Ethical Challenges in Adoption

So often in coming out of the fog of rainbows and unicorns fantasy adoption narratives, many domestic infant adoptive parents will say things like: “I didn’t know better, now I know,” “I was so uneducated before I adopted,” or “No one ever told me about adoption and trauma.”

Seriously that is not ok. You do not get a free pass for being ignorant and expecting others to teach you. I imagine you research the heck out of some of these things: vacations, restaurants, politics, how to do this or how to do that. Many of you probably spend hours on Pinterest pinning away.

How easy is it to learn about adoption trauma or the issues related to adoption ? Just google “Is adoption bad”, “issues in adoption”. In five minutes, you will learn about the 7 core issues adoptees face, you will learn all about adoption trauma, you will learn about the socio-economic disparity of expecting families considering adoption. Honestly, that simple research should lead you to spend more hours researching more in-depth and then, any person with any decent heart would not consider adopting any more.

I tried that google exercise to come up with something to write about today – yep, very quickly a couple of sites were chosen to share from.

At The Imprint, I found – Ethical Challenges Remain in The World of Private Adoptions by Daniel Pollack and Steven Baranowski from March 2021. From delving into the world of Georgia Tann and the Memphis Branch of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society in connection with my mom’s adoption, I already knew a lot about the early days of adoption. Dangerous informal child care arrangements in the early to mid 1900s have been replaced by a patchwork of state and federal laws, regulations and child care practices meant to serve the best interests of everyone associated with adoption, but we continue to allow for ethically concerning “wrongful” adoptions.  

Over the last two decades, the National Association of Social Workers developed a Code of Ethics and child welfare practices have evolved and stronger assessment practices related to approval of adoptive parents have been established. Despite these advances, social workers have found themselves observing or being caught up in ethically challenging adoption practices that have continued to lead to unethical family disruptions and poorly implemented adoption policies, all of which have created more “wrongful adoptions” and a continued mistrust of the profession. 

Disrupting family structures for the so-called “best interest” of the child is the most ethically challenging aspect of adoption and child welfare practices. The rescuing of “orphan” children from “Third World” countries has led to an increase in human trafficking and is the most blatant form of family disruptions for the sake of making money through the guise of a legal adoption. 

All social workers are expected to promote social justice, the dignity of the person and to call out dishonesty and fraud. Ethical social work practice demands social workers focus on the rights of children and families to determine their own future, while advocating for transparent legislative oversight, protections for “whistleblowers” and increased education and social justice activism to eliminate wrongful practices. Another important aspect is the typically rushed adoption placement practice that occurs in many private infant adoptions.

There is more available from the article above at the link shared. The other site I found was at Mom Junction and was titled 7 Common Problems & Challenges Of Adoption written by Debolina Raja as recently as May 24 2022 (just days ago). The image illustrating this blog came from there.

Here’s the list (you can read more about each one at the link) –

  1. Financial Challenges
  2. Legal Challenges
  3. Intercountry Adoption
  4. Health Challenges
  5. Emotional Challenges
  6. Cultural Challenges
  7. Ethical Challenges

Try the google experiment – you just may learn something you didn’t know before. And always, research exhaustively. Something as important as this should not be decided based upon emotions or a desire to “do good” in the world.

Preventing Adoptee Suicides

I was already aware that the statistics are worrisome. I didn’t know there was a month dedicated to focusing on this particular issue. Suicide is a sad and desperate choice no matter who chooses it but it is an individual choice and yet affects everyone who ever knew the person.

Attempted suicide is more common among adolescents who live with adoptive parents than among adolescents who live with biological parents. The association persists after adjusting for depression and aggression and is not explained by impulsivity as measured by a self-reported tendency to make decisions quickly.

You may be fortunate enough to be an adoptee who does not struggle with suicidal thoughts. But some adoptees struggle in silence, feel shame or feel disenfranchised and marginalized. I am seeking to share what some adoptees know, and the broader public should know, that suicidal adoptees are not an abnormality.

There is a need to talk about this issue more openly and in the mainstream. This is so important because adoption is sold as a “win-win” scenario. Talking about suicide is hard and uncomfortable. Talking about it in connection with adoption – which often has much joy but is more complex than most people realize – is challenging.

Generally, people would not have any reason to know that some adoptees struggle. The issues are real, and should be discussed more openly. Dismissing adoptee related suicide or mental illness will not help anyone. It will however further disenfranchise vulnerable adoptees.

If you are an adoptee with suicidal thoughts, know that you are not alone, other adoptees have felt this way too. Please reach out for help and know that you deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. If you know of an adoptee who is at risk, please do not be afraid to likewise reach out and help them to access appropriate support services. Do not be afraid to ask direct questions about suicide. You can’t put the idea of suicide in someone’s head by talking about it. Asking direct questions can help you to determine if they’re in immediate danger and in need of assistance.

So much of the messaging around adoption is invisibly supported by the interests with a financial stake in promoting it. However, the separation that precedes the placement of a baby or young child into adoption causes a trauma that may be subconscious and not consciously recognized by the adoptee or the people who have adopted them.

4.5 percent of adopted individuals have problems with drug abuse, compared with 2.9 percent of the general population. This is striking because it is a far higher a percentage than the 2% of the population who are adopted. Despite what adoptive parents are told and hope for, no matter how loving and nurturing an adoptive parent, no matter how deeply loved an adopted child may be, many adoptees will say, that “Love is not all we need.”

One adoptee describes their own experience this way –

“So what does it feel like to be adopted? A weird amalgamation of rejection and acceptance. Someone’s trash is someone else’s treasure… It’s been difficult for me to accept that my parents actually love me, and that they’re not just putting me on a shelf somewhere to gawk at and to call their own. I’m still figuring it out.”

Often, adoptees don’t want to upset their adoptive parents with concerns about depression or anything that could be seen as ingratitude, including normal, healthy curiosity about their own genetic, biological roots. This is very common among adoptees. No one mirrors you while growing up to assist you in forming a sense of identity and self-worth. Many adoptees describe intense feelings when they give birth to their own child. Finally seeing a human being who is biologically and genetically connected to them for the very first time. Adoptees lack a recognizable source for personality traits, temperament, and abilities. It’s difficult to feel connected without knowing where you inherited your love of playing music, or curly hair, or shyness, or why everyone in your family is athletic but you.

Another adoptee notes –

“There is a certain detachment to adoption. Being ‘chosen’ rather than ‘born to’ does it. Because we did not arrive by natural means, and so much mystery (or outright lies) are our baggage, we often feel not only that we do not fit in, but that we are disposable. That’s the thing about being chosen, you can be unchosen. And some adoptees aren’t going to wait for the dismissal; they are going to finally take control of their life by ending it.”

It is true that some adoptees (my dad was one of this kind) have the resilience and temperament to lead perfectly happy lives. He simply chose to accept that his adoptive family was the only family he needed and was quick to dismiss any curiosity my mom had as an adoptee as ill founded. I believe that he had a deep-seated fear of knowing the truth regarding why he was adopted.

If you love someone who is adopted, be aware of this risk factor. The best thing we can do for our adopted children, friends, siblings, and spouses is listen and validate their sadness as a normal and natural need to know why. I am grateful that my mom had me to share her feelings with. Someone who understood that these feelings in her were valid and reasonable.

Dignity

Imagine the circumstances in your young world are such that adequate care and love from your parents doesn’t support you as every one of us would wish for our own self.

A question came up in relationship to foster care where the foster parent was introducing a foster child as that aspect of their identity.  ie  my new foster child Dylan or foster child Caroline.  When people do that it shows just how little they are able to actually empathize with the experience of the child in their care.  That is a terrifying situation to place a child in.

This feels immediately demeaning to me personally.  It highlights a tragic circumstance as the first impression of this child to a neighbor or even a complete stranger.

Why not say something like this is Jake and he is going to be staying with us for a bit ?  Why do people have to disclose a kid is in foster care ?  Actually, simply saying the child’s name is better.  No one needs to know you foster.  The people who don’t know as part of the process, certainly don’t need to know.

This same unthinkable behavior can be extended to include an adopted child – why do people say this is my adopted son or daughter ?

After all, no one announces “this is Suzy my biological child”.  Just simply introduce the child by their name.  No need to add details related to the child’s most difficult circumstances.  Life is hard enough without piling on.

Forbidden Words

One can be human and do really bad/evil things.  This is a sad truth of reality and society.  There is a sickness in men, sadly.  It is as old as humankind and it takes what it wants whether the object of its passion is willing or not.  We give that behavior names, rape, incest.

It becomes complicated when that bad behavior results in the conception of a child.  In abortion language there is often an exception for this situation that allows a women to take away the physical memory embodied as a fetus and go on with her life.  Of course, she will never forget regardless.

Some of these “results” end up being adopted.  Some adoptees have such an unfortunate experience that they wish they had been aborted but not all adoptees feel that way.  In fact, there is no one size fits all when it comes to adoption experiences.

Perpetrators are real people with real problems who do something that healthy people cannot justify. They may have stressors in their life. These may cause them to act out in inappropriate and inexcusable ways. Pretending that men who commit rape are born broken and inhuman takes away the responsibility they should still bear for their actions.

Anyone conceived in rape or incest must embrace their own inherent self-worth and insist upon their human rights.  Know this – what any ancestor did whenever they did that whether it is directly related to a subsequent person or not – this is not who we are individually.

At one time, such an event would have labeled the result a bad seed with flawed genes.  While it is true, we inherit much from our genetic foundation, we also have the free will to make of our own selves what we will.

The #MeToo movement is an effort to bring sexual violence out into the light of awareness so that we can begin to understand how such things happen and why such behavior is wrong and how all of us can do better.

This is not a blog for or against abortion.  It is a plea to give all people, including adoptees regardless of their origin story, human rights – dignity, heritage, truth.

Legitimacy

“In the soul of every adoptee is an eternal flame of hope
for reunion and reconciliation with those he has lost
through private or public disaster.”
~ Jean Paton, Orphan Voyage

The blankness of our past is like a constant gnawing at our heart. It creates a hole that can’t be filled, a vacuum for which there is no substitute, it is a piece of our soul that was taken from us. It is like a jigsaw puzzle with pieces missing, the center of a wheel missing two spokes. My mom was not unique in her yearning to know who her original mother was.

The withholding of birth information from adoptees is an affront to human dignity. Most Americans assume that the falsification of adoptees’ birth certificates arose from well-meaning social workers anxious to relieve adoptees of the stigma of illegitimacy.

However, my mom’s parents were married at the time of her conception and her birth and at the time she was taken for adoption by my adoptive grandparents.

Of greater concern was the possibility of the original family tracing such a child and disrupting a well established adoptive relationship. Especially if the surrender had been forced, as was the case with my maternal grandmother.

The rationale was that in order to be secure in the position of adopting children, anonymity was essential.

“We never tell the natural mother or reveal to others where the child is and where it is being placed for adoption,” Georgia Tann told a reporter for the Commercial Appeal in 1948. Her letter to my original maternal grandmother certainly revealed nothing about my mom having been taken from Memphis to Arizona.