Requirements to be satisfied by applicants for adoption of a child

“The personality, age, emotional, physical and mental health, maturity, financial circumstances, general stability of character and the stability and quality of the relationship between the applicants and between the applicants and other family members, are such that he or she has the capacity to provide a secure and beneficial emotional and physical environment during a child’s upbringing until the child reaches social and emotional independence”*

Before I start, I just want everyone to know that I realise this is a controversial topic, but I think it’s one worth discussing. Intellectual discourse is appreciated, personal flaming is not.

What I want to talk about is restricting childbirth.

We require a licence to drive. We require a licence to go fishing. We require a licence to breed dogs. We do not require a licence to breed people.

I believe that raising a healthy child is the most difficult thing any person will ever attempt. I can’t even keep my fish alive. I would hate to attempt to raise a healthy, sane, intelligent, well balanced child, with little to no training, experience or firm understanding of what is going on. True, people have managed to raise relatively normal people for a hundred thousand years without any real regulation. Childbirth is the ultimate in unskilled labour. But for the vast majority of those years, people also had to go out and kill something to eat. We don’t do that anymore. The situation as it is today is that there are a great many people having children too young, with too little emotional resources or stability of their own, with too little support, or simply too little motivation and interest, to raise their children properly. Children raised in these damaging and often abusive family environments can often grow up to be disruptive, even dangerous to society, illiciting great cost, to the individual, and to society, sometimes in lives. We are the product of our environment. If we have a damaging environment, we can end up damaged.

In order to adopt a child, or even care for one intermittently, as in a fostering situation, tremendously demanding standards of behaviour, means and psychology must be met. Yet if you can pop one out yourself, you’re welcome to it. Hence, we come to the point. Should a requirement be introduced whereby prospective parents must pass a similar level of screening to prospective foster or adoptive parents?

Every other individual who comes into a formative contact with our children must pass very strict processes. Teachers, counsellors, child-care workers, hospital staff, babysitters . . . Why not parents, by far the strongest influence on a child’s upbringing?

I am not convinced of the necessity, but I can certainly appreciate the value in implementing a some sort of screening system as a prerequisite to childbirth. Everytime I see a child being abused - emotionally, verbally, even physically; everytime I see a parent with little or no control over, or interest in, their child; everytime I consider the difficulties inherent in the simple prospect of keeping a child happy, I wonder why this is allowed to happen.

We are hardly in the position of requiring excess population growth to maintain our society. If anything the reverse is true. Many issues we face today would be far less pressing with a smaller population base to deal with. This is true in the developed world, and even more applicable in the developing world. We have enough learning behind us to appreciate the damage ill-prepared parentage can wreak on someone’s childhood. I believe we are in a unique situation in human history, where we are at a sufficient level of understanding, technology and resources that we truely can learn how best to raise a child. And we can ensure that only those who do so are those who learn how.

The system would be one of provided education, training, and screening. If you wish to have a child, you are required to undertake a course of education, and be subjected to an objective assessment. The education would be provided to all and sundry, without any discrimination. It would be required for the parents, and strongly recommended (and provided free of charge) to any and all other family members. Following the completion of the assessment, on the basis thereof, a decision would be made as to whether the prospective parents are deemed suitable. If they are not, they are free to re-enter the course for as many times as necessary. Other circumstances such as past instances of child-abuse would have to be considered, with either far more stringent strictures in place, or possibly outright exclusion, dependent on severity, etc. People can change, and should be allowed the opportunity to do so.

Some interesting reading -
  • Victorian Adoption Regulations -
  • South-Australian Adoption Regulations -
  • State of Massachusetts Adoption Regulations -
  • Collection of personal accounts regarding pre and post adoption education classes -
  • New South Wales regulations regarding child care -
  • Queensland Government Child Care Regulation (1991) -

*Adoption Act 1984, Adoption Regulations 1998, State of Victoria, Part 6, Division 1, Section 35 - "Prescribed requirements for applicants" -
I've often been thinking the same thing that Thematic Stagnation argues above. I have a friend who used to work at Jeugdzorg, a Dutch organisation that occupies itself with the supervising of parents who, for whatever reason, have trouble raising their kids. The problems in those families ranged from mentally disabled parents to child abuse. I've heard a fair amount of horror stories and it does make you wonder why just anybody is allowed to become a parent, even after several kids have been taken away because they were maltreated.

One of the problems with restricting childbirth is its practical application. For instance, if a license is required for becoming a parent, how do you keep unlicensed women from getting pregnant? You might impose contraception on everybody who does not have a license yet, but this gives huge ethical problems with regards to human rights. Apart from that: who gets to decide who can become a parent? And for what reasons? This starts to smack of eugenics.

Then there would be the idea of requiring parents-to-be to follow a parenting course. You'd first have to decide what good parenting is. Experts don't quite agree on that one, yet (attachment parenting or crying it out, anyone?). Even so, this parenting course is already a more feasible idea, but: how do you determine who is expecting a child? Do you require doctors to tell the government when one of their patients is pregnant? What about expecting women who don't go to a doctor? And, what if people plainly refuse to go to such a course, or what if they fail? Do you put them in jail, where they can't take care of their child at all, or do you take the child away? Wouldn't that be even worse?

As logical as it seems to restrict childbirth, the ethical and practical problems are huge. You might wonder if that's worth it, seeing as most parents I know seem to do well enough.

Restricting childbirth to only those that seem to be fit is an idea that, on the surface, seems quite good. It should reduce child abuse, make sure children are well-educated, and that their parents are financially and emotionally capable of supporting them. Wonderful, right?

Well, I don't think so. There are two major sets of problems associated with this proposal: a set of practical problems and a set of fundamental problems.

The practical problems are quite obvious. How is it decided who is fit and who is not? Are there a fixed set of rules, such as a minimum income, a written pledge to take care of the child, a certain minimum IQ by the parents? It seems to be very hard to find a good set of objective criteria by which you can judge fitness for parenthood. While a certain trait might statistically make a person less fit for parenthood, this is just statistics, meaning that some people would still make fine parents, and have their "parenting rights"stripped from them for no good reason at all. Another option could be to have a person or committee judge potential applicants, because such a matter might be better judged on subjective than on objective grounds. Such a solution would not only be vulnerable to the inherent tendency of people to make mistakes, but also be highly vulnerable to corruption. And this is a best-case scenario: I will not even touch the very real possibility of this turning into a state-sponsored eugenics programme.

Leaving the sticky subject of how to judge fitness, we will now go to an even more difficult question: how to punish transgressors. It seems that punishing the parent without directly or indirectly hitting the child is impossible. Both a prison sentence and a fine would impair the presumably limited ability of the parents to care for their offspring. One could take away the children and place them in foster care, but little is stopping the parents from having a new child, not to mention that many children that are adopted have difficulties coming to terms with the fact that the people they thought were there parents and family are in fact not even related to them. To subject children to this, one must have a very high degree of certainty that the foster parents are better than the biological parents.

If one could prevent people from having children in the first place, one would not need to think about punishment. This would, however, require a massive violation of some of the most basic human rights. Oral contraceptives or condoms won't do, only a surgical procedure, and preferably one that is not easily reversed if one does not want to it to be easy to circumvent; otherwise, we'd be back at the problem of punishing the transgressors However, as people can have children often as early as 14, it would seem difficult to make such far-reaching descisions before their personalities have fully formed.

Having seen the practical difficulties of implementing this idea, we can now go a more fundamental issue. Humans are animals. The desire to live is the second-most important thing in the life of an animal. It is only trumped by its drive to procreate. Animals-and humans-will give their lives to protect their offspring. To take away a the right to procreate, a right that is more fundamental than the right to live, without any crime being committed, seems to be the most unethical thing one can do, in any mainstream system of ethics I am familiar with.

Restricting childbirth to those that seem fit is an idea that has merit only at first glance. The enormous practical difficulties in implementing it, not to mention that it is fundamentally and highly unethical. It is not just politically incorrect.

Sources: I got some inspiration from sloebertjes WU. The rest is mainly high school history, biology and religion classes.

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