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A key problem in determining adoption policy is a severe scarcity of accurate, baseline numbers to work from. If the scope of adoptions is unknown or unclear, then problems related to adoption are more difficult to resolve effectively.

The federal government stopped gathering adoption data in 1975, but as a result of a congressional mandate, began trying to collect adoption and foster care data. By determining how many foster children there are in the system, how many wait to be adopted and other crucial pieces of the statistical puzzle, adoption professionals may more expertly help the children they aspire to serve. In 1986, the first of a series of grants were made to the National Center for State Courts (NCSC). NCSC's assistance resulted in the establishment of the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis Reporting System (AFCARS). AFCARS is now operational and reporting some state data.

The NATIONAL COUNCIL FOR ADOPTION mounted a serious effort to survey all states and assemble national adoption statistics on a state-by-state basis in 1982 (published in the 1985 Adoption Factbook) and again in 1988 (published in the 1989 Adoption Factbook). Most recently, the National Council For Adoption amassed adoption data for 1992 and 1996, which, was published in late 1999. The limitations of this survey in each case was that some states provide very accurate data while others can offer only estimates.

A good amount of data on intercountry adoptions is already available through the efforts of the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. IMMIGRATION AND NATURALIZATION SERVICE. Such information is very valuable to legislators, adoption professionals and child welfare experts.

Another aspect of statistics that should be considered is a combination of statistical and methodological failings in many studies related to adoption. Too many social scientists rely on sample sizes of less than 30 on which to base conclusions that are generalized to extremely large populations.

Studies of small and highly specialized samples and their data should always be interpreted with caution, especially if percentages are prominently cited. In addition, the interpretation of data may be skewed, depending on the researchers and their possible biases. As E. Wayne Carp observed in his history of adoption, much of the momentum for the adoption reform movement was based on pseudoscientific psychoanalytical studies.

One need not be a statistician to be a critical reviewer of studies related to adoption. Although no study can be perfect and it cannot be expected that they will be, it is important for readers to understand that just because a study was performed by a prominent person does not mean it is a valid or reliable study.

The good news is that most social scientists who study adoption are careful researchers who do outstanding studies that can be replicated and that are very useful to the adoption community.

E. Wayne Carp, Family Matters: Secrecy and Disclosure in the History of Adoption, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998).

Victor E. Flango, Ph.D., and Carol R. Flango, M.A., The Flow of Adoption Information from the States (Williamsburg, Va.: National Center for State Courts, 1994).

National Council For Adoption, Adoption Factbook (Washington, D.C.: National Council For Adoption, 1985).

---, Adoption Factbook (Washington, D.C.: National Council For Adoption, 1989).

---, Adoption Factbook III (Washington, D.C.: National Council For Adoption, 1999).

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