Tuesday, August 12, 2003
Unmarried people creating families by adopting
A story published today by the Plain Dealer reports that according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, single-parent adoptions have jumped from less than 5 percent of all adoptions from public agencies in the 1970s to 33 percent in 2001.
In Cuyahoga county, Ohio, almost half the people who adopted last year were single. Other counties in Ohio, particularly those with large cities, had similar percentages.
Social workers and adoption researchers say changes in the attitudes of adoption agencies and public perception about who can adopt helped start the trend in the 1980s.
No law prohibited single people from adopting, said Dottie Klemm, a retired Cuyahoga County children's services worker with three decades' experience in adoption. "But most agencies didn't do it, just public or urban agencies," she said. "It was scandalous."
Attitudes began to change as more single parents raised children, either after divorce or out- of-wedlock births. Many private adoption agencies that had focused on couples became more accepting of single applicants.
Child welfare agencies also recruited relatives of children in foster care to adopt. Grandmothers and aunts often stepped forward, aided by subsidies from the federal government to help them adopt older kids, sibling groups or children who needed medical or mental health care.
Critics decry the trend, arguing that children need two parents. The critics say two people making decisions are better than one, and children need the security of two loving parents.
Social workers, however, say letting single parents adopt is better than leaving children in foster homes. More than 3,000 children in Ohio are waiting to be adopted, a majority between the ages of 10 and 17.
"Even though we may think a child needs to be in a two-parent home, if we find a home with someone who loves them and meets all their needs, that's all we can ask for," said Duran Williams, an adoption specialist for the Cuyahoga County Department of Children and Family Services.
All adoptive parents have to get an adoption license. They must pass a background check, and social workers inspect their homes and inquire about finances and mental and physical health. Single people are also questioned in detail about child- care plans, family or friends and intimate relationships before they get licensed.
Social workers or a judge can still turn down an adoption if they believe it is not in the child's best interest.
Sheldon Smith, a principal at Case Elementary School in Cleveland who adopted five children, said he wasn't worried about that. He has three boys, ages 15, 10 and 12, a 10-year-old girl and a 21-year-old son in Atlanta.
"My passion is helping people," Smith said. "This is what I do. This is who I am. I think they saw that in me."
Smith adopted his oldest son and his only daughter more than six years ago, after their mother died. Smith had mentored the boy and knew the two children had no place to go. The other adopted children came later.
Now, their Cleveland Heights home is always bustling with activity. Smith insists that each child be involved in a sport or activity, but they must be home for dinner each night. His parents come over for dinner on Sunday and check on the kids daily.
"It's a lot of driving around dropping off kids," said Smith, 38. "But I can't imagine what my life would be like without my children."