Domestic Adoption Trends Changing the Adoption Landscape
By Jenny Pope
TREND: Fewer domestic infant adoptions nationwide.
Most Americans favor adoption, according to recent National Survey on Family Growth and the National Foster Care Adoption Attitudes Survey (2008, 2009 and 2007). However, the traditional concept of adoption has changed. When people think about adopting a child, they typically think about babies. They rarely imagine older children, sibling groups or a child’s birth mother in the picture. But that’s exactly where domestic adoption is today.
Since the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade (1974), domestic infant adoptions have declined. There are more options available for single women who are pregnant today, said Carol Demuth, adoption supervisor for Buckner.
“Single parenthood is more acceptable. There is less shame associated with getting pregnant as a single person. It’s definitely changed the reasons why birthmothers place their children for adoption. Now, it’s because they prefer their child to be raised in a two-parent home and they truly care for their child’s future. Not because they are ashamed.”
Buckner has placed children into adoptive families since 1884. Prior to 1974, Buckner regularly placed hundreds of infants into families each year. When Demuth started working in domestic infant adoptions at Buckner in 1996, the figure was closer to 25 to 30 adoptions per year. In 2011, that number dwindled to five.
“There are so many resources available for single parents today,” Demuth added. “It makes it easier for single parents to raise their children. That also means longer waiting times for couples who prefer to adopt infants.”
TREND: More families adopting through foster care.
With the decline of domestic infant adoption, more families are choosing to adopt children through foster care and waiting child programs organized by the state. Since the passage of the Adoption and Safe Families Act in 1997, which introduced time limits in making a permanency plan for a child whose parents’ rights have been terminated, adoption through foster care has become more prevalent. In fact, from 1997 to 2000, there was a 65 percent increase in the United States.
Although more families are adopting children through foster care, there are still thousands of children waiting for families each year. About 130,000 children wait nationwide – about 6,000 in Texas alone. Most of these children are older, have special needs, are part of a sibling group or are children of African American or Hispanic heritage.
“The need for families for these children is disproportionately high,” Demuth said.
Adopting children through the state remains the most affordable adoption option. Most programs are free after state reimbursements and tax credits are applied. This includes Buckner’s foster-to-adopt and Waiting Texas Children adoption programs.
“The challenge with adopting through foster care is that parents must be willing to risk their hearts in the process,” Demuth said. “It is truly a faith-building experience. They have to let go and let God. The goal of foster care is reunification with a child’s birth family and sometimes that means the children placed in their homes will not be with them forever.”
TREND: Open adoption more accepted.
When the concept of open adoption was introduced to Texas agencies in the late 80s, most social workers balked at the idea of adoptive families maintaining direct contact with birth mothers and fathers, Demuth said. It took years for agencies to adopt the practice. Buckner started practicing open adoption in 1995 when research continued to show the advantages of a child maintaining some level of contact with his biological family.
Since 1995, more families in the domestic infant adoption process have become comfortable with the idea of maintaining contact. Demuth suspects the shift comes from having more information available to families through adoption blogs, websites and books.
“Also, as our culture continues to redefine family, it has become more accepted for a child to have a family that looks different from others. That family can now include both a birth mother and a mother,” Demuth said.
Will and Mandy Duncan of Dallas were unsure about open adoption when they began the adoption process with Buckner. But after researching the topic, Will said it made more sense.
“The more I thought about it, I realized all my other relationships that are healthy are based on openness and honesty without somebody mediating them. So why should this be any different?”
The shift toward open adoption also means more families are going through attorneys and arranging adoptions personally through relationships with neighbors, family members or acquaintances.
“The benefits of going through an agency instead of doing it on your own is that an agency is your counselor, helping the adoptive and birth parents define their relationship together,” Demuth said. “It also means you have support for your family for life. When relationships change or priorities change, we’re always here to help birth families and adoptive families work together for the best interest of the child. Attorneys can’t offer that same promise, nor are they equipped to handle the complex emotional challenges of open adoption.”
TREND: More people choosing adoption by choice, not because of infertility.
Buckner has seen an increase in the number of families who choose adoption for reasons other than infertility as the needs of vulnerable children in the U.S. are more apparent. Many families with biological children are adopting because they want to grow their family without giving birth again. Empty nesters who have raised their children are starting over today because they have the time, space and resources to raise a family.
“We’ve also seen a rise in single mothers adopting children because they realize the opportunity for marriage is not there for them, but they want to be a parent,” Demuth said.
Mark and Jacquie Craggett from Rowlett, Texas, are in their 50s and recently adopted two sisters through foster care with Buckner. They adopted two brothers through foster care 10 years earlier. Their four birth daughters, all over the age of 18, have left home.
Jacquie said they “wrestled” with the decision to adopt.
“We already have four biological daughters and two adopted sons and are supposed to be ‘empty nesters,’” she said. But eventually they felt confirmed that God wanted them to open their home to two more.
“We have to step out of what is safe, what is comfortable, what is understood and approved of by others and do what God asks us to do,” she said. “We have to remember this is our temporary home. We have such a brief time to be His hands, to love and serve Him.”