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National Adoption Attitudes Survey

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The results of the recent National Adoption Attitudes Survey, sponsored by the Dave Thomas Foundation For Adoption, "will be used to increase the number of waiting children who are adopted in this country," according to the section on Background and Objectives. Unfortunately, this worthy goal seems to be inadequately served by the way the Survey presents information related to children in the foster care system, otherwise known as "waiting children."

For instance, the Survey asked about broad categories, whether they were likely to adopt a child who is a member of sibling group, had been in foster care, has medical problems, has behavioral problems, or is a healthy baby of the same race. To meet the stated goal of the Survey, it would have been more instructive to ask about respondents' attitudes to the various forms of abuse or neglect which brings children into the foster care system, those cited in the 2000 Green Book issued by the Committee on Ways and Means of the U.S. Congress. On page 710 of the Green Book, we find that neglect was experienced by 54% of the children, physical abuse by 23%, sexual abuse by 12 percent, psychological abuse by 6%, medical neglect by 2% and other forms of maltreatment by 25% of child victims. Open-ended questions may fascinate researchers but such questions are of limited use to policy makers.

Similarly, while it is interesting to learn what respondents thought about the race and ethnicity of children in foster care, the announced target of the sponsoring foundation, wouldn't it be more useful to ask about reactions to the facts - that 39% are non-Hispanic Blacks, 34% are Whites, 17% are Hispanic and the remainder are otherwise classified.

The Survey does not hesitate at times to editorially comment when respondents guess the answer, as on page 26: "Americans correctly believe that children available for adoption out of foster care are substantially older than children available for adoption in general (see Chart 6). " But if one looks at Chart 6, there is a startling disparity between what Americans believe about the age of children in foster care available for adoption and what the facts are. Americans believe 22% are infants under 1 year of age; the real statistic is 4%. In the 1-5 category, Americans think 41% of the children are in that age range when the fact is that it is 25%. Taken together, Americans believe that 63% of the children in foster care are under 6 while the reality is that the number is less than half as much, 29%. Americans missed the percentage for children 6-10, guessing 27% when the real percentage was 7. The most dramatic disparity is for children 11 or older: Americans thought just 6% were in this segment when the reality is 46%.

How helpful for purposes of public education or changing public policy can a document be that generally reports what Americans think about waiting children, and what they think is so far removed from the actual situation? But the Survey abounds in reporting perceptions that are far from those most any parent would have, let alone academics or public policy makers. One of the most salient examples appears on page 33, in Table 5, when Americans are asked about their perceived concerns about foster care adoption. The third-ranked "Major" concern is "Parenting skills," where we are told that 45% have a major concern about parenting skills needed with an African-American infant, and 44% have a major concern about parenting skills needed with an African-American teenager. Regardless of race or ethnicity, anyone who thinks the parenting skills needed to care for an infant are 1% less a major concern than those needed for a teenager either has never had any experience as a parent, has never read anything about child development - or they need to be told to come in out of the rain.

The National Adoption Attitudes Survey, despite the good intentions of its Sponsor, falls short on many measures - but especially in terms of its main goal, finding more families for waiting American children.

What a waste of money and media attention.

William L. Pierce
Executive Director
USA Committee for IAVAAN and
Founding President
National Council For Adoption
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