' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: How the Internet is changing adoption

Thursday, December 20, 2012

How the Internet is changing adoption

"One of the most disquieting aspects of adoption on the Internet (as well as through other venues) is the way services are sometimes marketed. ...Some [sites] commodify children and/or women, essentially describing them as products to be marketed, others provide only partial or questionable information," according to a new report, Untangling the Web, from the Donaldson Adoption Institute, a progressive adoption think tank.

We first mothers know this to be true, but to read it from a source that cannot be dismissed as another "bitter birth mother" is encouraging. Infant adoption has become a profitable business for many, providing children to those who can pay large sums rather than a method of providing families for children who need them.

The Donaldson report begins by setting forth the basic practice and protections which should be in place but--in the experience of First Mothers Forum--often are not. Misleading information and subtle but powerful tactics aimed at vulnerable pregnant women are the two main unethical practices that the Donaldson report highlights:

Advertisements for unethical adoption practitioners shows up at the top of lists when "adoption" or "pregnancy" is searched on the Internet. The unscrupulous tactics aimed at vulnerable expectant mothers offers them residence in spa-like settings and free cell phones, all of which tend to make the teens--and young women are likely to be the most susceptible to these "free" offers--feel indebted, and thus obligated to turn over their babies, even if the mothers' feelings change after the child is born. Adoption websites emphasize the difficulty of raising a child as a single parent, point out that they cannot rely on family or friends, while omitting resources which could help mothers nurture--and keep--their children. By meeting the prospective parents who become their "friends," they feel further indebted not to go back on their word to either the adopting individuals or the adoption facilitators, and keep their babies.

The businesses discourage mothers from keeping their children by telling them that if they are not ready to be a parent, they risk "negatively affecting your child's life." They remind expectant mothers that "parenting" may keep them from realizing their "own dreams as well--attending college, pursuing a career, or just maintaining their lifestyle." (This sounds similar to our Response to The Adoption Option.) Naturally, they offer an alternative, a family ready to adopt and give their child the "greatest life imaginable." While purporting to give objective information, one site "reports as a fact that 'over 70% of the women who have abortions agree that abortion involves a baby and have negative feelings about the abortion'. ...The section then quotes a magazine article where a woman describes her self-hatred after having an abortion: 'I couldn't get it out of my head that I had just killed my baby.'"

These businesses do not offer on-going counseling nor encourage mothers to re-think the decision to surrender the baby after birth, when they are flooded with hormones urging them to keep their child. Everything has been set to make them feel they cannot change their minds, that it is too late, they they "promised" a baby, and now they must comply by turning him over to the waiting couple or sympathetic agency worker. And of course these businesses trample willy-nilly over fathers' rights, inducing mothers to give up their babies in states like Utah, where laws were designed to outright trick fathers into losing their children, children they may want to raise. (We have written about these numerous cases.)

Prospective adoptive parents are lured into paying big bucks to these unethical agencies with promises of quick adoptions. The sites claim to be connected with "agencies and attorneys in states where birth parents cannot revoke their consent." They offer suggestions as to how to create a personal profile "that can't help but attract the right birth mother." One site brags that its marketing targets "suitable" birth parents through maternity homes, crises pregnancy clinics, hospitals and medical clinics, church groups, and the like. (Of course inducing people desperate to adopt to spend money to get the right baby did not arrive with the Internet. Adopt the Baby You Want by attorney Michael R. Sullivan (1990) has much the same information.) The Donaldson report does not identify specific websites. Too bad. We have seen them ourselves with just a quick troll of the Internet, and we have written about them in the past, when the women who have signed away their babies regret their action, but then it is too late.

The Donaldson Report acknowledges that "unethical practice can occur within adoption agencies as well as outside of them," but claims that "licensed agencies are held to ethical standards and are bound by expectations of sound practice." It places most of the blame for unconscionable marketing schemes on unlicensed Internet adoption facilitators. First Mother Forum, however, has heard many reports from our readers and read many media accounts of licensed "non-profit" providers duping mothers to relinquish their children or denying fathers the right to raise their children. These including Bethany Christian Services, A [sic] Act of Love,* Adoption Center of Choice, Gladney Center for Adoption, and LDS Family Services.

The Donaldson Report describes other improprieties in adoption nation which the Internet facilitates: Out and out scams where women pretend to be pregnant in order to extort large sums from those eager to adopt; shady detectives who take large sums for searches and do little; and minor adopted children and their natural parents finding each other. Opening records and assuring truly open adoptions (unless there is a risk of harm to the children from the natural parents) would do much to end these unethical practices.

The reports acknowledges some benefits from the Internet: greater education, helping first parents, adoptive parents, and adoptees form support groups, and aiding in searches of birth parents and adopted individuals looking for each other.

The Donaldson Adoption Institute plans to organize a meeting of "key organizations and experts in the field of child welfare, foster care, and adoption" in mid-2013 to devise "best-practice standards and identify guidance/materials ... while additional research is conducted." Key organizations include the major social-work organizations, the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, and "representatives of major agencies and stakeholders." FMF is not sure who is included in "stakeholders," but we strongly urge institute director Adam Pertman to include first parents and adopted individuals, those who live the realities of adoption rather than make their living off the business of adoption, whether "non-profit" or not. Too often we have seen first parents and adopted individuals cut out of policy-making discussions and forums regarding the singular facet of their lives: adoption.

The Report also recommends further study on the part of  state and federal law-makers, enforcement  of existing laws against fraud, exploitation, and or other illegal or unethical practices.

The report lists five "Selected Online Resources for those considering placing a child for adoption or who have done so." The list includes only one site that is truly orientated to and sponsored by first parents, Concerned United Birthparents (CUB). Three sites are financed partially or fully by the adoption industry:  American Adoption Congress, BirthMom Buds (an adoption promo site featuring first mothers), and Spence-Chapin (an adoption agency). One site is defunct, Insight: Open Adoption Resources and Support.

Noticeably absent is Origins-USA, which advocates for adoption reform. Readers, please pass along your suggestions for Online Resources for those considering adoption or who have done so.

What are good polices and practices for adoption agencies? We have written about this subject numerous times. (Links below) The report recommends that agency workers stress the importance of a child's biological family, both for the family and the child; that pregnant teens and women are fully aware of the social-service resources available to them, should they wish to keep their babies; that they have adequate time to re-examine the decision to relinquish after the birth; they they have independent legal counsel; that they be fully informed on the limits of open adoption; that they not feel indebted either to the adoptive parents or the agency worker and thus subtly coerced into relinquishing their children; that fathers are fully informed of their rights. 

In other posts we have gone farther in encouraging and recommending changes in the law that would include making open adoption agreements enforceable in every state; insisting that mothers have their own attorneys whose fees are not paid by the prospective parents; and of course, not sealing the original birth records to the adopted individual.

SOURCE: Untangling the Web: The Internet's Transformative Impact on Adoption

From our own Internet searching

Crisis Pregnancy Centers Creating "Artificial Orphans" 

From FMF:
Reforming Oregon's Adoption Laws (FMF's sumary of ethical adoption practices)
How adoption agencies 'turn' vulnerable women into spokespeople for relinquishing
Raising Hell and Awareness at Gladney Fund Raiser in Dallas
The Worst Adoption Agency in the World: Gladney
Adoption and the Mormon Church
Response to The Adoption Option

Ethics in American Adoption: "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,



  1. They are not my favorite group, but I do not think AAC is financed by the adoption industry. They are not anti-adoption but they are not promoting it either and many of their conference workshops are about the harm done by sealed records adoption.

  2. maryanne,
    I wrote "financed partially or fully by the adoption industry." The AAC is partially financed through fees paid by adoption workers (or their employers) for dues and attendance at conferences and fees paid by the industry to have tables at the conferences. I suspect the AAC may receive donations from the industry as well.

    I didn't say the Report should not have listed the AAC as a resource. I've recommended the AAC many times to folks newly in reunion. My point is that the Report should have included more sites that are focused exclusively on first mothers, run by first mothers.

  3. In the section "ETHICAL ADOPTION PRACTICES", all of the recommendations are a conflict of interest for adoption agencies. Whether profit or non-profit, they make their money by moving children from their original families to adoptive families. The prospective adoptive parents are the paying customers and how they make their money. They will lose their reputation and go out of business if they don't 'make the sale', so to speak.

    As for the title of this post, the internet is also changing adoption because so many of us from past years or more recent are able to share the negative outcomes of adoption that the agencies never seem to mention. It is hard to ignore this information when there are so many individuals sharing their stories, finding common ground and telling the truth about the quite considerable not so happy dappy side of adoption.

  4. Right, Robin, the Internet has been a great help in getting the truth out, but why are the legislators in so many states deaf and blind to the real issue? Because it requires them to change their minds.

  5. In fairness to the author of the report, she does mention that the Internet includes material on the negatives of adoption and refers to Heather Lowe's pamphlet.

    Unfortunately, the adoption industry has the money to get listed at the top of Google searches so the deceptive recruitments for "birth mothers" come well ahead of the truthful material.

  6. Money and searches such as: How to Adopt quickly, adopting a baby, etc. I tried to run Google ads on the blog and because they work with words used, I kept getting ads for adoption agencies and Omnitrace. The only way to stop the ads is to request that each one specifically be denied. I couldn't request: No Adoption Agencies.

    So I gave up.

  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.



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