In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Adoption and Fostering

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Anthologies
  • Journals and Magazines
  • Reference Works
  • Data Sources
  • Children’s Experiences
  • Cross-Cultural Perspectives
  • Literary and Visual Representations
  • In-Country Adoption and Foster Care
  • Intercountry Adoption
  • Fostering and Fosterage

Childhood Studies Adoption and Fostering
Rachael Stryker
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 January 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0031


Adoption and fostering are any customary or optional procedures for taking as one’s own a child of other parents. The term adoption usually refers to the legal transformation of a child’s familial status, through which individuals permanently assume the major responsibilities of birth parents. The term fostering usually indicates a temporary, mutually agreed upon delegation of the nurturance or educational elements of the parental role, or both. Fostering also more often concerns the process of child rearing and not necessarily the jural (legal) definition of the child’s status or relationships. Adoption and fostering, however, are defined and performed differently depending on the time, location, and societies involved; as such, scholars also sometimes use fosterage to describe substitute parenting arrangements in premodern or non-Western cultures. Childhood studies explore all forms of adoption and fostering: in-country and international adoption, institutionalized foster care, and traditional fosterage systems. It draws primarily from disciplines in the social sciences and humanities that understand adoption and fostering as negotiated practices between children, adults, communities, institutions, and states, practices that are shaped by, among other things, social structures, law, economics, and history. It is important to note that because childhood studies typically approach adoption and fostering as empirical and phenomenological experiences rather than as general or a priori analytic categories, its perspective is often distinct from that of the fields of biomedicine, clinical psychology, law, social work, and public policy.

General Overviews

General overviews of most use to childhood studies scholars clearly articulate the relationship between adoption and fostering practices and notions of childhood as a social construction. The overviews also sometimes include children’s rights perspectives or consider children’s agency within adoption and fostering practice. Pati 2007 is a comprehensive, interdisciplinary overview of adoption and fostering topics, whereas Mandell 2007 provides the most up-to-date and concise overview of issues of interest to social scientists of adoption. Wells 2009 offers a clear framework for studying many of these issues using a childhood studies perspective. When taken together, these first three works are a good starting point for an investigation of adoption and fostering as social practice. Askeland 2006 makes the specific case for historically deconstructing in-country and intercountry adoption as a way for more broadly understanding childhood as a social category. Fisher 2003 argues for more sociological attention to adoption and fostering. Van Bueren 2007 gives an overview of European adoption law and policy from a child rights perspective, whereas Cahn and Hollinger 2004 provides a summary for the United States.

  • Askeland, Lori, ed. Children and Youth in Adoption, Orphanages, and Foster Care: A Historical Handbook and Guide. Children and Youth: History and Culture. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2006.

    Part 1 of this volume includes a series of essays that historically deconstruct in-country adoption and fostering in the United States, as well as international adoption. Part of the excellent Greenwood Press Children and Youth: History and Culture series.

  • Cahn, Naomi R., and Joan Heifetz Hollinger, eds. Families by Law: An Adoption Reader. New York: New York University Press, 2004.

    Overview of the historical, social scientific, legal, and psychosocial literature on a diverse array of adoption and fostering issues. Includes essays, statutes and cases, and advocacy organization statements from different sides of adoption and fostering debates. A good sampling of economic, philosophical, and feminist literature on adoption and fostering.

  • Fisher, Allen P. “Still ‘Not as Good as Having Your Own’? Toward a Sociology of Adoption.” Annual Review of Sociology 29 (2003): 335–361.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.soc.29.010202.100209

    Literature review of the main issues on adoption and fostering both covered in and absent from US sociology. Includes work on the shifting demographics of who adopts (single parents, same-sex parents), who gets adopted (children in foster care, transracial adoptees, special needs adoptees, intercountry adoptees), and stigmatization of adoption. A bit out-of-date, but a good bibliography for surveying earlier sociological literature on adoption and fostering. Available online by subscription.

  • Mandell, Betty Reid. “Adoption.” New Politics 11.2 (2007): 63–81.

    An overview of some of the issues of greatest interest in the study of adoption and fostering in the early 21st century. Includes sections on trends in in-country and intercountry adoption demographics, shifts in stigmatization of adoption, local and global adoption law and regulation, and transracial adoption.

  • Pati, Jagannath, ed. Adoption: Global Perspective and Ethical Issues. New Delhi: Concept Publishing, 2007.

    A collection of interdisciplinary essays on adoption from around the world. One of the most comprehensive interdisciplinary volumes available in the early 21st century to present scholarly themes of interest to childhood studies scholars. Covers child rights, global issues, and ethical issues.

  • van Bueren, Geraldine. Child Rights in Europe: Convergence and Divergence in Judicial Protection. Europeans and Their Rights. Strasbourg, France: Council of Europe, 2007.

    Chapter 4, “Child Protection,” provides an overview of European definitions of child rights as they pertain to family; section 3 of that chapter, “The Right to Respect for Family Life,” includes two subsections, “Adoption, Fostering and Family Life” and “Placement of Children in Care,” that summarize various philosophical framings of the rights of adoptees and children in public care in Europe.

  • Wells, Karen. Childhood in Global Perspective. Cambridge, UK, and Malden, MA: Polity, 2009.

    Chapter 4, “Children and Families,” provides the most detailed introduction to a childhood studies approach to the study of family life in the early 21st century. Includes a concise and clear section on transnational adoption from a childhood studies perspective. Argues that transnational adoption practice must always be understood in relation to forms of nation building and state governance. A constructivist lens is thus necessary.

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