The Risks of Adopting Substance-Exposed Infants

Review of Research and Practice on Adoption of Substance Exposed Infants

In 1997, the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, Inc., New York, convened a symposium on the adoption of substance-exposed infants and prepared a follow-up publication.

The conference was held in response to the problem of the growing number of substance-exposed infants in the public welfare system who are entering foster care, when for many of them adoption, not family unification, is the goal.

For the conference, the Institute prepared and disseminated a select Bibliography annotating the leading research, policy and practice literature in the areas of prenatal alcohol and drug exposure and adoption.

Key Results

  • The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute held the two-day conference on October 24–25, 1997, in Alexandria, Va. It featured nine plenary sessions and 19 concurrent seminars and was attended by 150 professionals from various disciplines. The conference:
    • Explored the current research-based knowledge on issues related to the long-term impact of substance exposure on infants and the impact of adoption on children, particularly in relation to attachment.
    • Explored ways to more fully integrate research and practice-based knowledge with current adoption policy, and identified areas in which further research is needed.

    Two separate groups of adoption professionals that rarely interact and often have differing agendas — scholars and researchers, on the one hand, and adoption policymakers and practitioners on the other — had an opportunity to network and to exchange ideas.
  • The annotated Bibliography continued to be disseminated after the conference and a 12-chapter book, based on the conference papers and titled Adoption and Prenatal Alcohol and Drug Exposure: Research, Policy and Practice, will be published by the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) Press in 2000.
  • Some of the handouts from the conference, the Bibliography, and other substantive information have been posted on the Institute's Web site. See the Program Results Bibliography for further details about dissemination.


The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) supported the conference with a grant of $49,600 between October 1997 and September 1999.

The Institute contributed an additional $50,000 towards conference costs, and registration fees generated approximately $20,000.