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Adoption is the practice in which an adult assumes the role of parent for a child who is not the adult's biological offspring. The process usually involves some legal paperwork.
The ancient practice of adoption was a way of ensuring male heirs to childless couples in order to preserve family lines and religious traditions. In the 1850s the Children's Aid Society of New York City began to move dependent children out of city institutions. Between 1854 and 1904 orphan trains carried an estimated 100,000 children to families on farms in the Midwest; these children were to provide farm work in exchange for care.
Modern U.S. adoption laws are designed with the best interests of the child in mind, not the best interests of the adult who intends to adopt. Throughout most of the twentieth century, adoptions were conducted in secret, and records were often sealed to protect those involved from the social stigma of birth out of  Wedlock After World War I, the advent of commercial formula facilitated raising babies without their being fed by breast. Adults were trained in parenting, and childless couples became interested in adopting. Because of the rapidly increasing interest in infant adoptions, many state laws demanded investigations of prospective adoptive parents and court approval before the adoption could be completed.
In the early 2000s, state laws on adoption vary. Adoptions can be conducted privately between individuals, between independent agencies and individuals, and between public agencies (such as a state's child protective services) and individuals. Adoptee may be infants or older children, they may be adopted singly or as sibling groups, and they may come from the local area or from other states or countries. Adoptive parents may be married couples, single men or women, or nontraditional couples. Adoptive parents may be childless or have other children.
Types of Adoptions
1. PUBLIC ADOPTIONS. In 2000 and 2001, about 127,000 children were adopted annually in the United states. Since 1987, the number of adoptions annually has remained relatively constant, ranging from 118,000 to 127,000. Adoptions through publicly funded child welfare agencies accounts for about 40 percent of all adoptions. More than 50,000 public agency adoptions in each year (2000 and 2001) accounted for 40 percent of adoptions, up from 18 percent in 1992 for 36 states that reported public agency adoptions in that year.
2. PRIVATE ADOPTIONS. In a private adoption, children are placed in non-relative homes through a non-profit agency licensed by the state in which it operates. In an independent or non-agency adoption, children are placed in non-relative homes directly by the birthparents or through the services of a licensed or unlicensed facilitator, certified medical doctor, member of the clergy, or attorney.
Informal adoptions occur when a relative or stepparent assumes permanent parental responsibilities without court involvement. However, legally recognized adoptions need a court or other government agency to award permanent custody of a child to adoptive parents.
The U.S. Census is the principal source of data on adopted children and their families on a national level. The report for 2000 presents information on 2.1 million adopted children and 4.4 million stepchildren of householders, as estimated from the census sample, which collected from approximately one out of every six households. Together, these children represented approximately 8 percent of the 84 million sons and daughters of householders. In 2000 there were more than twice as many stepchildren as adopted children in U.S. households, with stepchildren representing 5 percent of children in the household. While these data are non-specific, it is safe to say that a significant number of the stepchildren were neither kinship nor stepparent adoptions. Since almost all adoptions by related applicants are independent, it is likely that most independent adoptions were by relatives.
3. TRANSRACIAL. In transracial adoptions, children are placed with an adoptive family of another race. These adoptions may be through public and private agencies or be independent, but most transracial adoptions take place through the public child welfare system. The civil rights movement of the 1960s led to an increase in Tran racial adoptions involving black children and white parents. This practice peaked in 1971, and one year later the National Association of Black Social Workers issued a statement opposing Tran racial adoption. The association argued that white families were unable to foster the growth of psychological and cultural identity in black children.
An estimated 15 percent of the 36,000 adoptions of foster children in 1998 were Tran racial or Tran cultural adoptions. Many Americans continue to be troubled by these adoptions. The National Association of Black Social Workers called them a form of cultural genocide. That point aside, there are in fact not enough African American adults willing to adopt to fill the need of African American children in need of adoption.
4. INTRANATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL. In response to a shortage of healthy, Caucasian infants, prospective adoptive white parents started adopting children from Japan and Europe. In 2003, approximately 21,616 children were adopted through international adoption. International adoptions accounted for more than 15 percent of all U.S. adoptions, an increase from 5 percent between 1992 and 2001. This practice showed a dramatic increase between the mid-1990s and the early 2000s.
Though U.S. citizens adopted children from 106 different countries in 2001, nearly three-fourth of all children came from only five countries: China (25%), Russia (22%), South Korea (10%), Guatemala (8%), and Ukraine (6%). The Chinese government's population control policy, which penalizes families who have more than one child, and the greater value placed on male heirs in Chinese culture have led many families to abandon female Chinese infants. These babies constituted a bountiful source of adoption candidates for American families. In 2003, U.S. interest in adopting from Kazakhstan also grew as many U.S. families reported a fast, smooth adoption experience there. Americans adopt children from Peru, Colombia, El Salvador, Mexico, and the Philippines. Some adoptions come from Vietnam. Adoption from India, however, is difficult for non-Indian parents. In 2002, Cambodia and Romania stopped international adoptions.
5. SINGLE PARENT. According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, 33 percent of adoptions from foster care are by single parents. Most of these single parents are women. Single women are more likely to adopt an older child than an infant. Single men adopted some children, and unmarried couples adopted some children in the same period. As one-parent households increase in number and become more acceptable, adoptions in these households also become more common. More than one half of African-American children, nearly one third of Hispanic children, and one fifth of Caucasian children live with a single parent because of divorce and unmarried mothers. This prevalence gives adoption agencies a more open-minded approach toward single parent adoptions. Also, the issue of personal finances and single income families has become less important since adoption subsidies are available nationwide.
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