Adoption is a term that triggers widespread emotions and stories; everyone knows someone who has or is adopted. This discussion attempts to provide basic information on the broad topic. Most of the information presented in this discussion is found in Christopher, W. Roth, J.K. (ed.). Encyclopedia of Social Issues, pp. 23-25. Volume 1. New York: Marshall Cavendish. Legally, adoption is “the process by which a relationship of parent and child is established between people who are not biologically thus related.”
Adoption is usually motivated by potential parents’ desire to have a child. Infertility is a significant motivator of adoption, but many adults choose to adopt in addition to having biological children. Governments worldwide are also interested in obtaining homes for children without parents. More and more, the child’s best interests are deemed most important in a placement; however, it is nearly impossible to establish a universal standard for what those “best interests” are.
Years ago, there were more children available than there were parents available to adopt. However, “there has been a major increase in the percentage of parents who wish to adopt along with a…decrease in the number of babies available for adoption.” Reasons for the changes in numbers include birth-control technology and abortion laws, greater social acceptance of single parents and children born out of wedlock, and more government aid to single mothers. Since the numbers for potential adoptees have decreased, more families are pursuing intercountry adoption. Potential adoptive parents often believe that “foreign adoptions are less likely to be challenged later by a child’s birth parents.” In 1993, 7,348 intercountry adoptions occurred in America.
In the USA, approximately 100,000 babies and children are waiting to be adopted. The process of adoption in the United States is accomplished in one of the three following ways:
Through public welfare agencies,
Through private adoption agencies bound to federal or state guidelines,
By independent adoption.
There are several smaller issues within the broad topic of adoption. One is privacy. Since adoption laws were formalized in the 1930s, the circumstances surrounding each adoption have been carefully protected. Often, neither the birth parents or adoptive parents know much about each other’s identity or situation leading to the adoption. Thus, the adopted child usually knows scant-if any-information about one’s birth parents or family. The reasons for secrecy are admirable. Many times, the adopted child was born out of wedlock or through difficult circumstances; for the child to have such information could be painful for the child and his or her birth parents. Secrecy also protects the adoptive parents from potential demands from a birth parent.
While most adoptions are fulfilling and successful, some adoptees become confused about their identity, origin, and loss of biological parents, and desire to know about their biological background for health reasons. Registry and search systems exist for birth parents and adopted children desiring to find each other.
Closed and Open Adoptions
Open adoption is a new, popular concept. In open adoptions, birth parents and adoptive parents know each other and/or exchange information. Usually, the adoptee is eventually told the identity of his or her parents. Critics of open adoptions assert that such fluid boundaries between biological and adoptive families can confuse adoptees and fracture families. Open adoption supporters believe that closed adoptions are harmful by keeping important information from the adoptee. While the media have highlighted open adoptions gone awry, many experts maintain that open adoption is a relatively safe choice.
Agencies and Agents
Historically, adoptions were arrnaged through “religiously affiliated, charitable, or state-supported non profit agencies.” These agencies are licensed by the states in which they operate, and they are generally a small department of a social service larger organization. Some national, for profit agencies also exist. Many governmental agencies now focus on foster placements, rather than adoption placements. While agencies have traditionally opposed searches and open adoptions, many agencies are now offering differing degrees of openness.
Impatient with regulations and long waiting lists at agencies, many adoptive parents turn to independent adoption agents. An attorney or physician may serve as an intermediary between adoption parties. While such adoptions are more flexible and faster, they are generally much more expensive. These private adoptions are also criticized for insufficient counseling and preadoption home visits. Experts suggest that at least one half of all adoptions are independent.
Adoptive and Biological Parents
There is still a question about the definition of a parent. Anthropologist Margaret Mead notes “that each culture socially defines who is a child’s ‘real’ parent, with no universally correct answer.” Some people still refer to birth parents as “real” or “natural” parents; this can be quite painful for adoptive parents. New, acceptable terms include “birth parents” and “adoptive parents.”
Unwed birth fathers in the U.S. had no acknowledged rights over their children until a 1972 Supreme Court ruling. Since then, some states have recognized some rights of unwed birth fathers. Still, most of these fathers are still largely neglected, and groups have succeeding in limiting the rights of unwed birth fathers. Men’s rights groups oppose these limitations, suggesting that birth fathers should have similar rights to those of birth mothers. Well publicized stories have highlighted challenges with this issue.
Intercountry and Interethnic Adoptions
In relation to domestic adoptions, only a small number of white adults adopt children from other countries and/or ethnicities. Some special interest groups oppose these adoptions, considering them cultural genocide. Reacting to similar fears, the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 provides Native American tribes some influence over the adoption of Indian children. Many adoption agencies strive to match religions of the adoptee and adoptive parents. Open adoptions focus more on a couple’s financial ability to adopt and parent a child and less on ethnic and religious factors.
Overall, adoptions are becoming more flexible-single and older parents are gaining interest in adoptions. Couples of mixed religions are now allowed to adopt. Controversially, homosexual adoptive parents and the rights of grandparents whose grandchildren have been adopted away from them are of interest. Debates are also stirring in regards to reproductive technologies involving surrogate parents, artifical insemination, and donated eggs.