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The Baby Brokers: Inside America’s Murky Private-Adoption Industry

The Baby Brokers: Inside America’s Murky Private-Adoption Industry

Time magazine reports that at any given time, an estimated 1 million U.S. families are looking to adopt—many of them seeking infants. 

That figure dramatically outpaces the number of available babies in the country. Some hopeful parents turn to international adoption, though in recent years other countries have curtailed the number of children they send abroad. There’s also the option to adopt from the U.S. foster-care system, but it’s an often slow-moving endeavor with a limited number of available infants. For those with means, there’s private domestic adoption.

Problems with private domestic adoption appear to be widespread. Interviews with dozens of current and former adoption professionals, birth parents, adoptive parents and reform advocates, as well as a review of hundreds of pages of documents, reveal issues ranging from commission schemes and illegal gag clauses to Craigslistesque ads for babies and lower rates for parents willing to adopt babies of any race. 

No one centrally tracks private adoptions in the U.S., but best estimates, from the Donaldson Adoption Institute (2006) and the National Council for Adoption (2014), respectively, peg the number of annual nonrelative infant adoptions at roughly 13,000 to 18,000. Public agencies are involved in approximately 1,000 of those, suggesting that the vast majority of domestic infant adoptions involve the private sector—and the market forces that drive it.

Even though federal tax credits can subsidize private adoptions (as much as $14,300 per child for the adopting parents), there is no federal regulation of the industry. Relevant laws—governing everything from allowable financial support to how birth parents give their consent to an adoption—are made at the state level and vary widely. Some state statutes, for example, cap birth-mother expenses, while others don’t even address the issue. Mississippi allows birth mothers six months to change their mind; in Tennessee, it’s just three days. After the revocation period is over, it’s “too bad, so sad,” says Renee Gelin, president of Saving Our Sisters, an organization aimed at helping expectant parents preserve their families. “The mother has little recourse.”

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