During the early 1970’s in America, the foster parent movement focused on recruiting foster parents and educating them about the needs of foster children in this country, gaining national attention and support. By 1972, The Children’s Bureau sponsored the first national conference of foster parents in support of this movement.
The passing of the Model State Subsidized Adoption Act of 1975 marked a push for meeting the need for permanency for children in foster care. Additionally, the issues facing birth parents and their need for support and community were building. Concerned United Birthparents was developed to give birth parents a forum to share their adoption stories with one another. This national organization remains active today.
The search movement worked to establish more openness in adoption and adoption records. Activists in the adoption rights movement advocated for supported reunification meetings for adoptive children and birth relatives who wanted contact with one another. Women’s liberation and the sexual revolution changed how society viewed unwed mothers. Birth control became available and in 1973, Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in America, allowing women to choose if they wanted to carry a pregnancy through to term. These factors led to a decline in the number of infant children available for adoption. As the use of birth control, the number of abortions and the number of unwed mothers deciding to parent their children alone grew, the number of healthy white infants available for adoption decreased and so rates of adoption declined. Paternal rights were also acknowledged and legally established, which impacted the number of children available for adoption. The parents wishing to adopt began to outnumber the available children in America, so more “screening out” began to occur for families wanting to adopt.
At the same time, the number of children in foster care continued to grow, as did concerns about how long the children remained in care. The media began to publicize issues of children in foster care, making them more widely known. Of all the adoption advocacy agencies, the North American Council on Adoptable Children, NACAC, may well be the most influential. Started from the initial vision of sharing adoption information as well as building a community of support for adoptive families, NACAC has had major influence and impact on legislation about adoption and foster care. The organization is committed to addressing, educating and reducing the length of time children spend in foster care, as well as focusing on recruiting and retaining resource families for children.
In the 1980’s, the focus of child welfare practice changed to preventing placement, including intensive family preservation and family group decision making models, though unfortunately no structure for success existed for these practices. The Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 was passed by the federal government to prevent the unnecessary removal of children from their families (family preservation) and ensures that children return home or live in some other form of “permanent home” in the shortest time period (permanency planning). It also enabled each state to provide adoption and foster care assistance to promote permanency, removing the stigma of adoption assistance because eligibility requirements revolve around a child’s characteristics and not on a family’s economic status. The number of children in foster care declined dramatically after the shift in philosophy to a permanency based approach and with the passing of the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act.
Open adoptions began occurring more often in the late 1970’s, and by the 1980’s and 1990’s the secrecy that once drove adoption practices was diminishing. Adoptees, adoptive parents and birth parents who finalized adoptions in earlier decades began to talk about their experience with closed adoptions and what this meant to their own social and emotional development and their identity. In the past, openness was viewed as harmful to all members of the adoption triad, but now it was viewed as beneficial to all to have openness in adoptions. Fewer adoptions occurred in secret and more information was shared by all parties. The majority of adoption agencies engaged in some form of information or contact sharing during this time. Bastard Nation, the adoptee rights organization, was founded in the 1990’s, with the mission of advocating for the rights of adoptees to have access to their adoption records. This group and their advocacy remains active today and continues to campaign for the rights of adoptees.
The 1980’s saw many positive programs for foster youth in America. A federal Independent Living, IL, program was established to better prepare the youth in foster care for a future on their own when they “aged out” of foster care. The National Adoption Information Exchange was established, and May was named National Foster Care Month. Regional adoption resource centers were developed and public service campaigns were launched to find families for minority children in care. The Abandoned Infants Assistance Act of 1988 provided funding for programs to educate about and prevent or eliminate the number of “boarder babies” or babies who were born drug addicted or HIV positive and abandoned in hospitals because birth parents were unwilling or unable to parent them. These babies remained in hospital care longer than medically necessary and their numbers reached over 10,000 in the 1980’s. Additionally, our country began to value resource families and realized the need to have approved parents to adopt children. Single mothers and fathers (although more of a rarity) were now allowed to adopt, a practice that had been in place for single mothers in our country but ended in the 1940’s. Adoption agencies also began approving gay and lesbian couples as adoptive resource families.
During the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, new populations of children became available for adoption. The fall of communism in central and eastern Europe revealed the needs of children in overpopulated orphanages as well as the resulting entry of 2,600 Romanian children into the U.S. Both contributed to the rate of international adoptions in our country. Adding to this shift in international adoption, the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-Operation in respect to Intercountry Adoption of 1993 established protections for children and families for inter-country adoptions, valuing the rights and best interests of children in adoptions abroad and establishing international standards. It also aimed to eliminate the practices of child trafficking, child abductions or the sale of children abroad.
Almost every state in the U.S. required that before adoption an adopting family (whether international, private domestic or from the child welfare system) become an approved resource for the child. This approval process is called a home study in some states, and in Pennsylvania through SWAN the approval is called the family profile process. This approval or disapproval is usually completed before a child is placed in a home, although in some cases, a child is placed before final approval of a family, typically in kinship or foster care cases. The Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children, which was enacted in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands by 1990, is a statutory agreement that ensures when children are placed out of state, they are placed in safe, nurturing, supervised environments that can meet their particular needs. This was a topic discussed since the 1950’s when hearings took place in which birth and adoptive parents and adoptees testified about inhumane adoption practices taking place in the U.S. The compact created a protocol that defined the roles and responsibilities of each state and specified timelines to complete these responsibilities. Before this compact the only way for states to obtain home studies or other services for their children placed in another state was to request courtesy services from that state. States had the option to choose if they were willing to provide the courtesy. Even when states did decide to provide courtesy services, they were not a high priority. This compact was enacted to eliminate some of the concerns about appropriate placements and ensure that permanency was achieved more consistently and faster.
The 1990’s saw many changes which influenced adoption practice within the US. The fiscal stream for current child welfare practices was established during this time. The Administration for Children and Families, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services that supports children and youth, was created in 1991. The Family Preservation and Support Services Program Act, The Child Welfare Waiver Demonstration Program, and the Multi-Ethnic Placement Act all greatly impacted practice.