What is the State of Adoption in America Today?

Over the last year, we asked ourselves a tough question: why—after 20 years, over 40 publications and 180 recommendations (and that is just from DAI alone)—have policies and practices not advanced far enough fast enough? With this in mind, The Donaldson Adoption Institute (DAI) launched Let’s Adopt Reform, an initiative to strengthen all families by igniting a national conversation about adoption and foster care adoption in the 21st century.

We commissioned two milestone research projects to dig deeper into the state of adoption in America today. We conducted qualitative research with a wide range of professionals and undertook the most comprehensive public opinion research ever fielded in this area. Then we set out on a nationwide Town Hall Tour where we tackled the issues, explored opportunities, shared life experiences and asked the tough questions. It became abundantly clear; a path to reform is possible if we recognize and learn from both the good and the bad.

Let’s Adopt Reform culminates with our landmark report exploring the most critical issues facing our community. This report highlights our many years of research, what we most recently learned from the American public and adoption professionals, policy challenges and opportunities, promising practices, and our recommendations for changes needed on the path to reform.

What we discovered is that it is no longer a matter of knowing what to do it is time to understand new perspectives, change behaviors and encourage action.  Inspiring these changes requires us to present the realities in new, different and sometimes uncomfortable ways all in service to helping children and families with better policies, practices and resources.


Here are the five key themes that have emerged and become the bedrock of the report and our work going forward.

  • Adoption Is Not a One-Time Transaction
    It’s a lifelong journey for the entire family. In order to encourage healthy identity development and strong relationships, it is important to understand adoption as a transformational experience that lasts a lifetime.
  • A Human Rights Framework Is Needed
    Adoption is in urgent need of a cultural shift; this shift requires us first and foremost to make decisions in adoption through the lens of human rights and to practice adoption in a way that primarily and fundamentally respects and upholds the humanity of all who are connected to this rich and complex experience.
  • Market Forces Create a Variety of Concerns
    It is critical to develop uniform standards and regulations in order to remove the influence of money as it relates to the practice of adoption. Children are not commodities.
  • Adoption in America Lacks Uniformity
    Adoption policies and practices vary widely by state and type of adoption. The consequence of these inconsistencies can lead to fraud, coercion, and undue stress of families and ultimately leaves children vulnerable.
  • No Reform Without Education
    One of the greatest impediments to meaningful reforms in adoption and foster care are the societal misperceptions and general lack of knowledge surrounding this experience. We must foster understanding in society as well as the systems that serve families if needed changes are to be made.

Bringing a child into a family—whether by birth, adoption or the blending of families—is life-changing for everyone. When we recognize the lifelong impact and put children at the center, adoption can truly represent an evolved definition of family. Strong families build strong communities and strong communities make a better world for all of us.

While we have reached many milestones, more work needs to be done and today our work feels more urgent than ever.


Since 1996, The Donaldson Adoption Institute has been on a mission to improve the lives of children and families through research, education and advocacy. We investigate the issues of greatest concern to birth families, adoptive/foster families, adopted people, the people who love them and the professionals that serve them. We educate and train professionals, enlighten parents and engage members of the community to make a positive impact on laws, policies, practices and perceptions.