Within the adoption community, there are those who are not entirely anti-adoption, but who believe that adoption should be an option only as a last resort. The argument is that because adoption is born out of loss, and there is so much loss in adoption, that loss should be avoided at almost all cost.
Perhaps not surprisingly, I disagree.
I think adoption should always be in the best interest of the child, and sometimes, that means adoption should be a first resort, or a second resort, but not always a last resort.
Let me start with the form of adoption I know the least: international adoption. Many countries are closing to adoption due to very real ethical concerns. However, some organizations, notably UNICEF, promote the idea that any adoption, and especially international adoption, should be a last resort for any child. First, the child’s family should be preserved. If that’s not possible, then the child should be adopted within the country. If that’s not possible, then there are those who say that life in an orphanage or foster home in-country is better than being placed internationally for adoption. International adoption should be the last resort.
I really can’t get into all the cases and all the nuances here – there are so many. Sure, ideally, a child’s family would be able to raise him/her with enough food to eat, clean water to drink, and a decent education. But this world is not ideal, and too many families do not have access to food and water, nor can they afford education.
At Christmas time, we often give gifts to Heifer International in lieu of physical presents to certain people. Thus, we receive the Heifer International magazine. I will never forget reading an article about a family who already had two children who adopted three more. The family ate one bowl of rice per person per day. That’s all the food they had.
One bowl of rice. I’m guessing it wasn’t even that big a bowl.
But somehow, international adoption is more of a problem than children going hungry.
I’m not saying that children should be taken from their families, or only the rich can raise children, or anything of the sort. I’m just wondering, if you asked the children, “would you rather be raised here, where you’ll get one bowl of rice per day and you’ll probably live to be 51 or in the United States or Europe, where you’ll get three meals and some snacks each day (even if one of those meals is fast food) and you’ll probably live to be 77, which would you prefer?” Is someone’s country more important than his or her physical health?
Certainly, the question is more complex than this, but when I see starving children, the (Italian) parent in me wants to feed them. When I read about girls who will not be receiving educations but will be married off as soon as they can be, the educated woman in me wants to send them to (American) college. And I think, for these kids, would international adoption really be the worst thing that could happen to them?
Let’s move on to the US foster care system, where adoption really is the last resort.
To be removed from the home, parents have to have some serious issues. There are about 400,000 kids in foster care at any given time. Half are returned to their parents. Sometimes that’s because parents have worked their plans and are really better parents. Sometimes, it’s because the goal of foster care in many counties is reunification at all costs, even if the parents are “a little bit abusive.” And sometimes, those children die.
There are about 100,000 children in foster care who are available for adoption; their parents’ rights have been terminated. Their average age is 9, and many of them are part of sibling groups. Foster kids spend an average of 2 years in the system.
I’m just throwing this out there: How many of these kids wouldn’t be in foster care if adoption had been offered as a real, first option? I don’t know, but I’d bet some expectant parents should or could have been counseled that adoption is not a selfish choice, that adoption is not about pawning your responsibilities off on someone else, that not all adoptees are mental cases, that open adoption is an option (though, for sure, not a legally binding one in most states), and that yes, adoption can be a loving, thoughtful choice for someone who is not able to take care of a child.
Which brings me to my arena, domestic infant adoption. Here’s where the phrase “Adoption should be a last resort” is bandied about with zest. The argument is that most women would be willing and able to parent if they had enough “resources.” “Resources” is usually just a nice word for “money,” but may also refer to education and support. If you have, or can get, these “resources,” then you shouldn’t place your child for adoption. And we, as a society, should put more of an emphasis on preserving families through distribution of “resources” than on adoption.
There are women who relinquish their children simply because they don’t want to parent. I don’t know how often this occurs, because no statistics are kept, but I did read the blog of such a woman. She loved to travel, loved being able to take off on a moment’s notice, loved adventure, and had a number of varied, sometimes dangerous, jobs. When she found herself pregnant, she didn’t want to be a parent, so she found someone who did.
There are people who would argue that because she could have parented – she had money and some family support – should should have. But those people aren’t her. She made the choice and did what she felt was best for everyone involved: open adoption.
For me, that’s what domestic infant adoption comes down to, and should be about: choice. If a woman feels that adoption is the best idea for her child, she should be able to make that choice. (And yes, if the men are involved, they should be able to make a choice too, whatever it may be.) I do believe that expectant parents should be educated about all of their options, should be made privy to the pros and cons of all of them, and should be able to make the best choice, whatever that may be, with little to no pressure.
There are women who have been raped and become pregnant, for whom abortion is not an option (for personal or political reasons). If those women are able to parent, but don’t want to, for any number of reasons, should they? Or should they make the choice that they feel is best for the babies?
Could S have parented Jackson? Yes. She has three children who she has parented/is parenting. But she and I can definitely say that it would not have been better for Jackson. He certainly feels adoption loss, but, so far at least, the benefits far outweigh the costs.
Ultimately, adoption is a choice that should be about the best interests of the child. Sometimes, that means adoption should be the first resort. To say that adoption should always be the last resort weights adoption loss as the worst possible outcome, and that’s simply not always the case.