Adoption with the help of the Internet: Pros and cons

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Author: 
Joanne Thalken
Source: 
Focus on Adoption magazine

The Canada Adopts website describes itself as a place where prospective adoptive families and birth families connect. It boasts that it is the only Internet site that provides adoption-related information and a parent registry in one place.

Two adoptive parents in Calgary, who adopted their first child through a similar US service, started Canada Adopts.

The website allows adoptive parents to post a personal profile, a “Dear Birth Mother” letter, a family photo album, a description of their family, and the contact info for the agency they are working with. 

When I first heard of Canada Adopts my initial reaction was that without the involvement of adoption professionals, there were all kinds of potential problems with such a service. These might include birth parents contacting adoptive parents before they are ready to make a decision about parenting their child, or adoptive parents who are so desperate for a child they don’t see red flags that might be more immediately obvious to an experienced adoption social worker.

While the Internet offers incredible and relatively inexpensive opportunities for waiting parents to make sure their homestudies have the most exposure possible, it also means a loss of privacy. Using photographs as “marketing tools” to lure birth parents also seemed ethically borderline to me.

From the birth parents’ perspective, there also seems to be potential pitfalls. Although adoptive parents must have a completed homestudy to register with Canada Adopts, the “personal profile” is written by the waiting parents and does not necessarily reflect the information in their homestudy. Having the birth parents select the adoptive parents without the advice of a social worker experienced in choosing homestudies which are a good “fit” with the level of openness and other expectations that the birth family may have, also seems to be a potential source of problems.

To find answers to some of these concerns, I contacted a couple that met the birth family of their new son through Canada Adopts. Their story confirms some of my initial concerns, but also points to the many positive aspects of the service.

Jason and his husband Dan are the extremely proud new parents of a baby boy. Matt was born on January 22, 2006, in Prince Albert and came home soon after. The couple first heard about Canada Adopts when they attended an adoption seminar at Family Services of Greater Vancouver. The majority of the prospective parents at the session immediately said that they were not interested because of privacy concerns. But, after visiting the website, Jason and Dan felt that just providing their email address gave them sufficient protection. At worst, if they were harassed, they would have to change their email.

Given their limited options as a same-sex couple, Dan and Jason felt that Canada Adopts opened up another path for them. They believed that their profile would reach the widest audience possible and that posting information and pictures on the website was very cost effective. They weren’t, however, entirely comfortable with the “marketing” focus of the site and felt many of the profiles and pictures in the parent registry seemed contrived. When Dan and Jason posted their information they really tried to be honest and to choose pictures which reflected who they are as a family.

After they posted their information, the couple was called five or six times by different birth parents. They also received seven or eight emails--only two or three of those were genuine. This was, of course, extremely difficult when each contact raised their hopes of building their family. Jason says it was hard to remain objective and that the biggest challenge with the process was that there was no pre-screening and no intermediary between themselves and birth families. When they first made contact with Matt’s birth family, the communication between them was not smooth; Jason and Dan had difficulty creating the boundaries they felt they needed. Although this can certainly happen with any adoption, Jason feels that earlier advice and assistance from their agency and from AFABC would have made the journey less difficult. With the assistance of adoption professionals they now have working with them, things are improving. Early relationships in open adoptions are so complicated by high emotion and the fact that the families involved, although they now share a child, are essentially strangers. Having outside support is important to the process and, even if it can’t happen immediately, it needs to happen as quickly as possible.

Jason and Dan’s adoption was stressful at times, and Jason thinks it would have been less so if they had had the opportunity to connect through an agency rather than through the Internet. He says it was a great relief when their agency started to take on a larger role. As the Canada Adopts website states, the Internet might be a place to find a child, but it isn’t a place to adopt one. However, Jason believes that Canada Adopts did increase their chances of adopting a child—their homestudy was read by birth parents very infrequently through the two local agencies they were registered with, and no birth parents seriously considered them in the time they waited.

Tips on using Canada Adopts

  • Set up an exclusive email or phone number to communicate with unknown contacts through the internet.
  • Don't reply to messages immediately. Take some time to calm down and really consider how much information you want to reveal about yourself or your family.
  • Try not to become too excited about every contact you receive--some will not work out. Do your best to keep calm and save your energy.
  • Don't use a service like Canada Adopts alone--involve your adoption agency or AFABC as early as possible. They are not as emotionally involved and can help you navigate difficult situations. They can also recognize red flags you might miss.

Despite his reservations about the support his family received, Jason says they read the Canada Adopts website thoroughly before registering and found it very helpful—particularly the section on the dos and don’ts of using such a service. Regarding privacy, Jason thinks certain sacrifices are a necessary evil with this style of adoption; but, he and Dan would not change how they approached it. Even though the couple thought they would be more vulnerable to harassment as a same-sex couple than other families, their experience was entirely positive. Though the men did have quite a few contacts with birth parents that did not materialize, they learned that response time is an excellent clue as to whether people are really interested—they realized they had to receive an e-mail back before becoming at all excited.

As their adoption was interprovincial (reminding us that the Internet is borderless), the family had to pay for the services of their local agency and an agency in Prince Albert. They also had to deal with learning and working with another province’s adoption laws and process. Dan and Jason found that the agency in Prince Albert was not initially supportive of an interprovincial adoption, and the agency working with the birth family tried to convince them to choose a local family rather than one in BC. However, once the family had made it clear that they had made their choice, the agencies worked well together. As I have said, if Jason and Dan could go through the process again, they would have used their agency and AFABC for support and advice much more than they did.

It is becoming increasingly common to meet and communicate through the Internet—many people, especially younger people, are very comfortable meeting people this way. If the Internet is going to be used as tool to bring birth families and adoptive families together, the key to making it a success is that everyone involved is well educated about how to use it.

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