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VFA Policy Intern Blog: The Evolution of American Adoption

The Evolution of American Adoption

by Isabel Marcelletti

Published 6/17

The progress in United States adoption policies was made possible by passionate advocacy from organizations, including Voice for Adoption’s (VFA) founding agency: Child Welfare League of America (CWLA). Before the precedent setting 1851 Adoption of Children Act, adoptions were quite grim. Out-of-wedlock mothers were paralyzed by the threat of a social stigma and were willing to give up their children as soon as possible. Other pre-modern contexts included poverty and the illness. Too often, adoptions were being approached as exploitative opportunities for cheap labor by malicious individuals but there were some people that genuinely cared for their adoptive children.

With the implementation of Massachusetts’ 1851 Adoption of Children Act, which recognized adoption as both a social and legal operation based on the child’s welfare, children’s needs were prioritized. This legislation catalyzed the movement to shut down the disturbing orphan trains that transferred orphans from the East Coast to the West Coast to be adopted in addition to the closing of orphanages so that children could enter foster homes. Then in 1910 specialized adoption agencies emerged, followed by the 1912 creation of the U.S. Children’s Bureau which investigated matters of child welfare. These structural improvements led to the prioritization of specialized cases of adoption. In 1948, the first documented transracial adoption occurred in Minnesota and in 1994 the Multiethnic Placement Act officially prohibited fund-receiving public adoption agencies from denying transracial adoptions on the sole basis of race. In the area of special needs adoptions, the CWLA advocated for more attention on special needs adoptions, beginning in 1955. It was 25 years later in 1980 when the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act was passed, which offered states significant funding to subsidize programs for special needs adoptions.

Currently, additional legislation has been passed and introduced to improve the American adoption system where children deemed as unadoptable are adopted by loving families. The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008, doubled incentive payment amounts of special needs and older aged adoptions to accommodate a larger pool of children. Additionally, the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act of 2014, which VFA highly supported, was passed to protect children in foster care and to provide them a secure environment to develop in. Ultimately, it is VFA’s hope and driving goal for the American adoption system to prevail in a way where no foster child is too old to be adopted into a loving family.





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