What to do When Birthparents Speak a Different Language--
Many people who are planning to build there families through adoption are open to children of races and cultural backgrounds than that are different from their own. In order to do this, you must first do some soul searching as well as taking a good look at your family, friends and community to make sure that there is cultural diversity in your life in order to meet the needs of your child. I plan to discuss the subject of transracial or transcultural adoptions in a future article, but I wanted to start this article this way to lead into the possibility of a situation that many families will face: being connected with Birthparents who speak a different language.
In the area where I live there is a huge Hispanic population. I am fortunate enough to be able to speak Spanish fluently. When I started working at the pregnancy counseling and adoption agency where I am employed nine years ago, I immediately began offering our services to the Hispanic community. Throughout the years I have learned things and refined things as I have gone along, but there are a few important things that I wanted to pass on to you if you ever find yourself in the position of being chosen by Birthparents who speak another language. These concepts include both legal and emotional aspects. I will start with the legal side of things.
When a Birthparent does not speak the native language of the country, in my case English, it is important that all the legal documents and counseling documents be translated into their language for their review and understanding. Even though I can speak Spanish fluently and have a small translating business on the side, I found a Hispanic volunteer to translate all of our documents and to be involved in the adoption process if I am working with a Hispanic client who has decided to make an adoption plan. It is important to have a third party involved for many reasons.
First of all, I can be sure that the clients I work with are getting the appropriate information and that they understand every legal aspect. When I go to court with a Birthparent to sign a consent to adoption I always take an interpreter with me. This way the judge knows a non-biased third party is translating information correctly and the Birthparent is being told about their rights and the adoption process. I have never had it happen, but I wouldn’t want a client to come back years from now and state that I did no inform them of all their legal rights regarding adoption and that they signed the consent with having false information. Typically the consent that they actually sign in front of the judge is in English because that is what is filed with the courts, so I need to be sure that there is no way that a Birthparent has misunderstood or not understood a particular aspect of the consent before signing it.
Second of all, I have help in giving emotional support to a Birthparent by someone who knows their native tongue. In many cultures, such as the Hispanic community, adoption is still considered taboo. I have many Hispanic clients who don’t have any support other than me. Through the use of a trained volunteer that speaks their language I am able to offer them emotional support from someone else.
In addition to making sure that all legal aspects are covered when working with a client that speaks a language other than your own, there are some important emotional aspects and issues surrounding future contact and exchange of information that need to be covered. Let’s start from the beginning: putting together your adoption profile. Obviously if you are open to children of different cultural backgrounds, you could not have your profile translated into every language. However, if you live in a community with a high population of a particular ethnic group such as Hispanic or Laotian, you could have your profile translated into that particular language. You can have this done for a reasonable price through a local community college or high school where students or even teachers are always looking for projects. If you have a friend or acquaintance that speaks that particular language you could ask them for help in translating your profile. When I am working with a client that speaks Spanish they are typically more likely to choose a family whose profile was translated than to choose a family whose profile I have to read and translate for them.
If you are selected by Birthparents that speak another language, I also encourage you to try to learn that language either through classes or tapes. Even if you can’t say more than “Hola” and they can’t say more than “Hi” you are both at least attempting to communicate. It will be important for your child to learn that language as well and about the customs and traditions of their Birthparents’ native country. Make sure that you take the opportunity to learn about these things so you can pass that information on to your child. If you are planning to maintain contact with the Birthparents, always have a translator present at least for the first few meetings and make the extra effort to have letters or photo captions translated so that Birthparents will know what you are trying to say. It is also important for you to remember that some gestures are universal. A hug, smile, handshake and kiss on the cheek all mean pretty much the same thing from country to country.
The thing that you need to keep in mind when working with Birthparents who speak another language is that you want to ensure that their legal and emotional needs are being met and you want to be sure that you understand each other and how each other feels. Although it does take some extra effort, having documents translated and an interpreter present is beneficial to everyone involved. The more informed and involved everyone is in the process the smoother it tends to go, which is what everyone wants in the end.