Article  Life  Marriage and Family  Adoption

5 facts about adoption

For over two decades, National Adoption Month has been promoted and celebrated every November in the United States. The observance is intended to increase national awareness of the need for permanent families for children and youth in the U.S. foster care system. 
Here are five facts you should know about adoption in America:

1. Adoption is the social, emotional, and legal process in which children who will not be raised by their birth parents become full and permanent legal members of another family while maintaining connections, such as genetic or psychological, to their birth family. While adoption has existed throughout human history (e.g., the adoption of Moses by Pharaoh’s daughter in Exodus 2:10), it has not always involved a legal process. In fact, adoption as a legal process within the United States only began in the 1850s. In 1851, Massachusetts passed the Adoption of Children Act, the first law that recognized adoption as being based on child welfare rather than adult interests.

2. Adoption remains a rare event in the United States. According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control, between 1973 and 2002, the percentage of ever-married women 18-44 years of age who had adopted a child fluctuated between 1.3% and 2.2%. Men were twice as likely as women 18-44 years of age to have adopted a child. Among ever-married persons, men (3.8%) were more than 2.5 times as likely as women (1.4%) to have adopted. Relinquishment of infants at birth is extremely rare. Only 1% of children born in the United States in 1996-2002 to women 18-44 years of age as of 2002 were relinquished for adoption within their first month of life. (No newer studies could be found on this topic.) The most common form of adoption in the United States is stepchild adoption, where stepchildren are legally adopted by their stepparents.

3. Only about 1 in 4 children in the foster care system are waiting to be adopted. As of September 2019, there were 423,997 children in foster care in the U.S. Out of that number, only 122,216 were waiting to be adopted, and only 71,335 for whom parental rights for all living parents were terminated. The average age of a child in foster care waiting to be adopted was 7.8 years old and had been in foster care for an average of three years. About 44% of the children are White, 22% are Black, and 22% are Hispanic.

4. Each year thousands of U.S. citizens adopt children from abroad. In 2019, Americans adopted 2,971 children from abroad. The countries from which the most children came were China (819), Ukraine (298), Columbia (244), India (241), and South Korea (166). The total number of intercountry adoptions from 1999 to 2019 was 278,745. According to UNICEF, approximately 418 million children have lost one or both parents. 

5. The cost to adopt a child can range between nearly $0 and $50,000. The Child Welfare Information Gateway, a government-funded adoption information service, estimates the average U.S. adoption costs of various types of adoptions:

  • Public Agency (Foster Care) Adoptions: $0-$2,500
  • Independent Adoptions: $15,000-$40,000+
  • Private Agency Adoptions: $20,000-$40,000+
  • Intercountry Adoptions: $20,000-$50,000

To offset the cost, the federal government offers an adoption tax credit of up to $14,300 for qualified adoption expenses in 2020. The credit is available for each child adopted, whether via public foster care, domestic private adoption, or international adoption. Adoption assistance is also available at the individual state level

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