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The Dark Side of Cleaning Up International Adoptions: Kids Are Left in Orphanges Longer

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Stricter criteria on international adoptions means more kids are left in institutions longer, which could be detrimental to their physical and mental health, says a new study from an adoption group.

Many parents looking to adopt internationally work from what seems like a logical, if romantic, playbook: we want a child, there are poor orphans overseas, so let’s help each other. Everybody wins.

The reality is now very different. Following highly publicized cases in which the adopted children were not actually orphans or willingly given up by their parents, and others in which parents found they could not manage the needs of the child they adopted—remember the woman who sent her son back to Russia?—adoption regulations have tightened considerably. Many countries, such as Russia, have closed off international adoptions altogether. Others, such as China, have restricted adoptions by parents from abroad to kids with special needs.

All of this, and the international treaty most countries signed two decades ago that regulated the process of inter-country adoption, has slowed the pace of international adoptions markedly. About 23,000 newly adopted children were brought into the U.S. in 2004. Fewer than 9,000 were welcomed into American homes last year. Globally, 30,000 fewer children per year are now being taken into new families in another country than were nine years ago. Families who in the past might have waited a year or two for a child, now have to wait many times that.

A new study by the advocacy group Donaldson Adoption Institute (DAI) reveals that the slow-down in international adoptions has had unfortunate side effects, including, primarily, “more children  remaining institutionalized for longer periods, thereby incurring greater psychic and developmental harm and diminishing their prospects of ever moving into a permanent family.” While there has been some rethinking on orphanages, studies are pretty conclusive that institutionalization of very young children can contribute to a range of lifelong effects that are almost impossible to undo, including behavioral, psychological and basic health issues.

The DAI study also found that the kids who were available for adoption now were those who needed more behavioral and developmental help. “Many countries of origin, including the largest ones such as China, are increasingly allowing inter-country adoption primarily or exclusively of children who have special needs,” the study authors write. Since children with special needs who need families are in plentiful in the U.S., this makes international adoption that much less attractive, especially as the cost of international adoption has soared, to north of $50,000. And international agencies often can’t provide parents with much information about the medical issues of their prospective child, so parents are often less equipped to deal with their child when issues arise.

The stringent criteria have also inadvertently spawned a more disturbing practice, called “re-homing,” in which parents whose adoptions aren’t working out are putting the kids up for adoption on the internet.  People simply look for new parents in the same way they might find a new owner for a dog they needed to give away when they moved house. In such unofficial bazaars children are traded with little or no government oversight, bypassing an agreement among states that authorities be notified of any transfer of custody of children between states so potential parents can be evaluated for their ability to raise children. (Reuters/NBC detailed the trend in a sobering series available here.)

All of this tips over a domino-line of harm for kids who need parents. Stricter regulations meant to protect them mean they are likely to remain in institutions longer. Because they remain in institutions longer, they’re more likely to have behavioral, social and medical problems when they are adopted. Having problems after they’re adopted means it’s more likely the adoption will be what’s called “disrupted.”  And kids from disrupted adoptions are more likely to have problems in future families. Which feeds back into a disincentive to encourage international adoptions, which means countries are the less likely to loosen up their adoption procedures, continuing the cycle.

15 comments
out4abit2
out4abit2

@ Tandy - in china there are literally thousands of SN kids waiting. They are NOT being adopted domestically in China, unfortunately.  That said, this author has it kind of right - this is a cycle where no one wins.

That said - I have to comment on a large inaccuracy on rehoming. Rehoming is not like a pet.  Rehoming happens EVERY DAY in the US. It is called the US foster care system.  I feel like all of these articles are turning a blind eye.  We rehome every child that gets moved in US foster care. It is the same result. The difference is that right now the US foster care system is not supporting international adoptions. Once that process is cleared up, the children will STILL be rehomed. Just legally.

It is important to realize rehoming will always occur to some small number of adoptions. It is just the reality. The problem is that there is not a system to support international adoption rehoming right now.  The way the news has made it sound, I feel like parents are now shamed if they do admit 'this is not hte right home for my child'. That is the unfortunate part of news articles.  Though this author did a much better job of getting the facts right then NBC.  Although I wish rehoming would have been tied to the US foster care system. 


You don't know how many ppl ask me 'I cannot believe these children are rehomed'? And I am like 'are you stupid, of course it happens. Have you seen the US foster care system?'  If the news would get it right i could stop pointing this out to everyone I meet!


Adoptive mama of two special need kids from China



TandyKoffal
TandyKoffal

1. Intercountry adoption should be the very, very, very last resort for a child. The fact that fewer kids from, say, China are available for international adoption is cause for celebration -- kids are staying with their birth families! Kids are being adopted domestically and get to keep their culture!

2. The supposedly stringent screening of PAPs leaves a LOT of room for improvement -- 20ish Russian-born kids dead by the hand of the very people who were supposed to protect them tells you as much.

3. Those healthy young babies from Cambodia, Vietnam, Guatemala, etc that were adopted a decade or so back? A horrific number were kidnapped/stolen for the purpose of international adoption. Read EJ Graff's "the lie we love" and "anatomy of an adoption crisis" or Erin Siegal's "finding Fernanda"

aliberaldoseofskepticism
aliberaldoseofskepticism

Hey, let's all ask Dusten Brown how he feels about the adoption industry. And now they have the chutzpah to actually demand he pay them $1 million, after having dragged his name through excrement.

Meanwhile, some conservative somewhere is complaining about absent black fathers, while Indian men aren't allowed to be present fathers due to these same right-wing Evangelicals.

MaureenFlatley
MaureenFlatley

This is ill informed, lazy reporting.  Adoptions have fallen off precisely because the US hasn't engaged in any MEANINGFUL regulation.  Adoption agencies are failing to SCREEN prospective adoptive parents adequately.  Foreign governments are increasingly horrified by escalating abuses and an almost complete lack of accountability.  Finally, where is the outrage about the more than 100,000 American children in foster care some of whom have waited a lifetime for a family?

PeterDodds
PeterDodds

I was adopted from a German orphanage by a U.S. couple. In this TV interview, I describe international adoption from a unique perspective--that of a foreign orphan adopted to the United States--and harm caused by uprooting children from their native countries and cultures. "Saving children" is a rallying cry of international adoption fanatics but their slogan rings hollow as 100,000 abandoned and abused U.S. foster care children wait to be adopted.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C1kEbQ-5p5g

AlexKing3rd
AlexKing3rd

Here's another way to look at the trends described in the DAI report: China is finding homes for healthy baby girls in China, leading to a drop in the number of such babies who need homes outside of China. And that's good news. Korean law is improving its treatment of children born to unmarried women, and that's good news too.

It's true that many countries from which healthy babies were being whisked away in the decade 1995-2004 (Vietnam, Cambodia, Guatemala) are no longer pushing kids whose availability for adoption couldn't be verified through a pipeline to US homes. Is that a bad thing? Only if you're convinced that all (or even some) of those babies were likely to end up in orphanages, but for the agencies and facilitators promoting international adoption to their birth families.

The problem is that we just don't know. The connection between tightened standards for adoption and more children in more orphanages is not clear.

fanofprincephil
fanofprincephil

And surely one should take this study for what it is worth as it is by adoption advocates and is clearly meant to show only the "dark" side of the process. 

In my opinion, it's a good thing that restrictions are tightened. In addition, the countries involved should try to find places for children before they become institutionalized, so there will no need for sending their children away. One girl in the Reuters study said she felt no one wanted her; not her her parents, not her adoptive parents, and not her native country, Russia.

fanofprincephil
fanofprincephil

"The stringent criteria have also inadvertently spawned a more disturbing practice, called “re-homing,”..." Surely this doesn't follow. Re-homing has nothing to do with more stringent criteria. The kids in the report who were 're-homed' predate the new stringent criteria by some years. It rather has to do with people taking on more than they can chew and getting rid of their problem kids, if I have read the Reuters report right. 

out4abit2
out4abit2

@PeterDodds  - two points - every home can support different children/ages/special neesd. THe 100k kids waiting are not toddlers.  I hope that is clear to you.  Most of the families going abroad do so b/c they feel they cannot adopt an older child. They should not be shamed for doing so.  They feel their family can adopt a toddler or baby, maybe even one with a special need.  While it would be better if the child was adopted domestically, it is not happening in China right now. SN children are literally dying in their cribs b/c they are being intentionally underfed.  My GF just brought home a down syndrome 8 year old and I saw pictures of her at 2 years of age and she was literally a starving child.  You need to think more globally about such complex topics.

BelindaLuscombe
BelindaLuscombe

@fanofprincephil Again, good comment. We do note that the study is from "an adoption group." Of course, the ideal situation is that the children find homes in their home countries. But the fact is, they aren't. 


BelindaLuscombe
BelindaLuscombe

@fanofprincephil Good comment. My point was that kids who have been institutionalized longer are more likely to difficult to integrate into a family. Do you not agree?

MaureenFlatley
MaureenFlatley

@BelindaLuscombe The fact is they are finding homes in their home countries in many instances.  But adoption as a social practice has been practiced overwhelming in the US, not around the world.  A culture of adoption is being created around the world.  Ironically, many other countries are doing a better job than we are.  Read Kathryn Joyce's book, The Child Catchers, to see how Rwanda is setting the bar higher than we do.

fanofprincephil
fanofprincephil

@BelindaLuscombe Right. But as one can see from the Reuters report, the solution isn't as simple as "give them to adoptive parents in another country".  It is not certain to work, and indeed it seems in many, probably most cases it is certain not to work. 

MaureenFlatley
MaureenFlatley

@BelindaLuscombe @fanofprincephil What about American foster kids?  Kids over the age of eight are waiting a lifetime in many instances....living in group homes and congregant care waiting to 'age out" of the system alone and facing a life of pain and more loss.  Where's the outrage for them?  The problem w/ "adoption groups' is that we have no coherent national approach to any of this.