Is There a Shortage of Adoptive Families in the United States?


When talking about U.S. families adopting U.S. children, there are essentially two options. Hopeful parents can pursue a domestic infant adoption, which typically involves an adoption agency and a birth mother who chooses the adoptive family. Or, hopeful parents can pursue foster care adoption, which involves becoming foster parents and being placed with a child who needs to be adopted.

Each year, thousands of hopeful parents pursue each type of adoption. When an adoption is completed, it changes the lives of everyone involved in a beautiful way. But there are still many children who are waiting for a family.

Is there a shortage of adoptive families in the United States? It depends which type of adoption you’re talking about.

Domestic Infant Adoption

The domestic infant adoption process is a common way for hopeful parents to adopt in the U.S. Parents will work with an adoption agency to be placed with a child. The agency also works with prospective birth mothers who are considering adoption for their baby. A birth mother will select the adoptive family she thinks is best for her child, and the adoption will moved forward from there.

In domestic infant adoption, there is not a shortage of adoptive families. Typically, a birth mother will have several adoptive family profiles to choose from. This results in the majority of adoptive parents experiencing an extended waiting period. For some families, the waiting period can be as short as a couple months, while others will wait much longer for their adoptive family profile to be chosen by a prospective birth mother.

While it can be difficult to nail down exactly how many parents seek adoption each year, it is safe to say that in domestic infant adoption, there are more hopeful adoptive parents than children in need of adoption. Several estimates put the number of families who want to adopt each year in the millions, although not all of these families follow through and actually begin the adoption process.

In many ways, this is good news. Although the wait times can be difficult for hopeful parents, these numbers show that babies who need loving families are finding them through the domestic infant adoption process. The situation in foster care adoption, however, is much bleaker.

Foster Care Adoption

There are more than 400,000 children currently in the U.S. foster care system. The majority of these children are not in need of adoption, because their biological parents’ rights are still intact. This means that their goal is reunification — being reunited with their parents after a time apart in foster care.

However, there are more than 100,000 children in need of adoption from foster care. And according to reports from the Children’s Bureau, the number of children waiting for adoption has increased by nearly 17,000 since 2012. In this situation, when asking if there is a shortage of adoptive families in the United States, the answer is yes.

Several important numbers help paint a picture of the current situation.

  • More than 60 percent of children in foster care spend two to five years in foster homes before being adopted
  • The average age of children waiting for adoption is 7 years old
  • More than half of the children in need of adoption are over 6 years old
  • There are more boys than girls waiting to be adopted
  • 22 percent of children who need adoption are Hispanic, and 23 percent are black

Many reports have detailed a lack of foster parents in the U.S. This need for parents, paired with increasing numbers of children entering the system, have led many to call this situation a crisis. Even though more than 50,000 children are adopted from foster care each year, the number of children in need of adoption is still growing.

An especially vulnerable group in this situation is older children. The majority of children who need to be adopted are older than 6, but reports have found that older children are less likely to be adopted. Adopting an older child can bring unique challenges, such as behavioral issues, developmental delays or special needs, into your family. Parenting in these circumstances isn’t always easy, but regardless of how difficult it may be, every child needs a family. The impact of never finding permanency for children has been found to be very detrimental.

Anyone who finds themselves disturbed and moved by this information can contact their local department of children’s services to see how they may be able to help children in foster care. Even if becoming a foster parent isn’t right for you, there are still ways to assist your local foster care community.

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