The history of adoption isn’t necessarily a pleasant one; there’s a lot that we’ve learned and changed over time to make it the amazing way to grow a family that it is today. Adoption history can be split up into two distinct eras: adoption before and after what we consider to be the first modern adoption law was passed in 1851.
Adoption Before 1851
Adoptions taking place during this time were very secretive. There was such a negative stigma against single mothers that women who weren’t married would place their children with other families to avoid the shame associated with an illegitimate child. A birth mother in this era may have also placed her child for adoption for reasons like a poor family situation, poverty or sickness. Just like the birth moms of today, she was doing so in her child’s best interests.
Unfortunately, there were no laws put in place to protect adopted children, and so many families took in children to use them as sources of labor and profit. Adoptions in this period were typically closed, so those children never got to know their birth mother or understand the love she felt for her baby. Many of them may have never known they were adopted in the first place.
Adoption After 1851
In 1851, Massachusetts implemented the Adoption of Children Act, which required judges to deem that their adoptions were “fit and proper.” This was a bit vague, but it was a big step in moving toward the child always being the first priority in an adoption. Sadly, adoption didn’t immediately turn into the modern, open version we’re familiar with today. Between 1854 and 1929, orphan trains hauled children from the eastern side of the nation to the Midwest and West so that families considering adoption could inspect them and choose children to bring home with them.
Adoption history in the United States also includes the existence of orphanages, where children were placed when they had no living parents or when those parents simply couldn’t give them the care they required. They were places designed to help children in need, although frequently they were also associated with impersonal workers, harsh punishment and extreme prejudice. Orphanages have since been replaced with the foster care system, which is closely monitored by each of the state governments to ensure that the families who volunteer to take children into their homes are safe and ready to parent, whether temporarily or on a more permanent basis.
Adoption has continuously improved over the last century. In 1912, the U.S. Children’s Bureau was founded to investigate and advocate for the welfare of children. Fast forward too today, and now 95 percent of adoptions involve some degree of communication, or openness, between birth parents, adoptive parents and adoptee. With lots of effort from those in the adoption community, adoption has become an ethical and amazing way to grow a family and give a child the life he or she deserves.