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May 2009Vol. 10, No. 4Patterns in Adoption From Foster Care

Administrative data collected from 1996 to 2003 show that the structure of families that adopt children from foster care has changed significantly through the years. According to a new study published in the Journal of Public Child Welfare, while the number of children adopted from foster care by married couples grew, the number adopted by unmarried persons grew faster. The article, "The Structure of Families Who Adopt Children from Foster Care," presents data from the Children's Bureau's Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS).

The article examines the demographic profiles of those who adopt, characteristics of children being adopted (i.e., age, health care needs, being part of a sibling group), and the preadoptive relationship with the family. Some key findings indicate that:

  • The majority of children adopted from foster care are adopted by married couples.
  • The number of children adopted by unmarried women grew from 20.8 percent in 1996, peaking in 2000 at 31.5 percent, and then dropping back to 18.4 percent in 2003.
  • The number of adoptions by unmarried men rose from 1.6 percent in 1996 to 2.7 percent of all adoptions of children with State involvement in 2003.
  • The number of children adopted by unmarried couples began to rise in 2000, although this group continued to represent the smallest group of families finalizing adoptions from foster care.

A brief discussion of the data points out the characteristics of children by family structure:

  • Unmarried men adopted, on average, the oldest children.
  • Single women and unmarried couples were most likely to adopt children with special needs.
  • Across all the years, more than 60 percent of married couples had been the foster parents of the children they eventually adopted.
  • Foster parent adoption became much more common over the years studied, and kinship adoptions rose as a proportion of these adoptions.

Implications for practice, including the need to recruit, train, and retain prospective adoptive families, are discussed. A final section of the article illustrates recruitment strategies to increase the number of children adopted.

"The Structure of Families Who Adopt Children From Foster Care," by Mary Eschelbach Hansen, was published in the Journal of Public Child Welfare, Vol. 2(4), 2008: