Identifying adopted children in the NSCH who were eligible for the NSAP, and identifying the type of adoption, required several steps. All NSCH respondents reported their own relationship to the child. Those who identified themselves as a mother or father to the child were asked whether they were the child’s “biological, adoptive, step, or foster” parent. Respondents were asked also whether any other parents or people who act as the child’s parents lived with them, and if so, what their relation-ships to the child were. If there was no biological parent in the household, interviewers asked follow-up questions to identify the type of adoption. Specifically, parents were asked: “Was [the child] adopted from another country?” Positive responses indicated children who had been adopted internationally. If the answer was no, parents were asked: “Prior to being adopted,was [the child] in the legal custody of a state or county child welfare agency in the United States? That is, was [the child] in the U.S. foster care system?” Positive responses indicated children who were adopted from foster care. All other adopted children were categorized as those adopted privately from domestic sources other than foster care (i.e., U.S. children adopted privately).
There are several important exclusions to the sample of children identified as adopted in the NSCH. First, children adopted informally and those in pre-adoptive placements are not included. Parents who answered “no” to the question, “Has [the child]’s adoption been finalized?” were not eligible for the NSAP interview. Finalizing adoptions can take six months or more from the time a child is placed with a family with the goal of adoption, even after the child has been legally freed for adoption.41 Most of these children were likely later adopted by their parents, but it is possible that for some others, the adoption disrupted (i.e., the adoption was aborted prior to legal finalization.) Excluding children whose adoptions had not been legally finalized also means that the sample does not include dependent children being reared by caregivers in informal adoption arrangements, many of whom may be related to children but not as biological parents.42 Informal adoptions are more common among some cultures, including black and Hispanic families, than others.43
Another important exception is that the NSAP excluded children who were living with one biological and one adoptive parent. Most of these children are in step-families. According to estimates from the Census, at least 4 percent of all children—approximately two-thirds of all adoptions—in the United States are in step-parent adoptions.44
Thirdly, the NSAP does not include children whose adoptions had already been dissolved (i.e., whose adoptions were reversed following legal finalization.) Therefore, while the NSAP addressed topics such as adoption satisfaction and whether parents ever considered dissolving an adoption, it cannot address topics such as why families with dissolved adoptions chose to end the adoption.