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Spence-Chapin Adoption Study

Perfect family holding hands, adopted child being supported by loving parents
Helping an adoption agency deepen its understanding of birth mothers
  • Client
    Spence-Chapin Services to Families and Children
  • Dates


An adoption agency needed deeper insights into the experience of birth mothers. 

Spence-Chapin Services to Families and Children (Spence-Chapin) has been providing adoption services within the United States and internationally for over 100 years. However, Spence-Chapin needed to better understand how adoption has impacted the lives of birth mothers. 


NORC launched a study to improve understanding of birth mothers’ needs.

NORC at the University of Chicago, in a collaborative partnership with Spence-Chapin Services to Families and Children and Rutgers University, conducted a study funded by American Enterprise Institute (AEI) to address these questions: 

  • What are the demographic characteristics of Spence-Chapin birth mothers served over a 13-year period (2007-2020)?
  • How do the demographic characteristics of Spence-Chapin birth mothers compare to mothers in the United States as a whole?
  • What is the open adoption experience of Spence-Chapin birth mothers? 
  • What do birth mothers perceive as the impacts of adoption? 

NORC initially identified indicators and data sources from administrative data and de-identified data files from more than 700 birth mothers served by Spence-Chapin for secondary data analysis, surveyed over 60 birth mothers, conducted nine primary interviews with birth mothers, and analyzed the data to inform the primary research questions. The study looked specifically at birth mothers residing in New York who completed an adoption with Spence-Chapin (placement group) and birth mothers who engaged in Spence-Chapin services to the point of utilizing its interim care program (i.e., placed their child in Spence Chapin’s temporary custody) but then chose to parent (non-placement group). This is not inclusive of all birth parent clients Spence-Chapin provided services to throughout the study years (2007-2020). Further, birth father experiences were not studied independently; the demographic data that is presented on birth fathers in the results below was reported by the birth mother. 


The study’s findings are expected to broaden Spence-Chapin’s view of birth mothers.

The NORC team constructed a demographic profile of the characteristics of Spence-Chapin birth mothers, including comparison between birth mothers that made an adoptive placement with Spence-Chapin and those that did not. Overall, about three in ten birth mothers identified as White (30%) followed by Hispanic (26%), and Black (23%). About 28% of birth fathers were reported by birth mothers to have identified as Black while slightly fewer identified as Hispanic (25%) or White (21%). Birth mothers were 26 years of age, on average, at the time of inquiry. Just under two in three birth mothers were born in the United States (64%). About 10 percent of birth mothers had earned a bachelor’s degree or higher and over half of birth mothers were employed (56%). Birth mothers were typically single (87%) and had about 1.17 biological children, on average. Overall, most birth mothers reported having had no prior placement (90%).

The study findings also provided critical insight into experiences of birth mothers, who highlighted key services they received from Spence-Chapin that made an impact on their lives during and after placement, including the interim care program that Spence-Chapin provides; the importance of having a social worker who works with birth parents exclusively and serves as their advocate; and the benefits of an open adoption. More specifically, birth mothers overall reported mostly high satisfaction across an array of current well-being indicators. The data also showed 78% of birth mothers reported being either satisfied or extremely satisfied with their “emotional well-being,” 82% with their “physical safety,” 71% with their “romantic relationships,” 80% with their family, and 81% with their careers.  

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