Adoption Research and Information

Pulsing Red Heart Adoption Research and Information
Jean Marie Wilson
Gaithersburg, Md

LEGAL STUFF Written text Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 Jean Marie Wilson Cannot be reprinted without permission. Must be referenced in all documents

I would like this page to become a source of information to those of us who are involved in adoption and foster care. I would welcome suggestions for topics for research or discussion. Please put your suggestions in my Guestbook or send them to me via Email.

Jesus Loves Me

NAC NAC has all kinds of information on adoption and has photo listings of children available for adoption Everything you always wanted to know about adoption

Welcome to AdoptioNetwork! Another good resource

Celebrate Adoption, Inc. This group promotes adoption as a positive way to build families

Read our son Joey's adoption story HERE . This is the updated version, including the miracles surgey can bring!

Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Research Institute I am not affiliated with the Evan B. Donaldson Institute, but they are an excellent resource on what research is being done on adoption.

And, for Foster parents, I found the following site that also contains links to support and information in various states:
Foster Parent Community

A StoryThis is the story of a special needs adoption that did not work out. If you've ever had a placement disrupt, this will help you to know you are not alone.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome/Effects This website has information on the effects of fetal alcohol and how it affects learning and living.
Adoption and Special Needs Links I have compiled a list of Adoption and Special Needs links that I hope will be helpful and informative.

For those of you on AOL:

Moms Online
Adoption & Infertility Center at Moms Online
Who's who: Jean-Marie

My Place (My Daughter Lara's Page)and My Homepage (My Daughter Sonya's Page) Are Not Adoption Links

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Why Do We Adopt


Jean Marie Wilson

Woman with Red Hair

I have been interested in adoption for as long as I can remember. Even as a teenager, I read every book I could find on adoption. I always knew I would adopt a child someday. When I was pregnant with my first child, I told a friend that someday this child would have an adopted sibling. That "someday" came when she was twelve, and after my husband and I had two more birth children-a son who was then ten years old, and a daughter who was eight years old. We adopted a six-year old boy.
But where does the desire to adopt come from? I think it's assumed that people adopt because they cannot have children by birth. However, I often tell people, "Not everyone who is infertile adopts, and not everyone who adopts is infertile."
I decided to research why people adopt children. Over the years, I have collected newspapers and magazine articles on adoption. I also have subscribed to several adoption magazines, such as FACE Facts, Adoptive Families, and Roots & Wings, as well as adoption newsletters like Forever Families and Real Moms. Their articles often mention why people adopt: infertility, wanting a child (or more children) and having always known the person would become an adoptive parent.
I also decided to look in professional research journals, such as the Journal of Marriage and the Family, Adoption and Fostering, Child Welfare, and others. I even found one study from the 1920's on adoption (6). But, most of the research seemed to have been done after the mid-1970's. This was the time when special needs adoption really began, especially with the passage of the Adoption Assistance Act in 1980. This piece of legislation defined special needs children as children who are older, physically and/or mentally challenged, members of sibling groups, etc (3, 4, 9, 10). It also provided for adoption subsidies, and the continuation of Medicaid coverage for these children, even after their adoptions were finalized. Most of the studies done since that time have focussed on why people adopt special needs children. Infertility was mentioned as a reason in these adoptions, as well as having been the child's foster parent. Other reasons for adopting included doing what God wanted, wanting to help a child without a home or family, and loving children.
Based on the twenty different reasons I found for adopting in the magazines, newspapers, and newsletters, and the forty-four I found in the professional journals (only eight were found in both places), I developed a twenty-five item questionnaire. I took the most frequently mentioned reasons, and asked if each reason was not a consideration, a slight consideration, a medium consideration, or a central consideration in the decision to adopt. I then distributed the questionnaires to seventy-five adoptive parents. These parents were either members of an adoption support group or subscribers to an adoption newsletter.

Who Answered the Questionnaire

Fifty-eight (77%) of the surveys were returned. Envelopes were postmarked from twenty-six states. Fifty-six people identified their sex and age. Four males and fifty-two females completed the questionnaire. At the time they completed the survey, fourteen people were between the ages of 25 and 35 years old; thirty were between 36 and 45 years of age; and twelve were over the age of 45. This was not necessarily their age at the time they became adoptive parents. That question was not asked.
The fifty-six respondents who answered questions about their children had a total of 126 children: 103 joined their families through adoption, and 23 by birth. This is an average of 2.25 children per family. However, one person, a single mother, had nine children; one had six children; two had five children; and three had four children. Nine families had three children, while 22 had two children, and 18 had one child. Thirteen (23%) of the parents had both birth and adopted children
The questionnaire also asked the sex and ages of the children; the age at placement for the adopted children; and if the children were adopted internationally or had special needs. Of all the children, 48% were male and 52% were female. Of the adopted children, 46% were male and 52% were female. The average age, overall, of the children was 6.3 years. The average age of the adopted children was 5 years old. The average age when they were placed for adoption was 12.8 months, with half of them placed at age seven weeks or younger. Twenty-seven children were adopted internationally, and twenty-nine children (both birth and adopted) were identified by their parents as having special needs.

Reasons for Adopting-Emotional and Factual

When I looked at the responses I got to the questions about why people adopt, I saw two categories of reasons: Emotional Reasons and Factual Reasons. There were fourteen emotional reasons, including loving children, wanting to share life with a child, and feeling "empty" inside without a child. The eleven factual reasons included not being able to have a child by birth, knowing children needed homes, and having been the child's foster parent. Again, the options given for each reason were: Not a Consideration, Slight Consideration, Medium Consideration, and Central Consideration.

Emotional Reasons

Eighty-one percent of the parents surveyed said that loving children was a central consideration in their decision to adopt. No one said this was not a consideration for them. It was the reason given most often for adopting in this study. In my research prior to developing the questionnaire, infertility was the most frequently mentioned reason for adopting, with love of children the second reason given. (I will discuss infertility later).
The next most important consideration in deciding to adopt was wanting to share life with a child. Seventy-nine percent of the parents said this reason was a central consideration in their decision to adopt. The third most popular reason was just wanting a child, with 74% saying this was also a central consideration. However, seven percent said they never even considered this. In my previous research, this reason is only mentioned four times. Over half the parents adopted because they felt "empty" inside without a child. (I had said I had always wanted to adopt. Thirty-four percent of the people said that reason was a central consideration for them).

Some emotional reasons were not as important to this group of adoptive parents. People generally did not adopt to improve their marriage (91%). As Barbara Holtan, director of Tressler Lutheran Services Adoption Unit would say, "Never happen"(5). They also did not adopt to get a child of a specific sex nor to get a sibling for their child. Wanting children because their family and friends had children was almost evenly split between not a consideration (36%) and central consideration (27%).

Factual Reasons

Factual reasons for adopting had a lesser importance for the fifty-eight participants. Sixty-two percent of the parents said infertility was a central consideration in their decision to adopt, with only 18% saying it was not a consideration for them. The next most popular reason was wanting to give a child a permanent home, which was a central consideration for 48% of these adoptive parents. Being aware that there were children needing homes was a medium consideration for 39%.
The other factual reasons were not that important. Since most of the children were placed at a young age (half at seven weeks or younger), having been the child's foster parent was a central consideration for only three percent. Eighty-one percent said pregnancy being medically dangerous for the woman was not a factor, which makes sense since 62% said infertility was a central consideration, and 18% had children by birth. Only 17 people had one or more children adopted internationally, so reasons for adopting internationally, such as wanting a young child, and knowing international adoption is one way to get a younger child, were not considered by this group of parents. There were 15 families that included special needs children, and reasons such as feeling capable of parenting a child with special needs were also not that important.

Parental Age Differences

I found it interesting that there were differences in how important the reasons for adopting were when comparing the age groups. I want to reiterate that this was their age group when they completed the survey, not necessarily when they became adoptive parents. What I did, though, was make two categories, Consideration and Not a Consideration, instead of the original four categories. (In other words, Slight, Medium, and Central Consideration all became "Consideration"). Again, the three age groups were: 25 to 35 years old; 36 to 45 years old; and over age 45.
Six reasons were given less importance by older parents. Almost 93% of those aged 25 to 35 years said they just knew there was a child waiting for them to adopt. Only 33% of those over the age of 45 said the same thing. Knowing someone who was adopted, or an adoptive parent, was a consideration for 91% of the 25 to 35 year-olds, but only 66% of those over age 45. My reason, "I always knew I would adopt a child someday," was considered by 78% of the 25 to 35 group; 60% of the 36 to 45 year-olds; and only 33% of those over age 45. The other reasons that were given more consideration by the younger adoptive parents were: seeing their friends and family with children; feeling "empty" inside without a child; and giving a child experiences they did not have as a child.
Two reasons, however, were more important to the older adoptive parents, and they both dealt with international adoption. "I wanted a baby and decided to adopt internationally, because there aren't many healthy babies available for adoption in the United States" and "I chose international adoption to get a young child and I was told I was too old to adopt a young child in the United States" were both given at least some consideration by 50% of those parents over the age of 45, and only 21% of those 25 to 35. Of my adoptive parents, two aged 25 to 35 had international adoptions; eight aged 36 to 45 did; as did seven of those over 45.
The 36 to 45 year-olds had one reason that was more important to them, and that was not by much when compared to the parents who were over 45. Wanting a sibling for a child who was already in the home was a consideration for almost 47% of the parents between 36 and 45, and almost 42% of those over 45, yet, it was only a consideration for 21% of the 24 to 35-year olds.


I think it is interesting that younger parents gave more consideration to emotional reasons: "I just knew there was a child waiting for me to adopt him/her" and "I always knew I would adopt a child someday." Older parents were more interested in factual considerations, such as wanting a young child and knowing they could adopt one more easily through international adoption. Overall, however, we seem to adopt because we feel we must. We love children. We want to share our lives with one child, or more. We may or may not be infertile, but we want a child (or another child). We're not trying to save the world nor our marriages. It has always been my opinion that the decision to adopt is a selfish one: we want children. And, again in my opinion, there's nothing wrong with that!

Applications for the Future

If we are going to place children for adoption, making people aware there are children waiting for homes may not be the reason to stress. The present study showed that people adopt for emotional reasons, and which reasons are more important depend on the situation of the adoptive parents. In recruiting adoptive parents, we may need to ask how old the parents are, and if their situation might make them more amenable to international adoption (i.e. are they older and want a baby) or if they already have a child in the home (wanting a sibling was more important to 36 to 45 year old adoptive parents). We definitely need to appeal to people's need to love children (love of children was the primary reason given for adopting). This information can help us gear public awareness campaigns promoting adoption to specific segments of the population.

Further efforts in this field also should include surveys of a larger sample of adoptive parents, with the idea of reaching both infant and special needs adopters. Much of the research done so far on why people adopt seems to be concentrated on why people adopt special needs children. This may be based on the assumption that people adopt infants due to infertility. The present study suggests that infertility may be fourth on the list of reasons people adopt. This makes sense when the question, "Why don't all infertile couples pursue adoption" is asked. If infertility were the primary reason for adopting, would not all infertile couples adopt?

This then leaves a bigger question, "Why don't people adopt?" Why, with all the children available for adoption in the foster care system, and in orphanages around the world, do some people choose to consider their families complete with only birth children? Or, choose to never start families through adoption, when they are unable to have a child by birth? These are questions that need answering, if we are to find permanent homes for the children who need them. Only when we understand the why and why not, can we address those concerns and recruit adoptive parents.


1) Bachrach,C.A.(Nov. 1983) Adoption as a Means of Family Formation:Data from the National Survey of Family Growth. Journal of Marriage and the Family,45 (4). Pp.839-865.
2) Coyne, A. and Brown, M.E. (March-April 1986) Relationship Between Foster Care and Adoption Units Serving Developmentally Disabled Children. Child Welfare LXV (2). Pp 189-198.
3) Goetting, A. and Goetting, M. Voluntary Parents to Multiple Children With Special Needs: A Profile.(1994) Journal of Child and Family Studies, 2 (4).pp. 353-369.
4) Groze, V., Haines-Simeon, M. and Barth, R.P. (1994). Barriers in Permancy Planning for Medically Fragile Children, Drug-Affected Children, and HIV Infected Children. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 11 (1).pp. 63-85.
5) Holtan,B. (August, 1995). Assessing Your Readiness to Adopt. What Your Motives Reveal. Adoptive Families, 28 (4). P. 48.
6) Leahy, A.M. (July 1932-May 1933). Some Characteristics of Adoptive Parents. American Journal of Sociology, 38.pp. 548-563.
7) Macaskill,C. (1985). Post-Adoption Support: Is It Essential? Adoption and Fostering,9. pp. 45-49.
8) Proch, K. (May 1982).Differences Between Foster Care and Adoption: Perceptions of Adopted Foster Children and Adoptive Foster Parents. Child Welfare, 61 (5). Pp. 259-268.
9) Rosenthal,J.A., Groze, V. and Aguilar,G.D. (1991). Adoption Outcomes for Children with handicaps. Child Welfare, 70 (6).pp. 623-636.
10) Silverman, A.R. and Feigelman, W. (Nov. 1977). Some Factors Affecting the Adoption of Minority Children. Social Casework.pp.554-56.
11) Wingard,D. (July-Aug 1987). Trends and Characteristics of California
Adoptions:1964-1982. Child Welfare, 66 (4).pp. 303-314.

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