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Adoption law and ethics


WORLD Radio - Adoption law and ethics

A lawyer helps birth moms navigate the legal mazes of adoption with a sense of peace

Barbara Jones has been an adoption attorney for 35 years. Jenny Rough

REICHARD, HOST: Today is Tuesday, May 16th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: adoption law and ethics.

Today, we launched Episode 5 of Effective Compassion. It tells the story of adoption from a legal perspective, circumstances where a child is removed from a home because of abuse or neglect and permanently placed with another family. That’s when a judge gets involved to help decide what’s best for the child.

REICHARD: But what about adoption by choice? When birth parents voluntarily place a child for adoption? The courts don’t typically get involved in those situations. But lawyers do. Today, WORLD reporter Jenny Rough talks with an adoption attorney who has dedicated her life to walking families through the process.

JENNY ROUGH, REPORTER: In 1883, a Christian businessman from New York opened the first Florence Crittenton home. He wanted to provide shelter for unwed pregnant women, and share the gospel with them. In the decades that followed, Crittenton homes spread to major cities across the country.

BARBARA JONES: You know, back in those days, they would whisk the girls away from school or wherever. It was kind of shameful if she was pregnant before she was married.

Barbara Jones lives in Clifton, Virginia. Her home is located on a former Crittenton farm. The pregnant women lived in a dormer home on the back of the property.

JONES: And they planted in the garden, and they actually worked on the farm. And then, after the babies were born, they went back to their life.

The babies were adopted. It’s fitting that Jones lives there now. She works as an adoption attorney. 

JONES: It is a boutique specialty. I gravitated into it very quickly after I obtained my law license and just fell in love with it because it’s family oriented.

In the greeting area of her office, every wall is covered with photos.

ROUGH: Are these all the babies?

JONES: No, they’re some of them. The reason is now people do digital pictures. 

Depending on the case, Jones works with birth parents and adoptive parents.

JONES: Representing a birth parent is painful, because there’s sorrow in separating from her baby, probably the hardest thing she’ll ever do. Representing adoptive parents, high anxiety, but great joy when they’re placed.

A stack of old newspapers sits on her conference table. Thirty-five years ago, when Jones first started practicing adoption law, matches were made through the classifieds 1-800 numbers. 

JONES: Here’s a classified ad. Virginian-Pilot. Come to adoption. Sam and Sue wish to adopt healthy newborn child. Will pay legal, uninsured medical.

Now, those who hope to adopt advertise online. Either directly through word-of-mouth networking, or through an agency. 

Adoption lawyers like Jones advise birth mothers of the law and help them think through what they want. 

JONES: She can complete a hospital plan. A nursery consent, stating who could come into the nursery and hold and feed her baby. Who she wants in the delivery room. Does she want pictures?

She also helps birth moms fill out forms for medical history, family history, social history. Authorization releases and oaths that affirm the information is true.

One of Jones’ most important duties: helping the birth mom obtain the consent of the birth father. This can be harder than it sounds. 

JONES: “I was drunk at a party,” we hear way too much. Sometimes there are girls prostituting or sex trafficking.

Jones has encountered many cases where the birth father is unknown. 

JONES: And if a mother says, “I don’t know who he was. He said his name was Dave or Tripp,” You know how many Daves there are in Virginia? 

State laws vary. But today, over 35 states, including Virginia, have a system in place to help track down fathers. 

JONES: We implemented the birth father registry so we didn’t have to chase men in dark alleys at night, and we could say, “Hey, we’re representing Susie Smith. Step up now.” We want to protect fathers if they want to parent, but they need to step up in the window of time.

Adoptive parents also have a lot of paperwork. Most notably, a home study. An intensive process that involves everything from a criminal records check to biographical history. 

So that’s the law of adoption. But what about ethics? Adoption scams are becoming more common. Historically, it was considered ethical for hopeful adoptive parents to cover some expenses for the birth mom—medical and pregnancy-related expenses, like maternity clothes. But in some states, it’s now the norm for adoptive parents to cover living expenses for the birth mom. Thousands of dollars a month. 

JONES: Often I'll get a call from some of the states in the west and they'll say, well, what is your birth mom's budget? If she comes in here and it’s all about money.

Jones’ antenna goes up! The practice can be coercive on both ends. The pregnant woman might feel coerced to give up her child, even if she wants to legitimately change her mind, if the adoptive parents have been sending money. And adoptive parents may feel coerced to keep paying lest the birth mom go off and find someone else. Some states have implemented laws to guard against that. 

JONES: Virginia is very restrictive. You can pay living expenses for the birth mom, but only if her doctor writes a note and says she cannot work due to medical complications or reasons of the pregnancy.

Finally, Jones draws up post-adoption contracts. An agreement between the parties to stay in touch through letters, pictures, and visits.

JONES: Oftentimes the birth parents like that. They know they picked a good family, they like them, but they’re just so afraid they’ll separate and that family will forget them. We will type it up, and we put the terms that the parties have agreed. They might do two visits a year. Birth parents may send gifts. The adoptive parents will send videos and pictures, whatever they agree upon.

Birth mothers do have time to change their minds. How long again, varies by state. Maryland is one the longest at 30 days. 

JONES: And then in Virginia she has 7 days to revoke. 

ROUGH: Okay. 

JONES: No matter what. It’s a very small percentage that change their mind after the mom goes home and the baby goes out the door with the agency or the family.

When the time period to revoke passes, the child is adopted, welcomed into a new family, with the family’s full name, identity, and rights. 

To this day, Jones tries to carry on the history of her property as a safe haven.

JONES: There’s peace in this place, and I know there was much prayer that went on here. And sometimes my clients will come in and say, “This place is so peaceful.” And I just feel like the Lord was here ahead of time.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Jenny Rough in Clifton, Virginia.

REICHARD: This was a companion piece to Episode 5 of Effective Compassion, Season 4. You can find it today wherever you get your podcasts.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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