The Case Against Adoption: Research and Alternatives for Concerned Citizens
by Jessica DelBalzo
I wear many labels. I am a mother, a lover, and a friend. I am a breastfeeder, a homeschooler, and an instinctive parent. I am an atheist, an advocate of reproductive freedom, and a liberal. I am also an anti-adoption activist.
That last label has been the source of much confusion, concern, and even negativity from friends and strangers alike. Most people have had no reason to question the ethics of adoption, and so they assume it to be a benevolent institution. For the average person, the anti-adoption movement is unfathomable, comparable to a movement against puppies or rainbows or ice cream. Even so, I am not ashamed to say that I believe adoption is not only unnecessary but also unethical.
When people discover that I am against adoption, they often assume that I am adopted. I am not, nor have I lost a child to adoption. In fact, I grew up believing that adoption was perfectly acceptable. When my parents were unable to conceive a second child, my young self even threatened to adopt one so that we could have a baby in the house. By the time I reached high school age, however, I had begun questioning more serious issues and forming deeper opinions. One of my elective classes involved frequent debates, and one particular discussion on the ethics of abortion and the “loving option” of adoption sparked my curiosity. Instinctually, adoption suddenly felt like a tragic loss for both the mother and the child, and I began researching the subject voraciously using the library to obtain relevant books and the internet to connect with people who had personal adoption experiences.
Everything that I learned further inspired my activism, and after graduation I founded Adoption: Legalized Lies, a grassroots organization supporting family preservation and the abolition of adoption. In the past nine years, we have participated in awareness-raising campaigns, art displays, rallies, and letter-writing. We have also assisted numerous families who were struggling to keep their children despite interference from the adoption industry.
Yes, Adoption is an Industry
In order to understand the problems with adoption today, it is important to review its history. How did adoption become an acceptable way to deal with unplanned pregnancy? How were surrendering parents treated and how have they and their children fared over time?
Prior to the late 1940s, it was common practice for charitable organizations staffed by women to help single mothers to raise their babies. These outreach groups typically operated through churches and sought to give expectant mothers the tools they needed to provide for their children. As the forties came to a close and the 1950s began, many women realized that they could earn respect through the professionalization of social work. At the same time, the media began promoting adoption. This combination of factors caused the previous standard of care, which had embraced both mother and child, to be replaced by the idea of unwed motherhood as a “social problem” that could be remedied if the baby was removed and placed in an adoptive home.
The following quotes appeared in social work and adoption manuals, books, and other sources during the Baby Scoop Era (1950 through the early 1970s). They exemplify not only the attitude toward single motherhood but also the intent to pressure these mothers into surrendering their infants.
“Because there are many more married couples wanting to adopt newborn white babies than there are babies, it may almost be said that they rather than out of wedlock babies are a social problem. (Sometimes social workers in adoption agencies have facetiously suggested setting up social provisions for more ‘babybreeding’.)” SOCIAL WORK AND SOCIAL PROBLEMS, National Association of Social Workers, (Out-of-print) copyright 1964.
“The caseworker must then be decisive, firm, and unswerving in her pursuit of a healthy solution for the girl’s problem. The ‘I’m going to help you by standing by while you work it through’ approach will not do. What is expected from the worker is precisely what the child expected but did not get from her parents – a decisive ‘No!’ It is essential that the parent most involved, psychologically, in the daughter’s pregnancy also be dealt with in a manner identical with the one suggested in dealing with the girl. Time is of the essence; the maturation of the fetus proceeds at an inexorable pace. An ambivalent mother, interfering with her daughter’s ability to arrive at the decision to surrender her child, must be dealt with as though she (the girl’s mother) were a child herself.” Out-Of-Wedlock Pregnancy In Adolescence, p. 71, 1960, Marcel Heiman, MD.
Mothers who lost their children to adoption during the Baby Scoop Era consistently report feeling coerced and pressured by several sources, including their family members and social workers. In addition, these mothers report lasting trauma as a result of their losses; trauma which includes depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, grief, regret, and secondary infertility. Multiple studies confirm these findings. Adoption today is promoted despite concrete evidence that it is damaging to surrendering mothers.
Evidence also exists indicating that adoption is not a psychologically healthy option for children anymore than it is for their mothers. Adopted people are over-represented in psychological treatment in general, as well as in residential care facilities. They are also more likely than their non-adopted peers to abuse drugs and alcohol and participate in criminal activities during their youth. It has been found that these problems exist whether the child was adopted in infancy or in his teens. Rather than linking these common issues to abuse in one’s original home, time spent in foster care, or any other factors, research shows that adoption itself is the cause of a core set of problems for adopted children and adults.
Despite all the evidence that adoption is in the best interests of neither parents nor children, the adoption industry is growing at an alarming rate. A 2000 independent research study conducted by MarketData Enterprises revealed that the business of adoption was valued at $1.4 billion per year, with an estimated growth rate of 11.5% into 2004. It is no surprise that the lobbying arm of the adoption industry, The National Council for Adoption, is a vocal supporter of closed records, dishonest adoption terminology, and the promotion of adoption to single, young, poor, and otherwise vulnerable expectant mothers. As long as Americans continue to feel positively about adoption (as 94% of them do), the adoption industry will continue growing.
Modern Adoption Trends
After Roe v. Wade made abortion a viable option for women facing unplanned pregnancies, and in conjunction with society’s increased acceptance of single parenthood, the staggering adoption numbers of the Baby Scoop Era declined drastically. Naturally, the adoption industry had to change the tactics it was using to procure babies: the shame associated with single parenthood and “illegitimacy” was gone, as was the requirement that pregnant women carry their fetuses to term.
The biggest change in adoption has been the advent of openness between expectant parents and prospective adopters. Not only are pregnant women told that they can personally meet and select caregivers for their children, but they are also promised continued contact after their children have been adopted. Combined with continued assertions from adoption professionals that adoption is a “loving act,” and the way to “create a stable, lifelong future for your child,” many vulnerable mothers-to-be are encouraged to surrender their infants into the supposedly ideal situation of open adoption. Because the affects of adoption on both exiled parents and adopted people are not widely known, it is easy for a young, poor, or otherwise marginalized woman to believe that adoption will give her child a better life than she herself could provide.
Of course, open adoption is not an ideal situation for parents and children. Not only do the majority of open adoptions end up closed by the adopters, they also put the mother in the precarious position of being subservient to the people who have adopted her child. Even in the states where open adoption agreements are legally enforced, mediation between the adopters and natural parents offers no guarantee that contact will be restored. If the adopters feel threatened by the mother’s presence at any time, they can disregard the promises of openness that were made to her when she agreed to surrender her child.
Additionally, open adoption does not appear to alleviate the issues that are most problematic to adopted people. The false expectation that they will fit into their adopters’ families as if born to them still exists and is perpetuated by the issuance of a birth certificate naming the adopters as parents. Adoption records in most states remain sealed, making it difficult for an adopted adult to locate his or her natural family once an adoption has been closed. And of course, the effect of having one’s mother unnaturally reduced to the status of “family friend” – if she is kept in the picture at all – has the potential to be quite negative.
An Unnecessary Solution
Certainly, there are tragic circumstances that require a child to be raised apart from his or her natural mother. Birth control fails, rape is unfortunately common, and not every woman has access to or spiritual beliefs compatible with abortion. Abusive parents are a sad reality, and not every child has a family member who can take him in when his own parents have failed him. I can understand why people are able to accept adoption in these situations. However, there is no reason to believe that adoption is the only – or the best – way to take care of children in need of care outside their families.
As an alternative, the anti-adoption movement endorses permanent legal guardianship for children who cannot be raised by their natural parents. Legal guardians can be extended family members like grandparents, older siblings, aunts, and uncles. They can also be strangers or family friends, appointed by the child’s parent or by the courts.
While guardianship provides children with stable, loving homes (just as adoption is intended to do), it is much more respectful of the child involved. For example, guardians are able to make important decisions for the children in their care, but they are not the recipients of an ammended birth certificate or parental status under the law. This alleviates the familial expectations placed on the child and his caregivers, allowing their relationship to develop as the unique and worthwhile entity it is. Naturally, potential caregivers who are looking to obtain parental titles would be unwilling to act as guardians for a child in need. This is an additional benefit of guardianship; that the caregivers involved are motivated by the desire to help a child rather than secure some sort of status for themselves.
Of course, guardianship cannot eliminate all of the problems adopted children face. Separation from one’s family is a difficult obstacle to overcome. What guardianship can do is ensure that the children who need to be raised away from their parents have the opportunity to enjoy a secure and loving upbringing that respects the reality of their situations.
Domestic adoption has nearly been eradicated in Australia; money has been entirely removed from the equation, family preservation initiatives (including the dissemination of accurate information about the consequences of adoption) assist women facing unplanned pregnancies, and guardianship is the most favored option for children in need of substitute care. We absolutely can achieve the same results in the United States, if we are motivated by what is right rather than what is profitable.
. Coercion is discussed heavily in Ann Fessler’s The Girls Who Went Away (Penguin Press 2006, pages 9-12 and elsewhere), also in Merry Bloch Jones’ Birthmothers (Chicago Review Press, 1993, pages 11-16), Adoption Healing … a Path to Recovery for Mothers who Lost Children to Adoption by Joe Soll and Karen Wilson-Buterbaugh (Gateway Press, 2003, pages 19-22, ), as well as on OriginsAmerica.org and ExiledMothers.com, among other places.
. Information about the psychological impact of adoption on surrendering mothers has been obtained from a multitude of studies including the research of Judy Kelly, M.A. (available here: http://birthmothers.info/kelly/index.html), Merry Bloch Jones (Birthmothers, Chicago Review Press, 1993, pages 272-273), Dr. Geoff Rickaby (available here: http://www.angelfire.com/or/originsnsw/rickaby1.html), and others.
3]. Information on adoptee well-being taken from statistics compiled by Ginni D. Snodgrass and presented, with sources: http://www.ansrs.com/statistics.htm
. Nancy Newton Verrier, The Primal Wound (Gateway Press, 1993, page 7).
. Report written by Nancy Ashe of About.com, reprinted here: www.exiledmothers.com/adoption_facts/adoption_industry.html
. According to the NCFA website http://www.adoptioncouncil.org.
. According to the 2002 Adoption Attitudes Survey financed by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.
. Direct quotes from the Gladney Center for Adoption: http://www.adoptionsbygladney.com/html/pregnant/faq.shtml.
. As quoted in “Choose Lies” by Deb Berry, Orlando Weekly News, 17 April 2003; matches a statistic of 80% given by phone to a surrendering mother who posed the question to her adoption agency after the adopters cut off contact.
[10.] Information about current Australian adoption practices from “Current Adoption Policy and Practice – a Comparison between North America and Australia” written by Evelyn Robinson, MA, Dip Ed, BSW, January 2004: http://www.clovapublications.com/_data/docs/comparison.pdf