Faith and Family — International Adoption: US sees decline in families seeking international adoptioncomment (1)
March 13, 2014
By Carrie Brown McWhorter
Since 1999, American families have adopted 242,602 children from other countries. From 1999 to 2004, the number of international (also called intercountry) adoptions steadily grew each year, peaking in 2004 when 22,991 children were placed with families in the United States.
The vast majority of those children were under age 2 at the time of their adoption, and most came from China, Ethiopia, Russia, South Korea and Ukraine, historically the five leading countries for U.S. families seeking international adoptions.
Since 2005, however, the number of children adopted internationally has dramatically declined each year. In 2012, the number of children adopted by families in the U.S. had dropped to 8,668, according to statistics published by the U.S. State Department, the federal agency tasked with enforcing laws regarding adoption from countries outside the U.S.
There are several reasons for the decline, said Sara Ruiter, international services manager for Bethany Christian Services, headquartered in Grand Rapids, Mich. For one thing, high profile stories of disrupted adoptions and children who had been abused and even killed by their adoptive families caused great unease around the world, Ruiter said. Exploitation of children and families was another concern.
“In some countries, there were worries about child trafficking and corruption, and it was increasingly apparent that background information on some (adopted) children was inaccurate,” Ruiter said.
Other countries developed foster care, domestic adoption and kinship care alternatives for abandoned children. Implementation of these care options means that more children are cared for in their country of birth, Ruiter said. Such options also alleviate some of the shame associated with intercountry adoption.
“Those in the sending country have pride in their country and culture, but the flip side of that is guilt when the reality is that they can’t take care of all their kids,” Ruiter said.
Though intended to improve the international adoption process, these reforms have not necessarily meant a decrease in the number of children living in orphanages. UNICEF estimates that as many as 8 million children worldwide are spending their childhoods in institutional settings.
Not all of these children are eligible for adoption, however. The children who are available for intercountry adoption often are older or have an identified special need, Ruiter said. Some needs are minor, while others require long-term care. Cerebral palsy, Down’s Syndrome, HIV and physical disfigurements are common among these children, and as a result, they are hard to place with families in their countries of birth. Bethany and other international adoption agencies seek to help place these children into homes.
“We believe God created each of these children for a reason and He has a special plan for them,” Ruiter said. “For these kids, intercountry adoption is their last chance at having a forever family.”
Intercountry adoption is not for the faint of heart, however. The process is often difficult, and cultural differences, delays and lack of information about the process can be discouraging, Ruiter said.
The process of adopting from another country also is time consuming. The adopting family also must complete a lot of paperwork, including a home study and dossier, before they can receive a referral and travel to meet the child. The length of the process varies from country to country and often depends on the needs of the child. Adoptions of children with special needs are often facilitated within a year. In contrast the wait for a healthy infant from China, the leading country of birth for international adoptions by American families, can be four years or longer, according to a readers’ poll conducted by Adoptive Families magazine.
The expense of international adoption is another major concern for prospective adoptive parents. Creating a Family, a nonprofit with the mission of providing unbiased and accurate education and support for infertility and adoption, estimates that the average cost of an international adoption is $44,000, though adoption fees and travel costs vary from country to country. Several organizations offer adoption grants and loans to help with costs, and many families are eligible for the Federal Adoption Tax Credit. Some states offer tax credits or deductions for adoption expenses, and some employers offer adoption benefits as well. Active duty military personnel also qualify for grants and subsidies, and Southern Baptist pastors can qualify for an adoption grant through the SBC Minister’s Adoption Fund.
Though the process is challenging, a family who is led by the Lord and prepared can complete the process successfully, Ruiter said.
“Most of the waiting children have been institutionalized their entire lives and have never known the love of a family, which makes placing them even more urgent,” Ruiter said.
“How could we think that a child will understand the love of our Heavenly Father if they have never known the love of a mom or dad? That’s one reason we are so passionate about kids being in families, not orphanages,” Ruiter said.