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Is International Adoption Right for You?

By Jean Nelson-Erichsen and Heino R. Erichsen

According to the National Adoption Information Clearinghouse, approximately 65,000 nonrelated children are adopted each year by U.S. citizens. This includes international adoptions. Yet, it’s estimated that approximately 500,000 women seek to adopt a child. For many couples beginning to explore adoption, the process seems fraught with long waits and stringent requirements. While many older children, sibling groups, and special needs children are available for adoption, there are relatively few healthy, U.S.-born babies compared to the number of people looking to adopt. Because birth control and abortion are accessible to most U.S. citizens, fewer unplanned babies are born. In addition, most unmarried mothers are choosing to keep their babies.

Most adoption support groups advise couples looking to adopt a healthy, U.S.-born, Caucasian baby that the wait will be at least 12-36 months, depending on the agency or attorney selected and the decision of the family to aggressively advertise or to wait for an agency referral. Applicants seeking to adopt an African American child will usually have a shorter wait.

Yet, transracial adoptions are still surrounded by controversy. Although thousands of Caucasian couples have adopted minority children, most have done so through private agencies. Until recently, many states had laws and policies strongly favoring the placement of children (particularly African American and Native American children) with parents of the same race. Unfortunately, this policy resulted in continued foster care for children when same-race parents were not available. A federal law passed in 1996 forbids state public agencies from making same-race placements a priority over timely interracial placements. This law is helping children leave foster care for permanent adoptive homes. According to the most recent statistics from the Department of Health and Human Services, 500,000 children are currently in foster care, but only 110,000 of those have an adoptive placement plan, meaning that the parental rights have been either relinquished or terminated and the child is eligible for adoption by a nonrelated adult.

However, it can still be difficult to adopt a locally born child, whether racially matching or not. Usually, couples and singles adopting through a local social service office will be shown pictures and biographical information on children they could parent well. Applicants then select the child they are most interested in adopting. They, along with other applicants, are then considered for the same child. A social worker assigned to the child, working in cooperation with the rest of the social service staff, selects the adoptive family he or she feels is best for the child. Adoptive parents may have to apply for many different children before they are finally matched with a child. On the bright side, many individuals who might not be accepted by a private agency are accepted at county social service offices. Foster parents, parents over fifty, parents with large families, and those with low incomes are eligible as adoptive parents through public social service agencies.

The procedure at private adoption agencies is quite different. When prospective adoptive parents work with a private agency, the birth mothers, under the supervision of social workers, choose a family from their pictures and profiles. Not surprisingly, birth mothers tend to choose people that they themselves would have wanted as parents. Young, attractive couples with an active lifestyle and an upper-middle income have the best chance of being chosen. Terms of "openness" regarding disclosure of information on the biological mother are negotiated at this time. The costs involved are similar to that of an international adoption.

To cope with the high demand for babies, private U.S. adoption agencies have established strict rules in an attempt to be fair to the adoptive parents. Childless couples take first priority. Some agencies may even require that the couple be infertile. Twenty-five- to thirty-five-year-old adopters without physical disabilities are considered to be ideal. Single parents are not accepted at many agencies. If the adoption agency is religiously affiliated, preference may be shown on the basis of religion. (As noted in Chapter 3, adoption agencies will often waive their requirements when potential clients have found a U.S.-based international agency or foreign source that will accept them as parents.)

Those who have become disillusioned with this process, who do not meet the requirements for a U.S. adoption, who believe in ZPG (zero population growth), or who simply have a strong desire to adopt a foreign child often turn to international adoption. The number of foreign-born orphans adopted by U.S. citizens rose from 9,356 in 1988 to 15,774 in 1998.

In addition to shorter waits and less stringent requirements, there are many other advantages to international adoption. One main advantage is that there is no competition for a child. Once you have been approved by the adoption agency and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and you have prepared documents for a foreign court, a child will be selected and referred to you. The U.S.-based international adoption agency's representative will locate a child based on the age, gender, ethnicity, etc. that you requested. Another compelling reason for adopting legally abroad is the fact that the stringent requirements concerning the documentation of a child’s status as an orphan by both the U.S. and child-placing governments make custody suits by foreign birth parents virtually unheard of. Everyone in America remembers the outcome of the Baby Jessica case, and most courts still seem inclined to rule in favor of the birth parent's rights rather than the child's rights.

Most importantly, international adoption opens a whole new dimension in your life. Suddenly, you view your child's homeland as yours as well. You pay more attention to news of that part of the world. Your foray into another country and culture becomes a hot news item, too. Word travels fast. New acquaintances of that ethnic group and others are eager to celebrate your family's diversity. Just as suddenly, your adopted child gathers a caring flock of adults and children who become your friends as well.

As the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Charles Krauthammer recently wrote, “Fertility rates in the United States are barely at replacement level. In 40 years, there would not be enough working young people to pay pensions for the old were it not for immigration. Immigrants are the magic cure - the American cure - for the birth dearth.”

Immigrant orphans are doubly magic. They evoke social change. Infants and children bridge American social divisions of color, culture, and nationality. After more than a quarter of a century of watching international adoption statistics, I’ve seen a generation of children grow up and take positions in society as responsible citizens.

Book review | Author interview | Purchase 'How to Adopt Internationally'

How to Adopt on AmazonJean Nelson-Erichsen and Heino R. Erichsen are the authors of How to Adopt Internationally, a hands-on book loaded with practical information for families who seek to complete an international adoption. The Erichsons are the founders of the Los Ninos International Adoption Center in Texas and the parents of four children adopted from South America.

© Copyright by Mesa House Publishing. This article was published in How to Adopt Internationally 2000-2002: A Guide for Agency-Directed and Independent Adoptions by Jean and Heino Erichsen. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.  For more information, contact Mesa House Publishing. Phone at 888-306-0060 (toll-free).
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How to Adopt Internationally
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Tears of Joy
Older Child Adoption
Parents by Choice
A Dream Come True
Interviewing An Agency
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Joy and Surprises - Assimilation
Rainbows from Heaven
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The Adoption Homestudy
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