Orphan Voyage Message for 1991 and beyond
ORPHAN VOYAGE MESSAGE FOR 1991 AND BEYOND
by Jean Paton
There is really no need for society to be torn to pieces by the needs of a few orphans, is there? Why should it seem necessary to reinvent the family as the basis of social life in order to place orphans in houses rather than orphanages? That is about the silliest thing that could have happened.
At first, orphans were placed in homes either as temporary help, under the provisions of indenture, or under chattel mortgages, the same as were used in the exchange of fleshy animals. This seemed inappropriate, and adoption became instituted under state laws, although it had been used in many countries and in ancient times under more or less traditional usages.
That is, in the United States we devised adoption to take care of little ones who had lost their parents, either by death or by dire poverty. We did not at that time separate babies from their mothers merely because they were born out of wedlock. These were usually sent together out into the cruel world, mother and child. Or if she could not cope, there were always the foundling home where babies would not live long.
So far, so good. When twenty-one years were up, the legal age of young people then, the parties to adoption were released to regular social life, anybody could know their names, and locate their kindred, who often did not move that far away. True, the orphan had to grow up without much knowledge of his past, but he usually knew that he had one, and was free to reconstitute it, to a degree.
Now that we have experienced adoption under the sealed record syndrome, we know that it is not a satisfactory arrangement. We know that guardianship is far more appropriate to the needs of all parties than what we have been using. So it is time to put it in place.
We also begin to see that the definition of family as applying to any set whatsoever of adults and children is not appropriate. What the family is, and always has been, is something quite distinctive. It combines ancestry, kinship, procreation-nurture and heredity. A child who grows up in such a climate, with the reality of all these things, is very much advantaged over children who grow up otherwise. What adopted people now struggle with is not so much the sealed record, as with all that is placed behind it, and denied him, from his earliest years throughout his life, until he may be able to reach behind the seal and recover pieces of what he has lost.
Children who lose their original parents will always exist. But they need not only some reconstitution of their original family, but also a society which does not give imaginative, unreal and inadequate definitions of what a family is. If society can remain intact in its values, and if children taken from families can have portions of these families early in their lives, then both the orphan and the person raised in his birth family can communicate with each other.
As it is, the adopted person hardly knows how to speak to society, he knows he does not belong to society in a.ny of its usual definitions. He feels deeply cheated and he is right. Perhaps this matters more than the fact that society has been cheated, but of that I am not certain. I think we have all lost a great deal through the sealed adoption experiment. A transition directly from orphanage toguardianship would have spared our culture a great deal of human suffering and a lot of social confusion.