Unregulated

In 1994, a made for TV movie titled Baby Brokers tells the story of Debbie (how ironic being as how that is my name !!), an LA doctor (played by Cybill Shepherd) wanting to adopt who feels exploited by a couple who had at first seemed willing to sell their child to her but are actually scam artists, exploiting many women. If one didn’t know it is based on a true story, it would seem both strange and strangely perverse.  In my all things adoption group, such stories pop up consistently over time. According to the one critic who reviewed this movie – it is “not a terrible movie and to be honest is quite interesting but the impact of it comes from knowing that it is based on a true story and it is then when it comes to life.”

In this week’s Time Magazine (June 7/June 14 issue), there is an article by the same title – The Baby Brokers. The digital version subtitle is “Inside America’s Murky Private-Adoption Industry.” The cover photo of Shyanne Klupp includes these words – “I will never forget the way my heart sank. You have to buy your own baby back almost.” The article notes that the photo was taken on Nov 21 2020, and notes that she regrets placing her child for adoption a little over a decade ago, back in 2010. I see this all the time from birth mothers in my adoption group. The regret. And that is why this group works diligently to support expectant mothers by encouraging them to keep and raise their babies.

Shyanne Klupp was 20 years old and homeless when she met her boyfriend in 2009. Within weeks, the two had married, and within months, she was pregnant. “I was so excited,” says Klupp. Soon, however, she learned that her new husband was facing serious jail time. Poverty and such life circumstances as entanglements with the legal system do cause a significant number of adoptions.

Shyanne reluctantly agreed to start looking into how to place their expected child for adoption. The couple called one of the first results that Google spat out: Adoption Network Law Center (ANLC). Klupp says her initial conversations with ANLC went well; the adoption counselor seemed kind and caring and made her and her husband feel comfortable choosing adoption. ANLC quickly sent them packets of paperwork to fill out, which included questions ranging from personal-health and substance-abuse history to how much money the couple would need for expenses during the pregnancy.

The Time Magazine article notes – In the U.S., an expectant mother has the right to change her mind anytime before birth, and after for a period that varies state by state. While a 2019 bill proposing an explicit federal ban the sale of children failed in Congress, many states have such statutes and the practice is generally considered unlawful throughout the country.

Klupp says she had recurring doubts about her decision. But when she called her ANLC counselor to ask whether keeping the child was an option, she says, “they made me feel like, if I backed out, then the adoptive parents were going to come after me for all the money that they had spent.” That would have been thousands of dollars. She ended up placing her son, and hasn’t seen him since he left the hospital 11 years ago.

At any given time, an estimated 1 million U.S. families are looking to adopt and many of them want an infant. Those who want a baby far exceed the number of available babies available for adoption in the US. Some hopeful parents turn to international adoption. However many countries now limit the number of children they are willing to send out of their country. There’s always an option to adopt from foster care. Usually it is an older child, not an infant. For those with some financial wealth, there is private domestic adoption. That is the route my sister took to find a couple to adopt her baby.

ANLC is a largely unregulated, private-adoption organization located here in the US. The truth is – baby brokering a lucrative business. The problems with private domestic adoption appear to be widespread. The issues range from commission schemes and illegal gag clauses to Craigs List like ads for babies and discount rates for parents willing to adopt babies of another race (known as trans-racial adoption). There is no entity tracking the private adoption rate in the US. A best estimate developed by the Donaldson Adoption Institute in 2006 and a later one created by the National Council for Adoption in 2014 estimate the number of annual nonrelative infant adoptions at roughly 13,000 in 2006 to 18,000 in 2014. Public agencies are involved in only approximately 1,000 of these adoptions. The vast majority of domestic infant adoptions involve the private sector and money drives that exchange.

“It’s a fundamental problem of supply and demand,” says Celeste Liversidge, an adoption attorney in California who would like to see reforms to the current system. The scarcity of available infants, combined with the emotions of desperate adoptive parents and the advent of the Internet, has helped enable for-profit middlemen – from agencies and lawyers to consultants and facilitators – and these charge fees that frequently stretch into the tens of thousands of dollars per case.

“The money’s the problem,” says Adam Pertman, author of Adoption Nation and president of the National Center on Adoption and Permanency. “Anytime you put dollar signs and human beings in the same sentence, you have a recipe for disaster.”

Even though federal tax credits can subsidize private adoptions (as much as $14,300 per child for the adopting parents), there is no federal regulation of the industry. Relevant laws that govern everything from allowable financial support to how birth parents give their consent to an adoption are made at the state level and these vary widely. Some state statutes, for example, cap birth-mother expenses, while others don’t even address the issue. Mississippi allows birth mothers six months to change their mind; in Tennessee, it’s just three days. After the revocation period is over, it’s “too bad, so sad,” says Renee Gelin, president of Saving Our Sisters, an organization aimed at helping expectant parents preserve their families. “The mother has little recourse.”

In 2006, the Orange County California district attorney filed a scathing complaint against ANLC that the organization had committed 11 violations, including operating as a law firm without an attorney on staff and falsely advertising the co-founder Carol Gindis as having nursing degrees. While admitting to no wrongdoing, the firm agreed to pay a $100,000 fine. In 2010, former employees filed a discrimination and unlawful business practices lawsuit against ANLC. The company denied the allegations but the parties settled for an amount that plaintiffs are not allowed to reveal. Former ANLC employees also allege the company would encourage pregnant women to relocate to states where the adoption laws were more favorable and finalizations more likely. 

Expectant mothers considering adoption should know that being pressured to go through with an adoption could be grounds for invalidating their consent and potentially overturning the adoption. It is a question of whether the parents placed their children under duress. 

Stories of enticement and pressure tactics in the private-adoption industry abound. Mother Goose Adoptions, a middle-man organization in Arizona, has pitched a “laptop for life” program and accommodations in “warm, sunny Arizona.” A Is 4 Adoption, a facilitator in California, made a payment of roughly $12,000 to a woman after she gave birth, says an attorney involved in the adoption case. While the company says it “adheres to the adoption laws that are governed by the state of California,” the lawyer, who asked to remain anonymous because they still work on adoptions in the region, says they told A Is 4 Adoption’s owner, “You should not be paying lump sums. It looks like you’re buying a baby.”

Expectant mothers routinely face expense-repayment pressures when they consider backing out. Some states, such as California and Nevada, explicitly consider birth-parent expense payments as an “act of charity” that birth parents don’t have to pay back. In other states however, nothing prohibits adoption entities from trying to obligate birth parents to repay expenses when a match fails. Conditioning support on a promise to repay or later demanding repayment if there is no placement is at very least unethical.

In 2007, Dorene and Kevin Whisler were set to adopt through the Florida-based agency Adoption Advocates. When the agency told the Whislers the baby was born with disabilities, the couple decided not to proceed with the adoption—but they later found out that the baby was healthy and had been placed with a different couple, for another fee. After news coverage of the case, Adoption Advocates found itself under investigation. In a 2008 letter to Adoption Advocates, the Florida department of children and families (DCF) wrote that it had found “expenses that are filed with the courts from your agency do not accurately reflect the expenses that are being paid to the natural mothers in many instances.”

In 2018, the Utah department of human services (DHS) revoked the license of an agency called Heart and Soul Adoptions, citing violations ranging from not properly searching for putative fathers (a requirement in Utah) to insufficient tracking of birth-mother expenses. Rules prohibit anyone whose license is revoked from being associated with another licensed entity for five years. But a year later Heart and Soul owner Denise Garza was found to be working with Brighter Adoptions. 

Jennifer Ryan (who sometimes goes by “Jennalee Ryan” or “Jennifer Potter”) is a facilitator to adoption middle-men and operates the websites – Chosen Parents and Forever After Adoptions. Both include a section that lists babies for adoption, sort of like a Craigslist ad. One example from last August: “AVAILABLE Indian (as in Southeast Asia India) Baby to be born in the state of California in 2021…Estimated cost of this adoption is $35000.”

Reforms to private adoption practices could include mandatory independent legal representation for birth parents, better tracking of adoption data and the reining in of excessive fees. In 2013, the Illinois attorney general filed a complaint against ANLC. It contended they were breaking the law by offering and advertising adoption services in the state without proper licensing or approval. ANLC retained a high-profile Chicago law firm, and within months, the parties had reached a settlement. ANLC agreed that it would not work directly with Illinois-based birth parents but it did not admit any wrongdoing and called the resolution fair and reasonable.

The few reforms that have been made in adoption law are generally aimed at making the process easier for adoptive parents, who have more political and financial clout than birth parents. There is an assumption by most people in this country that adoption is a win-win solution. The problem is that most people don’t really understand what is actually going on in this industry. Private adoption could move more toward a nonprofit model that is similar to Nebraska Children’s Home Society. They are a nonprofit that does private adoptions only in Nebraska (with a sliding fee based on income) and which rarely allows adoptive parents to pay expenses for expectant parents.

A civilized society protects children and vulnerable populations. It doesn’t let the free market loose on them. Children should not be treated as a commodity. Expectant parents in difficult situations should not be exploited. It is always about the money with the profiteers. During the pandemic, Adoption Pro Inc (which now operates ANLC) was approved for hundreds of thousands of dollars in stimulus loans. Its social media accounts suggest it has plenty of adoptive-parent clients. ANLC continues to run hundreds of ads targeting expectant parents. For example, if you Googled the term “putting baby up for adoption” in January 2021, you might get shown an ANLC ad touting, “Financial & Housing Assistance Available.”

As for Shyanne Klupp, she has since immersed herself in an online adoption community (probably much like the one I am in). What she’s learned has slowly chipped away at the pleasant patina that once surrounded her adoption journey. This realization is common. It is described as “coming out of the fog.” The problem is the profit motive. Klupp admits “I know in my heart that I would have kept my son if I had had the right answers.” That is what groups like the one I belong to attempt to do.

Fake News

My all things adoption Facebook group is all about reforming the practice. The first step is waking people up. When I first joined this group, I was just beginning to learn who my original grandparents were (both of my parents were adopted). Because adoption was the most natural thing in the world in my own family, I was totally in the adoption fog, even though I was not adopted myself. It was so normal in my family that both of my sisters gave up babies to adoption – one did it as her intentional choice, the other one wanted to keep her daughter but could not access the support to do so. Unbelievably to me now, my own mother who was actually troubled or at the least conflicted about her own adoption (believing she had been stolen from her birth parents by Georgia Tann) pressured my sister to relinquish her daughter to adoption.

So today’s story speaks to me of how society’s perspectives on adoption are based on illusions. Here it is –

I joined the group because I have always wanted to adopt a child. In my head (because of media, and various stories I’ve heard elsewhere) there are hundreds of thousands of children, maybe even millions, out there suffering and in desperate need of a loving home. I was SO convinced this is true that I believed having my own child was selfish. I’m not infertile or anything….I just had visions of helping a child… or even multiple children. I joined the group hoping to learn more about the adoption process and how best to help a child through the process. Boy – was I naive. Thank you ALL for your sharing your stories and providing an education that I never would have gotten if it wasn’t for this group. Seriously. Thank you. I am now no longer interested in adoption in the way the current system is run. But – it has left me with a deep wanting to help children and moms who go have to go through the system. It seems like poverty is the main reason children are pulled from their homes. What is the best way to be helpful, reunify, provide resources (what resources?) help the birth mothers, etc.?

One commenter wrote –  I’ve realized the best way I can help is at the source. If through the foster care system I am fostering pregnant and parenting teens to make sure the cycle won’t continue and help them keep their own babies. If it’s outside of the system same idea. Help at the source without removing the child. Offer babysitting, a room in your house, groceries, transportation, professional clothes and a hair dresser for interviews, etc. to do it right the focus is on the parents and supporting the parents.

Some more advice –

If you learn of a mother to be who is – for whatever reason – struggling/considering adoption for her baby/vulnerable take her under your wing and offer to help her educate herself and find balance, so she can focus.

Saving Our Sisters will educate and offer guidance and assistance.

Safe Families may have resources but be cautious as some factions are related to adoption agencies and highly religious.

The Family Preservation Project is a great site for education and resources.

Promote preserving the family….both in foster settings and vulnerable pregnancies. Our society loves to takes babies from parents who are “less than” (pffffttttt) and give them to the almighty “better than” (no, nope, nada)!!!!! Change in this area is an uphill journey but the more we speak of how critical it is for the children to be preserved in the family they were born into, the sooner THAT message will begin to drown out the child snatchers!

Adoption Issues On Facebook

Ten years ago, there was an article in The Guardian which the title “Facebook has changed adoption for ever.” The sub-title was “Social network sites like Facebook are changing what happens after adoption. At the click of a button, birth parents can contact their children – and vice versa – with far-reaching consequences.” I would add inexpensive DNA testing via Ancestry and 23 and Me have done as much.

The lead-in on that article noted – “Adoption is undergoing a revolution. Until recently, it has been a closely managed process, with social workers going to enormous lengths to protect children placed with adoptive families from inappropriate contact with birth relatives.” That was always the argument but never the truth. The truth was that social workers and adoption agencies were protecting the adoptive parents from the intrusion of the natural bond between the original parent and their child. There certainly have been “. . . cases of adopted young people being contacted by birth parents through Facebook. There are even more instances in which the approach is initiated by adopted young people themselves, who are curious about their birth families.” You can read that rest of that decade old perspective at the link above.

Now today, another one. This one published in Wired titled Adoption Moved to Facebook and a War Began and raising the hackles of some in my most important (though I do belong to several) adoption related support group at Facebook. The sub-title notes – As the adoption industry migrates to social media, regretful adoptees and birth mothers are confronting prospective parents with their personal pain—and anger. I do see these in my support group. In fact, adoptees are the “privileged” voices there.

This is true to the best of my own knowledge on the subject – “The adoption industry has never been very well regulated, and there is a history of certain firms engaging in unethical practices. But when agencies were the primary facilitators of adoption, they could at least perform basic vetting of birth mothers and adoptive parents and manage complex legal processes. The open marketplace of the web removed that layer of oversight.” Wired refers to people in adoption support groups as anti-adoption but then goes on to note that these are older women who, as “unwed mothers” in the 1950s and ’60s, were forced to give babies up for adoption; women whose churches still pressure them to give up children born outside of marriage; adoptees who want to overturn laws in 40 states that deny them unrestricted access to their original birth certificates. These are legitimate experiences and desires that do not in themselves constitute being anti-adoption.

However, as understanding of the deep sub- and un- conscious trauma that adoptees experience and the lifelong regret that mothers who surrendered their children to adoption as a permanent solution to a temporary situation are increasing shared openly or privately in groups that maintain anonymity, as my dominant choice does, there is a desire to limit the number of adoptions that do take place. There are recommendations for kinship guardianship whenever possible, for true efforts on the part of foster parents to assist the original parents in successfully navigating the child welfare requirements for reunification with their own children and that at the least, when adoption seems somehow the only alternative left – allowing the child to retain their original identity by NOT changing their name nor creating a new “false” birth certificate the creates the impression that the adoptive parents gave birth to that child.

These are reasonable attempts at reform.

In the movement Wired identifies are a wide range of perspectives. Some recognize the value of adoption in certain circumstances and have specific goals, like improving federal oversight, eliminating practices that are coercive to birth mothers, or giving them more time to reverse a decision to give up a child. Others see adoption as wrong most of the time – in my group it is NOT as Wired indicates “in all cases” – but there is a recognition that the natural bond between a biological mother and her child is a reality. Some are finding community and expressing feelings of anger and pain for the first time; birth mothers describe pressure, regret, and lifelong mourning for the children they gave up, while adoptees talk about their sense of estrangement and about not knowing their medical history. Certainly, poverty plays a role in children being removed from their parents and placed for adoption.

Wired does proach the topic of the Termination of Parental Rights (TPR). The article notes that TPR has been called the “civil death penalty,” because of its severity and finality. It is overwhelmingly levied against poor families. Some children are taken away from parents who abuse them horribly—and others who should be removed are not and die at the hands of abusers. Nationally, the majority of children are removed from their homes by child protective services not for abuse but neglect, which can be a more subjective state. Neglect can mean a child was left in a hot car for hours or that a child’s parent is an addict. Or it can mean that a child was alone at home while their mother worked an overnight shift or went to the store, or that there’s not enough food in the fridge. In other words, poverty can create conditions that lead to neglect, and the exigencies of poverty can also be interpreted as neglect.

My own adoption support group advocates, and some experts in child-welfare reform do as well, for helping families get what they need—rehab, food stamps, child care subsidies. We agree that should be prioritized over permanently removing children from their parents. In a 2019 paper, “A Cure Worse Than the Disease? The Impact of Removal on Children and Their Families,” Vivek Sankaran, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School, and his coauthors note that removing children from their homes is traumatic for both parents and children, and that standards for removal vary from state to state. In some states there must be evidence that a child is in immediate danger; in others, suspicion of neglect is sufficient cause. Some states allow a parent to appeal the removal within 24 hours; in others a parent may have to wait 10 days. As a result, the authors note, states and even individual counties have widely varying rates of removing children.

“If we eliminated poverty in this country, that would be the best abuse- and neglect-prevention program,” according to Elizabeth Bartholet, director of the Child Advocacy Program at Harvard Law School.

It is true that the internet, along with widely available genetic testing, has dismantled the possibility of a truly closed adoption.  However, the truth about open adoptions is the adoptive family an easily end the relationship. Open adoptions exist at the discretion of the adopting family. They are not legally enforceable in all states, and where they are enforceable the cost of a lawyer can be prohibitive for a birth mother.

My adoption support group often recommends the Saving Our Sisters (SOS) organization to expectant mothers considering a surrender of their baby. This group seeks to persuade birth mothers that financial strain shouldn’t prevent them from keeping their children. When a woman who is having second thoughts reaches out to SOS online, the group tries to find a “sister on the ground” nearby to bring her diapers, a month’s rent, or a baby swing. In 6 years time, they helped 90 mothers and their children remain together, rather than be lost to adoption.

 

The Family Preservation Project

Ever since I first heard the words “family preservation”, I have loved this concept.  I suppose because my family was fragmented by adoption – both parents were adoptees and both of my sisters gave up babies for adoption.  I often wonder what it would have been like for our family to have remained intact – parents with children – but then I would not exist, my sisters would not exist and they couldn’t have given up their babies to adoption.  Still, I do like the concept of family preservation and all of the efforts in these modern times to keep mothers and their babies together and if there is a dad present, him too.

So why the elephants ?  The Family Preservation Project‘s website answers that for me.

The Elephant is symbolic of the community this page would like to build. Elephants are a matriarchal society; that is, one that is led by a head cow, who presides over her herd of females. Each herd is made up of mothers, daughters, sisters and aunts. They are guided by the oldest and largest female of the herd. This herd sticks closely together, rejoicing at the birth of a calf and mourning at the death of a member.

The Family Preservation Project is not a community that necessarily excludes men, but one that celebrates femininity and the intimate connections made by women through motherhood.

FP365 is a family preservation movement and it is global. Their mission is to empower vulnerable, expectant mothers and prevent family separation. fp365 is dedicated to building a strong foundation of advocates willing to provide local support, networking and community involvement.  Additionally, they believe a critical piece of education and awareness is found by exploring the layers of lived experience. As we listen to those voices we will shift the current cultural narrative which promotes separation by adoption to one which celebrates the preservation of family. 

In the adoption community I belong to, the women have a mission to encourage expectant mothers to keep their baby and not rush into adoption.  They often mention Saving Our Sisters (SOS) as a resource.

SOS supports all members of expectant families considering adoption. We are committed to helping them make fully informed decisions based on information that so many other families have learned too late. We are dedicated to ensuring that they avoid applying a permanent solution to a temporary crisis based on partial or misinformation.

SOS is dedicated to direct action and education regarding the preservation of biological families whenever possible. This may include assisting expectant and new parents by locating resources, explaining the long and short term effects of adoption separation on everyone in the natural family, explaining the lifelong effects of trauma their infant will suffer if exposed to maternal separation, and connecting them with a local support person and mentor.

SOS welcomes volunteers, donations, and donors to join us in empowering and preserving families by preventing unnecessary adoptions and advocating for fair and ethical adoption laws, policies and practices.

If you want to learn more about how elephant families are like human families you can read the Elephants Without Borders pdf.  Throughout time, elephants have had a curious effect on people, creating a sense of reverence and respect. Of course, their massive size and immense strength is enough to demand it. But elephants and humans have much in common, including their intelligence.

Both elephants and humans love, protect, and nurture family members and educate the young with the skills and knowledge they need to survive. Like humans, elephants are not born with natural survival instincts and need to be taught these by their mothers and other female guardians. Lessons include how and where to feed, to use tools, what to be aware of and to understand their place in their social structure. (Much more at my link above.)

 

Reasons Why A Woman Chooses Adoption

Read this today –

I am an expectant mother, due in a couple weeks. I’m single and the baby’s father has recently informed me he wants no part in parenting but I am confident he will pay child support (though I know he prays I choose adoption, though his opinion on that matter is not even on my radar).

I am also in a transitional place in my life: staying in a very small apartment with a friend who is supporting me, no job, and won’t be able to raise a baby here. I don’t have safe family I can stay with, and my friends live in different corners of the country and are not a viable option right now either.

I’ve spoken to a few Hopeful Adoptive Parents and feel comfortable with one couple in particular, but with the clock ticking & COVID precautions in place, I don’t feel ready to make that choice: either to choose them to raise my child OR to choose adoption at all. But I feel like my back is up against a wall: I don’t have a safe place to raise a baby and I don’t have any income at the moment but in no way do I want to make a rash decision to relinquish my rights just because time is running out. Luckily the Hopeful Adoptive Parents are NOT pressuring me in any way, shape, or form so that’s not an issue.

I read up on a thread of resources posted a while ago, and I saw Safe-Families mentioned as an option. There is a chapter about 3.5 hours from me.

Another well-known option is called Saving Our Sisters.

One voice of experience wrote – “Listen to those of us who have walked this path. I am 73 and will never recover from the loss of adoption. Take heed.”

Another woman offers this – “My best advice is to try to parent. People will take a toddler as fast as a baby. If you can’t do it, you have options BUT if you go through with adoption, you can not get your baby back. Things will work out, just try.”

One woman cautioned – You would “think that voluntary placement would mean that she could get them back just as easily. Not the case. She had to prove herself fit.”  This is so close to what my maternal grandmother went through it breaks my heart that this is still how it goes.  My grandmother lost my mom to Georgia Tann during her brutal reign.

In the final analysis –

The #1 thing your baby needs is you. Just you. Not a nice house, not a nursery, not baby gear, not anything that can be bought. Some second hand baby clothes and cloth diapers, a good sling and a car seat if you have a car is all you really need to take great care of your baby. If you can have a place where you can live safely, your baby will be happy.

The Broken Birth Mom

This sculpture speaks so strongly to my own heart.  I empathize with my grandmothers who gave up my parents to adoption.  In a sense, though less permanently, I am one myself.  Each of my sisters truly are.  There are no words for how this haunts a person.  No mother should have to live without her child, even though I do understand that sometimes the safety issues are so strong because that mother is so broken as a person, the child isn’t safe with her.  I get it.

Adoption isn’t just a one-time event and it’s over. It is never over, it can’t be and it isn’t.  It is something that follows an adoptee and their original parents throughout their lives.

I have obsessed in my guilt for not raising my daughter. Just like my maternal grandmother, I never intended to leave her daily life permanently. In my effort, just as it was in my grandmother’s effort, to work things out financially, circumstances changed and it was no longer the best outcome for her to take her back. Both my maternal grandmother and myself would have, if it had been possible or truly made sense to step back in.

There were no role models for absentee mothers in the early 1970s though one read a lot of stories about absentee fathers.  I realize I caused the situation for myself. My grandmother stepped into a serious trap without realizing it when she turned to Porter-Leath Orphanage in Memphis TN for temporary care of my mom.

The superintendent there betrayed my grandmother and my mom to a master baby thief.  Miss Georgia Tann was backed up by her good friend, the Juvenile Court Judge Camille Kelley, in her pressure campaign to exploit my grandmother and wrest my mom out of her possession so that she could sell her to my adoptive grandmother.

Being a birth mom who permanently surrenders her child is not a club you should want to join.  It is a grief that lasts a lifetime. The pain of that wound will change over time but it will never go away. It will always be there.  I have spent years trying to resolve my own.  I know the reasons and the causes but there is no recovering lost time and those precious memories of your child growing up.

If you are an expectant mother, especially a single and financially challenged young woman, seek out the help that will make it possible for you to keep your baby. You will be glad you did.  Here’s one place – https://savingoursistersadoption.org/