The History of Adoption Agencies

Written by mandi titus
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The History of Adoption Agencies
The first adoption agencies were founded in the early 20th century. (close up portrait of a baby over white image by Alena Yakusheva from

While adoption agencies today provide an important service helping to place children with adoptive families,the development of the adoption agency is fairly recent. Since the creation of the first adoption agencies, the industry has grown and changed in many ways.

Placing Out

The Adoption History Project explains that prior to 1900 the majority of children not living with their families were cared for in orphanages or asylums. Around the turn of the century the idea of placing out, or placing children in homes, was established. The majority of children were placed in working homes to earn their keep or in boarding houses where their caretakers were paid for taking in children. Less common were free homes, where children were placed by the orphanage with a family wanting children. The majority of these children were never legally adopted.

First Agencies

The first adoption agencies were founded between 1910 and 1930 according to the Adoption History Project. Louise Waterman Wise created the Free Synagogue Child Adoption Committee; Clara Spence started the Spence Alumni Society; Alice Chapin established the Alice Chapin Nursery, and Florence Walrath created the Cradle. These women worked to provide babies to their well-to-do friends and acquaintances and spread their message and enthusiasm for adoption. These first agencies focused on making complete families (those with both a mother and a father) and did not consider unwed, single mothers to be a complete family. These agencies sometimes failed to understand the efforts taken to keep mother and child together.

Race and Adoption

The Adoption History Project explains that the first interracial adoption was completed in 1948, when a white couple adopted a black child they had been raising in foster care for nine years. Their social worker opposed the adoption, but it was granted. After this first trans-racial adoption, a handful of agencies began to cautiously place children of colour in white homes with little fanfare. In the early 1970s National Association of Black Social Workers stated their opposition to trans-racial adoption, leading the way for several new agencies to focus on placing black children with black parents only. Since the increase in international adoption, the heated thoughts on trans-racial adoption have lessened some.

International Adoption

At the end of World War II, the challenges of children abroad were brought to America's attention. Many religious groups and organisations started agencies for international adoption at the end of World War II. In the 1950s proxy adoptions, where the parents were allowed to adopt in absentia gained popularity, though child welfare advocates opposed the practice of international adoption due to the lack of regulation. Agencies worked on legislation in 1957 to control proxy adoptions and continue to work for the needs of children adopted from overseas.


According to Adoption, adoption agencies today are state licensed facilities that work to place children in adoptive homes. Agencies are either public and private, and offer a variety of services. Public agencies receive funding from state and federal funds and usually place children from state foster care. Private agencies receive funds from their clients. Private agencies receive funding from client fees and usually focus on infant and international adoption.

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