One of the most important steps in your adoption journey will be to ensure that your adoption is ethical. This not only protects the birth family and your new child, but it protects you and your adoption professionals. Ethical practices protect everyone involved and should be sought out in every step. Unfortunately, there have been many unethical practices and loopholes that have been found by many trying to seek an easier adoption route. While adoption is expensive and it is tempting to try and make things easier, it is imperative that adoption be done in a completely ethical way.

There are many different ways that the adoption process can become unethical. There can be issues with how the birth family is treated. If a birth family is not properly represented by their own legal representation, this may cause a conflict of interest. This also does not fully inform the birth family of all of their rights through the adoption process. There is nothing good about trying to keep information from the birth family. This not only undermines the legal process of adoption, but it is extremely unethical. 

Unethical practices can also be found in the practices of adoption professionals. Adoption is a business. Unfortunately, there’s no way around that fact and it does no good to try and ignore it.  There is money exchanged between adoptive families and adoption professionals. With this, as with any monetary transaction, you will find situations and people who practice in unethical ways in order to make the most money or to spend the least money. When people cut corners, there will always be someone who pays the price. Not only can unethical practices hurt a birth family, but it can void the legality of an adoption, making room for future turmoil for both the adoptive and birth family. 

Vet All Professionals

One of the very first things you can do to ensure that your adoption is ethical is to make sure and vet any adoption professional that you will use. The first place to start with this is to call any adoption agencies or adoption attorneys you will be using an ask questions directly about their views on ethics in adoption. You may find that some are nervous to answer. This is a good indication to keep searching. However, you will find that many professionals are very passionate about ethics in adoption and would love to speak with you more on the topic. This is often a good sign. This means that ethical adoptions mean something to them or that they have taken the time to know the right answer to this question. 

The second step is to ask others in the adoption world about these adoption agencies or adoption attorneys. The chances are that there are other people in your area who have used adoption agencies or adoption attorneys that you are looking into and know a lot more about their adoption practices. Do not take the adoption professional’s word for it, but speak with those who have used them before. You will get a lot more honesty out of people who have been through the process. You can also look generally online for reviews on places like Google and through other adoption groups online. Having a good idea of the adoption ethics of each adoption professional will give you a better idea of starting on the right foot with an ethical adoption agency and/or adoption attorney.

It is incredibly important to make sure that you are working with a reputable adoption agency in the case of international adoption. In this situation, it is often hard to know all of the information needed about the child with whom you have been matched in regards to their life before they were placed for adoption. It is vital that you speak with others who have used the agency and check with your local and government agencies before proceeding with an international adoption. It is incredibly important to ask these international adoption agencies what protections they have in place to ensure that their international adoptions are ethical and that no parent with coerced into placing a child for adoption. Unfortunately, there have been national stories about international adoption and children being sold or trafficked through adoption agencies. This is certainly not indicative of all international adoption agencies, but it does give ample concern and reason to make sure that the adoption agency you use is professional, accredited, and known for their extremely ethical practices.

Listen For Unethical Language

When speaking with any adoption professional, listen carefully to the way they speak about adoption. Hopefully, you will run into adoption professionals who speak positively about the adoption process and birth families. However, there are often adoption professionals who have been jaded by their work or do not respect birth families. You may hear some language come out of their mouth that is not kind nor showing any representation for birth families. If you hear things like, “That is their right, but they don’t need to know that.” or “We don’t ‘legally’ have to disclose that.” look for another adoption professional. 

As an adoptive parent, I completely understand the fear that comes with adoption. I understand that the wait can be incredibly hard. I understand how heartbreaking it can be to have to wait to find out if the birth parents might change their minds. However, when we practice adoption unethically, it only hurts others, including our own child. As adoptive parents, we cannot be part of the business part of adoption. We have to make sure that everything is ethical not only to protect the birth family and the child, but to make sure that our adoption process is fully legal. If you come across an adoption professional that tries to find loopholes or jump through certain hoops, you should not use that professional. Find an adoption professional that will explain the rights to the birth family, provide them with legal representation, and make sure that the adoption is of their own free will and not out of any sort of manipulation or misunderstanding.

Make Sure Birth Parents Are Represented

Generally speaking, any adoption professional you use should ensure that the first parents are legally represented by an attorney who is not also your attorney. This should be an attorney that only represents the birth parents and their interests. To ensure that the adoption is legal, there was no manipulation, and that the birth parents fully understand their rights, separate legal representation is necessary. This is not about protecting your ability to adopt, but rather making sure that your adoption is ethical. To do that, you need to make sure that the birth parents were given all the information and are placing their child even with all of the information and rights of which they have been fully informed. 

It may be the law in your state that the birth parents must be represented by outside counsel. However, if this is not the law, you should still make sure that the birth parents have outside counsel and that you are providing that for them. When my husband and I adopted our first child, we were not aware that the birth parents would need or should have outside counsel. Our adoption agency did not mention it or require it. In fact, our adoption agency would not work with anyone who wanted or provided outside counsel for birth parents. It did not matter in our case as we did not have a private adoption, we were adopting through foster care. However, having that knowledge now, we would not use that agency again for a private adoption situation. Business and finances should never come before ethics in adoption. 

Follow The Rules

As soon as you match with a child for adoption, your adoption professionals should inform you of any rules regarding your adoption process. There will be a lot of rules about the money that is exchanged and promises that are made to birth parents. Any money that is required by the birth family will be funneled directly through your adoption professional. Adoption professionals are trained to know what type of money is legal in your state and what that money can be used for by birth parents. Any money given directly to birth parents or exchanged from adoptive parents to birth parents can be seen as manipulation or even as child trafficking. Make sure that you are following all rules and doing nothing that would be considered manipulation as it is unethical and also incredibly illegal. 

This also involves getting gifts for or making promises to the birth family. Again, I completely understand the excitement and anticipation of bringing a child home. It can cause anyone to act irrationally and want to promise the world. However, you have to keep the perspective of an ethical adoption. You do not want to do anything that is manipulative or coercive. Coercion in adoption is illegal, and it can even overturn an adoption ruling. Do not make any promises of financial assistance as that is coercion. Do not provide any gifts to the birth family unless your adoption attorney or adoption agency has deemed it legally appropriate. This does not usually include gifts of substantial value in any circumstances. 

Along with not providing gifts to the birth family, do not make any promises to the birth family that you do not intend to keep or that you may not be able to keep. If you do not intend to honor an open adoption agreement, even though open adoption agreements are not usually legally enforceable, do not state that you will have an open adoption. Do not promise more openness than you are willing to provide. Do not promise anything about raising a child that you do not intend. Do not state that you will keep a child’s name given by their birth parent if you do not plan to do so. It is very easy to say things or promise things in the moment. However, you need to be truthful and ethical throughout the whole process. If, for some reason, the match falls through because you cannot honor something the birth family wants, then that is what needs to happen. The only ethical way to proceed with an adoption is to remain truthful and honest about your intentions.

Respect The Birth Family 

Ensuring your adoption is ethical will largely have to do with respecting the birth family and also respecting your prospective new child. You need to honor and respect the life that they had before coming into your family. This is even true of newborn adoption. Your child has a family and a past that began before you. It is vital to make sure that that is not severed in an unethical way. It is up to you as their parent to make sure that you are honoring all agreements and not doing anything that would cause your adoption to come from a place of more loss than necessary or any level of coercion. Make sure that, from the very beginning, you are following ethical steps by choosing an adoption agency or adoption attorney that honors ethical adoption. Make sure that you find adoption professionals who put ethics as their main priority in adoption in all proceedings. Do be afraid to speak up against or report any unethical practices. 

There is no way to get around the fact that adoption is a business. However, you can take these steps to ensure that your adoption has preceded it in an ethical fashion. Put yourself in the shoes of the birth family and make sure that there is a great level of comfort for each step of your journey. Do not be afraid to question your adoption professionals or switch adoption professionals if needed. Talk more about ethics and read more about it before you proceed on your adoption journey.

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Lita Jordan is a master of all things “home.” A work-from-home, stay-at-home, homeschooling mother of five. She has a BA in Youth Ministry from Spring Arbor University. She is married to the “other Michael Jordan” and lives on coffee and its unrealistic promises of productivity. Lita enjoys playing guitar and long trips to Target. Follow her on