Understanding Options Counseling Experiences in Adoption

UT Arlington Options Counseling Survey

The Donaldson Adoption Institute (DAI) is excited to release our latest research report Understanding Options Counseling Experiences in Adoption: A Quantitative Analysis of First/Birth Parents and Professionals. This research was conducted by Dr. Elissa Madden, Assistant Professor at the Diana R. Garland School of Social Work at Baylor University; Dr. Scott Ryan, Dean and Jenkins Garrett Professor at the School of Social Work at The University of Texas of Arlington; Dr. Donna Aguiniga, Associate Professor at the School of Social Work of the University of Alaska-Anchorage; and Marcus Crawford, Doctoral Candidate at The University of Texas of Arlington.

The decision to relinquish parental rights to a child for the purpose of adoption is laden with many practical considerations, and even more importantly, a range of complex emotions and feelings for parents. It stands to reason that best practice in this area would dictate expectant parents who are exploring options surrounding an unintended pregnancy would receive unbiased and thorough counseling that explores the full range of options available. This practice has been referred to as “options counseling” in the field of adoption, and similar to other regulations in adoption that vary drastically by state, the practice of options counseling can be dramatically different based on state statute and/or agency practices. In fact, only about half of all U.S. states include references to options counseling in statutes that guide adoption – most of which are vague in nature and advise, instead of require, that expectant parents are made aware of counseling opportunities.

Given the negligible regulations surrounding what should be one of the most critical aspects of the adoption process, combined with scant research that explores the nature of this experience for expectant parents, further investigation into this process is critical if services to expectant parents are to be informed and ethical. This new study specifically sought to investigate the decision-making experiences of women and men who relinquished their parental rights to adoption as well as the standards that guide professionals who provide options counseling.

There are two phases of this study; the first that is currently being released is a quantitative analysis of a survey with first/birth parents and adoption professionals. The study specifically sought to analyze individuals who had relinquished their parental rights to a child for adoption after 1989 in an effort to explore more current experiences in adoption, particularly given more recent trends towards openness in adoption. Ultimately, 223 first/birth mothers responded; unfortunately, due to limited numbers of responses from first/birth fathers, this population could not be included in the study. For the professional respondents, 141 adoption professionals from 38 different states participated in the survey.

The second phase of this study, expected to be released in early Spring 2017, is a qualitative analysis of first/birth mother experiences as well as professionals who provide services in this area. The analysis is based on individual interviews that were conducted earlier this year.

UT Arlington Options Counseling Survey

A variety of detailed findings have been uncovered in this work which ideally will assist in creating best practice standards; standards that ultimately ensure an expectant parent is duly informed of all options surrounding an unintended pregnancy and is meaningfully and unbiasedly supported in whatever decision he or she ultimately makes. Only then can we say that informed consent has been given.

Major findings specific to first/birth parent experiences have been captured in key areas that informed their decision-making as they deliberated about the options surrounding an unintended pregnancy. This includes practical and emotional considerations, levels of perceived and available support, as well as knowledge and access to services and resources surrounding the full options available to them. Relationships with their child and adoptive family after relinquishment as well as the ongoing impact in their life were also explored.

There are many key areas to highlight in this study – some of which include findings that indicate a vast disparity in information women received, with the greatest concern being that the majority of women reported that they received very limited information about parenting their child. Financial and housing concerns as well as a perceived lack of emotional and social support were reasons many women had for ultimately relinquishing their parental rights to adoption; notably many women reported that the greatest lack of support came from family and friends. One first/birth mother poignantly stated, “It was a confusing time. I did all the wrong things, but it was no one’s fault. I needed someone to help me realize I could do it and have the courage and have the help. Without that, I guess I turned against myself. No one did anything wrong. But I just didn’t have someone who said it’s okay to keep him and I’ll help you.”

For many of the first/birth mothers who participated in this study, the findings demonstrate that the process was traumatic in varying ways. There were also mothers who expressed a more positive experience and successful outcomes. Many women, even those who felt positive about their decision, did still indicate some level of regret, with one mother aptly stating “knowing you did the best thing doesn’t mean you never get to feel regret.”

One interesting aspect of this study was the disconnect that appeared at times surrounding the services adoption professionals perceived themselves to be providing robustly and the perceptions from first/birth parents who often reported wishing they had more access to supports and resources along the way, most especially with regard to options surrounding parenting decisions. This point is not to argue that professionals as a whole are not necessarily providing services in a certain manner; rather, it is to say that there is something lost in the communication of this information that is not being understood and received appropriately by expectant parents. In that regard, it is possible that the overall lack of standards that inform options counseling combined with the manifold differences in state laws blur the information and services provided. This can have the unfortunate impact of leaving many expectant parents in a position to feel further confounded during an experience that is already rife with complexity.

DAI decided to release this report during National Adoption Month because this aspect of the adoption experience cannot be left out of the narrative, yet historically has been. It is critically important to ensure that all voices connected to adoption are heard from equally during this month and throughout the year. At the same time, for those of us who are connected to adoption, we must be open to learning about each other’s mixed experiences within the complexities that adoption yields.

This research study surrounding options counseling experiences is the first of its kind to truly gather perspectives from those most closely connected to this experience – many of whom have struggled in various ways in the absence of meaningful services while they were expecting and after the decision-making process. Practice in this area should not lead any expecting parent to one particular outcome; rather services should be geared towards supporting parents in making decisions that are fully informed and represent their choice for what they believe to be the best solution for themselves and most especially their child. This is what ethical options counseling represents and we all have a responsibility to make certain it occurs ethically.

Our sincere gratitude goes to James Stevens, who is responsible for creating the Lynn Franklin Fund in honor of Lynn C. Franklin, and to all those who donated to the fund which made this vital work possible. We additionally want to acknowledge Brenda Romanchik (LCSW, ACSW, CTS and author of A Birthparent’s Book of Memories and other publications) who served as Project Lead on this study, as well as the Lynn Franklin Fund Advisory Council who provided invaluable insight throughout this research.

Read the full report here.


Since 1996, The Donaldson Adoption Institute has been on a mission to improve the lives of children and families through research, education and advocacy. We investigate the issues of greatest concern to first/birth families, adoptive/foster families, adopted people, the people who love them and the professionals that serve them. We educate and train professionals, enlighten parents and engage members of the community to make a positive impact on laws, policies, practices and perceptions.

Unmasking the Truth about My Adoption


Kevin Gladish (Photo Credit: Johnny Knight)

This guest blog post was written by Kevin Gladish, who was born, adopted, and raised in Cleveland, OH. He is a recent late discovery adoptee who is still searching for his birth family and writing about the journey. Kevin lives in Chicago where he also acts, writes and tells stories onstage. Learn more about Kevin’s journey by visiting his blog (http://kevingladish.blogspot.com/). 

Almost a year and a half has passed since the day a small envelope arrived in the mail that would change my life. Tucked between an electric bill and a magazine subscription, my original birth certificate would come to reveal solid proof of a secret I’d suspected my whole life — that I was adopted.

Until I received that photocopy from the Ohio Department of Health, all I had were suspicions. I never looked much like the rest of my family. But the story went that I took after Mom while my younger sister (also adopted, but from another family) took after Dad. If you squinted hard enough you could almost believe it was true. And for most of my life, I did.

But there were other things that didn’t quite add up. Our parents, both devout Catholics, had been married 14 years before having children. And there were no pictures of Mom pregnant. “They didn’t take pictures of things like that back then,” she’d told us. They had an answer for everything. We were given official stories to tell the world and I did my best to convince myself that they were true. But I needed only to look in the mirror to see the truth.

When I was 34, I finally got up the courage to ask my mother. Dad was in the hospital recovering from surgery, and she and I were having an uncharacteristically open discussion about her childhood. I finally blurted out the question that had been hanging over my head my whole life. “Mom, am I adopted?” Her response was unexpected and sudden: full of anger and indignation. “Where did you get that idea?! Why would you ask something like that!?”  Shamed and embarrassed, I tried to tell her that it wouldn’t matter, that I’d love her either way, but it was as if I’d slapped her in the face. “You have a birth certificate,” she said. “What more do you need?” And with that cryptic non-answer, she walked away. I didn’t bring it up again for another six years.

When I later asked my father, the answer came with much more conviction. “No. You’re not.” And that was that. When I asked why he and Mom had been married so long before having me, he said that my mother had a hard time conceiving, but that they had found a “special doctor” who helped her.

I was 40 years old, and there I was listening to a fairy tale about my own magical birth. I remember thinking, “Could my own father be lying to my face?” I loved the man. I couldn’t accept that he would do such a thing. So, strange and improbable as it all seemed, I chose to believe his story.

All that changed last year when the birth records in Ohio were released. Until then, anyone adopted after 1964 was denied access. We were instead issued “amended” birth certificates, official state documents, listing our adoptive parents instead of our natural ones. That was the certificate my mother had referred to in order to halt my questioning.

When the law passed, Dad had been dead for a year, and Mom was pretty far gone with dementia. There would be no confrontation or moment of reckoning. There was only me and the truth. My suspicions had never gone away. And so, telling absolutely no one, I mailed an application, having no idea what would come next.

What did come next was nothing short of life-changing. It sent me on a search for my origins that has often been a sad one. I learned almost immediately that my birth mother, Judy, had passed away nine years before, leaving behind almost no one who who knew her and leaving more questions than answers. My birth father’s identity remains a mystery.

The search, however, has also brought unexpected gifts and blessings. I have found childhood friends of Judy and a cousin who provided photos, allowing me to see for the first time someone who had my eyes and my smile. The experience was profound. I’ve also found new friends, fellow adoptees with whom I can share, in support groups, my joys and sorrows. And I have a new bond with my sister, a fellow adoptee herself who I never felt free to talk to because of the taboo in our family against asking about adoption. We now talk freely and we support each other.

Finally, I have found a new confidence in knowing who I am. I have come out from the shadows of secrecy and shame to tell my story. Even if there are still gaps in the plotline, I no longer have to live in a made-up story that I never truly believed.

Now, when my doctor asks about my family medical history, I can simply say, “I don’t know. I’m adopted.” Isn’t that better than telling her a lie?

I don’t think I’ll ever truly know why our parents lied. Perhaps they feared that the truth would threaten the family unit that they built. But the wall of secrets they built to protect us failed. For years, it did nothing but cut us off from each other and from our true selves. It’s a wall that I am only now, at the age of 44, beginning to tear down. And thank God. Because it’s a lonely business pretending to be someone you’re not.

Sadly, many more states still lock up birth certificates. And some people still do not like hearing adoptees talk about feelings of sadness and grief, or about wanting to know the truth. Adoptees are supposed to be silent and grateful. We are not supposed to want more. But many of us do, and we deserve to know who we are and where we come from. It’s time to open up, to tell the truth, and to be done with the secrecy and shame that still surrounds adoption. I hope that my story can help to show a better way.


 If you’re interested in contributing as a guest blogger for DAI, please email Heather Schultz (Communications and Development Manager) at hschultz@adoptioninstitute.org with one writing sample, resume/bio and 2-3 desired topics of interest. For more information on our guest blogging submission process, click here.

Why All Sibling Relationships are Real

Courtesy of Mary Anna King

Mary Anna King (Photo Credit: Braden Moran)

This guest blog post was written by Mary Anna King. She is one of seven biological siblings who were adopted by five different families and raised separately. Her memoir Bastards (Ó 2015, W.W. Norton & Co) chronicles the story of how her siblings were separated and how they later reunited. Her writing has appeared in The Toast, Quaint, Dame Magazine and Athena Talks. Learn more about Mary Anna by visiting her website (www.maryannaking.com) or follow her on Twitter @maryannaking.

What is a sibling? Look it up in the dictionary and you find a clear definition: one of two or more individuals having one common parent. It is clear, definitive and binary. Individuals either share a common parent or they don’t. They are siblings or they are not.

Reading that definition as an adoptee, however, I see a statement riddled with grey areas. Is the common parent merely biological? Adoptive? Foster? Donor?

I am one of seven biological siblings. We were adopted by five different families and raised apart. My four youngest sisters were adopted on the days they were born while I lived with my birth mother until I was seven years old. At the age of 10, I was adopted by my maternal grandfather and his second wife. They adopted my younger sister, Becca, at the same time. Our older brother, Jacob, remained in the care of our biological father. So on the day of my adoption, my birth mother became my sister, and my brother became my nephew. My aunts became my sisters, and my adoptive mother’s adult daughter became my step-sister. My youngest sisters, all four of them, were strangers.

That’s the paper truth. The clear, concise, streamlined family tree that appears in public records. That’s not, however, they way my family feels to me. For sibling groups separated by adoption and via foster care, these paper definitions rarely capture the lives we experience. My youngest siblings and I may never built a “legitimate bond” as children (as we had never met), yet my connection to my siblings — those I had lived with and those I hadn’t — always feel more real to me than any other connections.

My youngest sisters were ghosts, existing in the fringes of my imagination. I added their names to the tail end of my nightly prayers, eagerly awaiting the day we would meet. Every time I was in a child-focused place — schools, summer camps and amusement parks — I wondered if my sisters might be there, too. Would I know them if I saw them? Would they sense my existence? Would we have the same voice? The same face?

When I started sharing the story of my siblings — especially during the tumultuous first years of our reunions — I was shocked to encounter several friends and strangers who asserted that my long lost siblings were not, in fact, “real siblings” since we had not been raised together. I was in my late teens and early twenties then. I was not yet armed with the support and wisdom of the adult adoptees that I have met as an adult. I had not yet read the work of Betty Jean Lifton or Nancy Verrier or the Lost Daughters. I had never considered the complexity of my own adoption story. So I did not tell these friends and strangers that my family is mine to define. Instead I wondered — like Pinocchio and the Velveteen Rabbit before me — what magic was needed to make us real.

It wasn’t a far leap then, for me to wonder about other sibling groups in the world, who may be living the same story as me and my siblings; placed in different families, through adoption or foster care, sometimes not even aware of one another’s existence.

Courtesy of Mary Anna King

Currently, several states have policies that address the placement of biological sibling groups when they enter the foster care system, requiring that every effort be made to keep sibling groups together and, if a joint placement is not possible, it requires regular visitation between the siblings. In 2008, the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act became the first federal law to acknowledge the importance of sibling bonds on a national level. These policies tend to focus exclusively on the placement of children in foster care, and they all fall short of endowing siblings with an unalienable right to visitation or association after adoption. Currently less than half of the states address post-adoption contact between siblings, and in those cases it is often with a court order, and often only with the consent of adoptive parents [1]. None of these policies address siblings adopted through private adoption agencies, and whether or not they and their adoptive parents have a right to be informed of younger siblings who are subsequently placed for adoption.

But siblings are more than just biology.

If you believe — as L.P. Hartley wrote — that the past is a foreign country, then siblings are our countrymen. We will vote in the same elections and be shaped the same cultural phenomena; from wars to boy band explosions to Pokémon GO. Siblings are there before our spouses and will outlive our parents. Siblings are the people who inherit the earth alongside us.

Children in the foster care system in particular may be bonded to individuals that fall outside the textbook definition of siblings; step-siblings with whom they share no biological parent, or peers with whom they have shared a foster placement. A relationship to another child — whether or not they share biology — can be very real to a child. And as the Velveteen Rabbit promises us, “once you are real, you can never become unreal again.”

For children already struggling with removal from their family homes, the loss of these relationships can be an additional loss. And while some policies and practices acknowledge many of these bonds, the more tangential seeming connections may fall victim to logistical considerations and fail to be preserved.

In recent years we have made great, giant steps toward supporting the sibling relationships between fostered and adopted youth. And as I look toward the future of adoption and child welfare reform, I am hopeful that we can enact policies that express more directly the varied experiences of adopted people and who we call our family. Because whether people live together or apart, whether they share biology or a last name, anyone can be “real” to another person. And once you are real, you can never be unreal again.

[1] Child Welfare Information Gateway (2013). Sibling issues in foster care and adoption. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau.


 If you’re interested in contributing as a guest blogger for DAI, please email Heather Schultz (Communications and Development Manager) at hschultz@adoptioninstitute.org with one writing sample, resume/bio and 2-3 desired topics of interest. For more information on our guest blogging submission process, click here.

Openness in Adoption: What a Concept!

DAI16001 Slides_Facebook Share_V2

The Donaldson Adoption Institute (DAI) is pleased to launch a new educational curriculum “Openness in Adoption: What a Concept!” The curriculum is intended for parents who are experiencing or considering openness in adoption as well as professionals who provide services in this area.

Adoption has changed dramatically since its formal inception in the mid-twentieth century. At that time, stigma, stereotypes and misinformed practice modalities led to adoption being conducted in a secretive and closed manner. Thankfully, a combination of research, changing social norms, and the advocacy of those who had suffered under a clandestine adoption system led to an embrace of openness as a fundamental aspect of adoption. According to research conducted by DAI, more than 95% of agencies today offer some form of open adoption and the majority of families who have embraced openness as a part of their experience.

Openness is a concept that makes sense to most people who learn about it; secrecy is never a healthy way to live and secrets have a tendency to increase the anxiety of all who are impacted by them. Openness is an opportunity for the extended family of adoption – first/birth families, adoptive families and adopted people – to honor all of these important connections and embrace them as a means of ensuring healthy identity for all family members (most especially the child).


Although this does make sense to most people, it doesn’t mean openness is always easy for people to navigate authentically. Complex family dynamics can be challenging, although most of us already have experience with different family forms, such as through divorce and remarriage, blended families and step parenting. In many ways, although the new family relationships we develop through open adoption may feel complex, they are often similar to other kinds of relationships we already have experience with.

DAI sought to develop this curriculum as a way to support families who may be struggling to make sense of these new family connections and engage with family members in a way that is healthy for all (most especially the child). In particular for children who are adopted, it is essential for their identity development that they have the ability to know all parts that make them who they are. This will always include both the family of origin – their first/birth family as well as their family of experience – their adoptive family. When families are provided with facts, resources and tools to navigate their new family dynamic, they have a better chance of living openness in a way that benefits their child as well as the entire family’s identity.

The curriculum is designed as an interactive presentation where a narrator guides the user through the curriculum. Video and audio clips that highlight real life experiences as well as example exercises are included throughout the curriculum in order for the user to have opportunities to put their knowledge to practice. The parts are divided into three sections that cover material surrounding exploring openness as a concept, learning about the experiences of openness in adoption, and finally to provide resources and tools so individuals can live openness in a way that is healthy for all family members. A documentary film that follows several families who have experienced open adoption is included along with a discussion guide. A User’s Guide is also included.


“Openness in Adoption: What a Concept!” is available at http://www.adoptioninstitute.org/openness and is free of charge throughout December 31, 2016.

Families in adoption today have the amazing ability to provide an adoption experience that isn’t shrouded in secrecy or tainted with shame. With openness, parents from birth and adoption can offer the child an opportunity to know all the chapters of their life, and seek to assuage the disquiet that comes from being unable to answer the basic questions of humanity. While openness will never take away all of the losses that members of the adoption constellation experience in unique ways, it can make the adoption experience more real and fulfilling. What a concept!

National Adoption Month: Honoring the Lifelong Transformation, Not the One-time Transaction


November became National Adoption Month more than two decades ago under the Clinton administration, expanding from the initial week-long celebration. The intended purpose of this heightened awareness is to highlight the need to find families for children waiting in foster care for adoption. This is a laudable goal given the 100,000-plus children waiting to be adopted from foster care – many of whom are older youth. This year’s #JustAskUs campaign encourages people to talk with teens and older youth in foster care about family and adoption. Headlines in the coming weeks will show heartwarming days in court where families finalize their adoption and ads that tug on your heart strings depicting children waiting for that day in court.

There’s a bigger picture to adoption though – one that far surpasses the legal mechanism that cements the permanency of a family. The complex experience of becoming a family through adoption will always be more than one moment in time. There is a vital need to candidly consider the many different elements that create the adoption experience; those that warm our hearts and those that may not.

Last year, The Donaldson Adoption Institute (DAI) kicked off National Adoption Month with the first stop on our Let’s Adopt Reform National Tour in New York City. This year, we are focusing our energies on pulling together all we have learned from our year-long Let’s Adopt Reform initiative into actionable information that focus on ensuring strong families.

Adoption is Not a One-Time Transaction, It’s a Lifelong Transformation


Before National Adoption Month even started this year, there were a handful of stories highlighting finalization days in courts. Some families call this a “gotcha” day which can feel a little uncomfortable because children, unlike objects, can’t really be “gotten.” Rather, some children transition from a family of origin (typically one they were born to) into a new family of experience (their adoptive family). This is inherently bittersweet for everyone involved; there are both gains and losses embedded in every adoption. Embracing this reality, and acknowledging that this is a journey that begins, not ends, when you step out of that court room, will aide a family in creating an environment in which adoption is embraced as a lifelong transformation. Families will be better equipped to do this if they have the right supports available to sustain their family over the course of a lifetime. These needs will ebb and flow; yet the resources must be ever present.

In the absence of the right supports in place, families will needlessly struggle and some will fail to thrive. As a society, if we do nothing to advocate for these services, we participate in these failures.

Families should be able to easily identify and access the necessary resources to ensure their well-being, and funding should be in place to appropriately support robust and diverse services. This includes educating parents to understand the benefits of post-adoption services and reframe help seeking as a strength.

There is a Lack of Uniformity in the Regulations that Guide Adoption


Services to expectant parents who may be exploring their options when faced with an unintended pregnancy, home study requirements, professional credentialing, rules and regulations all vary greatly by state as well as by the type of adoption – private domestic, foster care or intercountry. It may feel uncomfortable to reflect on this, but the fact that there is such disconnect in a system that is charged with ensuring the “best interest” of children is, quite frankly, chilling. And although the headline news stories that demonstrate the worst of what happens when the system is so fractured may be outweighed by less dramatic accounts, the bottom line is that if even one child is harmed by a system entrusted with their care it is one child too many.

As a society, if we do nothing when children and families are harmed because there is a lack of consistency in laws, procedures and regulations that guide adoptions, we all have participated in this maltreatment.

It is imperative that we work together, including adoption professionals, researchers, academics and those with a personal connection to adoption, to create standards and regulations that would assist in guiding the critical elements of the adoption process. This includes creating consistency in the home study assessment and training of prospective adoptive parents, counseling and services to expectant parents facing an unintended pregnancy, post-adoption supports, and other significant aspects of adoption such as fees.

Market Forces in Adoption Have Created a Variety of Grave Concerns


At one end of the spectrum, adoption is touted as a charitable act, the ultimate of good “deeds” by providing a home for children who otherwise may not have one. This characterization of adoption is better suited for a Charles Dickens tale. The rescue mentality in adoption is not a message that serves anyone in the family of adoption well; building a family through adoption should never be something we do out of pity or to be “charitable.” Parenting is too hard for that additional layer and it leaves children to feel forever grateful simply for having been adopted. None of this leads to authentic relationship building within the extended family of adoption.

This charitable message is also in stark contrast to the reality that most types of adoption cost money – and lots of it. The spike in crowdfunding adoptions through various internet channels is testament to the fact that adoption is not a free endeavor. There have also been a handful of stories that have cropped up this year with youth engaging in a favorite pastime of children everywhere – raising money with lemonade stands. Yet they aren’t trying to fund a new toy or to contribute to a local charity; rather one of these children was trying to raise money for his adoption fees. Another child, who had been adopted outside his home state, was exchanging freshly brewed lemonade to gather enough cash so he could have a visit with his biological mother and sister who lived on the other side of the country. Is it just us or does something about this leave a sour taste in your mouth?

As a society, if we turn our heads when we see fees that range into tens of thousands of dollars for the purpose of adopting a child, we are sanctioning the commodification of children for a profit. This reality becomes even more disturbing when fees differ based on the needs of the child or their racial and ethnic background.

It is imperative that statutes are created which uniformly and strictly regulate the money that can be paid towards an adoption, as well as clearly delineate the exact nature of the services for which fees are being collected.

No Reform Without Education


In today’s modern world, you can’t always tell just by looking whether a family is connected through adoption. Changing family dynamics have dictated that non-traditional is the new traditional; yet our practices and policies have not always been sensitive to this diversity. For those who have a connection to adoption and foster care, we can all agree that even within today’s modern times, we live in a biologically based world. Medical forms assume everyone has genetic knowledge and school systems persist in the tired old exercise of the family tree with one example of how these are created. We frequently neglect to acknowledge and create space for the rich family diversity that is constantly surrounding us.

These misperceptions continue to be most profound in the media, which typically highlight the dramatic fairytale or the cautionary nightmare when headlining adoption. The reality is that most adoption experiences, just like other families, fall in between these extremes.

Adoption is everywhere; we just haven’t found the appropriate way to seamlessly immerse it in our culture. At the same time, missteps in this space can hurt children and families in many ways, particularly when family is discounted, as it was in Simone Biles’ experience during the summer Olympics this year.

As a society, even if we don’t laugh at the bad jokes about adoption or give ratings to the inappropriate depictions of adoption and foster care in made-for-TV movies, we still fuel misperceptions. Staying silent is saying something – that it’s okay to misrepresent adoption and add to the stereotypes that hurt families and make it difficult to create needed changes in policy and practice.

The many systems that come together to serve children and families must become educated about the realities of the adoption experience. This includes educating media sources and vocalizing concerns for scripts and narratives that unjustly depict adoption. From there, it is imperative that we ensure greater interaction among systems serving families while also creating ample space to depict adoption and foster care adoption as one of many different types of families that should be celebrated.

A Human Rights Framework is Needed in Adoption


The bottom line is that adoption is in urgent need of a cultural shift; this shift requires us first and foremost to make decisions in adoption through the lens of human rights and to practice adoption in a way that primarily and fundamentally respects and upholds the humanity of all who are connected to this rich and complex experience.

Nowhere do we see this need more keenly than in the tragic news that Adam Crapser, an internationally adopted person, is pending deportation from the United States. We have written elsewhere about Adam Crapser’s experience and his plight. It culminated last week in a final decision to deport Adam.


Adam Crapser as a young child. (Courtesy of Adam Crapser)

We are sending Adam from a country he didn’t ask to be brought to as a child where he was traumatized by not one but two adoptive families. Neither of whom secured the necessary paperwork to ensure Adam’s U.S. citizenship or were guided by professionals to confirm this critical step occurred.

We are sending Adam to a country where he has not been since he was three years old, where he doesn’t speak the language, and where he may have no meaningful connections.

There are those who have utilized Adam’s transgressions as an adult to rationalize his deportation. But these transgressions fail to account for the fact that had the adults entrusted with Adam’s care when he was a child done what was necessary for him, Adam already would have paid his debt to society. He certainly wouldn’t be sitting in an immigration detention center as this blog is posted. And he definitely wouldn’t be awaiting word of his forced removal from a country where he may not have been born, but where he has lived for 37 years. A country that promised him a “forever family” on his “gotcha day” in court.

How quickly that narrative can change. And even if Adam’s narrative is not the commonality of the adoption experience, the shocking inhumanity embedded in this situation is something we should all be outraged by.

As a society, if we ignore this, we send a loud and clear message that adopted people are not entitled to the same rights as others who are born into their families. That adopted people, unlike other human beings, are “less than.”

It is imperative that we immediately pass the Adoptee Citizenship Act of 2015/2016 which provides retroactive citizenship to all people who were born internationally and adopted by U.S. citizens as children. From there, we must ensure that at every step of the way, families are guided in all aspects of the adoption process necessary to ensure the lifelong well-being of the child they are seeking to become parents to. Post-placement supervision in all adoption situations must provide both support and oversight to families so that children’s needs are being met at every level including the procedures necessary to secure their permanency.

Adoption is a profound life experience with many complex layers. It is joy and sadness; it is gain and loss. It is beautiful and it can be ugly; so ugly we may want to turn away. But we need to zero in and look squarely at the hard stuff. We want people to share their challenges and what makes their family strong. When you come together with others who have experienced these difficulties, you will undoubtedly find solutions you never thought possible.

We need people who are in a position to influence policymakers to be vocal about the need to create adoption policies that are fundamentally focused on the human rights of all members of the adoption constellation. Adam’s experience represents some of the worst of what adoption has created. But if we band together as a community of people who share in the very human experience of adoption, we will better be able to ensure that the failures that impacted Adam throughout his life never happen again.

Elie Wiesel poignantly stated, “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time that we fail to protest.”

Watch the happy moments this coming month, and throughout the year, that exemplify the beauty and possibility adoption holds. But we must also take action when we are confronted with the harsher realities of adoption and the failures that can permeate this system. When we stand together and boldly confront these challenges, it will make the moments we can celebrate authentic and profound.

Join us as we work to Adopt Reform.


Since 1996, The Donaldson Adoption Institute has been on a mission to improve the lives of children and families through research, education and advocacy. We investigate the issues of greatest concern to first/birth families, adoptive/foster families, adopted people, the people who love them and the professionals that serve them. We educate and train professionals, enlighten parents and engage members of the community to make a positive impact on laws, policies, practices and perceptions.