' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Mandated counseling for mothers-to-be

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Mandated counseling for mothers-to-be

As I was reading Montana's new law allowing adoptees access to their original birth certificates,* I came across its law mandating counseling for mothers prior to relinquishing their parental rights. I was blown away!

For starters, the law mandates that mothers must have a minimum of three hours of counseling that includes information about keeping the baby, resources to help them keep their baby, options for continuing contact between the birth and adoptive families, and post-adoption grief and loss.

This is information that segments of the adoption industry don't want parents to know. For a close up view of what happens when adoption decisions are made without full information, just watch Catelynn Lowell
and Tyler Baltierra of Teen Mom fame. After almost six years, they are still grieving over the loss of their daughter Carly to adoption. The limited amount of contact they have had with her may be cut off at the whim of the adoptive parents, Brandon and Teresa Davis.

Four years ago, I and other intrepid Oregon first mothers had a bill introduced into the legislature to reform Oregon's draconian adoption laws. Here in uber liberal Oregon where pot and gay marriage are legal (and sales tax non-existent), mothers may sign irrevocable consents to adoption immediately upon delivery without any information on ways to keep their babies or the long term consequences of giving their babies up. Our bill would have given mothers eight days after birth to decide upon adoption and assure that mothers be informed of resources and the effects of adoption.

Segments of the adoption industry, seeing a threat to their flow of babies, rushed to the legislature, with lies and distortions about the bill, much as the tobacco industry thwarted efforts to inform the public of the dangers of smoking. The adoption industry knew that if mothers were fully informed, more would keep their babies, and those $35,000 fees would be snuffed out. The industry brought out adoptive parents in full force and, with their Svengali-like skills, even pressed a few gullible women into proclaiming that the bill would interfere with their God-given right to give away their babies. The bill did not pass.

I'm pleased to report, though, that our zeal for reform did not dissipate. In 2013 a law allowing adoptees and first mothers to access the court adoption file was enacted. We're continuing to work on core reforms in adoption, including an information requirement for teens and women considering adoption.

Following is the Montana Counseling Law. While not perfect, it goes farther to protect mothers' rights than any other law I've seen. In addition to telling expectant mothers about keeping their baby, resources, open adoptions, and the grief and loss they will experience (although not the grief and loss their child may experience), the law requires informing mothers of the finality of adoption. It also requires they be informed about the types of adoptions (independent and agency), the right to an attorney in independent adoptions, the state's confidential intermediary program to facilitate reunions, and the importance of providing accurate health information. Expectant mothers must be advised that their child may receive his birth certificate at age 18 unless they file an objection. While we oppose first-mother vetoes, we recognize that if the law allows, mothers must be informed about it.

Counseling must done by an employee of the state child welfare department or an employees of an adoption agency. While some counselors may be biased towards adoption because they are paid indirectly by the prospective adoptive parents, there is no other practical way to provide the counseling. Governments are unlikely to create certification programs to assure counselors are qualified or pay for counseling.

Readers interested in adoption reform should read the Montana law and give a big shout out to the Big Sky state.

1. Counseling of the birth mother is required in department, agency, and direct parental placement adoptions. If any other parent is involved in an adoptive placement, counseling of that parent is encouraged. 

2. Counseling must be performed by a person employed by the department or by a staff person of a licensed child-placing agency designated to provide this type of counseling. Unless the counseling requirement is waived for good cause by a court, a minimum of 3 hours of counseling must be completed prior to execution of a relinquishment of parental rights and consent to adopt. A relinquishment and consent to adopt executed prior to completion of required counseling is void. 

3. During counseling, the counselor shall offer an explanation of:  
a) adoption procedures and options that are available to a parent through the department or licensed child-placing agencies; 

b) adoption procedures and options that are available to a parent through direct parental placement adoptions, including the right to an attorney and that legal expenses are an allowable expense that may be paid by a prospective adoptive parent as provided in 42-7-101 and 42-7-102

c) the alternative of parenting rather than relinquishing the child for adoption;

d) the resources that are available to provide assistance or support for the parent and the child if the parent chooses not to relinquish the child; 

e) the legal and personal effect and impact of terminating parental rights and of adoption; 

f) the options for contact and communication between the birth family and the adoptive family; 

g) postadoptive issues, including grief and loss, and the existence of a postadoptive counseling and support program; 

 h) the reasons for and importance of providing accurate medical and social history information under 42-3-101

 i) the operation of the confidential intermediary program; and 

 j) the fact that the adoptee may be provided with a copy of the original birth certificate upon request after reaching 18 years of age, unless the birth parent has specifically requested in writing that the vital statistics bureau withhold release of the original birth certificate. 

4.  The counselor shall prepare a written report containing a description of the topics covered and the number of hours of counseling. The report must specifically include the counselor's opinion of whether or not the parent understood all of the issues and was capable of informed consent. The report must, on request, be released to the person counseled, to the department, to an agency, or with the consent of the person counseled, to an attorney for the prospective adoptive parents.

*The Montana birth certificate access law, effective October 1, 2015, allows persons adopted more than 30 years ago to access their original birth certificates. Those adopted after October 1, 1997 may receive their OBC upon attaining the age of 18 subject to a first mother veto which she may have filed at the time of relinquishment, and which she can rescind at any time. for that reason, We hope this law is given wide publicity. The photo shows Gov. Steve Bullock signing Montana's law with Penelope Needham, Beth and Bob Jaffe and Rep. Kimberly Dudik.--jane

Tyler Beltierra's adoption regrets
Are Laws Titled Towards Adopting Parents? Well, yes, even in Oregon
Reforming Oregon's Adoption Laws
Opposition to birth parents rights bill, distortions, lies, and more lies
Oregon to allow first mothers easier access to child's adoption records

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
If you haven't read it yet, like big meaty novels that can't be read in one sitting, and like historical fiction, this is a great one. While the BBC series based on Wolf Hall is on Sunday evenings now, nothing compares to this wonderful book. Okay, some find the number of characters confusing, and the writing is dense, but it does come with a handy chart at the beginning that I referred to numerous times. It's chock full of details the historians praise as accurate, some passages are luminous and memorable, and I was sorry when I came to the last page. 

Lest you forget, Henry VIII had bastard sons with various women; while not adopted, they could not inherit the throne, which started all the nasty business. Then of course, Anne Boylen got the best of the situation: she lost her head in trumped-up adultery charges but her daughter Elizabeth did reign. I recommend getting this in paper, it's not for the Kindle.--lorraine



  1. Mandated counseling, unless, of course, you're dumping your kid in a "safe haven." Then you are a hero and don't need any.

    1. Which of course is what we all did, dumped our kids....NOT.... you might want to think about what you are writing and where you are writing it Marley. Unless you just wanted to be offensive and if that was the case you succeeded.

  2. "Counseling must be performed by a person employed by the department or by a staff person of a licensed child-placing agency designated to provide this type of counseling. " While I applaud the concept of counseling for mothers considering adoption, and the contents of that counseling as mandated here, I am very concerned that this counseling will come from child-placing agencies rather than an independent and impartial outside source. An employee of an adoption agency has a stake in the counseling steering the mother to the "right" choice. For an adoption agency, that choice is surrender and adoption as that is what their livelihood is dependent upon. A bit of conflict of interest, eh? I would like to see this counseling come from a truly neutral party who would be equally pleased with a mother choosing to keep the child as choosing surrender, not somebody with "a horse in the race."

    Even with the content mandated, there are subtle and not-so-subtle ways that a counselor could comply with the letter of the law, but not the spirit. A specific example from my own experience: I vaguely remember some social worker reluctantly mentioning I COULD apply for welfare, but as a nice white middle-class girl I really would not want to live like that. End of discussion. She also implied I could not live with my parents and get welfare, and where the hell else could I live with no job, no skills, and suffering from severe depression? I got reams of "counseling", but it was all aimed at breaking down what little self-esteem I had left,and belief I could do any good for my child. Since he was in foster care, the emphasis was on how he was getting more shopworn by the day and soon would be bargain basement goods. In the end I gave up and surrendered, literally. As a bargain basement child he went to sub-standard parents. That's how the market works.

    Marley, you are so right about "Safe Havens" too. They feed on fear and encourage mothers to risk their lives and that of their child by delivering alone. And they make it all neat and tidy with no records to find, ever.

    1. Yes to all that.

    2. An independent and impariial source for counseling is something we could all agree on. The problem is first, who would pay this counselor? Obviously not the expectant mother. If it's the PAPS, then the counselor has the same conflict of interest. I'm sure paying adoption counselors would not be high on government's budget priorities. "Gee, Gov. Christie, would you include in your budget funds to pay counselors so naive women don't give away their babies?"

      Further, unless some kind of state licensing or certification program is set up, there's no guarantee that the counselor would be competent, let alone unbiased. Finally,I doubt you could get a consensus of what unbiased is -- the way one counselor presents information would be biased to another person.

      The Montana law requires the counselor to render an opinion on whether the expectant mother understood the information and was capable of consent. This is something that could be contested if the mother later decided to try to get her child back.

      If I had this counseling, I'm fairly sure I would have kept my daughter, making whatever sacrifice necessary. Instead I was in la la land about adoption.

    3. I have to object to the characterization of the 'safe haven' laws. These laws were put in place as a response to what was already happening....women who didn't choose any of the three choices available to them abortion, adoption or raising their child. Instead they had the child and disposed of the child like trash often because of fear and shame. Knowing a safe haven law is in effect isn't going to make a woman get pregnant with the sole purpose of delivering it herself then dropping it off at a police station. The safe haven laws did not create the problem of abandoned babies, that's a problem older than recorded history. Just look at all the oral tales of foundlings and babies found on doorsteps. It's a response in the hope that if the mother doesn't get prenatal care, if she doesn't deliver under the supervision of a doctor or midwife, if she does not want her child (through fear, shame, hormones, whatever) that the child at least has a chance if she can remember the 'safe haven'. It beats 'disposing' of the child in a toilet, a dumpster or on the side of the road, don't you think?

    4. I agree with Maryanne. There needs to be others involved in the counseling ''without a horse in the race''.

      This 'law' leaves this mother feeling very leery and suspicious of the real motives behind it. Is it just something to pull out of the closet later and say, "well your (birth) mother had counseling. It was ''mandated'' by law. There are so many ways to ''obey the letter'' and completely get around the aspect of -fair and impartial- counseling. All they have to do is lean on the potential negatives of parenting (as they do now) and presto, counseling was done and it's a done deal. ... too bad for you mommy.

      Point number 2 of this law says, --- "Counseling MUST be performed by a person EMPLOYED BY THE DEPARTMENT or by a staff person of a licensed CHILD- PLACING agency **designated** to provide this type of counseling." -------- EEK! HULLO. Can anybody say, ''same old stuff and severe conflict of interest'?? Then they really cover the bases and say that this --"counseling requirement can be waived for GOOD CAUSE by a court"-- and many of us know that ''good cause'' can be something as insignificant as -someone blinked-. This is in no way a good thing.

      NOPE. I don't like this ''law'' as it is written. I do not like it or trust it to be in any way beneficial for the best outcome for mother and child. They want to make counseling beneficial.. have an adoptee or two, one who 'likes' being adopted and one who is struggling with having been adopted, and a natural mother and father..with at least 15-20 years of dealing with adoption/ loss behind them. They should all be present for the counseling with the mother... Then maybe I could call it counseling. No one with infertility issues should be allowed to provide counseling to an expectant mother without others present. It presents a bias... there is an empathy for themselves or others who may be desiring a child through adoption. This is not said to 'be cruel'. You don't have someone who does not know pregnancy and motherhood and all the emotions and feelings that go with it, nor have one who may be desiring or has 'received' a child through adoption, nor should you have someone who will receive a huge payment through the sale of a child (money needs to be completely removed from adoption) to provide counseling to a mother about her and her unborn child's life and future**. It simply should not be done.

      3 hours of counseling.... really. You spend more time considering what refrigerator or washing machine to buy than 3 hours. I feel sorry for any one who thinks 3 hours of biased counseling is ''reasonable'' for a consideration that will impact the many people involved for the **REST OF THEIR LIVES**.

  3. I believe I would have benefited greatly from ANY counseling - any possibly made different decisions. Unfortunately, I had none. On top of that, I had no family to speak of, except for a much older sister who was actually trying to orchestrate a private adoption with a friend of her attorney's (which would have been disastrous and thank god my 18 pea brain knew it). My support was an adoption agency (found in the yellow pages) case worker (3 years older than myself) who naturally did everything in her power to convince me my decision was 'the best thing I could do' for my unborn child. She was the ONLY person in my ear.

    I could have benefited greatly from meeting a few women who were in (had been in) my situation. Or, how about meeting an adoptive parent? An adoptee? How about an independent 3rd party from C&FS to tell me about any resources that would be available to me? Having grown up in a middle class environment (probably upper class, considering the town I grew up in), I had no knowledge that state assistance existed.

    Not only do I feel this counseling would have benefited me, I also believe the same counseling should be required of adopting parents, so they fully comprehend their potential child isn't immaculately convinced and comes with biological ties to other human beings. My daughter's adoptive parents despise me with the fire of a thousand suns, simply for reappearing when my daughter was 19. I believe the words they said, when my daughter was 22, were "if we wanted an open adoption, we would have had one".

    In my case, know one seemed prepared for the outcome of this monumental decision. I was stuck on "doing the right thing" for this beautiful baby. They were stuck on having a baby they couldn't have on their own. My daughter is just a product of her circumstances, through no choice of her own.

  4. Do you know if continuing adoption counseling is also available to the adoptee once he or she becomes an adult?

    1. It does not sound like it, near as I can figure from reading this confusing bill.

    2. The birth certificate is available to persons adopted 30 or more years ago and to adoptees born after 10/1/97 subject to a first mother veto. Not a perfect bill but I put it in the "win" column because it's better than nothing which is what adoptee get in big population states--California, New York, Texas, Florida--,and the majority of other states.

      We've seen in Ohio and Colorado that these law which separate adoptees depending on their date of birth eventually do get fixed.

      Until the adoption reform community succeeds in changing the narrative that mothers were promised confidentiality, we are going to see more of these bastard laws.

  5. I am naive enough to believe that this was already happening. This should be mandatory.

  6. Here is a link to the actual Montana bill, and if you can figure out which adoptee can get what information when, you are a smarter person than me! I do think it a stretch to call this convoluted document an Open Records or Access to OBC law. I I wrong in reading that some adoptees, no matter what their age now, must wait 30 more years to get their OBC? An adoptee my age would be SOL.


  7. Thank you Jane for calling this bill to attention. I am pleased at the responses. Sadness & trauma continue in the arena adoption. First hand accounts are so vital. I would have loved to have been proved the father of my baby, been on her certificate, or had the mamma been able to find me stop this madness adoption. I just hate laws that are so compromised they are doomed to fail people's needs, then later used to justify what people believe is already happening that counseling is mandatory. Well the points have been covered, but its sad its harder to change a law then it is to make one. I wish this law was aimed at the parties intended, I see how you feel this a win (sigh)(not really for mothers & babies) and have to respect your history & your will to fight these draconian practises.

    1. Your story intrigues me, Scott. Do you mind sharing more? We don't hear from a lot of first fathers.

  8. No you are incorrect. People whose adoptions were finalized on or before 9/30/97 have unrestricted access at the age of 30. So adoptees your age are not SOL - in fact they weren't even banned from their OBCs. It was a partial access state. People adopted between July '67 and Sept '97 were never going to have access without a court order and the courts weren't giving those out. This bill removed that restriction. Yes they have to wait until they are 30, but that was the best that could be done given the situation at hand. They have no other restricitions or conditions to meet. They get the same price as non-adopted people. They have the same process and no additional waiting periods and nobody playing a role in their potential reunion unless they want that. I think your inability to understand legalese is not a good reflection of the actual law. I'm not a big legalese person either. That is why I took the time to write a long explanation at http://www.adoptionmandala.org/Bill%20Summary

    1. I hear that is was "the best that could be done given the situation at hand". But it is still a compromise. It remains about favors, not rights.

  9. Beth wrote: ". I think your inability to understand legalese is not a good reflection of the actual law." That's right,I SAID I did not understand it. Thank you for the corrections and explanations. Now that I know what the complicated law is about I still do not find it a true adoptee rights law. I did read the explanation at your site, it still took me a while to figure out who could get what when. But then I am old and slow.
    Sorry. I know you worked very hard for this, but I am an old-school adoptee rights person and this is at best partial adoptee rights for some adoptees who fit some conditions. It is good for those it is good for, insulting to others, but call it what it is. It is not an open records law and adoptee rights have not been restored in Montana, even if some things are a little better for some. People's opinions on this differ, and I can get the concept that something is better than nothing, and things can be fixed by increments. I am cynical enough to disagree, but I may well be wrong. It won't be the first time:-)

    1. Thanks Beth,
      This is what I had originality. But after maryanne's comment I thought I had better back away so as not to mislead anybody.

      Again I congratulate you on getting the bill through.

      maryanne, it's not so much reading legalese as knowing the history--what the law was before the new law was passed.

    2. I can't understand the 12 year period of exclusion to records except by court order for Oct. 1 1985 to Oct 1 1997 adoptees. Why are these adoptees being excluded and, quite frankly, tormented?

    3. Those adopted between 1985 and 1997 are not excluded entirely. They can get their records when they turn 30.

      It doesn't make any sense but to understand why the law ended up this way, you'd have to understand the history, the laws that preceded this one. There's an old saying in law: A page of history is worth a volume of logic. I imagine that in several years, advocates will go to the legislature and demand a clean law -- every adoptee gets their OBC at age 18, no first mother vetoes. In the meantime they took what they could get which is more than adoptees get in most states.

    4. I am learning more and more about my deep ignorance of how the law works. I had thought that no matter what law formerly existed, it could be replaced with a whole new law when times changed. Wasn't that what happened in Oregon, New Hampshire, other early open records states? The law formerly stated that the records were sealed forever unless the adoptee got a court order which in reality was seldom granted. The new law said the adoptee could get his or her records at age 18. Whatever the former law said no longer held true. Even here in NJ we were able to pull a bill once that got horribly amended, and start over with a new bill the next year. The people working on NJ law at the end did compromise in order to finally get a bill passed after 30 years, but it was nothing as confusing as the current Montana law.

      I was told there was something called a legacy law in Montana which meant not much could be changed because of what the law previously said. OK, then how can anyone go back and demand a clean law in several years? If they could not do it now because of the legacy law, how can they do it in several years? There was mention of some law proposed by AAC and Fred Greenman in 97. If that set up the 30 year waiting period originally, what were they thinking and are they really for adoptee rights?

      Thanks for asking, Cindy, it is comforting to know I am not the only one confused by all this.

    5. A law can be changed wholesale. Legislators are not bound by past laws. The practicality is that legislators don't like wholesale changes, too much political risk. It's much easier to get a bill passed if you can argue that it just fixes a small inequity than if it does a 180.

      "Legacy" law may be a phrase used in Montana to describe the reluctance to make big changes but I doubt that it has any legal authority. The Montana legislators like those i many states are likely part-time, employed as farmers, shop owners, lawyers, doctors, salespeople, and so on. Adoption reform is not on their agenda when they run for office. They're focused on jobs, taxes, education, crime, and so on. When an issue comes before them, they try to listen to both sides and carve a path down the middle. There's an old saying -- two things you don't want to see made are laws and sausage, When a bill comes out, it has a bit of everything.

      When legislators are unwilling to compromise, nothing gets done. We see this in Congress. The Oregon law was changed by ballot measure. Voters are not afraid of big changes.

      I suspect that the Montana law will be re-visited in a few years and improved. In the meantime, it's better than it was.

    6. Thanks for clarifying that, Jane. So it was a choice to just amend existing law in order to get something passed now. Hopefully a real adoptee rights law will be passed in the future. Eventually states will start dropping one by one, like gay marriage.As you say, the majority of people support adoptee rights or do not care one way or the other. It is just the special interest groups who get in the way.

  10. Jane, do you have advice on how one could begin to take up this issue for adoptions closed in Washington DC, which is a "court order" place? I would like to be an advocate, but I am not from there and have no connection there and don't understand whether the smallness and non-state aspect of the area makes it easier or more difficult. I believe they recently legalized weed. Priorities ???

  11. Anon,
    DC adoption laws are created by the District government just as state adoption laws are created by state legislators. The first step in adoption reform is to become knowledgeable on the laws. You can find the DC adoption laws at the Child Welfare Information Gateway, https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/systemwide/laws-policies/state/?hasBeenRedirected=1.

    If you have a lawyer friend, ask him/her to help you understand the laws. You can probably figure them out on your own, though. Because you don't live in DC, there is little you can do on your own. You need to work with someone in DC who can contact a member of the DC Council to begin working on reform. There may be a group working on reform in DC. Do any of our readers know?



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