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Family & Relationships Adoption & Fostering

The Traffic in Babies

Cross-Border Adoption and Baby-Selling between the United States and Canada, 1930-1972

by (author) Karen Balcom

University of Toronto Press
Initial publish date
Aug 2011
Adoption & Fostering, Social Services & Welfare, North America
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    Publish Date
    Aug 2011
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    Publish Date
    Aug 2011
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    Publish Date
    Dec 2011
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Between 1930 and the mid-1970s, several thousand Canadian-born children were adopted by families in the United States. At times, adopting across the border was a strategy used to deliberately avoid professional oversight and take advantage of varying levels of regulation across states and provinces. The Traffic in Babies traces the efforts of Canadian and American child welfare leaders—with intermittent support from immigration officials, politicians, police, and criminal prosecutors—to build bridges between disconnected jurisdictions and control the flow of babies across the Canada-U.S. border.


Karen A. Balcom details the dramatic and sometimes tragic history of cross-border adoptions—from the Ideal Maternity Home case and the Alberta Babies-for-Export scandal to trans-racial adoptions of Aboriginal children. Exploring how and why babies were moved across borders, The Traffic in Babies is a fascinating look at how social workers and other policy makers tried to find the birth mothers, adopted children, and adoptive parents who disappeared into the spaces between child welfare and immigration laws in Canada and the United States.

About the author

Karen A. Balcom is an associate professor in the Department of History at McMaster University.

Karen Balcom's profile page


  • Winner, 2013/13 Donald Shepherd Humanities Book Prize
  • Winner, Bowling Green Book Prize in International or Comparative Policy History
  • Winner, Albert B. Corey Prize awarded by the American Historical Association/Canadian Historical Association

Editorial Reviews

‘Magnificent study of Canada-US adoption… The Traffic in Babies is a model of transnational scholarship and a major contribution to the study of Canada-US relations.’

Canadian Historical Review, vol 93:04:2012

'Karen A. Balcom’s The Traffic in Babies: Cross-Border Adoption and Baby-Selling between the United States and Canada, 1930-1972 is a model of scholarship in transnational policy history. Professor Balcom deals with an important, but largely neglected, aspect of Canadian-American relations – the movement of babies across national borders through transnational adoptions. This book makes an outstanding contribution to policy history because it examines the interactions of public and private agencies in placing children in adoptive homes, as well as policymaking and implementation at the federal, state and provincial levels on both sides of the border It also makes important contributions to women’s history and the history of social welfare, since women in both the U.S. and Canada led the efforts to regulate and rationalize the international movement of adopted children … In sum, The Traffic in Babies is an outstanding book.'

Citation for First Bowling Green Prize in Comparative and International Policy History

‘A groundbreaking historical study of the movement of children across borders. While studies of adoption, both domestic and international, have proliferated in recent decades, none goes as far as this one in documenting the process.’

The American Historical Review; vol 117:03:2012