Issues and Perspectives in Adoption: Then and Now (Part 2)

This is the second part in a three-part series on the history of adoption, and adoption practices “then and now.” Much of the information was taken from the Infant Adoption Awareness Training Program manual (written by Spalding for Children.) To read the first part, please click here. The third part of the series will be published on Thursday, August 30.


Then: Birth parents were often coerced into placing a child with someone else due to financial situations or social factors.

Now: Most states have laws regarding what expenses can be paid. There are also laws prohibiting a person from placing her/his child if there was force, duress or coercion.

Physical Matching and Adoptive Family Preferences

Then: Primary concern was given to matching physical attributes of the child with those of the adoptive parents. Adoptions of unmatched children were delayed.

Now: Families adopt children from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds. Emphases is on meeting the needs and best interests of the child. Adoption STAR asks all clients at the beginning of their adoption journey to decide how comfortable they are with a trans-racial adoption, and educates clients on trans-racial and trans-cultural adoptions during the homestudy education classes.

Types of Adoption:

Then: Adoptions were primarily for healthy white infants. All formal adoptions were legally sealed “closed.” Usually done by licensed adoption agencies and/or courts.

Now: Adoptions can be open, semi-open or closed. Open adoptions involve visits between the birth family and adoptive family as well as year-round communication through phone calls and/letters, email and social media. Semi-open adoptions involve continued contact between the birth family and adoptive family though there may not be visits. A closed adoption would involve no contact between the birth family and adoptive family. Adoptions can be agency facilitated or facilitated by an attorney.

Secrecy and Confidentiality:

Then: Secrecy, anonymity and sealing adoption records were the rule. Infertile couples often feigned a pregnancy when adopting a baby. Individuals were often not told they were adopted.

Now: At minimum, adopters and adoptees receive non-identifying information including medical histories of the birth parents. In direct consent placements, birth parents may select the adoptive parents. It is possible to have an open adoption, where a birth parent(s) maintains an ongoing relationship with the adoptive family and child. Adoption practice supports adopters to tell the adopted child that he/she is adopted.