The University Record, April 22, 1998

Adoptions of children with special needs up, according to study

By Bernie DeGroat
News and Information Services

Private-agency adoptions, which account for about two-thirds of all adoptions in Michigan, increased 19 percent in 1996, according to a new study by the University and the Michigan Federation of Private Child and Family Agencies.

Of the 2,334 children placed for adoption by 65 private agencies in 1996 (the year for which the most recent data are available), about 60 percent were older children--usually state wards--and children with emotional, behavioral or physical problems often caused by neglect or abuse, the study showed.

"Special-needs kids require extra time and greater amounts of love and care since many of them have multiple needs that require more intense supervision," says Leslie Doty Hollingsworth, assistant professor of social work.

While placing these children in adoptive homes is usually more difficult than finding permanent homes for infants, adoptions of children with special needs increased 31 percent in 1996, Hollingsworth says.

"This is believed to reflect the emphasis that has been placed on the adoption of children who are not traditionally those who are adopted and who often are considered harder to place," she says.

Many specialized services have been established to facilitate adoption of such children, Hollingsworth says. In addition, about 90 percent of the adoptive parents of these children received subsidies for medical treatment and counseling assistance to help the children deal with the effects of maltreatment or frequent out-of-home placements.

Although special-needs children usually have more problems than other adopted children, most families who adopt them have fewer resources than adoptive parents of children without special needs, Hollingsworth says.

For example, about 55 percent of these families had household incomes below $30,000, compared with only 9 percent of those families whose adoptions were more "traditional." Likewise, 43 percent of parents who adopted special-needs kids were single and about 20 percent received income from Temporary Assistance to Needy Families.

The study also showed that a large number of African American families adopted children with special needs, especially after having first become foster families to these children. Of the 1,394 special-needs kids who were adopted in 1996 through private agencies, 60 percent were given permanent homes by African American families.

"This is believed to indicate the success experienced by a number of agencies that deliberately sought to recruit and retain African American foster and adoptive families," Hollingsworth says. "While recent federal legislation ensures that discrimination will not occur in placing children for adoption, most agree with the importance of removing barriers that may have existed to adoption by families of color.

"Since many adoptions occur among persons who first become foster parents, it was important that efforts toward the recruitment of African American families include that aspect as well."

In addition to adoptions of children with special needs, about 17 percent (395) of the private-agency adoptions in Michigan in 1996 involved international children, mostly from Korea (151), China (85), Russia (70) and Romania (38).

Another 16 percent (382) of the adoptions were "voluntary-release" placements, in which birth parents released their children (mostly infants) to private adoption agencies, Hollingsworth says. This type of adoption was down 20 percent from the previous year. Finally, about 7 percent (163) of the placements were "direct-consent" adoptions, in which parents or guardians released their children to previously identified adoptive parents. This kind of placement increased more than 100 percent from the previous year.

The U-M study also found that:


231 children were adopted by families of another race or culture.

37 children were removed from their adoptive families due primarily to the severity of the child's problems or to the birth parents' changing their minds about adoption.

75 percent of the private agencies provided some opportunity for communication between adoptive parents and birth parents.