Friday, December 22, 2006

Fear that in domestic adoption, biological parents might change their mind

Dwindling U.S. supply a facotr in foreign adoptions
Noveck, Jocelyn. Lexington Herald-Leader, Oct. 20, 2006, pg. A3.

NEW YORK -- Angelina Jolie adopted from Cambodia and Ethiopia. Madonna, as most of the planet knows, is adopting from Malawi. And ordinary Americans adopt foreign-born children by the thousands each year -- a rate that has tripled in the last decade.

But with close to 120,000 children waiting in the U.S. foster care system, what's driving the push in overseas adoptions?

The issue is an emotional one, and it goes to the heart of what people are seeking when they adopt a child, and the obstacles they can face in this country.

"I'm happy to see any child adopted anywhere in the world," said Gloria Hochman of the National Adoption Center, based in Philadelphia. "But every time I see a story about a celebrity adopting, I always think, 'Why don't they look here?' It makes me wonder: Do they know there are children waiting here?"

Americans now adopt some 23,000 children overseas every year, immigration statistics said. Domestically, numbers are difficult to come by. The best estimate is about 13,000 to 14,000 infant adoptions, and 52,000 child-welfare adoptions, the majority of those by foster parents or relatives, said the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. (The numbers don't include adoptions by stepparents, about 40 percent of all adoptions.)

One key factor in rising international adoptions is that the supply of healthy U.S. infants has been dwindling for decades. Birth control and legal abortions have reduced the number of unwanted births. And our values have changed: The stigma attached to unwed mothers has been greatly reduced, so more women are keeping their babies.

Supply has diminished, but demand is strong: Women are waiting longer to start families, meaning they might find themselves unable to conceive. And most families considering adoption want infants; it's the closest thing to having one's own baby, to make an imprint from the start of life, to experience each stage of childhood.

The rise in foreign adoptions is just one part of what Adam Pertman, executive director of the Donaldson Institute, calls a "revolution" in adoption."

"Many kids do not look like their parents," said Pertman, author of Adoption Nation: How the Adoption Revolution is Transforming America. "New cultures are coming into peoples' homes. People are understanding that families can be formed in different ways." Gay adoptions are another part of this revolution.

As to whether families should focus more on needy children in the United States, Pertman says all children need homes. "Turning it into a competition isn't right for anyone involved," he said.

The top source for Americans is by far China, where there were about 8,000 adoptions (virtually all female) to U.S. families in 2005. Adopting from China "is a more viable option for many people," said Lacee Steigerwald, outreach director for the Great Wall China Adoption agency in Austin, Texas.

She said people often come to her agency after frustrating experiences trying to adopt domestically, often when birth parents have changed their minds. "People come to us with horror stories," Steigerwald said.

In interviews, a number of families echoed that concern about domestic adoption, that they would become emotionally or financially invested, only to have a birth parent change their mind.

"One of the things parents want is the finality that this is their child," said Will Ahern of Chanhassen, Minn. He and his wife adopted their daughter, Summer, now 8, from China at 15 months, and he says the process has been "perfect. Every morning I wake up and celebrate how cool it is."


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