Adam Pertman doesn’t do things in half measures. When I asked him in a recent interview about what open adoption trends he’ll be watching in 2012, he didn’t simply answer my question.
He took me on a fascinating tour of the major adoption milestones of the past two centuries before circling back to the present day. And he did it in five minutes flat, without taking a breath the entire time.
Had his achievements been limited solely to his groundbreaking 2001 book, Adoption Nation, Pertman would have secured himself a place of honor in the Adoption Hall of Fame.
But that was just the beginning of a long career devoted to adoption education and advocacy. As the Executive Director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, the leading U.S. think tank on adoption policy, Pertman has become one of the leading voices for adoption reform.
And now, with the recent release of the new, updated and revised edition of Adoption Nation, Pertman is once again bringing adoption — and the need to bring its practices into the 21st century — to a larger audience.
Recently I asked him what he sees as the major adoption trends in 2012. According to Pertman, by far the biggest change in the world of adoption is in the type of adoptions that now take place.
“The adoptions that people historically think of when they think of adoption, infant adoption, is now the smallest minority,” he says.
What’s more, he added, even those adoptions aren’t what they used to be.
“It’s not mostly white infants born to unwed white mothers being raised by married white couples. Parents today are multiracial; they are sometimes gay or lesbian or single; and the kids are biracial or of color.”
And yet, he adds, “all the laws, policies, practices and attitudes about adoption today are still built on the platform of a type of adoption that barely exists.”
For Pertman, perhaps the biggest change we’ve seen in adoption over the past few decades is the shift toward openness. By openness, he doesn’t mean the type of relationship that we traditionally associate with open adoptions, where adoptive parents and birth parents share identifying information and contact through phone calls, emails, letters or visits.
Instead, the way Pertman sees it, openness is more of an attitude and an approach — one marked by honesty, compassion and information. For decades, this kind of openness has been the foundation of open adoption.
And now Pertman says, it’s suddenly finding its way into public adoptions as well.
“Child welfare placements make up by far the most adoptions in the U.S., he says. “But even that’s coming around. It’s more complicated. There are court orders. The kids are removed from their homes rather than placed voluntary. But now there’s an understanding that knowledge, information, and even contact where it’s possible, is a positive thing for the people involved.”
And, he says, openness is also influencing international adoptions as well.
“The trend in international adoption is that the numbers are plummeting. But the kids and adults who were adopted abroad are searching in unprecedented numbers. It’s a positive message for all of us because what we see is that adults are going back to find their birth families to get that information and meet people, if possible.”
Rather than be alarmed by adoptees wanting to know about their origins, we should respect and support their efforts, Pertman says.
“These people aren’t ingrates. They’re successful adopted people. And what they want is the same thing that everyone has as a birthright. They want to know where they came from, who they look like — all the stuff that the rest of us take for granted. And that’s a really big lesson for other realms of adoption. Because that movement toward international search and reunion and openness really started with infant adoptions.”
Pertman sees the movement toward more openness as beneficial not only for children, but for their families as well.
“Those insecurities that made (adoptive parents) not want contact or connections aren’t good for them or their kids. Knowledge is good for you. Honesty is good for you and your kids. One informs the other. One feeds off the other and the trendline in that respect is toward greater openness.”
Lawrence Morton is an adoptive father and co-founder of America Adopts!, an open adoption meeting place that connects expectant parents who are considering adoption with families that are hoping to adopt. Follow America Adopts! on Twitter and Facebook.