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.