Tuesday, February 13, 2001

Good news?: A TV report on adoption remains calm

Well, who knew I was so all-fired powerful? Yesterday in this space, when considering a couple of recent "All children from Russia are psychopaths" news stories, I wondered:

Alright, can someone explain this to me? We have, over the last few week, had several stories about domestic adoptions that could have caused reporters to do some really probing, negatively charged examination of how babies get handed out in the U.S. How does an unmarried actress plagued by reports of eating disorders and passing out at work get the okay to adopt an infant? Are internet agencies and, by extension, anybody involved in arranging private adoptions really just matchmaking, or are they selling babies? If a celebrity couple work apart so much they can't keep their marriage together, how did a social worker suppose they'd be able to parent children together? Are their no safeguards in domestic adoption? No sense? Can anybody with enough money get a baby? Those stories would make my blood boil, to be sure, but I could understand why they were coming up now. I was vaguely aware at the time that our local CBS news affiliate was touting an adoption-related story -- called "Adoption Can Break Hearts," of course -- and given the current trends I was sure it would be another flogging of Eastern European adoption. So imagine my surprise when I heard lines like this coming out of my TV:

America's crowded foster care system keeps adoptable children in limbo for years at a time, even though it is estimated that there are about six adoption seekers for every available child.

In the meantime, however, Americans are bombarded with images of high profile celebrity adoptions. The wealthy can easily afford the fees in this sellers market, which can quickly top $35,000.

Critics say American adoptions lack uniform regulation or consistent enforcement. For instance, the time period in which a birth parent can change his or her mind can range from 12 hours to 90 days. But the biggest problem is when desperate adoption seekers try to go it alone and get lost in the maze. So nice to have a news story not say that the biggest problem is when desperate adoption seekers bring damaged kids from overseas. That's the slant that rankled so much in the recent pair of AP articles on Eastern European adoption. Of course, the local Channel 2 report didn't mention Eastern European adoption; the desperate adoption seekers in its story went to China, where as everybody knows the kids are perfect and not damaged at all by living in orphanages. You can almost hear the news director whispering: "You know, them kids from Russia, they ain't right. We're just not going to mention them."

But I'm being defensive. This was a program with a generally less-than-hysterical tone and an appropriate point of view: People who want to adopt are left with few options because the American adoption system and foster-care system are not operated in a responsible and appropriate way. It was relatively non-demonizing of all the individuals involved; even the father who was choking back tears at the thought of returning his nearly adopted infant to her birthmother admitted that it was the birthmother's right. My blood remained its appropriate temperature through the entire segment. For a report on the problems of adoption, it was remarkably hyperbole-free, and so I would like to present those responsible with the first Mothers with Attitude "No Attitude" Award, for reporting on adoption and special-needs issues in a nonalarmist manner. May there be many more.

Still, though, couldn't they have called it "Uncompleted Adoptions Can Break Hearts"?

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