SO, WHEN IS HE YOURS?
Making adoption permanent as quickly as possible is definitely child-centered thinking. What's less clear, however, is how to make that happen while still protecting the parental rights of genetic parents. Adoption does involve emotional risk for those who would become parents in this way. The bottom line is that adoptive parents do not and cannot become legal, permanent parents until both birthparents' legal rights have been cleanly terminated-voluntarily or by court revocation.
Recognizing that children are best served over a lifetime by having made as few caregiving and attachment figure transitions as possible, public agencies have been recruiting foster-to-adopt families for some time now. Since many of the children served by public agencies are toddlers and older, removed from situations of abuse and neglect, these hopeful parents take the substantial emotional risk of parenting these children while their birthparents are given the opportunity to rehabilitate themselves and reclaim their parental rights. More and more public agency foster parents are fostering in hopes of adopting.
Not wanting to accept the emotional risk inherent in such a situation is one of the reasons that many readers of this book look instead at either private agency or independent domestic adoption, or at intercountry adoption. These options are often less emotionally risky for parents-to-be, but they put children at substantial risk. Here's why.
Practitioners of genuinely child-centered rather than adult-centered adoption know that pregnant women considering adoption (and their partners, when available) need a minimum of several weeks of careful counseling by an adoption-experienced trained mental health or social service professional, and sign voluntary termination of the parental rights only after they are clear about their ultimate decision. Then follow-up with these mothers is needed to provide post-placement grief counseling for those who made placement plans. When birthparents approach their chosen adoption practitioner at least by the end of the seventh month of their pregnancy and take advantage of these counseling services, the period between birth and irrevocable termination of parental right can-and should be very, very brief-a matter of mere days, not weeks. These optimal situations result in direct placements and avoid the confusion of foster care (sometimes called cradle care) for the baby.