Adoption practice existed long before that method was universally lauded and extensively adopted. The history of legislative adoption in the United States may be loosely split in two: before and after the 1851 Act was enacted. In the 19th century, legislatures throughout the United States first passed adoption laws. Some regard the Massachusetts Adoption of Children Act of 1851 as the first “contemporary” adoption statute (American Adoptions, 2018). The modern-day legislative adoption strategy in the USA is transparent, making the child aware of the adoption status, unlike in the past, when they had limitations.
Several changes in the adoption regulations have happened over the years. Adoptions in the 19th century and prior were performed in secrecy, as had been the case for most adoptions historically (American Adoptions, 2018). The enactment of some rules made it possible for adoption to be well-recognized in society. While such adoptions continued into the 20th century, no legislation in the United States safeguarding adopted children until 1851 (American Adoptions, 2018). Closed adoptions have the additional negative effect of allowing children to grow up unaware of their adoption status. The “Baby Scoop Era” lasted from just after WWII until the early 1970s (Timofti, 2019). Regrettably, many biological mothers who put their children up for adoption due to the societal stigma attached to being unmarried were later unhappy with their decision.
The number of agencies helping with adoptions has increased with the rising adoption rate. The Supreme Court ruled in 1982 in Santosky versus Kramer that a child’s biological parents had an absolute right to custody (Cornell Law School, 2018). Bastard Nation was established in 1996 to advocate for the right of adult adoptees to get copies of their previously confidential adoption documents (American Adoptions, 2018). Oregon did not take long to approve a ballot proposal giving adoptees over 18 access to their authentic birth certificates. These steps ushered in the present era of open adoption, in which adoptive and biological parents may maintain communication with one another in the adoption process (Timofti, 2019). A child has the fundamental right to contact with biological parents even if adopted.
The U.S. Constitution does not guarantee the right to adopt, and individual states may outlaw the practice or exclude members of specific groups from adopting. The eligibility standards for adoptive parents vary by state but are standardized by the Uniform Adoption Act (Cornell Law School, 2018). The Act, which has served as a model for similar legislation in many other States, establishes the principle that any adult may adopt a child, creating a legal connection between parent and child. Different States have different requirements for ineligibility to adopt. Some laws specifically exclude those who have never been married. People with mental or physical impairments often may not adopt. Individuals having a criminal record or a history of employment insecurity may not meet “reputability standards” established by several jurisdictions.
Several laws have been formulated to protect the adopted child’s rights. In states with “Safe Haven” laws, birth mothers may leave their infants with approved caretakers in privacy and safety (National Council for Adoption, 2022). The goal is to decrease baby mortality and injury caused by hazardous abandonment. Legal protections for birth mothers limit the effect of an unmarried, absent biological father on their choice to place a child for adoption. The Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) is a federal legislation from 1997 that mandates the prompt adoption of children in adoptive homes after being in foster homes (National Council for Adoption, 2022). All these laws aim to avoid the violation of the child’s rights during adoption.
In conclusion, it is possible to roughly divide adoption history in the United States into two periods: before and following the 1851 Act. There was a spike in unmarried women’s pregnancies during the “Baby Scoop Era,” which led to a corresponding increase in adoptions. As the pace of adoption has risen, so has the number of organizations facilitating them. These days, most adoptions are open and transparent to the child and his family.
American Adoptions. (2018). American adoptions: History of adoption–A complete guide to adoption history. Web.
Conell Law School. (2018). Adoption. Legal Information Institute. Web.
National Council for Adoption. (2022). Important Adoption Laws. Web.
Timofti, S. (2019). Adoption system in some states in the E.U. and America. In RAIS Conference Proceedings. Web.