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‘Taken at Birth:’ A Black Market Adoption Ring

Taken at Birth is a new six-part special on TLC that investigates the illegal adoptions of more than 200 infants from the ‘40s to ‘60s. The man who illegally placed these children, Dr. Thomas J. Hicks, was beloved by the residents in his small community of McCaysville, Georgia, but was also known as the man to discreetly see if you were in ‘trouble.’

For decades, he performed illegal abortions and quietly placed “unwanted” infants with waiting families, leaving no records. One woman, Jane Blasio, was adopted through the Hicks Clinic and went there searching for birth family, but instead uncovered the illegal practice long after Dr. Hicks’ death.

This is a frightening thought for anyone, but especially for those who have been touched by adoption. How can we prevent unethical and illegal adoptions like this from ever happening again?

Understand the History

Learning about events like The Sixties Scoop or the Hicks Babies is crucial for the prevention of future unethical adoptions. Adoption was not always as carefully regulated or discussed as it is today, and it led to lifelong, often painful consequences for those involved — especially the adoptees.

In the era when Dr. Hicks was routinely relocating babies, unintended pregnancy was viewed as shameful and secretive. Women who were pregnant and unwed would be outcasts if they were to raise their babies on their own, especially in small communities like McCaysville. Couples who were unable to conceive experienced shame from a society that viewed adoption as less-than, and as something that should be kept a secret, even from the child. This culture of shame forced birth and adoptive parents into desperation, which people like Dr. Hicks could easily take advantage of.

Birth and adoptive families who went to Hicks had no court hearings or records of the adoption. He filed amended birth certificates, and nothing else. Today, this means that the adoptees that passed through the Hicks Clinic doors have no information about their birth families, medical histories, or anything to help with their searches.

Work to Dispel Stigmas

Since the decades of Dr. Hicks’ illegal adoption practices, important cultural attitudes have shifted —we continue to move toward more open adoptions, greater acceptance of single parenthood, emphasizing the importance of honesty and transparency in adoption (even when the adoptee is “too young” to understand), working to better understand the experiences of transracial and international adoptees and more. Despite these positive shifts, we all still have a long way to go and a lot to learn.

And although future adoptees can benefit from these new approaches to adoption, adoptees like those affected by Dr. Hicks’ actions are still struggling to learn basic information about their personal histories.

Advocate for Adoption Regulations

Measures like The Hague Convention, ICPC, state-mandated adoption consent laws and even everyday home studies are all there to make sure that children are being placed into safe and loving homes by their fully-informed and consenting birth parents. Licensed adoption professionals are carefully regulated by states. All of the paperwork involved in the adoption process may seem like a pain to hopeful parents, but examples like Dr. Hicks are the reason why these measures are in place.

How can you prevent unlicensed, illegal and unethical placements like the Hicks Clinic adoptions from occurring? Make sure that you’re working with a properly licensed and regulated adoption agency rather than trying to find an adoption opportunity on your own, or with a poorly-regulated professional. If something feels wrong, or corners are being cut to save money or time, then something could be wrong.

Taken at Birth airs on TLC October 9–11 from 9–11 p.m. ET/PT.