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Samantha Moore

Episode 51

Is Adoption Ethical?

Samantha Moore, AGCI Director of Adoption

You’re listening to Together by AGCI. I’m Melissa Rush.

Today, we’re talking about something that’s often taboo: is adoption ethical? Full disclosure, AGCI is an adoption agency. As a child centered nonprofit, we are deeply dedicated to ensuring that everything we do is in the best interest of the children we serve, even when it’s not the easiest. We’ll be the first to say it: adoption should never be our first choice for children. At AGCI it never is. While, adoption is beautiful, it’s also inherently traumatic. It’s a result of deep loss. The adopted child will not grow up in their first family. To tackle this complex question, we chatted with our Director of Adoption, Sam Moore. Let’s get into our conversation.

So a claim that people who, you know, are against adoption, or maybe don’t understand adoption sometimes make is that adoption is selling children. Like why can you just kind of start by telling us why that is not true? Yeah. I think that there are certainly things that people might see or hear in media or news that may present that type of perception. So certainly it’s, it’s great to be able to have an opportunity to share about why that isn’t the case and really help families, whether they’re prospective adoptive families or just really anyone in the general public. That’s interested in understanding more about adoption. You know why that isn’t true. You know, adoption is a process that has been happening since biblical times, right?

Since times when there were children that were in need of families and I need a permanency and families that were willing to take that leap of faith, take that step out and say, you know, we can, we can care for this child who had, who doesn’t have anyone. And really that’s, I think where sometimes, and I know we’ll talk about this more today, but that’s where sometimes people don’t get to see all the steps that go into, you know, how a child ended up in that particular and devastating position, devastating situation. But as far as, you know, people who say, oh, you know, it’s, it’s selling children, quote unquote, I think there is so much that goes behind the scenes of how a child comes into care, how a child is legally freed for the process of inter-country adoption and why there are certain fees and how those fees are regulated in order to help facilitate that adoption.

So I know we’ll, we’ll dive into that as well, but I certainly would, would encourage people to, to hear and listen today to some of the ways that that is avoided, you know, AGCI and, and agencies that, that work in adoption have so many policies to ensure that a child, that their adoption is happening in an ethical way, that they have all the options for them exhausted to a point where, you know, inter-country adoption is the final option for a child that really is the, the need and also to monitor and ensure that child buying child trafficking, and really the, those terms that are used around that sale of children are not happening and really to safeguard against those things occurring. That’s so important to, for people to understand. Can you kind of, you mentioned that people sometimes don’t have an understanding of how, you know, adoption becomes like an option for children. Can you kind of talk about that a little bit? Yeah, definitely. I think that is something that, you know, people here, if you’re, if you know anything about adoption, or if you look into adoption, you hear the term Hague thrown around, right. This Hague convention and, and kind of what that convention is. I mean, it’s a treaty of law. It’s such an international treaty that covers many topics, not just adoption, but there are sections of it that, that really were put into place to safeguard and protect children.

They’re also there to protect pre-adoptive families, birth families, they’re there to protect anyone who’s involved in the adoption process and really ensure that that process is happening in a way that serves the best interest of children. The true spirit of the hate convention. Really, if you read the preamble of it is to ensure that a child’s options are exhausted before they become legally freed for inter-country adoption. Some of those options and the first and foremost option would be, is there a way to reunify the child with their biological family? Certainly that is the spirit of the Hague. It’s the spirit of actually what we do here at AGCI through our five-piece, you know, our first P is to prevent, prevent a child from entering an institution by supporting families in reunifying or staying together. And truly we know that to be in a child’s best interest, if it is at all possible for a child to stay with their biological family, that is a huge success and that’s something to be celebrated. But sometimes that unfortunately is not possible after attempts to reunification, or if a child enters protective care through purposes of, or by means of abandonment. You know, that child may not have biological options on the table.

At that point, when a child enters care, whether that’s by abandonment, reasons of abuse or neglect, maybe a child interests care by relinquishment, maybe a biological family makes it a very tough and brave decision that they aren’t able to care for that child at that time. All of those reasons, when a child enters care, they get assigned typically referred to as like a legal defender or a legal representative. And that representative is usually a member of the country’s central authority, which is the government entity that oversees adoptions, that legal representative or legal defender is in charge of exhausting. All those options that we’re talking about, right. Is there a way to reunify the next level of options would be as their, a biological family member or kinship placement that could happen? So an aunt, a great grandma, grandma, someone who could maybe potentially be in a place to care for that child, even second cousins, third cousins, like, is there anyone because ultimately again, the spirit is that what is in the child’s best interest is to stay in their birth country, to stay with people that are known to them or to be known to them depending on their age. And so all those options are exhausted. And then there’s even a third level of exhausting an option, which is domestic adoption within that child’s birth country.

So are their pre-adoptive families that have been, you know, approved as safe and loving homes that this child could be placed with in their birth country, so that they’re able to maintain that connection, that culture, and really stay in their country of birth, which would be again, a huge success and is to be celebrated when that’s possible. And then after all of those options are exhausted is then, and only then is inter-country adoption even considered as an option for a child. Oftentimes that level, when, when a child is declared legally freed for inter-country adoption, it has a lot to do with potentially the way that they entered care. You know, maybe there weren’t as many options at those different levels before. And also depending on the child’s level of, of need, if the child has identified needs, whether that identified characteristics of being older or being a part of a sibling group, or maybe an identified medical need, oftentimes families that are registered as domestic adopters in those countries in various countries that we work in, don’t always have the resources or capacity to parent a child with those characteristics. And so oftentimes we’ll see those are the kiddos that end up being in need of permanency internationally from their country for, yeah. Thank you so much for going into that.

Obviously it’s a very thorough process and it’s not something that’s taken lightly by anyone involved, and there’s so many steps to it, to like, okay, can we, you know, is there any way that some, you know, even if it’s not there, you know, immediate family, is there any way that they can be in kinship care? Is there any way they can stay within their, their home country? And it’s only when none of those options are available, that then we look to, to go to international adoption. So you, you mentioned the Hague convention, so AGCI only works with countries that are a part of that. Is there anything else about that that’s important for people to understand? Yeah, so we do, we do work with countries that are signatory to the hate convention. So the hate convention is like, we talked about a treaty of law that covers a number of topics, but one of the main ones being inter-country adoption. And when it went into force here in the United States, what that, what that looked like really was another body of law that the United States put into effect that ultimately described how we would implement the hate convention here in the U S as signatories to that treaty. One of the ways that we implement the Hague or how any country that signatory to the Hague treaty implements B standards and guidelines of the Hague is to elect a central authority.

And so we, and by elect, I mean, appoint not actually elect so by appointing a central authority. And so the appointed central authority here in the United States is the department of state. So U S department of state, and they have a subsection of the department of state that oversees a lot of inter-country adoption processes, which is the office of children’s issues. So always loved that the focus of adoption, the child and their best interest is in the name of the office that oversees it. That makes me very happy to, to see. And the office of children’s issues is exactly that they’re working closely with the department of state and with various adoption agencies, as well as any accrediting body. That’s been appointed to oversee every step of the adoption process. Adoption agencies have reporting requirements where we report to our accrediting body to ensure that we’re following each and every step on our end, as well as the department of state and U S immigration who is appointed to process immigration cases for adoption are able to, to really track on and monitor every single case that is occurring, but for the Hague convention and why it’s so important is because every country that signs on to say, we want to be a part of this. We believe that these safeguards do protect children, and we want to ensure that our adoption practices are ethical and following these guidelines has to do the same.

They have to elect or appoint, excuse me. I keep thinking like a point a central authority and that that central authority is able to monitor and have oversight over adoptions in that country. So there are some countries who have said, we have this as a bowl, we’ve signed, we are signatories, but they haven’t been able to successfully implement the Hague guidelines in their countries. And so that can have a lot to do with just basic government funding focuses of the government at any given time on child welfare, but countries who have, we’ve been able to work closely with those countries to facilitate adoption. So, you know, knowing that the central authority, for example, in Columbia ICBF is the central authority there, and really partnering with them to know and understand who the kids are. That’s a big part of what the central authority needs to know, who are these amazing kiddos that are ending up in need of care? What are the options for permanency? And then there are the ones that are appointing a legal defender of some sort to exhaust those options that we talked about. Wow. Yeah. So, I mean, there’s, it’s not just like, there’s one person that’s kind of trying to process all of these things. I mean, there’s so many checkpoints to make sure that it is ethical and following all of these guidelines. So like on that note are all adoptions ethical.

Like how, how, how do families know that the adoption that you know, that the child that they’re adopting or the program that they’re in is ethical? I think that that there’s there’s practices for all adoptions, whether you’re adopting through a non-paid country or you’re adopting, there is a process for that there non-habit options. And then there are naked options. And those practices and procedures, the non-habit options are really modeled after the attempt to do a Hague adoption. There are procedures in place of what types of documents need to be procured in order to present to us immigration, this child’s legal status. And one of the ways that one of the real, tangible ways that a family would be able to, to see that is in their referral documentation. So any referral for a child really from a non non-legal or a hay country background is going to add a bare minimum, explain how that child entered care. Again, those, the entrance into care circumstances might be fairly unknown. It could be a child was entering care due to abandonment. And so their background or their history is unknown, and that doesn’t bar them from being eligible for adoption. It just makes their paperwork not have as much information about their history, which of course can be really devastating.

And that’s something we work with families on how to tell the child’s story, how to work with them and understanding and getting to know their identity when there is that lack of info. However, that will still from the moment they do enter care, there will still be an outlining of what procedures were done in order to maybe search for potential bio family, or someone to care for them from their community. If they were found near a local community, right. If a child was entered care for PR for by means of abandonment, excuse me. But as far as you know, are all adoptions ethical. Certainly there are situations and cases where children are placed into other homes that, that are different from their biological family. And it’s done maybe outside of the scope of an agency or outside the scope of an attorney. And so they wouldn’t, those adoptions wouldn’t necessarily be adoptions. Maybe they would be placement into, you know, a trusted family member or something of that nature. But as far as adoptions internationally go, if, if a child is being placed in a home birth country than to the U S they’re going through the procedures of an ethical adoption, I mean, whether that’s a non-hedge or hate country, there is documentation that is required to be presented to us immigration and the department of state that helps ensure that those adoptions are ethical and that that child truly needed an adoptive family internationally.

And not just for any other reason, that truly, that was the last and final option and that other options had been exhausted. Yeah. That’s reassuring for families, for sure. That, you know, cause like you said, especially if there’s limited information about a child’s background, I mean, I, I would imagine for people that can be, it’s hard to know like what their story is, but given the amount of, you know, steps in the process and the people at every stage that are, you know, overseeing all of these steps. I mean, it kind of makes it hard for something, you know, not right, I guess, to, to go on. So to that note, like how, how do families ensure that their child, the child they are adopting is a legitimate orphan that there aren’t any family members, you know, that are able to care for them. Yeah, it’s it can, it can be, and it, it can be hard, right? They’re reading this, they’re reading the story and the background of, of their future child. And they’re seeing that the child does have biological family, maybe somewhere, whether that’s local to the child and then, and then they can ask questions. Of course. And we can ask those questions to the central authority who has already deemed that child to be legally freed. But typically what we see is the background history.

We’ll describe the purpose of the need for inter-country adoption, as well as the attempts at placements with biological family. And maybe the reasons why that placement wasn’t in the best interest, the child, for example, if there was an aunt or a grandmother who was local and attempted to care for the child for a number of months or a number of years before the child entered care, but that, that care couldn’t continue because of a lack of resources or because maybe a grandmother was elderly and unable to care for the child. There are a number of reasons why there might not be why that placement in particular might not have been in the best interest of a child. So again, it’s something that from, you know, from a clinical lens and from working with families, we certainly work a lot with families on preparing for those unknowns, you know, whether there’s unknowns in the history of a child or with, you know, understanding and how to share their child’s story with them as they grow in their identity and development in understanding why there were certain people in their lives that weren’t able to reunify or care.

But I think again, you know, AGCS child advocacy model really speaks to that in how do we help prevent, how do we help prepare and really work with families and caregivers and central authorities on trying to help and support if there are ways to allow for those family members. So that really, and again, truly families can can know, even though it, it really is devastating. When you think about it, it really is so devastating for a child to end up at that particular stage. And then there’s also this, this, this beautiful aspect of it that this child, while these families, these pre-adoptive families have been waiting, they’ve been working on their paperwork. They’ve been waiting for referral. They’ve been waiting through documents and, and trying to understand maybe their future child story this whole time, that child was also waiting, waiting for these processes and these steps to be completed so that their permanency could come to life and God’s plan for that child could come to light. And whether, you know, that happens at an earlier stage again, so, so much to be celebrated there, if God’s plan for that child is to be able to be cared for in their bio family or in their country of origin.

But then ultimately if that last and final stage does need to happen, the hope is that, and typically the documents do reflect that all of those options have been exhausted and that this pre-adoptive family internationally is what is in the best interest, you know, being placed with that family is in the best interest of that child. Absolutely. So we’ve obviously touched a lot on international adoption. How, you know, from your point of view, do the ethics of adoption differ between, you know, domestic and international, or is it not that different? Can you just speak to that a bit? I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t say the ethics are, are all that different. The spirit of what is in a child’s best domestically here in the U S for example, how a child comes into care, similar reasons, right? A child could enter care by purpose of, you know, by means of abandonment by abuse, neglect, relinquishment, a very common one here in the U S which again is something that is to be celebrated in so many ways. There are so many supports for birth parents in the United States resources and support for making an informed decision about their child and, and what they feel might be in their child’s best interest. And adoption is, is a wonderful option for families.

And it is, there are a lot of resources to support birth parents in making a decision, making a relinquishment plan and adoption plan for their child, which is a hugely brave decision for them to be making. And in domestic adoption, we see that here in the us domestic adoption in the United States, we certainly see that as being a more common reason, families really making that, that difficult and brave choice to make an adoption plan for their child. But the process of, of then subsequently looking to biological or kinship placement or domestic adopters pre-adoptive families in the us, whether that’s, you know, by means of foster to adopt foster care or an adoptive family in the United States or a birth parent, being able to choose an adoptive family. That’s also something that is a little bit different from inter-country adoption. So the processes are different, but again, the spirit of trying to keep a child connected to birth family, birth siblings, especially, you know, really working hard. And that’s also in international adoption, we see that there’s an attempt to keep siblings together. Any connections to biological family is critical for these kiddos. So it is a really, I would say really similar the ethics behind what is considered to be in the best interest of a child, which has always, you know, an ongoing assessment and, and difficult for those that are involved in kind of making those decisions.

And also when you think about the child, right, because they’re not necessarily involved in making those decisions for themselves, but I think those guiding principles or those guiding ethics are, are very similar in domestic adoption in the U S yeah. So obviously the process, the processes I never know immediately are, are different, but do you feel like, or are there still kind of those same, you know, like the oversight and, you know, just kind of the verification and all the steps we talked about with international baddest present in domestic, just kind of a, oh, sure, sure. It’s, it’s, it’s definitely different. There are the monitoring and oversight of domestic adoption is typically done through ICPC, which is kind of the way that the states on their individual domestic laws regarding adoption regarding placement of a child for adoption. Typically there are licensed attorneys that are working in adoption that support families and making it option plans or pre-adoptive families and adopting and connecting with birth families. Oftentimes there are agencies that are facilitating, that are licensed to in their state facilitate domestic adoption. So there’s definitely a lot of oversight and work that’s done and documented to make sure that that plan was truly the birth parents plan. If, if it was a plan made by a birth parent or in a case of a child being removed from care that all attempts to reunify that biological family with that child were done.

And, and when I say that, you know, again, it kind of speaks a little bit too to that child advocacy model piece of, of if we’re going to reunify or we’re going to attempt to reunify, it’s not just, you know, let’s try and see how it goes. It’s preparation, it’s training, it’s resources, it’s walking alongside a family in what would it look like to reunify and what would it need to look like? And part of that is also in domestic adoption. That’s also the state saying, this is what it does need to look like in order for you to have a potential to reunify. But instead of just putting that out there, that this is what it needs to look like, you know, AGCI works to an international capacity, works to walk alongside birth families in having the resources that they need to reach those goals to be able to reunify because their ultimate goal is, is typically to reunify with that child. Yeah. Yeah. Well, thank you for explaining that. So, okay. And let’s be specific here. I’m going to be referring to in the U S adopting internationally. Cause I know I was saying domestic and then I’m like, I know, I know, I know. So international, like adopting families in the U S adopting from a different country, how has that changed over the years?

You know, like what, what are some lessons from the past that we’ve learned that maybe have like informed some of these policy changes or kind of the oversight that we have now? Yeah, there’s, there’s a big shift in, in what a lot of people who work or in or around adoption we’ll call the landscape of adoption. It was a phrase that, that, you know, kind of just was going around in terms of the way that the landscape has changed prior to the hate convention implementation in the United States, as well as the hate conventions implementation and other various countries who were able to, and there are still many that are striving to implement prior to that. There were bodies of law that governs the way adoption worked, but they were very different from the spirit of what we’re speaking about. Now, the spirit of what is in the child’s best interest, being the guiding principle and the spirit of, of biological family reunification or domestic options being first before inter-country adoption, that wasn’t necessarily the spirit of prior guiding principles of inter-country adoption. And so once we had that in place, not just we, but other countries that were working to implement the hate convention, it allowed for there to be a new understanding of what this child’s journey has been and what the child has, has gone through to get to a place of needing permanency internationally.

And I think that, that there are many adoptions that happened prior that, you know, maybe information wasn’t as detailed about that tracing of how the child came into care, how the child was in need of, of adoption and internationally. And there are, I guess, some of the changes that were made and the policy changes that were made were in an effort to safeguard the future of children and to safeguard birth families from, from being forced into adoption from being, from being told, you know, certain things that, oh, this will be in the child’s best interest. And then subsequently there were challenges with the adoptive family because the adopted family didn’t receive, you know, certain training on how to be prepared for a child who is being adopted or comes from a hard place, a child who’s experienced neglect abuse, trauma, which is another big part of the hate conventions implementation under the code of federal regulations. It kind of outlines, you know, the type of training that families need to receive in order to be best prepared to parent a child, you know, and, and AGCI takes that even a step further in the way that we prepare families from a trauma informed lens, that being so important for children. But to go back to your original question around why things have changed, or, or I guess how they have changed.

I certainly think that there was a time when the hate convention was first being implemented, that many people felt this is, this is not a good thing. This is slowing adoptions down. And there was an incredible, there was a big, big trend towards the down, down slope, I guess I don’t even know how to describe it. There was a way less adoptions happening. And I know that families felt strongly about that because they might’ve been in the midst of an adoption process that got, that got paused. And, and I certainly validate that experience and that emotional turmoil of being, you know, knowing the name and face of a child and not being able to go get them. I can’t imagine that pain. However, ultimately in the long run, the PRA guiding principles and the standards that were put into place do protect children. And they, they protect adoptive families. They protect birth families, and that’s really, that’s a good thing. And we’re glad that that is in place. Despite, you know, it might mean more paperwork, which it does, and it might slow things down, but it also truly does ensure that that child’s story is protected, that that child’s journey is protected. And that that child ultimately prayerfully ends up in a permanent situation, a permanent loving home, whether that is with their bio family again, which is amazing or in, in another placement that can be permanent for them.

And it can be, it can be a heavy topic because certainly you’re, you’re walking through with, with every member of the triad or every member of the adoption and constellation it’s even larger than a triad, right? It’s, you know, it’s adoptees, it’s adoptive parents, it’s birth parents, birth families, and what that can look like in terms of sharing a child’s story and allowing an adoptee to own that story and own their voice in that is, is again so critical to have that information, which is another reason why these guidelines describing the types of information that you have to receive in order to present evidence that this child was legally freed for inter-country adoption. That list is, is long. And there’s a reason for that. It’s because we want for children who grow up to be adults, to be able to have their story. And again, to protect that story is a huge part of the process and also just protect their safety as children, right? I mean, ensuring that a child entered care, you know, from what, whatever the circumstances were, but then from the moment they entered care that care for that child was from AGCS perspective, trauma informed, but from an ethical standpoint, just that that child was being cared for in a way that supported their ongoing growth development, you know, and ensuring that they, they make it to a permanent loving home in a timely manner.

That’s another piece of, of how, how countries are implementing the hate convention across the board is working with their central authorities. Those entities that have been appointed to oversee inter-country adoption, that the options that we spoke about, like those exhaustive options are being exhausted in a way that allows for space for unification allows for space, for domestic options to be explored. But also doesn’t allow the, to linger in that system for more than a time that has been indicated as appropriate given the country’s resources and their ability to, to support with those searches. And I think that that’s another critical aspect of it, because if you aren’t able to monitor that and you don’t have a good, you know, then a child’s certainly, you know, God knows their name and face, but, but we need the central authorities to know their name and face to, and for us to be able to start finding out about their names and their faces so that we can work to find a permanent solution for, for them. Yeah.

Well, Sam, thank you so much for explaining this like complicated topic that I think, you know, people just kind of can look at as like, oh, you know, it’s this, or it’s that, and it’s, it’s, it’s complex and it is reassuring to know kind of the heart of all of these, you know, processes and regulations and that, you know, the goal is that everything is child centered, that it’s in the best interest of the child and that, you know, ultimately they are in a family that loves them and can be a permanent placement. So, and your heart’s passion just comes through the zoom. Thank you. Yeah. It’s, it’s, like I said, it’s really great to be able to speak about, about this with you and with, with all, anyone who, anyone who will listen, anyone who’s interested. Right. Because it’s so important that we keep evolving too. And we keep considering what is in a child’s best interest. I think practices around adoptee rights around access to birth records. And there’s just so many topics, but there needs to be voices in that. And, and speaking into that and, and knowing that we can always continue to do better. So yeah. Well, thank you. Yeah. Thank you. That was Samantha Moore AGCI is director of adoption. Thanks for listening to together by AGCI as always, if you liked what you heard, please rate or review us wherever you listen to podcasts.

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