The Birds and the Bees

Explaining where babies come from can be a daunting task for a parent. Reluctant to get into the actual details, the nervous mom or dad often conveys a story about storks bringing babies or babies being plucked from a cabbage patch. Unlike young children, prospective adoptive parents need honest answers, not myths or misinformation, about where babies come from (especially in cases of adoption). Having this information provides a more realistic view of the adoption process and better prepares a child to learn about their adoption journey. So, where do adopted babies come from? Let’s have the talk. What are the birds and the bees of adoption?

Foreign Countries

One answer to the question, “Where do babies come from” is simply, “not from here.” Other countries are one source for adoption by American parents. According to the Population Reference Bureau, American families adopt more children from abroad than parents from any other country. At times, the number of intercountry adoptions has swelled to over a quarter of the adoptions each year for U.S. citizens.

Why would Americans look outside their country’s borders to find children to adopt? One big reason for this strategy is the sudden dip of adoptable children here in the U.S. Several factors have contributed to this decline in numbers; these include the availability of legal abortions, the decrease in the teen birth rate, increased access to contraception, and the decreased social stigma of single parenting.

Which countries do these hopeful American parents-to-be look to adopt? The answer has shifted over time, but in Fiscal Year 2019, the top countries from which U.S. citizens adopted children were China, Ukraine, Colombia, India, and South Korea. The Democratic Republic of Congo has also become a common go-to for hopeful adoptive parents interested in international adoption.

Historically, China has been the most popular foreign country as a source of children for adoption. NBC News reports that Americans adopted more than 60,000 children from China between 1995 and 2005. The peak year was 2005 when 7,903 Chinese children were adopted by American parents.

Adoptions from foreign countries have occurred for decades. South Korea has the longest history of international adoptions. Korean children were first adopted internationally through Holt International in 1955, not too long after the end of the Korean War. Intercountry adoptions out of China commenced several decades later beginning in 1992.

Unfortunately, international adoptions have also been declining. An annual count of children adopted internationally is completed by both the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the United States Department of State. The figures they have compiled establish a downward trend.

Since 2005, the number of children being adopted from other countries has decreased by a staggering 72 percent. This decrease can be attributed to certain countries such as Ethiopia and Guatemala which have banned international adoptions. Adoptions out of Guatemala ceased at the beginning of January 2008; Ethiopian adoptions were closed in early January 2018. Other countries, such as China, have made adopting their children more difficult by imposing more restrictive requirements. A growing feeling that it is not good for a child to be raised outside his or her country of origin has also contributed to the declining number of foreign adoptions.

It is becoming less common to adopt a healthy child from abroad. This has also fueled the drop in foreign adoptions. According to No Hands But Ours, 90 percent of children being abandoned in China have medical needs. With the easing of China’s one-child policy, healthy infants, particularly girls, are now more likely to be parented by their biological family.

How steep has the decline in intercountry adoptions been? Numbers tell the tale. In 2004, for example, 22,989 children were adopted from abroad. Three years later in 2007, the number had dipped to 19,942 intercountry adoptions by U.S. citizens. The continuing decline in numbers is evidenced by the figures recorded in succeeding years. A mere three years later, in 2010, the total number of intercountry adoptions had plummeted to 11,058. And the numbers went down from there in subsequent years—9,319 in 2011; 8,668 in 2012; 7,092 in 2013; 4,059 in 2018; and down to 2,971 in 2019.

Adoptions from China mirror this overall drop in international adoptions. From a peak number of adoptions in 2005 of 7,903, the recorded adoptions from that country have tumbled. In 2016, the adoptions had fallen to 2,231 and even further to 1,905 in 2017.

Unfortunately, the decrease in intercountry adoptions is not due to a smaller number of children in need of a forever home. At the same time as the number of adoptions from foreign countries has declined, as noted by Dr. Jo Jones in “Adoption By The Numbers,” the number of orphaned, abandoned, and relinquished children worldwide has increased by millions. Thus, foreign countries remain a source of children in need of adoption.

From Foster Care

Hopeful adoptive parents here in the United States do not have to look outside this country’s borders to find children in need of a forever home. Thousands of children languish in foster care hoping for a permanent family situation. In 2018, those children numbered 437,000. States hit by the opioid crisis have seen the most dramatic rises in the foster care population.

Just what is foster care? Foster care is a state system set up to care for minors whose parents have been found by the court to be unable to properly care for them. Abuse or neglect are two of the most common reasons why a child may be removed from a biological parent and placed in foster care. The gist of removal is that it is not safe for the child to remain with the biological parent.

Upon removal from a parent, a child is placed in a state-approved location such as a licensed foster home or with a relative. This placement is meant to be short-term and temporary with the goal being to reunify the minor child with his family. If the biological parent is unable to remedy the deficiencies which led to his child’s removal, termination of the parent’s rights would occur. The child would then be available for adoption.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services annually counts the number of children adopted out of foster care. In 2018, a staggering 63,000 foster kids were adopted: an all-time high. In fact, 25 percent of children who left foster care in 2018 were adopted.

Why are a record number of children being adopted from foster care? PEW’s explanation is twofold. First, state efforts to promote adoptions from the foster care system are paying off. Second, the toll of the opioid crises is being seen. When drug-addicted parents overdose and die or fail to work a plan for reunification because of their addiction, the child becomes available for adoption.

Some prospective adoptive parents dismiss adoption from foster care as a viable option. Two concerns drive that outcome. Children in the foster system come with baggage. That baggage may take the form of health issues as the result of the parent’s abuse or neglect which led to the child’s admittance into the foster care system. Perhaps the birth mother used illegal drugs while pregnant resulting in health issues for her child. Neglect by the parent may have caused emotional issues in the child. Prospective adoptive couples may not feel comfortable or equipped to deal with these situations.

A second reason a child from foster care may not be desired is due to age. Research has confirmed that most prospective adoptive parents desire to adopt a baby or a toddler. Children in the foster system can remain there until they age out at 18. Taking in an older child or a teenager may seem too challenging for someone seeking to adopt. Nevertheless, relatively young children are available for adoption from foster care. As iFoster reports, the median age of a child in foster care is 6 ½.

A big positive of foster care adoption is the cost. While international adoptions and domestic adoptions from agencies or attorneys may soar into the multi-thousands, adoption out of foster care can sometimes be free or at a very reduced price. Adoption subsidies may also be available for qualifying children.

From Family Members

Whether related by blood or marriage, family members can be a source of adoption. In the United States, most adoptions involve a child being adopted by a relative; this is called a kinship adoption. These children may also be adopted by a person married to a birth parent; this is called a stepparent adoption. When a birth parent is not, for whatever reason, able to parent, having a relative step up to the plate to raise a child is often an attractive option.

Relative adoptions are on the rise. An estimated 7.8 million minors in the United States are being raised by kin rather than by birth parents. A birth parent’s drug abuse, mental health issues, or incarceration may give rise to a situation where a relative must fulfill a parenting role.

The most common type of kinship adoption is a grandparent adoption. Of those 7.8 million American minors being parented by kin, 2.6 million of those family members are grandparents.. These, of course, are not situations where the grandparent had been seeking to adopt; the adoption results from a son or daughter’s dysfunction leading to their inability to parent.

Nevertheless, a win-win situation may present itself when a minor relative needs a permanent home. A prospective adoptive couple may be unable to have children and learns of a relative needing a parent to raise him or her. The birth parent may be comforted in knowing that his or her child will remain in the family despite an inability to parent. Given this dynamic, prospective adoptive couples should make sure to communicate to relatives a desire to parent, their inability to do so, and their openness to adoption.

From Non-Relatives

If children are not adopted from a foreign country, from a relative, or placed in the foster care system, where can they be found? Another category of children to be adopted are those located in the United States who are not related to the prospective adoptive parent.

The 2007 movie Juno likely depicts what most people think an adoption looks like. In that film, a couple longing to expand their family adopts a baby from a non-related young, single birth mother previously unknown to them. An attorney is utilized to arrange for the baby’s placement. How non-relative domestic adoptions play out, however, is not necessarily what is depicted on the silver screen.

As reported by Dr. Jo Jones in “Adoption By The Numbers,” in 2014, infants comprised just over one-fourth of the unrelated domestic adoptions that year. Turning that statistic around, about 75% of the children placed in unrelated domestic adoptions are not infants. In fact, babies placed for adoption represent only 0.5 percent of all live births here in the U.S. according to Dr. Jones.

A reason for the declining number of adoptions can clearly be seen in domestic non-related adoptions. A significant decrease in babies born to single parents has occurred since 2007. While unmarried women are the most likely to consider placing a child for adoption, 98.9 percent of single women who delivered a child in 2014 elected to parent. Domestic adoptions represented merely 1.1 percent of births to single parents.

Where do prospective adoptive parents find a birth mother willing to place with them? The typical strategy is for the hopeful parents to be connected with an adoption resource such as an adoption agency or an attorney. That adoption resource advertises and networks to identify women considering making a placement; once identified, these women can be matched with hopeful adoptive parents with whom the adoption resource is working. Given the established decline in the number of adoptions in recent years, connecting with more than one adoption resource is recommended to increase the chances of a successful match and subsequent placement.

Prospective adoptive parents are also increasingly turning to personal resources and getting the word out that they have a desire to adopt. In that way, their friends, relatives, neighbors, co-workers, etc. can keep an eye out for potential match situations for them. Once a potential situation is identified, an adoption resource can then take the reins to legally effect the adoption on their behalf.

While having the talk with a child about where babies come from may strike fear in a parent’s heart, asking an adoption resource where adopted babies come from should empower hopeful adoptive parents. Knowing what the available options take some mystery out of the adoption process and allows well-informed decisions about an adoption journey to be made. Learning about the birds and the bees of adoption is a must-have conversation for prospective adoptive parents.