Friday, December 14, 2012

B.J. Lifton on "the Best Interests of the Child"

At the end of her book Journey of the Adopted Self, Betty Jean Lifton includes a short chapter on serving the needs of the adopted child. According to Lifton, the best interests of adopted children can only be met under the following conditions:
When society recognizes the need for standards in the adoption field that protect the child: placing adoption practice in the hands of unbiased child welfare specialists, trained in the psychology of the adopted and without a profit motive. This would eliminate the need to advertise for babies and safeguard their interests.
When the child is seen as a real person--not a fantasy child, not an idealized child, not a special child, not a comodity--but a child with his own genetics, talents, and his own identity.
When the child is allowed to grow up in an open environment without secrets about who she is or where she comes from, including the right to an unamended birth certificate and to contact with her birth family.
When everyone recognizes the adopted child for what he is: a child with two sets of parents that give him a dual identity.
When the adoptive parents and the birth parents respect how they have filled each other's needs so that they can come together in some form of extended family for the sake of the child.
When everyone realizes that the best interests of the child are in the best interests of the adoptive family, the birth family, and society.
Lifton's book was published in 1994. How are we doing so far?

Open adoption addresses some of these issues, in cases where a truly open relationship exists. Unfortunately, many so-called open adoptions are only "semi-open," consisting of a restricted exchange of information (occasional letters and pictures) rather than an extension of the family circle to embrace both biological and adoptive members.

Many adoptive parents have come to recognize the importance of the child's birth family and of his or her genetics and history. Adoptive and biological parents are both more likely to be aware of the harmful affects of secrecy. But all not all have made the shift.

Unfortunately, open adoption is one area in which the concept of "best interest of the child" gets tricky. Many adoptive parents justify keeping the biological family at a distance because they believe that a relationship would confuse the child. I believe that most such parents do sincerely believe they have their child's best interest at heart but may be unaware of they ways that their own fears or insecurities are influencing their views.

In the area of birth certificate rights, some progress has been made but we still have a long way to go.

The removal of profits from the adoption equation is perhaps the most difficult area to institute change. In our society, the dollar is king. It is very difficult to affect change when some parties are reaping financial benefits from the current system. But we are not talking about the commerce of fruit or electronics. We are talking about human beings: children, who do not have a voice in the life-altering decisions that are being made on their behalf. It is my hope that future generations will look back on the adoption practices of our time and consider it abhorrent that profits were ever involved.

Images courtesy of photostock and renjith krishnan at


  1. I too hope we can all come together and recognize that the current system needs corrected for the best interest of the children. I look at the system now and find it abhorrent.
    I've suggested to the couple who adopted our granddaughter, also my brother-in-law and sister-in-law, that we should resolve our differences so their daughter can have our families united in her best interests. I've explained that I worry about what the future will bring for her if we maintain our present hostile attitudes. They view this opinion as a threat. Rather than taking the time to work things out, they maintain that any relationship with us will hurt her. It breaks my heart for all of us.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Kellie. I imagine it must be so hard to have someone completely close the door on relationship like that. So many adoptive parents take that approach, but I believe the opposite: that there can never be too many people in a child's life who love and care about them.

  3. I agree with everything you've said Rebecca. Sometimes though it is the birth parents that are not interested in contact. Then what do you do? I want to do what is best for my children and I agree openness is best but sometimes that is not in our control.....

  4. Yes, sometimes it’s the biological parents who haven't embraced openness. There can be many reasons for this. Sometimes contact is just too painful. Others may have been told that the child is better off without contact, and taken that message to heart. All the adoptive parent can really do in such cases is to support the child emotionally and hold an attitude of "emotional openness" to the biological family in lieu of actual contact. And hope for a shift in the future.

    Have you read this:
    Its focus is on adult adoptees in reunion, but it may be helpful to adoptive
    parents supporting younger adoptees as well … just in terms of perspective.

  5. Think of how agencies often promote themselves to expectant mothers with lines like "You can pick level of openness that works for you!" Setting aside the legitimacy of that claim for the moment, and the whole unenforceable nature of open adoption agreements, think about the message that sends to bparents: contact is optional and totally up to you. There's no focus there on what is best for the child. Frustrating.

  6. Regarding $$, we DO want a thorough check to be done of adopting parents. To do so costs money -- social workers should be able to earn a decent living for doing honorable work.

    We DO want training for adoptive parents, which costs money -- we want to prepare parents for the ways in which parenting by adoption differs from parenting via biology.

    We DO want free (and unbiased!) counseling for those experiencing unexpected pregnancy, which also costs money -- if tax dollars won't go here, then it has to be funded by the group of people who may (may is the key word!) ultimately benefit. A large portion of the fees we paid our agency went to pregnancy counseling, and a large portion of THAT went to counsel women who decided to parent (as it should be -- our agency was the opposite of pushy).

    So the trick is to accommodate legitimate costs without resulting in obscene profits (and we could have a whole discussion about the difference between sufficient profit and obscene profit). I have seen a few agencies balance these competing forces effectively. But I think they may be the exception rather than the rule.

    As to confusion, I love this quote by Jim Gritter: "Is it your experience that to be fully informed is to be confused?"

  7. I too see a distinction between legitimate operating costs and profits.

    I love that Gritter quote!

  8. Great blog . .. first time I've read that list of Lifton's and it is spot-on! I too hope some day we will look back on adoption practices shaking our heads with disgust that it was so much about money and so little about children needing homes.


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