by Ken Watson
Adoption is a powerful social tool intended to meet the needs of children. Sometimes people have used it to exploit children and the families involved with them, often in the name of helping the victims. The Orphan Trains of the mid-1850s and the maternity homes of the mid-1950s are past examples of such exploitation. In today's consumer-oriented society, birthparents and prospective adoptive parents have become increasingly vulnerable to financial exploitation.
Adoption as a Commodity
While the outright sale of children is illegal, every day the legal right to parent a child is routinely exchanged for profit. Most state laws permit adoptions to be negotiated between birthparents and adoptive parents and allow attorneys to broker these transactions and charge fees for their services. Such brokerage does not require any contact between the actual adults participating, and even allows them to remain anonymous. Most laws also allow prospective adoptive parents to the pay expenses for travel, living, and medical care preceding and during the confinement of the mothers of the children they hope to adopt. (In the words of the California law, this money is given as an "act of charity" and is not tax deductible.) At legal consummation, the court requires a full written report of all fees and expenses, but it is unusual for these amounts to be questioned.
These independent adoptions have spawned a host of ancillary exploiters, including public relations and marketing firms that help prospective adoptive parents prepare biographies and photographs to increase their appeal to birthparents, Internet enthusiasts who sell space on their web sites to facilitate communication between birthparents and prospective adopting parents, and insurance companies who will write a policy to reimburse adoptive parents who have paid the expenses of a birthparent who then decides against adoption.
Agency Fees and Exploitation
Agencies claim that this fee is not payment for a child placed, but money to cover the cost of the services they provide. This statement seems open to challenge. Agencies differ widely about what they consider "services to adoptive parents." Some may include all, or a part, of the costs of the counseling and medical care for birthparents. Others view birthparents as clients in their own right and hold that none of the costs of serving them should be included in computing charges to adoptive parents. There is also no agreement among agencies about how to measure the service to an adoptive parent. Should there be a flat fee for the total service package, a per interview charge, or, perhaps, an hourly rate? Some agencies have a sliding fee scale based on family income, and some of these have a top fee while others do not. A further complexity is the fee for service to applicants with whom an agency does not place a child. If the fee is for service rendered, the placement of a child would make a difference in the amount only if it required more or less service. Conceivably, an applicant with whom no child was placed could require more agency time and thus be charged a higher fee, but I know of no agency that does this.
The wide variation in agency adoption fees is based less on the quality of the service than on the fiscal base of an agency and how it calculates its fees. Whatever the agency charges, adoptive parents are not deceived. They know they are paying for a child. Some agencies involved in international placements make this clear. At their initial meeting with prospective adoptive parents, they circulate their fee schedule. Children are listed in categories by race and sex with a different cost for the adoption of the children in each category. The highest cost is for a white female and the lowest for a black male. The sad truth is that we have lost our way in adoption. We are being driven by greed. There are no certain legal signposts, and we have misplaced our moral compass. We have all become victims of commercial exploitation-children, birthparents and siblings, adoptive parents, and those of us who tolerate this situation.
Adoption as a Community Service
The fact that such a shift of fiscal responsibility for adoption may seem irrational in our current society is a measure of how much we have compromised our principles. In fact, most public adoption agencies, and some nonprofit private agencies, now operate within this structure; and in some other countries (for instance, the United Kingdom) there is no such thing as an independent adoption. Is it possible for us to end financial exploitation in adoption in this country? It is if we care enough.
hosting by Vieth Consulting