Adoption Beat

May 16, 2008

Your opinion should be fact-based

Filed under: Improving media coverage of adoption — adoptionbeat @ 3:14 am
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I found this passage in the text book I used when I taught news writing: “Edward R. Murrow, a pioneer news broadcaster and long-time head of CBS news led the way toward a broader interpretation of objective reporting based on the underlying assumption that journalists are publicly useful men and women with greater insight into the stories behind the scenes.”
And therein lies the major problem with the recent editorial on the problems with foreign adoption in the Daily Herald. It’s an example of media coverage of adoption that suggests the writer has little insight into the subject of adoption and no small degree of insensitivity.

The editorial suggests that adoptions can be reversed. I have heard of adoptions being “disrupted” due to changing adoptive family circumstances or the adoptee proving not to be exactly what the parents had in mind — these involve the adoptive parents returning the child to the agency. I have also heard of adult adoptees suing to have their adoption nullifed, but this requires cause. I have heard of cases where the father either was not told about his child or refused to sign away his parental rights but the agency and the courts went full speed ahead with the adoption until overturned by a higher court. In each of these situations, the adoptee was the one who got the short end of the stick somewhere along the line because someone forgot that adoption is about finding a family for a child who needs one instead of finding a child for a couple that wants one.

I have never heard of child welfare officials sweeping in to an adoptive home and removing a child because the foreign, natural parents’ rights were trampled. I suppose it could happen but the odds are against it. To suggest it is an impending reality is to subject many adoptive families to unwarranted angst. And now that foreign-born children are naturalized as part of the adoption process, that adds another hurdle for a foreign power that would attempt to extradite a child who had been adopted and was living in the USA. 

This editorial’s allusion to the fact that families are the fabric of our communities overlooks the fact that families in Guatemala and Vietnam are the fabric of those communities. Granted, international adoption needs serious reform. Adoption in this country needs serious reform. In fact, adoption in Illinois needs serious reform but I’ve seen nothing but cheerleading in the media for a seriously flawed bill before the Illinois House that tweaks an existing confidential intermediary program but whose sponsor calls it an open access bill.

I wonder if the problem with much of the media coverage of adoption is that the reporters are adoptive parents who fail to acknowlede their bias (or who are thought to be specialists in the subject by their editors) or by general assignment reporters who are out of their depth. Adoption is a very complex subject further complicated by the fact that the American take on adoption is very different from most of the world’s cultures, even those in the Western World with whom we share a common language. Adult adoptees already have access to their birth records in the UK and Australia. Adult adoptees can access their records at age 16 in Scotland and at 17 in England. Canada, too, is beginning the process of opening records, but the influence of American adoption practices is making their progress slow. 

Adoption will continue to be in the news. It might be time to add an adult adoptee to your editorial board. I don’t suggest that adoptees are unbiased, but I think they are more likely to see all three sides of the issue than either an adoptive parent or a birth parent. And they will be sensitive to unintentional insensitivity. Adoptees may be the last minority in the U.S. who are still fighting to be considered equal under the law. Few adoptees that I know are anti-adoption but I’d be hard-pressed to name one that doesn’t agree it needs serious reform.

Another way to improve media coverage of adoption is continuing education of newsroom personnel, both reporters and editors. Professional continuing education about reporting adoption is something I have been thinking about for a long time. Editors reading this blog who agree that a workshop session for reporters in their newsrooms should drop me an email or leave a comment.


1 Comment »

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    Trackback by finding adoptive parent — June 26, 2008 @ 12:31 am | Reply

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