Courtney Garcia, an msnbc.com contributor, recently wrote a short piece on msnbc entitled "Was 'Avengers' joke cruel to adoption community?" In the blockbuster movie "The Avengers," apparently, a joke is made at the expense of Loki, the movie's bad guy and adopted son of the god Odin. When it is pointed out by one of the avengers that Loki has "killed 80 people in two days," Loki's brother Thor reportedly responds, "He's adopted."
I haven't seen the film and don't know the story or the context, so I can't respond intelligently to the debate. But what I did find offensive was who Ms. Garcia sought out as one of her "experts" to comment about the controversy: Chuck Johnson, president and CEO of the National Council for Adoption (NCFA), a Washington D.C.-based trade association of adoptive agencies.
Every time a state legislature considers an adult adoptee access bill that would enable an adoptee, as an adult, to secure the legal document recording his or her own birth, Johnson or another NCFA representative appears to insist original mothers were promised confidentiality and therefore need "protection" from their own offspring. Never mind that a host of studies have shown that original mothers were never promised legal confidentiality and instead had to sign pledges that they would never "interfere" with the adoptive family; never mind that the vast majority don't want confidentiality and would like to know how their children have fared in life.
The obvious question is: What motivates NCFA, and why is it so resolute in opposing adoptee rights? The answer lies in NCFA's history, which I would like to share here for the benefit of those in the media and for those legislators who look to NCFA for their information about adoption issues. NCFA incorporated in 1980 for one purpose: to fight adult adoptee access legislation that had been proposed by an Advisory Panel of the US Department of Health, Education and Welfare. That panel consisted of adoption professionals from across the country, and even reflected the views of an adoptee and an original mother, the voices that are usually ignored in adoption policy discussions.
The document the panel produced, the Draft Model State Adoption Act, recommended that adult adoptees, age 18 and up, be given unqualified access to their birth certificates. It concluded "that there can be no legally protected interest in keeping one's identity secret from one's biological offspring; parent and child are considered co-owners of the information regarding the event of birth."
Feeling threatened that adoption might become more transparent, Ruby Lee Piester, Executive Director of the Edna Gladney Home, the country's largest and oldest maternity home and adoption agency based in Ft. Worth, Texas, teamed up with William L. Pierce, then Assistant Executive Director of the Child Welfare League of America, to form NCFA. Together, they urged adoption agencies across the country to get involved.
NCFA's opposition to adoptee rights has never wavered, even as more and more statistics have been compiled to refute its claims. On its website, NCFA states: Adult adoptee access would "violate the basic
human right to privacy and harm the institution of adoption and the countless children, birthparents, and families it serves."
We now know in 2012 that secrecy in adoption has harmed countless children and original parents, and many adoptive parents have recognized its destructive effects as well. That's why Holt International Children's Services and Spence Chapin Adoption Services, former charter members of NCFA, have dropped out and now support adult adoptee access. That's why the Child Welfare League of America claims that every adopted child as an adult has the right to know his or her own birth identity.
Many other respected organizations support adoptee rights, including the American Adoption Congress, the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, the North American Council on Adoptable Children, Ethica and Parents for Ethical Adoption Reform (PEAR). So why is NCFA still considered the "expert" on adoption issues by so many? The simple answer is: money. While the advocate groups are gaining traction, they still cannot compete financially with the NCFA.
NCFA does not place children for adoption but does receive a fee from its agency members every time one of them succeeds in placing a child. The average cost to adoptive parents at agencies facilitating the adoption of infants under one year is $30,000. According to 2005 IRS form #990, NCFA's total gross receipts during that year were $2,920,818. Besides placement and membership fees, much of NCFA's revenue comes from government grants. NCFA is a skilled and savvy lobbying entity.
NCFA's most influential members and/or supporters include Bethany Christian Services, LDS Family Services, the Gladney Center for Adoption, and the ultra-conservative Family Research Council. The trade association still operates under the misguided premise that more openness in adoption will lead to more abortions, even though no such link has ever been shown. In fact, abortion rates tend to decrease in states that have restored adult adoptee access.
As more and more abuses come to light in the world of adoption, is there anyone who really thinks that NCFA's prime mission is to shield original mothers from unwanted intrusions? It is much more likely that NCFA's overriding mission is to protect its hefty bottom line and to shield its member agencies from accountability.
Groups working for transparency in adoption like PEAR and Ethica focus on integrity; NCFA focuses on perpetuating its business, no matter whose civil rights or interests are violated in the process. On its website, PEAR writes: "We oppose the imposition of contact vetoes, court orders or third-party agency interference with an adoptee's right to access his or her original birth certificate." And even more important -- "Adoption should be about the formation of a family for the benefit and best interests of children, not the destruction of identity."
Ethica likewise advocates for the right of adult adoptees to have access to their birth records. To maintain its independence, it does not accept donations from any individual or agency that places children for adoption. Contrast that to the operating model of NCFA, which depends on agency fees for its very existence.
Memo to the press and state legislators: The next time you need unbiased and accurate information on an adoption issue, please do not go to the NCFA. It is a trade organization that represents the best interests of the adoption agencies it represents. Go to an independent source where the only agenda is to promote integrity and transparency in adoption, and to represent the best interests of real human beings who are actually impacted by the practice.