Sponsored by Ethica and Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute
October 15-16, 2007
Bullet points for discussion during this workshop:
- What elements should be included in true options counseling?
- What should the rights of relinquishing mothers and fathers be?
- What is an appropriate time period during which relinquishing parents should be able to reverse their decisions to place their children for adoption?
- How can informed consent to adoption be assured?
- What services can be put into place to protect the rights of relinquishing parents?
Melissa Griebel is the Vice President of Ethica, Inc. The mother of two boys, both adopted through domestic, transracial adoptions, she enjoys open adoptions with both sons’ birth families. Melissa, who has served on the Foster Care Review Board for Pima County, Arizona and who moderates two forums addressing domestic adoption issues, has a strong interest in the ethics of domestic adoption, and a special interest in the issues that affect transracial adoptees and their families.
Frederick F. Greenman Jr. is the legal advisor to and former Director of the American Adoption Congress and the Treasurer and a director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. Senior counsel to amici curiae in the historic case, Doe v. Sundquist, upholding the 1995 Tennessee Adoption Act, he also assisted counsel in the Does v. Oregon, upholding the ballot initiative and statute which granted adoptees from Oregon access to their original birth certificates. His interest in the subject stems from having surrendered a daughter for adoption at her birth and with whom he reunited 15 years ago.
Jini L. Roby, JD, MSW, MS an attorney and social worker, is an associate professor of social work at Brigham Young University, where she researches and teaches global issues of children at risk, including those who are adopted. She is a former adoption social worker, president of the Utah Adoption Council, founder and director of an agency to prevent and treat child abuse, and a guardian ad litem attorney for children in the public child welfare system. She has assisted several governments of sending countries to establish laws, regulations, and services to birth families contemplating adoption.
Susan Livingston Smith , Program & Project Director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, is a leading scholar in the field of post-adoption services. A licensed clinical social worker and Emerita Professor of Social Work at Illinois State University, she has published books and numerous articles in scholarly journals.
Part I of this workshop is available at Workshop 1.3 Part I: Ensuring Ethical Relinquishing Practices
Question 1: from Shelley Damen with Choice Moms: What do we do to protect the rights of minors placing children for adoption, particularly in the US, but also internationally?
Susan Livingston Smith
- When I did research for this paper (see , I read a lot of state laws.
- I found that a lot of states have specific enforced requirements in dealing with minors even when they don't have requirements for persons of majority age.
- Having counseling and legal representation are important.
- In terms of coercion, social workers often talk about the parents telling the minors that they have to surrender the child for adoption. Social workers must tell parents that this will not be a legal adoption if you force your child to put her baby up for adoption. It has to be her decision. She is the parent.
- In practice we have to do things to empower minors to make their own decisions--and not to be coerced or forced to make a certain decision, whether it be by boyfriends, parents, or anyone else.
- In practice, of course, it depends on the provisions in the state law.
- As a matter of principle, it really doesn't make much difference--whatever their age, expectant parents in this situation will be very vulnerable. I don't think an arbitrary dividing line of 18 or 21 or whatever makes much difference in terms of vulnerability.
- Internationally it is so culture-driven.
- There are countries where a person has to be an adult under their national laws to relinquish and there are other countries where--and I'd say that this is most countries--where there is no law.
- Parental input is present and very important.
Question 2: From Bernadette Wright of Origins USA: I wanted to comment on what Susan said about the time that a parent should have after birth to surrender. Susan said that it should be no more than a month because of issues of bonding with the temporary caregiver. What about the bonding that takes place between the mother and baby during the nine months of pregnancy? Doesn't it make sense to take the time to ensure that the baby and mother are not unnecessarily separated because coercion or because of the mother not yet being in the frame of mind to make a good decision
Susan Livingston Smith
- I didn't say that it should be no more than a month. I said that state laws should at least give a month. It would be great if they would give longer.
- I said that it would not harm an infant to be in temporary care for a month or two so that parents could make that decision.
- There is often a push from birthparents who don't want their child to be in foster care. Many times when you try to give birthparents more time, the birthparents say, well I don't want my child to be in foster care.
- There is also a push from adoptive parents to get the child into their home as soon as possible.
- All I'm saying is that it doesn't harm the child to be in good temporary care. It wouldn't harm the child to stay in temporary care for up to six months.
- In fact there are some countries that make provision for a place where new mothers can go with their new babies and get help and support while they think about making that decision after the baby is born.
- Yes, how many adoption agencies make provision for the birthmother to go back to where she was staying before she gave birth?
- In other words, is the adoption decision sometimes driven by a lack of a place for the mother to stay and get help and support while she makes her decision after the birth?
- I think its important to realize that even where there's a law that says that decisions can be made after a few days or a month, those laws do not mean that the decision HAS to be made then. It's important to know that that decision can be made later.
- Again, that's where good options counseling would make sure that expectant parents know that that decision can be made after four days or whatever, but that it doesn't HAVE to be made then. The decision could be made at a month or two months or whenever. It doesn't have to be made on the first day that they are allowed to make the decision.
Question 3: from Carol Lawson from Adoption Options in Colorado: We are an agency that counsels expectant mothers. Only 80% of those expectant mothers who made a prior adoption plan follow through with that plan. That is, 20% change their mind. We do offer a cradle plan for birthmothers who come to us late in pregnancy whereby they can place their children in temporary care until they make up their minds what they want to do. Colorado is a tight state in regard to the legal process. One concern that I have is adoption facilitators that are not legal in Colorado but that come into Colorado and fly the birthmothers out to other states. I think that is a real dilemma for birthmothers nationally--the movement across states--because things are not as tight in other states as they are in Colorado.
- We agree. That is a real problem because you end up with a birthmother in a state where she does not live.
- And there she is by herself with an agency.
- And if she decides not to place there she is. Where is she going? Does she Does she have a car seat? Does she have money to buy diapers? How will she get home? And those are very big issues.
Question 4: from Jennifer Hemsley an adoptive parent who writes the Great Wall of China Nightmare blog I'm finding this meeting--and I don't know if I'm the only one feeling this--but it's very anti-adoptive parent. I find this very disturbing because I love my children very much. I just heard from one of the panelists here that adoptive parents are non-parents and I find that very offensive. I am mostly knowledgeable about Chinese and Guatemalan adoption. Despite all that I'm finding that I agree 100% with many of the things you guys are saying--time for the birthmother for decision making, etc. However, I'm wondering if we are living on the same planet because I am actually living in Guatemala right now and I see these things as absolutely impossible to implement--absolutely impossible. I met the birthmother of my second child, and as wonderful as that experience has been, I can say that there is no way, absolutely no way that she could take care of this child. And so I'm finding all of this very one-sided and very anti-adoptive parent.
Susan Livingston Smith: What part do you think is impossible to implement in a foreign country?
- Guatemala is too poor. Guatemala is too poor to implement what you're talking about.
- You are talking about implementing legal representation to the birthmothers. That's absolutely impossible. That's absolutely impossible to do right now. That's absolutely impossible.
- You know, you're talking about language barriers. We're talking about Mayan women. I believe that there are eight different languages in Guatemala alone. I mean these are women who come from very remote villages and who come into Guatemala City.
- What you're talking about is in an ideal world.
- But what do you do with these children?
Melissa Griebel: I don't think that's true.
- I do think it's true. I live in Guatemala right now.
- I mean I totally agree with what you guys are saying but it's not realistic when you are talking about countries that are still developing.
- I agree with you that the resources are very scarce in lots of developing countries.
- But I will again underscore that it is possible if...if there is a will...if there is a will....
- If that will springs up from that country or whether it comes from outside, the will can be created.
- And it doesn't necessarily have to be money that provides that.
- There is no reason that you have to have trained attorneys with ten years of experience doing this counseling. You can train people who are indigenous in various cultures to do this. It does take some money, but it's not impossible.
- I have seen several sending countries where there is a strong will to do it--it is possible.
- It's a matter of being very creative and having a strong determination to create these kinds of services. I do agree with you that it is a difficult battle in many countries.
- Two things....You have to remember what the topic of this session is--and that is Ensuring Ethical Relinquishments--and so yes, we tend to focus on the part of the ethical process to do with birthparents. That partly explains it.
- Let me also say that in my own family we have adopted two children. And my closest friend has adopted a child. And these were cases in which adoption was necessary.
- Certainly I believe that adoption is a fine thing where it is necessary--when the birthparent can't take care of the child.
- The problem comes in when the birthparent is pressured to relinquish because there is such a strong demand for adoptable infants.
- And where there is such a large amount of money involved that it creates enormous problems for expectant parents in the decision making and relinquishment process.
- I totally agree and I guess I see the problem as being with adoption agencies.
- I myself lost $35,000 with an unethical agency.
- The problem is not so much the adoptive parents per se, but with the agencies in middle who are profiteering. Not with the adoptive parents.
- I guess I could do with less negativity on the adoptive parents. I love my children as I'm sure you do.
- I was going to add that I'm an adoptive parent too. There is not a negativity on this panel towards adoptive parents. And I love my children too, just like you do.
- And I think part of the key to changing things is that the mindset changes from the level of the adoptive parent as well.
- We all have our place in changing the way these issues are handled...in all of our adoptions. Not just domestic adoptions but also international adoptions as well.
- And when those mindsets change from where we (as adoptive parents) are, from the agency standpoint, from where everybody stands within this process, then the mindset will change.
- And we all--even adoptive parents--have a part in that.
Question 5: from Ann Carmen, a birthparent and an attorney: I'd like to endorse Fred's comments that you can't make an informed consent, and I might add, a voluntary consent--because if it's not informed, then it's not voluntary--without independent counsel. I think the idea of having legal aid type representation for everybody—including birthparents of all ages, beyond just minors.—is a good one. I'd also like to suggest that relinquishments be taken by judges as opposed to agencies--because judges can really probe whether the consent is informed and voluntary. I certainly think you need a period in which you are not allowed to relinquish and then a period in which you can revoke that relinquishment. And I am confused that the Evan B. Donaldson Institute is recommending a period of 3-7 days when you have told us, Susan, that you have talked to OB's who say that hormones are crazy for at least 2 weeks after birth. I'd also like to note that in every comment you made when you spoke, you talked about expectant parents or birthparents---uh, we're PARENTS. And counseling should not just be before you give birth but also after you give birth, because there is a huge difference between being confronted with an unwanted pregnancy and being confronted with a live baby. I relinquished at age 40--a law professor, married to a 37 year old law professor, under very unusual circumstances. And we didn't intend to be birthparents so we didn't get any counseling. In fact we didn't get any counseling until our kid was almost 3 months old because our life went crazy. And there was still coercion, and in many ways, uninformed consent.
And then I want to ask what you--all of you here on the panel--are doing to fight for decent relinquishment times and decent revocation periods.
We in Maryland have a 30 day revocation period because I and Linda Clausen-- who is here behind me and who is the head of our local CUB (Concerned United Birthparents)--have fought to get something like 6 to 8 times to keep that 30 day period--we have put enormous pressure on the system to keep it at 30. I would also like to mention that 10 years ago the AAC (American Adoption Congress) supported us, but in recent years when we have gone to the AAC for support, they've said, "That's not a part of our mission." I think this stance should be reconsidered.
- [who is an advisor to and a Director of the American Adoption Congress]
- I want the specifics on that.
- You were not the person who said it.
- I also want to say that extended family should be a part of pre-relinquishment counseling. Extended family on both sides.
- And people should be told about resources like CUB (Concerned United Birthparents). CUB is the largest birthparent organization in the country.
- And I don't mean just CUB, but people should have an opportunity to speak to people who have relinquished and who have mixed feelings about it.
Question 6: from Marley Grenier of Bastard Nation and of the blog The Daily Bastardette: There are other forms of coercion that I have real problems with--such as becoming very friendly--the PAP's and the expectant parents becoming friendly with each other. The PAP's presence in the delivery room. To me this is very coercive.
There are other things, like the Choose Life License Plate Campaign where the funds are collected for special license plates in various states. These funds go to programs for women who promise to relinquish their children. I suppose they can change their minds and they're not going to come after them. But to me this is a real coercion. If you tell an agency, “I'm going to relinquish the child,” and once the child is born, you change your mind-- but you've already gotten services from them.
Melissa Griebel: Like promises of a college education.
Question 7: from Gary Gamer who is the parent of a 9 year old son from Korea and the CEO of Holt International Children's Services: I am really happy that we are talking about relinquishment within the context of international adoption. It is, by far, the lightning rod--the most abused arena and the one that puts an almost indelible blemish on our work. I'll be talking about the financial improprieties in a workshop related to international adoption in the morning. But right now there are two points I'd like to make with the conversation here.
The first is so vitally important. The person who actually takes the relinquishment, the person who is leading that process...should not be a judge, should not be a businessman....should not be a facilitator...should not be somebody who's paid on the basis of whether that child is placed or not. It should be a social worker. No question about it. A social worker who is working within the best interest of that child. And it is possible find and train social workers almost anywhere.
For example, Guatemala is a country that has a strong tradition of social work. It's just a matter of identifying the social workers and inserting them into the process--into the proper slots to make that work.
The second point I'd like to make is that when it comes to support of birthparents—support for them to keep their children--this isn't rocket science. We're talking about counseling; we're talking about medical intervention. It could very well be that that parent's going to agree to give up that child.
Different countries for example have different stigmas attached to a child being born out of wedlock. It varies. The crisis center that we run in the Phillipines, for example--of the mothers that come there--90% of mothers with children born out of wedlock will keep their children. In Korea, it's different. It's probably less than half because of the stigma within that culture.
You can take your $35,000 and put it in Romania, let alone Uganda, and keep 200 children with their birthfamilies--if it's within their best interests. If it's the safest thing for them. That technology is there. If there is an agency that is charging those kinds of fees, they can take those fees and within a couple of year period of time do all those things that we're talking about. It's very doable.
Question/Comment 8: from Cheryl Miller from Remember International, a grassroots program for AP's to help orphanages in Haiti: I understand your frustration. We had someone in place in Haiti and he took the money and ran. The second person who we thought was wonderful--he turned out to be a nightmare. In Guatemala, they have social workers; in Haiti they have social workers. It's just a matter of plugging people into the right places. The agencies who work in these places--as consumers and there's a word for you--but as consumers we need to say to the agencies, “I'm not going to adopt through you if you don't put money back into the community.” Who says that with a loud voice? Adoptive parents don't say that with a loud voice.
Corrupt facilitators want us to believe that there is nothing that we can do. That there can't be any counseling available there. That's what they want.
Question/Comment 9: from Stan Phillip an adoption attorney in Virginia: I represent both adoptive parents and birth parents. I never do it at the same time. And if I'm representing one-- the law doesn't require it—but—I make sure the other side has an attorney too. I make sure that it is a quality attorney--somebody who is knowledgeable. Our jobs as attorneys is to make sure that our clients are making their own decisions in an educated manner--that they are getting services and that those services include going through the options very thoroughly. We want those birthparents to know what they're doing and to make their own decisions. We try to get our birthparents in as early as possible in the process so that they can have multiple counseling sessions and come to an educated decision. And I know that many of my colleagues, including Susan Stockum, who is here from Florida, and all of us who are a part of American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, try to support an informed process for our clients.
Question/Comment 10: from Linda Clausen, a birthmother and a social worker working in foster care and adoption: Can anyone speak a little more to the time a birthmother is given for relinquishment? I have worked on legislation in Maryland and I am proud to say that our CUB group has kept it at 30 days--but, in doing that, very many times we came up against those opposing us and mostly it's been adoption attorneys. And these attorneys will try to get it to 7 days. It had been 15 days in most places, but when we began looking at this wonderful and informative site on the NIAC website--which now seems to be gone--we suddenly found that the period had gone, almost overnight, in most states, to 0 days. It seems to be adoption attorneys who did this. Can you tell us anymore about how it got this way?
Susan Livingston Smith
- NAIC (National Adoption Information Clearinghouse) is a child welfare information gateway, just to clarify for everyone.
- When I did the research for the Evan B. Donaldson paper, I know that there were only 17 states of the 50 which had a revocation period at all. Most of them were shorter rather than 30 days.
- I don’t know, but I believe that in conflicts of interest in adoption, adoptive parents and their representatives have more power and money--in getting laws passed, etc. That's just the way things are right now.
- People who do adoption—their fees are paid by adoptive parents. Considering where the money comes from, there is a natural tendency to protect those interests.
- Many times you really have to emphasize the ethics of the situation to do a good job of protecting ALL parties' interests.
- Agencies that do a good job of protecting birthparents' interests often have separate departments. One department that works with birthparents. One that works with adoptive parents.
- And they say that your job is to ‘advocate for expectant parents”—I use the term, “birthparent”—because when I became an adoption social working with birthparents in 1968-1970, we were told our job was with “birthparents.” Looking through the literature, now I know that the term expectant parents should be used, but I often slip and say birthparents.
- But you are right—no one is a birthparent until she/he actually signs a document to relinquish.
- It takes a highly ethical practitioner to do justice to protect the rights of expectant parents as much as we naturally do adoptive parents. And That’s not because expectant parents aren't just as important.
- But I think it's just that expectant parents have less people with power advocating for them.
- Until we can balance that, the laws are not going to be fair to everybody.
- I want to commend Mr. Phillips for what he said and yes, there are ethical adoption attorneys--and yes, I know several of them.
- However, we should not have to rely on individual consciences in a situation that pressures people to behave unethically.
- We should change the situations so that people will be forced to act ethically.
- That's why we have conflict of interest rules.
- As an attorney, you don't try to represent birthparents and adoptive parents in the same transaction. Not all attorneys are that scrupulous, unfortunately.
- Different states have different rules. The task of discussion like this is to try to formulate rules and laws that would contribute to ethical practice.
The preceding are detailed notes. They do not constitute the exact words of the speakers, but a--hopefully accurate--summary of the ideas of these presentations and questions. If any of the panelists or attendees take issue with any of these summaries, please let me know so that I can correct them.