If you have ever adopted from abroad or even thought of this option, you’ve probably heard “Why go over there, when there are so many kids in need right here.” This raises one of the most difficult issues in adoption, at least for me. Why adopt internationally? Do we have an obligation to take care of our own first?
The answer is complex and is individual to each family considering adoption. The greatest “need” for families in the US are for foster parents to all age children (especially over the age of 6) and for adoptive parents to the kids in foster care whose parental rights have already been terminated (average age is 8). Fostering is not the same as adopting—you have to go in understanding that your role is likely to be temporary. That’s how it should be. Foster care should be in the business of healing families. But this temporary role is not for everyone, especially those who long for the lifetime commitment of parenting. While it sometimes happens that children under six in foster care need adoptive parents, most often they are adopted by extended family members or their foster parents. So, the greatest need for adoptive parents in the US is for school aged children.
Internationally, it somewhat depends on the country, but as a general rule in most countries there is a need for adoptive families for children aged three and up. There is also a need for families for children with what many would consider relatively moderate or correctable special needs—sometimes even for kids younger than 3 (although almost never under one). So, in a nutshell, age of available children is a major factor that draws adoptive parents to go look abroad.
While age is a valid reason to look to other countries for adoption, I worry that people have the notion that children from other countries will somehow be fundamentally different from children in US foster care. That somehow these children will have been spared what we euphemistically call “the baggage” of abuse and neglect. Let me set the record straight, in the vast majority of cases, children end up in governmental care for the same reasons—abuse and neglect—regardless where they are born. And even in those countries where other factors play a significant role (special needs, disease, extreme poverty), once the child is in state care, they are exceptionally vulnerable to abuse and emotional neglect. Parentless children are just so darn vulnerable that it breaks my heart.
I read a great post at the Word from the Wallaces blog. The Wallaces became foster parents in Kentucky while waiting for their international adoption from the Democratic Republic of Congo to be completed. I wanted to stand up and cheer when I read her wise words.
[Prior to becoming a foster parent a woman] asked me how I answer people who want to know why we are adopting from Africa and not “here”. Here being in the US.
I gave my wise Christian answer (insert sarcasm here) – we prayed about it and feel like God has our children in Africa… and then I told her the need is greater there. Kids in the US have roofs over their heads, clothes on their backs and food in their tummies. Their parents are not dying of AIDS at alarming rates and they are not dying themselves of dirty water. Simple. The need is greater. I. Spoke. Those. Words.
Friends, I was wrong. Hear me. I. WAS. WRONG.
…While they are not dying from poverty, disease or hunger, their needs are the same.
The damage from abuse and neglect doesn’t respect boundaries. Children in Ethiopia, Colombia, and China are just as vulnerable as those in California, Texas, and New York. Children everywhere need parents to help heal this damage. They need someone to fight for them, discipline them, and expect great things of them and for them. Love is not the universal band aid to the scars from a hard life, but it sure as heck is a major step in the right direction regardless if that direction leads you to your state foster care system or someplace far far away.