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Feelings Mixed About Adoption 90% Of Americans Support It, But Many Doubt Ties As Strong

Sun., Nov. 9, 1997, midnight

Americans say they support adoption, but many aren’t quite sure about the ties that bind families with adopted children, a survey indicates.

Half those surveyed said adopting a child is not quite so good as having a child of one’s own. Nearly a third have at least some doubt that a child’s love for adoptive parents will be as strong as for biological parents.

At the same time, 90 percent say they have a very or somewhat favorable view of adoption.

“People in the abstract believe it’s very positive, but once you dig a little bit deeper and ask more probing questions about adoption, people really have very mixed feelings,” said Madelyn Freundlich, executive director of the New York-based Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. That private research group commissioned the survey.

The poll found almost six in 10 Americans had a friend or family member involved with an adoption, and these people were much more likely to fully support adoption than those without personal experience.

That’s why Chris Hulse is constantly telling her story, hoping to show others the beauty of adoption.

“My adoption was always something to be celebrated,” she said. Every Aug. 7 - the day she was brought home - her father stayed home from work and she got to choose a family activity - usually a day at the amusement park. Now 34, she still spends each Aug. 7 as a her “special day” with her parents.

She rejected boyfriends who didn’t want to adopt a child of their own. Now, Hulse and her husband live in West Point, N.Y., with two biological sons and a 4-year-old daughter, Natalie, whom they adopted from Moscow.

“I knew in my heart I had to give back,” she said. “Someone had done this for me, and I had to do it.”

Many Americans are not so enthusiastic. According to the survey: About one-third fully support adoption, one-third have some hesitancy, and about one-third are only marginally supportive.

Half believe adoption is better than being childless but not quite so good as having one’s own child.

Two-thirds say it is very likely that adopted children will love their adoptive parents as much as they would have loved their biological parents. But one-quarter say it’s only somewhat likely, and 5 percent say it’s unlikely.

Attitudes do not differ by age, family size or political leanings.

Men, blacks and less-educated Americans are less likely to support adoption than women, whites and college graduates.

The survey, conducted this summer, had a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.

Adopted children, their parents and academic experts say many of the negative feelings around adoption stem back to the stigmas of the first half of this century, when society’s attitudes toward unwed motherhood were much more negative. That view extended to the children they often gave up to adoption.

Then, in the 1950s, new information emerged about genetics had people worrying that an adopted child “might bring terrible genes with him,” said Ann Sullivan, adoption program director at the Child Welfare League of America.

Women who adopted would go to great lengths to hide the truth, Sullivan said. There were cases when a woman planning to adopt would go away for five or six months and return with a child chosen to match her physical characteristics.

Some of those surveyed say misgivings toward adoption are legitimate.

A young man who lives outside Washington recalled how afraid his parents were that his adopted brother would be taken away by the agency that placed him. “When my brother decided he wanted to find out who his real parents were, my parents were extremely insulted,” said the man.

Diane Edwards, who studies adoption at the University of North Florida, said the American system engenders distrust by keeping birth parents away from their biological children.

“Adoption is based on the assumption that kinship can be transferred. We don’t know that,” said Edwards, who gave a child up for adoption 30 years ago. “In other societies, you have adoption but you don’t get rid of other families.”


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