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3 takeaways from a recent survey of adoptive parents

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August 16, 2022

Adoption is a concept deeply enmeshed in the Christian worldview, and the good news of the gospel is at its center. Christians believe that upon receiving Christ through faith, we are then adopted into the family of God by the Father. One of the outworkings of our being adopted by God is that we are often called to “go and do likewise,” demonstrating the kindness we’ve received from God to children who need a family, both here and abroad. In the United States, “practicing Christians are more than twice as likely to adopt than the general population.” And yet, according to a recently published survey, there is still a great deal of work left to do.

The National Council for Adoption (NCFA) recently released what they’ve called “the largest survey ever conducted on adoptive parents.” The survey “provides useful data to [people] interested in adoption,” and it aims to “equip adoption professionals, adoptive families, and prospective adoptive parents with information to help them in their role as part of the larger adoption community”—it is part one of a three-part study called “Profiles in Adoption.” And while there are many findings from the survey we could highlight, we will underscore three takeaways here below. 

Three takeaways from the NCFA survey

In an article summarizing the survey’s findings, the NCFA headlined their impression of the results this way: “Adoption really has changed, a lot.” And, as the report shows, they’re right; over the last 20 years adoption has changed dramatically. Along with those changes (some of which will be reflected below), there are also significant challenges with adoption, like its cost and the length of the adoption process. These challenges make adoption difficult for prospective adoptive parents and difficult on prospective adoptive children. Here are three takeaways from the survey. 

1. Adopting children with special needs.

Children with special needs are often the target of mistreatment even before they leave the womb. In the context of adoption, children with special needs—from those in the foster care system to those in other countries—regularly find themselves awaiting forever families for long periods of time. As of early 2021, there were an estimated “134,000 children with special needs awaiting permanent homes” in the United States, according to the National Adoption Center. And while, domestically, only about 13% of adoptions involve children with special needs, a number that is virtually unchanged since prior to 2010, the percentage of intercountry adoptions of children with special needs has risen exponentially over the last 20 years. “Intercountry special needs adoptions” stood at a mere 7.3% in 2000. In 2020, 61% of intercountry adoptions involved children with special needs (a number that has actually decreased from its high in 2018 of 79%). 

When mothers who are in unplanned pregnancies, carrying a child with special needs, choose to carry that child to term and place him or her for adoption, Christians ought to be among the first who’ll volunteer to give them a permanent home. Let’s pray that the 134,000 children with special needs awaiting homes in this country will soon find loving, forever families. And let’s rejoice that children with special needs from other countries are being given the chance to grow up in permanent homes. 

2. Cost of adoption.

According to the survey, the cost of a private domestic adoption has nearly doubled over the last 20 years, rising from an average of $17,017.96 to $33,141.83 in 2020. Likewise, intercountry adoptions in the same span of time have risen in cost from an average of $22,245.67 to $36,776.21. Unsurprisingly, data shows that because of these prohibitively high costs adoption is a near-unrealistic option for many families that desire to grow their family by adopting children who are awaiting homes. The overwhelming majority of families that secured either a private domestic adoption (72.4%) or an intercountry adoption (62.4%) earn in excess of $75,000-$150,000 annually. “More than half of families adopting privately or internationally viewed the cost of the adoption process as a barrier, even after completing the process.”

If Christians hope to prevail in our work of providing stable, loving homes for children who need them through the process of adoption, then it seems that the financial cost is something that must be addressed. Policy makers should think creatively on ways to address this staggeringly high barrier for families that wish to adopt children in desperate need of homes.

3. Length of the adoption process

On average, the length of time the intercountry adoption process took for survey respondents was a little more than 22 months—almost two years. Other organizations estimate the process takes as long as five years, depending, in large part, on the country the child is being adopted from. As for the process of adopting a child in foster care, the length of time varies based on one’s family structure. The process tends to move quickest for married couples (335 days, on average), followed by single females (373.6 days), unmarried couples (376.3 days), and single men (429.8 days). The process of adoption, whether domestic, intercountry, or from the foster system, is an investment not only of money but of time as well. 

Adoption, the heart of God, and the heart of his people

The motivations for adopting a child are wide-ranging, spanning (on this survey) from infertility to adopting a family member to a religious calling, all of which are good and honorable. For God, his motivation is singular, and clearly stated in the book of Ephesians: he adopts us because he loves us (Eph. 1:5). And “because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom. 5:5), we ought to be driven to the ministry of adoption by this same love.

As long as children are in need of permanent homes and loving families, the people of God are called to care about adoption no matter the barriers, whether the financial cost or the process length or the challenges we’ll inevitably face in adding to our families. While the NCFA survey equips families with the information they need to determine what part they’ll play in the adoption community, it also reminds us that there’s work yet to be done. As the people of God continue our work in adoption ministry, tools like the NCFA’s Profiles in Adoption study can be just the boon we need. May we use all the resources at our disposal to carry out this ministry that is so near to the heart of our Father.

The NCFA survey is part one of a three-part study called “Profiles in Adoption.” Parts two and three will focus on the “experiences and characteristics of birthmothers” and the “lived experiences of adopted individuals,” respectively, and will be published at a later date.

Jordan Wootten

Jordan Wootten serves as a News and Culture Channel Editor at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. He is a graduate of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he earned his Master of Arts in Theological Studies. Jordan is married to Juliana, and they have three children. Read More by this Author