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Their Questions, Our Answers

Short answers to questions people ask about adoption, plus the straight facts, if you want to educate.



The editors of AF have heard 'em all. Here, we offer tried-and tested short answers to the most common questions people ask about adoption, plus statistics and background information, if you want to go further.

Keep in mind, the most important thing is to reinforce your child's sense of belonging in your family; you never need to "explain" your family or your child to anyone. You may choose to educate relatives at a time when your child is not around.

Was adoption terribly expensive? How did you afford it?

"After tax credits and employee benefits, adoption was no more expensive than giving birth. And you don't buy a baby—the legal and social work fees are all approved by the courts."

Each year, Adoptive Families conducts a survey of adoption costs and timelines; according to our data, the average cost of adoption roughly equals the cost of a midsize car. The federal adoption tax credit (up to $13,360 for adoptions completed in 2011) and employee benefits can reduce out-of-pocket costs significantly, bringing adoption well within the reach of most Americans.

Is it really possible to adopt an American child? Even a newborn?

"The vast majority of adoptees are U.S.-born. International adoptees just tend to be more visible."

In any given year in the U.S., it's estimated that about 20,000 newborns are placed at birth by their mothers and join new families through adoption. In fiscal year 2009, 55,684 children, ranging in age from infants through teenagers, were adopted from U.S. foster care. By contrast, in 2010, only 11,059 children were adopted internationally by families in the U.S.

I bet her birthmother was a teenager, right?

"We're keeping information about our child's birthmother private, but most birthmothers are in their twenties."

The majority of birthmothers relinquishing children are older than 18 (one study puts the average age at 24). Most are single (though about five percent of babies are relinquished by married couples). About a quarter have children already. Interestingly, women who place their children for adoption are more likely to have intact families, higher incomes, and higher educational levels than mothers who choose to parent their babies. The average age of relinquishing birthfathers is 27; about one-quarter of them take an active role in the adoption plans.

Are you going to tell him that he was adopted?

"Yes, it's something we already talk about."

Fifty years ago, adoptive parents often pretended that their children had been born to them. Nowadays, the growth in open adoption and transracial adoption (let's face it, it's hard to pretend that two Caucasian parents gave birth to a Chinese baby) means that it's almost impossible to keep an adoption secret. Our families talk openly about adoption with their children from the very beginning. For their part, few adoptees can remember having been told they were adopted—it's just something they grew up knowing.

Aren't you afraid the birthmother will try to take him back? Won't it be confusing to stay in touch with her?

"Ever since the adoption was finalized in court, he's legally ours. And research on open adoption shows that there's no such effect."

In private, infant adoptions, some expectant mothers change their plans between matching and termination of their rights, but finalized domestic adoptions are very rarely contested: Fewer than 0.1 percent end up in court. In adoption from foster care, and in international adoptions, birthparents' rights are terminated before the adoption proceedings can begin.

The Minnesota-Texas Adoption Research Project (MTARP) studied several hundred families in open adoptions. The children did just fine on tests of self-esteem and social adjustment. It's hardly surprising: Only 58 percent of all children under 18 in the U.S. live in a "traditional" household with two parents. Birth relatives are just like another branch, or roots, on a family tree.

Aren't most adoptees troubled?

"Adopted children do just as well as kids raised in their biological families."

The University of Minnesota's Sibling Interaction and Behavior Study (SIBS) concludes that, by mid-adolescence, adoptees are no more likely than their peers to engage in delinquency, substance abuse, or aggression. Their relationships with siblings and parents were as close as biological family relationships. SIBS also finds that adoptees are "moderately" more likely than their non-adopted peers to display emotional or behavioral problems, like anxiety, depression, and ADHD. Although the risk is only slightly elevated, they are more than twice as likely as non-adoptees to be referred to a mental health professional. As a group, they may be slightly over-diagnosed. Overall, however, the researchers emphasize that "most adopted adolescents are psychologically healthy."

It's too bad you couldn't have a child of your own.

"Janie is our own."

Your feelings say it all.

Return to article: Helping Family Understand Adoption by Leonard Felder, Ph.D.

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