In the United States adoption is a for-profit industry. This creates a capitalist demand for “product” – babies. It encourages exploitation of biological parents, the only people forbidden by law from profiting off the adoption of the baby they made. It prioritizes financial motives over the best welfare of the child. And it charges adoptive parents exorbitant fees.
Studies of women who placed children for adoption show that it is experienced as a deep psychological wound for most, at least as painful as having a child die. Women who are young, unmarried, or disabled may be especially pressured to give up their babies. They may seek out assistance at a crisis pregnancy center, only to be told they’re unfit or unready to be a parent, and say doesn’t this lovely wealthy couple on the brochure look better equipped to handle this? While it is illegal to pay a woman cash for her baby, some agencies provide shelter housing for expectant mothers who plan to adopt out. During pregnancy these women will be thanked for their sacrifice. After the baby is in their new home, the mothers are largely forgotten and after-care is not provided by most agencies.
Further, in both domestic and international adoption, many of those placements could be prevented if the biological parents had adequate material support. A robust social safety net and ample foreign aide would drive down the supply of adoptable babies. If adoption was divorced from the profit motive and centered on the best interest of the child, greater efforts would be made to keep loving families intact. Yet most agencies don’t call for these kinds of global social and economic reforms. A for-profit adoption industry, an industry ostensibly all about creating families, actually works to break families apart, moving the babies into more affluent homes for a fee, while leaving the first parents behind in poverty.
Although the current system favors potential adoptive parents in many ways, it is not ideal for them. Private and often religious agencies may exclude some parents for consideration based on their race, religion, sexual orientation, marital status, trans status, or disability. Many people who might make wonderful adoptive parents never even look into it because these kinds of exclusions are well known and tolerated. The same biases that are used to pressure some first parents to place their children for adoption are used to discourage other parents from adopting. Adoptive parents are more likely to be white, well off, and married than biological parents (either ones who place children for adoption or ones who parent). For the lucky parents who get past initial bigoted screening measures, there are numerous fees and charges to be paid. Money that could be going toward clothes or education or a savings account for their new child instead line the pockets of agencies and attorneys involved. The adoption process can take years and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
For-profit adoption invites greed into a matter of child welfare. In a business where babies are the product, some babies are worth more than others. A healthy white newborn from a non drug-using mother who knows the identity of the father is by far the most profitable for agencies and attorneys. Rather than working together to find the best parents for each adoptable child then, agencies often find themselves in competition for the “best” babies. Nowhere is the valuing of some lives over others more obvious than in the price tags assigned to infant children based on their race and ability.
While adoptable children come in all races and ethnicities, adoptive parents in the United States are predominantly white. Transracial and transnational adoption are additional burdens for adoptive children. White adoptive parents of children of color are almost never given guidance and training from the agencies on the best ways to keep adopted children connected with their culture and people who are like them. This is true both with for-profit adoption agencies and with federal and state foster care programs. In an extreme example, more than 80% of Native American children in the South Dakota foster care system are placed in white homes, divorcing these children from their culture and family and preferring white culture over Native ones.
I am not saying adoption shouldn’t exist, or shaming adoptive or potential adoptive parents for their desire to raise a child. I can never fully understand the pain of infertility and I was lucky enough to have all the children I want before realizing I’m gay. I don’t know what it is to long for a child I cannot have. The current system gives private and religious organizations the right to determine appropriate child placement, and allows them to do so for profit. Child welfare should be the primary focus, yet all too often money is. There’s no profit to be made in keeping families intact or with elevating the financial standing of everyone so that no one was too poor to parent.
I highly encourage further reading on adoption issues and adoption reform. The book “The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption” by Kathryn Joyce looks at religious adoption agencies and a recent evangelical mandate to adopt internationally. The group Parents for Ethical Adoption Reform (PEAR) spearheads legislative efforts to increase child welfare and reduce corruption in adoption. Both are excellent sources for edification.