How Adoption Has Changed Over the Years

Oct 22, 2021 | 0 comments

Abigail Lee
Foster Parent Recruiter
HopeTree Family Services

The concept of adoption has been around for as long as humans have existed.  In fact, we have many biblical examples of children who were taken in and raised by someone other than their birth parents:  Exodus 2 tells the story of Moses being cared for by Pharaoh’s daughter.  In 2 Samuel 9, Mephibosheth was taken in by David.  In 2 Kings 11, Jehosheba took in and raised Joash.  Job 31 tells us that Job cared for many orphans.  In the story of Esther, we learn that Esther was raised by her cousin, Mordecai. 

Adoption was also a practice in the early Christian church dating back to the very first century.  In ancient Rome, Christians were known for bringing home and raising infants who had been left by the sea on rocks or in garbage heaps.  In the ancient Roman culture, this was a practice called “exposure” in which infants were left exposed to the elements when their birth parents were not able to take care of them.  The Christians of the first century regularly took in children left to exposure and raised them as their own children, effectively adopting them into their family.

In the 1890s, HopeTree was founded originally as the Virginia Baptist Orphanage with the goal of providing a home for children whose birth family could not care for them and, when possible, placing children in adoptive families.  As culture and child welfare has changed over the years, HopeTree’s adoption program has also changed.  In the mid-1900s, HopeTree had a large infant adoption program.  At that time, it was common for women who were not married and became pregnant to make an adoption plan for their baby because there was a cultural stigma associated with single parenting.  In these cases, HopeTree, then known as the Virginia Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services, would match newborn babies with families who were looking to grow their family through adoption.  It was common practice at that time for adoption files to be “sealed” and for there to be very little or no exchange of information between the birth family and the adoptive family.  Over the years, as we in child welfare have learned more about child development and heard from adoptees themselves, we learned that knowing one’s adoption story is an important part of an adoptee’s development.  Research shows that infants form attachments even in the womb and in the first hours of life.  The separation of an infant from their birth parent is an emotional loss experienced by the infant even when the child is too young to remember the loss.  People who are adopted can sometimes feel like they are “missing a piece” of themselves if they don’t know their full adoption story and the reason their birth parents were not able to raise them.  This is why today HopeTree provides a service called Adoption Disclosure.  This service is available to all adult adoptees who were adopted through our agency at any time in the past.  Through our adoption disclosure program, we provide the adoptee with his or her redacted case file, meaning we take out the birth family’s identifying information.  When requested, we also conduct a search for the adopted person’s birth family to find updated medical information and to connect the adoptee with his or her birth family if both parties agree to a reunion.  For many adoptees, learning their story, their current family medical history, and information from their birth family plays an important role in developing their own sense of identity.

Adoption now looks very different than it did in the past.  HopeTree no longer operates an infant adoption program.  Many parents who experience unplanned pregnancies choose to raise their children instead of making adoption plans.  Now, however, HopeTree facilitates many adoptions through our foster care program.  When a child first enters foster care the main goal is always that the child would return home to their birth family.  Foster families work closely with birth families to support this goal.  We have learned that children do best when all the adults in their life can work cooperatively together.  Children often have close attachments and love for their birth families and they also build attachments and form loving relationships with their foster families.  Just like parents can love more than one child, children can love more than one set of parents and children do best when all of those parents work together!  If a child is not able to return to their birth family or live with a relative, then that child will sometimes become available for adoption.  If the foster family wishes to adopt the child, HopeTree helps facilitate the adoption process.  When a child is adopted that means that the child is legally the child of their adoptive parents, just as if they were born to them, but it doesn’t mean that they have to severe their connection with their birth family.  In fact, we encourage adoptive families to keep in contact with a child’s birth family whenever it possible and in the best interest of the child.  This contact might be in the form of exchanging cards and pictures on a regular basis or even having regular phone calls or visits.  Being adopted into a new family does not erase the love and attachment an adopted person might feel for their birth family and many have a desire to maintain contact with their first parents.  Children do best when all the adults in their life work to maintain these connections in a healthy and supportive way.

National Adoption Month is a time to recognize and support all those who are touched by adoption – the parents who welcome a child into their family through adoption, the birth parents of people who are adopted, some of whom chose adoption for their child and some of whom did not have a choice, and the people who are adopted who share their love and loyalty between their two families.

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