Tag Archives: open records

Legalized Infant Abandonment Roils Europe; Where’s the Debate in the U.S.?

To read this column on The Huffington Post, go to: http://huff.to/13WOsN7.

A colleague emailed me a few days ago to suggest that I listen to an NPR story headlined “Spread of Baby Boxes Alarms Europeans,” about the growing number of facilities – now in at least 11 of the continent’s 27 countries – where newborns can be legally abandoned. “I’m very glad we don’t have anything like this in the U.S.,” my friend wrote.

Alas, she was wrong. All 50 states and the District of Columbia have implemented so-called Safe Haven laws during the last decade, with exactly the same intent as the Baby Boxes: to save newborns from being left in horrible places (dumpsters and the like) by providing safe alternatives. In Europe, they are hatches at designated buildings into which babies can be placed and then retrieved by trained workers on the other side; in America, they are usually hospitals, firehouses or police stations, where personnel inside can accept the child.

The big difference between their approach and ours, apart from the logistics, is that there’s a substantial debate in Europe over the effectiveness and wisdom of legalizing infant abandonment – with human rights advocates and the United Nations calling for an outright ban on Baby Boxes – while there’s barely a peep in this country because, thus far, lawmakers have accepted this bottom-line argument: “If it saves just one bay’s life, isn’t it worth doing?”

It’s a powerful, emotional, compelling argument. Alas, it is also deeply flawed.

The best social policies result from solid research, thoughtful planning and careful implementation. Unfortunately, these basic standards haven’t been applied to the laws that address the disconcerting, very real problem of infants being abandoned in dumpsters, bathrooms, and other dangerous places.

Instead, with too little information about the causes of the phenomenon or the potential effectiveness of the response, lawmakers nationwide have created these so-called “safe havens” – again, usually hospitals, police stations and firehouses – where new mothers can legally desert their babies, anonymously and without the risk of prosecution.

These well-intentioned laws spread so rapidly during the past decade because they promised an intuitively appealing, easy fix. But complex social problems are rarely resolved through simple, feel-good solutions. So it’s no surprise that the Donaldson Adoption Institute’s examination of the issue, entitled “Unintended Consequences,” not only concluded that there was no evidence the safe haven statutes work, but also found that they had serious drawbacks. The Institute is in the process of conducting research to update this report, which was published several years ago, but indications are that its findings remain true.

In a nutshell, the core flaw in these laws is that a mother who is so distraught or so in denial that she would stuff her newborn into a trash can is not likely, instead, to ask her boyfriend for a ride to the police station. The Institute found that disconnect to be the major reason unsafe abandonments were continuing unabated, even in states that advertised their “safe havens” on highway billboards and in public-service TV commercials.

Women in distress need counseling and support, not to mention pre- and postnatal medical assistance. But these laws don’t even pretend to offer resources to help mothers deliver healthy babies or to resolve the traumas that lead them to jeopardize their newborns’ lives.

This don’t ask, don’t tell approach does open a Pandora’s box, however.

It undermines the established legal rights of biological fathers to parent their own children, for instance, while precluding grandparents and other relatives from helping to care for the mother or her child. Alternatively, it creates the opportunity for irate boyfriends or disapproving family members to coerce an emotionally fragile teenager into deserting her baby, or even to take the child themselves and anonymously abandon it.

Perhaps worst of all, these laws proclaim, loud and clear, that deserting a child is socially sanctioned behavior. That’s an unnerving message for our culture to be sending. And we know anecdotally that it is being heard: Some women who never would have thought to deprive their offspring of genealogical, personal, or even critically important medical information are doing so now, because they’ve been given an option that’s less of a hassle than receiving parenting counseling or filling out an adoption agency’s paperwork.

So there are indeed infants being left at safe havens, but there’s no evidence that many – or perhaps any – of them would have been left in horrible places if these laws didn’t exist. Rather, they very likely are children who otherwise would have been adopted through traditional means or been raised by birth relatives, but who now must grow up without any prospect of knowing the most basic facts about themselves.

The Adoption Institute report raised other red flags, too, from specific concerns such as whether these laws actually encourage women to conceal their pregnancies and give birth unsafely, to the sweeping indictment that anonymous abandonment flies in the face of recognized best practices developed for decades by child-welfare and adoption professionals.

The proponents of safe havens and Baby Boxes most effectively answer criticism by saying their approach is worthwhile even if it saves just one baby’s life.

I have an alternative suggestion: Let’s aim higher. Let’s conduct the solid research, and then do the thoughtful planning and careful implementation. That way, we can develop policies that help women who face crisis pregnancies, prevent infant abandonment – and maybe, just maybe, save all the babies’ lives.

 

Untangling the Web: A Groundbreaking Project – and a Request for Help

Social media and other elements of new technology are instigating life-altering changes in every aspect of adoption. These historic shifts range from creating challenges and opportunities for child-placement, counseling, outreach and other professional practices; to facilitating search and reunion to an extent never before imagined; to complicating the ability of courts, agencies and parents to determine the nature of contact between minor children and members of their families of origin.

In short, for good and for ill, the Internet is rewriting the rules of adoption.

I’m writing today – along with my colleague at the Donaldson Adoption Institute, Dr. Jeanne Howard — to tell you a bit about (and ask your help on) an important new research project that Jeanne is leading for us. It is titled “Untangling the Web: The Internet’s Historic Impact on Adoption” and it aims to achieve several objectives over the three years we plan to devote to it (funding permitting):

  • Gain a better understanding of what’s happening and its implications.
  • Offer knowledge-based findings and recommendations on effective/best practices for all the affected professionals, families and individuals.
  • Provide information and resources to enable all parties to deal more thoughtfully and effectively with the changes that are forever reshaping adoption.

Here’s how you can help: If you have examples, ideas or any other feedback from your professional or personal experience that could inform our work – issues in law, policy, practice or everyday life that we should be looking at, large and small – we would greatly appreciate hearing from you.

This means illustrations of how the Internet has improved or harmed aspects of adoption; stories of how social media have led to wonderful reunions or problematic ones; instances of positive, affirming communications or terrible ones (such as an abusive adult ignoring a court order and contacting a child) and whatever other issues you have seen, have concerns about, or think we need to research/address.

To share your input: Please send an email to this address: InternetProjectAI@gmail.com.

Let us know in your message whether we can contact you to get further details or clarification on the information you provide. Also, feel free to forward this blog – which also is being circulated as an emailed letter – to anyone on your own lists whom you think might be able to contribute. We will carefully review all messages and may use some as examples in our publications.

Your thoughts and examples will be invaluable to making this groundbreaking project a success, so thank you enormously in advance for taking the time to help. 

Jeanne Howard, Research Director

Adam Pertman, Executive Director

Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute

 

 

Adoption in the Media: What Do Pregnant Women, Killers and Crying Babies Have in Common?

August 8, 2012

To read this column on The Huffington Post, go to: http://huff.to/RACl6J.

When we don’t fully understand something, we’re prone to make mistakes when dealing with it. This not-very-profound truism popped into my head a few days ago as I was thinking about how to lead into a new commentary – the one you’re reading right now – about the negative repercussions of the secrecy, stigma and shame that permeated adoption for generations and, alas, sometimes still do.

Here are just a few of the examples I was considering as a jumping-off point, and I did not make any of these up: A new reality show called “I’m Having Their Baby,” which films pregnant women as they agonize over the decision of whether to place their newborns for adoption; a headline in a New Jersey newspaper, “Did They Adopt Their Killer?” atop a story about a 26-year-old man accused of murdering the father and grandmother who had brought him up “as their own” for two decades; and an online poster of two infants, the laughing one assuring the crying one, “Dude! I’m joking, you’re not adopted!”

Ah, welcome to the wonderful world of adoption, a place where women are baby-delivery devices for other parents, where men slay the people who raise them because they are not biologically related, and where the very idea of having entered a family in this way is so unnerving that it makes you weep.

It’s tempting to look at all this and conclude that the problem is the media, which too often succumb to the sensational without doing their homework – or caring – about the accuracy or consequences of their seize-the-second hyperbole. So, for example, was the status of that New Jersey family relevant in any way to the murders that were committed, because that’s the implication of the headline, and what’s the message it sends about adoption generally? And, of course, the internet provides a forum for every kind of random notion anyone can conceive, and there are lots out there that are far more toxic than the suggestion that being adopted is an insult; but it’s worth asking what that poster’s impact might be on adopted people (especially children) and, again, what’s the message it sends about adoption generally?

While the media play a significant role in perpetuating misinformed myths and negative stereotypes relating to adoption, however, they obviously did not create those beliefs and I’m confident they rarely transmit them with bad intent. Rather, journalists and television producers and regular folks who post pictures on Facebook primarily reflect the perceived truths of their culture – and the unfortunate fact is that we are still living with the remnants of the bad old days of adoption, when unwed mothers were routinely pressured to give up their babies; it was common not to tell children they were adopted (remember: we keep secrets about things we’re embarrassed about or ashamed of); and adoptive parents were often viewed as having second-best families that might even include “bad blood.”

Combine all those elements with another truism about secrets – that it’s very hard to learn anything about them – and here we are. That is, we’re learning more and more about the realities of the tens of millions of people affected by adoption but, as a culture and as individuals, we retain some of the lingering misconceptions that can undermine their lives.

The title of the new cable show “I’m Having Their Baby” is one of the best examples I’ve seen in a long time, even without getting into its content. I genuinely believe the creators of that program did not mean to transmit any hurtful messages relating to adoption; I’m sure, instead, they saw an opportunity to get strong ratings with episodes chock-full of drama, pathos and empathy, all the while demonstrating just how excruciating the decision to part with one’s child can truly be.

My professional life is all about educating the world about adoption’s realities, including the tough ones, but pregnant women serving as baby carriers for other people? That emphatically should not be among them. Use this title for a show about paid surrogates, not one about women whose options – and, vital to keep in mind, whose preferences – also include parenting the children to whom they give birth.

For the women on screen, is simply participating in something called “I’m Having Their Baby” not-so-subtly letting them know what they’re supposed to do? Will it unwittingly serve as a message to other pregnant women, and to prospective adoptive parents, as well? More broadly, will it communicate to everyone watching that this is what adoption is all about? In 2012, after we’re made so much progress on women’s reproductive rights and on best practices for everyone involved in adoption, am I really still asking these questions?

Adoption is not just about child placement. It is also about family diversity, about equal rights, and about treating everyone involved with respect and dignity. We couldn’t do that very well during an era when we lied to our own children, drove women underground and shamed nearly everyone else involved. Looking back, we can argue – whether it’s a rationalization or a fact – that those practices simply reflected the mores of their time and, besides, there was a lot we didn’t know.

Well, the times have changed, and we know very much more. So now what’s our excuse?

 

New Realities in the Extended Family: Who is the Woman Celebrating Thanksgiving with Your Next-Door Neighbors?

March 27, 2012

To read this column on The Huffington Post, go to:  http://huff.to/GV7pqq

Adoption has been around, in one form or another, for a very long time; to get a sense of how long, please see the Bible. As a result of its stigmatized, secretive history during much of the 20th Century, however (so stigmatized and secretive, in fact, that parents often didn’t tell their own children that they were adopted), there is a lack of understanding to this day about the parties to adoption and the nature of their relationships. And the repercussions of this lingering lack of knowledge are considerable – from inaccurate, corrosive stereotypes about the women who place their children for adoption; to uninformed, undermining attitudes about adoptive families; to obsolete laws and policies that treat adopted individuals as second-class citizens; to genuine surprise among most people when they learn about adoption’s current realities.

I hear that surprise regularly in the voices of the teachers, doctors, mental health professionals, journalists and others with whom I routinely interact as head of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, a national research and policy organization. “Are you sure birthmothers don’t want to just forget about the baby they put up for adoption and move on?” Yes, very sure. “I’m sorry that you, as an adoptive parent, couldn’t have any real children.” You should see my kids sometime; they look real. And: “It can’t be true that most states’ laws impede adult adoptees from getting their own medical information, can it?” Shocking maybe, but true as true can be.

All of which brings me to a just-published report from the Adoption Institute, the core of which is a new survey of adoption agencies nationwide and which is entitled “Openness in Adoption: From Secrecy and Stigma to Knowledge and Connections.” It shows just how far we have progressed – and how profoundly families have changed – since the stigmatized, shame-filled, clandestine days when it was considered good practice to keep nearly all adoptions of infants in this country “closed,” meaning the children’s new families and their families of origin knew virtually nothing about each other and never had communication of any kind.

Leaping forward to today’s very-different world, here are some highlights of the Institute’s report:

  • Only 5% of agency infant adoptions start out as “closed” and most (55%) are “open,” which means the birth and adoptive families know each other and usually plan ongoing contact. (The remaining 40% are in the middle, with information exchanged through intermediaries.)
  • Equally telling is the finding that 95% of agencies now offer open adoptions; remember, not very long ago in our history, that number was zero.
  • In the vast majority of cases, the expectant mother considering adoption for her baby meets the prospective adoptive parents and chooses her child’s new family.
  • Adoptive parents, like most participants in open adoptions, report positive experiences;  more openness is also associated with greater satisfaction with the adoption process.
  • Women who have placed their infants for adoption – and then have continuing contact with their children – report less grief, regret and worry, as well as more peace of mind.
  • The primary beneficiaries of openness are the adopted persons, as children and later in life, because of access to birth relatives, as well as to their own family and medical histories.

So, what does it all mean?

At the ground level, for the adults and children directly involved, it means we’re moving into an era in which the definition of “extended family” is being expanded to something along the lines of an in-law model – except it’s the children, rather than the spouses, who bring their relatives into the new family. It also means the practitioners who place babies for adoption need to better understand the sometimes-challenging road ahead so they can impart their knowledge to the involved parties, who themselves need to learn how best to navigate their complex new relationships. (The Adoption Institute is creating a curriculum for professionals and parents to help them do just that.)

Not all adoptions are “open,” of course, and most contemporary adoptions are not of infants; the majority are of older children from foster care in the U.S. and some involve boys and girls from orphanages abroad. One size does not fit all; no single type of family formation – by adoption or biology or step-parenting or guardianship or fostering – is right for everybody; and, while adoption has improved markedly in many ways in the last several decades, we’ve still got lots of work to do.

Even so, the knowledge we now have tells us that modern infant adoption increasingly involves informed consent, mutual respect and the genuine best interests of children to a degree that simply hadn’t existed before. And it tells us – in the really big picture – that adoption as a social institution continues to do what it has done for a very long time: open our minds and alter our collective views about what constitutes a family, and that’s very good news for the growing gamut of family constellations in our country today.

The woman celebrating Thanksgiving with your next-door neighbors is the mother who brought her son to this earth – and then placed him with his new parents. Don’t be surprised, be delighted.

 

Adam Pertman In The Media

October 30, 2011 – Pertman is quoted in a USA Today article that discusses a current storyline on the hit-show Glee and argues that it does not accurately depict the truths of adoption. To read the entire article, go to: http://usat.ly/sEvDTE.

October 28, 2011 – The Huffington Post ran a blog posting from Pertman entitled “From Steve Jobs to Kids in Foster Care: Lessons During National Adoption Month.”  To read the entire article, go to: http://huff.to/v7WTPf.

October 25, 2011 – In the Denver Post, an article by Colleen O’Connor, “More and more, adoptions being made out of foster care,” quotes Pertman regarding the increase in adoptions from foster care and the need for post-adoption support services.  To read the article, go to: http://bit.ly/tt35C2.

 October 20, 2011 – An Associated Press report by Kelli Kennedy entitled “Adoptions Spiked among Gay Couples in Past Decade” references the Institute’s report “Expanding Resources for Children III: Research-Based Best Practices in Adoption by Gays and Lesbians”  and quotes Pertman.  To read the article in its entirety, go to: http://apne.ws/rZhHQm. ABC News, the Huffington Post, the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times all ran stories about this important publication.

October 14, 2011 – Caryn Sullivan refers to Pertman and Adoption Nation in an article entitled “Adoption: Change is afoot” that appeared in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. To read the article, go to: http://bit.ly/rsmZII.

October 10, 2011 – Pertman was interviewed on America’s Radio News Network; he discussed how millions of people are touched by adoption and how it is transforming our country. To hear the interview, go to: http://bit.ly/w2msWw.

October 6, 2011 – Pertman was featured on an ABC Nightline segment that focused on the life of Steve Jobs and addressed the question of nature vs. nurture; that is, did the fact that Jobs was adopted affect his success? To view the segment, go to: http://abcn.ws/rXCDlg.

September 27, 2011 -WomensRadio aired an interview with Pertman entitled, “The Adoption Revolution.” To listen to the interview, go to: http://bit.ly/per0Oy.

September 16, 2011 – “Mothering in the Middle,” a blog for new mid-life mothers, posted an excerpt from Pertman’s new book, Adoption Nation, entitled “Don’t Whisper, Don’t Lie – It’s Not a Secret Anymore.”  To read the excerpt, go to: http://bit.ly/nzFgxv.

September 15, 2011 – A commentary by Executive Director Adam Pertman – entitled “With So Many Kids Who Need Families, Why Are We Rejecting Parents?” – appeared in the Huffington Post. To read the commentary, go to: http://huff.to/p5Jjjn.

August 26, 2011 – Executive Director Adam Pertman was quoted in “The Ethicist” column in the New York. To read the column, go to: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/28/magazine/the-ethicist-secret-history.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=pertman&st=cse

August 19, 2011 – Pertman appeared on the Today show discussing birthfather rights as a preview for a Dateline segment on a contested adoption. To see the Dateline segment, go to: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3032600/#44209050.

August 16, 2011 – Pertman is featured in an ABC News article about a mother and daughter who were reunited after being victims of an adoption scam 34 years earlier. To read the article, go to: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/seymour-fenichel-baby-mother-reunited-34-years-adoption/story?id=14314781.

August 15, 2011 – Pertman was interviewed by Armin Brott, a well-known parenting expert on his “Positive Parenting” show. To hear the interview, go to: http://www.mrdad.com/radio/2011/08/15/the-adoption-revolution-finding-your-perfect-family-size/.

August 2, 2011 – In a Minneapolis StarTribune article, “New Challenges Unite Adult Adoptees,” Pertman discussed how adoption was once “a secretive, shame-filled, stigmatized process.” To read more, go to: http://www.startribune.com/lifestyle/126529928.html.

August 1, 2011 – Adoption Nation was recognized in an article published in Bay Windows entitled “10 books every LGBT parent should read.” To read the article, go to: http://tinyurl.com/TenBooks.

July 27, 2011 – In an article on ABC News, “Graying Adoptees Still Searching for Their Identities,” Pertman discussed the need for adult adoptees to have access to their original birth certificates. To read the article, go to: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/MindMoodNews/adult-adoptees-fight-access-original-birth-certificates/story?id=11230246.

July 6, 2011 – Pertman was interviewed by Patt Morrison NPR show in Southern California discussing the research that supports adult adoptee access. To listen to the interview, go to: http://bit.ly/n1OHX3.

July, 2011 – Pertman and his newly released book, Adoption Nation, were featured in the July issue of Adoption Today magazine in an article entitled, “A Revolution in the Family.” To read the article, go to: http://tinyurl.com/ATPertman.