exposing the dark side of adoption
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Make adoptions a non-profit affair


Jane Hansen

The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution

Columnist Jane Hansen discusses the idea of making adoptions a non-profit affair.

Here's a recent item: "Clayton County police are searching for a woman who abandoned an infant on the steps of a Riverdale home Friday."

Here's another: "Christy Noel, the newborn abandoned Christmas Day near Norcross, will live with a foster family while authorities continue searching for her parents."

Then there's one from this week: "Today Heather and David Vogel plan to enter a Fulton County courtroom and fight for the family they want to become. The couple is fighting an agency for custody of their child."

What's wrong with this picture? In the first two items, authorities comb the bushes for parents who clearly don't want their children. In the third, parents who clearly do want their child are told they can't have him.

The difference, frankly, is money. Heather and David Vogel didn't have any when they decided to give up their baby for adoption. Enter Friends of Children, a national adoption agency with offices here, and suddenly the Vogels' son, Jeffrey - a healthy, white, fuzzy-headed infant - was commanding a cash-and-carry price for the agency of $25,000 from the would-be adoptive parents. "That's a lot of money to get for a baby," Heather was saying earlier this week.

The case should never have gone to court. It did because the market for babies is so lucrative and unregulated in Georgia that the adoption of healthy white infants now borders on baby selling. Desperate couples and single adults wait up to six years to adopt a child. If they go through a private agency, they'll pay as much as $17,000 for a foreign infant - $25,000 "plus some incidentals" for a healthy white one from Friends of Children.

But this agency guarantees quick and efficient service. Dealing almost exclusively in white infants, it pays a $4,000 refund if a baby is not found for an applicant in nine months.

The Vogels - both teenagers - found themselves suddenly caught up in a high-powered court battle, all because they misunderstood when the clock stopped ticking on the 10-day period they had to change their minds. One day late, they tried to reclaim their baby. "I couldn't understand why all these people were not willing to give my baby back," Heather said. "The only thing I could think of was they wanted the money."

She doesn't understand that kind of money, but she now understands its power. The couples bidding for her baby earned at least $100,000 a year. Without that kind of money, she and her husband struggled to get a lawyer, while Friends of Children was able to afford high-priced counsel - Mark Booz of Troutman, Sanders, Lockerman & Ashmore. "This isn't about an adoption," Mr. Booz kept saying. "It's about a contract they signed."

Wrong, ruled Fulton County Superior Court Judge Leah Sears-Collins. It's about the agency's attempt to make "a quick and handsome profit" off a child. She returned the baby to his rightful owners.

And Heather was able to stop the crying that each day had welled up inside her. By Wednesday night, she was out buying baby sundries. "It was fun." She's sorry for the couples who wanted her baby, and she understands their willingness to spend as much as they can for a child. "I'm sure they just want a child so badly that they feel they have no other choice."

Heather and David have a tough time ahead. She's an unemployed teenage mother. Both have only a 10th-grade education. But this wasn't over their fitness as parents. They're capable of loving and caring for their child, the judge said, "and they are fighting like hell for the opportunity to do so."

There's a lesson here. Someone other than those who profit from adoptions - lawyers and agencies - needs to take a closer look at Georgia's laws. It's time adoption was stripped of its profit and returned to its original intent: finding children the best possible homes.

1991 Apr 20