New adoption professionals are constantly coming on to the scene. We used to have state-run county agencies and shady adoption attorneys. Okay, there were probably some perfectly legitimate ones too; it’s just that you hear about the shady ones. Eventually, private agencies started to dominate the scene. Next came adoption facilitators, who exist to make matches. In the last 10-15 years, we’ve seen a rise in adoption consultants.
I’m going to be Pollyanna here for a moment and assume that most of these individuals have good intentions. However, you know what they say about good intentions . . . To that end, I have some suggestions for adoption professionals to avoid possible ethical pitfalls.
1. Do not call a woman a birth mother until she gives birth and signs TPR.
A pregnant woman considering adoption is simply an expectant mother. She’s not a birth mother, prospective birth mother, or possible birth mother. She’s just an expectant mother considering adoption. Using the term “birth mother” before birth is subtly coercive. It distances the woman from her baby.
2. Remember that children have fathers too.
Too often, adoption professionals see biological fathers as adversaries—obstacles to overcome, rather than as an individual who is integral to the process. While there are biological fathers who are violent or absent, the adoption industry as a whole downplays biological fathers so much that even a man who wants to be involved in the process could have a very hard time doing so.
3. “All expenses paid” is great for a weekend trip to Vegas, but not so much for pregnant women in crisis situations.
I cannot even count how many adoption professionals promise pregnant women that all of their pregnancy expenses will be paid by the adoptive parents. I’m not going to get into the ethics of “birth mother expenses”—suffice it to say, they exist, they are legal in some states, that’s how it is. However, it’s simply unacceptable to advertise placing one’s child as a way to get some quick cash. Which leads me to . . .
4. Throwing money at a problem rarely solves it.
Too many birth mothers have said that, after they placed their children, nothing about their situations changed. They were in crisis before they were pregnant. They were in crisis while they were pregnant (though they had money to cover their needs because of “birth mother expenses.”) And after they placed they were still in crisis. No one had done anything to help them rise above or resolve the situations that lead to crisis in the first place.
5. Options counseling doesn’t mean convincing a woman that adoption is the best, most loving decision.
Adoption is hard. Expectant parents need to know that. They need to hear from women and men who have placed their children and who have had different experiences with placement. It’s not okay to parade a line of women who are somehow deliriously happy that their children have “better lives” in front of expectant mothers. (Although, similarly, it’s not okay to parade a line of women who feel they have “lost their children to adoption” in front of them either.) Adoption may be the best decision, but it also may not be. If you’re just providing adoption services, you need to be upfront about that. Don’t claim to be “counseling women” when your counseling consists of a person who took a certificate course in Social Work reading a script. Women need impartial, unbiased, licensed, ethical counselors who don’t stand to make or lose money based on whether or not they place.
6. That time between birth and TPR is a minimum.
Too many adoption professional treat the time between birth and when termination of parental rights can be signed as a deadline. A new parent does not have to sign 12, 24, 48, or 72 hours after birth. A new parent can have as much time as she needs. Too often, though, adoption professionals show up right at the allowed time and put papers in front of a new parent. Say it with me now: The time between birth and TPR is a minimum.
7. It costs the same amount to adopt a white baby as to adopt a black one.
I could do an entire article on race-based fees. Black babies are not discount items. There is no good reason why it should cost $X to adopt a black baby, but $X + $10,000 to adopt a white one. And don’t even get me started on three-tier fees, where a black and white baby costs $X + $5,000. You need more homes for black babies? Step up and actively recruit black parents.
8. God doesn’t make some people pregnant so other people can adopt their babies.
I don’t have a direct line to God, and neither do you. I see far too many adoption professionals base their services on the idea that God somehow causes women to have crisis pregnancies just so well-off religious people can adopt them. It’s not okay to pray that someone gives up her baby to someone else. If you’re the praying type, pray that a mother can make the best decision for her child.
9. Don’t make promises you can’t keep.
In the end, adoptive parents control open adoptions. Don’t promise an expectant mother that she can control the level of openness. She can’t. She can choose a family who seems to want the same level of openness that she does, but she can’t control what happens after the ink is dry. Even states with legally enforceable open adoption agreements will not generally intervene if either party violates said agreement.
10. Closed adoptions are so 1940.
Closed adoptions are worse for the adoptee, and that’s who we’re supposed to be concerned about here. Open adoptions don’t solve all of adoption’s problems, but research tells us that they do help adoptees and birth parents throughout their lives. Adoption professionals should offer closed adoptions only in the rare circumstance where the child’s safety is in question. Otherwise, they should espouse at least semi-open adoption, in which communication goes through the agency, until such a time that the parties feel they can communicate with one another directly.
11. Know your partners.
Before referring anyone—hopeful adoptive parents or expectant parents—to another professional, make sure that professional is ethical and competent. This should be a no-brainer, but I can tell you from experience that sometimes all one professional has is one other guy in the same ZIP code to refer. Do your homework. Call a prospective referral as an expectant parent and again as an adoptive parent. Based on those experiences, would you want to use that professional? Which leads directly to . . .
12. Be the professional you would want your daughter to use.
If your daughter were to experience an unplanned, crisis pregnancy, would you want her to use your services?