk openly about adoption. In the past, it was a secret and not spoken of. The tricky part about this is that the child’s rights are not being fully respected and it often backfires with detrimental consequences for the child and family. Also – if adoption is secretive, chances are the birth mother’s rights were also not considered in the process.
What kind of things are you working on/implementing at OrphanCare?
Training! OC has committed to staff training to bring their practices up to international best practices. We’re focusing on parent training which requires all adoptive parents to take 10 hours of adoption education courses. We also doing training for a pilot project children’s home as part of our deinstitutionalisation program. Staff, adoptive parents, and home operators are being trained on topics such as attachment, grief-loss, talking to children about adoption, and risks in development for institutionalised children.
What has the response been like so far with OrphanCare staff and clients?
Amazing! Everyone seems so eager to learn. Many parents that adopted years ago have expressed that they wish they would have known about these unique aspects of adoption when their children were small.
Generally, how do you “suss out” if a couple is ready to adopt a child?
We have implemented a very stringent screening process. Each couple is screened for their criminal background, health, marriage, family relationships, living space, personal stability, finances, and willingness to learn about parenting adopted children. We don’t expect any person to know it all, just be eager to learn!
As a counsellor, how do you reconcile the happy yet tragic aspects of adoption?
In adoption, everyone loses something. The hope is that with quality parenting, a close relationship between the child and parent develops, and that the gains eventually outweigh the losses. We have to focus heavily on the ‘quality parenting’ piece so that we are sure to see these gains.
Let’s also never forget about the birth mothers. They experience a tremendous loss. However, if they are given an ethical, respectful, and safe adoption, the hope is they can recover and begin to work towards their dreams and eventually create a family in the way they choose. OC has worked very hard over the last few months to make sure their birth mothers are empowered. Our services to birth mothers have improved across the board.
What advice do you generally give to adoptive parents who fear disclosing to their child for fear of rejection or hurt or “unnecessary drama”?
Many folks are too afraid their child will hurt too much or love them less if they know they’re adopted. A child has a right to know their identity. In my experience the child always finds out anyway. You can depend on people to keep your secret for the lifespan of your child. Often children learn about their adoption in the teen years. These are tough years for non-adopted children as well. Teens are trying to create a self- identity and it’s often a very fragile time in their lives. How much tougher if you learn your parents have been lying to you just at the time you’re striving for more independence? Adoption is not a shameful thing, so why keep it a secret? It’s easier to tell your children they’re adopted when they are small. From young, get them used to the idea and the language surrounding the topic such as, birth mother and father, adoption etc. This way, they can incorporate this knowledge into their identity as they mature.
So what do you think of Squirky? 🙂
The Squirky book series is a fantastic tool to help parents introduce the concept of adoption to their children. If parents are comfortable with it, chances are much higher that the children will be too! My hope is that the series can be used in the region to encourage parents to talk openly with their children about being adopted. I also hope children can identify with Squirky’s feelings of being ‘different’ and find comfort and support from their parents as they read together. It’s a great tool to get children talking!
I’ve also done a radio interview on adoption with Lari on BFM 89.9 – do give it a listen as she makes some really pertinent points here.