All of us can remember when adoption
was considered a great risk; adoptive parents either saints or fools,
and adopted children indebted beyond repayment. Then, as social
agencies came more and more into the picture, great safeguards were
introduced so that in a sense, adoptive parenthood became less risky
than natural parenthood. Even after the war, with greater economic
security and a resurgence of family life causing a greater demand
for babies, many agencies were still clinging to rigid standards.
Some agencies were refusing to place children who needed little
more than eye glasses, while outside their doors a black market
in babies boomed.
Then, in 1948, the Child Welfare League held its first conference
on adoption. Seventy-five of the country’s leading adoption
agencies worked together to study the adoption picture, to examine
their practices, to reevaluate their aims. About half reported that
they would not consider placing a child who had a mentally sick
parent. Eighty per cent of the agencies reported that their aim
was to place only the perfect child with the perfect background.
And “perfect” could be defined in ways which may surprise
some of you. Anything from diabetes in the family background to
an infant hernia could be a disqualifying factor.
The delegates to the conference seven years ago wrestled with many
of their preconceptions. They faced up to the fact that by trying—with
the best will in the world—to create ideal adoption situations,
they were condemning thousands of children to purgatory. It was
a firm step forward in the march of human progress when that conference
announced: “Any child can be considered adoptable who can
gain from family life, and for whom a family can be found who will
accept him with his history and capacities.” . . .
And while we are putting our new-found knowledge into practice,
let us take care that we let our fellow citizens in on the secret.
If we no longer want the public to insist on rosy infants for adoption,
we must also confess that we do not have a yen for handsome, 30-year-old
parents and new ranch houses with home-made pies in the deep freeze.
At least, I hope we don’t. Maybe that’s something that
ought to be looked into at this conference, too. If we are going
to admit that babies can be less than perfect and still be perfectly
satisfactory, maybe we ought to give adoptive parents the same leeway,
too. Nature isn’t nearly as fussy as we’ve been, and
she’s been in the business a lot longer.
The fact is, I suppose, that couples who have sought babies from
agencies and been rejected do not make the best possible spokesmen
for agency methods. And yet we know that whatever mistakes are made,
agency placement is the only sound way of adoption. We must keep
on telling our story. Patiently, we must tell of the great gap between
the numbers of available children and the couples seeking to adopt
them. We must tell of the ways we are trying to lessen that gap
in view of the large numbers of children needing homes who are not
now getting them, and we must tell the public the factors we consider
when we decide whether a home is suitable or a child able to prosper
We must keep telling our story because we want public support.
We want public understanding. We want public trust. Let us take
but one example— individual placement of babies, still a very
common practice in our country. No one condones the “black
market” as an exchange for babies, but too many people think
the kindly intercession of any individual is perfectly all right.
We have not sufficiently emphasized the highly specialized processes
in adoption. A good obstetrician would not attempt to transplant
a cornea—he would refer his patient to a specialist. He should
not try to transplant a baby either. And we have to show him—and
the public—why not.
This week you will be scrutinizing facts and fancies, theory and
practice. I have expressed some of my personal opinions about adoption.
You may well prove them wrong, too.
Individual placement is only one of the aspects of adoption you
will consider at this conference. You will range the field from
grandparents to good nutrition, from twisted limbs to torts. You
will cover different ground in your various groups, but I think
you will all come to the same conclusion—nothing that we do
is more important than bringing our innocent young from the “prison
house” into homes of their own. Get to your work, and God