Report Back from Working Sessions (Morning)
Moderator: Carol Biddle, M.S.W., Kinship Center, Monterey, CA
(1) Barbara Shaw and Marcy Axness - Does Adoption Respect the Interests of Birthparents and Birth Family Members?
When does adoption begin (in infant adoption)? How does it affect the approach of the prospective adopters when they know the birthmother and have set their sights on a particular baby and that birthmother? From a pre-natal standpoint, how does it affect mother and baby when the mother emotionally relinquishes her baby during her pregnancy? What are the interests of the birthparents and birth family members?
The interests of the baby and mother are intertwined and inseparable while the mother is pregnant. While it was believed that a pregnant woman's psychological relinquishment of her baby during pregnancy is best for all involved, there is now evidence that it may harmful for the child and for the mother. It is ironic that we respect the fact that animals cannot be taken away from their mothers for a certain amount of time after birth, but we do not give the early relationship between human mothers and children the same importance. Counseling is important for birthmothers so that they will realize their importance in their child's life and so that they will have support throughout the adoption process.
It is imperative that the birthmother be allowed to explore all options, including the opportunity to mother her child during pregnancy and after birth. This not only benefits the child, but gives the birthmother the opportunity to be certain that she is making the right decision - a certainty which will help develop and maintain positive relationships in open adoptions, and foster a strong sense of parenting entitlement in the adoptive parents.
Sensitivity training courses are needed for doctors and nurses so that they can counsel prospective birthmothers and allow them to take the time that they need with their children before placing them for adoption.
- Standards for counseling birthparents must be established.
- Sanctions must be created so that when legal and ethical standards are breached, there are consequences.
- "Think about what undue suffering we would be able to eliminate, if we could prevent unnecessary adoptions from occurring."
(2) Dee Dee Mascarenas - Do Adoptees Have Rights?
There is a recognition that practices and policies followed in the adoption community have not been effective in supporting all members of the triad. All those involved in adoptions - not only triad members, but agencies, social workers and attorneys as well - should be viewed as lifelong partners in the process.
We must rethink how to present information to birthparents at the beginning of the adoption process. The issues and rights of the birthparents are strongly linked to the rights of the adopted person. When the birthparent relinquishes a child, is the child's right to know who they are and where they come from also relinquished? It is important to look at these as distinct issues.
In the U.S., when birthparents relinquish their children, it may be implied that confidentiality will be maintained, but there are no legal guarantees. In other countries, such as Australia and Britain, the right of the adoptee is not an issue because birth records are not sealed.
Birth certificates should not be falsified. Ironically, birth certificates contain the following notice: It is illegal to falsify or change this document in any way. In cases where birth certificates have been changed, adoptive parents should be given both the original and the amended version. They should be allowed to share this information with their children when they believe it is appropriate. This decision as well as others should not be in the hands of agencies. Adoptive families have the right to conduct their lives as they see fit.
Perhaps agencies should contact adoptive families and apologize to them for having given them inaccurate information, even though they believed that they were acting in the best interests of the families at the time.
Most records only preserve one moment in time and provide adoptees with very limited information. Adoptee records should be added to over time so that more information will be available.
Autonomy should also include the right to be left alone. Some adoptees may not want birth families to come back into their lives and look at this occurrence as a violation.
The right of adult adoptees to handle their lives as they see fit, whether or not this includes searching for information, should be respected. There are no laws other than those pertaining to adoption (with the exception of domestic violence and child abuse laws) which legislate how adults may interact with each other. Ideally, courts should not hold this power. However, because laws do exist, those associated with adoption should work closely with legislators in order to keep them informed and guide them in forming good social policy.
Birth is a public occasion. This should apply to adoptions as well.
All options (including both open and closed adoption) should be available to those involved in adoption so that they have access to what they need at any given time.
Every child has the right to health care and should be provided access to information about their medical history.
(3) Rena Phillips - Who Is a Good Adoptive Parent?
The issues which require attention include:
- On what grounds do we include or exclude prospective adopters?
- Are assessments necessary or is the task to educate and prepare prospective adopters, particularly in regard to children with special needs?
- What are the boundaries between assessment and education?
- Are we ready to let go of the professional power we derive as social workers from assessing people?
- How can we work in partnership with prospective adoptive parents?
For many prospective adoptive parents, the process of assessment is threatening, causes them to feel out of control, and infantalizes them. In a Scottish research project, prospective adopters do self-assessments and present them to an adoption panel. Because social workers have a legal responsibility to ensure that children are placed in good homes, homestudies are still necessary. The notion of self-assessment, however, is important in that it gives prospective adopters more self-determination, enables them to learn the challenges of the system and the adoption process early, and gives them a sense of empowerment to fight for post-adoption services.
Age is considered a barrier to being approved to adopt and should not be the sole determining factor.
In non-traditional families, such as families with gay and lesbian parents and single parents, the important factor is the quality of the relationships.
Future implications include:
- Wider inclusion of extended family in assessments
- Push for empowerment of prospective adopters as they have considerable knowledge and they are the experts on themselves.
- Work in partnership and share knowledge
(4) Monica Farris Linkner - For Lawyers and Facilitators: Does the Concept of Client Apply?
Madelyn Freundlich's article, Adoption and Ethics: The Hard Questions, provides a values framework which underlies the notion of "best interest of the child." At the individual level are the values of respect, beneficence, autonomy and knowledge. At the systems level are the values of fairness, equity and accountability. How do these values relate to ethics in adoption?
Does who pays for legal fees influence representation? For example, if the adoptive parents are paying the birthmother's legal fees, can the attorney provide adequate and unbiased representation? Can dual representation be carried out ethically by attorneys and agencies and if so, under what circumstances? It is important that the client understands and the attorney makes clear the scope of representation, including what all fees are for. There are methods of recourse for attorneys who practice unethically, including discipline boards, malpractice claims, the role of the court in reviewing proposed attorney fees, and the AAAA's internal grievance procedures.
Attorneys may also be required to play the role of counselor. At what point and to what extent can attorneys serve as counselors? At what point do they cross over the line in which the client would be better served by a mental health or other professional? An attorney, in some circumstances, is a mandatory reporter of:
- substance abuse during pregnancy, child abuse and child neglect
- medical and social information about birth families to prospective adoptive families
information about prospective adoptive parents to the birthmother and father in terms of making informed choices as to who should be parenting the child.