The president of the Utah Adoption Council resigned his post Tuesday and launched his own competing organization amid claims the group ignores unethical practices of some adoption agencies and has failed to treat birth fathers fairly.
Salt Lake attorney Wes Hutchins, whose one-year term was set to end in July, said he could no longer support what he described as a "systematically dysfunctional organization."
"Too many members, but admittedly not all, do not wish to truly comply with UAC's professed mission [of promoting] 'a positive adoption experience for all involved, through education related to quality adoption,' " Hutchins said in his resignation letter.
"Whether you like it or not, birth fathers are part of that equation," he said in his letter. "Whether you admit it or not, many agencies continue to engage in unethical and unlawful practices including post-placement cash bonuses paid directly to birth moms, and coaching birth moms to lie and even defraud birth fathers regarding the birth mother's true intentions."
Kevin Broderick, president-elect, will step in early to replace Hutchins, said attorney David Hardy, past president of the organization. The council was founded in 1981 and its 50 or so members include adoption agency representatives, attorneys, state officials, birth and adoptive parents, and adoptees.
"Wes has pushed for some things that he hasn't been able to persuade others to go along with and gotten frustrated," Hardy said.
Hardy said some members were upset about surreptitious recordings Hutchins made of adoption agency workers, as well as the public stance he took during the last legislative session on a bill opposed by the council that would have required that birth fathers receive notice of pending adoptions.
"Wes was out on an island on that one," Hardy said.
While the council is concerned about any allegations of baby selling, "his methods got in the way of the message he would like to share," Hardy said.
Hardy acknowledged one UAC member has proposed an amendment to the group's bylaws, that was in "some ways" directed at Hutchins, that would allow it to terminate a member for "failure to act in a civil fashion" at its meetings and public criticism of UAC, among other things.
"UAC is designed to be an adoption education and advocacy group and there was some feeling we could not function if we had to spend all our time dealing with infighting," Hardy said.
Hutchins said what the group failed to do, however, was apply best practices and ethical standards to its members.
"Agencies should be 100 percent truthful and ethical all the time, and it should not matter if it is a 'secret shopper' calling or a birth mother," he said. "The secret shopper is a well-known standard among business industries to check on customer service practices and whether employees are following procedures."
Last summer, Hutchins had his wife pose as the sister of an expectant woman who was considering placing her baby for adoption. She taped interviews with several Utah adoption agencies that revealed some workers were coaching birth moms on how to keep birth fathers out of the process, discussing post-placement cash payment, and how laws favored them in Utah.
Hutchins repeated the exercise this spring, in some cases using actual expectant mothers, and said he found little had changed, with workers at some agencies promising cash and urging birth mothers to "tell the birth father anything after you give birth ... it might be easier to tell birth father that you were in an accident, and the baby died."
Hardy said UAC has had some discussion on the allegations brought forth by Hutchins, but said "most of what he came forward with initially" involved entry-level personnel and their responses to hypothetical situations versus "anything actually going on."
But in at least one case, a birth father received some types of misinformation Hutchins claims to have recorded recently.
Christopher Carlton's girlfriend was expecting their child when the couple broke up at the end of 2009. According to court documents and interviews, he continued to support her and her two children despite the collapse of their relationship, expecting to be involved with the baby due in June 2010. But the woman disappeared when she was seven months pregnant, and despite his best efforts, Carlton, a Pennsylvania resident, was unable to locate her.
In late June 2010, Carlton, an Iraq war veteran, learned from a mutual friend that his girlfriend had given birth. He was told the baby was a boy. Carlton frantically tried to reach the mother on her cell phone and finally heard from her a day later. She said the baby had respiratory problems. When he asked where she was, the woman said she was "too far away" and hung up. He then received three photos of the baby in text messages sent to his telephone.
Three days later, the woman showed up at Carlton's door, raging that he'd killed her baby. According to court documents, when he asked where the baby was, the woman said the infant had died though it is unknown whether she was coached to do so. Carlton, who was devastated by the news, continued to press for information about the baby and where it had been buried, which led his former girlfriend to file a protective order against him.
But in court, a judge sided with Carlton and told the woman he had a right to know what had happened to his child and where it was buried. To avoid being questioned about the infant, the woman dropped her allegations against Carlton. And four months later, she asked him to meet her at a grief counselor's office.
There, she dropped an even bigger bombshell. The baby wasn't dead. The woman had placed the infant, still identified as a boy, for adoption. It took another court hearing and a judge's directive before the woman let Carlton know the baby had been placed through the Adoption Center of Utah. At that point, just before being deployed to Iraq, Carlton hired Hutchins. And there was another revelation months later: the baby wasn't a boy, it was girl.
Carlton has waged a so-far unsuccessful fight in Utah to get his child back.
"I want my child more than anything," he said. "I've walked places in this world where angels fear to tread, seen things no human should have to see. Who are they to take my freedoms away?"
New advocacy group forms
Salt Lake attorney Wes Hutchins, himself an adoptive father, argues the Utah Adoption Council has tilted too far against birth fathers and their rights and has allowed unethical practices to go unchecked.
With that in mind, he has launched a new organization the Utah Council for Ethical Adoption Practices to promote higher standards and better practices in Utah's adoption industry. The group now has its own Facebook page and is working on a website.