My Child, My Choice
Parental Weil-Being in the Adoption of Children
with Developmental Disabilities
LARAINE MASTERS GLIDDEN
In her longitudinal research on the outcomes of aging parents who have cared for children with developmental disabilities (DD)1 for many decades, Marsha Seltzer uses the term “unanticipated lives” to describe birth families who rear children with DD.2 But for the parents who choose to adopt children with developmental disabilities, children who will require lifelong supports, their lives are not only anticipated (at least relative to birth parents) but are actually welcomed. Nonetheless, it would be naive to assume that these lives are therefore predictably satisfying and without challenges or obstacles to successful fulfillment. Adoptive parents make a choice to adopt a particular child, but much about this child and his or her development is unknown. Thus it is essential that we conduct research that follows adoptive families through time in order to help us to understand the crests and troughs of their life journeys. This chapter is a description of such research.
It was only towards the end of the twentieth century that children with severe physical and/or intellectual disabilities were placed for adoption in sufficient numbers for such research to be possible. Earlier than that, children with DD were considered to be unadoptable or adoptable only by “less desirable” applicants, who were not as well educated or as affluent as the typical adoptive parents.3
A number of factors led to an increase in the adoption of children with DD. Healthy, white infants, matched in looks and intelligence to the potential adoptive parents, were less available once contraceptive methods and liberalized abortion laws reduced the number of unwanted babies. Single mothers rearing children out of wedlock were less ostracized, reducing availability even further.4 Concurrently with these changes, attitudes became more favorable toward adoption as a legitimate method of family formation, and this liberalization was codified in federal legislation. P.L. 95–266, the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment and Adoption Reform Act of 1978, and P.L. 96–272, the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980, each attempt to expedite the adoption of children