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Let's Not Forget the Children

  Our Most Valuable Resource

  Maintaining a Connection

  Respecting the Sanctity of Life


Many of us remember when two-year-old Baby Jessica was returned to her biological parents in Iowa in 1993. Many may also recall Baby Richard, who, at four years of age, was returned to his biological parents in Chicago in April 1995.

Just recently, two-year-old Justin in Girard, Ohio, was the subject of yet another custody battle. Taking sides were Rich and Cheryl Asente, with whom Justin has lived since he was 11 months old, and Justin's biological parents, Regina Moore and Jerry Dorning, with whom Justin lived prior to being with the Asentes.

The decision for Justin's future was made by Kenton County (Kentucky) Circuit Judge Patricia Summe, who had previously invalidated the birth parents' consent-to-adopt forms. Her March 16 ruling was that Justin be returned to his birth parents.

As the Asentes begin the appeals process, the larger question remains: Just what life is best for a child?

Our Most Valuable Resource

Since "children are our most valuable resource," a statement repeatedly made by former President Herbert Hoover, should we not consider them as a critical part of the judicial decision process? When child placement decisions are made, the child's happiness and stability are at stake.

According to the National Council for Adoption (NCA), less than one percent of adoptions are contested by biological fathers or mothers. Yet, for those whose happiness and emotional security hang in the balance, sound adoption opportunities need to prevail.

The positive benefit of adoption is placing children in homes where adoptive parents truly care for them and where they have an opportunity to grow up as loving, responsible individuals. It is a situation that does not always make the news, but it is one celebrated daily by many parents.

Among them are Mary Lynne and Roger Schuster of Cincinnati, Ohio. Their successful story began after registering with their local Catholic Social Services (CSS) office. As part of the process, the Schusters completed forms, attended classes and underwent background checks and a home inspection prior to adopting their daughter, Elizabeth.

They were chosen by the birth mother, Tia Griffin, a single woman who had just graduated from high school. "My resources, time and attention would've been extremely limited if I were to have chosen to parent, considering that I knew I had to get a college education," says Tia, now an honors student at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

Maintaining a Connection

In the Schuster home, two-year-old Elizabeth thrives. The atmosphere is a result of the open adoption process the Schusters and Griffin chose through CSS. Beginning with Elizabeth's birth, and continuing through Elizabeth's official adoption when she was seven months old, the child benefits from the love she receives from her birth and adoptive parents, as well as extended family members.

What is most important, Mary Lynne says, is that Elizabeth is in a "two-parent intact healthy family with the resources to give her everything she needs" while maintaining a connection to her roots.

Tia agrees. "In a situation such as ours, Elizabeth just always knows that Tia is her birth mom, while Roger and Mary Lynne are her parents. If she has questions, any of us can answer her without speculation."

In the National Conference of Catholic Bishops' (NCCB) 1998 text, A Family Perspective in Church and Society, the bishops acknowledge the special relationships that are established in families created by adoption. "These families," the bishops wrote, "respond to the need in our society to bring into families those people who have none or whose birth families cannot meet their needs."

This past year, approximately 50,000 U.S. children were adopted and about 15,000 children were adopted from other countries, according to the NCA.

"Adoption is much more popular in the U.S. than in other developed countries," Bill Pierce, NCA president, says. His explanation is threefold: a strong defense by adoption proponents, support offered by various agencies and a U.S. population comprised of immigrants for whom "blood and nationality are not as important as populations where people are more homogeneous."

Respecting the Sanctity of Life

In Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics, a document approved at the November 1998 NCCB meeting, the bishops recommend that "priests, religious, catechists, Catholic school teachers, family life ministers and theologians all the Church's task of forming the Catholic faithful in a reverence for the sanctity of life."

The bishops tell "physicians, nurses and health-care workers" that they "can touch the lives of women and girls who may be considering abortion with practical assistance, counseling and adoption alternatives."

Those who choose adoption demonstrate Pope John Paul II's words from Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life): "True parental love is ready to go beyond the bonds of flesh and blood in order to accept children from other families, offering them whatever is necessary for their well-being and full development."

For people like Roger and Mary Lynne, adoption is an opportunity to live out the papal pronouncement. It is an example for us all.—D.P.

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