Can we talk about adoption agencies and adoptee rights, please?

When people contact adoption agencies to plan for adoption, they’re presumably planning adoption for a child’s benefit. (That’s how adoption is supposed to work.) Whether someone’s placing or adopting, though, the truth is that they’re usually making plans for a baby they don’t yet know. So naturally, they make their plans based on what they think the child will need– based on their own needs and wishes and life experiences.

Here’s the thing, though: babies are only babies for the first year or less. And even as babies, they’re already people with their own gene pools and their own features and traits and needs. That’s why being a “child-centered adoption agency” is such an important goal, but in a world where adoption is increasingly more of a business than a social service, it’s easy to understand why folks question adoption agency intentions. Adoption attorneys and other adoption brokers seem to be expected to put their purposes first, since they’re in business for themselves. Historically, agencies get held to loftier goals because of their licensure and mission statements.

So let’s dig a little deeper into the question of adoption agencies and adoptee rights…

When does an adopted child become an adoptee?

A baby or child isn’t really “adopted” on the day they get placed with the adopting parents. That’s technically when the adopting parents begin caring for them, but the official adoption doesn’t happen for at least six months, usually. The adoption agency is the managing conservator (or legal guardian) of each child from placement until finalization.  It’s not until after six months of supervised visits and monthly reports that the adoptive parents are cleared to go to court and actually adopt the little one legally. So that’s when a child being adopted becomes an “adoptee” (someone who has been legally adopted.)

Adopted people carry that label (“adoptee”) for life, though, whether they want to or not. Some see it as a badge of honor (“I was chosen!”) while others feel victimized by it (“I had no say in being separated from my birthfamily”). Traditionally, adoptees were expected to be “thankful” for being adopted, which was unfair. Today, more adoptees with more outlets and forums in which to express their feelings surrounding adoption.

What’s strange, though, is how America insists on still labeling people who were adopted as an “adopted child” long after childhood has ended. That’s an example of infantilizing adoptees to control them, and it’s done in many settings,  even at the legislative level in states like Texas. Lawmakers here continue to argue, session after session, about whether adults adopted as children should be “entitled” to a copy of their own original birth certificate, as if they have not yet reached an age at which they can be entrusted with the facts of their own beginnings. (?!) 

People who were previously adopted should not be forever defined nor limited by that experience. How they happened to join the family that they did is only one of many life experiences that has shaped them, after all. Adoptees should not be forever judged their whole lives by only one formative aspect of their identities.

What are adoptee rights, anyway?

Don’t take any adoption agency’s word for it– not even ours. When it comes to adoption agencies and adoptee rights, please learn from the experts, who are (of course) adoptees. You can find the Adoptees Bill of Rights on the American Adoption Congress website. Then be sure to also click here to learn about the legalities of adoptee rights and how you can support this important cause. It’s up to everyone– adoption professionals, adoptive parents and birthparents– to demand that the rights of adoptees be upheld, all across their lifespans.

Adoption agencies are enabled by law to to speak for adoptees when they’re too little to have their own speaking part. But all adoption professionals need to dedicate themselves to listening to and learning from adoptees from Placement Day onwards. Because it’s up to each person who was ever adopted to decided whether they feel adoption did or did not ultimately meet their needs. Only by learning from them can we make adoption better.

How can adoption agencies and adoptee rights fit together?

Whenever Abrazo arranges an adoption for a child who’s already born and has been in the care of a parent or other relative, pre-adoption contact visits are planned. This is to give each child opportunity to get to know the prospective adopters in advance, and observe the child’s reactions to (and comfort level with) them. Why? Because even children becoming adoptees have rights in Texas, where standards actually require children age 6 and over to sign a consent to be adopted.  (Not long ago, Abrazo handled a child placement in which the kindergartener being adopted even asked for the adoptive parents’ older son to also get to sign his consent, so his new big brother could “feel important,” too. Clearly, this future adoptee “got” the importance of that moment, even if he didn’t understand all the nuances of it.)

The process of adoption requires birthparents to surrender their legal rights as parents so that the adopting parents can assume those parental rights. But what about the rights of the person who has been adopted? What regards are they owed?  Why aren’t more adoption agencies involved in the quest to get adoptee rights recognized as the legislative level, as Abrazo is? (Is it because adoption agencies traditionally afforded all rights to those who paid to adopt, rather than the person who was adopted? Because such a bias is clearly wrong.)

Is adoption really about meeting the best interests of those who must be adopted as children? If so, then the goals of adoption agencies and adoptee rights should not be mutually-exclusive. Adoptees deserve to know their needs matter to the adoption agencies as much when they’re grown as when they were babies. Adoption agencies owe it to those whose adoptions they arranged to honor their rights, always.

That’s why adoption agencies and adoptee rights should always go together, just like peanut butter and jelly. It’s all part of the same sandwich– or at least, it should be?



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