Researchers surveyed 20 adoption professionals who worked in different types of settings and had various levels of experience. Less than half reported specifically mentioning "parenting" as an option. Those that did framed it in terms of finding a "resource" ignoring the inherent value of maintaining the natural bond between mother and child. Only a small number discussed terminating the pregnancy.
Many of the mothers felt contact with the prospective adoptive parents before birth influenced their decision to place their baby because they didn't want to disappoint the prospective adoptive couple. The presence of the prospective adoptive parents in the hospital, coupled with limited time to sign the papers, exacerbated the pressure to relinquish with mothers already reeling with the emotional impact of giving birth.
While a small number of mothers stated that adoption was the best option for them, many suffered from a "a deep and abiding sense of regret ... in the days, months, and years following their decision."
Promised post-adoption contact was at the whim of the adoptive parents. Many mothers reported a decline in the amount of post-adoption contact from what they expected. Mothers also wanted the agencies to provide post-placement support, beyond just handing over a phone number to call if they were desperate. When I was a representative for Concerned United Birthparents some years ago, mothers who had recently given up their babies contacted me for support at the suggestion of the adoption agency as though I could undo the emotional damage the agency caused. I had no training in counseling and could do little but connect them with other suffering first mothers. I was just a tool for the agency to get the mothers off their backs.
While the Institute's findings are valuable as they highlight to a larger audience what we as first mothers have known since we lost our children, the ensuing recommendations are naive and do not go nearly far enough. The takeaway is that simply with more research and more education, everyone will do the right thing, and all will be well. The recommendations ignore the harsh reality that the adoption industry (agencies, attorneys, counselors, facilitators) depends on babies being available to those who can pay the price, and to that end is why adoption counselors and adoption agencies exist. They are not in business--for profit or non-profit--to counsel women to make fully informed decisions. They are in business to move babies from typically impoverished, addicted or young mothers to others.
Real change will come only if money is taken out of adoption so that the only relevant factor is what's best for mother and child. In other words, the government should take over adoption as is the case in the United Kingdom, The Netherlands, Australia, and other western countries. Short of this, the system can be improved only by changing laws. You can conduct research and educate people forever, but at the end of the day the imposition of serious penalties for failing to provide meaningful information or comply with open-adoption contracts is what works. This is as true in adoption as it is on Wall Street. As many young mothers who feel tricked will attest, good intentions often vanish in the cold morning light after the relinquishment papers are signed.--jane
SUMMARY OF RECOMMENDATIONS AND FMF's RESPONSES:
Mandate (by whom?) that adoption agencies and attorneys provide free access to pre- and post relinquishment services for expectant and first parents. No problem with this but it's not a panacea. Oregon statues require adoptive parents to pay for three counseling sessions for first mothers, but few mothers take advantage of it.
Mandate (by whom?) that adoption agencies and attorneys provide expectant parents a standardized informed consent that details the possible outcomes associated with relinquishment as well as potential outcomes the child may experience. While we support this, by the time a mother is presented with the consent papers, the deal is likely done. Information should be given to her at her first encounter with the adoption professionals, not while in the hospital shortly after the birth of her child.
Increase and standardize education for expectant parents and prospective adoptive parents about strengths, limitations, and legalities of post-relinquishment contact. This begs the question. If adoption is her only option, what difference does it make if a mother knows of the "limitations" of post-adoption contact with her child? The recommendation should have been that state laws make such agreements enforceable.
Mandate (by whom?) biannual ethics in adoption continuing education for adoption professionals. You can ace ethics education but not do the right thing, particularly when doing the wrong thing pays the bills.
Conduct research on the implications of pre-birth matching expectant parents with prospective adoptive parents. We know it's coercive but as I learned from working with representatives of the adoption industry developing legislation in Oregon, the alternatives are not much better. We can go back to the practice of adoption professionals selecting the adoptive parents without regard to the mother's wishes and, in some cases, prolonged time in foster care for the child while this happens. The mother can select adoptive parents after birth, but this means keeping the baby in foster care while she interviews prospective adoptive parents or taking the baby home which she could have done originally--if she had a home to take the baby.
Include adoption-related content in relevant post-secondary educational programs for adoption professionals which address the need for unbiased options counseling. This assumes that education will change behavior. Without teeth, it won't happen any more than more training will stop racist cops from shooting innocent black men.
Conduct additional research on the practice of prospective adoptive families being present at the hospital pre-and post-birth. There is no practical way to do this since it's not possible to set up a blind study with a control group and an experimental group. It is obvious that the presence of the prospective adoptive parents in the hospital (and often in the delivery room) can influence an uncertain mother without resources and family not providing support to keep the baby. However, the adoption practitioners in our work group have told me that some mothers choose to have the prospective adoptive parents in the delivery room because otherwise they would be alone.
Institute a best practice guideline that mandates professionals in an agency should work with only first parents or only with prospective adoptive parents to prevent bias and over-identification with one group at the expense of the other. A good practice but as long as both work for the same employer, this can have only a minimal impact.
Institute a best practice guideline that allows expectant parents to attend at least one session with adoption professionals prior to the completion of intake paperwork needs assessments, service contracts, or releases of information to reduce the likelihood that the professionals influence an expectant's parent's decision regarding the pregnancy. This will create an environment that is lower in stakes for vulnerable parents and reduce the likelihood that adoption professionals influence an expectant parent's decision regarding their pregnancy before they have carefully weighed and considered options. No problem with this but it is unlikely to do much since professionals know that they can keep their jobs only if the expectant parent returns as a client. Peel away the gloss that surrounds adoption, and we end up with this disturbing truism: Adoption in America is a business, and children are the product that keeps the industry going.
Understanding Options Counseling Experiences in Adoption: A Qualitative Analysis of First/Birth Parents and Adoption Professionals, The Donaldson Institute and the University of Texas Arlington School of Social Work, March 2017
Here's how to write good adoption law
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Ethics in American Adoption
By L. Anne Babb
"Ethics In American Adoption is a benchmark publication in the fields of ethics and adoption. [Babb] offers numerous case studies describing what is amiss with America's adoption system as it is currently constituted. She raises significant questions about what adoption facilitators are doing who is accountable for what they are doing, and whose interests they are serving. This seminal work should be read by policy makers, social workers, children's court judges, prospective adopters, and anyone else involved in the adoption process."-Wisconsin Bookwatch
Giving Up Baby: Safe Haven Laws, Motherhood, and Reproductive Justice
By Laury Oaks