Babies Are Their Business

Competition among adoption agencies is anything but child's play

National Interstate Compact executive director Kathleen Tucker says her agency cannot confirm or refute concerns that Arizona is functioning as a baby factory for the rest of the country. Agency figures do confirm that Arizona, one of the least populous states in the union, accounted for close to 10 percent of all interstate adoptions nationwide last year.

However, Arizona also has the second highest rate of teen pregnancy in the country. Neither the Interstate Compact nor adoption agency officials in Arizona have analyzed the impact, if any, of this phenomenon on the number of babies available for adoption from various states.

Last year, Southwest Adoption Center handled about 75 of Arizona's out-of-state adoptions, or about one third of the total, according to figures supplied by Sullivan. He admits that most of his agency's placements are to out-of-state couples. "We average about 25 to 30 in-state placements each year," Sullivan says.

But he defends the high rate of out-of-state placements and the agency's fee of $13,500--about twice the amount charged by most nonprofit agencies in Arizona. "The larger the pool of parents you have to choose from, the better the opportunity to find the family that is right for an individual baby," Sullivan argues. "We do give priority to Arizona couples, but they're no more burdened than any other couple by the wait--there are waiting lists all over the country for people wanting to adopt newborns."

Agencies contacted by New Times say there are 150 to 200 families on their waiting lists. The waiting time, however, varies substantially. Most of the nonprofits contacted report that families wanting to adopt a healthy, white newborn must wait at least two years. The wait at Southwest is about half that time.

"Many of our birth mothers don't like the idea of a child being placed in Arizona," Sullivan adds, "because they don't want to wonder every time they see a baby, `Is that one mine?'"

Representative Johnson, for one, wonders if the babies really are going to better homes. "Whether or not they are brokering to the highest bidder, the point is we don't know what standards are being observed in selecting the families for placement," says Johnson, who adopted all of her own children. "Since standards vary greatly from state to state, what are they following?"

Sullivan says his agency follows each state's guidelines. He acknowledges that Southwest accepts applications from couples "other agencies wouldn't touch" because of age, inter-religious marriage or agency-imposed restrictions on the number of adopted children already in the family. But he contends that prospective parents are screened rigorously.

"We're seeing some agencies, particularly those with a strong fundamentalist bent, set up religious requirements that seem to us to be arbitrary," he says.

Mike Chapman, who oversees the transfer of Arizona children bound for out-of-state placement by Southwest and other agencies, acknowledges that adoption procedures vary from state to state. But, he adds, "Each adoption still must go in front of a judge and be approved. The purpose of the Interstate Compact is to track children and to make sure they aren't going into slavery or being abused.

"I think it would be real tough to say one state was better than another in terms of standards," Chapman says. "There are a lot of people interested in making sure it's done right and to make sure the children are going to safe places."

Sullivan acknowledges that part of the reason his agency's fee exceeds that of most other agencies is the amount spent on advertising. "Pregnant? Thinking about adoption?" ads adorn bus stops throughout the city, and late-night television ads cleverly target pregnant women who may be brooding sleeplessly about their futures.

"How else could you reach the birth mothers but with ads?" Sullivan says. "Last year we serviced 350 birth mothers, of which only 98 ended up placing. The only way we have of covering most of those costs is the fees we charge."

The real reason Southwest Adoption Center is beating the competition, Sullivan asserts, is the service it offers, beginning with an atmosphere free of moral judgment. Pat's account of feeling recrimination and blame from another agency is not unique, he says.

Pregnant, unwed women no longer spend their days embroidering scarlet A's on their clothes, but many say discrimination and moral condemnation are real. Real enough, they say, to make Pat and half a dozen other unwed mothers New Times interviewed for this story insist on anonymity as a condition for talking.

"A lot of birth mothers come here from other programs," Sullivan says. "They often feel the organization tried to force something on them. They felt they were being judged morally . . . . Frequently religious dogma was involved."

He asserts that Southwest's big fees pay for services most other agencies cannot offer, including housing during the last two months of pregnancy and health care through a private doctor if the mother so chooses. Southwest offers unlimited counseling before and after the birth, through individual counseling and a birth-mother support group, Sullivan says.

"We never try to talk a mother into doing anything," he says. "Someone who has to be talked into adoption is a very poor candidate for it, anyway."

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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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