The Role of Technology in Improving the Adoption Process

Introduction

Adoption has been defined as an “act establishing a person as parent to one who is not in fact or in law his or her child” (Bajpai, 2018, p. 1). The act of adoption also establishes legal relationship between adoptive parents and child and also leads to the creation of status for the child in law, whereby the relationship is created between parent and child and the child for all intents and legal purposes becomes the child of the adoptive parents (Bajpai, 2018). There are creation of familial, social, and even economic relations (for instance, the child may have the right to the property of the parent and also have the right to be looked after by the parent during the period of minority). The practice of adoption is not new and is recorded in much earlier periods in different civilisations of the world; however, in the present times, adoption is also a legal concept and process, which is why there are a number of regulatory norms that are attached to the process of adoption.

Clearly, adoption of children is a process that involves a number of social, economic and legal considerations (Briggs, 2012). This is true for all kinds of adoptions, be these, domestic, international, relative and surrogate. Due to these considerations, adoption process can be lengthy and time consuming as a number of regulatory and legal requirements are to be met throughout the process of adoption. The basic and fundamental principal of benefit of the child is central to all these requirements. The adoptive parents, social workers, children’s homes and agencies have to meet these requirements due to which there is often lengthy paperwork and documentation involved in the adoption process (Briggs, 2012). One of the major challenges in the adoption process is therefore meeting the regulatory and legal requirements. In this area, technology can play an important role in reforming and improving the adoption process and making it less time consuming and less paper documentation-oriented. Technology can streamline the adoption process for prospective parents, make the documentation process simpler, and provide a host of other benefits to both the parents as well as the children to be adopted.

This paper considers the benefits of technology for streamlining the adoption process. The paper focusses on the processes in India and Philippines and also provides a comparative analysis of the use of technology in the two countries for streamlining the adoption process.

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Types of Adoptions

Adoptions are generally of four types: domestic, international, relative, and surrogacy. Domestic and international adoptions are defined from the context of the nationality of the adoptive parents and children. Relative adoptions and surrogacy are defined in context of the relationship between the adoptive parents and the natural parents. This section of the paper discusses these four kinds of adoptions in some detail.

International adoption has been defined as adoption involving the “transfer of children for parenting purposes from one nation to the other – presents an extreme form of what is known as ‘stranger’ adoption” (Bartholet, 2006, p. 63). As contrasted with domestic adoption where the transfer of children for parenting purposes is within one nation, an international adoption sees children being transferred from one country to another, and placed within homes of strangers. As noted by Bartholet (2006), international adoptions present an extreme form of stranger adoption. Understandably, there will be a number of regulatory and legal mechanisms which are meant to safeguard the interests of the children being adopted. These measures may play both in the country of adoption and the country to which the children are being transferred (Bartholet, 2006). International adoptions are considered to be the most controversial because adoptive parents and children are strangers to each other, there may be differences in the adoptive parents and children that relate to biological differences, socio-economic differences, and racial, cultural and religious differences (Bartholet, 2006). Nevertheless, as most cases of international adoption are also cases where children from poor and needy backgrounds are placed within well to do families from the developed world, international adoptions are increasingly seen in positive light and domestic and international laws are being adopted to facilitate such adoptions. This also means that there are a number of regulatory and legal requirements in place, which require adoptive parents, foster homes and relevant agencies to carry out extensive paper work. In other words, technology can be included in the process to streamline international adoption processes.

Surrogacy adoptions are adoptions that are carried out through surrogates who agree to carry the child for the parents, one of which may be involved as a birth parent through insemination or egg donation (Satz & Askland, 2006). Surrogacy adoptions have grown as response to the need of people who cannot have children of their own due to infertility issues of partners or those who are in homosexual partnerships or marriages or those who are single but wish to have children of their own (Satz & Askland, 2006, p. 56). There are a number of controversies involved in surrogacy as well, especially in countries like India where surrogacy became a major controversy due to use of surrogates in exploitative conditions (Kalantry, 2017). In general, countries like Thailand, India, Nepal, and Mexico, which were once considered havens for surrogacy have become more restrictive in their approach to surrogacy “because of the generally abusive circumstances created by a rapid proliferation in surrogacy over a short period of time and a lack of strong regulation and protection for surrogates and children” (Kalantry, 2017, p. 2). One point that may be gleaned from this is that surrogacy adoptions can be controversial and for that reason there are many regulatory and legal requirements and paper work which may be required to be done by the adoptive parents. This has implications for technology use.

Relative adoptions are defined as adoptions where “a stepparent adopts the child of his or her spouse, or a member of a child’s extended biological family adopts the child whose parents have died or become unwilling or unable to parent” (Bartholet, 2006, p. 63). Of all adoptions, relative adoptions are usually the most uncontroversial and easy to effect, with the adoptive parents being related to and familiar with the child in most of the cases and taking on the care of the child in a generous way (Bartholet, 2006). There are not as many legal and regulatory processes involved in relative adoptions as compared to other forms of adoptions. Therefore, the use of technology may not be so relevant to this kind of adoption, at least in the context of the paperwork between adoptive parents and foster homes.

Adoption process and involvement of technology

Technology can be used to enhance the post adoption services for the adopted children as well as the parents. Post adoption services can be a part of the support system that the children as well as the parents can access. Adoption services are incorporated into multiple areas of practice, some of which are pre adoption and some for post adoption period (Coakley & Berrick, 2007). Pre adoption services include early assessment of children, gathering thorough background information on children, and early engagement with prospective parents and preparation, development, and support for parents (Coakley & Berrick, 2007). Adoption agencies are required to prepare families for adoption as well as provide them with information about available support. Post adoption services include checking up on the adopted children, as well providing support to new adoptive parents after the child joins the family (Coakley & Berrick, 2007). Preparation along with pre and post adoption support services are important factors for maintaining permanency in adoptions (Coakley & Berrick, 2007).

Technology can play an important role in both pre and post adoption processes. For instance, Social Media is now understood to have significant impact on the prospective adoptive parents’ search process. Social Media may also lead to unplanned contact with birth family members. Video conferencing is another technology that is useful in adoption process. Both Social Media and video conferencing can be used to overcome significant barriers in connecting adoptive families with services and peer support (Whitesel & Howard, 2013). Video conferencing, online chats, and Social Media can also help adoptive parents in reducing their isolation and making services and supports accessible for them (Whitesel & Howard, 2013). Family support groups on Facebook are also useful technology in this regard as this technology helps adoptive parents to connect with information and support (Whitesel & Howard, 2013).

Benefits of technology adoption

At present, adopting parents are required to submit much documentation, with hopeful parents submitting between 50 and 200 documents over the course of the adoption process (Adoption Network Law Center, 2017). With manual completion and submission being the order of the day for most of these documents, the process can be cumbersome as each document has to be downloaded in PDF format, printed, filled and then faxed or scanned to the adoption provider (Adoption Network Law Center, 2017).

Technology can ease up some of this administrative process and simplify the documentation process for the hopeful parents (Adoption Network Law Center, 2017).

Technology can change adoption for the better by reducing administrative work both the parents and the adoption providers (Adoption Network Law Center, 2017). Technology can be used for adoption process also because it can be useful in removing many of the steps from the adoption process.

Open source network can also be used by hopeful parents for accessing information about the child’s background or parents (Essenburg, 2018). Finding out the adopted child’s genetic information on the open source network can be useful for knowing more about the child’s potential health concerns (Essenburg, 2018).

Comparative analysis between India and Philippines

Adoptions in Philippines are complicated by the secrecy that surrounds adoptions in a significant number of cases (Tarroja, 2015). Secrecy in adoptions relate to adoptions that are done without the involvement of government recognised adoption agencies. Children who are adopted without the involvement of such agencies are in the grey area as there is no record of their adoptions (Tarroja, 2015). One of the reasons for secrecy in adoptions is the complexity and time involved in adoption processes, which may encourage adoptive parents to approach families that are willing to give up their children for adoption without the involvement of the adoption agencies. This applies to both domestic and international adoptions from Philippines (Tarroja, 2015). Children who are placed with adoptive parents without legal and regulatory mechanisms being followed may be at risk or may have significant challenges in adjustment (Tarroja, 2015). In other words, secrecy in adoptions may be a predictor of risk and failure of adjustments in the family. Therefore, there is a need to resolve the issues that lead to encouragement of secret adoptions, of which one of the principal reasons is the complexity and time consuming paperwork involved in adoption processes. Inclusion of technology in the adoption process may go a long way in reducing the relevance of these factors and may lead to reduction of secret adoptions.

In India, adoption processes have become more and more regulated by law over the period of time (Bajpai, 2018). Adoption process has also changed in India from being parent-centred earlier to being child-centred. Parent-centred approaches to adoption emphasised the needs of parents, where adoptions were done mostly within family or kinship groups, with little involvement of the law and government agencies (Bajpai, 2018). From the 1960s onwards, Indian scenario has evolved greatly to shift away from an institutional care approach towards orphans and destitute children, to a more family based alternatives (Bajpai, 2018). This has led to there being a significant rise in in-country and international adoptions in India. For instance, in 2015, there were 3,988 in-country adoptions in India and 374 international adoptions (Bajpai, 2018). There are a number of laws that regulate adoptions, the latest being CARA Guidelines of 2015. CARA is a statutory body that oversees the adoption of orphaned, abandoned, and surrendered children. CARA performs its functions with the help of associated and recognised adoption agencies (Bajpai, 2018). Additionally, at the level of states, SARA or State Adoption Resource Agencies are established which oversee the adoption of children at the level of Indian states.

The concept of inter-country or international adoptions is relatively new in India. India had a higher incidence of relative adoptions and domestic or in-country adoptions; international adoptions have only come into prominence in more recent times. Unfortunately, India has been slow to respond to international adoptions through law and policy, but the Supreme Court of India has responded to this issue in a seminal judgment in which the court established principles of law for inter-country adoptions from India laying paramount emphasis on the welfare of the child (Laxmikant Pandey v Union of India 1984 AIR 469, 1984). Under the rules laid down by the Supreme Court in the case, there are a number of procedural requirements that are to be followed by the agencies involved in the adoption process, which include paperwork and follow up documentation, such as, Home Study Reports that are prepared by the agencies after looking into various aspects of the child’s family life after adoption (Bajpai, 2018). It is in these areas that technology can play a significant role in helping streamline processes related to adoption.

Suggestions in terms of technology for adoptions

Use of technology in adoptions can lead to simplification of processes involved in adoption; however, there is a need to bring about some innovations so that technology can be used in the optimum sense for aiding in the adoption process. Some suggestions are made in this section of the paper as to the areas where innovations can be used to streamline the adoption process.

Innovations are required in the area of child welfare systems and technology use because research indicates that there is a need to provide additional training to staff on best practices with regard to use of technology for adoption process (Whitesel & Howard, 2013). There is still a paucity of training for social workers and agencies which act as barriers in the use of technology by the agencies and workers. This can be improved by adopting best practices with respect to use of technology for adoption of children (Whitesel & Howard, 2013).

Innovations can also be made in the use of intelligent matching technology for matching the child with the adoptive parents (Adoption Lynx, 2010). It is considered that innovation technology in this area can enhance the adoption matching process and help to provide the best possible home for the child. A well designed intelligent matching technology can help adoptive parents make more informed choices that lead to better outcomes for the parents as well as the child to be adopted. This technology is much welcome because it is believed that good matches between parents and children can be key to the well-being, safety and security of a child once placed within the family (Adoption Lynx, 2010). Well matched families can increase compatibility between the adoptive family and child, which can significantly improve the likelihood of a positive outcome for both parents and children. There are three key benefits of intelligent matching. First, this reduces the time and effort required by both the adoption agencies as well as the parents to work through copious amount of information before they can finalise a fit (Adoption Lynx, 2010). Second, there is an improvement in accountability because the matching system reports matching results in a structured, factual, and replicable manner. This would mean that the choices and decisions are transparent (Adoption Lynx, 2010). Third, there is lesser need for oversight, and elimination of guesswork and subjective processes that are involved in human evaluation, thereby enhancing the quality of the decisions (Adoption Lynx, 2010).

An example of use of matching technology for adoption can be found in the adoption of such technology by the Pennsylvania Adoption Exchange (Slaugh, M., Kesten, & ̈nver, 2019). The Exchange has been using a match recommendation spreadsheet tool, which have allowed them to achieve some success in matching children with adoptive parents with greater compatibility. These innovations can also be used in India as well as Philippines.

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Conclusion

The purpose of adoptions is to allow orphaned and destitute children who need families to reach the right family for them. Adoptions are no longer limited to relative adoptions or even domestic adoptions as there is a rise in inter-country or international adoptions as well. As the benefit of the child is of the paramount concern, national laws make regulatory framework for adoption process. The adoptive parents, foster homes, and adoption agencies all have to follow the procedure. While this is for the benefit of the child being adopted, the procedure is also lengthy, time consuming and involves a lot of paperwork. Technology can be included in the procedure to reduce paperwork, streamline processes, help adoption agencies do background checks on the adoptive parents and help adoptive parents finalise the process in a more hassle free way. At this time, there is some involvement of technology in the adoption process. However, there needs to be development of new and innovative technologies that can be used for adoption processes. India and Philippines both have laws on adoptions and both have incidence of international adoption. In order to streamline the process and make the experience of adoption more friendly towards the families seeking to adopt and more child benefit oriented, it will be useful to include innovative technology in the adoption processes of these countries. Such innovative technologies can be used for creating child welfare oriented systems, matching technologies for matching child with the right family, also for improving the security of the child after adoption. With the use of such technologies, adoption process and experience can be improved for children, adoptive parents, and adoption agencies.

Bibliography

Adoption Lynx. (2010). Improving Adoption Outcomes through Intelligent Matching Technology. New Westminster: Adoption Lynx.

Adoption Network Law Center. (2017, December 18). Technology Will Change Adoption for the Better . Retrieved from

Bajpai, A. (2018). Child rights in India: Law, policy, and practice. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Bartholet, E. (2006). International Adoption. In L. Askeland, Children and youth in adoption, orphanages, and foster care: A historical handbook and guide (pp. 63-78). Greenwood Publishing Group.

Briggs, L. (2012). Somebody's children: The politics of transracial and transnational adoption. Duke University Press.

Coakley, J. F., & Berrick, J. D. (2007). Research review: In a rush to permanency: Preventing adoption disruption. Child and Family Social Work, 3(1), 101–112.

Essenburg, R. T. (2018, September 26). The Pros and Cons of Technology During the Adoption Process The ubiquity of technology in our lives is staggering. Retrieved from

Kalantry, S. (2017). Should Compensated Surrogacy Be Permitted or Prohibited?. Cornell Legal Studies Research Paper, (17-41).Kalantry, S. (2017). Should Compensated

Surrogacy Be Permitted or Prohibited? Cornell Legal Studies Research Paper, 17-41.

Laxmikant Pandey v Union of India 1984 AIR 469 (1984).

Satz, M., & Askland, L. (2006). Civil Rights, Adoption Rights: Domestic Adoption and Foster Care, 1970 to the Present. In L. Askeland, Children and Youth in Adoption, Orphanages, and Foster Care: A Historical Handbook and Guide (pp. 45-62).

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Slaugh, V. W., M., M. A., Kesten, O., & ̈nver, U. U. (2019). The Pennsylvania Adoption Exchange Improves Its Matching Process. Interfaces, 46(2), 133-153.

Tarroja, M. C. (2015). Preadoption risks, family functioning, and adoption secrecy as predictors of the adjustment of Filipino adopted children. Adoption Quarterly, 18(3), 234-253.

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