CAIRN-INT.INFO : International Edition

1The road to adoption is a long one and not all potential adopters succeed. This paper by Catherine Villeneuve-Gokalp is based on a study of the application files of candidates who ended adoption procedures in 2001 or 2002 in ten French départements. The survey was supplemented by a postal questionnaire. A number of candidates did not obtain the mandatory approval required by the authorities but a greater number abandoned their project beforehand (by self-exclusion). Some of those who obtained approval did not succeed in adopting, either because they became discouraged and gave up or because the adoption authorities gave preference to other candidates. The adoption procedure favours couples over partnerless individuals, childless candidates, those from a more privileged background, and candidates aged 32-39. The survey also reveals marked differences between départements in the dropout rate prior to approval, as well as in the proportion of candidates who succeed in adopting after approval. This is largely due to differences in access to international adoption.

2Every year, between 4,000 and 5,000 couples or partnerless individuals adopt a child in France. To achieve this outcome, they will have first had to obtain approval and then apply to the Aide Sociale à l’Enfance (child welfare services, ASE) in the case of wards of the state, or to an authorized adoption agency (AAA) for a child born in France or abroad, or alternatively start procedures for international adoption. To obtain prior approval, the potential adopter has to go through an assessment procedure that allows social workers and psychologists or psychiatrists to ascertain that “the future parents offer the conditions required to meet the needs and best interests of an adopted child” [1]. Potential adopters are very apprehensive about this procedure. If their application is rejected (one candidate in ten) they must either give up the adoption project or wait 30 months before applying again. Those who obtain approval have a five-year period in which to receive a child or start an adoption procedure abroad. Some are not placed with a child in that period, others become discouraged and abandon the process beforehand, while others succeed in adopting. Some 3,000 to 4,000 children of the total number adopted each year are born abroad, though the number varies according to changes in adoption regulations in the countries concerned. The number of wards of the state adopted in France fell regularly until the mid 1990s and has now stabilized at around 1,000 children per year.

3This overview of adoption procedures drawn from the few available statistics [2] fails to answer the main questions asked by potential adopters as well as by adoption professionals: what is the exact proportion of candidates who succeed in adopting? At what point in the process do some potential adopters abandon their project, and why? To answer these questions we need to know how many potential adopters there are and how many give up before the end of the approval procedure. However, the statistics are not very reliable because there is no precise definition of a potential adopter common to all French départements. All individuals wishing to obtain prior approval for adoption must first attend a briefing session organized by the child welfare services (ASE) of their département, after which they must confirm their intention in writing (see Box 1). In some départements the ASE will register all people attending the meeting as potential adopters whereas in others the ASE expects candidates to confirm their application first. The numbers of approvals and refusals are known: 7,918 applicants were approved in 2001 and 712 refused. But it is impossible to know how many of the approved candidates actually adopted since adoption statistics do not mention the year in which the adoptive parents obtained approval.

4In France, most research on adoption is carried out by anthropologists, sociologists and corporate lawyers, and deals with filiation (Héritier-Augé, 1989; Fine, 1998a and 1998b), multiple parenting (Le Gall and Bettahar, 2001) or legislation (Fine and Neirinck, 2000). Studies on adoption procedures and potential adopters are rare and most have been carried out by the adoption services themselves for their particular département, so no comparisons can be made between them. INED conducted a survey in ten representative French départements[3] in metropolitan France between 2003 and 2004, in order to get a better understanding of adoption procedures, to find out more about the sort of people who apply to adopt, which of them succeed and why, and at what point in the procedure some give up. This is the first survey to date large enough to permit a comparative study by the adoption candidates’ characteristics, the départements, and the application order.

5This research was commissioned and funded by the Direction générale de l’action sociale (department of social services, DGAS), attached to the Ministry in charge of family affairs. Details concerning the origins of this project, previous research and available statistics, as well as the pilot study conducted in the Yvelines département in 2002, have already been published (Halifax and Villeneuve-Gokalp, 2004).


Before adopting either a ward of the state, a child in the care of an authorized adoption agency, or a non-French child who is not the child of the potential adopter’s partner, the French courts first check if the applicants have obtained the mandatory approval to adopt or if they are exempted. Existing caregivers and foster families with which the children have already been placed, are exempted (Article 353-1 of the French Civil Code).
Procedure for obtaining approval: Government Decree No. 98-771 of 1 September 1998
Any person seeking to obtain approval for adoption must apply to the President of the Departmental Council in his or her département of residence (article 1).
Within two months of their application to the President of their Departmental Council, candidates must be informed of the following: 1) the psychological, educational, and cultural aspects of adoption for the child and its adoptive parents; 2) the legal and administrative procedures for adoption; 3) the number of wards of the state in the département concerned, their age and the conditions for adopting a ward of the state; 4) the principles governing international adoption; 5) the working methods of the authorized organizations that act as adoption intermediaries; 6) the number of applicants and persons obtaining approval in the département concerned; 7) the creation of an application approval file by the Ministry in charge of family affairs, and the type of information it contains.
On receiving this information, candidates must send written confirmation of their adoption application to the President of the Departmental Council. At this stage, potential adopters may specify their requests concerning the number and ages of the wards of the state or of the foreign children that they wish to adopt (article 2).
Before granting approval, the President of the Departmental Council must first ensure that the applicant meets the familial, educational, and psychological conditions for receiving an adopted child and that these correspond to its needs and best interests. Applicants therefore have to undergo a series of assessments that include an evaluation of their family situation, their childrearing capabilities, and their material conditions for receiving a ward of the state or a foreign child. These evaluations are carried out by social workers, specialized educators or state-registered teachers specialized in young children, and include meetings with a psychologist or psychiatrist during which the adoption project is discussed (article 4).
The decision is made by the President of the Departmental Council after consultation with the Approval Committee (article 5).
Approval may be granted for the adoption of one or several children simultaneously. The decision may include information about the number of children, their age or other characteristics (article 6).
Each year during the five-year period for which the approval is valid, all approved candidates must confirm their continued intention to adopt to the President of the Departmental Council in their département of residence (article 7).
Approval has been compulsory for adopting wards of the state since the law of 6 June 1984, and for adopting a foreign child since the law of 5 July 1996 (Art. 11.-I).

I – Outline of the survey

6Because the number of people in France wanting to adopt – or having adopted – a child, represents a very small proportion of the population, the survey was necessarily conducted on a pre-selected sample. All individuals wishing to adopt are obliged to go through the child welfare services (ASE), which open a file in that person’s name as soon as the application has been confirmed (see Box 1). Following a pilot study in the Yvelines département we decided to base our survey on the files of candidates for the adoption approval procedure.

7The ASE files contain documents relating to the candidate’s vital records, marital status, occupational and financial situation, as well as all the decisions relating to the approval procedure together with their dates. The reports by the social worker and the psychologist are also included in the files. These provide details on the candidate’s “project”, namely the characteristics of the child the candidate hopes to adopt. If a child is adopted at the end of the procedure, the file will contain a copy of the legal decision or, failing that, a letter from the parents stating the date on which the child was adopted, its sex, age, and geographic origin.

A study of candidates’ files in ten ‘départements

8Ten départements were selected as being representative of the metropolitan France. They are very different from each other in terms of number of adoption candidates, social structure, and size of the urban population. The selection method is described in Appendix 1. Each département was located in a different region, with the exception of two that are in the same region.

9The study was conducted on the files of candidates requesting approval for extra-family adoption in the ten départements concerned and whose application procedures ended in 2001 or 2002. This represented a total of 1,856 files. Termination occurred in a number of ways: project abandoned in the course of the procedure; refusal of approval; project abandoned after approval; expiry of the five-year approval period; adoption of a child.

10Those who gave up in the course of the approval procedure were divided into two categories. “Exogenous” dropouts were so-called because discontinuation was due to an unexpected event such as pregnancy, the couple’s separation, sickness or death, which, had it been foreseen, would have prevented the candidates from applying. In other cases, discontinuation was usually motivated by discouragement or uncertainty about adoption in the face of close questioning from social workers and psychologists. Because of the regular contact between candidates and adoption professionals, ASE is informed of most cases of exogenous discontinuation prior to approval.

11After approval, however, it is often impossible to distinguish between exogenous or other types of discontinuation, or procedures that ended because approval expired [4]. Consequently we abandoned this distinction – particularly since the hurdles of the adoption process could explain both discontinuation and the expiry of approval (see below).

12All the procedures that ended in withdrawal of approval had in fact already been discontinued. ASE withdraws approval from candidates when the conditions for adoption have changed following an event such as divorce or death. However ASE is only informed of these events once the candidate has already abandoned the project for that very reason.

A postal survey

13We also sent a short questionnaire by mail to all candidates included in the survey. Candidates who obtained approval were asked about their applications abroad and whether or not these were successful. Those who had not adopted were asked for the reasons why and whether this outcome was due to a refusal, discontinuation on their part, or expiry of approval (see Appendix II).

14Survey participation depended on the results of the adoption procedure. Those who succeeded in adopting had the highest response rate (54%) while those who waited the longest – and were therefore the most frequently disappointed – were least likely to reply. Only 32% of candidates who abandoned before obtaining approval answered the survey, 26% of candidates who were refused approval and 21% of candidates who received approval but did not adopt (Table 1). In the latter category, pregnancy was the reason why 40% of approved candidates who replied did not adopt, which also confirms the over-representation of candidates for whom the procedure ended well.

Table 1

Postal survey participation by outcome of procedure

Table 1
Outcome of procedure Number of files Number of replies Response rate (%) Discontinuation before approval 303 96 32 Approval refused 141 36 26 Discontinuation after approval or expiry of approval 463 95 21 Adoption 944 512 54 Total 1,851 739 40 Note: Since none of the unmarried male candidates replied, the response rate for each category was based on the total number of files of couples or partnerless women (1,851). Source: INED, Survey of Adoption in France, 2001-2002.

Postal survey participation by outcome of procedure

15Even using the information in the files to correct the non-response bias, the response rate from candidates who did not adopt because they gave up, did not obtain approval or because approval had expired, was not high enough for a quantitative study (only 36 candidates who did not obtain approval replied). Grouping these candidates together to explain the reasons for discontinuation or failure would have prevented us from achieving our objective. We knew that within each of the categories, candidates who suffered the least from not adopting were the most likely to reply and information in the files would not allow us to correct that bias. Hence, when candidates did not adopt, we used the postal survey merely to support our arguments by quoting the most frequent replies and their number. However, enough adopters took part in the survey to allow a study of procedures abroad. The breakdown of respondents between those adopting abroad via AAAs (44%) and individually (56%) corresponds almost exactly to that in the files (42% and 58% respectively).

16The findings presented in this paper are based mostly on the study of the files. Their origin is specified only when the postal survey results are used.

II – The procedures

17There are two stages in the adoption procedure. The purpose of the first is to obtain approval, while the second concerns the “meeting” with the child. Before focusing on the potential adopters, we will present the main obstacles that prevent them from succeeding, the likelihood of success at each stage and its duration, as well as the difference between first adoption applications and subsequent ones.

18One candidate in four did not obtain approval, either because the candidate abandoned the procedure (16%) or because approval was refused (8%), and one in four of the approved candidates did not adopt, either because the candidates gave up or because approval had expired before a child was found for them by the authorities charged with matching the children [5]. Finally, one candidate in two succeeded in adopting (Figure 1).

Figure 1

Possible outcomes of an adoption procedure

Figure 1

Possible outcomes of an adoption procedure

Source: INED, Survey of Adoption in France, 2001-2002.

Approval procedure: more candidates give up than are refused

19During the approval procedure, 4% of candidates abandoned their project because of an unrelated event such as pregnancy (73% of exogenous discontinuation) or a couple’s separation (10%). Most of the other candidates who abandoned before the end of the approval process (12%) did so because they became discouraged or had doubts about the adoption (Figure 1, columns 1 and 2). The three most common reasons given for discontinuation in the postal questionnaire were: the prospect of having to wait for several years without being certain of the outcome, the difficulties and expense of procedures abroad, the assessment by the psychologist and social worker. When these assessments become distressing or even conflictual, certain candidates refuse to continue or decide to give up their project in anticipation of an unfavourable opinion and subsequent refusal. As F. Rault (1997) has demonstrated for France and F. R. Ouellette (1992) for Quebec, by offering “help in thinking through the project” social workers oblige candidates to assess their personal motives, sometimes causing them to abandon their project, and thereby playing down the social worker’s own role as evaluator. There is a provision for candidates to ask for a second evaluation by another person, but they rarely make use of it.

20The legal duration of the procedure between the candidate’s confirmation of application for approval and the decision of the Approval Committee was nine months maximum. In reality, it varied between six and eleven months on average, depending on the département, and more than one third (36%) of procedures lasted at least ten months. The longest delays were usually incurred at the request of the candidates themselves, sometimes on advice from ASE, to give them more time to think the matter over or to ask for another psychological evaluation before a second application if the first assessment was unfavourable.

21The Committee gave a negative opinion in 11% of cases. In nearly all of these, the decision by the President of the Departmental Council was in line with the Committee’s recommendation [6]. Of the candidates who did not obtain approval the first time, 44% (79/180) [7] lodged an informal appeal with the President of the Departmental Council. The decision was reversed in just under half the cases (36/79), hence 20% of refused candidates obtained approval on appeal. Those who did not were entitled to lodge an adversarial appeal, but it was in their interest to wait for the legal period of thirty months before applying again rather than attempt a procedure that did not save time and might even have gone against them by antagonising the adoption services and spoiling their chances in a new application. In fact none of the four candidates who filed an adversarial appeal in the courts obtained satisfaction, whereas nine of the eleven candidates who submitted a new application following a first refusal obtained approval, and only two were refused a second time.

22Finally, 9% of procedures that continued up to the approval decision were refused (Figure 1, column 3). The study revealed that this proportion closely matches that found by the DGAS for all the départements in metropolitan France: 8.3% in 2001 and 9.4% in 2003. There are major differences between the départements. For instance, in those with more than 50 applications per year, the proportion of refusals (including after appeal) ranged from 4% to 14% in the ten départements in the INED study, and from 2% to 20% in all French départements. The percentage of refusals in any given département may also vary from one year to the next, but in several the number was consistently below or above the national average. It is certainly true that adoption services differ in their perceptions of the approval process and the approval criteria.

23The reason most frequently given for refusal was “insufficient understanding of the specific needs of the adopted child”. This appeared in the evaluation report of 55% of candidates who were refused. Among other reasons that often appeared were: a “premature” project (44%); different expectations of adoption by the two partners (31%); non-acceptance of the fact that biological parenthood is impossible (20%).

24The social workers and psychologists must justify their recommendations in writing but not all reasons are permitted. The postal questionnaire broached this aspect of the procedure that does not appear in the files. Candidates concerned were asked if they had challenged or contested the reasons they were given for refusal. Of the 36 who had been refused, 16 claimed that they had challenged the decision. They fall into three categories:

  1. Candidates who did not receive sufficient explanations, as, for example, the case of the couple who were told, “You do not have the necessary psychological strength to adopt a child who has suffered the shock of abandonment”.
  2. Partnerless individuals and those aged over 45 years of age for whom refusal could not legally be justified by their marital situation or age alone. Thus one refusal was contested by a partnerless female candidate who had been informed that her “lack of masculine image would prevent the child from overcoming it’s Oedipus complex”.
  3. Candidates who believed that they were victims of prejudice against their particular project or life-style.

After approval, more than eight candidates in ten adopt abroad

25Three possibilities are open to approved candidates: to apply to adopt a ward of the state, to adopt though an authorized adoption agency (see Box II); or to take steps individually to adopt abroad. Most apply to adopt a ward of the state but also start procedures for international adoption [8].

26Births of unwanted children have fallen as a result of contraception and the legalization of abortion, resulting in a considerable drop in the number of wards of the state. Their number stabilized at around 3,300 between 1997 and 2001, before falling to 2,500 in 2005. Not all wards of the state can be adopted, however, for a variety of reasons: their status may be only temporary (they may later be reclaimed by their parents); or they are happy with their foster families; or there are not enough families wanting to adopt a relatively old child or a handicapped one; or they have siblings. Consequently only 1,195 wards of the state were placed with a family with a view to adoption at the end of 2001 [9]. Nearly all were later adopted by their foster families who took them in with that intention. An estimated 20% of adoptions take place within France.


Authorized adoption agency (AAA)
AAAs are generally specialized, private agencies under government supervision. They must receive authorization from the President of the Departmental Council for each département in which they act as adoption intermediaries, as well as from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for each foreign country they work in. A number of countries will refuse to hand over children to candidates whose file has not been submitted by an AAA. AAAs may also act as adoption intermediaries for children born in France whose parents have put them up for adoption, but this is rare. Interviews carried out with adopters in the course of this study revealed that AAAs are appreciated for international adoption because of the simplicity of the procedure, transparency of cost, and the guarantee that the child is adoptable and in good health. Conversely they are criticized for a lack of transparency in their candidate selection criteria and sometimes for the costs incurred.
Private adoption calls for adaptability on the part of candidates who have to arrange meetings and manage relations with foreign organizations and intermediaries who use unfamiliar working methods and who speak a foreign language. The procedure is often as costly as going through an AAA. Though there are no agency costs, candidates have to travel abroad more often and for longer periods (see below).

27Among the approved candidates in our survey, 13% adopted a child born in France (representing 19% of adopters), just over half adopted abroad, of whom 23% via an AAA [10] and 31% by private means, and one third did not adopt (see Table 2). Apart from the long wait, reasons given in the postal survey for abandoning the project or for the expiry of approval mostly concerned the complexity of procedures abroad (28 replies out of 94) and/or the need to be away for too long a time (22/94) and/or the expense (21/94).

Table 2

Results of applications by approved candidates and the average time between approval and adoption

Table 2
Candidates with approval Adoption in France* Adoption abroad** Expiry of approval or discontinuation Total Private procedure AAA Number 179 444 321 463 1,407 Breakdown (%) 13 31 23 33 100 Interval between approval and adoption (in months) 32.6 21.6 22.5 – 24.0 * The number of children placed in a foster family with a view to adoption, not children adopted in those two years. ** Including 14 adopters in French Polynesia that we included in the adopters abroad for this paper, since the adoption procedure is different from that applicable to children born in metropolitan France. Scope: procedures that ended in 2001 and 2002 in ten départements of metropolitan France. Source: INED, Survey of Adoption in France, 2001-2002.

Results of applications by approved candidates and the average time between approval and adoption

28The average wait for candidates adopting a child in France was 32.6 months compared with 22 months for an international adoption, whether via an AAA or privately organized. Despite the long delay, adopting a ward of state is seen as a stroke of luck, because it is comparatively rare, easy, free of the risks inherent to private adoption abroad, and requires less financial outlay.

29When adopting via an AAA, whether or not the adopters travel to the child’s home country depends both on the AAA and the country concerned. Some AAAs – and some countries – insist on the parents coming to fetch the child themselves and this is becoming more widespread. However, the AAAs only request this when a child is already matched for adoption. In the case of private adoption [11], travel to the child’s country is a necessity, though potential adopters usually start off by contacting a charity, a lawyer, or an intermediary in the country concerned, who will inform them when their presence is required abroad.

30The postal survey gave an idea of the number of journeys made by candidates who adopted abroad and their duration. Only 10% of adopters travelled to several countries, 90% went to the country in which they adopted. Only travel to the country of the adopted child was taken into account.

31In 2001 and 2002, for the départements we studied, 58% of couples who adopted through an AAA went to fetch their child (Table 3). Just over half the candidates adopting privately travelled at least twice.

Table 3

Travel to the adopted child’s country

Table 3
Adoption by a couple Adoption by a partnerless woman Overall Through an AAA Privately All Number of adoptions 415 181 199 35 Travel to the child’s country (%) Couple together 74 55 90 Male partner alone 1 1 1 Female partner alone 4 2 6 97 Did not travel 21 42 2 3 Total 100 100 100 100 IF TRAVELLED Number of journeys* (%) 1 59 84 46 48 2 or more 41 16 54 52 Total 100 100 100 100 Total number of weeks spent in child’s country Men Average 3.3 3.1 3.4 3 weeks or more (%) 50 43 55 Women Average 3.9 3.2 4.2 4.6 3 weeks or more (%) 57 43 64 69 * There was only a 1% difference in the number of journeys made by male and female partners. Population: All candidates who adopted abroad and who replied to the postal survey. Source: INED, Survey of Adoption in France, 2001-2002.

Travel to the adopted child’s country

32The men who travelled spent an average of three weeks, whether they were adopting through an AAA or privately. The average time for the women was identical in the case of adoption through an AAA (3.2 weeks), but longer in the case of a private adoption (4.2 weeks). Partnerless women nearly always opted for private adoption (32 out of 35), but their number of journeys and average stays were no different from women in a couple adopting privately.


International Adoption
Once the local adoption procedure has been completed, either the AAA or the adopters apply to the French consulate for a visa for the adopted child. The visa is granted after authorization by the Mission de l’Adoption Internationale (Intercountry Adoption Mission, MAI) of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This is necessary to allow the child to enter the country and reside there. On their return to France, the adopters apply to the French courts to complete the procedure, thereby enabling the child to obtain French nationality and the livret de famille, the official family registration book.
The Agence Française pour l’Adoption (French adoption agency) was set up under the law of 4 July 2005 to act as an intermediary for international adoptions. It did not exist when we carried out our survey.
The number of visas granted by MAI dropped by 21% between 1998 (n = 3,777) and 2000 (n = 2,964) because Vietnam suspended adoption procedures in 1999 in order to establish new ones that conformed to international regulations. The number of visas in 2001 was stable and then rose in 2002 and 2003 (n = 3,995) with the increase in adoptions from China and Haiti. Since then it has stabilized. The number of candidates obtaining adoption approval continues to rise but the proportion of adopters has fallen somewhat. Our study in ten départements was carried out in the two years for which the probabilities of adoption were at their lowest since 1992: 66% approved candidates adopted in 2001 and 68% in 2002.

Half of first-time applicants succeeded in adopting; three-quarters succeeded the next time around

33Eight applications out of ten were from first-time candidates. Just under one in two (47%) were successful the first time, but chances improved the second time, with a success rate of 72%. Overall, candidates applying a second time having failed the first (4%) were neither at an advantage or at a disadvantage in relation to first-time candidates. However second-time candidates had different first-time experiences: some had obtained approval, some had given up, and others had been refused (Figure 2).

Figure 2

Adoption outcome by application order

Figure 2

Adoption outcome by application order

Source: INED, Survey of Adoption in France, 2001-2002.

34Candidates who have already adopted a child are better informed and more confident about the outcome of their project and therefore less likely to give up during the adoption procedure (3%) than first-time candidates (19%). For the majority (only 1% were refused approval for a second child) the approval procedure is a mere formality because candidates have already proved their suitability as adoptive parents. However, this advantage at the approval stage is less of one in the subsequent procedures since only 75% of approved candidates who already have an adopted child succeed in adopting a second one, a proportion only 10 percentage points above that of first-time approved candidates (65%). After a first adoption, candidates hope that the organizations that already placed a child with them will do so again, but in fact they may prefer candidates who do not yet have a child. The situation may also change in the first child’s country of origin, which may, for instance, decide to stop giving children up for adoption or limit the number, obliging candidates to turn to another country and other intermediaries. Thus only 43% of candidates who obtained a second approval (or higher) succeed in adopting another child through the same intermediaries as those used for the first.

Duration of procedure by outcome

35For the one in two candidates who succeeded in adopting a child, the waiting period between the request for approval by ASE and the arrival of the child was on average nearly three years. It was longer for a ward of the state (43 months) than for a child abroad (31 months) [12] (Table 4). One quarter of successful candidates only waited 21 months between their application for approval and the arrival of the adopted child, but another quarter had to wait 43 months.

Table 4

Length of procedure by outcome and application order

Table 4
Outcome Duration (in months) Average 1st quartile Median 3rd quartile Adoption: All 33 21 31 43 In France 43 32 44 55 Abroad 31 21 28 38 By application order: First adoption 35 23 23 44 Subsequent adoptions 30 19 19 38 Expiry of approval * 69 68 69 70 Refusal of approval After appeal 20 13 17 22 Without appeal 12 9 10 13 *The length of a procedure that ends with expiry of approval is equal to the duration of the approval procedure plus the 5-year approval validity period. Differences between quartiles are due to varying durations of the approval procedure. Source: INED, Survey of Adoption in France, 2001-2002.

Length of procedure by outcome and application order

36Candidates who had not received a child by the time the approval expired had the longest wait and the most difficult experience. They obtained approval after nine months of procedure then waited five years in the hope of adopting. On the basis of certain assumptions regarding the relative proportions of discontinuations after approval and expiry of approval, we estimated that between 8% and 15% of candidates experienced this situation.

37The 8% of procedures that ended in refusal lasted 12 months on average if the candidates did not appeal the decision, and 20 months if candidates made an informal or adversarial appeal. Even without an appeal, approval procedures that ended in a negative decision took longer than the others (nine months on average when approval is granted the first time). This may be because additional assessments were more frequently requested for potentially unsuitable candidates: 11% compared with 3% of candidates who obtained approval the first time around.

38Since discontinuation before or after approval is rarely dated, we do not know the duration of procedures for candidates who abandoned their project.

39Parents of a first adopted child hope that the process will be faster the second time. They expect the approval process to take less time and hope to complete the adoption procedure more quickly after approval. Nevertheless second and higher adoptions were just five months shorter than first adoptions. The approval procedure was almost as long – an average of 8.5 months compared with 9.6 – and the waiting period for a child was on average 21.6 months versus 25.1, which is much shorter only for the few parents who adopted a first child in France and a second abroad.

III – The adoption candidates [13]

40Adoption procedures are reputed to be long and difficult, with no certainty as to the outcome. This is not without reason and contributes to the negative “obstacle course” image of adoption. Naturally, this raises a number of questions about the candidates themselves. Do all persons wishing to adopt go through these procedures, and how are they different from people wishing to have a biological child and who succeed in doing so?

A large majority of childless married couples

41Nine in ten adoption applications were submitted by a couple, and one in ten by a woman without a partner. A comparison of the family situations of female adoption candidates with the general female population in the same 30-49 age group, did reveal certain specific traits [14]. Two-thirds of female potential adopters (67%) lived with a partner and did not have a biological child [15] compared with 7% for women as a whole (Table 5). There were almost as many partnerless women without a biological child among the candidates (9%) as in the female population as a whole (10%) but this is deceptive because among the childless women only 12% of potential adopters were not living with a partner compared with 59% in the reference population. More than eight in ten women without partners were unmarried, the others were divorced, and a very small number (3%) were widowed. We shall call them “partnerless” or “women without partners” indiscriminately.

Table 5

Comparison of women adoption candidates with all women aged 30-49 (%)

Table 5
Women with a partner Women without a partner Total Percentage of women without a partner among those without a biological child Without a biological child With a biological child Without a biological child With a biological child Adoption candidates* 67 22 9 2 100 12 All women aged 30-49** 7 68 10 15 100 59 * Source: INED, Survey of Adoption in France, 2001-2002. ** Source: INSEE, Étude de l’Histoire Familiale (Family History survey, EHF), 1999.

Comparison of women adoption candidates with all women aged 30-49 (%)

42Men without a partner rarely apply to adopt – there were only five such cases in the INED study. All were unmarried. Two gave up before the Approval Committee meeting and three were refused [16]. We did not include the five men in the following analyses since they were too few in number to constitute a separate category, yet were too distinct to be placed in either the category of men living with a partner or that of partnerless women.

43Because of a law preventing two unmarried individuals from adopting a child together, most couples were married [17]. This constraint does not exist for couples requesting artificial insemination with a donor (AID), but unlike adoption, artificial insemination is not authorized in France for partnerless women or for couples who have not been living together for at least two years.

44Seven out of ten couples were married for at least two years before they first applied for approval, 11% married in the two years preceding their application [18]. In order to make a joint application, 12% of couples got married during the procedure (Table 6). Only 6% did not marry, generally because they were still waiting for a child to adopt, but sometimes because one of the partners did not want to marry or because of some obstacle to marriage, such as ongoing divorce proceedings. In those cases, only one of the partners adopted the child (1% of people living as a couple).

Table 6

First adoption applications and marriage

Table 6
Breakdown (%) Couple married for more than 2 years at beginning of the procedure 71 Couple married for less than 2 years 11 Couple married during the procedure 12 Couple did not marry or adopt 5 Couple did not marry and only one partner adopted 1 Total 100 Source: INED, Survey of Adoption in France, 2001-2002.

First adoption applications and marriage

45Two couples in ten had biological children, three in ten had children belonging to one of the partners and 16% of couples had no biological child but had already adopted. In total, nearly half the couples already had at least one shared child or belonging to one of the partners, and almost one quarter had at least two (Table 7). In almost all cases, the couple’s children still lived at home, but a proportion of the children born from a previous relationship lived with the other parent, so only 23% of candidates actually lived with a biological child. Among these, the proportion of reconstituted families (17%) was greater than among the general population of couples living with a child (10%) [19].

Table 7

Candidates’ children at the start of the procedure

Table 7
Distribution at start of the procedure (%) Couples Partnerless women Child(ren) of candidate/couple No child 53 79 Biological child(ren) belonging to the couple*, no adopted child 19 – Biological child(ren) belonging to one of the candidates**, no adopted child 9 15 Biological child(ren) belonging to the couple* and adopted child 2 – Biological child(ren) belonging to one of the candidates** and adopted child 1 <1 Adopted child(ren), no biological child 16 6 Total 100 100 Total number of children 0 53 79 1 26 15 2 13 4 3 or more 8 2 Total 100 100 Population size 1,653 198 * Possibly including the biological child(ren) of one of the candidates. ** No biological children together. Source: INED, Survey of Adoption in France, 2001-2002.

Candidates’ children at the start of the procedure

46For 69% of couples, adoption was the only means to achieve parenthood together. They had no shared biological child and had given up ART (assisted reproductive technology) treatment because it was ineffective or too demanding (Table 8). A further 7% of couples had no biological child and did not want to attempt ART. The remaining quarter wanted to adopt even though adoption was not their only option because 12% already had biological children together, and 12% believed they could have another child without any problem.

Table 8

Reported fecundity of couples applying to adopt (%)

Table 8
All Couples Couples without a shared biological child Couples with shared biological child(ren) Couples believing they can have a biological child 12 3 9 Couples with difficulties in conceiving or unable to have an(other) biological child: – and who refuse ART 9 7 2 – and ART failed or inapplicable 79 69 10 Total 100 79 21 Note: The 10% of files that did not include this data were excluded. Source: INED, Survey of Adoption in France, 2001-2002.

Reported fecundity of couples applying to adopt (%)

47Partnerless women feared they might never meet the partner with whom they could share parenthood – or would meet him too late. Only 15% of them already had a biological child (Table 7).

48The inability to have a child explains the relatively advanced age of the adoptive mothers. When they resorted to adoption, after trying to conceive for several years and having attempted a variety of medical solutions, half the women living in a childless relationship were already 35.5 years old, compared with an average age of 27.5 for women having their first child in 2001 and 2002 (Figure 3).

Figure 3

Women applying for first approval to adopt: aggregate proportion by age

Figure 3

Women applying for first approval to adopt: aggregate proportion by age

Source: INED, Adoption Survey in France, 2001-2002.

49Couples who already had biological children were even older, the woman’s median age being 36.8 years, while partnerless women waited until a median age of 38.4 before applying for adoption.

Socially and economically privileged candidates

50Procreation difficulties have little to do with social status, and yet the better off are more likely to adopt than the less economically favoured. Only 16% of men with a partner, aged 30-49, and living in one of the ten départements we studied, have higher-level occupations, yet one candidate in four belonged to this category (Figure 4). Three-quarters of all women candidates without a partner were in higher-level or intermediate occupations (24% and 49% respectively), whereas only 30% of women living alone among the reference population belong to one of those two categories (8% and 22% respectively). Conversely, almost no partnerless female manual workers (1%) attempted adoption procedures and fewer than 20% of male candidates were manual workers (versus 35% in the reference population).

Figure 4

Comparison of candidates’ socio-occupational category with the reference 30-49 age group in the ten départements concerned

Figure 4

Comparison of candidates’ socio-occupational category with the reference 30-49 age group in the ten départements concerned

Source: INED, Survey of Adoption in France, 2001-2002.

51Since income is closely linked to occupation, adoption candidates had incomes above those of the same age group in the reference population. For persons in wage employment, the median wage of male candidates was 21% higher than the national median wage in 1999 and for women it was 25% higher [20]. People with insecure incomes did not apply, the only example being the case of a male manual worker with his clerical/sales worker partner, both unemployed.

Self-selection by candidates

52Parents of a biological child rarely apply to adopt, doubtless because they see no need to do so. Similarly, individuals living alone may be poorly represented because their desire for a child may be weaker than that of couples, or they may not wish to adopt without a father/mother for the child. However, there are a number of clichés about adoption, not entirely unfounded, that are so widespread they may lead biological parents and partnerless adopters to expect failure and therefore not apply even though they may want to. A similar anticipation mechanism may explain why the better-off are more likely to decide to adopt. The idea that adoption is “reserved” for the rich may discourage the less well-off from doing so. Broad media coverage of adoption failures and the difficulties of procedures abroad may further discourage those who feel socially and economically ill-equipped to overcome these hurdles. Lastly, a stronger attachment to blood-ties among the lower social groups than the better-educated ones may deter the former from adoptive parenthood.

IV – The adopters

53All individuals who confirm their desire to adopt by submitting an adoption application do not have the same chances of success. We will present the demographic and social characteristics most linked to success in adoption and those most likely to jeopardize a candidate’s chances and lead – or oblige – them to abandon their project. In each case we will indicate the observed proportion of adopters at the end of the procedure and the proportion estimated by logistic regression.

54Motivation and determination to adopt are vital factors of successful adoption, but they are also difficult to model. Indeed, the impossibility of having a child by any other means than adoption constitutes the prime motivation for nearly eight out of ten candidates and the motivations of other couples are too numerous to constitute statistical categories. Moreover, 10% of files bore no indication of candidates’ possible sterility. The candidates’ determination was not something that could be gleaned from their files. The variables in relation to children, whose modalities are “no children”, “only biological children”, “at least one adopted child” [21] partly made up for the missing data on the reason for adoption in the models. Nearly all the candidates without a biological child were unable to have one (see above). Moreover, this also gave information on the application order: second or higher application for candidates who already had an adopted child and first application for the 96% of candidates without.

55Exogenous discontinuations before approval were excluded and consequently the percentage of adopters increased from 51% to 53% (see Figure 1). It rose to an estimated 60% in the case of candidates who accumulated all the reference characteristics (living as a couple, childless, female partner aged 32-39, partner with the highest socio-occupational category in an intermediate occupation [22], a joint monthly income of more than € 2,300 [23] and residing in B département).

56We attributed letters from A to J to the départements in the survey to preserve the anonymity of the adoption services who agreed to take part in the study.

Family composition is more important than social status or income

57The composition of the family applying to adopt was the main factor in the success or failure of the procedure. Couples without biological children had more chance of success because they were more strongly motivated than couples who already had children, and were preferred by the adoption services. Few people without a partner applied to adopt, and only one in three succeeded compared with more than one in two in the case of couples (56%). However, all other things being equal, the gap between couples and partnerless people tends to shrink (16 points instead of 22). Having biological children is a major obstacle and only four in ten parents succeeded in adopting (Table 9). As stated above, a first adoption made subsequent applications easier because candidates were less likely to discontinue and more likely to obtain approval.

Table 9

Observed and estimated proportions of candidates who adopted a child (%)

Table 9
Observed Estimated Overall 53 60 Family situation Living as a couple 56 60 Woman without partner 34 44*** Age of the women Under 32 52 54** 32-39 years 59 60 40 or more 46 50*** Children No children 54 60 Only biological child(ren) 40 42*** At least one adopted child 72 73*** SOC and income (1) Farmers 71 73 Self-employed and company directors 63 71** Higher-level occs. > € 2,300 60 69*** Higher-level occs., < € 2,300 51 64 Intermediate occs. > € 2,300 54 60 Intermediate occs. < € 2,300 42 57 Clerical/sales worker > € 2,300 54 65 Clerical/sales worker < € 2,300 24 42*** Manual worker > € 2,300 56 64 Manual worker < € 2,300 36 55 Département A 69 76*** B 53 60 C 51 57 D 70 76*** E 44 51 F 57 68 G 55 61 H 37 44** I 65 67 J 58 57 (1) In the case of couples, we used the higher socio-occupational category of the two. For farmers, and for the self-employed/company directors, a distinction by income produced categories with insufficient numbers. Their income therefore corresponds to their household’s monthly employment income. The reference modalities are in green. ***: significant at 1% level; **: significant at 5% level. Population: all candidates excluding those who abandoned the project before approval because of an unexpected event (exogenous discontinuation). Source: INED, Survey of Adoption in France, 2001-2002.

Observed and estimated proportions of candidates who adopted a child (%)

58Age-related differences were less important. Even when the woman was aged 40 or over when she applied (the mean age of the over-40s being 43.4 years), an estimated 50% of candidates were successful, all other things being equal.

59The self-employed adopted more frequently than employees. Whatever their socio-occupational category, more than half of employees with monthly household income of more than € 2,300 at the start of the adoption procedure succeeded in adopting, compared with less than half of those with lower incomes, excluding higher-level occupations. Manual and clerical/sales workers adopted more frequently (56% and 54% with income in excess of € 2,300) than those in intermediate occupations with lower incomes (42%) or those in higher-level occupations (51%). However, controlling for the other variables confirmed only the advantage of high-income, higher-level occupations and the disadvantage of low-income clerical/sales workers. Of the less well-paid employees, manual workers adopted more frequently than clerical/sales workers. A step-by-step analysis of the procedures explains the advantage of manual workers over their clerical/sales counterparts.

60More unexpectedly, the candidates’ département of residence turned out to be both an advantage and a disadvantage for adoption, quite as much as family structure. In three départements the proportion of adoptions differed by 16 points from the reference category (76% in A and D départements, 44% in H département).

Different risks associated with each characteristic

61All the candidates’ demographic characteristics had an impact on the outcome of their application, but not all at the same time. We pursued our analysis with all other things being equal, and observed in turn the effects of the candidates’ household composition, age and so forth at each stage of the adoption procedure (see Appendix III for observed proportions). An estimated 5% of candidates with all the reference characteristics abandoned before approval, 5% of candidates who continued were refused approval, while 32% obtained approval but did not adopt (Figure 5).

Figure 5

Failure and discontinuation of adoption procedures: estimated percentages

Figure 5

Failure and discontinuation of adoption procedures: estimated percentages

Source: INED, Survey of Adoption in France, 2001-2002.

62Women without partners were 2.5 times more likely than couples to give up during the approval procedure (an estimated 12% versus 5%) and were four times more likely to be refused (19% versus 5%). Conversely, if they obtained approval they were no more likely than a couple to abandon the procedure or to not receive a child before the approval period expired.

63Having biological children complicated every stage of the process, and 9% of candidates with children discontinued, 8% were refused and 48% obtained approval but did not receive a child by the end of the approval period (or gave up before then), compared with 32% of childless potential adopters.

64Age is no longer an obstacle to approval but it does increase the risk of discontinuation for younger women, and of refusal for older ones: 9% of the under 32-year olds gave up in the first month of the procedure and 9% of the over-40s did not obtain approval.

65Social and economic status does not explain the difference in the discontinuation rate, with the exception of higher-level occupations with a monthly income of at least € 2,300 who were least likely to give up. Their position also helped them obtain approval more easily. Clerical/sales and manual workers with monthly income of € 2,300 or less, were more likely to be refused than other categories (estimated at 10% and 16% versus 5% for the reference category). After approval, neither income nor socio-occupational category determined the outcome, with the exception of clerical/sales workers with income of € 2,300 and below. Surprisingly, manual workers with comparable income had as much chance of adopting as other, more privileged candidates, and more chance than clerical/sales workers. This difference may be explained in part by the fact that manual workers are more likely to adopt wards of the state than other candidates (18% versus 13% for the total number of approved candidates). Moreover, manual workers are more likely to refuse a foreign child even if they have to wait longer, and the conseil de famille (the organization acting as guardian to wards of the state), pays attention to candidates likely to have difficulties adopting abroad.

66The differences between départements do not concern the approval decision [24]. In two départements, candidates had a greater propensity to give up in the course of the psychological and social assessment than in the reference département, whereas in three others, expiry of approval and discontinuation after approval were more frequent. Without generalizing, the influence of ASE staff or psychologists with different views of adoption tends to result in pre-selection of candidates before the approval decision. However, the differences between départements after the approval procedure are harder to explain, for they depend on the number of wards of the state, the AAAs authorized to work in the département concerned (number and origin of the children) and the work of associations of adoptive parents to inform and advise candidates – not to mention the interaction of all three.

67In short, individuals without partners and parents of biological children were more likely to abandon their project at the beginning of the procedure than other candidates. The same reasons that discourage those categories from applying in the first place may also explain the frequency with which they discontinue when those reasons are “revived’ or “revealed” during assessments for the approval procedure. Next, the adoption services were more likely to refuse approval to partnerless people and parents of biological children, as well as to less economically and socially privileged classes. The “right age” to adopt appears to be between 32 and 39 years. Before that, people have many reasons for postponing or abandoning the idea of adoption, but conversely, waiting until age 40 may increase the risk of refusal.

68Once candidates obtain approval, their marital situation, age, social standing, income, and whether or not they have successfully adopted before, have little bearing on the outcome – the only exception being clerical/sales workers with monthly income below € 2,300. The outcome depends first and foremost on whether or not the adopters have a biological child, because this reduces the chance of matches being found for parents [25] who are perceived as being less motivated than candidates without children.


69More than an actual refusal, adoption candidates feared the psychological and social assessment, the complexity of the procedure, or the circulation of potentially negative information about them. Among candidates who did not obtain approval, those who discontinued even before their interview with the approval committee (but not because of an unexpected event) were more numerous (12%) than those who were refused (9%). Once approval has been obtained it is difficult to distinguish between those who abandoned and those whose approval expired, but the reasons were often similar in both cases (the complexity of procedures abroad, the cost, the painful long wait, and so forth). One approved candidate in three did not adopt for at least one of those reasons. Yet despite all the obstacles the number of candidates continues to rise.

70The majority of adoptive parents are sterile, socially and economically privileged couples without children. This category is more likely to try for adoption, is more motivated to do so and also more likely to be viewed favourably by the various decision-making bodies. One of the main findings of this study was the importance of the département of residence in the success of the project; above marital status, age or class. The difference between départements did not apply at approval stage but before and after, with sharp variations in the frequency of discontinuation and expiry of approval. This importance of the département of residence in adoption indicates that neither the candidates’ individual characteristics, nor the adoption services themselves, are sufficient to account for inequality in adoption. International adoption depends on information networks and candidates’ access to them. Partnerless individuals, and men in particular, are often viewed negatively by associations of adoptive parents and AAAs. The Agence Française pour l’Adoption was inaugurated in May 2006 to assist families with procedures abroad and should help to close the gap in this particular inequality, but it is still too early to judge the effects. Moreover, annual variations in the number of children adopted abroad are a reminder – if such were needed – that some of the differences also lie in the regulations of the countries concerned.

71In this paper we have restricted our observations of factors of adoption success or failure to the candidates’ demographic and social characteristics. Nevertheless, before making recommendations or taking decisions, the services in charge of pre-adoption assessments and placements check that candidates have come to terms with their inability to have a biological child, that they are aware of the particular needs of an adopted child and of the potential difficulties in establishing a parental bond. The candidates’ determination, their motivation and expectations with regard to adoption are also a factor in the success or failure of the procedure. Finally, the desired characteristics of the child, i.e., the candidates’ so-called “project”, are also a determining factor because they reveal the adopter’s motivation and influence the approval decision, but also because they may increase or limit the chance of finding a match. We have not broached this aspect of adoption here, but it will be the subject of a further study.

72* * *

73* * *


The choice of départements

74To select ten départements with different numbers of adoption candidates, urban densities and social structures, we first organized all the French départements according to each of these criteria. We then selected some from different quartiles and regions, taking care that the four quartiles were represented for each criterion and that no two départements had exactly the same profiles. We also avoided départements with a very low annual average number of adoption procedures so that the results by département would not be too random. We gave the selection to the DGAS who contacted the adoption services in each département to ask them to take part in the study. The DGAS had informed us which départements had already refused on previous occasions and we took this into account in our final selection. Only one declined to take part.

75To sort the départements according to adoption applications, we used DGAS statistics and the 1999 census. We calculated the proportion of applications for approval in 1999 and 2001 for 10,000 women aged between 30-49 living in each département in 1999 (see Note 15 on the choice of the reference population). The definition of an “application” was not identical in all the départements (see Introduction), but we only found this out in the course of the study. The first classification of départements according to the number of adoptions was therefore imprecise. However, the study results validated the ensuing selection: the ratio of the number of procedures ended in 2001 or 2002 to the number of women in 1999 was 11 per 10,000 in the département with the lowest demand, and 21 per 10,000 in the one with the highest. Another classification that could only be made at the end of the study was the proportion of children adopted in relation to the number of births. In the ten départements this varied from 1.6‰ to 7.8‰. The mean was 4.1‰ versus 4.9‰ for metropolitan France as a whole [26].

76We also selected départements with large differences in the size of their urban populations and their social structure:

  • the percentage of people living in urban communes[27] varied from 45% in the least urbanized département to 100% in the most urbanized one. However, the proportion for the ten départements is comparable to that of metropolitan France as a whole (76%);
  • the percentage of men in higher-level occupations varied from 9% to 20% between départements, but the socio-occupational spread reflects metropolitan France’s overall urban population in the 30-49 age group, with differences not exceeding 2 points. Similarly, the distribution by educational level for the ten départements also reflected that of metropolitan France as a whole.
In eight of the départements we examined between 110 and 340 files, and fewer than 70 in the two others. The départements with the highest number of adoption applications were the most urbanized ones, and hence with the highest population. However, the three départements in which more than 80% of the population lived in urban communes were those with the lowest number of adoption applications in relative terms, with a maximum of 15 for 10,000 women and 4 adoptions for 1,000 births.


The postal survey

77Since the files were anonymous, INED did not have the names and addresses of the candidates. The questionnaire was therefore sent out by the adoption service of each département concerned, accompanied by a letter from INED. Candidates who agreed to fill in the questionnaire were asked to return it directly to INED. The questionnaire was also anonymous so that candidates would not be concerned about the adoption services being informed. This anonymity also prevented us from making any connection between candidates’ files and the questionnaire. We were unable to send a reminder to candidates who failed to reply spontaneously but neither did we wish to press candidates with painful memories of a possibly unsuccessful procedure. Forty percent of the questionnaires were filled in and returned to INED, 11% were “returned to sender” because the addressees had moved. Half of the candidates therefore refused or failed to reply to the survey.


Observed percentages of failures/discontinuations of adoption procedures in the study

tableau im15
Discontinuation before approval (1) Refusal (2) Expiry of approval or discontinuation after approval All 13 9 33 Marital status Couple 11 8 32 Woman alone 25 25 40 Age of the woman Under 32 16 6 34 Between 32-39 11 7 29 40 years or more 14 14 38 Children No children 13 10 31 Only biological child(ren) 17 13 45 At least one adopted child 3 1 25 SOC and income (3) Farmers 8 5 17 Self-employed and company directors 5 7 28 Higher-level occs. > € 2,300 8 4 32 Higher-level occs. < € 2,300 8 8 40 Intermediate occs. > € 2,300 12 6 35 Intermediate occs. < € 2,300 15 10 41 Clerical/sales worker > € 2,300 13 13 29 Clerical/sales worker < € 2,300 22 23 41 Manual worker > € 2,300 14 12 25 Manual worker < € 2,300 16 19 25 Number of procedures concerned 1,771 1,548 1,407 (1) Discontinuation before the approval decision for all candidates with the exception of those who abandoned following an unexpected event (exogenous discontinuation). (2) Candidates who did not abandon the procedure but were refused. (3) In the case of couples, we took the partner with the highest socio-occupational status. The income corresponds to the household’s monthly income. Source: INED, Survey of Adoption in France, 2001-2002.

Observed percentages of failures/discontinuations of adoption procedures in the study


  • [*]
    Institut national d’études démographiques
    Translated by Krystyna Horko
  • [1]
    French Government Decree 98-771 of 1 September 1998; Decree 2006-981 of 1 August 2006.
  • [2]
    The number of approvals, refusals and wards of state adopted are published every two years by the Direction générale de l’action sociale (department of social services, DGAS) attached to the Ministry in charge of family affairs. The statistics on international adoption are from the French Foreign Ministry’s Mission de l’adoption internationale (Intercountry Adoption Mission, MAI).
  • [3]
    The survey was carried out by Isabelle Frechon and Catherine Villeneuve-Gokalp.
  • [4]
    Candidates rarely inform ASE if they give up, and adoption professionals no longer see candidates once they have obtained approval. Approved candidates are obliged by law to reconfirm their intention to adopt every year but there is no provision to rescind the approval if they fail to do so. That decision lies with each département’s adoption services and these do not always take the same stand in relation to candidates who fail to make their annual confirmation of intent. Some take the view that the applicants have decided to discontinue and therefore withdraw approval, while others allow that candidates may have forgotten to confirm and give them the choice of adopting abroad. Only two départements clearly distinguished between a discontinued procedure and one that ended with the expiry of approval, but it was not possible to extrapolate from these since the ratios of candidates who did not confirm to those whose approval expired were very different in these two départements.
  • [5]
    The term “matching” is used to designate the choice of an adoptive family for a child according to the characteristics of the candidate families and of the adoptable children.
  • [6]
    With four exceptions, when the President of the Departmental Council gave approval despite recommendations to the contrary.
  • [7]
    We observed 44% in the ten départements we studied for the years 2001 and 2002, but this cannot be extrapolated to all the départements or for other years. The boundaries of the 95% confidence interval are 37% and 51%. In what follows, where the results are for a very small population, as is the case here, the percentages will always be accompanied by the numbers and are given merely for ease of interpretation.
  • [8]
    According to the candidates’ “projects” recorded in their files, only 4% of approved candidates would refuse to adopt a child abroad but the real proportion is certainly higher. Among the candidates who replied to the postal questionnaire, 36% of adopters in France and 14% of approved candidates who did not adopt replied that they did not want to adopt abroad and that they had not attempted to do so. Yet only 16% of the individuals who adopted in France and 5% of approved candidates who did not adopt, stated in their files that they would refuse to adopt abroad. This discrepancy in replies to the same question asked during the approval procedure and later in the anonymous survey may be explained in two ways: some candidates who do not want to adopt abroad may prefer to keep quiet during the approval procedure for fear of a refusal, and second, evaluators may not always put in writing a refusal to adopt abroad so as not to penalize a potentially successful application. According to the files, 17% of approved candidates did not want to adopt in France, generally because they had already adopted a foreign child and wanted another of the same origin or else because they themselves were foreigners.
  • [9]
    Source: DGAS. The adoption cannot be finalized before the child has spent at least six months with its future adoptive parents. This “trial period” enables the judge to evaluate how parents and child are getting on. According to DGAS statistics, there were 461 adoptions of wards of the state in 2001 but the real figure is certainly higher. A similar discrepancy in the number of children matched and the number of children adopted, occurs every year. According to the same statistics, no wards of the state were adopted in several départements despite large numbers in foster care. The reason, presumably, is that the departmental services have a problem in communicating the number of adoptions to the DGAS.
  • [10]
    This 23% represents 42% of international adoptions. The 42% was confirmed by the International Adoption Mission (MAI) who gave us the number of visas issued in 2001 and 2002 in the départments we studied. For the country as a whole, only 36% of visas issued by the MAI during those two years were for adoption via an AAA. Children born in France are almost always wards of the state; they are rarely handed over to an AAA for adoption. In this study fewer than 1% of children born in France were handed over in this way. To simplify this presentation, we included them with wards of the state.
  • [11]
    Among private adopters, 2% replied that they did not travel to the child’s country – despite the fact that a child cannot travel alone. Some of the candidates were residents in the child’s country but others may have made a mistake when filling in the questionnaire.
  • [12]
    Usually the child is placed before it is actually adopted. Children born in France are looked after by their potential adopters for six months before a formal adoption application is submitted. For international adoptions, if the foreign court decision corresponds to simple adoption in France, the parents have to start procedures in France to convert this to a plenary adoption. If the foreign court decision corresponds to plenary adoption, the parents only need to register the adopted child on the register of births of French citizens born overseas.
  • [13]
    This section has been taken in part from Halifax and Villeneuve–Gokalp, 2005.
  • [14]
    Whatever the other comparison criteria (sex, marital status, socio-occupational status) the age of the reference population to which we compared the candidates was always 30-49 years. More than 90% of candidates, male or female, with or without a partner, were in this age group. Using women as a reference population was justified because all the adoption applications were made by women, whether alone or with a partner, with the exception of five applications by partnerless men.
  • [15]
    By biological child we mean the non-adopted child of a couple, or belonging to one of the partners, even if the parents had the child by artificial insemination with a donor.
  • [16]
    One was a farmer, another was self-employed, another was in a higher-level occupation and two were in intermediate occupations. Very few partnerless men obtain approval and adopt.
  • [17]
    Two spouses may apply for plenary adoption if they have been married for more than two years or if they are both over age 28 (article 343 of the French Civil Code ). Any individual aged over 28 can also apply to adopt.
  • [18]
    When the couple is not married, only one of the partners may adopt but the psychological and social assessment is carried out on both. If the couple marry before the approval decision, the approval may be granted to the couple. If the couple marry between the approval decision and the arrival of the child, the approval in one name may be changed to both names.
  • [19]
    The figure of 10% is based on an article by Corinne Barre “1.6 million d’enfants vivent dans une famille recomposée” (1.6 million children live in a reconstituted family), 2005, in C. Lefèvre and A. Filhon (eds.), Histoires de familles, histoires familiales, INED, Cahier no. 156, chap. 13, pp. 273-281.
  • [20]
    The differences in income between candidates and the reference population would be greater if we took into account investment income which increases in proportion to earnings. The median wage for 1999 was taken from the INSEE employment survey.
  • [21]
    Only 2.3% of candidates had both a biological child and an adopted one. Their chances of adopting were closer to those of potential adopters without a biological child than those of potential adopters with biological children who had not yet adopted, which is why we placed them in the former category.
  • [22]
    It is only possible to use a variable that takes into account both partners’ occupations when making comparisons between candidates rather than between candidates and the reference population, and this tool is rather cumbersome. To avoid taking into account the socio-occupational status of the man or of the woman only, we selected the partner with the highest SOS.
  • [23]
    Incomes consist solely of wages and/or unemployment benefits of the couple or the partnerless woman. We took into account the net monthly income declared at the start of the approval procedure around 1999, before the switch to the euro in 2002. Income given in French francs was converted to euro.
  • [24]
    This may not apply if we take all the départements into account. We mentioned above that the percentage of refusals varied between 4% and 14% in the ten départements covered in the INED survey, but the range was between 2% and 20% for all départements.
  • [25]
    They very rarely adopt a ward of the state (6% in this study) and the adoption laws in several foreign countries do not allow parents of biological children to adopt. Partnerless people have similar problems but are usually more motivated.
  • [26]
    On the basis of DGAS statistics for wards of the state and those of MAI for children born abroad, an estimated 7,500 children were adopted in 2001 and 2002 (Halifax and Villeneuve-Gokalp, 2004).
  • [27]
    An urban commune includes a built-up area with at least 2,000 inhabitants where no two houses are more than 200 meters apart, and which contains more than half the population of the commune.


An INED survey was conducted in ten French départements on 1,856 personal files of individuals who ended adoption procedures in 2001 or 2002. It was supplemented by a postal questionnaire. The survey results shed new light on the organization, duration and outcome of adoption procedures in France, on the demographic and social characteristics of adoption candidates, and the influence of these characteristics on the adoption outcome. One candidate in two finally adopted at the end of a procedure that lasted on average three years. The others did not obtain mandatory prior approval, sometimes because their application were rejected (8%), but more often because they gave up along the way (16%). One candidate in four obtained approval but did not adopt a child, either because there was no match for them or because they abandoned the project, discouraged by the long wait and difficult procedure. The candidates were mostly childless couples, sterile, and socially and economically privileged. The social services tend to favour these categories in the approval procedure, which contributes to a self-exclusion process among candidates who anticipate a negative result. There are sharp differences between départements but, contrary to popular opinion, they tend to concern the dropout rate or ease of access to international adoption rather than the approval decision itself.



Une enquête réalisée dans dix départements français à partir de l’étude de 1 851 dossiers de personnes qui ont terminé une procédure d’adoption en 2001 ou 2002, complétée par une enquête postale, a permis de mieux connaître le déroulement, la durée et l’issue des procédures d’adoption, les caractéristiques démographiques et sociales des candidats et celles qui sont favorables ou défavorables à l’issue de leur démarche. Un candidat sur deux parvient à adopter à l’issue d’une procédure d’une durée moyenne proche de trois ans. Les autres n’obtiennent pas l’agrément, moins parce qu’il leur est refusé (8 %) que parce qu’ils abandonnent leur projet avant (16 %). Un candidat sur quatre obtient l’agrément mais n’adopte pas d’enfant, soit parce que sa demande n’est pas retenue par les autorités chargées des apparentements, soit parce qu’il renonce à son projet, le plus souvent découragé par l’attente ou les difficultés des démarches. Les candidats sont majoritairement des couples sans enfant, stériles, socialement et économiquement favorisés. Les services sociaux ont tendance à privilégier ces catégories au cours de la procédure d’agrément, ce qui contribue à une auto-exclusion des candidats qui anticipent une issue négative à leur demande. Il existe de fortes variations entre départements, mais contrairement aux idées reçues, elles portent moins sur la décision d’agrément que sur la fréquence des abandons ou sur les facilités d’accès à l’adoption internationale.



Una encuesta realizada en diez departamentos franceses a partir del estudio de 1 851 casos de personas que habían finalizado un procedimiento de adopción en el año 2001 o el 2002, completada por una encuesta postal, ha permitido conocer mejor el desarrollo, la duración y resultados de los procedimientos de adopción, las características demográficas y sociales de los candidatos y, entre éstas, las que influyen favorablemente o no sobre el resultado. Una de cada dos solicitudes acaban en adopción tras un procedimiento de una duración media de aproximadamente tres años. El resto no consiguen el objetivo, no tanto porque se les rechaza (8 %) sino más bien porque abandonan el proyecto antes (16 %). Uno de cada cuatro casos consigue llegar al final del procedimiento, pero no adoptan ningún niño, ya sea porque las autoridades encargadas de las mismas no aceptan su solicitud o porque renuncian a su proyecto, por lo general desmotivados por la espera o por las dificultades de las gestiones. Los candidatos son mayoritariamente parejas sin hijos, estériles, social y económicamente favorecidos. Los servicios sociales tienen tendencia a privilegiar estas categorías en el transcurso del procedimiento de adopción, lo cual favorece una auto-exclusión de los candidatos que anticipan una respuesta negativa a su solicitud. Existen importantes variaciones entre departamentos, pero contrariamente a lo que se cree, no se deben tanto a la decisión de conceder o no la adopción, como a la frecuencia de los abandonos o las facilidades de acceso a la adopción internacional.


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Catherine Villeneuve-Gokalp [*]
Catherine Villeneuve-Gokalp, Institut National d’Etudes Démographiques, 133 boulevard Davout, 75980 Paris Cedex 20, France, Tel: 33 (0)1 56 06 21 42, email:
  • [*]
    Institut national d’études démographiques
    Translated by Krystyna Horko
Translated by
Krystyna Horko
Uploaded on on 03/03/2014
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