' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Donaldson Report on 'Options Counseling': No surprises, proceed to adoption as primary 'solution'

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Donaldson Report on 'Options Counseling': No surprises, proceed to adoption as primary 'solution'

Adoption counseling is biased towards adoption rather than providing a full consideration of all options available (parenting, adoption, abortion, foster care, family placement) so that the parents experiencing a crises pregnancy can make a sound and informed decision about their pregnancy, according to a recent report by The Donaldson Adoption Institute and the University of Texas, Arlington School of Social Work, Understanding Options Counseling in Adoption.

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.

The researchers also surveyed 28 women who had given up their babies for adoption. While some mothers found working with adoption professionals helpful, others experienced "unacceptable interactions" that could be interpreted as subtle and coercive. Expectant mothers were merely a step in the process of helping the agency fulfill the desires of adoptive parents who are the agencies' real clients, the ones whose fees keep them in business.

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

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

BE A SUPPORTOR OF FMF. Order ANYTHING through the portals here! and thanks to those who do!  Much appreciated.
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
“Oak’s analysis intersects with the larger story of adoption in the United States—particularly its commodification, even as infants are understood as ‘priceless.’  She shows evocatively that the supply-and-demand exigencies of adoption dovetail with imaginaries of good and bad mothers, as they do with constructions of maternal love.”-American Anthropologist


  1. I take issue with the following suggestion in the blog. "They (adoption agencies" 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." For one thing, Australia, parts of the UK and other western countries...Canada?...have been in charge of the social service systems that enabled "faith based" religious hierarchies to stigmatize unmarried mothers as unfit to begin with because they were unmarried. Unmarried mothers were considered unfit because they were unmarried and deemed to be feeble minded and/or wayward. A very young girl, as I was, was all the more shamed. Laws will work in the interest of economics and the fact is western culture as manifested in the USA does not economically value mothering unless it is some commercial caretaker who is being compensated or some wealthy woman or couple who is secure enough to buy a poor woman's child. I have read many posts and I admit, I am a latecomer to the discussion. Still, until we as human beings make the point that separating a mother and child is in NOT in the best interests of either, legislation will work toward separating mothers and infants and, the system will come up with reasons to do so: waywardness, youth, drug use, economic status, etc.

    1. It's true that in the past these governments pressured unmarried mothers to give up their babies and placed babies in unsafe orphanages. Today, though, these governments run mother and infant centered programs. Australia has apologized for its role in separating mothers and children.

      As a result of reforms, these countries have only a few infant adoptions each year. In England and Wales, it's about 125 compared to 15,000 in the U. S. My state, Oregon with less than a tenth of the population of England and Wales has about 180 infant adoptions each year. The reasons for the small number of infant adoptions in the UK, Australia, and the Netherlands include less stigma for single mothers, child welfare programs including medical care, and the lack of financial incentives to push adoption.

    2. The pressure on single mothers in the U. K. to give up their babies is described as a "national travesty" in a recent film produced by Ronachan Films, "Breaking the Silence: Britain's Adoption Scandal." http://www.ronachanfilms.co.uk/breaking-the-silence-britains-adoption-scandal-2/

      The U. S., however, has failed to acknowledge the wrongs perpetrated on mothers in the Baby Scoop Era, perhaps because these wrongs are continuing. While adoption has changed -- domestic adoptions are open to some degree and poverty and "not ready to be a parent" rather than shame are the factors which motivate mothers to give up their babies, adoption continues to be promoted by those who profit from it.

    3. Thank you for the statistics in your replies. I believe that here in the USA, things are all about money. I fear that things might get worse under our new executive leadership.

  2. The natural bond between a mother and her child??? Well, some people claim a natural mother is NOT even a mother. Recently I asked a few times if a poor, single, abandoned by her family teenager should keep her child. The child is with a foster family, and the teen continues her education, visits the child and plans to take him/her back one day. Some people said she should fight for the baby. But others insisted that she let him/he go, because:
    - she is SINGLE (and children raised without a father fare much worse)
    - she is poor and without any support, so if she keeps her child, she'll have to resort to daycare which means a child being raised by strangers
    - she is young

    One man suggested she is NOT a real mother, she just gave birth to the said child. And the most selfless thing she could do for a child would be to let it be adopted. Because two adoptive parents are better than one biological.

    So what kind of "natural bond" are we talking about? All that matters is opportunities a mother can give to her child. Many people don't care about family preservation, because - as another man stated - "biological parenthood is terribly overrated".

    1. The socioeconomic system in which we live provides the broth in which we are steeped. What your post seems to say is that the societal circumstances in which a young mother finds herself means she is less of a mother. I don't agree with that. Our system should support the mother-child bond at least in cases where the mother wants her child. Back in the day, the social workers, churches, guardians at litem, and "society" stigmatized the mother, the child and the mother's family if the family supported the mother. Most mother's family did not support their daughters because raising a daughter who had "gotten herself pregnant" cast aspersions on them.

    2. I did not say that that young single mothers are less than a mother. I said quite the opposite. I criticized the adoption professionals for not placing value on the natural bond between mother and child into the discussion on "parenting."

    3. I am sorry, I didn't make myself clear. Who else but first mothers can understand how painful it is to relinquish a child. I was talking about the attitude of some people. I myself come from a culture where it would be UNIMAGINABLE to say that two adoptive parents are better than one bio (provided all parties are loving). So I am very bitter when I read such statements made by some Americans.

  3. Years ago, I remember hearing of a survey concerning adoption that was done of adoption professionals. The closer the relationship to the professional, the less likely they were to recommend adoption as the answer to an untimely pregnancy. For a stranger, it was the best answer. For a casual acquaintance's child, a good possibility. For their own child, a last resort.

    Wish I could remember more than the results. It was probably at a CUB or AAC conference in the 80s. But it brought home the idea that they knew how devastating surrender is to a birthmother.

  4. Jane, desperate women will always find ways to adopt. Flooding education out to women, preemptively, with articles like yours, is the hopeful avenue to one of humanity's inhumanity toward mothers. Thank you.

  5. With the Trump administration's childcare assistance plan, revised health care plan and VP Pence's penchant for "counseling" women toward adoption to help "childless couples build families," I believe those of us who believe in the importance of the  natural biological mother-child family relationship will find ourselves in an increasingly uphill journey.

  6. I have just finished reading the first part of the study; Understanding Options Counseling Experiences in Adoption: A Quantitative Analysis, on the Donaldson Adoption Institute site. It's PDF and very long with graphs and charts, etc.. I personally like, very much, what the Institute recommended for future. *IF* those things recommended on THAT page were implemented, it would be a game changer. It surely would have made all the difference for me and others I knew.

    It's astounding and proof that not so much has changed as people think or hope. Isolation, no support, no resources and finances offered or available...how many of us lost (were forced)/gave up/"made a plan" due to those things. I found it very interesting, though not at all surprising, to note in the short synopsis of their second part, -Baylor Research Sparks Calls for Change in Adoption Counseling- that shame played a big part for some. Why do so many (family and friends of the mother) refuse to discuss the pregnancy, why are so many of them pressuring "give the baby up"? Why does isolation play such a huge part in the experience of these more recent mothers? Why are women still being so isolated with little to no mental, emotional or financial support? Why are so many making, what I call, decisions of desperation, if they were not being shamed or feeling great shame? Why does a family in this day and age not support, at least emotionally and with ability to freely talk (a big opposite of feeling isolated) if there is no shame? Many families do have financial difficulties but there are other options and resources available. Is it the shame of having a pregnant daughter or the shame of possibly having to ask for assistance? Either way, I feel that in too many ways shame is still running the show. i.e. "you're not the best or right choice to raise your own child".

    1. The reason there is no marked change in state support for women to keep their babies is that the market for the babies has increased at the same time the supply in percentages has gone down.

      You are right Cindy, when you say that the message has only shifted a little bit from the old days of the shame of being pregnant to "think of what this child could have if only you loved him/her enough to give him/her to someone who has so much to give...."

      The psychological downside to mother and child is ignored.

  7. "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."

    So it's not a much better alternative for a woman to keep her child than for her to surrender because she feels coerced? I strongly disagree. Given the number of people waiting to adopt an infant, I have a hard time seeing how there would be a long waiting period in between the time the mother chooses to surrender and a set of adoptive parents is found. Also, I know from a close relative who adopted (from a supposedly modern, open-minded adoption agency) that the PAPs choose which mothers they want to be marketed to. This limits the PAPs that a mother has to choose from. The agency is already playing a part in selecting the adoptive parents. The idea that expectant mothers have control over the situation is really overblown in my opinion.

    If first mothers aren't going to stand up against coercion, than who is?

    1. Absolutely, the best outcome in many cases is for the mother to take her baby home. However, if the mother is undecided about adoption and has not selected the APs, the baby will go to foster care and the mother will be under immense pressure to make a quick decision.

      Other than anecdotes, there is no evidence that mothers are more likely to give up their babies if the PAPs are in the hospital. Lorraine and I and many mothers gave up our daughters even though we didn't have a clue about the family they would go to.

      Practitioners tell me they give mothers a choice about whether they want the PAPs any where near the hospital. The agency or attorney goes through a check list before birth asking them, among other things whether they want the PAPs present.

      The agencies do market certain PAPs to mothers and mothers to certain PAPSs Something that is really pernicious is that agencies deliberately arrange adoptions where the PAPs and mothers live some distance from each other. PAPs want this because distance will reduce visits and avoid accidental encounters at the grocery store or mothers showing up at the child's school. In accomplish this, agencies offer mothers three couple, two less than attractive couples and the favored PAPs so that the mother will feel she has to chose the distant couple. Mothers are unaware that they can ask for more couples to select from or go to another agency.

      When the mother goes into labor, the PAPS buy a return plane ticket. The mother is under pressure to give them the baby even though they are nowhere near the hospital because she is told the couple will leave at such and such time with the baby or without. The mother is not prepared to take the baby home. This was the case for Amy Seek, author of "God and Jetfire."

      It was no accident that Caitlyn and Tyler who lived in Michigan chose a couple in New Jersey. It was no accident that Adam Pertman and his who lived in Massachusetts were matched with a couple in Denver.

  8. "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."

    I agree with this, Jane. It has been nearly 25 years since I found my daughter and all this time I've been reading about the pain and suffering of those like myself who gave up children for adoption. Yet adoption continues, not as much as during the "Baby Scoop" era, but with the same deceit, regret and sorrow for those caught in its trap. We don't join together to put a stop to it legally. Why is that?

    I think the cause of the problem is shame. That's what caused us to be taken advantage of in the first place. I still have a hard time with the shame. I can't find any birthmothers here in Idaho willing to come out of the closet. To do something to stop this injustice, some people have to be willing to speak up and organize and believe in the cause enough to do something. Other groups who have been treated cruelly and unjustly have effected changed, but not us for the most part. It's very frustrating. Although there are a few wonderful organizations such as Saving our Sisters, more is needed, especially legal action. I think we who care about this issue need to do something to get the laws changed and to make the situation in the United States more in conformity to the changes already in place in other parts of the world that have limited the transfer to babies for money and all the attendant suffering this causes.



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