Is it unethical to publish adoption photos on the web?

Is it unethical to publish the photos of children waiting for adoption on the internet? Claudia Megele argues it is

Is it unethical to publish the photos of children waiting for adoption on the internet? Claudia Megele argues it is

Publishing the photos of children waiting for adoption is often used to help adoptive parents imagine a child as “their child”. There is evidence they rejoice in seeing the picture of their adoptive child in the same manner that birth parents celebrate the ultrasound image of their child.

But I would argue that a visual parade of such photos on the internet, particularly for those children under the age of consent, is in fact inappropriate and unethical.

There is no ethically valid reason why prospective adoptive parents should have an immediate visual image of the child, except to guide their selection based on children’s appearances, similar to “catalogue shopping” for a “picture perfect family”.

When parents see children’s photos for the first time they establish an emotional link with the image, which can condition subsequent judgements and often perpetuate the differential treatment of groups in our society such as the trend in favour of adopting white children.

An aggravating factor is that once these photos are posted on the internet, they are automatically disseminated through various search engines, accumulator websites, mirroring or replication systems, and so on. This makes it virtually impossible to fully remove them from the public domain, hence affecting their privacy.

Some children may not wish to reveal that they are/were adopted. It should be their choice whether or not to reveal that information, but how can they when their photographs and stories are openly and identifiably posted online?

There is an argument that if we post photos of missing children on the internet to help find them then why not do the same to help adoptive children find a family. The issue here is context. Birthdays, graduations, and even searches for missing children reflect and emphasise a sense of belonging and being cared for and “wanted”. But research indicates that adoptive children’s photos are associated with a sense of, “rupture”, “not-belonging”, “rejection and relinquishment”.

There is no doubt we must do everything possible to find adoptive children a caring and deserving home. However, instead of using children’s photos as a lure, would it not be better to provide a textual description of the children and their backgrounds? Only after an expression of interest by adoptive parents, and the possibility of matching the child with them, would photos be confidentially shared.

There are adoption agencies such as After Adoption who use adoptive children’s photos with sensitivity and in an unidentifiable manner. I would like to see all adoption websites and operators adopt such standards.

Claudia Megele is a psychotherapist, trainer and associate lecturer in applied social work practice at the Open University

‘Ends justify means’

By Nick Dunster, regional director of BAAF, Central England

Who can fail to be troubled by images of children needing a family? Even reading a paper copy of Be My Parent can be a harrowing experience as we wonder how, in a modern democracy, so many children need somewhere to belong? Yet that is the reality we are faced with.

We know that most children need families in order to flourish. And we also know that, at heart, many of us are visual beings: photographs and images speak to us in a way that words often don’t. We can fight against this aspect of human nature on ethical grounds, but only at the expense of reducing the chances of children finding families.

Children do not have to be passive in this process. Approached sensitively, the process of developing a visual profile can bolster a child’s sense of competence and effectiveness in their adoption journey.

Use of the internet for family finding is not to be undertaken lightly. But this is a classic case of the end – the child’s sense of belonging in a loving family – justifying the means.

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This article is published in the 6 October 2011 edition of Community Care under the headline “Let’s not base adoption simply on appearances”

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