Unlike guardianship or other systems designed for the care of the young, adoption is intended to effect a permanent change in status and as such requires societal recognition, either through legal or religious sanction. Historically, some societies have enacted specific laws governing adoption; where others have tried to achieve adoption through less formal means, notably via contracts that specified inheritance rights and parental responsibilities without an accompanying transfer of filiation. Modern systems of adoption, arising in the 20th century, tend to be governed by comprehensive statutes and regulations.
The language of adoption is changing and evolving, and since the 1970s has been a controversial issue tied closely to adoption reform efforts. The controversy arises over the use of terms which, while designed to be more appealing or less offensive to some persons affected by adoption, may simultaneously cause offense or insult to others. This controversy illustrates the problems in adoption, as well as the fact that coining new words and phrases to describe ancient social practices will not necessarily alter the feelings and experiences of those affected by them. Two of the contrasting sets of terms are commonly referred to as positive adoption language (PAL) (sometimes called respectful adoption language (RAL)), and honest adoption language (HAL).
Psychologists' findings regarding the importance of early mother-infant bonding created some concern about whether parents who adopt older infants or toddlers after birth have missed some crucial period for the child's development. However, research on The Mental and Social Life of Babies suggested that the "parent-infant system," rather than a bond between biologically related individuals, is an evolved fit between innate behavior patterns of all human infants and equally evolved responses of human adults to those infant behaviors. Thus nature "ensures some initial flexibility with respect to the particular adults who take on the parental role."[96]
The period 1945 to 1974, the baby scoop era, saw rapid growth and acceptance of adoption as a means to build a family.[40] Illegitimate births rose three-fold after World War II, as sexual mores changed. Simultaneously, the scientific community began to stress the dominance of nurture over genetics, chipping away at eugenic stigmas.[41][42] In this environment, adoption became the obvious solution for both unwed people and infertile couples.[43]

Adoption practices have changed significantly over the course of the 20th century, with each new movement labeled, in some way, as reform.[152] Beginning in the 1970s, efforts to improve adoption became associated with opening records and encouraging family preservation. These ideas arose from suggestions that the secrecy inherent in modern adoption may influence the process of forming an identity,[153][154] create confusion regarding genealogy,[155] and provide little in the way of medical history.

His solution was outlined in The Best Method of Disposing of Our Pauper and Vagrant Children (1859) which started the Orphan Train movement. The orphan trains eventually shipped an estimated 200,000 children from the urban centers of the East to the nation's rural regions.[28] The children were generally indentured, rather than adopted, to families who took them in.[29] As in times past, some children were raised as members of the family while others were used as farm laborers and household servants.[30] The sheer size of the displacement—the largest migration of children in history—and the degree of exploitation that occurred, gave rise to new agencies and a series of laws that promoted adoption arrangements rather than indenture. The hallmark of the period is Minnesota's adoption law of 1917 which mandated investigation of all placements and limited record access to those involved in the adoption.[31][32]
International adoption: involves the placing of a child for adoption outside that child's country of birth. This can occur through both public and private agencies. In some countries, such as Sweden, these adoptions account for the majority of cases (see above Table). The U.S. example, however, indicates there is wide variation by country since adoptions from abroad account for less than 15% of its cases.[83] More than 60,000 Russian children have been adopted in the United States since 1992,[85] and a similar number of Chinese children were adopted from 1995 to 2005.[86] The laws of different countries vary in their willingness to allow international adoptions. Recognizing the difficulties and challenges associated with international adoption, and in an effort to protect those involved from the corruption and exploitation which sometimes accompanies it, the Hague Conference on Private International Law developed the Hague Adoption Convention, which came into force on 1 May 1995 and has been ratified by 85 countries as of November 2011.[87]

Resources on all aspects of domestic and intercountry adoption, with a focus on adoption from the U.S. foster care system. Includes information for adoption professionals, adopted adults, expectant parents considering adoption, birth parents and relatives, and prospective and adoptive parents on a broad range of adoption topics. Find information on assessing, developing, and evaluating adoption programs and services, recruiting adoptive families, preparing children and youth, supporting birth parents, obtaining and providing postadoption services, the impact of adoption, the adoption process, search and reunion, and more. Also access the National Adoption Month website.
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In the 1970s, as adoption search and support organizations developed, there were challenges to the language in common use at the time. As books like Adoption Triangle by Sorosky, Pannor and Baran were published, and support groups formed like CUB (Concerned United Birthparents), a major shift from "natural parent" to "birthparent"[182][183] occurred. Along with the change in times and social attitudes came additional examination of the language used in adoption.