by Katie McVicker
Headlines about single-parent adoption are far and few between, except in the cases of celebrities, such as Angelina Jolie, who is raising three of her biological children along with three adopted children in her multi-million dollar home. Do single individuals need to be millionaires to be loving, supportive, and resourceful adoptive parents? Single-parent adoption has become a major issue in recent years, corresponding to an increase in single-parent homes. In fact, an article from Adoption Advocate reports that “From 1980 to 2008, the number of single-parent households grew from about 6,000,000 to a little over 10,000,000, accounting for over 25% of households with children.” The same article points out that single adopting parents increased from between .5 – 4% to “28% of all parents adopting from U.S. foster care in 2017-2019.” While single-parent adoption has become more prevalent and accepted, there are still stigmas single parents face when applying for adoption. Traditionally, individuals still perceive adoption as ideally involving a two-parent household. However, the pathway for adoption should be as accessible for single men and women as it is for couples.
Single men and women face more challenges adopting children. In fact, there is also little research representing single parents who choose adoption by choice. In a 2020 study described by Gasse and Mortelmans, a single parent by choice is characterized as a parent who chose to be single before becoming a parent through artificial insemination, informal fertilization (choosing a partner randomly or deliberately but without pursuing a relationship), unplanned pregnancies or adoption. The researchers interviewed single mothers to find out how the mothers adjusted their lives to raise a child on their own. Researchers explained adoption procedures are harder for single parents than couples, and only one single parent could be found to interview in the “adoption” category. The article discusses why it is harder for single people to adopt by explaining different types of “gatekeeping” barriers. Gatekeepers, in this article, are explained as people who can be helpful but can also be a barrier for a single person trying to adopt. Gatekeeping in the context of adoption is described as “more formal and evaluative,” meaning that single people who are trying to adopt are subject to a rigorous screening process. Gasse and Mortelmans emphasize that the difference between a single person trying to adopt versus a couple is the stigma attached to the screening process for single people.
The stigma attached to single-parent adoption is different compared to the stigma related to adoption in general. Factors such as gender and subsequent related perceptions can complicate the adoption process. In a literature review explaining the challenges that single men face while trying to adopt children, Seeman compares different studies that have been done on single fathers who chose adoption, as well as examines complex attitudes that affect both single adoptive fathers and mothers. Despite some conflicting viewpoints, it was discovered that single men face certain types of stigma while trying to adopt. If the single man has a history of mental health issues, social workers in adoption agencies are more likely to disregard the adoption application.
According to Seeman’s description of research, most single adoptive parents are female. Contrary to the researchers’ expectations, however, single mothers face greater stigma in their communities and “were described by participants in this study as ‘less intelligent, less desirable, less secure, less fortunate, less satisfied with life, less moral, less reputable, less of a good parent and less economically advantaged’” than single fathers. While the sample group in this study isn’t specified in the literature review, it reveals the pervasive attitudes some people have toward single mothers. The literature review suggests that mental health professionals require the proper training so that eligible candidates who are trying to adopt should not be discriminated against based on gender, marital status, sexual orientation, or any history of a mental health disorder.
Family support is another key element for a single parent looking to adopt a child. A study described by Biasutti and Nascimento was conducted on multiple families with single parents with adoptive children. The families were interviewed to investigate how the adoption process worked for them, what they anticipated and what they experienced throughout the process. From this study, it was found that all families had a strong desire to parent children and, therefore, were able to overcome any challenges and changes that took place during the process. Extended family support played an immense role in the success of single-parent adoption. The study explained that some family members were hesitant with regard to their loved one adopting as a single parent and questioned whether it was the right decision. Some of the participants expressed their concern that the child would be lacking the role of the opposite sex. However, all the participants in the study accepted the child and, at one point or another, were part of the caretaking and support system. In this study, the researchers determined it would be important for the child to have involvement from grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Biasutti and Nascimento’s study, which agrees with Lindner, shows that single parents are just as capable of a successful adoption, with an emphasis on the fact that single parents should have a broader support network.
Social worker and blogger Amanda Booreman writes about the challenges she faced adopting as a single mother, as well as the support system she had from her family and Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services. After preparing for a year prior to the adoption of her five-year-old daughter, she discovered that adoption was not for the faint of heart once her child had been placed with her. Throughout the years, she and her daughter faced many challenges learning how to become a family unit and getting her daughter the proper care and support to work through emotional trauma and anxieties. At the time, finding the right support system was difficult. Amanda suffered financially and struggled to find her daughter the proper mental health care that would pinpoint the areas in her development that needed treatment. One strategy she used was reaching out to government agencies and the birth family for guidance. After years of conquering challenges, Amanda and her daughter now have a wonderful relationship with each other, and both advocate for systematic change in adoption.
A fact sheet from Child Welfare Information Gateway, sheds some light on how to create these changes. This fact sheet lists resources and helps families navigate the adoption process. Among these, easily accessible support groups or free counseling (pre- or post-adoption) could benefit both single-parent and child. These resources would allow for a smoother transition and would also serve as a point of contact when experiencing times of unforeseen hardships. Also, prospective adoptive parents could be educated on their rights and responsibilities and provided with unbiased information on local adoption agencies, which could potentially improve the support and encouragement they feel throughout the adoption process. Lastly, quality and continual training should be allotted to social workers.
Recent developments in the United States could potentially raise the need for single-parent adoption now more than ever. In an article from the “Perspective” section of The New England Journal of Medicine, the author Lazzarini discusses the overturn of Roe v. Wade on June 24, 2022. The overturn limits available access to women seeking abortion through medicine and prevents third parties from obliging services to a woman seeking an abortion. Abortion rights are still being decided at the state level, and some state legislatures have already passed laws completely banning abortion. Given the overturn of Roe v. Wade, it would be fair to speculate that the change in available access to abortions could then correlate with an increase in live births and further need for adoptions. More children needing adoption means a rise in the need for available adoptive parents so that these children don’t end up in the foster care system.
Destigmatizing single-parent adoption would present an opportunity for a larger pool of adoptees to find a permanent home. Given the research stated above, it remains difficult to allow single parents to finalize the adoption. However, the United States continues to have an overflowing foster-care system with underpaid and overworked social workers attempting to govern this system. Stigmas should be reduced to lessen the burden on this system and allow single-parent adoptions to become more prevalent when it is appropriate. Of course, there should be an objective structured process to ensure a safe, nourishing environment for the child, but it should not correlate with individuals’ subjective opinions.
Biasutti, C.M. & Nascimento, C.R.R. (2021). The adoption process in single-parent families. Journal of Human Growth and Development, 31(1), 47-57. 10.36311/jhgd.v31.10364
Booreman, A. (2015, October 21). Nothing prepared me for adopting a child as a single parent. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/social-care-network/social-life-blog/2015/oct/21/adopting-a-child-as-a-single-parent-nothing-prepared-me
Carter, J.R, Chang, C.Y, Parrish, M.S, Whisenhunt, J.L. (2019) Addressing single parents’ needs in professional counseling: A qualitative examination of single parenthood. The Family Journal: Counseling and Therapy for Couples and Families, 27(2), 188-198. 10.1177/1066480719835343
Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2019). Adopting as a single parent. https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/single-parent/
Gasse, D.V. & Mortelmans, D. (2020). With or without you-starting single parent families: A qualitative study on how single parents by choice reorganize their lives to facilitate single parenthood from a life course perspective. Journal of Family Issues, 41(11), 2223-2248. 10.1177/0192513X20911971
Lazzarini, Z., (2022). The end of Roe v. Wade- states’ power over health and well being. The New England Journal of Medicine, 387(5), 390-393. 10.1056/NEJMp2206055
Lindner, A. (2021, September). Single Parent Adoption: The Process and Experience of Adopting Unpartnered. National Council for Adoption. https://adoptioncouncil.org/publications/single-parent-adoption-the-process-and-experience-of-adopting-unpartnered/
Seeman, M.V. (2018). Single men seeking adoption. (2018). World Journal of Psychiatry, 8(3), 83-87. 10.5498/wjp.v8.i3.83
Katie McVicker is originally from Tallahassee, FL, and currently resides in Navarre, OH. Her favorite thing to do is spend time with her favorite humans: husband, Virgil, and two sons, Dominic and Troy. She plans on pursuing nursing at Stark State. This is her first published piece but she plans to continue writing.