Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Why I Am NOT Anti-Adoption: Part One

So a while back I posted a placeholder on this blog, with this title. I was writing an essay for the blog on why I am not anti-adoption, and I expected I would be posting it within days.

What I found is that there was soooooo much ground to cover that I was writing something of a dissertation. I started to feel like I had to address all possible arguments against adoption in order to make my post worthy of a read. It was almost as if I was responding to multi-page anti-adoption websites all in one swoop. This was overwhelming because I started this project during the busiest month of the year at work. Then because I was trying to cover such a wide range of issues, my post slowly became unreadable...certainly unreadable in a blog format.

So here is my second try at approaching this topic. I am going to do this in parts, and this first post will be very brief and cover only one of the reasons I support adoption reform but am not anti-adoption. I am posting in this manner on the premise that I will come back every now and then when I have time and post again on this topic, covering additional reasons.

Reason #1 I Am Pro-Adoption Reform But Not Anti-Adoption

There have been different people arguing against adoption throughout history. Often these arguments, made by different groups at different times, are in direct contrast to one another. For example, a little less than 100 years ago, one of the most active, largest, and most vocal groups working against adoption were proponents of the notion of "eugenics." The most common modern anti-adoption advocate would be completely disgusted by the notion of "eugenics" and instead argue that adoption is evil because the separation between mother and child is harmful to that child.

Let's set aside for this post the question of whether it is ever in the best interests of a child to be separated from his or her mother, what should happen to a child once that separation occurs (for example, guardianships instead of adoption), and so forth. And let's just address this singular argument in isolation so that we can work through all of this logically. We can address the other questions later.

The most fundamental question, if one is going to assert that adoption is harmful because separation from a mother is harmful, is whether adoption is the source of that separation, or the result.

Some will argue this is a question of the chicken or the egg, and will cite adoption as the coercive or convincing factor in the separations, at least in private, domestic infant adoptions. I will address that in another post.

First, I will argue that it is a logical fallacy that adoption is a separation.

Death of parent, termination of parental rights, or relinquishment of parental rights is the separation of mother and child. Legally.

Sometimes this legal separation is in fact a marker of an already existing physical separation. For example, in the case of abandonment. Another example would be in the case of long term foster care, which I will talk about more in another post.

Interestingly, notice that I did not specify in the above explanation the biological relationship of parent and child. Because in fact, adoptive parents can die, can lose their kids by court-ordered termination of rights just as any other parent, and can also relinquish their rights just as any other parent.

Adoption, legally, is when an individual or couple accept the legal role of parenthood of a child for whom they don't have that prior legal commitment. That is, when an individual or couple commit to permanently and irrevocably (to the extent that any parenthood is irrevocable) raising a child.

Notice that I did not say that it is "when an individual or couple accept the legal role of parenthood of a child with whom they are not biologically related." It is important to remember that kinship adoptions are not uncommon. In a kinship adoption, there is a biological relationship between the adoptive parents and child.

Notice I also specified that there was not a prior legal commitment. In some cases, for example in foster or kinship cases, a child may already be parented on a day-to-day basis by the adopting individual or couple. Another example of that would be the case of female same-sex relationships in which the parent who did not give birth has no legal rights or responsibilities for a child until she adopts the child in what is called a "second parent adoption." This is the all-too-forgotten scenario among anti-adoption advocates.

My point is this. If the evil is the separation between mother and child, and I certainly agree with the notion that the separation between mother and child is a trauma that should not be written off, then it is in fact the termination or relinquishment of parental rights (or the death of parents) that is the evil to work against. And I will take it one step further. Since termination and relinquishment are often markers of a pre-existing separation between mother and child, the most effective work would be in prevention of the separations that occur before a termination or relinquishment.

This is why it is natural for me to be an advocate for reform on issues that impact adoption. Because frequently, for instance, child protective and foster care regulations can impact the number of children who are taken into foster or kinship care and under what conditions, and how well-supported reunification of the family is. It seems a given to me that a person with compassion and integrity would want to work against unecessary trauma in the life of a growing child.

But the argument that separation between mother and child is harmful as a reason to be anti-adoption involves an acceptance that adoption is the separation. I thus can't be anti-adoption based on that argument.

Now again, I recognize that some see the relinquishment of parental rights and adoption as two inseperable entities because they frequently occur in separate but tandem legal proceedings and some believe adoption to be a coercive tool to lead parents into relinquishment. I will write about that in a future post. There is still value in first being clear about what adoption is and is not.

Edited 1/28/09 to say that I've added the second post to this series (finally!). Please read the second post here.


sf said...

You need to submit this as an article!

Annette said...

I followed your signature link from MDC. This is a wonderfully written post. I look forward to the next parts.