January 12, 2009

One Agency, One Letter

Dear Executive Director, Adoption Agency #1,

My husband and I adopted our oldest child through [your agency] in 2005. We chose [the agency] because of its commitment to open adoption, its non-discrimination policies toward pre-adoptive parents, and the promises of long-term counseling.

As alumni of the agency, we have closely followed its changes and growth over the past three years. We noted in particular the various media campaigns, which were often described as generally promoting open adoption, but which seemed more directly aimed at potential birth parents than any other audience.

This letter is in response to your email of December 9. In it, you note that the agency plans to use its profiles on social networks such as Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, etc. to "actively seek out potential birthmothers." Based on this statement, and the fact that these networks are used primarily by young people, my assumption is that you are using them to initiate contact with expectant mothers who fit a certain demographic profile--women you deem to be "potential birthmothers." I find such approaches deeply troubling.

I admit that we have been uncomfortable with the emphasis on 'marketing' by [your agency] from the beginning--both the marketing of the agency to prospective adoptive parents and of adoption to expectant parents. Despite encouragement from [agency] staff, we declined to do any personal networking during our wait, finding the whole idea too personally distasteful. We felt that it inverted the placement process by putting the focus on our desire for a child rather than on a woman's process of considering her options. It was important to us that choosing us as the adoptive family be one of the last steps in a woman's decision to place, not the inspiration for it.

I am concerned that the marketing approach represented by the sponsored Google links, radio spots, television ads, and online videos creates a similar problem. All seem designed to convince expectant parents in crisis that open adoption is an easy solution to whatever difficulties they face. I am concerned that this makes objective birth parent counseling nearly impossible by preferencing open adoption over all other options, without any consideration of an individual's context. The goal seems to be simply to convince more women to place, and to place through [your agency].

Open adoption has enriched our family immensely, and I remain a staunch advocate for it, but it has certainly not been "adoption without tears." We will always be grateful that [agency] staff helped us to understand the benefits of open adoption. But we were shocked by how ill-prepared both we and our son's birth parents were for its realities. During our time with [the agency], the staff brushed our concerns about possible difficulties aside, reassuring us that openness solved any adoption related issues which might arise. I had hoped ours was an isolated incident, but your ads seem to indicate otherwise. Do you expand upon the idealized picture of open adoption given in the ads when counseling prospective birth parents and adoptive parents? Do you prepare them for the emotional aspects of navigating open adoption over a lifetime? Do you make clear in your counseling that there is lifelong grief associated with placing a child for adoption that cannot be fully mitigated by openness?

Several times each year, friends contact us asking for the name of the agency we used, either for themselves or acquaintances, knowing that on the surface we had a fairly quick and smooth adoption process. We have always given an honest evaluation of the strengths of [your agency] as we experienced them in 2005. We also tell them that, disappointed with staff inexperience, high staff turnover, rigid editing of "Dear Birthparent" letters, a difficult hospital experience, inadequate post-adoption support, and with growing concerns about the agency's marketing practices, we declined to use [the agency] for our second adoption.

At this point we will only be warning them that [the agency] seems to be increasingly using coercive advertising measures and appears to be interested more in growth than in providing ethical services to expectant parents and prospective adoptive parents. I can no longer with a good conscience give even a qualified recommendation for [your agency]. And it pains me that I will one day have to explain that to my son.

If I have misunderstood your marketing goals and methods, I would be eager to have them clarified.

Sincerely,
Heather PNR

24 comments:

AmericanFamily said...

What a well-written letter. Firm and too the point. I hope they respond.

luna said...

this is a really excellent letter, heather. I also hope they give a thoughtful response and that you will share it here.

as an aside:
one of the reasons we chose not to go through our agency's outreach program is because it was unclear how much they relied on aggressive marketing, and I think the post-placement support for mothers is generally lacking at most agencies.

we chose instead to work with a counselor (not a facilitator) who does no advertising and provides extensive support and counseling for expectant moms, including advising parenting if that is an option. she also insists that adoptive families allocate significant funding to support pre and post- placement independent counseling.

but this means that we have had to conduct our own outreach, an idea we initially found distasteful, but that we overcame once we realized our choices were within our control. unfortunately I think there is no great way to do outreach. we have to assume that a woman searching parent profile sites on the web is already considering placement and looking for the right family...

luna said...

sorry for the book!

Rachel said...

That's a good letter.

I worry about all of these things constantly. I think my facilitator does things ethically -- I probed as best I could. But I can only go by what she tells me.

Everybody else seems worried about other things. I'm worried about how everybody supports birth parents.

motherissues said...

Very good letter. It's great to have a practical example of how to behave in a situation like this. Now I need to click through your links to see if it's the same adoption ad I saw on tv one night -- the only one I'd ever seen -- that totally creeped me out.

Kendra said...

I haven't been too concerned -- yet -- about our agency's advertising practices, but man...we're not happy with them at all at the present time. We haven't even managed to adopt once yet, and I'm already thinking about needing to find a different agency if we adopt a second time.

marymurtz said...

Damn, that's a good letter. I especially like the last line. We started our adoption process with a private agency that promoted open adoption, but the wait was so long, we decided to become foster parents while awaiting a private placement. After adopting our daughter from foster care, we let the agency know we weren't pursuing adoption any further.

I never paid much attention to their marketing, but you can bet I'm going to now. You wrote a very thought-provoking letter. I hope you will keep us posted on the response you get, if any.

Natalie said...

I'm pretty sure we adopted through the same agency. I'd love to email you and find out if we did and compare experiences.
Natalie

Spring said...

Here's the thing: we need a place where we can name names. I would SERIOUSLY caution anyone from using the agency we used in our last adoption and would encourage the agencies we used for our first two adoptions.

I would love to be able to put this info into the hands of parents who are looking...

Vintage Mommy said...

Lots of good points in your letter, but the one that sticks out for me (from experience) is that openness does not make adoption painless - for anyone in the triad!

I'll be interested to hear the response (if any) you get.

(A)Dad said...

I agree with the rest. This is a well written and clear letter that expresses the frustrations we've been feeling. Great job.

Heather said...

@natalie - Feel free to email me. I'm pretty sure it was the same agency, different office.

Heather said...

@luna - It's true, there are no easy answers. And I don't think it's easy to rank the choices we face when adopting from best to worst. There are too many variables. And your counselor sounds pretty great.

In general (as an aside to your aside), I prefer adoption agencies/professionals focus their networking efforts on their own peer group--other social workers/counselors/agencies/etc. who may be working with expectant parents in need of adoption services. That sort of local grassroots networking makes sense to me, letting other professionals know they are available as a resource.

As far as online profiles, I think what happens after a profile is viewed makes a big difference. Is an expectant mom directed to contact the waiting family directly? Or does she first contact an agency or counselor where they can back up a few steps before the emotions of a match get involved? Just because someone has taken it on themselves to browse profiles online after making an initial decision to place, doesn't mean it was an informed decision. I'd much rather have that decision processed before a waiting family gets their hopes up than after. You know?

Look, it's a book in response!

luna said...

I totally agree about the grassroots networking. though I have to say, I've seen some professionals (agencies and lawyers) get quite protective over "leads." it's so sad that what should be the focus of good social work is in effect a business of sorts...

about the parent profile sites, you're right, we can't assume it is an informed decision. the way we were advised to handle incoming queries is to do an initial screening (questions) and then refer the person to our counselor. our counselor then connects with whoever the expectant mom is working with, to see what support and services she is receiving, and we go from there. but I am well aware it doesn't always work that way...

thanks for your response!

stella said...

Please see the link >

http://about-orphans.blogspot.com

Karen said...

I always used to tell my students that one of the most satisfying benefits of learning to write well is knowing that you can write a letter like this...one that makes your point clearly and eloquently and ensures you will be heard by the intended recipient. It is powerful; the whole "pen is mightier..." thing. It's sad that this casts a shadow on your thoughts about your first child's adoption, somewhat. I suppose the agency must be in financial straits, as I've heard many agencies are. In the past few months our agency, which had never advertised at all, began advertising for adoptive families and I have seen a huge change...when we were waiting there were only about 6 waiting families on the agency website (more who chose against a website) and now there are 12 (small agency). Advertising apparently works, but I agree with you that it is ethically questionable or unethical, depending on how it's done. By the way, thanks for stopping by my blog! I love your layout, especially the two columns on the right. Did you do that yourself or have a web designer do it for you?

Guera! said...

What a great letter. I have a feeling that a lot of copying and pasting is taking place.

Lavonne said...

Great letter Heather. Sadly, I too have been disappointed by our agency. They initially "advertised" as supporting open adoptions but later found out that they don't believe in completely open adoption but rather it's the semi-open thing but using open adoption language. I've also found out more about their marketing techniques which disturb me. Not only am I thinking I wouldn't use this agency for a second adoption, I'm questioning if I can handle another process like this period....something I'll have to work through at a later date I suppose.

Anyway, let us know if the agency responds!

cocokrispybeans said...

Heather, will you marry me?

Oh.

You're already married, and so am I? Good point.

This post seriously rocked THAT much though. Just so you know, the offer's out there.

rredhead said...

Thanks for this. I have no problem with "outreach" but aggressive marketing goes far beyond that.
After our experience with our agency, I created "recommended" and "not recommended" lists on my web site. It's my dream to one day find a way to turn that into a true ratings site.
http://www.rmcsquared.net/The_Chittister_Family/Adoption.html
FWIW

Heather said...

@rredhead - Thanks for the link. I noticed that the agency I sent this letter to is on your recommended list.

Rating agencies is so tricky, isn't it? Everyone you ask seems to be working from a different set of criteria. And agencies' practices change so often.

Heather said...

@cocokrispybeans - I'll let T know I have a back-up offer on the table. ;)

Lisa said...

I don’t know how I feel about marketing. On one hand, many women don’t even consider adoption because they know nothing about it or it seems scary to them. I believe that a woman facing a situation where she is not sure if she can parent deserves to know about all her options. Women know they can parent and they know they can have an abortion, but adoption usually isn’t something people have tons of information about (unless they have personal experience with it in some way). The major problem I have with marketing efforts is that I believe that agencies present open adoption as a beautiful, magical relationship with no pitfalls to both birth and adoptive parents! I think this makes it very difficult later on. It’s been tough adjusting to my role as mom and “adoptive mom” in our OA and I don’t believe we were fully prepared for the reality of what this relationship was going to be like.

Lisa said...

[Ooops, meant to put the above comment under the newer post on the letter! Sorry!]

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