' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Adoption in the Netherlands is "undutch" while America's love affair with it continues

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Adoption in the Netherlands is "undutch" while America's love affair with it continues

The Netherlands
Relinquishing a child for adoption in the Netherlands is considered "inhumane, unwomanly, undutch, not done," according to Theodore, one of First Mother Forum’s regular readers who comments frequently from across the pond.

As in Australia, England and Wales, adoption rates in the Netherlands are dramatically lower than in the US.* With a population of 16.7 million, one eighteenth that of the United States, the Netherlands has approximately 20 domestic infant adoptions each year compared to 15,000 domestic infant adoptions in the US. If Americans were relinquishing at the same rate as in the Netherlands, they would have given up a fraction of the babies relinquished today--a mere 360 babies, not 15,000.  Why the discrepancy, we wanted to know. Theodore filled us in.

A Dutch native, he is familiar with the effects of adoption in his own family, due to what he refers to as an illegal grandparent adoption. He is currently working on a translation of a book about Jewish parents who were separated from their children in WW II, but got them back after the war. 

As in the U.S., unmarried Dutch mothers suffered through a Baby Scoop Era. The high point was 1970 when about a thousand babies were relinquished. The reasons for the decline in adoptions after that was multifaceted, as in America, but a less prudish attitude throughout the country allowed for good sex education, readily available contraceptives, accessible and abortion. At the same time, welfare benefits improved. "Unmarried mothers are common and widely accepted, while public perception a woman who relinquishes her child is quite negative," he writes. "Surrendering one’s child became something simply “not done.” At the same time, quasi-official support for adoption declined as professionals recognized the loss to mother and child. Today adoption decisions are met with opprobrium; women who give up their babies are not looked upon favorably. (As they seem to be in America, we inject, given the kudos given to Catelynn and Tyler of Sixteen and Pregnant celebrity.) About 50 percent of babies are born to unmarried mothers in the Netherlands, compared to 40 percent in the U.S. Today in the U.S. more than half of births to American women under 30 occur outside marriage--a reality that neither Lorraine or I could have imagined when our children were born in 1966 and we felt only deep shame and societal censure. 

Unlike in the U.S.. Dutch law allows adoption only by those who already have a parent relationship with the child, i.e. step- and foster children. There is no immediate handing over of a baby to a waiting couple or single adopter.

Mothers considering adoption initially place their child in neutral grounds, i. e. foster care, buying time to consider their options and find the resources they need. They have about two weeks when they can claim their child back. After two weeks, mothers must appear in court and sign a revocable declaration of relinquishment. How different here in the United States! Our mothers typically give irrevocable consent to adoption of their babies within a few days of birth--some even sign consent before birth--and have little or no chance of getting their child back, even if they were coerced by extreme pressure or biased information.

Three months after birth, during which time the Child Protection Council, a government agency, has selected three potential adoptive families (PAPS) based on the needs of the child and the wishes of the mother, mothers must decide from among adoption, raising the child, or long-term foster care. PAPS pay about 4,000 Euros (about $5252) for expenses related to adoption compared to $30,000 in the U.S. Thus, the profit motive that drives the adoption industry in the U.S. is non-existent. If mothers choose adoption, the child is placed with the PAPS who learn about the baby only after mothers select them. The child remains with the PAPS for up to a year before they can adopt the child. If a mother changes her mind about adoption within the year the child will remain with the PAPS--unless the mother can convince a judge she is able to care for the child. The longer a woman waits before seeking return of their child, the less likely she will be successful, because courts do weigh the rights of mothers against the rights of PAPS who have been caring for the child. While the process to get back one's child is not easy, it is at least possible.

Dutch law does not specifically allow open adoptions but adoptive and natural families may keep in contact if they choose to do so. Mothers who wish to stay in contact with their children are advised to keep them in foster care instead of relinquishing the child for adoption. Not only does this permit continuing contact between mother and child, it also allows mothers to retain the possibility of raising their child. Mothers who opt for foster care remain the child’s mother rather than relegated to mere "birth mother" status.

Dutch law does not allow amended or false birth certificates, as does the U.S. When a child is adopted, the adoptive parents’ names are simply added to the birth certificate. Birth certificates, and often all relevant court records, are accessible to the adoptee. We cannot read this without thinking how much grief and aggravation would not occur in this country if we had the same sane, humane policy here.

Our policies regarding adoption in the United States are positively barbaric, when compared with adoption in other Westernized countries, such as the Netherlands, as well as Australia, England, and many other nations. The more we learn, the more we understand that the American way of adoption is determined by the desires of the people who are the paying customers that is, the prospective adoptive parents. The more we learn about the American way of adoption, the more we see it as a money-making business designed to provide babies for the burgeoning market of men and women who decide they wish to become parents past their most fertile years. The more we learn about the American way of adoption, the more we understand how it brutally encourages the separation of mothers and their children. In the Netherlands, Catelynn and Tyler would not be hailed as generous and smart young people who made the right choice to opt for adoption of their daughter, but as young people who went against the social mores and gave their children to someone else.
*Domestic adoptions in Australia are near zero. England and Wales with about one-fifth the population of the US do about 5,000 adoptions each year compared to 136,000 in the US. The difference in domestic infant adoptions is even starker, 125 in England and Wales compared to 15,000 in the US.

From FMF:
High number of adoptions in the US is a national disgrace
Adoption: Aussies and US
State adoption laws


  1. Astounding. The comparison is very effective and eye opening. I am learning so much each and every day through the online community.
    Regarding the teen reality couple--I don't know much about their personal story but I know a few of the episodes. The fact that these kids were put on a TV show--I cannot even imagine what kind of impact that alone has on the coercion factor. I will check if there are previous posts on this.

  2. Amazingly, if you consider it, the idea that good care and positive life style is not new or even remotely misunderstood in this country. The US has taken the "make a dime" motivation to the extremes and most people are miserable because of it. We are also horribly over populated - which is part of the entire scenario. It is all sad.

  3. Well, to be honest, it is rather surrendering a child which is not appreciated much, adoption of children from less fortunate circumstances, such as those born in Korea, China, and the USA (if black), is not seen as a really un-Dutch. And there is quite a powerful lobby to allow the use of the USA as a source country, even though it is against the spirit of the treaty.

  4. I read through all of the data from the link provided. The bits that stood out were that the American teen birth rate per thousand was nearly 100, while in the Netherlands it was only 12. Also, the percentage of Dutch who were never sexually active by 20 years of age was well over 50%, whereas in the US it is just over 10%. Teens without even a high school education are not nearly as prepared (actually not prepared at all) as compared to people 20 years of age or older. If we had unplanned adult pregnancies as opposed to unplanned teen pregnancies, we might have fewer people making unwise (or immature) decisions relinquish their children. {erhaps their sex education may be much more effective in convincing children to delay sexual activity until they are prepared to parent a child. Or to make the mature decision to use contraceptives. (Please, of course, this does not at all apply to rape)

  5. I'm seriously losing faith in this country (USA). The selfishness and entitlement spills over into almost every aspect of our lifestyle. Something is very, very wrong here.

  6. Barbara--
    I think your comment aims to be helpful toward lowering teen pregnancy rates in this country; however, I think we have to be really careful about how we interpret statistical data. Without having read the actual data reports--I am already wondering these things:
    1) Perhaps US teens are more willing to admit to intercourse (in a survey, etc.) than teens in the Netherlands?
    2)what is the abortion rate in the Netherlands?
    3) We have no way of knowing causality--for instance, teen sex rates may be lower in the Netherlands bc adoption is frowned upon. One could argue that teen sex rates in the US might drop if the adoption option became less attractive in America.
    My point: statistical data can be misleading. But what is striking in this post is the overwhelming numerical difference between the cultures in total adoptions (even when adjusted for percentages). Obviously, we'd need a serious statistician to sort out all the contributing variables, but the numbers are striking! I am totally overwhelmed.
    I would also like to see a data analysis of cultural factors like age of starting a family. In this country, more and more women are delaying pregnancy for career, etc. That's got to be fueling the adoption industry.
    But, ultimately, beyond the numbers, I think the post captures how a specific culture's collective cognitive schema of adoption--and that's composed of many many variables--plays a role in whether more or less adoptions will occur in a certain culture/country. Identifying the fact that the USA is way above the international norm is a first step toward consciousness raising. It begs us to consider what the hell is going on! Which I think you tried to answer with the teen pregnancy thing--I'm just not sure that's enough to account for what is an epidemic here.
    Jennifer :)

  7. Barbara, the teen pregnancy rate is way, way down. Most teens do not give up their babies. According to the Evan B. Donaldson Institute, 3/4th of the mothers giving up their babies are 20 or older. Many are married and have other children. They give up their babies because they lack, or believe they lack, the resources to care for them. "Safeguarding the Rights and Well-Being of Birthmothers" (2006)

  8. Jennifer,

    1) Seems unlikely to me.
    2)abortion rate (15-44yrs, 2011)= 8.7
    3)Total adoptions? We did not even start on those, FYI, most domestic adoptions in the Netherlands nowadays are stepparent adoptions by ladies in Lesbian relationships, but even those are outnumbered by the number of international adoptions.

  9. Jane, I got the teenage births for 2010, for every 1000 girls 15-19.

    NL 5.3
    US 34.3
    UK 38.3

    Now I do admit that teenage abortions do outnumber teenage births somewhat in the Netherlands.

  10. Several people have referred to total adoptions in the Netherlands. However, this piece leaves out the fact many people in the Netherlands have adopted internationally. Statistics are here: http://www.casaforchildren.org/site/c.mtJSJ7MPIsE/b.5720879/k.F33F/International_Adoption_of_Children_in_the_Netherlands.htm

    Owing to a decrease in the number of children available from the most popular country, China, interest is now being directed at American children. Several American children have been adopted in the Netherlands. Whether it's a trend is anyone's guess. OK, I just see theodore did allude to this.

  11. Theodore is not an expert on what people think of adoption or relinquishing mothers in The Netherlands. I live in The Netherlands and I am a relinquishing mother. I find a lot of what he says irritating and inaccurate. I just want to state this for the record.

    The welfare system in this country is very good, it's much easier to keep your child here than it is in America.

    You have variations of attitudes towards adoption and natural mothers, it's not a one size fits all type situation here.

  12. May I ask what inaccuracy you are referring to Kim?

    The article is the product of cooperation by three people, it started with the start of an article, which was severely reduced in length, had a couple of changes of format, so it is imperfect, granted.

    Feel free to point out inaccuracies, I do agree that the article sketches the situation with very broad lines, and without nuances, that it is incomplete and that different subcultures are different in the way they see it.

  13. ^^ "It" refers to the adoption phenomenon.

  14. http://www.casaforchildren.org/site/c.mtJSJ7MPIsE/b.5720879/k.F33F/International_Adoption_of_Children_in_the_Netherlands.htm
    Oops I see someone has already sent you this link. This is an interesting discussion. And to Jennifer: yes, that was exactly my point. Anyone can pull up parts of a study and show only the statistics that they find interesting or useful. If we hope to understand comples issues, we should go to the original sources and read the documents. Even then, the answers to our questions aren't cut and dried.

  15. From the above link: Pay attention to where the bold type:

    A Family for Every Child: International Adoption of American Children in the Netherlands

    The US has traditionally adopted the highest number of foreign-born children. This, of course, begs the question of how is it possible that children, especially infants, from the US are available for international adoption when there is an obvious demand for children to adopt within the country. A second concern is that many American children are still infants when they are adopted internationally. The result is that the biological mother has little time to consider her decision. This is in direct conflict with the spirit of the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption, to which the Netherlands is a signatory. In response, the minister of justice decided to minimize the number of adoptions from the US by limiting adoption to children with special needs and children over five. A brief overview of the history of adoption in the Netherlands will provide the context for this important change in child welfare policy.

  16. Lorraine, though I agree with you about the importance of the bold part, that text seems to be from 2009. The pro-gay, pro-adoption lobby has succeeded in getting the acceptance by the current excuse for an administration of the practices of the States exporting children, as in accordance with the convention. New elections are coming up though, so this may change again.

  17. I like Kim live in The Netherlands and she is absolutely right, it is very much easier for unmarried mothers to keep and raise their children as the welfare system is exceptionally good. Children are also given sex education classes in schools from about 12 years of age, hence the lower teeange pregnacy rate. The Dutch also have a very tolerant attitude towards unwed pregnancy and as Theodore states very few Dutch children are relinquished to adoption, however many, many international adoptions take place (I do not have the statistics). Just last week I met a mother that had adopted two children from America (of African American heritage).It is my experience that the Dutch people that adopt internationally believe that they are saving a child from a horrible fate (residing in an orphanage, or dire poverty). It is also my experience that they actually give very little thought to the relinquishing mothers. They are infertile they want a baby and will do just about anything, go just about anywhere to get their hands on one.

  18. It looks like the universal attitude towards first/birth mothers is the same all over the world: Give us your children, let us save them from dire poverty and horrible living conditions--the birth mother? Oh, her.

    Of course we know there are many exceptional adoptive parents who do understand the mother and child dynamic, and honor it, but...not nearly enough.

  19. Thank you Susan, on the other hand, the information given about the victim suggests that she and her daughter are still living together.
    [WARNING: The link is to a shocking case]


    The interesting point here is what is said about the young mother, and I cannot help wonder, what would have been done to the children in the USA?

  20. @ Susan, if you want the numbers...

    Partner adoptions:


    Full Adoptions:


  21. Theodore, (or anyone of Dutch culture) can you please enlighten us as to what exactly "kinning" means to Dutch adoptive parents in regards to how they raise their adopted children?
    thank you

  22. from the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, an abstract of an aticle by Signe Howell:

    With empirical material obtained from a study of transnational adoption in Norway, an argument is made for the concept of kinning. By this is meant a process by which a foetus, new-born child, or any previously unconnected person, is brought into a significant and permanent relationship that is expressed in a kin idiom. Through a focus on adoption within a cultural setting that emphasizes the flesh and blood metaphor as central for kinship, the ambiguities and contradictions embedded in the relationship between biological and social relatedness are thrown into sharp relief. Questions of race and ethnicity also become pertinent to the kinning drama of adoptive parents which involves, it is argued, a process of transubstantiation of the adopted child.

    Got that? and transubstantiation is the name given to the concept in Catholicism that bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ--not a mere representation, but in reality. This always gave me pause in my religious belief.

    Of course some of the "kinning" concept makes sense--the child does feel a part of his or her new family--at the same time his original family must then be de-emphasized. Yes, it does make a certain amount of sense, if you aim is to obscure the reality of the adoptee's heritage and history.

    I heard Howell give a presentation on her "kinning" theory at an adoption kinship conference, and later accidentally found myself walking with her to a another lecture. She had heard me read from Birthmark about how my family was waiting for my daughter to be welcomed into her natural family. Not surprisingly, she was not friendly. She is, of course, an adoptive mother. I was the birth mother she did not want coming back. We had nothing to say to each other. It was strange being at the conference, because I was certainly the "outlier."

  23. Thanks for the Howell abstract and your explanation, Lorraine. I have definitely been "de-emphasized", as has the rest of my son's original family. The attitude has not been lost on my son.

    I imagine you felt you were on your own at that conference.

  24. Alone at the conference? Like a pariah. There were a few other first mothers there but man, did I feel like a sideshow. Adoptees talked to me; other birth mothers of course, but...anyway, I just wrote a new post about the issues raised here, and the following post on ancestry and more on that conference:

    Talking about ancestry to an adoptee, Part 2

  25. "Kinning"?

    Very hard to say what it means to the adopters, all I know is that the word is not used a lot in Dutch texts about adoption. It is not listed in the index of Hoksbergen's history of Dutch adoption and Google only comes up with Dutch texts either containing the word "killing", or the title of a book written by Howell.

  26. Regarding the adoption of American children in the Netherlands and other countries: The Portland "Oregonian" had an article about this about six years ago which was re-printed in the American Adoption Congress "Decree". The great majority of these children are African-American infants. Most go to Canada. Some adoption agencies specifically recruit African American mothers for inter-country adoption. The reason the mothers give for wanting their children sent out of the US is that the mothers believe there is less racism in Canada and western Europe.

    There is less demand for black babies in the US than for white babies. Fees for adopting black boys are much lower than fees for adopting white girls, for example. I suspect that the agencies make more money sending black babies out of the US than arranging adoptions for them within the US.

  27. http://www.canadiancrc.com/newspaper_articles/The_Oregonian_US-adoption_Canada_04JUL04.aspx

    This article, Jane?

    To give an impression, in 2011 China was for the Dutch the #1 source country with 197 Children, the USA was #2 with 43, followed by #3 Kenya with 28, the total was 528, compared with 705 in 2010.

    And about less racism against black people born in the USA, I'm afraid they are 100% right about that. Not to claim that it is paradise, but it really seems to be better.

  28. This is an interesting article but it, unfortunately, makes the statistics on International Adoption look even worse.... and quite imperialist...

    If Dutch society can see the value of keeping families together and supporting poor/unwed mothers.... you would think that they would then be able to extend those values towards women in other countries.

    Given this situation I definitely DO NOT feel positively for the long-term prospects of adopted babies, particularly non-white ones, particularly black ones, in the Netherlands. There is a clear indication that in order to feel justified in what they are doing, there must be a sense that the black child is coming from an "inferior" culture.

  29. Well, everything being equal, growing up with subsaharan characteristics in a paleface family seems to go better in the NL than in the USA. Other way round too, but evidence for that is rare.

    I really don't think you have a reason to feel especially worried about "black" children in the Netherlands in this context.



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