A Brief History of Adoption

When birth parents are unable to care for their child, adoption is considered the most loving and compassionate choice. Adoptive families volunteer to bring these children into their homes. Today, 135,000 children are adopted each year in the United States.

But adoption wasn’t always as common as it is today. Over the years, new laws and practices have improved living situations for millions of children.

Adoption Through the Years

In ancient times, adoption was structured to benefit the adults more than the children. In ancient Rome, some wealthy families adopted boys to act as male heirs. In many countries, families adopted children because they needed them to contribute to the home, the farm, or the family business. Instead of entering loving families, many abandoned children became slaves and servants.

Similar adoption practices persisted throughout the centuries. You might remember that in the 1908 novel “Anne of Green Gables,” Anne is temporarily adopted by several families who need her for household labor. She watches children and does housework and farm work. Even Matthew and Marilla of Green Gables wanted to adopt a child primarily to have help on the family farm.

Despite adoption’s drawbacks, adoption benefited many children as well. If nothing else, it kept children out of orphanages. Many children were informally adopted by relatives, friends, or neighbors.

Adoption in the Early United States

The first adoption law to protect United States children was passed in Massachusetts in 1851. The law states that the adoptive parents must have consent from the child’s birth parents. It also states that adoptive parents must be capable of raising the child.

Over the years, further laws and practices came into effect to protect children. In 1909, President Theodore Roosevelt spoke at a conference about the need to place children in homes rather than orphanages. Some states passed adoption-related legislation as a result.

By the mid-1900s, almost all states passed laws that held adoptive parents and agencies to certain standards. For example, parents must go through a screening process before adopting a child. Also, the agencies must keep adoption records confidential.

In recent years, many American children have been adopted through the foster care system. This system had an interesting beginning. Noting the thousands of homeless, orphaned children on city streets, a protestant minister developed a program to send these homeless children to families in rural areas. Between 1859 and 1929, thousands of orphan children were transported to new families on what were called “Orphan Trains.”

Today, children whose parents cannot care for them are placed in foster homes and looked after by foster parents. Some of these children are able to return to their families with time, while others are adopted.

International adoption also became common in the 20th century. Improved global transportation methods made it possible to bring home a child from an impoverished or war-torn country.

Adoption Today

Today, there are many laws and practices that protect children and ensure they find a good home. About 59% of adopted children are adopted through foster care, and about 15% of adopted children are adopted as babies.

Birth parents and potential adoptive parents usually work with a lawyer or through a licensed adoption agency. The agency’s services can improve a child’s chances of being placed in a good home. The agency conducts a home study, where representatives visit the potential parents in their home and ensure it is a safe and healthy place to raise the adopted child.

Adoptive agencies can also pay attention to the birth parents’ needs and wishes. The birth parents can express preferences for the adoptive parents, such as religion, and the agency can match their baby with the parents that best fit their preferences.

The birth parents can also choose between an open and closed adoption. With an open adoption, the adoptive parents stay in touch with the birth parents. The birth parents can even see their child in the future. Through a closed adoption, the adoptive parents and birth parents do not stay in touch.

While many children are adopted by families whom they share no genetic ties with, others are adopted by extended family members or step-families. International adoption is still common as well. In 2009, 13,000 children were adopted from 106 different countries.

Adopted children need not feel alone. Today, as many as 2.5% of children under age 18 were adopted. Many famous people have been adopted, including:

  • Steve Jobs
  • Babe Ruth
  • Faith Hill
  • Nelson Mandela
  • Sarah McLachlan
  • Bill Clinton
  • John Lennon
  • Marilyn Monroe

If you’re considering adoption for your baby, talk with the representatives at A Child’s Dream. We have the resources you need to place your baby for adoption. We can help match your baby with compatible birth parents. We even offer free counseling and assistance for birth mothers. Call us today to learn more.

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