Thursday, October 18, 2007

Ethical Accountability to Mothers Who Have Surrendered

Reflections on the Conference Part III: Ethical Accountability to Mothers Who Have Surrendered

Many ethical issues of accountability remain beyond those covered at the conference. One is the obligation of adoption agencies and professionals in regard to post-adoption services.

Too often we learn of cases in which both parties have returned to file a waiver of confidentiality and expressed a desire for reunification, and the agency tells both parties that their counterpart is in fact not interested in meeting them. Is this carelessness, or playing God with people’s lives?

Agencies who do assist in reunification charge high fees to do so and maintain strict control with intermediaries who often approaching parties in an overly protective, negative manner. . ."assuring” them of their right to refuse contact. One agency has a condition of 3 anonymous, non-identifying contacts within a 12-month time period. If someone is not ready to make their decision within that time frame, it’s all over. Case closed. They cannot think about it and return a year or three later and say that they are now ready for a reunion. Such a limiting policy puts undue pressure on someone to whom it may come as a hock to be contacted by a long-lost relative, and needs time prepare and decide.

The time has come to recognize that adults are able to handle their own personal intimate life affairs and relationships and that there are sufficient laws to protect people from harassment. Adoptees and their families of origins do not need to be treated as a suspect class of people.

Another ethical accountability not addressed at the conference is one that touches my life personally: the right of surrendering parents to copies of all documents that pertain to them. The concept of "confidently" cannot explain denying people that which concerns - especially when a great deal of information about mothers of subsequently adopted children is given to adopters: both identifying and non-identifying, including social workers assessments of our "emotional state" - either too "cold" and appearing "uncaring" or too emotional and deemed "hysterical" or even "unbalanced" as a result of legitimate and appropriate behavior to a trauma. They are permitted to make assumptions about alcohol and drug use, and share that information causing us to be frozen in time as the confused, scared, unsupported teens and young adults we once were.

Denial of access to our own records, to know what was aid about us and to have a record of our having given birth is a tremendous violation of our rights.

I recently (9/14) wrote about Jayni Anderson who discovered 28 years after the fact that the child she had been repeatedly been assured by LDS workers was “fine” had in fact died of SIDS at six months of age. When Jayni decided to go public with her outrage at being lied to all those years, the newspaper she approached asked her for proof of the story she was telling them. Like many mother in her situation, Jayni was unable to provide one shred of evidence that she even given birth to a child 28 years prior, let alone that she has been placed for adoption through LDS, or any other agency. Had it not been for the fact that she has taken a support with her to the agency who witnessed her discussion with the worker who now revealed to her daughter’s alleged death, the newspaper would not have printed her story, exposing this agencies deceit (another whole major issue of ethical accountability!).

Many mothers are faced with this dilemma. Although the birth takes place prior to any termination of our parental right and certainly before an adoption takes place…in other words, while we are still clearly the mothers of our children…the certificate of that birth, bizarrely, becomes part of the “sealed records” of a legal action that takes place subsequent to the birth.

We, thus, have no record of papers we were asked to sign, which in any other area of law is a clear cut violation. We have no medial records of our birth to share with our physicians.

I relinquished my firstborn daughter to adoption in 1968. I left the agency a crushed shell of a person, with just my tears and a broken heart. Not a shred of paper to prove that any of it ever happened. . .to help me “forget” that it did, I suppose. Forty years later it is as fresh in my mind as it was that day, however.

By the early 70's learned about ALMA and adoptees in search. I co-founded Origins (NJ) with four other mothers in 1979 or 80. Meeting and speaking with other mothers nationwide, I quickly learned that not all adoption were “happily-ever-after.” Despite the promises made to us about “forever” families and two parents being better than one, adoptive parents die and divorce often leaving our children alone or with a single parent while we are married.

Mothers were finding troubled – and deceased – children and teens. Some died in infancy, others in car crashes or suicides. One mother was told she could gladly take her child back from his adopters -- who had, for all intents and purposes abandoned her son at a private school, having stopped paying all fees. Another found her child living in the back seat of car.

I knew now that there was no assurance whatsoever that my daughter had gone to a “wonderful, loving, “professional” couple as I had always imagined, or that she was adopted at all, or even alive. I could not wait until any magic age of adulthood to do all I could to locate my daughter.

While many of us had nothing to show for our labor, our unending pain and our devastating, irresolvable limbo loss, some mothers coming to Origins and CUB for support had copies of their relinquishment papers or “Consent to Adopt.” I got to see several over the years I ran our support group. I was immediately impressed with the variety of different forms and languages used by different agencies in different states in different years. (Click on collage to enlarge.) Some of these papers stated that the mother agreed to have no contact with her child. Some made no mention of that issue, simply terminating parental rights. Other papers stated that the mother was barred from contact with her child “for his minor years.”

Knowing I fully intended to initiate any means possible to locate my daughter and verify her well-being, as well as to offer my availability for updated medical history etc., I contacted my agency: Jewish Child Care Association of NYC (JCCA) explaining what I had seen on others’ papers, and my need to know what I had agreed to in signing my papers, in order o know if I would be in violation of that agreement if I searched for or found my daughter.

I was refused.

I wrote again and asked for a whited out copy. I was refused again.

I asked for a blank for to see the wording. Still no. (I have copies of all my letters and responses.)

In 1978 I was fortunate to locate my daughter. I wrote the agency. JCCA, again informing them that I knew her name, her parents names and address but needed to know if I was barred from contact or not, and thus needed copies of what I had signed. I was refused again.

I contacted her parents and was horrified to discover that my daughter had remained in her foster home until one week before her fist birthday. Her foster family longed to adopt the baby they had known and loved since the day she left the hospital and who was calling her foster mother “Mommy.” Despite their protestations, the agency, in its wisdom, removed her at a year of age because this Jewish agency had placed her in an Italian Catholic foster home and along came a Jewish family. I was overcome with uncontrollable grief learning of her traumatic re-placement.

In 1995, my daughter – who had been wrenched suddenly from "the only family she had ever known” and with whom she had a deep bond. . .committed suicide.

After morning her death for some time, I wrote to JCCA once more, telling them of her passing, and begged them one last time to share with me any shred of evidence that I bore this child who now lay in her grave. And, again, my request was denied.

As I write this today, Adam Pertman is preparing to present a keynote address at the forthcoming 14th Annual conference of The Ametz Adoption Program of Jewish Child Care Association: INFERTILITY, ADOPTION AND THE FAMILY on Sunday April 6, 2008 in New York City.

This years' keynote: Welcome to the Revolution: What We've Learned From & About Adoptive Families ironically focuses on how greater knowledge leads to better decisions - and to improved parenting.

It is of course “Intended for prospective parents, those who already have formed their families and the professionals with whom they work.” Notice who is left our of this equation? Notice whose “greater knowledge” is STILL – in 2007 - of no interest?
The conference is billed in their call for papers as “one of the premiere adoption events held in NYC” and its focus is “on the latest trends and changes in domestic and international adoption, including the Hague Convention, Openness in Adoption, Multicultural Families, the focus on Pre-Adoption Education and Alternatives to Family Building.”

Pre-adoption education for everyone but the party without whom there would be no adoption.

I publicly submit the following blurb of an abstract for a presentation for this conference and lay down the gauntlet to have me address these issues:

As our community becomes more aware of actively pursuing ethical adoption practices, we have a moral obligation to look backward as well as forward and restore whatever ounce of dignity we can to those who have been harmed by faulty adoption practices of the past.

Where is the moral and ethical responsibility of JCCA to the mothers they “served”?

2 comments:

slyoung said...

The issue you bring up is one that cannot be emphasized enough, that women NEED to get their records, every single piece of paper that pertains to them.

I was one of the mothers whose reunion was delayed for 5 years by the agency since they couldn't bother to check the files for the consent to contact form that was in both my own and my son's files when he called.

These arrogant demigods need to be held accountable, in so many ways! Thanks for writing about it, and getting it into the public discussion. I will pray that it happens before too late...

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with you that there is a moral obligation to look backwards and address the issues for those who have already been separated from family members by adoption. I spoke about this two years ago in my homeland of Scotland, where my son was born and adopted. The way adults who have been separated by adoption are treated in the UK is appalling.

Evelyn Robinson
Australia

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