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February 2012Vol. 13, No. 1Complex Data Gathering Results in State Adoption Totals

A publication from Child Welfare Information Gateway now available online provides estimates of total adoption numbers for the 50 States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

How Many Children Were Adopted in 2007-2008? was developed with assistance from Gene Flango, Ph.D., of the National Center for State Courts and offers key findings on the numbers of public, intercountry, and other adoptions as well as data sources and cautionary notes. This publication, which will be updated periodically, provides a single source of recent statistical information on the numbers and types of adoptions in the United States, as well as the numbers of adoptions by State, by data source, and by other classifications. Highlights of the data include the following:

  • In 2007 and 2008, approximately 136,000 children were adopted annually in the United States.
  • The number of adoptions has risen since 2000, but the adoption rate per 100,000 adults has decreased.
  • About two-fifths of adoptions occur through public child welfare agencies.
  • Fourteen percent of adoptions in 2007 and 13 percent in 2008 were adoptions of children from foreign countries.
  • Nearly half of all adoptions were from sources other than public agencies and foreign countries, such as private agencies and Tribes.

The years 2007 and 2008 were chosen because of the length of time it takes to process the data and make them available. There is no one government agency responsible for collecting adoption data, which complicates the process of collecting and aggregating adoption numbers. Data were collected from State courts, State bureaus of vital records, the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS), State departments of social services, and the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs. Additionally, each source has its own method for compiling and defining the data. For example, court data are based on the number of adoption petitions filed in the State, whereas bureaus of vital records report adoptions of children born in their States.

Sources also are not consistent in the use of Federal fiscal year or State fiscal years in establishing totals. Even though adoption totals are approximate for the reasons stated above, differences caused by gaps or overlaps are unlikely to affect the conclusions.   

Because of the complexity of adoption and child welfare research, it is difficult to attribute changes in national or State data to any specific policy, practice, or other factor. Further research will provide child welfare professionals with more information to help find permanent families for waiting children. 

To read the full report, visit the Child Welfare Information Gateway website: