An evaluation of AdoptUsKids.org shows the website is successfully connecting children and families across all 50 states.
By Ellie Bradsher Schmidt and Barbara Pearson
Most children in the foster care system who need adoptive families don't have to look much farther than the city or geographic region where they live. But for some of the children in foster care who will not return home, the search for a stable, loving, permanent family will extend well beyond their immediate neighborhoods.
The Internet is now making it possible for families who wish to adopt a child out of the foster care system to view available children anywhere in the country. As a result, some children are being placed with adoptive families in another state. Interstate placements require the child's worker to interact closely with the family and the family's worker to ensure all of the necessary paperwork is completed, the adoption is finalized, and the placement is successful.
Historically, some in the child welfare field have viewed jumping jurisdictional boundaries to place children in adoptive homes as too complicated. Nonetheless, the process can be straightforward when approached in a collaborative, problem-solving manner. Although an interstate adoption can require more steps than an in-state placement, interstate placements happen every day. The extra effort is certainly worthwhile when a child is connected to a permanent family.
In the past, state and regional adoption exchanges and their photolisting books served as a successful conduit for family and child searches. Now, simply turning on a computer from any location can help connect children with prospective families. Since 2002, AdoptUsKids.org has successfully used cyberspace to facilitate these connections.
Monthly, more than 150,000 visitors to the AdoptUsKids website spend time getting to know more about the children in foster care who are waiting for permanence. Thousands of prospective adoptive parents have used AdoptUsKids.org as they search for children to welcome into their families. And more than 7,000 children--many of them older children, children of color, and children with disabilities--have been placed into caring, stable families.
Successfully Linking Children with Caregivers
The Collaboration to AdoptUsKids is a multifaceted project supported by the Children's Bureau within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. AdoptUsKids aims to recruit foster and adoptive families for children who are unable to live safely with their birth families.
AdoptUsKids.org is an interactive database featuring information on more than 5,000 children available for adoption. Families can sort through the photolistings and make inquiries about children they're interested in. The database also has information on nearly 5,600 home-studied families for adoption professionals to use when searching for an adoptive family for a child.
To register on the website, families must complete a home study, which includes the adoption assessment and training process. When families register, they supply information about themselves and certain characteristics about a child or children they want to adopt. Parents can specify, for example, their preferences for a child's gender, race, ethnicity, age range, and disability types and levels. Registered families also specify whether they would adopt a sibling group, and the size of a sibling group they would accept.
All children and youth who are in foster care and have a case plan of adoption can be registered on the AdoptUsKids website, except when restricted by courts or custodial agency policies. When registering a child on AdoptUsKids, the worker provides key descriptive information, including a narrative about the child, and his or her photograph. Older children often participate in creating their own photolisting profiles. Many families who use the website say they find the photographs compelling.
The AdoptUsKids website has helped link thousands of adoptive parents to waiting children all over the United States. In its first four years, the site registered about 19,000 prospective adoptive families and about 17,000 children looking for homes. Since the Adoption Exchange Association began operating the website in October 2002, 41% of registered children have been placed into adoptive homes.
The Demographics of AdoptUsKids
Families from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, and military families stationed both domestically and abroad, have registered with AdoptUsKids for help finding children to adopt. Florida, Illinois, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania have the highest numbers of registered families--at least 750 families each seeking children through AdoptUsKids.org.
Of families registered on the website, 81% have registered as couples, and 19% as single parents. Most of the single parents are women; about 4% of registered families are single males. Prospective parents from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds have come to the website to search for a child. Most families are white (77%); about 10% are African American, about 11% are biracial or multiracial, and roughly 7% are Hispanic.
CWLA's research staff examined demographic and preference information from the records of the 5,285 families actively using the AdoptUsKids website in January 2006. Families' preferences about the type of children they wanted to adopt were compared with the demographics of the 4,753 child cases actively managed on the website at that time. This comparison provided insight into how AdoptUsKids links children waiting for adoptive families with families who have successfully completed the application, assessment, and training processes to become prospective adoptive families.
Prospective parents may be looking for particular characteristics in the children they want to adopt, and a child who fits the family's preferences may not be available in the local child welfare system. Through AdoptUsKids, the family can expand its search for a child nationally. The comparison between family preferences and waiting children has also helped AdoptUsKids identify domains where waiting children are different from the family preferences. AdoptUsKids can then provide training and technical assistance to help states and counties recruit families who are open to adopting children such as those photolisted with AdoptUsKids.
A breakdown of the demographic data of the children featured on AdoptUsKids.org includes:
Gender. Most children photolisted with AdoptUsKids are male: 65% are boys, 33% are girls--a nearly 2 to 1 ratio. Many registered families say they are interested in adopting a child of either gender. The exception is single parents--single mothers are more likely to say they would only adopt a girl, and most single fathers are clear about wanting to adopt a boy.
Race and ethnicity. Some 46% of children photolisted on AdoptUsKids.org are African American, 37% are white, and 15% are Hispanic/Latino. Small numbers of Asian, Pacific Islander/Native Hawaiian, and Native American children are also registered.
When families list their preferences about the race of the children they are seeking, about 32% say they would adopt a child of any race or combination of races. About 24% of prospective parents say they are looking for a white child only, and 8% say they are looking only for an African American child.
Across the board, whether the family is black, white, Asian, Native American, or Pacific Islander, they are more likely to focus their search on a child of the same race than a child of another racial group. Two-thirds of African American families registered on AdoptUsKids, for example, said they were specifically looking for a black child. Of all families using the AdoptUsKids website, more than half say they would adopt a child of Hispanic ethnicity. Nearly all Hispanic families registered with AdoptUsKids indicated they were open to adopting Hispanic children.
Age. The average age of the children photolisted on AdoptUsKids is nearly 13. Only about 10% of the children are 8 or younger, and about 60% are ages 13-19. Overall, the average age families say they would adopt is a child up to age 9. Fifty-three percent of families, however, say they would adopt a child within the 9-19 age range. In January 2006, 2,800 families said they would adopt an older child. Single parents overall, and single fathers in particular, seem to be even more inclined than couples to consider adopting a preteen or teenager.
Sibling groups. About 30% of children are photolisted as part of a sibling group. Most sibling groups are two siblings who need to be adopted together, but sibling groups as large as seven need families. Families who search for children on the AdoptUsKids website appear to be quite open to adopting sibling groups: 83% of families say they would be willing to adopt at least two siblings together. More than 17% of families say they would adopt a sibling group of four or more. Couples and single mothers are more likely to be intentional about looking for sibling groups.
The success of AdoptUsKids is evidence families are taking the proactive position of searching for themselves rather then relying on social workers to identify children for them. Although the fast-paced technology may feel a bit impersonal at first, families soon realize that behind the website are skilled adoption professionals who are passionate about finding adoptive families who can meet the needs of the children in their charge. If anything, the technology has demanded that humans trust each other more than ever as that technology spans greater distances in placing children into adoptive families.
Ellie Bradsher Schmidt is a Senior Research Assistant at CWLA. Barbara Pearson is Director of the Northwest Adoption Exchange, Seattle, Washington.
How AdoptUsKids Helped Bring One Family Together
More than two years ago, the Hayes family started to look for a child or children to adopt. Kim and Tony Hayes were unable to have birth children but very much wished to have a family. After searching many sites, they found AdoptUsKids.
"I looked at the children even before we were licensed to be foster/adoptive parents," Kim recalls. "We looked in just about every state, and I spent countless hours reading profiles, looking at pictures, and aggravating our social worker to get in touch with the child's worker."
Although the Hayes family did not plan to adopt a teenager, when they saw their daughter's face and profile on AdoptUsKids.org, they decided they wanted to meet her. "Once we read her full profile, we found out that she was not without special needs," Kim says. "We made arrangements through our case worker and her social worker to meet in North Carolina."
The Hayes family lived nine hours away from the proposed meeting place, and the state of North Carolina paid for the family's travel. Kim describes meeting her daughter for the first time. "We met at a pizza restaurant. When our daughter and her social worker drove up, our daughter shielded her face with her hands, she was so embarrassed." Clearly there was a lot at stake for everyone involved.
Kim and Tony feel very lucky they have found a teenage daughter who is well mannered, polite, gracious, loving, hard working, and conscientious. They realize that although some of these qualities came naturally to her, she has had to work hard on others. "I am impressed, proud, and honored to be Teresa's mother, mom, and mommy," Kim says. "Our daughter's adoption was finalized in October 2005."
The Hayes family's experience has made all of them very proactive in getting more teenagers adopted. They jump at the chance to speak with families or groups to explain how the adoption of a teen can change lives for the better.
Thanking AdoptUsKids is not enough, Kim says, "for bringing us the daughter we always wanted."