Alfred Kadushin, “Single-Parent Adoptions: An Overview and Some Relevant Research” 1970

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

Rosalind Martin, of the Los Angeles County Bureau of Child Adoptions, showing a child to a prospective single parent adopter.

The Single-Parent Adoptive Situation

Single-parent adoptions have been made in Los Angeles; Washington, D.C.; Chicago; Portland; Minneapolis; Indianapolis; and Bridgeport, Connecticut. In two instances, at least, the single adoptive parents have been men. . . .

In the first hesitant efforts to attract single-parent applications for adoption, agencies have made explicit the fact that such applicants are being accepted only if they are interested in the hard-to-place child. . . .

But if more and more children become “hard-to-place,” then. . .agencies would have to begin to consider single-parent adoption as a possibility for more and more children.

Currently, then, agencies have moved from a stance of automatically rejecting the one-parent applicant to a highly qualified willingness to explore such applications in specific instances. The following standards, which are particular to the one-parent applicant situation, seem to be evolving:

1. Some assurance is sought that the applicant has close contact with an extended family. The availability of male relatives—uncles, brothers, nephews, etc.—would permit the possibility of intimate contact, for identification, with father surrogates. . . .

2. Some assurance is asked that the financial situation is such that the adoptive mother can adequately provide for the child without always doubling as a wage-earner, at least while the child is totally dependent. . . .

3. Greater consideration should be given to the question of sexual identification of the single applicant and the nature of the relationship with the opposite sex. The implied question is, if single, why single? if divorced, why divorced? if engaged in a healthy, heterosexual relationship, why not married?

4. The health status of the single adoptive applicant is a matter of greater than normal concern in the adoptive study, since any illness robs the child of the effective care of the only parent available.

5. As in all adoptive studies, the question of motivation is a matter of concern. . . . Does the applicant act out of an aching loneliness, out of a need to have and control a source of love and affectional response?. . . .

The Single-Parent Family and Psychosocial Dysfunctioning

Social work as a profession has made some decisions which establish a hierarchy of the relative desirability of the variety of child-rearing contexts. Maintaining the child in his own home is more desirable than any kind of substitute-care arrangement; a two-parent adoptive home is regarded as more desirable than long-term foster care; long-term foster care is regarded as more desirable than institutionalization. But where does the single-parent adoption fit into this hierarchy? Is it more or less desirable than substitute care in a good institution? Is it more or less desirable than maintaining the child in his own home with parents who have often neglected him and, on occasion, have abused him?. . . .

Perhaps the greatest component of the social worker’s ambivalence and discomfort about single-parent adoption (and ambivalence and discomfort that result in assigning such a resource a low position in our hierarchy of preferences) is based on a dubious equation. This widely accepted and superficially convincing equation is that the single-parent family is likely to be a pathogenic family. However logical the equation may be, given the special problems of single-parent familyhood, what does the available empirical evidence tell us about the validity of this equation?. . . .

To recapitulate the principal point being made here, the equation which prejudices our view of the single-parent adoption suggests that child-rearing in the single-parent family is psychogenic. However, empirical research does not clearly support the equation that growing up in a single-parent family is associated with increased psychic vulnerability and a higher rate of psychiatric and emotional disability. The evidence is conflicting and ambiguous. . . .

Research seems to indicate that children are able to surmount the lack of a father and some of the real shortcomings of a single-parent home. To modify an old folk saying, lack of a father is not as bad as having a father is good.

The single-parent family appears capable of producing a product that in very many instances is as good as the product of the two-parent family. If, in addition, we maximize the inherent strengths of such a family by judicious selection of applicants, by special assistance through subsidization of the adoption, ready availability of casework help, imaginative exploitation of organizations such as “Parents without Partners,” the single adoptive parent can be offered to children needing adoptive homes with some confidence that we are providing a good home. The single-parent adoptive family is likely to be the kind of single-parent family which is least pathogenic. . . .

We need to become more flexible in thinking about the alternatives, different but “undamaging,” which can be productively employed for children needing substitute families.


Source: Alfred Kadushin, “Single-Parent Adoptions: An Overview and Some Relevant Research,” Social Service Review 44 (1970):263, 264-265, 266, 267-268, 269, 271-272.

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