The Role of the Internet in Adoption
By Jana J. Annest, Esq.
The internet has changed the adoption experience as profoundly as it has changed booking an airline ticket. Love it or hate it, we’re never going back. To stimulate positive changes and mitigate risks, we have to remain conscious and thoughtful about the internet’s effects on adoption. Those effects include:
First Impressions and Initial Information
The sheer quantity of adoption information online makes it hard to distinguish credible, relevant results from the sensational or inapplicable. A Google search for “how to adopt a baby” or “put my baby up for adoption” may return:
- Professional photos and profiles of prospective adoptive parents. Their lives all look perfect.
- Detailed descriptions of a biological father’s parental rights under Florida law. Or Maine. Or Washington. They will all be different.
- Reassuring statements from organizations describing adoption as a loving choice and offering support for expectant mothers.
- Angry blogs from parents whose children were removed from them and placed with foster families.
- A promise that hundreds of thousands of children in the U.S. are available for adoption right now.
- An AP article about a three-year-old returned to a biological parent after living with her adoptive parents since birth.
What is an adoption-curious Google searcher to make of results like this? There might be some useful information in there, but someone new to adoption has little chance of finding it. Without context or guidance, results like this could be inspiring, terrifying, or confusing.
The internet is also likely to create a negative first impression of adoption. Positive adoption content is underrepresented online because it is . . . boring. Dramatic stories get more clicks. After ten minutes online, a person could be forgiven for concluding that adoption is a legally risky, morally murky process. Positive stories are out there, but you have to dig for them. Ninety-nine percent of adoptions are uncontroversial results of a functioning legal system. Uncontroversial results of functioning legal systems do not make for exciting blog content.
In a perfect world, the internet would provide credible, balanced, relevant answers to searchers curious about adoption, and search engines would prioritize trustworthy websites such as vetted nonprofits, licensed adoption agencies and attorneys, and academic and government resources instead of clickbait. In the meantime, credible sources of accurate adoption information can optimize search results by linking to and interacting with each other’s pages.
Nearly every prospective adoptive parent has an online profile, and nearly every expectant mother has the internet in her pocket. If someone wants to place her child with parents who raise alpacas and collect yo-yos, she can! Expectant parents have more choices and more control over their placement decision than ever before. Likewise, adoptive parents can share their profiles with expectant parents all across the country, not just those who see an ad in the local paper. What used to be a wading pool has become an ocean of potential matches.
The odds of finding an “ideal” match have improved, but so have the chances that prospective adoptive parents spend little time in person with an expectant parent before birth. Adoptive parents should prioritize in-person (or at least or Zoom) communication with expectant parents, and the professionals working with them should encourage them to move the relationship off the internet and into real life as soon as possible.
If any question remains about whether children should know their adoption stories and information about their biological family, the existence of Ancestry.com and 23andme should answer it definitively. Thanks to websites like these, learning your genetic history is not only possible, but almost inevitable. The days of closed adoptions are gone forever, and that reality should inform interactions with and between all members of the adoption community.
Support and Community
Adoptees, adoptive parents, and birth parents all feel isolated or different sometimes. Adoption is more common than we realize, but it can still be hard to find others who really “get it” in our immediate communities. The internet lets us reach beyond our own schools and neighborhoods and towns for those connections. Young adults placed through the same Chinese orphanage, transracial adoptees from predominantly white neighborhoods, parents looking for adoption-specific advice, birth parents seeking support from someone who actually stood in their shoes – these groups can form communities that could not have existed before the internet. By amplifying and promoting participation in these groups, we will help all people touched by adoption find the support they deserve.
The internet is not “bad for adoption” or “good for adoption.” It just changed adoption. If we accept the fact of change and pay close attention to its impact, the internet can improve transparency, education, and support for everyone touched by adoption.
Janna Annest is an attorney with Lirhus, Keckemet, Annest PLLC in Seattle, WA, and a Fellow of the Academy of Adoption and Assisted Reproduction Attorneys. An adoptive mother herself, Jana began building her family formation practice in 2008 and has represented adoptive parents and birth parents in all aspects of adoption. Learn more about Jana and her practice here.