Coerced Adoption Should Concern Parents

Pregnant and Parenting Teens Targeted by Adoption Agencies

By Jessica DelBalzo

Published March 2, 2007

When you sent your teen to off to school today, you worried that she would fail her test, bomb her audition for the school play, or cut out of gym class to see her boyfriend. You never thought that while in the hallowed halls of academia, she would be convinced to take her baby and run away from your loving home on the advice of her guidance counselor. Yet that's exactly what happened to Judy Bennett.

Stephanie Bennett was a 17 year old mother and student, living at home in Ohio with her supportive mom and step-dad when she revealed concerns about motherhood to guidance counselor Thomas Saltsman. Instead of bolstering her confidence and encouraging her in her role as a parent, he immediately arranged for her to meet with A Child's Waiting adoption agency on school grounds, during school hours.

Days after their first meeting and feeling pressured to "do the right thing" by her daughter, Stephanie took baby Evelyn and ran away from home. Hours later, she signed the paperwork allowing the agency to take her daughter away.

Soon reunited with her mother and step-father, Stephanie and her family began fighting to overturn the adoption. The agency has hidden the identity and whereabouts of baby Evelyn's adopters, and the Bennetts must now prove that Stephanie was coerced before the adoption can be overturned. Justice seems unlikely for Stephanie Bennett and her daughter.

Coercion Common in Adoption

From media messages portraying adoption as a "loving option" to celebrities jumping on the adoption bandwagon at a ridiculously high rate, it's near impossible for the average person to get a clear look at what adoption really entails. Young women who are considering surrendering an infant for adoption have an even harder time sorting truth from propaganda when confronted with empty promises of openness, pleading letters hopeful adopters who appear perfect on paper, and shoddy counsel from legal and psychological professionals whose paycheck comes straight from the adoption agency.

"If you love your baby, you will hand him over to someone more deserving." That's the message every vulnerable mother receives as she contemplates her baby's future.

The coercion doesn't stop there, though that kind of psychological blackmail would certainly be challenging enough to overcome. It continues in the form of isolation, and it is excused by nonsensical legal statutes weighted heavily in favor of the adoption industry.

It is not at all uncommon for an adoption agency to entice an expectant mother (or the mother of a newborn, as in Stephanie Bennett's case) to move away from her home in order to surrender her baby. This works to the agency's advantage in two ways. First, a woman who is isolated from her usual support systems is less apt to feel confident enough to back out of an adoption agreement. Second, the agency can take advantage of the adoption laws which vary by state. Adoption-friendly states allow the mother to consent to the adoption almost immediately after birth and give her no time at all to reclaim her baby once she has signed the needed paperwork.

One of the biggest holes in an already unbalanced system, and the one that hurts young women like Stephanie the most: minors are allowed to surrender their babies for adoption without parental consent or notification in nearly every state. Not allowed to drink, smoke, vote, or sign any other legal document, vulnerable young mothers are encouraged to sign away their most important legal rights -- their parental rights -- with "representation" that ranges from simply inadequate to downright coercive.

Parents Have Valid Concerns

Until activist organizations like Adoption: Legalized Lies and Origins USA, both supporters of the Bennett family, are successful in lobbying for legal changes that will protect parents and children from coerced adoption, parents of teenagers should be concerned. Teens should be educated about the adoption industry as they would be about other dangerous aspects of sexuality and reproduction. Preventing unintended pregnancies is paramount, but an understanding of the deceptive tactics employed by adoption brokers will serve your teens well should they ever face an unplanned pregnancy.

Some points to get you and your teen thinking critically about adoption:

-- Adoption is a big business, earning an estimated $1.4 billion a year in 2000 with a projected growth of 11.5% annually. Though many adoption agencies operate as non-profit organizations, these businesses and their employees are getting rich on their success.

-- Adoption has painful psychological ramifications for surrendering parents and adopted children. Surrendering a child to a secure and loving pair of adopters will not protect him or her from feeling insecure and abandoned, nor will the surrendering parent escape without lasting effects.

-- Adoption is not a necessity. There is not a single child in the world who needs to be adopted. Every adoptable child on the market today could be better served by his or her own family, kinship care, or legal guardianship.

The laws must be changed in order to protect vulnerable parents from exploitation by the adoption industry, but given our society's current love affair with adoption mythology, individuals and especially parents must take matters into their own hands. Do not wait until the adoption industry has its grasp on your family. Take steps now to educate yourselves and your children. You can be certain no one else is going to do it for you. <!--- RESOURCES BOX --->

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