From the outset,
single parent adoptions
were seen as beneficial chiefly for children who might otherwise
have great difficulty finding permanent homes because of special
needs related to race, age, and disability. Would-be single
parents knew this, and expressed flexibility about the kinds of
children they were willing to adopt. It is therefore surprising
that this outcome study
by two Illinois agencies shows that “low risk” infants
were deliberately placed and efforts were made to match
children with the stated preferences of single adopters. The authors
suggest that this illustrated doubts about the ability of single
parents as well as the desire to make these pioneering adoptions
successful by making them as “safe” as possible.
In an attempt to find permanent homes for as many children as possible,
adoptive agencies have considered a variety of alternatives to the
traditional placement of a child with a mother and father of his
own race. The newest of these is placement of children with single
parents, begun as recently as 1965 by the Los Angeles County Bureau
of Adoptions. Placement with single persons has in general met with
community acceptance; it seems that everyone knows of some child
raised by a single person. Adoption workers have wondered, however,
about whether a home with this “different” composition
really offered a child a sufficient chance for normal growth and
Over the years the characteristics of the “hard-to-place”
child have changed. As recently as five years ago there were few
applicants for black infants; currently it is the older children
and handicapped children for whom it is difficult to find homes.
Thus at present the central question about the usefulness of single-parent
homes is whether such homes can provide the environment needed by
an older and/or handicapped child. Perhaps the answer to this can
be determined, at least in part, by looking at the characteristics
of these parents and the children they have already adopted.
The Research Design
This report is a description of the experience of single parents
who adopted black infants from Chicago Child Care Society (CCCS)
and Illinois Children’s Home and Aid Society (ICH&A) (private,
multiservice child welfare agencies) between June 1970 and June
1972. . . . At approximately four-year intervals,
research interviewers assess the overall development of the child
and the problems and rewards for the family which appear to stem
from the adoption. . . .
This paper. . .contains descriptive information about
the thirty-one single parents in our sample, the children placed
with them, and some information about the initial adjustment of
these families. Eighteen of them now have children four or five
years old and have again been interviewed. Thus there is information
about the development of these eighteen children and about the stresses
these families have faced. . . .
It is evident that our knowledge of the growth and development
of children in single-parent homes is sketchy, and we have no knowledge
of what happens in such adoptive homes. . . .
Characteristics of the Single Applicants Who Adopted Children
General.—Our sample of single parents contains twenty-eight
women and three men. Three women are white, all the others black.
These are all of the single persons with whom children were placed
for adoption by CCCS and ICH&A between June 1970 and June 1972.
The thirty-one applicants in our sample ranged in age from twenty-nine
to fifty years, with a median age of thirty-four. Many of the single
applicants had been married; fifteen were divorced, and three were
widowed. None of the three men had ever married.
This was a varied group in terms of education, occupation, and
income. Three of the applicants had not graduated from high school,
while seven women had college degrees and an additional four had
graduate degrees. About half of the applicants were engaged in professional
occupations, including eight teachers, four nurses, two ministers,
and one mental health worker. Another six were in clerical or sales
work. Two additional persons were factory workers. Most of the remaining
were in service-related occupations, for example, two beauticians,
a nurses’ aide, and a welfare attendant. Incomes were low
from a high proportion of single applicants. Thirteen earned less
than $8,000 annually, and the median income was only $9,000. . . .
Capacity to handle life experiences
Ratings were made of self-image, expectations of self, health,
energy level, and use of defenses. These judgments, although difficult
to make, focused on traits considered to be of major importance.
On the whole, these applicants appeared to possess a positive self-image
and to have high expectations of themselves. All but two showed
constructive use of defenses, seemingly able to adapt to the problems
and stresses of life in a way that indicated successful coping.
But notable was the incomplete emancipation of many of these applicants
from their parents. . . .
Capacity to be a parent
In a final set of assessments, most applicants were judged to possess
a high capacity for nurturing a child, an important ingredient in
providing a home. Most were also judged to manifest a high degree
of sensitivity to the needs of children. They were considered empathetic
persons with apparent ability to observe situations as the child
sees them and interested in learning about children and their needs.
As a group, then, these applicants seemed well educated, stably
employed, planful, and competent. They were characterized as having
a strong desire for children and family life and were judged to
be well endowed with those characteristics thought important for
successful parenting. Problems mentioned frequently concerned the
applicants’ limited interest in friendships, particularly
with adults of the opposite sex, the strong dependence of several
upon their families, and their seeming inability to emancipate themselves
form their parents. The most evident risk seemed to be the low income
combined with family reliance on the employment of a single person.
This danger may have been offset by the closeness and interdependence
of these extended families. . . .
Characteristics of Children Placed
The children placed in these adoptive homes may be considered a
relatively low risk group. Most were very young and healthy, with
good family histories and good care in one foster home prior to
Single parents usually received a child of their own sex. Boys
were placed with all three men. Two of the five women with whom
a boy was placed had previously adopted a girl. About 30 percent
received infants under two months of age, and 40 percent received
infants form four to eight months of age. Despite the apparent flexibility
in stated preferences, the characteristics of the children placed
tended to match closely the characteristics initially requested
(or described as preferred) by the applicants. That is, the applicant
who requested a girl under three months with no health problems
was very likely to get a child identical or nearly identical to
this request. Only two single parents received a child quite different
from their preference. One requested a girl of toddler age and received
an eight-month-old boy with a minor medical problem. The other requested
a toddler boy, and the child placed was a three-month-old girl.
This extremely high degree of congruence between type of child preferred
and child placed may indicate uncertainty about the capacity of
single-parent homes; a young, healthy child exactly like that preferred
by the applicant may have seemed, as it doubtless was, the “safest”
placement for a new type of adoption. . . .
Early Adjustment of the Children
At the time of this report, eighteen single parent families had
been revisited when the children were about four years old. . . .
The families.—There had been changes and crises
between placement and follow-up for many of these families. Only
three families have remained completely stable. In three other families
another child was adopted when the study child was three years old—in
two of these an infant, in one a six-year-old girl. One mother (still
unmarried) had a son born to her when her adopted child was three. . . .Three
families reported moves, and two job changes; these seem to have
caused little disruption.
Eight of the eighteen families have experienced serious illness
during the four years. . . .
All of the parents were employed at follow-up with the exception
of one who was temporarily laid off. . . .
Ten children have not been told of their adoption. One parent plans
to conceal it; the others say the child is not interested now, and
they will tell him “later.” Five children have received
minimal information, and their parents report that the children
“are not interested.” Only three children know they
had another mother, that there was an agency or foster home involved,
and that they were “chosen.” There is no association
between originally stated plans and what has occurred. Clearly,
telling of adoption is more difficult for these single parents than
they or the agency anticipated.
After three to four years of adoptive parenting, three types of
families can be identified. Most numerous are the real “single-parent”
families—twelve families where the adopting mother maintains
a separate residence and assumes responsibility for the child’s
care. In three families the adopting mother and her mother live
in the same household and together are the child’s parents.
In the other three families a whole family group resides together,
and the child seems to have multiple parents. . . .
The children.—At this follow-up, we have seen only
two children whose behavior raises questions about their emotional
adjustment. . . .
It should be noted that the investment and concern of almost all
these parents is reflected in the good intellectual functioning
of most of these children, in their ability to form relationships
and use the new experiences, and in their capacity to function independently.
At the age of four, the children in these homes seem, for the most
part, to be thriving.
Summary and Conclusions
While single applicants were fairly flexible in describing the
type of child they wanted to care for, adoption workers were cautious
in evaluating these homes and generally placed young, problem-free
children. The question whether more demanding children could have
been successfully placed in these homes is unanswered. . . .