Something crucial is missing from the Legislature's newest task force. Actually, a lot is missing — a whole group of people who should be included in one of the most important discussions affecting those whose lives are at stake when it comes to this issue. The issue? Adoption. The people missing? Adoptees.
The Speaker’s Task Force on Adoption held its first hearing in Madison on June 19 and its second on July 2. The goal of the task force, as Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, stated, is the formation of a “special bipartisan committee (that) will focus on addressing the barriers facing biological and adoptive parents in the adoption process.”
Wanting to make adoption more accessible to families and expectant mothers, Vos said, “we want to give our most vulnerable children every chance available to become productive members of society.”
This is good news for the group of people affected by adoption — including this writer, who is a 58-year-old adoptee and adoption alum of the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families. We need all the help we can get. But it’s also a problematic situation because it does not include the voices that, presumably, know the most about the issue because they have actually lived it. I have lived for decades as an adoptee as have so many others — and we have not yet been invited into the dialogue.
It doesn’t matter which piece of the adoption puzzle you represent — the adoptee or the biological parent or the adoptive parent — this is a life event that is sure to affect you greatly, and it might even bring with it some emotional trauma. It might cause unexpected psychological, physical and legal problems, and it needs to be addressed holistically. But how do you do that if you’re not talking to the experts? And we, members of the adoption constellation — adoptees, biological parents and adoptive parents — are the experts.
The Speaker’s Task Force on Adoption is a great initiative, but the way it is presently constituted is too narrow in its scope. It must hear us. It must examine the evidence that shows, for example, that historically, adoption laws have been tilted in favor of adoptive parents. Now, with open adoption becoming the norm and domestic relinquishment rates dropping, there are generations of adoptees coming of age who are raising their voices about statutory inequities. It is time to be truly inclusive. It is time to include them, me, us. When agencies and adoptive parents are the only ones at the discussion table, how can the outcome have any potential to balance all the parties’ interests and align adoption policy and practice with all the realities of our current and shared experiences? This is not the 1950s, and adoption is no longer a shameful secret that stigmatizes people, but the way to recognize this particular evolution in thinking and action requires an equal opportunity for everyone interested and affected to be heard and to contribute to the discussion.
Finally, if we’re working to streamline the adoption process on the front end (one of the task force’s stated goals), why not streamline adult access to records on the back end, rather than force adoptees into court hearings or DNA searches running sideways through second cousins and other genetic relatives? As an adult adoptee, I can tell you that it is exhausting and deeply upsetting to have to jump through the endless legal or medical hoops of what should’ve been my right to access information about my own life, on top of having to deal with how relinquishment has affected me in general. If only for that reason, I should have the right to express my opinion and tell my story about what it’s like to be an adoptee. Stories like mine must be included in order to make any sort of fair decisions that will come out of the task force. So I ask Assembly Speaker Robin Vos — whom I would like to praise for recognizing the need for changes and updates — Task Force Chair Rep. Barbara Dittrich, R-Oconomowoc, and everyone else involved, to consider involving adoptees, birth parents and anybody else who might be missing from this picture. Otherwise, it — just like the mystery of it, the stigma, the bad reputation of adoption, and everything else that we want to leave behind as outdated and non-progressive — will become yet another confused entity that will just cloud the issue instead of giving it clarity it deserves.
David B. Bohl, of Milwaukee, was relinquished at birth and adopted through the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families by a Milwaukee couple. He is the author of the award-winning memoir Parallel Universes: The Story of Rebirth. He is a member of the American Adoption Congress, Concerned United Birthparents and the National Association for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors. Bohl works in Madison and around the state as an addiction advocate and consultant.
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