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Adoption Awareness Means Acknowledging Corruption

By Jessica DelBalzo

12 November, 2007

The government may have taken to calling November “Adoption Awareness Month,” but with the adoption industry and adopting couples dominating the month’s articles and events, we might as well rename it Adoption Promotion Month. After all, awareness implies an eyes-wide-open approach to the subject, not a shameless marketing ploy. Rather than celebrating how good adopters and adoption workers feel about adoption, we ought to be learning about the very real impact it has on children and their natural family members.

Being truly aware of adoption means understanding that adoption is a big business. In the United States alone, billions of dollars change hands through the adoption industry, passing from individuals hoping to adopt to agencies, lawyers, and counselors who procure infants and children from parents at home and abroad. Adoption is heavily marketed as a service dedicated to providing homes for children in need. In truth, the demand for children far exceeds the supply, leading to corrupt and coercive practices.

Most Americans view adoption positively. This is in no small part thanks to the adoption industry and its powerful lobbying arm, the National Council for Adoption. Few people are aware of the profound negative consequences of adoption for separated parents, children, siblings, and extended family members, and so they have no reason to question the practice of adoption. As a researcher and activist, I have had the unique opportunity to form a more accurate, fact-based impression of adoption, and knowing what I do, I cannot support this destructive industry.

Coerced adoption is probably the most important issue from a social justice perspective. However, it is near impossible to pinpoint an adoption that has not involved some undue pressure. Domestic infant adoptions are rife with problems, including unenforceable open adoption agreements, biased counseling from adoption agencies, government-funded training programs that teach others how to promote adoption to pregnant women, and social stigmas against poor, single, and teenage parents. Contrary to popular belief, women who surrender their infants to adoption cite poverty, age, and lack of support as their primary reasons. These mothers usually want their children very much but believe themselves to be inferior to wealthier, usually married, adopting couples. The adoption industry is especially good at preying upon the vulnerability of a nervous mom-to-be.

International adoption is equally rife with unethical practices. Once again, issues of poverty and lack of support are to blame when parents in countries like China, Ethiopia, Guatemala, and Korea surrender their children. And as with the United States, inadequate regulations allows practice to flourish which are both criminally negligent and immoral.

Even adoptions from foster care are subject to corruption. Poor families are unfairly targeted as suspected abusers, in no small part because they lack the funds to mount a proper legal campaign for the return of their children. Federal adoption bonuses motivate case workers to ignore long-standing mandates that promote family preservation and kinship care over placement of a child with strangers. Though adopting from foster care is touted as a charitable act, one can never be certain that the child involved was taken from abusive parents.

Aside from obvious issues of coercion and corrupt practices, adoption has also been linked to increased psychological difficulties for surrendering parents and adopted children. Adoptees are overrepresented in psychological treatment and juvenile detention centers as compared to their non-adopted peers. A large, national study of adolescents found that those who were adopted were also more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. For decades now, researchers have found consistent evidence of psychological trauma in mothers whose children have been taken for adoption; this trauma is lifelong and tends to worsen over time. How is it conscionable to promote adoption as a cure for unexpected pregnancies and abused children when the side effects are so profoundly painful?

Some adoption critics are quick to say that despite its flaws, adoption is necessary. I disagree. Many of the activists who, twenty years ago, believed adoption reform to be the answer to problems within the industry have come to accept that it is beyond repair. Rather, they believe that adoption can be eradicated using stronger family preservation initiatives and permanent legal guardianship as an alternate form of custody for children who cannot be raised by their parents. While these recommendations can be difficult for adopters and others who profit from adoption to accept, embracing them will ensure better outcomes for children and families in the United States and abroad.

This November, be aware of adoption -- and beware of adoption.

The author is the founder of Adoption: Legalized Lies and the author of Unlearning Adoption: A Guide to Family Preservation and Protection.


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