Adopted Children with Disabilities

By Waldman, Barry | The Exceptional Parent, August 2008 | Go to article overview

Adopted Children with Disabilities


Waldman, Barry, The Exceptional Parent


"... a higher proportion of adopted children under 18 than biological and stepchildren under 18 had a least one disability." (1)

Number of adopted children

The 2000 Census marked the first census that included "adopted son/daughter" as a separate relationship category for a household. There were almost 2.1 million adopted children living in U.S. households, including approximately 1.6 million under 18 years (2.5 percent of all children less than 18 years) and 473,000 18 years and older. The number of adopted children ranged from approximately 2,500 youngsters in the District of Columbia and 3,500 in Delaware to more than 100,000 in New York, more than 110,000 in Texas, and more than 167,000 in California. By state population, the percentage of adopted children ranged from about two percent in Delaware, California, Texas, and Louisiana to 3.4 percent in Wyoming and 3.9 percent in Alaska (informal adoptions are common among some Alaskan native groups).

More girls than boys are adopted for several reasons. Women in general express a preference for the adoption of girls, and single women more frequently have adopted girls than boys. Also, a majority of children available for adoption from other countries (that are leading sources for adopted children) are girls. Non-Hispanic, white children made up the majority (58 percent) category of adopted children, followed by black children (16 percent), and Hispanic children (14 percent).

Almost 13 percent of adopted children (ages 5 to 17 years) were foreign born. Only 17 percent of these foreign born youngsters speak English well. Almost half (49 percent) of the foreign born adopted children were born in Asian countries. Korea was the largest country source of foreign born adopted children (about 57,000 children or 22 percent of all foreign born adopted children). The proportion of adopted children that was foreign born ranged from three percent in Louisiana to 29 percent in Minnesota.

Adopted children with disabilities

In the past, misconceptions regarding adoptability of children with disabilities resulted in significant barriers to their successful adoption.

These perceptions appear to have been based upon informal discussions among workers and on the assumption that children with serious disabilities are extremely difficult to parent and thus less desirable to potential adoptive parents. As a result, children with disabilities often were not brought to the attention of potential adoptive families. Many children were not listed on exchanges or in photo listing books because child welfare workers, supervisors, and agency directors just considered the children to be unadoptable. Social workers, themselves, would not wish to parent these children and questioned the motives of interested adoptive families.

But studies during the 1980s and 1990s contradicted these assumptions. Reports indicated that increasing numbers of youngsters with disabilities were being placed for adoption and successfully accepted into families. Many child welfare agencies have modified adopting programs or have developed special programs for families considering the adoption of children with disabilities, including:

* Recruitment and education--Potential adoptive families have to be recruited and trained regarding the special needs of children with disabilities.

* Adoption subsidy--The availability of subsidy money may determine whether a family can adopt a child with a disability. Providing the family with necessary financial resources to fund medical and other special services can support the adoption.

* Home study--A program to prepare a family for the adoption, as well as to assess the family's interests, capabilities, and limitations.

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