Gov. Pete Wilson's plan to encourage welfare recipients to consider putting up their children for adoption triggered heated opposition Thursday from some child welfare advocates but was cautiously embraced by other groups.
In the state budget released Thursday, Wilson said welfare recipients, especially pregnant teenagers, "should be offered every assistance in placing their children for adoption, recognizing that such a decision is a courageous, wise and ultimately unselfish choice by the parent."
Critics said the proposal unfairly targets poor women and were flabbergasted.
"For us, reproductive choice includes the right to become a mother. I feel really strongly we cannot be a society that permits the joy of parenthood for people of wealth only," said Suellen Craig, president of Planned Parenthood of Los Angeles. "It sounds as though it punishes poor women in a way that is just unconscionable."
In contrast, the Rev. Louis Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition, said he views the policy as part of Wilson's overall desire to encourage adoption. "I see his position as a strong social policy that he is emphasizing for the betterment of the family."
Indeed, Wilson for the past year has been seeking to underscore what his administration sees as a need for traditional families to adopt children. Toward that end, the administration last summer moved to prevent adoptions by unmarried couples--gay or straight--in proposed regulations.
At a news briefing Thursday, Eloise Anderson, Wilson's director of the state Social Services Department, said the governor wants these poor women to weigh the possibility "that adoption might be a good thing," and she said that such counseling is not new but all too rare.
Wilson wants counties to put the adoption alternative in brochures and advertisements and for caseworkers to advise recipients of it when they visit their homes, particularly when they find the home environment potentially threatening for children.
The Wilson administration's spotlight on adoption also comes as there is renewed focus at the national level. Just last month, President Clinton announced he was moving to double the adoption of children in foster care by the end of the century. At the time, Clinton said that each year at least two-thirds of the foster care children who will not return to their original homes are also not permanently placed elsewhere, forcing many to wait as long as three years.
Assemblyman Louis Caldera (D-Los Angeles), who has carried adoption legislation, made a similar point in reaction to Wilson's proposal.
"I think there are too many kids who languish in foster care and we ought to make it possible for them to be adopted sooner, especially if it's clear . . . that they aren't going to even be returned to a family," Caldera said.
So, he added, "I don't have a problem" encouraging people to consider adoption. "It doesn't offend me."
Peter Digre, director of Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, said adoption is currently one alternative provided to young mothers but it is not necessarily singled out.
"There's no program to promote adoptions among the general population of welfare recipients, but voluntary relinquishment, which is what the governor is talking about, is always an option."
For parents who persistently abuse their children, he said, adoption is more of an option.
"When people abuse and neglect their kids . . . if they are unable to stabilize their lives . . . in those cases adoption is the preference because we want children to have parents for their [entire] life," Digre said.
But many child advocates voiced anger over Wilson's proposal.
" 'Reprehensible' is the word that comes to mind," said Linda Lewis, executive director of the Los Angeles based Assn. of Children's Services, a 35-member organization of nonprofit agencies that provides services to abused and neglected children.
She said her organization is in the midst of trying to develop better adoption procedures, getting children in long-term foster care into permanent adoptive families. But that is not an alternative to providing for birth families, she said.
"I find it shocking that we would be talking about adopting children instead of providing support for their parents to raise them. It completely ignores familial ties. The idea that we could provide adoption assistance for poor families and we can't provide birth control or family planning assistance or medical assistance or employment assistance for them to afford families is reprehensible."
Gladstone reported from Sacramento and Smith from Los Angeles