Adoption Statistics and Legal Trends

Like most other aspects of life, adoption was once viewed and treated much differently than it is today. Every adoption story is unique. But, current statistics and emerging trends can help us understand how many lives are touched by adoption and how the process continues to change over time.

Adoption is a legal process, but it is so much more than that. Adoption transforms lives and builds families. The process is rewarding to everyone involved: birth parents, adoptive parents, and, of course, the children. This has become even more true in recent decades as adoption has evolved.

This article discusses the changes in the adoption process over the years.

Adoption Statistics in a Changing World

Adoption is widely accepted and understood in America, but many statistics still catch people by surprise. For example, adoption is much more common than most people realize. In fact, according to the Adoption Network, one in 25 U.S. families with children have an adopted child. Almost 100 million Americans have an adoptee in their immediate family.

Other interesting statistics include the following:

  • There are 1.8 million adopted children in the U.S., according to the National Survey of Adoptive Parents (NSAP). The survey excluded stepparent adoptions.
  • Twenty-five percent came from foreign countries.
  • Thirty-seven percent came from foster care, according to NSAP.
  • Thirty-eight percent of adoptions were private domestic adoptions, according to NSAP.
  • About half of private adoptions in 2020 were stepparent adoptions, according to “Adoption by the Numbers," a 2022 report from the National Council for Adoption.
  • There are 113,588 foster children waiting for adoption out of the foster care system and into their permanent families as of 2021, according to Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) fiscal year 2021 data.
  • According to the Adoption Network, the average age of a child waiting in the foster care system is 8.
  • According to the Adoption Network, more than half of children (60%) spend two to five years in foster care.
  • Most adoptions are open adoptions. Ninety-five percent of infant adoptions are open adoptions. According to the Adoption Network, two-thirds of birth parents continue post-placement contact with the adoptee.
  • Twenty-five percent of adopted children are from a different race, culture, or ethnicity than one or both of their adoptive parents, according to the Adoption Network.

Trends Emerge as Adoption Evolves

Decades ago, adoption was usually a private and secretive process. Most adoptions were closed. There was no interaction between the birth parents and adoptive families. The child did not receive identifying information about the birth mother.

Since then, open adoptions have become much more common in the United States. In this process, birth parents have contact with the adoptive families. The birth family continues contact with the adoptee. This arrangement requires relinquishing the birth parents' legal rights and parental rights.

Also, there is now less stigma attached to adoption and more openness about the adoption story. In the past, many children were never told that they were adopted until reaching adulthood, if ever. Today, it is more common for adoptive families to be open about their adoption story from an early age.

In addition to open adoptions gaining popularity, other legal adoption trends include:

  • Birth parents now have significant control over the process and can hand-pick the child's adoptive family.
  • Birth parents often get to know the adoptive family before the baby is born, and the adoptive parents may even be present for the baby's birth.
  • Social movements have shaped who can adopt in the U.S. Today, LGBT couples and single adults can create families through adoption.
  • Transracial adoption is more common today. Many adoptive families care less about adopting a child who looks like they could be a biological child.
  • Many employers now offer benefits like paid leave and financial help to adoptive parents.
  • According to the National Council for Adoption, the total number of adoptions in the United States decreased significantly in 2020, the first year of the pandemic. Domestic adoptions had been rising. The estimated 95,306 children adopted in 2020 was a 17% decrease from 2019.
  • Intercountry adoptions peaked in 2004 and have since been on the decline. This is because of factors such as China cutting back on U.S. adoptions and Russia closing them off completely.
  • More people use the internet and social media to help match birth parents with adoptive families, though this trend comes with risks. In the past, prospective adoptive parents relied much more on adoption service providers and print advertising to find a child.
  • Social services and child welfare agencies now offer post-placement support services for adoptees and their families. These services can include respite care and counseling. Respite care is a temporary break from caregiving responsibilities. It's provided for adoptive parents with special needs children.

What Is the Adoption Process in My State?

Adoption is mainly governed by state law. Find out more about the adoption laws in your state by clicking on a link below.

What is the International Adoption Process?

International or intercountry adoption refers to adopting a child from another country. It's one of two main types of adoption — domestic and international.

As mentioned before, international adoptions have declined in the past several years. This is because many countries shut down due to the pandemic.

Also, popular options for prospective adoptive parents, such as Ethiopia, Russia, and Ukraine, are no longer available. Yet, many adoptive parents look to go overseas when adding family members.

Intercountry adoption is not a fast process. It's complicated and time-consuming. It can take anywhere from one to five years. Some countries process adoptions faster than others. International adoptions average between two and a half and three and a half years to complete.

You must meet the requirements of two countries — the United States and the country from which you are adopting. If the laws vary, then the rules of the foreign country control. For example, China won't let birth parents younger than 30 adopt. The minimum age for an adoptive parent under U.S. rules is 25. As a result, if you want to adopt from China, you must be at least 30 years old.

You must also follow U.S. Department of State and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) rules.

Most international adoptions are Hague-compliant. The Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (Hague Convention) is an agreement among nations that details safeguards so that the adoption is in the best interests of the child.

International adoptions require a home study. A home study reviews your home, criminal background, employment, finances, and health. An adoption agency will perform the study.

Most international adoptions are special needs adoptions. The children have a range of physical and psychological ailments.

Intercountry adoption does not always convey U.S. citizenship. Some countries require finalization of the adoption in the U.S. This occurs in the state courts.

Want to Learn More About Adoption? Talk to an Attorney

Speaking to an adoption attorney is a helpful first step for those considering adoption. An adoption attorney in your area can give you valuable, real-life information about the process in your state. Whether in New York or any other state, adoption's legal complexities and nuances make professional advice essential.

Adoption is a journey toward permanency and family building. The right information, resources, and support can make this journey a rewarding experience.

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Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • It is a good idea to have an attorney for complex adoptions
  • An attorney can ensure you meet all legal requirements and that your adoption is finalized appropriately
  • An attorney can help protect the best interests of adoptive children, adoptive families, and birth parents
  • For simple adoptions, you may be able to do the paperwork on your own or by using an agency

Get tailored advice at any point in the adoption process. Many attorneys offer free consultations.

 Find a local attorney

Don't Forget About Estate Planning

Adopting a child is an ideal time to create or change your estate planning forms. Take the time to add new beneficiaries to your will and name a guardian for any minor children. Consider creating a financial power of attorney so your agent can pay bills and make sure your children are provided for. A health care directive explains your health care decisions and takes the decision-making burden off your children when they become adults.

Start Planning