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social sciences

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Adoption has been practiced as a method for childless parents to raise children, parentless children to obtain parents, and heirless individuals to pass on their legacy, from time immemorial. The procedures for conducting adoptions have been codified in law from the time of the Code of Hammurabi of Babylon, as well as in the legal systems of Judaism, the Roman empire, and the ecclesiastical law of the early Catholic Church.

Many of these early laws allowed adoption by couples, single males, and single females, though infertility was sometimes required. British law, however, did not incorporate an adoption procedure until the nineteenth century. Therefore, though adoptions were certainly performed during the early history of the American colonies and the United States, there were no formal adoption laws until 1851, when Massachusetts drafted a law based on the Roman statutes.

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As of 2000, there were about 117,000 children waiting for adoption, as well as over 400,000 additional children in foster care not currently eligible for adoption. All of these children need loving, permanent homes.

Although many glbtq individuals and couples create families through donor insemination, surrogacy, or co-parenting arrangements, legal adoption is often necessary to establish parenthood for non-birth mothers.

Methods of Adoption

There are various methods of adoption now available. These include private agency adoptions, public agency adoptions, attorney adoptions, and international adoptions.

Private agency adoptions are arranged by a private adoption agency, which acts as an intermediary between the birth mother and the adoptive parents. These adoptions often involve some communication between the parties, which allows the birth mother to specify what kind of family she would like to rear her child and the adoptive parents to find out whether the birth mother has any "defects" they would like to avoid.

Additionally, some of these adoptions are open adoptions, which means that the adoptive parents stay in touch with the birth mother and keep her apprised of the child's development, and the birth mother may even visit the child occasionally.

Public agency adoptions occur when children have come under the supervision of state departments of child welfare due either to voluntary relinquishment by parents or involuntary termination of parental rights owing to such conditions as abuse, neglect, abandonment, or lengthy incarceration. Many of these children spend months or years in foster care, and some have special needs. Continuing contact with birth parents is rare.

Attorney adoptions are arranged individually between a birth mother and an adoptive couple. Usually, the adoptive parents assume complete responsibility for the financial costs of an adoption through an attorney, which includes not only legal fees but also prenatal medical care and delivery for the birth mother. This arrangement allows adoptive parents to have more control over the conditions of the adoption and the characteristics of the birth mother, particularly her health.

Additionally, individuals and couples who would not be approved for adoption by an agency (because of age, for instance) may be able to adopt this way more easily. This does not mean that attorney adoptions are conducted free of supervision—most states have laws regulating who is able to adopt, as well as a requirement for home studies to be conducted in an attempt to ensure that the adoptive parents will be attentive and nurturing. However, if potential adoptive parents can afford the cost, this method may be easier.

International adoptions, which are almost always pursued through an agency, occur when children are adopted from countries other than the one in which the adoptive parents reside. These adoptions are heavily governed by national and international laws, which attempt to ensure responsibility on the part of the adoptive parents and a lack of corruption on the part of the agency and the sending country's government.

Each sending country has its own regulations about what sorts of parents can adopt and some attempt to impose those regulations on the receiving countries. Some do not permit single parents, unmarried parents, or lesbian and gay couples or individuals to adopt. Among the countries currently sending many children for adoption in the United States are the People's Republic of China, Russia, South Korea, Guatemala, Ukraine, Romania, and Vietnam.

Adoption, glbtq Parents, and the Legal System

Some states have restrictions that make it difficult or impossible for prospective glbtq parents to adopt children. Until recently Florida and Arkansas had the most severe restrictions, which made it impossible for any gay man or lesbian to adopt children. Other states also restrict the ability of glbtq people to adopt. For instance, in Utah, unmarried couples (whether same-sex or heterosexual) are forbidden to adopt children in state care, though private adoptions are not covered by this law; and in Mississippi, same-sex couples are prohibited from adopting.

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