No Adoption System is Perfect

by Barbara Free, M.A.

     The Summer 2013 issue of the AAC newsletter, Decree, includes a lengthy excerpt from Adoption Separation: Then and Now (Clova Publications, 2010), a book by Australian Evelyn Robinson, M.A., DipEd, BSW. Ms. Robinson is a reunited birth mother (she prefers the term “original parent”) who relinquished a son in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1970, and now lives in South Australia.
     The article, “Different Approaches,” contrasts Australia’s current adoption system and that of the U.S. It quite ignores the past history of Australia with the Aborigines, attempting to “breed them out,” putting Aborigine children in orphanages and boarding schools with a lot of abuse. The Australian film Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002) attests to some of that.
     That issue aside, Ms. Robinson’s main viewpoint is that adoption is almost always a very bad thing for everyone. She starts by stating that, “Private adoptions are illegal in all states of territories in Australia and all domestic adoptions are arranged by State Government departments.” By “private adoptions,” she is referring to agency adoptions. In the U.S., private adoption often means a non-agency adoption, arranged between families, sometimes involving doctors or attorneys.
     She states that, in Australia, there are no commercially based adoption agencies. She says that, because in the U.S. there are adoption agencies licensed to arrange domestic adoptions, there are financial advantages for them to arrange as many adoptions as possible and that this is distasteful and perhaps immoral. She says that pregnant women in Australia are encouraged to focus on raising their children and are never encouraged to relinquish. After the birth, she says, there is a Parenting Payment available from the federal government, which is “means-tested,” meaning available to those below a certain (unspecified in this article) income level. She states that there is no such payment available in the U.S., but tax benefits for adoptive parents who are in paid employment. This is not exactly clear nor accurate. She further tells us that there has been a dramatic decrease in adoptions in Australia to the point that, in 2010, in South Australia, with a population of more than two million, there was only one Australian-born child adopted. She says nothing about international adoptions.
     She also strongly objects to the term “birth mother,” calling it “sinister,” and particularly if applied to a woman who has not yet given birth. For many of us in the U.S., this term was a welcome one, as we had previously been called nothing. Some may prefer the term “original mother” or “original parent”; few would prefer “natural parent,” as it implies that adoptive parents are somehow unnatural.
     Further, she says she has been advised that, in the U.S., fathers not married to mothers of their children “have a difficult time being heard,” and compares this to Australia’s requirement that a birth father be notified and included in decisions, which is actually the law in the U.S., also, and there have been numerous court cases when these laws were not followed. One suspects that might be the case in Australia, too, though perhaps to a lesser degree, adoption apparently being so frowned upon.
     According to Ms. Robinson, no consent to adopt (relinquishment, in other words) can be given until the child is at least 14 days old. This is also the current case in the U.S., though the amount of time varies from one day to six months. She says, “Counseling after the birth is compulsory and must be completed at least three days prior to consent being given.” As a therapist and a birth mother, I would question the term “completed,” as adoption issues are life-long, and “completed” implies everything is over and done with. Many agencies in the U.S. offer unlimited and ongoing counseling for both birth parents, adoptive parents, and adoptees.
     Then she says that, after the consent is given, there is period of 25 days during which the consent may be revoked, and that it may be extended by up to 14 days. Nothing is said about what happens to the child during this time, other than she says the child may remain with the mother and/or father. She says that adoptive parents (whom she calls “adopters”) cannot have any contact with the birth parents until after this period of time, and is completely horrified that in the U.S. they may meet ahead of time or that the adoptive parents may even be present at the delivery. She sees this as cruel and undue pressure upon the mother.
     Many would disagree with this, particularly in open adoptions. If my son’s adoptive parents and I could have met, or if they could have been present for his birth, we would all have been thrilled. As it was, I was much comforted by the knowledge that they and I had already consented, that he had parents waiting, and that they took him hone as quickly as possible, so that he was not languishing in a hospital or in foster care, only to be taken from foster parents weeks or months later. She says the waiting period “will prevent the long term complexities in the lives of those children and their parents, which would occur if an adoption took place.”
     As a therapist, I’m not at all sure that is true. She sees any contact between “expectant mothers and prospective adopters” is intrusive and exploitative to the mother and shows a “lack of respect for and understanding of the sanctity of the mother/child bond.” This may be her opinion, but is not borne out in the experiences of many in the adoption community, whether birth parents, adoptive parents, or adoptees. She also says that, only after this waiting period has expired will the government department involved “select adopters” for the child. Most birth mothers and adoptive parents here would object to a government employee “selecting” or not selecting, as was the case with agency employees in years past with closed adoptions.
     On another facet of adoption, Ms. Robinson states that, in South Australia, the “adopters” can have their names added to the child’s original birth certificate instead of having a new one issued, which sounds like a good idea, although it seems even more sensible to just let the birth certificate remain as it is and issue an adoption certificate with the adoptive parents’ names or with both sets of parents’ names. She says the mother (birth mother) has access to the original birth certificate from the time the birth is registered. In reality, in most modern open adoptions, the birth mother has a copy of the original birth certificate, although not the amended one, unless this is an agreement between the sets of parents. Most birth parents from past eras do look forward to legal changes that would give access to both birth certificates. Open and semi-open adoptions make this less of an issue for current and future adoptions, but it is still a huge issue for past, closed adoptions.
     The author says that adoption is encouraged in the U.S. because it is apparently a terrible crime in the U.S. to be poor. While I have consistently written about adoption being about poverty (on the part of birth parents, or potentially so), I do not think her viewpoint is accurate, nor does it solve the problem by always insisting the birth parents keep and raise the child, donations of diapers, cribs, etc., notwithstanding.
     She also decries the adoption of older children who are not safe living with their original parents, and says that never happens in Australia, which is hard to believe, given their history and that of England, who sent millions of young children to Australia by themselves simply because their parents were poor or dead. She says that, instead of adoption, they are provided with permanent legal guardians who have the responsibilities of parents, but not the legal relationship. One might inquire of people who are or have been in long-term foster care whether they would prefer that. Some of that may depend upon the age, of course, and whether the guardians are relatives or strangers.
     She states that the Australian system is much more child-centered and honest, and that adoption should be replaced by other arrangements. Again, she makes no mention of international adoption, which one suspects must be more common, given that individuals or couples who do not have biological children and want children usually prefer to adopt, rather than being “permanent legal guardians.”
     Some readers may completely agree with Ms. Robinson, and I must admit to not having read the entire book, just this excerpt. Certainly the U.S. system(s) of adoption are not perfect, nor is any other adoption system. Yet, adoption does exist, even in other animals from time to time. Some societies’ customs do not permit adoption, but do permit killing the birth mother, which hardly seems better than the U.S. customs. One may find out more from and about Evelyn Robinson at We’d love to have comments from readers of this article, also.

Excerpted from the October 2013 edition of the Operation Identitiy Newsletter
© 2013 Operation Identity