July 2, 1950
Where Babies Get a Break
Kansas City's simplified system has ended the adoption racket by helping
prospective foster parents and children attain mutual satisfaction.
By: Norma Lee Browning
In the last few years the adoption business- both legitimate and black market - has boomed.
The old fashioned prejudice against adoptions has virtually disappeared. To a somewhat lesser degree so has the stigma against illegitimacy. And so, with sterility in marriage on the increase, more and more couples than ever before are looking around for children to adopt.
The Children's Bureau in Washington last year reported a total of 75,000 adoptions thru out the nation, three time the number 15 years ago. Yet, only 25 per cent of these adoptions were made thru authorized agencies. Despite widespread publicity against so-called black market adoptions, little has been done to correct this problems that is currently plaguing the nation- and more particularly the child placement agencies.
There is one city, however that has solved its own "black market" baby problems by devising a simplified court adoption system that has gained a nation-wide reputation for its high standards, fine work, and success in the child placement field.
That is Kansas City, Mo.
The adoption court there places about 1,000 babies a year, thus making it one of the largest and possibly "the" largest child placement agency in AMERICA. The Catholic Home bureau in Chicago placed close to 400 last year; the Illinois Children's Home and Aid society, nearly 200. Adoptions for the whole state of New York totaled only 4,000 last year, only four times greater than for Kansas City.
And again only about 1,000 of New York's total adoptions were made thru legitimate authorized agencies, while all of Kansas City's were channeled thru the town's only child placement agency, the adoption department of the Juvenile Court.
In contrast to the dozens of scattered private and public child placement agencies that most cities have, Kansas City has only one- The adoption Court.
In contrast to the scores of orphanages, maternity homes, hosptials, and other institutions or homes from which from which children may be adopted in most cities, Kansas City has only four, They are the Eastside, Fairmount, and Willows hosptials- maternity homes exclusively for unwed mothers; and the Flroence Crittenton Home for Infants.
Any applications that are sent direct to the maternity homes are automatically referred to the adoption department of the Juvenile Court. The court's own case workers make all the investigations and recommendations for placements. There is only one adoption agency ( The Court), one adoption judge, and one adoption director.
The Judge, Ray G. Cowan, assigned to the Juvenile Court, passes on every adoption in Kansas City. The director of the adoption department which functions as a separate division of the court is attractive, efficient, Mary Lou Fenberg, a Washington University graduate who is largely responsible for the reorganization of the adoption department during the last five years, and whose recommendation to Judge Cowan is required in every adoption proceeding.
There are 15 staff workers under Mrs. Fenberg's supervision. Some are assigned to the adoption office to interview adoptive parents and unwed mothers.
The others are full time case workers assigned to the four maternity hospitals to investigate the background of both the mothers and fathers of the illegitimate children, and to check on the health and physical development of the babies.
The entire work of personal investigation and placement of children in adoptive homes is done by this small staff. Yet the Kansas City adoption court has become nationally famous for its job of matching babies to parents.
Applicants come from as far away as Wyoming, California, Maine, and Florida for personal interviews. The day this writer visited the court, a Columbia University professor and his weif had just arrived from New York for an interview with Mrs. Fenberg.
Mrs. Fenberg, who has two children of her own, not adopted, divides her time between the juvenile court office and the hospitals.. She personally interviews all adoptive parents, keeps contact with al lunwed mothers during their confinement, and knows the complete case history of every baby that goes thru the Kansas City adoption court.
Such a simplified adoption system, centralized in one spot, virtually eliminates the private buying and selling of babies.
The courts actual adoption and investigation procedure is similar to that of authorized private and public agencies everywhere, and , as in most reputable authorized agencies, qualifications for adopting parents are high. The theory is that with nearly 100 applicants for every available baby, the agency can be choosy.
The average waiting time for a Kansas City baby, even after the applicants have been fully approved by court workers, is about two years.
In the last few years the heavy demand on the Kansas City adoption bureau, due in large part to its fame for matching babies to parents, has necessitated several temporary closings of the applicaiton waiting list. The list is currently closed.
Screening of adoptive parents is an exacting process. This requires personal interviews not only with the applicants, but with others in their community, such as the family physician, pastor, and banker.
Wealth is not a prerequisite, tho the court requires that applicants offer proof of enough financial security to provide comfortable standards of living and education for the child.
The one point Mrs Fenberg insists on doggedly is religion. Just belonging to a church isn't enough. Couples who want a Kansas City baby must be regular church goers.
After placement, there is a nine months probationary period during which the case worker continues her visits to the home to observe the child's progress and development. If at the end of the probationary period, the adoptive home seems happy and well adjusted, the child is legally adopted.
Adoption hearings are closed to the public, and all case histories and medical reports are kept confidential.
The maternity homes that supply Kansas City's adoption court are licensed and inspected by the state. They are the largest private hospitals in America operated exclusively for the care of unwed mothers. The Willows, best known of the group, accommodates about 100 girls and is always filled to capacity, as are the others.
Not so long ago and art student form Chicago entered one of the maternity hospitals only to find her missing sister, with child, in a neighboring room. And case workers in one hosptial reported a friendship blossoming between two unwed mothers in "sister professions"- one was an advertising copy writer from new York ; the other a newspaper reporter!
Unfortunate girls who can't afford to pay much for their confinement care usually are referred to the Crittenton home, but for the most part,those who enter the other three hospitals are girls and women from respectable family backgrounds.