Monday, January 30, 2006

A Response to Parade Magazine

It is a familiar refrain: “Why did you adopt from China, when so many children need homes here in the U.S.?” A recent question in “Parade Magazine” posed the same question this way (Sunday, January 29, 2005):

Q: Why do stars like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie adopt foreign kids when many are waiting here?

Parade’s answer was: In Hollywood, it's fashionable to adopt infants from the Third World. "Also, many believe there's less red tape outside the U.S. Often it's worse," explains actor Henry Winkler. He works with the Children's Action Network, which says 119,000 foster-care kids in the US are eligible for adoption.

How many children are truly available for adoption in the U.S.? An analysis of the U.S. government’s most recent statistics shows the following (2003):

In 2003 (the most recent year for which information is available) there were 25,070 children under the age of one year in the foster care program. There was an additional 129,000 children between one year and five years in the program. There are of course many more children older than 5 in the foster care program, but we will limit our discussion to this population of kids, because it is the age group most attractive for adopting parents.

An important point to keep in mind, however, is that not all of the children in the foster care program are eligible for adoption. The U.S. foster care program serves many purposes, primary of which is child protection. Most of the children (55%) in the program will end up being reunited with their birth parents, an outcome that is preferred. An additional 11% end up living with relatives. In 2003, only 18% ended up being adopted by an unrelated family.

Because reunification is a primary goal of the foster care program, States have established set evaluation timeframes for birth parents to regain custody of their children. This period prevents young children from being adopted quickly, and therefore very few children under the age of 1 year are available for adoption. Although Mr. Winkler correctly quotes a figure of 119,000 children being available for adoption, it is instructive to see how that number breaks down.

Of the 119,000 children available for adoption in 2003, only 3,850 children were under a year old (3%). An additional 38,200 (32%) children between the age of one year and five years were available for adoption, but almost certainly the majority of children were four- or five-year olds. The majority of the children available for adoption were between six and fifteen years of age (58%).

Thus, if a family desires to adopt a young infant or toddler, there are few opportunities available in the U.S. foster care program. In fact, the vast majority of adoptable children are in excess of five years old, with the median age being over ten years old.

These children need homes, of that there is no doubt. In a perfect world every child, regardless of his or her age, would be adopted into a loving family. But in the real world, the vast majority of couples looking to build a family seek for a variety of reasons to adopt a child that is as young as possible. The U.S. foster care program is ill equipped to provide the numbers of babies desired by adopting families. Thus, most are forced to look overseas, or to arrange for private adoptions (which bring in many ethical problems also).

In addition, there are serious concerns on the part of adoptive parents when it comes to adopting a child from the foster care program. Several well-publicized cases in which birth parents sued and regained custody of legally adopted children has nurtured a fear that no adoptive family wants realized. Also, many adoptive families are reluctant to take on the emotional scarring that many in the foster care program have experienced. Another factor is the bureaucracy involved with adopting a child from the foster care program, which, contrary to Mr. Winkler’s assessment, is almost always more burdensome than adopting internationally.

I guess the point that bothers me most about the question asked by the reader of Parade Magazine is that it is almost always posed by those who have not adopted at all. Instead of impugning the characters of the Meg Ryans and Angelina Jolies of the world, why don’t these same people simply adopt a child from the foster care program? Calling their adoption "fashionable" demeans the great thing they, or anyone adopting a child, has done. I guess I would respond to those that ask this question, “Unless you have adopted an orphaned child from anywhere in the world, either here in the U.S. or overseas, keep your cynical questions and comments to yourself!”

Are Angelina Jolie and Meg Ryan part of a new trend in Hollywood? I certainly hope so! I applaud both women for bringing attention to the orphans of the world, wherever they are. Both women are helping to increase the acceptability of adoption, and should be praised for the attention they are bringing to this subject. The reality is that our culture holds up natural childbirth as the preferred method for gaining a family, and adoption is almost universally viewed as a second choice. Public figures like Angelina Jolie are working to change that culture, and bring the status of adoption to higher esteem. Only then will there be hope for the millions of orphaned children in the world.

36 comments:

Marcia said...

First, is Henry Winkler only a spokesperson for Children's Action Network, or is he a down-in-the-trenches father of one of the 119,000 children in foster care available for adoption?

Personally, I'm tired of someone telling me that I should have adopted from the US foster care system when that person is usually someone who has never adopted from anywhere, US or international, and probably never will.

Adoption from China worked so well for our family that we are paperchasing for another daughter. It's arrogant for anyone to weigh in with any opinion at all on our family construction techniques.

When we first came home from China last year, a woman asked me why we hadn't adopted a child from US foster care? I told her (nicely, of course) to let me know when she adopted from a foster-care child, then I would think about it.

TwoJulyGirls said...

Brian,

Well said.

Suzanne

Research-China.Org said...

A further word in defense of celebrities that adopt internationally (not that they need a defense): Is there any doubt that if a celebrity adopted a child domestically (private or from the foster care program) that the press would not locate thair child's birth parents and make a public spectacle out of them? It seems likely that international adoption is the ONLY alternative for celebrities who wish their children to be left private.

Anonymous said...

Here, here, Brian! Well-researched response, thoughtfully and intelligently articulated. Thank you on behalf of our family. I sure hope you're sending a copy to Parade.

Keep up the GREAT work in all you do.

Anonymous said...

Well said!

In our family, we look at things more globally than locally and did so when we chose to adopt.

Even though we hate to be "rude," (ha) we do offer the same response to the stranger on the bus about their direct experience with domestic adoption. Happens at least a couple of times a month.

Anonymous said...

To All of You,
I could not agree more. I don't ever see this kind of backlash directed toward celebrities that adopt healthy white newborn infants. Nor those that undertake multiple IVF's and use egg donors and surrogates. Why do people feel the need to direct such hostility toward International adoption?

By the way, how 'bout the last sentence in Mr. Scott's Parade column, about how Jolie & Pitt are now expecting "their own" child.

There have been a slew of negative comments directed toward Walter Scott on www.parade.com. Maybe his editors will fire him?
Jenifer W.

denee frazer said...

Brian,
I am so happy that you have chosen such an active role in China adoption. You have helped so many families through both research, your writings about China and your defense of our adoptions.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart. You rock!
Denee Frazer and family

Lori White said...

Hi Brian,

I want to add my cheers to the comments for your response. I too got the question of why I was adopting from overseas instead of the US. I saw it as an opportunity to educate someone else about international adoption and it was a fruitful discussion. This is what I said:

1. That international adoption is something near and dear to my heart and always has been. It not only brought me together with the daughter meant to be with us, but also brought me closer to another country. It's taught me more about how we're really all one family with lots of cousins from different countries, and that it's high time we get to know and appreciate each other more.

2. On the practical side, according to adoptuskids.org, there's a seven year wait to adopt an infant or toddler in the US. And, according to our adoption agency, the cost of adopting in the US is more than twice that of an international adoption. Besides the risks of emotional scars you mentioned, there is also the financial hit. And the cases continue to happen where the birth mother or father will march in, reclaim rights to the adoptive child and win. It hurts the adoptive family and most important, the child.

3. Finally, in terms of beauocracy, we found that the paperwork, etc was not as bad and horrible as people claim. We kept our eyes on the important reasons we wanted to adopt, and that made all the difference.

Lori White

Serfergrrl said...

Thanks, Brian. I have gotten this hurtful response to our adoption as well. If you are going to say that, why not suggest that all those planning on having a birth child should instead adopt, since there are too many people in the world? I shake my head at all of this...

Anonymous said...

When my husband I looked into adoption I did my research. I called first the Philadelphia public adoption office.
I said my husband and I are looking to adopt and we would love to know more about how you guys work? And this nice lady said, Well what age are you looking for? I said well we have never been parents before so we would like a child from 0-2. She started to laugh she said the children in her computer are over 10 right now and that they never see an infant that is available for adoption because they are usually reunited with the birthparents. She said she's was sorry but she was being honest and recommended that if I want an infant I would need to look into private Domestic which could be a very long wait or international. I thanked her for her time and was really glad I got an honest person.
We have met friends who have been fostering an infant since early last year. And they are still waiting to hear if they can adopt her. She told me that the day the baby was placed in her arms she was her Mom and she fell in love with her and I know if they lose this baby back to the birthparents I think a part of them would die. I realize as they realize that they are fostering and that the goal of foster care is to reunite with the birthparents. It may be the goal of fostering but that doesn't make it right.

Trixie said...

We are one those couples who really wanted to adopt out of the foster care system! We were looking for a sibling group (normally considered special needs because few people want a ready-made family of size).

Our obstacle was that as first time parents, we wanted physically healthy children with limited to no mental health issues (aside from some mild learning disabilities and/or grief over leaving their foster family).

Every set of siblings we looked at huge issues. Much to overwhelming for new parents and the states offered very little support. We finally found 3 healthy sibling groups all with 3 or more children and all children under the age of 11.

Nevada called us back and was very nice. This group had 4 children and a surprise 5th which they learned about only after we inquired. No sooner had they told us about the 5th child than we received an email saying there were multiple in-state couples looking at this group and therefore we would not be considered.

North Carolina wouldn't give us any information on the 3 children we found in their care. We just wanted to know basic medical information and whether or not special services were needed. We had a home study but they would not give us the details. Apparently we had to call our state's interstate compact office and have them call NC. It was to much work and to many middlemen!

Finally we found a group of 5 in our home state. We called twice and emailed twice and after the first email back never heard another word!

So we are going to China.

1. If I am going to take a risk, I will do so with as young a child as possible. Later in life when we have more experience, we will be prepared to consider older children from the foster care system.

2. As new parents, we don't have the experience to handle 3, 4, or 5 medical/emotional surprises at one time especially without any support from the state.

3. People call us back at our agency! People care about our adoption and try to make things easier for us. I just didn't get that from the state system.

Sean and Gen said...

Thank you for bringing this article up. I am always irritated when adopting a child is called "fashionable", as if it is a trend like toy pups and shoes.

I think that one of the main reason celebrities adopt from foreign countries, like you said, is because of exploitation.

My personal reasons for choosing China include avoiding the pain of relinquishment and wanting to adopt a younger child. As a first time parent, I do not feel prepared to deal with some of the issues of the children in the foster care system...not yet anyways.

Although some may argue that my child may also have issues, I feel more prepared to handle those with a younger child who I do not have to fear giving up. Besides, it is my choice, whose business is it to question what I do with my life.

Gen

JohnG said...

Well written and backed up with facts, not like the tabloid that wrote about landing in China, the WalMart of adoption and having people flinging babies and fortune cookies at you. Thank you

Sandra said...

Well said, Brian. What gives anyone a right to criticize how a parent decides to form his or her family?

Our two daughters are from China and though we don't get the "why not from the U.S." questions often, we do get asked when we are going to try to "have one of our own".

Ginny Burkhart said...

Hi Brian,
I'm glad you addressed the Parade Magazine issue. I was offended at the response as well. I have been asked the same question in the past. I hope that Parade runs your response. It would help diffuse alot of ignorance out there involving adoption. My feeling is that people need to do what they are most comfortable with in adoption, whether it be an international adoption, domestic adoption, open adoption, closed adoption, etc. The Parade response that it has become fashionable to adopt internationally hurts.
Thank you,
Ginny Burkhart

Anonymous said...

I have to say that I just don't understand this whole, "Why didn't you adopt from the u.s. thing". I am as patriotic as the next person, but when it comes to children you have to ask yourself, "Did this child make a choice as to where they were born?". A child is a child. Born into this crazy world. I have two biological children and could have plenty more if I chose, but I felt a connection to the children in China's orphanages. Why? I don't know. Call it destiny, I guess. I just felt a connection and the two that we have adopted from China couldn't be a more perfect fit in our family if we tried. Would a child from U.S. foster care be just as perfect of a fit? Perhaps. Would a child from Guatemala fit perfectly? Perhaps. I could have been born in China or Guatemala. Let us please just look at these families who have adopted children from foreign countries and just say, "Don't they make a beautiful family" and leave it at that. Does Henry Winkler think it is easy to face questions like, "Mommy, why don't I look like you?" and "Were you born in China too, Mommy?" and "Why does everyone ask how much I cost?". These questions and issues aren't any different than those posed to a mother(or father) that adopted from a foster program except that a lot of the time you aren't crossing cultures or races in a domestic adoption. All I have to say about my two beautiful daughters is that they were meant to be mine for whatever reason and for that I am thankful. Betsy

Alyssa Ericksen said...

Hi Brian,
I echo the comments of many others - THANK YOU for everything you do for China adoption.

Selfishly, we wanted to build our family, and we wanted to do it in the way that had the most guarantee of a healthy, undamaged child. I say selfishly, because we weren't out to "rescue" a child - we were intent on obtaining a new member of our family. Since childbirth is no longer an option, adoption it was.

When telling people about our upcoming adoption, we invariably receive comments about how generous, kind or giving we are. I've even had several people say "how noble!"

HOW NOBLE?

That bothers me greatly...how will my daughter feel when she constantly hears how her parents are seen as noble for adopting her? Probably like a lesser member of our family...

So, my answer to Parade and to all the other people who mistake adoption as "child rescue" rather than a method to build a family is:

"No, we adopted our daughter because we wanted a daughter, and China's adoption program is the most efficient, fair and cost-effective way to add to our family. Our daughter was not rescued - we searched for and found her because we wanted HER, not out of charity or kindness, but because we wanted to add to our family."

We were not willing to pay the monetary and emotional price of adopting through the US system. Does this sound callous? Maybe...to those who only see adoption as a means to place unwanted children. To the rest of us who know that adoption is created our FAMILY, it's not callous, it's real.

I do not care if people think we're selfish...I will ALWAYS answer people's inquiries in a way that makes my daughter feel like a full, cherished member of our family, and not like someone who was "rescued" from a place where no one wanted her.

Our adopted children need to know, and need to know that others know, that they aren't members of our families just because we felt sorry for them.

"Why didn't you adopt from America? We have lots of needy kids here!"

OR

"Didn't you want your own?"

Our standard response to these questions needs to be one that teaches our child how we see thier adoption. Don't give an answer that is defensive or tries to convince the asker that what you did is the right thing...instead answer in a way that sends a message to YOUR CHILD.

Alyssa Ericksen
(now climbing down off my soapbox)

JoAnn Stringer said...

For some time now, I have been irritated by the questions and answers in Walter Scott's column in Parade magazine. He NEVER fails to point out that a child is the "adopted child" of a certain celebrity. And he mentioned that Brad and Angelina will soon have a child of "their own." Seems to me that Brad has already taken Angelina's children as "his own" by adopting them.

KLEM said...

Good research--however, I think the number of children available for adoption may be even less than 119,000. The research you cited says that only 68,000 children had all parental rights terminated--and that is the key to being available for adoption.

I get asked a lot about why we didn't adopt domestically when there are some many kids in this country who need a good home. My response is always, "Well actually there aren't as many as you think."

Research-China.Org said...

The 68,000 is the total number for whom parental rights were terminated in FY 2003. The 119,000 is the total number for whom rights were terminated, which includes the 68,000 from 2003 and others from previous years.

I applaud Henry Winkler and anyone that encourages families to adopt. I hope no one understood my blog essay as being critical of Mr. Winkler in any way.

KLEM said...

I looked at the stats again, and I don't see it the way you explain it. Those 119,000 kids have not necessarily had parental rights terminated--for some of them, adoption is the goal, but not yet a legal possibility.

And I don't think you were down on Henry Winkler--neither am I. I just think it is a myth that there are so many kids in this country who are available for adoption. And when you get down the number of healthy infants, it's even less.

Anonymous said...

Bravo, Brian!

Carole said...

Oh my, Brian, well said! As a waiting China family, we applaud your efforts! You have perfectly summed up EVERYTHING I have felt and felt like saying (to those who frequently question our efforts)! Thank you! Waiting for Claire, The Christner's, Oregon (I hope your comments are published in Parade and elsewhere!)

My Choice said...

I very much appreciate your response Brian. I was only asked why I didn't adopt from my own country once, but my response was, "I don't understand why you'd ask that question. Do you think that children here are somehow more deserving of families than children in China?" To me, that's what it comes down to-- a child is a child and children need families. Where they were born has absolutely nothing to do it.

Elizabeth said...

Brian,

Thanks for this terrific post. I heartily agree! I found the Parade article offensive in the extreme, and I am grateful to you for writing such a cogent and well-supported response.

I hope you will send a copy of it to Parade magazine, maybe with a citation to the source where you got your statistics on the U.S. foster care system.

Thanks again for your post.

Elizabeth

Anonymous said...

I hope you sent this into Parade as a response. I worked for 3 years in the foster care system and it's true that children usually fall into 3 catagories: older, sibling groups (tend to be large) and special needs. Parenting children in these catagories is not for everyone. The same could be sad for parenting a transracial child.

Anonymous said...

Above should have said "said", not sad.

Anonymous said...

Above should have said "said", not sad.

mommarodda said...

Hello,
What a sensitive issue adoption can be! It is indeed a matter of heart.
My husband and I are foster/adoptive parents and in the process of adopting our fourth child out of the system. I would like to share a couple of thoughts that may not have been considered.
In our case, we did not become foster parents to adopt but are thankful beyond words that it led to the forever family of the beautiful boys that I have.
I agree that no one should be criticized for such a personal choice as to where they are to adopt their "own" child. However, I am also concerned that many people never consider domeistic adoption as an viable alternative to add to their family.
I was surprised as I read your post and posted comments to get the overall feeling that when you adopt in the U.S. you are adopting a child that "looks" like you. On the contrary, by in large the children in this country that are waiting to be adopted are not caucasian. Our own four boys are AA. We deal with the same transracial issues that a parent who adopts from China does...except perhaps worse in my opinion. Please understand, we live in the deep south.
I was concerned at the descriptions of what made a child "a good find", a certain age, without certain baggage. Indeed, it is wise for parents to be aware of their own limits and what challenges may lay ahead. But what guarantees come when birthing a child that you will get an "idea" specimen.
One of our sons came to us as a premie 5lb 2 week old baby, we were able to adopt him at 2-1/2. One came to us at 2 months old, we adopted him at 4-1/2. One came to us at 2 days old and we are now in the process of adopting. One came to us at 8 years old and is our only older child adoption. I will not attempt to hide the fact that this relationship has taken extra "elbow grease" but he is worth it.
How can we love a child with he risk of losing that child? Isn't that what every parent does whether by birth or adoptoin. Children do not come with guarantees. Yes, the adoptions were long in coming, however not once termination had occurred, then it was a quick, inexpensive process. Please note we have not adopted all of the foster children in our home, we have had 41 children in the last decade.
In summary, I think that where a person adopts from in a personal issue. I think that often people do not consider domestice adoption because they don't have all the correct information. I think that sadly AA children are just not as appealing to those looking to adopt.
My boys are beautiful and valuable-not "broken", "damaged", "used", etc.. By the way, they are Rodda boys, you may want to take a mental note, I'm expecting great things from them, to change the world around them for the better.
God bless each of you along the blessed journey of adoption.
MommaRodda

Anonymous said...

MommaRodda,
Thanks for sharing your story. I think that many white parents are cautious about adopting AA children since the Black Social Workers made that report in the 70's, and the aftermath (AA children were only placed in same race homes.) Many of us who adopt from China tend to be a bit older (Ahem) and remember this report and the controversery around it. This, coupled with our country's long history of racism, (particulary towards AA's) has made many too uncomfortable with parenting an AA child. (Some will disagree with me and that's okay.)

That said, it is troubling how many adoptive parents think Asian is White, or downplay race.

Anyways, you hit the nail on the head when you said that adoption is a very personal choice and no one knows the outcome-- how each child will process their unique narrative.

Julie H, Chicago said...

MammaRodda --

thanks for these comments. I think it is important to put right out in the open that many of us who've gone to Asia and other places probably had some element of racism involved in our decision not to pursue a domestic AA adoption. In the mid 90s when we first explored adoption, the local agencies were really strongly discouraging white parents from adopting AA kids -- and we let ourselves be dissuaded, though I think if we'd tried harder, we might have prevailed.

I think it's important to be honest about our own probable racial issues --particularly the error of thinking that Asian kids just aren't going to have "race" issues living in a white family the way black kids would. It's an easy-to-make error, but still an error -- and one that I admit that I probably made. This makes me a lot less likely to get up on the high horse about domestic vs. international. I don't want to be guilty of patting myself on the back for making a choice that also accorded well with my own comfort level, rather than challenging myself to take the more difficult path.

All that said, Brian, I appreciated your essay and find your blog "must reading" on all kinds of subjects.

Julie H, mom to a light gold kid from China and a dark gold kid from Thailand

Anonymous said...

As if you could actually adopt children domestically!! We were looking specifically to get a toddler boy, any race, any set of special needs. You would think they would be clammering to find people like us! But the state told us that they could place a child with us in a few days, but that it could be years or never before we could actually adopt the child. I don't have the emotional fortitude for that. So we went back to China so that we knew that the child would actually be ours.

Anonymous said...

Is this a new trend in Hollywood? I pray that it's NOT. I don't know much about Meg Ryan, but Angelina Jolie is one of the most disgusting creatures on the earth, and I pity the child that is raised by her. With multiple divorce and re-marriage, not to mention a life constantly on the go, and often filled with drug and alcohol abuse, I am hard-pressed to think of a worse environment for raising children.

If they want to adopt, fine ... it's still better than life in an orphanage (or worse). But to think adoption by Hollywood celebrities made my adoption suddenly "fashionable" is most repulsive. Let's not glorify these people becuase they maybe did one good thing for a child a some point in their otherwise screwed up lives.

Maureen said...

Henry Winkler is not an adoptive parent, by the way, nor was he adopted himself, according to his bio on the Internet Movie Database:

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001857/bio

How do I know that his 3 kids were not adopted? Because the IMDB doesn't say so. Like other celebrity media, they consistently point out a celebrity child's adoptive status and leave us to assume that children not so described are biological by default. I complained about this bias to the IMDB moderators and got a big yawn in response.

Anonymous said...

I am a born-again Christian and after having four bio children, felt God was leading us in this direction for our family. God does not see our adopted daughter as just "chinese" nor does he view my bio daugther as just "american" ~~He sees them both as precious children of God, His wonderful creation. When we chose China, we researched and tried to guess where the children who dont get adopted end up when they have to leave the SWI. I guarantee that the children that spend their childhood in orphanges in the US have it alot better then the children in china's SWI's. That made our choice a simple one. Thanks for you and your wife's hard work in this research.

rxbabe said...

Well researched, Brian. You are doing good work. You should be proud.