Ethel Branham, “One Parent Adoptions,” 1970

Source: Viola W. Bernard Papers, Archives and Special Collections, Augustus C. Long Library, Columbia University

When the Los Angeles County Bureau of Adoptions began to arrange single parent adoptions, only one of the first forty placements was with a single father.

When the County of Los Angeles Department of Adoptions (then called the Bureau of Adoptions) was established in June 1949, it was charged with the special responsibility of finding adoptive homes for children who are difficult to place—children of minority racial groups or of mixed racial parentage and children with severe medical problems. The agency services were also offered to all mothers or expectant mothers who were considering relinquishing a child for adoption. . . .

The Department has supplanted its spotty and spasmodic recruitment efforts with an aggressive, full-time publicity program. It has also reconsidered a longtime policy of automatically rejecting lone adults as potential adoptive parents. Late in 1965, it began placing selected children for whom no other homes could be found with persons who had no marital partner in their home.

This practice became possible because that year the California State Department of Social Welfare revised its adoption regulations to allow acceptance of single persons as adoptive parents. The new policy clearly reiterated the established principle of adoption practice that a two-parent family is the best of all possible choices for an adoptable child, but it recognized the fact that two-parent families could not be found for all children needing the security of a permanent home.

In late 1965 the Los Angeles Department of Adoptions had registered with it more than 300 children available for adoption for whom adoptive couples were not readily available. This group included about 275 healthy Negro and part-Negro children of various ages, 60 Mexican-American babies, 18 children of mixed racial background other than part-Negro, and several Caucasian, Negro, and Mexican-American children who had severe medical problems. When intensive efforts to find two-parent adoptive homes for these children failed, the Department decided to look into the possibility of finding them one-parent families.

The Department made its first one-parent placement in December 1965. . . . During the 2 years 1966 and 1967, the Department placed 40 children for adoption in homes with only one parent—approximately one-half of 1 percent of all the children placed by the Department for adoption during that period. They were placed with single women, divorcees, widows, and even a single man.

To learn what kind of parents these children acquired, the agency in 1969 reviewed the records of 36 of these 40 placements. . . .

Male companionship

The need for children, especially boys, to have a father figure to serve as a role model for sexual identification has been a major reason adoption agencies have avoided placing children in one-parent homes. . . .

The records show that the workers have paid special heed to the availability of male companionship for both the adoptive mother and the adopted child. Most of the 35 lone women with whom children were placed had close male relatives interested in the adopted child—fathers, brothers, sons, nephews, and, in a few instances, even former husbands. Thus the children had grandfathers, uncles, brothers, cousins, and even adult male friends who could give them the kind of intimate contacts needed for male identification. . . .

Two thirds of the women had been married. This prior experience plus a yearning for the opposite sex, evident in all the mothers, suggests that these single parents could compensate effectively for not having a man in the home. Most of them dated regularly. Many had interests and hobbies involving group activities that included both sexes. Men, both in and outside their families, seemed interested and willing to become father surrogates. . . .

Income and employment

Placing children for adoption with women who are employed full time is another break with traditional adoption practice. But today the working mother is commonplace. The agency has therefore not regarded such employment as a sufficient reason for keeping a warm, emotionally stable woman from becoming a parent of a child desperately in need of a home of his own. It does, of course, look into the adoptive applicant’s plan for providing child care while she is at work. . . .

Evaluation planned

The Los Angeles County Department of Adoptions has shown that many persons without marital partners do have a great deal to offer children and that they will do so when given an opportunity. The review of these 36 case records strongly suggests that the children involved have found true “familiness.” It does not tell us, of course, anything about how the children are responding to the experience. Only time can tell—time for the children to grow up and for the agency to make a careful evaluation of their adjustment at periodic intervals.

The Department is now planning such a longitudinal study. . . .

The one-parent home is just one resource for helping to close the gap between available hard-to-place children and adoptive families. Communities committed to the welfare of their children will explore every feasible plan for providing children with adequate permanent care. . . .


Source: Ethel Branham, “One Parent Adoptions,” Children 17 (3) (May-June 1970):103-104, 105, 106, 107.

Page Updated: 2-24-2012
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