Adoption Beat

July 16, 2010

Late to the party, still worth reading

Filed under: Uncategorized — adoptionbeat @ 10:17 am
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I invite you to check out Jackson Adam’s piece in the Illinois Times:
http://www.illinoistimes.com/Springfield/article-7517-birth-records-opened-but-not-enough.html.

I was surprised to be contacted months after the bill passed the Illinois Senate but delighted to speak with a journalist who gave every sign of not having already made up his mind. That is  something that Triona Guidry, point person for Adoption Reform Illinois had to contend with from so-called professional news organizations such as AP when the bill was in the works. When I went to journalism school, I was taught that reporters were supposed to be unbiased or, failing that, fair and balanced. It was the reporter’s job to present all sides to an issue to the best of his/her ability.

Since I have been on the other side of the news desk where adoption reform is concerned, I have been appalled by some of the stories I have read and mightily disappointed that major news organizations show little or no interest in hearing about this issue from the perspective of those whose life it changed profoundly and permanently.

At one time, I might have believed that a reporter would have difficulty identifying a parent who surrendered a child, or possibly even identifying an adult adoptee to interview. I might have believed that sources available were unwilling to be quoted and/or identified. But now I know this is not true. And I’ve known that for some time.

Over the years, I have suggested to adoption reform activists that they make themselves known to their local media. One idea is to fill out a Rolodex card with your name, triad position and contact information and send it to local editors and news directors with a brief note saying that you are always happy to answer the media’s questions about adoption issues from your point of view as someone intimately involved in the process. I still think it is a good idea.

Illinois was a particularly disappointing loss for reformers who successfully defeated the forerunner to this bill two years earlier with an effective and well-targeted public information campaign. Had we been able to get our act together this time around, some think it might have worked again.  But we will never know because that’s how it is with opportunities once lost.

But it does serve to remind those of us who work for adoption reform, and those of us who report it, that apathy condemns us to fail.  Reporters who were happy to parrot the bill’s sponsor were described among those of us who saw through the propaganda as having “drunk the Kool-Aide” and there was plenty of it to go around.

Adoption has a warm, fuzzy image, more appropriately descriptive of pet adoption. How I wish the animal welfare folks had not hitched their wagon to that star. I have adopted, or been adopted by, many pets over the years. It’s not the same as human adoption but it is often treated about the same way by reporters.

Adopting a pet from a shelter, or taking in a stray instead of taking it to the shelter, may very well be saving that pet’s life. We have slightly better support mechanisms for human orphans. One of the biggest differences between pets and children involved in adoption is that most of the pets really are orphans. Most adopted persons were not.

Adoption of a child is both a joyous and a tragic occurrence in most instances.  But unless you have been one of those children, or one of those parents who surrendered a child, you may never think about the tragic side of it at all.

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September 10, 2009

Tired of warm, fuzzy coverage?

Filed under: Uncategorized — adoptionbeat @ 12:44 am
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Recently several eye-opening articles have breathed fresh air in media coverage of adoption among them is an article in The Nation entitled “Shotgun Adoption” by Kathryn Joyce, which appeared on September 14.

Articles like this one mark a distinct departure from the typical coverage of adoption and they do not appear with any frequency. According to the magazine “Research support was provided by the Puffin Foundation Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute.” Those who have long lamented the media’s superficial coverage of adoption issues were gratified by the coverage but the question remains, why should a private charity be needed to underwrite journalistic enterprise.

Read the story at: http://www.thenation.com/doc/20090914/joyce.

The typical media treatment of adoption is more likely to be a saccharine story of an adult adoptee locating his/her family of origin. Not that these stories are not touching; and they do serve to make a case for adoption reformers’ contention that women who surrender a child to adoption were never promised confidentiality and most did not want it. A typical story of this ilk can be found at http://www.northlandpress.com/CLreunited9109.html full of reportorial errors and lacking balance because a general assignment reporter does not do his homework.

Writing in The Nation, Joyce masterfully employs narrative as she describes a 32-year-old pharmacy technician, pregnant and unmarried who sought support from Bethany Christian Services, a faith-based organization that has found adoption to be such a profitable undertaking that it is the nation’s largest adoption agency. Masquerading as concerned Christians seeking to support young women who must make difficult decisions, Crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) prey on women at a desperate time coercing them into choosing adoption.

CPCs offer of free housing and medical care is, to pregnant women willing to sign away their children. Bethany christian Services is not the only CPC to emply techniques akin to those of abusive spouses, namely to isolate the pregnant woman from friends and family. Bethany placed this young woman in the home of a “shepherding family” whose job it is to reinforce her decision to place the child for adoption, a decision that allows Bethany to profit.

CPCs that have sprung up around the country in the aftermath of Roe v. Wade are, today, funded largely by $60 million in federal abstinence and marriage-promotion funds, a legacy of the Bush administration’s payback to right-wing Christian groups who supported his election. Despite the fact that a number states have rejected this funding because of the strings that come with it and despite campaign promises to stop federal efforts to impose a religious agenda on Americans financed by their own tax dollars, the trend continues.

Joyce writes: “The National Abortion Federation estimates that as many as 4,000 CPCs operate in the United States, often using deceptive tactics like posing as abortion providers and showing women graphic antiabortion films. While there is growing awareness of how CPCs hinder abortion access, the centers have a broader agenda that is less well known: they seek not only to induce women to “choose life” but to choose adoption, either by offering adoption services themselves, as in Bethany’s case, or by referring women to Christian adoption agencies. Far more than other adoption agencies, conservative Christian agencies demonstrate a pattern and history of coercing women to relinquish their children.”

Bethany promised this young women that her medical bills would be paid but never mentioned that they were not planning on shelling out the money. They helped her to apply for Medicaid to make those payments. Guess what? She could have applied to Medicare without the agency’s assistance and without surrendering her child.

A child that is still an abstract concept is very different than one that is a reality. This mother’s maternal instincts kicked in after she gave birth. She had second thoughts, intensified no doubt by the fact that South Carolina is not one of the 17 states that recognize open adoption in its statutes. When she wavered Bethany swept in to the recovery room coerce her into going through with the adoption. And they rushed her through signing relinquishment papers, scooped up the child and took the mother out of the hospital before she was even discharged.

Once Bethany had the child, the mother was discarded. Joyce recounts that after weeks of trying to reach a Bethany post-adoption counselor she finally reached the woman who had “shepherded” her into surrendering her child only to be brusquely dismissed.

Lest the reader think this is an isolated case, Bethany is ranked poorly by birth mothers on a website that rates agencies: http://www.adoptionagencyratings.com. Since the article appeared in The Nation, the website has gone offline but the information can still be found cashed. Not only did mothers who surrendered a child give it a thumbs down but several adoptive parent observed that these (birth) mothers were subjected to coercion.

This is not a new phenomenon. Anyone who has been paying attention can tell you that instances of coercion in adoption stretch back to approximately the same time period that records were sealed in many states – the late 1930s and early 1940s. Adoption historians refer to the period from the end of World War II to the early 1970s as the “baby scoop” era. For more information about this period of adoption practice in the USA, see Ann Fessler’s, The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade.

“… Single motherhood was so stigmatized that at least 1.5 million unwed American mothers relinquished children for adoption, often after finishing pregnancies secretly in maternity homes. The coercion was frequently brutal, entailing severe isolation, shaming, withholding information about labor, disallowing mothers to see their babies and coercing relinquishment signatures while women were drugged or misled about their rights. Often, women’s names were changed or abbreviated, to bolster a sense that ‘the person who went away to deliver the baby was someone else’ and that mothers would later forget about the babies they had given up. In taking oral histories from more than a hundred Baby Scoop Era mothers, Fessler found that not only was that untrue but most mothers suffered lifelong guilt and depression.” [Quoting from Joyce’s article]

When Maryland reform activists first began to lobby the state legislature for adult adoptee access to their own records (a matter of course before January 1947 when records were retroactively sealed) an experienced social worker testifying before the judiciary committee reminded the legislators that adoption was about “finding a home for a child who needs one, not about finding a child for a couple who wants one.”

In reality, adoption has not been practiced according to that standard in the USA since the late 1930s. Roe v. Wade might have signaled a kinder, gentler industry since unmarried pregnant women might have gained more power in the process except that, at about the same time, birth control became widely available and single motherhood gained social acceptance. The result was a shortage of healthy white babies available for adoption, the commodity that fueled a profitable and largely unregulated industry.

Why is it then that it has taken 30 years for the mainstream media to recognize that there is a story here? Or that it is potentially as big a story as Enron, Blackwater or the Downing Street memo? Child trafficking is, after all, a momentous social issue. Why is it that adoption is distorted by being used to describe the purchase of a Cabbage Patch doll or euated with rescuing a pet from the animal shelter? The issue is far more complex and the media has done a substandard job, in the main, of covering this aspect of life in America.

The Nation, the Puffin Foundation and Kathryn Joyce have done a stellar job of putting adoption in perspective.

October 5, 2008

Secrecy vs. Need to Know

Filed under: must read,Uncategorized — adoptionbeat @ 6:04 pm
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Here’s a blog — Raw Fisher — by Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher that I recommend enthusiastically.

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/rawfisher/

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 http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chicago/chi-rosemont-molest-both-28aug28,0,5051216.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 http://newstrust.net/stories/27138?expand=true and reviewing the column that prompted this blog.

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