Recently I jumped into an online discussion about international adoption.
I know, I know.
Why do I do this to myself?
Actually I know precisely why, in this instance, I shared my perspective on adopting children in need of families from overseas. A woman on a Catholic forum had asked if it was pretty much impossible, both financially and logistically, to complete an international adoption. And I have four internationally-adopted children.
And, a bunch of people were chiming in saying oh yes, my neighbor sat on a list for FIVE!!! YEARS!!!, and DEFINITELY IMPOSSIBLE, because it costs like 30,000!!!! dollars, and YOU SHOULD BE ADOPTING KIDS IN THE UNITED STATES!!! FIRST.
That is why I braved the opinions and judgments to say, simply, NO.
It is NOT impossible to adopt a child from another country in need of a family.
On the contrary, if you discern that you would like to add to your family via adoption, it is really quite DOABLE.
And no, actually, I’m NOT being unrealistic. I’ve done it.
The first thing I want to note is that there ARE currently a bajillion kids, right in your own county, needing a safe, secure, and loving family, either temporarily or permanently. Some of these kids are infants, and some are teenagers. Some have been abused and neglected. Some have had multiple placements. I have several friends licensed to provide foster care, or who have adopted through foster care, and I cannot recommend this path highly enough. Whether you have zero kids or five kids, this right here is where it’s at. It is generally free of charge, or very close, and occasionally even comes with a decent stipend. Interested in being part of the solution to the refugee crisis? Consider getting hooked up with the Unaccompanied Refugee Minors Program in your city, if you have one. The thing about being a foster parent is that it is precisely that: being a parent. What a beautiful way to be a mother or a father, and to love our neighbors, and the least of these that Jesus talks about.
So. Why adopt internationally when kids right here are in need of a home?
Honestly, I think there are countless reasons for choosing one over the other, or vice versa. Subsidiarity is a hallmark of Catholic social teaching and I think that as far as, say, government funding goes, we absolutely SHOULD be pouring resources into our local children before we send money overseas. (Ideally, we do both.) But I don’t think that from an individual family’s perspective, there’s necessarily an automatic “right thing to do” 100% of the time.
When we first began considering adoption, I spent a lot of time reading about the global orphan crisis. It’s global, because it exists all over the world, here and there and everywhere. These orphans, most of whom do have at least one living parent, are for any number of reasons languishing in deplorable and unstable situations, which makes them extremely vulnerable to abuse of all kinds (emotional, physical, and sexual.) This is true for children in our foster care system, and for children in places like Haiti or Eastern Europe. Just because the details may be slightly different–in South Korea for example, they utilize foster families, whereas in Guatemala you would be more likely to see an orphanage–the situation is roughly the same. Our world is broken. Poverty exists everywhere, and is not limited to finances. The family is in crisis. And it is oftentimes the children who suffer most, who pay the ultimate price for the things far out of their control (and usually far out of their parents’ control, too). To be orphaned is to be, well, alone.
And so we found ourselves compelled by this worldwide problem, because we knew that no child should ever be alone. Our own daughter went to bed each night with a full stomach and parents who loved her. We had two empty bedrooms in our home. A refrigerator full of food. Stable employment. We desired more children and so we looked around and thought, why not? Why not be open to children and to life in this beautiful and unexpected way?
Thus began the process of discerning where we might adopt from. The choices seemed pretty endless. Two guiding principles or thoughts we had in making our decision were that:
1.) EVERY child deserves a family, regardless where he or she lives, and
2.) We should seek to meet the largest need we could realistically meet.
Which meant that international adoption was most definitely not off the table. Soon, it became the leading choice. It seemed a relatively large need that through God’s provision, we could meet.
International adoption is generally expensive, and requires travel overseas. It necessitates being open to a variety of medical needs (some serious, some less serious), and there are significant unknowns. It usually precludes receiving a very young infant. And, in most cases, would mean that we would be raising a child of a different race than ours. A transracial adoption.
And none of those things were automatic deal breakers for us. As we evaluated our options, we discovered that we actually DID have the means to pursue the adoption of a child from another country. As we did more reading, we found ourselves heartbroken for the devastating fallout from the AIDS crisis in Africa, and drawn towards what was then a little-adopted-from country in East Africa: Ethiopia. Only a few adoption agencies were placing children from Ethiopia at the time, and the one we settled on ran an orphanage that housed primarily older children, and children with medical needs. They were the first agency to place HIV+ children. So we began the process, and seven months later travelled to adopt twin 16-month-old boys. We would return nearly six years after that to adopt a two-year-old and a four-year-old, both little girls this time, born with Down syndrome and severe heart defects.
The bitter truth is that adoption is only necessary because of some sort of initial loss and brokenness. And there is something especially sad about a child losing their language, culture and homeland on top of it all. International adoption is in that sense controversial, because there’s always the question of “Would it be better for these kids and their country if they could remain where they are?” And I’m perfectly comfortable saying that, ideally? In a close-to-perfect world? YES. Yes it would be. It has been really encouraging over the past few years to see Ethiopia developing an infrastructure to care for orphaned children domestically. I am REALLY happy any time I hear of a program whose aim is to keep children with their mother and/or father. (More of that, please!) And the more children who can be raised by grandparents, aunts and uncles, and safe neighbors, the better. But for some kids, in some places, at some times, I do believe that international adoption is at the very least a viable solution for them, depending on their individual circumstances. It can potentially be a decent stop-gap measure in a country’s orphan care system, provided people are committed to best practices. Of course, that’s a big “if.”
Adoption is, no matter what, complicated. It’s fraught with ethical questions and delicate considerations, no matter where your child was born. In our case, we decided to adopt internationally. Someday, we would love to be foster parents. No matter what, I pray that God will continue using our family to be a safe place for whatever children He brings us.
If you are at all interested in international adoption, will you do me a favor? PLEASE do not just dismiss it out of hand because you’ve heard it costs too much, or takes too long. There are so many children in orphanages around the world, in desperate need of a family a lot like yours. Most adoptive families I know are not wealthy. Most adoptions I know of were completed within two years. (Not to mention that any agency promising you a baby within a few months is probably one you should NOT be using.) There are grants available to offset costs, discounted or waived legal fees for the adoption of older children or children with medical needs, and in 2015 (as in years past) there was a non-refundable adoption tax credit of up to $13, 400 per child.
Plus, keep in mind that you don’t pay all of the adoption fees at once. You’ll usually pay a nominal application fee at the start of the process, then maybe $2,000 or so for a locally completed homestudy, you’ll submit half the country fee at the time you accept the referral, and then the balance right before you travel. Something like a home equity line of credit can be helpful, too–we used one for some of the up-front costs–and remember, you can get at least some of that money back through the tax refund. (I will add quickly that some families choose to fundraise, crowdfund, or ask friends and family for donations, in order to pay for their adoptions. We did not, for a variety of reasons. Obviously this is up to you. I won’t get into the pros and cons of fundraising here, but I hope you’ll take the time to read this adult adoptee’s perspective, which I think is a much needed voice in this conversation.)
All of that to say, don’t rule out international adoption! It’s certainly not for everyone, but it is absolutely something worth considering if you are hoping to adopt. I would wish for family preservation above all else, but I know that it is simply not always possible, nor always necessarily the first choice of a birth mother. So be wise, be realistic, be open. Do your homework. Look before you leap. Learn about ethics and best practices in adoption, and what red flags to watch out for. Remember that as daunting as the international adoption process may seem, THE PROCESS IS NOT THE MOST DIFFICULT PART OF ADOPTION. These precious children are coming from painful situations, and have experienced an unbelievable amount of loss. It is not unlikely that your internationally adopted child will at some time face attachment struggles, have a learning disability, ADHD, or sensory issues. Your family will be stretched and tugged and pulled. You will discover you’re maybe not as perfect a mother or father as you thought you were, and you will come face to face with your own pride. It will be hard.
The redemption, beauty, compassion, and love I see in my home every single day are astounding. I am beyond grateful to be a part of my adopted children’s stories, which continue to unfold in new, exciting, and occasionally challenging ways. It is a huge responsibility and a heavy weight, this adoption thing, and sometimes I still wonder why God led our family down this amazing and humbling road.
And, maybe your family is being led there, too.
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