As I wrap up all my post-conference thoughts, I was sorting through the materials I brought home. One was a flyer from PEAR: Parents for Ethical Adoption Reform, “a grassroots group of adoptive and prospective adoptive parents” concerned about “the lack of a unified voice for adoptive families” and “meaningful ethical adoption from the adoptive parents pint of view.” They formed together because they felt a lack of representation of “the people most impacted by the system.”
My work in adoption began in NJ in the late 1970s. As I was a part of the formation of Origins: An organization for mothers who lost children to adoption, another group was simultaneously being formed. APFOR: Adoptive Parents for Open Records. Their president, Carol Gustavson and members such as Sue Wright, Jane Nast, Alyce Jenkins are women I have laughed with, cried with, embraced and are still dear friends of mine to this day as many of them continue their work with the AAC.
More recently I have had the extreme pleasure of meeting Margie Perscheid, David and Desiree Smolin, Rick Boas... some of whom I had “known” via email and their work for some time now.
I have also met some closed-minded adoptive parents and some with attitudes of entitlement, superiority and down right nastiness...one who insist on laughing at child trafficking and slandering me for saying it exists! I also know some mothers who have lost children to adoption who I am not too fond of either. I judge each person for themselves, not their title, and try to approach the issues as objectively as I can, from my personal perspective as a mother who was on the loosing end of this alleged “win-win” process of adoption. My first book was reviewed positively by RESOLVE and Families Adopting Children Everywhere (FACE) for its toughness but fairness. I trust my second one meets he same criteria, though I did go one step further in writing The Stork Market and state that parents seeking to adopt, and those who have…can chose to be part of the solution or part of the problem. I stand by that statement. The parents I have named above have chosen the former.
Rights and Responsibilities
I believe those planning or considering adoption have a responsibility first and foremost to recognize that their joy in adopting is another’s tragedy and irrevocable loss. As historian and author Rickie Solinger says: “adoption only exists on the backs of resourceless women”
No one owes another a child and no child will resolve that loss. Loss of fertility is no greater than one’s loss of sight or limbs, or need of an organ transplant and people with such disabilities do not expect another to fill their need through sacrifice, and payment for such is recognized as exploitive and is thus illegal. Adoptive couples and individuals need to understand that every child has a right to remain with his family and that poverty is not a cause for family separation. No one has a “right” to adopt.
At the recent Ethica/Donaldson conference on ethics and accountability in adoption, the question regarding when a family is in poverty, is taking the child and placing the child for adoption with a financially better-off family "helping"? In response, David Smolin said "A child is only available for adoption when all efforts to keep the family together have been exhausted. That's basic social work. If a doctor saves your life by amputating your legs, but antibiotics could have fixed the problem, that's malpractice."
I believe that those seeking to adopt have a right to:
- fair and honest adoption practices from licensed, trained, registered professional social workers
- receive honest and fair counseling to help them have realistic expectations; to learn that adoption is not the same as birthing a child.
- understand and accept that unlike having a genetically connected child, adoption means parenting the child of another, and being able to embrace that fact and help their child with his/her issues around loss.
- get as much medical background as is possible before deciding if thy are able to handle a specific child
- maintain an open and free ongoing relationship with their child’s family of origins to the extent possible and to the extent such family members are able to - practically and emotionally, and to respect their decision not to if it is too painful
I believe that those seeking to adopt have a responsibility to:
- educate themselves about adoption practices and practitioners here and abroad. To understand that most are entrepreneurs and some are scammers and others slipshod. To know that – in the words of Kellly-Kiser Mostrom (The Cruelest Con) “if it sounds good true to be true, it probably is.”
- ensure that the child they are parenting has been freely and willingly given for adoption by his mother, father and extended family; that thy were not coerced or lied to in any way and that they fully understand the definition of American adoption – that it is FOREVER
- respect and honor their child’s heritage and his/her feelings of loss, rejection and abandonment in the most sensitive and real ways
- respect and honor members of their child’s family if they are able to maintain contact
- keep any and all promises made to that family, even when doing so is trying or difficult – as many family interactions can be, recognizing the extra difficulty of contact with people of different culture and styles, and with an awareness of their pain
I believe that if adopters want adoption to be ethical, they need to act ethically and demand ethical treatment and practices. I would be proud to work with the people of PEAR toward those goals. I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them in accomplishing their goals of creating uniform standards for adoption agencies and practitioners and developing an enforceable code of ethics of enacting the standards set by the CWLA.
Such standards need to begin with the goal of finding homes for the more than 100,000 children in this country who have no families to return to and could benefit from stable, loving family care. I share with PEAR and all seeking ethical adoption practices to pressure the US to ratify the Hague – and also UN CRC - and to follow the basic tenants of both and respect the autonomy of countries struggling to find ways to care for their own, instead of practicing hat has been called “patronizing colonialism(1).” To put the rights of children first and center is to protect their right to remain in their families fist, and in their nation. Though difficult for those seeking children to accept, according to UNICEF, the adoption should always be last resort, and international adoption the last of the last (UNICEF Press Release, March 2007).
Making adoption ethical is in part removing the scammers, the baby brokers, the untrained facilitators, the traffickers so that people who wan to provide alternative care for children in need are not ripped off. . .but mostly it is so that children are not wrongfully taken for adoption and that those who need it are. I go beyond PEAR’s goal of “addressing fees in domestic adoption” to removing all profit from adoption everywhere over and beyond basic filing fees and actual costs. Money, greed, supply and demand are the root of all corruption.
Together, we can accomplish all of these goals.
(1) Christopher Bagley with Loretta Young and Anne Scully, 1993. International and Trans-racial Adoption: A mental health perspective. P. 155