Monday, September 23, 2013

What Agencies Need to Start and Stop Doing: Ethics (Again)

Three adoptions. 

Three agencies.

Dozens of phone calls and e-mails.

Hundreds of books, blogs, and articles.

And here's what I've gathered.

A great adoption agency, one that is ethical, one that is truly a ministry (first and foremost), one that is supportive of all parties before, during, and after a placement (or parenting, too)...well, it's pretty hard to find   If not nearly impossible.

Agencies are run by humans.  Humans make mistakes.  Humans are subject to directors and boards and lawyers.   Humans are incurably flawed. 

But to me, there are some glaringly obvious changes that need to take place in the adoption agency realm.

Starting with:

  • Agencies need to require families to carefully consider and justify why they are choosing transracial adoption.    Agencies need to implement training sessions for families adopting children of color.    These trainings need to not only create awareness, but prompt families to action (action that NEVER stops).    There are too many White couples adopting kids of color who think love is enough, the world is colorblind, and it'll all be just fine.    And the agency never questions their motives and asks how they plan to embrace and create their child's racial identity.  The same goes for special needs adoptions.

  • Agencies need to push families adopting newborns (and, of course, older kids too) to learn more about attachment and ask them how they plan to implement those practices into their parenting.    There needs to be more education and support around adoptive nursing, co-sleeping, baby-wearing, crying-it-out vs. "spoiling" the baby with immediate responds to crying, etc.   Newborns aren't blank slates. Newborns have needs.  Newborns come to the adoptive family with trauma from being separated from the birth mother.  

  • Agencies need to stop giving adoptive families so many choices.   Bi-racial OR "full" African American?   Um, color is color.   A bi-racial baby can look African-American or White.   A bi-racial baby is still part-color.   This colorism business is disgusting.   What sex do you want?   Boy or girl?   (I remember when our profile was shown to one birth mother we know, and several families said they didn't want their profile shown because at the time the mom didn't know the sex of her baby.)   Listen up, yo.  A BABY ISN'T A SUBWAY SANDWICH WHERE ADOPTIVE PARENTS SHOULD GET TO PICK AND CHOOSE WHAT'S INCLUDED.   Agencies need to put this firm belief in place, so that adoptive families get it out of their heads that they get to pick because, after all, they are paying the big bucks---and instead focus on heart-issues, not financial.  

  • Agencies need to stop charging fees based on a family's income (adoptions don't cost the agency more because the family makes more money---hello!) and/or the child's race (charging less for a child of color's adoption lures less-wealthy families to parent children they may not prepared to parent or accept children who are "second best" to White kids).  Agencies need to charge reasonable fees for their services.  $20,000+ for a domestic infant adoption is baby-selling. 
  • Agencies need separate representation for an expectant or birth parent and the adoptive family, both within the agency and legally.  It's too messy otherwise.

  • Agencies need to hire quality workers who know about adoption and have an education and have experience in counseling.   Agencies need to pay these workers a reasonable salary for the work they do.

  • Agencies need to support moms whether they place or parent.    And train adoptive families to do the same.  

  • Agencies need to clearly convey to adoptive parents that a match isn't a promise of a placement.  Expectant and birth parents have rights.  And so does the unborn child. 

  • Agencies shouldn't minimize the birth father's rights and role.   

  • Agencies need to have open adoption agreements, even when it's not legally enforceable, so that adoptive families and birth parents take agreements (promises) seriously.   But, of course, first there needs to be more open adoption education.

  • Agencies, even where it's legally allowed, should stop asking adoptive families to pour more and more money into "birth parent expenses" which ultimately just puts pressure on the expectant parents to place and/or encourages the occasional manipulative expectant parent to prey upon willing and desperate adoptive families, draining those families financially.  Paying birth parent expenses simply shouldn't be allowed.  Ever.   It's too tit-for-tat.  Messy.    Agencies should work to get expectant parents on public aid and in programs that are set up to help those in need of them.  

I want to hear from you.  What would make the adoption agencies better?   What needs to happen? 


  1. an adult adoptee and the mother of a 12-year old daughter from China, I cannot agree more with so many things you have written. Adoption was trauma for me and trauma for my question about it. For me, seeing my daughter's reaction to her own preverbal trauma helped me see my own and get some counseling that was 46 years in the making.

    It's hard to look at my life and see how everyone thought I was being "saved" from something. I was just trading one kind of potential suffering for another. My mother who gave birth to me wanted to raise me. My father was not allowed to know about me...lots of secrets and lies. Now that I know the truth I can grieve what I lost...

    And I would bet anything that my daughter's mother wanted to raise her as well...perhaps her parents were even married. My daughter is not an orphan...she has parents in China. And you are IS baby selling. I was bought and paid for and then we bought and paid for our is an ugly truth to acknowledge.

    This stuff matters to the adopted person...we may not all acknowledge it in the same way or to the same degree, but it matters. I understand why non-adopted people don't get it, but so many of us adopted people just desperately want you to believe what we say rings true for US...Lee H.

  2. I want our adoption to be about the connection with a birthmother, not who the agency thinks we should be "shown to".

  3. AMEN!!!!!! We are at an odd spot, as we've been pursuing infant adoption for the last two years through an agency we carefully researched and *thought* was ethical, compassionate, honest etc, but in the end we found out that they too preferred to put business before children. We now find ourselves at an odd spot with an agency home study, a private home study (what's the difference you ask? Our agency wouldn't "let" us use our home study from them for an adoption that was not done through them or their partner agencies, even though we've asked them countless times in the last 2 year and it was one of our first questions to them "what if we are connected to a baby outside of your agency?" and their response even when presented with a real possibility was "we are here to support you through your adoption and advocate for you..." Apparently that didn't actually mean doing work for us, it meant cheerleading because when push came to shove that was not the case and ultimately based on how they handled our question and their answer we discontinued our relationship with them because we could no longer trust them to accurately advocate or reflect us. Therefore another change I'd like to see is that a home study is a home study, it belongs to the family (not the agency) and can be used for any adoption that the family is approved for (i.e. certain age range/needs/number of children etc).

  4. I have to disagree with you on the choice of gender issue. Due to the constraints of our "pre-existing" children and the size of our house we are only able to adopt a girl. If we can't choose gender then we are severely not adopting or waiting for referral/match after referral/match until a girl comes available (or whatever the politically correct adoptive term is). And on the flip side, if we had a larger house with more bedrooms and since we already have two little girls, we would love to parent a little boy. Now, house constraints may not always be the case and maybe some couples are simply being controlling and demanding, but placing a blanket rule that says no gender choice allowed may not be the answer either. After all, they are still wanting to adopt and raise a child and that is still something to be celebrated, in my personal opinion. You may not agree with their motives or plans, but when do we really agree with other parents on all their parenting decisions? And those of us who want gender choice aren't all looking for a subway sandwich, what we are looking for is a child that will work in our existing family dynamic and home situation.

    I also think it's a fine line to walk in wanting the adoption agency staff to be paid a reasonable salary, for agencies to provide more training and support, and for the price of adoption to go down. I would be curious to see some case studies done on the amount of actual expenses that an agency has (labor, CE, insurance, overhead, etc), the amount of hours that their case workers put in (and it sounds like you're actually increasing their workload with a lot of your you can essentially increase their hours), and the labor costs per adoption. Labor is a very expensive part of any business and to have case workers that are available and trained in what you're requesting might cost more money than we might imagine. I realize that adoption shouldn't be about money, but the reality is that any business has operating costs and a lot of times us lay people don't fully understand all the expenses. I speak from experience...since we own our business...people generally don't have any idea the true cost of things. I'm not saying they're all above board in the way they do things, but I am saying that we may not fully comprehend their budgets and financial situations either.

    Just food for thought. :)

  5. As a birthmom (YES I AM AND PROUD TO SAY SO). One more thing that needs to be done is there needs to be litigation that should be supported by the agencies and fought for by all that an open adoption be legal whereby giving rights to the birthmom. I have seen to many birthmoms who are heartbroken when the ties that bond are ripped out from under them. A birthmom needs promises made to be kept.

  6. I have to admit that I am surprised that agencies give money to the birthmom? I never asked for any and never received any. Granted, mine was over 24 yrs ago and I have reunited but I only thought that this was only through a personal lawyer, that is why I chose an agency. I didn't want to feel (this was just MY personal feelings) that I was selling my baby


Comments are moderated and published upon approval. Your thoughts and questions are also welcome via e-mail at whitebrownsugar AT hotmail DOT com.