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The Ethics of Relinquishment and Adoption: How Can We Make it Better?

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Presentation on theme: "The Ethics of Relinquishment and Adoption: How Can We Make it Better?"— Presentation transcript:

1 The Ethics of Relinquishment and Adoption: How Can We Make it Better?
American Adoption Congress Conference March 2010

2 Topics How I came to this topic: Adoption Meeting November 2009 Juno
Senator Gordon Smith’s son’s suicide 2004 Haiti Adoptions Adoption Meeting with Prospective parents Marie Osmond’s Son’s Death Senator Smith’s adopted son, Garrett took an overdose, left a note and then hung himself in his closet at Utah Valley State College one day before his 22 nd birthday in September He had told his parents he was suicidal and had been isolating himself and had been in seen a counselor for drinking problems. When interviewed by CBS news, Gordon Smith reported his son as “ a model child, Eagle Scout, Devout Mormon, plenty of friends.” He briefly mentioned “he wished that his birthmother had prevented his birth.” He later wrote a book titled Remembering Garrett: One Family’s Battle with a child’s Depression. The very first line in the very first chapter reads: ‘ A boys story really begins with his mother, so I will start with Sharon Langford.” Gordon Smith was awarded Friends of Children Mental Health Award by the AACAP ( American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry) last April 09 for bringing attention to youth suicide prevention and championing the mental health parity act. Marie Osmond’s son Michael Blosil was one of her 5 adopted children who jumped to his death from the 15th floor of his LA apt on Feb 27. He left a note stating “he never fit in.”

3 Why? We continue to be afraid as a culture to disrupt what we identify as a “normal” form of family known as adoption We have changed what the meaning of “normal family is” so we hesitate to question others about adoption because we aren't sure ourselves We struggle to feel connected in the families we are a part of and so we look for the “feel good” solution and get angry at those who challenge it We want to feel good about our decision to place and/or our active involvement in the act of placement .

4 Some Examples Your Caucasian neighbors adopt a Chinese baby girl and change her name to “Jennifer.” You are an adoptee and feel uncomfortable about this but cannot bring yourself to say “Congratulations” while the other neighbors laud over how cute she is. You are a birthmother sitting in an adoption agency office and wonder if with a little support maybe you could keep your baby, but the caseworker is talking on and on, with a smile on her face, about the terrific adoptive parents they have waiting for a baby “just like yours.” You feel an obligation to follow through.

5 Examples ABC News is doing another “great adoption story” on 20/20 about a nice Iowa couple adopting their fifth child from Haiti. They are seen holding the little boy who looks shocked and sad in their arms at the airport. The parents are smiling. The next day at work one of your coworkers talks about this story, but you say nothing. Your friend’s 17 y/o daughter had her first child 9 months ago, and now they are raising him at home. She just told you she is pregnant again. The parents both work fulltime while caring for the baby, but their daughter goes out at night with friends. You feel ashamed of your judgmental feelings.

6 Examples A young couple ended up getting married after the birthmother had already placed their baby in an open adoption. She thought he wanted that too. They grieve for the loss of their daughter every time they go for a visit but feel like the legal deal was made and its too late to change it. A birthmother placed her son in a supposed open adoption years ago, only the lawyer “lost” the agreement and the parents moved away. Now, through the insistence of her new lawyer, the adoptive parents have sent current photos but with the threat they may sue her if she tries to contact them.

7 These examples exacerbate the problems generated in a system of care mired in secrecy and unregulated ethics. These are all situations where adoption practice today generates different ethical dilemmas as well as opportunities for education and change. Sometimes these stories make us angry and bring up renewed pain that hasn’t been resolved. Other times they call us to action or to say something that surprises others around us.

8 What Can We Do? Who is here today?
Whether a professional, birthmother, adoptee or adoptive parent, we can all use the same ethical guidelines to help us design a pathway for change. We are the people, WE who are sitting here today, who know what needs to be done, why it should be done, and how it should be done. And we have a moral and ethical obligation to do the work of change- whether it be small or large in scope.

9 First things first To quote Dr. Ron Nydam- it is not just about adoption, it is about relinquishment and adoption. This is important to remember. If you get caught up in the concept of adoption only you will get caught in the business of placing children and bypass what they do not want to be talked about and that is the relinquishment- the separating of mother and child-the severing of ties-the loss of family of origin-the unnatural severing of bonds-the incredible loss.

10 How Do We Do This? We can begin to interrupt the conversation.
We can dare to educate on the spot, not later. We can speak without shame, speak with courage, with bravery, with acknowledgement of what we know and what we have yet to learn. We shape all that we say and do within the framework of ethical intent and truth seeking And we do this work knowing we are not alone

11 Ethics For the purpose of this talk, I am going to identify some of the basic concepts of ethics and then tie those to the policy and practice of relinquishment and adoption. I have complied my sources for the ethical portion from a compilation of Codes of Ethics for professional therapists.

12 Meaning of Ethics Ethics pertains to the beliefs we hold about what constitutes correct or moral conduct Ethical conduct is behavior that results from a combination of knowledge and a clear set of guiding principles underlying a code of ethics. In relinquishment and adoption, ethical conduct has been widely misconstrued and interpreted under the guise of a socially constructed view of adoption as “normal family” formation without consideration the lifelong impact of relinquishment.

13 Principle Ethics Principle Ethics focus on moral issues and resolves ethical dilemma's within a particular set of guidelines that frame behavior and thinking. Relinquishment/Adoption example might be when a birthmother changes her mind after giving birth and decides not to place. The adoption agency would use a set of guidelines to support her decision. The adoptive family may need to use principle ethics to support this difficult change.

14 Virtue Ethics Virtue Ethics focus more on the personal character traits and non-obligatory ideas to which the person or professional aspires than on specific ethical delimmas. An example of this in relinquishment and adoption might be where an adoptive parent knows that allowing more contact with the birthmother is best for their child even though it is difficult. Or another might be a reunited birthmother not wanting to tell the name of the birthfather but knowing it is important that she does- more virtuous.

15 Virtuous Professionals
Are typically motivated to do what is right for the right reasons. In adoption, this would be to support the birthparent’s right to parent first, including in the post relinquishment period. Possess compassion for all members of the adoption triad Allow enough time for adoption decision making Have a regard for all parties to the relinquishment and adoption with sensitivity for their suffering Possess self awareness with the capacity for self observation – knowing when they are biased!

16 Other definitions Community Standards: which are what professionals may actually do in a particular community which in adoption we know can vary from Oregon to say Utah or Texas Ethical Standards: are what a professional should do, which again may vary in adoption based on who is doing the adoption and where it is being done. Laws define what are minimum standards society will tolerate and are enforced by the government.

17 Core Virtues in Ethical Decision Making
Prudence: skill and judgment in the use of resources-the ability to govern with discipline Integrity: firm adherence to a code of ethics-incorruptibility Autonomy: self-directing freedom –the right of self governance Fidelity: fidelity to obligations regarded as natural and fundamental Veracity: a devotion to the truth

18 Steps in Ethical Decision Making ( Feminist Model)
Recognize the problem Develop solutions Choose a solution Review the process and solution collaboratively Implement and evaluate the solution Continue reflection on the process Example: Adoption agency staff wont allow searching adoptee or birthparent information that is needed for searching. You might come up with various solution/ideas: find out policy of agency, who board members are, philosophy of agency, theology of agency etc, choose an approach that is most likely to get results, review the approach and run it by another person for consultation. Approach agency collaboratively- quote their values/ethics mission statement. Implement solution and or ask them how together you can do this.

19 Steps in Ethical Decision Making ( Social Constructionist Model)
Identify the problem Review relevant ethics codes Know applicable laws and regulations Obtain consultation Consider possible courses of action Consider possible consequences of various decisions Decide best course of action Social Constructionist means constructed by society – more defined by specific codes, laws, regulations, etc and this varies state to state

20 Self Awareness In the work of improving and changing the policy and practice of relinquishment and adoption, we in adoption reform all bring our own experience and story to the table. That makes our own self awareness our personal responsibility to be aware of and to be committed to not having it interfere with the work at hand. For a lay person, their personal experience can enhance their work and be the driving force. For a professional person it can both enhance or impede the work so it must be managed carefully.

21 In Conclusion Interrupt the conversation
Guide your work with principles, ethics, and truths Stay informed Proceed with courage Be self aware and self accountable










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