The current furor over adoption photolistings has got us thinking about the ethics of adoption marketing, lately.
Here’s what’s going on: the U.S. State Department is considering a ban on the practice of using photolistings (pictures and general bios of adoptable kids) to recruit adoptive families for kids in need of adoptive homes.
Ever since the “Wednesday’s Child” campaigns first began, adoption photolistings (whether for children or rescued animals) have become a highly effective means of finding homes– because they work. Pictures tend to humanize the homeless, thus inspiring compassionate viewers to seek out more information and to then undergo the process of becoming approved to adopt.
And yet… (but still…)
What’s wrong with adoption photolistings?
We have to be honest: we see some potential problems with this approach. For one thing, it can conceivably be argued that violating the privacy of vulnerable children in order to “market adoption” is exploitation, however well-intended, and that the ends (placement) do not justify the means (photolistings involving children under the age of 13.) After all: once a parent-less child’s picture is posted online, it’s there forever, and how can any adoptee’s confidentiality ever be ensured, once their most personal need has already been viewed by millions?
(And what happens when some well-intentioned but underprepared family falls in love with a picture of a homeless orphan overseas and undertakes a pursuit to adopt him or her at any costs, not understanding the extent of his or her special needs, and lacking sufficient adoption education to know that love alone is not always enough to result in a successful longterm placement experience?)
The State Department’s concern is that photolistings are “soft referrals” that can be viewed by people who are not yet homestudy-approved, meaning that the pictured children are potentially be considered for placement by individuals or couples who may be unqualified to adopt (or worse.) This is a violation of State Department standards (and would also constitute a violation of state standards in Texas, wherein agencies are prohibited from engaging in “matching activities” with anyone who is not already homestudy-approved.
This doesn’t just happen in international adoptions, however. The famed Heart Galleries (a nationwide program by which each state seeks interested families for children in state foster care who have already been freed for adoption) consists of thousands of photolistings of American foster kids awaiting loving homes.
What’s Abrazo’s perspective on this issue?
We understand the arguments on both sides, and yet, Abrazo still struggles with the ethics of using photos of adoptees to promote adoption. (And maybe herein lies the bigger issue?)
Our agency has always chosen not to use children’s pictures in order to locate families for our available children. This is why, whenever Abrazo posts appeals for homestudy-ready families for children placed in our agency’s care, you will never see a photo posted publicly of the actual child/ren Abrazo has available to be adopted.
It’s also why– unlike some agencies or facilitators who post public “gotcha day pics” to announce their placements– Abrazo typically uses only generic images on social media whenever placements have occurred. (Our actual placement day photos are only posted with permission on our agency’s restricted access site.) We do share actual finalization day photos with clients’ permission, on occasion, but only because these (like wedding photos) are a celebration of the family unit (and not merely the display of a minor adoptee available to be adopted.)
We cannot deny that “a picture’s worth a thousand words” when it comes to explaining the beauty of open adoption, and we treasure the open adoption photographs that members of our community have permitted us to share publicly as a learning tool. (Plus: photolistings of prospective adoptive parents have become very popular in reaching prospective birthparents, there’s no doubt about that.)
Still: educating the world about open adoption is a different goal than selling an agency’s services, and if an available child’s image is used to profit another person or business, then the ethical implications demand closer review, as suggested by the pending State Department standards change.
Perhaps the most effective guide to “best practice” standards could be gleaned from the feedback of actual adoptees in America. It seems evident that we would all do better to listen to today’s adoptees and learn from their experience. (After all– how can any rational adult explain that our culture considers it perfectly acceptable to publish photos of minor children online for the purposes of finding them homes, yet refuses to provide adult adoptees with access to their own original birth certificates for the purposes of helping them access their family medical history years later?)
What can I do?
It’s true that countless children have gotten placed in adoptive homes as a result of effective adoption marketing and photolistings that drew the interest of prospective adopters. If you agree that the value of adoption photolistings outweigh the potential ethical issues, then plenty of adoption organizations (like Creating a Family) urge you to contact the U.S. State Department to urge them to reconsider the ban.
If, however, you have concerns about the greater ethical implications of photolistings as an adoption marketing technique (some might even call it “adoption porn”?), then we urge you to let the State Department know these concerns, as well, and to go one step further by making a donation to the National Center for Adoption & Permanency, an advocacy organization which is leading the way where American adoption ethics are concerned.
Because (whether the issue is adoption photolistings or prebirth matching or uniform adoption laws or adoptee rights,) how these issues get resolved will invariably matter to the adoptees who are impacted by whatever policy decisions do eventually get made— so take a stand, and let your voice be heard.