Child Welfare League of America, “Adoptions: A Statement of the Problem,” 1937

The well-known decline in the birth-rate and the demand on the part of childless families for children to adopt makes a consideration of procedure of ADOPTION a timely subject.

The newspapers and magazines are almost daily giving evidence of this vital interest and also of the serious questions that are involved. Doctors, lawyers, and social workers have important parts to play. The standards of procedure of these groups differ much, and within the groups themselves there are as yet no accepted standards.

The variations among these groups of persons lead to a somewhat similar variation in the judgments of the courts which finally grant the decree of adoption.

All of this work has much sentiment connected with it at every point. Yet, unless the placement of the child and the decision of the court are based upon the knowledge of the fundamental facts regarding the child’s physical and mental condition and the suitability of the foster parents to rear the child, tragedy and disappointment may be brought into the lives of child and foster parents.

To discover how the procedure throughout this land may be more uniformly based upon sane, kindly, and approved methods, so that child and foster parents may both benefit the Child Welfare League of America has by vote of the Board of Directors accepted the task of (1) exploring the present procedure in the nation, (2) discovering weaknesses, if such exist, (3) gathering the lessons which experience has taught, and (4) presenting the minimum safeguards for child and foster parents alike.

To do this well we think that the League must take the following steps:

1. TO ACQUAINT OURSELVES WITH THE ADOPTION LAWS OF THE STATES
We need to gather, study and evaluate the laws dealing with the subject of adoptions. They are different in essentials as well as details in every state. Uniformity is probably not desirable, but it is desirable to learn what safeguards are present and what are lacking in these laws.

2. TO LEARN PRESENT WEAKNESSES AND ABUSES
In a goodly number of states shocking practices are being revealed. Infants and young children are given away without consideration of their best interests, and in some instances are even given for cash.

3. TO DETERMINE THE FUNCTION OF THE PRIVATE CHILD-PLACING AGENCY IN THE FIELD OF ADOPTIONS
It is well known that adoptions in the main are not going through children’s agencies in most states. With notable exceptions, they are likely to be arranged by organizations and individuals who disregard when they can the wishes of parents, the standards of safe procedure, and the best interest of the child, and are more likely to feel greater responsibility toward finding children for families than providing suitably for the children.

On the other hand, the better equipped agencies have failed to realize that the public has had but little opportunity to learn to pitfalls in adoption, and that intelligent public opinion has not been formed. Some of the agencies have even abandoned adoptions as a part of their program in disgust because of the general low standards in vogue.

The agencies will therefore need to reconsider their procedure for the purpose of discovering whether they have moved too far ahead of public opinion, and whether without sacrificing essential safeguards, their technique can be so modified that doctor, lawyer, judge, and the adopting public will find it advantageous to use them in this field as well as for other child welfare services.

4. TO DETERMINE FUNCTIONS OF MATERNITY HOMES AND ADOPTION NURSERIES
Children born in maternity homes are usually born out of wedlock, and the proportion of those whom the mother does not wish to keep with her is necessarily large. The maternity home, therefore, finds it necessary to make some provision for many babies that are born there, and failing other suitable outlets, enters into the placement of the infants for adoption, usually without staff trained for the purpose, and without the ordinary safeguards.

Maternity homes and such outlets as adoption nurseries supported by the community as social service enterprises should, therefore, be under obligation to observe well recognized safeguards for placement and for adoption.

5. TO DETERMINE THE FUNCTION OF A STATE TO SAFEGUARD ADOPTIONS
Even when individual social agencies have become aware of the importance of applying all reasonable safeguards in the procedure of adoptions, there still remains the need for such standardization of procedures among the various agencies as can be undertaken only by the state itself. It is probably a well established principle that adoptions are not wholly safeguarded unless the state has passed upon the adequacy of the procedure of the agency whose report goes up to the judge. A certain amount of actual police work is often necessary to eliminate agencies that are grossly careless in their procedure. This also falls to the work of the state.

6. TO INVESTIGATE INTERSTATE PLACEMENT AND TRAFFIC IN BABIES
There are at the present time large and well-known commercial maternity homes and adoption nurseries charitably supported. These advertise extensively and attract foster parents from other states who are seeking infants for adoption. These organizations usually know little about the parentage and have no desire to inquire into the suitability of the child for adoption, nor do they know anything about the suitability of the home. Although the plans of these maternity homes and nurseries are somewhat interfered with by legal requirements in certain states, on the whole the traffic in babies that is made possible by them and by the lack of safeguards in the states from which these people come, is appalling!

7. TO LIST MINIMUM ESSENTIALS IN ADOPTION
In order that the procedure for adoptions may come into the programs of reputable child welfare agencies in larger measure some compromise may be necessary. This may mean elimination of certain procedures of the social worker and retaining only the minimum essentials necessary to the safeguarding of adoptions.

For example, consideration would need to be given to the responsibilities and rights of the father and other relatives of the child. Likewise the question arises whether the delay, which adopting parents resent, is an essential safeguard. These and other questions require careful study.

There is also need to write certain safeguards into the laws of the states. The following are suggested as important and one, or all, are now found in the statutes of some of the states:

A—That placement of children in foster family homes for adoption be made possible only by the state and its administrative units, or by private agencies licensed by the state.

B—That there be required supervision by the state of the child-placing and home-finding in the case of every petition coming up for adoption, for the purpose of providing the judge with reliable data on the basis of which the court may reach a wise decision.

C—That a period of time, preferably a year, be required for the child to have been in the home with the intention of adoption, with at least four visits during the year from a representative agency.

8. TO TELL THE STORY TO THE PUBLIC
Without special efforts at education the public will not learn the pitfalls which adoption presents both to the child and the adopting home. At present, sensational newspaper articles seem to be the order of the day. For example, recent stories in the public press about a young mother giving away her baby for a dollar and of the young married couple who discovered they were brother and sister, separated in babyhood. In both cases Adoption played a part. If the subject can be further explored and the facts given to the public and especially to the doctors, lawyers, ministers, and certain social agencies who play important parts in the procedure of adoption, we believe that they will see the wisdom of proceeding more cautiously than is now the case.

 

Source: Child Welfare League of America, “Adoptions: A Statement of the Problem,” 1937, Child Welfare League of America Papers, Box 15, Folder 5, Social Welfare History Archives, University of Minnesota.

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To learn more about The Adoption History Project, please contact Ellen Herman
Department of History, University of Oregon
Eugene, Oregon 97403-1288
(541) 346-3118
E-mail: adoption@uoregon.edu
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© Ellen Herman