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Adoption in the 2010s: The Biggest Changes We’ve Seen This Decade

This month not only marks the end of 2019 but the end of a decade that has brought substantial change to the adoption industry. When looking back on adoption history, it’s amazing to recognize where we’ve come from — and where we’re heading in the next decade. So, in that spirit, we’ve explored six of the biggest changes we’ve seen over the last 10 years. We applaud the direction the adoption industry is taking, and we look forward to the positive changes we can expect in 2020 and the years to follow!

1. U.S. Legalized Same-Sex Marriage, Protecting LGBT Adoption

After decades of civil rights fights, LGBT individuals finally received the ability to marry a person of the same sex, thanks to the landmark ruling of Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015. But this ruling not only allowed LGBT couples to get married; it also changed how they could build their families. Many LGBT would-be families were prohibited from adopting with certain agencies and departments prior to this ruling — but it wasn’t outwardly because of their sexual orientation. Instead, many adoption professionals required that adoptive couples be married to be eligible. So, when LGBT individuals could not marry in their own state, they were effectively prohibited from adoption. Obergefell v. Hodges changed that forever. Now, LGBT individuals can marry in any state and have their union upheld throughout the U.S. They also have the right to adopt as a married couple, if they so desire. While there are still battles to won for discrimination based on religious beliefs, and international adoption presents a whole different set of challenges, LGBT individuals are freer than ever to build their family the way they want to in the United States.

2. International Adoption Continued to Decline

It’s no secret that international adoption numbers have been on the decline. In fact, the U.S. Department of State released numbers this year showing that international adoptions have declined more than 84 percent since 2004. That number is only expected to grow in the years to come. There are a few reasons for this. Throughout the last 10 years, politics have played a huge role. In 2012, Russia banned Americans from adopting Russian children, stopping adoptions from one of the most popular countries for American would-be parents. Before 2012, Americans had completed more than 46,000 Russian adoptions. The ban was a result of strained diplomatic relationships between the two countries for years, and it doesn’t appear to be reversed anytime soon. Russia isn’t the only country cracking down on international adoption. In the last 10 years, major countries such as Ethiopia, China, South Korea and Guatemala have either completely banned or set major restrictions on international adoption to the U.S. It’s a reflection of recent investigations into unethical adoption practices and processes, many of which harm the child at the center of the process. Of course, issues with international adoption aren’t just confined to children adopted within the last decade. With the increased pressure on undocumented residents in the U.S., many international adoptees in their 20s and 30s have discovered they actually aren’t American citizens — and some have even been deported to their countries of birth. Without major change, it appears that international adoption is a family-building process on its way out.

3. DNA and Ancestry Testing Became Commercialized

The 2010s saw the explosion of services like 23andMe and Ancestry, designed to help the everyday person connect with their biological heritage. But these services were especially important for the millions of adoptees with no connection to their birth family. Countless stories were reported over the last 10 years about adoptees and birth parents being reunited after years and even decades of searching for each other. While DNA testing services bring positives for many adoptees and birth families, they’ve also changed the closed adoption landscape. Today, birth parents that choose a closed adoption (or semi-open adoption with limited contact) aren’t provided the same privacy as they might have been decades ago. Today, any birth family can be found with a quick swipe of the cheek, leading to just as many disappointing reunions as joyful ones. DNA testing services have also caused just as much heartbreak among those who may not have known they were adopted, revealing unfaithful spouses and untruthful parents.

4. Social Media Made Adoption More Open

On the same note, social media services like Facebook allowed for greater access to family connections than ever before. While DNA services may have revealed who biological relatives were, social media allowed adoptees to easily find and contact them in a neutral space. Social media has also become a great contact option for developing and maintaining open adoption relationships. The ease of sending messages and photos back and forth has allowed adoptive parents to keep their children’s birth parents up-to-date on their children’s lives, without all the back-and-forth required with agency mediation. It’s also a source for good when it comes to sharing positive adoption stories. We’ve all seen the viral stories of successful adoption hearings, reunions and more. Social media allows that positivity to be easily spread to millions of people, bringing more awareness about the adoption process and helping people understand just how wonderful it really is.

5. Access to Original Birth Certificates Increased

For decades, adoption legislation favored the rights of a birth parent to remain anonymous — without considering the negative effects that privacy would have on an adoptee searching for their biological identity. Fortunately, advocates have made great strides in the last decade to protect an adoptee’s right to their original birth certificate and birth information. New York is just one of the most recent states to open up adoption records. Over the last 10 years, states including New Jersey, Indiana, Oregon, and Pennsylvania have opened up adoptees’ access to original birth certificates. While the national landscape for openness in adoption records is more progressive than ever, there are still dozens of states that restrict an adoptee’s rights to their most basic personal information. But new legislation is in the works in several states, and we hope to see the trend of openness continuing in the 2020s.

6. Adoption Stories Took a Forefront in Pop Culture

This decade saw the premiere of our favorite adoption-themed TV show: “This is Us.” Following the story of parents Rebecca and Jack and children Kevin, Kate and Randall, the show addresses all the complications and joys of a transracial adoption, from birth to decades later. And, like with many popular adoption references in the 2010s, writers on the show aren’t afraid to show the challenges of adoption and its reality in the U.S. today. Take “Lion,” for example. It’s a movie based on a true story of an adopted Indian boy, who returns to his home country in search of the birth parents he was accidentally separated from at an early age. The movie includes all the heartbreak of losing and eventually finding birth family, as well as the complications that brings to the son’s relationship with his adoptive parents. Other standouts from the decade include “Philomena,” “Instant Family,” and the “Despicable Me” series.

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The 2010s was a great decade for adoption. It ushered in some major changes that will carry through in the years and decades to come. Here at Considering Adoption, we’re excited for a future where adoption is a normalized, positive part of everyday life. What were some of your favorite adoption moments from this decade? Let us know in the comments!

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