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Adoption is the legal act of permanently placing a child with a parent or parents other than the birth parents. Adoption results in the severing of the parental responsibilities and rights of the biological parents and the placing of those responsibilities and rights onto the adoptive parents. After the finalization of an adoption, there is no legal difference between biological and adopted children.

Different jurisdictions have varying laws on adoption and post-adoption. Some practice confidential or closed adoption, preventing further contact between the adopted person and the biological parents, while others have varying degrees of open adoption, which may allow such contact.


Reasons for adoption

Many children are placed for adoption as a result of the biological parents' decision that they are unable to adequately care for a child. However, in some developing countries, single parenthood is considered scandalous and unacceptable, and some women in this situation make an adoption plan for their infants. In some cases, they abandon their children at or near an orphanage, so that they can be adopted.

Some biological parents involuntarily lose their parental rights (called termination of parental rights or TPR in the United States). This usually occurs because the children were abused, neglected or abandoned and were then placed in foster care. After about 15 months, if the parents cannot resolve the problems that caused or contributed to the harm caused to their children (such as alcohol or drug abuse), a court may terminate the parental rights. The children may then be adopted.

In fiscal year 2001, 50,703 foster children were adopted in the United States, many by their foster parents or relatives of the biological parents. In the United States, the enactment of the Adoption and Safe Families Act in 1997 has approximately doubled the number of children adopted from foster care.

A small percentage of children who were adopted have been orphaned because of the death of their biological parents.

In some cases, parents' rights have been terminated when their outgroup culture has been deemed unfit by the controlling government. Aboriginal Peoples in Australia were affected by such policies, as were Native Americans in the United States and Canada. Moreover, unwed mothers in many countries still are often pressured or forced by families, churches or governments into relinquishing their children for adoption. These practices of the past have become emotionally-charged social and political issues in recent years.

People make decisions to adopt for various reasons, however the inability to produce a biological child is the most common reason. The most common obstacle to producing a biological child is infertility. Another obstacle is the lack of a partner of the opposite sex or a lack of desire to use a surrogate or sperm donor. Gay and single people often adopt for this reason.

Some couples or single individuals adopt children even though they are fertile. In general, such individuals adopt children from other countries.

Adoption agencies

Adoption agencies can range from government-funded agencies that place children at little cost, to lawyers who arrange private adoptions , to international commercial and non-profit agencies. Adoptive parents can pay from nothing to US$40,000 for an adoption. Infants are more commonly sought than toddlers or older children, and many adoptive parents seek to adopt children of the same race. However, individuals adopting children from other countries, such as in Eastern Europe, should be aware of the ethnic diversity of the culture.

International adoption is becoming more popular with a perceived lower risk of birthfamily contact post-adoption and more young healthy children available than in major domestic adoptive countries. China is the leading country for American international adoptions.

One reason international adoption has become popular is that adopting parents are fearful of birth parents in the United States changing their mind about adoption. In additon, many U.S. adoption agencies encourage open adoptions, in which some adoptive parents do not wish to participate. Few international adoptions are open adoptions.

One problem with international adoptions is that unethical people see an opportunity to make a relatively high profit, in part because the costs of living are much lower than the adoptive parents' country, There are no firm numbers on the illegal or unethical adoptions, as adoptive families are reluctant to publicise unethical adoptions, but several countries have closed following high profile trafficking and corruption cases, such as Romania and Cambodia.

Issues surrounding adoption

The number of children available for adoption inside Western nations have dropped considerably in recent years, partly because of the legalization of abortions, partly because of the increased acceptance of single parenthood, and partly because of the publicity surrounding past practices of forcing unwed mothers to relinquish their children for adoption. Even when parents voluntarily relinquish their children for adoption, the process of separation is often a traumatic one.

Because of the decline in domestic adoptions, many children are adopted from foreign countries nowadays; however, such international adoptions have issues of their own. Adoptive children become separated from the cultures of their nations of birth, and this may lead to them experiencing identity crises in later years. Some countries now require adoptive parents to keep the birth names of their adoptive children.

Another issue for prospective adoptive parents to be cognizant of is reactive attachment disorder (RAD). Many children, especially those beyond infancy in system care (e.g. foster, orphanage), domestic or foreign, develop this disorder due to the loss of the initial primary caregiver. A search on the internet for 'reactive attachment disorder' will expose much information and journals from parents dealing with RAD.


Many adopted people and biological parents who were separated by adoption have a desire to reunite. In countries which practise confidential adoption, this desire has led to efforts to open sealed records (for example, see Adoption reunion registry) and efforts to establish the right of adoptees to access their sealed records (for example, see Bastard Nation).


Adoptism is a prejudice against adoption defined by several beliefs:

  • The belief that adoption is not a legitimate way to build a family
  • The belief that birthing children is always preferable to adopting
  • The belief that adoptees are defined throughout their lives by the fact of their adoption
  • The belief that making an adoption plan is never a preferable option for birth mothers who are unable or choose not to raise their children

Positive adoption language

In most cultures, adoptive families face adoptism. Adoptism is made evident in English speaking cultures by the prominent use of negative or inaccurate language describing adoption. To combat adoptism, adoptive families encourage positive adoption language.



Reason for preference:

your own child

birth child

Saying a birth child is your own child or one of your own children implies that an adopted child is not.

child is adopted

child was adopted

Some adoptees believe that their adoption is not their identity, but is an event that happened to them. ("Adopted" becomes a participle rather than an adjective.) Others contend that "is adopted" makes adoption sound like a disability to be overcome.

give up for adoption

place for adoption or

make an adoption plan

"Give up" implies a lack of value. The preferred terms are more emotionally neutral.

real mother/father/parent

birth mother/father/parent or
biological mother/father/parent

The use of the term "real" implies that the adoptive family is artificial, and is not as descriptive.

birth mother/father/parent

natural mother/father/parent

A contrary view to the above, especially held by those in Ireland who cared for their children before being forced to relinquish them to adoption, is that the term 'birth' mother implies that they only served as a brood mare when in fact they often raised and cared for their children for up to two years.[1]

your adopted child

your child

The use of the adjective 'adopted' signals that the relationship is qualitatively different from that of parents to birth children.

See also

External links

United States


Last updated: 06-02-2005 13:05:52
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