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The Informed Parent

A Look At Today’s Adoption Programs

by Peter W. Welty, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Published on Jan. 30, 2006

Many parents ask about the fate of children who are placed in adoptive homes. The nature of adoption has changed over time in the United States. According to the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, in the early 1900's adoption was closely associated with child welfare. Children were placed according to race, religion, and predicted intellectual and physical characteristics. The lives of children were made to appear as if they started the day of joining their adoptive families. In those days adoptive records were sealed, and the adopted child was cut off from his past. Older, nonwhite, disabled children and sibling groups were considered virtually unadoptable.

Beginning in the 1970's many more middle class parents were seeking to adopt than there were available children. Private agencies and attorney-arranged adoptions became more widespread. Many children began to be adopted from war-torn European countries, and international adoptions became more common. Today most adoptive families are childless couples. The adoption of international children has doubled from the past decade to 20,000 annually.

Children do not have similar life experiences prior to adoption. Some have experiences virtually identical to those raised by their biological parents. Others have suffered severe deprivation and multiple disruptions of caretaking environment prior to adoption.

About 120,000 children are adopted annually in the United States. Those adoptees younger that 18 years total about 1.5 million, just over 2% of all American children. Of these 1.5 million, two-thirds were placed with biologically unrelated parents. The rest were adopted by relatives. In 1992 private agencies arranged for the adoption of 47% of children, public agencies arranged 16% of the adoptions, and independent arrangers handled 37% of the nation's adoptions.

Nontraditional adoptive arrangements have become more common in the United States. We find more trans-racial, single parent, kinship, and gay adoptions now. Communication with birth parents is allowed. In turn, many birth parents have several prospective parents from whom to choose.

In our next article we will examine the cognitive and emotional outcome of children who are adopted.

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