FORUM ON ADOPTION ISSUES
Tuesday, April 14 1998
1 PM - 2:30 PM
Graduate School of Journalism
The Lecture Hall, Third Floor
116th Street and Broadway
New York, New York
- Nicholas Scoppetta, Commissioner, New York City Administration for Children's Services
- Susan Freivalds, Advisor to the US Department of State on Intercountry Adoption
- Madelyn Freundlich, Executive Director, The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute
Foster Care and Adoption
Search and Reunion
FOSTER CARE AND ADOPTION
The number of children in foster care in the United States continues to grow.
At the end of 1994, there were 468,000 children in foster care in this country,
a 70% increase since 1984. It is estimated that between 86,000 and 100,000 of
these children will not return to their birth families and will need adoption
planning services. Given current trends, it is likely that the number of
children in foster care who need adoptive families will continue to increase.
Who are the Children in Foster Care Who Need Adoptive Families ["Waiting
Children in foster care who are waiting for adoptive families cross all age
ranges. The vast majority of waiting children are not infants. More than
one-third of waiting children are between 1 and 5 years of age and close to 45%
are between the ages of 6 and 12.
Approximately 60% of waiting children are children of color. Many children are
part of sibling groups that will be adopted together. In addition, some
percentage of waiting children have special physical, emotional and
developmental needs that require special services.
Do Children in Foster Care Get Adopted?
An ongoing problem has been that children in foster care who need adoptive
families remain in care. Even though the number of children who need adoptive
families has continued to grow, the number of adoptions actually finalized in
any one year has remained about the same [around 17,000 to 22,000 adoptions of
waiting children each year]. A number of issues have been identified as
contributing to this problem:
an emphasis on attempting to reunify children with their birth families, resulting in children remaining in care for years as efforts are made to work with their families;
difficulties in proceeding effectively with termination of parental rights; and
problems recruiting a sufficient number of adoptive families for older children who may have special needs and many of whom are children of color.
Child welfare programs across the country have attempted to address these
issues with a range of programs designed to expedite decision making regarding
reunification or adoption; to work with courts to make it possible to terminate
parental rights in a timely way; and to effectively recruit, prepare and
support adoptive families for waiting children.
Who Adopts Children in Foster Care?
Increasingly, children in foster care are adopted by their foster parents.
Some communities report that as many as 80 to 90% of all adopters are foster
parents. Children are also adopted by relatives and by families who are
unrelated to them. There has been great controversy about who should be able
to adopt waiting children. The issues frequently raised and debated include
adoption by single parents [largely accepted, but there continue to be disputes
about adoption by "unmarried" individuals]; adoption by gay and lesbian
individuals; and transracial adoption, particularly the adoption of African
American children by white families. Despite the attention to issues regarding
who should be able to adopt, the supply of prospective adoptive families
remains far below the needed number of families.
What Does the Law Require Regarding the Adoption of Children in Foster
Federal law that addresses the adoption of children in foster is
contained in the Social Security Act, Title IV-E. Under this law, the federal
government provides funds for foster care services and for adoption subsidies
[monthly payments] to support children with special needs who are adopted. The
law also sets out certain requirements that states must meet to receive federal
funding. Recent changes in the law, made by the Adoption and Safe Families Act
of 1997, attempt to increase the number of adoptions of children in foster
care. As examples, the new law requires states to initiate termination of
parental rights for children who have been in foster care for certain periods
of time; requires that each child have a "permanency hearing" within 12 months
of the child coming into foster care; and provides that child welfare agencies
do not have to make "reasonable efforts" to reunify a child with his or her
family if the parents has committed certain criminal acts in relation to the
child or a child's sibling [such as torture, sexual abuse, or the murder of a
sibling] or if the parents' rights to another child have been involuntarily
Another federal law [the 1996 Small Business Protection Act], contains a
provision on the "removal of barriers to interethnic adoption." This provision
states that agencies may not consider race, culture, or ethnicity as a factor
in decisions to delay or deny a foster or adoptive placement. Many questions
remain unresolved about the application of this requirement.
Challenges for Foster Care and Adoption in the Future
What is the right balance between efforts to reunify families and the need to
free children for adoption as early in their lives as possible?
Will growing numbers of children continue to enter foster care and to need
With the current focus on adoption as the answer for many children in foster
care, how can the needed number of adoptive families be recruited, prepared to
care for children who may have special needs, and then supported after
Will policies that promote transracial adoption "solve" the problem of children
waiting too long in foster care for adoptive families?
With the growing application of managed care to child welfare, will changes in
funding foster care and adoption make a difference -- in a positive or negative
direction-- for children?
CLICK HERE TO VIEW A TABLE OF RESOURCES FOR FOSTER CARE AND ADOPTION APRIL 1998
In 1997, almost 14,000 children, from over 50 countries, were adopted
internationally to the United States, an almost 100 percent increase over 1990.
This year, the number is expected to exceed 15,000. These children, primarily
living in orphanages and other institutions, would likely not have found
permanent families in their countries of birth. For these children,
intercountry adoption represents the only way for them to have a family of
Why are children adopted internationally?
Countries typically choose to allow intercountry adoption for their children
when sufficient homes are not available domestically, either for economic or
cultural reasons. Many countries have in place procedures and policies to
encourage domestic adoption, but allow intercountry adoption if no home can be
found for the child in his country of origin.
Why do American families adopt from other countries?
Families choose to adopt internationally for a variety of reasons. Some
believe it to be quicker or less expensive than domestic adoption, although
this is most often not true. Other families choose not to enter the
competition for a baby in the U.S. and would rather adopt a child for whom a
family is not waiting. Recently, international adopters have expressed the
belief that these adoptions are less likely to be challenged by birth parents
after placement of the child.
What are the requirements for international adoption?
Intercountry adoptions are subject to more oversight and controls than are
domestic adoptions. While prospective parents must conform to the requirements
of their state of residence, each country also has its own laws that must be
satisfied as well. Both the parents and the children must also meet
eligibility requirements of the Immigration and Naturalization Service before
the child is issued a visa. To enter the U.S. with a preference visa as an
"adoptable orphan", a child must be a true orphan, be unconditionally
abandoned, or have a sole surviving parent who is unable to care for him. The
total expense of an intercountry adoption ranges between $12,000 and about
$25,000, depending on travel requirements of the child's country of origin.
Typically, an intercountry adoption takes 9 to 18 months to complete, after the
home study is finished.
Who are the children who are being adopted internationally?
In 1996, almost two girls were adopted from abroad for every boy. Over half of
the children were under one year of age, with 90 percent under 4 years old.
In 1997, the majority of the children came from Asia (48%), Eastern Europe and
the former Soviet republics (38%), and Central and South America (10%). Russia
(28%), China (27%), and South Korea (12%) placed the most children with U.S.
The majority of the children are characterized as "healthy" at placement, but
upon careful screening, many exhibit an unsuspected medical condition,
typically something minor such as intestinal parasites. However, serious
health conditions such as hepatitis B are sometimes discovered after placement.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has approved a series of screening tests
suggested for all newly arrived international adoptees.
What are the special challenges of parenting through intercountry
Once the child is in his new home, families find that there are special
parenting concerns and responsibilities inherent in nurturing a child adopted
internationally. Health and developmental status may require special attention
in the early years, while issues of adoption, identity, and racism (most often
the children are of minority ethnic heritage) require parental attention as the
child grows. Supports for the family include adoptive parent support groups,
interaction with local ethnic communities, visits to the child's country of
origin, programs provided by adoption agencies and adoptive parent groups to
support ethnic heritage, and parenting resource materials such as books,
What does the research say about international adoption?
A review of the research of outcomes for children adopted internationally finds
that the children generally do quite well. Attachment, identity, and comfort
with adoption issues are generally reported to be good. International adoptees
typically find racial discrimination issues to be more troubling than issues
stemming from adoption. The rates at which international adoptions disrupt are
equivalent to those for domestic adoptions.
What is the future of intercountry adoption?
The future of intercountry adoption will be determined by the perceptions of
its success held by officials and the public in the children's countries of
origin. Safeguards contained in the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption,
a multilateral treaty of cooperation and controls now being considered for
ratification by countries around the world (including the U.S.), will help
reassure all parties that the rights of the children and birth parents in an
intercountry adoption are respected. The Convention should put to rest some of
the fears (that the children are being used as organ donors, for example) that
make the process unstable at best and deny the love of a permanent family to
children who could benefit from adoption. The Hague Convention on Intercountry
Adoption and its implementing legislation may be introduced to the Congress for
consideration early in 1999.
Challenges for Intercountry Adoption in the Future
ï How can prospective adoptive families be better prepared for the
unanticipated joys and challenges of intercountry adoption?
ï Will the United States ratify the Hague Convention on Intercountry
Adoption, and what will that mean for children overseas who need new families
and for the U.S. families who want to adopt them?
ï Will international adoptees want to search for their birth families?
Will this be possible and will the policies of their countries of birth allow
ï Will there be a trend toward more openness in intercountry adoptions, as
we've seen in domestic adoptions?
Prepared by Susan A. FreivaldsCLICK HERE TO VIEW A RESOURCE SHEET ON INTERNATIONAL ADOPTION
Joint Council on International Children's Services
7 Cheverly Circle
Cheverly, MD 20785.
Between two and five million children in the United States have been adopted,
and between 2% and 4% of all families have adopted. Although there is no
definitive source of data on the number or types of adoptions finalized, it is
generally estimated that between 130,000 to 150,000 adoptive families are
formed each year. Between 30,000 and 40,000 of these adoptions are adoptions
of infants and very young children.
Are Fewer Infants Available for Adoption?
The number of infants available for adoption has significantly declined over
the last few decades. With changes in societal attitudes toward contraceptive
use, abortion and nonmarital parenting, fewer women make the choice to
relinquish their children for adoption. Among never-married white women, the
relinquishment rate declined from 19 percent of all nonmarital births in
1965-1972 to between 2 and 3 percent in the 1990s. African American and Latina
women historically have not surrendered their infants for adoption -- fewer
than 2 percent have at any time chosen adoption as the option for their
Are More People Wanting to Adopt Infants?
Interest in the adoption of infants has grown. As the large Baby Boom
group has reached their reproductive years and more individuals delay child
bearing, the incidence of infertility has increased. While many infertile
individuals seek to conceive through reproductive technologies, many consider
the adoption of infants as the path to forming their families. In 1988, the
data showed that at any one time, 200,000 women were considering adopting; by
1995, some 500,000 women were, at any one time, considering adoption. The
number of individuals wanting to adopt greatly exceeds the number of infants
available for adoption in this country.
How Do People Adopt?
Adoption now occurs in a variety of ways. Adoption agencies offer services to
birth parents needing counseling on their options and assistance with planning
the adoption of their children. These agencies also work with prospective
adoptive families to "match" a child and family. Independent practitioners,
particularly attorneys, have taken a greater role in infant adoption. Legal in
all but four states, the independent adoption practice of attorneys may now
represent the primary route through which infant adoptions take place.
Prospective adoptive parents increasingly are advertising their interest in
adopting and making their own "matches" with birth parents. In these
"identified" adoptions, adoptive and birth parents may jointly approach a
lawyer or agency for assistance in finalizing the adoption.
Adoption and Birth Families
In the area of infant adoption, there have been significant changes over
the last decade in the involvement of birth families in planning the adoption
of their children. In the 1960s and 1970s, agencies generally selected the
adoptive family for a child with no input from the birth mother or father.
Current practice is much different. In most agency adoptions and for virtually
all independent adoptions, birth parents are actively involved in selecting the
adoptive family for their child.
Reports in the media of contested adoptions have caused many people to
believe that disputes between birth parents and adoptive parents after a child
has been placed for adoption are common-place. In reality, less than 1 percent
of all adoptions result in a legal contest between adoptive families and birth
parents who seek to regain their rights to their child. The contested adoption
cases that have arisen have generally been associated with inadequate
counseling of birth mothers before the adoption; failures to abide by state
laws regarding the required waiting time between a child's birth and the
mother's signing of relinquishment forms; and issues related to birth fathers'
Adoption and Greater Openness
One major change in adoption has been greater acceptance of some level of
contact between birth and adoptive families. "Open adoption" can mean many
things. At one end of the spectrum, birth and adoptive parents may meet before
the adoption is finalized and have no further contact. At the other end of the
spectrum, birth and adoptive families may maintain some level of ongoing
contact throughout the child's life, such as by exchanging photos or letters or
face-to-face meetings. "Search and reunion" is another aspect of openness. To
a growing extent, adopted adults are undertaking searches for their birth
parents and seeking contact with their parents and other biological relatives.
Challenges for Infant Adoption in the Future
Will the disparity between the demand for adoption by infertile couples and the
supply of healthy infants available for adoption continue?
How will the expansion and marketing of new reproductive technologies -- such
as frozen embryo transfer and the sale of "ready-made" embryos-- impact
As independent adoption continues to grow and more people use advertising to
adopt, will the adoption of infants look very different in the future? Will
adoption agencies still have a role?
Birth fathers have largely been ignored or, when they are a part of the
decision-making about adoption, they have been viewed as troublesome. Will the
role of birth fathers change in the future? Should it?
Will greater openness in adoption continue? Is ongoing contact between an
adoptive family and the birth parents a "good" thing for children?
CLICK HERE TO VIEW A RESOURCE SHEET ON INFANT ADOPTION
HOT TOPICS IN ADOPTION
Transracial adoption in the United States has generally referred to the
adoption of African American children by white families. The number of
transracial adoptions in the US is not known. Transracial adoptions, however,
have declined since 1972 when the National Association of Black Social Workers
issued a position paper opposing transracial adoption. In-race adoption became
the preferred approach to adoption. In 1996, however, federal law was amended
to require that adoption agencies no longer give any consideration to race,
culture or ethnicity in adoptive placements. The policy is believed by its
proponents to be critical to ensuring that the thousands of African American
children in foster care waiting for adoptive families will be adopted. Others
contend that transracial adoption is not likely to have much of an impact on
the number of children of color experiencing long stays in foster care, and
may, in fact, detract attention from efforts to address more pressing problems
affecting children of color and their families. Because the policy is only now
being implemented, the actual impact remains to be seen.
The Role of Money in Adoption
Many point to the increasing cost of adoption as one factor that makes adoption
appear to be less than a desirable undertaking. Most infant adoptions involve
expenses of $10,000 to $15,000 and some cost twice that much. An international
adoption, depending on the country, can cost between $5,000 and $20,000 with
more money changing hands in other countries as various intermediaries and
functionaries become involved. The issue has become one of appropriate
expenses for services rendered versus money that, in effect, "buys" a child.
In the area of foster care and adoption, expenses to adoptive families are
generally very low. The issue for these adoptive families is the extent to
which post-adoption subsidies and other supports will be available to help them
meet their children's special needs on an ongoing basis. Complexities in
federal law have raised questions about the ready availability in the future of
adoption subsidies -- and the Medicaid coverage they carry for children. At
the same time, there is now great interest in importing managed care principles
from the health care arena into foster care and adoption, thereby saving
money. Adoption, particularly if done quickly so that children leave foster
care early and if completed without ongoing responsibilities for post-adoption
services, is seen as a cost-effective strategy. This approach to adoption
raises questions about the role of money in policies related to foster care and
OPENNESS IN ADOPTION
Openness in adoption encompasses several issues:
The practice of having some level of contact between birth parents and
adoptive families as adoption is being planned and/or on an ongoing basis after
A significant change in adoption practice is greater contact between birth and
adoptive families. In many agency and most independent adoptions, birth and
adoptive families meet prior to the adoption. Identifying information may or
may not be exchanged. In some number of adoptions, agreements are reached
between birth and adoptive families for some level of ongoing contact
throughout the child's life. Contact may be the periodic exchange of
photographs or letters, telephone calls on special occasions such as birthdays
or holidays, or face-to-face meetings. A few states have statutes in place
that address such post-adoption contact agreements. This area of openness is
likely to continue to be a growing issue in the future.
Access to identifying information in adoption records
There is an ongoing policy and legal debate about whether adult adoptees
and/or their birth parents should have access to information that identifies
the other party. In two states, Alaska and Kansas, adult adoptees can obtain
copies of their original birth certificates and the information they contain
about their birth parents. A similar law was recently passed in Tennessee.
This law, however, was challenged on federal constitutional grounds [which
failed] and is now being challenged in state court on state constitutional
grounds. Bills which would allow adult adoptees to obtain their birth
certificates are currently pending in New Jersey and Illinois. This issue pits
those who believe that confidentiality is critical to adoption against those
who believe that adult adoptees have a basic right to personal information
Search and reunion
To an increasing extent, adult adoptees and the birth parents of adults whom
they relinquished for adoption as children are attempting to find one another.
Searches and reunions in some states may be facilitated by mutual consent
registries [through which both parties must register for a "match" to occur and
information to be shared] or by "confidential intermediary" programs [through
which certain designated individuals act as facilitators to determine if both
parties wish to have contact with one another]. Many adoptees and birth
parents turn to the services of private investigators to assist them in finding
the other party. Because this area has not been well researched, much of what
is understood about search and reunion is based on anecdotal accounts, which
suggest a range of results when individuals seek and make contact with one
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