Adoption Practice in the United States in the Mid to Late Twentieth Century

The social upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s had a major impact on adoption practice. The legalization of abortion, along with the widespread use of contraceptives and the increased tendency of unmarried mothers to keep their children, led to a shortage of white, adoptable newborns. At the same time, there was a rise in infertility among couples who delayed having children.

The states regulate adoption practice; most states permit both independent and agency adoption. As the shortage of white, adoptable babies grew more acute, adoption became a commercial enterprise. Lawyers and "baby brokers" took over most infant adoptions from the agencies, frequently using newspaper advertisements to entice pregnant women and couples to give up their children with offers of money and other benefits.

Without regulation by the child-welfare field, there is little protection for the baby and both sets of parents. Prospective adopters may spend a great deal of money for medical, living, and legal costs only to have the pregnant woman change her mind and keep the baby or choose another family. Conversely, a birth mother who has been promised open communication with the adoptive parents and the child may find herself cut off once the adoption is finalized. Or the birth mother may break her promise to stay in touch with the family if she finds visits too difficult to continue. Safeguards for the baby are lacking when the investigation of the family by an agency occurs after the infant is already in the home and petition has been filed for legal adoption.

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