About Single Mother Adoption
The Role of the Single Mother in Adoption of Children from the Child Welfare SystemBy Penelope L. Maza, PhD, U.S. Children's Bureau
From the Child Welfare League of America
Until recently, national information on the adoption of children by single women from the public child welfare system was unavailable. The Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS), established by law and administered by the U.S. Children's Bureau, is now providing this information. As the information presented here indicates, single women are a critical component in achieving permanency for children in the child welfare system, and they play a particularly important role in the adoption of African American non-Hispanic children.
Close to one-third (31%) of the estimated 36,000 children adopted from the public child welfare system in fiscal year 1998 were adopted by single women. Almost two-thirds (66%) of single women, more than two-thirds (70%) of the children they adopted, were African American non-Hispanic. Almost two-thirds (65%) of the single women had been the child's foster parent, and more than one in five (21%) were related to the child. In more than three-fourths (77%) of these adoptions, the child was of the same race or ethnicity as the single adoptive mother.
When compared with adoptive married couples, single adoptive women are more than twice as likely as married couples to be African American and non-Hispanic (70% vs. 31%) and are somewhat more likely to adopt children of their own race or ethnicity (84% vs. 71%). In addition, single female adoptive parents are about as likely as married couples to have been the child's foster parent (65% vs. 63%), more likely to have been the child's relative (21% vs. 13%), and less likely to not have had a prior relationship with the adoptive child (14% vs. 24%). Overall, the children whom single women adopt are older than the children whom married couples adopt. The average age of the children adopted by single women is 7.2 years; the average age of children adopted by married couples is 6.3 years. In addition, the time from termination of parental rights to adoption for children adopted by single women is slightly longer than for children adopted by married couples (17 months vs. 15 months).
It has generally been assumed that children adopted by single women may be the children for whom it is most difficult to find adoptive homes. AFCARS provides information on the primary special needs for children adopted. Based on this information, single women are somewhat more likely than married couples to adopt a child whose primary special need is race or ethnicity (18% vs.12%), or a child whose primary special need is age (43% vs. 27%). In contrast, single adopting women are less likely than married couples to adopt a child whose primary special need is having a medical condition or a mental, physical, or emotional disability (14% vs. 22%), or whose primary special need is being a member of a sibling group (14% vs. 22%).
In conclusion, the significant role played by single women who adopt children from the child welfare system in providing permanency for a substantial proportion of the children waiting to be adopted cannot be underestimated. Although they are less likely than married couples to adopt sibling groups or children with disabilities, they are more likely to adopt minority children and older children. At the end of FY 1998, the average age of waiting children was 8, and 53% of the waiting children were African American non-Hispanic. For these children, and for waiting children in general, single adopting women will continue to play a critical role in helping them achieve permanency.