Pearl Buck, “The Children Waiting: The Shocking Scandal of Adoption,” 1955

Source:  Courtesy of Pearl S. Buck International

Buck with a Welcome House child, late 1960s

Because of Buck’s popularity, her article criticizing agency social workers, sectarian institutions, and the reigning matching paradigm attracted a great deal of attention, including a letter of protest from Joseph Reid, the Executive Director of the Child Welfare League of America.

Two babies came [to me] from adoption agencies, where they were considered unadoptable because it was difficult to find adoptive parents to “match” them. I was sure that there must be good families, matching or not, who could love these babies and indeed there were. . . .

Yet I continue acutely and constantly aware of the thousands of children waiting. . . . These are the citizens of my new world, the children without parents and the parents without children, pressing eagerly toward each other, and yet unable to reach each other. A barrier stands between, a high wall, and in the middle of the wall is a narrow gate, kept locked until a social agency unlocks it a little way and lets one child through at a time. . . .

Nobody knows truthfully how many children are in our orphanages. There are many kinds of orphanages but the largest number belong to religious groups. It was once necessary, I do not doubt, for religious orders to care for orphans, but certainly that day is past. Parents are waiting to adopt them. True, it would be very difficult to close these orphanages, not because of the children but because of vested interests. . . .

The rights of natural parents over children must be defined. Children are not property, but they are considered so under our laws. . . . There is no magic in blood relationship when parents alienate their children by neglect or desertion. Yet under our laws and our customs blood still takes precedence, blood instead of the reality of love. . . . The human qualities of love and understanding and acceptance alone should decide the fate of a child rather than race and religion.

Where all else is equal, of course similarity in race and religion is good but human destiny should not be based on these two elements. . . . I venture to say, were the dead hands of neglectful relatives removed, were the divisive and possessive jealousies of religious groups replaced by the spirit of true religion. . .that nearly all children, at least up to the age of 12, would be easily adoptable. No, when I think of teen-age boys and girls I see children still hungry for home and parents and I withdraw the age limitation.

And how. . .could we ever get so many children adopted when our social agencies cannot cope with what we have? I submit a controversial answer. It could be done if the red tape of adoption procedures were eliminated and only essentials kept. There are, I am sure, sincere and unselfish social workers and religious persons in the field of child welfare and adoption who honestly believe that they are doing the best that can be done, unaware that they themselves are the hindrances because they are faithful to red tape and encrusted in tradition. . . .

There is a surplus of children but the parents who are waiting are prevented from adopting them. . . . Let no small arguments be raised here. It is idle to retort, for example, that adoptive parents usually want a perfect child, that most children are not perfect, and so on. They can be helped to want a handicapped children, a child of mixed origin, or any child at all. . . . We can tear down the walls that keep them prisoners of red tape, prejudice and religious division. . . . We can refuse to accept the excuse that there are not enough children to satisfy adoptive parents.

Source: Pearl S. Buck, “The Children Waiting: The Shocking Scandal of Adoption,” Woman's Home Companion, September 1955, 33, 129-132.
Page Updated: 2-24-2012
Site designed by:

To learn more about The Adoption History Project, please contact Ellen Herman
Department of History, University of Oregon
Eugene, Oregon 97403-1288
(541) 346-3699
About the Project and the Author
© Ellen Herman