Social and Psychological Issues Related to Adoption
Types of Adoptions
Adoptions by Relatives or Stepparents
Adoptions by relatives, such as aunts, uncles, brothers, or sisters are generally easier to arrange than adoptions by people who are not biologically related to the child. Many children already live with the relatives who seek to adopt them. Social service agencies usually perform background checks, such as screening the adoptive parent for a history of criminal behavior or child abuse. However, background checks of relatives seeking to adopt are generally less extensive than the checks required of adoptive parents who are not related to the child.
In a stepparent adoption, the spouse of a biological parent adopts the child. Stepparents often adopt the children of their spouse to establish a closer relationship with the children and to become their legal guardian. Adoption by stepparents is the most common form of adoption. Because a biological parent of the child lives in the household, this type of adoption is usually the simplest to arrange. Background investigations are often waived. Because the law recognizes only two parents for each child, the parental rights of the biological parent who does not live with the child must be terminated. Usually, the biological parent who does not have custody of the child consents to the adoption.
Agency and Private-Placement Adoptions
Adoptions by people who are not related to the child are more complicated. In the United States, people may seek to adopt through an agency or arrange an independent, or private-placement, adoption. In an agency adoption, the people who wish to adopt a child contact a state agency or a state-licensed agency and make their intentions known. The agency will then conduct a home study, a detailed investigation into the background of the applicants. In addition to screening for a history of child abuse or criminal activity, investigators usually examine the applicants’ personal relationships, social attitudes, medical records, and financial status. If the applicants are approved, the agency will then seek to locate a child available for adoption.
In an independent, or private-placement, adoption, locating a child is the responsibility of the person or persons seeking to adopt. A home study must be conducted by the appropriate state agency, a state-licensed adoption agency, or a state-licensed social worker authorized to conduct home studies. Some states do not allow independent adoptions. People who choose to adopt independently usually do so because agencies have no children available for adoption at a particular time or require long waiting periods. Many people seeking to adopt independently locate an available child by making contacts with others involved in the adoption process and exchanging information. Others locate children through advertising. Some people seeking to adopt install an unlisted toll-free telephone number in their home and place newspaper advertisements throughout the country.
Intermediaries and Materially Assisting Persons
An intermediary is generally a person who helps people wishing to adopt by locating parents who wish to make an adoption plan for their child. Some states prohibit the use of intermediaries, whether paid or unpaid. Other states do not allow the use of paid intermediaries. Some states have laws regarding who may serve as an intermediary.
Once a suitable child has been located, a person materially assisting in an adoption helps prospective parents through the adoption process. Most people seeking to adopt independently will retain an attorney specializing in adoption to advise and assist in the process. Some states limit the activities an attorney or other materially assisting person can perform. People who live in states with restrictive laws can adopt in another state with more liberal laws.
Open and Closed Adoptions
Adoptions may be open or closed. An open adoption involves some exchange of personal information. At the very least, one party will furnish information relevant to the child’s future well-being, such as medical history or financial status. In some cases, the biological parents may maintain personal contact with the child after the adoption. The adoptive and biological parents generally negotiate these issues before the child is adopted and, in many cases, months before the child is born. The desires of the biological parents usually determine the outcome of such negotiations. The biological parents may refuse to proceed with the adoption if the adoptive parents do not agree to go along with their wishes. State laws concerning the enforceability of such agreements vary.
In a closed adoption, the biological parents and adoptive parents do not exchange information or have any personal contact. Only a few states require a direct exchange of information between birth parents and adoptive parents. However, all states have laws establishing whether court files regarding adoptions are to be open or closed. If the files are open, state laws regulate who has access to them and when they may be examined. Some state agencies have additional policies regarding these issues.
Social and Psychological Issues Related to Adoption
Psychological Stress and Adoption Support Groups
People who find that they cannot give birth to children often grieve for the biological children they might have had. Once the grieving process is over, many people who desire to become parents seek to adopt. The adoption process itself can be emotionally draining. During this stressful period people often seek emotional support from professional counselors or adoptive parent support groups. These groups, made up of adoptive parents and people currently engaged in the adoption process, often provide invaluable assistance and information to their members. Many people trying to adopt feel isolated, and participating in an adoption support group provides them with a sympathetic community of people who understand their feelings. Many groups provide information about parenting for people who have adopted children. Some support groups also provide a community setting where adopted children can interact with other adopted children. Support groups for adoptive parents exist throughout the United States. They can be located through the Internet, local libraries, adoption agencies, or attorneys specializing in adoption.
Telling Adopted Children About Their Adoption
Adoptive parents must decide if and when to tell their children about their adoption. In the past, parents often kept information related to the adoption from the child until he or she became an adult. Some parents never told their adopted children about their adoption. Most adoptive parents withheld this information to protect their children from the trauma of discovering that they were not biologically related to other family members. When such children discovered that they were adopted, the bond of trust between parent and child often suffered. Sometimes family relationships deteriorated as a result.
Today most parents tell children about their adoption at the earliest possible age. Children accept and absorb the fact of their adoption in different ways at different stages of their development. Knowing the story behind their adoption allows children to gradually come to terms with their past, rather than having to deal with psychological issues related to adoption later in life.
Searching for Biological Parents
The attitude of most adoptive parents to their children’s desire to search for their birth parents has changed as well. In the past, adoptive parents often viewed their child’s desire to search for his or her biological parents as a rejection of themselves and their family unit. Unwilling to upset their adoptive parents, many adopted people searched for their birth parents in secret or waited until their adoptive parents died before beginning their search. Many adopted people feel that they must find the answers to certain questions about their origins before they can go forward with their lives. Today many adoptive parents support their adult child’s search for his or her biological parents. Some states have developed adoption registries through which adult adopted individuals and birth parents can locate each other. Some states require registration, while others simply encourage voluntary participation in their registry programs.