November is National Adoption Month—the month when adoption is portrayed in the media as full of rainbows and unicorns. The truth is, there are many reforms needed in all types of adoption.
Unfortunately, when you try to talk reform, you are often labeled anti-adoption. During my 10+ years in the adoption community, I’ve been lucky to encounter people from all parts of the adoption triad who are perfectly fine with adoption existing, they just want to see it become more ethical. Clearly, I think adoption can be great. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have two kids now. But reform is most definitely needed. Here, just in time for National Adoption Month, are my thoughts on how to reform private domestic adoption.
Remember: In this context, “private adoption” refers to any domestic adoption that is not through foster care. It has nothing to do with whether you use an agency or attorney.
1. Federal adoption laws replace the confusing patchwork of state laws.
The number one reform that is needed in adoption is to allow the federal government to regulate it. No more of this “Utah is adoption-friendly” or “We can’t work with families in New York.” All states have to follow the same rules. This eliminates a lot of ethical problems we have today, such as flying expectant parents to states with shorter relinquishment periods, hiding babies from birth fathers, and determining birth mother expense caps. It also makes adoption less expensive, because you don’t need to have professionals working for you in each state and there is no need for ICPC.
2. Only regulated, licensed, full-service, non-profit agencies perform adoptions.
Being non-profit doesn’t mean an agency is ethical, but it’s a step in the right direction. Uniform licensing standards and regulations on fees would make adoption more ethical. If adoption professionals don’t stand to gain a boatload of money from prospective adoptive parents, they could focus more on what is best for all parties, especially the children. Gone are facilitators, which are mostly unlicensed, unregulated, and very much for-profit. For the most part, independent adoptions using an attorney should also fall by the wayside, except possibly in kinship adoptions. Ethical agencies would be required to provide counseling and education for all parties. Furthermore, agencies would not be allowed to discriminate on the basis of religion, sexual orientation, or marital status. If a prospective adoptive parent can pass a home study, he or she can use any agency that exists. Discrimination hurts children.
3. The time from birth to TPR is a minimum standard in all states.
After a baby is born, the new parents must wait a certain amount of time before signing the termination of parental rights (TPR). Most hopeful adoptive parents and adoption professionals word this as, “The birthmother can sign the TPR after two days.” Actually, the new mother can sign TPR anytime she wants; the two day timeframe is a minimum. Adoption professionals would not be able to swoop down on a woman right after birth to have her sign paperwork. The time between birth and TPR would always be presented to new parents as a minimum. Adoption professionals must ensure that new parents know they have as much time as they need to make a decision. Ideally, I think the time between birth and TPR would be 2-3 days, as that’s generally when babies are discharged from the hospital.
4. A sensible revocation period is in place and cannot be waived.
In some states, TPR is irrevocable as soon as it is signed. In others, there is a period during which the birth parents can change their minds. This is the revocation period. It ranges from two days to six months. In some states, these revocation periods can be waived, so birth parents have no chance to change their minds. I think we need a reasonable revocation period so birth parents can take some time and really contemplate their decisions. I propose two weeks as enough time for the birth parents to think, but also a short enough time frame that adoptive parents and babies are not in limbo. A two-week period has the added benefit of reducing travel costs. If you know how long you’re going to be somewhere, you can plan your time more easily, and get better travel deals.
5. Birth fathers have rights, just not quite as many as birth mothers.
Putative father registries are just plain stupid. You’re basically registering with the government the fact that you had sex with someone. Advertising for fathers in newspapers is not only outdated, it’s an invasion of privacy for both parties involved. I could write an entire post just about this.
To sum up, lying about the father of a child would be a crime. Every reasonable effort must be made to identify a father. He must be allowed to participate to the extent he wishes in the adoption plan. If he doesn’t want to make an adoption plan, but the expectant mother does, this is where the “just not quite as many as birth mothers” contingency comes in.
Because the expectant/birth mother bears all of the risks and responsibilities of pregnancy, she has more rights to choose what happens after the baby is born. If the birth father truly wants to parent, he can go before a judge and prove himself fit to do so. Otherwise, what mom says, goes. I’m sure this is going to be controversial. As the mother of a son, yes, I would want my son to be granted rights to his future child. However, I’ve seen far too many situations in which men step in at the last minute and refuse to sign TPR, without any intent of parenting, just to have control over the baby’s mother. That’s not right.
6. Home studies are standardized.
Currently, home study requirements vary, not only from state to state, but also from agency to agency. In some states, independent social workers are allowed to perform home studies, which means they can also set some of their own standards. Some agencies have arbitrary requirements that really have nothing to do with child safety, such as specifying how long a couple must be married or how many children may be in one home (regardless of the number of rooms or square feet in a home). New standards would be developed with the care and safety of children foremost in mind. Education is also a requirement for passing a home study. There would be some leeway in what the PAPs could do to obtain said education, but there would be some hard and fast rules about what that education entailed. There are also standards for what the home inspection entails.
7. Birth mother expenses are not paid directly by the PAPs.
The very existence of birth mother expenses has some people convinced that private adoption is baby buying, or at least inherently unethical. I’m not against birthmother expenses, but I am against individual PAPs paying the expenses of a particular person. I think that one agency we considered using for our second adoption has the right idea. They ask PAPs to donate a fixed amount of money to their Expectant Parents Fund. That donation is tax deductible—it’s not subject to the Adoption Tax Credit because it is a charitable donation to a non-profit. When an expectant mother contacts the agency and she requires help, the agency does everything it can to find her help using available resources, including the Expectant Parents Fund. Some expectant moms don’t really need anything, while others, like those fleeing domestic violence, need a lot more. When the money comes from the agency and not the PAPs, there’s less room for coercion.
There are other, smaller changes I’d like to make—like to stop adoption professionals from calling pregnant women “birth mothers” before they’ve given birth—but these are the big ones. What do you think? How would you reform adoption?