I heard about a very sad event that an adoptive single parent endured this past week. She had to relinquish her 17 month old preadoptive son from the state foster care system to his biological father. Apparently, the birth mother told the state who the father was after a year in which she refused to identify him at birth. The birth mother held back the information due to her belief she would get custody back of her baby after she cleaned up her act in a drug rehabilitation facility. When the birth mother found out her parental rights were terminated this year, she decided to identify the birth father so she can still see her son in his custody. What a tragedy for my colleague and for this baby.
How did this happen? In Massachusetts, the foster care/adoption system runs a little differently as opposed to doing a domestic adoption from a licensed agency. For the former, there is no system in place to post announcements in public newspapers that call birth fathers to identify themselves during the adoption hearings. For the latter, this system is in place. If the birth father does not show up during an adoption hearing, his rights are terminated.
As a counselor, I believe that the foster system for preadoptions is broken. I have heard of other similar cases where children were going to be adopted by their foster parents and liberal judges painfully tore them away and placed them with biological relatives who came out of no where. This dysfunctional process hurts the attachment bonds between the children and preadoptive parents. The slogan, “ Blood is Thicker than Water, “ is bogus and harmful to preadoptive families.
In 2005, I taught a class to non-traditional students entitled, “Functional Families,” which defines families as a group of individuals living together and establishing healthy bonds regardless how they were formed. This definition needs to be taught to judges and lawyers who create outdated laws that hurt adoption options for families who want to be parents.
What can the counseling profession do about it? We need to be vocal in educating lawmakers about antiquated laws that say a family is made by DNA only. We also need to promote equal laws and processes for both the foster care and domestic adoption systems in your state. Counselors can educate legislators about the broken attachment bonds that can develop between a child and adoptive parents when their adoption is “interrupted” and a child is forced back with their biological parents. Massachusetts promotes unhealthy families when they reunite children with their biological parents who are not capable of parenting them. This policy goes against the mission that both the social work and counseling professions hold in promoting healthy development and growth and the fullest potential in individuals and in families.
We can do something as a collective to make positive changes. I welcome your feedback.
Robbin Miller is a counselor who specializes in mindfulness meditation; Positive Psychology; and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapies; and is also a volunteer cable access producer and co-host of her show, "Miller Chat" in Massachusetts.