Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Why More People Don’t Adopt

The often misunderstood realities and barriers in adoption.

Source: Bess-Hamiti/Pixabay

A while ago I talked about the conditions behind the trend toward smaller families—one of them being tightened adoption regulations. In related discussions, readers responded that adoption would solve the issues raised.

Many see adoption as a universal remedy for a host of problems from overpopulation to infertility; they are quick to advocate for adoption.

"So many children need homes," they rightfully argue. All too frequently they espouse their view forcefully with little understanding of obstacles, red tape, and emotional turmoil adopting parents endure. This comment posted to Dollars for Babies underscores the strong pro-adoption stance: "If anything, we should be considering offering compensation to women who refrain from conceiving their own children. Instead, governments might offer supplementation to families willing to adopt and offer a home to one of the many children we can't take care of as it is."

Midlife women, couples of any age for that matter, experiencing infertility, are often chastised for investing in costly infertility treatments to have the babies they want. Comments to the post "Forty is the New 20 for Having Babies" further emphasize how women are challenged and the compelling views on the pro-adoption front:

...late pregnancies [that] are creating havoc to the society...the already developed nations suffer from the late pregnancies and marriages.

Please note the Down's Syndrome Association's "Estimated likelihood of having a baby with Down's syndrome" chart:...One must wonder how good a thing it really is to have more choices available when the morality of pursuing them is put in such doubt by relatively immutable health considerations and the availability of adoption.

Henrietta Eakins, whom I interviewed for my book, Parenting an Only Child, is one of many who turned to adoption at a time when the process was easier than it is today. After 13 years of marriage and not getting pregnant, Eakins said, "I really had no burning interest in being pregnant. Our main desire was having a child. My husband and I chose adoption over infertility treatments and high-tech methods to get the child we wanted."

Some couples are lucky; the adoption goes smoothly. Increasingly, however, adoption is snarled, discouraging, and costly whether you adopt in the United States or internationally. That could be why only two percent of American families adopt.

Realities and Barriers

The sheer number hoping for an infant is disheartening. I was surprised by how many couples with one child by birth or adoption write letters to birth mothers hoping to adopt second children. There are simply not enough newborns and babies to go around. Even if you get an answer to your letter and wind up in the delivery room, the birth mother may change her mind once she sees her baby.

If you adopt a child from the welfare system, the child will most likely be over the age of three. Having worked as a Court Appointed Special Advocate for Abused and Neglected Children (CASA) since 1996, I can attest to the fact that in that short lifetime, children in foster care will probably have been subject to considerable emotional and/or physical deprivation and/or abuse that leave scars and behavioral problems adopted parents (and the child) will work hard to surmount for years.

For older children who comprehend the situation and may have lived in several foster homes before being adopted, nagging questions persist: Why can't my mother take care of me? When will I go home to her? Once abandoned, many children feel they will be abandoned again, the next time by their adoptive parents. Problems and complications can be profound.

Cost is a significant barrier for many families that would like to adopt. According to

Adopting from the U.S. foster care system is generally the least expensive type of adoption, usually involving little or no cost, and states often provide subsidies to adoptive parents...Agency and private adoptions can range from $5,000 to $40,000 or more depending on a variety of factors including services provided, travel expenses, birthmother expenses, requirements in the state, and other factors. International adoptions can range from $7,000 to $30,000.

Visit for the most recent estimates.

Beyond the money, foreign adoptions have become a legal minefield in recent years with countries such as Belarus, Guatemala, Nepal, and Vietnam among those with revised laws or prohibit inter-country adoption entirely.

In a Washington Post op-ed column, Slamming the Door on Adoption, Elizabeth Bartholet, professor and director of the Child Advocacy Program at Harvard Law School, explains why altered international rulings deny what should be all children's fundamental human right: "to be nurtured in their formative years by permanent parents in real families." As a result of new policies, the number of children being adopted internationally has dropped; Americans still represent about half of all inter-country adoptions.

With tighter rules, the delays are longer. The governmental group, Child Welfare Information Gateway, reports that the home study alone, required of all families seeking to adopt, takes from 2 to 10 months. Adoptions from China, for instance, generally took 12-14 months; today adoptive parents are looking at a two-year or longer wait. Under China's revised regulations, you must now be married, have a high school diploma, a minimum net worth of $80,000 and a body mass index under 40 to qualify to adopt.

The practical aspects of gathering financial statements, citizenship papers, letters of recommendation, education records, and proof of no criminal record seem easy when compared with the emotional wringer both before and after you bring a child into your home.

Two articles from Salon put some little-discussed aspects of adoption in perspective. "Don't Justify My Love" discusses accusations of baby buying and the insensitivity toward adopted children and their parents. "The Baby I Turned Away" tells a powerful story of infertility, the longing to be a mother, and the difficult decisions would-be parents must make (and live with). These two stories tackle international adoption, however, the problems adopting in the United States are no less an emotional rollercoaster.

If Only Adoption Were Easy

As one adoptive parent said, "You forget the hassles once you have your son or daughter in your home." Many have had good adoption experiences and are thrilled with the outcomes. Nonetheless given the steep and daunting climb to adopt a child, it's one thing to enter the process; it's quite another to tell friends and family that they should adopt because there are too many babies in the world without parents and a home.

The difficulties, no matter how determined and enthusiastic someone is to adopt, make it understandable why those lucky enough to have one child (as natural parents or adoptive parents) stop growing their families. It's not for lack of wanting more children or wanting to give children homes. The adoption process can be just too hard and should be simplified while still protecting the children who need and deserve to be adopted.

This is a very complex topic to explore in a blog post; I've only addressed some of the issues. I hope you will add to the discussion by commenting below.

Related: Kids Need Families: Why Are We Rejecting Parents?

Copyright @ 2008, 2018 by Susan Newman