Last year, the Donaldson Adoption Institute (DAI) launched the Let’s Adopt Reform initiative, which aimed to ignite a new conversation about adoption, foster care and the modern family in the 21st Century. Let’s Adopt Reform included a four-city national tour, two milestone research projects to investigate the state of adoption in America today, and a website platform that includes our Adoption Experience gallery, which highlights adoption and foster care from the voices of those who have lived the experience.
As we kick off 2017, DAI is committed to using what we have learned from this landmark initiative to enhance practice and advocate for policies that value modern-family dynamics and ensure every family has a chance to be strong. Our comprehensive report outlines five key areas that require our focus as we pledge to strengthen families in the new year and beyond.
Adoption is Not a One-Time Transaction
It is critical that we actively move beyond understanding adoption as a point-in-time experience; rather the journey of adoption is lifelong, with different needs at different times. Within this transformational framework, shifts in practice and policy that better support families as they navigate this unique and complex experience are necessary.
Our public opinion research demonstrates that more than half of the general public support increased funding for pre- and post-adoption services. Within this support, we must work together to ensure comprehensive pre-adoption education; accessible and meaningful post-adoption support; and the necessary credentialing and training of professionals who serve children and families in order to better understand the adoption and foster care experiences.
A Human Rights Framework is Needed in Adoption
Adoption has, in many ways, lost its humanity. We deny adopted person’s access to a copy of his or her own original birth certificate in more than half of the nation’s states. Some people adopted internationally as children are becoming adults who learn they do not have citizenship in the country that promised them a “forever home” so many years ago. Additionally, many parents (expectant, first/birth, foster and adoptive) are left without the supports and services to thrive.
The business model of adoption has objectified children and families and must be replaced by a model that is fundamentally guided by ensuring the humanity of all who are connected to this experience. Moving forward, it is essential that practitioners engage with families in a way that values and celebrates diversity and ensures openness and transparency in every aspect of practice.
We all have a responsibility as well to make certain that the decisions adults make on behalf of children consider the lifelong impact of adoption and are guided by what is in a child’s best interest throughout their life. To that end, we hope that the Adoptee Citizenship Act is a legislative priority in 2017 as well as laws that allow adopted people to access their full history upon reaching adulthood.
Market Forces Create a Variety of Concerns
Children have increasingly become commodified in adoption and foster care, with expectant and adoptive parents suffering within a system that too often capitalizes on the complexities of family building in today’s modern world. In 2017, we must all make sure we don’t see any news stories of children as entrepreneurs with lemonade stands to raise money for an adoption, or to maintain open relationships after they have been adopted, as we did in 2016.
Statues must be created that uniformly and strictly regulate this aspect of adoption. Similarly, we all must pay equal focus to policies that incentivize the creation and provision of evidence-based services to preserve families when appropriate and safe for children. Last, money should not be an impediment to any person who is capable of safely and appropriately caring for a child.
Adoption in America Lacks Uniformity
The inconsistencies in policies that guide adoption and foster care adoption vary widely by state and have the potential to pave the way for fraud and abuse. From pre-adoption requirements to post-adoption services and supports, conditions vary markedly based on where you live and what type of adoption you are involved with.
Bills like the National Adoption and Foster Care Home Study Act have tremendous potential to better create uniformity in a critical area of the adoption and foster care process. With greater rigor and more coherent practices throughout states, families will be better served and children will be safer.
No Reform Without Education
The lack of knowledge surrounding adoption and foster care in the United States, and the pervasive stigmas that continue to plague this experience, remain a significant impediment to meaningful reform. For every news headline or made-for-TV movie that dramatizes the dramatic fairy tale or the cautionary nightmare of adoption, an opportunity to ensure realistic perceptions is harmed. This makes it all the more difficult to influence needed changes in policy and practice.
As a community of people connected to adoption, professionals, and our allies, we must come together to make certain that stigmas and stereotypes are removed from the adoption and foster care narrative and that society is able to generate realistic perceptions of this unique life experience. Holding brands and networks accountable for harmful adoption and foster care representations and creating ample spaces for the voices of those most closely connected to this experience to share their realistic perspectives are necessary if we are to move forward in a healthy way.
DAI’s full Let’s Adopt Reform report is accessible online and outlines specific recommendations in each area of focus. The bottom line is it is no longer a matter of not knowing what to do; what is critical is that we understand and embrace new perspectives, change behaviors and encourage action.
Inspiring these changes requires us to present the realities in new, different and sometimes uncomfortable ways all in service to helping children and families with better policies, practices and resources. Strong families build strong communities and strong communities make a better world for all of us.
April Dinwoodie is chief executive and Kimberly Paglino is program director for the Donaldson Adoption Institute.