Child Welfare League of America, Standards for Adoption Service, 1958

Source: Henry F. and Katharine Pringle, "Babies for Sale," Saturday Evening Post (December 22, 1951), 12.

During the 1940s and 1950s, popular magazine coverage invariably included warnings about the risks of private, unsafeguarded placements. The photo above was accompanied by the following caption: “It took time and red tape to adopt her son through an authorized agency, but this mother knew he was healthy. People who “buy” black-market babies risk getting sick—often fatally ill—children.”

By 1958, certain adoption standards, taken for granted earlier in the century, were beginning to generate considerable controversy. This selection illustrates how the matching paradigm had shifted and, in particular, how contested religious matching had become. Unable to resolve deep conflicts about this issue within the child welfare community, the Child Welfare League of America chose to publish two statements: one endorsed by the Catholic Church, the other by most nonsectarian, Jewish, and Protestant agencies.

Factors in Selection of Family

Consideration should be given to the following:

4.5 Age
The parents selected for a child should be within the age range usual for natural parents of a child of that age.

4.6 Race
Racial background in itself should not determine the selection of the home for a child.

It should not be assumed that difficulties will necessarily arise if adoptive parents and children are of different racial origin. At the present time, however, children placed in adoptive families with similar racial characteristics, such as color, can become more easily integrated into the average family group and community.

4.7 Interracial Background
Children of interracial background should be placed where they are likely to adjust best. A child who appears to be predominantly white will ordinarily adjust best in a white family, and should therefore be placed with a family that can accept him, knowing his background.

In such situations it is desirable to have the participation of the appropriate consultants, including a geneticist or anthropologist, in arriving at a decision on how the child should be placed. (3.7)

In selecting a family it is necessary to consider not only the attitude of the adoptive parents, but also that of the larger community within which the child will be living. If a suitable placement is not possible within a given community, the child should be placed elsewhere. (6.10, 7.9)

4.8 National, cultural and social background
Nationality should not be a factor in the selection of an adoptive home, except in the case of an older child who has lived with his natural family where acquired characteristics related to nationality may be of importance to the child.

National and cultural characteristics are not inherited but must be learned. The adopted child acquires the cultural and social attributes of his adoptive parents. (3.7)

4.9 Religion
The following statement is in accord with the beliefs underlying practice in a high proportion of nonsectarian agencies, and of those represented by the Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds and by the Department of Social Welfare, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA.

In view of the differences among religious and denominational bodies, it is difficult to suggest practices in adoption which would completely satisfy the religious tenets of each group. It is recognized that agencies under religious auspices may choose to establish rules for adoption practice which satisfy their beliefs. However, inasmuch as equality under the law is a democratic principle applying to all religions, the beliefs of no one religious group can be rightly imposed upon all adoption agencies, voluntary or tax-supported.

Opportunity for religious and spiritual development of the child is essential in an adoptive home. A child should ordinarily be placed in a home where the religion of adoptive parents is the same as that of the child, unless the parents have specified that the child should or may be placed with a family of another religion. Every effort (including interagency and interstate referrals) should be made to place the child within his own faith, or that designated by his parents. If however such matching means that placement might never be feasible or involves a substantial delay in placement or placement in a less suitable home, a child’s need for a permanent family of his own requires that consideration should then be given to placing the child in a home of a different religion. For children whose religion is not known, and whose parents are not accessible, the most suitable home available should be selected.

Placement of children should not be restricted, in general, to homes with formal church affiliations. It is recognized that a church-related agency may need to require formal church affiliation of adoptive parents for the children for whom it has undertaken to find homes.

Parents have the right to determine the religion in which they wish their child to be reared. Because of this, it is presumed that the religion of the child will be that of the parents, and in the case of unmarried parents, that of the mother, unless the parents specify otherwise or have given the agency permission to place the child in a family that the agency considers best for him, although it may be of another religion. The wishes and consent of the parents or mother should be obtained in writing. (2.6)

The point of view of the Roman Catholic agencies differs in certain respects from that given above and agreed upon by the other denominational groups, and is expressed in this statement prepared by the National Conference of Catholic Charities.

The consensus in Roman Catholic circles is that among the several important factors that play a part in successful adoption, the weightiest, although not the sole element, is the religious status of the couple who wish to adopt a child. For Roman Catholics, the religious status of the adoptive applicants is determined by the family’s acceptance of and adherence to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, and by the manner and degree to which the family puts such teachings into practice.

The consensus in Roman Catholic circles is that Roman Catholic children who are to be adopted should be placed only in Roman Catholic families. If a child is born out of wedlock, he should be placed in a family of the same religion as his mother. Any person or agency accepting custody or guardianship of a child who is a member, or whose parent or parents are members of the Roman Catholic Church, should place that child for foster care only in a family or setting having the same religious affiliation as the child or his parents.


Source: Child Welfare League of America, Standards for Adoption Service (New York: Child Welfare League of America, 1958), 24-26.

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