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.

ABC’s Find My Family: Is Reality TV Good For Our Rights, Or Adoption Exploitation?

Everyone in the adoption community is talking about ABC’s new show Find My Family. My question to you: Is reality TV good for adoptee and birth parent rights, or is it exploitation?
Many are wondering who is actually doing the searching for Find My Family. I may be stirring up a hornet’s nest, but here’s what little I know about it. ABC approached the moderator of a forum (of which I happen to be a member) and asked if the staff of what later became Find My Family could solicit on the forum. (Disclaimer: I am not speaking for ABC or for the forum itself. I’m simply sharing my observations.) I don’t know if any monetary compensation was offered for this, but I don’t believe so. This particular forum links volunteer (e.g. not paid) search angels with searchers. It’s a compassionate community of people who all found themselves flung into the deep end of adoption without a paddle. I expressed in private email to the moderators my reservations about this arrangement with ABC, because it seemed to me inappropriate for a reality TV show to be trolling a search-and-support forum for adoptees and birth relatives. However, the moderators and most of the other members were delighted, and they also appear to be generally pleased with the first episode of Find My Family.
My reservations remain. In my blog post “Adoption Exploitation And The Observer Effect“, I quoted my response to ABC, when they approached me directly and asked me to post an announcement on my blog soliciting adoptees and birth families for the network’s upcoming show. This was prior to their arrangement with the forum I mentioned.

Adoption is not a reality TV show. It is painfully real for those of us who experience it. I suggest you revise the show to highlight the denial of adult adoptees’ civil rights. This is a different matter than search and reunion, although the two are often conflated by the adoption industry and, in turn, the media and the public. Every day adult adoptees are denied driver’s licenses, passports, and other basics of citizenship because our original birth certificates are sealed in most states. We are forced to pay excessive fees only to find information is missing or mysteriously unavailable. Post-adoption “services” like registries and intermediaries have become yet another way for agencies and individuals to profit from adoption. That would be a far better topic upon which to shine your cameras than someone’s private reunion.

Admittedly, I haven’t watched Find My Family, so perhaps I shouldn’t remark upon it unless I do. But I didn’t like the way they came trolling a private forum looking for participants. Maybe I’m wrong, but it felt like they were letting the search angels do all the work while they make money filming the results. And believe me, these search angels work hard and don’t get paid a thin dime except maybe expenses. They’re doing it out of the goodness of their hearts. I don’t think reality TV, however well-meaning, can be doing anything out of sheer goodness because, at the end of the day, it’s about the advertising dollars they make. Also, it made me feel on display, a zoo animal in a cage, like I was being studied for some kind of reality-TV experiment. I’ve been exploited enough by adoption that this did not sit comfortably with me.
I also think we can draw some overall conclusions, not about this show in particular, but about reality-based adoption fodder in general. Most shows gloss over the difficulties in accessing records and focus instead on the happy-happy reunion stuff. There are those who say the happy-happy reunion stuff will help others understand our plight. I’d like to believe that, but then again I believed that a state-based confidential intermedary was in my best interests when they turned out to be incompetent money-grubbers.
From what I understand, Find My Family only accepted searches they thought would succeed. That’s similar to state-based intermediaries who only take on searches they think they can solve, because it skews their statistics to show more successful matches. In the case of a reality TV show, obviously there’s no show if the search doesn’t succeed. But what about those who don’t luck out with getting their search done by a reality TV show? How many searches don’t succeed? How many people become stuck for years if not decades? How many can’t afford the fees for state-based services, or attorneys to assert their rights, or private investigators when the state services fail? What about reunions that don’t turn out happy-happy?
More importantly, what about the civil rights of adoptees and birth mothers to access the records that pertain to them? What about the discrimination faced by adoptees and birth mothers? What about the empty promises of open adoption, disclosure vetoes and compromise legislation? What about those left behind?
Search and reunion is already far too conflated with the civil rights of records access, and I don’t think reality TV helps that. What we need are some shows that follow the demonstrations for our rights, the late nights writing letters to legislators and the media, the indignity of trying to say your piece while those same legislators are walking out on your testimony. Why weren’t the cameras on my friend Chynna when she was goose-stepped out the door by a Florida cop in attempting to obtain her driver’s license, because all she had was her amended (falsified) birth certificate? Where were the cameras when “Donna” was threatened with legal action for contacting a birth relative who wanted that contact? There’s a lot more going on in adoptionland besides happy-happy reunions. Maybe ABC’s Find My Family is going to address that. I hope somebody does.
Back to my original question: Is this good for our civil rights, or is it exploitation? I can’t decide. What do you think?

Adoption Isn’t A “Choice” For Everyone

There’s this billboard that has been ticking me off for months now. It used to be on the northbound Metra tracks. I was so happy when they took it down, but now it’s back up along eastbound Route 14. It’s sponsored, natch, by McHenry County (Illinois) Right To Life and pictures a couple with a baby and the slogan: “Adoption. The choice everyone can live with.”

I have so many beefs with this billboard I could cook a chuck roast. It’s a daily reminder to me of everything that is wrong with adoption.

  • The billboard is specifically promoting infant adoption. Never mind that there are plenty of foster kids in Illinois and elsewhere who would be delighted at a chance for a good home.
  • It pictures Obligatory Cute Picture of Healthy White Infant with Smiling Heterosexual Caucasian Couple. In other words, it promotes adoption of white infants over infants of other ethnicities, foster kids, and kids with disabilities. Get Your Tabula Rasa Here! It also discounts single-parent adoption, gay adoption, and anything other than the stereotypical “nuclear family”.
  • This ad is designed to get expectant mothers to surrender kids–in other words, to make money for adoption agencies. I don’t see the RTL groups posting ads offering help for expectant moms or brochures on where they can find support. If it’s really about fighting abortion and not promoting adoption, why not offer every alternative? Nor do I see them giving expectant mothers realistic information about adoption (PDF).
  • It portrays adoption solely from the perspective of the adoptive parents. The baby is a perpetual infant without voice, and the (birth) mother* is nonexistent.
  • It says nothing about the lifelong impact of adoption upon everyone involved, including the adoptive parents.
  • (Plus, the damn thing ends in a preposition. My English teacher is howling from beyond the grave.)

Some people, especially the RTL crowd, get bent out of shape at criticism of infant adoption, or indeed any criticism of adoption at all. This billboard’s message is clear: An expectant mother’s only choices are abortion (“murder” in RTL parlance) or Warm Happy Fuzzy Adoption. What this billboard carefully does NOT point out is:

  • Adoption is not Warm Happy Fuzzy. Adoption begins in loss. There’s no way to make that prettier or more palatable.
  • Adoption is not a guarantee of a better life, only a different one.
  • Adoption should be a last resort. All efforts should be made to keep children with their families of origin, and only if they are truly in danger and there is absolutely no other choice should they be relinquished for adoption. But most prospective adopters want unspoiled goods, the tabula rasa, not an older child or one with potential problems or one whose birth family might want (horrors!) to maintain a relationship. They pay good money and like any consumer they demand a quality product. Which is why adoption is about finding a child for parents who want one instead of finding a home for children who need one. That leads to the adoption industry snatching up as many products (read: children) as possible.
  • Adoptees grow up; we don’t remain voiceless infants forever. Adoption was never a “choice” for us, nor for our mothers, many of whom were forced socially or literally into surrendering us. It’s also not a “choice” for our extended families, friends, and significant others, all of whom are faced with the negative impact adoption has had on our lives and the lives of those around us.
  • Adoption agencies make billions on infant adoption. Adoption is a profit-making venture, not a charity, however it may be portrayed.
  • Adoption agencies get federal subsidies for promoting adoption, to the point where they push adoption to strangers over keeping birth families together.
  • Adoption agencies deliberately market in such a way to discount the negativities of adoption (again, because they make money from adoption). Which means any information about adoption from an agency or adoption “professional” should be taken as suspect.
  • Adult adoptees are routinely denied access to their origins. Birth mothers are routinely denied access to the paperwork they signed and information about their offspring. Illinois has mechanisms that purportedly facilitate contact but they’re about as effective as a walrus trying to tango.
  • So-called “open” adoptions are rarely enforcable from the biological family’s side. Once the adoption is finalized, the adoptive parents can–and do–take off with the kid, never to be heard from again. “Open adoption” is a marketing phrase to get an expectant mom in the door.
  • Foreign “orphans” often are not orphans at all, and may in fact have been stolen from their families. Adoption, international and otherwise, is chock-full of corruption.
  • Adoptees are torn not only from their families but also their countries, languages, and cultures of origin. Birth mothers suffer long-term consequences including depression, anxiety and other stressors that can diminish their health. Hollywood and made-for-TV movies gloss over these impacts, just like adoption agencies do. It’s not a pretty picture but it is the truth.

Why are we adoptees supposed to be grateful that we were not raised in our families of origin? Why are our mothers supposed to go away and never be seen or heard from again? Why can’t we promote support of expectant mothers instead of stealing their children to feed the adoption industry’s profits? Why can’t we restore unconditional access to adoption records? Why are we supposed to ignore what is wrong with adoption and simply accept the happy-go-lucky picture the billboard above invokes?

How about this as a new billboard? “Adoption is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Support expectant mothers and unconditional records access.”

* I use the terms “birth mother” and “birth family” on this blog although some find it offensive, not because I disagree (I find it offensive too) but because it’s more likely to be picked up by search engines. Which is a further demonstration of how relinquishing mothers and adoptees are dehumanized in discussions of adoption.

Open Adoption Isn’t

Please read Vanessa’s story at FirstMotherForum.com. “Open” adoption is rarely enforceable by anyone but the adopted parents, who can hightail it with the unknowing adoptee whenever they want. And do.