From BraveLove‘s quest to become “a movement to increase modern adoption in the U.S.” to a sneak preview in Washington, D.C. of the pro-adoption documentary I Lived on Parker Avenue, reviving adoption is an honorable mission for many in this country.

Domestic adoption numbers have fallen steadily, even as infertility rates in America have soared, meaning that there are now more hopeful adoptive parents and less available infants for adoption than ever before. The pro-life movement (like the anti-adoption crusaders) has historically viewed adoption as nothing more than a (sometimes) necessary evil, but even those protesters would much rather see a woman walk into a legitimate adoption agency than a Planned Parenthood office.

However, the age-old factors that typically drove “girls in trouble” to make voluntary adoption plans (like the social stigma attached to “illegitimate” births and “unwed mothers”) now sound archaic and outdated in an age in which two of the five Kardashian sisters are proudly touting baby bumps without wedding rings, and reality stars on Teen Mom have higher incomes than most recent college graduates.

Nowadays, with the accessibility of Plan B or pregnancy terminations and the availability of child support and Medicaid coverage and food stamps, it’s become increasingly common for girls and women with unplanned pregnancies to quietly make the problem go away or opt to parent (for better or worse.) However, our tragic abortion statistics and the continually-rising numbers of American children in need of child welfare services and child abuse intervention confirm that not everyone capable of reproduction is equally able to parent effectively.

Would reviving adoption be good? Or bad?

Reviving adoption seems like a no-brainer for many, while for others, it seems like a step in the wrong direction.

“Why don’t adoptive parents just take the money it would cost to adopt and give it to a potential birthmother so she can keep her baby and raise it herself?” adoption detractors ask, seemingly forgetting that it takes far more than just cold hard cash to adequately prepare anyone for 18+ years of full-time parenthood.

It’s true that when first asked why they are considering the option of placing a child for adoption, most prospective birthparents first mention the costs of caring for a child. Many are struggling to get by as it is, even without another mouth to feed or another bottom to diaper. Yet when Abrazo’s staff reminds them that money should never be the only reason for surrendering parental rights, since that would mean applying a permanent solution to a temporary problem, that is typically when the real reasons start to come out.

That’s when we learn that the mother feels incapable of caring for a baby with the birth defects she’s been told her child will have. Or she is seeking to shield her baby from a birthfather’s abuse, or she knows her own addiction will prevent her from being the stable, devoted parent her baby needs. Or she wants her child to grow up in a secure two parent home, like the one she had once upon a time. Or she knows her own track record with Child Protective Services will consign her baby to the horrors of state foster care. Or the baby is the remnant of an extramarital affair and she wants to shield the child from forever being treated differently as a result.

There are many valid reasons for reviving adoption, particularly child-centered ones (like the 100k+ American children already “free for adoption” in the state foster care system.) It can certainly be argued that voluntary adoptive placement is a better (as in “more adoptee-centered”) alternative to the Safe Haven drop sites or Baby Moses programs that encourage desperate mothers to engage in legally-sanctioned child abandonment. And despite valid arguments against the false equivalency of “adoption vs. abortion” debates, most rational human beings would agree that a loving adoptive home trumps fetal destruction by suction.

Yet we must be mindful that adoption should not be revived at the expense of victimized mothers or innocent babies. Adoption must not exist solely to provide healthy infants to needy families, nor should we discount the inherent, primal wounds experienced by many adoptees (regardless of whether their adoptions were open or closed, done well or done badly.) And adoption must never, ever, be permitted to be done as a commercial transaction nor revenue stream.

Modern adoption these days

Some argue that making adoption easier is the key to reviving adoption in the modern era. We would argue that “DIY adoptions” all too often fail to protect the true interests of all the parties involved– most crucially, those of the children. Deregulation of adoption could have disastrous consequences, and making adoption a societal free-for-all (as is already too prevalent, given the internet) would undoubtedly endanger the best interests of our littlest citizens.

Making adoption more accessible, however, may be a far more effective goal. Too many parents in need have little or no way of knowing how to go about exploring the adoption option (and many prospective birthparents have told Abrazo “I didn’t even know adoption was still a thing,” until a hospital social worker or clinic worker brought it up to them.)

Federally-funded programs like the Infant Adoption Awareness Initiative aim to provide health professionals with accurate, nonbiased information on how best to educate the public about the adoption alternative in medical settings; finding additional means of disseminating information in other less crisis-oriented venues (such as public transportation or in educational institutions or public housing offices) might also be helpful.

Reviving adoption should be about reforming it, as well, and not just selling it. The renewal of the Adoption Tax Credit undoubtedly is an incentive to would-be adopters, yet providing parents who do adopt or place with more and better post-adoption services nationwide would surely be a big step in the right direction.

There are those who seek to reframe open adoption as a sales strategy, which does children and parents alike a huge disservice. Implementing legislation that would better protect the interests and rights of parents and child (like legally-enforceable post-placement adoption agreements and adult adoptee original birth certificate access) could almost certainly make adoption safer and more appealing to those most immediately impacted by it.

If modern day society cannot prevent child abuse and neglect any more effectively than it cures child poverty or eliminates unwanted pregnancies, then adoption is likely to remain a viable and necessary alternative.

Reviving adoption, then, could prove to be a worthy goal, but only if it is truly a project undertaken for the benefit of children (not adults,) and particularly if vast improvements are made to the way adoptions are done.

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