Adoption scamming has been in the news near our central offices recently.

First, my heart goes out to the victims in these stories: I can’t imagine suffering the loss that they have.

Adoption scams are a very ugly reality. For those new to the adoption world, it can be pretty shocking to learn that there are people out there who are willing to stoop to such a low level that they’d defraud people who’s only wish is provide a loving home to a child in need.

But there are people who want to do just that.

This is the main reason it’s so dangerous to try to facilitate an adoption on your own. These women aren’t ashamed to prey upon your emotions or fabricate evidence of a pregnancy.

Any reputable adoption service is on the lookout for shady activity, of course. And they are in contact with other adoption services and attorneys to know any particular individuals they should be on the lookout for.

Unfortunately, scammers are still successful sometimes.

The stories linked above talk about calls to changing the law to make penalties for adoption scamming stiffer (or, frankly, more existent). That certainly would help bring a woman like Tracy Bess-Thacker to justice. She wasn’t pregnant at all and that’s relatively easy to prove.

I have a hard time imagining, though, the prosecution of a woman who was pregnant but lied about her intent to place her baby for adoption. Unless the woman in question practically admits to scamming, it would be practically impossible to prove that was what she was doing.

Because, of course, birth mothers do sometimes really change their minds. They can fully intend to place a child for adoption, make an adoption plan, get matched, and all that and then have a change of heart. Those women need to be protected, too.

We can’t allow something like having accepted financial assistance affect a mother’s right to parent her own child. Some comments on Facebook were suggesting that birth mothers who accept assistance from potentially adoptive parents and then decide to parent their child themselves should have to somehow “refund” the assistance they received. While I appreciate the desire for justice that this thinking demonstrates, I don’t think such a rule would serve justice. To be blunt, I think it would make adoption a form of human trafficking. If potentially adoptive parents choose to give assistance to a birth mother, it must not be contingent upon finalization. We can’t allow adoption to become an instance of “buying a baby.”

The point I want to make here is this: the attitudes of adoption scammers and of some legislative initiatives to curtail them shine a light on a much more serious problem not only in the offenders, but also (apparently) in some members of the general public. The real tragedy of adoption scams is that so many people are primarily concerned with the loss of money and not the loss of a child.

A family planning to adopt a child opens itself to that child: it begins to love that child for the unique, irreplaceable person he or she is. When we focus on the money, we reduce the value of that baby to a dollar sign. The greater injustice committed by an adoption scammer is her willful decision to break a family’s heart; to rob them of someone, not something. If we don’t see that, then we in a sense also committing an injustice against that baby and that family by our failure to appreciate what he or she is, a person, and whom they lost, a child.