5 Things to Know about Adoption

Research BriefFamiliesNov 24 2014

November is National Adoption Month, when organizations across the country come together to celebrate adoption and raise awareness for the continued need for adoptive families for children in foster care. National Adoption Month is kicked off every year by a Presidential Proclamation highlighting the campaign’s priority for the year, and culminates in National Adoption Day, held every year on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. This weekend marked the 15th Annual National Adoption Day, as thousands of families gathered in courthouses across the nation to finalize adoptions and commemorate the creation of their forever families. For our part, here are five things to know about adoption: 

1The number of children waiting to be adopted from foster care is declining.

Children adopted from foster care, who make up 41 percent of all adopted children, are those who were adopted after being removed from their homes by the child protective services system. Children are considered to be “waiting for adoption” when they have a case plan goal of adoption and/or the parental rights of their birth parents have been terminated. The number of children waiting to be adopted from foster care has declined from 135,000 at the end of federal fiscal year 2006 to 102,000 at the end of 2013. However, it is important to note that this group does not represent all children at risk of aging out of foster care without a permanent family. It does not include 16- and 17-year-olds with a case plan goal of emancipation, or youth older than 17, even if they cannot return to their birth families. One approach that has been shown to increase the likelihood that a waiting child will be adopted is the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids adoption recruitment model, recently evaluated by Child Trends.

2Post-adoption contact with birth families is common.

Adoptions that are “open,” that is, in which the adopted child and/or family have continued contact with birth parents and/or other relatives, became more common after the 1960s. Of children adopted by non-relatives, 36 percent have post-adoption contact with their birth family. Openness may play a role in the child’s ongoing well-being – perhaps an even more important role in adoptions of older children, since the child most likely had a relationship with his/her parents or other birth relatives prior to adoption. Some research findings suggest that open adoption can diminish the loss and grief that occurs from separation from birth parents.

3Sibling contact provides continuity for adopted children.

Recent federal legislation stressed the importance of continued sibling connections for children who are in or were adopted from foster care. Children adopted from foster care have often experienced a lot of instability, but staying with siblings can provide them with a sense of self-worth and safety as well as natural supports to help them transition into an adoptive home. Children placed with their siblings also experience emotional benefits, while exhibiting fewer behavior problems compared with those who are separated from siblings. While it has traditionally been challenging to find adoptive homes for larger sibling groups, it does not mean that children are not frequently adopted with siblings. Thirty percent of children with known siblings were adopted with at least one of their siblings. According to the AdoptUSKids website, which provides services and resources to families considering adopting children from foster care and to child welfare professionals, the majority (83 percent) of the families registered on their site are open to adopting more than one child.

4The number of same-sex couples with adopted children in the home is on the rise.

The share of same-sex couples with adopted children in the home nearly doubled between 2000 and 2009, from 10 to 19 percent. This increase has been attributed to more widespread acceptance of gays and lesbians, as well as to the continued need for adoptive families for children. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that children raised by gay or lesbian parents in loving and nurturing households will develop the same—emotionally, socially, and cognitively—as children with straight parents. The federal Administration for Children and Families has recently begun to emphasize the important role that gay and lesbian couples can play in providing loving, stable forever families for children in foster care. However, parenting laws differ from state to state, and continue to pose a challenge for many same-sex couples who desire to adopt. Currently 23 states, in addition to the District of Columbia, allow same-sex couples to jointly adopt (meaning couples are allowed to adopt a child together), and second-parent adoption (where a person adopts the child of his/her partner) is an option for same-sex couples in 24 states and the District of Columbia.

5Children and families benefit from post-adoption supports.

Many adoptive families, both children and parents, need support as they adjust to their new life together as a forever family. While many families that adopt children from foster care are eligible for post-adoption subsidies through a federal Adoption Incentive Program, post-adoption needs often go beyond monetary resources. Children are often dealing with feelings of grief and loss, trust and attachment issues, identify formation, and are recovering from trauma experienced prior to and in foster care. Adoptive parents also experience challenges resulting from new or different roles as parents, changes in family dynamics, as well as any special needs their children may have. A growing body of research shows links between positive outcomes and the receipt of post-adoption supports and services, such as support groups, therapy/counseling, education, camps, and social events. However, even though 17 states currently have substantial post-adoption program supports, 13 do not offer any supports beyond the subsidy, demonstrating the continued need to develop networks of post-adoption support. While we have an understanding of what the needs of adopted children and their families are, more work is needed on how best to address them.