Adoption: A Myriad of Options

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A moment of reflection reveals that in today's society, adoption can take many forms. From transracial adoption, to single-parent adoption, to adoption of drug-exposed children, to adoption of adolescents, to adoption of foreign-born children, couples considering adoption have many options. Couples are no longer limited to newborn infants with the same racial, cultural, or ethnic background as themselves.

As adoption becomes more complex, related issues also become more complex. More and more research studies are being conducted to study the issues associated with adoption. This article reports on some of those studies.

Transracial Adoption

Over the years, many organizations have raised a concern that black children who are adopted by white parents are not able to develop a positive sense of their racial identity.

However, empirical studies have not supported that claim. In a long-term (20-year) comparative study of the identity and attitudes of two groups of adopted children (white children adopted by white parents, and Black, Korean, Native American, Eskimo, or Vietnamese children adopted by white parents), researchers found that transracially adopted children were aware of and comfortable with their racial identity (Simon & Altstein, 1996).

Based on interviews with study participants, researchers concluded that transracial adoption does not cause special problems associated with the race of the parent or child. Early on, some parents made efforts to provide the child with experiences that could affirm his or her racial identity, such as purchasing books reflecting the child's identity, cooking ethnic food, or taking the child to cultural events related to the child's racial identity. Some parents chose to live in neighborhoods similar to the child's racial identity (e.g., white family living in black neighborhood). Often, children reported growing weary of these efforts to affirm their racial identity, preferring to spend time with their friends at basketball games, for example.

Adolescence marked a difficult period, with episodes of drug abuse, alcohol abuse, truancy, and, in some cases, divorce. However, researchers found that these difficulties were equally true for all families, regardless of whether the family included a transracial adopted child or white-race adopted child.

In conclusion, the researchers found that transracial adoption does not pose special problems of trauma or heartbreak.

Single-Parent Adoptive Homes

A longitudinal study conducted by a researcher at Portland University's School of Social Work found that single-parent adoptive homes can be successful placements for adoptive children. The study reviewed prior research, which indicates that approximately 12% of all adoptions are single-parent adoptions, most single-parent adopters are women, most single parents adopt a child of the same sex, most single parents adopt children who are considered difficult to place (older children, children with physical or emotional disabilities, and children of color), and that single parents who want to adopt an infant or young child without serious problems frequently adopt a foreign-born child (Shireman, 1996).

In Shireman's study, 15 families were followed over a 14-year period. Shireman found that single parents are highly committed to the child and the adoption, are easily able to manage adverse situations (such as illness), have high levels of self-confidence, are highly independent, and have a high ability to develop and use support networks. Of interest was an observed high level of nurturing and commitment to the child in the early years, before school started, to the exclusion of social activity. The child seemed to thrive on the extra attention, and when school years began, the nurturing activity continued in the form of high involvement in PTA, volunteering at school, and similar activities.

Adoption of Drug-Exposed Children

The media have widely reported on probable effects of drug exposure on the lives of infants who were exposed to drugs in utero. Most reports are pessimistic and have contributed to a reluctance of many adoptive parents to adopt a drug-exposed child. Most of these reports are based on conditions in which the drug-exposed child remains with the birth parent, often in an environment in which drug abuse continues to occur during the child's early years.

A study conducted by Barth and Needell (1996) at the University of California at Berkeley examined adoptions in which drug-exposed children were adopted by parents who provided them with a positive, nurturing, drug-free environment. In the study, researchers compared two groups of adopted children four years after their placements: one group who had not been drug-exposed, and one group who were drug-exposed.

The researchers found that drug-exposed children responded positively to nurturing environments and displayed little or no behavioral effects related to being exposed to drugs. Barth and Needell point out that other studies have found drug-exposed children to suffer from attachment difficulties, but the researchers did not find this to be true in their study.

Because of different results in research studies, Barth and Needell point out the need to conduct further studies.

Adoption of Special Needs Children

Groze (1996) looked at issues parents face when they adopt a special needs child. While many adoptive parents felt prepared for adopting a special needs child, they expressed frustration with teachers, daycare providers, and social workers who often view the family as dysfunctional, focus on blaming problems on the child's pre-adoptive circumstances, and are not sensitive to special problems associated with adoption of a special needs child. Because parenting a special needs child can be exhausting, adoptive parents expressed a need to have support services in the form of periodic respite care. Such programs would allow adoptive parents time to rest and replenish reserves to continue with the adoption.

Similarly, Lightburn and Pine's (1996) study of families who adopted a special needs child pointed to the need for supplemental subsidies and services that help make the adoption permanent. Caring for a special needs child often means added expenses for medical care. Lightburn and Pine noted that providing adoptive families with subsidies greatly offsets the costs associated with long-term institutional care states incur when special needs children are not adopted.

In both studies, parents reported being highly satisfied with their decision to adopt a special needs child.

For further information on adoption:

Web Sites:

Faces of Adoption: America's Waiting Children. Sponsored by the National Adoption Center (NAC) and Children Awaiting Parents (CAP), this Web site includes articles and books on adoption, as well as information packets and photolistings of children waiting for adoption.

Adoption. [NPIN Editor's note (10-1-02): this url ( is no longer available.] This Web site includes contact information for support groups, lists of newsletters related to adoption, and a list of adoption agencies and organizations.

AdoptioNetwork. This Web site is maintained by volunteers who support each other and those considering adoption. The site contains articles, book reviews, and lists of agencies to contact for adoption information.


National Adoption Information Clearinghouse
5640 Nicholson Lane, Suite 300
Rockville, MD 20852
Telephone: 301-231-6512


Barth, R. P., & Needell, B. (1996). Outcomes of drug-exposed children four years post-adoption. Children and Youth Services Review, 18, 37-56.

Groze, V. (1996). A 1 and 2 year follow-up study of adoptive families and special needs children. Children and Youth Services Review, 18, 57-82.

Lightburn, A., & Pine, B. A. (1996). Supporting and enhancing the adoption of children with developmental disabilities. Children and Youth Services Review, 18, 139-162.

Shireman, J. F. (1996). Single parent adoptive homes. Children and Youth Services Review, 18, 23-36.

Simon, R. J., & Altstein, H. (1996). The case for transracial adoption. Children and Youth Services Review, 18, 5-21.
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