Adoption/Debate Guide

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The debate on outcomes of adoption

A meta-analysis concluded that adopted children do not have lower self-esteem.[1] Another meta-analysis concluded that adopted children have lower school performance than non-adopted children[2], but adopted children have better school performance that children who remain in institutional care.[3] Another meta-analysis reported that adoptees had significantly higher levels of maladjustment, were overrepresented in clinic populations, and were found to have higher levels of externalizing disorders (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder) and academic problems than nonadoptees.[4] Studies published since the meta-analysis also found increased externalizing disorders, even among infant adoptions.[5]

International adoptions may have less behavioral problems than domestic adoptions.[6][7] This is hypothesized to be due less genetic risks predisposing for mental health problems in international adoptees compared to domestic adoptions as international adoption may be due to lack of resources and poverty whereas domestic adoption may have more mental health problems in the birth parent.[6]

The debate on open records

While there has been more and more recognition and acceptance of the idea of search and reunion, corresponding changes to legislation to allow access to records has been less forthcoming. Proponents of open records regard it as a fundamental human right, whether or not a person accessing such records has any desire to trace or not.[8] Opponents of open records maintain that the privacy inherent in adoption is akin to confidentiality between doctors, lawyers or clergy and their clients, and that removing the option of privacy harms adoption.[9]

One aspect of the debate has centred on the effects of open records vis a vis adoption and abortion rates. Research indicates that in jurisdictions with open records, there is a higher rate of adoptions (and a slower decline in the number of adoptions) and a lower rate of abortions, compared to jurisdictions with closed records.[10]

The debate on open adoption

Where once all adoptions were closed, meaning that the adopted person would have no further contact with the natural family unless, in adulthood, they began a trace, this began to change in the 1980s with the introduction of open adoptions. Such adoptions allowed for a range of openness - the possibility of natural parent(s) having a say in who the child would be placed with, to periodic sending of letters and/or photographs via an intermediary such as the adoption agency, up to complete openness, where the adoptive and natural parent(s) know each others' identities and addresses and may meet regularly.

Opposition to open adoption comes from both adoptive parents' organisations - who say it removes choice from them; and from natural parents' organisations, who say that promise of an open adoption can be used to unduly influence the decision to place a child for adoption, and in any case are often not legally binding.

The debate on international adoption

With increasing rates of infertility in the west, combined with growing acceptance and reduced stigma attached to single parenthood, both combining to make less children available for adoption, the trend towards international adoption has grown. First beginning after World War II, significant numbers of children from Europe and Asia were adopted to the United States. The trend continued especially, after the Korean War; and the controversial Operation Babylift, which saw the evacuation of children from Saigon immediately prior to the American withdrawal from the Vietnam War, subsequently placed for adoption.[11][12]

The trend towards international adoption has continued to grow. As former "source" countries for international adoption become stronger economically, they have tended to cease being source countries and instead become destination countries themselves for international adoption. An example of this is Ireland, which saw over 4,000 children adopted to the United States and elsewhere in the 1950s and 1960s, but now sources children itself from China, Russia and elsewhere.

While widespread corruption, exploitation and coercion in the area of international adoption led to the introduction of the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption and the introduction of tougher regulation in many jurisdictions, concerns continue to be expressed over the ongoing existence of corruption in international adoption. Ethica (an organisation promoting ethical adoption practices) points out that 43% of the 40 most common countries for U.S. citizens to adopt from are now closed to international adoption, and that "Virtually all of these countries closed due to concerns about rampant corruption or child trafficking and abduction."[13]

Debate continues on whether international adoption is in the best interests of the children concerned. A meta-analysis concluded, "most international adoptees are well-adjusted although they are referred to mental health services more often than nonadopted controls. However, international adoptees present fewer behavior problems and are less often referred to mental health services than domestic adoptees."[6] One example is media interest in attempts by pop-singer Madonna to adopt a second child from Malawi following a recent divorce.[14]

The debate on who can adopt

Traditionally, adoption was available only to married couples. With changes in society, this is no longer the case in many jurisdictions. Debate on the question of who should be eligible to adopt centres on two main areas - marital status, and adoption by gays.

Marital status

Most western jurisdictions now allow adoption by unmarried, co-habiting couples and by single people. This development was seen as the supreme irony by many natural parents' organisations, whose members claim that they had been put under pressure to place their children for adoption precisely because they were unmarried.

Gay adoption

Some western jurisdictions allow adoption by gays and lesbians. In some cases, adoption by a same-sex couple is not allowed, but one of the members of the partnership may adopt. To date, 22 U.S. states and the district of Columbia have granted adoptions to gay individuals or couples.[15] Organisations opposed to the expansion of gay rights generally have opposed such adoptions.


  1. Juffer F, van IJzendoorn MH (2007). "Adoptees do not lack self-esteem: a meta-analysis of studies on self-esteem of transracial, international, and domestic adoptees.". Psychol Bull 133 (6): 1067-83. DOI:10.1037/0033-2909.133.6.1067. PMID 17967094. Research Blogging.
  2. Bramlett MD, Radel LF, Blumberg SJ (2007). "The health and well-being of adopted children.". Pediatrics 119 Suppl 1: S54-60. DOI:10.1542/peds.2006-2089I. PMID 17272586. Research Blogging.
  3. van Ijzendoorn MH, Juffer F, Poelhuis CW (2005). "Adoption and cognitive development: a meta-analytic comparison of adopted and nonadopted children's IQ and school performance.". Psychol Bull 131 (2): 301-16. DOI:10.1037/0033-2909.131.2.301. PMID 15740423. Research Blogging.
  4. Wierzbicki, Michael (June 1993). "Psychological Adjustment of Adoptees: A Meta-Analysis". Journal of Clinical Child Psychology 22 (4): 447. DOI:10.1207/s15374424jccp2204_5. Retrieved on 2010-06-07. Research Blogging.
  5. Keyes MA, Sharma A, Elkins IJ, Iacono WG, McGue M (2008). "The mental health of US adolescents adopted in infancy.". Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 162 (5): 419-25. DOI:10.1001/archpedi.162.5.419. PMID 18458187. Research Blogging.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Juffer F, van Ijzendoorn MH (2005). "Behavior problems and mental health referrals of international adoptees: a meta-analysis.". JAMA 293 (20): 2501-15. DOI:10.1001/jama.293.20.2501. PMID 15914751. Research Blogging. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "pmid15914751" defined multiple times with different content
  7. Howard, JA, Smith SL, Ryan SD. (June 2004). "A Comparative Study of Child Welfare Adoptions with Other Types of Adopted Children and Birth Children". Adoption Quarterly 7 (3): 1 - 30. DOI:10.1300/J145v07n03_01. PMID 12345678. Retrieved on 2010-06-07. Research Blogging.
  8. Bastard Nation: "Open Records: Why It's an Issue." Available: Accessed: 6th January, 2008.
  9. National Coalition for Adoption: "Consent or coercion? How Mandatory Open Records Harm Adoption." Available: (PDF format). Accessed: 6th January, 2008.
  10. Bastard Nation: "Open Records Does Not Equal Higher Abortion or Lower Adoption Rates" Available: Accessed: 6th January, 2008.
  11. Gloria Emerson, “Operation Babylift,” 1975. Available: Accessed: 20th January, 2008.
  12. Statement on the Immorality of Bringing South Vietnamese Orphans to the United States, April 4, 1975. Available: Accessed: 20th January, 2008.
  13. Ethica: The Statistics Tell the Story! Available: Accessed: 20th January, 2008.
  14. BBC: "Head to head: Madonna adoption" Available: Accessed: 4th April, 2009.
  15. Human Rights Campaign: Where Have Adoptions by Gay and Lesbian Parents Been Permitted Under Law? Available: Accessed: 19th January, 2008.