Designing a Survey on Adoption in France

By Halifax, Juliette; Villeneuve-Gokalp, Catherine | Population, September/October 2004 | Go to article overview

Designing a Survey on Adoption in France


Halifax, Juliette, Villeneuve-Gokalp, Catherine, Population


I. Origins of the project

1. An increasing number of potential adopters are waiting for a child

With the diffusion of medical contraception, the legalisation of abortion, and the change in society's attitude towards "single mothers", the number of unwanted births, and consequently the number of children offered for adoption, has dropped significantly. Falling from 24,000 in 1977 to 7,600 in 1987, the number of wards of the state has stabilised at approximately 3,300 since 1997. As not all wards are eligible for adoption, only 1,195 had been placed in a family with a view to adoption at the end of 2001. During the same year, 461 wards of the state were adopted. Started in Vietnam as a humanitarian gesture, international adoption developed from the late 1970s onwards to compensate for the lack of children offered for adoption in France. During the last fifteen years, the number of children adopted in foreign countries, though on the rise, has remained lower than the demand. Indeed, although the number of intercountry adoptions rose from 2,000 to 4,000, the number of new approvals granted each year grew from 4,858 in 1987 to 7,918 in 2001. This approval is a real passport for adoption and has been compulsory since 1996 for all those wishing to adopt a ward of the state or a foreign child. It aims to ensure that "the conditions offered at the family, educational and psychological levels correspond to the needs and best interests of the child"(1). The approval is valid for five years and can be used only once to adopt one child or several children at the same time. Parents wishing to adopt another child later must apply for a new approval.

2. Previous studies

a) Research projects

Research into adoption gained momentum after the creation of plenary adoption by the law of 11 July 1966(2) to replace adoptive legitimisation, and later with the expansion of international adoption which put adoption in the limelight. A review of the scientific literature brings out two main points.

In France, the dominant issue is filiation: its history, the concept's diversity in traditional and contemporary societies, the "new family forms", and the legislation (Héritier-Auge, 1989; Lallemand, 1993 ; Théry, 1998). Studies of potential adopters and of the expectations about adoptive parenting are much less common (Rault, 1997). Apart from research on the construction of identity and the right to know one's origins (Fine et al., 1999), studies on adopted children remain the preserve of psychologists and physicians or concern specific groups, and they do not claim that their findings can be generalized (Halifax, 2001). Research on families and children is more advanced in other European countries and in North America, in particular with the work of Hjern, Lindblad and Vinnerljung in Sweden (Hjern et al., 2002) and of Ouellette in Quebec (Ouellette, 1996; Ouellette and Méthot, 2000).

The second point relates to the abundance of collective works bringing together the contributions of legal experts, anthropologists and ethnologists, sociologists and psychologists (Fine, 1998a and 1998b; Fine and Neirinck, 2000; Le Gall and Bettahar, 2001). They highlight the importance of a multidisciplinary approach to adoption. Among the social sciences, demography alone has shown little interest in adoption up to now, despite its particular predilection for the family.

b) Statistical data

Few statistics are available and they are often approximations. Most data from administrative sources are not produced annually, but every other year. They provide information on the number of children adopted, the number of adoptive parents and the number of candidates who have been approved and are waiting for a child. On the other hand, only a few surveys have dealt with adoption, and did not focus specifically on that topic.

* Administrative sources

Data on potential adopters are very poor. The only available information comes from the General Department of Social Services (DGAS -Direction générale de l'action sociale) at the ministry responsible for the family, which every two years generates departmental statistics on the number of persons who were officially approved during the year and on the number with a currently valid approval. …

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