Other advocates of children, however, point out that neglect can do the children a great deal of harm, regardless of the cause. Elizabeth Bartholet, director of the Child Advocacy Program at Harvard Law School, agrees that “if we were to eradicate poverty in this country, it would be the best program for abuse and neglect.” But the protection of the well-being of children should, according to her, take precedence over parental rights.
In some cases, a judge will rule that a born parent poses a danger to the child and prohibits the parent from making contact. But there are many ways in which a born parent can make contact with a child again without supervision. The internet, coupled with widely available genetic tests, has broken down the possibility of a truly closed adoption. ‘The rigor of judges means nothing if a child can search without his birth mother [adoptive] parents know, ”says Pertman, now at the National Center of Adoption Permanency. “But that doesn’t mean an 11-year-old has to form relationships with people he doesn’t know without his parents’ knowledge.”
Martin Guggenheim, an advocate for parental rights and a professor at the NYU Law School, who believes many removals are unfair, is not surprised that birth parents and family members are trying to do self-associations on the Internet. When he saw the America’s Taken Facebook page, he said to me, ‘How can you not create this website if you think about it?’
Other online groups have emerged with gaps in adoption processes. Adoption disruption groups on Facebook, where adopted children are ‘made at home’, have at least emerged, in part because there is little support and monitoring after adoption; some families know almost nothing about the problems their children who have been adopted overseas face or how they can cope with their medical or behavioral challenges. In private adoptions, the attorney representing a mother-in-law is often paid for by the birth family, and some adoption agencies fund flashy PR campaigns that paint the experience in sunny colors. There are no major organizations that share potential disadvantages with mothers or that help them with their rights.
Renee Gelin has founded an organization and a Facebook group that plays the role through help and advice to which mothers may not have access. As a single parent, Gelin gave up her second child for adoption ten years ago because she was under devastating financial pressure at the time. Her job as a contractor in IT offers no maternity leave, and her health insurance does not cover her high-risk pregnancy. She was overpaid to qualify for Medicaid.
Just weeks before her son was born, Gelin agreed to place him with a family in another state. Once he was on the plane, she regretted the choice. Although she arranged a public adoption for her son, she says the adoptive family ended the relationship when they found critical blog posts she wrote to be sad about the process. Gelin felt that she did not realize, at the discretion of the adoptive family, that public adoptions existed. In fact, it is not legally enforceable in all states, and where enforceable, the costs of a lawyer for a born mother may be unaffordable.
Gelin’s organization, called Saving Our Sisters, tries to convince mothers that financial stress should not stop them from keeping their children. When a woman thinking about SOS online tries SOS online, the group tries to find a ‘sister on the ground’ in the area to bring diapers, a month’s rent or a baby swing. Gelin says SOS has had about 90 ‘savings’ over the past six years – the assumptions that helped turn the group around. Gelin took over the blog about her adopted son years ago to a public Facebook page and still posted letters and updates to him, often signed: ‘Mom’.
The woman who adopted Pfeiffer’s grandson once gave her a framed picture of the boy’s handprint. Pfeiffer took the handprint, painted it red and made it the bloody logo of America’s Taken. She printed T-shirts and signs and stood outside the family court in Guthrie in front of her truck, with a poster reading: “My grandson is a victim of forced adoption in Logan province.” She handed out pamphlets and told her version of the story to anyone who wanted to listen. At the time, her message did not go much further than the Guthrie courthouse.