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Adoption obstacles

Lifestyle | Tough challenges face those addressing an international orphan crisis

Issue: "A second chance," Nov. 20, 2010

November is National Adoption Month, so I asked Chuck Johnson, the new CEO and president of the National Committee for Adoption (NCFA), about adoption trends and challenges.

First the good news: "There's not a dime's worth of difference" between Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, in concern for adoption issues. "It's the only issue you can get agreement on." Just before Congress took off for the election break, it renewed for another year the adoption tax credit scheduled to expire in December. Johnson hopes they'll make the tax credit permanent.

That political unity can't overcome tough challenges, especially regarding inter-country and domestic infant adoptions. Johnson said that legitimate concerns about corruption in some countries and a series of missteps by a few adoption service providers have cast a shadow over all inter-country adoptions. Officials have a "duty and obligation" to make sure children are legitimate orphans or their parents have relinquished rights, he says, but he's worried about what happens when you let those concerns disrupt all adoptions: "You end up hurting many more children."

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The numbers are revealing: Inter-country adoptions fell to a 13-year low in 2009, when fewer than 13,000 took place. Johnson fears the 2010 story will be even worse, with fewer than 11,000 occurring this year. Some formerly popular countries like Vietnam and Guatemala are now closed, and the State Department recently suspended adoptions from Nepal. Countries that are still open-China and Russia, for instance-have decreased the number of children they are letting out of the country.

Johnson says inter-country adoption is only a small part of the solution to the international orphan crisis. He notes that Americans adopt more children internationally than all other countries combined. With 50,000 international adoptions worldwide barely making a dent in the number of orphans needing adoption, the challenge is to turn adoption-hostile cultures into adoption-friendly ones.

As Americans have become more aware of the orphan crisis, they have been willing to adopt special-needs children. Johnson said 60 percent of the Chinese adoptions now involve special-needs kids: "People are lining up and waiting to adopt regardless of race, health, or culture of the child."

Despite high rates of out-of-wedlock pregnancy and abortion, pregnant women are still not turning to domestic infant adoption: In 2007 only 22,000 domestic infant adoptions occurred. The federal government has tried to encourage adoption options, and NCFA has a grant-The Infant Adoption Training Initiative-to train family planning and healthcare workers to discuss adoption with pregnant clients. Pregnant women for the most part don't consider it a viable choice even though research shows that women who place their babies for adoption generally do well in life and are happy with their choice.

The one bright spot in adoption is a small increase in the number of children adopted out of foster care. According to the Administration for Children and Families, 52,000 children were adopted out of foster care in 2005. In 2009 that number had increased to 57,000. At the same time, the number of children waiting to be adopted from foster care declined from 131,000 to 115,000.

'Mercy and grace in action'

>>November is National Adoption Month, so I asked Chuck Johnson, the new CEO and president of the National Committee for Adoption (NCFA), about adoption trends and challenges.

First the good news: "There's not a dime's worth of difference" between Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, in concern for adoption issues. "It's the only issue you can get agreement on." Just before Congress took off for the election break, it renewed for another year the adoption tax credit scheduled to expire in December. Johnson hopes they'll make the tax credit permanent.

That political unity can't overcome tough challenges, especially regarding inter-country and domestic infant adoptions. Johnson said that legitimate concerns about corruption in some countries and a series of missteps by a few adoption service providers have cast a shadow over all inter-country adoptions. Officials have a "duty and obligation" to make sure children are legitimate orphans or their parents have relinquished rights, he says, but he's worried about what happens when you let those concerns disrupt all adoptions: "You end up hurting many more children."

The numbers are revealing: Inter-country adoptions fell to a 13-year low in 2009, when fewer than 13,000 took place. Johnson fears the 2010 story will be even worse, with fewer than 11,000 occurring this year. Some formerly popular countries like Vietnam and Guatemala are now closed, and the State Department recently suspended adoptions from Nepal. Countries that are still open-China and Russia, for instance-have decreased the number of children they are letting out of the country.

Johnson says inter-country adoption is only a small part of the solution to the international orphan crisis. He notes that Americans adopt more children internationally than all other countries combined. With 50,000 international adoptions worldwide barely making a dent in the number of orphans needing adoption, the challenge is to turn adoption-hostile cultures into adoption-friendly ones.

As Americans have become more aware of the orphan crisis, they have been willing to adopt special-needs children. Johnson said 60 percent of the Chinese adoptions now involve special-needs kids: "People are lining up and waiting to adopt regardless of race, health, or culture of the child."

Despite high rates of out-of-wedlock pregnancy and abortion, pregnant women are still not turning to domestic infant adoption: In 2007 only 22,000 domestic infant adoptions occurred. The federal government has tried to encourage adoption options, and NCFA has a grant-The Infant Adoption Training Initiative-to train family planning and healthcare workers to discuss adoption with pregnant clients. Pregnant women for the most part don't consider it a viable choice even though research shows that women who place their babies for adoption generally do well in life and are happy with their choice.

The one bright spot in adoption is a small increase in the number of children adopted out of foster care. According to the Administration for Children and Families, 52,000 children were adopted out of foster care in 2005. In 2009 that number had increased to 57,000. At the same time, the number of children waiting to be adopted from foster care declined from 131,000 to 115,000.

Family businesses

The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption published recently its list of the most adoption-friendly workplaces. The Wendy's/Arby's Group, founded by Thomas, placed first. It offers its employees a maximum $24,300 reimbursement for adoption expenses and six weeks of paid leave. Other companies in the top 10 include Citizen's Financial Group, Liquidnet, LSI Corporation, Putnam Investments, Vanguard Group, Subaru of America, BHP Billiton, The Timberland Company, and Barilla America.

Some companies provide benefits only to full-time employees, but more than half provide benefits to part-timers as well. The financial services industry is the most adoption friendly, with 20 companies making it into the top 100. Despite the availability of generous benefits, only half of 1 percent of eligible employees take advantage of them each year. Nonetheless, human services managers say the benefit helps create a family-friendly workplace. Even employees who don't take advantage of it like the fact that their companies offer it.

Susan Olasky
Susan Olasky

Susan pens book reviews and other articles for WORLD as a senior writer and has authored eight historical novels for children. Susan and her husband Marvin live in Asheville, N.C. Follow Susan on Twitter @susanolasky.

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