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The Changing Nature Of Adoption

Although historically adoption typically involved the placement of a healthy, newborn, white infant with a middle class to upper middle class, infertile, white couple, the nature of adoption has changed dramatically. Beginning in the 1950s, the number of healthy, white infants available for adoption began to decline in a striking manner. Whereas approximately 20 percent of infants born to unmarried, white women were relinquished for adoption from the mid-1950s to the early 1970s, by 1995 the corresponding rate was less than 2 percent. In contrast, rates of adoption placement during this same period among African-American and Hispanic women were quite low, ranging from 1.5 percent prior to the 1970s to less than 1 percent in the mid-1990s. The overall decline in the number of infants available for adoption has been linked to several factors, including the legalization of abortion, greater availability of contraception, greater societal acceptance of single parenthood, and increased availability of family support programs.

One significant outcome of the reduced availability of adoptable infants was that many individuals began to consider adoption through private placements, which frequently offered greater hope for finding a baby, rather than through licensed agencies. Today, healthier newborn infants are placed for adoption through independent means than through the adoption agency system. In other cases, prospective adoptive parents began looking beyond the borders of the United States in their effort to adopt children. Beginning after World War II and escalating after the Korean and Vietnam wars, international adoption has become a major source of children for individuals wishing to become adoptive parents. In 2000, for example, U.S. citizens adopted more than 16,000 children from other countries, with the greatest numbers coming from Russia, China, South Korea, eastern Europe, and Central and South America. In many cases, these adoptions involved placements across racial lines. Still other prospective adoptive parents began considering adopting foster children whose history and personal characteristics (e.g., older age at placement, minority racial status, exposure to neglect and/or abuse, chronic medical problems, mental and/or psychological problems) were thought, in the past, to be barriers to adoption. Interest in adopting these so-called special needs children grew with the passage of the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act in 1980 and has continued with the passage of the Adoption and Safe Families Act during the Clinton administration.

There also has been considerable change in the types of individuals who are seeking to become adoptive parents. In the past, most adoptive parents were white, middle class to upper middle class, married, infertile couples, usually in their thirties or forties, and free of any form of disability. Agencies routinely screened out older individuals, unmarried adults, fertile couples, individuals with financial problems, homosexuals, and disabled persons as prospective adoptive parents. Even foster parents were seldom approved for adoption of the children in their care. Since the 1970s, however, adoption agency policy and practice has moved in the direction of screening in many different types of adoption applicants as opposed to screening them out. As a result, many of the restrictive criteria for adoptive parenthood have been eliminated, opening up the possibility of adoption to a much larger segment of the population. Adoption has become a remarkably complex social service practice and a highly diverse form of family life.

Additional topics

Social Issues ReferenceChild Development Reference - Vol 1Adoption - The Changing Nature Of Adoption, Psychological And Social Service Issues In Adoption