Waldlaw Blog

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Tragedy of Disrupted Adoptions

November is National Adoption Month -- "a month set aside each year to raise awareness about the adoption of children and youth from foster care." Ironic, then, that two adoption cases are making headlines for all the wrong reasons.

In Missouri, in the case of a young boy named Carlos, the state Supreme Court is being asked to intervene to set aside the adoption of a 4 year old child whose mother is an undocumented worker who was caught up in an immigration sweep at her work place and subsequently incarcerated. Although initially the child was cared for by an aunt, she was overwhelmed with the care of her own children and ended up giving him to another couple to care for in her sister's absence. This other couple subsequently surrendered him to their church to be placed for adoption, without ever notifying the mother (who remained in the United States, and easy to locate given that she was in custody) or obtaining her consent. The mother has always wanted her son, and there is no indication that she had been in any way negligent in her care of him -- the only reason she was separated from him was because she was taken into custody for being undocumented, while the child is a U.S. citizen. Now, the Missouri Supreme Court is being asked to reunite mother and son, albeit gradually through a responsible reunification plan -- ideally worked out in cooperation with the "adoptive" parents -- because he was never eligible for adoption in the first place, given that he had a fit mother who loved and wanted him.

While Missouri sorts out the Baby Carlos mess, here in California we are witnessing an intense battle between an adoptive mother and a birth father, which is taking place in two states and on national television. In the Baby Vanessa case, a birth mother placed her baby for adoption at birth, through a licensed adoption agency and with all consents seemingly in order. However, the birth mother indicated that she did not have enough information to make it possible to identify the birth father, so his consent was never sought or obtained. Now it turns out that the birth father was, in fact, known to the birth mother and he is fighting for the child. Baby Vanessa is 2 years old and has been with the same person -- the adoptive mother -- since she was born. Now, she is in danger of being removed from that home because the birth father's rights to his daughter were never terminated, and he wants her back in Ohio where he can have a relationship with her.

It is easy to take sides in these cases, and the media has certainly done so. Baby Carlos should be returned to his mother, because his mother was a loving fit parent who took good care of him for the first 6 months of his life and was torn from him through circumstances outside of her control. Baby Vanessa should stay with her adoptive mother because her adoptive mother has provided her with a loving and stable home from birth, and the father who is fighting for her has been convicted of abuse and lost custody of his other children, so is not realistically able to provide for Vanessa.

But there are broader lessons to be learned from these two stories, that consistently apply to these and other disrupted adoption cases. No matter how wonderful an adoptive home seems, no court should be allowing an adoption to proceed without making as certain as possible that any living birth parents -- or potential birth parents -- have received proper notice and had an opportunity to be heard. Do they want the children? Are they actually fit to raise the children? And where, in all of this, do the children's rights to stable, loving homes and secure attachments come into play??

At the end of the day, in these and all adoption cases, there is simply no substitute for doing things right the first time, while these babies are still young and good decisions can be made without all the drama that accompanies efforts to fix adoption disasters later. So wherever Carlos and Vanessa end up, let's all make an effort to honor National Adoption Month by recommitting ourselves to adherence to proper adoption procedures -- and to a revamping of those procedures as necessary -- to assure that children's needs are met through the adoption process with an eye toward BOTH stability for the children and fairness for the birth parents, and with a fervent hope that there will be very few more cases like the two described above.


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