CONFERENCE ON ADOPTION ISSUES, 4/9/99
HOSTESS: Many of us, even if we didn't see "Leave It to Beaver" and we didn't see all those other television shows of the 50s and 60s, may still think that the American family is a biological nuclear family. And these days it doesn't take much looking around to realize that there are all kinds of ways of being a family and all kinds of ways to come together as a family. But certainly there's a lot of misreporting on it and we wouldn't really want just to be a party to misreporting because it harms the biological parents who may have given up their children for adoption, the parents who are looking to the comfort of a family, potentially the children who have been adopted or in foster care who are awaiting placement. So good reporting that acknowledges the research, some of which is actually coming out of this institute, is really important. And we do have three real experts on this who will present some of this research to you and also answer your questions.
The way we're going to handle it is that we'll have a kind of mini question-and-answer period after each preliminary presentation, then come back to some of the so-called "hot button" issues, and then there will be another question-and- answer period. To the extent that [unclear] in back of the room is filled up, and you have time, I think our speakers could be cajoled even staying a few extra minutes if you have more questions after that.
So, again, ready to introduce the speakers to you. First we'll have Madelyn Freundlich. She is the Executive Director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute which is the sponsor of today's workshop. She is also a social worker and a lawyer, and a lot of her work ó especially in the last decade ó has focused on child welfare issues. She is an author of several books and articles on child welfare law. I saw one that was called "Wrongful Adoption" I believe. And she has also done work on interstate adoption law and practiced genetic testing in adoption evaluations and on issues having to do with confidentiality, which to us as reporters have a somewhat take on, but we'll listen to this nevertheless.
Our second speaker is Cecilia Zalkind. She also is a lawyer and she has a master's degree as well. She's the Associate Director of the Association for Children of New Jersey which is a statewide child advocacy organization, and she's the director of that organization's Children's Legal Resource Center which provides information and training and publications. She has also written a book called "You Have the Right," which is the handbook about the rights of children, children in New Jersey. And she has done several other reports: one called "Splintered Lives" which was published in 1988, which is about decision making with children in foster care, and "Stolen Futures" published in 1994 which is about foster care placement or preventing, the things that prevent foster care placement in New Jersey. And she is the adjunct professor of Family and Adoption Law at Seton Hall in South Orange.
And our third speaker is Susan Freivalds. She's the Coordinator of the Hague Convention policy for the Joint Council on International Children's Services, and in fact, she is one of the founders of the organization that produced the Hague Convention on Intercountry adoption. She is here from Minneapolis, so she has come some distance to provide us with this information. She also has a background, for those of you who might be interested, as a Peace Corps volunteer in both Panama and Colombia.
So I turn it over first to Madelyn who will provide a kind of introduction to the issues, and then we'll hear from the other speakers after various question-and-answer period.
Madelyn: ...others that we have had across the State of New Jersey over the last couple of weeks. I think it's really important to be able to focus on adoption with you as future journalists. In 1997, we conducted a survey regarding Americans' attitudes toward adoption, a nationwide survey of about 1,500 Americans, and one of the questions that we asked them is "Where do you get your primary information about adoption?" And it was very interesting to learn how many people rely on the news, magazines and books as their primary source of information. Well, about 45% of people we talked with said that friends and family were their main source of information about adoption; 46% named the news, magazines and books.
Now, I think that this validated for us what we already knew. The first is that the media is an important source of information on a range of topics, including adoption, but second, that the media also plays a very powerful role in shaping people's attitudes and opinions about adoption itself as a way of forming families, about how people tend to think about birth families, about adopted children and adopted adults, and about adoptive families. Also, we found that the media played an important role in how people view some of the complex issues in adoption, like search and reunion and confidentiality kinds of issues in adoption.
I think perhaps most importantly what we learned is that how people think about adoption influences whether they themselves would consider adopting a child if [he's] in an adoptive family or how they might react to friends or family who might be considering an adoption. As we know, and we'll be talking about this afternoon, there are many, many children who go to this country and many other countries across the world who would not have families but for adoption.
Because we know that you play such an important role in shaping public attitudes and opinions, we'd like to do two things this afternoon. First, to provide you with information about the three major types of adoption ó foster care adoption, international adoption and infant adoption ó and we as presenters hope to be able to do an effective job at that. Second, we'd also like to have you have some written resources which hopefully you all picked up when you arrived this afternoon which provides you with some written information about each of the topic areas that we will be covering, so that you'll have that to refer to in the future, but which also includes a list of resources, that as you go forward and think about writing about adoption or want to begin your research, you'll have right at your fingertips a list of individuals and organizations that you can turn to for the best available information that's out there on a range of adoption issues.
So, with that, I would like to just say thank you very much for being here, and I will turn the mike over to Ceil who will start out this afternoon by talking about a very critical issue, foster care adoption.
Cecilia: Thank you, Madelyn, and good afternoon to all of you. Let me begin by telling you a little bit about where I work because it does color my view of the child welfare system. I work for an organization called the Association for Children in New Jersey which is a state child advocacy organization. We're located in Newark, so we do have a statewide presence and do a lot of work in the legislative arena and the public policy arena on children's issues. We go back in Newark to the mid-1800s. One of our predecessor agencies was the Newark Orphan Asylum, and when ACNJ was created in 1978, our board maintained a strong commitment to children in the child welfare system, children who are receiving protective services, foster care services or adoption services from the state. I say that because from an advocacy point of view, I think my perspective is a little different than if you had someone here from the Child Welfare Agency. And I'll talk in a few minutes about, from that advocacy perspective, the media role in these issues because I think it's a critically important one.
What I was going to do in my 15 minutes was to give you a basic background of child welfare and how involvement in the child welfare system can lead to adoption, covering some of the basics around who the children are in foster care, how they got into the foster care system in the first place, and what adoption looks like for them, and why it is a goal of the child welfare system, and then highlight some special issues when we talk about adoption in the child welfare context. Because although there are many similarities to other types of adoption, there are some critical differences which often tend to be the differences that get the most media attention. And then very briefly talk about the role of the media in this area because, again, from an advocacy point of view, it is a critically important one.
Let me just share some information about who the children are who are in the foster care system right now for whom the state is planning adoption services. The Division of Youth and Family Services, which is a state child welfare agency, has an office ó at least one office ó in every county, and they are the agency that is empowered by state law to act on behalf of children who are at risk of abuse or neglect.
Much of the Division's services are provided to children in their own homes. Just to use a few figures, the Division investigates more than 70,000 reports of child abuse and neglect every year. Out of those cases, about 48,000 are active cases receiving some type of service from the Division. Of those 48,000 cases, the vast majority ó more than 80% ó are children who are living at home with parents or other family members for whom the state is providing some services to try and resolve the problems that are putting the child at risk. The rest of the children ó about 8,500 in New Jersey ó are in some type of out- of-home placement. About 6,000 are in foster care, which is a family living environment where a family agrees to accept care of a child on a temporary basis and that child becomes part of that family. It's not a group living arrangement; it's a family setting for children who are in foster care until parents have an opportunity to resolve the issues that have caused the placement.
The other children ó about 2,500 ó are in some other type of out-of-home placement ó group homes, residential treatment homes, shelters ó usually because the child, himself or herself, is having a problem that needs some therapeutic intervention.
When we talk about adoption in the child welfare system, it is usually children in the foster care system that we are talking about, although it is not unusual to have children who are older and maybe living in some other type of placement also be considered for adoption as well.
So we have at any given time about 6,000 children in foster care. Right now, the Division has the highest number of children for whom it is actively seeking adoption services, about 2,800 children or 40% of the current DYFS caseload. That is the highest it has ever been and in a minute I'll tell you why. There have been some significant changes in the federal laws and, most recently, state law as of last Wednesday, that has focused the state's attention on providing services through adoption if the child cannot be returned home, the children who are in foster care.
If you look at the children in foster care, many of them are young. Although our foster care numbers have not increased, the numbers of young children in foster care have increased over the last 7-8 years. About 50% of the children in foster care are age 5 and younger and a significant number of those children are under the age of 1. There is a significant and growing population of children in the foster care system who are placed from the hospital right at birth and have never lived with birth families and go directly into a foster home placement. And in a minute we'll talk a bit about why that happens. So, we have an increasing number of young children in foster care. Probably 25% of the foster care population is over the age of 12. So you have the majority of children under the age of 5 but a considerable group of children who are somewhat older in foster care.
Children enter foster care for a variety of reasons. As I mentioned, there are state and federal laws. The Division of Youth and Family Services ó and every state has a DYFS of some sort, they may not have that name ó is empowered to investigate allegations of abuse or neglect. That is a tremendous state power and if the state believes that the child is at too great a risk of harm if left at home, the state has the power through court order to intervene and remove the child and place the child in a foster home. Most children enter foster care because of an involuntary intervention with the family. There are a limited number of cases where a parent comes forward and says, "I'm having difficulty, I need some help," or where a parent comes forward and says, "I'd like to make an adoption plan for my child," but those are very rare cases. And this makes adoption in this context a little different because it usually does not start out as an adoption plan. It starts out with some involuntary state intervention in the family where the child is to be removed to protect the child and placed in a foster home so that the parent can rehabilitate whatever problems are causing the placement of the child in the home.
Most placement cases ó I would say the majority of placement cases ó involve some type of parental substance abuse. If you look at what brings children into foster care the last, I'd say, eight to ten years, I've seen a dramatic increase in parental substance abuse as a factor, if not the factor, in placement of children, which presents a unique challenge to providing services to those families with children. Parents using drugs is not in and of itself reason to remove a child, but it is often linked with chronic, very serious neglect, possibly physical abuse, sometimes sexual abuse of the child. Or, as we've seen in an increasing number of cases, children who are abandoned in the hospital by parents who have a drug problem. The child tests positive for drugs at birth. The mother is discharged from the hospital, but the child remains and is abandoned in the hospital by the parent. Many children ó an increasing number of children ó enter foster care through that route.
Now, when a child enters foster care, the state has a very strong obligation ó and I think this is also a factor that's different about adoption in this context ó the state has a very strong obligation to try and reunify that child with his or her birth parents. Under federal law, under state law, the state has an obligation to what is called provide reasonable efforts, first, to try and keep the family together and, if placement is necessary, then to reunify the family by providing services to the birth parent, by finding other family members who can step in and assist the family or step in as a placement for the child.
So, initially, the focus of the state is to try and keep the child together with the birth family. Children in foster care continue to visit their birth parents, continue to have ties to their birth family. It is only when those efforts to reunify the family do not succeed the state looks toward providing a permanency alternative for the child, preferably through adoption. Under longstanding federal laws ó in fact, in 1980 ó it has just been re-emphasized in new federal law called the Adoption of Safe Families Act which President Clinton signed in November of 1997 and, in fact, Governor Whitman signed into law in New Jersey last Wednesday ó the state has a strong obligation to look toward a permanent family for a child. It comes out of a recognition that foster care, no matter how good it is and how wonderful the individual foster parents are, it is a temporary setting for a child, and that children do best with permanent families. And in the hierarchy of permanency options, adoption which provides a legal family for that child is preferable. So our state, one of the critical underpinnings of the child welfare system is the state's responsibility to try and provide permanency for children who are in out-of-home placement, first through reunification with the family and, if that fails, through placement in an alternative adoptive home.
In many ways, adoption is almost a default plan because it involves the state who is looking first to reunify the child and then needing to shift gears and look toward an adoption plan for the child. Once adoption becomes the goal for the child, our state has special regional adoption offices that handle those cases. There is a complicated legal process that is involved. First, the state must terminate the parents' rights before a new family can be created through adoption. As you'll discover if you get into this area, it can take a very long time, and a lot depends on the individual decision-making by the agency and by the court.
Many children in foster care are adopted by their foster parents. Last year the Division placed almost 800 children for adoption. That's an all-time record. Our state has averaged about 700 children out of the foster care system in a year. More than 60% are adoptions by foster parents, although foster parents have no independent legal rights to the child, which is often the conflict that you see in these cases. If that child becomes available for adoption where the state has made the decision to rule to terminate parental rights, then the foster parents' rights become stronger and they have an opportunity to say first if they're interested in adopting the child.
New Jersey, as every other state, has what's called an Adoption Subsidy Program which provides continued assistance to foster parents who adopt children with special needs. It can be continued medical assistance and it can also be a [board rate] if that child has needs. That subsidy is also available to families who have not provided foster care but are interested in adopting a special needs child.
Those children who are not adopted by foster parents, the state looks for what's called a "selected adoption home," a family that has identified themselves as interested in adoption and the DYFS studies them as any private adoption agency would that assesses whether they can provide care to a child coming out of the foster care system. About 40% of adoptions each year are by selected homes.
Very often, publicity around adoption in general and publicity around specific children is a critical issue for the media when there's a child who needs a home and there's not one immediately available. Many newspapers, for example ó look at the Star-Ledger on Sunday ó handle [waif] children columns where they'll feature a specific child, usually with a picture, not using the child's real name but identifying who that child is and the fact that that child needs a home. Those have been highly successful, not only in finding homes for those individual children but also in finding homes for children who are similar to the child for whom there is advertising being done. Our state has just engaged in a massive publicity campaign. You may have noticed billboards. There have been some public service announcements on TV highlighting the need for homes for children.
And one of the issues when we get to the hot topics that I'll touch upon is the issue of transracial adoption. Our state has undertaken a major effort to try and recruit homes that are of similar background to the children in foster care. Probably 75% of the children in foster care placement are African-American or Latino. And although there have been some federal laws that prohibit the use of race in placement for adoption, many agencies ó and we'll talk about this when we come back on hot topics ó many agencies do undertake considerable recruitment efforts to try and attract families that are more similar in background to the children that they must place.
Let me just highlight a couple of special issues when we talk about adoption in the child welfare context, in the two minutes that I have before I get the look! When you talk about adoption in the child welfare context, you tend to be talking about children who are older or have some special need. I mentioned to you that adoption can take a long time. The Adoption and Safe Families Act and state law talks about moving toward an adoption plan when a child has been in placement for a year. Some of our statutory provisions around termination of parental rights focus on one year of services to the family. It generally takes much longer than a year, and it's not unusual to see a child who has lived in foster care three years.
There's a case before our Supreme Court now of a child who has been in foster care for five years, where permanency has not been resolved; has lived with the same foster family for that five-year period, but has not had issues around legal permanence resolved. So you'll see older children coming out of the foster care system, sibling groups. It's not unusual for siblings ó two and three, sometimes more ó to need homes either together or to need families who might adopt children separately to keep those children in contact.
I think there has been inherent conflict when we talked about adoption in the child welfare context. We talked about the state's responsibility to try and keep families together, as well as to provide permanency to children. Sometimes that works out, sometimes that's in conflict, and the greatest conflict, of course, is when those cases comes before the court and the court has to make a decision as to whether children remain with their birth families or move on to adoption.
Now, I'm going to save some remarks I had around the role of the media when we talk about adoption in the child welfare context and open it up to some questions. Any questions?
Q: We can ask questions about media reporting now?
Q: Okay. Well, what do you see as the major problems in reporting about foster care? Or is the problem that it's not reported on?
CEIL: Well, I think there are a couple of issues. One is, and you alluded to this earlier on, you have confidentiality constraints. Federal and state law puts limits on what type of information ó identifying information ó we can share with the media, and that has been a longstanding constraint. Difficult to get information around individual cases. There was some recent state legislation in 1987 which boosted that up a bit, but I haven't seen anyone successfully use that to get information that the state agency does not want to reveal.
Linked to that, I think because of the inherent conflict in the system, it's often easy to get one side of the story. In our office, we get a lot of case advocacy calls, people who call us for help, and you tend to hear that person's point of view and their part of the story. We might hear from a foster parent or a birth parent ó very difficult to get a balanced picture when completing that picture involves an agency that has confidentiality constraints. I think that makes reporting somewhat difficult.
And I think, just like every other area, this is an area where the extreme cases, which are often not representative of what happens in the adoption system, those tend to get a lot of attention. The foster family who's abusive, the adoptive family. There was a story about a family about four years ago who had adopted children from another state; the children were horribly cared for. They were receiving a subsidy break and there was an enormous amount of attention given to the fact that they had adopted children for the [unclear]. I think things like that happen. Just like in anything that happens, there's always some exceptions, but those tend to be dramatic and get the most attention. And while I think that those can be important stories in highlighting systemic problems, they sometimes do a disservice to the majority of families who are committed foster parents or very serious about adoption.
From an advocacy point of view, however, the media reporting on these stories is critically important. When you look at the state child welfare system here and in any other state, you're looking at a system that doesn't have a lot of accountability. Lots of decisions go on about children that no one ever looks at, even though there is some systems in place to try and have oversight. And I think even sometimes when stories are dramatic that take an extreme point of view, it does keep the system accountable. You'll notice that, most often, systemic reform will follow a tragedy. A child that was in New York, for example, led to a complete overhaul of the child welfare system there, and I think that system accountability is critically important in the media. Especially in New Jersey, the print media plays a critically important role. We, I think, are between the two TV centers of Philadelphia and New York. A lot of that oversight the media does is really critical here in New Jersey. Yes?
Q: You said you don't think that the system has a lot of accountability or....?
CEIL: There's not enough accountability from an advocacy perspective. I'm sure if you had someone from DYFS here, they would tell it's fine, thanks, we don't need any more. But I think there has to be some public understanding of what's going on in the system. Ultimately, what laws govern the system come from public policy. What does our society think is important for kids? And I think keeping those issues alive and on people's minds are really important. That's the way you influence public policy. So, from an advocacy point of view, I don't think there is enough accountability. So if you call the DYFS Director one morning that some terrible story has come out ó which is about every other week ó he certainly wouldn't feel that way, but I think [unclear] inform the public in an important way. Yes?
Q: Well, coming from a top down perspective, has this been thrown onto [the national agenda] [rest inaudible]?
CEIL: Well, you know, it's still fairly new. Although the law was signed in '97, states had a period of time to implement. New Jersey, for example, did not have to pass this law until April first, which is why the Governor signed it on March 31st. Why rush? We still had a day. I think states are very nervous about what the outcome is going to be, and there are some critical pieces of this legislation in a number of regards that I think no one knows how they're going to happen. There is certainly a fear ó and I'd have to say a justified fear ó that it's going to go too far and take children too soon from birth families. So I think there's a lot of concern around making sure that the state maintains its obligation to families. Part of doing that is going to be to have some services in place to give families. So I think monitoring what happens in that regard is going to be important.
There's also a lot of people who have been talking about not wanting this law to create legal orphans. With the enormous push on adoption and moving through the court system and termination of parental rights, there's a lot of concern that there won't be a sufficient number of adoption homes in place. Even if you look at the number of children who are adopted by foster parents, we have an increased number needing selected homes, and there's a lot of concern that the state will simply do the first step ó terminate parental rights ó but never find an adoptive home for that child.
Now, some states are a little ahead of us. I think people are just beginning to sort this out. From an advocacy point of view, our hope is that we can focus on some of these issues and call some attention to it. One of the things that we wanted included in the state legislation which we were successful at was having the reporting requirements in the legislation. The federal law does not require that, but we had an amendment which the sponsor agreed to put into state law that requires the agency to report to the Legislature within a year on some of those basic issues. How many children have moved forward? Has termination of parental rights actions in the courts increased? Are there enough services? That reporting requirement makes that public information. It may not be about individual children but it will kind of give an idea of how it's being implemented. Other questions?
Q: I was just wondering, [could] you give an update on that state Supreme Court case? And also, do you think that there's a decision in favor of the adoptive family? Has that been under a lot of [stuff] in the federal legislation group or, you know, because we relied a lot on court precedent. I guess, what kind of weight will that have in the [inaudible] legislation?
CEIL: Well, it's hard to tell. What Peggy is alluding to is that our Supreme Court heard oral argument in a case in November called [K. Cho]. It's a case out of Union County in which a child was placed from birth, a child born with serious complications due to parental substance abuse requiring significant surgery and medical care afterwards, placed in a foster home. She has lived in that foster home since that initial placement. Now she's six years old. She was five years old at the time of the litigation. The mother has not rehabilitated her drug problem and, in fact, both the Family Court that terminated her parental rights and the Appellate Division that reversed that decision said that this mother is unlikely to ever be in a position to take care of her child. Family Court did not hesitate in terminating parental rights. The Appellate Division looked at the case and reversed it, saying that the state had not met its burden of proof to demonstrate that this mother....not that she could not be rehabilitated, but that termination would not do more harm than good to the child. And the Appellate Division opened the issue of should this child be in long-term foster care instead or should we consider an open adoption arrangement.
And you'll hear in the hot topics a little more about open adoption. Open adoption, New Jersey does not have the statute and, although there are some informal open adoption arrangements, there are none enforced by law. The Supreme Court, as I mentioned, heard oral arguments in November. We, as an advocacy group, we argued the case as a friend of the Court and we're very concerned about the impact of this decision. It seemed to me to go counter to the whole concept of permanency, and my suspicion is that those entities that are very pro-parents' rights used this case as an opportunity to push that agenda because of a lot of concern around how the federal law is going to be implemented and a lot of concern that it would move away from parental rights.
The day that the Court heard argument, they had a lot of interest in the open adoption issue and whether this should be established in some way in New Jersey. Hard to tell. All we got was questions that day, no answers, and there hasn't been an opinion yet. I think it will have a significant impact, whatever the decision is, on how the new federal law is adopted.
Well, I've just been given the final hook! That was the last question, so I'll turn this back to Madelyn to introduce Susan. Thank you.
Madelyn: Thank you. I'd like to introduce Susan [Frevolz] now who will be focusing on international adoption.
SUSAN: Thank you, Madelyn, and thank you to everyone for being here today. If you got all your information about intercountry adoption from the media, you might come out with a very negative opinion on the one hand or a very positive opinion. That's the type of media coverage I tend to see.
On the negative side, we might see stories of babies being ripped from the unwilling arms of their birth parents and placed with desperate adoptive families. And at the other extreme, there are stories that tend to paint an adoptive family as being very angelic-like and talk about how they're saving this child from some dire fate in the country in which he was born. And like most things in life, the reality falls somewhere in between these two extremes.
So, that's what I want to do today, is to give you some sense of the reality of intercountry adoption. I'm going to talk about who the children are and, very importantly, why do these children need to be adopted by families other than in the country where they were born, and what is it that motivates adoptive families in the U.S. to seek a child from overseas, and a little bit about special parenting responsibilities in families with adopted children. And then just, I want to touch on the Hague Convention, on intercountry adoption because it's under active consideration in the Congress now and I think you'll be seeing more about it in the weeks coming up. Senator Helms just introduced the impending legislation about two weeks ago.
Let's talk first about who the children are in intercountry adoption or who are adopted to the U.S. Last year about 16,000 children came to the U.S. from other countries and, although they come from over 50 countries, over half of the kids come from just two countries ó Russia and China ó and then Korea follows like a distant third. And then there are any number of countries after that that also allow their children to be adopted in the U.S. And, actually, there are children who leave the U.S. for intercountry adoption as well. This is the way that we really fall very far behind the rest of the world in caring for our children because we don't even know how many kids leave the U.S. to go overseas. We don't know the circumstances of their adoption. And, in comparison to other countries who have very strict controls on children who travel in intercountry adoption, we have none. We have no controls over those. The only way we know that children travel is that they show up in other countries, immigration statistics. And this is something that I'll try to touch on again in terms of the Hague Convention because if we do adopt and we do ratify that convention, that will make the U.S. responsible for paying more attention to our kids who go overseas. Children travel, in fact, from many countries to many other countries. It's not just the phenomenon of kids coming to the U.S., although we are definitely the big player, and over 50% of the children who travel from one country to another for adoption do come to the U.S.
The kids who come are a very young group of children. Over 50% of them are under a year old and 90% are 4 years old or younger, so it is a very young group of children. And there are about twice as many girls as boys ó about two-thirds girls and one-third boys ó who are adopted internationally. And we think that the fact that China plays such a big role in intercountry adoption to the U.S. kind of skews this because those are almost 100% baby girls who come and that's 4,200 children a year.
The children are typically categorized as healthy children, although when they are subjected to a medical screening of the extent and quality that we're used to in this country, they do tend to often have some minor medical concerns, but often it's something like parasites that had not been diagnosed in their country of origin.
But an important thing to remember about the kids coming here overseas is that we're going to have neither complete nor completely accurate medical information about these kids. Many of these children have been abandoned and there will be no information about their medical history. Many of the children on whom we do have more information will not have had prenatal care nor postnatal care, and in fact the first time they will have had any sort of medical screening or care is when they come into care in the orphanage. And the quality of the medical testing and screening that these children will have had in their countries of origin will, in most cases, in the vast majority of instances, will not be of the quality that we're used to in this country.
So, when families decide to adopt from overseas, they are taking a leap of faith here. They must be willing to take the risk of adopting a child for whom they knowingly are going to receive incomplete and often inaccurate medical information.
But why do these children need to be adopted in a country other than their own country? And it primarily boils down to two reasons. One has to do with the economic circumstances of the country and the other has to do for cultural reasons. And economically, the children are coming from many countries that are in dire economic circumstances and this affects the children in two ways. In one way, because a country will be having economic problems, there will be fewer families who can care for their children. More children will be coming into care. And, on the other hand, there are fewer families who are going to have the means to adopt another child, to add another child to their family.
So, for instance, in Russia which is having problems, as I'm sure you're aware of, as they move from a planned economy to a market economy, there are at least three-quarters of a million children in institutional care in Russia and, of those, we only adopted to the U.S. last year 4,500 kids, so it's really a drop in the bucket, but actually that's a reason that these kids do need families outside their country.
The other issues tend to be around cultural issues. In many countries, adoption is just not a recognized and acceptable way to build a family. Korea is an example of that. In Korea, for example, the bloodline is so important that families often will not adopt a child. And if they do adopt, they'll look for a child who possibly could have been in their bloodline, a child who might have the same last name.
The other instance that makes children eligible for intercountry adoption would be the strong preference for male children that many countries have, and that is the reason that the little baby girls in China need adoption, is because they come to the orphanage solely because they are female girls and their families were hoping for a male.
The families in the U.S. who are looking to adopt internationally have a wide range of reasons, but some of the primary ones are because they intercountry adoption has become more predictable in terms of its timeline and often in terms of its cost than the adoption of a young child in the U.S. These are families who are looking for young children who want to adopt infants and young children. And I think Madelyn will touch on how practices have changed in infant adoption in the U.S. to make the timeline more predictable for adoptive families. So they look to intercountry adoption because they can pretty much count on, in about 18 months or so from starting their adoption process, they will be bringing a child home for all those [unclear few words].
U.S. families are also looking to adopt from overseas because many of them are wanting to adopt a child who needs a family as much as they need a child in their family, and babies in the U.S. typically are all adopted. Any baby that needs adoption in the U.S. typically finds a home, but that's not the case overseas. The orphanages are pretty full overseas. So they're not wanting to get into what they perceive as a competition for an infant in the U.S.
And they also feel sometimes that the process of adopting overseas will result in an adoption that's less likely to be challenged afterwards by birth parents coming forward and hoping to reclaim the child. All these children need visas issued by the federal government, by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. And these visa requirements, one of those for the visa entrance is to make sure that these are finalized adoptions, most of them, or that parental rights have been fully and finally terminated. So these are some of the reasons that people are looking to adopt overseas, or sometimes now they're looking for a child with the same ethnic background and will go overseas for that reason as well.
I want to talk a little bit about how the children do in intercountry adoption because they are often children who moving into families of a different ethnic origin than they were. The adoptive families tend to be Caucasian, couples and singles for adoption from overseas, and the children ó most of them ó are children who are of non-Caucasian origin. They're Asian children or Latin American children. And the research on this group of children is that they do quite well. In measures of their identity and their comfort with adoption and their general psychological health, they do quite well. They do as well as children who are adopted in racial....children adopted in their own country of origin as compared to children adopted in the U.S. by [those] families. So they do quite well.
They do say that they're more concerned with...issues of racial prejudice in the U.S. are more troubling to these children than are other issues of adoption that might have arisen for them as well.
One of the things that we tell families when they adopt children from overseas is that you don't just bring this child home and kind of forget where the child came from; that it's important to the child's sense of identity to know where they're from and to have some sense of their country of origin. In order to have a real sense of your own identity, you must know where you came from. And one way we encourage families to do this is to try to integrate ó into their family customs and their family life ó elements of that child's culture, while recognizing that this child is not going to have the same experience that he would have had had he grown up with his birth family in his country of origin or lived with an adoptive family in his country of origin. But it's critically important that we don't just bring these kids home and kind of decide they're American kids and we won't deal with any cultural issues. In fact, that is what agencies used to tell families 25 years ago, and as the children of intercountry adoption grew, they informed us as they became adults that that was not the right way to do it. So we've had the benefit of these adopted adults' experience to guide us in this practice.
And I just want to talk a little bit about the Hague Convention on intercountry adoption because, with any luck, the U.S. will be ratifying this. This is the first treaty on intercountry adoption that looks like it's going to have widespread support. There are about 32 countries, I believe, now that have adopted this treaty, and the U.S. has signed it which signifies our intent to adopt, but as I said, it is before the Congress now. And in addition to requiring the U.S. to pay attention to our kids who are leaving to go overseas, it will provide other safeguards and a framework for cooperation so that children, once they have been identified as eligible for needing intercountry adoption, they'll move quickly. We don't want a child to stay in an institution for one minute longer than he needs to. And the main way that the process will be different for U.S. families if we adopt the Hague Convention is that all of the service providers in intercountry adoption will need to be accredited under a federal process, and their ethics and their practices and their finances will be looked at so that we hope we can restrict intercountry adoption to the vast majority of agencies who are the good guys and weed out those who might want to take advantage of birth parents, adoptive parents and birth parents. So, I'll just stop my presentation here and see if you have any questions I can answer at this time. Yes?
Q: With regard to [international adoption], I'm curious, is that an area of changing policy at all? [In other words], is there any initiative, to keep the [domestic initiative] focused on [the] domestic issue [of] transracial adoption, and I'm curious to know has there been much [media] change [and any unforeseen] changes in [lobbying] to facilitate [international adoptions]?
SUSAN: Well, there are changes all the time because we're dealing with so many different countries. I think a trend that we're seeing in intercountry adoption is for the countries overseas to want to have more information about the agencies and the other private individuals who are helping to facilitate adoption. They're wanting to make sure, as you can imagine, that the agencies to whom they are handing off these children will actually follow through with their responsibility in terms of finding new homes, making sure those adoptions are finalized if that's something that didn't happen overseas.
And recently, as part of the new changes in the immigration law, it allows for the deportation of people who are legal immigrants but have been convicted of felonies. If they're not citizens, they can be here legally, but if they're convicted of a felony they can be deported. And that applies to adopted children as well and, in fact, we had the first adopted child deported just about two weeks ago, a young man who had come to this country at the age of 4. His parents apparently thought that the adoption process and the immigration process gave him citizenship, which is a separate process. It's not the same process. And when they discovered at age 17 that he was not a citizen and began the citizenship process for him, he had actually already gotten in trouble. He had some credit card fraud, I think he stole a car, kind of major kind of teenage problems, but teenage problems I suppose nonetheless. And, in fact, he was deported back to Thailand where he has no family and doesn't speak the language.
So, the countries are a little concerned about that, as you might guess, and we're actively trying to get the word out to families that you don't wait around on citizenship. You get that for your child. Some families have thought that they wanted to wait until citizenship would mean something to the child, be more meaningful. And the processing, you can see how that might be something you think would be nice instead of the process that ó there's an easier process just for adopted children, it's just like a paperwork process ó but they kind of wanted them to have a ceremony, the flags, a judge, and swearing and everything. [So] then some of these kids have run afoul now of this law so [inaudible rest of sentence].
Q: [Unclear few words], I was wondering if you've seen a decrease in the applications in adoption [from] Eastern Europe, [since] there's been a lot of stories [or evidence] that they have some serious developmental problems, fetal alcohol syndrome....
SUSAN: Well, I think still that the numbers of adoptions continue to increase. I don't know if everyone could hear the question, but there are some children, have been reports of children who are coming with some serious developmental problems due to fetal alcohol and other institutionalization issues.
The evidence is kind of mixed on that. We're not sure how many kids there are. There are some agencies who have done quite extensive surveys of their adoptive families and are finding that, for the most part, the kids are doing quite well. There are some kids who are just not able...they're just never going to catch up. Their institutionalization has been so long and has been so dreadful that they're not going to be able to catch up, but many of the children do. When they come from the institutions, the families have to expect that these are not going to be normal kids. If you need a new family and you're not being placed right out of the hospital, you have not had a happy little life and are not going to have had the kind of stimulation and the kind of care that we know is necessary for children to blossom and flourish, but for the most part they are catching up. When we go back and see how they're doing after two years, they're doing better than had been expected. So we're not seeing the numbers fall, no.
SUSAN: Well, there really is no.... I'm not aware of any requirement that you not apply too early because it does take....you do have this waiting period ahead of you that is often very unpredictable. In terms of intercountry adoption, you have to be careful that your visa approval doesn't run out, but you can keep getting that renewed over and over again, but actually I don't think there's really a strict answer to that question. Is there anyone else? Okay. Thank you very much.
Madelyn: Okay. I know that a number of you need to leave because you have a class, I believe, at 2:30. I do want to encourage you to please complete the evaluation cards that were given to you. That's very important information for us to have as we do this program a lot and it's important to us to know how people who attend these rate the work that we're doing and how helpful it is to you, so please do that before you leave. I know some of you probably need to step away while I'm speaking, but please feel free to do that because I know you have classes.
The third part of our presentation actually focuses on infant adoption which may be the type of adoption that most people think about instantaneously when they think about adoption. That's a newborn or a very young baby being placed in the arms of an adoptive parent who's been waiting to adopt for a long time. Alternatively there may be some people, when they think about infant adoption, that have spring to mind situations where birth parents and adoptive parents are locked in a bitter custody dispute over who is going to get this baby, which may lead many people to wonder about adoption as a whole and what it really means to try to get involved in adopting.
Which is the right picture of adoption? Well, I think that if we look primarily at the way adoption appears in newspapers and in the media, it may be more likely that people would look at that second scenario as more indicative of adoption than perhaps even the first. Certainly, I think that many of the stories that we've seen in the press regarding infant adoption have tended to go in that direction and that, as a result, we often do hear people say that they would not seriously consider adoption because it's just too risky or may, as Susan was mentioning, consider only international adoption that they believe to be safer than adopting in this country.
I'd like to talk about some of the key things that we've seen in media coverage around infant adoption, the types of stories that come up, and then suggest that there may be another side to these stories that possibly could be portrayed more in order to give greater balance to these issues.
And the first key thing is what I've already mentioned and that's contested adoptions. And, depending upon your age, you may remember in the mid-90s a whole series of stories about Baby Jessica. Do any of you remember that story which went on for years and years in multistate litigation?
There were also other babies ó Baby Richard, Baby Emily ó across the country, where the same kind of custody disputes were going on between birth parents who were attempting to reclaim the children they had placed for adoption and adoptive parents who wanted to keep the children with them. As these stories dragged on and appeals dragged on, we often saw on television heart- wrenching conclusions where children were pulled from their adoptive parents, crying. It was very traumatic to see this whole drama unfolding on television.
Generally, the media [counts] were very sympathetic to adoptive parents who were being put through this devastating emotional experience, as well as, I think, the trauma to children who are wrenched from the only families that they know. What probably wasn't highlighted as much was the side from the birth parents and what they had encountered that led to these contested cases. In fact, in many of them, birth mothers, some were pressured to sign consents to adoption ó in one instance, within less than 24 hours of giving birth, which was in violation of state law. In other instances, birth fathers' rights had sort of been pushed to the side with efforts made to keep the birth father out of the picture.
So certainly there's another side to these stories which many people, certainly as I talk about those cases, have no idea even existed. They see only the adoptive parents' and the children's side of that picture.
A second theme that I think we often see in newspapers is the whole theme of baby selling in connection with infant adoption. There was a whole series of articles that ran in the Washington, DC papers around a variety of activities taking place in certain states across the country where there was an adoption scam going on in which people were promised, in exchange for $35,000, a baby within a year, money back guaranteed if there was no delivery of the baby within the time frame that was specified.
You may also have seen this story in the New York Times just last week about the lawyer and mother who were arrested after they basically advertised a 10-week-old baby over the Internet and the lawyer was essentially asking for $60,000 from a Midwest couple in exchange for this beautiful blond, little blue-eyed baby. Now, certainly these things happen in adoption. That's not to say that this coverage in any way is inaccurate. However, I think that because this is often all that the general public sees related to the way in which adoption is conducted that people may get the impression that adoption is nothing but a money baby enterprise for both lawyers and agencies that are engaged in adoption. It's not really quite newsworthy, but it is true that in many instances ó the vast majority of instances ó adoption agencies operate in a very ethical way. They use sliding fee scales for the services and they charge only for the services that they provide, and charge those fees based on adoptive parents' ability to pay. Not an exciting story, but the reality of adoption practice.
A third theme ó and also indicative of what does happen sometimes ó is just overall unethical conduct in adoption and certainly there has been a range of frighteningly inappropriate behavior on the part of both lawyers and adoption agencies that has been reported in the media, crossing a wide range of topics. And let me just give you a few examples of what people are likely to read about.
There has been a lot of coverage of a Hollywood lawyer, David [Levitt], who's apparently quite famous on the West Coast, who has been doing all sorts of things for a number of years, including bringing birth mothers out of the United States into Canada to have their babies there and place the children with Canadian families in order to completely keep birth fathers out of the picture at all, so it's a way to sort of divert their interest in their children. Well, one such father sued him and recently got a $7 million judgment for his behavior in this regard.
Another big case that has been reported is a Washington, DC lawyer, also known to engage in fairly unethical practice, who was recently federally indicted after he went into West Virginia ostensibly to take a child, a family who wished to place their child for adoption; met at a diner according to the allegations in the indictment. The family said, "We've changed our minds ó we don't want to place our child for adoption." He snatched the child, jumped in his car and crossed state lines with the baby, and this has been reported extensively in the newspaper ó obviously highly unethical conduct.
Another [unclear] case that's reported in the media has to do with adoption agencies failing to give a perspective adoptive parent accurate information about their children's health history or the background on the birth family, particularly in situations where a child may have a serious medical problem that has not been conveyed or a birth parent may have serious mental health problems that was not told to the adoptive parent.
There is, in fact, a major case pending in New York City right now with regard to allegations that this is what happened to the adoptive family. Interestingly, this case has been getting a lot of television play and I ó because this is a wrongful adoption case as you mentioned earlier ó was asked to appear on court TV to talk about what does wrongful adoption really mean. Well, as soon as the camera swung to me, the first question out of the host's mouth was, "How can this be? Aren't these agencies just trying to peddle these damaged kids to adoptive parents and make money out of it?" So, once again, even here, the key theme was sort of a money-making and unscrupulous practice and that was just, I think, more interesting than to talk about sort of the duties of agencies to inform adoptive parents.
I think that once again there's another side to this picture which is the ethical adoption practice side which the vast majority of agencies do. They have high standards of conduct and do engage in insuring that adoptive parents are well informed and that birth parents are making a free and informed decision to place their children for adoption.
So, with that said, sort of the picture of what adoption might look like in the media right now ó what really is happening in infant adoption today? And certainly, much is very different from what [unclear] infant adoption, even a few decades ago. In the 1950s and the 1960s, there were ample numbers of healthy white infants available for adoption. In fact, adoption was basically a service for white babies being placed with white couples. That's what adoption was really all about. A lot of babies were being placed for adoption because it was a period where there was a lot of stigma associated with illegitimacy, where being an unwed parent was a socially unacceptable status to have. So many women had no other options but to decide to place their children for adoption.
Beginning in the 1970s, however, there was a huge shift, both in terms of abortion being legalized, greater access to birth control, as well as probably equally if not more importantly a change in the social environment, so that now being an unwed parent, being a single parent is perfectly socially acceptable. There's no pressure on women to feel that they must place a child for adoption because it's acceptable in our society to be a single parent. As mothers have made the decision to raise children themselves, obviously the effect is that fewer and fewer healthy newborns are being placed for adoption. And, as that has happened, those who wish to adopt are finding that the waiting period to adopt a healthy newborn is growing longer and longer. On average, it can be anywhere from one year to seven years that a family may wait in order to adopt an infant, certainly much longer than an international adoption, 6 to 18 months, or in foster care which could be, I don't know, within a year if a child is waiting for adoption. So certainly waiting for an infant is a much longer wait.
At the same time, what we've seen is that the demand for the adoption of infants has grown significantly. What we've seen is that statistically more and more people are finding that they're suffering from infertility, dealing with a lot of issues including people's decisions to wait longer to start their families, then often going to infertility treatment and finding that that's not successful, and then turning to adoption as a way of forming their families. And more and more people are looking to adoption and yet, at the same time, what we're finding are that fewer and fewer babies are there to respond to that demand. And I think that it's probably, in large part, this disparity between this demand that's growing and the limited supply, that we're starting to see this atmosphere of competition that Susan mentioned in her remarks, and that that has kind of opened the field a bit to some of the more unethical kinds of behaviors that we're seeing reported on in the media.
So, let me just finish up by highlighting just a couple of other key issues I think about infant adoption that I want to share with you and then we can open for questions.
First, the outcome for adoptive placements, I think it's important to know that most adoptions go forward that are not contested by birth parents. They do not go to court. Fewer than 1% and even less than that are ever contested by birth parents, although to talk to people you get the impression that they believe that every adoption is open to a huge court challenge. The reason that very few adoptions are contested is that most birth parents work with agencies that make sure that the birth parent is indeed making a fully informed decision about placing their baby for adoption and also that the rights of both birth parents have been addressed, and so, for that reason, when the decision is made, it's one which birth parents know is the right decision to make.
The second change that I think we have seen is in really a greater role for birth fathers. I think that even today that birth fathers are sort of the unknown element in adoption. Birth parents often don't get a lot of attention, but as between birth mothers and birth fathers, birth fathers have even a lesser role. And certainly with recent, or over the last two decades, there have been Supreme Court decisions that say, yes, birth fathers do have rights as well; we've seen something of a growing role of birth fathers in adoption.
It's interesting, however, I think that birth fathers are basically viewed much more negatively than are birth mothers. When we did our survey of Americans' attitudes toward adoption and asked people their views of birth mothers vs. their views of birth fathers, people were much more critical of birth fathers ó tended to see them as much more irresponsible, uncaring, insensitive, than birth mothers. And we asked about birth fathers who made the decision to place their children for adoption. So I think that birth fathers often are perceived in a very negative light and have often been, in the past, treated as if we just wished they would go away and not complicate things too much.
The third is the quality of adoption agencies, and I think I've already sort of highlighted that, well, there are certainly outliers. There are adoption agencies out there that none of us would be proud to represent. Most agencies are attempting to do a quality job. Most are nonprofits that are not in adoption as a money-making business, although the impression may be created as otherwise.
Finally, another change that I think is important to know in infant adoption, and something I'll talk about later in the open adoption section, is that we've seen a much greater involvement of birth parents in planning adoption for their children. Up until probably about ten years ago, when a birth parent made a decision to place a child for adoption through an agency, that was the last of their decision making. The agency decided where the child would go, selected the family. The birth parent had no role in selecting the family and generally had no information about the adoptive family whatsoever. That has changed significantly, I think, in large part because there are fewer women making the decision to place their children for adoption. In many ways, that has given birth mothers more power and leverage in saying, "If I'm going to do this, this is what's important to me, and what's important is I want to be able to select the family that is most important for my child."
So, now, in many agency adoptions as well as most independent adoptions through attorneys, it's the birth parent who is selecting the adoptive family ó a radical change in the way adoption used to be practiced. So you'll see a birth parent who is able to look at pictures of prospective adoptive parents and then make a decision as to which family will be able to adopt his or her child. So, birth parents are certainly playing a much more significant and powerful role, although certainly there continue to be issues involved in birth parents' rights, and that's something that we can talk about if you're interested in that.
So let me stop there and see if there are questions about infant adoption. I'll put my glasses on so I can see you. Yes?
Q: [unintelligible question, something about survey that was done]
Madelyn: I think that's a good theory. However, it was a telephone survey that was completed with 1,500 people and it was very representative. I mean, it was done in a very scientific way and it was about 50/50 male/female. So I think that what that suggests is that irrespective of the gender of the respondent that, overall, the stereotype of birth fathers is far less positive than birth mothers. Other questions?
Okay, well, I guess we can stop and move on to the hot topics section. What we wanted to talk with you about are three key issues that I think we're all confronted with in adoption today: transracial adoption, the role of money in adoption which I touched on a little bit and I guess Susan will say more on, and then I'd like to finish up by talking a little bit about some of the many issues related to open adoption.
CEIL: Let me just give you some short remarks on transracial placements in about three minutes. Madelyn talked about infant adoptions and of the increased demands for infants linked to a decreased availability of infants. I think that has opened the door to placements of children across not only ethnic but also across racial lines. At one time not so long ago ó 25, 30 years ago ó matching was a big issue in adoption and many agencies made extensive efforts to ensure that the child who they were placing with the adoptive family looked like that adoptive family, of the same ethnic background, sometimes going so far as to match features of the birth parent with the adoptive parent. I think because this has become a system ó I think in a very positive way ó that has shifted toward finding homes for children who need homes rather than a system finding children for infertile families, it has raised some challenges to the adoption system.
And one very heated challenge has been that of whether children should be placed across racial lines or not, and I think there are two ways to look at this issue. One is in terms of the individual child and the individual adoption, and the second is the broader public policy issue.
There has been heated debate on both sides. On one side, coming from groups who say a family is a family, and certainly coming from the child welfare system where the majority of children needing permanent homes are African-American and Latino, the question arises as to whether the state should continue children in temporary foster care while they look for families that are of their same racial background. So, there's strong arguments on one side that delaying permanency for the child is far more harmful than it would be to place that child with a family of a different racial background. On the other side of that issue, led for a long time by the National Association of Black Social Workers, is a very strong statement that agencies should not be permitting transracial placements, that when you talk about race you're talking about the child's basic sense of identity, and that when you make the decision to place the child with a family of a different race, you have issues around identity that need to be addressed and you have issues around what it will be like for that child to be raised by a family of a different race, not only within that family but within the community the child lives in. And I think that that has been a hot topic that agencies have gone back and forth on.
If you look at the case law around individual cases, generally the courts have responded by saying ultimately the decision is to determine what is in the best interest of the child. When race is a factor, constitutional challenges can be raised and there have been a number of cases in which the courts have applied a very strict standard to assess how race is being used as a factor. The courts have generally said, irrespective of the standard that they use, two things: one, race can be a factor, but not the sole factor, in making a decision about an adoption placement; and it can be utilized as a factor if it's linked to what is in the best interest of that individual child.
Now, Congress has passed the Multi-Ethnic Placement Act about five years ago and it was amended again about three years ago to prohibit the use of race as a factor in placement for agencies that receive federal funding. So it has impacted on public child welfare agencies, but there remain some loopholes in the law where, if the agency finds it is not in the best interest of that child to be placed with a family of a different race, that that child does not have to be placed in a family of a different race. So even though Congress, I think, tried to set some parameters around this and to prohibit the use of race in placement, reality has intervened and it is still, I think, a factor, although less so for many agencies. So you have the case-by-case determinations.
I think the broader public policy issues are interesting as well. At the time that this issue first came up around transracial placement, it came at a time when there was the beginning of this incredible decrease in the number of children available for adoption and families coming forward and saying, "We're interested in parenting a baby. We want to have a baby in our family and this is the way we see to become parents to an infant." Many agencies welcomed this and said, "Great, here's an adoptive applicant coming through the door, we'll just study and approve that person if we find them to pass our standards to become adoptive parents. Race should not be an issue."
On the other hand, again raised by the National Association of Black Social Workers and also many other agencies, the question comes up as to what the adoption agency's responsibility is. Should that agency sit back and assess whoever comes through the door or does the agency have an obligation to try and do further outreach, recruitment, examine its own procedures and policies, to ensure that families that are more representative of the children that they place are being brought into the adoption system?
I think that 25 years ago a lot of assumptions were made about adoption and made about the African-American community and its attitudes toward adoption. It wasn't atypical to hear someone talk about African-American families having informal arrangements to take care of each other's children; the legal formality of adoption was not necessary. And I think what many, many adoption agencies discovered was that that was simply not true. What was true is that they were an agency that did not open itself to what at that time was a nontraditional adoptive home and, actually having worked for the Division of Youth and Family Services at that time, it was a very exciting process to see agencies suddenly going through an intense self-examination and asking, "Are we recruiting in the right places for families? Are we outreaching in communities more representative of the children we have to place? Are our standards, standards that determine whether individuals or couples should adopt or are they standards that have nothing to do with parenting ability but might screen out families who in the past might not have been at the door for adoption?" And I think that initial public policy debate about not supporting transracial placement led to some very positive changes for adoption agencies.
This is not an issue that is resolved today. I think, like many of the issues, it's one of balance and it really is balancing the needs of the child in terms of delays in obtaining permanency or the critical issues of identity in adoption placement vs. the availability of homes. I don't know if that answers any questions or raises them.
SUSAN: I'm going to talk a little bit about the role of money in adoption, and the reason that this is a hot topic is because it can be a lot of money. The cost of adoption can range from nothing really ó zero ó up to $30,000 or more, and that's for an adoption that is perfectly legal, everything above board. And so, as you can see, when you're talking about sums of money that are that great, it gets a lot of interest.
The important thing to remember about the role of money in adoption is that this money goes to pay for services. This money does not go to buy a child. In every state, it's illegal for money to actually pass to the hands of the birth parents for any reason other than to provide services or other necessary items that are specified under state law, but they do not receive money to give their termination of parental rights to their child.
Each individual state mandates what kinds of expenses of adoption the adoptive parents can pay, ranging from only legal and medical expenses in some states ó that's stricter states ó to states that will allow payments to birth parents for transportation to their medical appointments, even maternity clothes, housing sometimes or reimbursement for lost wages, but all this money needs to pass through a third party intermediary. These are typically what we call independent adoptions, where there is not an agency involved and the money will pass through an escrow account that the adoption attorney has.
Before I go on and tell you about where all this money goes, what are all these services that can amount up to $30,000? I want to just differentiate that the cost of providing adoption services for children in foster care for their adoption is different than the other types of adoption. Because the state has an interest in making sure that the children in foster care are adopted, the governments ó the state government and the federal government ó have put in place programs and policies to make sure that the cost of the adoption is not going to be a barrier to the placement of these children, that nobody will be prohibited from adopting a child in foster care because of the expenses.
So, many of the services that are necessary are actually provided by the government. The cost of foster care, where no adoptive parent pays for the cost of caring for the child before adoption, the cost of the home study is provided; the pre- adoption counseling and education and screening process that we call home study is provided by the state or county. It depends on how the state is organized. And the legal expenses in terminating parental rights, that's all provided by the state as well.
So, a family adopting from the foster care system may have some incidental expenses that could amount up to as high as several thousand dollars ó that's typically the most it would be ó and those would cover maybe their travel ó perhaps they're adopting a child in another state or in another part of the state and will need to travel for visitation. They may need to have a medical exam that their medical insurance wouldn't cover. But even with these kinds of expenses, there are programs in place to reimburse the family for these expenditures and, even after reimbursement, if there are still some unreimbursed expenses, then they can use those expenses as a credit against their federal income taxes.
So I would venture to say that there is no adoption of a child in foster care that results in an unreimbursed expense for a family after all these avenues have been addressed. But in intercountry adoption and in infant adoption, that's where adoptive parents are expected to provide the payment and pay for the adoption services and this includes the care of the child before adoption. A baby who is born or a child who is born or taken into care and does not go directly from the hospital to the adoptive home will be in some kind of substitute care, private foster care most likely, or will be in an orphanage overseas and there will need to be some reimbursement for those expenses.
The expense of the home study will need to be covered in some way. And two very big expenses in adoptions are the legal expenses of terminating the parental rights and in finalizing the adoption; these will need to be paid for by the adoptive parents. And also, in the adoption of many children in the U.S., particularly the babies, there will be medical expenses for the birth of the child which, if you're paying for medical expenses dollar for dollar, that can mount up, particularly if you're in an adoption where you're paying the expenses of a particular birth mother. If all goes well and it's an uncomplicated birth, then maybe it's $5,000, but you can see that it could, with a birth with complications, it could be that the medical expenses alone could easily grow to whatever ó ten, twelve, fifteen thousand dollars. Legal expenses also ó they are another pricey professional service that is involved in adoption that the adoptive parents will need to pay for.
With intercountry adoption, most countries require that one or both of the parents travel to the country one or more times and stay in the country for some length of time, and it varies from country to country, to go through the adoption process there and most often finalize the adoption overseas, and that can add five, six, eight thousand dollars to the adoption, depending on if both parents have to travel, how long they have to stay in the country, and how many trips they have to make.
So, that's where all this money goes. If it's five, six, twelve thousand dollars for some of these various types of expenses, it can add up.
I want to just briefly touch on how families address this because typically there are no payment plans and they're just going to have to have this money up front. We typically tell families they need to kind of expect that they will be paying the expenses for an independent adoption as they are incurred, and typically, if you're paying for uninsured medical expenses, you'll have to get that money to the hospital up front before the birth mother can be admitted to give birth. But if you're paying through an agency, you need to pay probably a third at the beginning of the process, a third kind of halfway through when you've been approved to adopt, and then another third kind of toward the end of the process.
Some people will choose agencies, or a reason that they will look favorably on an agency for adoption is because the cost can be contained or more predictable that way. Agencies, as Madelyn mentioned, are most often nonprofit and they have tried to put in place some policies and procedures that will help families afford to adopt. They may have a sliding fee scale based on income. They may have payment plans that will allow you to pay it out over a certain number of years. They'll have scholarships for families who can't afford the regular costs of adoption. They may even have put in place with some local banks some plans to give adoptive parents a break on the cost of the loan for adoption.
Many employers are seen helping their employees with adoption as a way to help families who choose to build their family this way, just the same way that they subsidize the cost of medical insurance for families who give birth to their children. So many employers give up to $10,000 of adoption expense reimbursement benefits to employees who adopt. And then we have the federal tax credit that is $5,000 for what we call [nontraditional] adoption, typically an infant or an intercountry adoption, and that's a credit on your income tax that varies by the amount of your adjusted gross income that many people are able to use to help cover the expenses.
We know that holding a large amount of debt is a stressor on families and we hate to think that we're starting off this new adoptive family with a $20,000 loan or debt, but sometimes that is what happens, so we're glad to see it being addressed by employers and other means. Thank you very much.
Madelyn: Okay, thank you for hanging in there. Let me just touch briefly on openness and then talk about gay and lesbian and same-sex couple adoption, which is another hot topic. I'm just going to briefly touch on openness and then perhaps these remarks will lead to that topic.
I think that one of the key changes in adoption that we have seen over the last couple of decades is that we have moved from an environment where everyone believed that secrecy and confidentiality and no one really knowing too much about the other parties to the adoption was the best way to do an adoption to an understanding that people who are touched by adoption ó whether that's the adopted person, birth families or adoptive families ó are really better served when there is honest and open communication among all parties to the adoption. And so what we have seen is really a growing trend for more and more connectedness to be established, particularly between birth families and adoptive families. So, increasingly, as I mentioned earlier, we're seeing birth families being involved in selecting the adoptive family, but also the two families actually meeting prior to the adoption. In a growing number of cases, the adoptive and birth families actually share information about one another, with each other, and in a certain number of cases, there is an ongoing relationship that is actually established between birth families and adoptive families.
Now, depending upon the particular situation, this can range from plans to maintain contact through cards and letters, so it's just sort of a through-the-mail relationship, and in other instances the families stay in touch by telephone, and in a growing number of cases there's an ongoing face-to-face relationship with the birth parents perhaps coming to the adoptive family's home on special occasions or even maintaining an ongoing and very regular relationship.
There has been a lot of debate as to whether this increasing openness in adoption is a good thing or a bad thing. Many people believe that it is very positive, that it benefits the child by giving the child a real connection with where he came from and who his birth parents really are, who he looks like, that kind of information. Many people believe it really helps adoptive families because that birth parent isn't sort of a shadowy person in the background but is someone who they can get to know as a real live person and have a better understanding of the circumstances that led to the adoption. And many people believe that it's good for birth families because it allows them to have some understanding of how their child is doing and the life that the child has.
Now, others are very much against openness and feel that this really works against the child's ability to bond with his adoptive family, that it works against the birth parents' ability to sort of resolve the grief associated with placing a child for adoption and get on with their lives, and that it works against the adoptive family because here you have the birth parent in the mixture of the family. There has been a lot of research that's going on in this topic and if you're interested in this area, I'd be happy to share more information about that.
Let me just move briefly now to the other issue that was raised, and I think there are two issues here. One is the whole debate around gay and lesbians adopting children, and the other is the issue of same-sex couples being able to adopt. There has been, I think, a policy environment that we've seen undergo over the last couple of years where there has been increasing concern expressed about allowing gays and lesbians to adopt children.
Now, many agencies have placed children with single parents, either knowing that the individual was a gay or a lesbian individual or simply not asking the question one way or the other. From a legal perspective, there have been only two states that have outlawed an adoption by a gay or lesbian individual: Florida and New Hampshire. Interestingly, New Hampshire is now in the process of repealing that law and I believe the bill is on the Governor's desk right now, but at the same time bills are being introduced in a number of states across the country that would preclude adoption by gays and lesbians. So this has been sort of an ongoing policy debate, attention around sexual orientation being a criteria for accepting or rejecting an adoptive parent.
Now, on the same-sex couple adoption front, this is a situation where the two individuals ó the two gay men or the two lesbians ó together would come forward to adopt a child and New Jersey is quite unique in this regard and I'm going to ask Ceil to just sort of explain what New Jersey's position is on this.
CEIL: Well, last year New Jersey had the first case in which two gay men were permitted to adopt as a couple. It was the first case, I believe, in the country. In the past, and our state has had a very open policy for gay and lesbian adoption, but legally, because there is no legal marriage, they could not adopt as a couple, so what would happen in the past is that one individual, one partner in the couple would identify themselves, adopt the child, and either the second partner would continue an informal relationship which, if you read in the papers, there was a custody issue not so long ago where there seemed to be a very positive relationship ó one partner gave birth to a child biologically ó but then the relationship broke up and suddenly the other partner who has no legal ties to that child could not even get visitation. I believe the court, though, extended some visitation to that partner. So you either have an informal relationship that exists so long as the relationship of the adults continues, or the second partner to the couple would have to adopt in a second separate proceeding. What was unique about this case ó it was out of Bergen County ó is that the court permitted two men to adopt together as a couple, even though there was no legal marriage, no acknowledgement of a legal marriage between them. Very significant case. I believe there was another case in another family court in New Jersey that did not permit that. As far as I understand, it has not been appealed, but I do believe other states have had similar cases since then or at least they're moving in that direction.
How about if I take any questions or any one of us? For those of you diehards who are still remaining!
Q: I'm just curious why research shows, when babies are adopted from different countries who come here and they do just as well dealing with their ethnicity, why is it that there is still this opposition in our own country, which has a more similar culture than a foreign country? That's number one. And also, why does Latino, you know, separation, do you also then look at the Italians, Jewish, this, that? I mean, I don't understand why you only pick Latino as a category of ethnicity. I can understand African-American because there's a lot of prejudice against a person's skin color. They are darker and there is documented prejudice, and I can understand that, but I don't understand the other thing.
A: Well, I think you've answered your first question yourself because I do think that there is a racial...an issue of prejudice, I think, that is....an issue of racism, I think, that underlies the question of transracial placement that is not the same for children who are coming in from other countries. And there certainly has been some criticism of individuals who go out of the country to adopt who would not consider adopting a child of a different race in the United States. On the other hand, we also have an organized effort on the part of the African-American community raising, I think, very valid issues, saying let's examine this system and make sure that it's open to our community as well. In terms of the Latino, I'm not sure. Most agencies, many agencies, do make that distinction. I'm not sure that I can answer that. Madelyn?
Madelyn: Well, [unclear few words] [through practice of] social work and law in Texas, I was certainly acutely aware, at least in that geographical environment, that Latino populations ó particularly Mexican immigrants and Mexican-Americans ó probably had a very different experience in that environment than, say, the other groups that you mentioned. [I don't think the] Italians experienced the same type of response from individuals around them. And certainly that has influenced some of my thinking around Latinos as perhaps having a cultural or ethnic heritage that may be necessary for us to really pay attention to, particularly when we're thinking about adoption and other issues related to supporting families. It may not play out the same here in New Jersey. I don't know what the ethnic mix is or certainly what the social attitudes are about different groups. Is that something that you can speak to here in New Jersey?
Q: Well, I Can't really speak to it, but then how come you say Latino? Why don't you just say you want Mexicans with Mexicans? You know what I'm saying? If someone is from Spain, is that Latino? The whole thing seems sort of strange to me. Why, when not you, but the system, places such an emphasis on this ethnicity when I think that you said that the studies show that it doesn't really in the long term make a difference? That's what I don't understand.
A: Well, I think the research certainly shows that on international adoptees, the research has been primarily on Korean adoptees. Those are the kids that have been coming here for the longest period of time and we've been able to track them more on a longitudinal basis, but overall the outcomes are very positive for them in terms of psychological functioning. Probably, though, the two areas that haven't been as well explored or where it's not quite as uniform in terms of the outcomes are how individuals view themselves in terms of their cultural or ethnic identity. How does a Korean adoptee see herself? As a Korean? As a Korean-American or as an American? And I think we've seen a lot of differences on how individuals view themselves.
The other area that has not been well researched is the experience with racism and discrimination, and the extent to which a child who may be reared by a family, where that child is the only Korean child in that school, that city, that county, how those children sort of experience social acceptance issues. So while I think it is important to say that the research shows international adoptees do well, I don't want to overstate that because I think that there are certain indications that we do need to really pay attention to cultural and racial and ethnic identity, and I think that also applies domestically in this country as well.
Q: So, have there been studies of, say, black children being adopted into white families?
A: Oh, there's been a lot of research on that. It's mainly been on African-American infants adopted by white families and the outcomes all in all look quite favorable in terms of their overall psychological adjustment and outcome. However, on the racial identity factor and the racism/discrimination factor, there have been several studies that show that these parents really struggle with some very unique issues that are different than an African-American child raised in an African-American family.
A: I think I can answer briefly on that. I read very recently an article by a young woman, an African-American adopted as an infant by a white family, who wrote an article called, "Confessions of a Transracial Adoptee in the [unclear]" and talked about her.... If you looked just at her family, she had the ideal family ó she had a loving family, she had brothers and sisters, and in terms of those personal family relationships, they made a positive placement ó and if you looked at any indicator of her well-being, highly successful, completed college, in law school, doing quite well ó but talked about how difficult it was because she grew up in a community where she was the only African-American child and how difficult it was and how, in hindsight, she would not make the choice that was made for her. And I think you make a valid point. Some of the studies that looked at what happens to children show a lot of success, but those issues of identity and racism, I think, are still critical.
A: And I do want to say in response to your question, I think you're raising some really valid issues about how we really look at race and culture in our society and how meaningful we really think they are, and I think that we do use broad groupings like Latino where there are many different cultures and cultural traditions ó anything from Mexican to Puerto Rican to many different communities that are quite distinct. So, to what extent do we acknowledge those and feel that they need to be respected in our planning? And I think that's part of the attention and the struggle that we're constantly having to deal with. I think that's really a valid point.
Q: I have another reporting question that has to do with stories where there is a kind of dispute. I was thinking about this case in Chicago [where a family], a very prominent white couple who adopted a black child, and the birth mother was rehabilitated and wanted the child back. But not only with that case, but with the Baby [M.], the baby Jessica, even when the children are not named but the parents are, clearly down the road those children are identified as highly public figures. So my question to you is where do you come down on that question as an activist? Would you rather see no identification of anybody in order to protect the identity of the child? I mean, [if] you [take] the birth, that would mean that [certainly would get] reported at all because... Could have a story about the birth...
A: Unless it was the births.
Q: Right. So what's your take on the potential problems, if you think there are any, for identifying children because the parents are identified?
A: That's a tough question. I'm very concerned with reporting on sexual assaults. Very easy for me, both as an advocate and as a journalist, to say I think a rape victim should never be identified, and it's usually pretty easy to keep that out, but again, when you've got the parents' names in there...
A: Well, I think it's often parents coming forward themselves.
A: But that doesn't mean they're doing it for the welfare of the child. Well, they think they're doing it for the welfare of the child, obviously, but I'm not sure how you would keep that from happening.
A: It's not a burning issue for you that these children not be named.
A: For me, it's not a burning issue in terms of the way the media covers it. It is a burning issue that we see so many of these cases escalating into these intense adversarial kinds of situations where the respective adults are so concerned about winning, that whatever it takes, however long it takes, we're going for it and it's going to be a win or lose situation, and I think that has a tremendously negative impact on children. And that has nothing to do with the media coverage because there are other people orchestrating this and putting certain interests above others in making it happen. So I'm far more troubled about that than the nature of the reporting that's simply reflecting what these people are choosing to do.
CEIL: And in that respect, I don't think the children should be identified, but I think we do have the reality of the family being identified...
This was a long time ago, but there was a case in New York many years ago, [unclear] [Carpetta], remember that case? And I remember thinking ó I was pretty young then, probably in college ó thinking that it was enormous and unusual because this type of case had not been making news at that point. The birth mother changed her mind when she surrendered her baby to a couple, and the couple would not return the baby. It led to a protracted battle in court and the couple ultimately left New York to Florida. [They took the] jurisdiction of New York first, which ordered the child returned. And I remember thinking, "What will this child feel, as an adult, to get these articles and read about the battle that was waged over her?" I don't know how to avoid that. I think it offers some protection to not name the child, but in reality, when adults are involved, it's almost impossible. And if you look at both the Baby Jessica and Baby Richard cases, you had birth parents who have continued to welcome attention to their children. You know, come back and see how my child is doing.
Madelyn: And I was somewhat amazed at the whole range of parents who appear on television, not only in these cases, but their child has just been tragically killed and they'll be on television the next day describing their reactions to it! I'm baffled! But there's obviously a very seductive lure there that people take advantage of, but [is that an immediate] response? I think that there are some real issues there.
CEIL: And really, to me, it's a conflict because we don't have an advocacy point of view, as horrible as the reporting was. Not the reporting, but again, what the families did in those cases that had made news. Certainly, from a system point of view, it has made the system say, "We don't ever want a case like that, so what can we do?" In our state, we have legislative attention to the rights of birth parents, we have the court more sensitive to what it means to expedite a case, so I think there has been some positive results. We have agencies now who say, well, I may not be obligated to, for example, go this far in determining the rights of the birth parents, but ethically and to avoid situations like this, there's an extra precaution I'm going to take. So I think it's had some positive impact but, again, for that individual child, I don't know. I think it's a very interesting question.
HOSTESS: Okay, well, maybe we can deal with questions more informally at the back of the room and we can pour lemonade. For those of you who are still here, I would like to thank you. I definitely thank our colleagues.
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