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The Adoption Option

October 2003
By: Sharon Fulgenzi
Adoption. What does the word mean to you? It may mean something different to you than it does to someone else. It may also evoke different emotions. If we lack personal experience with adoption, we might rely on television or movies for a portrayal of what adoption is like. Unfortunately, the entertainment media often portray unusual situations, and those atypical images may hinder our ability to present adoption as an option to the women we counsel.

Broaching the subject of adoption can elicit from clients objections such as: " I could never do that," or "How could I carry a baby for nine months and then give it away?" or "What would my child think of me?" Some counselors believe that if a client were truly interested in adoption, she would bring it up. In fact, she often will not.

The Cradle, an 80-year-old adoption agency, believes that by understanding the motivations of clients who do choose adoption, pregnancy counselors can better support the women seeking guidance.

Studies indicate that 40% of pregnancy counselors do not raise the issue of adoption. Of the 60% who do, 40% provide inaccurate and incomplete information (Mech). Women who may be unprepared for their pregnancies and who do not understand today's adoption environment often choose to parent or terminate rather than make an adoption plan. This aversion to formulating an adoption plan is one reason that the number of children in foster care is on the rise. Parents who jump into parenting unprepared often find it more than they can handle. In 1997 two million reports of child abuse or neglect (involving three million children) were investigated by child protective services (Child Maltreatment 1997: Reports from the States to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System).

An estimated 581,000 children were in foster care in the United States as of September 1999. That more than 107,000 of these children were eligible for adoption (AFCARS Report) seems to indicate that in many cases the choice to allow adoption was made after the realities of parenting had set in. Unfortunately, by the time many of these children are placed in foster care, they already have been abused or neglected.

In the 1950s and 1960s, almost 9% of women with out-of-wedlock pregnancies chose adoption. By the end of the 1980s, that figure had fallen to 2% (Bachrach, et al.). This shift can be attributed in part to the fact that we have more options and more access to birth control methods and in part to society's change in attitude toward unplanned pregnancies.

What makes the difference when women allow adoption? The Cradle has found that women rely on professional and medical pregnancy support workers to provide them with honest and accurate information as they seek to make an informed decision. We believe that there are several factors that influence a woman's choice to set up an adoption plan for her baby. These factors include:

Having the ability to meet, choose, and develop an open, trusting relationship with the family who will receive the child is a key factor. Expectant mothers also need to know that they have the option of making an open adoption plan, which consists of selecting, meeting, and agreeing upon ongoing contact with the adoptive family they choose.

The entertainment media
often portray atypical
images of adoption,
which may hinder
our ability to present
adoption as an
option to the women
we counsel.

Expectant parents often rely on the opinions of those in their support systems. Depending on the age of the client, this may include parents, boyfriends, and other friends. Bringing the influencers together in the decision-making process is often helpful for gaining acceptance and support for an adoption plan. With teen clients especially, we know that the involvement and support of the expectant mother's parent(s) has a positive influence on her ability to follow through on her plan of adoption.

Many birth parents indicate that they have future aspirations and goals for themselves and would like the child to have a good future also. Teenage mothers who choose adoption do better than mothers who choose to be single parents (McLaughlin, et al.). They are more likely to finish school, less likely to live in poverty, more likely to be employed twelve months after the birth, and less likely to have another out-of-wedlock pregnancy. They delay marriage longer and are more likely to marry eventually. They are no more likely to suffer negative psychological consequences such as depression, than are mothers who rear their children as single parents.

Birth parents who choose adoption tend to be child-focused and often feel that they don't want the child to suffer because of their decision. Many acknowledge the benefits of a two-parent home.

Birth parents who choose to make an adoption plan tend to have a mature assessment of the responsibility of caring for a child. At The Cradle, over 60% of birth parents are already single-parenting and know firsthand the emotional and financial strain of being a parent. If you are working with teens, it may be helpful to provide mentors who can speak from personal experience about being a young single parent.

An expectant teen mother might realize that she is unlikely to have her parents' support or the birth father's support upon becoming a single parent. Facing up to that lack of support could make adoption seem more reasonable. In situations in which her mother's assistance seems more likely, she may not want her child to become "her mother's child."

Developing a parenting plan will help a teen mom to visualize her life after the baby is born. It is important to assess the support system that will be available then. If the parenting plan seems unworkable, adoption appears more sensible.

In order to make a firm decision, it is important for young mothers to sense that they are in control of the process and have time to balance their options. Bringing the baby home for a short period of time and having the experience of parenting can help solidify the decision to go ahead with an adoption plan. The transition to adoption sometimes is an ongoing process that spans the time before, during, and after the birth of the child.

The quality of the adoption plan depends on the services that all members of the adoption circle receive. Find out what applicable state-licensed, not-for-profit agencies are in your state. If you are new to the adoption field, solicit the experiences of others. Adoption services to birth parents should be free of charge, free of pressure, and should always be child-focused.

Edmund Mech, Orientations of Pregnancy Counselors Toward Adoption, Champaign, Illinois, University of Illinois, 1984.
The AFCARS Report, June 2001. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children's Bureau. Accessed online:
Bachrach, C.A., Stolley, K.S., and London, K.A. "Relinquishment of premarital births: evidence from the national survey data." Family Planning Perspectives, 24, 27-32 and 48 (1992).
Child Maltreatment 1997: Reports from the States to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1999.
Steven D. McLaughlin, Diane L. Manninen, and Linda D. Winges, "Do Adolescents Who Relinquish Their Children Fare Better or Worse Than Those Who Raise Them?" Family Planning Perspectives, Washington, D.C., Alan Guttmacher Institute, January-February, 1988.

The Cradle was established in 1923 and has placed over 13,000 children in loving homes. The Cradle offers services to expectant parents in Illinois, Indiana, and Kansas. For information, visit You can obtain information and documentation for use under the section "information for professionals."

While we consider adoption as a great option, Sherry Camelleri of the Mercy Community CPC in Reading, Pennsylvania, told us that many clients will not consider adoption as an option. They have been through foster care and equate adoption with that. They fear their children will be uprooted and placed with people who don't really want them. Because of this, clients have told Sherry that they would kill (abort) their babies rather than risk having them grow up in "the system." See the resource below for free adoption brochures. --Editors

Helpful brochures available at no cost. Infant Adoption Awareness Training Program brochures are available in bulk quantities for use by your organization. Order yours by calling (866) 212-3678, or fax your request to (703) 535-1901. Learn more by going to

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