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Adoption today: Safe, legal, more common

Courts, Congress, and new attitudes making adoption easier


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Kelly and Angela Simpkins of Jackson, Miss., went into their second date prepared to draw the line. "I had to tell Kelly that I wanted to adopt and if he didn't then our relationship couldn't go any further," Angela said. She was thrilled when the conversation began and it turned out that "he was going to tell me the same thing."

Their pro-adoption belief became even more serious once they were married and discovered they could not give birth to a child of their own. But after a remarkably short search--less than six months--they were able to adopt Kenan, who is now their nine-month-old daughter.

Theirs is an adoption success story, a timely reminder this November--National Adoption Month--that after years of hard work, adoption advocates may finally have cause for celebration. Thanks to courtroom victories, recent congressional support, and changing attitudes, the experience of the Simpkins may in the future become more common.

One of the areas in which there has been progress in adoption affected the Simpkins directly. "We never talked to anyone about a white child," Angela says. "Kenan is biracial, and that's part of the reason we were able to adopt so quickly." But until recently, race-based adoption policies worked to prevent black and other minority children from ending up in white families.

Fourteen years of work by Carol Coccia helped change that. A long-time foster parent, Ms. Coccia in 1982 formed the National Coalition to End Racism in America's Childcare System. "In Detroit, we had healthy black infants who stayed in hospitals for 9 to 10 months even though white foster parents were available," Ms. Coccia explains. "And that's just foster care. The same thing was going on with adoption, where white families were ready to adopt but children were held back because workers were trying to place them in black families."

Ms. Coccia's campaign began with a successful federal court lawsuit and continued with a building of support that led to partial legislation in 1994 and a banning of racial bias in adoption this year.

Ms. Coccia understands the desire to place a black child with a black family, but her coalition has worked to make sure that such thinking does not permit a child to languish in a hospital, or to be transferred from one foster care arrangement to another. For her, priorities regarding adoption have to be placed on a sliding scale: "On day one, it's perfectly fine to think about race. A month later that priority better have changed. I remember in 1982 there was a social worker who bragged that he had 17 black babies in foster care that would never get placed in white families. I think those days are over."

Congress this year played a part in making adoption possible for more families. Bill Pierce, executive director for the National Council For Adoption, a trade association of adoption groups, points to the Contract With America's pro-adoption package: "We got a $5,000 tax credit for parents who adopt. We got the provision which says you cannot take federal money and discriminate on the basis of race or ethnicity. And we have a provision now that says that parents who receive benefits from their employer for their adopted children can no longer be taxed for those benefits."

If provisions outlawing discrimination help a couple like the Simpkins find a child to adopt, the provisions that pertain to finances help them pay for one. Adoption will never be a cost-free proposition, but the new laws do much to let families who adopt defray the actual expenses involved in the process--things like legal fees, agency fees, home studies, and travel. That is important to someone who comes from a family like Rachael Dolezal's. A student at Belhaven college, Rachael attends the same church as the Simpkinses, a non-denominational, predominately black church with a white pastor from Chicago who came to Reformed Theological Seminary years ago and never left Jackson. But Rachael and the Simpkinses have more in common than a church home: Rachael's parents, who live in Montana, have adopted four black children. At a time when many parents are happy to have emptied the nest--both Rachael and her older brother are in college--the Dolezals have started all over again.

The Dolezals adopted because they considered it a godly way to live out their pro-life convictions. Although Mr. Dolezal, a county commissioner, and his wife describe their four new babies as a blessing from God, it is hard not to appreciate the kind of sacrifice they have made to adopt them. Mr. Dolezal had to travel to Haiti to adopt Zachariah. "I had to go there in person to show it was not a black-market transaction," he says. "We finally got the papers through the day before the government shutdown last October."

"There are things that we would be able to do had we not adopted, but God has blessed us," Mrs. Dolezal says. Her husband hunts deer and elk and the family has a garden, which helps keep down the cost of food. Rachael and her brother, Joshua, both won scholarships to attend college. The Dolezals also pride themselves on being pretty savvy thrift-store shoppers. Still, though gardens and scholarships and thrift shopping make a difference, the Dolezals' situation highlights how an adoption tax credit could help and how the banning of racial bias that prevents adoption will help.

And how does adoption benefit Ezra, Isaiah, Zachariah, and Esther? It gives them a two-parent family, for one thing. The Dolezals are already teaching their four little ones to pray. And the subject of those prayers says a lot about the unique challenges and rewards of an adoptive relationship. "We have them pray for their birth-parents, because we believe that is important," Mrs. Dolezal explains. "We were very open and honest with Rachael and Joshua and we're not going to stop that now. Little Zachariah says 'God bless my birth-parents' because he

doesn't even know their names."

Such practices, the Dolezals argue, help the children develop a realistic sense of who they are, while at the same time teaching them about compassion in a complicated and sin-damaged world.

Phoebe Dawson, who started the New Beginnings adoption agency in Columbus, Ga., believes that such compassion is a critical part of making adoption a more frequently chosen alternative to abortion. For Ms. Dawson, the key to promoting adoption is taking care of the mother. "One reason adoption isn't well thought of is because birth-mothers are being exploited. They're used to get babies, and once the people and agencies get what they want-- that's that. We know of many cases where a mother is advised not to put her child up for adoption by another mother who has.... They tell them: 'Been there, done that--don't you do it!'"

To combat this attitude, New Beginnings started a transitional home service seven years ago. The transitional home cares for birth-mothers after they have placed their children for adoption. Mothers are provided a place to live and Christian business owners provide employment for them. "We let the mothers know that they are important, and that it's not just another decision," Ms. Dawson explains. Since its inception seven years ago, approximately 50 women have lived in the home.

Thanks to changing attitudes, court victories and congressional action, other families like the Simpkinses and the Dolezals will at long last get the help they need. And when families like the Simpkinses and the Dolezals get the help they need, it means God's will is being done and children's lives are being saved.

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