Missing Pieces
Missing Pieces by Lisa Ritter Starr

Adoption Out of the Bag

by Lisa Ritter Starr

The secret is out: Adoption happens. U.S. families last year adopted about 120,000 children in the United States and from around the world. While the rate of adoption has remained fairly steady in the past few decades, adoption in general is more regularized and celebrated than ever before as a viable family option.

As one sign of this in the past decade, November has been officially proclaimed "National Adoption Month." What led up to the commemoration dates back about 25 years to the state of Massachusetts, the first to announce "National Adoption Week" in 1976. The focus of this week became the same as that of National Adoption Month: to promote the adoption of the growing number of foster children in the United States.

Currently, about 556,000 children are waiting for permanent families in foster care. While this number seems daunting, it has actually decreased by 5% since 1999 - coincidentally at the same time the first annual "Adoption Day" (November 23) was celebrated. The reasons for this decrease are likely varied. Among others, they must include the promotion and formation of agencies by model celebrities such as Dave Thomas of "Wendy's" Restaurant and Rosie O'Donnell, not to mention high-profile adoptions like those of O'Donnell, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, Connie Chung and Maury Povich, Calista Flockhart, Linda Ronstadt, Billy Bob Thornton and Angelina Jolie, and Barbara Walters.

It can't hurt to have national role models let the word out, but many smaller, less famous organizations have undoubtedly contributed immensely to adoption and foster care awareness. The Alliance for Children's Rights (www.kids-alliance.org), a non-profit organization based in California, offers free legal and social services, as well as free information designed to help spread the word about U.S. children in poverty and foster care. The Alliance helps over 6,000 children each year. The National Adoption Information Clearinghouse (www.calib.com/naic) is one of many comprehensive Web sites about adoption and offers a calendar of lectures and symposia, statistics, laws, and information for professionals, parents, adopted adults and birth families. Dave Thomas's Foundation for Adoption is also affiliated with Capital University Law School, whose large annual symposium encourages discussion on debated subjects such as open adoption, open records, and Oregon Measure 58, which recently opened all closed-adoption birth certificates to adults adopted in the state.

Organizations that exclusively promote open adoption are few, but one is Insight, started by birth mother Brenda Romanchik and located in Michigan. Insight is a new non-profit that offers a Web site (www.openadoptioninsight.org), conferences, a birthmother's festival, publications, and professional training to hospital professionals, adoption professionals, and crisis pregnancy centers.

These organizations and the changes they have instituted are helping to let the once dark secret of adoption out of the bag. Though not to a great extent, the rate of adoption in the U.S. may even be increasing. Even if this is so, it is difficult to say exactly how much. As of today, no concerted, national effort is being made to track and regularly report on adoption trends and statistics.

Most people are touched by adoption at some point in their lives. The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute recently surveyed a cross-section of 1,554 adults and found that 6 in 10 surveyed had either been adopted, knew an adopted person, adopted a child, or placed a child in an adoption. This number represents only the cases those surveyed knew about. Doubtless, there are many more people out there whose lives have crossed adoption in some respect.

Adoption affects so many people, usually in surprisingly positive ways. For many, it is one viable and rewarding solution to the problem of unplanned pregnancy and myriad domestic problems that contribute to the number of children in foster care.

However, the rate of adoption is not likely to catch up to the rate of children placed in foster care alone. More needs to be done to stop these problems where they are rooted, and a good place to start is always education.

If you'd like to read more about adoption and related issues, following is a list of Web sites with more information.


*Those starred, along with those mentioned above, were used in compiling information for this article.

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