In her new home, Linda Joy claps her hands vigorously and babbles happily as she gets acquainted with her new mother, Mrs. Robert Linville Young, who adopted her.
Caption from LIFE. In her new home, Linda Joy claps her hands vigorously and babbles happily as she gets acquainted with her new mother, Mrs. Robert Linville Young, who adopted her.Ed Clark—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
In her new home, Linda Joy claps her hands vigorously and babbles happily as she gets acquainted with her new mother, Mrs. Robert Linville Young, who adopted her.
Linda Joy arrvies in case worker's arms at Society headquarters to get used to room in which she will meet her prospective parents, the Youngs. Case Worker Virginia DuBois has followed Linda's progress since shortly after her birth.
Staff of workers who handled Linda's adoption sit with her in Society board room.
Dripping suds from clothes she was washing when he phone rang, Bernice Young can hardly believe what she hears as case worker tells her Society has finally found a baby for her. She makes appointment for two days later to see Linda.
Bernice Young cries when she sees Linda, and Lindy wants to hold baby right away. "We didn't expect a child like this," said Bernice, "She's a princess."
As Bernice watches, still on the verge of crying, Lindy makes a funny face for baby, who looks a little dubious but interested.
In cozy huddle, Youngs say goodby to Linda. They want to adopt her, but the agency requests two-day delay so Youngs can be sure, can get house ready.
Leaving for home the Youngs help Linda walk down path leading to Socity headquarters. To keep her company she took toys along she had at agency.
Bernice and Robert Linville shop for baby food.
Exploring her house, Linda crawls under table. Flowers adorn gift music box which plays lullaby.
Crying because she missed her nap on first day home, Linda shows Bernice it will not be all smiles.
Lindy learns his first lesson. Diapers seemed too small. "She's got too much butt," he complained.
New Grandmothers, Lindy's mother (left), Bernice's take turns admiring Linda on her arrival.
At shower for Bernice, given by her sister, she shows off Linda to friends who brought toys and clothes.
Neighbors' boy quickly gets acquainted by giving Linda a ride through back yard in her buggy.
Case worker comes to see Linda. She makes five visits during year before the adoption is final.
Favorite trick is climbing on a family heirloom given her by Grandmother. Then she stands up in chair to show off.
She plays in living room with neighbor.
Linda Joy feels water as she bathes in sink.
Linda Joy learns to ride a tricycle.
Bernice and Robert feed Linda while Grandmother looks on.
Robert Linville and adopted daughter Linda Joy.
For being good and finishing her dinner, Linda is allowed to get out her favorite reward, a cookie.
At bedtime she says goodnight to Lindy.
Caption from LIFE. In her new home, Linda Joy claps her hands vigorously and babbles happily as she gets acquainted with
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Ed Clark—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
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How Adoption in America Has Changed Over 60 Years

Nov 20, 2015

When Linda Joy Young was adopted in 1950 by Bernice and Robert Linville ("Lindy") Young in Pasadena, Calif., LIFE magazine reported that while a million couples sought to adopt a child, only 75,000 babies were in need of a home. This disparity led to the rise of a black market, through which “so-called black marketeers” would charge as much as $5,000—nearly $50,000 in today’s dollars—to match a child with a family.

Since then, the numbers have shifted drastically in the opposite direction, and National Adoption Day, which has taken place on the Saturday before Thanksgiving since 2000, aims to close the gap. According to its organizers, more than 100,000 foster children are currently awaiting adoption, with an average wait time of four years and thousands more children aging out of the system. Since its inception, the annual day has helped finalize adoptions for more than 50,000 of those children.

But back in the day when it was the prospective parents, and not the children, who endured long waits for a match, the process suffered from oft-ignored regulations. Only about half of adopted children were placed through authorized agencies, like Linda Joy was through the Children’s Home Society of California. LIFE published a tender photo essay by photographer Ed Clark—which captured the joy of both Linda and her parents as they got to know one another during her first days at home—with the hope that more stringent regulations might "eliminate the worst perils of adoption." Indeed—coincidentally or not—beginning in 1951, the number of unauthorized adoptions began a period of sharp decline.

Linda's adoption seems to represent the best case scenario for a child who needed a home and a couple who yearned to be parents. Still, this being 1950, the way LIFE describes the process might raise eyebrows among modern readers. As a prerequisite for the adoption, a caseworker “took a look at Bernice’s housekeeping” and “requested a medical report certifying their inability to have a child of their own.” Linda was put through a battery of medical tests to ensure that she was healthy—there is no explanation of how a finding of poor health might have affected the outcome of the adoption.

Sadly, Linda’s happy days with the Youngs were short-lived. Though she appeared healthy before the adoption, she was diagnosed with leukemia shortly after coming home and died just months after joining her new family. The Youngs later adopted a boy named Robert who, LIFE reported in a follow-up story, “may not understand for many years the double measure of love in his father’s hug and his mother’s smile.”

Today, of course, some of the same issues that plagued adoption more than six decades ago endure—cases of illegal adoption and child trafficking continue to be reported—and new disputes, such as legal challenges to adoptions of children by gay and lesbian parents, hamper the placement of children in need. While countless adoptions take place without complication, there are always stories about legal risks for prospective parents or parents who are ill-equipped to raise the children they are matched with. Still, as National Adoption Day highlights, one of the biggest obstacles to adoption in the U.S. today comes down to a game of numbers: Simply put, more mothers and fathers are needed.

February 19, 1951 cover of LIFE magazine. Ed Clark—LIFE Magazine 

Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter @lizabethronk.

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