Sunday, November 29, 2015

Safe Haven? A Baby Abandoned in a Nativity Scene isn't a "Feel Good" Christmas Story

Copyright: kevron2001

Yesterday, a friend posted a link to an NPR piece that drew heartwarming conclusions of Biblical proportion regarding the recent abandonment of a newborn in a New York nativity scene. "Bible stories stay compelling over centuries," writes the author, Scott Simon, "because they show people struggle to do something good." The adoptive father of two seemingly likens the baby left at the church to Moses being placed in a basket to float in the reeds of the Nile river. In a world where parenting can be difficult and overwhelming, Mr. Simon invites us to find hope and inspiration from people, like this mother, who make hard choices. With this feel-good conclusion to this story, we almost miss the ache from the pit of our stomachs, a reminder that we're all somehow culpable for the separation of a mother and her much loved child.

The law under which this infant was abandoned exists less altruistically than as "a door in the law for parents who may feel...unable to care for their safely leave them, with some confidence that they will be....eventually taken in by another family," as Simon puts it. More accurately, Safe Haven laws serve to address unsafe abandonment and infanticide--enacted in all 50 states "[a]s an incentive for mothers in crisis to safely relinquish their babies to designated locations where the babies are protected and provided with medical care until a permanent home is found" (source). In other words, Safe Haven laws are based on the idea that decriminalized and anonymized infant abandonment will keep mothers--who may be in crisis from a variety of circumstances--from hurting their babies.

Certainly wanting to hurt her baby or not being prepared to raise him weren't issues for Moses's mother, Jocebed. After all, she was tasked with Moses's care after Pharaoh's daughter found him. So why did Jocebed have Moses placed into a waterproofed basket in the Nile? One source suggests that it was because Jocebed could not bear to watch Moses die, because the prophetess Miriam told her it would save Moses, or to convince astrologers advising Pharaoh that the savior of the Jews was one of the babies already thrown to the Nile--thus prompting him to end his slaughter of children.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Dear Students and Social Workers Considering "Adoption Work"

When I was an undergraduate social work student, I found myself making a daily pass by a certain poster in the department lounge area. The 9x12 sheet listed dozens of fields that employ social workers, such as "mental health" and "juvenile probation" and "substance abuse" in various fonts and sizes. Upon close inspection, "adoption work" appeared near microscopically at the very bottom, perhaps indicative of how the profession views its overall presence within the adoption institution. Although a great number of adoption workers are also social workers, most social workers are not adoption workers. However, "adoption work" remains one of our profession's most iconic, if not stereotypical, areas of practice.

I am new to social work, but not new to serving people. 2.5 years ago, I attained the credentials to be a "social worker" in accordance with state law and CSWE standards, but have worked in human services fields for over 10 years. I am newer to working with a focus on adoption, but am not new to adoption itself. I have been writing, speaking, educating, and testifying on adoption issues for almost 7 years, but have lived the adoption experience for over 30 years. My current work focuses on family preservation--including serving families of all compositions, placement stability support for foster youth, and post-adoption support for adoptees and their various family members. 

As National Adoption Month sparks discussion in social work spaces about what "adoption work" is, I feel compelled to add to that dialogue with my "social worker" hat on, and with the reinforcement that comes from a lived adoption experience as a member of the adoption community.