This article is written by guest author, Peter F. Eder. Peter is Senior Editor of The HUB magazine, a marketing publication and Contributing Marketing and Communications Editor of The Futurist magazine. Peter, a Darien CT resident, is an adoptive Parent.
We adopted our daughters in 1968 and 1971. Reflecting on the passage of time and events, the adoptions occurred during a period of enormous social and cultural change. Recognizing that the past is prologue, I would like to describe the period, the process and the impact of these dramatic changes. Hopefully, it will be helpful to others as we live in a world of even quicker and more radical changes.
The Late 60’s and the Adoption Process
In the late 1960’s, adoption was still an in-the-shadows activity. Unwanted, unplanned pregnancies or an inability to raise children were a secret – there was a strong societal emphasis on privacy for what many considered a shameful event.
Institutions – private and public – controlled a rigorous process and served as gatekeepers and bankers of information.
This was clearly reflected in the intense scrutiny that was key to the adoption process. Proof was required not just for financial fitness (income, savings, life insurances, ownership of property, condition and size of the home), but physical, psychological, and spiritual fitness as well. It meant visits to the institution’s case worker, documented proof of everything, at –home visits, testimonials from clergy, community leaders, and employers. It meant visits to the home – often on very short notice.
The process took one to two years, and once the child was identified and delivered to the parents, on-going supervision continued for the next twelve months, including surprise visits to the home.
Once the process was finalized, the institution ended its oversight and retreated into its privacy.
The prevailing social philosophy was to tell the child from the start about his or her adoption, but to quickly and completely create cultural assimilation. Parents were encouraged to pass on their own heritage, language, religious values to the adoptee, to ensure a fit into the family and community.
It was also a time when nationalism was intense and adoptable children were kept in-country orphanages, rather than made available for adoption. (Viet Nam was just one example.) The sole exception was South Korea – the Korean government felt it was in the best interest of its children to place them in a father / mother family household. Its adoption program was strong, clear, fraud free, far-reaching and intense.
The Societal Shifts of the 70’s
The early 1970’s saw several monumental changes to American law and culture that impacted and changed the adoption process.
One was the activity of Florence Fisher, a New York City adoptee who searched for her biological parents. In the 1960’s she founded the support group ALMA (Adoptee’s Liberty Movement Association) and wrote the autobiographical story, The Search for Anna Fisher. It brought to wider public notice what adoptees craved and were willing to do in their search for their biological parents – breaking down or penetrating institutional walls by legal or illegal means.
A second major happening was the 1973 Supreme Court ruling on Roe v. Wade, in effect legitimizing abortion. While oral contraceptives had been on the U.S. market since the early 60’s, in 1971, there were 774,000 reported abortions. Since 1973, the average annual abortion rate is 1,405,640 fetuses (more than 52 million babies aborted in the 1973 – 2010 period). The ruling resulted in a dramatic decline in the pool of adoptable infants and saw the blossoming of the movement to consider older children for adoption – children who had been institutionalized or resided for years in foster home, or “less perfect” children with handicaps, and physical and psychological challenges.
A third major happening was that a number of major adoption institutions decided that a worthwhile alternative to adoption might be programs which would encourage and support the biological parent in retaining and raising the child as a single parent; in effect becoming shelters as opposed to serving solely as adoption agencies.
Finally, there was also a shift in cultural beliefs that began to stress that it would be more beneficial for the adoptee to be adopted by those of the same ethnicity or religion. This further narrowed and affected the availability and stretched waiting times for adoptions.
The Foundling Family Newsletter is Born
In this shifting climate, a handful of New York Foundling Hospital adopters came to the conclusion there was a real need for a post-adoptive parents program. We realized that as our adopted children aged, we needed to acquire special skills and resources and to do it as a group rather than individuals, allowing us to provide each other with greater support and clout.
Fortunately when we approached the New York Foundling Hospital, we found its leadership was of the same mind and we easily secured their agreement and support (though it created no changes in their stringent privacy policies).
We decided to secure answers to a series of questions. Among them:
- How should we remember and celebrate the institution that serves as a catalyst?
- How do we deal with health issues – routine and emergency, – when we typically knew little about the adoptee biological history?
- How do we reconcile religious beliefs and values in explaining reasons for adoption?
- How do we help a child recognize and accept the past from a psychological point of view?
- How do we deal with a child, while testing our own commitment to the process?
- What are children and parents legal rights in a changing privacy climate?
We launched the Foundling Family post-adoptive parents group in 1971 and I was involved in it for the next four years. During that time, my wife and I created the Foundling Family Newsletter and organizing a Nassau and Suffolk County group we met more than 15 times over the next five years.
The Newsletter contained information on events, book reviews, meeting highlights and announcements, ads for children available for adoption, trend reports and personal sagas.
In addition to the Newsletter we held meetings inviting experts on medical, psychological, social, religious and legal subjects, conducted surveys organized and led discussion groups, held reunions at the New York Foundling Hospital, did publicity on more-difficult-to-adopt children, and lobbied on behalf of the adoption process and its adoptees and adopters.
It was at the time ground-breaking, helpful and rewarding to all.
by Peter F. Eder
Copyright 2011 © Peter F. Eder – All rights reserved.
This guest post was originally published on the blog Family, by Choice on April 26, 2011.
Click Here to view videos that were broadcast on RCTV in the Family, by Choice Series.