Adopting Bad Policy

Originally published at National Review

Many in the adoption community are expressing serious concerns about the Bush administration serving up a warmed-over Clinton-era adoption-from-foster-care project, an act that inspired the Washington Post and Clinton’s Rasputin, Dick Morris, to say that President Bush was borrowing from the Clinton script.

The concerns arose following the ballyhooed July 23 announcement that First Lady Laura Bush and actor Bruce Willis have collaborated on a public-service ad to promote the National Adoption Center’s 800 number and website in hopes that more children marooned in the foster-care system might be considered for adoption.

Willis’s fame is sure to make fingers pause over the mute button and Laura Bush’s authentic warmth is a nice balance. It’s just too bad they aren’t promoting a better product than a website,, that’s just the same-old, “Faces of Adoption,” only this time with a larger transfusion of federal dollars to keep the anemic-shell-of-a-flawed idea alive.

The Bush- and Clinton-administration-funded websites are the fourth-generation offspring of an idea that first occurred to a real-estate broker: If “multiple listings” could help induce more prospective buyers to purchase properties, why not adapt the idea to the thousands of kids in foster care waiting for adoptive families?

The trouble was and is not just a “marketing” challenge. Then, as now, the gatekeepers for the system all too often discourage some prospective parents from adopting some children. The gatekeepers’ personal preferences are for “family preservation,” especially “kinship care,” or for applicants who either are of the same ethnic background or who are willing to subject themselves to Maoist-style “re-education” so that they will become “culturally competent” to care for a child with a different skin color. Two federal laws have been passed prohibiting the consideration of race or ethnicity in the placement of children in foster care or adoption. Despite these laws, financial incentives continue in other federal laws that encourage continued labeling of children who have any minority racial or ethnic background as “special needs,” a term the social-work bureaucracy uses instead of “hard-to-place.” And some adoption-organization officials continue to contribute to the problem by lumping ethnicity in with legitimate special needs.

Putting aside the barriers erected by the social-welfare establishment and others who, in effect, equate minority ethnicity alone with being “hard to place,” the problem with these well-intentioned online photolistings of children eligible for adoption is that some adults and many of the children waiting for families see these listings as demeaning. Unlike houses, children have feelings and many of the older children are bright enough, despite their emotional and physical challenges, to understand that “marketing” often means that only the healthiest, youngest, and most physically attractive children tend to get selected. In other countries, such online marketing is so repugnant that most ban the practice.

The defense is familiar: “It’s the only way to get these children adopted.” But even that rationalization, on closer examination, fails. Since 1995, the National Adoption Center, the home of “Face of Adoption,” found families for 650 children —— no more than 93 per year. According to, a source for public financial information about charities, the total budget for the National Adoption Center during the fiscal year ending June 30, 2001, was $2,200,828, of which $1,162,509 came from government grants. The organization also had a fat fund balance of $1,343,703 and had a net gain in excess of ten percent of their total budget, $226,947, something many for-profit groups would consider a respectable profit.

Yet if one averages out the placements, it works out to $12,500 in federal funds to the National Adoption Center per placement per year, a figure that does not include other government or agency costs, legal fees, or adoption subsidies. If one were to take the entire budget of the National Adoption Center into account, the average cost would work out to a whopping $25,000 per placement. My sense is that competently run U.S. charitable adoption agencies teamed with a state agencies, determined to get good results, could do much better with the same budget.

For instance, it would be interesting to see what the total real cost per placement was for Adopt 2000, a Houston, Texas, collaboration of the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services and six private agencies working in child placement that won an award from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for its success. During its first year, Adopt 2000 helped place a total of 412 Houston-area special-needs children with adoptive families.

Perhaps none of the people responsible for adoption policy in the administration advised the president about the many shortcomings of these online photolistings, including the potential for violating the privacy rights of children, putting their medical and other personal histories on the web where any competent hacker can download it for later marketing —— not to mention serving as a fantasy catalog for certain sorts of pederasts and predators. Government is so often behind the curve that maybe the career bureaucrats who shepherded through the Clinton commitment just failed to realize that the reason for the dwindling number of banner ads on the web is that not many people are clicking and buying.

— William L. Pierce was the founding president of the National Council For Adoption, where he served for 20 years. He is currently a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, publisher of Adoption/Medical News, and executive director of the USA Committee for the International Association of Voluntary Adoption Agencies and NGOs.

William L. Pierce

William L. Pierce, Ph.D., is a Senior Fellow with Discovery Institute. Pierce is also the Executive Director of the U.S. Committee for the International Association of Voluntary Adoption Agencies & NGOs (IAVAAN), the Publisher and Executive Editor of Adoption/Medical News, and was the Founding President & CEO of The National Council For Adoption. Pierce writes from Washington, D.C.