Using This Guide
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- When Adoption Is Not Relevant
The Language of Adoption
- What You Should Call Birth & Adoptive Parents
Handy Guide to Accurate Adoption Language
Is This Language Politically Correct?
- Adoption Numbers & Trends
Facts About Adoption
- General Adoption Issues
Adoption in America
Adopting from Foster Care
Adoption in School
Birth Parent Rights/Searches
Conservative Adoption Policies
- Making Adoption Affordable
Corporate Adoption Benefits
Adoption Tax Credits
How to Adopt
Media & Adoption
Legislative, Policy & Regulatory
Promoting Adoption of Waiting Children
- Story Ideas
- How Adoption Has Changed America
Why It Is Important to Understand Adoption
Putting Adoption Into Context With the Modern Family
- What is the Adoption Triad?
- Birth Mothers
Baby Abandonment/Safe Haven Laws
- Adopted Persons
Children of Foster Care
- Adoptive Parents
Embryo Adoption/Assisted Reproduction
Gay & Lesbian
Post Adoption Support
The Value of Support Groups
- Private/Attorney Assisted
- Why Go Overseas?
The Success & Challenges of International Adoption
International Adoption Analysis
International Adoption Requirements
Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption
"Even well-meaning journalists can and have inadvertently conveyed the misconception that adoptive families are somehow less genuine and permanent, and that those touched by adoption - and their role in a family - remain somehow different." Mike Feazel, Accurate Adoption Reporting, a group of journalists working to include adoption into the AP Stylebook.
QUICK TIPS FOR JOURNALISTS
A Few Basics & Why They Are Important
What the Journalist Can Do to Provide Accurate and Sensitive Reporting.
When is mentioning adoption not relevant
to the story?
As in the case of race, religion or gender, the fact a person was adopted should be mentioned only if it is clearly pertinent to the story. For a journalist, the main requirement for language is accuracy. It is inaccurate to use language that implies that having been adopted confers a different/lesser status within a family, and that having been adopted is a main distinguishing feature that a person retains for life. That does not mean adoption should never be mentioned but its relevancy must remain clear to the story.
How should the birth and adoptive families be described?
Birth Parents, Adoptees and Adoptive Parents are known as the adoption triad. For journalists, it is often difficult to know how to describe the members of that triad.
An adopted person's parents (those who are raising the child) are simply their father, mother or parents. Using terms such as "real" or "natural" parents, suggests that the adoptive parents or their parental status are somehow unreal or unnatural. Stories should not portray adoptive parents as unusually selfless or saintly. People adopt because they simply want to have a family.
There is much debate over what families of origin should be called. The man and woman who conceived the child can be referred to as the birth, genetic or biological parents. Those considering an adoption plan should never be referred to as birth parents until they have relinquished their parental rights. They should be called simply parents or expectant parents. Some birth parents reject the term birth parent completely in favor of biological parent. Others prefer "original" or "first" mother. Legal language frequently describes birth parents as the "natural" parents, but that is a holdover from a bygone era and is best left to legal venues.
Language is also colored by the experience of the speaker. For instance, birth parents use "surrender," because that is how they feel about what happened to them. On the other hand many triad members continue to use outdated adoption language when being interviewed. For instance, a story in The New York Times in May 2003 about a man who met his birth family, referred to them as his natural parents. While the references were part of a quote and, therefore could not be changed, it remains important to use constructive language.
What are other language tips?
HANDY GUIDE TO CONSTRUCTIVE ADOPTION LANGUAGE
For every term that conveys a negative adoption message, there is a more constructive, and realistic alternative.
|Real parent, natural parent||Birth or biological parent (two words)|
|Own child||Birth or biological child|
|Illegitimate||Born to unmarried parents|
|Give up, taken away||Termination of parental rights|
|Give away, give up, put up||Make an adoption plan|
|To keep||To Parent|
|Unwanted, Abandoned||No Equivalent Language, Please Do Not Use|
|Adoptable/available child||Child in need of a family|
|Reunion||Meeting, making contact with|
|Adoptive parent||Parent (except when relevant to the story)|
|Foreign adoption||International/Intercountry adoption|
|Track down||To locate, contact|
|Hard to place||Child with special needs|
|Foreign child||Child from another country|
|Is adopted*||Was adopted|
|Blood relatives||Genetic relatives|
||Babies born to drug-using mothers|
Sites discussing adoption language (http://www.adoptioninformation.com/resources/010801a.htm)
The language of adoption continues to evolve as does the language we use to discuss other minorities. Journalists often ask whether we are just trying to add a new category to political correctness. The answer is no. What we are trying to do is encourage the use of more accurate and sensitive language. A more complete discussion of political correctness and adoption language can be found at the following links;
HOW ADOPTION HAS CHANGED AMERICA
Because it is now so open and visible, adoption is helping redefine the understanding of what it means to be a family. Adoption is:
In a far more visible way than either the decline of two-parent homes or the growth in the Hispanic population, adoption is reshaping American views of our nation as more multiracial, multicultural and multiethnic, especially as the availability of white infants declines and people adopt more children from abroad and from foster care. The impact is most pervasive for children growing up today, who no longer think families are only formed when mommies and daddies make babies who look something like them.
Adoption is creating a new type of extended family, because more and more adoptive parents - and adoptees - form ongoing relationships with birth parents and other members of the biological family right from the start or in subsequent years. This phenomenon, which is more widespread than most people realize, is akin to the people who make up extended family relationships.
In ways that affect members of other nontraditional families (foster, step, single, gay, older parents and even grandparents raising their children's children), adoption is making journalists, teachers, lawyers, doctors, social workers and other professionals rethink how they deal with families and family issues - and, more fundamentally, how they perceive the place of non-traditional families in our society.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO UNDERSTAND ADOPTION?
The modern family has changed dramatically in the last half century. Even so, society has yet to really understand and accept non-traditional families, including adoptive families. The media, which simultaneously mirrors and shapes the attitudes of society, perceive adoption as a small niche within our country. The fact is:
Adoption has become only one in a mix of non-traditional families - divorced, step, multi-racial, single, gay, families headed by grandparents and those with parents or children of a different race, ethnicity or nationality. Indeed, because adoptive families include all these variations, adoption provides a valuable prism through which to view - and better understand - the changing realities of the modern family. By understanding adoption, we lay the groundwork for understanding all families.
The 2000 U.S. Census estimates found there are 84 million children living at home. Of that number:
"The only thing wrong with adoption is what everyone thinks about it," a 10-year-old told the Institute for Adoption Information.
Virtually everyone agrees that adoption plays a positive role in our society. The Benchmark Adoption Study, Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, 1997. (http://www.adoptioninstitute.org/survey/intro.html) found many Americans, even those with very favorable opinions about the institution, harbored doubts. Half said adopting a child, while preferable to remaining childless, was not quite as good as giving birth and a quarter said it was harder to love adopted children. Clinical research and the personal experiences of millions of Americans believe those perceptions and they show up in social attitudes and language. A majority agreed adoptees are well adjusted and secure, but a sizable minority mistakenly believed they were insecure, poorly adjusted and more prone to behavioral and academic problems than other children.
The update (www.adoptioninstitute.org/survey/survey_intro.html) to the Donaldson study in 2002 found Americans increasingly viewed adopted children as no different than those raised by their biological parents. However, they still harbored serious misperceptions about the adoption process and the adoption triad - adopted persons and their birth and adoptive parents.
The presumption that family ties formed by adoption are less genuine or are somehow inherently problematic constitutes a significant social bias against adoption with serious implications for everyone involved and society at large.
Comparing Adoptees to Children Who Remained with Their Families
While confirming the age-old assumption that families formed through adoption have more issues than those formed through birth, a new study found that adoption is an overwhelmingly successful way to build a family. Indeed, 95% of adoptive parents, including those from child welfare, would adopt their children again. Comparing families formed through three types of adoption - child welfare, domestic infant, and international adoption, A Comparative Study of Child Welfare Adoptions with Other types of Adopted Children and Birth Children, found child-welfare adoptive parents reported that their children were not difficult to raise.
What is perhaps most interesting about this study is comparing it to the results of a 17,000-family parenting survey done by Dr. Phil McGraw for his book Families First. In that study, one third of parents said that if they had to do it all over again, they would not start a family. So, adoptive families, no matter how they are formed, are well ahead of their more traditional counterparts in parenting satisfaction.
While the importance of comparative study of child welfare and other adoptions cannot be underestimated, it begs several questions including how adoptees fare compared to children of other non-traditional families. In addition, since it found that adoptive families reported more problems in school, it did not relate such problems to studies showing how adoption colors teacher reaction to adoptees. The Measurement of Teachers Attitudes toward Adopted Children found adoption impacted the teachers determination of the childs attractiveness, aggressiveness, callousness, disagreeableness and how intense a punishment should be. A more recent study found 19 graduate students in education, when asked to give their first impressions of adopted children, were overwhelmingly negative.
Still the latest study - published in Adoption Quarterly (Volume 7, Number 3, 2004) - represents a step forward in understanding how adoptees fare after adoption. The report further reported, while 99% of birth families reported that their children were not very difficult to raise, international and domestic infant adoptive families had similar experiences at 96% and 91%, respectively. Fully 88% of families adopting through child welfare said their children were not difficult to raise. Indeed, all adoptive groups reported that their children had a positive impact on the family, rating their home adjustment as good to excellent. Interestingly, only 2% of birth and infant adoptive parents rated the adjustment as poor compared to only 4% of child-welfare adoptive parents.
Child-welfare parents also had similar experiences than birth, international and infant adoptive parents when determining whether or not they were close to their children. Some 83% of child-welfare parents reported being close compared to 87% for both birth and international-adoptive parents and 90% of infant adoptive parents.
Most children were healthy. Child welfare and international adoptees were found to have few chronic health problems in 82% and 84% of cases, respectively. This compared to 88% for infant adoptions and 94% of birth children. Overall health problems were reported in few cases including 6% of birth children and international adoptees, 3% of infant adoptees, and 8% in child-welfare adoptees. Conversely, that means 92% of child welfare adoptees are healthy.
These are powerful statistics that put to rest many of the fears of parents considering child welfare or other methods of adoption.
Understanding adoption matters because:
This lack of accurate adoption information is especially acute for teens.
What is needed is ethical adoption counseling, one that provides accurate adoption information and creates a respectful environment for expectant parents and allows them to keep all their options open for parenting or adoption until after birth.
*Author's Note: The studies cited include:
Orientations of Pregnancy Counselors Toward Adoption. Edmund Mech, Submitted to the Office of Adolescent Pregnancy Programs, Department of Health & Human Services. 1985; and An Inventory-Based Counseling Model For Communicating Adoption to Pregnant Adolescents, Edmund Mech, Submitted to Office of Population Affairs, Public Health Service, Department of Health & Human Services, 1988. Mech is now at the University of Washington.
Adoption began with the earliest human communities where infants and young children were informally adopted and raised by others in the clan when birth parents died. Legal adoptions were first recorded in Babylonian times. Adoption was also documented in the Greek and Roman era as a method of creating legal heirs. The Industrial Revolution and the Post World War II closing of records led to further changes. For more information click here.
Historical Timeline (http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~adoption/timeline.html)
The problem with most news and entertainment coverage of adoption is that it is either overwhelmingly positive or overwhelmingly negative; not realistic," said a social worker. In fact, a study by the Virginia Tech Department of Communications found negative stories outweighed positive stories by 5:1. (Adoption in the Media, Adoptive Families, November/December 1998) (http://www.adoptivefamilies.com/articles.php?aid=608)
PUTTING ADOPTION INTO CONTEXT WITH THE MODERN FAMILY
Adoptive families are just like any other, filled with both the joys and the challenges of raising healthy, productive citizens. Even so, most Americans presume that adoptees are somehow more problematic than their non-adopted counterparts. When problems do arise many attribute the cause to adoption. This presumes that children who remain with their biological families do not act out, have problems or get in trouble with the law.
The Measurement of Teachers' Attitudes toward Adopted Children (L. Freidman-Kessler, Ph.D. dissertation, The Fielding Institute, Santa Barbara, CA 1987) found adoption impacted the teachers' determination of the child's attractiveness, aggressiveness, callousness, disagreeableness and how intense a punishment should be. Nineteen graduate students in education were asked to give their first impressions of adopted children. The responses were overwhelmingly negative.
A study published by the National Council on Family Relations found that textbooks used for undergraduate family courses, written between 1998 and 2001 did not cover adoption or provided little coverage. The study, A Critique of the Portrayal of Adoption in College Textbooks and Readers on Families, 1998-2001, published in the Spring 2003 issue of Family Relations, found that coverage of adoption is largely negative with twice as many negative references than positive.
While adoption is generally seen as positive, that is not to say those touched by adoption do not have issues. Journalists covering these issues should put them into context with similar issues encountered by those who are not touched by adoption.
Los Angeles Times Columnist Sandra Banks gave us the litmus test we need to put those touched by adoption into context when she answered a reader who suggested that adoption was just too dicey. "As if raising children - however, they join our families - isn't dicey anyway," she said. "Many of us have special challenges - single parents, the working poor, grandparents raising their children's kids - and statistics stacked against us. Children with problems can be found on any family tree."
The point is: the human condition is problematic. It is filled with a vast mix of complex issues, of which adoption may or may not play a part. The life experiences of triad members cannot be attributed solely to something as simple as the mere fact they have been touched by adoption. There is much more, including the psychological makeup of the individual, and how they face life in general. It is how they deal with the issues encountered during their lives, not solely the issues themselves.
Adoptees and their families have some unique developmental and procedural issues just as in other nontraditional families. But they are merely different, not better or worse than any others, and they are not indicators of dysfunction, particular problems or specific outcomes.
Two of the more dramatic themes of adoption coverage deal with loss and searching.
Perhaps the largest issue associated with adoption is loss. This could include:
Journalists should recognize the differing experiences of the adoption community. Yes, there are some who experience grief and loss but there are also others who do not. Even so, triad members (adoptees, birth and adoptive parents) are often depicted as riddled with angst or insecurity and the general public mistakenly link this and other problems solely to adoption.
Today's increased emphasis on loss is attributed to the fact that, for decades, no one - adoption professionals or triad members acknowledged loss in adoption. Worse, many were not permitted to even discuss the loss, lest they be judged as having something wrong with them. Triad members were actually urged to forget and/or deny adoption ever occurred.
Complicating this is the fact that society is both uncomfortable and impatient with loss, presuming that any loss is something that someone should be able to get over within a short time. In addition, adoption workers, holding the same beliefs, largely did not know how to deal with loss.
During the late 1980s and 1990s, with the annual memorials and tributes to air crash victims, there was a growing appreciation of loss in general. The tragedies of Pan Am 103, TWA 800 and Shuttle Challenger accidents made this once-private grief into an annual public spectacle, which has been repeated with other disasters including the losses experienced in the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 as well as the loss of the Shuttle Columbia. What we have learned from these public events is that it is important to validate the grief and recognize it as a lifelong experience.
As adoption practices change to more openness and inclusiveness of both birth and adoptive families, some of these issues may diminish over time. Openness may make it easier to integrate and resolve loss issues. For now, however, experiencing loss remains an issue as we work through the legacy of secrecy and shame wrought by the last 50 years.
Even so, reporters - as well as adoption community members themselves - must resist the temptation to elevate adoption-related loss to some special status. Doing so diminishes all loss to the comparison game of "my-pain-is-worse-than-your-pain."
Instead, we need to put such issues into context. The grief and loss of community members may be unique to their experience but it is far from unique to the human condition. Everyone has loss and grief, many of which center on rejection and abandonment that have nothing to do with adoption.
Search and "reunion" are part of a growing movement to open both adoption and original birth records. Searching for one's heritage is not unique to adoption as evidenced by the explosive growth of genealogical research since the publication of Alex Haley's Roots and the popularity of the genealogical centers and web sites.
A survey (http://www.aap.org/research/periodicsurvey/ps4a.htm) by the American Academy of Pediatrics found most pediatricians think adoptees should be supported in their search.
For adoptees, this is an important civil rights issue. Adoptees see amended birth certificates as paternalist, government-sanctioned fraud because original birth certificates were sealed and new certificates indicated the adoptive parents as the only parents. This has important implications including the loss of medical history.
Coverage indicated nearly 15,000 adult adoptees have requested their original birth records in four states with open records. Over 80% of birth parents contacted consented to being contacted. Open Records Trigger Requests by Adoptees by Cheryl Wetzstein, The Washington Times, 1/20/03.
The growing number of adoptees who search for their birth parents and other members of their biological families, often enjoy positive relationships with their adoptive parents. They underscore that they are not searching for new parents, are careful not to invade the privacy or disrupt the lives of those they are seeking, and are motivated primarily by a desire to know about their medical, personal and genealogical backgrounds. Adoptees are typically in their 20s or 30s and are overwhelmingly female when they meet biological relatives.
A study published in 1996 by the American Adoption Congress found:
In a comprehensive study of the issue, the Maine Department of Human Resources Task Force on Adoption found in 1989 that every birth parent who was surveyed wanted to be found by the child/adult they had placed for adoption and 95% of adoptees who were surveyed expressed a desire to be found by their birth parents. In addition, 98% of adoptive parents supported reunions between their adopted child and members of the adoptee's birth family. Access to Identifying Information, What the Research Tells Us. Madelyn Freundlich, CWLAdoption News, 2 (4), 1998.
An emerging facet of searching is the use of DNA banks where samples of searching adoptee and birth parent DNA can be added to a central database to be compared. Advocates say that this may be the only way to make a match when names were changed, birth certificates altered, or when babies were stolen. One organization that has received press coverage includes Touched By Adoption, which wants to be able to offer the service free to searchers. The proposed "bank" would be based at the DNA Diagnostic Center in Cincinnati.
An article on the American Adoption Congress website indicates that most Mutual Consent Registries, in which both the adopted person and birth parent register to have contact, have failed because they are underfunded, understaffed and underpublicized. Mutual Consent Voluntary Registries (www.americanadoptioncongress.org/articles-archives/vol-reg.htm), originally published in the January/February 1999 issue of Adoptive Families, reported that there is little knowledge about these programs even with state staffers in the office overseeing the registries.
Searching for Birth Relatives, Access to Adoption Records Fact Sheet, State Listings for Records Access (http://naic.acf.hhs.gov/adopted/search/index.cfm)
Adoption, Search & Reunion: The Long-Term Experience of Adopted Adults (http://www.uea.ac.uk/swk/research/summaries/adoptionsearch.htm)
The Emerging Role of Adoption Registries. Child Welfare, the journal of the Child Welfare League of America, May/June 2002.
THE ADOPTION TRIAD
What is called the Adoption Triad consists of:
Birth parents are inaccurately depicted as choosing adoption thoughtlessly and then returning to stalk their child's family.
"Researchers, lawyers and social workers all say the misconceptions about birth [parents] are the most corrosive and least accurate stereotypes in adoption," Adam Pertman, The Boston Globe.
There is no typical birth parent. Some are young adults who are completing their education or whose lives may not be conducive to good parenting. Most are not prepared financially or emotionally to parent. Women who voluntarily place their children for adoption are likely to have greater educational and vocational goals for themselves than those who parent their children.
A few are celebrities.
Various studies in the last decade have quantified the experience of birth mothers. One study (Parenting vs. Placing for Adoption: Consequences for Adolescent Mothers, Family Relations, Volume 45, Number 4, October 1996, page 427) found that teens who placed their children for adoption were likely to experience more sorrow or regret about their decision than those who chose to parent. While the study indicated these feelings subside in the second year and beyond, it should not be concluded that feelings of loss do not continue throughout life. Even so, those who placed for adoption were:
Other studies - working with birth parents who placed 30 or 40 years ago - found that many felt they had no choice either because of social mores of the time, lack of support by birth fathers or pressure by the social work community to place their children for adoption.
Lack of support from birth fathers and pressure to place by the social work community is still being faced today and has prompted a movement toward adoption reform. One study indicates that women who reported they had control over their decision were significantly more likely to believe their decision was a good one. Birth Mothers: The Forgotten Link of the Adoption Triangle, LL McAdoo, Ph.D. dissertation, University of New Mexico, 1992.
Today, there are still many birth mothers who feel they were exploited at their most vulnerable time and resent both the treatment they received as well as adoption in general. Their experience is a testament to the need for ethical adoption practices. These practices would:
Historically, few birth fathers took an active role in the adoption of their children. Today about 25% have been involved in making an adoption plan, a very positive trend. Supply & Demand: The Forces Shaping the Future of Infant Adoption, M Freundlich, Adoption Quarterly, Vol. 2 (1), p.13.
Research on birth father participation in the decision to parent or place as been limited. A good source is Adolescent Pregnancy & Childbearing in Relation to Infant Adoption in the United States, BC Miller & DD Coyl, Adoption Quarterly, 2000, Vol. 4(1), p. 3.
Birth parents who made an adoption plan report criticism from their community, families and friends largely owing to misconceptions about adoption.
Other studies suggest lifelong trauma associated with having placed their children (Birthmother Research Project (http://home.att.net/~judy.kelly/thesis.htm)). Most birth parents, in realizing that the best they can do may not be what is best for their child, have met the strictest definition of what it means to be a parent. They have seen to the life, the support and the well being of their child.
Even when there has been an involuntary termination of parental rights, many children retain strong bonds to their biological families, granting them some importance.
A recent study (www.nccp.org/pub_csi04.html) indicated that tough child support laws reduce unwed fatherhood and is an unintended consequence of policies seeking to reduce welfare costs. The study was based on a policy brief by National Center for Children in Poverty.
Baby Abandonment/Safe Haven Laws
Baby abandonment laws - in which parents of newborns are able to leave their children to safe havens such as hospitals, fire or police stations - are viewed by the adoption community as misguided. In fact, Safe Haven (www.adoptioninstitute.org/whowe/lastreport_coverpage.html) laws were actually found to have unintended consequences by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. Some suggest these laws are unlikely to reach those who would put their babies in dumpsters since these women may be in denial and see the baby as a thing or a problem, rather than a human infant.
The vast majority of adoptees are well-adjusted individuals who grow up to become healthy, productive citizens. Their ranks include many celebrities.
Adoptees are often inaccurately depicted in the popular culture as sad and neurotic; as troublemakers; or scarred by separation from their families of origin. Because of this, many think adoptees are somehow problematic. Indeed, 41% of Americans think adopted children in general are more likely than others to have problems at school, while 62% think adopted children out of foster care are more likely than others to have problems. Adoption Attitude Survey 2002 (www.adoptioninstitute.org/survey/survey_intro.html)
In fact, adoptees, particularly those adopted as infants, have outcomes comparable to their non-adopted peers by nearly all measures from school performance to job achievement to forming relationships. Children who spent their early years in orphanages abroad or in foster care in this country frequently face more challenges, but most improve once they move into permanent, loving homes.
Adoption of Adults (http://adoption.about.com/od/typesofadoption/a/adultadopt.htm)
Adoption Research demonstrates.
Nature vs. Nurture: A Special Report (http://www.adoptivefamilies.com/articles.php?aid=246)
The Children of Foster Care
Some are celebrities.
Federal legislation along with new thinking in the social-service community, created a paradigm of "best interest of the child" as the foster system's goal, modifying the longtime objective of reunifying biological families even if extraordinary measures were required that left children in temporary care for most or all of their childhood.
As a result of new federal guidelines, state practices and both state and federal restrictions on the time children may spend in foster care, the number of adoptions from the system has grown dramatically in the last five years.
The latest statistics on foster care, adoption and child welfare issues can be found at the National Data Analysis System, (http://www.cwla.org/ndas.htm) a function of the Child Welfare League of America.
The vast majority of children in foster care are considered to have "special needs." Some reasons are:
If you listen to the parents of the children adopted from foster care, one thing is perfectly clear. Their children have deeply enriched their lives.
Between 80% and 90% of special needs adoptions are successful and permanent. Indeed, disruption is less likely to occur if the family has support services available. Risk factors for disruption, including lack of support services, were recently confirmed by researchers at the University of Houston and reported in the November 2002 issue of Children and Youth Services Review.
A report (http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/fostercare-issues02/ASFA/) published in 2002 indicated that states are not taking advantage of federal funding available for providing comprehensive mental health services for children, especially for those who are not otherwise income eligible. New legislation provides that monies available to provide post adoption services can cross state lines. These benefits fall under Medicaid, Title IV-E and Title XX, as well as state subsidies.
A report card on meeting goals for safety and permanency planning is available at: Child & Family Service Reviews by State (http://www.adoptioninformation.com/directory/resoutcomes_a_cfsreviews.htm)
An analysis (http://www.adoptioninformation.com/resources/article/123102a.htm) said paying bonuses to states for including only adoption in permanency planning was a problem.
A study by Casey Family Programs tracked adults who were foster children and found their prospects for success were severely diminished was published in April 2005. The study (http://www.casey.org/Resources/Publications/NorthwestAlumniStudy.htm) also recommended changes that would improve prospects for foster youth including fewer placements and few school changes. The study found they were less likely to earn a high school degree, had lower employment rates than the general population.
If you listen to the children of foster care, you hear more than a litany of their difficult circumstances, but the simple desire to have a family of their own.
In the past decade, initiatives have been launched on both the political level and within the foster care community to return to orphanages to address the failure of many foster care systems. Child Welfare officials have opposed these moves. Children's Rights, a national policy organization, leads a movement opposing orphanages.
Since the 1970s, the National Association of Black Social Workers has opposed transracial adoptions charging that it is tantamount to cultural genocide. Interestingly, a 60 Minutes segment (6/14/03) revealed families of color raising their children in white suburban neighborhoods, face some of the same identity issues as those faced by children of color being raised in white families, i.e., they identify more with the majority culture than they do their own ethnic culture.
There has been a three-fold increase in transracial adoptions in the past decade. This has consisted mainly of white parents adopting a child of color domestically or from Latin America or Asia. Interestingly, news organizations have revealed that Europeans have come to the United States to adopt children of color. The U.S. has become the fourth largest sending country of babies adopted by Canadians, according to a 2004 article in the Christian Science Monitor. Born In America, Adopted Abroad, by Dawn Davenport, reports while no one tracks these statistics, reports from adoption agencies found U.S.-born babies are being adopted by citizens of Germany, France, Belgium, England and the Netherlands. Agencies cited the availability of newborns - many of whom are African-American - as the attraction of adopting in the United States along with health and short waiting periods. The report also cited American adoptive parents prefer Caucasian infants and a lack of African-American couples adopting through an agency. The report was echoed by a Gabrielle Glaser article in the July 4, 2004, Oregonian, which indicated that many children from foster care are finding homes overseas.
People choose adoption for one reason - the simple desire to have a child of their own. Even so, there are many paths that lead to adoption.
Many celebrities have adopted.
Adoptive parents are often depicted as having difficulty bonding or as being uncaring; or they are inaccurately shown as saintly for "raising someone else's child," or pathetic for "not being able to have a child of their own." The general public mistakenly thinks that bonds formed through adoption are somehow less strong, despite the fact they accept that two unrelated adults can fall deeply in love.
Persons Seeking to Adopt (http://naic.acf.hhs.gov/pubs/s_seek.cfm)
Assisted Reproduction represents the new frontier in adoption-related issues. An article in the May 2003 issue of Fertility and Sterility, reveals fertility clinics nationwide are storing almost 400,000 frozen embryos, according to a 2002 survey by the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology and RAND. Interestingly, 2.3% have been freed for donation, slightly more than the adoption rate for children brought to term. Experts indicate that half of the embryos would survive thawing.
In May 2012, a National Embryo Adoption Center was announced by the Christian Medical Association working with the Southeastern Fertility Center and Baptist Women's Hospital in Knoxville, TN, with Dr. Jeffrey Keenan at its head.
A report by the Center For Disease Control indicates that infants conceived through ART jumped 94% between 1996 and 2001 to 40,687. 2001 Assissted Reproductive Technology Success Rates, published in December 2012, reported that half of the 384 reporting clinics offered donor embryo services. The CDC report found that donor eggs or embryos were used in over 10% (12,018) of all 2001 ART cycles which totaled 64,724 that year. Live births per transfer for fresh donor embryos were 47% and for frozen donor embryos were 27%. The report can be found at http://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/ART01/index.htm.
In 2004, the Department of Health & Human Services offered $950,000 for the development and implementation of embryo adoption public awareness programs. The annoucenment in April followed the award in 2003 of $1 million to Nightlight Christian Adoption and Family Services, RESOLVE, and Women's & Infants Hospital in Providence, RI, to develop and conduct public awareness campaigns. The notice is available at http://www.pgoaccess.gov/fr/index.html, searching on "embryo adoption" in the 2004 search field.
Many issues surrounding assisted reproduction, especially with donated sperm and eggs and surrogacy, are the same as in adoption. These children are beginning to search for their biological beginnings. The lessons learned in adoption provide a valuable resource for those considering assisted reproduction or those who want to search. Indeed, many adoption organizations are beginning to include assisted reproduction in the mandates for helping those considering or touched by it.
Interrestingly, more women from overseas are coming to the U.S. to get "donor" eggs for assissted reproduction. This finding is reported in US Draws Foreigners in Search of Human Eggs, Gabrielle Glaser, The Oregonian, December 21, 2004.
Adoption by gays and lesbians (http://naic.acf.hhs.gov/pubs/f_gay.cfm), which still remains controversial, is also on the rise. While no statistics exist as to how many children have been adopted by gay and lesbian parents, in 1990 there were 8 to 10 million children living in such households. The ability to adopt has risen dramatically with the acceptance of gays as biological parents.
The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute published a study indicating that more and more agencies are not only accepting applications from gays and lesbians but have already made placements with them. In addition, the study (http://www.adoptioninstitute.org/whowe/Gay%20and%20Lesbian%20Adoption1.html)
indicates how social attitudes towards gays and lesbians are changing
as well as the impact they are having on moving children waiting
for families to permanent homes.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (www.aap.org/advocacy/archives/febsamesex.htm) stated studies indicate that children with homosexual parents have the same advantages and the same expectations for health, adjustment and development as children whose parents are heterosexual. In addition, the American Psychiatric Association supports adoption by gay and lesbian couples noting research over the past 30 years confirms no differences between children raised in gay homes and those raised in heterosexual homes. The research (http://www.psych.org/news_stand/adoption_coparenting121802.pdf) also concluded that what children need is a home with stable attachments to committed and nurturing adults. The American Bar Association has also endorsed gay adoption rights.
Dissolution (http://naic.acf.hhs.gov/pubs/s_disrup.cfm) (when an adoption fails) occurs in an estimated 10% to 20% of all adoptions. These can be attributed to either a lack of preparation of the family by the agency/attorney or the lack of post-adoption support services available to the family.
Adoption Support (http://naic.acf.hhs.gov/parents/adoptive/parent/index.cfm)
While the importance of post-adoption services may suggest these children are more socially or psychologically problematic, studies do not bear this out. In addition, it should be noted that any family would benefit from the availability of such services.
An overview of post-adoption services has been compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures November 2002 report summarizing the effectiveness, funding and delivery of services.
A study published in the Journal of Social Service Research (Volume 30, Issue 4) concluded that post-adoption services lead to better outcomes. Post-Adoption Service Needs of Families With Special Needs Children: Use, Helpfulness and Unmet Needs found parents rating financial subsidies and medical/dental care as the most vital services. Parents also reported that counseling services and in-home services were the services most likely to be missing from post-adoption services. The study, departing from previous findings, found no differences between outcomes of former foster parents and new parents to the adopted child. This article can be accessed for a fee from http://www.haworthpress.com/web/JSSR.
Services: Issues for Legislatures (http://www.nest.org/programs/cyf/PASI.htm)
Supporting Loving Families: After the Adoption, Children's Voice, November/December 2002.
The National Adoption Information Clearinghouse has just issued a new bulletin, "Postadoption (sic) Services; A Bulletin for Professionals."
It addresses the following:
Who benefits from postadoption services?
How can postadoption services help?
What postadoptive services do families need?
What postadoptive services do States offer?
How are postadoption services delivered?
How are postadoption services funded?
Why evaluate postadoption services?
What are the implications for practice?
What future research is needed?.
The bulletin is posted at http://naic.acf.hhs.gov/pubs/f_postadoptbulletin/index.cfm. (Look in the upper right to print the whole document, pdf version.)
The Value of Support Groups (http://naic.acf.hhs.gov/pubs/f_value.cfm) While this discusses adoptive parents, all three triad members benefit from support groups, just as others benefit from support groups dealing with their particular issue. There are support groups for all three members of the triad - adoptees and their birth and adoptive parents - listed at the end of this document.
TYPES OF ADOPTION
Adoption is the legal transfer of parental rights from biological to adoptive parents resulting in full family membership.
Today, there are three forms of adoption:
Identifying information about the members of the adoption triad is withheld from the others. Information may only be available as a result of a court order, if at all.
Traditional Confidential or Semi-Open Adoption: Birth and adoptive families may share information only on a limited basis or through intermediaries such as adoption attorneys or agencies. Traditionally, parties to an adoption had access to adoption and birth information. It was not until the latter half of the 20th century that such access was restricted.
There are many definitions for open adoption but it is basically when birth and adoptive families work together to forge a plan for openness in adoption. This could range from simply exchanging identifying information to the birth family having a continuing role in a child's life. Open arrangements could also change over time, depending on the needs of those involved. Advocates for open adoption suggest that the only way to define an open adoption is one in which birth parent and child have formed a relationship.
Many agencies began some form of open adoption in the late 1980s in an effort to remain competitive with private, attorney-assisted adoptions, which addressed the growing desire of birth mothers to have a larger role in the adoption process as well as some post-adoption contact. The quintessential study done by the universities of Minnesota and Texas (http://fsos.che.umn.edu/mtarp/) on the subject has resulted in two books and several publications. Studies suggest that birth and adoptive parents have met in the majority adoptions.
Questions often arise as to whether children in open adoptions will become confused as to who their parents are. In fact, they tend to normalize such relationships as they do any extended family relationship.
Birth mothers in fully disclosed adoption are more satisfied with their role in relation to the adoptee than those with no contact, according to a publication (http://cbexpress.acf.hhs.gov/articles.cfm?article_id=597) from the Minnesota/Texas study.
Adoptive parents in "open" or semi-open adoptions, while reporting initial reservations - particularly about sharing their children's loyalty and about whether the relationship will turn into co-parenting - invariably agree their concerns did not materialize. Instead, they tell researchers that a greater flow of information from, and contact with, the birth family allows them to make better parenting decisions, while the adoptees themselves indicate no confusion about adult roles. Open adoption is also leading to a positive shift in how birth mothers are viewed and treated, according to Open Hearts, an article by Gabrielle Glaser in the October 24, 2004 Oregonian.
Studies have shown:
There are also many ways to adopt. These include:
A private adoption occurs when expectant parent(s) and prospective adoptive parent(s) work through private attorney(s) to complete the adoption of an infant, generally placed at or shortly after birth.
Resources include Families for Private Adoption (www.ffpa.org) and American Academy of Adoption Attorneys (www.adoptionattorneys.org) A discussion of the legal issues surrounding independent adoptions is available from the National Adoption Information Clearinghouse (http://naic.acf.hhs.gov/general/legal/index.cfm)
Private adoption agencies work in both the domestic and international arenas matching prospective families with children available for adoption. As with adoption attorneys, agencies also help birth parents make an adoption plan, choose a specific family and arrange the degree of openness in an adoption. Some provide pre-adoption counseling and training, preparing prospective parents for raising an adopted child. In addition, some provide continuing education for adoptive families as their children develop their understanding of adoption.
Public agencies are run by state human service systems, which oversee the protection of children. Their duties include removing children in unsafe or abusive conditions; working with families toward reunification with their children; determining whether reunification is viable and, if not, making a permanency plan for the children in their care. Once a plan which includes adoption has been developed, public social service agencies oversee the adoption of children from foster care.
This method combines foster and adoptive parenting in which a child is placed in a foster home with the intention that he or she will ultimately be adopted into that home. Alternatively, the child may already be in the home and has since been made available for adoption.
As the name suggests, domestic adoption occurs entirely in the United States with the assistance of a private attorney or agency or through a public social service agency assisting with an adoption of a child waiting for a permanent home.
It is estimated that there is only one healthy infant for every 50 to 100 families wishing to adopt. In addition to the acceptance of women raising their children alone, the number of children available for adoption declined dramatically (www.guttmacher.org/pubs/journals/3402502.html) by 34%-37% after abortion was legalized in the 1970s.
Once expectant parent(s) and prospective adoptive parent(s) are matched, they await the birth of the child. Sometimes there is a great deal of contact between the two families during this time and sometimes not. Once the child is born, the parent(s) often must wait a certain period prior to signing the final relinquishment papers, terminating their parental rights and freeing the child for adoption. This provision differs from state to state, however, and individual state laws regarding waiting periods and other important legal information can be found at the National Adoption Information Clearinghouse. (http://naic.acf.hhs.gov/general/legal/index.cfm)
There is no time estimate for a successful domestic infant
adoption because it is dependent on the length of time to find
expectant parents interested in making an adoption plan and on
whether or not they continue with the plan once the child is born.
Some families have worked with several birth parents prior to
ultimately adopting a child.
The Truth About Domestic Adoption (www.adoptivefamilies.com/articles.php?aid=541)
Intercountry adoption (http://naic.acf.hhs.gov/pubs/f_inter/index.cfm) includes children who have been in orphanages overseas or infants who have been cared for in private foster homes since their relinquishment by their birth families. While private adoption is available, international adoptions are generally done through an agency.
Approximately 20,000 children find permanent homes in America every year with 2002 breaking previous records in the numbers of children adopted from overseas. Traditionally, international adoption included children from Asia and Latin America. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, children from throughout Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union have found homes around the world.
The Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS) compiles
international adoption statistics (http://travel.state.gov/family/adoption/stats/stats_451.htm)
Frequently Asked Questions (www.immigration.gov/graphics/faqsgen.htm#adoption)
Owing to changes in international adoption, countries may impose moratoria on adoptions at any time. A moratorium usually is long term while the legislative body changes adoption laws or reforms adoption policy. Often, adoptions that are already underway in a given country will proceed during this time, but that may differ from country to country. In addition, the United States may impose a moratorium on allowing children from a given country into the United States if illegal activity is suspected.
The U.S. State Department (http://travel.state.gov/adopt.html) offers updated information on various countries around the world from which children can be adopted as well as advisories on moratoria and travel warnings for those waiting to travel. Similarly, the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS) offers updates and information on international adoption for those involved in the process.
With thousands of sources for adoption information, it is difficult to determine whether those who provide adoption services are reliable and ethical. There are resources that can help educate you on ethical adoption practices. Codes of Ethics or information on ethical adoption practices can be found at:
Facilitators who are not an agency or an attorney is illegal in many states. The National Adoption Information Clearing House (http://naic.acf.hhs.gov/general/legal/statutes/advertisingall.pdf) has a good synopsis of the states allowing the practice which can be found on its web site.
Other sources will help you determine if there are any complaints against an adoption provider:
There are two primary independent sources for becoming acquainted with adoption and for finding resources such as agencies, attorneys or support groups throughout the United States. In addition, they also provide links to adoption laws or contact information for state licensing agencies.
In 2004, Smart Money magazine published an extremely valuable article on the ten things your agency will not tell you. 10 Things Your Adoption Agency Won't Tell You (http://www.smartmoney.com/10things/index.cfm?story=april2004&pgnum=1)
National Adoption Information Clearinghouse (http://naic.acf.hhs.gov/general/nad/index.cfm)
Adoptive Families Guide to Adoption (www.adoptivefamilies.com/adoptionguide2002.php)
THE ADOPTION PROCESS
The first step in any adoption is the development of a home study in which a licensed social worker assesses the ability of prospective parent(s) to provide a good home for a child. This is generally done through the auspices of an attorney or private or public adoption agency. It usually includes:
A large part of the process is to prepare prospective parents for raising an adopted child. A free information kit on getting started is available by contacting The Dave Thomas Foundation. (www.davethomasfoundation.org)
The process for adopting one of the 134,000 children waiting in foster care is much the same. Once a home study is complete, local case workers match a family with an individual child. The family then meets with the child and they begin developing a relationship as they learn about the child's needs and history. Family and case workers then decide whether the adoption should go forward. The time it takes for a placement averages from a few months to a year depending on the individual circumstances.
If the adoption crosses state lines, the placement is made once the requirements of the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC), ensuring that adoption laws in both "sending" and "receiving" states, have been met. (For more information go to http://naic.acf.hhs.gov and search on "ICPC") Once that is done, the child is placed in the family, which then awaits the finalization of the adoption process. During this time, the family is supervised by an agency, whose staff and the Family Court system assist in the finalization. Once the process is completed, a new birth certificate is issued for the child.
The vast majority of international adoptions are completed through an agency, making it important to choose a reputable agency/attorney/facilitator with experience in international adoptions, especially in the country from which the family wishes to adopt.
In addition to the home study, a family adopting internationally must file an application with the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS) for permission to bring their child to the United States. Families can file for a pre-approval to adopt abroad, and later file a different form covering the specific country and child. An adoptive family's dossier must also be authenticated at local, state, federal and foreign embassy levels.
Once a referral has been received, the family may travel to meet their child and complete the adoption process. Some countries require no trips, while others require two trips, one to meet the child and begin the adoption process, and one to complete the adoption. As with any adoption, post-placement supervision, usually by a licensed social worker, is required for some period of time.
Adoption through Public Agencies
The cost of an adoption of a child currently in foster care is minimal or nothing. In fact, subsidies (www.nacac.org/adoptionsubsidy.html) are available. Federal subsidies include monthly payments to support the child's needs. There are also state subsidies for those not eligible for federal programs. These cover medical, maintenance or special needs services. Subsidies may also be paid across state lines under the Interstate Compact on Adoption and Medical Assistance (ICAMA).
Adoptive Families, the top magazine covering adoption, polled parents about their adoption costs. The results of this important survey can be found at
While the National Adoption Information Clearinghouse suggests starting costs for adoption ranges from $4,000 to $8,000, a poll in Adoptive Families magazine concluded most respondents spent less than $20,000 for adoption services. Nearly 50% of those adopting domestically said they spent less than $15,000. Both organizations say, however, there is a possibility that both domestic and international adoptions could be more than $30,000. Costs of travel, immigration requirements and other fees may not be included in these estimates.
In covering adoption costs, it is important to put them into context with other ways of creating families such as the fees associated with giving birth or fertility treatments. For instance, fertility treatments can be $12,000-$15,000 per procedure, while surrogacy can be up to $100,000. Another consideration is the fact that pregnancy is covered by medical insurance, whereas adoption and other procedures are not. (American Society of Reproductive Medicine (http://www.asrm.org/index.html))
Many agencies have a sliding scale depending on family income. Costs for a domestic infant adoption depend on the needs of the birth mother, medical and other living expenses, which, under some state laws, can be passed along to the adoptive parents. More comprehensive information on state laws is available at the National Adoption Information Clearinghouse (http://naic.acf.hhs.gov/general/legal/index.cfm)
A legacy of 50 years of secrecy has denied adoptees access to their medical histories. This precludes early intervention for many inherited diseases or the ability to contact birth relatives in the event of serious medical problems, which require the help of a genetic relative. While this is changing, it remains a problem.
Failure to disclose medical or psychological problems has resulted in wrongful adoption suits. Guidance for adoption professionals on providing background information (http://naic.acf.hhs.gov/pubs/f_backgroundbulletin.cfm) is now available.
Pre-natal Drug Exposure
A recent open letter to the media from medical and psychological researchers, treatment providers and specialists urged journalists to drop the terms ice babies, crack babies, meth babies saying they are pejorative and stigmatizing labels that have no basis in science in determining their outcomes.
The medical professionals said policies and coverage of this growing issue be based on science, not prejudice. The latest pressure on the child welfare system owing to the rise of meth labs, is similar to the crisis that arose in the mid 1980s and early 1990s with crack cocaine. These professionals, whose number includes whose with years of experience in treateing and studying addictions and addiction treatment, stated that no science exists on the pre-natal impact of meth.
Previous experience with labeling infants exposed to cocaine in-utero, resulted in lowering expectations for their academic and life achievements, discouraging investigation into other causes for physical and social problems the child might encounter, and [lead] to policies that ignored factors, including poverty that may play a much more significant role in their lives, they said in their letter. (http://www.jointogether.org/y/0,2521,577769,00.html) For more information contact David C. Lewis, MD, 401-444-1818 or email David_Lewis@brown.edu.
The health of internationally adopted children varies. Today, prospective parents are often given a videotape of their child from an orphanage, which can provide a wealth of information that complements written information. In addition, in-country screening documents their health or medical issues. In some cases, children may suffer from parasites or other problems that are relatively minor, although some may have more serious problems such as Hepatitis.
Two recent studies conflict as to mental health of international adoptees. A longitudinal study in the Netherlands found international adoptees were at higher risk than their non-adopted counterparts for mental health and problems varied by gender, type of disorder and socioeconomic status. (Psychiatric Disorders in Young Adult Intercountry Adoptees: An Epidemiological Study American Journal of Psychiatry (http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/cgi/content/abstract/162/3/592))
Meanwhile, a study published in the May 25 edition of JAMA indicated they are doing pretty well according to a review of studies that compared behavioral and psychological isues among adopted and nonadopted children and adolescents. (Psychiatric Disorders in Young Adult Intercountry Adoptees: An Epidemiological Study (http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/abstract/293/20/2501))
Impact of Foster Care and Orphanages
While neglect and abuse are sometimes part of the history of children adopted from foster care and orphanages, the more severe impacts - Sensory Integrative Disorder and Attachment Disorder - are not as well known. It is important to note that the American Academy of Pediatrics reports that 12% of all children, including non-adopted children, have some sort of sensory integrative dysfunction. These are part of a broad category of developmental delays owing to lack of stimulation in severely overcrowded and understaffed institutions or in multiple placements of foster children. In practical terms, infants, babies and toddlers who are confined to cribs and who have little contact with human touch may suffer sensory deprivation, resulting in a failure of the brain to integrate some neurological pathways. Similarly, foster children who are subject to multiple placements without addressing the psychological impacts, can exhibit similar problems. This early deprivation for both populations could lead to behavioral and medical problems. Early intervention is essential to a good long-term prognosis.
A percentage of these children have special needs, with some disability, when they are placed for adoption. The Impact of Early Institutionalization on Child and Family Outcomes, published in Adoption Quarterly found rapid gains in development by children within six months of placement within adoptive families. It also found 51% of children were developmentally delayed upon arrival, but only 8% remained delayed six months later. The areas of greatest delay were in speech and language. For a copy of the report for a fee go to http://www.haworthpress.com/web/AQ.
Development Assessments of International Adoptees (http://www.aap.org/sections/adoption/adopt-states/adoption-map.html)
Short List of Specialist Clinics
International Adoption Clinic, University of Minnesota (www.peds.umn.edu/iac)
Yale University International Adoption Clinic (www.ynhh.org/healthlink/pediatrics/pediatrics_3_00.html)
International Adoption Clinic, Floating Hospital for Children (www.nemc.org/adoption)
International Pediatric Health Services (www.orphandoctor.com)
Lists of Adoption Clinics Nationwide
International Adoption Medical Clinics (www.comeunity.com/adoption/health/clinics.html)
The China Connection (www.chinaconnectiononline.com/clinics.htm)
Adoption reform focuses on several issues.
While adoption is viewed as generally positive, it is not without controversies that have already entered the political arena. Because it centers on the family, it intersects social policy in a number of areas including race, sex, religious beliefs and family values and has become a lightning rod in larger issues and social agendas.
For instance, reproductive rights and technology including embryo adoption have taken the abortion debate to a new level after years of discussion by conservative and progressive interests as to whether or not opening records will increase abortion. In addition, those pushing traditional family values have raised questions about adoption by single and gay parents. Issues are equally controversial for those within the adoption community with many birth parents, feeling exploited by the system, leading anti-adoption movements.
Clearly, nothing is simple when it comes to family issues, raising children and values. Even so, several topics are now seeing more coverage.
Easing Red Tape/Best Practices in Caring For and Adoption
of Waiting Children
National Center for Adoption Law & Policy (www.law.capital.edu/adoption) works on child welfare and adoption issues, as well as the development of best practices and innovations to permanently place children who are in state custody because of abuse, neglect or other issues. Perhaps the most pressing need is post-adoption support services for families and ensuring those services, when available, are used. A model expedited appellate rule (http://www.law.capital.edu/adoption/model_rule.htm) with respect to adoption and termination of parental rights has been developed and is on the web.
Child Welfare League of America (www.cwla.org)
Children's Rights (www.childrensrights.org)
A Child Welfare Summit (www.cssp.org/center/ccws_future.html).
There was a time