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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. However, an underreported fact is that open adoptions are not legally enforceable agreements in many jurisdictions[1]. I.e., an open adoption may be closed at any time for any reason.

Reasons for adoption

Adoptions occur for many reasons. Many children are placed for adoption as a result of the biological parents' decision that they are unable to adequately care for a child. In some countries, where single motherhood may be considered scandalous and unacceptable, 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. In some cases and some cultures, a parent or parents prefer one gender over another and place any baby who is not the preferred gender for adoption.

Some biological parents involuntarily lose their parental rights. This usually occurs when the children are placed in foster care because they were abused, neglected or abandoned. Eventually, 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 their parental rights and the children may then be adopted.

Only a small percentage of adopted children are those orphaned because of the death of their biological parents.

In some cases, parents' rights have been terminated when their ethnic or cultural group 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, religious bodies or governments into relinquishing their children for adoption. These practices of the past have become emotionally-charged social and political issues in recent years.

The main reason for adopting varies from one country to the next, depending largely on social and legal structures. The inability to reproduce biologically is a common reason. The most prevalent 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. Single people and same-sex couples often adopt for this reason. In many Western countries, step-parent adoption is the most common form of adoption as people choose to cement a new family following divorce or death of one parent.

Some couples or individuals adopt children even though they are fertile. Some may choose to do this in order to avoid contributing to perceived overpopulation, or out of the belief that it is more responsible to care for otherwise parent-less children than to reproduce. Others may do so to avoid passing on inheritable diseases (e.g., Tay-Sachs disease), or out of health concerns relating to pregnancy and childbirth. Others believe that it is an equally valid form of family building, neither better than nor worse than biology.

Applying to adopt

National Adoption Week is used in the United Kingdom to encourage new adopters to come forward

Methods of becoming an adoptive parent also vary from one country to another, and sometimes within a country, depending on region. Many jurisdictions have varying eligibility criteria, and may specify such things as minimum and maximum age limits, whether a single person or only a couple can apply, or whether it is possible or not for a same sex couple to apply.

In some countries, applications must be made to a state agency or agencies responsible for adoption. There may also be private, licensed adoption agencies, who may operate either on a commercial or non-profit basis. Agencies may operate only domestically, or may offer international adoptions, or may facilitate both. Some jurisdictions allow lawyers to arrange private adoptions, and some allow private facilitators to operate.

On applying to adopt, the potential adoptive parent(s) will generally be assessed for suitability. This can take the form of a home study, interviews, and financial, medical and criminal record checks. In some jurisdictions, such studies must be carried out by an independent or state authority, while in others, they can be carried out by the adoption agency itself. A pre-adoption course may also be required.

Infants are more commonly sought than toddlers or older children, and many adoptive parents seek to adopt children of the same race. As a result, governments, as well as agencies, actively seek families who are interested in adopting older children and children with special needs.

Adoption by homosexual couples

Certain jurisdictions prohibit non-heterosexuals from adopting children, or have a policy of providing heterosexual adopters with adoptees before non-hetero applications are considered.

The issue of homosexual adoptions is tied in with the debate on homosexuality. Preference to heterosexual couples may be done in the belief that heterosexuals who adopt generally have fertility problems and must be given preference on medical grounds. Opponents say this system is untenable in a truly permissive, free society.

Adoption from same-sex civil unions or marriages are allowed in Australia (regions: Western Australia, Tasmania, ACT), England, Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Canada, the Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, Spain and in the USA (regions: Massachusetts, New Mexico, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, District of Columbia, Vermont, Washingtion and Wisconsin). Only Stepchild adoptions from same-sex couples are allowed in Denmark, Iceland,Norway, France and Germany.

Ireland (which does not recognize same-sex unions) does not allow joint applications to adopt from same-sex couples, but does permit applications from one of the partners.

Cost of adoption

Adoption costs & assistance vary between countries. In many countries, it is illegal to charge for an adoption, while in others, adoptions must be facilitated on a non-profit basis. On the other hand many adoption programmes will give financial assistance to adopters, especially with their expenses. Some jurisdictions offer tax credits to offset the cost of adoption.

Where there are charges for adoption there is often controversy, even in the case of non-profit agencies. Regulations may also specify to whom payments may or may not be made, e.g., in some jurisdictions, no money may be paid to a birth mother above her medical expenses.

International adoptions tend to be more expensive and often incur additional costs, as the adoptive parent(s) may be required to travel to the source country. Translation fees will also apply to legal documents.

Adoption numbers

This is a list of adoptions recorded (alphabetical, by country) in recent years.

Country Adoptions Notes
Australia 443 (2003-2004) [2] Includes known relative adoptions
Ireland 263 (2003) [3] 92 non-family adoptions; 171 family adoptions (e.g. step-parent). 459 international adoptions were also recorded.
Norway 791 (2004) [4] 124 of these were national adoptions, including step-child adoptions. The rest were international adoptions, mainly from China (269), South Korea (93) and Colombia (86).
United Kingdom 3,800 (England) (2005) [5] Children adopted from care only
United States approx 127,000 (2001) [6]
Iceland between 20-35 year [7]

Issues surrounding adoption

The number of children available for adoption inside Western nations has dropped considerably in recent years, partly because of the legalization of abortions, and partly because of the increased acceptance of single parenthood.

Preserving an adopted child's heritage has become a central issue in adoption over the last fifteen years. It is often assumed that adopting babies at a very young age (1-2 months) bears no emotional consequences for the child. In the past, many adoption professionals believed that because most people have no recollection of their own birth, an adopted baby would not have a childhood any different from that which he would have had if he had been raised by his biological parents. However, while some adoptees do not feel that adoption has raised any special problems or difficulties for them, others report that adoption has posed certain challenges.

Some adoptees report that that they were made to feel - consciously or not - as if they should forever 'be grateful' to have been 'chosen'. Even the best adoptive parents sometimes act as if their adopted children should be like loyal and grateful pets, rather than ordinary unruly children. Punishments given to misbehaving adopted children can be notoriously harsh, and while natural parents may hate the thought of giving out punishments, adopted parents may punish solely on the perceived ingratitude of their adopted children.

Others report that they were told they were "special," but soon came to realize that most people are not motivated to adopt by any perception that adopted children are preferable to biological children. Still others report being told that "your mother gave you to us because she loved you", but soon became aware that in closed adoptions, the adoptive parents and the legal system may both assume that the birth parents no longer wish to see the child. This leads some adopted people to wonder whether their natural parents ever loved them, or whether their adoptive parents can be trusted to tell the truth.

This kind of ambiguity in adoption, along with the strongly emotionally charged nature of the subject, can make it difficult for adoptees to feel free to discuss their own issues honestly, for fear of being ungrateful, hurting their adoptive parents' feelings, raising subjects they sense are taboo (such as the adoptive parents' true reasons for adopting, especially if this involves infertility) or incurring rejection.

In cases of illness or other distress that may result in death over the course of a long chain of events, the parents of naturally born children tend to vociferously defend and protect even to (and beyond) the point that their own deaths. In essence, parents of naturally born children will go to great lengths to secure the well-being of their chidren.

In contrast, parents of adopted children may show very little interest in their children's well-being, especially after the age of 18, and especially if intervention would inconvenience the adoptive parents. Additionally, parental neglect, carelessness, and abuse is dramatically higher for adopted children as well. As such, adopted children are much more likely to die prematurely, on the whole, than naturally born children, with adopted children (and other children living with a non-relative) being about 50 times more likely to die from abuse alone. [8] ("Risk of maltreatment death also was elevated for children residing with step, foster, or adoptive parents" - Pediatrics; Apr2002, Vol. 109 Issue 4, p615, 7p, 1bw - Google Answers: Research on Child Abuse of Adopted Children [9])

Recent work on openness in adoption has attempted to address these issues. Researchers such as Joyce Maguire Pavao and others have advised all three sides of the adoption triad (birthparents, adoptive parents, and adoptees) on how to establish healthy relationships, and make it easier for adopted people to discuss their feelings and maintain meaningful contact with both genetic and adoptive families. These efforts are relatively recent, and full openness, while on the upswing, is still not the norm in adoption.

International adoptees face additional challenges. It has been argued that children adopted through international adoptions are best served when adoptive families commit to integrating the child's birth nation cultures, traditions, stories, languages and relationships. Some countries now require adoptive parents to keep the birth names of their adoptive children, and many adoptive parents choose to do this as it makes sense in helping their child develop a strong sense of self. This can be very difficult to do in a meaningful way, especially for adoptive families who are not themselves experienced cross-culturally.

Another issue for prospective adoptive parents to be aware 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 early trauma of loss, and/or lack of a primary caregiver.

For all adopted people in adoptions where information about the family of origin is withheld, secrecy may disrupt the process of forming an identity. Family concerns regarding genealogy can be a source of confusion [10].

Adoption is problematic for some birthparents. When a parent chooses to place the child with adoptive parents, the process of separation can be difficult for all parties. Those emotional difficulties may carry on for many years past the date of the adoption, with families of origin missing and longing for the children they have placed.

Adoption may also pose lifelong difficulties for adoptive parents. Charting a course among the various schools of thought about openness, maintaining a child's connection to his or her family of origin, answering a child's difficult questions, and helping a child deal with birthparents who may not maintain regular contact are all issues that adoptive families may struggle with. For anyone involved in adoption--birthparent, adoptive parent or adoptee--there are no hard and fast rules about how to build appropriate relationships that are in the child's best interest.

Adoption in the schools

Adoption rights organizations have long focused on issues such as the adoptee’s right to access his or her birth information, including names of birth parents and birth family medical information. They also focus on improving classroom sensitivity to adoption issues. Familiar lessons like "draw your family tree" or "trace your eye color back through your parents and grandparents to see where your genes come from" can be hurtful to children who were adopted and do not know this biological information. New lesson plans can be substituted easily, that focus on "family orchards" or steer away from personal medical histories. Discussions about these sensitive topics, advocates argue, are the same as those we’ve conducted around issues of disability, race, and gender, and foster respect for differences in the same way as these earlier national conversations.

Adoption in the media

Adoption experts complain that too much of the media coverage of adoption goes to one extreme or the other. Much of the coverage of adoption presents stories of failed adoptions and troubled children, adoption scandals, even "baby buying"; on the other side are saccharine stories of “perfect” children and families. Only a very few programs have treated the subject in a serious way and in its full breadth. Even when stories are balanced, ignorance about adoption leads to negative presentations including the widespread representation of children in foster care as being so troubled that it would be impossible to adopt them and create “normal” families. The result is that many children who would thrive in a loving family instead wait years in foster care, and even “age out” of the system at 18 without a family. A 2004 report from the Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care has shown that the number of children waiting in foster care doubled since the 1980s and now remains steady at about a half-million a year."[11]

Adoption in the wake of disasters

While adoption is often the best way to provide stable, loving families for children in need, adoption in the immediate aftermath of trauma or upheaval may not be the best option. Disasters like hurricanes, tsunamis, and wars teach us the importance of knowledge about adoption. In these situations there is often an outpouring of offers to adoption agencies from adults who want to give homes to the children left in need. However, new research suggests that once we understand the needs of children and families we look at adoption in the wake of disaster differently. Traumatized children need time to adjust, in the most familiar environments available, before they should be placed. Moving them too quickly into new adoptive homes among strangers may be a mistake: with time, it may turn out that the parents have survived but simply been unable to find the children, or there may be a relative or neighbor who can offer shelter and homes. Safety and emotional support may be better provided in those situations than relocation to a new adoptive family.

Adoption reform

Two important influences on the reform of voluntary infant adoption have been Nancy Verrier and Florence Fischer. [12]. Verrier describes the "primal wound" as the "devastation which the infant feels because of separation from its natural mother. It is the deep and consequential feeling of abandonment which the baby adoptee feels after the adoption and which continues for the rest of his life. [13]"

In some cases, however, the separation of the parent/child bond is necessary to protect the child. For children who have been neglected or abused, adoption is often necessary to ensure stability and the opportunity to bond with a new family in an emotionally healthy way. Where, in the past, neglected or abused children were often kept in foster care for many years while birthparents attempted to resolve issues of addiction, domestic violence, or mental illness, new theories of social work now encourage government agencies to move quickly to free such children for adoption and to find them new, permanent homes. This new philosophy is enshrined in the United States in the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997, a law aimed at preventing foster care drift. By keeping children from bouncing from foster home to foster home, state agencies now hope to preserve children's abilities to trust and attach, and hence to maintain and improve their mental health.


Many adopted people and natural parents who were separated by adoption have a desire to reunite. In countries which practice confidential adoption, this desire has led to efforts to open sealed records. In the United States, for example, there are organisations such as the Adoption reunion registry and Bastard Nation, which seeks to establish the right of adoptees to access their sealed records.


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 making an adoption plan is never a preferable option for birth mothers who are unable or choose not to raise their children library definition of Adoptism: [14]

Language of adoption

The language used in adoption is changing and evolving, and has become something of a controversial issue. Two distinct styles of language have arisen, commonly known as "Positive Adoption Language"[15] and "Honest Adoption Language."[16] The controversy arises over the use of terms which, while designed to be more appealing or less offensive to one "side" of the adoption triad of adopted person, birth/bioligical/first/natural parent, and adoptive parent, may simultaneously cause offense or insult to one of the other sides. See also: euphemism and political correctness

Positive Adoptive Language (PAL) The reasons for its use: In many 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, many adoptive families encourage positive adoption language. The reasons against its use: Many birth parents see "positive adoption language" as language which glosses over painful facts they face as they go into the indefinite post-adoption period of their lives. Some birth parents feel PAL has become a way to present adoption in the friendliest light possible, in order to obtain even more infants for adoption; ie, a marketing tool. These people refer to PAL as "Adoption Friendly Language" or AFL.

Honest Adoption Language (HAL) The reasons for its use: Some natural parents prefer that we use "Honest Adoption Language" (HAL), as they believe these terms more accurately reflect the hidden and/or ignored realities of adoption as it applies to them. The reasons against its use: The term "Honest" implies that all other language used in adoption is dishonest.

Terms used in Positive Adoption Language:



Reasons stated 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 an ongoing disability, rather than a past event.

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, biological or genetic

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

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.

Terms used in Honest Adoption Language:

Common Term:

Honest Term:

Reasons stated for preference:

birth mother

original, or natural mother or parent OR mother OR parent.

The term "birth" mother limits a woman's role in her child's life to the birth, casting her in the role of incubator or breeder. With reunion now an everyday event women are finding themselves involved in the lives of their children in many ways,on a spectrum that runs from casual contact through friendship all the way to reintegrating their children into their original families. A powerful view, 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.[17] The "b" word is a dehumanizing term. It also implies that the relationship between mother and child has been severed permanently, which is no longer a given, especially since the advent of open adoption.

give up for adoption

surrender for adoption

"Give up" implies a lack of value, whereas the truth is that most women wish to raise their own child. HAL acknowledges that past adoption practice facilitated the taking of children for adoption, often against their mother's expressed wishes. Many women who have gone through the process and who lost children to adoption believe that social work techniques used to prepare single mothers to sign Termination Of Parental Rights papers closely resembles a psychological war against motherhood as nature has mandated it; hence the term "surrender." [18] HAL agrees that "Make a plan" and "Place" are more emotionally neutral, but fundamentally dishonest terms which marginalize or deny the wrenching emotional event of separation on the mother/child dyad.

real mother/father/parent


Possible modifiers for the parental role include: real, legal, adoptive, first, original, natural. No modifiers are needed for the individual who gives birth; this person has been referred to as "mother" since time immemorial.

adopted child

adopted person or person who was adopted

The use of the adjective 'adopted' signals that the relationship is qualitatively different from that of parents to birth children. The use of the word "child" is accurate up until the end of childhood. After that the continued use of the word "child" is infantilizing.

Variations in adoption

Adoption need not always entail assuming the title of "mother" and/or "father" to an orphaned child. Traditionally in Arab cultures if a child is adopted he or she does not become a “son” or “daughter,” but rather a ward of the adopting caretaker(s). The child’s family name is not changed to that of the adopting parent(s) and his or her “guardians” are publicly known as such. Legally, this is close to other nations' foster caring but often with closer parental feelings.

In Korean culture, adoption almost always occurs when another family member (sibling or cousin) gives a male child to the first-born male heir of the family. Adoptions outside the family are rare. This is also true to varying degrees in other Asian societies.

On the other hand, in many African cultures, children are regularly exchanged among families for the purpose of adoption. By placing a child in another family's home, the birth family seeks to create enduring ties with the family that is now rearing the child. The placing family may receive another child from that family, or from another. Like the reciprocal transfer of brides from one family to another, these adoptive placements are meant to create enduring connections and social solidarity among families and lineages.

See also

External links





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