' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Yes we can reform state adoption laws!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Yes we can reform state adoption laws!

Birth mothers, adoptive parents, adoptees, and others in Oregon have formed a Coalition and drafted legislation which would assure mothers have adequate information and sufficient time to make informed decisions about adoption. The bill creates a clear path to the courthouse, eliminating confusing and conflicting legal procedures and giving mothers one year to file actions to set aside adoptions where the mothers’ consent was obtained unlawfully.
The bill requires that the child must be returned to its mother when a mother revokes her consent or a judge finds a mother’s rights were violated.

The three cases below, which I’ve written about before, illustrate how the existing laws fail mothers in Oregon, my home state.

On June 21, 2010 15 year old Ashley signed an irrevocable surrender five days after giving birth by caesarian section and under pressure from family, friends, church members, the prospective adoptive parents, and the agency social worker. The next day her mother contacted the agency to revoke Ashley’s consent but the agency would not allow it.

Through an attorney, Ashley filed a lawsuit to revoke her consent. The attorney for the adoptive parents filed an adoption petition in a neighboring county the next day, forcing Ashley to pursue legal actions in two counties. Ashley and her family lack funds to pay the attorney and the attorney cannot continue pro-bono.

Two days after Janette gave birth to her son, she signed an irrevocable surrender to an adoption agency which placed him with adoptive parents the same day. The adoptive parents were with Janette during her hospital stay and made her feel guilty if she didn’t go ahead with the “adoption plan.” The agency told her she had to sign the papers before she left the hospital. The day after she left the hospital, she called the agency, begging to have her son back. She was told to get over it and stop calling. Although Janette had an open adoption agreement, the adoptive parents limited Janette’s visits with her son after six weeks, telling her that the promised visits would not work.

It took Janette two months to find an attorney to contest the adoption based on fraud and duress. The attorney filed the action eight months after the judgment of adoption was entered, well within the one year time limit Oregon allows for filing actions to contest adoptions. The Court of Appeals ignored the one year statute and dismissed her case, holding that an 11 month delay between signing the surrender and filing the action, during which time the adoptive parents bonded with the child, was unreasonable.

Before her child’s birth, Heidi contacted an adoption agency about placing her child for adoption. The agency told her that she had the right to revoke her consent for up to six months after the child’s birth. Heidi gave birth three weeks prematurely. The next day the agency presented her with a surrender which included an irrevocability provision. The agency read the agreement to her but did not did not explain the irrevocability provision as required by statute.

The agency placed Heidi’s baby with prospective adoptive parents the following day, two days after the child’s birth. Nine days after signing the surrender, Heidi tried to revoke her consent which the agency refused to allow her to do. Meanwhile, the prospective adoptive parents commenced an action to adopt the child without providing notice of the action to Heidi. She hired an attorney who had to file actions in three counties before the attorney could find out in which county the case was pending. By the time the attorney found out, the judgment of adoption had been entered. Heidi’s attorney then filed an action to set aside the adoption which the trial court dismissed on procedural grounds. The Court of Appeals reversed, sending the case back to the trial court for further action. By this time, the child was two-and-a-half years old. Sadly, the trial court refused to set aside the adoption.

What’s wrong?
None of these mothers received counseling that would have helped them make an informed decision. None of these mothers had legal advice before signing the surrender. None of these mothers had sufficient time after the birth of their child to make an informed decision. Until their child is born and mothers have recovered from the effects of child birth, they cannot internalize the reality of what they are considering.

All of these mothers encountered significant barriers to bringing their cases to court. Once in court, confusing and conflicting procedures consumed time and money, and in Janette’s case, barred her case from being heard at all.

Mothers in Oregon have fewer rights than consumers in commercial transactions where failure of sellers to make full disclosure nullifies the transaction and purchasers may cancel the contract within a specified period of time. Defrauded consumers may sue to get their money back, and, in some, cases recover their attorney fees.

What’s needed?
The Coalition proposes legislation requiring:

• Counseling covering the grief and loss inherent in adoption, resources which would enable mothers to nurture their children, the desirability of keeping children in the original extended family if mothers are unable to care for the children, and the benefits of continuing contact between mothers and children.

• A minimum of 192 hours after birth before mothers may consent to adoption and 30 days to revoke consent, no questions asked.

• An independent attorney, paid by a surcharge on adoption petition filling fees, to advise mothers of their legal rights before they consent to adoption.

• Clear procedures which allow one year to file an action to contest an adoption, assuring quick resolution for mothers, prospective adoptive parents, and most importantly, for children.

• Recovery of attorney fees if a mother prevails.

• Return of the child if the mother prevails.

What’s next?
A state representative has submitted the bill to legislative staff for final drafting. If all goes well, our bill will be introduced when the Legislature convenes in January, 2011.

The Coalition welcomes your support! If you live in Oregon, have an adoption experience in Oregon, or are affiliated with an adoption-related organization, post your name and email address as a comment and First Mother Jane will be in touch with you. FMF won’t publish your name or address.
Thanks to the E. B. Donaldson Adoption Institute (“Safeguarding the Rights and Well-Being of Birthparents in the Adoption Process,” 2006); social worker and adoptive mother Anne Babb (Ethics in American Adoption, 1999); and the Child Welfare League of America (Standards of Excellence for Adoptive Services, 2000) whose recommendations form the basis for this legislation.


  1. I was very glad - at first - to see that you are looking into changing laws that give mothers more rights to raise their children, but I am strongly disappointed to see that you are calling on organizations such as the donaldson inst, and the child 'welfare' league. (Did either of these organizations stand up for Ashley or Janette or Heidi?) In any case they are pro-adoption and do not speak for me and it is nauseating that they have more say in how law should be constructed around mother/child separation than mothers who have lived through it. (What they know is through mining mothers of loss; it is not direct experience or knowledge.)

    My comment is not meant to be an attack on you Jane. I feel that this is a very important area that needs to be addressed and am happy that you are looking into it. But I am highly suspicious of those you are relying on and feel that it is another slap in the face to have adopters making laws on just what rights a mother has.

    I was surprised that other mothers had not commented on this post. I hope that they will, and that you will expand the topic to address some of my misgivings.

    Thank you,

  2. As someone who sadly knows firsthand the pressures put on girls to give their babies up and how the word 'love' is especially used to confuse us'If you love your baby you'll do what's best for him. A boy needs a father', I do not think there should be any time limit on the firstmother. When my social worker kept putting me off and telling me that I could have my baby back but 'we have to do some paperwork first' until I was so angry,scared, and unsure of myself that I doubted my ability to be a good parent. When a married woman has a baby, what I didn't know at the time was that they too are scared, but people and society surround them,encourage them and they grow confident as they learn and take care of their babies. When my parents went to the court to try and find out what happened to my baby, the lawyer in charge told them'I have girls calling me crying every day trying to find out about their babies and I can't tell them anything' It was like 'Ha Ha Ha you sucker I know where your baby is and I'm not telling you.' Another example of this female-hating culture of ours I tried to kill myself after that Thank God I didn't succed Things got better.I found my son, but what an unnecessary confusion and waste of time and energy for both me and him, He thought I gave him up because of something wrong with him.He was the cutest baby in the whole world and a very good baby too. When I showed his wife a picture of me holding him that someone took in the hospital, she looked shocked and started to say "But I thought you didn't wa...'and stopped.

  3. Way to go.
    The amount of time normally allowed before signing consent is woefully inadequate, IMO.

    In private domestic adoptions here in Ontario, the mother’s consent is only valid if the child is *at least* 8 days old at time of signing. Once consent is signed and has been verified by the agency, the adopters may take the child to their home.
    If the birth father is acknowledging paternity, has lived with or supported the mother, he must also sign the consent.

    Following that, the biological parents have 21 days to change their minds. The withdrawal must be in writing and the natural parent(s) must obtain the revocation of consent form from the licensee or agency placing the child.
    After that it is the responsibility of the licensee to return the child.

    Finalization usually takes about 7 - 9 months, during which time the adopting family is vetted by a social worker. After six months, the SW provides a report which is reviewed by the licensee, Ministry and Court. If everything is in order, the adoption is finalized. I do not know if there are any legal avenues through which to challenge the adoption during that time, if it can be shown that there was skullduggery involved.


  4. Thank you so much for educating the public. This is needed for adoptees, birthparents, and adoptive parents. How can we help change the laws in every state to help the biological parents?



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