Adoption works. It increases the emotional, physical, and cognitive capacities of the children who are adopted. It improves the life chances of the biological mother. It saves vast amounts of money for the public. It brings much happiness, both to the adopting parents and to the adopted child. It is good for all involved.
The welfare reform debate offers one of the best chances to promote adoption. Sharply rising out-of-wedlock births add steadily to the long-range costs of welfare, because being born out of wedlock significantly increases the chances of ending up on welfare. At the same time, up to two million couples waiting to adopt frequently find themselves hamstrung by government agencies and government practices.
Over the past 25 years there has been a dramatic increase in the numbers of children born out of wedlock, children being raised by single parents, families on welfare, and children entering the foster care system because of abuse and neglect. Family disintegration is widespread. There also has been a sharp decrease in the number of children being adopted, with formal adoptions dropping by almost 50 percent: from 89,000 in 1970 to a fairly constant 50,000 annually throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s.1)
According to Christine Bachrach, former Director of the Demographic and Behavioral Sciences Branch of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), adoption has declined since the early 1970s primarily because of a drop in the proportion of white mothers who place their babies for adoption. Birth mothers who have continued to place their babies for adoption are more likely to have well-educated mothers, are still at school, have never worked, and are older. Also, they are more likely to place daughters for adoption than sons.
The National Council for Adoption estimates that of the 50,000 children adopted annually, 25,000 are healthy children under age two, 10,000 are healthy children over age two, and 15,000 are children with “special needs” (the social work term of art for children considered difficult to place because of their age, physical or mental condition, race or ethnicity, or need to be placed with siblings).4) About one-third of these adoptions are arranged by government-funded and government-managed public agencies, some by contract with private agencies. Another one-third are arranged by private, mostly nonprofit agencies, and the rest are contracted outside of agency auspices, mostly through lawyers in private practice. International adoptions accounted for an additional 8,000 adoptions during 1994.
Adoption fell out of favor among social workers during the 1970s, even as single parenthood and abortion became more widespread. Advocates of government-sponsored social programs argued that increases in welfare would make it possible for unmarried mothers to rear children without the assistance of a father.5) According to U.S. Census Bureau, “out of around 12 million single parent families in 2014, above 80% of them were headed by single mothers. Today 1 in 4 children under the age of 18 — a total of about 17.4 million — are being raised without a father, and 45% of them live below the poverty line.”6) In 2013, four in ten births were to unmarried women, at a rate of 41 percent. This rate has not changed for six consecutive years.7) Yet, as is evident from the high foster care numbers8) and from the chronic problems associated with the absence of fathers, such as crime, poor school performance, poor health status, and low income,9) that view has turned out to be a tragic mistake. By contrast, children adopted by two parents are doing as well as their peers raised in their own intact families.10)
Approximately 40 percent (39.9%) of child victims were maltreated by their mothers acting alone; another 17.6 percent were maltreated by their fathers acting alone; and 17.8 percent were abused by both parents.18) There is insufficient data to adequately track the number of infants abandoned by their drug-addicted mothers over the years. According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), 12,000 infants were abandoned in 1991.19) In response to this crisis, there has been a proliferation of “boarder baby”20) homes to care for these children until their parents can be located and rehabilitated. A 1993 General Accounting Office report showed that 10,000 infants were being boarded in hospitals for no medical reason. Less than 40 percent of the boarder babies – and none of the abandoned babies – were expected to leave in the care of their parents.
The average total cost of caring for these babies in hospital after their medical treatment is almost $13,000.21) Nonetheless, only 2.5 percent of the boarder babies and 6 percent of the abandoned infants were expected to go into adoptive placements.22) The vast majority of these children will spend years in and out of the foster care system while the biological mother attempts to get her life together.23)
Federal efforts to deal with this have been small and swamped by the size of the problem.24) When Representative Harris Fawell (R-IL) introduced the At-Birth Abandoned Infants Act (H.R. 2936) in 1994 to help move abandoned babies out of the system and into permanent adoptive homes, the child welfare establishment lobbied against it, arguing that creating a two-tiered system – a fast track for new-born abandoned babies and a slower, less responsive one for older children – was unfair.25) The bill was not enacted.