The Uniform Adoption Act of 1994

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The Uniform Adoption Act of 1994


By: National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws

Date: 1994

Source: National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws. "Uniform Adoption Act of 1994." 2002 〈〉 (accessed June 23, 2006).

About the Author: The National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws was begun in 1892. With appointed representatives from all fifty states it works to develop and promote uniform legislation across the country.


Children left homeless by the death of a parent, abandonment, or legal proceedings face many difficulties, and numerous approaches to their care have been considered and tried. During the nineteenth century, New York City was home to thousands of homeless and abandoned children, most of whom lived on the streets and sold rags or newspapers to survive. Charles Brace, a Christian minister, became convinced that these children needed a new start. In 1853 he formed the Children's Aid Society to relocate New York street children to rural areas and new homes.

Over the following seventy-five years the society moved more than 100,000 homeless children to rural areas where local residents were invited to consider adopting them. Many of the children were taken in by farm families, though the society was able to do little screening of prospective parents.

In 1851 Massachusetts passed the Adoption of Children Act, the first law acknowledging that the needs of children should take precedence in the adoption process. The law instructed judges to make certain that adoption arrangements were handled appropriately, though it gave no indication of exactly what this might mean. Massachusetts was also in the forefront of the move from institutional care to in-home placement and in 1869 began paying for children's care in private homes. The state also funded regular visits to foster homes to insure quality care, making it the first state in the nation to do so. In the following decades most states passed laws designed to ensure the safety and welfare of children without parents.

Although legal adoption became more common during the early twentieth century, few detailed records were kept. Specialized adoption agencies were first created during this era, offering support to adoptive parents and those wishing to give up a child for adoption. Many adoptions were also completed through private placements, in which the birth mother and her family played the primary role in arranging an adoptive placement. The 1935 Social Security Act began providing aid for dependent children, making foster care an option for many more children.

Before 1950 most adoptive parents requested children of their own race and without major health problems. The next decade brought extensive efforts to expand placement options for other children. The Urban League and similar agencies began promoting adoption for African-American children, while social service agencies began attempting adoptions involving children with physical and mental disabilities. A 1958 initiative encouraged adoption of Native American orphans, and in 1961 Congress passed legislation specifically setting conditions for the adoption of international children by U.S. citizens.

By 1994 adoption was a widely accepted practice in the United States, with 130,000 occurring annually. Roughly half these involved adoptions of children by relatives or stepparents, while as many as 10,000 involved foreign children adopted domestically and about one-fourth involved infant adoption by an unrelated adult. While adoption had made great strides, both in terms of its acceptance and in the number of children being helped, numerous legal headaches still plagued the process. Complicating difficulties within individual states were the sometimes significant differences in adoption law from state to state. In an effort to harmonize these divergent standards and encourage adoption, the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL), a century-old agency dedicated to harmonizing state laws across the nation, proposed the Uniform Adoption Act of 1994. The excerpt below, from the Act's Prefatory Note, summarizes the provisions of the Act and the principles behind them.


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The proposed Uniform Adoption Act followed a series of attempts to harmonize state adoption laws. While the scope of the act was broad, major issues covered included special needs adoptions, preplacement home studies, the time allowed for a birth mother to change her mind about an adoption, and the rights of unmarried fathers. One of the more contentious aspects of the act dealt with privacy and whether adopted children should be allowed to obtain information about their birth parents. The commission eventually approved the use of mutual consent registries which provide information if both the birth parent and the adopted child (who has reached adult age) request it.

Advocates of the Uniform Adoption Act argue that any law simplifying the adoption process is welcome. They also favor reducing interstate differences in adoption law in the hope that such improvements will lead to increases in adoption. Critics of the UAA say that the act, while frequently discussing the "best interests" of the child involved never actually defines this phrase, leaving many important aspects of the adoption decision to the court or attorneys. They also believe mutual consent registries do not provide enough information to adult adoptees, particularly those whose birth parents do not register.

Like many such proposals, the Uniform Adoption Act is broad enough in scope that it has faced difficulty gaining widespread adoption. Since its completion in 1994 the act has been endorsed by the American Bar Association and the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys; as of 2006, however, only the state of Vermont had actually adopted it.



Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. Benchmark Adoption Survey: Report on the Findings. New York: Evan B. Donaldson Institute, 1997.

Martin, Deborah L., ed. An Annotated Guide to Adoption Research: 1986–1997. Washington, D. C.: Child Welfare League of America, 1999.

Steinberg, Gail, and Beth Hall. Inside Transracial Adoption. Indianapolis: Perspective Press, 2000.


Bachrach, C. A., et al. "On the Path to Adoption: Adoption Seeking in the U.S." Journal of Marriage and the Family. 53, no. 3 (1998): 705-718.

Clemetson, Lynette. "Adopted in China, Seeking Identity in America." New York Times. 155 (March 23, 2006): A1, A18.

D'Andrade, Amy, and Jill Berrick. "When Policy Meets Practice: The Untested Effects of Permanency Reforms in Child Welfare." Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare. 33 (2006): 31-52.

Web sites

Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. "Benchmark Adoption Survey: First Public Opinion Survey on American Attitudes toward Adoption." 1997 〈〉 (accessed June 23, 2006).

National Adoption Day. "Adoption Statistics." 2003 〈〉 (accessed June 23, 2006).

National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws. "Adoption Act." 2002 〈〉 (accessed June 23, 2006).

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The Uniform Adoption Act of 1994

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The Uniform Adoption Act of 1994