Statement Regarding Supreme Court Decision in Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl
“Through my work with current and former foster youth, I have learned that having a strong sense of one’s culture, heritage and identity is a vitally important part of child and adolescent development. It is for this reason that CCAI has continued to work to ensure that these components are not only recognized but protected by the United States child welfare system. The Indian Child Welfare Act is an important piece of federal legislation that, when well implemented, carefully safeguards the best interests of Native American children.
It has been over 25 years since the Indian Child Welfare Act was enacted into law. In recent years, the media and tribal community have rightly pointed to the disproportionate number of native youth in care as evidence of its continued need. At the same time, child welfare advocates have pointed out cases in which application of ICWA is resulting in native children being denied a safe, loving and permanent family through adoption. I sincerely hope that today’s decision sparks a necessary and open discussion of ways that this critically important law might be used to better protect the best interests of children.”
CCAI Summary Regarding Supreme Court Decision in Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl
The Supreme Court of the United States ruled 5-4 in favor of the adoptive parents of “Baby Veronica” in Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl and reversed the decision of the South Carolina state court that removed the child from the adoptive parents’ home at the age of 27 months and placed her with her biological father, a member of the Cherokee tribe, whom she had never met.
The Supreme Court’s decision held that the provisions of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) that the state court relied upon in its decision do not apply to the facts of this case. Specifically, the Court found that ICWA “was designed primarily to counteract the unwarranted removal of Indian children from Indian families. But the ICWA’s primary goal is not implicated when an Indian child’s adoption is voluntary and lawfully initiated by a non-Indian parent with sole custodial rights.”
The Court stated that the biological father abandoned the child before birth and never had “continued custody” (legal or physical) of the child so there was no relationship that could be discontinued by terminating the biological Indian father’s rights to the child.
The Court also held that ICWA’s adoption placement preferences for Indian families do not apply in this case, because the biological father and extended family did not seek to adopt the child.
The Family to Family Adoption Support program at Parker Adventist Hospital in Parker, CO, just southeast of Denver, is the only established and comprehensive hospital-based adoption support program in the nation. Over the past eight years, our goal has evolved and expanded. The program’s core mission is to ensure that mothers who desire to make an adoption plan have access to trained nurses and doctors during this emotional and complex time.
As an adoptive mom, I have welcomed two of our children home as infants. Both hospital situations, while very different, were extremely emotional and unnecessarily chaotic. It was evident that the staff had a wide range of opinions about adoption, and the hospital policies were unclear.
After our two experiences, I started talking to other adoptive families and birth families. I found that hospital placements were described by all families involved as wonderful, horrible, humiliating, shame-filled, beautiful, etc. And sadly, some of those words, such as wonderful and shame-filled, were used to describe hospital placements at the same facility, all dependent on the “nurse you got” or if a staff member had a positive or negative adoption experience. I also heard from nursing staff that they felt uncomfortable since they didn’t have any formal training as to how to best handle the complexities of an adoption placement.
We started our program in 2005 with mandatory training for our staff, and in time, training for our doctors. Little did we know that the program would evolve to a service and support model that included education for those both considering adoption and preparing for an adoption, as well as awareness of post-adoption resources.
As the only hospital in Colorado that offers services to all members of this population, our outreach efforts also include adoption education throughout the community. A clear understanding of adoption has allowed us to help women like Karen*. Karen was driving through the Denver area on her way to her home state when she went into labor. Her contractions got too strong for her to continue, and no one back home knew she was pregnant. She followed the “H” signs on the road and entered Parker Adventist Hospital in the early morning hours. She told the nurse her plan: to leave once the baby was born and give the baby to the state. The nurse, trained in adoption, simply mentioned that she could choose to do an adoption plan instead, and that she could choose an agency and meet with a counselor. She was made aware that she could pick a family, even meet them if she’d like, and would still be able to leave that day. After choosing the family for her child after delivery, she told me, “I had no idea! I didn’t even know this was an option.”
Sometimes we get connected with patients considering adoption early in their pregnancy. We are able to connect them with adoption-sensitive doctors who are aware that they are simply considering adoption and that their care will continue with that doctor regardless if they choose to parent or make an adoption plan. This is beneficial as they do not have ER deliveries, but are offered consistent prenatal care and ongoing support regardless of their ultimate decision.
Another recent patient didn’t have much warning and also came into the Parker BirthPlace ready to deliver. She, however, announced when she came in that she was planning to do an adoption. She had been living in her car and had not been able to meet with a counselor. She was able to step into a program in the BirthPlace that understood her wishes and had the resources and infrastructure to meet her needs. She told me, “It was just really important to me that she not go into foster care. I really wanted her to go straight to her family.” This time in the hospital would hopefully be the beginning of a lifelong relationship with her adoptive family. We are so honored to share this precious time with our patients and the families involved.
Imagine how the adoption community would be different if there was a Family to Family Adoption Support program in every hospital? What if nurses and doctors felt empowered to care for their patients in a way that honored their decisions? What if hospital professionals clearly understood their adoption policies and guidelines and had an opportunity to explore their own thoughts about adoption? What if there was a place for families to go where they could receive care from healthcare professionals who better understood the logistical complexity and emotional impact of an adoption plan?
I was asked recently why a hospital wouldn’t have a program like this one. I believe there are two reasons:
Hospitals don’t believe they see “enough” adoptions to fund mandatory training. I would challenge that with this fact: we were seeing an average of one adoption a month when this program was first launched in 2005. In 2013, we started off the year by having seven babies placed in seven weeks, serving patients ages 14-42. The mother of a 14 year-old patient told me, “Without Parker Adventist Hospital, we would be taking this baby home. Not because she is ready to be a mom, but because we wouldn’t have even known where to start when considering adoption.” One of our doctors told me, “I now do not hesitate to discuss the option of adoption with my patients. If they want more information, I know I can send them to the Adoption Liaison.”
Hospitals don’t recognize how much adoption has changed. In the “old model”, the hospital stay was very different. A woman delivered a baby, the baby was taken out of the room and given to a social worker, who then delivered the baby to his or her new family. The mother was told to forget about the baby she just delivered and move on. The adoptive family was coached to not address the child’s loss of his or her first family. This approach is contrary to the model we embrace at Parker Adventist Hospital. With the changes toward open adoption, our program embraces the patient and supports her with compassionate care while acknowledging her loss. We also recognize that the extended family will naturally be affected by the adoption and may be present. The patient and her family are encouraged to define the woman’s time in the hospital, and if the baby’s father is present also, we do our best to support his unique emotions as well. Our goal is to support that baby’s parents with not only excellent medical care but also compassionate emotional support.
I truly believe we must challenge our hospitals to do three things: become knowledgeable about adoption issues, require mandatory training regarding current adoption practice, and learn how professionals can best support patients during their hospital time, empowering them to make the choice that is best for them. As we see our community utilizing our Family to Family Adoption Support program at Parker Adventist Hospital, we see how having adoption-sensitive care and providing adoption resources can change the community’s approach and understanding of adoption.
Tomorrow, Saturday, November 17, people all throughout the United States will recognize National Adoption Day. As part of this celebration, the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute wants to share “You Just May Be” a music video we produced in partnership with national singer-songwriter Karyn Williams. “You Just May Be” celebrates adoption and reminds individuals, families, and organizations all over the world that anybody can make the difference in the life of a child without a family. As Karyn tells us in the introduction, all you have to do is say, “Yes!”
CCAI’s Angels in Adoption™ Program provides Members of Congress the opportunity to honor an individual, couple, or organization from their district that have made an extraordinary contribution on behalf of children in need of homes. The Angels in Adoption™ travel to Washington D.C. to participate in three days of events all designed to train them to use their personal experiences to affect change and to celebrate their hard work and dedication to adoption and foster care issues. The events include the Adoption and Foster Care Advocacy Fair, tours of DC and networking events, an award ceremony, legislative seminar and an opportunity to visit Congressional offices to share how adoption has affected their lives.
This year, on September 12, CCAI will recognize actress Katherine Heigl, singer-songwriter Josh Kelley, and PEOPLE Magazine as the 2012 National Angels in Adoption™ for their dedication and commitment to adoption and foster care issues. They will be honored, along with local Angels in Adoption™ selected by 143 Members of Congress, at CCAI’s 14th annual awards gala in Washington, DC.
Over the next couple of days, we will be highlighting some of our Angels in Adoption Angels in Adoption™. Today, we’d like to introduce you to Angels Gary and Janice Meyer.
In 1988, Janice and Gary Meyer decided to provide a warm, nurturing, loving home to children in need and became foster and adoptive parents. To date, they have adopted seven children and are in the process of finalizing the adoption their eighth child.
All of the children the Meyers have adopted have extreme behavioral, mental health, and medical needs. When their son Austin was first placed with Janice and Gary, they were not sure if he had any vision. They immediately secured the needed services, which necessitated numerous 350-mile round trips from Salina to Kansas City so that Austin could receive the best care. The results of his testing were conclusive: Austin lacked all vision.
Today, Austin walks with a cane to assist with mobility and Janice has taught him braille. Despite the continued need for care, Janice and Gary never wavered in the process to adopt Austin. The same is true of their son Leon, who is blind, deaf, and confined to a wheelchair, with a severe brain injury resulting from shaken baby syndrome. Every three months, the Meyers take Leon to Wichita to see his neurologist and he is monitored for seizure activity and receives treatment to stimulate muscle dexterity. His adoption was finalized on July 30.
The Meyers’ ability to love and care for all of their children unconditionally and constantly reaffirm their commitment to them makes them true Angels in Adoption.
“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope.” Robert F. Kennedy said so eloquently what we at the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI) try to uphold daily and who we hope to esteem through our Angels in Adoption™ Program.
The Program began 14 years ago when a few Congressional offices began to brainstorm about the good that could come from honoring deserving constituents from their state and/or district who had impacted the life of a child in need of a loving family. That first year, in 1999, an awards ceremony was held on Capitol Hill to celebrate those very constituents. As co-founding Member of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption caucus and adoptive father Rep. Jim Oberstar puts it, “the first event was sparkling. There was so much enthusiasm and love.”
Since that time, Angels in Adoption™ has grown to be three days of events with over 1800 individuals, couples, and organizations recognized for the incredible work they have done to highlight the issue of foster care and adoption. The Angels are invited to travel to Washington, D.C., where they learn how to advocate on behalf of children around the world waiting for a loving family to call their own. Additionally, they are honored at a prestigious Congressional Pinning Ceremony and at a very special Gala attended by senior members of the Executive Branch, US Senators, US Representatives and National Angels, like Kristin Chenoweth, First Lady Laura Bush, Patti LaBelle and Al Roker, who are using their celebrity status to promote adoption on a national and even global level. Furthermore, Angels in Adoption™ seeks to increase the public awareness of these individual deeds that profoundly impact a child’s life. The press from this event has spurred hundreds of human interest stories with the hope of inspiring others. Since the program’s inception, more than 1,800 Angels have been honored for their contributions to the cause of finding every child a home.
We all know the miraculous effect adoption has. Because of Angels in Adoption that message is spreading. As 2011 National Angel in Adoption™, award winning actress (star of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”), former National Adoption Day spokesperson, Nia Vardalos, said of the adoption of her daughter, “My husband and I were matched with our daughter via American Foster Care, and the minute we met her, our lives changed forever. At three years old, our perfect little girl walked into our house, and turned it into a home.”
Do you know of someone you would like to nominate to a Congressional Office because adoption or fostering children has changed their life forever? Nominate them as an Angel in Adoption™ by visiting www.angelsinadoption.org. You can also complete a nomination form online for submission which will be passed along to an appropriate Congressional office. The deadline for this year’s nomination is July 6, 2012.
The preceding article was featured on page eight of the June 2012 Issue of Adoption Today. See Adoption Today.
NBC aired an interesting story a couple days ago entitled “Couple adopts baby via Facebook.” This Kensington, MD couple appeared with their adopted son to share their story. They had struggled with infertility for months before ultimately trying IVF treatment, but their pregnancy tragically ended in miscarriage of the twin babies at 20 weeks. Sean Edlavitch and Melissa Segal turned to adoption, but knew they could be waiting years for a baby. They were very open with their situation, setting up a blog and emailing friends and family about their hopes to adopt.
Parentsdish.com’s article, ‘Facebook Makes a Couple’s Adoption Dream Come True” tells the story: “Edlavitch says he didn’t know much about blogging beyond the fact that he could sign up for a free website, but that didn’t stop him from creating “Melissa and Seth Adoption” in 2008. He also signed up for a Facebook account, but really didn’t expect any adoption information he posted there to go much beyond his own circle of online friends. But it did reach much farther than that — and much closer, in a way. A friend of Edlavitch’s shared the couple’s information with his Facebook friends, and an old acquaintance of that friend responded. She knew a woman looking for an adoptive family.”
While this private independent adoption story is very unique, it does open the door to conversations about how Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and other social networking sites can affect adoption. What are you thoughts about this story?