Friday, December 22, 2006

Susan Smith's report on mothers who give their children up for adoption

Adoption report urges more protections for birth mothers
Crary, David. Lexington Herald-Leader, Nov. 19, 2006, pg. A7.

NEW YORK -- Mothers deciding to place their infants for adoption deserve better counseling, more time to change their minds and more support in trying to keep track of the children they relinquish, a leading adoption institute recommends in a sweeping new report.

The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute said its report, being issued today, is the most comprehensive ever devoted to birth mothers, whom it described as "the least understood and most stigmatized participants" in the adoption process.

"Birth parents have been a population that has been neglected for so long -- just starting a dialogue that respects them as flesh-and-blood human beings is really important," said the institute's executive director, Adam Pertman.

The report focuses on U.S. mothers who voluntarily place infants for adoption -- an estimated 13,000 to 14,000 such adoptions occur annually. Most of this country's roughly 135,000 adoptions each year are from foster care; the next biggest category is overseas adoptions.

In contrast to a few decades ago, many of the voluntary U.S. adoptions are "open" -- with adoptive parents communicating with the birth mother and often allowing her regular contact with the child.

However, the report says a significant number of birth mothers are manipulated, pressured and deceived -- sometimes finding that they have no recourse when agreements they negotiated to visit or keep track of their children are broken.

The report recommends that all states establish legally enforceable post-adoption contact agreements; it said only 13 now have such policies covering infant adoptions.

It also recommended extending other rights to birth mothers, including pre-adoption access to pressure-free counseling about their options.

"It amazes me how many adoptions are done by attorneys, where the birth mothers have zero counseling," said the report's author, Susan Smith. "There are a lot of sharks out there, manipulating them in every way they know how, and the laws don't prevent that in most states."

The report said birth mothers' chances of achieving peace of mind are greatest if they are able to keep in contact with the adopted children, or get continuing information about them.

The report recommended that birth mothers be given at least a few weeks after childbirth before the adoption becomes irrevocable. At present, irrevocable consent for an adoption can be established within four days after birth in roughly half the states.


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