DO THE ADOPTION SERVICES OF CATHOLIC CHARITIES REALLY OPERATE IN THE BEST INTEREST OF THE CHILDREN NEEDING ADOPTION?
TABLE OF CONTENTS INTRODUCTION I. Adoption Regulation in Louisiana II. The Best Interest of the Child Standard III. How Agency Adoptions End Up Costing More IV. Catholic Charities' Fee Requirements V. Catholic Charities' Screening Standards Do Not Further the Best Interest of the Child VI. Religious Liberty Argument VII. Private Adoption as a Favorable Alternative VIII. Restructuring Catholic Charities' Policies
"They told me I was basically wasting my time and a lot of my money. Because I was unmarried, I wouldn't even be considered. That was the only thing they knew about me, and at that point, that's all they needed to know to make their decision." (1)
Every month, 300 children in Louisiana are removed from the care of a parent because of drug use, neglect, or abuse. (2) According to the Louisiana Department of Children and Family services (DCFS), there is an urgent need for stable homes for these children. (3) As of September 2016, there are 284 children in need of foster care in the New Orleans region. (4) DCFS continues to see an increase in the number of foster children across Louisiana, particularly in the New Orleans area. (5) Of the 4,545 children in foster care in 2015, there were 1,220 waiting to be adopted into a stable household. (6)
If a birth parent cannot provide for his or her child, there is a need for another person who can provide a stable home for the chil in need. (7) Adoption benefits children in several ways, no matter the children's diverse backgrounds. (8) It provides children with a greater sense of familial belonging, emotional security, and a nurturing home environment. (9) It is important that Louisiana ensures that children can be placed into an adoptive home quickly, efficiently, and safely. (10) Otherwise, children who may have been neglected or even abused will continue to wait for a place to call home. (11) This problem could be addressed by implementing Louisiana legislation that requires agencies like Adoption Services of Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans (CCANO) to reduce their agency fees and eliminate the arbitrary standards that they currently impose.
This Comment argues that Louisiana should prohibit screening standards based on age and marital status, require that agencies rely instead on assessments of an individual's parental fitness, and impose a cap on agency fees. These changes, which are in the best interest of the children, would allow children to be adopted more quickly into permanent and stable homes. Part I discusses the current adoption regulations in Louisiana. Part II explains the best interests of the child standard. Part III examines the cost structure of agency fees, explaining how agency adoptions can become a costly process. Part IV discusses CCANO's specific fee requirements. Part V discusses the arbitrary restrictions CCANO places on prospective parents and the negative consequences of these restrictions. Part VI provides an argument for religious liberty, which is later rejected. In part VII, this Comment introduces an alternative method of adoption--private adoption--that better aligns with the best interest of the children needing adoption. In part VIII, this Comment proposes that Louisiana limit the amount that agencies can charge prospective parents for their services, and proposes that Louisiana prohibit agencies from relying on arbitrary factors like age and marital status when screening prospective parents.
I. ADOPTION REGULATION IN LOUISIANA
In Louisiana, there are two basic types of adoption. (12) Those desiring to provide a child with a loving family and a stable home may choose to apply for an agency adoption, in which a state agency or a private, state-licensed adoption agency matches children with the prospective parents. (13) Alternatively, prospective parents can hire an attorney who will facilitate an independent adoption--an adoption in which an attorney introduces the birth parents and the adoptive parents. (14)
Both agency adoptions and private, independent adoptions are governed by statute in Louisiana. Louisiana requires that agency fees--which usually cover advertising services to prospective parents, counseling services, document preparation, and the agency's match of a birth parent with prospective parents--are "reasonable and necessary." (15) However, Louisiana does not place a cap on the fee an agency can charge for its services. (16)
Additionally, the limited set of couples who can afford the high agency fees must overcome another hurdle--the agency's standards for screening adoptive parents. Many of the standards imposed by private, state-licensed agencies are arbitrary and do little more than discourage prospective parents from applying for the adoption process. (17) In particular, the Adoption Services of Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans (CCANO), a private, state-licensed adoption agency, requires that applicants "have been married for at least three years, are between the ages of twenty-seven and forty-five, and have no more than two children." (18) According to Fatma Marouf, a law professor at Texas A&M University, this non-profit adoption agency prefers that prospective families "mirror the Holy Family." (19) In other words, those prospective parents who do not meet CCANO's arbitrary standards are not eligible to adopt through the agency.
Generally, state adoption statutes do not prohibit single parents from adopting or specify age limitations. (20) In Louisiana, "a single person, eighteen years or older, or a married couple jointly may petition to adopt a child through an agency." (21) This begs the question of the legitimacy of standards imposed by CCANO.
II. THE BEST INTEREST OF THE CHILD STANDARD
When making decisions affecting children's care, Louisiana judges and hearing officers must examine whether these decisions will be in the "best interest" of the child. (22) In the context of child custody cases, focusing on the child's best interest means that all custody decisions are made with the "ultimate goal of fostering and encouraging the child's happiness, security, mental health, and emotional development into young adulthood." (23) The Louisiana Civil Code provides that:
court[s] consider all relevant factors in determining the best interest of the child...includ[ing]: (1) The love, affection, and other emotional ties between each party and the child. (2) The capacity and disposition of each party to give the child love, affection, and spiritual guidance and to continue the education and rearing of the child. (3) The capacity and disposition of each party to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care, and other material needs. (6) The moral fitness of each party, insofar as it affects the welfare of the child. (7) The mental and physical health of each party. (24)
Likewise, Louisiana's state adoption laws also focus on the best interest of the child. (25) This best interest standard involves the type of services and actions that will best serve a child, including the prospective caregiver's capacity to parent. (26) Although there is a presumption that a child's biological parents are fit to raise their child, agencies screen adoptive parents because of the risk that "adoptive parenting won't work out." (27) However, most arbitrary agency screening standards are not imposed by law. (28) Rather, they are "unwritten rules and practices of adoption agencies, which enjoy great discretion in making adoption placement decisions." (29) It is the agencies' great discretion that denies and delays adoptive placements based on factors such as marital status and age. These standards do not give insight into an individual's parenting ability, "and [are], in reality, in nobody's best interest." (30) Indeed, a two-parent household benefits children in several ways, including providing the child with extended support from two families and stable, loving attention. (31) However, marriage does not guarantee these benefits, and the same stability can exist in other family structures, such as in single-parent households. (32) Further, a multitude of studies have shown that children of older parents are more likely to benefit from their parents' financial and emotional security. (33)
III. HOW AGENCY ADOPTIONS END UP COSTING MORE
Prospective parents pay adoption agencies exceptional sums to facilitate adoptions. (34) All adoption agencies require prospective parents to pay a main agency fee. (35) In addition to the agency fee, they must also pay an application fee, a fee to advertise to birth mothers, a Home Study fee, (36) attorney's fees, and expenses for the child's birth mother. (37) The adoption agency fee is often the most costly. (38) Importantly, each agency has the discretion to choose which services its main fee will cover. (39) Therefore, some agencies' fee includes services rendered to the adoptive parents, like the advertising fees and the placement fee. (40) Some agencies' fees cover expenses for the finalization of the adoption, while others do not. (41) Unfortunately, in many cases, prospective parents' first attempts to adopt are unsuccessful, and they must restart the adoption process. (42) Because of the high fees prospective parents are required to pay, they may be less likely to reapply for the agency adoption process, leaving children to wait for a permanent, stable home. (43)
IV. CATHOLIC CHARITIES' FEE REQUIREMENTS
The Adoption Services of Catholic Charities, a private adoption agency with branches around the country, has provided adoption services to children in need of loving homes since 1910. (44) The organization provides "hope, help, and loving care for the most vulnerable and needy... [and] work[s] to be the hands and heart of Jesus Christ." (45) "Through [its] ministries, programs, and community partnerships, [it] collaborate[s] to offer life-giving programs, advocate for the voiceless, and empower the vulnerable to foster a just society." (46) Thus, the organization not only provides services to birth mothers and prospective parents, but it also serves expectant mothers who are deciding whether to place their babies for adoption. (47) One of its branches in New Orleans, CCANO, is a non-profit adoption agency licensed by the Louisiana Department of Social Services. (48) The agency requires prospective parents to pay a main agency fee of $25,000, which allows the agency to "provide various services to the adoptive parents and expecting/birth parents pre and post adoption placement," including counseling. (49) In addition to the agency's main fee, prospective parents who choose to adopt through CCANO must first pay an application fee of $500. (50) Those applicants who are offered a "formal application to adopt" will be assessed an additional $1,000 for outreach efforts. (51) This outreach fee is non-refundable, even if the adoption is unsuccessful. (52)
The agency also requires that the prospective parents pay a Home Study fee of $2,000. (53) This fee covers three meetings with a CCANO social worker to discuss prospective parents' interest in adoption, their ability to provide for a child's physical and emotional development, and the individual's medical history, financial and criminal background, (54) and personal references. (55) Lastly, the prospective parents must pay $1,900 for attorney's fees in connection with the finalization of the adoption. (56) Most importantly, CCANO's main agency fee does not cover any of the aforementioned fees that the agency also requires. (57) Thus, prospective adoptive parents who choose CCANO must expect to spend over $30,000 for the agencies' required fees alone.
When prospective parents pay CCANO's $25,000 agency fee, the fee goes into a general fund for "client related services provided to expectant mothers and adoptive families." (58) In addition to providing services to adoptive parents, the CCANO staff also offers "maternity services" to expectant mothers. (59) For the fiscal year 2017-2018, the staff provided services to twenty-two expectant mothers considering adoption, including counseling and "financial and medical assistance." (60) In other words, the fee a prospective parent pays is not exclusively used for the adoption services that he or she personally receives or that the mother he or she is paired with personally receives. Instead, the fee is also used to subsidize the services provided to expectant mothers, who may ultimately choose not to place their children for adoption. (61) In fact, of the twenty-two expectant mothers served for 2017-2018, only three mothers placed their children for adoption. (62) If CCANO continues to charge this high agency fee, it should inform prospective parents that such a large portion of their payment provides for CCANO's greater mission--serving expectant mothers throughout their pregnancy.
Further, this excessive fee is particularly taxing for adults considering adoption living in the New Orleans area, as nearly twenty-five percent of New Orleans residents live in poverty. (63) As of 2016, the New Orleans median income is a mere $45,727. (64) With the high agency fee, it is nearly impossible for families who live by these means to afford adoption through CCANO. This high fee, which does not pay for the services provided exclusively to prospective parents, is financially burdensome and prevents families otherwise fit to parent from adopting through CCANO. CCANO's current agency fee is out of reach for many New Orleans residents and, therefore, is not in the best interest of the children needing adoption.
Moreover, CCANO's agency fee is substantially higher than other private adoption agencies' fees in Louisiana, for example Open Arms Adoption Services, Inc. (Open Arms). Open Arms, like CCANO, is a non-profit Louisiana-licensed child placing adoption agency. (65) The total cost of an adoption through Open Arms is approximately $20,000, (66) while the total cost of an adoption through CCANO is approximately $30,000. (67) If these two agencies provide the same services to birth mothers and prospective parents, why is there a $15,000 difference in the agencies' main fees? If CCANO is charging an extra $15,000 to further its own doctrinally based mission, CCANO should disclose the purpose of the fee to prospective parents.
Currently, Louisiana law permits adoption agencies to charge prospective parents for services that are "reasonable and necessary" for the adoption. (68) However, Louisiana does not place a cap on reasonable and necessary services. (69) Louisiana allows these payments in order to expedite adoption and make adoption "a financially neutral option for the birth mother." (70) However, these permissible expenses often far surpass a "neutral option," and the statute leaves room for a substantial opportunity for CCANO to use its agency fee to subsidize other areas of its work.
When deciding how much to charge for its agency fee, agencies should take into account that in addition to paying this fee, the prospective parents must also pay attorney's fees and other expenses relating to the finalization of the adoption. Requiring prospective parents to pay so much for the agency to broker an adoption on the front end leaves the parent with less money to spend on the child once he or she is actually placed in the adoptive parents' custody.
In order to foster the best interest of children needing adoption, Louisiana should impose state-licensed agency fee limitations, or alternatively, require that the agencies' fees encompass more of the other expenses that the prospective parents must pay during the adoption process. Indeed, the expenses of an agency adoption can devastate a family budget and should be lowered to encourage families to adopt through an agency. (71) Further, Louisiana should require that state-licensed agencies impose fees that are transparent. Even if an agency like CCANO charges a high agency fee to further its own agenda, it is important that prospective parents are aware of the services they are paying for. Limitations of the fees charged by state-licensed adoption agencies in Louisiana coupled with transparency will lessen the financial burden on prospective parents, and, in turn, support the best interest of the children needing adoption.
V. CATHOLIC CHARITIES' SCREENING STANDARDS DO NOT FURTHER THE BEST INTEREST OF CHILD
When placing children with couples, CCANO's policies are designed to "ensure  those children enjoy the advantage of having a mother and a father who are married." (72) Therefore, it rejects applicants who do not meet its religiously-motivated standards, such as those who are in a same-sex relationship. (73) While the Catholic Church does not support same-sex marriage, (74) CCANO additionally rejects applicants who are single. (75) It must be asked why CCANO deems single adults ineligible to adopt, as this screening standard arguably has no doctrinal purpose and does not conflict with Catholic teaching. Similarly, the screening standard based on age also has no doctrinal purpose. These standards based on age and marital status are unreasonable. They are not determinative of the prospective parent's ability to care for a child, and they do not protect the best interest of the children needing adoption. (76)
In 2011, nearly one-third of adoptions from foster care were completed by unmarried people. (77) Several research studies have shown that adopted children raised by single parents experience similarly positive outcomes when compared to children who are adopted by married couples. (78) A parent's marital status alone is not indicative of a child's well-being. (79) In fact, although there is only one parent in the home, single parents often have the support of family, friends, religious organizations, or single-parent clubs. (80) As a result, the children are able to experience a strong sense of community. (81) Single parents also cite increased bonding time with children as a benefit of the single-parent dynamic. (82) Notably, when married couples divorce or when a spouse dies, the newly single parent is not automatically deemed unfit to parent based solely on his or her unmarried status.
According to a 2007 national survey of adoptive parents, seventy-three percent of all adoptive parents were between the ages of forty and sixty. (83) There are many reasons that persons over the age of forty-five decide to adopt. (84) For instance, one may put off starting a family until he or she establishes a career and financial stability. (85) Older prospective parents may have experienced years of unsuccessful infertility treatments, or they may desire to create a "second family" when their biological children are already grown. (86) Further, they may desire to create a family after remarriage. (87) No matter the reason, older persons can offer children in need of adoption added emotional maturity and security. (88) In fact, under certain circumstances, Louisiana courts will allow grandparents to adopt their grandchildren, despite the grandparents' age. (89) According to Dr. Iris Kern, a professor of social welfare at the University of the District of Columbia who has studied older mothers, children of older parents are children of "economic and emotional privilege." (90) Further, Dr. Jerome Kagan, a psychology professor at Harvard University, found that older parents, mothers specifically, tend to be "more rational and are more relaxed with their children." As a result, there is likely to be "less conflict and anxiety in the child." (91)
In order to match prospective parents with expectant parents, CCANO requires that prospective parents create an adoption profile, which consists of written information as well as photos of the prospective family. (92) Based on this profile, an expectant parent can select an adoptive family for her child. (93) According to CCANO's Program Director, the agency "seeks to have adoptive families that meet the standards of the expectant parents working with the program." (94) The Director stated that in her experience, expectant parents are seeking adoptive parents that are "older than they are, but younger than their parents, financially stable, and if married, then married for a substantial time." (95) Thus, CCANO bases its screening standards on the characteristics that it believes expectant parents will prefer prospective parents to have. Instead, agencies should screen the prospective parents on a case-by-case basis. Indeed, each expectant parent's preferences will differ. Rather than imposing arbitrary standards based on age and marital status for each adoption, CCANO should determine what each expectant parent desires for her child on an individual basis and then recommend a prospective parent who meets that specific criterion.
As mentioned in Part III, Louisiana- licensed adoption agencies like CCANO require that prospective parents also undergo a Home Study, during which a social worker evaluates the prospective parents. (96) The information discussed during the Home Study, including the prospective parents' family background and parenting experiences, undoubtedly give the agency a greater understanding of the prospective parents' ability to care for a child. (97) Further, during the agency's application process, the prospective parents are required to provide references and undergo background checks. (98) Unlike screening standards based on age and marital status, these requirements provide CCANO with pertinent, important information that determines whether the prospective parent is fit to adopt.
Catholic Charities affiliates in Massachusetts and Illinois have been faced with the decision whether to "violate [their] conscience or close [their] doors." (99) For example, in 2006 the Massachusetts Legislature redefined marriage, and therefore, Catholic Charities of Boston could not limit its placement to married heterosexual couples. (100) To be licensed by the state, the agency would have to obey state laws barring "sexual orientation discrimination." (101) Despite Catholic leaders' plea for a "religious exemption," the state refused, and the Catholic Charities affiliate was forced to shut down its adoption services. (102) Similarly, Illinois Catholic Charities affiliates closed down their adoption services in 2011 after learning that the agency would no longer receive state funding if it refused to place children with persons in same-sex relationships. (103)
CCANO does not receive state funding for its adoption services, (104) and therefore will not be faced with the decision to shut down based upon a lack of state funding. While the agency may not be forced to shut down or provide services to prospective parents who do not conform to Catholic teaching, CCANO should nevertheless eliminate its screening standards that are not doctrinally based, such as age and marital status, because they do nothing but restrict the number of suitable prospective parents. Moreover, while CCANO has not recently been criticized for its screening standards, it is possible that when Louisiana's Civil Code is correctly updated to permit the legal recognition of same-sex marriage, the issue will become even more illuminated. (105)
VI. RELIGIOUS LIBERTY ARGUMENT
Proponents of upholding CCANO's screening standards argue that the agency has the right to "make their contribution to the common good of all Americans without having to compromise their faith." (106) Proponents insist that maintaining religious liberty does not prevent anyone from adopting, but gives agencies the assurance that adoptees will be able to practice their faith. (107) They further argue that if they are denied this liberty, children seeking adoption and birth parents who wish to give their child up for adoption through a faith-based agency will suffer. (108)
Dave Maluchnik, a spokesman with the Michigan Catholic Conference, emphasized that the church's agencies cannot go against the church's teaching--the church teaching will not change just because the cultural understanding of marriage is changing. (109) He also emphasized that the Catholic Church does, indeed, keep the best interest of the children as its primary concern, but should the agencies be forced to provide services to same-sex couples, more agencies would likewise shut down. (110) He added that there is no harm in letting the agencies hold true to their religious beliefs, because there are other organizations across the nation that allow same-sex couples to foster or adopt children. (111)
To the contrary, while there is no doubt that reducing the number of private agencies in Louisiana would be to the detriment of children and prospective parents, eliminating CCANO's screening standards that are not doctrinally based will not cause the agency to shut down. Eliminating the age and marital status screening standards--specifically the standard that omits unmarried adults--will not conflict with the Church's teaching and will not cause the agency to compromise its faith. Rather, it would expand the reach of this faith-based organization, enabling it to provide relief for more children needing adoption. Further, since the proposed changes are not doctrinally based, if implemented, adoptive parents will be able to practice their faith and birth parents will still be able to place their child for adoption through a faith-based agency.
If CCANO would eliminate screening that is based on factors like age and marital status, there will be more opportunities for the union of families. Indeed, Louisiana laws do not prohibit single parent adoptions or specify age limitations for adopting parents. (112) CCANO's personal preferences do nothing but restrict the pool of qualified adoptive parents, and as a result, children must wait until CCANO finds its idea of a suitable prospective parent.
VII. PRIVATE ADOPTION AS A FAVORABLE ALTERNATWE
To avoid paying inflated agency fees and meeting arbitrary standards, prospective parents have the option to apply for an independent adoption--an adoption in which a lawyer introduces the birth parents and the adoptive parents. (113) Just as with an agency adoption in Louisiana, "a single person, eighteen years or older, or a married couple jointly may petition to privately adopt a child." (114) Throughout the private adoption process, the attorney provides many of the same services that the adoption agency provides. (115) For example, attorneys may advertise to birth parents and match them with prospective adoptive parents. (116) They may also guide the adoptive parents in developing their own advertising efforts. (117) Like those pursuing an agency adoption, those pursuing private adoptions will be required to conduct a Home Study. (118)
A private adoption through an adoption attorney can be a less expensive route. (119) Under Louisiana law, adoption attorneys are permitted to charge prospective adoptive parents the same kind of fees that agencies do. (120) For instance, in a domestic adoption in 2018, a local private adoption attorney charged $3,500 for her services, including her attorney's fees and court costs, (121) and $9,200 for the birth mother's expenses. (122) The prospective parent was also required to pay separately for a Home Study evaluation, which was completed by a social worker. (123) The attorney certified in an affidavit that "no other fees, charges, or things of value other than court costs have been given or shall be given by any party in this adoption proceeding." (124) All in all, the private adoption expenses totaled $12,700, excluding the Home Study fee. (125) Besides the Home Study fee, this local private adoption attorney provided the same services agencies customarily provide, including advertising services to birth parents, document preparation, and matching the birth parent and prospective parents. (126)
For some prospective adoptive parents, a private adoption through an attorney is a better option, because the attorney--unlike an adoption agency--does not establish requirements that the parent must meet beyond those mandated by state law. (127) In particular, prospective adoptive parents like Miss J, who do not possess adoption agencies' preferred marital status, benefit greatly from a private adoption attorney's work. (128) After being rejected from CCANO, Miss J contacted private adoption attorney X, who practices in the New Orleans area. In total, her attorney's fees and court costs were $8,500. (129) Miss J was extremely grateful for the attorney X's services, as she would have otherwise paid a much larger sum if she had been eligible to adopt through CCANO. (130) There is no reason why a woman like her, with the resources to help children in need of a home, must face agency-enabled obstacles to doing so.
Comparing Adoption Agencies and Private Adoption Attorneys by Required Fees (131)
CCANO Open Arms Adoption Private Services, Inc. Adoption Attorney (132) Agency Fee $25,000 $11,000 N/A Included in Included in agency fee N/A Counseling agency fee Home $2,000 $1,980 $1,000-$3,000 (133) Study Fee Attorney's $1,900 $7,000- $8,000 $3,500 Fees Birth Included in Included in agency fee $9,200 (134) Mother's agency fee Expenses Outreach $1,500 Included in agency fee Included in Fee and attorney's Application fees Fee Total ~$30,400 ~$20,480 (135) ~$14,700 (136)
VIII. RESTRUCTURING CATHOLIC CHARITIES POLICIES
Arbitrary screening standards such as marital status and age do not tell adoption agencies or courts much, if anything, about an individual's ability to raise a child. (137) Still, CCANO regularly applies these factors as they strive to ensure adopted children enjoy the advantage of having a mother and a father who are married. (138) In spite of current state laws giving single adults the right to adopt, and research showing that children of single-parent households fare as well as children in two-parent households, CCANO deems unmarried prospective parents ineligible to adopt. (139) Similarly, in spite of the current state law that provides no maximum age limit for adoptive parents and research showing a positive correlation with a parent's age and the child's emotional maturity, CCANO deems persons over the age of forty-five ineligible to adopt. (140) Even those applicants who are willing to pay the steep agency fees may not be considered eligible based on age and marital status.
I propose that such arbitrary standards that are not doctrinally based be prohibited, as they do nothing but restrict children in need of adoption to a much smaller pool of prospective adoptive parents. Eliminating such screening standards and instead relying on assessing an individual's parental fitness would allow children to be adopted more quickly into permanent and stable homes. If these factors are not prohibited, they will continue to be decisive.
Instead, by applying the best interest of the child standard, Louisiana law should dictate that agencies consider an individual's capacity to love, nurture, and take care of a child during its screening process. This can be done by relying heavily on the prospective parent's Home Study evaluation, which is done during the adoption process and requires no additional time or expense for the agency. It must be clear that only characteristics relating to parental ability apply when determining the best interest of the child. For example, factors such as patience, affection, maturity, financial stability, and motivation to parent will allow adoption agency employees to assess the individual's ability to raise a child. These characteristics are more important to a meaningful parent-child relationship than are factors such as marital status or age. In fact, some characteristics of "older" parents, such as added maturity and financial and emotional security, give them the ability to provide for their children financially and emotionally, while developing a loving relationship with them.
It may also be beneficial for adoption agencies to consider the individual's current relationship with his or her family and other children. Whether the individual has support from his or her family to raise a child is an important consideration. Similarly, if the individual has a biological child, the agency worker can assess parenting ability based on the relationship with that child. Even if the individual does not have a biological child, agency workers can ask about his or her significant contacts with children of relatives and friends. Examining these current relationships with others may give insight to the individual's ability to parent and care for his or her own child. The current screening standards CCANO employs are unreasonable and fail to serve the best interests of the children they are intended to protect. It is in the children's best interest to completely eliminate the arbitrary screening factors like age and marital status and focus instead on the individual parent's ability to care and provide for a child.
Further, limiting the amount agencies can charge prospective parents to broker adoptions will reduce the parents' financial burden. This limitation may also increase the likelihood of a positive and successful adoption outcome for the families. In the alternative, Louisiana should require that agencies' fees are transparent and include more of the additional expenses that the prospective adoptive parents must pay during the adoption process, such as the Home Study Fee. The high fees that prospective adoptive parents pay to agencies leave the parents with less money with which to raise and provide for their children once the adoption is finalized.
All in all, if CCANO is allowed to charge such a high fee without first disclosing to prospective parents what services they are paying for, it must be asked why the agency additionally imposes arbitrary screening standards based on age and marital status. Eliminating these standards will result in a quicker, cheaper, and more evenhanded adoption process. If CCANO truly wants to further its mission to provide "hope, help, and loving care for the most vulnerable and needy," it should eliminate its policy that prospective parents must be married and younger than forty-five, as these standards are not doctrinally based and are not in the best interest of the children needing adoption.
(1) The above is an excerpt from an interview with Miss J, a single woman in her forties who attempted to adopt a baby through the Adoption Services of Catholic Charities, a non-profit adoption agency. Interview with Miss J, in Belle Chasse, La. (Feb. 20, 2018) (on file with author).
(2) Michelle Hunter, Thousands Of Louisiana Children In Desperate Need Of Foster Parents, State Says, Nola.com, (Nov. 13, 2015, 8:11 AM), http://www.nola.com/news/index.ssf/2015/11/thousands_of_louisiana_childre.html. (last visited April 17, 2018).
(4) Statewide, there are 4,800 children in need of foster care--a fourteen percent increase over the last three years. Id.
(6) U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children's Bureau. (2015). Table: Children in Public Foster Care on September 30th of Each Year Waiting to be Adopted: FY 2005--FY 2014, available at http://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/cb/children_waiting2014.pdf.
(7) In fact, many parents in our increasingly secular society still designate godparents for their children, whom will have the duty to care for the children if the birth parents become unable to do so. Anthony Watt, We Need to Invest in Adoption, The Guardian (Sept. 30, 2011), https://www.theguardian.com/society/joepublic/2011/sep/30/adoption-system-investment.
(9) Adoption not only benefits children, but also adoptive parents. Some adults believe that life is meaningless without the gift of becoming a parent. Consequently, thousands of adults choose to adopt each year. Adoption gives them the opportunity to experience parenthood and receive the joy of adding a child to their family, which may not have been possible without adoption. See Why Adopt a Child?, American Adoptions, https://www.americanadoptions.com/adopt/why_adopt_a_child (last visited Feb. 4, 2018).
(12) Mark McDermott, The Case for Independent Adoption, in 3 The Future Of Children 147, 150 (Richard E. Behrman, M.D., ed., 1993).
(14) See infra Part IV.
(15) La. R.S.14:286(2016).
(16) See id.
(17) Joan Heifitz Hollinger, Adoption Law, in 3 The Future Of Children 43, 48 (Richard E. Behrman, M.D., ed., 1993) (identifying standards that include the age, marital status, race, religion, and ethnicity of the adopting parents).
(18) Domestic Adoption Procedures (Nov. 2010), Adoption Services Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans.
(19) Jessica Ravitz, Lesbian Couple Sues Feds For Thwarting Their Chance To Foster Refugee Children, CNN.com (Feb. 23, 2018),
https://www.cnn.com/2018/02/23/health/lesbian-couple-sues-hhs/index.html (last visited Feb. 18, 2018).
(20) In fact, many states expressly provide that any single adult or married couple may adopt. See, e.g.,Wis. Stats. Ann. [section] 48.82(l)(b) (West 1995); see also Cal. Fam. Code [section] 8601(a) (West 1994) (merely requiring the adoptive parent be at least ten years older than the child he or she is adopting).
(21) La. Child. Code Ann. art. 1198 (1992).
(22) See La. Civ. Code Ann. art. 134 (1994), which governs the judge's and hearing officer's determinations in child custody cases in Louisiana.
(23) Focusing on the "Best Interests of the Child," FindLaw, https://family.findlaw.com/child-custody/focusing-on-the-best-interests-of-the-child.html (last visited April 19, 2018).
(24) See supra note 22.
(25) See id. See e.g. La. Child. Code Ann. Art. 779; See also La. Child. Code Ann. art. 675; Child Welfare Information Gateway (2016). Determining The Best Interests Of The Child. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children's Bureau, available at https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/best_interest.pdf#page=2&view=Best interests definition.
(26) What is in the best interest of the child is often hard to define and open to differing interpretations. In Louisiana, the health, safety, and/or protection of the child are the court's principal concerns.
(27) Elizabeth Bartholet, Family Bonds: Adoption And The Politics Of Parenting 34 (1993).
(28) Jehnna Irene Hanan, The Best Interest of the Child: Eliminating Discrimination in the Screening of Adoptive Parents, 27 Golden Gate U. L. Rev. (1997), http://digitalcommons.law.ggu.edU/ggulrev/vol27/iss2/3.
(31) Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandefur, Growing Up with a Single Parent: What Hurts, What Helps, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA and London (1995).
(33) See infra Part V.
(34) See generally La. Child. Code Ann. art. 1200(8) (2004). See generally Laura Mansnerus, Market Puts Price Tags on the Priceless: In Search of a Child: The Baby Bazaar, N.Y. TIMES, Oct. 26, 1998, available at http://www.nytimes.com/1998/10/26/us/market-puts-price-tags-on-the-priceless.html (noting that adoption costs can amount to $100,000). For most adoptive parents, the big picture is finding a way to adopt and welcome a child into their family. However, for others, money is the bigger picture, and adopting a child through an agency is unmanageable because of the excessive fees the agencies charge. These costs can be prohibitive for prospective parents who may be unable to meet the financial burdens of the agency adoption process. See also How Low Cost Adoption Could be Possible, Adoption Network Law Center, https://adoptionnetwork.com/how-low-cost-adoption-could-be-possible (last visited Jan. 1, 2018).
(35) See Geoff Williams, The Cost of Adoption, U.S. News & World Reports (Oct. 2, 2014 9:38 AM), https://money.usnews.com/money/personal-finance/articles/2014/10/02/the-cost-of-adoption.
(36) During a Home Study, a caseworker gathers prospective parents' basic information from interviews with family and information provided by third parties. Generally, the information includes the prospective parents' family background, financial statements, references, education and employment, parenting experiences, willingness to adopt, and background checks. See The Adoption Home Study Process, Child Welfare Information Gateway (Dep't of Health & Human Servs., Washington, DC), 2015, at 1, available at https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/f-homestu/.
(37) This Comment will not discuss the reasonableness of CCANOS's application fees, advertising fees, and birth mother expenses. For more information on the specifics of birth mother expenses, see Andrea B. Carroll, Re-Regulating the Baby Market: A Call for a Ban on Payment of Birth Mother Living Expenses, 59 Kan. L. Rev. 285 (2011) (arguing that prospective adoptive parents often shoulder expenses tangentially related to the adoption).
(38) Agency fees average between $25,000 and $30,000 in the United States. See Geoff Williams, The Cost of Adoption, supra note 35. See, e.g., Domestic Adoption Costs, AdoptionServices.org,
http://www.adoptionservices.org/adoption/adoption_costs_domestic.htm (last visited Jan. 1, 2018).
(39) See Lois Gilman & Susan Freivalds, Adopting Smart: How Adoption Works and How Much It Costs, Adoptive Families, http://www.adoptivefamilies.com/adoption.php (last visited Oct. 28, 2010) (detailing variation in costs of a domestic agency adoption).
(43) With each failed attempt, the prospective parents likely lose considerable amounts of money because of the large amounts they have paid for the agency's main fee. Even if the prospective parents choose to restart the adoption process, the high agency fee they had to pay leaves them with less money to spend in order to reattempt a successful adoption. Id.
(44) Adoption Services, Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans, http://adoptnola.com/ (last visited March 18, 2018).
(47) See Domestic Adoption Procedures, supra note 18 at 1.
(49) The CCANO staff offers prospective parents "adoption preparedness education" and post-adoption support. Id. at 3.
(50) Id. at 2.
(51) CCANO charges "outreach fees" for its efforts to advertise to birth mothers. Id.
(54) An evaluation of a prospective parent's criminal background may include a child abuse clearance through the department of children and family services, local sheriff's department criminal clearances, Louisiana State Police- Bureau of Criminal Identification, and FBI fingerprint criminal clearances. See Completing a Home Study, AdoptUSKids, https://www.adoptuskids.org/adoption-and-foster-care/how-to-adopt-and-foster/getting-approved/home-study (last visited April 5, 2018).
(55) See Domestic Adoption Procedures, supra note 18 at 2.
(56) Id. at 4.
(57) See generally id. at 3.
(61) See generally id.
(63) According to the 2016 United States Census data, New Orleans' poverty rate is higher than the rest of Louisiana's. Statewide, one in five residents are living in poverty, while one in four New Orleans residents live in poverty. Kevin Litten, New Orleans Poverty Rates Fall In 2015, Still Higher Than State Average, THE TIMES PICAYUNE (2016), http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2016/09/census_poverty_new_orleans.html.
(64) See id.
(65) The agency charges $11,000 for its agency fee, which includes birthmother counseling, hospital services, and four post-placement home visits and reports. Also, the agency charges $1,980 for its Home Study Fee. Moreover, prospective parents are required to pay the agency attorney a deposit of $7,500 on the day the birthmother signs her final paperwork. See Understanding Adoption Process Fee Schedule, Open Arms Adoption Services, http://openarmsadoption.com/hoping-to-adopt/(last visited April 17, 2018).
(67) See infra note 131.
(68) See La. R.S. 14:286 (2016).
(69) See McDermott, supra note 12.
(70) Douglas H. Reiniger, Ethical Considerations in Representing Birth Parents:
Regulation of Adoption Expenses, in Adoption Law Institute 2007, at 188 (PLI Litig. & Admin. Practice, Course Handbook Ser. No. C-211, 2007).
(71) See Andrea B. Carroll, Cracks in the Cost Structure of Agency Adoption, Journal Articles 444 (2011), available at
(72) Discrimination Against Catholic Adoption Services, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/discrimination-against-catholic-adoption-services.cfm (last visited March 12, 2018).
(73) See generally Domestic Adoption Procedures, supra note 18 at 1.
(74) Fr. John Trigilio, PhD, ThD., The Catholic Teaching on Same-sex 'Marriage' Catholic Action for Faith and Family, https://www.catholicaction.org/same_sex_marriage (last visited April 17, 2018).
(75) See Domestic Adoption Procedures, supra note 18 at 1 (stating that a prospective parent must be married).
(76) See Bartholet, Family Bonds, supra note 27 at 70, (noting "the absence of any evidence that screening succeeds in identifying superior parents"). See also infra notes 80 and 84 and accompanying text.
(77) This included adoptions by 1,400 single men and more than 13,000 single women. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children's Bureau. (2012). The AFCARS Report: Preliminary FY 2011 Estimates As Of July 2012 (No. 19). Washington, DC, available at http://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/cb/afcarsreportl9.pdf.
(78) Shireman, J. F. (1995). Adoptions By Single Parents. In M. B. Sussman & S. Hanson (Eds.), Single Parent Families: Diversity, Myths And Realities (pp. 367-388). New York, NY: Routledge.
(79) Unfortunately, most studies of household composition effects omit socioeconomic status all together, and as a result, it is possible that negative effects attributed to single parent households are related to low socioeconomic status. Thompson, Alexander, and Entwistle, Household Composition, Parental Expectations, and School Achievement, 67 Soc. F. 424 Issue 2 at 424-451 (1988-1989).
(80) Pros and Cons in Single-Parent Families, Universal Class, https://www.universalclass.com/articles/self-help/pros-and-cons-in-single-parent-families.htm (last visited April 17, 2018).
(83) Vandivere, S., Malm, K, & Radel, L. (2009). Adoption USA: A Chartbook Based On The 2007 National Survey Of Adoptive Parents, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation.
(84) The Benefits to Adopting Later in Life, AdoptHelp, https://www.adopthelp.com/benefits-to-adopting-later-in-life/ (last visited April 22, 2018).
(86) Older Parent Adoption, AdoptHelp, https://adoption.com/older-parent-adoption (last visited April 17, 2018). (87) Id.
(89) Louisiana Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Resource Guide, Shreveport Bar Foundation Pro Bono Project, available at http://goea.louisiana.gov/assets/legalservicesfiles/grandparentsraisingchildren.pdf.
(90) Andrew Yarrow, Older Parents' Child: Growing Up Special, N.Y. Times Archives (1987), available at https://www.nytimes.com/1987/01/26/style/older-parents-child-growing-up-special.html.
(92) Adoption Services, supra note 44.
(94) Email interview with CCANO Program Director (April 15, 2018) (on file with author).
(96) See The Adoption Home Study Process, supra note 36. See also La. Child. Code Ann. art. 1207 (2014).
(97) See Completing a Home Study, supra note 54.
(98) See Domestic Adoption Procedures, supra note 18 at 2.
(99) See Discrimination Against Catholic Adoption Services, supra note 72.
(102) Instead of serving the best interests of the children by implementing unreasonable screening standards, the Catholic Charities affiliate chose to shut down its adoption services. Id.
(104) See supra note 94.
(105) Same-sex marriage prohibitions, such as current Louisiana Civil Code Article 89, have been adjudicated unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court, regardless of their continued existence. See Obergefell v. Hodges, 135 S.Ct. 2584 (2015). The Louisiana State Law Institute, has proposed updates to Article 89 to no avail. See Marriage-Persons Committee, Same-Sex Marriage Report to the Legislature (2016), http://www.lsli.org/files%2Freports%2F2016%2F15.%202016%20Same-Sex%20Marriage%20Report.pdf.
(106) See Discrimination Against Catholic Adoption Services, supra note 72.
(107) See Elizabeth Gibbons, Last Week in Child Welfare: February 25- March 4, CWLA, https://www.cwla.org/last-week-in-child-welfare-february-25-march-4/ (last visited March 5, 2018).
(108) See Discrimination Against Catholic Adoption Services, supra note 72.
(110) According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, 689 adoptions--more than half of those completed in the state in 2014--were finalized through Catholic Charities affiliates. Maluchnik referred to Catholic Charities affiliates in Boston, Illinois, and Washington, D.C. that closed after those jurisdictions recognized same-sex marriage. Maluchnik argued that closing these faith-based agencies because of their refusal to violate the church's teaching will slow the adoption process. Id.
(111) The faith-based agencies must refer potential clients to agencies who are willing to accept same-sex couples, as part of the new Michigan law. Id.
(112) See supra note 20.
(113) Private vs. Agency Adoption, My Adoption Advisor, http://www.myadoptionadvisor.com/th_gallery/private-vs-agency-adoption/ (last visited Dec. 30, 2017).
(114) La. Child. Code Ann. art. 1221 (1992).
(115) See Private vs. Agency Adoption, supra note 113.
(118) La. Child. Code Ann. art 1172 (2009) ("Any person qualified to adopt a child pursuant to Article 1221 may request a social worker acting in the employ of a licensed adoption agency, licensed clinical social worker, licensed professional counselor, licensed psychologist, medical psychologist, licensed psychiatrist, or licensed marriage and family therapist, to conduct a preplacement home study for the purpose of obtaining a certification for adoption.").
(119) See generally Williams, supra note 35 (explaining that agency fees sometimes amount to $25,000-$30,000 depending on the agency's requirements).
(120) See La. Child. Code Ann. art. 1223 (2001); but see La. Child. Code Ann. art. 1200(8) (2004).
(121) This $3,500 fee is what the attorney customarily charges for her adoption services. Telephone Interview with Attorney M (Mar. 2, 2018) (on file with author).
(122) Birth mother expenses for this particular client included the birth mother's room and board, travel, mental health counseling, and living expenses. Id.
(123) See supra note 118. Reputable Home Study providers in the New Orleans area include Grace International Adoption Agency, Beacon House Adoption Services, Adoption Home Studies, Inc., and Open Arms Adoption Services. New Orleans Adoption & Foster Care Resources, Considering Adoption, https://consideringadoption.com/adoptions-by-state/how-to-adopt-in-louisiana/new-orleans-adoption-foster-care-resources (last visited April 17, 2018).
(124) See Telephone Interview with Attorney M, supra note 121.
(125) Id. Attorneys facilitating private adoptions typically do not conduct Home Studies, and the prospective parent must pay a Home Study provider separately for this service. The average cost of a Home Study through a private agency or licensed social worker ranges from $1,000 to $3,000. Costs of Adopting: Fact Sheet for Families, FindLaw, https://family.findlaw.com/adoption/costs-of-adopting-fact-sheet-for-families.html (last visited April 17, 2018).
(126) See Telephone Interview with Attorney M, supra note 121.
(127) Some of these requirements that private adoption agencies can impose may be based on the "adopting parent's age, sexual orientation, religion, marital status, or infertility experience." See Hanan, supra note 28.
(128) See Interview with Miss J, supra note 1.
(129) Attorney X matched Miss J with a birth mother within ten months. Soon afterwards, he informed Miss J that the birth mother was far along in her pregnancy and currently incarcerated for a minor drug offense. Since the birth mother remained in jail for the duration of her pregnancy, Miss J paid the mother for very few birth mother expenses. See id.
(131) The chart illustrates CCANO's excessive agency fee and total fee in relation to another private agency's fees and a private attorney's fees.
(132) The numbers in this column refer to Attorney M's fees. See Telephone Interview with Attorney M, infra note 121.
(133) This number will vary based upon the Home Study provider chosen by the prospective parent.
(134) Birth mother expenses vary on a case by case basis, depending upon the health and financial situation of the birth mother. See generally Telephone Interview with Attorney M, supra note 121.
(135) This number was calculated using the median attorney's fees, $7,500. See supra note 65.
(136) This number was calculated by adding the average cost of the Home Study fee, $2,000. See supra note 125.
(137) See Hanan, supra note 28.
(138) See Discrimination Against Catholic Adoption Services, supra note 72. See also Ravitz, supra note 19.
(139) See supra note 20.
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|Publication:||Loyola Journal of Public Interest Law|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2018|
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