Adoption battle may not be what it seems

by | Jun 14, 2015 | Comment, Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

As I write this column, there is a 5-year-old girl at my feet, playing with flash cards. She lives in a Haitian orphanage. Her mother died. Her father is absent. She has been staying with us due to a medical issue.

In her brief time in our Michigan home, her response to daily love and affection has been astonishing. Her language skills have jumped. Her sense of security is noticeable. The other night, we heard her laughing in her sleep.

I mention this, because there was a lot of talk about adoption in Michigan this past week. Sadly, as too often happens, little of it was about children.

Instead, it focused on who gets to say yes to whom, as if orphaned kids were like iPhones and the lines went out the door.

If only. The truth is many kids need adoption that few people want to adopt. And many people who want to adopt can’t afford to do so.

Before we get in verbal brawls over whether faith-based groups should have to give children to same-sex couples, or whether being unmarried or divorced or belonging to a certain religion is reason to be turned away at the door, why don’t we address what this is really about?

Money. And agendas.

It shouldn’t be this hard

Let’s be honest. Adoption has never been like handing out candy. For decades, prospective parents have had to meet rigorous standards, background checks, nature of the home, even how they made a living.

Sometimes birth parents designate a certain kind of couple. Sometimes private agencies serve only certain religious backgrounds. Sometimes potential adopters want only a particular sex, race or age. There’s now a trend toward choosing hair and eye color, so that people might think the child is biologically connected.

Let’s agree on this much: Adoption has long been a picky business. On both sides.

The reason there was furor over Gov. Rick Snyder signing a bill that allows faith-based adoption agencies to turn away potential couples — based on religious principles — wasn’t because no one had ever heard of the idea.

It’s because some of those agencies take money. From the government. And if the government says all folks must be treated equal — and that same-sex couples are legally on par with heterosexual couples, as the U.S. Supreme Court may well rule this month — then how can that agency practice otherwise?

This argument clearly makes sense. Ironically, it’s the same argument that faith-based groups are making. If you don’t like our rules, don’t do business with us.

The problem is, if both sides say this, we’d have far fewer adoptions than we have today. Like it or not, faith-based agencies handle around half of the state’s adoptions. If they went away (due to lack of state funding) there is no way our government, and its bureaucratic ineptitude, would be able to make up the slack.

The fact is, our state doesn’t even do adoptions. Virtually all of that is handled by private agencies — including faith-based ones — paid for, in part, with our tax money.

Which is likely why Snyder signed a bill that, on many levels, flies in the face of what he has said he believes.

And why people are so upset.

It should be all about the children

Meanwhile, there’s another money element here. According to AdoptTogether, a wonderful organization that “crowdfunds” so that couples can meet the costs of adoption, there are far more people who want to adopt than can afford it. Private adoptions can costs as much as $50,000. (State agency adoptions are much less.) Legal fees, filings, travel, paperwork, all add up sometime to a wall that can’t be climbed.

So on the one hand we have government that gives money to agencies to do work it can’t, and on the other hand we have couples who’d adopt if they had the funds.

It seems these issues could be bettered addressed with funding, not screaming. It is morally wrong for Michigan to codify discrimination in its laws. Any laws. That’s clear. But the truth is, we are never going to legislate away preferences. Agencies can refuse people in all kinds of ways.

But not every agency is faith-based, and not every adoption is the same. I read a quote in the Huffington Post from Adam Pertman, the executive director of the New York-based Donaldson Adoption Institute:

“You don’t need 100% agency participation. The bottom line is if you’re a qualified gay or lesbian in America and you want to adopt, you can.”

And that was four years ago.

Meanwhile, as the 5-year-old orphan plays with her flash cards, it is obvious that the adoption issue should focus more on what we have in common than what we don’t. Otherwise what are we teaching these children we would take in?

Contact Mitch Albom: Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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