2015: The Year in Adoption

The world of adoption has radically changed over the past decade. Declines in international adoption, the impact of the internet and social media, the movement of access to information including original birth certificates and tools like genetic testing, the shift to more openness and the spread of marriage equality are just some of the elements of the changing landscape of adoption as well as the modern family.

Here are some important topics we’ll be thinking about and acting on this year.

1. Access to Information: For many years adoptions were closed, meaning adopted people and their birth parents–who we also refer to as “first parents”–had no way of ever reconnecting. Today, 18 states offer varying levels of access (or are awaiting the start of such access) to adopted persons’ original birth certificates (OBCs). The debate rages on in the remaining 32 states, but in the meantime, adopted people and original families are turning to the internet, social media, volunteers, paid professionals, and DNA testing to uncover information and locate their families of origin. DAI will continue to support advocacy efforts to ensure that the OBC access movement presses on and we will be working to help set clear definitions and standards for openness in all aspects of adoption so every adopted person is allowed the basic human right of knowing who they are.

2. Openness in Adoption: Openness is becoming the norm (at least in theory), with closed infant adoptions shrinking to a tiny minority of about 5 percent, according to a 2012 DAI report. Of the remainder, 40 percent are mediated, which means there is an agreement among the first/birth parents and adoptive parents for some type of contact post-adoption, and 55 percent are In addition, 95 percent of agencies now offer open adoptions. Adoptive parents, birth parents, and adopted persons in open adoptions all report that these changes are positive: more openness is associated with greater satisfaction with the adoption process and has life long benefits. Let’s face it, openness can be complicated, especically in adoption, as it challenges traditional ideas of parenting. “Yet, the changing landscape of the Modern Family presents all of us with new and different types of relationships, each of which come with challenges and strengths. The extended family of adoption is no different; although unique in many ways, the skills and resources we use in nurturing and responding to other relationships in our lives can easily be used in the relationship between birth and adoptive families. Look for DAI’s training “Openness in Adoption…What a Concept” to be released later this year.

3. Re-homing: The term “re-homing” is usually associated with pet owners seeking new homes for their animals. But a Reuters investigation shed light on a disturbing practice of unregulated child custody transfers in which parents seek to transfer custody of their adopted children to new parents, all without state oversight. These unregulated child custody transfers are a chilling example of why we need greater pre- and post-adoption support and education. It is an unethical and dangerous response from parents unable to continue to care for children they have adopted. Typically these families have adopted internationally; some have defended their actions saying that adoption officials did not tell them the truth about their child’s history and that they lacked support to manage their new family. Regardless of the reason, these illegal actions must be stopped. More comprehensive parent prep and access to services is needed along with continued investigation to ensure that adoption is safe and ethical. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently sought DAI’s input on unregulated child custody transfers, also known as “re-homing.” At the request of Congress, GAO is investigating the practice and we hope this is an indication of more attention being paid to this and other critical issues involving vulnerable children.

4. International Adoption: We can’t talk about unregulated child custody transfers without talking about the changes on international adoption. Rates continue to decline in the U.S., peaking in 2004 at 22,991 international adoptions and falling dramatically, to under 8,668 by 2012, according to the U.S. Department of State. The problem is not demand, which remains high. Rather, more countries are emphasizing family preservation and domestic adoption, and restrictions have gotten tighter as well. Policy-makers must ensure that stronger systems of checks and balances are in place to avoid fraud and post-adoption disruptions and adoptive parents and professionals have an obligation to be certain that all inter-country adoptions transpire ethically and in the best interest of children.

5. Race Relations and Transracial Adoption: Transracial adoption accounts for a significant percentage of adoptions each year in the United States. Yet race relations in the United States remain fraught, particularly in the wake of the deaths of young men of color at the hands of law enforcement and the ensuing protests. Now more than ever we have to ask ourselves the hard questions: How do differences in race impact children who have been adopted by parents of another race? What additional supports are needed by these families to navigate and embrace the realities of becoming a multi-racial family?

6. Birth-Parent Rights: Countless women have lived for years with the emotional loss of separation from their children. While many women have lifted their voices in the spirit of healing and advocacy, many remain silent and alone and are often misunderstood. And what about first fathers? Birth-father rights have been diminished at best and outright discarded at worst, even when a biological father comes forward with the intention to parent his child. Some states, such as Utah, have decided to tighten some requirements to ensure birth fathers are not fraudulently disregarded in adoption plans. Other states are moving in the opposite direction. Advocacy is needed to ensure our current laws are not reflective of historical practices of the 60’s that traumatized many birth parents for decades after. DAI’s Lynn Franklin Fund is a unique, dedicated source of funding for research and advocacy on the issues and concerns that matter most to first/birth parents.

7. Adoption Equality: Although the majority of states currently permit same-sex marriage, the LGBT community continues to face discrimination when it comes to adoption. Some states, including Michigan and Indiana, are seeking to pass bills that, under the guise of protecting civil liberties and religious freedom, would allow institutions, including adoption agencies, to refuse service to LGBT persons. Equality should mean that lesbian and gay couples have the right to pursue the same family-building options as all other Americans. It is critical that legislation does not limit the right of people to become parents because of their sexual orientation and that the professionals that are charged with transacting adoptions are equipped to meet the needs of new family structures.

8. Child Welfare Worker Retention: There are so many needs facing the U.S. foster care system, but one of the most critical is retention and training of the all-important workforce. So much responsibility is placed on this core group of professionals and burnout is rampant. The impact of this high turnover on families must not be discounted, particularly for children who linger in the foster care system, suffer with multiple placements, and are without the love and permanency of family. We need practical solutions for child welfare agencies to maintain a consistent, steady and qualified work force.

Is 2015 the year in which a more unified effort from advocates, reformers, community members, professionals, and politicians succeeds in shifting perceptions about the adoption experience? Will family preservation be more a part of the conversation? Will we see changes in policy and standards surrounding ethics, openness and practical support and services for ALL families before, during and long after an adoption is final? Finally, can we move adoption and foster care from a series of transactions to even more thoughtful transformations? Let’s make it so.