Another big media miss: Adoption coverage

Posted: Nov 18, 2004 12:00 AM

November is National Adoption Month, but you'd never know it from reading the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune or USA Today. Total number of stories noting National Adoption Month in those five newspapers during the first 15 days of November: zero, according to Lexis-Nexis.

 That's too bad, because Americans should be aware of four troublesome trends in adoption that have emerged. First, while Americans are adopting increasing numbers of children from Russia, China and Guatemala, it is "exporting" black children for adoption in other countries." The Christian Science Monitor noted last month that "African-American babies have lagged behind in adoption rates because many Americans don't realize they're available."

 Charity begins at home. It's important to give children from other countries good homes, but we also need to publicize the good options available for African-American babies -- and people have always come forward when they've become aware of needs.

 Second, while it's good that completely "closed" adoptions (with adoptive parents knowing nothing about their child's background, and the birthmom knowing nothing about the adoptive family) are largely a thing of the past, the new pressure for complete "openness" -- essentially, long-term foster care in which a child has adoptive parents but also a fully involved birthmother -- can also be a problem. Some advocates push for total openness as part of a redefining of family to include a variety of "caregivers" rather than two parents.

 In reality, most adoptions now are neither completely closed nor open. For example, many adoptive parents now get full information, meet the birthmom and send annual reports on the progress of the child. Children at age 18 can meet their birthmothers if both parties desire. Up to that point, the confusion that results from having two moms can cut into the sense of security and belonging that children need. But some birthmoms need to know that the children they bore are safe, and that desire should be met whenever possible.

 Third, the gay adoption lobby is on the march, claiming that two adoptive fathers or mothers are just as good as having both a father and a mother. But, even laying aside the serious ethical issues, it appears that gay adoption could result in fewer adoptions, since many birthmoms will be reluctant to place their children for adoption if they think placement will be with homosexuals.

 Interestingly, here's where the movement toward openness or semi-openness (with birthmothers given the decision as to where their child should be placed) and the gay-rights movement may come into conflict. Will (and should) birthmoms have the right to discriminate by stipulating that children they place for adoption will not be put into a homosexual home? That should be part of a birthmothers' bill of rights.

 Fourth, the role of Christian and pro-life groups in adoption has received little coverage. Historically, American Christians have been highly involved in adoption, particularly of hard-to-place kids. I know, for example, Christian parents in Maryland who adopted seven children of different races with severe physical or mental difficulties, parents in California who adopted three Down syndrome babies and parents in North Carolina whose adopted children include one born so prematurely that he could fit in the palm of your hand.

 The parents in each case were motivated by love of children but also by their pro-life positions, developed out of a biblical understanding. Organizations that helped these parents and thousand of others have a religious base: The largest adoption nonprofit in the country is still Bethany Christian Services, which has numerous state affiliates. But these groups have been so under-covered in the press that some people think adoption is carried on only by government agencies and for-profit businesses.

 National Adoption Month is an opportunity to do better. Sadly, leading newspapers are blowing it.