“KIDS NEED FAMILIES
TO TURN OUT RIGHT”
Public Agency Adopters
Without the support groups, one or both of us would be dead.
You’ve heard the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child”?
Well, it’s taken the whole damned East Coast to rear my daughter!
— SINGLE MOTHER, PUBLIC AGENCY ADOPTER, 1999
There has long been a socioeconomic divide between those who adopt children from foster care and those who adopt privately or through private agencies. For decades, most foster parents have come from the working and lower-middle classes (see Mandell, 1973: 43). Public agencies did not actively solicit adoption applications from these caregivers until reforms of the 1970s permitted foster parents to adopt. Public agency adoptions began to permit kin adoptions in the 1970s, followed by greater acceptance of single-mother adoptions in the 1980s. Kin adoptions reflected the class and racial/ethnic backgrounds of children in foster care. Single-mother adoptions included more middle-income professionals and whites than the children’s backgrounds would predict.
The ten couples I interviewed who had adopted or were seeking to adopt through public agencies—whether through the state’s Department of Social Services or its designated private agency partners for adoptions labeled “special needs” or “hard to place”—shared certain characteristics. The ones who remained throughout the screening and training process were less well off than the people I interviewed who were seeking private or international adoptions. Based on the wives’ and husbands’ self-reported occupations, in most cases, the public agency adoptive couples’ household incomes were comparable to those of the single professional women seeking to adopt through public channels. Public agencies also provide home-study services to people not planning to obtain children from public sources. These participants in the preadoptive training/home study sessions are more likely to have higher