Archive for July, 2011

Avoiding Adoption Scams

If you have been researching adoption, you have probably heard a few horror stories along these lines: A birth mother contacts a prospective adoptive family and says she wants them to adopt her unborn baby…but she needs money. Thousands of dollars later, she disappears. You may have heard about the “birth mother” who was never actually pregnant, or the one who took money from multiple families, promising the baby to each of them.

First of all, know that these adoption scams are extremely rare. Most birth mothers are honest and trying to do the best thing for their babies. Second, know that there are ways to protect yourself from adoption scams. I’ve listed them below.

  • Work with an experienced adoption attorney or agency. Most qualified adoption attorneys and agencies keep an ear to the ground regarding what’s going on in the adoption community, so they will know what the latest scams are. Choose a lawyer who practices adoption exclusively, and don’t be shy about calling him or her if you feel a birth mother seems suspicious.
  • Know your state’s laws about payments to birth mothers. Every state has strict rules about what an adoptive family may pay to a birth mother, in order to protect both the birth mother and the adoptive family. Educate yourself about what expenses you may pay for a birth mother in your state. If a birth mother asks you to pay for something that is not permitted, explain to her that it’s not legal for you to do so. If she insists, that’s a red flag.
  • Beware of requests for money or help. One thing all adoption scams have in common is that the supposed birth mother at some point asks the adoptive parents for something, usually money. Usually these scammers are taking money from multiple families at once. In one adoption scam I know of, the “birth mother” asked families if she could live with them for several months! Be aware of your state’s laws about what adoptive parents are legally permitted to pay for and give to the birth mother, and when in doubt, call your attorney.
  • Beware of birth mothers who are reluctant to go to prenatal appointments or counseling. If a birth mother refuses to get prenatal medical treatment, it could be because she is not pregnant at all! If your adoption attorney is experienced, they will get the name of the birth mother’s treating obstetrician and her appointment dates. The same can go for refusal to attend adoption counseling, which can also be a red flag of a birth mother who may change her mind at the last minute.
  • Beware of birth mothers who won’t share any information. It is normal for a birth mother to wish to protect her privacy. However, there is a certain basic level of information that anyone who is serious about making an adoption plan will be willing to share. Don’t work with a birth mother who won’t give you her correct address, telephone number, and the name of her treating doctor for the pregnancy.
  • Stay connected to the adoption community. If there is an adoption support group in your community, join it. In such groups, adoptive families and prospective adoptive families share stories and information. If someone has been the victim of a scam, they can quickly and easily sound the alert among other adopting families.
  • Have you ever encountered an adoption scammer? Post your experience in the comments or email me at evaughan (at) vaughanfirm (dot) com.

    Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

Adoption Nation: New Edition

I was excited to learn that there is an updated, 10th anniversary edition of Adam Pertman’s influential book Adoption Nation now available. The book, which is based on a Pulitzer Prize-nominated series Pertman wrote on adoption for The Boston Globe explores the issues surrounding adoption and how it has changed our families and our society. Given how much has happened in the world of adoption in ten years (increase in open adoption, decrease in international adoption, the increasing focus on gay and lesbian family issues in the news, and a number of adoption and foster-care scandals, to name a few), the updated version is timely and important. As Pertman himself writes on his website, “I believe that understanding our ‘Adoption Nation,’ so that we can shape a more humane, more ethical and more ‘normalized’ institution, one that truly serves the needs of children and all their families, is more important than ever.”

Hear, hear. A fascinating book that I highly recommend to anyone with any interest in adoption topics.

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

Voluntourism: Doing Good for Kids?

I recently heard this interesting show on my local NPR station about “voluntourism,” the trend towards devoting all or part of one’s vacation to volunteer work. Like this 2010 NPR piece on voluntourism, there was a particular focus on whether volunteering in orphanages is a good idea. The consensus: Probably not. Although at first blush it seems like a noble idea to go abroad to help needy children, there are several serious problems with foreigners volunteering in orphanages.

  • Attachment issues Orphaned and abandoned children are already at extremely high risk for attachment disorders and separation trauma. Less clinically put, the heartbreak of getting attached to and separated from multiple caregivers can damage children’s mental and physical health for life. This is especially important for those who are thinking of volunteering in another country before adopting there. While this may seem like a good idea on its face, please consider that you might be causing more trauma than you are doing good, as all the children you do not adopt see you come, choose a different child, and then leave. A well-meaning foreigner who brings attention and affection into a child’s life only to leave after a few weeks is, in a very real way, causing more harm than good.
  • Lack of oversight Most people who try “voluntourism” truly do have good intentions. But many, myself included, find it extremely disturbing that anyone can go volunteer in certain orphanages abroad, without a background check or other oversight. Being orphaned and in need should not make a child exempt from protection from predators.
  • Corruption It’s tempting to believe that all orphanages are run with good motives, but the reality is that this is just not true. Many countries are infamous for orphanages that coerce birth mothers into relinquishing their children, or even outright kidnap them. Such organizations may try to extort money as well as time out of well-meaning volunteers, who should devote neither to such organizations.
  • Economics Orphanages that rely on volunteers to keep running are less likely to hire from the local community, which can perpetuate economic hardship in some places.

What do you think? Is orphanage “voluntourism” ever a good idea? Post your thoughts in the comments or email me at evaughan (at) vaughanfirm (dot) com.

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

Sobering Decision from the Ohio Supreme Court

The Ohio Supreme Court held yesterday that a lesbian couple’s lack of a formal co-parenting or custody agreement meant that the non-biological mother had no custodial rights to the child. The justices upheld the rulings of the lower court, holding that biological mother Kelly Mullen of Cincinnati did not agree to share legal custody of her daughter Lucy, now 5, when she named her partner Michele Hobbs as a “co-parent” on her power-of-attorney documents, despite the fact that the couple had planned the in-vitro pregnancy and raised and supported Lucy together. The custody battle has been ongoing since Mullen and Lucy moved out of the family home in 2007.

There is a sad and important lesson here, not just for gay and lesbian couples, but for anyone who is co-parenting a child to whom they are not biologically related. A properly executed custody and guardianship agreement that satisfies the laws of your state is essential to protect not just the rights of the non-biological parent, but more importantly the best interests of the child. Please find a lawyer who specializes in adoption, child custody, and guardianship issues, and who is supportive of your family situation.

My heart goes out to little Lucy, who is deprived of a relationship with a parent who raised her to the age of two, a vulnerable age for separation trauma.

What do you think of this case? Post your thoughts in the comments or email me at evaughan (at) vaughanfirm (dot) com.

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

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