Domestic adoption in the United States has undergone a seismic shift in the last 30 years. How long will it take for popular perceptions to catch up with the new, healthier reality?
When Katie and Jeffrey Davis set out to adopt a baby domestically, everyone close to the couple assumed they were in for an excruciatingly long wait. As it turned out, the Davises, who live in Baltimore, Maryland, were matched with a birth mother less than a month after their adoption agency started presenting their paperwork. Their daughter, now 5, was placed in their arms just seven months after they started the adoption process.
“People think that adoption takes five years, just forever and ever,” says Katie. “They were shocked that we adopted a baby in the U.S., and that the process went so smoothly.”
Domestic adoption reinvented
The Davis family’s story is not particularly unusual. While international adoption has commanded the limelight for the last two decades, domestic adoption has remained an untold story. Despite persistently negative and sensational media coverage, domestic adoption today is more transparent than ever before, and increasingly defined by healthier choices for birth families and adoptive families alike.
The fact that more than 18,000 American families successfully adopt newborn babies in the United States every year belies the widespread misperception that domestic adoption is a difficult, time-consuming, expensive, and risky process. The truth is that most families successfully adopt within two years of beginning the process. The cost of a domestic adoption varies widely, from under $10,000 to more than $40,000. According to surveys conducted annually by Adoptive Families, the median total cost of a domestic adoption is $25,000 to $35,000, which tends to be considerably less than that of a typical international adoption.
The most damaging, and most deeply entrenched, conviction – that birth parents return after relinquishing parental rights to try to reclaim the baby – virtually never comes to pass. “People watch TV and read the newspapers, and they are scared to death,” says Mark T. McDermott, an adoption attorney in Washington, D.C.
Domestic adoptions outpace international
Although fewer adoptions currently take place each year within the U.S. compared to 35 years ago, domestic adoption is far from dying out. In fact, more U.S. families adopt domestically than internationally each year.
To be sure, the number of infant placements in the U.S. has dropped in recent decades. In the mid-1970s, as many as 49,000 American infants were placed for adoption each year. In 2007, the most recent year for which accurate numbers exist, there were an estimated 18,078 domestic newborn, non-relative adoptions.
The drop in the number of newborn adoptions since the 1970s coincides with a decline in the percentage of single mothers placing children for adoption, down from nine percent in the 1970s to 1.4 percent in 2002, according to the National Survey of Family Growth. As the stigma against single parenthood has diminished over the last 35 years, so has the number of children placed for adoption.
Despite the tenacity of myths and stereotypes, domestic adoption has quietly redefined itself over a generation. Adopting parents, once resigned to a lengthy wait at their local adoption agency, now have more options and more information. Birth parents, once shamed and almost completely shut out of adoption decisions, are now involved in the process. <http://www.babycenter.com/0_independent-adoption_1373616.bc>Independent adoptions<> have increased in number and, by some accounts, now represent the majority of domestic adoptions. The Internet has made it easier for like-minded birth parents and adopting families to find one another over geographic distances.
From secrecy to transparency
While almost every aspect of adoption is different than it was in the past, it is within the family matching process that the most change has occurred. In private and agency adoptions, rather than merely being assigned a baby to adopt without any background information to share with the child as he or she grows, adopting parents now usually meet or talk with the birth family. Birth parents, by the same token, are empowered to choose which family will adopt their child. Birth families are more likely to have access to counseling and independent legal representation, and, together with the adopting family, determine the nature of contact after the adoption.
Almost everyone involved in adoption today – adopting parents, birth parents, and adoption professionals – embraces this new transparency as an antidote to the confidentiality of the past. Birth families are reassured that their child will be well cared for; adopted children have the answers to questions that arise over the years.
Today, families who’ve adopted domestically often say that any initial concern about the role of birth parents has been replaced by gratitude for the opportunity to know their child’s family of origin. They note the positive aspects of adopting domestically: the opportunity to parent a newborn, and the medical and social history they have for their child.
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