Michael Schapiro, A Study of Adoption Practice, Adoption of Children With Special Needs, 1956

Source:  Frontiers in Adoption, Finding Homes for the "Hard to Place," A Report on a Conference and Its Impact (Ann Arbor: Council on Adoptable Children, 1967).

Parent-led organizations like the Council on Adoptable Children, became critical to the progress of special needs adoptions during the 1960s. The illustration above is from a report on a conference, "Frontiers in Adoption," organized by adoptive parents Peter and Joyce Forsythe in Ann Arbor, Michigan in October 1967. The text at the bottom reads: “Put the roots down—avoid transplanting if possible.”

Whatever the number of children with special needs who currently need adoptive homes may be, enough experience and information are at hand to make clearly discernible certain factors limiting the ability of agencies to find as many homes as are required. These factors are interrelated and often cannot be separated out without distorting their total configuration. An attempt will be made here to arrange them in order of importance, beginning with those of a broad, pervasive nature that cut across the entire social fabric and ending with those that are fairly specific to agency adoption practice.

The first factor is the relatively low status of the nonwhite and other minority group people in our population from the economic, occupational and educational point of view. This raises serious question as to the extent to which couples in minority groups can meet the standards that agencies are following in selecting adoptive parents, whether expressly or by chance. There seems little doubt that a more appropriate application of standards in specific instances if their attempts to place minority group children are to be genuinely realistic. Agencies will have to reach some occupational groups in their communities that have either not been reached at all or have been drawn upon in very limited numbers. Employment of minority-group adoptive mothers may have to be accepted, for example, if there is adequate supervision. . . .

The second limiting factor that needs to be reckoned with is that the Negro, the Latin American, the Puerto Rican and other minority group children are distributed over the country unevenly, just as their natural parents are. . . .

The kind of distribution of the minority groups from which most children with special needs come is an important demographic factor that affects adversely their chances of finding permanent homes. This is true because most of the states enumerated are regions of lesser economic resources as compared with other states in our country, a fact which usually means that they are characterized by inadequate educational and social opportunities and a paucity of welfare and medical services. The incidence of illegitimacy and family disorganization—phenomena which usually contribute heavily to the need for adoptive services—is likely to be high in them, which the availability of suitable adoptive homes may be relatively low. . . .

The task of interpretation to the community is therefore of primordial importance to which constant, consistent, and conscious attention must be devoted. Explaining adoption to the community is complicated by largely negative community attitudes toward dependency, certain types of behavior and social breakdown in general, especially when they appear in minority groups.

One of the first prerequisites for changing these community attitudes into positive and supportive ones is a firm conviction on the part of the agencies themselves that negative attitudes are not justified and that the pressure of applicants for normal and healthy Caucasian infants ought not to relegate to a secondary place the development of services for children with special needs. In efforts to counteract negative or apathetic community attitudes, the attitudes of social workers themselves are important. Social workers, like other people, are the products of their inherited endowments and their experiences in family and community living. The disciplines of their professional training often bring them into conflict with prejudiced or uninformed ways of thinking and acting, but should furnish conviction that leads to action on the basis of sound information and increased understanding. . . .

Clearly, efforts in all directions must be multiplied and expanded if children now waiting are to be served, to say nothing of others who may also need but are not reaching agencies for many reasons, including the nonexistence of services for them. In order to be effective, however, these efforts must face squarely the limiting factors discussed above and their influence on the possibilities of adoption for these children.

In practical terms this means that many minority group, older and handicapped children who need adoptive homes may not find them in the near future, even if agency efforts are improved and multiplied. This, in turn, leads to the inescapable conclusion that other resources must be made available to them. The better part of wisdom in this connection would seem to be to couple a determined effort at recruitment of adoptive homes with an equally vigorous effort at developing a sufficient number of adequate foster and boarding homes for these children in all communities in which they are found. This double-pronged attack is certainly justified by the well-established fact that there is a close connection between what adoption can and should do and the availability of other services for children in a given community—services to unmarried mothers, to children in their own and relatives’ homes, to children needing foster homes and institutional care, financial assistance to those responsible for the rearing of children, and others.

Many reasons point to the conclusion that the outer limits of what can be done even now to find homes for children with special needs have by no means been reached: the number of such children who need adoption remains to be determined; scientific knowledge pertinent to their situations that is already at hand is still to be fully exploited, to say nothing of new knowledge that can be brought to bear from ongoing research; methods for securing more positive and ample community support have hardly been explored. Many children are “hard-to-place” only because sufficient publicity has not been given to their needs. The current scene does not seem to justify defeatism; on the contrary, a great deal has already been realized, and possibilities for future achievement appear unlimited. And while the road ahead is long and beset with pitfalls, it is well worth the struggle to traverse, since it leads to happy home life for countless children now deprived of it.


Source: Michael Schapiro, A Study of Adoption Practice, Volume III: Adoption of Children With Special Needs (New York: Child Welfare League of America, 1956), 44-46, 49, 54.

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