New study analyzes responses to adoption

Photo credit: Jessica Hubble

By Megan Rule | Staff Writer

Women who have placed a child for adoption now have a voice thanks to a recent study led by Dr. Elissa Madden, assistant professor in the Diana R. Garland School of Social Work.

Madden led researchers to survey, interview and analyze the responses of both birth mothers who had placed their children for adoption and the adoption professionals who work with expectant mothers. The study was then split into two phases, Madden said. The first phase provided survey results and analyses of 223 birth mothers and 141 adoption professionals. The second phase provided a deeper analysis of 20 of those birth mothers and 20 of those adoption professionals through interviews.

“Expectant mothers want to know that when they go to somebody to help them with this process, that entity is giving them all the information,” Madden said. “And anybody would want that. They want to make informed choices, and so they want to know that they’re getting all the information and that while they may not like the circumstances and they may grieve them, at the end of the day they truly know that they tried and weren’t sabotaged in that process.”

Many birth mothers expressed concerns of being judged and feeling shame, and also felt a lack of emotional support in the process of adoption, according to the study. Many birth mothers also expressed concern for financial stability, which was a big reason why adoption was first considered as an option and ultimately selected.

Results from the adoption professionals showed that the language used when referring to mothers at different points of the pregnancy process mattered, and adoption professionals prefer different terms for different phases. The study also showed that a lot of the information adoption professionals discussed with the expectant mothers focused on adoption only rather than discussing other options. Many professionals felt that additional training was necessary for their work.

“We’d really like to see agencies be really intentional about providing resources to expectant moms about how they could parent,” Madden said. “And they’re not really in the business to do that because they’re adoption agencies, but that’s a part of the process. A critical part of the process is making sure your clients have really, truly gone through all the options they could and selected this, and they have an ethical obligation to do that.”

The study was funded by The Donaldson Adoption Institute and conducted in conjunction with the University of Arlington School of Social Work, according to the press release. The study included both results from the in-depth interviews and suggestions for policy changes. Laura Bruder, a Baylor alumna and executive director of BraveLove, which is a pro-adoption movement aiming to change the perception of adoption by acknowledging birth mothers for their bravery, said BraveLove is an organization that benefits from the information in this study.

“Because of the stories and experiences shared, the research reaffirmed the need to improve options, counseling and adoption practices so that expectant parents are able to fully explore all of their options on their own time and make the best decision for themselves and their child,” Bruder said in an email to the Lariat.

The study recommends mandating adoption agencies and attorneys to develop access to pre- and post-adoption services for expectant and birth parents and providing expectant parents with information that is standard and contains details of possible outcomes associated with relinquishing a child for adoption. The study also suggests increasing education for expectant parents and prospective adoptive parents about post-relinquishment contact and mandating ethics in adoption education for adoption professionals.

“It was evident the amount of thought, intentionality and respect that went into Dr. Madden’s research methodologies,” Bruder said in an email. “Making an adoption plan is a highly sensitive and inherently personal decision that impacts people’s lives and families forever. You could really feel the weight of those decisions in this study, which is why the call for change is important. People’s lives are forever impacted because of adoption. Moving forward, I’m interested to see how these recommendations and best practices will be implemented among adoption professionals.”