Adoption agencies and adoptive parents have long held the most power in international adoption practice, and adoptive parents speak with hugely influential voices on international adoption policy. Many parents started adoption agencies themselves; many employees of the agencies are parents. Many speak at conferences; many blog, before, during, and after adoption. Many post regularly on Facebook groups.
Most professionals—doctors, lawyers, social workers—have standards of practice that integrate values with research and expertise. Some of these standards are advisory; some are enforceable and have significant sanctions.
Standards of practice for adoptive parents are, of course, unenforceable and even unfeasible. Still, since adoptive parents hold such influence and power over adoption policy and practice, perhaps it’s worth discussing what standards of practice might involve for them.
At the annual conference of the Joint Council on International Children’s Services this May in New York City, I will present a workshop called Standards of Practice for Adoptive Parents. I’ll be focusing on Ethiopia, though I’ll look at practices in many countries. JCICS is an umbrella group of international adoption agencies that also includes doctors, lawyers, parent groups, researchers, and others. Joint Council has Standards of Practice for its member agencies.
I think It’s time to examine some hard questions, and to see what harm and what good is being done in the name of adoption. For example:
- What responsibilities do adoptive parents (and agencies) have to birth parents?
- When adoptive families hire investigators to search for their child’s birth family, what are the dangers for fraud? for financial impropriety?
- When adoptive families “find” birth families that the adoption agency either didn’t know about or didn’t disclose, what should be done?
- What are the ethical responsibilities adoptive families have in offering or providing financial support to birth families?
- Many adoptive parents blog in great detail about their adopted children, sharing the child’s history, traumas, medications, behaviors, therapies, hospitalizations, personal story. Is that their right as parents?
- Adoptive families are supposed to fill out post-placement reports, sometimes for years after placement. With Russia having closed now to US families, some parents might decide not to file any more reports. What is the impact on the children, the agencies, the future? In Ethiopia, birth families are sometimes promised they will receive post-placement reports. How would adoptive parents know if their reports get to the families? Does it matter?
- Many adoptive parents “give back” to the country of origin, through non-profit work in education, health care, and other needed services, some right in their child’s village. Some employ birth family members in the non-profit’s work. Are these projects creating dependency? Are they encouraging other families inadvertently to place their children for adoption in order to get employment and money? Are the projects a means to alleviate adoptive parent guilt?
I welcome your thoughts on all of this.