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Adoption


Adoption is a process whereby a person assumes the parenting of another, usually a child, from that person's biological or legal parent or parents, and, in so doing, permanently transfers all rights and responsibilities, along with filiation, from the biological parent or parents. Unlike guardianship or other systems designed for the care of the young, adoption is intended to effect a permanent change in status and as such requires societal recognition, either through legal or religious sanction. Historically, some societies have enacted specific laws governing adoption; where others have tried to achieve adoption through less formal means, notably via contracts that specified inheritance rights and parental responsibilities without an accompanying transfer of filiation. Modern systems of adoption, arising in the 20th century, tend to be governed by comprehensive statutes and regulations.

While the modern form of adoption emerged in the United States, forms of the practice appeared throughout history. The Code of Hammurabi, for example, details the rights of adopters and the responsibilities of adopted individuals at length. The practice of adoption in ancient Rome is well documented in the Codex Justinianus.

Markedly different from the modern period, ancient adoption practices put emphasis on the political and economic interests of the adopter, providing a legal tool that strengthened political ties between wealthy families and created male heirs to manage estates. The use of adoption by the aristocracy is well documented; many of Rome's emperors were adopted sons.

Infant adoption during Antiquity appears rare.Abandoned children were often picked up for slavery and composed a significant percentage of the Empire's slave supply. Roman legal records indicate that foundlings were occasionally taken in by families and raised as a son or daughter. Although not normally adopted under Roman Law, the children, called alumni, were reared in an arrangement similar to guardianship, being considered the property of the father who abandoned them.


Country Adoptions Live births Adoption/live birth ratio Notes
Australia 270 (2007–2008) 254,000 (2004) 0.2 per 100 live births Includes known relative adoptions
England & Wales 4,764 (2006) 669,601(2006) 0.7 per 100 live births Includes all adoption orders in England and Wales
Iceland between 20–35 year 4,560 (2007) 0.8 per 100 live births
Ireland 263 (2003) 61,517 (2003) 0.4 per 100 live births 92 non-family adoptions; 171 family adoptions (e.g. stepparent). 459 international adoptions were also recorded.
Italy 3,158 (2006) 560,010 (2006) 0.6 per 100 live births
New Zealand 154 (2012/13) 59,863 (2012/13) 0.26 per 100 live births Breakdown: 50 non-relative, 50 relative, 17 step-parent, 12 surrogacy, 1 foster parent, 18 international relative, 6 international non-relative
Norway 657 (2006) 58,545(2006) 1.1 per 100 live births Adoptions breakdown: 438 inter-country; 174 stepchildren; 35 foster; 10 other.
Sweden 1044(2002) 91,466(2002) 1.1 per 100 live births 10–20 of these were national adoptions of infants. The rest were international adoptions.
United States approx 127,000 (2001) 4,021,725 (2002) ~3 per 100 live births The number of adoptions is reported to be constant since 1987.

Adoption for the well-born
Adoption and commoners
Adopting to create a family
  • Open adoption allows identifying information to be communicated between adoptive and biological parents and, perhaps, interaction between kin and the adopted person. Rarely, it is the outgrowth of laws that maintain an adoptee's right to unaltered birth certificates and/or adoption records, but such access is not universal (it is possible in a few jurisdictions—including the UK and six states in the United States). Open adoption can be an informal arrangement subject to termination by adoptive parents who have sole authority over the child. In some jurisdictions, the biological and adoptive parents may enter into a legally enforceable and binding agreement concerning visitation, exchange of information, or other interaction regarding the child. As of February 2009, 24 U.S. states allowed legally enforceable open adoption contract agreements to be included in the adoption finalization.
  • The practice of closed adoption (aka confidential or secret adoption), which has not been the norm for most of modern history, seals all identifying information, maintaining it as secret and preventing disclosure of the adoptive parents', biological kins', and adoptees' identities. Nevertheless, closed adoption may allow the transmittal of non-identifying information such as medical history and religious and ethnic background. Today, as a result of safe haven laws passed by some U.S. states, secret adoption is seeing renewed influence. In so-called "safe-haven" states, infants can be left, anonymously, at hospitals, fire departments, or police stations within a few days of birth, a practice criticized by some adoption advocacy organizations as being retrograde and dangerous. Closed adoption, lack of medical history and the broken thread of family continuity can have a detrimental impact on an adoptee's psychological and physical health. The lack of openness, honesty and family connections in adoption can be detrimental to the psychological well being of adoptees and of their descendants.
  • Private domestic adoptions: under this arrangement, charities and for-profit organizations act as intermediaries, bringing together prospective adoptive parents and families who want to place a child, all parties being residents of the same country. Alternatively, prospective adoptive parents sometimes avoid intermediaries and connect with women directly, often with a written contract; this is not permitted in some jurisdictions. Private domestic adoption accounts for a significant portion of all adoptions; in the United States, for example, nearly 45% of adoptions are estimated to have been arranged privately.
    Children associated with Hope and Homes for Children, a foster care program in Ukraine
  • Foster care adoption: this is a type of domestic adoption where a child is initially placed in public care. Its importance as an avenue for adoption varies by country. Of the 127,500 adoptions in the U.S. in 2000 about 51,000 or 40% were through the foster care system.
  • International adoption: involves the placing of a child for adoption outside that child's country of birth. This can occur through both public and private agencies. In some countries, such as Sweden, these adoptions account for the majority of cases (see above Table). The U.S. example, however, indicates there is wide variation by country since adoptions from abroad account for less than 15% of its cases. More than 60,000 Russian children have been adopted in the United States since 1992, and a similar number of Chinese children were adopted from 1995 to 2005. The laws of different countries vary in their willingness to allow international adoptions. Recognizing the difficulties and challenges associated with international adoption, and in an effort to protect those involved from the corruption and exploitation which sometimes accompanies it, the Hague Conference on Private International Law developed the Hague Adoption Convention, which came into force on 1 May 1995 and has been ratified by 85 countries as of November 2011.
  • Embryo adoption: based on the donation of embryos remaining after one couple's in vitro fertilization treatments have been completed; embryos are given to another individual or couple, followed by the placement of those embryos into the recipient woman's uterus, to facilitate pregnancy and childbirth. In the United States, embryo adoption is governed by property law rather than by the court systems, in contrast to traditional adoption.
  • Common law adoption: this is an adoption which has not been recognized beforehand by the courts, but where a parent, without resorting to any formal legal process, leaves his or her children with a friend or relative for an extended period of time. At the end of a designated term of (voluntary) co-habitation, as witnessed by the public, the adoption is then considered binding, in some courts of law, even though not initially sanctioned by the court. The particular terms of a common-law adoption are defined by each legal jurisdiction. For example, the US state of California recognizes common law relationships after co-habitation of 2 years. The practice is called "private fostering" in Britain.
  • Argent, Hedi. Related by Adoption: a handbook for grandparents and other relatives (2014)
  • Askeland, Lori. Children and Youth in Adoption, Orphanages, and Foster Care: A Historical Handbook and Guide (2005) excerpt and text search
  • Carp, E. Wayne, ed. Adoption in America: Historical Perspectives (2002)
  • Carp, E. Wayne. Family Matters: Secrecy and Disclosure in the History of Adoption (2000)
  • Carp, E. Wayne. Jean Paton and the Struggle to Reform American Adoption (University of Michigan Press; 2014) 422 pages; Scholarly biography of an activist (1908-2002) who led the struggle for open adoption records
  • Conn, Peter. Adoption: A Brief Social and Cultural History (2013) excerpt and text search
  • Fessler, Ann. The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade (2007) excerpt and text search
  • Gailey, Christine Ward. Blue-Ribbon Babies and Labors of Love: Race, Class, and Gender in U.S. Adoption Practice (University of Texas Press; 185 pages; 2010). Uses interviews with 131 adoptive parents in a study of how adopters' attitudes uphold, accommodate, or subvert prevailing ideologies of kinship in the United States.
  • Melosh, Barbara. Strangers and Kin: the American Way of Adoption (2002) excerpt and text search
  • Minchella, Tina Danielle. Adoption in post-Soviet Russia: Nationalism and the re-invention of the "Russian family" (2011)
  • Pertman, A. (2000). Adoption Nation: How the Adoption Revolution Is Transforming America. New York: Basic Books.
  • Seligmann, Linda J. Broken Links, Enduring Ties: American Adoption Across Race, Class, and Nation (Stanford University Press; 2013) 336 pages); comparative ethnographic study of transnational and interracial adoption.
  • Fictive Kinship: Making Maladaptation Palatable
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