Adoption Beat

August 15, 2009

Being anti adoption is not a bad thing

Filed under: Uncategorized — adoptionbeat @ 2:56 pm

In July 2009, an article in the Washington Post posited that since the number of adoptions from foster care have declined, that city’s child welfare agency is not doing an adequate job of caring for foster children within their jurisdiction.

Read the article here:
D.C. Adoptions Drop Sharply, Causing Dismay
City Agency Is Not Doing Enough For Foster Children, Critics Say

This is fair, on the face of it, only if you equate adoption with success. And, clearly some observers do. At best, this is a gross oversimplification. The first responsibility of child welfare agencies is to make minor children safe and the second is to make a good faith effort to heal families so that these minor children do not become wards of the state.

Unfortunately, there are sound fiscal reasons for assuming that adoption = success:

  1. Adoptive parents become financially responsible for the children they adopt, in most instances, completely relieving the jurisdiction of the financial burden. While children are in foster care, foster parents are reimbursed for providing for the child’s material needs and child welfare agencies devote a tremendous amount of time and resources to collecting support from natural parents to underwrite these payments.

  2. For some years now, the federal government has paid a subsidy (or bounty) to state agencies that successfully place foster children in permanent adoptive homes. (See 105-89, at

The Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) of 1997 requires states to improve their efforts to provide children with permanent families.* The law requires states to ensure foster children have a permanency plan within a year. It also mandates termination of parental rights for (1) children who have been in foster care for 15 of the most recent 22 months, or (2) whose parents have killed or seriously injured another child in the family. No one would argue with the later qualifier and most would think the former is reasonable. But surely there are exceptions. If adequate programs do not exist to heal dysfunctional families then the child welfare system that has failed.

What bothers most adoption reform advocates is that ASFA provides financial incentives for states to increase the number of adoptions from foster care by providing payments of up to $4,000 per adoption or $6,000 per special needs adoption when states exceed the previous years’ total. It is this part of ASFA that concerns me. As with almost any action government takes, there are unintended consequences.

The National Coalition for Child Protection Reform states:

“The federal law that effectively abolished the reasonable efforts requirement, the so-called Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA), also requires states to seek termination of parental rights for many children in foster care for 15 of the most recent 22 months. Yet in many jurisdictions it can take at least 12 months for a judge to decide if the initial placement was justified in the first place.

“Thus, while some children in foster care do indeed need to be adopted, ASFA encourages the indiscriminate adoption of children without regard to whether they could have remained safely in their own, loving homes.

“And this influx of new termination cases comes despite increasing evidence that the system can’t cope with the thousands of children legally free for adoption right now.” (

Instead of removing the foster children who have languished in foster care for an extended period of time, ASFA’s bounty system has, in some instances, resulted in the removal from families of origin, younger, more adoptable children, in some instances before every effort to keep the family together has been tried. Family preservation clearly offers NO financial incentive.

Quoting again from NCCPR: “As adoptions level off, the pressure to increase them again – and cash in on the bounties – is likely to have another pernicious effect. It is likely to prompt agencies to target the children most in demand by prospective adoptive parents: healthy infants from poor families. Agencies will rationalize that the parents really are “unfit” even as they continue to turn their child welfare systems into the ultimate middle-class entitlement: Step right up, and take a poor person’s child for your very own.”

See the following media reports that document this phenomena:

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette series, “When The Bough Breaks,” available online at

Lexington Herald-Leader, April 16, 2006, “Report: State unjustly terminates parental rights for federal money.”

Daily News of Los Angeles, December 8, 2003, “Government Bonuses Accelerate Adoptions.”

There are also some positive reasons why the situation in Washington, DC is changing. A colleague who is a social worker in DC in addition to being a triad member shared this with me: “good news… is that they are really trying harder, as I understand it, not to remove children from the home. They are trying to give more services on a higher level than was occurring in the past, with the hope that they will not have to take the children into care. Of course there has to be the available therapists, rehab programs, etc. to work with the clients….Those numbers may reflect this emphasis which has been escalated for quite a while.”

Although, she said that there are parents who cannot shake off substance abuse despite their good intentions but other parents when faced with an ultimatum, that the children will be removed, “will do anything they need to do to keep them.” Isn’t that the most positive outcome for such situations?

Of course, some readers will classify this as anti-adoption rhetoric. Indeed, when the Post article appeared last month, some adoption attorneys accused child welfare officials of being anti-adoption because from the “parental” point of view, there was a financial incentive to NOT adopt their foster son or daughter thus ending the government subsidy. And that prompted a thoughtful commentary from a number of adoption reform bloggers including this one:

Whatever you think of adoption, keep in mind that it should be about finding a home for a child who needs one rather than about finding a child for a family that wants one. When those two situations coincide, adoption is a wonderful option. But when an existing family is torn apart needlessly in order to create an adoptive family, it’s cruel. When you read the dry statistics about parental terminations and adoptions, note that the number of parental terminations is substantially higher than the number of children adopted. If this trend continues, it only exacerbates the number of children who will grow up with no permanent home and, moreover, with proof in their minds that no one wants them. We must take care as a society that we don’t replace one bad outcome with a worse outcome in our efforts to do good.

* Between 1997 and 2000 adoptions of foster children increased from 31,030 to 51,000 but they leveled off at about 50,000 per year since according to 1997 to 2003: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Adoptions of Children with Public Child Welfare Agency Involvement By State FY 1995-FY 2003, available online at adoptchild03b.htm, 2004 to 2007: U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Trends in Foster Care and Adoption, chart available online at


May 31, 2009

It must be hard to love an adopted child

Filed under: Uncategorized — adoptionbeat @ 1:40 am
Tags: , ,

Bonnie Miller Rubin, who I have been told is an adoptive mom, writes in the Chicago Tribune expressing how adoption advocates are offended by a tagline promoting a new Warner Bros. movie, Orphan.

Read the article here:,0,663858.story

”Particularly offensive, say advocates, is the tagline in the trailer: ‘It must be hard to love an adopted child as much as your own.’” Adoptive parents are worried about how their children may react to seeing this trailer in theaters.

It’s hard for me, as an adoptee, to see how people get so up in arms about the suggestion that somehow adoptees are, possibly, not so lovable. After all, if we ask questions about how we came to be adopted, we are shushed and sometimes called “ungrateful” for our privileged status because we even ask such questions. And I have to wonder why Rubin does not cite the reaction of anyone who is adopted in her article. My initial reaction to that omission as a journalist, much less as an adoptee, is that her reporting is incomplete. It’s not like there aren’t millions of adoptees over the age of 21 that she could have asked to comment.

Movies are a make-believe media. The newspaper is not. And yet, adoption most often makes its way into the news or op-ed pages of the newspaper when adoption is a factor, contributing or not, to some drama. Or it is presented as a warm, fuzzy story about creating a happy family without being counterbalanced by the fact that one family had to be torn apart to create another. Other warm, fuzzy stories tell of adoptees and families of origin who search successfully but rarely hint of the resistance searchers face, and never tell that search was necessary only because the truth is not available to most adoptees and never to the family of origin in sealed records states.

I have to believe that most of us grow up with loving adoptive families who accept us as we are and do not try to make us over in our adoptive parents’ image. But I know of situations where that is not true. So do we all. Just like the “thousand stories in the Naked City” there are thousands of adoption stories, some of which are horror stories.

The orphan in popular culture has been an object of pity and ridicule long before movies were invented. In praise of such stories, they usually feature the adoptee perspective. The classic children’s fairy tale “The Ugly Duckling,” tells the story of a swan, who somehow comes to be hatched along with a clutch of ducks only to be teased unmercifully by his siblings as ugly and awkward until adulthood transforms him into a beautiful swan. My friend and colleague, Dennis, wrote his doctoral thesis on this subject. Not surprisingly, he grew up in foster care after a failed adoption.

But the angst felt by persons who are transported into alien cultures by way of adoption is grist for the screenwriter’s mill. My favorite was the Star Trek character Worf, a Klingon orphaned by war and rescued by the Federation equivalent of a GI, who, with his wife, reared Worf as his own child. I’m sure that some future Star Trek will explore the development of an Intergalactic treaty that forbids the adoption of alien offspring outside their native culture. I often wonder if the writer who developed that story line was a transracial adoptee. I prefer Worf to the Ugly Duckling because Worf has post adoption issues that make him more believable as an adoptee in my experience.

Humans as a species have very ambiguous feelings about adoption. I like to start with Jesus of Nazareth who was adopted by his mother’s husband, Joseph, and raised as his son but with full knowledge of his ancestry. Indeed, without knowledge of his paternity, Jesus would probably not have followed the path in life that led him to be crucified. I have always found it puzzling that the Roman Catholic Church has been so insistent on keeping secret the true origins of a child adopted through its social service arm. But, of course, the children for whom they arrange adoption were not born to virgins. I guess that makes a big difference.

None of the church-sponsored adoption agencies escape censure on this point, not even Jewish Social Services even though it has an example of Moses, whose Egyptian adoptive mother did not hide from him the fact that he was a Hebrew child and, if Cecile B. DeMille can be believed, she followed him out of Egypt.

Society has generally regarded adopted children as some kind of second-class child substitute. If a Royal couple adopted a child, he or she would not inherit the throne. If you apply for admission to a prestigious genealogical group such as DAR, you must be related by blood to your Revolutionary War ancestor, no matter who reared you. We are indeed separate and unequal.

While I give credit to adoptive parents for pointing out how wrong it is to have a movie slap us in the face with evidence of how society regards us, I would rather they all worked alongside us to change how we are regarded legally. I would rather they insisted on enforceable open adoption. Adoptive parents are not legally bound to have our names changed when we are adopted so we could be allowed to retain our own identities, or at least given a choice when we are older.

May 20, 2009

Write a letter to the editor

Filed under: Uncategorized — adoptionbeat @ 7:58 pm

That’s what I did today. My goal is to do something, however small, to foster a better understanding of adoption and, thus, hasten reform, everyday! Today it was writing a letter to the editor, well two letters, actually.

The first was a comment on an article that appeared in Traverse City Record-Eagle in Northern Michigan, a state with a troubled history of adoption secrecy. The article, which you can read here: detailed the story of an adoptee whose enterprise resulted in her being reunited with her family of origin was headlined: Northern People: Daughter tracks down mother.

A headline like that makes me see red before I read another word. But the story was well done by reporter Vanessa McCray I loved the story. It was balanced and fair and, for readers who know adoption from the inside, it was nuanced.

But I hated the headline. It makes adoptees that want to know their history seem predatory; we are not. We just want equal treatment under the law, to be able to know or origins, something anyone not adopted takes for granted.

The reporter did such a good job with the story that I guessed the page editor wrote the headline. I jotted a quick letter to the editor which concluded “Thanks for covering the story, but please remember we are not hunters tracking prey.”

I got a response almost immediately from the Record-Eagle saying they regretted that they could not use my letter because I was not located in Michigan. And that may well be their policy but, when a newspaper puts up a website which, by definition, is available to the world, they should probably either say they are not interested in what people outside Michigan think or accommodate those reactions on the website, at least.

Providence Journal (Rhode Island) takes the latter approach and invites reader’s comments, posts them quickly on their website and/or in the print version of the newspaper. You only have to register. And you can decline the things they are offering free or for sale.

Today they published an editorial that has rapidly been passed around the adoption reform community. And for once, we were all thrilled with the content. The newspaper endorsed open records legislation. You can read their editorial here: If you haven’t, do. You’ll love it!

I wrote a reaction and it appeared online within minutes.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

You probably cannot imagine how refreshing it is to read media that “get it!” So often triad members seeking equality under the law lament that the media just doesn’t get it – they don’t understand. But you clearly do. And I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I’m a 56-year-old adoptee who has been working (for perilously close to 30 years) to change the status quo with regard to adoption law and practice in the USA. I am now six years into reunion with my family, which has afforded me access to health information that would have been more beneficial when I was in my twenties. When young adoptees search they only want the truth of their origins. For many of us, that would be more than enough. But as we grow older, we do understand the importance of genetic history with regard to our health, and that can only be achieved by developing some sort of relationship with our family of origin.

Yet governments have tried to substitute programs under which they will find out what we need to know on our behalf. Hogwash! Hearsay is not admissible in court, it’s not a satisfactory standard for reporting news and it is totally unequal to the task of giving individuals a sense of self denied when the facts are hidden.

I hope that this bill is passed soon and speedily signed into law. Thank you for your very important support.

I heard from colleagues in Rhode Island a short time later. In fact, my letters are what have connected me with many soldiers in the adoption reform “army” over the years. I could suggest that they recognize my brilliance but I know it’s just that they appreciate being validated. Sometimes the struggle seems lonely although there are thousands of folks out there who believe as I do that equal access is the only right course of action even if the law has yet to recognize it universally. If we ever to achieve honesty and accountability we must have access.

On the news pages, the media can and should play an important role in presenting the facts and allowing readers to draw their own conclusions. On the op-ed pages they are entitled to their opinion about adoption secrecy. When they come down on our side, we should at least say thank you!

October 10, 2008

Follow the Money

Filed under: must read — adoptionbeat @ 2:59 pm

“Follow the money” is an injunction to investigative reporters looking for the real story behind the events; it’s too bad that the media so seldom take that to heart when reporting on adoption.

Here is an example of reporting that does take adoption finance into account:

Petula Dvorak of the Washington post explores a somewhat controversial aspect of adoption, subsidies paid to parents who adopt from foster care which, not surprisingly, receive little oversight.

The federal Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 is another example of well-intentioned legislation that, along with safe-haven laws and sealed records, have been passed into law with the intent of making adoption more attractive, safer or to address non-existent problems in ways that benefit the industry.

AACW, enacted to keep foster children from languishing in a government system, pays state child welfare agencies a bonus for moving children from foster care to permanent adoptive homes. It also provides a source of income to the adoptive families. On the face if it, this sounds like a positive program. But, as adoption reform activists suggest, money is often at the heart of ill-advised practices.

If you have ever known a child who is in foster care, then think about the cause of his/her situation. Here are two examples:

Dennis, now a university professor, was a mixed-race child who was adopted by a couple in New York state. But his adoptive father died prematurely, and the adoptive mother returned him to the agency because she said having a child with a darker skin than her own might adversely affect her chances of remarriage.

April’s mother, who wrestled with drugs, alcohol and sexual excesses, gave birth to four children by four different fathers. April found refuge at the home of her next-door neighbor until the neighbors moved. The situation at home continued to deteriorate until social services removed April and her siblings from her mother’s care. They were parceled out to relatives and foster families. April’s former neighbors stepped up to the plate and offered to make a home for her. Now a physician’s assistant, April was lucky placed with the people who had become her surrogate family and remain with them until after graduation from her post-secondary training. Her older sister, repeating the life her mother lived, now has four children, both white and mixed race, who are in and out of her custody but for whom she collects welfare benefits.

While we have a societal obligation to protect and provide for our most vulnerable members, most will acknowledge that the foster care system produces mixed results at best. Foster children often suffer the effects of physical or emotional abuse by their natural parents or other relatives. Consequently, the financial incentive to move these children into permanent homes with loving parents sounds like the solution.

However, implementing these programs is problematic. Take the situation that prompted Dvorak’s reporting. Law enforcement found the bodies of two children adopted from foster care in Renee Bowman’s freezer. Southern Maryland resident, Bowman, adopted three girls from the District of Columbia. When one of these girls escaped abuse by scrambling out a window, the subsequent investigation found the bodies of one child who starved to death and another who died in a fall.

Bowman continued to receive $2,400 a month under the program because child welfare officials had no way of knowing two of her children were dead. There was no effective oversight. One report even suggests that social workers investigated, and although they did not see the two dead children, concluded that everything was in order.

The $800 per child monthly payment was roughly twice the national average subsidy of $444 because the girls qualified as “special needs” children.

There are thousands of children in foster care and subsidized adoption. Officials maintain that situations like this are the exception rather than the rule. But, without oversight, we don’t really know. And we should.

October 5, 2008

Secrecy vs. Need to Know

Filed under: must read,Uncategorized — adoptionbeat @ 6:04 pm

Here’s a blog — Raw Fisher — by Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher that I recommend enthusiastically.

The gruesome event that prompts his blog is one about two children adopted from foster care in Maryland who were found recently in a freezer after a third child in the care of the Renee Bowman escaped by jumping out of a window in their home.

As soon as this hit the news wires, public officials were quick to proclaim that chid protective services were in no way to blame for the death of the children they had placed in Bowman’s care.

Advocates of reform both of adoption practices and child welfare protective services beg to differ. And this story comes on the heels of a story in Illinois were a member of the Illinois Adoption Advisory Council and her 26-year-old son were arrested after two foster children formerly in her care came forward with charges of sexual abuse over a period of several years,0,5051216.story. As in the Maryland case, it wasn’t the first red flag. And, similarly social workers had investigated and found nothing.

Now we learn that Maryland’s social services agency got a complaint accusing Bowman of child neglect last January, sent a caseworker to the house and concluded that everything was fine — “clean and appropriately furnished,” though with a funky smell that was attributed to mildew. (From Raw Fisher, 10/5/08)

Fisher maintains that the process of monitoring foster care and child welfare concerns, long shrouded in secrecy, is a mistake that has resulted in these situations that now claim public attention.

He writes in part:

In the reflexively privacy-obsessed world of adoptions, it is somehow an imposition if the public wants to know where the state’s wards end up, who is collecting the stipends taxpayers shell out to encourage adoption and how all that money is being spent. We know best, social workers say.

But anytime public money is involved, it’s the public’s job to demand oversight and accountability, and the only road to that goal is transparency.
Unfortunately, if the past is any indicator, public interest will fade fast – because the media will lose interest and move on – and child welfare officials have no stomach for reform.
I am one of those in the adoption reform movement who believes that sunshine is the answer. I still believe that the media could bring about positive reform if they would continue to keep the abuse made possible by the system before the public. But I despair of this happening. If the media could not keep the abuses of our financial system in front of Americans during the several years that lead up to this current crisis when it directly affects the purses of every American, then there’s little hope they will maintain a consistent focus on the needs of children, a large number of whom are poor and disadvantaged. The media surely believes that the average American is simply not interested. I hope they are wrong.

Do your part to encourage this tye of reporting by visiting and reviewing the column that prompted this blog.

September 30, 2008

“Safe-havens” are not safe

Filed under: must read,Uncategorized — adoptionbeat @ 9:52 pm

If you are not familiar with safe-haven laws, you should read this article:,0,2178084.story

The reporter does a good job of explaining the unintended consequences of a legislative “solution” to a complex societal problem. Adoption reformers have opposed these laws from the beginning, which explains Adoption Beat’s interest. Kudos to the Associated Press for picking it up.

To learn more about safe-havens, visit this blog post:

September 27, 2008

Stressful pregnancies affect the unborn

Filed under: Uncategorized — adoptionbeat @ 4:47 pm


Stress and pregnancy

Stress may play a role in a child’s future, as passed from mother to baby during pregnancy. Judy Fortin reports. • Health News – Medicine, Diet, Fitness and Parenting from

When I read the post and watched the video, I immediately emailed it to my OYGYN who is semi-retired. I’m sure he will have some cogent comments.

Joan Wheeler sent this link to, a forum that regularly posts items of interest to the adoption reform community. Although adoption is not mentioned in the story, it’s not hard to connect the dots.

In Israel, medical researchers followed women who were pregnant during the Six Days War and the children born to them and found a higher incidence of psychological disorders in the children. Researchers have long debated the cause of an observed phenomenon that adoptees seek psychological treatment more often than the general population and some maintain that they are disproportionately represented in prisons and/or mental institutions. If future research bears out the findings of this study, it would seem that we can advance a hypothesis about why.

Women who were pressured to surrender a child to adoption — and we all know someone who had that experience — passed the attendant stress along to their unborn children. There’s no way to prevent that, only ways to try to reduce the mother’s stress.  If the circumstances are such that no efforts are made to alleviate stress, but rather to ratchet it up to achieve the desired result, the mother signing away parental rights, what sort of future problems are adoption professionals creating when they engage in “persuading” unwed mothers to give up their children?

I’d really like to see the media take a look at that.


Filed under: Uncategorized — adoptionbeat @ 4:30 pm

My unplanned sabbatical is over.

Some readers already know that I lost my adoptive mom in late May and because I cared for her while she battled Alzheimer’s from 2003 until her death I was emotionally, physically and, even financially, exhausted. I spent several weeks deep in grief and unable to do much of anything. And I spent the better part of the next several months trying to get back on my feet in more ways than one. I have writing and editing work again now and both the time and energy to take on additional assignments so if you know someone who needs an editor (and can pay) or a ghost writer or just a writer, please do send them my way. Meanwhile, I am reading voraciously again and will be addressing reporting that I think misses the point again very soon.

Thanks for reading and thanks to many friends and colleagues who wrote, visited and called during those dark days.


June 11, 2008

Getting it right

Filed under: Improving media coverage of adoption — adoptionbeat @ 1:50 am

When presenting a workshop on publication design, I illustrated my points about design elements by using examples of newsletters that contained major design flaws. One wiseacre asked if I had any samples of newsletters that featured good design. I did, I had planned to unveil them a little later in the presentation as I showed how the problem designs could be fixed. But the point was well taken.

So let me applaud an example of good reporting:

Barbara Hollingsworth, reporting for The Examiner, tells a story of good intentions gone sadly awry. What makes it even sadder is that adoption reform activists predicted this result before the law was even passed.

Congress, with the best of intention, passed the 1997 Adoption and Safe Families Act, which allowed states to terminate parental rights of children who had been in foster care longer than 15 months. Child welfare officials have long been able to remove children from abusive homes and many of these children suffered the lack of a permanent home as a result. Although some parents were unable to get their act together and make a home for their children, they refused to sign away their parental rights so those children were sentenced to foster care until they aged out. While we know this is not in the best interests of the child, society has been reluctant to tear dysfunctional families apart as long as there was even a slim chance that they could be healed.

Foster care allowed, and encouraged, continued contact between children and their parents and their extended families. Most adoptees would probably advocate that child welfare locate blood relatives capable of stepping forward to provide that permanence. And only in the event that no such appropriate custodian could be found that placement with an adoptive family be considered.

The problem with that approach is that if you are truly committed to making every effort to heal families and reunite children with their family of origin is that you have to give the process time. And during that time, children grow quickly. Before you know it, they are not cuddly infants or cute toddlers but damaged and perhaps defiant adolescents. They are harder to place with an adoptive family. And they may also have sibling bonds that adoption could break

Unfortunately, Congress in its infinite wisdom felt that solution was to hurry this process and that money could solve the problem of long-term foster care. It is certainly helping to shorten the length of time that children spend in foster care but whether or not it is truly in the best interests of the child is debatable.

Because states receive a $4,000 cash bonus from the federal government for each child adopted from foster care (multiplied by the percentage that the state exceeds its adoption goal) it gives child welfare workers a powerful financial incentive to terminate parental rights.

According to the federal Administration for Children and Families (ACF) state child welfare agencies did so more than 79,000 times nationwide in 2006, legally separating children from their families of origin. “And since infants and toddlers are much easier to place in adoptive homes, they’re often targeted for removal by overzealous social workers based on flimsy or anonymous evidence of parental abuse or neglect,” Hollingsworth writes.

She reports that child welfare officials have a battery of tactics they can use to run out this 15-month clock that starts ticking as soon as a child goes into foster care. Among those are forced psychological testing, the filing of legal motions and other delaying tactics that give child welfare the clear advantage.

Bureaucrats have disproportionately more time and financial resources to wage a legal battle for custody against parents who “basically have to prove their own innocence.” She adds, “individuals and parents are considered guilty as charged by anonymous tipsters whose hidden motivations are never brought to light.”

They only have to outlast the natural parents by 15 months. That alone is sufficient legal justification to terminate parental rights.

Hollingsworth estimates child welfare agencies must lay out an average of $20,000 to keep a child in foster care compared to $8,000 to provide in-home services for troubled families. On the face of it, one wonders that the “bounty” paid to agencies that manage to wrest children away from their parents and place them for adoption manage to break even.

But the reality is that this process keeps a lot of professionals on the payroll – lawyers, social workers, therapists, psychologists – and they profit from families being torn apart. As anyone who has ever investigated adoption in any depth soon realizes, the way to report the phenomenon is to follow the money. It requires much more of an investment of time and money by the media to do that than to do the kind of reporting we so often see.

Hollingsworth concludes “although CPS’ stated goal is family reunification, the reality is that these agencies reap a second financial windfall when the forced separation between child and parent becomes permanent.”

I might add that although the stated goal of the media is to provide fair and balanced coverage of important societal issues, the reality is that one-sided stories about the trials and tribulations of couples longing to bring someone else’s child into their home or the occasional reunions of adoptees and birth relatives are easy to do, require few sources and if the media makes no attempt at providing balance, pretty cheap.




June 10, 2008

Is it relevant?

Filed under: Improving media coverage of adoption — adoptionbeat @ 11:01 pm

I read the Associated Press report on OregonLive:

The headline read “Man accused of killing adoptive mother brought back to Oregon on multiple charges.”

The rest of the story, a sad one, to be sure, is an example of news reporting that fails the “relevance” test. Matricide is a horrendous crime. For a person to kill the woman who gave him life or helped him to create a place for himself within her family through adoption is unthinkable. To distinguish this episode by emphasizing that the perpetrator was adopted seems, at this point, to be irrelevant.

The reporter mentions the fact of Gabriel Scott Riley’s adoption in the third graph, rather than the lede, but a headline writer chose to make it the most significant fact of the story. While it may turn out to be significant, the story does not make the case for that headline.

Compare that to another similar story that also describes matricide. In this case Rebecca D’Aoust was attacked and killed by her 14-year-old adopted daughter.

The headline reads: “Mother recalled as dedicated to children.” Yet, in this story, the fact of adoption is demonstrated to be relevant because the report says that D’Aoust and her husband “knew from the start that the youngest, Heather, came from a family with mental illness.”

Both mothers were school counselors. The D’Aoust’s, we learn, wanted a big family but nature did not cooperate so they adopted three girls, two of who are now in college. 

Riley, it appears, attempted to kill both his parents by setting fire to their home. Heather D’Aoust attacked her mother with a claw hammer.

What we know at this point is that both murderers were adopted and we might be excused for thinking that both were troubled psychologically but we only have evidence of that in one case. Based on the evidence offered, in only one case do we have any reason to link that psychological malfunction to the murderer’s biological family. But careless or insensitive reporting convicts adoption in both stories.


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