Adoption: By the NumbersPosted Feb 15, 2017
By: Jo Jones, Ph.D., and Paul Placek, Ph.D.
About National Council For Adoption (NCFA)
National Council For Adoption is a non-profit, non-sectarian, non-partisan adoption advocacy organization whose mission is to meet the diverse needs of children, birth parents, adopted individuals, adoptive families, and all those touched by adoption through global advocacy, education, research, legislative action, and collaboration. Our vision is a world in which every child everywhere has a nurturing, permanent family. Our exclusive focus on adoption includes supporting and encouraging safe and ethical U.S. domestic and intercountry adoptions, adoptions of children from the U.S. foster care system, and domestic adoption options in countries around the world.
A History of Adoption: By the Numbers
NCFA originally published “By the Numbers: Adoption Statistics” in 1985 in the original Adoption Factbook. It was last published in Adoption Factbook V, the fifth of a nationally acclaimed research volume on adoption released in 2011. When our original research was published in 1985, it had been almost ten years since data on domestic infant adoption was available. In 1975, the Federal Government no longer required states to track and report on the number of private domestic adoptions (arranged by private agencies or attorneys) taking place in their jurisdictions.
The number of children adopted from U.S. foster care has continued to be counted annually by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, while the annual count of children adopted internationally is completed by both the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the U.S. Department of State. These data points are always included in our statistical count, along with the previously new and unreported numbers of private domestic adoptions, which are only counted and reported nationally by NCFA.
Although detailed domestic adoption data was no longer available after 1975, NCFA believed there remained a critical need for access to current adoption data among policymakers, adoption agencies, social workers, attorneys, health professionals, researchers, adopted persons, biological parents, and potential adoptive parents. NCFA made collecting, analyzing, and reporting this important data a key component of its ongoing mission. In addition to publishing the quinquennial research on national adoption data, the Adoption Factbooks I–V grew in size and scope with each publication and became the country’s most comprehensive source of adoption statistics and analysis of adoption policy and practice.
NCFA has decided to cease regular publication of the Adoption Factbook. Instead, this year, we are publishing Adoption: By the Numbers in a special edition of our monthly policy publication, the Adoption Advocate. Over the past eight years, NCFA’s Adoption Advocate has been widely and increasingly circulated to professionals, families, press, and anyone with an interest in adoption policy and practice. Like the Adoption Factbook, it has become a nationally recognized source for adoption-specific research and commentary across all adoption types, with several editions being translated and distributed internationally. While NCFA is proud of the historical significance of the Adoption Factbook, the Adoption Advocate’s monthly publication and widespread circulation allows us to share the most relevant content, in a more accessible format, to more people, at a lower cost, and in a more time-sensitive fashion.
In this edition of Adoption: By the Numbers, research has been conducted by Drs. Jo Jones and Paul Placek. Dr. Jones served as lead researcher and had the benefit of the support and counsel of Dr. Paul Placek, who had served as both lead researcher and author in all of the previous “By the Numbers” reports. Although commissioned by NCFA, Drs. Jones and Placek worked independently of NCFA, and their findings, analysis, and conclusions are their own.
by Chuck Johnson, President and CEO, National Council For Adoption
NCFA is pleased to share this critical data about domestic adoption with the adoption community. Our expert researchers have done diligent outreach and brought their combined experience and comprehensive analysis to this report. I commend Dr. Jones on her outstanding work and am grateful for the continuity and expertise Dr. Placek brought to the project.
The Big Picture
Although the total number of all related and unrelated adoptions across all types (private domestic adoption, public domestic adoption, and intercountry adoption) have fallen since NCFA last counted in 2007, adoption remains an important human service for children in need of families in the U.S. and around the world. Research has shown the benefits of adoption for children who need families, as it provides the safety, security, and developmental support that only permanency within a nurturing family can.
Public attitudes about adoption lead NCFA to conclude that there is a strong culture of adoption in the U.S. Some experts estimate that 100 million Americans have either been personally touched by adoption within their families or know someone who is or has adopted. Given our long and active role on Capitol Hill, NCFA can also report that adoption is viewed as a positive and desirable outcome for children in need of families among policymakers across the political spectrum.
The findings presented in this research report give adoption advocates crucial information and perspective—a valuable foundation to build upon as we continue to speak out on behalf of children in need of the permanent, loving families adoption can provide.
Drs. Placek and Jones report the total number of all adoptions taking place in the U.S. has fallen, from a count of 133,737 adoptions in 2007 to 110,373 (41,023 related adoptions and 69,350 unrelated adoptions) in 2014. More than half of this decline can be attributed to the significant drop in the number of intercountry adoptions by Americans. There is also a significant decline in the number of kinship or related adoptions.
NCFA was interested to see that the number of infant adoptions has remained mostly steady from 2007; there was even a small increase from 18,078 in 2007 to 18,329 in 2014. Although the number of domestic adoptions represents only 0.5 percent of all live births and 1.1 percent of births to single parents, researchers saw no decrease this year after noting a decrease in every other “By the Numbers” report since 1992.
This finding is also significant and compelling given that the number of births to single parents has decreased significantly since 2007. The Adoption Option Index™ (explained further in the report) shows an increase to 6.9, from only 6.1 in 2007. This specialized index compares those who chose adoption to others who tend to be most likely to consider adoption, including data on births to unmarried women and abortions. NCFA does not necessarily seek to see an increase or decrease in the number of infant adoptions, but we continue to hear from professionals and those who have faced unplanned pregnancies that information received about adoption is too often biased, late, or incomplete. We believe that everyone facing an unplanned pregnancy should have access to information that helps them make their own fully informed decision. NCFA is also committed to helping ensure that women (and their partners) have timely, accurate, and non-coercive information about adoption so they may make their own decisions. (To learn more about NCFA’s adoption awareness and education initiative, please go to www.iChooseAdoption.org.)
The significant decline in intercountry adoptions is of particular concern to NCFA because the number of orphaned, abandoned, and relinquished children worldwide has increased by many millions. Thousands of Americans still express a desire to adopt internationally, but are hindered from pursuing international adoption. Although the policies of other nations play a role, we also believe that the decline is, at least in part, due to the U.S. Government’s lukewarm support of intercountry adoption.
As such, NCFA has become a reluctant critic of some of our country’s intercountry adoption policies. We believe that the U.S. Central Adoption Authority, the U.S. Department of State, has failed to ensure that The Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption serves its original and promised goal of allowing the U.S. to better serve the needs of this very vulnerable population of children living outside family care. NCFA is committed to remaining a prominent, proactive, and effective voice for all children all over the world in need of families. We will continue to call the U.S. Government and the international child welfare community to account, and encourage them to work to better ensure that intercountry adoption remains a viable solution for those children who will likely not see their right to a family fulfilled in their country of birth. American families stand willing to receive these children into their hearts and homes, and we support the human right to family owed to every child, everywhere.
NCFA is often asked why Americans adopt internationally when there are children available for adoption in U.S. foster care. The answer is complicated and multi-faceted. In short, prospective adoptive families have their own unique and sometimes very personal reasons for the choices they make, and NCFA’s goal is to provide information about all adoption types and leave the decision-making to the families pursing adoption. The reality is that the growth in the number of adoptions from foster care occurred simultaneously with the growth in intercountry adoption. Similarly, the number of children being adopted from foster care has steadied as the number of children adopted internationally has dramatically declined. As a matter of public policy, it shouldn’t be an “either/or choice” to adopt domestically or internationally. All children, everywhere deserve a family. Further, NCFA has concluded that a strong culture of adoption promotes the adoption of children; be they American children in foster care or orphans from around the world. (For more information about NCFA’s Global Adoption Project, please visit www.adoptioncouncil.org.)
Adoptions from Foster Care
In keeping with the positive trend of the last decade, it is important to note that the number of children being adopted from foster care increased in 2014. Yet it is also important to note that the number of children waiting to be adopted from foster care has also increased. There is no better example of the positive role that legislative advocacy can have than Congress passing the NCFA-endorsed Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997, which resulted in doubling the number of children being adopted from foster care within only a few years of its passage.
Politicians and child welfare advocates agree that the U.S. foster care system is still broken. It is a system that fails to serve the physical, emotional, and educational needs of children in its care. Children are denied their basic need and human right to a permanent family to care for them when they are left languishing in foster care. Reform is desperately needed. In response to the specific problems facing the foster care system, NCFA has begun a longitudinal and comprehensive research project that will lead to national best-practice recommendations for the recruitment and retention of foster and adoptive parents. (For more information about NCFA’s Families For All Initiative, please visit www.adoptioncouncil.org.)
Drs. Jones and Placek make a noble effort to decipher if a public or private entity should be credited with making the adoptive placement, but now—40 years after states were no longer required to track private adoptions—it is increasingly clear that no national standard for counting exactly how children were adopted exists. Even within states, different government offices tasked with counting and classifying how children were adopted report and track children’s adoptions in different, sometimes conflicting ways. It’s not only state offices: Even the two U.S. Government offices responsible for tracking international adoption (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of State) use different classification tools to count the number of international adoptions.
Although NCFA expresses a very high level of confidence in the finding of 110,373 total adoptions in the U.S. in 2014, NCFA and the researchers who led this project are less confident in reporting who actually facilitated the adoption of each child—a public or private entity. In fact, both NCFA and Drs. Jones and Placek believe it is likely that some of the domestic adoptions credited to public entities may in fact have been handled by private agencies. There are two key reasons for this belief that are worth noting:
- The trend in recent years has been greater cooperation between public agencies and private agencies regarding the placement of children in foster care, with an increasing number of adoptions being handled from start to finish by private agencies. States may claim responsibility for the placement given that they were the legally responsible entity, yet some or all of the social services may have been rendered by a private agency.
- Adoption is both a social and a legal service. The majority of private adoptions involve both a privately licensed child-placing agency and an attorney to complete an adoption. If the adoption is across state lines, then both a “sending” and a “receiving” state are involved. Given the many parties involved, it is easy to see how state officials may lack clarity in how to clearly classify the placing entity, particularly in the absence of uniform counting standards.
NCFA and Drs. Jones and Placek recommend that the Federal Government and the states work together to improve data collection systems to ensure more standardized definitions, which would in turn result in more accurate adoption statistics. We hope that new federal data systems on adoption will be improved, comprehensive, complete, and timely. We also hope that standardized definitions will be developed to improve the comparability of the data.
The information collected has enormous implications, and we need ongoing and accurate counts of where children are, who placed them for adoption, and how they are being placed for adoption. The accuracy of these data points could play a significant role in how federal and state child welfare funds are allocated, and help professionals and policymakers better identify those specific areas in need of reform in order to ensure that the best interests of children are served.
Many thanks to all of you who take an interest in adoption and the well-being of children in need of family care. We are grateful to Drs. Jones and Placek for this important work, and we are especially thankful to those whose financial support made this research possible. We’re proud to share it with adoption professionals, policymakers, researchers, media organizations, and all those who want to support or better understand adoption. We dedicate this research to the many children who still wait for families, who rely on the important work all of us can and should do to help them find their forever families.
National Adoption Data Assembled by National Council For Adoption
by Jo Jones, Ph.D. and Paul J. Placek, Ph.D.
Six kinds of national data were assembled by National Council For Adoption (NCFA) to construct the seventeen statistical tables plus figures and charts to be described:
- a 2014 NCFA survey of state-by-state adoption statistics, combined into national estimates;
- birth data for 2014 on total and nonmarital live births collected and published online by the National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention;
- a 2012–2013 national survey of abortions in 2010–2011 collected by the Alan Guttmacher Institute (with notes on why incomplete Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data were not used);
- annual data for federal fiscal years 2012, 2013, and 2014 on intercountry adoptions (or, immigrant-orphans) collected by the Department of Homeland Security (formerly, U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service);
- annual data for federal fiscal years 2010–2014 on intercountry adoptions based on immediate relative visas issued by the U.S. Department of State; and
- annual data for federal fiscal years 2010–2014 on adoptions of children with public child welfare agency involvement collected by the Administration on Children, Youth, and Families.
Live births, nonmarital live births, adoptions with public child welfare agency involvement, intercountry adoptions, and relative visas data systems are maintained and regularly collected on a national basis by the Federal Government. The federal statistics are accurate and their methodologies are well described in their reports. However, most of the national data on ten adoption items as collected in the 2014 NCFA surveys are not routinely collected by any federal bureaucracy. Due to this vacuum on adoption data, NCFA has collected it, and the data are now described here.
By mail, email, and telephone, NCFA’s statistical consultant, Dr. Jo Jones, contacted public health, social service, and vital statistics offices within each state and the District of Columbia to request 2014 data on the following types of adoptions:
- total number of adoptions;
- number of related domestic adoptions (legal adoptions in which at least one of the adoptive parents or guardians is related to the child by blood or related by marriage to the child’s biological parent);
- number of unrelated domestic adoptions by public agencies (those child-placing agencies that are supported by public funds and administered by public officials and their personnel);
- number of unrelated domestic adoptions by private agencies (voluntary agencies which are supported by private funds as well as some public funds for certain programs under purchase of services agreements with public agencies);
- number of unrelated domestic adoptions by private individuals (independent placements made without agency involvement that are sometimes referred to as “private” adoptions and typically facilitated by attorneys or other legal representatives);
- number of unrelated adoptions of infants (infants under two years of age adopted by persons not related to the infant by blood or marriage);
- number of unrelated domestic adoptions of children with special needs (those children who may be difficult to place due to ethnic background, age, membership in a minority or a sibling group, or the presence of physical, emotional, or mental handicaps); and
- number of children who entered and who left the state under the auspices of the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC) adoptions.
The questionnaire used in the 2014 NCFA survey is shown in Appendix 2, National Council For Adoption—2014 State Survey. The most recent base year for which it was feasible for NCFA to collect these data was 2015 because there are time lags for state data processing.
National Council For Adoption conducted its 2014 survey for the same reasons which it conducted surveys in 1982, 1986, 1992, 1996, 2002, and 2007. There is still a critical need for current adoption data by policymakers, adoption agencies, social workers, attorneys, health professionals, researchers, adopted persons, biological parents, and potential adoptive parents. This need for current adoption data developed because federal efforts to collect comprehensive national adoption data are limited, periodic, and/or single purpose, e.g. the National Study of Adoptive Parents. NCFA’s 1982, 1986, 1992, 1996, 2002, 2007, and 2014 surveys demonstrate that it is feasible to collect these data. We hope that new federal data systems on adoption will be improved, comprehensive, complete, and timely. We also hope that standardized definitions will be developed to improve the comparability of the data.
Overview of Adoptions in 2014
Table 1 indicates that in 2014 there were 110,373 domestic adoptions. Of these, 41,023 were related domestic adoptions and 69,350 were unrelated domestic adoptions. The largest number of unrelated domestic adoptions was handled by public agencies (47,094), and the rest were handled by private agencies (16,312) or were independent adoptions handled by private individuals, usually attorneys (5,944). In 2014, infants comprised about one-fourth (18,329 or 26.5 percent) of unrelated domestic adoptions, and special needs children (some may have been infants) comprised almost nine-tenths (61,341 or 88.5 percent) of unrelated domestic adoptions.
There were 5,575 children who “entered the state for adoption” under the auspices of the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC) in 2014, and 7,196 children “left the state for adoption” as an ICPC adoption. Finally, there were 5,987 intercountry adoptions in 2014, as reported by the Department of Homeland Security.
Because the NCFA surveys in earlier years were similar to the 2014 survey in design and content, trends in adoption patterns can be shown. Figures 1–6 show trends in adoptions using the NCFA survey data. Figure 1 shows a decrease in unrelated domestic adoption in 2014 when compared with 2002 and 2007. However, the number of unrelated domestic adoptions in 2014 still remains considerably larger compared with the four periods in the 1980s and 1990s.
Figure 1. Unrelated domestic adoptions, NCFA surveys
Figure 2 shows a slight increase in 2014 domestic infant adoptions compared with 2007, but it is still lower compared with the 1992 and 1996 NCFA survey data. As was the case in 2007—when there were 18,078 domestic infant adoptions—the 18,329 domestic infant adoptions observed in 2014 is similar to the 17,602 observed in NCFA’s first national survey in 1982.
Figure 2. Unrelated domestic adoptions of infants, NCFA surveys
Figure 3 shows a mixed pattern in adoptions of special needs children. Between 2007 and 2014 the number of special needs adoptions nearly doubled—increasing from 32,402 in 2007 to 61,341 in 2014. However, the 2007 NCFA survey documented a reduction of about one-fourth in the number of special needs adoptions in 2007 compared with 2002.
Figure 3. Adoptions of children with special needs, NCFA surveys
Unrelated Adoptions by Public Agencies, Private Agencies, and Private Individuals—2014
Table 2 presents the percentages of unrelated adoptions that are by public agencies, private agencies, and private individuals. It shows that, of the 69,350 unrelated domestic adoptions in 2014, 67.9 percent were handled by public agencies, 23.5 percent were handled by private agencies, and 8.6 percent were by private individuals. In 2014, there were no independent adoptions by private individuals reported in sixteen states (Maine, Connecticut, Wisconsin, North Dakota, Kansas, Delaware, Maryland, Georgia, Oklahoma, Texas, Wyoming, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Alaska, and Hawaii). Some of these states have state laws prohibiting adoptions by private individuals.
Figures 4–6 show trends in unrelated adoptions by type of adoption. Figure 4 shows that public agency domestic adoptions rose steadily from the 1980s to the 1990s, rose again dramatically in 2002, remained steady in 2007, then rose slightly again in 2014 to 47,094. The dramatic increase in public agency adoptions reported since 2002 may be largely attributed to passage of the Adoption and Safe Families Act signed into law in 1997. This law provided incentives to states that increased the number of children who were adopted from foster care, proving that the right kind of legislative action can have very favorable results for children. Figure 5 shows a steady rise in private agency adoptions from 1982 through 2007. Between 2007 and 2014 private agency adoptions declined to 16,312. Figure 6 shows that private individual adoptions have fallen precipitously between 2007, with 13,257 private individual adoptions to 5,944 in 2014.
Figure 4. Public agency adoptions, NCFA surveys
Figure 5. Private agency adoptions, NCFA surveys
Figure 6. Private individual adoptions, NCFA surveys
Total Unrelated (Domestic and Intercountry) Adoptions—2014
A total of 75,337 unrelated adoptions occurred in the U.S. in 2014 (Table 3)—69,350 unrelated domestic adoptions and 5,987 intercountry adoptions. Intercountry adoptions comprised 7.9 percent of total unrelated adoptions in 2014, down from 20.3 percent since 2007 (Table 3, Adoption Factbook V). In the majority of states, intercountry adoptions comprised between 3.0 percent and 16.9 percent of unrelated adoptions. Maine (19.7 percent), Hawaii (17.6 percent), Minnesota (17.3 percent), and Virginia (17.2 percent) had the highest percentages of intercountry adoptions; Rhode Island (2.8 percent), Vermont (2.6 percent), and Nevada (2.3 percent) had the lowest percentages of intercountry adoptions among total unrelated adoptions.
Special Needs Adoptions—2014
Unrelated special needs adoptions are usually defined as children who are disabled physically or emotionally, children who are part of sibling groups, older children, or children of minority or ethnic backgrounds. In 2014, 88.5 percent of unrelated domestic adoptions were special needs (Table 4), more than double the percentage in 2007 (42.4 percent). Special needs adoptions comprised just over one-fourth of all unrelated domestic adoptions both in 1982 (27.6 percent) and in 1986 (26.5 percent) (NCFA, Adoption Factbooks I and II). The rise in special needs adoptions was attributed in Adoption Factbook III to better public funding to assist children with disabilities and other special needs. The high number of “special needs” adoptions can be attributed to the fact that the definition is not necessarily the customary societal understanding of special needs. In foster care, “special needs” may refer to any child who qualifies for adoption assistance due to special factors such as being an older child, having a particular racial or ethnic background, being part of a sibling group who need to be placed together, or having physical, mental, or emotional disabilities or medical conditions (Adoptuskids.org. Retrieved from: http://www.adoptuskids.org/adoption-and-foster-care/overview/faq). Since 2003, families who adopted a child with special needs from foster care may claim a federal adoption tax credit even with no pre-adoption expenses. As mentioned, any child who receives adoption assistance or subsidy benefits is considered a child with special needs (North American Council on Adoptable Children. Accessed 10/26/2016 https://www.nacac.org/taxcredit/taxcredit.html). One state adoption expert shared that “…in her state all adopted children were considered special needs children.” We see this as a positive recognition that every child in foster care has undergone some level of trauma. Recognizing as special needs the varied situations that may contribute to additional need is simply a way to ensure children get the attention and support they need for the very real hardships they have experienced. These factors may include neglect; abuse; race, ethnicity, age, family status that could delay permanency; or physical, social, or emotional disabilities, as well as medical conditions that need ongoing attention and support.
Ratios of Adoptions, Live Births, Nonmarital Live Births, and Abortions—2014
Ratios are useful devices for standardizing data and indicating the relative sizes of two quantities to be compared. It is helpful to standardize “per 1,000” as in Table 5 so that the relative magnitude of adoptions, births, and abortions to each other can be compared. The ratio of abortions per 1,000 live births, also called the “abortion ratio” in demographic studies, represents an indication of abortions in relation to the frequency of live births occurring to residents of each state. In 2014, there were 265.4 abortions for every 1,000 live births, or about 27 abortions per 100 live births in the United States. The magnitude of the ratios is affected by the distribution of both live births and abortions in relation to such characteristics of the female population as marital status, state policy on public funding of family planning and abortion, availability of services (family planning, maternity homes) for pregnant women, prevalence of certain religious groups from state-to-state, and even proximity to other states with certain services and facilities.
In Adoption Factbook II, NCFA developed three new types of ratios based on the standard demographic technique described above. The ratio of infant adoptions per 1,000 abortions represents an indication of infant adoptions in relation to the frequency of abortions. There were 17.3 infant adoptions per 1,000 abortions in 2014 (Table 5). NCFA takes no position on abortion, except to suggest that women have the right to make a fully-informed decision and some might not choose abortion if there were better access to information about adoption, counseling and support offered for expectant parents, and better and more pregnancy-related social services. If expectant parents knew that there are many qualified prospective adoptive parents hoping to adopt for every one adoptable infant, and that adoption can be beneficial to adopted persons and birth mothers who make an adoption plan, there might be more adoptions.
The ratio of infant adoptions per 1,000 live births represents an indicator of infant adoptions in relation to the frequency of live births. In 2014, there were 4.6 domestic infant adoptions per 1,000 live births in the United States indicating that less than one-half of one percent of live births are relinquished for adoption as infants.
The ratio of infant adoptions per 1,000 nonmarital live births is another indicator of the availability of infants for adoption because unmarried (never and previously married) women are more likely to relinquish their infants to adoption than currently married women. This ratio indicates infant adoptions in relation to the frequency of nonmarital live births. There were 11.4 infant adoptions per 1,000 nonmarital live births in 2014, indicating that about one percent of unmarried mothers chose adoption for their infants. This is similar to findings from the National Survey of Family Growth which showed that, for births occurring between 1996 and 2002, less than one percent of never-married women relinquished their infants for adoption within one month of birth (Jones, J. Who adopts? Characteristics of women and men who have adopted children. NCHS data brief, no 12. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2009.).
There are five states which have infant adoptions per 1,000 nonmarital live births ratios twice as large as the national average of 11.4 in 2014—Utah (48.9), Montana (34.2), Arkansas (33.7), Iowa (30.0), and Colorado (25.1)—indicating higher relative success than the national average in providing adoption assistance to unmarried women who would otherwise parent the baby. Arkansas and Utah also have much higher ratios of adoptions per 1,000 abortions—130.7 and 141.0, respectively—compared with the national average (17.3 adoptions per 1,000 abortions) and other states. Again, these ratios indicate that these states may have more relative success in offering the adoption option to women who would otherwise choose abortion. Other states with higher adoption-to-abortion ratios include: Kentucky (89.2), Iowa (74.3), Missouri (74.2), Montana (70.7), Indiana (68.5), and Idaho (66.1).
Unrelated Adoptions of Infants—2014
Table 6 focuses on unrelated domestic adoptions of infants, which comprised almost half (47.9 percent) of all unrelated domestic adoptions in 1992, 43.2 percent in 1996, but only 23.8 percent in 2007 and 26.4 percent in 2014. In 2014, infants comprised about half of unrelated domestic adoptions in Arkansas (50.1 percent), Louisiana (48.3 percent), and Utah (48.2 percent). In 2014, domestic adoptions of infants comprised only 0.5 percent of total live births, and 1.1 percent of births to unmarried women. Unmarried women are by far the most likely to consider relinquishing their infants for adoption, yet these statistics show that 98.9 percent of unmarried women who gave birth elected to parent the child in 2014.
Adoption Option Index™ from National Council For Adoption
A useful index has been created which indicates the number of infant adoptions per 1,000 nonmarital live births and abortions combined. This index, created by NCFA, is called the Adoption Option Index™. It was first published in Adoption Factbook II. Based on statistical data from NCFA’s survey on domestic infant adoption, counts of births to unmarried women from U.S. vital statistics, and abortion counts reported by the Alan Guttmacher Institute (all shown in Table 5), NCFA has constructed this index, which shows the relative frequency of infant adoptions per 1,000 abortions and births to unmarried women.
The United States Adoption Option Index™ is calculated as follows for 2014.
By comparison, in 1996, the Adoption Option Index™ was 9.5 (Adoption Factbook III) and had fallen in 2007 to 6.1 (Adoption Factbook V).
This is the first index ever constructed to indicate the relative frequency of infant adoptions to that group of pregnancy outcomes that could potentially yield adoptions. The index has both strengths and limitations.
Its strengths are that:
- it is an objective index based on counts of actual events;
- it is a ratio, which standardizes events “per 1,000” so large states and small states alike can be compared with regard to adoption activity in relation to the pool of pregnancies which potentially could yield adoptable infants;
- it allows statistically standardized comparisons of trends for all time periods and locations for which the three data items of infant adoptions, abortions, and births to unmarried women are available; and,
- it is a summary measure which reflects the types of adoption choices made by adoptive couples, unmarried pregnant women who choose to terminate their pregnancies, and unmarried pregnant women who carry their pregnancies to term and deliver. It also reflects the varied levels of adoption facilities, counseling, and regulations in a given geographic area.
Its limitations are:
- the index will vary with a substantial change in any one of the three data components;
- social factors, attitudes, and legislation can affect any of the three data components;
- it applies to domestic infant adoptions and excludes foreign adoptions; and
- for Tables 5 and 7, 2010–2011 abortion data were used since more recent U.S. abortion counts were not available for 2014.
Table 7 ranks all states with respect to the Adoption Option Index™ in 2014. The index is 6.9 for the U.S. as a whole, and indicates that there were about seven domestic infant adoptions for every 1,000 abortions and births to unmarried women combined. If converted to a base of 100, it means that there is less than one adoption for every 100 abortions plus births to unmarried women.
In 2014, four states had Adoption Option Indexes three or more times higher than the national average—Utah (36.3), Arkansas (26.8), Montana (23.1), and Iowa (21.4). There were two to four adoptions for every 100 abortions plus births to unmarried women in these states. This suggests that in these states women may have more extensive counseling, services, and facilities to orient pregnant women towards adoption—among other factors.
On the other hand, seven states had indexes which were one-half the national average, indicating a much lower level of adoption activity than the national average. NCFA does not wish to “point a finger” at these states, because there are many fine agencies in these areas struggling to do excellent work with very limited resources. Hopefully, NCFA’s Adoption Option Index™ will become an objective measure used henceforth to gauge the level of services and to obtain more resources to make the adoption option a choice selected more often.
NCFA takes neither a “pro-choice” nor a “pro-life” position on abortion. NCFA also recognizes that some pregnancy terminations, if allowed to gestate to term, would not result in live births. Also, some abortions are chosen by married women who may be less likely to relinquish an infant for adoption if their pregnancies were carried to term. NCFA does not suggest that all unmarried women should choose adoption for their babies. It is a fact that about 99 percent of unmarried women now choose to parent their liveborn babies. The opportunity to choose between various options is an important element of our democratic, pluralistic society. But it is all too often forgotten that adoption is one of those choices which could have major benefits for all concerned. Pregnant women who consider abortion or parenting deserve the opportunity to make a fully informed, fully supported decision and receive adequate counseling on all pregnancy options, as well as the social, financial, and medical support during and after pregnancy when they choose to carry their pregnancies to term (whether they ultimately choose parenting or adoption in this case). Expectant parents also have the right to know that many thousands of stable and qualified prospective adoptive parents are available to adopt their children. They deserve the opportunity to consider and choose whether to pursue raising the child themselves or making an adoption plan for their child. They also deserve an unbiased presentation of the impact of adoption, including the benefits, such as evidence showing that both birth parents and their babies can live successful lives, as well as the hardships, like questions of identity and difference.
The fact that NCFA’s Adoption Option Index™ varies so greatly across different geographic areas indicates that adoption choices may depend on support services. The index therefore shows how much room for improvement there is in certain areas, and where service and activity levels in the field of pregnancy counseling and services for pregnant women should be closely examined.
National Trends in Related and Unrelated Adoptions—1951–2014
Annual U.S. adoption data are available from 1951 to 1975, (collected by the Federal Government), and were combined with NCFA’s 1982, 1986, 1992, 1996, 2002, 2007, and 2014 surveys in Table 8. Looking at the federal data, Table 8 shows that total domestic adoptions rose fairly consistently from 72,000 in 1951 to a peak of 175,000 in 1970, then declined to 129,000 in 1975. NCFA survey data show increases and decreases in the total number of adoptions across the seven data points with no apparent pattern. NCFA data do show a consistent increase in the percentage of all adoptions that were unrelated from 36 percent of total adoptions being unrelated in 1982 to 63 percent in 2014, the highest percentage since 1951. The substantial increase in the percentage of unrelated adoptions may reflect a larger U.S. population seeking to adopt, greater acceptance of the adoption message, increased subsidies and post-adoption support services to adopt children from foster care, infertility, the desire to support children in need, and/or other factors.
National Trends in Public Agency, Private Agency, and Independent Adoptions—1951–2014
Table 9 shows the long-term trend in agency and independent adoptions. In the 1950s, public agencies handled about 20 percent of unrelated adoptions, and this rose steadily to 68 percent in 2014. Private agency adoptions have fallen from 40 percent of the total in the early 1960s to 24 percent in 2014. Independent adoptions comprised half of unrelated adoptions in the 1950s, dropped steadily through the 1970s, to nearly one-third of unrelated adoptions in 1982 and 1986, and in 2014 fell to an all-time low of 9 percent of unrelated adoptions.
International Adoptions to U.S. States in 2012, 2013, and 2014: Office of Immigration Statistics/Department of Homeland Security
The data presented in Tables 10–12 show the states of destination for immigrant-orphans for FY 2012–2014. The following discussion focuses on Table 12 as it aligns with the NCFA survey year. The first column of Table 12 is the same information as shown in Table 1, but the gender and age columns in Table 12 represent new information. There was a precipitous drop in intercountry adoptions since 2007—a drop of almost 70 percent—from 19,471 in 2007 (Adoption Factbook V, Table 10) to 5,987 in 2014 (Table 12). Because of the decline in the number of intercountry adoptions, more state-specific age and sex data were suppressed in more recent Department of Homeland Security reports to limit disclosure risk. Totals by age and by sex do not sum to the overall totals in Tables 10–12 because of the suppression of the state-level data. Percentages discussed below are calculated using non-missing data. For example, in 2014, percentages by age are based on the sum of reported values—5,876—not the overall total of 5,987 as reported in Table 12.
Since the publication of Adoption Factbook V, there has been a shift in the sex composition of the immigrant-orphan population: from more female than male children to equal numbers of children by sex. In 2007, 6 of 10 immigrant-orphans were female (11,846) and 40 percent (7,625) were male; in 2009, 56 percent were female (7,221 of 12,782). (See Adoption Factbook V Tables 10–12 for 2007–2009 immigrant-orphan numbers.) In 2012, 54 percent were female (Table 10); in 2013, the percentage female went up to 57 percent (Table 11); and in 2014, there were approximately equal numbers of immigrant-orphans by sex—2,977 were male and 2,997 were female.
Along with the shift in the distribution of immigrant-orphans by sex there has also been a dramatic shift in the age distribution—most notably a dramatic drop in the percentage of immigrant-orphans under one year of age. The number of immigrant-orphans under one year of age declined from 40 percent in 2007 (7,789 of 19,471) to 25 percent in 2009 (Adoption Factbook V, Table 12), 10 percent in 2012 (Table 10), 7.5 percent in 2013 (Table 11), and, most recently, to under five percent in 2014 (Table 12). The decrease in infant adoptions was offset by increases in the percentage of immigrant-orphans in the three older age groups. The percentage of immigrant-orphans aged one to four years increased 12 percentage points between 2007 and 2014—from 43 percent in 2007 to 55 percent in 2014. Similarly, the percentage of immigrant-orphans who were five years of age and older more than doubled—from 16.5 percent (3,220) in 2007 to 39 percent (2,303) in 2014.
Large population states absorbed more immigrant-orphans because the population seeking to adopt is numerically larger there. The five states that accepted 250 or more immigrant-orphans (Texas–427, California–394, Florida–275, New York–264, and Illinois–259; Table 12) also scored below the U.S. average of 6.9 on NCFA’s Adoption Option Index™ for domestic adoption (Table 7). While we can’t entirely explain this, it’s possible that fewer adoptions take place in these more populous states because public services tend to be more available to support parenting and there may be greater access to abortion services. Another explanation of this phenomenon may be that in more populous states, agencies providing intercountry adoption are more prevalent to help families pursue adoptions.
Trends in Countries of Origin for and Numbers of International Adoptions
Table 13 shows Department of State adoption data for the top 20 countries for adoptions incoming to the United States from FY 2010 to FY 2014. The most incoming, intercountry adoptions were from China (2010–2014), Russia (2010–2012), and Ethiopia (2013–2014). Figure 7 shows the 1973–2015 trend in international adoptions to the United States, based on Department of State data. As this chart details, international adoptions generally rose over the period 1973 through 2004 with some downward fluctuations, peaking at an all-time high in 2004 with 22,989 immigrant-orphan adoptions. Since 2004, the number of immigrant-orphan adoptions has fallen steadily to a low of 5,647 in 2015. The 2015 number is similar to the numbers in the 1970s and early 1980s.
Figure 7. Trend in immigrant-orphan adoptions, 1973–2015
Chart 7. Trend in immigrant-orphan adoptions, 1973–2015
Tables 14, 15, and 16 show detailed information on all countries of birth for 2012, 2013, and 2014 adoptees. These data are from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Since the three tables are similar, the focus will be on 2014 (Table 16). The largest numbers of immigrant-orphans (1,516) were aged one to four years and came from China. The majority of older children—aged five years and over—came from China (467), Ukraine (308), and Ethiopia (285). Ethiopia also was the country of birth for the largest number of the youngest age group (under one year). The sex ratios were balanced in most groups of countries except for China and India, where females significantly outnumbered males, and South Korea, where males significantly outnumbered females.
Adoptions of Children with Public Child Welfare Agency Involvement
The Administration for Children and Families supports state public child welfare agencies’ efforts to document adoptions handled by State agencies. These counts do not typically include private agency or private individual adoptions. However, there is little standardization in state data adoption practices or classification of adoptions that involve adoptions from the foster care system utilizing private agencies. In fiscal years 2002 through 2014, this count has hovered around 50,000 adoptions (Table 17 and Adoption Factbook V, Table 17), peaking in 2009 at 57,466 (Adoption Factbook V), and up from nearly 26,000 when the system began in 1995.
Adoption: By the Numbers View printable report
Table 1: Related and unrelated domestic adoptions and intercountry adoptions: United States, 2014 National Council For Adoption Survey View
Table 2: Number and percentage distribution of types of unrelated domestic adoptions for each state, division, and the United States: 2014 National Council For Adoption Survey View
Table 3: Total unrelated (domestic and intercountry) adoptions, and total intercountry adoptions as a percentage of total unrelated adoptions for each state, division, and the United States: 2014 National Council For Adoption Survey View
Table 4: Special needs adoptions as a percentage of unrelated domestic adoptions for each state, division, and the United States: 2014 National Council For Adoption Survey View
Table 5: Number of domestic infant adoptions, abortions, live births, and nonmarital live births, and ratios for each state, division, and the United States: 2014 View
Table 6: Number of unrelated domestic adoptions of infants and as a percentage of unrelated domestic adoptions, live births, and births to unmarried women for each state, division, and the United States: 2014 View
Table 7: State rankings using Adoption Option Index™ from National Council For Adoption: 2014 View
Table 8: National estimates of related and unrelated adoptions: United States 1951 to 2014 View
Table 9: National estimates of domestic unrelated adoptions and type of agency making adoptive placement: United States 1951 to 2014 View
Table 10: Immigrant-orphans adopted by U.S. citizens by sex, age, and state or territory of residence: Fiscal year 2012 View
Table 11: Immigrant-orphans adopted by U.S. citizens by sex, age, and state or territory of residence: Fiscal year 2013 View
Table 12: Immigrant-orphans adopted by U.S. citizens by sex, age, and state or territory of residence: Fiscal year 2014 View
Table 13: Top 20 Countries for Adoptions to the United States: FY 2010 to FY 2014 View
Table 14: Immigrant-orphans adopted by U.S. citizens by sex, age, and region and country of birth: Fiscal year 2012 View
Table 15: Immigrant-orphans adopted by U.S. citizens by sex, age, and region and country of birth: Fiscal year 2013 View
Table 16: Immigrant-orphans adopted by U.S. citizens by sex, age, and region and country of birth: Fiscal year 2014 View
Table 17: Adoptions of children with public child welfare agency involvement by state FY 2010 to FY 2014 View
Sources of Data View
Appendix 1: 2014 NCFA Survey Methodological Notes View
Appendix 2: National Council For Adoption—2014 State Survey View
Appendix 3: Cover Letter for NCFA 2014 Survey View