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NPO publishes blog articles to inform and to stimulate conversation about issues of importance to NPO's mission.  All blog articles express the opinions of the authors as individuals and do not necessarily reflect the views of National Parents Organization, its Board of Directors, or its executives.  

March 5, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

The Institute for Family Studies offers us this thought-provoking short article (IFS, 3/3/15). It’s about adoption and the problems adopted children face. The author, Naomi Schaefer Riley, cites a couple of articles by adoptees that appeared in the Washington Post and the New York Times. They raise the intriguing and mysterious issue of just what the ties of blood — those between biological parents and their children — are, if anything.

A piece in the Washington Post by Shaaren Pine called “Please Don’t Tell Me I Was Lucky to Be Adopted” chronicles the struggles of the author who was born in an orphanage in India but raised by a well-off family in Massachusetts. “Can you imagine being the only person in the world you know you’re related to?” she asks, describing the deep depression and suicidal tendencies she has felt since adolescence.

And a New York Times piece by Juli Fraga offered a startlingly similar message. Fraga, whose best guess about her origins is that she was “abandoned on the street in Korea” or that her mother had died, writes, “Countless times, well-meaning friends, relatives and acquaintances told me I was ‘lucky’ to have been adopted, ‘lucky’ even to live in America.” But she suggested that those people were all disregarding the “grief” she describes she felt in being disconnected from her biological family.

Now, Riley characterizes this as the pull of “nature,” the blood tie, but I find that a dubious proposition. She does so by contrasting Pine’s and Fraga’s stories with that of the two French babies who were switched at birth and raised by non-biological parents. I wrote about them here. The two families met 20 years later and decided sensibly to remain intact, with non-biological children remaining with their non-biological parents.

So where is the pull of nature in their cases?

“I realized that we were very different, and we didn’t approach life in the same way,” Ms. Serrano said. “My biological daughter looked like me, but I suddenly realized that I had given birth to a person I didn’t know, and I was no longer the mother of that child.”

That’s why I doubt that the explanation for Pine’s and Fraga’s anguish has anything to do with the lack of a blood tie to their adoptive parents, but to other rather obvious factors. In the French case, the children had virtually no contact with their biological parents. They were taken from the hospital at the age of a few days, became attached to the adults who cared for them and who equally bonded with their little ones, irrespective of the lack of a biological connection.

By contrast, Pine and Fraga seem to have had either no adult to whom to attach in the critical early months of their lives or attached and then had that attachment broken. Either way, children can suffer all their lives under those circumstances, but the issue isn’t blood, it’s attachment.

Which brings me to Riley’s more important point.

These women are not alone. The literature on the outcomes of adoption, even for those not involved in transracial adoptions, is often depressing. According to a 2000 study in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, “adoptees were about twice as likely as nonadoptees to have received [mental health] counseling.” More worrisome, according to a 2001 study in the journal Pediatrics, “attempted suicide is more common among adolescents who live with adoptive parents than among adolescents who live with biological parents.”

Pine seems to capture the tension that is at the heart of so much of the literature about modern adoption. Which is to say, adoption often seems to result in serious emotional problems for adoptees.

And that of course is something all state officials who seem bent on the notion that as many children as possible should be adopted, irrespective of need, should read. Across American and around the world, public officials have removed the restrictions on adoption to a point that, in some respects, there are none left. Statements of intention by state legislatures routinely acknowledge that “facilitating adoption” is the purpose of such and such a law.

That’s certainly the case with putative father registries, established by and for the adoption industry, whose sole function is to reduce the possibility that an unmarried father might be able to claim custody. They do that by requiring all single men who believe they may have fathered a child to register with the state, just in case (a) the woman became pregnant, (b) she carried it to term and (c) she decided to place it for adoption. Of course the man may well be in no position to know any of those things which the woman does know. So the sensible thing would be for the woman to provide the information to the court in which the adoption is pending. The court could then contact the man and find out if he wanted custody or not, and if so, if he were qualified to be a parent.

The point being that, by placing the onus on men instead of women, legislatures signal unequivocally their intention to remove the father from the adoptive process if at all possible. That states routinely keep their registries closely guarded secrets only adds to the clarity of the situation.

Then there’s the fact that, in the United States, the federal government pays states hefty bounties for every child adopted out of foster care. That’s a strong encouragement to states to get as many kids into foster care as possible, a fact acknowledged by one former North Dakota state senator. “Special needs” children are especially valued by states because the federal payoff is over twice what it is for other kids. That’s why North Dakota tags every single Native American child in the state as having “special needs.” That’s right, every single one.

So state and federal lawmakers might want to read some of Riley’s words like “adoption often seems to result in serious emotional problems for adoptees,” and “attempted suicide is more common among adolescents who live with adoptive parents.” Money’s nice, but when it comes at the cost for kids of grievous mental problems including suicide, we should rethink our enthusiasm for forcing adoptions on children.

And forcing adoptions is exactly what we do even though Riley doesn’t seem to know it.

But the alternative [to adoption] in most cases would be much worse. Whether they would have been raised by neglectful or even abusive parents, or placed in an institutional setting for lack of a family who wanted to take them in, these adopted children really were luckier than many of their peers.

Would the alternative “be much worse?” Not necessarily. As I said above, many children are adopted because the adoption industry has managed to establish laws that are, unsurprisingly, quite agreeable to the adoption industry. They make adoptions easier and quicker which increases the adoption industry’s cash flow. But in the process, they remove fathers from the process, many of whom are entirely ready, willing and able to parent their kids.

Add to that the fact that, according to the Urban Institute, child protective agencies that are the conduits for children into foster care are part of the same system. CPS agencies, the Urban Institute found, make no effort to contaFFct fathers in over half the cases of children placed in foster care. Again, this increased flow of children into foster care may eventually swell state coffers with federal money, but it comes at the expense of children and fathers. The practice was made illegal throughout the ninth federal judicial circuit four years ago, but has shown no sign of abating. That’s even more remarkable given that the Department of Health and Human Services publishes a booklet by, among others, Dr. Bradford Wilcox, that pleads with caseworkers to get fathers involved in children’s lives when mothers are found to be abusive or neglectful of their kids.

Adoption is certainly the best outcome for a lot of kids. Generally speaking, it’s far better than group homes or foster care and, if there’s not a qualified biological parent to care for the child, it’s almost a necessity. We rightly applaud the many fine, loving adoptive parents who care for children whose lives edge close to a dangerous line.

But the system of adoption is deeply flawed and fairly screams for change. Children who are adopted need to be only those who truly need it, i.e. those without suitable biological parents.

#adoption, #putativefatherregistry, #instituteforfamilystudies

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