"Like Walking Among Giants" 
Dr Rhoda Scherman, Senior Lecturer, Psychology, Auckland University of Technology
Last week you held the 5th International Conference on Adoption Research (ICAR5). There wasn’t a special theme for the conference…
The programme comes together based on the works submitted by the delegation, which usually reflects the topics of interest globally. To set a “theme” would, I believe, force a particular direction, and then the material being presented would not necessarily reflect what is happening naturally in the field. I made a conscious decision not to set a theme for that very reason.
Wars, conflict and persecution have forced more people than ever to flee their homes and seek refuge and safety elsewhere. Is this worldwide crisis affecting your work of ICAR?
I suspect that the worldwide refugee crises will be having an effect on the number of children needing homes. However, it would not be an instantaneous effect, since any countries that are signatories to the Hague Convention on the Rights of the Child in Respect of Intercountry Adoption would be looking domestically to find homes for children made parentless by war and other conflicts. Much needs to occur internally before any children are made available for adoption internationally.
We are living in a more and more digitised world. How important is your annual Conference for the aim and the mission of ICAR?
ICAR is a conference only. As such, we do not have a mission per se. In my opinion, the coming together as a conference delegation is important, because it brings the global activities together into a single place and time. Individual researchers are, for a time, part of a collective, and can see their contributions to that collective.
I believe that the ICARs allow us to work more synergistically. Could we achieve this without having to jump on a jet plane bound for the other side of the world? Probably, but there is something magical and hard to explain that happens when you’re sitting in that space with so many others who hold a passion for the same things that you do! For those of us who attend these regularly, it is also a kind of reunion, but for those new to ICAR, it is like walking among giants! Suddenly the names of people you’ve read about and written about are standing there in front of you. I remember my first ICAR, and it was something extraordinary to shake the hands of the “rock stars” of the field! You can’t get that from a digitised "watch from the comfort of your own computer" event.
Why did you select Auckland as destination for the Conference 2016?
The simple answer is … because I live in Auckland, New Zealand, and I was feeling up to the challenge to host ICAR. In all seriousness, I wanted to bring ICAR not just to Auckland but also to the southern hemisphere. In no particular order, my reasons for hosting ICAR here were:
+ New Zealand has a long history of engaging in adoption, so we have a large population of people affected by adoption.
+ New Zealand also has some of the most progressive adoption policies and practices, compared to other western countries, which are strongly influenced by our indigenous population, and how Maori see family, children, genealogy, etc., and I wanted to showcase THAT to the rest of the adoption researchers. I think that traditional western adoption practices would be benefited by some of the lessons gleaned from NZ.
+ A conference in NZ would place ICAR closer to the “sending” countries (e.g. Asian countries, African countries, etc.), —poorer countries that might find it harder to travel to Europe and which have been under-represented at previous ICARs. It was my hope that I’d get more engagement from these nations, given NZ's proximity.
What are the two biggest challenges for the International Conference on Adoption Research these days?
The biggest challenges for the conference was attracting funding or sponsorship. I think this was because many see adoption as a thing of the past. In the 1960s and 1970s, NZ had one of the highest rates of domestic adoption in the world. Since then, the rates have plummeted and now we have very small numbers of domestic adoptions taking place. On the other hand, intercountry adoption rates were on the rise over that same period of domestic decline. For some, there is a sense that adoptions are a thing of the past, but for the people who were adopted, it is a lifelong effect, and so we owe it to them to continue to do the research and seek knowledge gains that help not just future adoptions, but past as well.
ICAR represents more than just adoption. For instance, many of us who research in the area of international adoption are also involved in the discussions and research related to such as global commercial surrogacy. This is an area that is growing while the international adoption numbers are declining. This shows the inter-connectedness of many of the family formation trends. Shifts out of one practice usually mean increases in others, so it is not as simple as “there are fewer adoptions taking place so why keep researching it?” Adoption is a complex subject which is inter-related with other family formation trends like surrogacy, donor conception, etc. And even through ICAR is about Adoption Research, many of us in the field are involved in work that reaches beyond just adoption. In terms of your question, I guess I see this as one of the challenges. The field is much more complex than it seems to the lay person.
But there is also another issue: It is the tension between competing stakeholders. As an academic, my university values publications in the “scholarly journals” and the more highly ranked journals, the better. But in terms of those “living” the adoption experiences, the people I consider my stakeholders, they do not read the scholarly journals. So getting the knowledge to this audience means writing (e.g.) in magazines or newsletters—activities that, in the context of academia, make very little contribution to the academic scholarship that they value. For those of us in the field, who are primarily academics, this is a funny tension that always exists.
Following right behind ICAR5 is a second conference: The Redefining Family Conference: Growing families through adoption, donor conception and surrogacy. This is a “users” conference, and a place where we can connect directly with those people forming their families via adoption (and other modern family forms), and where we can share the research knowledge, but also allow them to share their stories with us. ICAR5, on the other hand, is by researchers and for researchers. As such, the more experiential accounts are not as well represented. And even though many of us in the field are also “living” the experiences of adoption (I am also an adopted person), we’re at ICAR5 as researchers, much more so than as adoptees or adoptive parents, etc.
ICAR is not an organisation per se. It is a conference—the preeminent conference for those of us who undertake research in the area of adoption. The first took place in the USA in about 1999, hosted by Dr Harold Grotevant. It would be seven years before a second one was held, with ICAR2 taking place in Norwich, England at the University of East Anglia. ICAR3 took place in Leiden, The Netherlands in 2010, and in 2013, ICAR4 took place in Bilbao, Spain
http: //w w w. icar5newzealand. com/