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Adoption on the Internet

The Daily Dot had a post this week about adoption via the Internet instead of an agency.  I clicked over to read it because the title mentioned crowdsourcing, and I assumed they were writing about adoption fundraisers a la Kickstarter on the Internet.  That’s in there too, but it’s more about expectant parents and potential adoptive parents connecting online.  The Daily Dot writes,

Thanks to the Internet, a growing number of prospective parents are connecting with birth mothers directly—outside of traditional adoption agencies. And online resources like social media are helping to push the complex web of relationships between birth parents, adoptive parents, and the kids themselves into something more open and accommodating than in generations past.

What I thought was interesting is that the Internet is the tool for removing the gatekeeper whose purpose is to keep adoption ethical (and yes, I’m aware that there are plenty of agency adoptions that don’t follow ethical guidelines) AND it’s the tool for making it easier for all members of the triad to remain connected.  One tool used in two completely different ways: to drive people out and to keep people close.

The Internet is the key in starting the relationship online and continuing it online.  It can help bring first parents back in contact with children they delivered.  It can help adoptive parents and birth parents stay in touch via social media on a day-by-day basis.  It can help all members of the triad find others in their group in order to gain support.  But this article is about the idea that amid all that connection, the Internet can also nudge out the middleman, the agency.

The reality is that most agencies remove themselves after adoption.  Just as the RE steps back soon after you get pregnant, most agencies step back soon after the adoption is finalized.  There commonly isn’t on-going support such as continuous workshops on maintaining openness within adoption or coping mechanisms when parenting problems unique to adoption crop up, it does call into question whether agencies are necessary anymore if one can do it on their own.  Do agencies need to step up their on-going support for all members of the triad in order to stay relevant?  People are still going to go to REs because we can’t perform our own embryo transfers.  But will people keep using adoption agencies if expectant parents and potential adoptive parents can connect online?

This, of course, brings out the distinction between “can” and “should.”  Should we do away with ethical agencies?  Of course not.  All parties in adoption benefit from ethical agencies.  But it does open up a conversation: beyond keeping the adoption ethical, what purpose does an agency serve?  Can it do more in order to keep providing benefits not found by going about adoption alone?  Do agencies need to be more inclusive as the Internet levels the playing field, making it easier for single parents-to-be or those in a same-sex relationship to adopt?  Do agencies need to lower their administrative costs?  As is, domestic adoption of a newborn is prohibitively expensive, putting it out-of-reach for those who may have enough money to raise a child, but can’t come up with the five-figure agency fees.

Have agencies themselves set up a system where they will be rejected once they’re no longer needed?  Have they made the process so difficult and expensive that people will forgo the good points of an agency in order to not experience the bad?  I keep thinking about how little I even knew to ask before I started parenting.  New questions crop up all the time.  A good example would be breastfeeding.  Most people take a breastfeeding class before they start parenting.  But we still need lactation consultants to guide us on the other side, when we’re actually ensconced in the act of breastfeeding.  Why don’t adoption agencies use this same model?

And then we keep coming back to where ethics fit into this picture.  Is it really an ethical process if there is little support offered once parents have their child?  New questions will pop up years into the future.  Where should those parents go?  Is it really ethical if the birth parents aren’t given continual emotional support to get through the process of placing their child?  What about adoptees — what do adoption agencies provide beyond yearly picnics to celebrate those matches?

I hope as agencies restructure, they start looking at support as a lifetime process.  They have the potential to help all members of the triad navigate open adoption.  They can run on-going support groups, provide the option of check-ins to answer questions, have counselors on-staff that specialize in adoption issues.  The RE is followed by the OB who is followed by the pediatrician, a doctor for every step of the way to answer questions and support that life that the RE helps create.  What if adoption agencies created a similar model, with different professionals on-staff in order to help support all members of the triad?

Your thoughts?  I’d especially love to hear from any member in the triad — what support is given after the adoption is complete?


1 Pepper { 01.08.14 at 8:31 am }

This is really interesting to me as we are hoping to adopt. We are using a traditional agency and, aside from some mass emailings to everyone we know letting them know our plans and that if they should in any way come across a baby looking for an adoptive family to let us know, we do not have a real Internet presence. We don’t have our own webpage or FB page. We have gotten some flak about this, as though this makes us less serious in this age of technology. I don’t know about how much less serious this makes us (though I tend to feel not at all), but it does reflect our desire for privacy and our fears of being too “out there.” I appreciate that we have a brick and mortar agency with a real-live social worker whom I can speak to on the phone when I have questions or need some reassurance. However, I do look forward to using the Internet if and when we meet our newest family member and want to keep in contact with his/her first parents.

And we’ve only been “waiting” for 5 months. When that stretches to a year … 2 years… well then, who’s to say I won’t be taking out banner ads on Google?

2 Pepper { 01.08.14 at 8:35 am }

I should add that a complicating factor in this is our 2 year old daughter. I do not put her on the Internet. I do not want her on the Internet. So how do we create a realistic web presence when we are unwilling to share this huge part of our lives? Then we’re the weirdos who talk about a child but have no photos… or the strange couple who fail to mention that they have a child at all… Off-putting, yes?

3 KeAnne { 01.08.14 at 8:49 am }

I’m honestly surprised it has taken this long for the agency to be cut out. With our surro journey, we found our surro via online classifieds and handled everything without an agency. Granted, the process is a little different and the main motivation for not using an agency was to reduce costs, but I think it also allowed us to have a more hands-on approach with our surrogacy as well as get to know our GS much better since agencies can discourage that unintentionally through the process or intentionally.

There is precedent for this in adoption too. You don’t always have to use an agency. There are independent homestudy groups and adoption attorneys, but I suspect that with surrogacy, a lot of couples find the process and rules daunting and prefer the role the agency plays to guide them through everything.

I absolutely agree that there needs to be support for the triad after adoption as well as for those parenting after IF in general. It’s like, “here’s your child. Have fun!” But there are some very real ways in which parenting after IF is different and has its own challenges. I see a huge opportunity here for a lot of people.

4 Tigger { 01.08.14 at 9:44 am }

While it might be cheaper and faster to adopt without the assistance of an agency, the idea scares the crap out of me. Agencies not only help it be ethical, but legal and binding if I’m not mistaken. Yes, I know, sometimes kids are taken away from the adoptive parents and given back to the bio parents, but I don’t think it happens often. If you do this without the aid of an agency and legal papers and whatnot, I think we’ll see a rise in kids being taken back. I seriously just don’t think it’s a good idea.

5 Anon { 01.08.14 at 12:01 pm }

We adopted through a fairly traditional agency… which went bust! So it’s not there any more. They stipulated at a minimum supplying photos of our child for 18 years along with annual letters (we are also meeting with our child’s birthmom).

Although this arrangement was never legally binding in state law, it was part of our contract with the agency, and they also provided birth parent support groups, open to all however long ago (I am not too clear if they provided ongoing adoptive family support – I guess we just thought we’d find our own if we needed it…). But now they no longer exist.

And from the point of view of us meeting with our child’s birthmom, she (bmom) finds life generally very overwhelming and there may be times when we can’t arrange meetings independently. I guess we’ll be looking for another agency that we can work with for example to find us a place to meet if we couldn’t find somewhere public that was safe (for example, we have not met our child’s birth father and if he came back on the scene, we know so little about him that we would not be comfortable meeting him without some support there).

So whatever we decided in the beginning, we’re working on our own now and we may need to find (and I’m sure, pay for) some more support in the future.

6 Carrie { 01.08.14 at 12:08 pm }

Oh, how timely and touching this question is. We are in the midst of an adoption match through our agency. We do communicate directly with the expectant mother with agency involvement, but I cannot imagine forgoing the support and, as you say, ETHICAL foundation they provide. I’ve read horror stories about well-meaning, but ultimately coercive potential adoptive parents that desperately reach out to wherever there may be a potential child to adopt. One has to remember that these expectant parents are in an emotional state that an adoptive parent can’t necessarily understand. To remove the likelihood that they would utilize counseling provided by the agency or elsewhere puts a lot of doubt into whether the ultimate adoption was truly what was best for all the parties involved.

Adoptive parents have an agenda, even the most well-meaning, empathetic ones. Some can argue that agencies do as well, but the ethical ones should be providing choices to expectant parents and empowering them to make individual decisions. We have purposely used an agency to remove ourselves from the expectant mother’s decision making process. To not do that seemed unethical, and to drop ethics from adoption would be dangerous.

Great post to have folks thinking about this!!

7 fifi { 01.08.14 at 1:06 pm }

This all seems quite alien to me. I come from a small European country where domestic adoption is rare (outside of a stepparent/extended family situation) and international adoption is tightly regulated (because of the Hague treaty).

It also seems like a dangerous move, for the reasons that Tigger and Carrie have brought up. Not knowing how the process works in the U.S., I wonder how it works legally.

8 kateanon { 01.08.14 at 2:45 pm }

I think, even though I was hugely worried about cost, that I couldn’t move forward without the agency or the attorney doing everything. I can see why people do, but there are so many ways to screw things up, to have things go wrong. It seems like a heartbreak waiting to happen, since you’re left on your own to wade through the process.

9 luna { 01.08.14 at 8:01 pm }

so many issues you raise here. I may need to read the article you cite and let my thoughts ferment a bit and come back. for now I’ll say, yes and no…

yes, we met our daughter’s birth mother through our website and email (which some would take issue with). BUT — and this is the important part — we relied on the skills and expertise of a compassionate professional who was invaluable in ensuring that our adoption was as necessary and ethical as possible. not only did she ensure that the decision to place or parent had been thoroughly considered, but she also worked to ensure that every member of the expectant family was well educated about the importance of openness in the child’s adoption. to me, this is the role of an ethical adoption professional, of a good agency (though admittedly most fall short; even ours did as we used an independent counselor to provide such effective support).

you’re right that it only begins there. there is a desperate need for post-adoption support for ALL members of the adoption constellation. education, counseling, training, mentorship, networking, support, etc. much of this need is now being filled online — which I think is a wonderful thing — but the adoption industry should also be accountable for the rippling effects of its actions, which last for generations. after all, these are real people with real human impacts, with complex emotions and relationships. we are often navigating uncharted waters with little guidance or support.

I like your analogy to the medical field and how the adoption industry should track the development and well being of the people directly impacted by adoption.

so I agree that people can both make connections online AND use the internet to help maintain contact after an adoption, especially across distance or under limiting circumstances. BUT I think ethical mediation is absolutely critical to ensuring that adoptions are done only when necessary and in the best way possible. there is no other way to ensure that an expectant mother is well informed and counseled as to her options. that said, the adoption industry is sorely lacking in this area. but I think pressing for necessary reform is critical, rather than bypassing the “middle man” altogether.

10 Mash { 01.09.14 at 5:44 am }

I think the internet is still a fairly dangerous place at times. Without a social worker’s involvement, vulnerable potential adoptive parents could easily be exposed to fraudsters. Equally, vulnerable birth parents could easily be exploited too. For me, the ideal situation would be a healthy combination of the two. A light introduction on the internet, followed through by a wholesome adoption facilitation with a qualified social worker. The social worker should definitely ensure that expectations on both sides are met and managed, and that complete counselling takes place on both sides.

I actually think that there should be legal requirements around this, because far too often I suspect it goes badly wrong. Maybe even ongoing support should be a legal requirement. Someone said to me recently that the adoption process is at it’s best, an intervention. Members of the triad are usually left hanging afterwards.

11 Aerotropolitan Comitissa { 01.09.14 at 8:49 am }

All you say they should offer sounds good. And of course there are counsellors out there who work with adoptions, so putting the two together and making it more seamless and automatic (like the RE referring you over to the OB, even being able to give guidance on who to choose and how to go about it, etc) seems like it shouldn’t be too much to ask.

12 deathstar { 01.09.14 at 11:57 am }

From the one experience I’ve had, I wasn’t all that thrilled with our agency in Canada. We ended up dealing with an American lawyer who knew our agency and he found a birthmother, flew her and her friend to his office where we met. After that, we had very little to do with our Canadian agency until it was time to get a few letters. Just two birthmother panel sessions and one parenting class, an online adoption education module, and an exhaustive home study. In the end, we paid fees to our agency, 2 American lawyers, and 1 American social worker (whom I had to nag and bother to go visit the birthmother. In hindsight, I should have fired her ass.) We also paid for an online site as we had been waiting for over a year and a half. The birthmother received some counselling prior to placing but none after. We received no counselling, and very little assistance with the daunting paperwork for immigration. We had 3 visits from the agency social worker after we brought our son home. Then nothing except invitations to open houses or picnics. We haven’t attended any of them . But that’s on us. Any support I’ve had has been from other adoptive mothers who have created their own playgroups or meetings. And of course the online support has been invaluable. I think that in our case, our agency fell short of my expectations and as a waiting parent, you are extremely vulnerable – it’s not like you’ve done this before, right? The problem with the internet is that it comes without instructions and the potential for problems is quite high. I had no idea adoption was so complex on so many levels and would have appreciated education from all sides of the triad earlier in on the process.

I think it’s possible that agencies can provide more thorough support (especially for the fees they charge) but that all depends on the people involved and how well they are trained.

13 Northern Star { 01.14.14 at 9:48 am }

I’ve been meaning to comment on this post since you first put it up. Another post with a similar theme that went up around the same time yours did is this one here: http://www.creatingafamily.org/blog/the-internets-affect-on-adoption/ … you may find it interesting.

I can’t imagine having used an agency for our adoption – for sure during the match and placement, but more importantly as a resource for my husband and I in the months following placement. There were times following the adoption that I really needed help navigating boundaries and my all-over-the-map emotions (ranging from guilt to happiness) and I could not have done this gracefully without the help of our agency. They have also been open to supporting our daughter’s birth mom (they’ve reached out a number of times), but she has chosen not to seek counselling … from what I understand, this is a normal reaction from birth parents – it may not be appropriate for them to seek counselling from the same people who ultimately “helped” them come to a decision to relinquish their child.

The internet as it relates to other aspects of our open adoption… it’s an invaluable tool for things like contact (e.g. email, photos, private blogs, etc.). We’ve found internet contact to be the easiest way for ongoing contact … text is too random and touchy, in person is awesome but realistically can only happen a couple times a year.

And finally the internet as it pertains to support for the various members of the adoption triad – for my husband and I, it’s been awesome. The real, personal accounts we are exposed to via blogs is invaluable. BUT a person needs to have a filter as to what they’re going to allow themselves to take in / take personally … there is a lot of heartache associated with adoption and not all stories have happy endings. This can be hard to take. Reading accounts of how birth parents are processing their losses can be hard – but I find them almost necessary to develop and sustain empathy … especially when I’m frustrated with my own adoption relationships.

As deathstar points out, adoption is complex. It really is … you have no idea HOW complex it is going to be until you’re well steeped in its dynamics. We’re lucky to have a very experienced, involved agency … one that touches base with us often, even though our adoption happened almost a year ago. We have support groups and free counselling, both which we’ve taken advantage of. I am very thankful for an agency – I now know that adoption is not something I could have navigated on my own, without the help of professionals.

14 Northern Star { 01.14.14 at 9:49 am }

TYPO!!! I can’t imagine NOT having used an agency. Oh wow.

15 Lori Lavender Luz { 01.17.14 at 3:18 pm }

Not all states allow for independent adoptions. CO, for example, is an agency state. Even if you find your own match (called a “designated adoption”) you must still go through an agency. And I believe most (maybe all) states still require a homestudy done by a social worker that’s been approved the the state.

That said, I do think a well-done adoption will involved more than just a homestudy and a match. For long-term success in the relationships among the two sets of parents and the child, there needs to be both initial and follow-up education. Or really good books on the subject 😉

The metaphor that came to mind when I read the Daily Dot was a set of speed bumps. When plotted appropriately in a neighborhood, they protect people,but can be seen as annoyances, as barriers to getting where you want fast.

And, to extend to the metaphor to BridgeGate, the authorities can exceed their authority and veer into unethical practices if not kept in check.

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