“Transformative” is one adjective tossed about these days to describe how navigating the Internet has changed our daily lives. Whether one is searching for the best local place for romantic waterfront dining or the quickest route to grandma’s, “you can get there from here,” as they say, thanks to the Internet. And now the Internet can join us on our daily travels and travails aboard mobile devices and smart phones. Indeed, technology has transformed our world. These days, it seems there is an “app” for just about everything.
This same transformation has taken root in the adoption world. Today, many prospective adoptive parents find and get matched with birth mothers with the click of a mouse. What historically has been a more ordered and professionally supervised exercise has evolved into a “click and pick” event. The proliferation of social media, online networking, email marketing, specific and targeted online profiles, just to name a few, all have coalesced to empower the prospective adoptive parents to take ownership and control rather than passively cede this effort and responsibility to an adoption professional. Bluntly speaking, however, and the upshot of this article is that an adoption professional are essential and invaluable in today’s and tomorrow’s world of adoption, notwithstanding this “transformative” age of technology.
First, while the advent of new technologies, overall, is welcome, the specter remains of the dishonest person, preying on the vulnerable, prospective adoptive parent, traversing these uncharted waters without counsel, believing naively in the altruism of all involved, empowered by the allure of the Internet, and attracted to the notion of going it alone, saving money. While venturing out on one’s own, unrepresented, can be successful, regrettably, lawyers know that this not only is a recipe for a failed or disrupted adoption, but also sets up the prospective adoptive parent for a direct financial hit to the solar plexus. As an adoption attorney, I sadly know well of scheming birth parents, many of whom have begun to utilize technology, social media, and the Internet to take unconscionable advantage of prospective adoptive parents. As of late, the media has been replete with examples of these sordid tales.
Two, birth parents typically experience a variety of emotions and thought processes as they navigate the adoption option, and it is important for an adoption professional to help assist birth parents understand their inner and outwardly expressed fears, all while being mindful of the landmines and privacy concerns of adoptive parents. And while adoptive parents can use the Internet to their advantage, they ultimately need the assistance of an adoption professional to complete their adoption, to ensure among other matters that: the family’s confidentiality/privacy is safeguarded; only allowable expenses are paid to or on behalf of the birth mother and for the legally allowed duration of time, including post-partum; enhanced scrutiny and adherence to the legal requirements of notice is given to a fathers; and the exacting guideposts of the ICPC are followed for the out-of–state adoptive family. As should be crystal clear, the above outlines only a smattering of what is the dizzying array of nuances and legal protocols unique to adoption. Candidly, the lone wolf “we go it alone” attitude is a minefield, and regularly sets up the prospective adoptive family for emotional heartache and financial heartbreak.
The revolution that encompasses the Internet also has spilled over into the post-adoption realm, where birth mothers are looking to contact or reunite with children they’ve placed for adoption, and adult-adoptees are searching for their birth parents. With Facebook reportedly enjoying over 750 million active users and now an IPO on the way, with Google launch of its Google+ project to go head-to-head with Facebook, and all of this on top of Twitter and other digital technologies, the “click and meet” prospects within the adoption world seem more infinite than ever.
There has been an enormous uptick of birth parents searching for an adopted child, many with less than desired outcomes. A 13-year-old child should not learn from Facebook that he is adopted, nor should a child receive contact from his birth mother outside the watchful eye and without the knowledge of his adoptive parents. Many of these unsolicited contacts, which move rapidly from e-mail, to instant messaging to video chat, come at a vulnerable time in the life and identity of a minor child, and without any precaution or preparation for the effect of the communication on the child himself.
What must accompany the transformation cause by the Internet in this arena is a word of caution. For many decades, search and reunion efforts justifiably have relied on a system of gatekeepers and official procedures to protect the interests of all parties in the adoption triad. Although it is not that well known or utilized frequently, states like Florida have a statutory mechanism in place that can allow disclosure of birth parent information and mutual communication through use of an intermediary who protects the interests of all concerned. This long standing and vetted process should not be circumvented by a computer with access to the internet. Utilizing the Internet in conjunction with partnering with an adoption professional is the responsible, most effective and fail-safe way to protect the integrity of adoption and the best interests of children.