PROFILING ADOPTION IN THE
UNITED STATES TODAY
Adoption, like motherhood, has always been a woman’s issue.
It is women who give birth, and women have had their birth children
taken from them because of cultural, political or economic forces;
and it is women who sometimes feel they must relinquish their birth
child in order to protect that child. It is women who choose or
agree to take on the work of mothering.
— SUSAN WADIA-ELLS, THE ADOPTION READER
Race, class, and gender issues permeate and shape adoption in the United States. Adoption has always concerned race, from the first efforts by white settlers to adopt Native American children to the ongoing controversy surrounding interracial placement of children. It has an abiding location within a class hierarchy that draws children for adoption from the indigent or working-poor. Adoption today is also heavily gendered: women initiate the vast majority of adoptions; the preponderance of adoption social workers are women; and birth mothers are most often the sole parent for their vulnerable children. These hierarchies determine the structural risks facing children, the profiles of prospective adopters, and the institutions that operate foster care and adoption services.
Adoptions in the United States today are arranged through three major mechanisms. Public agencies accounted for 40 percent of all adoptions in 2004. This represents a large increase from the 15.5 percent reported for 1992 (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2004: 1; Stolley, 1993). These so-called public adoptions, or adoptions of children from domestic foster care, generally are accomplished through state agencies or the private agencies con