When is adoption “done right?”

“I think adoption is a blessing all around when it’s done right.”

Hugh Jackman

When is adoption “done right?”  Sometimes it is easier to think about the ways something can be “done wrong” in order to be sure we get it right. Any time adoption is not informed by respect and truth, or when it is not voluntary for a placing parent, it is done wrong.  Any time adoption moves forward without regard for the child at the center, and for each of the participants – birth and adoptive – that is adoption done wrong. Any time adoption is pushed as the only moral choice, it is done wrong. Any time when grief and loss are not acknowledged, when birth parents or adoptive parents are not supported, that is adoption done wrong.  Any time when adoptive parents are not prepared for the unique parenting journey that is adoption or birth parents are not prepared for the journey of healing after placement, that is adoption done wrong.

These are very important concerns, especially considering that there are unscrupulous people who try to capitalize on the vulnerability of those in the adoption triad. These so-called facilitators prey on the vulnerable – biological parents and prospective adoptive parents alike – and charge significant fees for themselves in the process…. that is definitely adoption done wrong.

In a different category of “not done right,” there are physicians who, despite the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) opinion issued in June 2012, still influence expectant parents and facilitate adoptions without benefit of some of critical standard support measures.

Hospitals, where most births take place, sometimes try to take a “hands off” approach to adoption, perhaps in an effort to reduce any liability should things go wrong. In an era when most hospitals strive to be patient centered, a hands-off approach to adoption may harm patients if the agencies presented to patients do not follow ethical adoption practices. (Being licensed does not necessarily mean that the agency follows best practices.) Or, a hospital social worker might make a decision to involve child protective services without presenting open adoption as an option, forever changing the lives of biological parent and child. Agencies that do not present a woman or couple all the information they may need to make an informed decision are not best practice. Adoption is a decision with life-long consequences for each person in the adoption triad, and to enter into adoption without, for example, consult from an independent attorney or without access to an independent counselor, may not work in the best interest of the biological parent.

When adoption is not “done right,” we hear about it in the news and sad stories get shared, which unfairly affect all in the adoption triad. There are still professionals and agencies, like Friends in Adoption (FIA), who value and constantly work toward getting it right. Adoption done right starts with the recognition that, like people, all adoptions are unique. When we respect that mothers/couples know what is best for themselves, and recognize that the decision to place a child for adoption is an incredibly courageous, brave, loving decision (and that it isn’t for everyone), that is adoption done right. Adoption done right is making sure that each biological parent has a chance to consider their decision both before and after a child is born. The offer of independent, licensed counseling is imperative. Best practice adoption professionals routinely provide independent counseling to explore grief and loss and what to expect with placement.

Adoption done right places the child at the center of the plan, considering the needs of all in the plan regarding degrees of openness in pre and post adoptive contact and communication, and minimally expecting that a child deserves to know their own medical history and as much as possible about the circumstances around the decision of their birth parents.

Adoption done right never pressures a woman/ couple to place their child, and that means no pressure from the woman’s/ expectant couple’s family or friends, or from an adoption agency, or from prospective adoptive parents. When adoption is done right, it isn’t pitted against abortion or parenting as the only moral choice for an unplanned pregnancy. Adoption done right acknowledges that for some, it is the best decision for the birth parent, and that for others, abortion or parenting is what is best for those others.

When we support women who are considering placement, without pressuring them, and when we support birth or adoptive parents – for life – that is adoption done well. FIA has found that sometimes birth parents who worked with other agencies or attorneys received little to no support or counseling before, during, and after placing their child. Sometimes these birth parents find their way to the support group that FIA helps organize and promote, run by an excellent licensed counselor. We welcome them, and only wish that they had found FIA to begin with.

Ethical and best practice adoption professionals do their best to be sure that people considering placing their child are prepared to engage in a decision with lifelong consequences and responsibilities. Friends in Adoption calls on those people and entities who come into contact with women and men considering adoption for their child to get adoption right. There is no place for unscrupulous or unethical practitioners/practices. Many of the hospitals and social workers that work with Friends in Adoption do so because they know that FIA will see to it that a woman/couple receives the counseling and support they need and deserve. FIA provides lifelong resources and works inclusively with all families.

When adoption is done right, we don’t hear about it in the news. Instead, for example, we see it in the smiles on the faces of the women, men, and children at the annual FIA picnic. Friends in Adoption has worked with women and couples who continue to articulate years after a placement that the adoption was “meant to be” or “a match made in heaven,” and that the placement was right for all involved – with love for the child at the center of the ongoing relationship. Let’s keep getting it right!

Dawn Smith Pliner

Director, Friends in Adoption

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