US Adoptees May Approach 6 Million
LOS ANGELES -- Diana, a computer specialist, was the only nonjournalist in a roomful of reporters during O.J. Simpson's criminal trial. ``This is awful,'' she exclaimed one evening, pointing to a story in the newspaper.
``What is it?'' asked the reporter from Boston in front of her. It turned out she was upset by the outcome of the Baby Richard case, in which an Illinois
man won custody of his 3-year-old biological son from the boy's adoptive parents.
``Imagine how I feel,'' the reporter replied. ``I have an adopted son.''
``Really?'' said a Chicago-based colleague in the next seat. ``I've got two adopted kids.''
The Time magazine correspondent to his left looked amazed. ``I've got two adopted kids, too,'' he said.
Diana, smiling in disbelief, whispered: ``I'm adopted.''
Nobody knows how many adoptees, adoptive parents, or birth parents who gave up their children there are. The process was considered so private for so long that studies have not been done, census questions have not been asked, surveys have not been conducted.
As adoption becomes more open, however, experts are concluding it is far more prevalent than they had thought. The emerging consensus is that there are 5 million to 6 million adoptees in America, about triple the number that specialists estimated just a few years ago.
In the year 2000, the Census Bureau for the first time will ask how many adopted children are in US households. The number of adoptees who are heads of households, though, still won't be counted.
Some telling statistics
did come out of the first national poll conducted on adoption, released last November by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute in New York.
Fifty-eight percent of respondents said they have had a ``personal experience'' with adoption -- meaning that they, a family member, or a close friend had been adopted, had adopted a child, or had placed a child for adoption.
One-third of the 1,554 adults interviewed also said they had ``at least somewhat seriously'' considered adopting. And while only half thought adoption was ``as good as having one's own child,'' 90 percent had a positive view of the process.
``I was really amazed at a lot of the results,'' says Madelyn Freundlich, executive director of the Donaldson Institute and an adoption specialist for over two decades.
Freundlich and others trace the growth in adoption openness - and the increasingly positive attitudes that accompany it -- to the late 1960s and early 1970s, with their emphasis on individual rights and growing public discussion of once-forbidden subjects, from sex to cancer to hemorrhoids. As part of that sociological change, the stigma against ``unmarried mothers'' and their ``bastard'' children began to ease.
As divorce and single parenthood have become more common, other unconventional family situations have gained acceptance as well. Ironically, the acceptance of unmarried parenting
is also believed to have caused a decline -- no one knows how big -- in the percentage of young white women placing their babies for adoption.
The steady rise in adoptions from foreign countries, from 9,417 in 1985 to 13,620 in 1997, accelerated the trend toward openness. International adoption provides one of the few statistics that can be accurately tracked, because the children's entry into this country must be filed with the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
International adoptions, along with transracial domestic adoptions, also have helped make the process more visible because parents and children are often different colors.
``American families today are headed by just one parent, or by gay couples, or by divorced parents who share custody of their children but also might have additional kids from their new marriages,'' says Peter Gibbs, head of the Center for Adoption Research and Policy at the University of Massachusetts Medical
Center in Worcester. ``If you think of it, it happens. So adoption as a way of being a family has become just one of many options.''
For more information, please contact:
Adam Pertman, Executive Director
Adoption Nation Education Initiative
Credits: Adam Pertman