Adoption in West Virginia

Setting the Stage
19th Century
20th Century - First Half
20th Century - Second Half
21st Century

Adoption in West Virginia

The Children’s Home Society of West Virginia is a private, nonprofit multi-service agency established in 1896 with the mission of “finding homes for homeless and dependent children.”

What began as a dream of a group of Charleston ministers, the YMCA President and the Reverend D.W. Comstock, a retired minister and former Superintendent of the Children’s Home Society of Arkansas, evolved into an active children’s service agency providing adoption, shelter care and counseling. More detailed information about the Society, its founding and history can be found <here.>

20 th Century Activity – The Second Half

In 1964, Congress passed the landmark Civil Rights Act denying federal funding to all organizations practicing employment discrimination. Since the Child Welfare League of America received federal funding, it was inclined not to accept members with discriminatory practices. At the same time, the United Fund was also pressuring member agencies to establish non-discriminatory policies. In response, the Society’s Board of Directors passed the following resolutions:

  1. No person is excluded from service because of race.
  2. There is no segregation of those served on the basis of race.
  3. There is no discrimination with regard to hiring, assignment, promotion or other conditions of staff employment.
  4. The governing body of the Children’s Home Society of West Virginia is open to representation from all segments of the public.

For the first time in it’s nearly 70 years of operation, the Society agreed to accept and provide services to African-American children.

In late 1966, the Society was officially accepted for provisional membership in the Child Welfare League of America. The provisional status meant more work remained to enhance the professionalism and best practices of the agency, its staff, Board and policies. The Society received full accredited membership in the League on June 8, 1967 .

In terms of legislation, the 1960s was a time of high activity in the enactment of a series of progressive child welfare laws. In 1965, the state legislature finally overturned a law allowing birth parents 120 days to revoke their decision to place a child for adoption. The new law gave birth parents only 10 days to revoke their decision. The Society had lobbied for this change for nearly 10 years as West Virginia was the last state to have such a law. The legislature also reversed a 1959 law requiring minors appear before a judge before granting adoption.

Several national trends contributed to financial problems for private child care agencies in the early 1970s. Women’s improved access to birth control, legal abortion, and changing social mores providing more social acceptance to single mothers had a significant impact on adoption organizations such as the Society which depended on adoption fees rather than contributions to fund program activities. The decreasing number of healthy, white infants forced the Society’s Board to make drastic budget cuts.

In 1977, the West Virginia legislature passed a bill granting more rights to birth fathers. Previously, only a man married to the birth mother had the right to approve or disapprove placing a child for adoption. The 1977 law expanded these rights to include birth fathers and those acting in the capacity of a father by either living with the mother or providing financial support. Although this change later led to complications and revocation of some adoptions, it was a necessary step in protecting the rights of the father. In a study of adoptions in one year in the later 1950s, birth mothers were involved in 154 cases, while birth fathers consented only to 12. In 1984, the legislature reorganized the state’s adoption laws, requiring all fees associated with adoptions to be approved by the courts. These fees are most often connected with physicians, attorneys and adoption agencies. On a national level, congress passed a bill providing tax deductions for families who adopted.

Some developments in the late 1970s and early 1980s revitalized the Society, led to a rapid increase in staff and enabled the Society to realize its goal of providing direct care and treatment to children throughout the state.

In 1978, the Society returned to residential care with the re-opening of the Davis Child Shelter as a temporary shelter for neglected, dependent and abused children under contract with the Department of Welfare. The return of shelter care helped stabilize the Society’s day-to-day funding. Later, that year, the Society took over the operation of the West Virginia Adoption Exchange under a contract with the state. The Adoption Exchange helped find homes for those with special needs such as older children, minority and mixed race children and children with disabilities through a nation-wide registration and information sharing program.

In the early 1990s, the Society agreed to accept a contract to operate the West Virginia Mutual Consent Voluntary Adoption Registry. The Registry’s purpose was to provide a centralized location wherein adult adoptees born in West Virginia and the birth parents of such adoptees could register their willingness to have their identities and whereabouts disclosed to each other and to provide for the release of this information once each party had voluntarily registered. The Registry could also provide nonidentifying background information.

By 1995, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources had withdrawn the contract for the West Virginia Adoption Exchange. The Society converted the program to the West Virginia Adoption Resource Center to promote adoption, advocate for the adoption of special needs children, provide services to adoptees and/or their families, and operate both an adoption library and an information and referral service for adoption related needs. Through the Adoption Resource Center prospective adoptive families have access to the listings of children available for adoption throughout the United States .

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