Thursday, July 12, 2012

domestic or international?

One of the first questions we had to answer once we decided to adopt was whether we wanted to pursue an international adoption or a domestic adoption. We chose international.   Remember when I said that most people know very little adoption?  I was one of those people.  I thought that an international adoption would be faster, less expensive, and less risky than a domestic adoption.  I started searching the Internet for information on how to proceed.

The State Department has a ton of excellent information about adoption for nearly every country in the world.  They are constantly changing the layout and organization of their website, but it’s usually pretty easy to find adoption rules and regulations by country, and you can view statistics regarding how many children have been adopted from each country for the past several years.

After spending some time reading about adoption laws in various countries, I became extremely overwhelmed.  Fortunately, there are adoption agencies that specialize in particular countries.  Unfortunately, this limits the number of countries available to you.  For example, in 2010, the sixth most popular country from which Americans adopted was Taiwan (I’ll discuss the top five countries in a moment).  Despite being sixth on the list, only 282 adoptions were processed.  When I divided this number across multiple agencies in different states, I started to worry that any given agency would not have a tremendous depth of knowledge about Taiwan’s adoption program.  This was purely personal preference, but I wanted an agency that was a well-oiled machine.  After all, there is a lot of uncertainty with adoption in general, and the more experience the agency had with a country, the more secure I would feel.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the top five countries from 2010:

1.  China - 3401

Most people know that China has a long-standing international adoption program, making it a popular choice for many adoptive families.  In 2007, China levied a more stringent set of requirements on adoptive parents.  Some of the requirements make sense; for example, adoptive parents cannot have a history of domestic violence or child abuse.  Some of the requirements, however, seem unnecessarily strict – adoptive parents cannot suffer from hearing loss or a severe facial deformation.  Chris and I do not meet China’s requirements, but even if we did, I would not have been comfortable enrolling in a program that rejects people for reasons that have nothing to do with their ability to raise a child.

2.  Ethiopia - 2511

Ethiopia had been growing in popularity since around 2005, and we were very seriously considering Ethiopia when the Ethiopian government announced that it planned to reduce the number of adoptions by up to 90% effective in March of 2011.  The reason given was that the Ethiopian Ministry of Women, Children and Youth Affairs wanted to increase the amount of time spent screening adoptive families.  I don’t know what the additional screening entails, and it seemed superfluous to me in light of the extensive background investigations that adoptive families undergo before their cases ever reach Addis Ababa.  However, as soon as I imagined the situation in reverse, I understood why a foreign government would want to institute its own screening process.

As you can imagine, this was very disruptive for families enrolled in an Ethiopian adoption program.  Although the Ethiopian government planned to process any “cases in progress” as quickly as possible, the only cases deemed “in progress” were those for which a dossier had already been accepted.  I’m sure there were plenty of families who had not yet reached that point, but who would have considered themselves “in progress.”

We decided that there was too much uncertainty surrounding Ethiopia to move forward.

3.  Russia – 1079 and 5.  Ukraine – 450

I’ve grouped Russia and Ukraine together because of the similarities between the two countries.  We did not seriously consider either country.  Their programs are more expensive than other countries, and the children are slightly older.  In Russia, for example, 666 of 1079 adopted children were between one and two years old.  Ukrainian children were even older.  For reasons that I struggle to put into words, I am more comfortable adopting an infant, at least the first time around.  I am slightly terrified by the idea of becoming the mother of a toddler overnight, let alone the mother of a toddler who has just undergone the intense trauma of moving around the world (plus any traumas incurred prior to placement). 

4.  South Korea – 863

South Korea was looking like our best option.  The cost was reasonable, and, like China, the Korean program was well established.  We contacted an agency, but the waiting list was 2 to 2.5 years long, and we learned that South Korea had announced its intentions to decrease the number of international adoptions by 10% a year for the next several years.

After learning all of this (and more!), we were no closer to making a decision that we had been at the very beginning.  Chris decided to reach out to an online group of trans-racial adoptive families in Denver.  We e-mailed the group’s moderator asking if there might be families willing to share their experiences with us.  We received an incredible number of responses.  To our surprise, about half of the families had adopted domestically.  We decided it was time to learn more about domestic adoption.

I think this is a good place to stop.   Next time I post, I’ll share how we went from learning about domestic adoption to deciding it was the best way to start our family.    If you have any questions, feel free to comment!