Background: The Relevance of the Politics of Adoption

When the topic of adoption comes up, whether in the adoption field, counseling and mental health, or in common conversation, it tends to be assumed that it is about adoptive parents and children. Sometimes it is; however, the continuing virtually exclusive focus on families and children in social services, mental health, and in research has eclipsed the special needs of the people who were supposed to be the primary beneficiaries of adoption, adopted people themselves. In critical areas of their lives they have been denied a voice of their own, and in a large majority of states they continue to be denied full human rights relating to their identities and their health. Overall, the special needs of adopted adolescents and adults have been minimized or overlooked in the fray of child-focused priorities, such as “permanency planning,” and “post-adoption” counseling for adoptive families with children.

Meanwhile, the mothers to whom adopted people were born have been remembered only for the “surrender papers” they had signed under coercion of circumstance, none of which ever made reference to confidentiality, either generally or with specific reference to their child. Most state laws continue to “protect” them in ways that, according to studies, the vast majority of birthmothers never wanted or intended; it was forced upon them. The mental health field has, for the most part, remained “out of the loop” in understanding the actual experiences of birth parents and adopted people over time and, in all treatment venues, thinks of a patient’s “being adopted” as little more than an event in her/his history.

Without in any way diminishing the importance of adoption when properly arranged, and with our full support for all efforts on behalf of children needing permanent, loving homes, the fact remains:  These injustices derive from the fact that the unadmitted priority for both the adoption field and family law has always been providing young children for adults to adopt, and protecting parents’ “rights” in perpetuity, even at the expense of the adopted person’s lifelong health and emotional needs. The national groundswell of demand for “opening the adoption record” confronts the uniquely American notion of “adoptee as commodity for the marketplace.”

Regarding the adopted person in adolescence and adulthood, the focus of Northstar Consulting is on what we view as baffling and serious deficiencies in interest and concern, and in willingness to learn new and complex information, within the mental health and counseling fields. At the same time, we are concerned about the insufficiency of broad generic clinical training and experience, especially in providing individual treatment, of many “adoption competent” therapists whose careers have been primarily or entirely in the adoption field, i.e. families and children.

Northstar affiliates do not claim “expertise,” presently no one can. We simply know a lot, coming to the psychology of adoptive status from a rich integration of extensive professional and life experience. Our job, like everyone else’s, is to continue to learn as much as we can so that we can do justice to the treatment needs of adopted people throughout their lives.