Summer 2021 reading for prospective adoptive parents should include adoption stories in the news. June 2021offered media attention on three in particular. These stories ranged from birth mother adoption fraud to concerns about problems with private adoption to a Supreme Court decision in a case led by foster and adoptive parents. Being informed about each of these adoption-related events is a must for those seeking to understand the issues involving adoption today. 

Baby Used to Gain Bucks?

Ideally, adoption involves a birth mother making an unselfish decision to place her child for adoption because she is not in a position for whatever reason (finances, health issues, legal troubles, etc.) to parent. The focus is on doing what is best for her child. Nevertheless, some pregnant women take advantage of the adoption process for their own financial gain. These actions can even elevate to criminal behavior. 

If a state’s adoption laws allow for financial assistance for expenses during pregnancy, money can become a motivating factor for a baby’s placement. Certain actions to obtain financial assistance constitute illegal behavior. A birth mother, for example, cannot legally promise her baby to more than one adoptive family and receive payment of allowable living expenses from multiple sources. She may also not obtain financial benefits from an adoptive family when she has no intention of making a placement of her child with them.

A news story out of Ocala, Florida, in early June, detailed the circumstances leading to charges of adoption fraud being brought against 33-year-old Amber Bledsoe. Ms. Bledsoe contacted an adoption resource and filled out paperwork to pursue an adoptive placement of her child. Since she was then living in a tent in the woods, financial assistance for housing, food, and clothing was paid to assist her. After receiving several thousand dollars in help with the pregnancy, Ms. Bledsoe delivered her baby on September 2, 2020. Additional birth mother expenses were paid the following day, but, after their receipt, the birth mother stated she had decided not to place her child. Nevertheless, she signed an adoption consent with a different adoption resource the next day, one who had been paying her duplicate living expenses during the pregnancy with no knowledge of the other prospective family.

What prompts someone to take advantage of people by leading them to believe they will receive a much longed-for baby when they have no intention of placing? In the case of Ms. Bledsoe, it appears that a drug addiction fueled her actions. Some of the money she obtained from two different families who thought they would receive placement of a baby went to pay for drugs. While Ms. Bledsoe’s criminal actions may lead to legal consequences, her conviction will in no way heal the broken hearts of the couple who did not receive the baby she never intended to place with them. 

Private Adoption Targeted by Time Article

On June 3, 2021, Time.com published an article entitled, “The Baby Brokers: Inside American’s Murky Private-Adoption Industry”. As could be surmised from the title, the view presented on private adoptions was extremely negative. As a basis for this thumbs down, the article recounted the appalling actions of the Adoption Network Law Center (“ANLC”) in regard to one specific birth mother. Likewise, a Utah agency called Heart and Soul Adoptions was connected with egregious actions and the State of Utah revoked its license. Does this mean that prospective adoptive parents should avoid private adoptions altogether? 

A better understanding of private adoption, and adoption in general, brings a different perspective to what is going on with private adoption and what prospective adoptive parents should know in order to protect themselves. Only two entities were cited by the Time article as “Baby Brokers”. With between 14,000 to 18,000 nonrelative infant adoptions handled annually per the National Adoption Council, clearly, ANLC and Heart and Soul Adoptions are not the only resources handling private adoptions. A myriad of attorneys and agencies handle private adoptions in the United States. 

In any area, there are people who act unethically, intentionally ignore regulations, and skirt the law. This result is not specific simply to those handling private adoptions. Bad apples may also be doctors, politicians, and car salesmen. Nevertheless, people still go to doctors, elect officials, and buy cars. Because some act unethically or illegally does not mean everyone in that area does. The answer is not to do away with the area where wrongdoing has been done, but to get rid of the wrongdoers. Clearly, the State of Utah took corrective action when it learned of Heart and Soul’s misdeeds and revoked the agency’s license.

Those individuals seeking to pursue a private adoption need to understand that they live in the real world, and people who do bad things and take advantage of others exist in that world. Prospective adoptive parents should thoroughly vet any adoption resource with whom they desire to work. First, they need to find out if the resource is licensed. An attorney has to answer to the bar in the state where they practice. An agency receives a license from the state in which it operates. If either of these resources slips up, recourse exists. Their license, which is their authorization to do such work, can be revoked. 

But simply because a resource has jumped through the appropriate hoops to get licensed does not mean that they will necessarily do a competent or ethical job. The best indicator of future behavior is past behavior. Requesting references from the adoption resource and checking them out is critical. Prospective adoptive parents can conduct independent research online or talk to other adoption resources to find out what type of reputation and experience the resource in question has. Hopeful parents should ask an adoption resource if they have had complaints lodged about their handling of private adoption. They can check with the state agency regulating the adoption resource if it is an agency. They can check with the state bar to see if an attorney is in good standing. 

The Time article suggests regulation of the private adoption “industry” is needed. Nevertheless, private adoptions are not necessarily for-profit businesses. Some adoption resources are faith-based and non-profit. Further, the “industry” is already regulated by state government licensing agencies and the courts. The article also notes that no federal regulation of private adoption exists. Good reason exists for that lack of federal regulation. Adoption is a process solely created and governed by state law. 

Private adoption is an area that requires extreme care from prospective adoptive parents because it is fraught with emotion. Decisions must be made objectively and carefully. The desire to have a child cannot overcome clear and rational thinking. Such thinking may call for turning down questionable or risky opportunities or not working with adoption resources about whom concerns exist. While prospective adoptive couples cannot change the fact that some people in the private adoption field may not legally and ethically, they can control how they gather information, the adoption resources with whom they work, and the opportunities they choose to pursue. As with sports, the best defense against bad actors in private adoptions may simply be a good offense. Take precautions upfront and proceed carefully and with deliberate thought. 

Foster and Adoptive Parents Win U.S. Supreme Court Case

Many adoptions result from foster care. According to the American Society for the Positive Care of Children (“American SPCC”), a non-profit organization focused on improving the lives of children in the United States, over 437,000 children and youth are in foster care. And, the organization reports, over 52% of foster children are adopted by a foster parent. Therefore, certification as a foster parent is often an important step in moving forward toward a possible adoption. 

But the selection of foster parents became a bone of contention in the City of Brotherly Love in 2018. The controversy gave rise to litigation which ultimately ended up before the United States Supreme Court for resolution. In a unanimous ruling announced June 17, 2021, the highest court in the country relied on the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to reverse the decision of the Third Circuit of Appeal in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, which had sided with Philadelphia.

The case began when a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer made the city aware that two of its thirty contracted agencies for the provision of foster care services, Catholic Social Services and Bethany Christian Services, had policies against certifying same-sex married couples as foster parents on religious grounds. This stance flew in the face of a non-discrimination provision in the contract with the City of Philadelphia as well as the city’s non-discrimination ordinance.  The city informed the two faith-based agencies that it would no longer enter full foster care contracts with them unless they agreed to certify same-sex couples. Bethany Christian Services changed its rule on certification of same-sex married couples, but Catholic Social Services refused to do so. Accordingly, the latter agency, which had been providing foster care services in Philadelphia for over half a century, was cut off from receiving foster care referrals. 

Supporters of Catholic Social Services and its foster parents sharply criticized the city’s actions in refusing to continue working with the religious agency. Sharonell Fulton, an African American foster parent and the first-named plaintiff in the case, lamented the “vindictive religious discrimination” exhibited by Philadelphia against her faith. Others noted that the children of Philadelphia were the losers in the situation. Because of the actions taken by the city, over 200 kids in group homes or institutions were not able to be placed with families who partnered with Catholic Social Services. 

Catholic Social Services, a religious non-profit agency, and three of its foster parents brought a lawsuit against Philadelphia. The first-named plaintiff, Sharonell Fulton, was a long-time foster parent who had fostered forty children in over twenty-five years. Plaintiff Cecilia Paul, who died before the resolution of the case, fostered more than 130 children and had adopted six of them. The plaintiffs claimed that the City of Philadelphia’s position violated its First Amendment to religious exercise. Specifically, the plaintiffs believed marriage was a sacred bond between a man and a woman. Feeling that certification of prospective foster families was an endorsement of their relationships, Catholic Social Services would not certify unmarried couples (regardless of their sexual orientation) or same-sex married couples. The faith-based agency did, however, certify gay or lesbian individuals as single foster parents. 

The issue before the court was whether the City of Philadelphia could require faith-based agencies to comply with its non-discrimination law. The district court ruled in Philadelphia’s favor, and Catholic Social Services appealed.  The Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s ruling in Philadelphia’s favor on April 22, 2019. Catholic Social Services subsequently appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court who, in February 2020, agreed to hear the case. Oral arguments were then presented on November 4, 2020.

In a unanimous opinion delivered June 17th, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the lower court’s decision. All nine justices agreed that the refusal of Philadelphia to contract with Catholic Social Services for the provision of foster care services unless the agency agreed to certify same-sex couples as foster parents violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote a 15-page majority opinion with which Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan, Barrett, and Kavanaugh joined. While conceding that a 1990 Supreme Court decision in Employment Division v. Smith allowed a law burdening religion to be upheld when it is neutral and generally applicable, the majority did not find Smith to be applicable. Because the city’s foster care contract gave Philadelphia “sole discretion” to grant exemptions to its nondiscrimination policy, it was not generally applicable. Accordingly, the highest level of scrutiny applied in the Fulton case. 

In siding with Catholic Social Services, the majority opinion noted the agency sought “only an accommodation that will allow it to continue serving the children of Philadelphia in a manner consistent with its religious beliefs; it does not seek to impose those beliefs on anyone else.” Chief Justice Roberts also pointed out the agency had never been approached by a same-sex couple for certification. Catholic Social Services represented that should that situation ever arise, they would refer the couple to one of the other 29 contracted agencies with the city who would certify same-sex couples. No evidence of a denial of certification by the agency to any same-sex couple was presented.

The remaining Supreme Court justices, while concurring with the decision reached, did not agree with the reasoning. Justice Alito penned a 77-page concurring opinion that was joined by Justices Thomas and Gorsuch. These justices felt the reasoning presented in the majority opinion for siding with Catholic Social Services was too narrow. 

By reading current news stories about adoption, prospective adoptive parents can get a feel for issues faced in that field. Birth mothers sometimes scam prospective adoptive parents. Adoption resources can act unethically, or even illegally, to pressure birth mothers to place. Religious agencies may face pushback if they refuse to certify certain foster parents (who may later become adoptive parents) when it would go against their religious beliefs. Knowledge, however, is power. Awareness of these issues is helpful to prepare prospective adoptive parents to avoid risky situations and to make informed decisions on their adoption journey.

Do you feel there is a hole in your heart that can only be filled by a child? We’ve helped complete 32,000+ adoptions. We would love to help you through your adoption journey. Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98.