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HISTORY OF ADOPTION IN THE UNITED STATES


THE HISTORY OF SPECIAL NEEDS ADOPTION

Systematic efforts to locate families for children who were "hard-to-place" did not really occur until midcentury. It was only after World War II that agencies began to test the feasibility of adoptions previously ruled out of bounds because they were considered difficult, risky, and likely to fail: African-American children and children of racially and ethnically mixed heritage, children with physical and mental disabilities, older children, and sibling groups. Efforts to arrange such adoptions challenged older views, influenced by eugenics*, that only normal, white children were qualified for family life. Special needs adoptions were founded on a novel philosophy at odds with matching: "Adoption is appropriate for any child without family ties who is in need of a family and for whom a family can be found to meet his need." This new slogan came to life for the American public through the writing of Pearl Buck, a best-selling novelist, and popular narratives like The Family Nobody Wanted.

Anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that class differences have significantly shaped Americans' openness to the adoption of children with special needs. Working-class adopters have tended to be less demanding than their middle- and upper-class counterparts that adoptees live up to high standards of intellectual achievement or that children be scientifically selected to meet their specifications. Before the special needs revolution at midcentury, when social workers were still reluctant to place less-than-perfect children, many ordinary families expressed both willingness and desire to raise many different kinds of children as their own. At the same time, other would-be adopters actively sought out children who would measure up to their expectations for background, behavior, appearance, and education. Well-educated adopters were particularly interested in identifying children who could take advantage of a college education.

* "Eugenics" the study of or belief in the possibility of improving the qualities of the human species or a human population, esp. by such means as discouraging reproduction by persons having genetic defects or presumed to have inheritable undesirable traits (negative eugenics) or encouraging reproduction by persons presumed to have inheritable desirable traits (positive eugenics).

 

From: The Adoption History Project website www.uoregon.edu/~adoption/index.html Used With Permission.

 

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