November is National Adoption Month in the United States and has been so since 1995 when President Clinton expanded what had been a National Adoption Week initiated by President Reagan in 1984. Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas Orphans’ Court judge, the Honorable Jay J. Hoberg, has celebrated National Adoption Month each year by establishing a full day of adoptions in November. While Judge Hoberg finalizes many adoptions every month, the November Adoption Day is an extra special day in his courtroom. The day is typically reserved for children being adopted through the foster care system and often includes balloons and celebrations in what is often referred to as “Happy Court.”
The Adoption History Project at the University of Oregon is an excellent resource for anyone who is interested in learning the history of adoption in the United States. I will try to summarize some of the information they have compiled but please visit their website to learn more about important people, organizations and events that have influenced the history of adoption.
Adoption dates back as far as 1851 when Massachusetts passed the first modern adoption law. Through the years children’s advocacy grew, including in 1872 when the New York State Charities Aid Association was organized as one of the first organizations to establish a specialized child placement program, 1898 when the Catholic Home Bureau was organized in New York to place children in homes rather than orphanages, and 1912 when Congress created the U.S. Children’s Bureau. Thereafter, child social service agencies and the focus on permanency in adoption for children grew exponentially both in society’s mind and through the legal system. In 1917, Minnesota passed the first law mandating social investigation of all adoptions, including home studies, and provided for confidentiality of adoption records. From 1937 to 1938, the first Child Welfare League of America created minimum standards for adoptive and foster care placements. The first transracial adoption of an African American child by a Caucasian family occurred in Minnesota in 1948, followed by the Multi-Ethnic Placement Act in 1994 representing the first Federal law to address race in adoption. That law disallowed agencies receiving federal monies from forbidding transracial adoptions based only on race, but allowed race to be considered a factor in temporary and permanent placements. However, in 1996 pursuant to the Inter-Ethnic Adoption Amendment, federal law made it impermissible to utilize race as a factor in any temporary or permanent placement.
The Adoption and Safe Families Act was established in 1997 and emphasized permanency planning for children. This Act evidenced the significant policy shift from family reunification to adoption. Fast forward to 2017 and adoptions of all types are prolific: transracial adoptions, single parent adoptions, step-parent adoptions, second parent or same-sex adoptions, international adoptions, and traditional adoptions through private placement and through the foster care system.
While the more than 150 year old tradition of adoption has grown and evolved through today, the primary focus has always been on what is in the best interest of orphaned and dependent children. Modern adoption issues now focus on allowable connections with birth families, open adoptions, and privacy issues, culminating most recently in Pennsylvania’s amendment to its Adoption Act effective November 3, 2017. This amendment allows for adoptees under certain circumstances to obtain a non-certified copy of their original birth certificate.
National Adoption Month reminds us that adoption has come a long way since its recognized inception in 1851 and society’s acknowledgement of the need for child-focused laws and standards for adoption has allowed us to meet the needs of our most vulnerable children. I am very fortunate to have worked with so many wonderful families who participate in foster parenting and adoption. I applaud all of you and look forward to working with many more amazing families in the years to come. Happy Adoption Month!