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Adoption Statistics and Legal Trends

Last updated 10/10/2019

Adoption is by definition a legal process, but it is so much more than that. Adoption transforms lives and builds families. The process can be rewarding to everyone involved: birth parents, adoptive parents, and, of course, children. This has become even truer in recent decades as adoption has evolved.

Adoption was once viewed and treated much differently than it is today, like most other aspects of life. While every adoption story is unique, current statistics and emerging trends can help us understand how many lives are touched by adoption and how the process continues to change over time.

Adoption Statistics in a Changing World

Adoption continues to be more widely accepted and understood in modern America, but there are still many statistics that catch people by surprise.

For example, adoption is much more common than most people realize. In fact, according to the U.S. Census, one in 25 U.S. families with children have a child who is adopted, and almost 100 million Americans have adoption in their immediate family.

Other interesting statistics include:

  • There are 1.5 million adopted children in the U.S.
  • About 40 percent of adoptions are from the U.S. foster care system.
  • 135,000 children are adopted each year in the U.S., and more than half are 6 years or older.
  • On average, a child waits more than three years for an adoptive family.
  • There were 107,918 foster children waiting to be adopted, as of December 2015.
  • About 23,000 children age out of foster care every year without finding a permanent family.
  • 40 percent of adopted children are from a different race, culture, or ethnicity than one or both of their adoptive parents.

Legal Trends Emerge as Adoption Evolves

Decades ago, adoption was usually a private and secretive process. Most adoptions were "closed," meaning that there was no interaction between the birth parents and adoptive families, and the child did not receive identifying information about the birth mother.

Since then, "open" adoptions have become much more common in the United States and make up between 60 to 70 percent of all domestic adoptions. In this process, many birth parents have contact with the adoptive families, and they may stay involved in the child's life, if that's what the parties want.

Additionally, there is now less stigma attached to adoption and more openness about the adoption story. In the past, many children were never told that they were adopted until reaching adulthood, if ever. Today, it is more common for adoptive families to be open about their adoption story from an early age.

In addition to open adoptions gaining popularity, other legal adoption trends include:

  • Birth parents often now have significant control over the process and can hand-pick the child's adoptive family.
  • Birth parents often get to know the adoptive family before the baby is born, and the adoptive parents may even be present for the baby's birth.
  • Social movements have shaped who is able to adopt in the U.S., and today's adoptions help LGBT couples and single adults create the families they desire.
  • Transracial adoption is more common today than ever before as many adoptive families care less about adopting a child who looks like they could be a biological child.
  • Many employers now offer adoptive parents benefits, such as paid leave and financial assistance.
  • Intercountry adoptions peaked in 2004 and have since been on the decline, due to factors in other countries such as China cutting back on U.S. adoptions and Russia closing them off completely.
  • More people use the internet and social media to help match birth parents with adoptive families, though this trend comes with risks.

What Is the Adoption Process in My State?

Adoption is mostly governed by state law. Find out more about the adoption laws in your state by clicking on a link below.

Want to Learn More About Adoption? Talk to an Attorney

Are you part of the one in three Americans who has considered adoption? Are you ready to take the first step to grow your family through adoption? An adoption attorney in your area can provide you will valuable, real life information about what the process is like in your state.

Next Steps

Contact a qualified attorney specializing in adoptions.

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