“Transformative” is one adjective tossed about these days to describe how navigating the Internet has changed our daily lives. Whether one is searching for the best local place for romantic waterfront dining or the quickest route to grandma’s, “you can get there from here,” as they say, thanks to the Internet. And now the Internet can join us on our daily travels aboard mobile devices and smartphones. Indeed, technology has transformed our world.
This same transformation has taken root in the adoption world. Today, many prospective adoptive parents find and get matched with birth mothers with the click of a mouse. What historically has been a more ordered and professionally supervised exercise has evolved into a “click and pick” event. The proliferation of social media, online networking, email marketing, specific and targeted online profiles, just to name a few, all have coalesced to empower the prospective adoptive parents to take ownership and control rather than passively cede this effort and responsibility to an adoption professional.
While the pluses of utilizing this new world of technology are apparent-including the quite tangible sense of “I have control,” the expectation of more quickly being “matched” due to one’s own dogged efforts, or the confidence of being the “active partner” with an adoption professional- there are pitfalls of which to be mindful, or they may derail the prospective parents’ hopes of creating what we in the adoptions community refer to as the “forever family.”
First, while the advent of new technologies, overall, is welcome and is to be embraced, the specter remains of the dishonest person, preying on the vulnerable, prospective adoptive parent. There are scheming birth parents who have begun to utilize technology, social media, and the Internet to take unconscionable advantage of prospective adoptive parents. As of late, the media has been replete with examples of these sordid tales.
Even if prospective adoptive parents successfully connect with an above-board birth parent, there still must be dialogue, and knowing what to say, how to say it, and recognizing the red flags, are of critical importance. Birth parents experience a variety of emotions and thought processes as they navigate the adoption option, and it is important for an adoption professional to help assist birth parents understand their inner and outwardly expressed fears, all while being mindful of the landmines and privacy concerns of adoptive parents. And while adoptive parents can use the Internet to their advantage, they ultimately need the assistance of an adoption professional to complete their adoption. The lone wolf “we go it alone” attitude regularly sets up the prospective adoptive family for emotional heartache and financial heartbreak.
When partnering with an adoption professional, adoptive parents should demand a rigorous training component. This includes how to engage in dialogue with a birth parent, not just how to speak, but which words to use and not use, and how to listen. Like the title of the pop hit, “Say What You Mean to Say,” a potential adoption match can be sown, as well as lost, in a matter of moments, depending on words and tone. This is an especially tricky situation if done electronically, as there is no face-to-face interaction, and words and intent can often be misunderstood.
This training component can tangibly identify for the prospective family areas to avoid in communicating with a birth parent, such as what a birth mother can be paid and when (known as natural mother living expenses), what it means to adopt over state lines (known as interstate adoption), and when, how, and if to divulge your own identity (known as open adoption).
Moreover, proper training will help the adoption professional and prospective adoptive parent avoid scams and other fraudulent schemes hatched by disingenuous individuals. We’ve seen some cases where a birth mother turns out not to be pregnant, and others where a birth mother plays one vulnerable family off of another, all in a ruse for money.
Furthermore, training from an adoption professional will yield options to minimize and insulate the prospective adoptive family from getting too emotionally invested during the adoption process, leading to imprudent decisions from the heart instead of the head. Adoptive parents may be empowered in originating the initial birth parent contact, but then should turn over the reins to a competent and experienced adoption professional. This is particularly critical for the prospective family already deflated over a failed adoption, or distraught by the duplicitous, even criminal, actions of an unscrupulous birth parent.
In communities across America, well-intentioned women and men are engaging in their own outreach via digital technology to create a “forever family,” through adoption. By partnering with an adoption professional, these eager and anxious prospective adoptive parents can avoid the pitfalls outlined here and see their dream of family realized.
The revolution that encompasses the Internet also has spilled over into the post adoption realm, where birth mothers are looking to contact or reunite with children they’ve placed for adoption, and adult-adoptees are searching for their birth parents. With Facebook reportedly enjoying over 750 million active users, and with Google now launching its Google+ project to go head-to-head with Facebook, all of this on top of Twitter and other digital technologies, make the “click and meet” prospects within the adoption world seem more infinite than ever.
There has been an enormous uptick of birth parents searching for an adopted child, many with less than desired outcomes. A 13 year old child should not learn from Facebook that he is adopted, nor should a child receive contact from his birth mother outside the watchful eye and without the knowledge of his adoptive parents. Many of these unsolicited contacts, which move rapidly from e-mail, to instant messaging to video chat, come at a vulnerable time in the life and identity of a minor child, and without any precaution or preparation for the effect of the communication on the child himself.
What must accompany the transformation that the Internet clearly has wrought is a word of caution, and that is especially so in the world of adoption. For many decades, search and reunion efforts justifiably have relied on a system of gatekeepers and official procedures to protect the interests of all parties in the adoption triad. Although it is not that well known or utilized frequently, states like Florida have a statutory mechanism in place that can allow disclosure of birth parent information and mutual communication through use of an intermediary who protects the interests of all concerned. This long standing and vetted process should not be circumvented by a computer with access to the internet. Utilizing the Internet in conjunction with partnering with an adoption professional is the responsible, most effective, and fail-safe way to protect the integrity of adoption and the best interests of children.
Florida is the first state to offer board certification in adoption as a specialty for Florida-licensed attorneys. You may access a listing of these Florida board-certified adoption attorneys at www.floridabar.org. On the national level, The American Academy of Adoption Attorneys (known as Quad A) is an entity comprised of a select group of lawyers dedicated to the highest standards of legal representation in the field of adoption. You are encouraged to read more about Quad A at www.adoptionattorneys.org. Hiring a competent adoption professional can eliminate many heartaches for families and children, both now and in the future.
Take a look at this Op-ed written on extending the Adoption Tax Credit:
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