What Needs Reform In Adoption? Everything!

This month’s Grown In My Heart blog carnival asks the question, “What do you think needs reform in adoption?” I could fill whole stadiums with answers to that one, but I think everything that concerns me boils down to one word: TRANSPARENCY, or lack thereof.
Take, for example:
  • Domestic and international adoption scandals: children targeted for adoption, mothers coerced into surrendering, adoptive parents duped into a false sense of security about the adoption process
  • Situations like Haiti, where crises are used to exploit children and families
  • Sealed adoption records, the myth of birth parent “privacy”, the discrimination faced by adult adoptees and their mothers, and the facade of compromise legislation
  • The lure of open adoption, which is rarely enforcable by the birth mother
  • “Crisis pregnancy centers” which are often fronts for adoption mills
  • Misinformation about the long-term effects of adoption, especially for transracial and transcultural adoptees
  • The general public’s lack of understanding about adoption, which is promulgated by the adoption industry so clandestine and questionable practices can continue. Part of this is driven by media bias in adoption reporting, which leads me into…
  • GET ADOPTION OFF TELEVISION. I have to wonder why there isn’t legal protection for minors exploited on television (think Jon & Kate or Balloon Boy). I think about these kids whose adoption stories are being told on TV (e.g. Teen Mom, 16 And Pregnant) before they even have a chance to know for themselves. Can you imagine how devastating that will be for them? It’s one thing to have consenting adults on these shows but something far different when we’re talking about babies and children. And even when it’s consenting adults, the information is almost always skewed. Let’s face it, reality shows and made-for-TV movies are not solid journalism, but most people base their ideas about adoption from them.
If adoption were transparent, if the procedures were scrutinized, I think there would be far less (although not zero) corruption. People will always find a way to game the system, but transparency and repercussions make it harder. Ratifying the Hague Convention would be one step. Restoring original birth certificate access to adult adoptees AND birth mothers would be another. We need more education for prospective adopters. We need independent and transparent regulation of adoption agencies. We need to get rid of private adoptions that too easily fall into the gray-market or black-market category. We need to eliminate pork-barrel legislation that turns original birth certificate access into a windfall for politicians and their well-connected cronies. We need to distinguish between infant adoption and foster-care adoption. We need to support mothers and families. We need to turn adoption from a boutique industry into a system in which kids who need help will get it.
But what we most need to do is take the profit margin out of adoption. If there is no money to be made, profiteering will decrease. I don’t anticipate this will happen anytime soon. Adoption is big business, with the funds and resources to hire lobbyists to maintain the bottom line. What we, as individuals, can do is demand transparency of adoption agencies and practitioners, and of our elected officials. We can also continue making scandals public, so that those who do game the system are caught. And we can educate the general public about adoption, including its flaws and misconceptions.
Adoption should be a last resort. We should strive to support children: with their parents where possible, with extended family where not, via domestic adoption in their country of origin and via international adoption only as a last resort. Yes, that means less adoptable children, but this isn’t about finding a child for everyone who wants one. The adoption industry sets very unrealistic expectations while continuing to sweep necessary reform under the rug. Let’s return adoption to its roots–finding homes for children in need–and do away with the corruption that currently defines it.


  1. Remove profit and remove moat all problems.

  2. This is a wonderful comprehensive compendium of what is wrong with adoption today. If adoption were a car or a food, it would have been pulled off the market years ago, and the owners thrown in jail.

    I re-tweeted it.

  3. AdoptAuthor–I agree, the profit is at the root of just about everything that’s wrong with adoption.

    BD–Thanks for the RT. It’s amazing what people will put up with in the name of adoption. Because, as we’ve seen in Haiti, the automatic counter to any suggestion of reform is “What? You want children to starve and die?” Um… no, what we want is accountability and caution.

  4. Accountability and caution. Well said.

  5. I think we should have more say about whether WE want to be Adopted or not, or if we want to live with the people that Adopted us-and forget social workers-their involvement (ie:Georgia Tann) is partly what started this whole mess to begin with, and they should no longer be involved- Adoptees should be appointed an attorney to talk to us and remove us from the Adoptive home if we aren’t happy, along with of course getting our OBC’s, anytimne or at any age we want them. All Adopted children have a right to talk to their Real Mother-even if it is too ask, why am I Adopted? And to pick who they are going to live with,(their Adoptive Parents) like “birthmothers” pick a couple in Open Adoption. I agree with Tri that the media either talks about Adoption correctly or get it the hell out of film or off tv-again the MOST important thing is unsealed records in every single state.

  6. http://maranne says

    Very good list, I agree, especially about using kids on any reality show, in any context. It should not be allowed. Also open records, transparency, taking the profit motive out. I think you covered it all.

  7. This may be your best blog yet!

  8. I’ve been thinking more about adoption on reality TV. Many adoptees have been saying it has to get off TV. The ramifications of this became much clearer to me after listening to what adoptees thought . . . someone’s life being altered irrevocably on the boob tube. Glad you brought it up.

  9. Good post, agree with all your points. I’m really glad that you said something about getting adoption off of television. Adoption should never be seen as entertainment.

  10. Great great job, Triona.

    The general public has this vague notion that adoption is a one-time incident that occurs and everybody goes home better for it. Too bad if (birth/first) mothers have a little left over residual grief, the adoptee–lord, aren’t you a lucky girl?

    I just read a blog written by an adoptee and though it is not about adoption per se, what did she write about? Her lack of trust in relationships, other people, so she leaves before they can…

    How do I know this if the writer does not talk about being adopted? Because I know she is…

  11. ditto. accountability and caution.
    excellent post.

  12. Removing profit would be huge!! And I’m not talking about people surviving I’m talking about the crazy profit that is made. And the Haiti situation is so disgusting!! I have been so mad at people who are talking about it.

  13. Great post Triona! I am going to tweet it as soon as I submit this comment. I am not in the USA so could you explain about adoption on reality TV?

  14. Hi Trini, thanks for reading! In answer to your question, there have been a lot of new reality TV shows focusing on reunions between adult adoptees and their birth families. I’ve blogged about it a couple of times (if you scroll back in my archives, look for the Find My Family posts). There has been discussion in the adoption community on whether this is a good thing, or exploitation. I’m leaning toward the latter myself. I’m concerned that these shows give a false impression that search is easy, “happy ever afters” with no followups about the ups and downs of reunion. Sort of like depicting the joys of a wedding and none of the commitments of the marriage that follows. I also think it distorts the difference between adoption reform and search and reunion. Many people associate adoptees’ access to records with search and reunion, but it’s really about identity and equal rights. Search and reunion is a totally separate matter. They are conflated enough in the public eye without reality TV adding to it, IMO.

  15. Thanks Triona, I will go check those earlier posts.