Knowing Numbers Adds to Adoption Knowledge

It is clear that everyone is touched by adoption somehow.

Alice H. Murray September 12, 2019
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Numbers do not immediately come to mind when adoption is mentioned. Bouncing bundles of joy and beaming new parents are more likely thoughts. But knowing numbers is important when it comes to understanding adoption. Numbers give us a better understanding of how the process works and what the current trends are.

In school, students learn to count. They start with a low number and work up to larger figures. Using that approach, let’s consider the numbers related to adoption and see what they can teach us.

Zero is the number of children adopted from Guatemala in 2018. This Central American country was a top source of adoptees for international adoptions until January 1, 2008. As of that date, Guatemala closed international adoptions so its system for handling them could be reformed; over a decade later, the closure remains in effect. Before adoptions were closed, Guatemala was widely viewed as the country with the worst improprieties in international adoptions for the longest period of time. Guatemalan attorneys were accused of engaging in questionable practices to obtain children for adoption. Alleged wrongdoing included buying children for adoption, defrauding and coercing birth parents into placing a child for adoption, and kidnapping children for adoption.

What is the takeaway from this zero? Laws concerning adoption are not written in stone. They can be changed by legislative bodies. Sometimes these changes can be drastic. As the Guatemala example illustrates, a productive source for international adoptions can be completely shut off. Here today; gone tomorrow.

One is the rank China had in 2018 among foreign countries as the source of children for adoption by U.S. citizens. This rank was accorded the Asian country by the Annual Report of Inter-Country Adoption produced by the U.S. Department of State. A total of 1,475 Chinese children were adopted by American parents during 2018.

What can be learned from this No. 1 ranking? If you know anything about sports, you understand rankings can change—often from week to week. Events occur which provide a basis for changing the rankings. While adoptions don’t involve sporting events, they do involve political and diplomatic dealings. At the present time, relations between the United States and China are rocky as these two large world economies are locked in a trade war. Currently, the combatants are using economic weapons. Should relations deteriorate, China might turn to other means of getting at the U.S. such as tightening (or perhaps eliminating) access to Chinese children for adoption by U.S. citizens. Whether China retains its No. 1 ranking in the future could be dependent on politics.

Three is the number of points on the triangle symbolizing the adoption triad. A three-sided relationship exists in an adoption between the birth parents, the adoptive parents, and the adoptee. Each of the three members of the adoption triad is interrelated with the others. When depicted as a triangle, the adoptee is the top point of the triangle, and the parents, adoptive and birth, are the points below it.

Although adoption is a legal process, those participating in the process are human beings. The key people involved are the parents giving life to the child, the child, and the parents raising the child as part of their family. The triangle used to depict the triad has the birth parents and the adoptive parents at the base with the adoptee at a point above them to which both are joined. This configuration emphasizes that the birth parents and the adoptive parents both give a foundation to the child’s life via nature and nurture respectively. It also establishes that the child’s welfare is the paramount concern of both since the child is placed above both sets of parents in the symbol.

Twelve is the number of weeks which is the maximum amount of unpaid leave time eligible employees of covered employers may take under the Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA. This federal law allows such individuals to take unpaid leave of up to 12 weeks for various reasons. Placement of an adopted child in the employee’s home is one authorized event for requesting such leave.

The availability of this type of leave is indicative of the value which the government places on the family unit. Allowing children a good start in a forever home is putting them on the path to a stable family life, something which will benefit society as a whole. The fact that the leave is addressed in a federal law is significant. Adoption law is state law. The federal government is being supportive of the creation of family units in a sphere in which it has authority and in a way in which states cannot. The two levels of government, state and federal, are working together to promote a common goal—building strong family units.

Fifty is the number of states who are parties to the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children, or ICPC. Every state in this country along with the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, have agreed on the procedures to be followed when the child to be adopted is in one state and the adoptive home is in another. Specifically, ICPC established the procedures for placement of children across state lines for foster care or adoption. New York was the first state to enact the compact back in 1960.

The unanimity evidenced by all 50 states agreeing on the procedures to be utilized shows the willingness of states to work together to make interstate adoptions happen in a consistent and regulated manner. Although each state has its own set of adoption laws, all states recognize that our mobile society will inevitably result in adoptions taking place across state lines on a regular basis. The states want to facilitate these adoptions happening, but they also want to have procedures in place to make sure that everything is done in an acceptable and legal manner.

Five hundred seventy-three is the number of tribes recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, or BIA, in a listing in the Federal Register published July 2018. These tribes literally run the gamut from A to Z; they start with the Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma and end with the Zuni Tribe of New Mexico. Tribal recognition is key when it comes to the application of the federal Indian Child Welfare Act, or ICWA. If the child to be adopted is eligible for tribal membership in one of these tribes, then the requirements of ICWA come into play.

The large number of federally recognized tribes is mind-boggling. What average person had any idea so many tribes (recognized or not) even existed? Since each tribe sets its own requirements for membership eligibility, the complex nature of dealing with ICWA is revealed. Each adoption where ICWA is implicated must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, and there is nothing simple about the issue of tribal eligibility.

1851 is the year the first modern adoption law was passed in the United States. That year saw the Adoption of Children Act enacted in Massachusetts. This act required judges to determine if the adoptive parents had “sufficient ability to bring up the child.”

While today it seems basic that adoption is about what is best for a child, that perspective was not embraced before Massachusetts’ Adoption of Children Act took effect. Prior to that time, the focus was on what adoptive parents wanted. The new Massachusetts law shifted the concern, as a matter of law, to the best interest of the child; this new perspective viewed the adoption process as one meant to benefit the children being adopted. Over 150 years later, concern for the children remains a top priority as is seen in the rigorous home study requirement for prospective adoptive couples.

$2,000 is the per child maximum amount federal law authorizes in reimbursement for certain expenses related to adoption incurred by active-duty military members. Department of Defense Instruction 1341.9 sets forth the complete policy and procedures for this benefit.

The very existence of this financial assistance to military members evidences at least two things. First, it establishes that the number of military members finalizing adoptions is large enough that such assistance is seen as a desirable benefit by the federal government. Second, offering adoption reimbursement to military members shows the federal government’s recognition of the value of a stable family unit for our country’s troops.

$14,080 is the maximum amount of the 2019 Federal Adoption Tax Credit per child. This figure is an increase over the 2018 tax credit amount of $13,810. Eligible taxpayers may recoup qualified adoption expenses paid in connection with adopting a child other than a stepchild. This tax credit is not a deduction from taxable income but is instead a dollar for dollar reduction of a taxpayer’s total tax liability. Although nonrefundable, any credit in excess of tax liability for the year may be carried forward for up to five years.

Tax laws are written with a view to influencing taxpayers’ financial activities. If the federal government wants to encourage taxpayers to donate to charitable causes, it drafts tax provisions giving a charitable contribution deduction. If the federal government wants to spur taxpayers to save for their retirement, it structures the tax law to provide a deduction for contributions to an individual retirement account, or IRA. By establishing a federal tax credit, the federal government has clearly come down on the side of being pro-adoption. This tax credit provides a financial incentive for people to adopt.

$42,337 is the average cost of adopting a U.S. newborn through an adoption agency, according to the results of Adoptive Families’ 2015-2016 Cost and Timing Survey. By comparison, adopting a U.S. newborn through an attorney cost an average of $31,800 when handled by an attorney according to the same survey.

Regardless of the method by which an adoption is handled (by agency or by attorney), the bottom line is that an adoption is going to be expensive. Because the cost is so high, many who desire to adopt cannot afford to do so. The value of the military reimbursement program and the federal adoption tax credit is clearer when these high figures are cited.

442,995 is the approximate number of children in the foster care system in the U.S., as of September 30, 2017. This figure, reported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2017, represented an increase of 1.5 percent over the number of children in such care the previous year. In fact, the number of children in the foster care system nationally increased for the fourth year in a row based on the figures in this 2017 report.

While not all children in the foster care system will be adopted, many of them will be in need of a forever home. Even if only one-fourth of the children in foster care in 2017 were available for adoption, that would mean over 111,000 kids. This figure is an incredible number of young lives for whom adoption could make a world of difference.

1.7 million is the number of homes in the United States which contain an adopted child. In fact, 4 percent of all homes with children contain an adopted child. Children are adopted through stepparent adoptions, inter-country adoptions, adoptions out of the child welfare system, and domestic adoption of infants. All have found a forever home through the adoption process.

Because such a large number of homes in this country have been directly involved with the adoption process, it is clear that everyone is touched by adoption somehow. Each household containing an adopted child is connected to the community in a number of ways—neighbors, co-workers, classmates, friends, relatives, social acquaintances, etc. Even if you have not been adopted or have not adopted a child yourself, you are likely to know someone who has been adopted or who has adopted a child.

Adoption is not about numbers; it is about people. Specifically, it is about creating families. Nevertheless, taking time to consider numbers which relate to the adoption process can give one a better understanding of who participates in it, how much it typically costs, what financial incentives exist for adopting, and where children can be found, or not found as the case may be, for adoption. Knowing these numbers adds up to a better understanding of a process which touches all of us in one way or another.

 

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Alice H. Murray

Alice H. Murray is an adoption attorney by profession and a writer by passion. As a lawyer, she has handled non-relative infant domestic adoptions in Florida for over 25 years. Alice has been touched by adoption in her own family; she is the proud aunt of a nephew adopted domestically and of a niece adopted internationally. When she is not creating forever families, Alice is creating written pieces for her blog (www.aliceinwonderingland@wordpress.com), posting on Instagram (alice.h.murray), and tweeting (Alice H. Murray@dawgatty). Her articles have appeared in her local paper and in various digital and print magazines; Alice's work appears in the Short And Sweet book series as well. Being a writer for Adoption.com makes Alice's life even sweeter.


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