Since I have had two inquiries about my thoughts on this subject, I will try to answer as best I can.
None of the "institutions" that are in effect at the present time, adoption and foster care to be specific, seem to fit the bill. There are too many abuses in foster care to mention, it is money-based (as is adoption in many instances and certainly from the state's and facilitators' end) and not well overseen and adoption, well, in my mind, it is a failed social experiment, discriminatory and damaging, centered on the needs of the adopters and its time to go is upon us. It is rife with corruption among the facilitators and is no guarantee of a "better life" for the adopted child.
Leaving what? OK, now let's hear the deluge of protestations about the abusive and neglectful crackwhores and slut-mommies. Once again, these people make up the minority of the mothers who have lost their children to the adoption machine and it is becoming more and more apparent that CPS is, shall we say, "over-zealous" in appropriating the children of the young, poor and disenfranchised. In any case, removal to foster care and, certainly, adoption should have ALWAYS been the very last choice for only the most desperate situation.
Legal guardianships and kinship guardianships are available now but they are severely limited in their present forms. There was a time when there was no question that, should parents die, abandon their children or become, in any way, unable to care for their children, the natural families of the parents would step in and raise these children in the bosom of their close kin. These grandparents, aunts and uncles and older siblings did not need to hear their dependent child call them "Mom and Dad." The most desirable solution for the ultimately desperate situation, then, would be a kinship guardianship with all the legal responsibilities for the welfare of the child in the hands of close family members. Even if the family members are not the most well-educated or well-to-do people around, but are decent human beings, then they are certainly the better option for that child than wealthy, highly educated strangers. Having had family members in that situation, I can testify to the fact that it turned out fine, my cousin grew up well-loved and with her family ties honored and she went on to become a successful and happy adult.
In the earlier few centuries, guardianship for orphaned children was the norm. Some parents, from early times on, would designate a close friend or family member to care for their children in the event that they were to die while these children were still minors. It was not uncommon for someone to introduce the child with them as "my ward," or the child refer to "my guardian." Becoming a guardian placed a great deal of responsibility on the shoulders of the guardian-designate, and was not undertaken lightly. But, again, these situations seemed to, for the most part, work out well. It was not a situation where the guardians became "Papa and Mama," but one that respected and operated from the fact that the minor child HAD a family and a name and a heritage.
Legal guardianship as it exists now, in this country, would require modification and some "beefing up." Classes on becoming and being a guardian would be an excellent idea and finding a way to avoid the pitfalls of foster care, where so many are in it for the money (not all so no deluge of protests from foster caregivers, please) would be their first priority. Becoming a guardian would be a truly honorable endeavor because there would be no assumption of parenthood as a "payback." In the event that relatives are unavailable or unfit for assumption of guardianship, the people who did take on the responsibility for the child in question would have to be above any thought of personal gain and highly responsible, but not necessarily among the wealthy or professionals. When my raised children were small and both my parents were deceased, for reason that are private to my ex-husband and I, we designated two close friends as guardians should we die. Guardians should be chosen by the powers-that-be with all the care that they would choose them for their own children with the emphasis on good character rather than affluence. Guardianships by non-related or non-acquainted people would be the last option. It has already been seen that a "home study" can be manipulated, so it would call for a much more in-depth investigation of the guardian candidate than is done now.
Legal guardianship should be a permanent contract, valid through the end of the ward's education and/or marriage and/or assumption of self-support. Any relationship after that would be based on mutual desire and affections. Names of the ward would remain the name they were given at birth, and, if, in the case of an infant, no name was given, then the mother's last name would be used, prefaced by a name chosen by the guardians. The child's legal status would be as both a legal ward AND a member of their original family. Their personal history would remain intact, and free and open contact with extended family members should be an option for them, barring, of course any situation that would be hazardous for the child.
Assumption of guardianship would be a truly child-centered endeavor. Becoming a guardian would not create legal "parenthood" for the guardians and would not include impressing one's family name, heritage, etc., on the child. The baby-hunger of an infertile person would not be a valid reason to confer guardianship. In the case of a mentally ill or addicted or incarcerated mother, there would be a carefully constructed open end that would allow for reunification should the mother's problems become resolved to the satisfaction of those overseeing the guardianship. As for who would oversee this, that would also be a matter for a much-needed overhaul of the Social Service System in this country. Removing adoption credits incentives from the federal government to the states involved would be a good start to that.
Yes, it's a big undertaking and it will take time and it will take effort and it will take people getting out of themselves and their own needs and issues and into the well-being and healthy development of children, period. Most of all, it takes drive and vision and hope....something that many of us are finding again, even after the tragedy of our losses. It may begin with simple adoption reform...but then the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. The adoption industry tried throwing out the carrot of "open" adoptions to maintain its money-making impetus. Now, many of the moms who fell for that one are in support groups all over the Internet, dealing with the agony of the closed door to the "open" adoption they thought they were getting. Open adoptions are too subject to the insecurities and whims of the adopters and it still places the needs of the adopters first. It's NOT the answer, but we'll get there.