The first national conference of its kind, "Adoption in America 2007: What We Know and How It Matters for Children and Families," was organized by the University of Maryland School of Social Work and held at Westminster Hall on campus Nov. 16. The conference, held to coincide with National Adoption Month and National Adoption Day on Nov. 17, featured Adam Pertman, the Pulitzer Prize-nominated author of Adoption Nation and executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, a position he came to after 22 years of writing for The Boston Globe.
"The University of Maryland School of Social Work is proud to have brought together a world-class collection of scholars, practitioners, and activists on this important issue. Faculty of the School of Social Work-most notably Howard Altstein, PhD, and I-have been international leaders in adoption research. We have wonderful connections in the adoption research community," said Richard P. Barth, PhD, MSW, dean of the School, who noted that conference presenters from across the nation held a conclave on adoption research at the School preceding the event.
"The School also has many graduates who have provided leadership as adoption clinicians and program managers, and it is committed to continuing its leadership in adoption and other areas of children's services," he added. "This conference fit well with that vision and related activities. We will continue to study and address policy, program, and practice issues related to child abuse prevention, family preservation, foster care, and adoption and bring them to the forefront."
Joining Pertman and Barth was a group of other national figures doing groundbreaking work in the field of adoption and child welfare. They gathered with adoption professionals to discuss cutting-edge issues related to adoption in collaboration with the School. Topics included barriers to adoption and foster care from perspectives of both families and adoption and social services agencies; gay and lesbian adoptive parents' stress; and helping families who adopt the most difficult children. (A summary of the presentations has been posted on the School's Web site, www.ssw.umaryland.edu/adoption.)
In conjunction with the conference, the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute released a pioneering report about the unsealing of birth records. It is the controversial issue in the adoption world today. Proponents of keeping records sealed say that unlocking them would violate the confidentiality birth mothers were promised, and that it would cause serious problems including fewer adoptions and more abortions.
Data in the report, however, indicate that denying adopted people this information has potentially negative health consequences and that there is no evidence, in states that have unsealed records, that shows intrusive behavior by adoptees or harm to birth mothers.
"It involves civil rights, medical care, human dignity, and a host of vital, emotional, and practical concerns for millions of people," said Pertman. "We're very proud of this work and believe it will have considerable impact." Barth agrees, saying that the research supports the benefits of unsealing records and fails to confirm the long-predicted untoward effects of such disclosure.
The School of Social Work, ranked in the top 20 schools of social work nationally by U.S.News & World Report, graduates students who become policymakers at all levels of government, from the U.S. Senate to state and federal courts, to the State Department and as leaders and front-line workers in social services agencies. They are educators and researchers at universities across the country.