Academic journal article Family Relations

Public and Private Adoption: A Comparison of Service and Accessibility

Academic journal article Family Relations

Public and Private Adoption: A Comparison of Service and Accessibility

Article excerpt

The experiences and practices associated with adoption, as a means of family formation, have changed dramatically in recent years. Two trends have been particularly significant. First, there has been a dramatic decline in the choice of adoption as a pregnancy resolution alternative among pregnant adolescents in both Canada (Sobol & Daly, in press) and the United States (Bachrach, Stolley, & London, 1992). The reasons for, and implications of, this decline have received considerable attention in the research literature (for reviews, see Kalmuss, Namerow, & Bauer, 1992; Sobol & Daly, 1992).

The second, and related, trend to affect adoption practice has been the shift from the use of public agencies to private or independent facilitators. Recent research in Canada shows that private practitioners have taken over the process of infant adoptions. In 1981, 22% of all infant adoptions in Canada were facilitated by private practitioners. By 1990, 59% of infant adoptions were carried out in the private domain (Sobol & Daly, in press). Due to problems with the compilation of state records (Flango, 1990), this trend has not been documented over time on a national scale in the United States. However, other reports indicate that there has been an increase in the number of adoptions arranged outside the public agency system (Reitz & Watson, 1992; Wells & Reshotko, 1986). Based on 1987 figures for all state adoptions, the proportion of total adoptions conducted under the auspices of public agencies ranged from a low of 2% to a high of 36% (Flango, 1990). While these figures represent all types of adoption, it is a clear indication that the majority of adoption placements occur within private auspices. Private adoptions are currently allowed in all but six states in the United States (Flango, 1990) and in all but two provinces in Canada (Daly & Sobol, 1993).

One of the explanations offered for the prevalence of private adoptions is that the decreasing number of healthy Caucasian babies has escalated their "commodity value" because the "under-supply" has made them a "scarce resource" (Prichard, 1984). The result is a "seller's market" that is driven by high demand (Reitz & Watson, 1992).

In contrast to the considerable attention paid to the decline in infant placements, the shift toward private adoption services has received little attention in the empirical research literature. The literature that does exist tends to focus on legal and ethical questions (Briggs, 1991), program strategies and structures (Wells & Reshotko, 1986), or the advantages and disadvantages of private adoption. With respect to the latter, several authors have outlined the potential pitfalls of private adoption. For the adoptive parents, these include inadequate preparation (Briggs, 1991; Hoopes, 1990), minimal information about biological background, poor long-term support (Hoopes, 1990), and the potential to be charged exorbitant fees or be excluded due to inability to pay (Wells & Reshotko, 1986). For the biological parents, there is a higher potential that they would be pressured to place their child because of the financial nature of the transaction and the possibility that they would not receive adequate counselling for coming to terms with their loss (Wells & Reshotko, 1986).

At the same time, private adoptions offer many advantages over public adoption: (a) they are considered to be more expeditious and less encumbered by bureaucratic red tape, (b) there are more children available through private sources with shorter waiting times, and (c) all parties can avoid invasions of privacy (Bluth, 1967; Meezan, Katz, & Russo, 1978; Segal, 1982). Furthermore, private adoptions are perceived to heighten the sense of control over the placement process for both birth parents and adoptive parents (Wells & Reshotko, 1986).

Debates about the role of independent facilitators in adoption practice are embedded in a larger debate about the role of the state in child welfare matters. …

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