Excerpt from Helen Witmer et al, Independent Adoptions: A Follow-Up Study, 1963

Adoption laws assume that it is important for children to get into good adoptive homes–homes that will maximize their chance to develop their full potential. To secure such homes for children is, in fact, the purpose of adoption in the United States, as testified to by numerous judicial decisions. As one judge put it in his decision relating to a disputed adoption case: “The ultimate purpose of adoption statutes is the welfare of the child, and the wishes and wants of the natural parents and also the proposed adoptive parents can be considered only as secondary to that purpose.”

The general purpose of this study has been to discover the extent to which the purpose of the adoption law was realized in independent adoptions in which the suitability of the petitioners’ home was determined by the Court after a social investigation had been conducted by the State Welfare Department, and after the child had been in the home for some time. The inquiry was made in one state, and with respect to a time when the provisions for social investigation of the adoptive home, the natural parents, and the child—provisions designed to provide protections for all three—were carried out minimally. This very fact permitted us to find out what happens when most adoption petitions are granted, and thus suggests a basis for deciding whether more control would be needed in order to reduce the proportion of unfavorable outcomes—and if so, what kind. . . .


An estimate of the proportions of favorable and unfavorable adoption outcomes should include both the home environment and the way the child seems to be faring in it. Accordingly, the information obtained about each child through the home and through the school was pooled in order to classify the “outcome” to date as reasonably satisfactory or definitely unsatisfactory. By this rough estimate, almost two-thirds of the outcomes could be called reasonably satisfactory, and an additional 10 per cent could not be classified as definitely unsatisfactory. According to the measures used in the study, between one-fifth and one-fourth were definitely unsatisfactory. Thus, whether one views the homes alone, the children’s adjustment alone, or a combination of the two, in this sample at least two out of three were judged fair to excellent, and at least one out of four definitely unsatisfactory, according to current ideas of what a child should have in his home environment and what evidence of adequate development he should show. These figures are, of course, approximate. Viewing the different estimates separately and together, however, we can say that a considerable majority were working out well and a substantial minority were not. . . .


Shall we, then, devote our efforts to improving independent adoption placements on the assumption that they are not likely to be eliminated soon, to legislating against them, or to simultaneously improving independent placements and increasing agency resources with a view to gradually making agency placements the sole means of adopting a child? The decision will depend on the estimate of the satisfactoriness—actual and potential—of independent placements, the extent to which they can be improved, the relative merits of agency placements, and the realistic probabilities of supplanting independent placements by agency placements. Such a decision is ultimately a value judgment, but a value judgment that is worthless unless it is supported by evidence.


Source: Helen L. Witmer et al., Independent Adoptions: A Follow-Up Study (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1963), 337, 341-342, 361-362.

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