What’s wrong with adopting out an adopted child?

‘Re-homing’ is a term coined to describe the adopting out of adopted children. Reuters today published a long story on the practice, describing several cases in which children adopted from overseas by American parents were then put up for adoption again within the States, in one case only a few days after the initial adoption.

The adoptions described in the Reuters piece are problematic for obvious reasons. It appears that lax oversight arrangements in the US, particularly for intra-state adoptions, have allowed couples to adopt out their children with little or no vetting of the new parents, in some cases into abusive families, and often without much consideration of the child’s interests. But might there also be less obvious considerations in play here?

It’s possible to imagine more legitimate forms of ‘re-homing’, but I suspect most of us would feel squeamish even about such cases. Suppose a couple adopt a child through a rigorous and well-run adoption process, and then, shortly afterwards, adopt the child out through an equally rigorous process, and in the reasonable belief that the child will be going to a better home. Though obviously less objectionable that the practices described by Reuters, I find this kind of case to be nevertheless intuitively problematic – more problematic than cases in which non-adopted children are adopted out by their natural parents shortly after birth – and I suspect many would share this view.

What might explain this intuitive response?

One suggestion would be that we think such cases involve failing to take one’s obligations as a parent seriously. We are inclined to assume that if a couple ‘re-home’ a child shortly after the initial adoption, they were never really committed to caring for and being loyal to the child in the way that a good parent would be. We might suspect that the parents really only intended to ‘trial’ the child, keeping him or her only if things turned out well. (By contrast, we perhaps tend to assume that parents who have a child in the ordinary way do not take this attitude.) No doubt many actual instances of re-homing involve such attitudes, but they needn’t. We could imagine parents who adopt a child fully intending and expecting to be good parents, but subsequently (and quickly) discover that they are not cut out to raise a child, or not this particular child. In such a case, the attitudes of the parents would be no different from those of many parents who have a child naturally and then give him or her up for adoption shortly after birth.

A second suggestion would be that we think parents who have adopted a child lack some of the ‘excuses’ for adopting out a child that other parents might have. Presumably many non-adopted children that are offered for adoption were born as a result of unintended pregnancies, and one might think that parents who unintentionally are morally free to give up that child for adoption in a way that other parents are not. It’s difficult to see how this line of thought could apply to adopted children however; one can hardly adopt a child unintentionally, at least, not if the adoption was arranged through the proper channels. Adoptive parents are also less likely to have the ‘excuse’ that their circumstances are not conducive to raising a child, or to raising a child well. If the initial adoption was arranged properly, they will have been vetted to ensure that they are capable of raising the child before the initial adoption.

I don’t think either of these explanations can fully account for my intuitions, however. Suppose that one child, Jack, is born to parents who intended to have a child, wanted to have a child for reasons that are unimpeachable, and have strong reason to think that they will be parents. Shortly after Jack’s birth, his parents judge, reasonably, that they are not coping well with parenthood and decide to give Jack up for adoption. Suppose that another child, Jill, is adopted by parents who wanted to have a child for reasons that are unimpeachable and had strong reasons to believe that they would be good parents. Shortly after her adoption, her adoptive parents judge, reasonably, that they are not coping well with parenthood, and decide to give her up for adoption. Even here, I’m inclined to think that adopting out Jill is more problematic than adopting out Jack, but I don’t think either of the explanations that I mentioned above can account for this.

Reflecting on this sort of case leads me to think that we (or at least I) intuitively hold adoptive parents to higher moral standards than natural parents. When adoptive parents realise that they are not up to parenting, we are more inclined to think ‘you should have thought harder about that earlier’ than in cases where non adoptive parents realise that they are not up to parenting. In other words, we think that parents who adopt must be more confident in their future parenting abilities and commitment than other parents. This, I think, at least partially explains our negative intuitive reactions to ‘re-homing’.

Of course, even if this succeeds in explaining our intuitive reactions, it may fail to justify them. Perhaps there are good arguments for holding adoptive parents to higher standards than others. For example, perhaps the fact that adoptive parents have generally had to ‘outcompete’ other candidate parents in order to complete the adoption places them under a special obligation to make good on the adoption. But I’m not at all sure about this.

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30 Responses to What’s wrong with adopting out an adopted child?

  • Brooke says:

    I am amazed that at you have not considered the damage that multiple ‘re-homing’ has on a child. Why wouldn’t the child’s own suffering come into account when considering whether adoptive parents have a stronger obligation to raise the child than natural parents who decide to adopt out?

  • Brooke says:

    I am amazed that you have not considered the damage that multiple ‘re-homing’ has on a child. Why wouldn’t the child’s own suffering come into account when considering whether adoptive parents have a stronger obligation to raise the child than natural parents who decide to adopt out?

    • Tom Douglas says:

      Hi Brooke,
      As hinted in the 2nd paragraph, I think the interests of the child are obviously a crucial consideration, but I couldn’t really see why there would necessarily be a difference between cases of ‘re-homing’ and other adoptions from that point of view, focussing (as I was) on cases of a single re-homing. But if you think I am missing something, let me know. I agree in cases of multiple ‘re-homings’ this is going to be a major difference.

  • Daniel Ibn Zayd says:

    What is more shocking is that an ethicist might not take a step back and call into the question of adoption as a practice in its entirety.

    “Adoption is, in and of itself, a violence based in inequality. It is candy-coated, marketed, and packaged to seemingly concern families and children, but it is an economically and politically incentivized crime. It stems culturally and historically from the “peculiar institution” of Anglo-Saxon indentured servitude and not family creation. It is not universal and is not considered valid by most communal cultures. It is a treating of symptoms and not of disease. It is a negation of families and an annihilation of communities not imbued with any notion of humanity due to the adoptive culture’s inscribed bias concerning race, class, and human relevancy.”

    Here’s your ethical question. Have at it.

    • Michael says:

      That seems hardly correct.
      First, there is the case of orphans. It seems obvious that, all things being equal, orphans are better of with adoptive parents than in an orphanage, or the utilitarians would want to stick all children in orphanages for their own good.
      Now for specific criticism of your points:
      I am assuming your first two sentences are conclusions from the rest of the paragraph. Otherwise they are mere assertions, not reasons.
      The origin of adoption is not necessarily relevant to its current day practices. Employment probably also has its base in indentured servitude, but that doesn’t seem to be a universally pernicious practice. What is relevant is the current practice of those involved.
      Adoption not being universal or considered valid by most communal groups is not a reason why it is bad. If you can give the ethical arguments these cultures make as to why they do not recognize adoption, then you have a point.
      In order for the last statement to work you have to show that the adoptive culture does in fact have an inscribed bias concerning race, class, and human relevancy. Further, if this is in fact lacking, then we need an argument as to why this precludes any “notion of humanity” being involved in the adoptive process. Presumably even someone with racial bias can have some notion of humanity.

      Which leaves the “treating the symptom not the disease” bit. This may well be true, global adoption does not address global economic inequalities. However, in medicine sometimes it is better to treat the symptom than to do nothing. If the symptom is “children are growing up without adequate education and medical care” then it seems hardly immoral to treat the symptom rather than do nothing. Furthermore, suppose you do embark on some 30-year plan to treat the underlying disease that will eventually eradicate the symptom. Might it not yet be immoral to not also treat the symptom at the same time when there is such an opportunity? If treating the symptoms does not inhibit treating the disease, then it seems there is still a duty to treat the symptom.

      There, how is that for a response?

  • Rebecca Roache says:

    This is a really interesting discussion. I wonder if the appropriate perspective on it is not to view adoptive parents as being held to higher than normal moral standards, but to view ordinary parents as being excused from meeting certain standards. Consider, for example, Jenny, a single woman in her early forties, who has little job security and whose income can just about support herself with little room for luxuries. Imagine that Jenny sets out to get pregnant, succeeds, and then despite valiant efforts, struggles to provide for her child. When asked why she had a child despite having such limited means, she replies that it was ‘now or never’: given her age, she faced a choice between trying to fall pregnant immediately or risking never being able to have a child. There are plenty of people like this, and we do not generally condemn them for having children. Provided that they love their children and try their best for them, we admire their efforts more than we pity the children whose parents have to struggle to provide for them (although we may also do the latter). By contrast, imagine that Josie, a woman in similar circumstances to Jenny, adopts a baby. When asked why, she replies that it was ‘now or never’: she feared that delaying any longer would mean risking being too old to raise a child. I think we are much more likely to view Josie as irresponsible and selfish than we are to view Jenny in this way. Indeed, I think both are irresponsible and selfish: the difference is that we are likely to go easier on Jenny because we view having our own (biologically, genetically) children as so fundamental to the flourishing of those who want them that we are unwilling to set anything but the most basic of standards for parenthood.

    This view of things helps explain why society restricts who is allowed to adopt a child, but does not restrict who is allowed to have their own children (except in extreme cases, like serious cognitive incapacity or a track record of child abuse). This is a double standard, but I don’t think it’s best characterised in terms of viewing restrictions on adoption as unfair (of course we shouldn’t hand over children to just *anyone*!), nor in terms of viewing the lack of restrictions on biological parenthood as too lax. Rather, we balance the risks of procreative freedom for everyone against the harms of curbing the fundamental desire to have children. Of course, it may be that the desire to adopt a child should be viewed as an extension of this fundamental desire – but, as it happens, I don’t think that view is currently pervasive.

  • Brooke says:

    I’m still confused. How can you only be talking about a single case of re-homing when the problem is adopting out a child who has already been adopted. This is essentially two ‘re-homings’, correct? I’m assuming that the child had to originate from natural parents from which they were removed, adopted, and then adopted out again. Or am I confused about this?

    I find Daniel’s response very radical. Just because something is not practiced universally/cross culturally does not mean it is unethical. The rest of the paragraph is so belligerent I wouldn’t even know how to begin analyzing it.

    Rachel, my intuitions are very different than yours. I wouldn’t feel any differently in the cases that you have presented. I, however, find every desire to bring children into the world selfish and irresponsible regardless of circumstances. I will be thinking about this and attempt to come back with something more substantial.

  • Brooke says:

    Rachel, I just presented your thought experiment to the people I am with presently and the majority felt that Josie make a less irresponsible decision because they assume that she is providing a better level of welfare by providing a loving home than allowing the child to remain unadopted. Alternatively, they also thought that Jenny was more irresponsible in her choice to bring a new child into existence if she could not ensure the child’s flourishing (something difficult to do even if you do have all the resources, time, etc.). This is my intuition as well. There also seems to be an assumption that the adopted child will ideally have better welfare under those who have adopted them then under the care of their biological parents. Just an interesting observation I thought might be worth reporting.

  • Brooke says:

    Rebecca, sorry. I’ve done that twice now. My apologies.

    • Rebecca Roache says:

      Don’t worry, even some members of my own family have occasionally called me ‘Rachel’ 😉

      This difference in intuitions is very interesting. The difference I suggested does not merely reflect my own intuitions but that of others I have spoken to. Perhaps there are significant differences between the groups that each of us is consulting? For example, the people I have in mind are almost all parents, and perhaps more likely to sympathise with those who want to bring their own children into the world.

      Incidentally, even as a parent, I agree with you that bringing children into the world is ‘selfish and irresponsible’ (in fact, I have found that this feeling only intensifies after having children and you start worrying about what sort of world they will inherit). There is a clear sense in which it would be better to respond to the desire to have children by adopting needy and vulnerable children who already exist. This point doesn’t just apply to having children: I think that in a similar sense it is ‘selfish and irresponsible’ to spend time and/or money going on holiday, eating at restaurants, sitting at home watching TV etc when one could be donating spare money and time to those in need. I am not trying to offer a reductio of your point here: I am constantly troubled by my and most other people’s failure (and, let’s be honest, unwillingness) to meet the demands of morality.

  • Brooke says:

    I was wondering if there was some relevance to the amount of effort and commitment made to the agencies that place children in new homes that could increase the burden on adoptive parents? In the case of adopting and then choosing to adopt out again, one fails their obligation to the child, to adoption agency, and to the natural family (in cases of open adoption and maybe in some sense closed adoptions). It might seem insignificant to count the amount of effort and energy expended by the middle-man, but it does seem to have an influence. The adoptive family makes several commitments on which they then renege whereas the biological family fails (depending on whether we can view the adoption as a failure–some might say they have an obligation to adopt out to maximize the welfare of the child) in upholding their obligation to raise and provide care for the child they produced.

    I am also thinking that the harsher standards we use to judge adoptive parents may have to do with the fact that parents are less likely to kill/molest/abuse children who share their genes so we (falsely) assume that biological parents are better caretakers to their offspring and are subject to less rigorous review of their ability.

    And, Rebecca, I too am troubled by my consistent failure to meet the demands of morality–which is probably why I spend so much time playing with the concept itself.

  • Tom Douglas says:

    Thanks for the comments!

    Brooke – I was using ‘re-homing’ to refer only to the second adoption, so yes, in the cases I had in mind, the child is adopted twice. But I’m not sure why that would necessarily make a difference from the child’s point of view. Suppose one child is adopted at birth, and then again at age 2. Another child is adopted only at age 2. It’s not clear to me why the adoption of the first child at age 2 would be worse for that child than the adoption of the second child at age 2 would be for that child (although I suppose knowledge that two adoptions took place might make an important difference to the first child later in life). If the first adoption occurred much later, then I agree there would be an important difference. But my intuition is that re-homing seems more problematic than adopting out an unadopted child even when the first adoption occurred so early that the child was never aware of it. In those cases, it seems to me that assumptions about the interests of the child cannot explain the intuition.

    I agree that there may be many cases in which re-homing will have importantly different effects on the child than initial adoption, and I probably should have made more of that, though in my defence, I never intended this blogpost to be a comprehensive comparison of re-homing and first-time adoptions! I just wanted to point out that besides the obvious differences, there might be some less obvious ones.

    Daniel – I can see that if adoption were obviously wrong, it would seem negligent of me to discuss the moral differences between two different kinds of abortion without mentioning the possibility that both kinds of adoption are wrong. That would be like morally comparing two different kinds of gratuitous torture without commenting on their wrongness. But it seems to me that adoption is not obviously wrong and that there are in fact many reasonable and plausible arguments in favour of adoption in many cases – for instance, when it allows a child to move from an abusive or negligent family to a non-abusive and non-negligent one.

    I’m also not sure about your claims about the origins of this practice in Anglo-Saxon indentured servitude. It’s my understanding that there are some cultures in which adoption (normally within the extended family) is a very longstanding practice.

    Rebecca – that’s an interesting suggestion. In the light of the factors mentioned by Brooke, and not having a clear view on the morality of bringing new individuals into the world, I’m not sure what I think. It seems to me that the fact that many people have a strong and reasonable desire to have genetic children might give us some reason to ‘excuse’ parents who bring children into the world in less-than-ideal circumstances; but also that the fact that adoptive parents have rescued a child from a worse situation (assuming that’s the case) gives us reason to ‘excuse’ them. Intuitively I find the second consideration more significant and perhaps I would try to back that up by arguing that the costs to a prospective parent of being unable to have genetically-related children are likely to be lower than the cost to a child of being brought up in less desirable circumstances. But then there’s the further question whether it is morally desirable to bring children into the world (even in less-than-ideal conditions), and I’m not sure I agree with your (and Brooke’s) view that it’s not. If it is in fact morally desirable to bring such children into the world, then that might be a further excusing factor for the first parent.

    • Denise Kelly says:

      Tom,
      When a child is separated from their original family, or known family … that is really something we should try to avoid whenever possible.
      If this caused no harm to humans, then we could just swap all children around whenever, as if it were nothing, and it wouldn’t make any difference.
      It makes a difference. Even if a human is too young to remember. They were there, their body and their mind, they experienced the separation, and afterwards they live it.
      Quite often it’s felt as abandonment, regardless of the reasons why it happened, or “had” to happen.

      There is plenty written of the damage that can be caused by removing a child from their family, adopted or genetic. Humans due tend to survive it, usually.
      Ask an adult adoptee, lots of them are online talking all about it.
      Talk to some seasoned foster or adoptive parents, they will explain much of what can come with this damage, RAD, PTSD, separation anxiety, and many more issues, many issues for the entire family. Many issues that are not mentioned, or brushed over quickly to prospective adoption families. Families are not being told in full what they are getting into, often much that is known about a child is not disclosed so that the adoption will take place.

      Many Adult Adoptees are fighting for equal rights, equal to those of the non-adopted, to their original birth certificates that are sealed.
      The birth certificate (the record of birth) is changed to reflect the adopted parents as the parents of birth, at the time of adoption. Only a handful of states allow access to these records by adult adoptees today.

      A question is, how many times can a human survive being abandoned, left, given away, sold? What is the price they will pay for others’ decisions?

      As for Jenny, Jill, Jack… or whoever finds the NEED for a baby/child – no one is entitled to a child of their own by birth or any other means.
      And no, I am not a de-populationist 🙂

      US adoption agencies are making a huge profit, it’s big business in this country, keep that in mind. $$ rules the situations. Check into t he costs of adoption today, it’s doubled plus in recent years, check out the large tax CREDITS given to grow your family by adoption. It’s all about sealing the deal. It’s much cheaper for the government to rehome children than it is to support well run institutions for them. Many children would do far better in a well run institution than in a family that is not equipped to care for their needs.

  • Tom Douglas says:

    Just saw your latest comment Brooke. That seems plausible to me – that the (explicit or implicit) commitments made by the parents to third parties in the case of adoptions might be one of the factors at work. I guess the mere fact that third parties have invested resources in making the adoption happen, and the adoptive parents have benefitted from this, might also make a difference to their obligations.

    I also think that in cases where another couple misses out on adopting the child, that might create an additional obligation. (In these cases, it’s also not clear that the adoptive parents could appeal to the fact that they have rescued the child from worse circumstances as reason for being ‘given a break’, since someone else would have rescued the child anyway.)

  • Sarasue says:

    Do you folks actually KNOW any adult adoptees? Your musings are so misinformed and condescending, it’s rather galling. On behalf of Adopted People I strongly recommend you pick up copies of Nancy Verrier’s “Primal Wound,”BJ Lifton’s “Lost and Found,” Carol Schaefer’s “The Other Mother,” Ann Fessler’s “The Girls Who Went Away.” Educate yourselves and you’ll see why re-turfing is reprehensible, and adoption itself is a practice that cannot exist without the most profound loss.

    Daniel’s post should be re-read with a sensitivity that adoptees are actual human beings from, get this, actual families. Daniel, thank you for your post. A voice of reason in what feels like a wasteland.

    Tom, you ask why re-homing would make a difference to a child of two? As an Adoptee, I can barely keep my rage in check, but here goes: Say your house burns down and your entire family, your parents, your brothers and sisters, ancestors, medical records, language, and everything that could be connected to you, including your own name, goes up in smoke. You are left scarred and bereft and you’re too young to express this phenomenal loss with words. Then you’re placed in an unfamiliar house on the other side of the planet, with people who speak a different language, look nothing like you, have no interest where you came from, and tell you there was never any fire and you need to shut up and go along with a new story. They make you call them mommy and daddy. Maybe you play along to survive. Maybe you don’t. Anyway, now, as luck would have it, another great fire comes and burns this new family’s house to the ground. Again, there are no survivors but you, and you collect more scars and now you are even more bewildered because you’re told you were responsible for setting that fire. Thats how bad you are. So now you’re permanently scarred (because no one will treat your pain), feel unprotected and guilty and it’s possible you might feel, I don’t know…angry?

    There was a time when adoption was about helping children. But since WWII or so, when it became apparent that Big Money could be made from desperate infertile couples, off the backs of the poor and the vulnerable, it is now exclusively about keeping a 12 BILLION dollar-a-year industry thriving.

    Adoption has nothing to do with helping kids. You can help kids perfectly well without erasing their identities and their families of origin. It’s radical, I know, but what if you took the 50,000 bucks earmarked to buy yourself a kid, and invested that money in that kid’s family and community. Imagine that. Imagine it’s NOT A GIVEN that with enough money, you are entitled to take another woman’s baby. Imagine helping a family stay together, instead of helping yourself to their children.

    • Rebecca Roache says:

      I think a distinction should be drawn between two different conceptions of adoption (which, I expect, represent different points on a spectrum rather than different kinds). One sort of adoption is a necessary process resulting from the need to re-home a child who is unwanted by his or her parents. Nobody makes any money from this sort of adoption; indeed, when overseen by society it is (I imagine) a process that costs money, and it is motivated by the desire to give children who are rejected by their families a chance of finding new, loving families. Another sort of adoption is money-making and exploitative. Sarasue and Daniel, you clearly have the latter sort of process in mind when you talk about adoption. That process clearly does not promote the best interests of the sort of vulnerable children available for adoption (or their families or communities), and there is so much that is morally wrong with it that I think it obvious that Tom does not have it in mind here, given his focus on other issues.

      Personally, I know a few adult adoptees, but all of them were adopted via the first sort of process I described. That is, they were given up by their biological parents (for whatever reason) and found adoptive families via the state system, in which people hoping to adopt children are not allowed to ‘buy’ them. Sarasue, I am truly horrified by the scenario you describe, and of course that sort of re-homing of a child is appalling and neglectful of his or her needs.

      I can understand your frustration at what you view as ‘misinformed and condescending’ musings, but I also think that the participants in this discussion are trying to work through and understand issues that we have not previously considered in great depth. Those who are one step ahead must be patient while we catch up! I am going to check out some of the references you mention in your first paragraph, although it sounds like the sort of reading material that I find difficult to stomach.

    • kay peterson says:

      There are natural born children who chew up far more than $50,000 spent on dealing with their natural parents issues, attempts at giving them the support to raise their own child to no avail. Some persons and their networks of kin and kith just aren’t that capable or into effectively being comitted to constructively raise a child. The luckiest proginy of such a context do get adopted out, and the earlier the better. Not all adoptive families will be flawless, yet most will provide better options than enduring the inept natural settings failures.
      Do you think that all people raised by their family of origin don’t sometimes incurr some painful treatment that doesn’t hurt or harm? Have you considered that a number of natural family children haven’t lived under the delusion of their supposed biological and social father not to be the case, rather the product of a secret affair of their mother.Yet strangely if this latter scenario occurs and the secret remains in an otherwise well functioning family no angst is felt in the majority of cases.Then there are the natural born children who are only fed lies and massive secrets exist about the true reality of their family, not much wiser than ones adopted to the truth of their kin and history.Sensing gaps and non fitting tales doesn’t overwhelm their focus despite being frustrating.Family of origin isn’t always better than adoption to a decent family.
      Have you ever considered the fact an adoptee who genuinly doesn’t feel at ease with his cute middle class family via innate genetic differences could be suffering a hundred times more had they been raised by the dysfunctional criminals they originated from.
      Have you considered that the original parents abandondoned their child because they were more affected by disintrest, even dislike of their child than economic constraints.
      Have you considered that for a disgruntled adoptee that to be capable of imagining more connectiveness was due in part from the resented adoptive parents positive efforts bringing the adipted grump further up from their evolutionary tree of no notion of bonds and conectedness.Sure it sucks not to come from and be with a positive loving family of origin, knowing your roots etc..Yet it could have sucked worse stuck in that family of origin and be in a grave at 2yo from reactive abuse. Some of these miserable anti adoption adoptees need to start looking at the half full side of the glass and wake up to the reality of the variety of life scenarios humans get put into and that there is a lot worse things to deal with than having been adopted and what goes with that.

      On the issue of rehoming an adoptee, it’s definately a negative, yet better than ineptly continuing with a child that would endure worse were the first adopters continue a now doomed placement to avoid the stigma of being seen as poor judges of their capacity to cope.

  • Tom Douglas says:

    Thanks for your comment Sarasue. I’m sure that my post would have benefitted in many ways from knowing much more about adoption. I don’t have any personal experience of adoption, and have not read a lot about it. My blog post was simply an attempt to make sense of one of my intuitive reactions (as an uninformed observer) to a news story that I read. My main intuitive reaction was to feel terrible for the children involved in re-homing, but I didn’t find it hard to make sense of that reaction, so it’s not the reaction I discussed, but I should have at least reported that reaction in the original post.

    I would like to clarify one more thing. I wasn’t suggesting that an adoption at two years of age has no negative effects for the child. Rather, I was trying to suggest that its effects would be similar regardless of whether the child had also been adopted at birth or not. I assumed this because an adoption that occurs at birth is not something that a child would be aware of or remember. I realise that things would be very different in cases where a child is adopted twice (or more) at an older age, as you illustrated with the burning house example.

  • Sarasue says:

    Tom, thanks for reconsidering your post. A lot of people wouldn’t admit they might not be informed on a topic, and so good for you, it’s much appreciated.

    That said, I don’t think it’s yours or anybody’s “intuition” telling them what’s best for a child…in fact, I think it’s specifically NOT intuition. It’s conditioning. Social conditioning. This culture of adoption is now so drilled into our heads that we are not even questioning the initial separation of mother and child. We so completely and totally accept the idea that to adopt is saintly, and to hell with the mother who has her child coerced away from her, or that child, a commodity, treated like chattel, who has her identity erased upon adoption.

    The consequences are real and filled with loss and sorrow. We Adopted People know from an early age, even in the best of circumstances, that we are replacements for the real thing. We are surrogate children to people who were infertile and for whatever reason felt suspending their disbelief and pretending as if another woman’s offspring was their own would make them somehow happy and complete.

    Adoption is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Ask yourself why it’s okay to destroy one family just to extend another?

    Don’t listen to your “intuition.” Intuition is too often conditioning and brainwashing in disguise. Here’s who you should be listening to: Adopted People. Adoptees are so infantilized by this culture of adoption, our opinions are rarely if ever taken seriously. We are easily dismissed, we are almoat always told what we feel and think is wrong, that pur experiences are invalid. It’s impossible to have our voices be heard above the din of people extolling the beauty of adoption and the saintly selflessness of adopters. But I say listen to us. Listen to Adopted People and Parents of Adoption Loss. We are the ones who experience this shit for real, first hand, and have to live every day with the consequences, the loss, the sorrow, and the physical and psychological damage this industry generates.

    • Susan says:

      Sarasue, just because you feel bad about being adopted doesn’t mean everyone does. Many adoptions arise from extreme circumstances–child abandonment, poverty, inability to care for a child. Perhaps your parents made you feel like a “replacement.” If that is true, I am sorry, but it is wrong to assume that every adopted child feels that way or that every adopted parent considers their adopted child second best. The laws that do not allow you to access your birth certificate arose at a time when it having a child out of wedlock was something shameful that had to be kept secret. These laws are antiquated and should be repealed for older adoptees, but most current adoptions in the US are open to some extent at least and the adoptees know who their birthparents are. And your issues are very different from the re-homing issue. Those children have a greater right to be angry about adoption, in my opinion.

    • Susan says:

      Sarasue, just because you feel bad about being adopted doesn’t mean everyone does. Many adoptions arise from extreme circumstances–child abandonment, poverty, inability to care for a child. Perhaps your parents made you feel like a “replacement.” If that is true, I am sorry, but it is wrong to assume that every adopted child feels that way or that every adoptive parent considers their adopted child second best. The laws that do not allow you to access your birth certificate arose at a time when it having a child out of wedlock was something shameful that had to be kept secret. These laws are antiquated and should be repealed for older adoptees, but most current adoptions in the US are open to some extent at least and the adoptees know who their birthparents are. And your issues are very different from the re-homing issue. Those children have a greater right to be angry about adoption, in my opinion.

    • kay peterson says:

      There was a recent objective study that compared the outcomes of adoptees and children from matching family cicumstances of disadvantage who were not adopted out. It turns out the adopted children ended up with considerably better life outcomes.

      That said, some recent studies have shown that infants are wired to respond adaptively to the anticipated environment of the biological mother during gestation. They were ready for some degrees of stress and no set routines. They initially react with more distressed crying when given to the most perfect type of adopting mother. Likewise it’s understandable that their problematic proclivities they inherited could lend even later to feeling a bit out of place. Yet the stressgul disorganised environment that the adopted infant would initially been more at ease with later is overwhelmingly detrimental to any developing young causing serious damage and the later constructive behaviors of the adopting family while feeling uncomfortable will provide a more succesful pattern of options to succeed in real life.

      We are experiencing a tidal wave of abused, children and children ending up in care because they are a very low priority for their parents for a variety of reasons.These children are born to women who don’t care or consider the needs of a child from conception. throughout pregnancy and loose intrest in the parenting role rapidly. The some what thoughtful women adopt their infants out, and the most disinterested problematic mothers may reach agreement to early adoption as well. The only constructive option would be to eliminate welfare support of all types for future born children, leaving the worse off in the same position as the better off working population who look at needing to be in a viable ready position to afford and living in a way they can prioratise their childrens care needs.

      Parents who adopt, but can’t access a well planned sensible mother’s relinquishment are often getting a child that aside from having more negative genetic traits, have also been drug abused during gestation as well as exposed to many other risks. A child that may well be less easy to raise or all that satisfying in the long run.

      From the adoptive parents position they are stupid or extra ultruistic when they adopt from overseas. These overseas children are often already damaged emotionally in infancy, can have more medical cognitive issues and later identity dramas while costing a fortune to process. These children have a potential gain in the medical, treatment and support options that they would never get in their country of origin. Pragmatically it’s cheaper to adopt damaged local children for the similar stressful outcomes at negligable preliminary cost.

      Realitstically, in most cases a child is from very stuffed origins if in a position to be adopted, and more stuffed if from the same origins and not adopted. It’s still a small number of caring, insightful mothers to be who carry out planned adoptions. Even here where the child to be is cared about, ultimately is not wanted at that woman’s stage of life.

      The children who get re homed/re adopted are usually extremely damaged, destructive and highly unsuitable for general family life. While in the structure of an institution their severe reactive behaviors are often supressed as well as not triggered by the now foreign threatening family type of environment.Mostly their initial adopters or their agency had no way to know that such a child or sibling group were going to react with such severity well beyond the usual difficulties anticipated as probable. Much the same as many psychopathic prisoner who are perfect as inmates, but devestatingly damaging on release.

      Getting re adopted is negative in that it would confirm their fears of family scenarios probably permantly as well as add to their insecurity. Yet the positive aspect can be that some children will realise such acting out is a looser game. Plus the next placement, if lucky, will be to a single strong competent person with no overdeveloped family networks who can better meet their needs, especially as these have been revealed more clearly.

  • Sarasue says:

    Catch up! I implore you to catch up!

    If discovering the truth about adoption is difficult for you to stomach, imagine how difficult it is for adoptee’s who have to live it. The cure for infertility appears to be adoption. Unfortunately, there is no cure for adoption.

    Did you know it’s illegal for us Adult Adoptees to have access to our own birth certificates? In 44 of these American states, we, even as full grown, sometimes elderly adults are still not to be trusted with our own birth records. We are told again and again, that it is in our own best interests that we be protected from the truth, like knowing what our true identities are, our heritage, or our medical histories, and of course our real names, are things we can’t be trusted with. Sometimes we are told this is for the protection of the anonymity of the parents of origin, when in fact a solid 95% (and often more, depending where you poll) of First Mothers want their child to be able to have contact with them. I’m a middle aged woman, I searched for and found my family of origin several years ago, I have total support and “permission” from ALL my parents, and STILL the state of New Jersey, my unfortunate birth state, won’t let me see my own birth certificate. Do you have any idea how demeaning and frustrating this is? I’m sorry to push you to catch up, but you can see how ludicrous it is to keep people’s own identities hidden from them. It’s toxic. It creates an entire class of citizens who, through a lack of human + civil rights, are always going to be “lesser than” everyone else.

    And why? Bottom line: money. At 12 Billion dollars a year, it behooves the Adoption Industry to keep us in the dark, keep us confused, keep us compliant. We are told to be grateful and not make a fuss. Can you imagine being told to be grateful for losing your entire family at birth? I hope once you all understand the truth, you will make some noise and support adoption reform.

    • Rebecca Roache says:

      Sarasue, this is all very disturbing and I am very sorry to hear that you and others have had to (and are still having to) endure it. I have said before, including elsewhere on this blog, that the full moral status of children often seems not to be acknowledged, and cases like yours appear to be striking examples of what happens when this is carried through to adulthood. I do not know whether the situation you describe in the US reflects that in the UK.

      (My comment about the reading material you suggested being hard to stomach was an elliptical expression of sympathy, rather than an indication that I don’t intend to take a look.)

  • Owen Schaefer says:

    Thanks for sharing your experiences, Sarasue – like others, I found them profoundly moving and helpful for the discussion.

    Earlier on, you made an interesting suggestion for potential adoption: “It’s radical, I know, but what if you took the 50,000 bucks earmarked to buy yourself a kid, and invested that money in that kid’s family and community.” If one’s motivation for adoption is purely altruistic, that is, for the benefit of the potential adoptee, I think this has a lot to recommend it. In addition to adoption fees, raising children through the age of majority is indeed very financially burdensome – this financial burden being a large reason many give up their children for adoption. So if we could identify parents ‘at risk’ of giving their children up for adoption for financial reasons, it would make a lot of sense for potential adopters to instead transfer that money to the families so they don’t need to give up their children at all. This helps avoid many of the long-term costs of adoption you discuss. It won’t avert all cases where children are put up for adoption (e.g., abusive families), and there is some risk of perverse incentives (having more children just for the charitable transfers) but it would go a long way toward providing for the emotional and material needs of children, not to mention likely making for a more egalitarian society. Do you know of some charities that work along those lines?

    I suspect not many adoptive parents would take this suggestion up, though, because a significant part of the motivation to adopt is self-interest. Many not only want to support a child, but raise her themselves, something not possible in the above transfer proposal. So, given that parents are not going to be willing to just transfer the money directly, is adoption an acceptable ‘second-best’ option, better than (for infertile couples) not adopting a child at all and simply spending the money on themselves? From your discussion, Sarasue, I think that depends on whether the act of adopting itself incentivizes parents to give their children up for adoption – that’s the act that seems to be the root of most the problems discussed. The clearest way to incentivize would be if birth-mothers are paid by adoptive parents to give up their children for adoption – the harms of that act to the child are good reason to ban such a practice.

    Could there be other forms of incentivization? Perhaps the knowledge that someone is willing to adopt one’s child (as opposed being sent into the foster care system) increases the likelihood that one will give up for adoption, because the parents believe that would be better for the child (roughly, adoptive parent > natural parent > foster care). Your arguments suggest that natural parents are often wrong in that estimation – it is often best that a child not being given up at all. In such cases, potential adoptive parents would actually be harming the child by adopting her. The trouble is, unlike with financial compensation, it would be extremely difficult to identify cases that meet this nexus of conditions. It would at least somewhat plausible to instead identify cases where adoption harms the child, and simply ban the practice of giving up for adoption in (most?) such cases on child welfare grounds (though this raises the thorny question of the child’s welfare vs. the autonomy of the natural parents). That identification would in any case be difficult, and require a considerable amount of research (studying adoptive families to determine the conditions under which children are harmed or benefitted by the act) before it could be implemented.

    • elisa freschi says:

      Owen, child sponsorship (called “adoption while keeping distant” in Italian, Czech and —I guess— other languages) is already a common practice. Through charities working in this field, one sends money to children who have parents or are raised by their grandparents/aunts/extended family/… In many cases, “sponsors”/”adoptive (at distance) parents” and their “children” also share letters, photos and the like. The charities who work in this field are very careful in sending to the “adoptive parents” regular informations concerning the specific child they “adopted”, such as his/her school achievements, his/her photos and art-works and the like.

  • Daniel Ibn Zayd says:

    Changing the foreign policy of adopting “First World” nations would go much farther in saving many more millions of children than adoption certainly does.

    Similarly a reduction in adopters’ standards of living of a few percentage points would also do the same.

    As would redistribution of income, land, and a guaranteed minimum salary.

    But we have developed our “status quo” which is left unsaid, but which would read something like:

    “Within a capitalist economic system, in which the legal, medical, social, religious, and mediated realms all support the dominant and hegemonic view concerning the supposed “right” of people to have children; and furthermore within a capitalistic system derived from a Calvinist morality in which a) the poor are deserving of their lot; b) children are property; and c) it is the right of those who have to have more, adoption, historically a form of providing indentured servitude, will now be redefined as being about family creation. Carry on.”

    And then you pretend to have an “ethical” argument on an even playing field.

    You as much as admit you know nothing of the history of adoption, so how can you argue about a current manifestation of it? The institution of adoption does not exist in an academic vacuum like a lab rat that you might dissect. There’s no point discussing it if you are not willing to examine its political and economic incentives as they manifest themselves in current practice.

    How sorry and sad. Maybe you can start an item that discusses the ethics of “good” plantation owners, or the ethical conundrum of providing better slave transport (less profit, but more living slaves!), or whether Abolition was, in the end analysis, “worth it”.

    Reductions to personal stories of adoption have no bearing in the discussion.

    If you are interested in a history of adoption, and the economic and the political, try doing a Google search on “Adoption in an economic and political context”, since you disallow links.

  • Sarah says:

    Lots of good points here.
    I do agree that adopted kids need access to full birth information and also believe that in cases where cps is taking kids away mainly for economic reasons,( poverty in the family, can’t afford childcare, etc) then the money that would have been given to pay for the kids foster kids care should be given to the biological parents instead to help assist the family to stay together.
    Having said that, not every biological parent is the best person to raise an individual child.
    Some true stories of adopted kids I’ve known
    1 Child who was adopted when young grew into a teenager, and like most teenagers everywhere, felt her parents did not undertand her and started acting out.
    She decided her biological Mom would understand her, be better etc. Adoptive parents arranged a meeting. Biological Mom ( drug addict for many years) turned up, with her blackened, rotted teeth, smelling bad etc at the mall to see her. Kid took one look at her and was horrified. She decided after the meeting that her real parents were the ones who had raised her, and started enjoying life with her “real ” family again.

    Child in an open adoption went to meet Mom ( also a drug addict, many children , 9 or so , I think) all adopted out. When her biological daughter did not rush to hug her, biological Mom commented “Snotty little thing, isn’t she?”
    I also know of a biological mother who adopted out her young baby because she could not look at his face without being reminded of the father, and the rape which created the child.
    There are also many people who loved their babies and children and who never should have had them taken way, or been forced by circumstances to adopt. A kind society should make it easier to help people be the best parents they can be, and not think that handing the child off to someone else is always the best solution for a family in distress.
    But to believe that every person capable of deciding to have sex ( or who has been raped) and who is capable of carrying a baby to term, is always the best parent, is i.m.o .very naïve.
    The “five days and I can’t take it” “parent” is really worrying. Perhaps all adoptive parents should have to first volunteer as foster parents for a little while so they get a better feel for life as a parent?
    Having said that I have a great deal of sympathy for any parent who has a child whether biological or adopted ,that has challenges that they don’t know how to care for. Self injurious behaviors, attacking and injuring other family members, setting fire to the family home: there needs to be more help and less blame for families with these types of children.

  • Sarah says:

    By the way, just to give my own background; I was raised by a religious group that felt that communal/institutional care was the way to go ( for several years I was only allowed to see my mother once a week for a couple of hours) so based on that experience I tend to have a bias against group settings as opposed to individual families. Having someone to whom you, individually are important; very helpful for a child.
    And yep, I turned out ok. Some raised in the same setting have faced many more challenges in adulthood though.

  • Delft says:

    Children are not a commodity. Providing a home for a child who is orphaned or abandoned is good, buying a child from economically disadvantaged parents is a crime.

    I think our revulsion for the cases described in the article is due to the fact that these children are pushed around as goods: bought, and then passed on when they don’t live up to expectations. It’s appalling that US law allows children to be treated this way.

    For the more abstract question of giving up natural vs. adopted children I think we may (rightly or wrongly) intuit that the investment one’s natural children is greater as they carry the same genes, so the decision is less likely to be selfish. And perhaps cognitive dissonance plays a role: we can’t stop people having children and then abandoning them, so maybe it’s not so bad?

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