Disability, Adoption, and Family in Modern America
University of Chicago Press, January 2022
The first social history of disability and difference in American adoption, from the Progressive Era to the end of the twentieth century.
Disability and child welfare, together and apart, are major concerns in American society. Today, about 125,000 children in foster care are eligible and waiting for adoption, and while many children wait more than two years to be adopted, children with disabilities wait even longer. In Familial Fitness, Sandra M. Sufian uncovers how disability operates as a fundamental category in the making of the American family, tracing major shifts in policy, practice, and attitudes about the adoptability of disabled children over the course of the twentieth century.
Chronicling the long, complex history of disability, Familial Fitness explores how notions and practices of adoption have—and haven’t—accommodated disability, and how the language of risk enters into that complicated relationship. We see how the field of adoption moved from widely excluding children with disabilities in the early twentieth century to partially including them at its close. As Sufian traces this historical process, she examines the forces that shaped, and continue to shape, access to the social institution of family and invites readers to rethink the meaning of family itself.
360 pages | 5 halftones, 2 line drawings, 1 tables | 6 x 9
Disability Studies | History of Medicine | American History
Praise for FAMILIAL FITNESS
“With nuance and razor-sharp analysis, Sufian combines work in adoption studies and disability studies to offer a searching, critical, careful history lesson. Each chapter is rigorously researched and argued; each encapsulates its time period in unexpected ways. This book is a necessity and a major achievement.”
~ Susan Schweik, University of California, Berkeley
“Meticulously researched and powerfully argued, Familial Fitness transforms eighty years of disjointed policies into a compelling narrative demonstrating the centrality of disability to ideas about children’s worth and adoptability and to the construction of American families. Anyone interested in family policy, social work, disability, or adoption will want to read this book. A stunning achievement.
~ Molly Ladd-Taylor, York University
“What counts as a family? And what kind of person is sufficiently human to belong in one? This deeply researched, deeply felt book offers a fine-grained and usable history of changing constructions of ability/disability and of family in the twentieth century United States. Despite growing inclusiveness in defining who may be “adoptable” as the shift in language over time from ‘hard to place’ to ‘special needs,’ the stigmas attached to disability and to adoption continue to compound each other as they influence policy and practice in family-making, yet Sufian creates a timely and cautiously optimistic model for plotting a future with fewer structural barriers to individual and collective flourishing.”
~ Margaret Homans, Yale University