Adoption of children is one of many ways in which families are formed. Adoption, the legal transfer of parental rights of a child to another person, can occur in many ways and elicit a wide variety of family types. In the United States, statistics for the total number of all types of adoptions are not compiled on a regular basis and statistics are not at all compiled for some adoption types. Adoption statistics and estimates are based on U.S. Census data and other sources. It is estimated that approximately 2-4% of all Americans are adopted.
While more than 100,000 youth (with an average age of 8 years) are waiting to be adopted from foster care, the majority of individuals wish to adopt an infant. According to research, millions of American women have expressed a desire to adopt an infant and tens of thousands of families are waiting to adopt an infant.
However, it is also estimated that fewer than 20,000 babies are voluntarily placed for adoption each year in the United States. Certainly, there are thousands fewer infants placed for adoption than families waiting to adopt an infant. Research has shown that placing a baby for adoption can serve as a preventive option of child abuse and neglect for individuals who are not ready to parent, able to parent, or willing to parent.
Thus, it is a best-practice approach that individuals experiencing unplanned or unwanted pregnancies be provided the most accurate information concerning their options for parenting, adoption, the processes associated with all options, etc. 
In the U.S., it is common for birth parents to choose their baby’s adoptive parents, and in some cases, adoptive and birth family members are able to maintain some contact with each other. It is important to note that infants who are voluntarily placed are typically taken home immediately from the birthing location by their adopting family. In conclusion, fewer children may end up in foster care if their parents were advised of their options for adoption and parenting. To learn how to educate parents about the option of placing their baby for adoption view this pdf, Adoption: Considering Your Options and Making a Plan [pdf]
There are numerous adoptive family types. Below is a brief definition of each family type.
- Infant/newborn/domestic: A child who is born in a country and who is adopted shortly after birth (within the same country).
- Transnational/Intercountry/International: A child who is born in one country and is adopted by a family who lives in another country. Often, the child is orphaned. For statistics and information about intercountry adoptions visit this website.
- Kin: Children adopted by a relative such as an aunt, uncle, sister, brother, grandparent, or other relative.
- Foster care: Children who are no longer able to be cared for by their primary caregiver(s) who are adopted by another family member.
- Stepparent: Children adopted by one parent’s spouse; the spouse agrees to take full responsibility for the child.
The following forms of adoption are a result of assisted reproductive technology (methods that utilize medical technology to achieve conception and birth). In most U.S. states, these forms require the legal transfer of parental rights to another parent(s).
- Embryo: Families can adopt an embryo produced from the sperm and egg of one couple. Clinics and agencies help match donating families and recipient/adopting families.
- Surrogacy: A surrogate mother carries a fertilized egg in utero. After the birth of the child, the intended parent(s) adopt(s) the child.
Below are some of the more commonly-used terms associated with adoption and the legal process.
- Adoption Triad: Birth parents, adoptive parents, and the adopted child(ren).
- Disrupted Adoption: An adoption agreement that ends before finalization.
- Dissolution of Adoption: An adoption that ends after finalization.
- Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children: A law that requires written notice and prior approval of the placement of a child for adoption or foster care from one state with a family in another state.
- Kinship care: The full-time nurturing of a child by someone related to the child by family ties or by prior relationship connection (fictive kin).
- Reunification: The returning of foster children to the custody of their parent(s) after placement outside the home.
- Relinquishment/Termination of Parental Rights: The legal step necessary for parents to voluntarily or involuntarily have their parental rights terminated to allow their child to be adopted by adoptive parents; sometimes referred to as a surrender or as making an adoption plan for one’s child.
- Special Needs: Children with physical, behavioral, or mental impairments, children with siblings in need of adoption, and at-risk children.
Before and after the legal transfer of parental rights, families can decide how they may stay in contact after the child is no longer a legal member of the birth family. This decision is referred to as “levels of openness” or “degrees of contact.”
Levels of Openness/Degrees of Contact
Non-identifying information: Information that allows the members of the adoption triad to know about each other, but without identifying information. First names, physical descriptions, occupation, education, personality characteristics, hobbies, interests, religious affiliation, and medical information are examples of non-identifying information.
Semi-open adoption: An adoption in which a child’s birth parents and adoptive parents may exchange primarily non-identifying information. After the child is placed in the adoptive home, contact with the birth family may involve letters or pictures or other communications sent through the intermediary of the adoption agency or the attorney who assisted in the placement.
Closed adoption: An adoption that involves total confidentiality and sealed records; contact does not exist between any members of either family.
Identifying information: Information concerning birth parents which discloses their identities.
Open adoption: An adoption that involves some amount of initial and/or ongoing contact between birth and adoptive families, ranging from sending letters through the agency, to exchanging names, and/or scheduling visits.
Using accurate adoption language can stop the spread of adoption-related misconceptions and educate others about adoption. For instance, the phrase “choosing to place your child for adoption” has a much more positive connotation than “giving up your baby.” “Choosing to place your child for adoption” focuses on the fact that parents most likely considered options and chose the option they felt was best for the child. It is important to use appropriate terms so that accurate language may someday be the norm. Below is a list of “accurate adoption terminology.”
|Accurate Language||Inaccurate Language|
|Birthparent, first parent||Real parent, natural parent|
|My child||Adopted child|
|Choosing an adoption plan||Giving away/giving up your child|
|Finding a family to parent your child||Putting your child up for adoption|
|Deciding to parent the child||Keeping your baby|
|To parent||To keep|
|Child in need of a family/parent||Adoptable child; Available child|
|International or intercountry adoption||Foreign adoption|
|Child who has special needs||Handicapped child, hard to place|
|Child from another country||Foreign child|
|Was adopted||Is adopted|
- Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2016). Trends in U.S. adoptions: 2008–12. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children's Bureau. https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/adopted0812.pdf ↵
- Jones, J., & Placek, P. (2017). Adoption by the numbers: A comprehensive report of U.S. adoption statistics. https://www.adoptioncouncil.org/publications/2017/02/adoption-by-the-numbers ↵
- van IJzendoorn, M.H., & Juffer, F. (2006). The Emanuel Miller Memorial Lecture 2006: Adoption as intervention. Meta-analytic evidence for massive catch-up and plasticity in physical, socio-emotional, and cognitive development. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 47(12); 1228–1245 https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-7610.2006.01675.x ↵
- van Ijzendoorn, M. H., Juffer, F., & Poelhuis, C. W. K. (2005). Adoption and cognitive development: a meta-analytic comparison of adopted and nonadopted children’s IQ and school performance. Psychological Bulletin, 131(2), 301–316. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.131.2.301 ↵
- Van IJzendoorn, M.H., & Juffer, F. (2005). Adoption is a successful natural intervention enhancing adopted children's IQ and school performance. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 14(6); 326 –330 https://doi.org/10.1111/j.0963-7214.2005.00391.x ↵
- Gallagher, J. R., & Rycraft, J. R. (2014). Evaluation of the infant adoption awareness trainings: Transforming training knowledge to adoption practice. Adoption Quarterly, 17(4), 253–279. https://doi.org/10.1080/10926755.2014.891552 ↵