International adoption has been declining at an alarming rate. Nearly 23,000 international children were adopted by U.S. families in 2004, but in 2016 less than 4,000 children were adopted, a drop of 80 percent. If this trend continues, international adoption will cease to exist by 2022. The United Nations estimates that 15 million children have lost both parents. Thousands upon thousands of children are waiting in institutions for families they can call their own. Here are five reasons I think international adoption needs rescuing:
Adoption saves lives
This may seem to go without saying, but I find that many people who have not looked into international adoption do not understand that for many vulnerable children, adoption to another country is their only chance to have a family. And in many cases, where medical care is poor or unavailable, it is their only chance to live. Our son, Noah, had been waiting with his paperwork completed for over five years. With his critical heart condition, no one had stepped forward, and even if a family in his birth country had been open to adopting him, the medical care he needed was not available there. He would have died without international adoption. Since joining our family at age 9, he has had life-saving surgery, a complete change in his quality of life physically, and the security and love of a permanent family. While I personally believe that children should stay with their birth families or be adopted within their birth culture if possible, the fact remains that there are a significant number of children for whom this is just not feasible. These children need international adoption, and we need to put the welfare of vulnerable children at the top of our priority list as a nation.
Ethical adoption is possible
The Department of State is the overseeing body for international adoption in the United States. With a recent change in leadership in the adoption division, it has become clear that the main goal has shifted away from actually facilitating adoptions. Concern over corruption is cited as the reason for all the changes, but actual cases of corruption are not widespread, and there has not been open communication with actual adoption agencies and orphanages to try to find solutions. Rather, there have been many new regulations and fees. Recent increases in fees to adoption agencies have been described as “dramatic” and in a poll from SaveAdoptions.org, nearly half of agencies responding said that they may have to discontinue their work altogether under the new accreditation policies. Ethical adoption is a massively important priority, but we must work toward this in the spirit of facilitating needed adoption, not by blocking or hindering the adoption of thousands of waiting children with ever-increasing costs and paperwork.
The adoption process takes too long
When we began the process of adoption, we were told our son’s birth country, China, had one of the fastest processes. We were stunned to find that the “fastest process” for a medically fragile child was still nearly a year. Today, an adoption from Haiti can take up to five years. Other countries are routinely two or three. And this is for the adoption of identified, paper-ready children who are waiting. Our son’s medical condition was very precarious, and it was excruciating to wait, not knowing if he was deteriorating. And just as significantly, this was another year he waited without a family’s love and support. Tragically, I have even seen families whose child has died while waiting for them, either from the child’s medical needs or from neglect and abuse. We obviously need to make sure that families are qualified and do everything necessary to ensure the safety of the children being placed, but so much of the process is unnecessary waiting, and it is the children who suffer in the process.
The adoption process is too complicated
My family has now adopted three children internationally, all from the same country. You would think we would have the process down, but it is ever-changing. My husband and I are both experienced international travelers, well-educated and used to figuring out unfamiliar systems, but even with that, we encountered multiple problems in the recent adoption process just because the system is so complicated. Forms changed overnight, fees fluctuated, even the adoption policies changed, often without any notice. It’s very intimidating, time-consuming, and it’s not streamlined. Adoption is stressful enough. We do not need to make the process so complicated that people are unwilling even to try.
The adoption process is too expensive
As a speaker, I tell our adoption story often, and I cannot tell you how many times people have told me they want to adopt but it is just too expensive. In our own family, the cost was a major issue. Between saving intensively, receiving a very appreciated grant from my husband’s company, and taking advantage of available tax breaks, we were able to make it work, but this is the most often cited stumbling block for potential families who are considering adoption. And while some of this cost is obviously necessary, a portion of it is also because of the overly-complicated system. For example, we were fingerprinted three times by different agencies at different times in different locations because none of the agencies shared information, and even with that, we still had to obtain a letter from our local police stating that we had no criminal record. We had to pay for all of those, travel to all of those, and take time off work for all of those. If the process were able to be streamlined, costs could be controlled and adoption might be an option for more families.
International adoption is incredibly complex. It’s impossible in one article to even scratch the surface of the issues involved. But the truth is that, at its heart, it should be about the children. There are children who desperately need families, and we should be focused on their protection and best interest. International adoption is certainly not the only method by which we can help, but it is truly a vital lifeline for some of our planet’s most vulnerable kids, my own children included. Please help us keep it.
Jennifer Shaw is a Telly Award-winning artist, speaker, author and five-time Top 40 Billboard singer. She is also the mother of six, three of whom were adopted internationally. Please visit her on the web at www.jennifershaw.com.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.