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Overall, adopted children in the U.S. fare about as well as children in the general population.  However, many adopted children bring to their new families a history of adverse early experiences that may make them more vulnerable to developmental risks.

Importance

About two percent of the U.S. child population is adopted, either from foster care or through private domestic or international adoption. In the U. S. today there are 1.8 million children who have been adopted, though they are a small proportion of all U.S. children. (Appendix 1) Adoption is the pathway by which many adults start or expand a family, and itis unique in that government plays a role in establishing a parent-child relationship. Moreover, adoption is valued as a public good, reflected in tax credits for adoptive families and, in the case of adoptions from foster care, the provision of subsidies and health insurance.

While adoption has long been an important option for many families, it is only recently that there has been a source of nationally representative data on these children and their circumstances. The National Survey of Adoptive Parents, administered in 2007, provides the first comprehensive look at these issues.[1] Respondents were parents with an adopted child, so all data reported here are from parental report.

Differences between Adopted Children and All Children

113_fig1Adopted children are similar in many respects to children in the overall population, but there are differences between the two groups as well. Important to note, the data do not allow inferences about the causes of any differences, but comparisons are still informative. As a group, adopted children are somewhat older than their peers: just six percent are younger than age three, compared with 16 percent of children in the general population; 37 percent of adopted children are teens (ages 13-17), compared with 29 percent of all children.[2]
(Figure 1) Because many well-being indicators are age-related (for instance, older children have had more time in which health or behavior problems can
emerge), this may account for some of the differences observed between adopted children and all children.

In comparison to the general population of children, adopted children are less likely to be white (37 and 56 percent,
respectively) or Hispanic (15 and 20 percent, respectively). They are more likely to be black (23 and 14 percent, respectively) or Asian (15 and 4 percent, respectively. (Appendix 2)

113_fig2They are also less likely to live below the poverty level (12 and 18 percent, respectively), and more likely to live in families with incomes more than four times the poverty level (37 and 30 percent, respectively); in other income categories the two groups of children are similarly distributed. (Figure 2)

Most adopted children are in families that provide experiences that, according to developmental research, are important for child well-being. In some instances, adopted children fare better in this regard than children in the general population. For example, young adopted children (ages 0-5) are more likely to be read to every day (68 versus 48 percent), to be sung or told stories to every day (73 versus 59 percent), and to eat meals with their families six or more days per week (56 versus 52 percent. Older adopted children (ages 6-17) are more likely than older children in general to participate in organized activities outside of school (85 and 81 percent, respectively). (Figure 3)

113_fig3While most adopted children (85 percent) are
reported by parents to be in excellent or very good health, the prevalence of special health care needs within this group (39 percent) is twice as high as is
reported in the overall population of children (19 percent). Behavior/conduct problems and ADD/ADHD are also reported more often for adopted children (15 and 26 percent, respectively) than for children overall (4 and 10 percent,
respectively). However, adopted children are more likely than all children to have continuous health insurance coverage (91 and 85 percent, respectively). (Appendix 2)

In academic and cognitive development, younger
adopted children (ages 6-11) read for pleasure on average about as much as the general population (88 and 89 percent, respectively). However, older adopted children (ages 12-17) are somewhat less likely to read for pleasure (71 and 78 percent, respectively). And in terms of “school engagement”[3] adopted children as a group are less likely to be doing well than are all children (69 and 81 percent, respectively). (Appendix 2)

Differences by Adoption Type

While every adopted child’s circumstances are unique, there are some important group differences linked to the child’s nativity (foreign or domestic) and pre-adoption status (whether or not they were adopted from foster care).

In this country, children come into adoption through one of three primary routes. As of 2007, one-quarter (25 percent) were adopted from other countries, typically with the assistance of a private adoption agency. Thirty-seven percent were adopted from foster care, and 38 percent were adopted privately–i.e., without the involvement of a public child welfare agency. (Appendix 1)

U.S.-born children adopted from sources other than foster care (“private adoptions”) are a diverse group, including some whose birth parents are deceased, and others whose biological parents voluntarily relinquished their parental rights. As of 2007, 41 percent of this group were adopted by relatives, and 62 percent were placed with their adoptive familieswithin a month of birth.

Children adopted from foster care were removed from their families because caregivers were unwilling or unable to provide appropriate care, leading to the intervention of the state’s child protective services system. These children, by definition, have experienced difficult circumstances, which may have included abuse or neglect, severance of ties with parents and siblings, and multiple foster care placements. More than two-thirds (69 percent) of this group, as of 2007, were adopted by a foster parent; 23 percent were adopted by relatives. As a group, these children are more likely to live in adoptive families with lower incomes, and they have the highest prevalence of special health care needs (54 percent). (Appendix 2)

Finally, children adopted from countries outside the U.S. comprise a group that, on the whole, may also have had adverse early experiences. Seventy percent were living in congregate (group) care facilities prior to their adoption. As of 2007, 60 percent of this group were Asian-born, with a third from China alone. “International” adoptees are more likely than those in the other two groups to be girls, and to be living in adoptive families with relatively high incomes (above four times the poverty threshold). (Appendix 2)

Differences by Family Structure

The proportion of adopted children living with two married parents (69 percent) is not statistically different from the
corresponding figure for all U.S. children (71 percent). However, children adopted from foster care are significantly more likely to live with two married parents (70 percent) than are “private domestic” adoptees (59 percent), but
less likely than are “international” adoptees (82 percent).[4]

A higher percentage of adopted children are the only child (under 18 years old) in the household, compared with all children (38 and 23 percent, respectively). However, children adopted from foster care are more likely than adopted children in the other two groups to be in families with three or more children (40 percent, compared with 16 percent each among “private U.S.” adoptees and “international” adoptees. Adopted children coming from foster care are also more likely to live in families that include both adopted and birth children; 40 percent of foster care adoptees are in such families, compared with 21 and 10 percent, respectively, of “private domestic”adoptees, and children adopted internationally.[5]

State and Local Estimates

None available.

International Estimates

None available.


National Goals

None.

Related Indicators

Definition

Adopted children are defined as those with at least one adoptive parent, but no biological parents, in the
household.

Data Source

Vandivere, S., Malm, K., and Radel, L. (2009).Adoption USA: A Chartbook Based on the 2007 National Survey of Adoptive Parents. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. Available at http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/09/NSAP/chartbook/.

Raw Data Sources

2007 National Survey of Adoptive Parents, and 2007
National Survey of Children’s Health.

www.cdc.gov/nchs/slaits.htm

 

Appendix 1: Number and Percentage Distribution of All Children and Adopted Children, Ages 0-17, by Selected Characteristics, United States, 2007

Number (thousands) Percent
All children 73,759 100%
Adopted children1 1,782 2%
Health
Special health care needs 14,136 19%
No special health care needs 59,622 81%
All adopted children 1,782 100%
Health
Special health care needs 702 39%
No special health care needs 1,080 61%
Type of adoption
Foster care 661 37%
Private domestic 677 38%
International 444 25%
1Adopted children are
defined as those with at least one adoptive parent, but no biological
parents, in the household.
Source: 2007 National Survey of Adoptive Parents, 2007 National Survey of
Children’s Health.

 

Appendix 2: Percentage Distribution of Children Ages 0-17, by Adoptive Status and Adoption Type, by Selected Demographic and Social Characteristics, United States, 2007

All children All adopted children1 Foster care Private domestic International
Child’s current age
0-2 years 16 6 3 6 10
3-4 years 11 9 6 7 14
5-9 years 27 30 31 22 39
10-12 years 17 19 18 22 17
13-14 years 12 14 19 14 8
15-17 years 17 23 23 29 12
Child’s gender
Male 51 49 57 51 33
Female 49 51 43 49 67
Race and Hispanic origin of child*
White 56 37 37 50 19
Black 14 23 35 25 3
Asian 4 15 + + 59
Other 6 9 10 12 +
Hispanic origin 20 15 16 13 17
All children All adopted children1 Foster care Private domestic International
Child’s health status is
excellent or very good
84 85 81 84 93
Household poverty level
<100% FPL** 18 12 16 17 +
101%-200% FPL 21 19 30 18 +
201%-300% FPL 18 17 19 20 11
301%-400% FPL 14 14 9 12 24
401%+ FPL 30 37 25 33 58
Child has special health care needs
All children 19 39 54 32 29
Children ages 0-5 12 22 39 25 10
Children ages6-11 22 44 59 35 33
Children ages 12-17 23 43 52 33 48
Child health
Child has ever been diagnosed with depression (ages 2+) 4 9 10 10 6
Child has ever been diagnosed with ADD/ADHD (ages 6+) 10 26 38 19 17
Child has ever been diagnosed with behavior or conduct problems
(ages 2+)
4 15 25 11 7
Child had health insurance consistently over past 12 months 15 9 6 12 9
All children All adopted children1 Foster care Private domestic International
Child spends time reading for pleasure
on an average school day (ages 6+)
84 79 80 78 81
Ages 6-11 89 88 90 87 86
Ages 12-17 78 71 70 72 72
Child is usually/always engaged in
school^
Ages 6-17 81 69 61 74 73
Ages 6-11 86 80 73 86 83
Ages 12-17 75 58 50 66 58
1Adopted children are defined as those with at least one
adoptive parent, but no biological parents, in the household.+ indicates estimates are unreliable
due to small numbers.*Race categories exclude those
identified as Hispanic; Hispanics can be of any race.**FPL=federal poverty level.^School engagement is a composite of
responses to two survey items: “cared about doing well in school”
and “did all required homework.” Children whose parents responded
“usually/always” (in the past month) to both questions were
considered engaged in school.SOURCE: 2007 National Survey of Adoptive
Parents, and 2007 National Survey of Children’s Health.


Endnotes


[1]All data cited here are from the 2007 National Survey
of Adoptive Parents and, for “all children,” the nationally representative 2007
National Survey of Children’s Health.

[2]The age reported for adopted children is influenced
somewhat by the fact that children were counted as adopted only if their
adoption had been finalized by the time of the survey; children may be placed
with adoptive families prior to adoption, and finalization typically takes at
least six months.

[3]School engagement is a composite of responses to two
survey items: “cared about doing well in school” and “did all
required homework.” Children whose parents responded
“usually/always” (in the past month) to both questions were
considered engaged in school.

[4]Vandivere, S., Malm, K., and Radel, L.
(2009).Adoption USA: A Chartbook Based on the 2007 National Survey of Adoptive
Parents. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant
Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. Available at
http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/09/NSAP/chartbook/.

[5]Ibid.

 

Suggested Citation:

Child Trends. (2012). Adopted children. Available at: https://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=adopted-children

 

Last updated: August 2012

 

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