Study finds benefits and risks associated with the Web's role in the process.
As with most areas of modern life, the Internet has had a "transformative impact" on the adoption process, and most people involved say the technology's contribution has been positive, a new study finds. But they also express concerns about Internet-based cases of fraud, manipulation and exploitation, particularly of pregnant women considering giving up their babies for adoption and adults seeking to adopt.
Based on a survey of 2,000 adoptive parents, adopted adults, birth parents and adoption professionals, the report, by the Donaldson Adoption Institute, finds numerous benefits resulting from adoption-related Internet use, especially "the ability to make connections and access information," says Adam Pertman, president of the non-profit research, policy and education group.
"But unfortunately, it's not all good," he adds. Survey respondents highlighted concerns about misleading promises, fraud and enticements for women to surrender their babies, as well as concerns about commercialization and the reach of for-profit adoption brokers who advertise and market aggressively.
"It's a problem that policymakers and law-enforcement officials are not adequately keeping up with," Pertman says.
This fall, authorities in Illinois, Wisconsin and Florida began addressing the practice of "re-homing," in which parents use the Internet and social media to place unwanted adopted children into new families "with no monitoring or regulation," Pertman says. "Things like (that) can occur because no one is paying attention."
Among other findings from the study:
• The Internet greatly expands the ability of adopted persons to search for — and find — birth relatives; facilitates ongoing contact between adoptive and birth family members; and allows birth parents to feel more connected and involved in their children's lives.
• A majority of adoptees and birth parents, and one-third of adoptive family members, say they sometimes use the Internet or social media to follow each other without the other's knowledge. The involved parties are cautious and respectful, however, with very few unwelcome intrusions.
• A significant majority of adoption professionals do not receive training about using the Internet in adoption or on how to prepare clients to safely and effectively assess the quality of websites and services offered online, teach others to protect their safety and privacy online, and effectively provide information in areas such as support services, ethical practices, and search and reunion.
"When adoption began many, many years ago, records were sealed, and birth parents and adoptive parents and the child who was adopted, even as he or she grew older, had no access to each other's information," says Gloria Hochman, director of communications for the National Adoption Center in Philadelphia.
First the introduction of open adoptions and now the Internet have changed all of that, she says. "It's important that adoption agency personnel address (the role of the Internet) and prepare prospective adoptive parents and children who are adopted, as they grow older, to be be able to use it responsibly and with respect for the rights and emotional status of each other."
The National Adoption Center donated funding for the research study but was not involved in the analysis or writing of the report, Hochman says.
In all aspects of adoption, "the paradigm has changed," Pertman says.
"It's now Internet-based, for the most part, and we have to proceed accordingly and change the way we educate, the practices we use, and the resources we use so that we are living in the real world."