An official with the Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Metropolitan Toronto took special note of the recent reuniting of singer Joni Mitchell with her biological daughter Kilauren Gibb.
The story, which made national headlines in April, was heart-warming for the happy denouement among Mitchell, Kilauren and the women’s adoptive parent. In its own way the story showed the life-affirming nature of adoption and the potential of completeness it affords the biological parent and child.
In 1964, the 19-year-old Mitchell placed her daughter for adoption. Despite tremendous success as a recording artist throughout the 1970s and 80s, Mitchell always wondered about the fate of her daughter. With the reuniting in April, Mitchell said the experience made her feel more complete.
For CCAs social worker Victoria Chippindale-Bakker, the Joni Mitchell story was an example of the older-style closed adoption which for decades was the only way the procedure was conducted. By preventing any contact between biological mother and child, closed adoption was seen as a way of protecting the privacy of the parties involved.
Chippindale-Bakker has been at the forefront of a move towards open-style adoption, which she says reflects changing societal attitudes towards children born out of wedlock. Open-style adoption allows the birth-mother to meet the adoptive parents rather than simply having agency personnel to complete the process. In many cases, the biological parent maintains contact with the adopting family by exchanging letters or through personal get-togethers.
“The move towards more open-style adoption reveals the changing attitude to women who find themselves dealing with unplanned pregnancy,” Chippindale-Bakker said. “There is no longer a judgmental tone to the procedure, and there is no need to protect the child from the future knowledge that he or she was placed for adoption.”
In keeping with the changing attitude to adoption was the creation in 1985 of the Adoption Disclosure Registry by the province of Ontario. The registry keeps track of all adoptions and allows adult adoptees to learn something of their biological parents.
“Before the registry and the move to open adoption, there was no method for maintaining contact between parent and child,” she said. In addition, the secrecy that we used to value as a society wasn’t the most helpful way of dealing with adoption matters. Children who had been placed for adoption began to wonder about their identity. Some might have experienced feelings that they were rejected by their biological parents.”
Although workers are loath to tell mothers what they “should” do with regard to keeping the child or placing it for adoption, they agree that openness is a tremendous benefit for all parties. Chippindale-Bakker said openness in adoption helps affirm the “rightness” of the choice of the birth parent. It in turn gives the adoptive parents an ally and a source of information in parenting. Finally, openness in adoption helps the child form a stronger identity by overcoming the feelings of loss and abandonment sometimes associated for closed adoption.
Chippindale-Bakker said the move to open-style adoption often finds parents “choosing” the adoptive family. After consultation with counsellors, the parent reviews a list of prospective families looking to adopt. In some cases, the religious denomination of the adoptive family is a key factor in the biological parents’ choice. Whatever the characteristics however, counsellors ensure the decision is one with which the client is most comfortable.
A recent study prepared by Chippindale-Bakker and two colleagues indicated that single mothers who meet their child’s adoptive parents are more likely to go ahead with the adoption. This trend is significant for childless couples looking to adopt. Firstly, adoption professionals have noted a greater willingness on the part of biological parents to raise their child rather than place them for adoption. This has been aided by increased resources available to single parents and by a lessened social stigma related to single parenthood.
“With changes in society’s value and support systems, adoption placements of infants born outside of marriage have dramatically declined,” Chippindale-Bakker noted in her study. A 1989 study of Canadian adoption trends found that only 2.2 per cent of children born to unmarried women were placed for adoption. As a result, childless couples face long waiting periods when looking to adopt newborns.
Chippindale-Bakker believes any factors which encourage unmarried women to complete the adoption – factors such as an open relationship with the potential adoptive couple and greater post-adoptive counselling to help biological mothers deal with the loss of their child – will help make more children available for adoption.
Paraguay struggles to overcome illicit baby trade
While pro-life supporters are called to emphasize adoption as a life-affirming alternative to abortion, many have grown wary of the illegal trade of newborn babies, often smuggled out of countries in Latin America.
A report in the British newspaper Guardian Weekly focussed on the active adoption business in Paraguay where unscrupulous lawyers and complacent court officials often work in tandem to supply babies to childless couples from the United States, Britain and Israel.
The newspaper reported a number of cases of illiterate young mothers tricked into surrendering their newborns to adoptive agents, who charge high fees from naïve, but desperate foreign couples. In some cases, babies are literally stolen from impoverished mothers to satisfy a growing foreign demand for children. The efforts to obtain thee babies have grown increasingly vicious.
“Every year hundreds of childless couples arrive in Paraguay to adopt a baby,” the newspaper reported. “…They come in ignorance of the misery behind Paraguay’s booming adoption trade. They believe they are involved in a legal process. They have paid up to $30,000(U.S.) to an adoption agency, had a home study done, been interviewed by social workers. Some have made financial sacrifices to pay the costs.”
Haven of deceit
Paraguay has become a haven for deceitful adoption agents and scheming lawyers due to the lack of an official adoption policy in the country. Often lawyers will act as hosts for the adoptive couple, arranging court hearings, translators, babysitting, hotel stays – and the baby itself.
As the Guardian Weekly reported, “The demand caused by falling fertility in industrialized countries has transformed what was once a humanitarian act into a trade dominated by a small group of unscrupulous lawyers. Paraguay, a Catholic country with strong family values, has very few orphaned or unwanted children but it does have thousands of poor, often illiterate, women whose babies can be bought, taken by deceit or even stolen.”
Although international police forces and the Paraguayan government have taken steps to investigate the baby trade, the situation has not improved significantly.
One of the arguments urged in defence of the country’s illicit baby trade is that adoption, by however means, is preferable to abortion. This however does not address the sad fact o unscrupulous operators tricking vulnerable women into surrendering their children.
The country recently imposed a one-year suspension on international adoption in response to increasing pressure by foreign journalists and dedicated court officials in Paraguay.
Nonetheless pro-life observers believe the combination of fear, poverty and desperation on the part of young mothers will make the sorry business even more difficult to overcome. It also becomes a concern for honest, forthright adoption agencies operating in North America. These agencies, which specialize in helping childless couples find children in Third World countries, must work harder to offset the damage done to the reputation of international adoption at the hands of get-rich quick artists and schemers.