Today, I’ll report Recommendation #4 from the study: “Safeguarding The Rights And Well-Being Of Birthparents In The Adoption Process,” conducted by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute.
Recommendation 4: Modify state laws on the timing of relinquishment and revocation so that parents have several weeks after childbirth before an adoption decision becomes irrevocable. Ideally, this would include a minimum of one week after birth before a relinquishment can be signed and then a substantial revocation period.
The authors of the study write:
A factor that compromises genuine parental consent is subtle and/or overt coercion, whether from parents, friends, religious or school communities, or the adoption professionals themselves.
Adding the ingredient of financial profit to the equation increases the prospect of pressure from some adoption practitioners. Unscrupulous facilitators (and others) analyze the factors that increase the likelihood of relinquishment and try to implement them; for instance, they sometimes persuade an expectant mother to relocate to another state—where she doesn’t know anyone and has no support system—or to accept inflated reimbursement for living expenses to increase the chance that she will feel obliged to relinquish.
Overt coercive tactics should be barred in law and practice; furthermore, ethical practitioners need to be alert to even unintended, subtle forms of pressure – so, for instance, they need to help an expectant mother understand explicitly that accepting financial aid or developing bonds with the potential adoptive parents does not obligate her to go through with the placement if she decides it isn’t right for her or her child.
If the best interests of birth parents are to be supported, along with those of their children, then sound laws and practices have to be developed relating to when a woman or man can sign a relinquishment and whether the decision can be revoked.
State laws should provide every reasonable protection to ensure that the decision is sound, reasoned and informed. That resonates as intuitively fair before the child is born, but it also should apply to the period afterward because that is when post-partum hormonal changes need time to abate; when the reality (and finality) of the choice often becomes most real; and when mothers and fathers need to be allowed to reflect on the "rightness" of their decision.
Though some adoptive parents and practitioners might balk at the lengths of time involved, they ultimately serve everyone’s interests because the adoption is on firmer legal and ethical foundations and adoptive parents can feel more secure that the birth parents were sure of their decision and will not try to reclaim their child.
At least 28 states specify a waiting period after the birth of a child before legal relinquishments can be signed; only six states mandate a waiting period longer than three days.
Ideally, state laws would require a minimum of four to seven days after childbirth before allowing a woman (or man) to sign a relinquishment. In most instances, that would allow time for the mother to leave the hospital and for her to make a reasoned judgment after the immediate physical impact of delivery has abated.
At least 17 states and the District of Columbia have adoption laws providing a specified number of days after the signing of a relinquishment (ranging from three to 30 days) during which parents can revoke their decisions without having to prove fraud or best interests of the child.
A few additional states allow revocation before court action terminating parental rights. In many other countries, including the majority in Europe, consents for adoption do not become final for about six weeks; in approximately half of U.S. states, irrevocable consent can be established four days after birth or less.
This is a controversial recommendation, to say the least. I’m sure that birth and adoptive parents have very different views on this subject. I live in a state in which the adoption laws favor adoptive parents — birth parents have 48 hours after signing relinquishment papers to revoke their consent. For my husband and I, who experienced four failed adoptions in the course of one year, the 48-hour rule was a godsend. After we brought home our child, we didn’t have to wonder whether his birth parents were going to show up to reclaim him.
On the other hand, I know that some people who place their child for adoption are coerced into doing so, and that isn’t right. I’ve heard lots of stories from women who relinquish their child minutes after he is born and later regret it.
There are no easy answers to this dilemma. How can the adoption system be fair to everyone? The first step, in my opinion, would be to establish consistent laws among the states. Whether the grace period is 48 hours or 4 days, it should be consistent across the board.
Readers, what do you think? Based on your own experiences with adoption, what would work best for you?
Source: “Safeguarding The Rights And Well-Being Of Birthparents In The Adoption Process” by Susan Livingston Smith, Program and Project Director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, November 2006.