Safeguarding the Welfare of Adult Adoptees Through Ethical Inclusion on Adoption Conference Panels: an Important Response from Adoptee Professionals

The exclusion of adult adoptees from adoption discourse is a significant problem in adoption.  Unfortunately, an additional issue arises when adult adoptees are included in discourse but are put at unnecessary risk by those who solicited their feedback.  Recently, Susan Branco Alvarado and Sandy Whitehawk of Adoption Policy and Reform Collaborative (APRC) attended a conference, "Domestic and International Adoption: Strategies to Improve Behavioral Health Outcomes for Youth and Their Families," and were concerned that basic ethical standards of client-practitioner boundaries and safeguarding did not seem to be followed by some of the participating agencies.  Susan, Sandy, and several other members of APRC collaborated to draft a letter to the organizers of this conference:
"Nevertheless, we request that serious consideration be taken for the next forum in regards to the  use of adopted person panels and testimony.  First, we do not support a clinical service provider using former and/or current clients to provide  testimony that directly endorses said service  provider and their agency because of the potential ethical issues these types of testimonies and panels raise. Second, it is  our position that  client testimonials, if in fact are determined to be appropriate within the context of a policy, research, and exploratory adoption forum, be guided by utilizing, at minimum, the ethical standards recommended by the professional associations’ guidelines and are framed within the context of offering the young adult/youth an opportunity to express best practice and policy recommendations from their vantage point. We are requesting this for the following reasons:"
According to the ethical guidelines drafted by multiple professional associations, it is inappropriate for professionals, such as Social Workers and Counselors, to solicit testimony in support of an agency from a past or current client of that agency.  This is problematic because helping professionals making such a request are in a position of power and therefore are considered to be putting undue influence on a current/past client to oblige.  Helping professionals are also ethically prohibited from benefiting from something that places their clients at risk.  It is not appropriate for an agency to solicit a past/current adoptee client to divulge deeply personal information on a panel to strangers for the benefit of an agency, especially since it puts this client at psychological risk.

While it is vital to include adult adoptees wherever adoption is being discussed, professionals must always remember that the welfare of the participants in these discussions comes first, not benefits to agencies or the overall institution.  It is unacceptable for adult adoptee narratives to be used in this way.  As the APRC recommends, and I echo, the inclusion of adult adoptees in conference panels should follow, at minimum, the ethical standards laid out by multiple Counseling and Social Work organizations.  

To read excerpts of the Codes of Ethics the APRC is referring to as well as read the entire letter APRC sent to the conference organizers as well as several major adoption stakeholders click here.  Please share this letter with everyone you know who is connected to adoption.