Research: Adoption Facts
Private Domestic Adoption
Foster Care Facts
International Adoption Facts
Costs of Adoption
Private Domestic Adoption
Private Adoptions Split Between Private Agency and Independent Placements
Private domestic adoption generally refers to the adoption of U.S.-born infants through for-profit or non-profit adoption agencies and independent adoptions in which birth parents directly place children with adoptive parents, sometimes with the assistance of facilitators, doctors, clergy, or attorneys. A growing number of children are now placed through independent adoption - with estimates ranging from one-half, to two-thirds of infant adoptions.
Data for the Number of Private Domestic Adoptions is Not Systematically Reported
Because states are not legally required to report the number of private domestic adoptions, there are few sources of that information. The most recent and comprehensive data is reported by the National Center for State Courts (NCSC). NCSC gathered adoption totals from a variety of sources, and estimated that in 1992 nearly 127,000 children were adopted through all types of adoption -- international, foster care, private agency, independent and step-parent.
Number of Infants Available for Private Adoption Has Been Decreasing
A variety of factors, including increased access to contraception, the legalization of abortion and changed social attitudes about unmarried parenting, have caused the number of white infants placed for adoption in the U.S. to decline dramatically. Between 1989 and 1995, 1.7 percent of children born to never-married white women were placed for adoption, compared to 19.3 percent before 1973. Among never-married black women, relinquishment rates have ranged from .2 percent to 1.5 percent.
Adoptions by Unrelated Adults Declining
The number of adoptions by unrelated adults -- adoptive parents who are not step-parents or other relatives -- grew to a peak of 89,200 in 1970, but declined significantly to 47,700 in 1975, the last year for which data are available. A reason for the decline may be that fewer U.S.-born white infants were available for adoption.
Greater Openness in Adoption
Until the late 1970s, agencies generally selected adoptive families for children without consulting birth parents. Current practice is much different. In many agency adoptions and in virtually all independent adoptions, birth parents are actively involved in selecting the adoptive families for their children.
It has also become increasingly common for birth and adoptive families to have some form of direct contact after placement. This practice is called "open adoption," but the degree of openness can vary significantly. Birth and adoptive parents may meet before the adoption is finalized and have no further contact, or the families may maintain some level of ongoing contact throughout the child's life, such as exchanging photos or letters or having face-to-face meetings. In a study of over one thousand 1988 - 1989 California adoptions, adoptive parents had met birth parents before the adoption in 62% of private agency and 59% of independent adoptions.
Private Adoption Governed by a Patchwork of State Laws
All states permit state-licensed private agencies to place children with adoptive parents. Adoption agencies charge fees to counsel birth parents, identify and ensure the suitability of prospective adoptive families, obtain the child's medical and social history and assist with adoption placement. Additionally, agencies often provide pre-adoption parent education and post-adoption services for adoptive parents.
Nearly every state permits independent adoptions, in which birth parents directly place their children with adoptive parents. All but a few states also allow intermediaries who are not licensed child placement agencies, generally attorneys and facilitators, to assist birth parents in selecting adoptive parents for their children, but many states prohibit intermediaries from actually placing the child. State law on permissible assistance versus impermissible placement by intermediaries is often murky. To connect with birth parents and facilitators, prospective adoptive parents increasingly advertise their desire to adopt in newspapers and on the Internet. Thirty-four states allow such advertisements. For independent adoptions, some states do not require counseling and home studies of adoptive parents that are required of adoption agencies for independent adoptions.
Some states permit adoptive parents to pay reasonable living, medical and legal expenses of the birth mother in independent adoptions. Almost all states bar payment to intermediaries for finding children for adoption, although adoptive families can be charged reasonable fees for services that are approved by a court. Adoptive and birth parents contract with lawyers to legally finalize the adoption. No state permits the exchange of money for children for the purposes of adoption.
 Gilman, Lois and Freivalds, Susan, Adopting Smart, at 13-14, 2001 ADOPTION GUIDE (ADOPTIVE FAMILIES MAGAZINE).
 Sokoloff, Burton, Antecedents of American Adoption, at 24, THE FUTURE OF CHILDREN, Vol. 3, No. 1 (Spring 1993).
 Flango, Victor and Flango, Carol. How Many Children Were Adopted in 1992, at 1022, CHILD WELFARE, Vol. LXXIV, No. 5, (Sept.-Oct. 1995).
 [Years for relinquishment rates among blacks are pre-1973 to 1988. Data is not available for post-1988.] Chandra, Anjani; Abma, Joyce; Maza, Penelope; Bachrach, Christine, Adoption, Adoption Seeking and Relinquishment for Adoption in the United States, at 9, Table 5, ADVANCE DATA, No. 306. National Center for Health Statistics, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (May 1999).
 Maza, Penelope L., Ph.D., Adoption Trends: 1944-1975, at Table 2, CHILD WELFARE RESEARCH NOTES, No. 9 (Aug. 1984).
 [The study surveyed adoptive parents filing for adoptive placement in 1988-1989. These parents were surveyed in 1990 and 1992.] Berry, et al., Preparation, Support and Satisfaction of Adoptive Families in Agency and Independent Adoptions, at 176, CHILD AND ADOLESCENT SOCIAL WORK JOURNAL, Vol. 13, No. 2 (Apr. 1996).
 [This section only provides general information about law governing private agency and independent adoption. Information in this section is based on Hollinger, Joan H., ADOPTION LAW AND PRACTICE (Matthew Bender & Company, Inc., 2000)].