Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Are dropping rates of international adoption a sign of progress?

The number of international adoptions in the US has plummeted over the last decade. (This chart is outdated--in March, the Department of State released the 2014 figure, which is 6,441).

International Adoptions to the US

  •  China
    • 14,500 in 2005
    • 2,040 in 2014
  • Russia
    • 9,400 in 2004
    • 2 in 2014
  • Ethiopia
    • 2,511 in 2010
    • 712 in 2014

I have mixed feelings about the rapid decline of international adoption. Personally I am grateful--forever grateful--for inter-country adoption because that is how Kulani came into our lives. But there are also ethical issues around international adoption, most of which I was entirely unaware when we began our adoption journey.

I came across this article which puts a positive spin on a global situation that we, the international adoptive community, have grappled with for years.

WORLD | Will drop in international adoptions lead to more in-country placements? | Sarah Padbury | April 16, 2015

World Magazine suggests that declining rates of international adoption reflect, at least in part, sustainable child-and-family-first social change.
Non profit and religious groups may be shifting support to help individual countries strengthen their internal child welfare systems and thereby lesson the need for adoption...

Sarah Padbury writes that declining international adoption rates reflect a trend away from adoption and toward support of in-country systems intended to preserve families, train foster parents, and encourage domestic adoption. She cites, as one example, a Christian non-profit called Show Hope that has awarded 5,000 grants to Americans over the last decade to help fund adoptions. This year Show Hope is  working with international programs to build infrastructure. "The pilot program provides financial assistance for local child welfare staff development by partnering with reputable organizations, including Buckner International in Kenya and Bethany Christian Services in Ethiopia."

The fact that a very religious magazine would publish this article is compelling. Religious groups were leaders in promoting international adoption over the last 30 years. Now they have the chance to lead support of healthy in-country welfare systems to help children in countries with the highest rates of need. International adoption is not a solution. It is a last resort.

Padbury, gets it. She just does. And she quotes Mike Hamilton, Show Hope's executive director, who says everything that needs to be said: "[T]he first hope is that children who are orphaned can stay in their family of origin. If that's not an option, then that they can stay in their country of birth."

In my case, because of international adoption, I am in love with a daughter named Kulani. I know where she came from because I have been to the town where she was found and I met the woman who found her. I also know Kulani’s condition when she was found because I am fortunate enough to have access to her pictures and medical records. I know Kulani needed to be adopted and that she had no one to care for her except an already overtaxed orphanage. I just thank G-d the person who had the chance to adopt her was me.

But my heart breaks when I consider the things I do not know. I do not know anything about Kulani's birth parents. I do not know whether her birth mother died in childbirth (Ethiopia has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world). And I do not know whether her birth mother wanted to raise her but could not because of poverty or for another reason beyond her control.

International adoption is intensely controversial and adoption between "worlds" is even more complicated. Ethiopian adoptions often take place between families of widely divergent socioeconomic status. Cultural misunderstandings, financial desperation, adoptive parent desperation and extreme wealth disparity are a perfect storm for disaster. And disaster sometimes happens. But there are also a lot of children, right now, who need families to love them. I know that because it is my personal experience. I spent months in Ethiopian orphanages in 2012 and I adopted two Ethiopian children. There are 700,000 children living in Ethiopian orphanages. In Kebebe Tsehai, the government orphanage for young children, the babies are lying sideways--four in a crib.

But I loved the World Magazine article because it is optimistic and inspiring. If it's true that international adoption is in decline because fewer children need to be adopted, then that is a good thing. It is the best thing. And if work we do can strengthen child welfare systems so international adoption is unnecessary, then we should do that work. I like World Magazine's explanation of the current trend in international adoptions. And I love the fact that a religious paper is publishing and promoting awareness and support of this type.

I just hope it's true.

Related: Orphanages I Hang Out In

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