Babies Are Their Business

Competition among adoption agencies is anything but child's play

Ekstrom acknowledges receiving complaints similar to Pat's from others who stayed at the facility, and says the agency closed it permanently shortly afterward because "it was difficult to provide adequate oversight" and the property owner asked to regain control of it. Young women who need a place to live are now housed with individual families who volunteer with the agency, she notes.

The person who picked Pat up when she called Southwest, social services director Mary Kate Harris, became her closest friend throughout the rest of her pregnancy, Pat says. "Mary Kate was great. She got me signed up [on the state's indigent health-care program] and set me up to stay with a family waiting to adopt.

"She was my counselor for the rest of the time I was at Southwest," she says.

Pat was to provide childcare for the family with which she was living but, shortly after settling in, she learned she was carrying twins and began to develop medical complications. Midway through the pregnancy, one twin died in utero.

After that, Sullivan says, he invited her to spend the rest of her pregnancy in a spare room at his house. "After what she had gone through, I didn't feel it was fair to ask her to help support herself," he says. "She really had some [medical] problems to deal with."

Pat's remaining twin was born with cystic fibrosis, a serious chronic illness. But the couple waiting to adopt the baby said it did not matter and, 72 hours after the birth, Pat gave legal approval for the adoption of her baby.

"I wanted someone who could afford to care for her," Pat says. "I had the option to see her and to meet them, but I didn't want to because I knew I might change my mind." So she steeled herself against her misgivings in the same way she once steeled herself against the other threats she had faced.

"She's fine now, the baby's doing fine now," Pat says, as if to push away the implications of the baby's diagnosis.

Pat says she is grateful to Southwest for the support and shelter she received from the agency. Southwest, however, arouses just the opposite feeling in the smaller, nonprofit adoption agencies who question the practices of for-profit agencies and their ultimate impact on the welfare of babies put up for adoption in Arizona.

CRITICS OF SOUTHWEST Adoption Center charge that it functions more as a baby broker than as a legitimate adoption agency. They contend that because Southwest is profit-motivated, it looks first at a couple's ability to pay, and second at the ability to parent.

And, Pat's experience notwithstanding, the for-profit agencies usually dump imperfect babies, officials at other agencies say. "They skim the healthy white infants, what we call the Gerber babies, that can be easily placed, and send the hard-to-place babies to us," says Ekstrom, whose agency placed 56 infants last year, almost one third of them in the "special-needs" category. Such children include those with serious health problems or birth defects or children of mixed race.

"People are out there willing to adopt special-needs children, but you have to beat the bushes to find them," she says. "The practice of only accepting perfect babies is indicative that profit is what counts at some agencies."

Ekstrom says she does not support legislation restricting out-of-state placements and actually asked Johnson to withdraw last year's bill because she does not believe it will solve the problems posed by allowing a for-profit adoption industry to flourish. "I'd like to see a bill ideally where all adoption is done through licensed nonprofit agencies," she says.

"It's not gonna happen because the attorney lobby is so strong it won't fly," says Ekstrom. "Some attorneys accept small fees but there are attorneys who make a lot of money off doing private adoptions, you know. And the concern is, beyond money, that the attorneys aren't providing the support services needed to make sure the adoption is good for everyone."

For-profit agencies charge fees that few people on Arizona's wage scale can afford. Because of the cost, most of these babies wind up in the homes of wealthy out-of-state couples, many in East Coast states, critics contend.

No agency keeps figures for the total number of babies adopted within Arizona each year, or the number of couples waiting to adopt, but county and state officials agree the vast majority are in Maricopa County. Between 600 and 700 couples apply to be certified as adoptive parents in Maricopa County each year, says Mary Verdier, a Superior Court commissioner who handles all certifications and most of the adoption hearings that take place in metropolitan Phoenix. Of the 845 adoptions approved in the county last year, Verdier estimates that as many as half involved older children being adopted by stepparents or relatives.

Last year 225 children between the ages of birth and eighteen were taken out of Arizona for adoption, according to the local office of the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children. Although some older children were among them, most were babies, says Mike Chapman, Interstate Compact coordinator for Arizona.

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My Voice Nation Help

Take it from this "baby scoop era" mom who has spent the last 22 years following the progress of todays adoption, mother's unprepared to parent today are still not encouraged to parent. Adoption should only be for those children without a family and then they should be able to keep their true identity and the knowledge of their heritage. 

I pray that the people who can change this system are listening.

Also, that they can change laws in 42 remaining states that deny the adopted their original birth certificate!

Margaret Susan Hoffman LyBurtus

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