The Critical Difference Between Foster And Infant Adoption

It’s National Adoption Awareness Month, and many of us in the adoption community are writing about adoption–not the feel-good articles you’ll see in the press, but writing that gets to the truth of what adoption actually is. And some of it, perhaps even most of it, isn’t very pretty.
A number of folks have pointed out that NAAM, which started as a way to promote adoption of kids already in foster care, has turned into a gigantic singalong in favor of infant adoption. So I thought I’d explain the difference between infant adoption and foster adoption.
  • Foster adoption is adoption of kids who have already been separated from their families, and are living in foster care.
  • Infant adoption is adoption of children, often newborns but sometimes slightly older, whose mothers are unable (either by choice or, more often, through clever coersion and familial/societal pressure) to care for them.
Do you see the critical difference? In foster adoption, family separation occurs BEFORE adoption. In infant adoption, separation occurs FOR adoption.
Foster kids are desperately in need of homes. But they’re older and may have suffered abuse or other situations that deem them, in the eyes of some prospective adopters, less than “ideal.” They often come with inconvenient birth families and awareness of their own origins. There is also a stigma attached to adoption from foster care, as if adopting a foster kid means taking on “damaged goods.” An infant, on the other hand, is considered a tabula rasa. In fact, healthy white or pass-for-white infants are such a prize commodity that they go for tens of thousands of dollars. While there is also stigma attached to infant adoption (indeed, adoption of any sort), it’s more likely that neighbors and friends are going to congratulate you on adopting an infant than adopting an eight-year-old out of foster care with, say, medical issues and birth family members still in the picture. That might take *gasp* reordering of one’s life on a massive scale. It’s “not what we signed up for.” (Never mind that life is full of things we “didn’t sign up for.”) Infants are cute and cuddly and, above all, malleable. As I’ve said before, why rent when you can own?
NAAM should be about finding homes for foster kids, the ones who truly need it. Instead it’s become about infant adoption: how to encourage it, how to advertise it, and how to convince as many expectant mothers as possible to surrender their top-quality tabula-rasa infants, because that’s what the market wants.
That’s not to say that there aren’t infants in foster care who need homes. And that’s not to say that there aren’t adoptive parents who open their hearts to children who are actually in need, infants or otherwise. But there is also the side of National Adoption Awareness Month that most people won’t see or don’t want to see–the adopters with entitlement mentalities, who think they deserve a child simply because they want one, and who turn that want into an obsession that drives them to go to any extreme to fulfill it. (Try the Vaughns for one despicable example.) These are the people who drive the market for infant adoption.
Infant adoption is rarely needed, certainly not the number of infants who become available for adoption. Think of all the time and money that is spent on infant adoption. Now, imagine that time and money being used to get as many kids out of foster care and into loving homes as possible. Also imagine that time and money being used to help expectant mothers who find themselves without resources. Oh, but then they might decide to raise their own children, meaning less available product and therefore less money made by adoption agencies. Infant adoption, not foster adoption, is where the real money is. And adoption agencies, despite their “charitable” reputations, are in it for the money. Anyone who tells you otherwise is, ahem, selling something.
Next, think about the efforts made to recruit infants from other countries, to the extent of lying and outright stealing children. Imagine if, instead, the resources spent on these expensive and unnecesary adoptions were spent instead to provide safe, effective, affordable care within such countries, to promote extended family adoptions when parents are truly unable to support children, to promote in-country adoption to preserve the children’s heritage, leaving international adoption as a very last and rare resort.
In the current atmosphere, this would never happen. There’d be an outcry from agencies, prospective adopters, and the general public, ostensibly on behalf of the poor “orphans.” What is not known to most people is that a lot of those kids have parents and/or families, and are designated “orphans” for the sole purpose of making them more adoptable/profitable. Again, that’s not to say there aren’t true orphans in need of help, but there’s also a whole industry that has been built on marketing children from other countries to Westerners. Which is why so many adoptees, upon expressing discontent with adoption as it is practiced today, are scolded with, “Would you rather have been raised in an orphanage?” or “Would you rather have been aborted?” as if the logical choice–being raised in one’s original family–was never an option. The adoption industry needs the perception that there are more orphans languishing out there than there actually are, in order to keep the profits coming. And, let’s be honest, there are some prospective adopters who get off on the idea of being the “rescuers” of “orphans.”
The unfortunate fact is, not everyone who wants to be a parent is going to get that opportunity. There are other ways to matter to children besides obtaining a child by any means necessary. Is it really that important to own? Has our society become so materialistic that we can’t put aside avarice for altruism? Why can’t we help children stay in their families of origin instead of wasting all those resources on unnecessary adoptions? The way adoption is currently practiced only encourages unethical and illicit behavior.
This is one reason that adoption agencies, private “facilitators” and some adoptive parents try to diminish the voices of adult adoptees, first mothers and fathers, and those scant few adoptive parents who dare to speak out against corruption in adoption. First mothers (and fathers!) can speak to their experience of being coerced into giving up their children. Adult adoptees like me (I was adopted as a newborn) can speak to the fact that no infant is a tabula rasa. Adoptive parents can speak to the corruption that they have personally witnessed.
No, the adoption agencies and those adopters who consider themselves “entitled” would be much happier if we keep National Adoption Awareness Month as squeaky-clean as possible. Let’s put these myths to rest. Foster adoption is about finding homes for children who need them. Infant adoption is about selling children to people who want them.


  1. Triona I think of the tax credits and government subsidies given to agencies and adoptive parents that could rescue children out of fostercare and or help keep families together instead of tearing natural families apart every day. It’s horrible that this huge market for newborn babies has been created and perpetuated by the adoption industry and hidden beneath the do gooder exterior of “creating families”. Thanks for your piece here it is right on target!

  2. Excellent piece.

    The only thing I’d add is that adoptions out of Foster Care are not necessarily all that clear cut either considering the role forms of coercion often play in making even foster kids available to adoptions.

    The one size fits all trigger dates for filing for termination of parental rights under the dreadful “Adoption and Safe Families Act” ensures a steady stream of foster kids being made available to the process regardless of personal circumstance.

    The financial incentives in the midst of it all make even many foster adoptions highly morally questionable.

    That said, a huge proportion of foster-adoptions will be by extended family members, what often amounts to a best case senario.

  3. Great point, BLC. The problems of foster care are a whole ‘nother situation. In all contexts I think it’s fair to say that financial incentives only serve to encourage people to “game” the system at the expense of children and families.

  4. Excellent post as a foster care alumni, I know the need is great for homes for foster children. Adoption out of foster care and infant adoption are very different things.

  5. You covered so many myths of adoption in this piece…thanks for writing it!

  6. Adoption of infants is a disgusting, self-enriching practice. Adoption of kids from foster care, particularly infants and toddlers, is just as horrible. While there are kids that truly do need homes…they are also, in many cases the victims of the same avarice.

    I blogged “How to Steal A Foster Child’s Baby 101″…most of it was my own experience …me the foster child that was dumped into the system and not adoptable. Me the mother that fought hard to even keep the baby from being aborted, me the mother that was forced into the nightmare of adoption…..

    There are shades of gray everywhere. We just need to be adult enough to find out what the shades mean and face the hard stuff, usually about ourselves.

  7. Lori, thank you for sharing your experience. I have heard similar stories from others. Forcing mothers to give up their children purely because the mothers themselves were in foster care is merely a smokescreen for adding more infants and children to the adoption assembly line. It has nothing to do with “helping” children or families.

  8. Thanks for this well-written post. I plan to forward it along. So many people don’t give this much thought, and it would be great to see our nation’s perception change on this issue!

  9. I have to say you are much more diplomatic than I have been, writing about this topic as an adoptee. I have an adoptee friend in prison and he says it feels the same – being adopted by strangers of another race was like being incarcerated. Powerful words. It really gave me pause.

  10. Wow. Well said.