Study Emphasizes Urgent Need for Policy and Practice Changes to Best Support Women
Wednesday, The Donaldson Adoption Institute released Understanding Options Counseling Experiences in Adoption: A Qualitative Analysis of First/Birth Parents and Professionals — the second phase of its research to better understand the experiences of women who relinquished their parental rights to adoption and the professionals who work with them.
This seminal research was conducted by Scott Ryan, Dean and Jenkins Garrett Professor at the School of Social Work at The University of Texas of Arlington; Marcus Crawford, doctoral candidate at The University of Texas of Arlington Elissa Madden, assistant professor at the Diana R. Garland School of Social Work at Baylor University; Donna Aguiniga, associate professor at the School of Social Work of the University of Alaska-Anchorage.
Both the quantitative and qualitative analyses explored the decision-making experiences of women who have relinquished their parental rights to adoption within the past 25 years, as well as the context in which options surrounding unintended pregnancies are discussed with expectant parents by adoption professionals. This new study builds on the quantitative work released in November 2016 and includes the qualitative narratives of first/birth parents and adoption professionals.
In-depth interviews with 28 first/birth mothers and 20 adoption professionals provided insight into experiences that have been rarely studied and therefore understood.
"This was a very important phase of the research where we documented the experiences of first/birth mothers and adoption professionals and were then able to provide recommendations," said Scott Ryan, Dean and Jenkins Garrett Professor UTA’s School of Social Work.
Key highlights from first/birth mothers and adoption professionals:
• Social Stigma - Many of the women expressed concerns of being judged and feelings of shame stemming from their pregnancy. For some women, the sense of shame stemmed from religious beliefs primarily surrounding having had premarital sex as well as the idea of being an unwed single mother.
• Financial Stability - It was common for first/birth mothers to express concern about their lack of financial stability during their pregnancy. Financial concerns were a major reason why many first/birth mothers first considered, and then ultimately elected, adoption.
• Social and Emotional Support - Many first/birth mothers experienced a lack of social and emotional support during and after the pregnancy and later after the adoption was consummated. A particularly painful way this lack of support manifested was when people in their lives avoided talking about their pregnancy.
• Differences in Language - Adoption professionals reported the use of different terms to refer to parents experiencing a crisis pregnancy who are seeking information about adoption. Slightly more than half of the adoption professionals indicated that they prefer to use the term, “expectant parent.” Other adoption professionals indicated that they prefer to use the term, “birth parent.”
• Variations in Information and Options Discussed - Much of the information that adoption professionals reported discussing with new expectant parents focused on adoption-related concerns rather than full consideration of all of the parents’ options. Less than half of adoption professionals specifically mentioned discussing information related to parenting their child or methods for helping expectant parents’ problem-solve how this might occur.
• Confidence and Conviction - Despite the confidence that the professionals reported feeling about their ability to work and communication with expectant parents, most offered suggestions for training that would help them strengthen their practice. More than half of the adoption professionals called for additional training on grief and loss related to relinquishment.
Among the recommendations in this 41-page study:
• Mandate adoption agencies and adoption attorneys to develop and/or provide free access to pre- and post-relinquishment services for expectant and first/birth parents. These services should be inclusive of individual and family counseling provided by a licensed clinical professional. Additionally, these services should be made available for first/birth parents to access at any time post-relinquishment, as research suggests that some mothers delay accessing supportive services for several months or years.
• Mandate that adoption agencies and adoption attorneys must provide expectant parents with a standardized, informed consent that details the possible outcomes associated with relinquishment of parental rights to a child for adoption, as well as potential outcomes that the child may experience.
• Increase and standardize education for expectant parents, and prospective adoptive parents, about the strengths, limitations, and legalities of post-relinquishment contact, including the rights of adoptive parents to decrease or eliminate contact.
• Mandate biannual ethics in adoption continuing education for adoption professionals. This curriculum should address ethical challenges related to working with expectant parents, first/birth parents, extended family members, prospective adoptive parents, and other adoption professionals and lawyers. The curriculum should also emphasize the importance of options counseling, including full informed consent, and access to supportive services.
• Conduct research on the implications of pre-matching expectant parents with prospective adoptive parents. While some first/birth mothers indicated they preferred having contact with the prospective family prior to their child’s birth, for several first/birth mothers, this contact had an explicit negative and coercive effect on their decision-making.
This project was underwritten by the Donaldson Adoption Institute’s Lynn Franklin Fund with initial funding by James Stevens. Brenda Romanchik (LCSW, ACSW, CTS and author of A Birthparent’s Book of Memories and other publications) served as the Project Lead. The Lynn Franklin Fund Advisory Council provided invaluable insight throughout this project.
Read the full Quantitative study here.
Read the full Qualitative study here.