Thursday, January 28, 2010

Adoption Reform: Top Ten

Reform. Re-form. To form anew.

Reform. To improve by alteration, correction of error, or removal of defects; put into a better form or condition; to abolish abuse or malpractice in; to change for the better.

At Grown in My Heart, the topic for this month's adoption carnival is REFORM. What do you want to see reformed in adoption? I could write a book on this topic, but I'm limiting myself to a top ten list. Go to Grown in My Heart to read other blogs on this topic, and add your voice to the mix -- write a post at your blog about what you would like to see reformed in adoption, and link it here. Don't have a blog? Comment here or at Grown in My Heart. Let your voice be heard!

10. There should be no more secrets and lies in adoption.

Secrets and lies are poison in adoption. Whether it's the government-sanctioned lie of an amended birth certificate or adoptive parents who don't want their kids to even THINK about birth parents, secrecy and lies breed shame. Every adult adoptee should have completely free access to original birth certificates and adoption records. Increased openness in adoption is also an important tool in combatting trafficking and adoption corruption. Corrupt practices and trafficking flourish in the dark -- if we don't know who the birth parents are, we can never know whether the child was really legitimately available for adoption. And yes, I mean this for both domestic and international adoption.

9. There must be effective education for prospective adoptive parents; that goes double for parents adopting transracially.

To the extent that prospective adoptive parents are provided any education, it rarely reaches beyond what to expect in the first few years after an infant adoption -- help with transitions, attachment and bonding, and that's about it. There needs to be meaningful training about the fact that adoption is not a single event, but a lifelong issue. For transracial adoption, the training needs to include information about race and racial identity formation and racism, not just steps for incorporating culture.

8. There must be post-adoption services for all members of the triad.

For many, if not most, adoption agencies, once the child is in the hands of the adoptive parents, the relationship between the agency and all parties ends. Birth mothers should receive services, including counseling, post-relinquishment. Adoptive parents should receive continuing education and counseling about parenting adopted children post-adoption. Adopted persons, as children and as adults, should receive services, including referrals to necessary professionals, post-adoption.

7. International adoption should be a last resort.

All countries should be required to promote domestic adoption before they can participate in a program to place children internationally. While all adoption starts with loss, international adoption compounds the loss of family with loss of country, language, culture, and oftentimes the loss of the ability to grow up surrounded by people of the same race. Rather than making international adoption to the U.S. a part of U.S. foreign policy, the policy should be to encourage domestic adoption in those countries.

6. We need laws to ensure that consents to adoption are informed and freely given.

In most U.S. states, there is no requirement that mothers be given independent legal advice before relinquishing a child for adoption, that the relinquishment be given before a judge, that mothers be provided independent counseling before relinquishment. Most states allow minor girls to consent to relinquishment without any special safeguards. Many states require that before a woman can get an abortion she must be informed about her parenting options -- establishing paternity, getting child support, the availability of welfare and other government aid, etc. THERE IS NO SUCH REQUIREMENT WHEN A WOMAN IS ASKED TO RELINQUISH PARENTAL RIGHTS. There should be.

5. Open adoption agreements must be made legally enforceable.

In most jurisdictions in the U.S., open adoption agreements are simply personal promises that are not legally enforceable. In the places where such agreements can be made legally enforceable, there are usually technical steps that must be followed to make the agreement enforceable (for example, in Texas, such agreements are enforceable only if the post-adoption contact is included in the order terminating the birth mother's parental rights). And since birth mothers are not required to have independent legal counsel (see 6, above), they rarely know what needs to happen to make the agreement enforceable.

4. There should be better screening of adoptive parents.

We are seeing a growth in adoption disruptions -- some figures say it is as high as 1/3 of all adoptions. In addition to inadequate education of prospective adoptive parents (see 9, above), in adequate screening is one of the causes of disruptions, I believe. My social worker pretty much told me that her job was to "screen in" adoptive parents, not "screen out" adoptive parents. Since we believe that a home and a family is best for children, we seem to take to position that ANY home and family will do. Is it any wonder, then, that we see so many disruptions?

3. Judicial training should include adoption issues, with voices from all members of the triad.

Legal reform doesn't just involve legislatures. Regardless of what the statutes say, they will be interpreted and applied by judges. Judges, just like the general public, are inclined to see adoption as a win-win-win story since they haven't heard any voices that speak to the true complexity of the issues in adoption. One way that we've increased judicial awareness of complex issues like domestic violence and gender bias is by mandating judicial education on these issues. We should press to include adoption issues in judicial training.

2. The U.S. should not allow international adoptions with non-Hague countries.

The Hague Convention concerning international adoption is by no means perfect in protecting children, birth parents and adoptive parents from adoption corruption and trafficking, but it is better than nothing. By allowing adoptions from non-Hague countries, despite having signed and ratified the Hague Convention, the U.S. weakens its position on ethical international adoption. As Hague compliance has improved in Hague-country adoptions, it has driven agencies and adoptive parents to look for greener pastures. That allows for unregulated international adoption agencies to have unregulated programs in unregulated countries -- a situation rife for corruption.

. . . and the most important reform of adoption I'd like to see . . .

1. We should all work to end adoption.

I don't know that we will ever achieve the goal of ending adoption, and by saying we should work to end adoption I'm not saying that adoption is bad or wrong in and of itself. We should work HARD to end adoption by eradicating the circumstances that lead to children being available for adoption. The ideal is that all mothers receive the support they need to parent their children. It's better for the children. It's better for the mothers. Ergo, it's better for society. We need to foster a societal commitment to support families, because the real solution to the "orphan problem" is not adoption, but preventing children from being orphaned to begin with.


a Tonggu Momma said...

#6 stunned me. I had no idea that wasn't a requirement.

I knew I could count on you for a great top 10 list.

Addie Pray said...

Great list. Ageee 100%. Now if we can just get everybody else on board....

LisaLew said...

No more secrets and lies! Yes! I have always felt that the parents who adopt and birth parent's rights are much more protected than the adoptee. The adoptee grows up, but is still treated like a child.

We all know that "ending all adoption" will never happen. As long as the world is populated, there will always be birth mothers who get pregnant and can't or don't want to parent. To say "no mother wants to give up her child, ever" is untrue. I have met many in my life.

I understand that there are many birth mothers who, given the resources, would make other choices. I understand putting an end to adoption corruption. However, I wouldn't want a birth mother who is not able or who does not want to parent to feel "forced" to do so. This could have very negative consequences to the mother and child.

Anonymous said...

#10 on the list could be given to the Obama Administration as an "idea for change" if it receives the top votes on Please, everyone, vote for and comment on the idea: "Release Original Birth Certificates To Adoptees" at:

Thank you!!!! :) -Mara

Anonymous said...

I have to disagree with the suggestion of sending adoptees to shrinks. They do not help and his will just increase our frustration. Talking about needing to know our parents over and over is totally fruitless.
Adoptees need action not being lead again in the direction of going nowhere. We can talk to someone who doesn't even get us, like most "therapists" till we are blue in the face but it doesn't change anything. It also enables others to slap yet another label on us that we don't deserve. In need of pyschological help. None of us need help, we just need our information. The people who keep our records sealed need the help.

Michelle@Gotchababy said...

What a list!! On the AP side of a domestic adoption I never really thought about #6 in regards to legal counsel, but WOW, I should have. I know it's not required in Indiana. It should be.

As I read these posts, there is so much that can be done to improve this process.....

Myst said...

I personally love number 1 the best. For many, many reasons, this my fave beyond all others.

Great post!

Anonymous said...

I think therapists need to be better trained at adoption issues. I know personally that I spent two to three months with a therapist explaining adoption issues to her. I just stopped going because I was not addressing the issues. I needed to address the issues instead explaining what adoption does to an adoptee.

Lorraine Dusky said...

Yo, Hats off!

I suppose it will not surprise you that Number One is my fave: work to end adoptions, to make them unnecessary.

Yes! thank you for this list. I knew there was a reason I like you.

Anonymous said...

Whenever I think about ending adoption, it makes me think about how adoption is promoted as a remedy for ending abortion. If adoption was ended, would the alternative, for those who do not want to or can't parent, be abortion (assuming that the choice was made early enough in the process)? I have long thought that those who oppose abortion should support providing resources to those who choose not to have an abortion, when their circumstances make it difficult to parent. Instead, they typically promote adoption. Last spring I saw a big billboard (between Fort Worth and Glen Rose, TX). All it said was "adoption" in big bold letters. It's not hard to guess the purpose of the billboard. It's trying to say, don't have an abortion, put your baby up for adoption instead. I don't mean to start a big controversy about abortion, but it seems to me that anyone who wants to see an end to adoption, will have to convince anti-abortion folks to stop promoting adoption as the alternative and to support pregnant women and birth parents who wish to keep their children instead. I agree with LisaLew, that there are women who don't want an abortion and don't want to parent either. So, adoption becomes an imperfect option in that situation. I think maybe a better way to phrase #1 would be "support family preservation" in order to limit adoptions. That (and effective contraception) would work for limiting abortions too. Framing it in terms of adoption is too narrow. Family preservation efforts of all sorts is good for society.

Upstatemomof3 said...

I was totally with you all the way until you got to number one. I would never want to work to end adoption because what I see in that is an uprise in abortion. I see that there will always be women who for one reason or another do not want to parent (I'm not talking about women who can be helped be it through money assistance, education assistance, daycare assistance or something else I am talking about those who do not want to) and if we end adoption then what will they do? They will abort. So, while yes we should work to eliminate certain things that cause women to give up their baby I do not think adoption should be ended.