Tag Archives: adoption

The Baby Veronica Saga: Denial of a Father’s Rights and Now a $1 Million Lesson

To read this column on The Huffington Post, go to: http://huff.to/1iTVzAb

The last time most of us heard about the heart-breaking Baby Veronica case was several weeks ago, when the child’s Native American father gave up his years-long legal battle to retain custody of her, and her adoptive parents promised to maintain ties to her biological family.

Major Indian and child welfare organizations — including the Donaldson Adoption Institute – overwhelmingly decried the outcome as an unjust denial of a father’s right to raise his own child. Many television pundits and some adoption advocates, meanwhile, declared that a sad saga had ended happily because Veronica would now grow up in a loving family.

Alas, it’s hard to fathom how anyone can describe what has occurred — and is still occurring — in this case as “happy.” Furthermore, the saga has not ended at all, and proceeding as though it has would deprive us of the opportunity to learn its many important lessons: about the critical right of fathers (and mothers) to parent the children they create, about the corrosive effects of money on the adoption system, and about thesordid chapter in U.S. history when Native American children were systematically removed from their communities and placed for adoption.

First a quick recap: Veronica’s mother, Christy Maldonado, placed her newborn for adoption with a South Carolina couple, Matt and Melanie Capobianco, in September 2009. Dusten Brown, the child’s father, was preparing to deploy to Iraq with the Army at the time; he subsequently said he was deceived into signing relinquishment papers and sued to gain custody of Veronica, which he succeeded in doing in December 2011. On appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in July 2013 in favor of the Capobiancos, and Veronica moved back in with them two months ago.

That brings us to last week, when the Capobiancos’ pro bono attorneys asked a court to order Brown and the Cherokee Nation to pay them $1 million in fees. It’s hard to describe this late-stage maneuver — against a nearly destitute father and the tribe that supported his effort to raise his own daughter — as anything except punitive. And it’s even harder to reconcile the request with the cooperative transition to an open adoption that the Capobiancos had promised.

This latest chapter in a young child’s heart-rending saga does offer an opportunity, however, to step back from the details of the custody battle and consider its many important lessons. They notably include the role that money has played throughout this case, which has been replete with ethically dubious actions by the parties who, in the end, prevailed over Brown and his supporters. Here are several examples:

• The South Carolina director of Nightlight Christian Adoptions, which handled Veronica’s adoption, arranged for her own husband – who is an adoption attorney — to represent the Capobiancos. While not explicitly prohibited in South Carolina, such arrangements are viewed as a serious ethical problem in other jurisdictions. The concern is that, in such a situation, it could appear that an attorney had loyalties other than to his/her ostensible clients; in addition, even if the clients had issues with this conflict of interest, they might not risk complaining out of fear that the agency would put their adoption at risk.

• The Capobiancos arranged and paid for Maldonado’s attorney. As a result, there was the prospect — or at least the appearance — of divided loyalties, since the Capobiancos were paying the bills. Though permitted by South Carolina’s lax adoption laws, this is also a practice that has been widely derided as unethical. The American Bar Association in 1987 concluded that the conflicts of interest inherent in such “dual representation” cannot be reconciled because the interests of birth and adoptive parents are so distinct.

• According to several media outlets, the Capobiancos were quite generous to Maldonado during and after her pregnancy. While states generally permit some payment of living expenses for women contemplating adoption for their babies, most set limits as a way of curtailing potential economic inducements for mothers to feel pressured or, worse, to effectively sell their children. While no details have been disclosed about payments to Maldonado, for context, it is known that two judges who reportedly have approved unorthodox payments — such as television sets and breast augmentation surgery — were recently called to testify before a grand jury in Oklahoma (where Veronica was born).

• During her pregnancy, Maldonado cut off all contact with Brown, which prevented him from asserting his right to parent his child. Under South Carolina law, an unmarried father can only contest an adoption he has lived with the mother or has paid significant prenatal expenses. On the advice of her counsel (reminder: paid for by the Capobiancos), Maldonado closed both of these doors by ending contact, even directing hospital staff to pretend she had never been admitted if Brown called. Notably, through the entire case, he was never found unfit. Rather, the final South Carolina court decision — after a remand from the U.S. Supreme Court — said he not only had no right to object to the adoption, but also did not even have a right to a hearing to determine the best interests of his daughter.

• Moving out Veronica out of Oklahoma after her birth presented another obstacle because of her Native American heritage, which Maldonado disclosed at the outset to Nightlight and the Capobiancos. The adoptive parents were legally required to secure Oklahoma’s permission to move the child to another state, under a federal law known as the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC). They were also required to alert her tribe prior to relocation under the federal Indian Child Welfare Act. The problem for the Capobiancos, Nightlight, Maldonado and their lawyers was that if they followed legal requirements and alerted the Cherokee Nation, the tribe was almost certain to block the child’s removal from Oklahoma and prevent the adoption request from even being filed.

The child’s Indian heritage was not revealed, however, until it was too late to matter. In the initial inquiry to the tribe prior to the child’s birth, Maldonado’s lawyer misspelled Brown’s name and gave an incorrect birthdate, preventing the tribal connection from being made. This misrepresentation was compounded after Veronica’s birth, when Maldonado incorrectly listed her as Hispanic on the forms necessary for ICPC approval. Maldonado later testified that she accurately disclosed her daughter’s heritage with everyone involved at the outset, including the lawyer hired for her by the Capobiancos and Nightlight’s Director (who, recall, was married to their attorney). Maldonado’s testimony raises serious concerns about what everyone involved in supporting the adoption knew and when they knew it. In any event, the result was that the Cherokee Tribe was left unaware, and thus unable to stop the adoption from going forward.

And what of the $1 million request for attorneys’ fees? To be sure, the fact that the Capobiancos’ lawyers initially agree to work pro bono should not prevent them from now seeking payment for their services. Nevertheless, the request has to be viewed in the context of the sordid events that preceded it. Nightlight, the Capobiancos, Maldonado and their lawyers appear to have orchestrated a series of events that resulted in separating an infant child from a fit father who wanted nothing more than to raise his own daughter, and who did so for almost two years until an extraordinary series of legal decisions took his child away. Seen from this perspective, the request could easily be interpreted as a resounding message to any young parent who thinks to stand up to powerful industry that is too often fueled by a profit motive.

If adoption is to be a humane, thoughtful and ethical process, everyone’s rights must be protected from deceptive or predatory practices, and that means mothers and fathers — pointedly including Brown — should never be deprived of their children simply because they were legally out-maneuvered. It also means that a law designed to protect Native American culture should not be skirted or subverted to expedite any single adoption. And it means that statutory and regulatory action simply has to be taken to minimize the corrupting influence of money in a system that is meant to serve the interests of vulnerable children and adults.

Adam Pertman, President of Donaldson Adoption Institute

Bruce Boyer, Director of the Civitas ChildLaw Clinic at Loyola University in Chicago

 

 

Eye-opening Insights Into International Adoption, Orphans, Special Needs and “Re-homing”

To read this column on The Huffington Post, go to: http://huff.to/1aFxZ4t

A chilling story has been getting considerable attention in the news during recent weeks: Adoptive parents around the U.S., feeling unable to cope with the severity of their children’s problems, are using the Internet to informally move them into new families — without any professional guidance, support, monitoring, supervision or regulation. The process is called “re-homing,” and it clearly needs to be addressed (i.e., stopped) with targeted laws, policies and practices.

At the same time, this phenomenon needs to be viewed as more than a window into the struggles of a relatively small number of people. Rather, it should be understood as a cautionary tale about what can happen when parents are not prepared for the needs of the children they adopt, and don’t receive the necessary training, support or services to meet those needs (see “Keeping the Promise“). It also should be seen as the tip of an iceberg of unmonitored, unregulated adoption-related activities taking place on the Internet (see “Untangling the Web“).

Finally and pointedly — in the context of a new study by the Donaldson Adoption Institute titled “A Changing World” — the “re-homing” story should be understood as an insight into the emerging realities of intercountry adoption, because nearly all of the children in the news being “re-homed” were adopted from abroad.

The Adoption Institute study shows that a growing number of the girls and boys being adopted from other nations today are not the infants of adoption’s recent past but, instead, are older and sometimes have serious special needs. As a result of this new reality, the study recommends (among many other things) that best practices be created, reshaped and implemented to enable all their families to succeed and, for those with severe problems, to prevent the kind of distress that leads desperate parents to seek radical solutions like “re-homing.”

“A Changing World” represents the most extensive independent research into intercountry adoption to date, including into the regulatory framework/treaty called the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption (HCIA). The research was conducted over the past two years by scholars at Tufts University and the Institute; among its components are surveys of about 1,500 adoptive parents, adoption professionals in the U.S. and other “receiving” countries and countries of origin, as well as interviews with senior policymakers in 19 nations.

Key findings in the study, based on the responses from parents and professionals, as well as an extensive literature review and additional research, include:

• More children are remaining in orphanages for longer periods of time, thereby incurring the increased developmental and psychic harm that comes from being institutionalized, while also diminishing their prospects for ever moving into a permanent family.

• Though many prospective parents chose intercountry adoption to avoid contact with children’s families of origin, a fast-growing number change their minds and seek connections — which is leading to a growing increase in international open adoptions.

• Many countries of origin, including the largest ones such as China, are increasingly allowing the intercountry adoption primarily or exclusively of children who have special needs, are older, and/or are in sibling groups (to be adopted together).

• While the overwhelming focus for children in U.S. foster care is finding permanency domestically, American officials are also endorsing adoptions for some of them into families abroad. Ninety-nine children were adopted out of the U.S. last year..

• There is greater transparency and consistency in the international adoption process, as well as an increased focus on the best interests of and protections for children who need families, though there is great variability from country to country.

• The ongoing changes in the world of intercountry adoption have contributed to a steep drop in numbers (from a peak of almost 23,000 adoptions into the U.S. from abroad in 2004 to fewer than 9,000 last year and to rising costs that can exceed $50,000.

Based on its analysis of the research findings, the Institute’s recommendations include:

1. To the greatest extent possible, countries of origin should provide more-complete and accurate diagnoses/records on medical and mental health issues; these are often lacking, so it is more difficult for adopting families to prepare for and meet their children’s needs.

2. Receiving countries should offer more training and resources to help countries of origin improve their child welfare and adoption systems, thereby helping more children while showing that their primary interest is not just increasing intercountry adoptions.

3. Receiving countries should provide preparation, services and supports for adoptive families; the research found they too often do not know where to turn, and the help they need sometimes is not available. Preparation on special needs and openness is critical.

4. To the extent possible given economic and social realities, countries of origin should develop and provide better adoption education and supports for domestic families. The goal should be that more children can be placed in families in their own communities.

5. Adoption practitioners should provide more and better information for prospective and adoptive parents about the prospects/realities of making and maintaining contact with families of origin, and about positive ways to navigate possible relationships.

Intercountry adoption has changed comprehensively in the last few decades — and is still in the midst of its transformation from a robust but largely unmonitored process through which tens of thousands of infants and toddlers moved into new homes annually, into a smaller but better-regulated system serving primarily children who are older and/or have special needs. At the same time, uncountable hundreds of thousands (and probably far more) of boys and girls of all ages remain institutionalized in countries around the globe, many if not most with minimal prospects of ever living in a family or reaching their potential.

The accumulation of greater knowledge about adoption is critical to shaping, improving and implementing the laws, policies and practices that are ostensibly designed, first and foremost, to serve these children’s interests and to enhance their prospects for better lives.

Adam Pertman, President

Ellen Pinderhughes, Senior Fellow

Donaldson Adoption Institute

 

My Family Is Not a ‘Second-Best Option’

To read this column on The Huffington Post, go to: http://huff.to/13Y55fP.

I hadn’t known it until just this week, but Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, President Ronald Reagan, singer Marie Osmond, actor Hugh Jackman, journalist Judy Woodruff, basketball great Magic Johnson and I all have something in common: Our families are inferior.

At least that is what John Eastman, chairman of the National Organization for Marriage, suggested during an interview with the Associated Press about two cases currently before the Supreme Court regarding marriage rights for non-heterosexuals. Asserting that lesbians and gay men should not be permitted to wed because the primary reason for marriage is procreation, Eastman added, “Certainly adoption in families headed, like Chief Roberts’ family is, by a heterosexual couple, is by far the second-best option.”

The sound you’re hearing is the blood of millions of people throughout the United States and beyond — gay and straight, single and married, parents and children — boiling.

The Donaldson Adoption Institute, an independent and nonpartisan think tank that I am proud to lead, conducts research and policy analysis on a broad range of issues relating to adoption, foster care, parental education, professional training and, at the bottom line, best practices for children in need of safe, permanent, loving families. As a result of our work, and that of every other major, mainstream organization that has examined the relevant issues, I know that qualified gay and lesbian parents not only can provide such families, but are successfully doing so in growing numbers every single day.

During a lower-court trial leading up to one of the cases now before the Supreme Court, a then-star witness against gay marriage — David Blankenhorn, president of the Institute for American Values — acknowledged that studies “show that adoptive parents, because of the rigorous screening process that they undertake… actually on some outcomes outstrip the biological parents in terms of providing protective care for their children.” Message to Eastman and others who share your views: You’re entitled to your own opinions about gay marriage and parenting, but the research is the research, and you are not entitled to your own facts.

The National Organization for Marriage and other like-minded groups have not only tried to produce their own truths about adoption and gay-led families, but also about marriage itself. They flatly state, in the amicus briefs they have submitted to the Supreme Court, that marriage exists in order to promote “procreation and childbearing,” and they argue that since gays and lesbians cannot themselves create children, it is acceptable to prevent them from marrying.

The Adoption Institute’s own amicus to the Court offers a decidedly different perspective, based not only on the research on gay and lesbian families, but also on the empirical reality that millions upon millions of children in our country and all others are being successfully parented by single, widowed and divorced men and women, cohabitating couples and other unmarried adults; if the law is to be consistent, should they be prohibited from raising their sons and daughters? Furthermore, untold numbers of heterosexuals throughout time have gotten married, and are doing so today, without any intention of having children or, sometimes, without the ability to do so. Should they, like lesbians and gay men, be prohibited from walking down the aisle?

“Both history and scholarly research demonstrate that loving, nurturing families for children come in many different sorts and sizes,” the Adoption Institute’s amicus brief states, in part. “A biological connection between a parent and a child is neither necessary nor sufficient to ensure ‘responsible childrearing.’”

One more conclusion from numerous studies: Notwithstanding the reality that girls and boys can do very well in all sorts of families, they do indeed benefit from marriage for an array of legal and social reasons. So, if the best interests of children are truly paramount, and if research and experience show that lesbians and gay men can make good parents — via adoption or the old fashioned way — what is this same-sex marriage debate really about?

Finally, I’d like to take off my research/policy/professional hat for a moment to directly address Eastman’s “second best” comment. Is adoption sometimes a second choice? Of course, but that doesn’t mean for a second that it is second best, and perpetuating that contention does nothing more or less than stigmatize, undermine and insult the tens of millions of Americans (that’s right, tens of millions) who have adoption in their immediate families.

Speaking for my wife and me, as the parents of two first-rate children who came into our family through a process we chose as our best option, I know that Eastman is as wrong as wrong can be. If we lived back in the time when views such as his were more prevalent, I’d challenge him to a duel.

 

 

Adoption Subsidies: A Vital Tool for Families Adopting from Foster Care

To read this column on The Huffington Post, go to: http://huff.to/RhtYve.

More than 104,000 children in the United States are waiting in foster care to be adopted by permanent, loving parents. These girls and boys, who are on average 8 years old, typically remain in temporary situations for over three years before being placed with “forever families.”

The Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 aimed to help waiting children achieve permanency by requiring states to provide subsidies to parents who form families through adoption, thereby removing financial barriers that prevented many of them from doing so. These subsidies, at a median of just $485 a month, help families meet the basic needs of their children, including such critical services as health care, therapy or tutoring to address their sons’ and daughters’ physical, mental, cognitive and developmental challenges.

Adoption assistance helps many families adopting from the child welfare system – the vast majority of whom are foster parents (54%) or relatives (31%) who have very low incomes.Nationally, nearly half (46%) of families adopting from care are at or below 200 percent of the poverty level. State data reveal a similar trend: In Illinois, one study found most (56%) of families had annual incomes under $35,000 (excluding subsidies) and another found almost one-third (30%) had annual incomes under $20,000 (including subsidies).

Many parents report they could not have afforded to adopt without a subsidy. Among adoptive and prospective adoptive parents of foster children in a multi-state study, a big majority (81%) said subsidies were important to their decision to adopt and more than half (58%) said they could not have done so without them. In a study of success factors associated with families’ adoption of children from care, two-thirds (66%) of parents said they needed the subsidy to be able to adopt. The top barrier to foster care adoption cited by African American families is the lack of financial resources to support additional children.

According to economic analyses, subsidies “have a positive and statistically significant effect on adoption rates” and “subsidy policy is the most important determinant of adoptions from foster care that is under the direct control of policymakers.” A Department of Health and Human Services’ evaluation found that “adoption subsidies are perhaps the single most powerful tool by which the child welfare system can encourage adoption and support adoptive families.”

Finally (for now) research shows that adoption yields cost savings versus foster care. One economist found that every dollar invested in adoption of a child from care returns about three dollars in public and private benefits. Another study concluded that the government cost savings for the 50,000 children adopted annually from foster care ranges from $1 billion to $6 billion.

Despite all of this evidence (and more) about the value of adoption subsidies, when states experience budget shortfalls, they often decrease child welfare spending – including by limiting adoption subsidy amounts and/or restricting eligibility. To counter this trend, the Adoption Institute and the North American Council on Adoptable Children have created advocacy materials for parents, professionals and other activists to use at the state level. These resources are available at http://www.adoptioninstitute.org/advocacy/subsidies.php; they include:

  • An Issue Brief, “The Vital Role of Adoption Subsidies: Increasing Permanency and Improving Children’s Lives (While Saving States Money),” that presents research illustrating the critical value of subsidies to parents, states and, most pointedly, to children who need families.
  • Resources with state data (as well as general legislative, budget and child welfare policy sources) to supplement the national information in the Issue Brief. This information is designed to make the most compelling case possible to state legislators and their staffs.

As part of this campaign, the Adoption Institute and NACAC are seeking feedback from adoptive parents and child welfare professionals about the specific need for adoption subsidies in their states and any proposed limits to those subsidies, as well as their experiences educating lawmakers’ offices. To provide input, ask questions or offer suggestions, please visit: http://www.adoptioninstitute.org/advocacy/subsidies.php.

In an era of increased emphasis on evidence-based policy, maintaining adequate adoption subsidies is not only in the best interests of children, it is a sound investment in an effective strategy to saves states money. Modest payment increases of 10 percent could result in nearly 100 additional adoptions from foster care in a state in one year, while reducing these allowances undercuts vulnerable children’s chances of placement in secure families, gaining stability in their lives, and achieving better outcomes and prospects for their futures.

Georgia Deoudes, Policy & Legislation Director

Adam Pertman, Executive Director

Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute

 

Immigration and ‘Shattered Families’

November 8, 2011

The mantra is now (almost) universal: Adoption, first and foremost, should serve the best interests of children and, whenever possible, those girls and boys should be raised in their families and communities of origin. Unfortunately – sometimes because of well-intentioned ignorance, sometimes because of selfishness or greed, sometimes because of ideological or religious or simply misguided beliefs – that’s not always what happens in real life. And the results are not only brutal for the individuals involved, but also chip away at the institution of adoption itself.

Every incident of a mother being coerced, or of a child being trafficked (or “returned”) or of an adoptive parent being scammed pierces the hearts and/or undermines the futures of those directly affected, and that’s bad enough. But it also fills the public’s vacuum of knowledge about adoption with a sense that these singular stories are more representative of a general reality than they really are. This is not in any way an apologia for any of the bad stuff; quite the opposite. It means that, as long as adoption exists, we have to work mightily to make it as ethical and humane as we possibly can, and I’m proud to lead an organization that is committed to achieving those goals.

All of which gets me to the bottom line of this short commentary. While there’s lots of disagreement in the child welfare and adoption worlds about the issues I raise above – that is, what constitutes best interests, how prevalent the abuses are, etc. – there are cases when we should all be able to unite and say: “This sure looks broken and we need to fix it.” A new report entitled “Shattered Families,” published by the Applied Research Center, looks like one of those cases. It documents how thousands of children are removed from the custody of detained or deported undocumented workers in this country, and are placed in foster care. Here’s a link: http://arc.org/shatteredfamilies.

Some number of these children presumably are adopted into new families, even though they have mothers and fathers who want to raise them and could do so. Unless something’s seriously wrong with the research itself (and no one seems to have raised concern about it), this should be cause for alarm bells going off and voices uniting to demand reforms. Even as politicians on all sides try to shape Immigration policy that makes sense for this country and the people who want to move here, they should ensure that children and their families – and adoption itself – don’t become victims during the debate.