The Adoption Industry, Part 1: Demand


March 13, 2008 by multiracialsky

In exploring the industry of adoption, it is fundamental to first explain why there is a market for children in the first place. Why do adults choose to adopt babies and children who are biologically unrelated to them?

  1. Infertility: A heterosexual couple is unable to create and/or carry a biological child. This includes secondary infertility (infertility after the birth of one or more biological children.)
  2. Need help: Parents are unable to have a child without reproductive assistance. This includes infertile couples that do not wish to use medical assistance, lesbian and gay couples, and single parents.
  3. Health: Concerns about passing on a genetic disorder in the mother’s or father’s family. Pregnancy could cause the health of the mother to be seriously impaired. The mother and/or family have been exposed to certain elements (chemical, medical, etc.) that may cause birth defects.
  4. Choosing gender: A family with two or more biological children of the same gender adopt in order to parent a child of the opposite gender. The adopted child is almost always a girl. (These families usually choose international adoption because the children are already born, although some domestic adoption agencies allow adoptive parents to specify gender.)
  5. Personal beliefs: Parents who adopt for religious or philosophical reasons. This includes preferential adopters.

The domestic infant adoption system caters to one group of prospective adoptive parents: heterosexual, White, middle and upper class, infertile, married couples (the great majorities of groups 1 & 3, and much of group 2). This system has broadened itself a bit; certain agencies now accommodate same-sex couples and/or single parents (mostly mothers), and a handful of infant adoption agencies actively recruit parents/families of color (The Cradle and Pact are two of the biggest nonsectarian names). Still, virtually all agencies are focused on families who cannot have children without assistance (groups 1, 2, & 3), and many agencies actually will not work with fertile couples.

Adoption fees rule out most potential adoptive parents who are not at least middle-class. Current domestic infant adoption fees for a healthy* baby, of any race, usually run in the $18,000-$30,000 range. This includes homestudy, paperwork, agency fees, legal fees, and living expenses for a pregnant woman. Travel costs, medical expenses (for baby and mother), and legal complications can push the cost even higher. International adoption fees vary by country, but costs often run higher than domestic adoption. About 40% of international adoptions and 20% of domestic infant adoptions cost more than $30,000.

*A note on the domestic infant adoption system definition of a healthy baby. A baby who is classified as ‘healthy’ includes a baby who was prenatally drug and/or alcohol exposed, was born prematurely, has no birthfather medical/social information (i.e. ‘unknown birthfather’), has a birthfamily history of moderate mental health problems and/or a birthfamily history of moderate genetically-transferable medical conditions. When a baby appears to be healthy at birth (no apparent physical, mental, or serious medical handicaps), that baby is part of the mainstream adoptive placement system, including standard fees. Fees are often reduced substantially for infants who are born with clear disabilities, have been prenatally exposed to extremely high levels of alcohol and/or illegal drugs, or have two birthparents who have mental health diagnoses.

When calculating adoption costs, there is the often misunderstood $10,000 federal adoption tax credit. The funds from this tax credit are not available until after an adoption has been legally finalized (usually 6-8 months after the placement of a child); adoptive parents must come up with all the money for adoption fees and expenses up front. In addition, this is a non-refundable tax credit; the tax credit is deducted from the federal tax a family owes over a period of up to five years. In adoption literature, it is often noted that a family is eligible for the adoption tax credit unless a family’s income exceeds federal restrictions (meaning: modified adjusted gross income of more than $204,000). It is never noted that if a family does not make enough money to owe any federal income tax (total income of less than $45,000/year for a family of four) the family does not qualify for the adoption tax credit. If a family owes less than $2,000/year in federal income tax, they will not receive the full adoption tax credit ($2,000 x 5 years = $10,000). NOTE: 4% of families in the U.S. make more than $200,000/year, while 40% of families in the United States make less than $50,000/year.

The majority of prospective adoptive parents waiting in the domestic adoption system fit the description of the people to which the system caters: White, middle/upper class, infertile, married, heterosexual couples. The great majority of these prospective parents are seeking a certain type of baby: usually White (at least 80%), and often also with a very healthy** social/medical family history (**very healthy meaning not only apparently healthy at birth, but also including not prenatally drug or alcohol exposed, no mental illness or major medical issues in either side of the birthfamily, full-term delivery, birthparents not in prison, and often more). Even so, White newborns with health issues, premature birth, mild to moderate birthfamily medical/social history issues, ‘unknown’ birthfather, or minor disabilities are still very desirable to these prospective adoptive parents.

The domestic infant adoption system does not easily accommodate adoptive parents who are outside the target prospective adoptive parent population. (The target adoptive-parent-client population excludes portions of groups 1-4, and all of group 5.) In addition, if a prospective adoptive parent is prepared to care for a child of any race who has been prenatally drug and/or alcohol exposed or has moderate to serious, multiple, or unknown birthfamily medical/social issues, why would they choose domestic infant adoption ($18,000-$30,000 or more in fees) instead of foster care adoption (often less than $2,000 in fees)? The more open a prospective adoptive family is, the less likely they are part of the domestic infant adoption system.

Prospective adoptive parents who fall outside the targeted adoptive parent population (especially working or lower-middle class families, People of Color, and fertile couples) are more likely to choose foster adoption or toddler/older child international adoption-for many different reasons. Because they have family or personal connections to another country. Because they have lived abroad or traveled extensively. Because they know what it’s like to be involved with Child and Family Services. Because they themselves were in foster care. Because they are not afraid (rightly or not) of the issues and history children in foster care, older children, and/or institutionalized children may bring home. Because they have already raised their biological children from infancy, and would prefer to parent older children. Because they want to ‘help’ a child who has less opportunity for a family. Because they know how many children of color are in foster care or orphanages–and how long these children wait for a family.

This is where the domestic adoption ‘market’ becomes extremely unbalanced. Prospective adoptive parents are overwhelmingly White, and they are seeking White babies. (However, it must be noted that Black American families adopt at twice the rate of White American families.) There is a racial hierarchy of adoption. Certain babies, through the unearned privilege of their racial ancestry, are easier to place in an adoptive family. From most prospective adoptive families waiting to least families waiting, the racial hierarchy ranges from light to dark, from undeveloped White American history to most complex; the newborns who are most quickly matched with an adoptive family have White (also known as European American) ancestry, then Asian ancestry, Hispanic/Latino ancestry, Native American ancestry, and finally Black ancestry. In adoption, girls are also easier to place than boys; thus, the easiest child to find an adoptive family for is a White girl, the most difficult is a Black boy. Biracial and multiracial children are shuttled to their ‘darkest’ heritage in the racial hierarchy. Thus, finding an adoptive family for a biracial Black/White boy is similar to finding a family for a ‘full’ Black boy (full Black meaning two Black-identifying biological parents). Within the infant adoption system, it is still common to read or hear descriptions of pregnant women that include the shade of their skin, or even the fair skin-tone of a newborn biracial baby. (The latter could only be information offered by White professionals with no experience with infants/people of color.)

As long as the practice and process of adoption remains an ‘industry’, prospective adoptive parents will be regarded as ‘customers’. In such a system, infants, children, and mothers will necessarily continue to be viewed and treated as merchandise, objects to be marketed to the paying clientele (as in the misleading ‘light-skinned’ biracial newborn). It is an oft-repeated phrase in many corners of the adoption system nowadays that adoption agencies are looking for families for children, not children for families. This statement must become the blanket truth about adoption.

Following segments will address supply in the adoption system (including domestic infants, children in foster care, international infants/toddlers, international older children, and systemic birthparent/family coercion), whether adoption is necessary (including what can be done to lower the ‘need’ for adoptive families), adoption ethics and the rights of mothers (including pregnant women), specific coverage of foster care adoption and international adoption (including a more in-depth exploration of the reasons parents choose different types of adoption), gender choice in adoption, and transracial adoption (including the racial and country hierarchies within transracial adoption).

Please feel free to ask questions in the comments; I will try to address them within the upcoming series segments. A full bibliography for the entire series will be available.


9 thoughts on “The Adoption Industry, Part 1: Demand

  1. Jonathan says:

    We just adopted three children in the UK. We are not badly of by any stretch of the imagination, and are very happy to report that the state is bending over backwards to help us.

    People I know in the US always express complete disbelief that our healthcare is free for all.

    I can’t quite believe the US government doesn’t help families trying to adopt children – it seems so backwards!?

  2. Miarh Riben says:

    Very interesting. Some clarification:

    1. You need to distinguish that you are talking about “infant adoption” – this then omits reason number 5.

    2. Infertility – the vast majority is preventable. More effort needs to be spent on education ad medical treatments. That would thus reduce the ‘demand” for babies.

    3. Today the majority of adoption are negotiated privately with physicians, attorneys and “adoption facilitators” with no education or expertise in adoption or child welfare.

    I look forward to Part II.

    Mirah Riben

  3. multiracialsky says:


    The adoption industry demand I am talking about is *not* just for domestically-born infants anymore. Most non-relative adoptive parents fall into group 1, though many choose international adoption. Foster-adoptive parents are a more mixed group (reason for adopting, age, race, income, etc.), and I will talk more about this disparity.

    My partner and I are fertile (also known as preferential) adoptive parents, and we adopted two infants domestically. I actually know quite a few families who have made this choice (although I should note they all–us included–adopted children of color).

    To my knowledge, infertility is ‘preventable’ only in regards to women starting trying to conceive biological children earlier in life (if you start in your 20s, you have a better chance of becoming pregnant–and more years to try).

    Nowhere have I read (or experienced) that *most* infant adoptions are negotiated privately. Everyone I know (online and in real life) has worked through an adoption agency. Can you direct me to a study or some statistics?


  4. stella says:

    I know some children need rescuing from cold and hunger but in the enthusiam to help them I have to ask the adults involved – what happens if the children want to meet their biological parents or learn first hand about their countries of origin? Adoption is a sensitive and complex issue from the child’s point of view, with seventeen out of twenty adoptees choosing to trace their roots and only one birth mother in twenty turning the chance for the reunion down.

    It is not a matter of adoption agencies meaning well or not, or commercialing adoption, but within the adoption community (of which I am a member) you will find we would prefer gaurdianship to adoption because there is less of an emotional grip, or claim if you will. Please see Bastard Nation’s website for more information on adoption in the US, and a site called fassit for more on UK’s information.

    No one has the right to a child, and though rescuing a child in plight looks ok, it isn’t totally. So much so that Unicef like to keep orphaned children of war victims in their home countries.

  5. Cath says:

    The UK has suffered the adoption target scandal where councils got MILLIONS for reaching these. Tony Blair introduced it in 2000. These were only meant to be aimed at children 7 years and older. However, as everyone knows, babies are easier to place for adoption – so to meet these unrealistic targerts, social workers started taking babies – not older childen – on the flimiest excuses. One such case was that the mother was depressed as a teenager. As a result, the social workers actually told her that they would take her baby – BEFORE the baby was born!! She has since fled to Ireland – mother and child are doing well. The number of babies being taken TRIPLED for which councils got MILLIONS. As for the 7 year olds and above that were supposed to be helped by this scheme (scam).- they were not helped at all. The numbers of those older children being helped actually dropped by half! I personally had a go at the UK government about this, along with many others. My MP went straight to the Minister about this. I now have in writing from the Minister himself that the adoption targets have caused a problem. Although Gordon Brown is too ashamed and embarrassed to announce this publicly, I shall do it for him. The Adoption targets scheme is a complete failure. They are being scrapped officially. They cease as of April 2008. There will not be any more bonuses paid out for babies taken for adoption (and about time too). There is an ad on YouTube about this as well since the government hasn’t got the courage to tell the public about it. They don’t admit to failure. Here are some more news articles about the unaccountable powers of social workers. Child Protection – no, ruination.

  6. Kimora, Kariah, and Kajanae's Mommy says:

    Thank you for posting this information. I enjoy hearing and reading about this topic, which is very close to my heart.

    I was adopted from foster care. I came to my “forever family” at age 10 and was adopted by my 13th birthday. Phenotypically, or judging by my physically manifested genes, (which is rarely a reliable determining factor), I’m Caucasian. My adoptive parents are black. My adoption was 14 years ago…so this type of transracial adoption was even rarer in 1994. All of my other adoptive siblings (the majority also adopted from foster care) are black, save my one Puerto Rican sister. To many in my community, I was nicknamed “Vanilla.” My mother quickly put a stop to that, saying that she was not color blind regarding racial issues, but her love for me was color blind.

    I look forward to your future posts regarding multiracial and foster-adoptive families.

  7. brenda Bielke says:

    My experience is of adopting as a single mom 3 years ago at the age of 42, being placed with my infant daughter 3 weeks after all my paperwork was completed. I adopted through a private agency, and the adoption plus the study costs was about $11,000. I was prepared to travel out of state as it was assumed that I would be matched through an other agency elsewhere as I was open to a child of any race, but my daughter was born in my state. She is black, and I am white.

    I am also an adoptee, and have met my birth mother. I have an open adoption with my daughter’s birth mom, though she has not responded to offers of contact yet. I still send photos in the hopes that one day she is able to meet our daughter.

  8. amy says:

    We are just starting to research domestic adoption to add to our family. Our first adoption was international – latin america – and we have heard over and over from every agency that birth moms are leaning towards placing their child with a family that is a: infertile and b: has no children. If this is true I think it is an interesting direction being taken by biological moms/parents.

    We are the white upper middle class infertile couple – no amount of science (as it stands today) would assist us in creating a biologically related child. If we wanted to be parents, which we did adoption was our solution. Unfortunatly, we are agency clients – until the finacial side of it ends or agencies and lawyers do the work at no cost it is hard to not to be clients. Can you think of solutions? At the moment I don’t have any. But would love to hear some. However, I honestly believe that domestic infant adoption simply will cease to exsist in the very near furture and those people seeking to raise a family, to be parents will be faced with the following choices: foster care system, medical egg donation, other medical advances, surrogacy, or out of luck.

    We are not seeking to find a while anglo child, nor do we wish a certain gender – that is one thing I simply can’t understand about infertile couples adopting – why would it matter what gender your child is – however from a psycological perspective it is one way of gaining control of a situation you have no control over and are powerless.

    Can’t wait to read more on your findings…however hard they may be to read.

    thanks so much,

  9. Kohana says:

    Looks like an interesting series. I look forward to the rest.

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