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The first organized effort to enlist single parents was a program of the Los Angeles Bureau of Adoptions. In 1965, this public agency sought out single African-Americans in order to locate same-race parents for African-American children for whom married parents could not be found. Over the next two years, the agency placed a total of thirty-nine children with single mothers and one child with a single father, a fairly small number considering the hundreds of children in care. The Los Angeles Bureau of Adoptions also experimented with placing minority children with white married couples. For even the most daring agencies, however, transracial adoptions represented a partial solution to the urgent needs of children of color, especially as the controversy over placing black children in white families heated up in the late 1960s and early 1970s. According to Los Angeles Bureau director Walter A. Heath, two parents were preferable, "but one parent is better than none." By the time it revised its adoption standards in 1968, the Child Welfare League of America conceded that married parents were an unattainable luxury for some children. Single parent adoptions were permissible in "exceptional circumstances" where the child would not otherwise be adopted.

The story of single parent adoptions illustrates change as well as continuity in the history of adoption. That some adults previously considered ineligible or even entirely unfit for parenthood were eventually recognized as a positive resource for children attests to the democratization of adoption, which now includes many more kinds of people than it did in the past, at least in theory. At the same time, single parent adoptions prove that matching children and parents on a hierarchy of more and less desirable characteristics persists. Approximately one-third of children adopted from the public foster care system and one-quarter of all children with special needs are adopted by single individuals today, but many fewer singles adopt healthy infants domestically or internationally. This strongly suggests that single parents offer families of last resort for desperate children who have no other choices. They are as unwanted as the children they take in.

Adoption had evolved significantly as a social institution during the past century, but the cultural values that mark certain children, adults, and families as more and less worthy have been stubborn and very slow to change.


From: The Adoption History Project website www.uoregon.edu/~adoption/index.html Used With Permission.


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