Bill Pierce, president of the 130-member National Council for Adoption (NCFA) since its founding in 1980 retired at year’s end. Pierce surely ranks as one of the nation’s most controversial figures in the social welfare field. The NCFA and Pierce draw the ire of advocates of open adoption records (most “victims” of the traditional adoption triad) and opponents of transracial adoption (led by the “cultural genocide” fighting 7,000 member National Association of Black Social Workers (NABSW) and of conservative groups such as the every-child-can-be-adopted Ohio-based Adopt America Network.
Says one pro-adoption group Bastard Nation (not to be confused with their putative cousins Queer Nation) “FACT! Bill Pierce and the rest of the adoption industry will stop at nothing in their defense of the secrets and lies of Sealed Records.” Writes another foe Jo Anne Swanson (sorry, family lineage unknown) “Today’s Adoption Machine is owned, operated and maintained by the National Committee (as it was known until 1992) For Adoption.”
At one anti-NCFA conference in Philadelphia, a Catholic priest who was adopted as an infant, gave the “invocation” as the pro-open records participants hung a freshly killed pig’s head clothed with a shirt and sign reading “Dr. Billy Pierce.”
Even in child welfare’s more decorous mainstream, Pierce is persona non-grata, including among his former colleagues at the Child Welfare League of America. CWLA’s adoption expert Ann Sullivan describes CWLA as “middle of the road” on adoption issues including such contentious issues as transracial adoption, kinship care and family preservation. By contrast, says Sullivan, Pierce and the NCFA have “a very conservative view” on a long list of hot button issues while CWLA “embraces more emerging trends” including support for adoptions by single parents, gay couples and the preferred use of kinship care as a alternative to adoption.
Not that adoption lacks for alternatives. Even without factoring in legal abortion now estimated at 1.37 million per year, the adoption option is taken up by only 4 percent of American babies born to unmarried parents.
So why are so many ordinarily reasonable people on the case of, if you’ll excuse the vernacular, that honkie bastard Bill Pierce? The NCFA member agencies are but 3.5 percent of all licensed adoption agencies in the country, Bastard Nation points out in one of those backhanded compliments that routinely accrue to Pierce’s benefit. Mostly oppositional apoplexy is caused because Pierce & Co., though often playing poker with a weak hand, have failed to graciously concede defeat and get steam-rolled by their legion of critics.
“Tenacious” says Brenda Russell, who worked for Pierce when he ran the D.C. office of the then-New York-based Child Welfare League of America, “should be his middle name.” Take mandatory race-matching in adoption, so dear to the psyche-identities of many minority social workers. Steered by Pierce and proponents of race-blind adoption (except for Native Americans who, as sovereign nations, have their own rule book), Congress passed the Multi-ethnic Placement Act in 1996, sponsored by then-Sen. Howard Metzenbaum (D-Ohio) – hardly a pawn of the right wing. It effectively bans racial and ethnic discrimination in public adoption and foster care programs.
The best that Leonard Dunston, the immediate past president of the Detroit-based NABSW’s can say of Pierce is “he’s a very interesting person.” Dunston’s association is not anti-transracial adoption as much as it is pro-adoption of black children by black adults says Dunston adding “if you go out and recruit black adoptive families you will find them.” Still no matter how you score the public policy game, the end result is NCFA: 1; NABSW: 0.
Led by the Edna Gladney Center in Ft. Worth, Texas, some adoption agencies, half in Texas, broke with the left-of-center CWLA and formed the NCFA in 1980. Their political timing couldn’t have been better with Ronald Reagan’s election to the White House that very November.
During the Reagan-Bush era it was the NCFA, with its anti-abortion orientation and its espousing of the “color-blind society”, so popular among a majority of Members of Congress, that exerted the dominate influence in its prime areas of policy interest. Says Russell, whose job as executive director of the National Association of Homes and Services for Children (now merged with Family Services of America to form the Alliance for Children) required both alliances and policy differences with NCFA “Bill has been extremely successful on Capitol Hill”.
But while national policies were – and still remain – thanks to the GOP’s control of Congress, often going NCFA’s way, much of American society has been moving in a different, if not quite opposite direction. Three states – Alaska, Kansas and Montana – have open adoption records, while a Tennessee law is tied up in a court challenge backed by the NCFA. In December Oregon’s Supreme Court upheld a voter supported ballot initiative that allows for open records, thereby dealing NCFA and other closed records supporters a major setback.
Pierce and the NCFA hope to check the state-by-state shift towards open adoption records, gay adoption (allowed in nine states) and single-parent adoption by promoting a Uniform Adoption Act released in 1994 by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws. But, notes CWLA’s Sullivan, so far 26 states have rejected enacting the UAA as is. Replies Pierce to the drubbing the UAA has taken in the states, “Politics and ideology trump content.”
For a guy who’s been hung in effigy, and had his modest D.C. headquarters housing eight staff picketed and “exorcized” two years ago by protesters favoring open adoption records, Pierce’s professional life began in a more poetic setting – teaching literature and poetry.
By 1966, Pierce’s interest in youth had shifted to directing the Statewide Neighborhood Youth Corps in Iowa. That took the then card-carrying liberal Democrat to Washington, D.C. where he rode a desk during Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty. By 1970, he was establishing CWLA’s first-ever office in D.C. (CWLA, founded in 1920 clung to New York City until 1984) and quickly mastered the intricacies of Capitol Hill and the federal agencies. Pierce now is considered by friend and foe alike as a maestro of the legislative process and regulation-speak (That’s a sort of federal dialect that over-educated old-policy wonkers like Pierce patiently teach to eager apprentice wonkers).
His retirement has left both his supporters and detractors wondering if the NCFA can survive without him. Pierce’s successor David Malutinok will have to bring more than a conservative friendly ideology to the job, say these observers, he will need a mastery of content as well.
Malutinok hails from the City of Brotherly Love but was apparently unscathed by the pig roasting Pierce received in there. Since 1996 Malutinok served as vice president of HOPE worldwide, Ltd. which operates 150 programs in over 75 countries. One venture is HOPE for children, an adoption agency based in Marietta, Ga. which Malutinok, father of three, one adopted from China, directed for three years.
For the NCFA now without the awesome talents of Bill Pierce prospects for its long term survival are, well, a pig in a poke. Contact: (202) 328-1200.