Sunday, December 16, 2007

Adopting Special Needs Children

My research over the past two years convinces me that the need to adopt healthy children from China is over. China's problem with infant trafficking makes apparent the domestic demand for healthy infants, and the long waiting lists at most orphanages is compelling evidence that many families inside China are desirous to adopt through official channels. Given the recently adopted principles of the Hague Agreement, it is clear that from a moral and ethical point of view, China needs to keep her healthy children home.

But that doesn't mean the China program needs to end. In fact, were I the head of the CCAA, I would revamp my special needs program to encourage and facilitate the adoption of China's truly disenfranchised -- the thousands of children living in her orphanages that were born with special needs -- large birth marks, cleft lips, missing fingers or toes, hepatitis, and any number of "imperfections" that make them for all intents and purposes unadoptable inside China. Many of these special needs present unsurmountable financial problems to domestic families, but are of little consequence to families with medical care opportunities in the West. Thus, I believe the CCAA should expedite SN referrals, allow prospective adoptive families greater access to special needs children, and do everything possible to migrate the 14,000 annual international adoptions into the Special Needs program. It presents a win-win-win scenario -- Orphanages receive the continued financial resources they require, domestically unadoptable children find homes, and adoptive families would not face the ethical dilemmas of taking a child from China that could easily have been adopted domestically.

I have a special place in my heart for these children. What follows is the story of one family and how they came to adopt two special needs children. Laurie M. describes the questions all of us face when considering a special needs adoption: Am I able to do this? What if the problems are worse than I expected? But in the end she and her husband made the leap of faith, and are now parents to two beautiful children with special needs.


It was Spring and my husband was going to China on a Cleft Lip/Cleft Pallet (CL/CP) mission trip with an adoption agency and he wanted me to come along. My hometown had been completely destroyed by Katrina the prior August, and my heart and soul were in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi and certainly not in China. I was very sad and didn't want to add the pain of China's orphaned babies to the load that was tearing at my heart. If I went, I knew that while he was in surgery, I would probably have the opportunity to tour a few orphanages and being a very empathetic person, I felt it would be too much for me. As I expected, he came back saying he wanted to adopt a child. I said, emphatically "NO!" A year later, after tax time, our accountant said that his solo practice was doing extremely well and he looked at me and said, " can we adopt a child?" I said, "I'll look at the web site. That's all I can promise." I looked at the web site and found the waiting child photos and kept looking at them for a few days. I got their application and filled it out and brought the medical checklist to Robert. He refused to check even one special need. Honestly. He wouldn't budge. He wanted a NSN little girl, apparently, while I was thinking of a SN little boy.

I looked at the web site again, and my heart kept being drawn to a little boy who looked wise beyond his two years and kind of dapper too. I requested his paperwork and saw that he had a repaired CL/CP. Robert is an ENT and does CL/CP surgeries and ear surgeries and I felt that we could easily handle this kind of special need. I found a yahoo group for his orphanage, where I found that these babies were all raised in foster families and that the adoptive families loved the director and the care their children received. The children often had few, if any delays and they were obviously well loved and had adequate nutrition. I looked in the paperwork for signs that this little boy would thrive. He cried if not fed first. Good sign, he expects his needs to be met. They said, before his lip repair, that he would "smile so sweetly". By that I knew he was loved. He was in foster care so he had great chances of bonding with a new family and the fact that his CL/CP were both repaired very early also meant that his chances for good speech were excellent. The SWI had taken a special interest in him and done what they found was best for him long term, by repairing the palate. They had only had a few special needs children, and he was their only boy. I also learned that children with CL/CP have such a difficult time feeding that under ordinary orphanage conditions, they will not survive. They have to have had one on one care to have gotten to the point that they were considered adoptable, so many of the orphanage deprivations and delays would be less likely. Early nutritional deficits should be expected because of the cleft, which explained his small size. I felt peaceful and confident and in my heart, I knew this little boy would thrive in our home.

So...I presented Robert with the paperwork and asked him to pray about just see if he felt what I felt for this little boy. Our agency put him "On Hold" for us and I waited. The first deadline passed and he agonized and could not decide. They gave us an extension. The deadline came and went. Again, he could not decide. One final weekend extension was granted, but they really needed to know by 5:00 on Monday evening. I was in the grocery check out at 5:00 when he called me. "We need to talk when you get home. I want to go for a walk," he said. In all the weeks of waiting I grew to accept the fact that he would most likely say, "No" and that was fine for me. I knew in my heart that if we were not both 100% committed that we should not proceed. We walked and he said, "I don't have the faith for this kind of thing." "It's OK. I understand," I said. Then he added, "But I think we are supposed to bring this little boy home." "What?" "I think you are right. He's our son."

Well, then there was the whirlwind of paperwork and PA and finally the trip to China over the Christmas holidays. This little child seems tailor-made for our family. He even shares some of our weird little foibles. We love him passionately and he loves us and brings us so much joy. Every day or so, my husband looks at me, and sighs and says, "Thank You." He says that he struggled with all the possible complications and the treatments for CL/CP that he knew about. My intuition made the job easier for me, but he had to find a way to work with his intellect to say, "Yes." He's so glad that he did.

After the adjustment period, when our new son was happy and thriving, I began to look again at the waiting child lists, and to think about one last child. My husband looked me and said, "No more CL/CP kids. No more boys." "Ok."

One day, I saw a new list and there was this little girl at the top of the page, with a sweet smile. I asked for the password. She had been abandoned the month before we traveled to China last year, at 4 years old. I looked at her and my heart just broke. I thought about how our son would have felt if he had gone to the bathroom and come out and found that we were gone. It hurt so much to think about it. Her special need was a varus elbow deformity. Her arm had been broken and repaired, leaving her with a long scar.

When asked to show that the elbow bent, for her referral pictures, she looked both very sad and almost angry. She looked straight at the camera, not timidly, just directly, and when she smiled, she looked like any other sweet little girl in a school photo. The pictures looked more like "after" photos than "before" photos. Her paperwork said that she liked group life and played with children of all ages. She could pick up a peanut with her chopstick and she loved to talk and was "broadloving." If that were not astounding enough, she could count to 100 and skip and hop on one foot. I thought she was lovely, but I also realized that she would have memories of whoever had cared for her before her abandonment and that there would potentially be PTSD issues to address, too. These concerned me more than her varus elbow. While there was a wealth of information and photos of our son and even his foster mother, there was very little real information about this little girl's past. I wondered and talked with friends in China about possible scenarios for her abandonment.

The agency had a petition process, in which interested families submitted applications and pre-adoption paperwork that included a social worker's recommendation and information on how the special need would be addressed. It was Wednesday and the paperwork would all be due by Friday. I approached my husband and showed him her pictures and asked what did he think. "She's wonderful. What do you want to do?" "Petitions for her are due on Friday. We probably won't get picked." "Oh. I think we should go for it," he said. "What?...don't you want to read her medicals, don't you need to think about it?" "No. You've done all that." "You don't need to agonize and pray and wait?" "Nope." I called our social worker and we got started and I called the agency. They had received over 50 emails about her. Wow! That was encouraging for this sweet little girl. Even though she was an older child and had a SN, she would, without a doubt, be placed! I breathed a sigh of relief. I talked with the staff at the agency about why she may have been abandoned and what she would need. I said, "Well, I am sure, with all those people, you will find her a good home. That's all I really care about. We probably won't turn in a petition." "Well, I don't want to discourage you," she said, "but the chances of being chosen are very slim."

I hung up the phone and called my husband and explained. "I think we should still petition," he said. "Really? It's $250 and it's non-refundable." "Yes. It's a good cause." "Ok." I kept going with the paperwork. I had heard from a friend that we could add a letter explaining why we felt that we were a good match for her, and I added that, along with our family photos. I explained to our 6 year old son what I was doing and asked if he had anything he wanted to tell the people who were choosing her family. He said, "Tell them we will be gooder to her than anything and I think she'll be the best little sister ever!" So I put that as a post script to the letter, explaining, "Of course, he realizes that we might not be chosen." I am told that when the committee met, they each believed that they would have to argue that we were the best match for this little girl. It ends up that the decision was unanimous! We were meant to be her family.

We were honestly stunned and excited and amazed. Now we are once again chasing down papers and trying to figure out how to prepare a little girl who is very far away for her new family. We know that there are risks with an older child adoption and that, in our daughter's case, there will be special abandonment issues that we will be helping her to work through. Someday, we may hear the whole story of her life, as she remembers it. But for now, we know that she is also in a very good SWI and that the children are loved and well cared for. They are all named, "Precious" something. She is our "Precious Girl" for now. What was her name before? We don't know. Who did she live with before? We don't know, but we pray that she was loved and treated kindly. We hope that her ability to be kind to others means that someone has also shown her kindness. Now, we wait and we pray.

If you are considering a special needs child, I can honestly say that our son has brought a particular kind of light and joy to our days, and he brings a smile to strangers' faces every day. A friend has predicted that our waiting child will become "one of the greatest loves of [our] lives." I always say that adoption is not for the feint of heart, but sometimes in life, those great leaps into the unknown are the best kind of all.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Searching For Birthparents -- How Can It Be Done

This blog article is comprised of three segments. The first is an article entitled "Public and Private Finding Locations: The Clues Each Contains." I wrote the article for the current issue of "China Connection: A Journal for New England Families Who Have Adopted Children From China" (December 2007, pp. 21-22).

The second segment is also from the current issue of "China Connection" (p. 23), and describes the legal ramifications for birth parents to come forward in China. Can they be prosecuted? Would fear of prosecution keep them from coming forward if adoptive families searched? This segment addresses those questions.

The third segment are my answers to common questions posed by adoptive families contemplating a search for their child's birth family. Should it be done? Who should do it? How can it be done? The answers to these questions are obviously personal on some level, and I don't advocate a single answer to any of them. 

Update:  Since writing this series of articles, we have compiled the data from almost all of the orphanages in China.  An analysis of this data has proven extremely helpful for families starting to search.  Our "Birth Parent Search Analysis" is a very important overview of what issues one might face in searching for birth parents in each orphanage area, and what the probable hurdles would be.  More information about these reports is available on our website.   


In my six years of researching what happens to children who are abandoned in China, I have been asked many times for help in locating birth parents of adopted children. Many methods have been tried, some successfully and others not. Based on my experiences, I am passing along some information that could be useful in locating members of a child’s birth family in China, if this is something adoptive parents and their child want to pursue.

Finding locations for children can be categorized into two main types: Public and “private” locations. Hospitals, orphanage gates, police stations, and schools fall into the arena of public finding places, and the vast majority of children adopted from China have been found there. Generally, public finding locations provide little guidance in locating birth parents because no direct thread leads from the location to the birth family. Though my research gives me good reason to believe that most babies are left close to where they were born, identifying a birth parent with only this clue is like walking into a Wal-Mart seeking information about your neighbor’s child. The chance of finding someone who knows anything of real value is very, very small – but not impossible.

Some public locations are more likely than others to provide threads of information. For example, when a baby is found at a hospital, a paper trail might exist. A hospital might have birth records detailing the names and address of those who gave birth there.

Sometimes, finding out information about the person who found the baby – and the name of the “finder” is often available in orphanage records – can provide additional clues. Frequently it turns out that children who were reported as being found at a government office or at an orphanage were not actually “left” there but they were “brought” there from another area.

With one child whose “finding place” I researched, this turned out to be the case. In her adoption papers, she was listed as being found at a village Residential Committee office, a not uncommon finding location. When I visited that location and asked people in the village about this child, several remembered her being “found” but told us the child had been found by a family in the village. My wife and I were then taken to talk with that husband and wife, and they confirmed that they knew this child’s birth parents. This is an example of how gathering a few clues and doing a little digging, even in the face of overwhelming odds, can result in birth parents being located.

Another consideration is the population of the area where a child was found. One of my daughters, for example, was found in the middle of the city of Guangzhou. This made a search for her birth parents all but impossible. Another of my daughters was found in the small town of DianBai in western Guangdong Province. In her case, it would be possible to conduct a search for her birth parents by printing a few thousand fliers, and distributing them for a week at the town market. Since nearly every woman in China visits a local market every few days, markets are very good ”search centers.” At such a location, fliers can be distributed in the hopes of locating a birth parent.

Private Finding Locations
Sometimes a child’s finding location is not in a public area but instead happens in a “private” place. These places are owned or controlled by individuals or families, such as residences or farms, family-run stores or restaurants, and they are usually chosen because the birth family knows the owner. Sometimes such a location is selected because the family who lives there is having trouble giving birth to a child and it is felt that giving this family a child will help them to conceive. Other times the “finder” might be chosen because they have a son and it is believed they might also like to have a daughter. Another consideration is whether a family is considered well-off and thus able to afford the fee to register the child with the local government.

At private finding locations, often clues are available to assist in birth parent searches. (Many children who are left at “private” locations do end up being placed in an orphanage and are adopted internationally.) In one Jiangxi orphanage we researched, birth parents were known by three quarters of the finders at the private residences and stores we visited. As we spoke with them, it became obvious that these locations were carefully considered by the birth parents; each “finder” had particular qualities that made them attractive as adoptive parents.

Contacting Birth Families
Adoptive families are cautioned, however, against believing that all birth parents will express an interest in making contact with their abandoned child. In my experience the majority of birth families have shown no interest in revisiting their abandonment history by making contact with adoptive families. Even when I’ve provided photos and phone numbers, a majority of them have refused the information.

What I’ve learned in these encounters makes me wary of the “opportunities” for reunion that DNA matching appears to offer. Although adoptive parents and their children might decide to pursue a search for birth parents by registering with a DNA database, I believe there will be significant cultural and personal hurdles in China that will discourage birth parents from participating. These barriers – which I think will preclude large numbers of birth parents from participating in DNA databases – include the fear of governmental reprisal (though this fear seems largely unfounded), financial considerations, and a cultural proclivity to ”look forward, not backward.”

In summary, locating birth parents in China is possible if the circumstances are right. Private finding locations such as residences and small stores have a high degree of success. Finding locations in small villages also bring a good degree of success. Seeking local hospital records might provide information, but these inquiries must be made quickly before records are archived or destroyed. But adoptive families must also remember that even when the search proves successful, the birth parents might leave the discovered door closed and locked, unwilling to allow the connection to be made.

Risks -- Perceived and Real for Birth Parents in China
One might wonder if birth parents face any risk by publicly coming forward and looking for their abandoned child – or being contacted by a family searching for them. Although the idea of a five-year statute of limitations has been discussed among the adoption community for abandoning a child, this concept is not specifically found in Chinese criminal law regarding abandonment. The 1992 “Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Protection of Rights and Interests of Women” states that “drowning, abandoning or cruel infanticide in any manner of female babies is prohibited,” but assigns no penalty. Article 261 of the Criminal Code states “A person who refuses his proper duty to support an aged person, minor, sick person or any other person who can not live independently shall be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not more than five years, criminal detention or public surveillance if the circumstance is flagrant.” Thus, infant abandonment might be classified as a criminal act, which could result in a prison term of up to five years if convicted, but it is not clearly stated.

“There are legal provisions requiring parents to rear and educate their children and prohibiting the maltreatment or abandonment of children. Nevertheless, the Penal Code fails to provide clear definitions, so that in practice it is difficult to mete out punishment to parents who dump their babies,” He Jialin of the Sichuan Hetai Law Firm stated in a 2005 article entitled “Facing the Reality: Baby Dumping.” In practical terms, the maximum penalty typically faced by birth parents for abandoning their child is the fine that would have been imposed had they registered their child. In other words, there is rarely an additional penalty for the act of abandonment.

Chinese law discusses statute of limitations in relation to the imprisonment lengths imposed for various crimes. “The law says that the statute of limitation for crimes carrying a maximum penalty of no more than five years’ imprisonment is five years; 10 years for crimes that attract imprisonment of more than five years but less than 10; and 15 years for crimes carrying a maximum penalty of 10 years or more” Since infant abandonment could be classified as a violation of Article 261 of the Criminal Code, it can be assumed that the statute of limitations for abandonment would be five years.

All of this relates only to legal requirements and definitions, which are rarely absorbed by the average Chinese citizen. In practical terms, a family’s fear of government reprisal is perhaps the strongest disincentive for birth parents to come forward at any time. Even if the five-year statute of limitations were widely known and understood (which it isn’t), the vast majority of birth parents would not trust the government to respect those provisions.

What is widely believed by the vast majority of Chinese, however, is that the police are reticent to search for, let alone charge, birth parents with abandoning a child. “When female infants are murdered or abandoned by parents or family relatives, law enforcement and civil services agencies hardly ever conduct any investigation to go after the perpetrators because many of local police and officials still believe that it is parents’ right to decide whatever they want to do with their children and killing one’s newborn child is a family/domestic matter not a crime,” observed Xin Ren, a professor of criminal justice at California State University in Sacramento in an article she wrote, “Protecting Women and Children Against Trafficking in China.”

Given this understanding, children are confidently left in hospitals, in front of a neighbor’s home or police station, or in a park with parents knowing that the risk of detection and prosecution is very low. But few birth families would openly reveal their crime by coming forward in a public way. Thus, infant abandonment is in the vast majority of cases a “don't ask, don't tell” situation in China.

Questions & Answers to Searching for Birth Parents

Q: Isn't searching for birth parents the prerogative of my adopted child? Is it my right to search for her history?

Searching for your child's birth parents doesn't require notifying your child that you have found them. In our case, we intend to keep the information private until the day when our daughter does ask about it. But given the dramatic changes occurring in China, waiting for 15-20 years before searching almost guarantees failure down the road. Control of the contact is as much or as little as you feel comfortable with. You can write yearly letters without letting your child know anything about it.

As parents, it is our responsibility to provide any information we can to assist our children to gain a full understanding of their history and origins. Whether our children ever draw on that information is up to them, but we must be prepared. To avoid or relegate responsibility to search for her birth parents until she is old enough to want to search herself will ultimately mean that information will not be obtainable. Individuals die and families move. How would any of us feel if we were faced with the question, "If you could have found them, why didn't you?" In my mind, it is much better to have information my children never ask for, than to not obtain information that I am one day asked about.

Q: I am afraid of opening a Pandora's box by locating the birth parents for my child. What if they want more contact than I am comfortable giving?

Again, the control will be yours. At first, you might consider all communication take place through an intermediary such as your agency or a family friend. This eliminates any chance the birth family will initiate contact that you are not comfortable with. Additionally, you are under no moral or ethical obligation to provide financial resources to the birth family. What you offer and provide is completely up to you.

Q: Isn't it illegal to put up signs and make searches for birth parents in China? Won't I get in trouble?

In doing birth family searches many times, I have never had any resistance from Chinese Government officials. The Chinese government is not anxious for these contacts to be made, but is fairly powerless to prevent them. If families are misguided into thinking that contact will be possible through official or governmental avenues, they will miss valuable time and opportunities. The Chinese government will never sanction such contact, for the simple reason that they do not want to encourage the knowledge that abandoned children are adopted internationally.

Q: Should I use an organization "registered" in China to make a search?

While organizations that conduct heritage tours and other in-country experiences serve an important service, their ability to gain cooperation from orphanages and the CCAA requires that they don't breach the established rules and requirements of the Chinese government. For that reason, these organizations may discourage families from conducting searches out of fear that it will result in retaliation from the Chinese authorities. The same applies to adoption agencies. Thus, the adoptive family will usually have to act independent of official channels and organizations to conduct birth parent searches.

Q: What are some other methods that can be employed to search for birth parents?

Aside from contacting individuals who might have knowledge of the birth parents (finders, orphanage staff, and foster families), other ideas include distributing leaflets in the neighborhood surrounding the finding location or at local markets. These leaflets should be general in nature, listing no personal information about the adoptive family or the child. Contact information might include an e-mail address or in-country cellphone number. This method will result in many fruitless contacts (birth parents of other adopted children), but reduce the impulse of someone to come forward pretending to be your child's birth parents. This method also has the benefit of keeping control of the communication lines with the adoptive family.

Placing "Birth Family Search" ads in newspapers is also a common strategy, but generally inefficient. There is little certainty that a birth family will read the newspaper chosen for the ad, and the most widely-read newspapers are those covering wide geographical areas. It is, however, another option. One downside to the ads is that most newspapers require the advertiser to submit and pay for the ad in person, requiring a contact in the area.

Ultimately, it is up to each adoptive family to decide if they should search for their child's birth parents. Personally, I am anxious to obtain as much information regarding my child's life-history as possible. I would like to know why they were abandoned, what their birth families look like, are there siblings, etc. I want to know this so that when my children ask these questions, I can provide definitive information, not broad generalities and suppositions.

But any contact made would be on my terms, with my sanction and approval. After having my questions answered, I would find a level of communication that I was comfortable with. I would not tell my children we had located their birth parents unless they asked me to help locate their birth parents. At that point, I would decide if the time was appropriate to tell my daughter that we in fact knew her birth family. In this way, control of her history remains with my daughter.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Trees in the Forest V -- Finding Locations, Part 2

In our last essay, we presented data on the three most popular finding locations for children from China: Orphanages, hospitals and government offices. Collectively, nearly 50% of children are found at one of these three locations.

In this essay, we will discuss the remaining twelve locations that comprise the remaining 50% of findings.

#4 -- Roadsides
The fourth finding location we will consider are roadside findings. A significant number of children are left on the sides of roads. These “roadside” children numbered over 1,000, or nearly 10% of the total in 2006. Although one might easily conjure up the worst of images for children found on the side of a road, the opposite is frequently the case, though not always. Often, children are left along the road near a bus stop, for example. Again, one can easily visualize a person placing the child in a box or basket and leaving it on the roadside near a bus stop. After a while people waiting for the next bus discover the child. If more information could be obtained on roadside foundlings, I believe in a majority of cases we would find that there was a logical reason for that location to be picked.

#5 -- Bus/Train Stations
Another frequent finding location are bus and train stations. Up to this point, all of the locations we have discussed are what I would call “local” finding locations. In other words, I believe that children found at the orphanages, hospitals, government offices, and roadsides are left, in a high percentage of the time, by families that live locally.

I receive the same question from a family in nearly every research project I do. "Do you think my daughter was born in city she came from?" It is a popular discussion among adoptive families, and I think there is a lot of misinformation that goes around when it comes to our daughters' actual birth city.

With the exception of a few obviously questionable locations such as bus and railway stations, I think that overwhelmingly our girls were born in the general area where they were found. Usually the locations are such that only a "local" would be aware of them (police stations, hospitals, etc.). But the main reason I believe they are found close to their birth areas is because there really is no reason for a mother to travel very far to abandon her baby.

In the U.S., we grow up believing that the police are able to interview, conduct tests, etc., to solve just about any crime. We take that viewpoint into our impressions of what it means when we read that the orphanage "tried to locate her birth parents for 60 days, but failed." We kind of imagine the police going door to door looking for witnesses, checking hospital birth records, etc. to try and find the parents of a found baby. This never happens.

I researched a girl in one city that was in the hospital for 9 months before being brought to the orphanage. The orphanage told the family she was there because she was so sick when found, but when we met the nurses at the hospital that took care of her, they said that the girl was kept in the hospital in order to give the birth parents another chance to return to get her. The family had been in the hospital for almost a week with the girl before it became obvious that her medical expenses would be more than the family could pay, so they decided to leave her there. It was understood that they knew who the family was. the police never asked anyone who the family was, no records were pulled (the family would have filled out paperwork when they entered the hospital).

Recently, I had the pleasure of discussing abandonment with the Chief of Police in a city in Guangxi Province. I asked him how hard the police search for birth parents when a child is found. He responded that the care and health of the foundling are the most important considerations when she is found. They are often “starving” as he called it, and sometimes sick. Thus, the first priority is to get the children to the orphanage for care. “What would happen,” I asked, “if a child was found in a hospital, IV marks on her head or arm, six days old. Would the police ask the hospital to see the birth records in order to locate the birth family?” “No,” he answered.

The bottom line is that rarely is an attempt made to locate birth parents when a child is found. The police do a short report, call the orphanage, and that is the end of it.

Why don't they try harder? Because everyone in China, from the police to the orphanage personnel to the Civil Affairs officials, all acknowledge that there is a problem with abandoned girls. They are all sympathetic to the reasons girls are being left (more on that later), and they turn a blind eye to it when it happens. Publicly the government tries to show a strong enforcement face to keep obedience to the one-child policy as high as possible, but when a girl is found nothing is done.

Returning to Bus and Train Stations. It is likely that children found in these locations are not abandoned by local families. Rather, they are probably the offspring of migrant workers, or those living in other cities. These children are often found in waiting room, bath rooms, and other areas used by people leaving the city. In the rush to board the train or bus, no one notices a box or basket being left behind. Extremely crowded and chaotic locations make abandonment a low-risk endeavor.

#6 -- Public Parks
Another popular finding location is city parks and squares. One must visit a Chinese Park to appreciate them. Parks in China are not just for kids, but for the entire community. Most are used in the mornings for Tai Che exercises by the elderly, throughout the day for rest and relaxation by the retired and unemployed, who while away the hours playing Majong or Dragon Chess. In the evening the families and young couples appear, performing dances, interacting with their neighbors, and escaping the heat of their homes. Parks serve an extremely important function in Chinese society.

For many of the reasons described above (crowded, easy detection of the child, etc.), parks are also frequent finding locations, accounting for over 3% of the finding locations in 2006.

#7 -- Schools
Another finding location that has characteristics similar to the orphanage is a school. Whether it is a Primary school, middle or High School, 3% of the children placed for international adoption in 2006 were found at the gate of a school. Like orphanages, most schools are guarded. Abandonment rates for schools dropped 40% on weekends in Guangdong, a characteristic that most likely would be seen in other areas, since traffic coming from schools on weekends is lower. It seems likely that schools, another “public” finding location, are chosen due to their perceived love and care for children.

#8 -- Markets
Anyone that has visited a Chinese market knows that this location embodies all of the characteristics we have discussed so far for a “good” abandonment location – they are crowded, noisy, and have hundreds of boxes and baskets laying around. 3% of the children found in 2006 were found in markets. No doubt this “public” location is seen as a very safe location given that many people will witness the finding, and no one will witness the abandonment.

Markets are primarily a local enterprise. Each neighborhood has a produce and meat market within walking distance, and the location is familiar to all. A family member, usually the wife, visits the market several times a week to buy fresh foodstuffs for family meals. Due to their "neighborhood" quality, markets are almost certainly used primarily by local families, in the hope that someone in the area will "adopt" the child and care for her.

#9 -- Private Residences & Villages

All of the locations we have discussed so far have been “public” locations, meaning none of them have an obvious tie to a particular person or family. Our next location is a “private” location – personal residences and village farms. These locations accounted for over 8% of findings in 2006. The difference between a public and private finding location has important ramifications for adoptive families seeking birth parents.

Most of my experiences in locating birth parents have involved children found at the house or farm of a family. These families sometimes have a boy, and the birth family of an unwanted girl assumes the family would like a girl to create the “perfect family” of one boy and a girl. Other families are childless, and the birth family probably assumes the family will take in the girl in order to bring about a pregnancy, a common perception in China. But in almost every case I have researched, the finders knew who the birth family was.

For adoptive families seeking to locate birth parents, a “residence” or village finding location is an almost certain connection.

Abandoning a child in a public location, even if that location is the orphanage, hospital or school, almost certainly represents a consignment of the child to a life in an orphanage in the minds of the birth parents. Few people are aware of international adoption, or even domestic adoption for that matter, in China, so there can be little expectation that a child will end up anywhere else but in the care of the State.

Abandoning a child at a private residence, however, exhibits a desire on the part of the birth family to provide a loving alternative to remaining in the family. Domestic adoption statistics prove that this assumption is valid.

One Province that we have domestic adoption data from is Zhejiang Province in eastern China. In 2006, 215 children adoptions were registered by the orphanage or by the Civil Affairs Bureau, as compared to 113 internationally adopted children.

The children registered by the orphanage are those children that were adopted by a family that went to the orphanage seeking a child, or by a family that found and immediately adopted a young child. In 2006, 55 Chinese families officially adopted a child, and 50% of those children were found at either a private residence or in a village. As a comparison, of the 113 children adopted internationally, only 20 (17%) were found at a residence or village.

The contrast grows starker when you look at the children registered in 2006 with the Civil Affairs Bureaus in Zhejiang. These registrations are for people who find a child and decide to keep it, but don't register the child with the government for several years. Later, in order for the child to attend school, etc., the family applies at the Civil Affairs office to have her registered. Of the 159 children who were adopted by their finders in 2006, only 16 were not found at a residence or village. An extraordinary 90% were found on the doorsteps of their finders.

Thus, if a birth family wants to maximize the chances that their child will be adopted, leaving that child on the doorstep of a local family is an excellent way to do it.

#10 -- Bridges
No finding location strikes me as stranger when I am doing research than our next finding location, bridges. Often have I stood on a bridge in the middle of the countryside, looking for some reason why a family would leave child there. Often one finds a reason: a bus stop, a house, or some other explanation, but often there is no apparent reason. Nevertheless, in 2006 a little over 2½% of children found were found at bridges. There is one common thread that connects most bridges, and that is that they have heavy foot-traffic as farmers, students, and women walk to fields, schools and markets.

#11 -- Stores
Like private residences, stores often exhibit intentional targeting by the birth family. The owner of one pharmacy we visited in Jiangxi Province admitted having a good idea who the birth family was of the child he found at the door of his shop one morning. Some connection no doubt exists for many of the children found at small, “personal” stores.

Some stores -- like bookstores, banks, gas stations, hotels and restaurants – are believed by most people to be frequented by people with financial means. Book stores are perceived as frequented by intelligent and upscale people, while gas stations imply a family wealthy enough to own a private car, no small feat in China. Restaurants are usually frequented by business people, seen as individuals of above average means.

#12 -- Factories and Companies
Over 4% of the children were left at our next location, factories and companies. These locations are likely chosen because the birth parents work or live near the location. In China, large factories and companies support huge communities of families that are employed by the business, and these communities often have their own hospitals, stores, police, and other infrastructure commonly associated with a city or town. The children found at these locations are almost certainly born locally.

#13 -- Old Folk's Homes
Another frequent finding location are the many old folk's homes located in nearly every town and county in China. Like orphanages, old folk's homes are viewed as safe locations to leave children. Orphanages and old folk's homes both fall under the auspices of the “Fu Li Yuan”, or social welfare program. In fact, many orphanages share space with old people's homes, allowing the children to interact with the elderly.

#14 -- Police Stations
No finding location better exhibits the lack of fear involved in abandoning a child than police stations. In speaking with the same Chief of Police in Guangxi that I mentioned earlier, I asked him if children are actually found at police stations, or simply brought to the stations by the finders. He confirmed that in his experience, children are actually found at the stations. No doubt a significant percentage of police station findings, however, are also children found at other locations and brought to the police for reporting.

Summary of the "Forest"
It might be well to recap what we know of the forest so far. Based on an analysis of the finding data for children submitted for international adoption in 2006, the typical internationally adopted child is:

– Female (85%)
– Healthy (90%)
– Found at between 1-7 days of age (64%)
– Found at the orphanage or hospital (40%)
– Born to Married Couples (@85%)

The typical internationally adopted child is female (85%), healthy (90%) and found at less than a week old (64%). If we can extrapolate from the abandonment rate of healthy boys, about 15% of the birth parents are single. This assumes that most, if not all, of healthy boys are abandoned by single woman. The rest are from married parents, usually rural farmers, with another sibling in the family, probably a girl.

But the data varies from Province to Province, and even orphanage to orphanage. Generally, the further north one goes, the closer one reaches parity in gender and health. I believe this is due to the high demand in these areas for healthy children. Most unwanted healthy children in Hebei, Gansu, Shanxi, Inner Mongolia and other northern Provinces are trafficked to wanting families rather than being left. This market for healthy children, driven by the parental desires of millions of Chinese couples unable to conceive children, moves large numbers of children from the south to the north of China.

We thus have a good idea what the “forest” looks like in child abandonment in China. The forest, however, is changing from area to area, and year to year. Orphanage directors indicate that the number of healthy children being abandoned is falling, due to factors such as changing attitudes, increased financial resources, and selective abortions. Additionally, increasing numbers of China's estimated 15-18 million childless couples are seeking to adopt children. Thus as the number of found abandoned children falls, the number of families seeking to adopt them is rising. This is already being seen in the international adoption community, where wait-times for families seeking to adopt from China has risen in the last two years from 12 months to over 23 months, with projections going even higher.

The orphanages have sometimes taken steps to increase the number of children entering the international adoption program. The Hunan scandal is a well-known example of this problem, but even today many orphanages continue to offer financial "rewards" to individuals to bring babies to the orphanages. While these "rewards" are seen as a way to keep unwanted children safe, it is peculiar that the orphanages involved in these programs have increasing abandonment rates while other areas are seeing declining numbers. All of these forces bring uniqueness to each orphanage, and the stories of those that are adopted from them.

In the face of these changes, China is quietly modifying its adoption program. Funding under domestic programs such as “Tomorrow Plan” are repairing cleft lips, heart problems, and other fixable special needs in order to make children more easily adoptable. Orphanages are being encouraged to submit all special needs children to the CCAA for adoption. I believe that over the next few years the CCAA will make it easier to adopt special needs children, and more difficult to adopt healthy children. I wouldn't be surprised if the adoption of healthy children ceases before the end of this decade.

Tens of thousands of families in the U.S., Netherlands, Canada, Spain, France, Australia, the United Kingdom, Sweden and Denmark have been touched by Chinese adoption. The information I have gathered from my research with finding ads, orphanage visits, and birth parents interviews has given us, I believe, a good idea of the “forest” that is China's abandonment problem and international adoption program. But ultimately, for me what is most important are three trees in that vast forest – the different stories of the three little girls who are my daughters.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Trees in the Forest IV -- Finding Locations

Most families are made aware of the finding location of their child at the time of adoption, if not earlier. The vast majority of locations can be broken down into fifteen location "types". These location types can be further broken down into two categories, "public" locations and "private" locations. Public finding locations are sites such as orphanage gates, hospitals, government offices, etc., any location that would be known and chosen by a member of the public at large. By contrast, private finding locations are those locations that would be targeted as an abandonment location specifically because of who lives or works there. In other words, the intent of choosing that location is to "give" the child to a specific individual or family.

Before launching into a discussion of individual finding locations, we must address the question of the accuracy of the information received from the orphanage. How accurate is the information given to adoptive families concerning their child's finding location?

My research convinces me that in the majority of cases, the information is accurate. Orphanages take the child's finding location information from the police report filled out at the time of finding. When the orphanage is involved in retrieving the child, additional information is available, but if the police retrieve the child and bring her to the orphanage, the police report will be the only source of information. As in many aspects of life, the detail of information depends on the diligence of the police officer. Often extremely detailed information is given; other times only the most basic information is recorded.

In recent years some orphanages have been involved in the obvious fabrication of finding information. The orphanages involved in the Hunan scandal, for example, testified that finding locations were fabricated for most of the children trafficked. One Canadian family adopting from one of the Hunan orphanages involved in the trafficking was informed in their child's progress report that she was found at the bus station, and that her "finder" was Duan Meilin, the head of the trafficking group.

Another example, I believe, of inaccurate finding location reporting is taking place in Fuling, where all of the children since May 2005 are reportedly found at the gate of the orphanage. As we will see from our study of the finding locations, it is extremely unlikely that every birth family in a given area will choose a single location, even when that location is the orphanage.

But in researching the finding locations for thousands of children, very often we are able to locate someone who remembers the finding, and can vouch for its accuracy. Thus, I believe that most orphanages report the finding information as accurately as possible.

The most common finding location across China is the gate of the orphanage. Of the 10,824 children placed for international adoption in our study provinces, 2,458 were found at the orphanage. This represents almost a quarter of all findings (22.72%).

Not all children are placed at the orphanages by their birth parents, however. As is the case with police stations and other government offices, children are frequently brought to the orphanage by the finders themselves. After finding a child at their house or business, many finders investigate the process involved in keeping the child. After determining that keeping the child is not feasible, the foundling is brought to the orphanage by the finders.

Orphanages offer a prime characteristic sought by families looking to abandon a child: Certain detection of the child. The vast majority of finding locations share this characteristic. Orphanages are particularly safe in this respect due to the fact that most are guarded. Thus, most orphanage foundlings are left in the early mornings before the guard-house is staffed, and the child found when the guard comes on duty.

Since a significant percentage of children are found elsewhere and brought to the orphanage by their finders, directors are sometimes knowledgeable of the identities of birth parents. As we will see in our next article, finders in many circumstances have significant knowledge about the identities of the birth parents. Unfortunately, directors are prohibited from sharing any information of this nature with adoptive families.

Another reason orphanages are popular finding locations is it is assumed by the birth parents that the orphanage will take good care of the child. I have seen no evidence to suggest that abandoning birth parents assume their child will be adopted. In fact, my conversations with birth parents suggests that adoption of their child does not factor at all into their abandonment process. Instead, orphanages are most likely chosen because it is felt the State will provide the abandoned child with food, shelter and a basic education.

After orphanages, the next most frequent finding location in 2006 was hospitals, which includes medical clinics, traditional medicine hospitals and various medical "stations" (vaccination, skin, etc.). In 2006, over 1,500 (14.1%) of children were found in hospitals. Although exterior gates are often chosen (most of which are guarded), hospital beds, benches, bathrooms and other interior locations are often frequently used. A higher percentage of special needs children are found in hospitals than healthy children. In almost all of the stories I have experience with relating to findings in hospitals, the vast majority reported the finding of special needs children. Sometimes the birth family simply decides they can no longer afford the medical expenses required by the hospital to care for a child, and walk away.

There are several factors that make hospitals attractive abandonment sites: 1) Quick and caring staff, especially important if the child is ill or needs medical care; 2) busy – anyone who has been in a Chinese hospital, health center, or other medical facility can attest to how busy they are. Thus, low detection probabilities make hospitals attractive -- no one notices anything.

It seems likely that many of the children found in hospitals were also born there, especially in the rural areas. Most Chinese feel that the preferred place to have a baby is in the hospital.

When a woman becomes pregnant in China, she has two options. Legally, she is required to register her pregnancy with her local family planning office. Registration of her pending child will result in her receiving a free ID card for her unborn child, required to obtain prenatal care and to enroll in school down the road. For this reason, I believe many, if not most, women register their pregnancy. Registration of a child after it is born results in a substantial “registration fee” being imposed.

Thus, hospital records remain an untapped source for information on birth parent information. It is possible to inquire at the hospital in the town or village where a child is found, and see if the hospital records contain any information exists on the birth family. Unfortunately, by the time most families are able to visit a hospital in their child's town or village, the birth records have been archived, and often inaccessible.

Government Offices
Government offices also represent a finding location in a significant number of cases, over 12% in 2006. Ranging from Civil Affairs Bureaus (and the smaller Residence Committee Offices in the countryside towns and villages), Family Planning offices, and myriad other government offices, they share common characteristics with orphanages. They are also the most likely place for finders to bring children they have found elsewhere. In researching one child in Jiangxi Province, we asked around the Residence Committee office where the child was reported to have been found. Several bystanders approached us, confirming the finding, but indicating that the child had been brought to the office by a local family, who found the child on their doorstep. In visiting and conversing with this family, they confirmed that they had found the child, and that they knew its birth parents. Later I will discuss how often this scenario is repeated.

In our next essay, we will discuss the remaining 50% of finding locations, and explore important clues an adoptive family can employ to locate their child's birth parents.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Trees in the Forest III -- Age and Timing

The struggle a birth family goes through before they abandon a child can be inferred from the age of the children in each class we have discussed so far. In previous essays, we have classified the children found and submitted to the CCAA in 2006 into four categories: Boy and girl, healthy and Special Needs. Each classification is dissimilar from the rest when it comes to the average age when they are found.

In general, for example, the average family waited over 8 months (254 days) before abandoning a boy, while only waiting 2 months (60 days) before abandoning a girl. If one looks at the special needs cases, both sexes have similar average ages: 277 days for boys and 251 for girls. It is not hard to understand why: Often special needs, especially those involving unseen problems like heart conditions and mental deficiencies, are undetectable until later. Once detected, the family will seek medical help, only to discover that the costs for surgery or medication are prohibitive. The decision to abandon is made. Additionally, it must be recognized that many families, faced with only having one child, will discard an “imperfect” child in order to conceive and bare another, hopefully healthy, child.

The biggest difference in average ages is between the healthy boy and healthy girls. While the average age for the healthy boy (256 days) approximates the age of the male special needs (277 days), the average for healthy females plummeted from 251 days for special needs girls to 70 days for healthy girls. Guangdong, Hunan and Jiangxi do not predictably differentiate between healthy and special needs in their finding ads, otherwise it is very likely that the average age for healthy girls would be much lower, almost certainly in the 30-40 day range. Hunan's average for all girls, for example, is only 50 days, while Jiangxi's average falls to 30 days. Guangdong's average for girls is the lowest of all of China's Provinces, coming in at only 22 days.

But the averages mask an important fact about abandonment: The vast majority of children are abandoned quickly. This can be seen from a distribution graph of the ages the children in 2006 were when found.

As can be seen from this graph, the vast majority of children are newborns when found (0-2 days old). Of the 9,800 children that had ages reported in their finding ad, almost 4,600 were less than 3 days old when found (47%). An additional 1,650 were 3 to 7 days old, meaning that 64% of children are abandoned at a week old or less. 15% of children are a week to a month old, while 13% were a month to 6 months old. The rest, children found older than 6 months of age, account for only 8% of the total number of children found.

Thus, it seems apparent that the decision to abandon a child is made very soon after birth, usually within a week. But exceptions do occur, and these exceptions have a big impact on the averages.

How are the ages of the children determined? Once the child has been transferred to the orphanage upon finding, the first step taken by the orphanage is the determination of the age of the child. Often this task is aided by a note left with the child by the birth parents called a birth note.

Most usually written on red paper common in China, the note almost always gives, at a minimum, the child's time and date of birth. Sometimes there are additional words of pleading, such as “Please take care of my child." Birthnotes are fairly commonly found due to the belief in China that knowing one’s birth date is crucial to knowing one’s future. Fortune tellers are frequently consulted prior to important events such as weddings, and a vital piece of information in obtaining these fortune tellings is the time and date of birth. Primarily for this reason, I believe that most birth parents leave a note with their abandoned child giving that information so that their child will be able to obtain guidance from fortune tellers in the future.

Not all of the birth notes make it to the orphanage, however. Often, birth parents wrap the note around a small amount of money. This money is a strong temptation to finders, and the notes are sometimes taken with the money before the police arrive.

In reviewing the finding ads for Guangxi Province for 2006, birth notes were recorded with 200 of the 900 children found, or a little over 20% of the time. This number, however, probably significantly understates the actual number of children that were left with birth notes.

If no note is present, the orphanage will estimate the child’s birth date using the perceived age of the child. If the child is very young, the birth date might be estimated as 1, 2, 3 or 4 days old. Factors such as whether the child is wet (from being recently born), the umbilical cord, etc., assist the orphanage in accurately depicting the child's birthdate if they are under five days of age. Beyond five days, and most children will be estimated as one week, half a month, or a month old. Older children might be estimated to be multiple months or years old.

Should a family assume the birthnote received from the orphanage is authentic? This is a question I receive frequently from families. Many report finding significant similarities between their child's note, and those of other members of the travel group, for example. The handwriting is often compared by traveling families, and occasionally it is discovered that one person wrote all of the notes. Do some orphanages make up birth notes to make families happy?

This is a difficult question to answer definitively, but I can share my experiences in this area. The CCAA prohibits the original birthnotes from being given to adoptive families, a practice I find reprehensible. In my mind, there is no more important artifact a child could have than a note from her birth mother. To keep this from families is an act of information control, and should be changed. In an attempt to satisfy adoptive families, orphanage directors sometimes make copies of the notes by hand. Few realize how interconnected adoptive families are, and thus don't realize that many adoptive families become suspicious of these manufactured notes. This, of course, is an important example of the vast cultural difference between orphanage directors and adoptive families. The directors assume what is important to the adoptive family is the information, not the actual note itself. By not notifying families when a note has been hand-copied, misunderstandings occur.

I don't believe that many directors manufacture birthnotes out of thin air. I do believe that most operate out of a sincere desire to give as much information as they can to families, and sometimes problems of communication occur. Families would do well to communicate this issue to the directors, asking them when copies are received if it is the original note that was copied (xerox copies) or whether the note was reproduced by the orphanage. In this way, a clear understanding is made possible.

One would assume that the abandonment rate of children is fairly constant across the calendar year, but that assumption is incorrect. In fact, a wide-spread cyclical pattern of abandonment can be seen when we look at the dates children are abandoned.

As can be seen, January starts the year off with a bang. But abandonment rates begin to fall in February, bottoming in May, the lowest month for abandonments, and remain fairly flat until October, when the rates increase, peaking in November at the same rate as January. Why is the rate from October through January 46% higher than the rest of the year?

The answer lies in the corresponding conception period. If one counts back nine months from October, you will land on February, the traditional time for Chinese New Years. Danwei describes the Chinese New Year celebration as “the time when the largest human migration takes place when Chinese all around the world return home on Chinese New Year eve to have reunion dinner with their family.” Chinese families live a largely separated family life, with wives and husbands often living and working in different cities, not seeing each other for months at a time. The high traffic load usually begins 15 days before the Lunar New Year, and lasts for around 40 days. This period is also called Spring Festival travel season, or "Chunyun" period. Undoubtedly, these reunions result in higher conception rates.

A similar pattern is seen when one looks at the days of the week. From December 1, 2005 through November 30, 2006, over 7,100 children were found and submitted to the CCAA for international adoption, or an average of 19.6 children every day.

But the actual frequency per day varies significantly from one day to another. Mondays average 22.7 children, a number that falls on each of the following two days (Tuesday averages 20.2 and Wednesday averages 18.9). Thursday sees the average bump back up to 21.7, with Friday falling near the overall average with 19.9 children being found on each day.

The weekend days of Saturday and Sunday both have below average abandonment rates, being 10% and 13% respectively below the daily average.

A clear pattern is visible -- After bottoming on Wednesdays, abandonment rates begin to increase ahead of the weekend. Friday sees an average abandonment rate, but the rates fall on the weekend, when most schools, government offices and other popular finding locations are closed. On Monday, abandonment rates spike 16% above the average, with Tuesday continuing with above average rates. Five of the six highest abandonment days of December 2005 to November 2006 were Fridays or Mondays (1/20/06, 1/23/06, 2/6/06, 2/10/06, 4/3/06). The highest single abandonment date was Thursday, December 29, 2005, when 45 children were found. This day may have been chosen due to its proximity to the Western New Year, although this is purely speculative on my part. January 1, 2006 showed no significant decrease in abandonment rates.

In reviewing individual days in 2006, I saw no convincing trends to suggest any dates were "holy" and thus avoided for abandoning. Holiday dates such as May 1 ("Labor Day"), and April 5 ("Brightness Festival") all exhibited average abandonment numbers (17, 22). January 29 (New Years) and October 1 ("Nation's Day") both fell on a Sunday, so it is hard to determine whether the lower abandonment numbers (14, 11) for those days were due to their being on a Sunday, or because both were important holidays. The entire week of October 1-7, 2006 saw only slightly lower than average abandonment rates, averaging 13.7 per day, only 11% less than the following week's 15.4 daily average (October 8-15, 2006). The week of Chinese New Years was almost perfectly average in abandonments (19.4). Thus, it seems that specific dates have little impact on abandonments.

Although we often think of abandonment as an individual decision, a discernible pattern can be seen when the entire "forest" is viewed collectively. The vast majority of the healthy children are abandoned very soon after birth, usually within one week, with very few (5.3%) being abandoned after one year of age. These children are abandoned at significantly higher rates in the 9-11 months following Chinese New Years. Additionally, in any given week significantly more children are abandoned on the day before and the day after the weekend.

In our next segment, we will turn our attention to where these children are found, and see if this sheds additional light on where these children come from.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Trees in the Forest II -- Gender and Health

We all are aware of the abandonment stories of our respective children. Each of our children represents, as it were, a single tree in the overall forest of China's abandonment problem. In these essays I will attempt to elevate our view from the individual trees to the broad landscape in order that we might better understand how each of our children fall into the bigger picture. The essay that follows examines the gender ratios of the children abandoned, as well as their health status.

It was the cry that first caught the attention of Yang Ming Zhu as she walked to work. Gazing down, she saw a two-day old infant girl crying in a box. Pinned to her red outfit was a note, stating the child’s birth date. An empty bottle lay by her side, along with 30 yuan. Picking up the child, she walked into the Civil Affairs Bureau and called the police.

The child found that morning by Yang Ming Zhu was to become my oldest daughter Meikina.

Meikina's finding story is as a single tree in the proverbial forest of finding stories occurring every day across China. She is a girl, found in July, two days old and healthy. Is her story common? Is her finding location at the gate of the Civil Affairs Bureau similar or different from her adoption sisters and brothers?

Meikina’s story is played out in similar fashion over ten thousand times a year, and these children end up with adoptive families in such countries as the Netherlands, U.S., Canada, Spain, Belgium, Australia, the United Kingdom, Norway, Sweden, France, and others. In 2006, nearly 12,000 children were submitted to the CCAA for adoption outside China.

This number do not include the tens of thousands of children that are adopted domestically inside China each year, and the possibly hundred thousand or more that are adopted informally by the families who find them, and which are never reported to the orphanage.

Who are these children, and who are their birth families? The answers to these questions vary from Province to Province, and those differences present interesting puzzles. But in this series of essays, I will attempt to illuminate the trees of the forest of over 10,000 children reported to the CCAA in 2006. The result, I hope, will be a glimpse of the larger forest, the cultural context in which our children can be placed.

So, who are the children being abandoned? I will be analyzing demographic information compiled from the 2006 adoption submissions to the CCAA, as detailed in the Provincial finding ads. Finding ads are the first step an orphanage goes through to submit a child for international adoption. I have analyzed the ads from all the Provinces in China that submitted more than 100 children for international adoption in 2006. Eighteen Provinces are in our study:

Anhui, Chongqing, Fujian, Gansu, Guangdong, Guangxi, Guizhou, Henan, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Liaoning, Shaanxi, Shanxi, Sichuan, Yunnan, and Zhejiang.

Collectively, these eighteen Provinces submitted over 10,600 children for international adoption, representing over 88% of all the children submitted across China. In 2006, 376 orphanages in these eighteen provinces submitted files for children in the international adoption program.

Of the 10,621 children that were submitted to the CCAA, there were at least 42 known twin sets: 40 of the sets were female twins, one mixed twin set of a boy and a girl, and one boy twin set. There was also one set of triplet girls. In actuality, the number of twins was probably much higher, since some birth parents abandon the twins in different locations around the city thinking it will be more likely they will be adopted. Orphanages always classify these as non-twins.

The Gender of the Children Submitted for International Adoption in 2006

We will begin our study by looking at an obvious demographic characteristic of the children -- their gender. In 2006, 1,648 boys were submitted for adoption, or 15% of the total. The balance, 8,973 (85%) were for female children.

A word of caution with our sampling. We are studying data taken from international adoption submissions, which by definition is ignorant (except in a few cases we will look at) of the domestic adoption rates and percentages. It is possible that domestic adoption accounts for a significant number of boys being adopted, draining them from the international adoption pool. How much is unknown, but we can’t make assumptions as to the percentage of boys verses girls there exists at the abandonment level. Our data only applies to those submitted for international adoption. Evidence does exist, however, that shows that these percentages hold across the board. A glimpse into domestic adoption rates can be seen in two Provinces: Chongqing and Zhejiang. In 2006, these two areas registered almost 300 domestic adoptions, compared with 951 international adoptions. Of the 300 domestic adoptions, forty-three (15%) of them were boys, all but four of whom were healthy. The rest were for girls, all of whom were healthy. These two samples seem to confirm that the ratios remain constant across the domestic and international adoption programs.

The “forest” in this regard is not consistent across China. In fact, large differences in ratios exist from one Province to another. The smallest ratios of boys to girls (in other words, the areas where the most girls are abandoned) are the three largest Provinces for international adoption – Guangdong, Hunan, and Jiangxi.

Guangdong = 8% boys
Hunan = 8% boys
Jiangxi = 4% boys

These three Provinces provide just over half of all the children adopted from China. These three Provinces also have a boy to girl ratio of less than 10%, meaning that for every boy adopted there are at least 10 girls adopted, and in the case of Jiangxi, 25 girls are adopted for every boy.

As we move out from these three core Provinces, an interesting trend emerges. The farther away you go, the more boys are found relative to girls.

Moving out from the high ratio of girls to boys in Guangdong, Hunan and Jiangxi Provinces, the ratio falls to 5-1 in Guangxi, Guizhou, Hubei and Anhui Provinces. Moving further out still, this ratio drops further to a 2-1 ratio (2 girls for every boy) in Yunnan, Gansu, Zhejiang and Fujian Provinces. The ratio reaches parity (equal number of boys to girls) in Sichuan, Shaanxi, Henan and Jiangsu Provinces. Finally, in the northern-most area, the ratio inverts, with more boys being submitted than girls in Shanxi, Liaoning and Inner Mongolia.

What forces -- cultural, environmental, financial -- are at play to create this disparity among the southern and northern provinces? The answer is tied to another characteristic of the children when found -- whether they are healthy or special needs.

Health of the Children Submitted for International Adoption

Closely related to the ratio of boys verses girls is how many of these children are “Healthy” verses “Special Needs”. Intuitively, most of us would assume that the ratio of special needs to healthy children would be higher among boys than girls, and this is indeed the case. Of the 1,648 boys submitted to the CCAA for international adoption, 731 (or 44%) had some special need. These special needs range from an extra finger, a cleft lip, a large birthmark or scar, to serious special needs like missing limbs, blindness, heart defects, and mental retardation. This figure of 44% is a very conservative figure, and is likely much higher since many orphanages don’t indicate the health of the child in their finding ads. It is safe to say that the actual rate is 60% or higher.

For the same time period, the 376 orphanages submitted over 8,900 files for girls to the CCAA. Of this number, 619 were for special needs girls, or 7%.

Although the ratio is much lower for girls, the actual number of special needs children of either sex was comparable: 731 boys and 619 girls. When we look at healthy children, the ratio of boys to girls submitted was nearly 10 to 1: 900 healthy boys to over 8,500 healthy girls. Clearly there is a male bias in China among a segment of her population.

Like the data respecting gender, there are demographic anomalies from Province to Province. Again starting with the core Provinces of Guangdong, Jiangxi and Hunan, the ratio of Special Needs to Healthy children increases as one moves out.
What is going on in these outlying Provinces? Not only do they not track with the Southern Provinces as far as the ratio of boys to girls, they also have dissimilar health rates.

The northern Provinces report few healthy children, boys or girls, for primarily one reason: Most of the healthy children are sold or “transferred” to other families. Many readers are familiar with the myriad reports of child-trafficking regularly occurring in China. Most of these stories report incidents of children being taken from the South (Guangdong, Guangxi, Yunnan) where healthy children are plentiful (and thus of little value) to the north (where adoptable healthy children are scarce).

Infant Trafficking in China

Stories of infant trafficking are common in China, and although the government appears to be treating this issue seriously, there is no evidence that the problem is lessening. Recent examples of trafficking include the following:

One large trafficking gang sold kidnapped and purchased children. Most of the baby boys were kidnapped, but the girls were from mountain villages, willingly sold to traffickers. The girls were purchased for 300-2,000 yuan, and later resold for 8-9,000. The boys were sold for 20,000-30,000 yuan. The children were from Sichuan, Guizhou and Yunnan, and were sold in Guangdong, Henan, Hebei, Shanxi and Shangdong Provinces.

Another case involved trafficking from Guiyang (Guizhou) to Beijing – five children destined for Henan Province, two girls and three boys. Girls sold for 1,500 yuan to poor families wanting wives for their sons. Another group purchased the children in Yunnan for 250 yuan, to be sold for 1,700 in Henan Province.

Another example is from Mongolia. A small, rural private clinic involved in the delivery of babies would quiz the birth parents if they wanted to keep the child. If they indicated they didn't want the child, the hospital would contact the traffickers, who would come pick up the baby and pay the family 1,000 yuan. The family was required, however, to pay the doctors 800 yuan for making the referral. Seventy-six children were thus trafficked in Huhehaote, one of the main cities in Mongolia involved in international adoptions.

The most brazen example of the intrinsic value of healthy infants in these rural Provinces took place in Yunnan Province. Here a recent article states that 40 children were sold by their birth parents for 5,000 yuan each. The women of Yongkang Village simply stated: “If you want to make money, simply have a baby. Having a baby is faster than feeding a pig.” The 40 children were transported to cities in Fujian, Sichuan, and Chongqing, where they were sold to families for 11,000 yuan. (Yunnan Legal Daily, 7/28/04).

Stories like these are very common in China, and the vast majority of cases never go reported. Many involve children that have been kidnapped, but most involve children willingly given up by their birth parents for free or a small sum of money. The common method of making connections is by contacting doctors or other employees that work in the hospitals. These individuals talk with the birth parents, either while still in the hospital or soon thereafter. Usually, the traffickers have "adoptive" families that are interested in purchasing these children. The families doing the adopting are usually childless, poor, and desperate for a child.

It is paradoxical for us in the West to see a country that on the one hand abandons children by the thousands also having problems with the kidnapping and trafficking of children. It is in every sense of the word a commodity-driven market, with some families having too many children for their needs, while others having too few.

It goes without saying that China's international adoption program plays a role in this market. Western adoptive families were shocked when the Hunan Scandal broke in late 2005, but for anyone aware of the demand for healthy children in China, the question isn't how the Hunan story happened, but why it doesn't happen more often.

The farther one moves from the economically prosperous south to the west and north, fewer healthy children are simply abandoned. Instead, the majority of children are left for family friends to adopt or sold to traffickers. It is the high demand for healthy children in these remote areas that explains both the high SN ratios of the children found, as well as the low ratio of boys verses girls found. Most of the boys and girls found in Provinces such as Shaanxi, Henan, Shanxi, Liaoning, and Inner Mongolia are abandoned because they represent little economic value due to their special needs. Healthy children of either gender, however, are easily transferred to other families, or sold to traffickers, and thus are seldom simply left in a public place to be found.

In our next essay, we will look at the age of the children when found, as well as the impact of the Chinese calendar on abandonment rates.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Why Wait Times Will Continue to Increase

There has been much discussion on A-P-C and various other boards as to what will happen to wait times in the next year or so. One widely read rumor board speculates that the "ceiling/quota is going to be higher next year", further perpetuating the myth that the orphanages have children to adopt, but the CCAA is restricting these adoptions. Although theories abound, most are based on speculation, conjecture, and emotion, and provide little factual analysis to the discussion. What follows are some facts to support the conclusion that wait times will increase over the next 12-18 months.

The wait time is simply an indicator of the balance (or imbalance) between the number of children available for adoption and the number of families seeking to adopt. We can discuss whether there is a quota on the total number of adoptions being ALLOWED by the Chinese Government (theoretically possible, but no evidence that such is the case at this time), or whether measures are being taken ahead of the Olympics (see above). At the end of the day, the wait times are increasing due to too many families seeking to adopt too few children.

In September 2006 I speculated that wait times would stabilize in the following months. In April 2007 I reassessed that position, and concluded that there is no foreseeable reason to maintain that wait times would be going down. My primary reasons for expecting a decrease in wait times in September 2006 was the resuming of adoption referrals from Hunan. I expected the backlog of held files to relieve the pressure on falling supply, but this proved to be incorrect. It seems that many of the children that had been held were adopted domestically, rather than being held for international adoption. Thus, the wait continued to climb.

Over the next 6 months families who submitted their paperwork in December 2005 and January 2006 will be referred children. Since it seems likely that the attrition rate of these groups has been fairly low, we must look to an increase in supply to bring wait times down. It must be remembered that from month to month the "demand" equation can vary somewhat, but in order for the wait time to decrease, the equation must change to the point where the CCAA refers more than one month's worth of dossier submissions in a given monthly referral batch.

Changing Supply Figures
A lot has been made of "new " orphanages being added to the IA program, but although some new orphanages have been added, none are bringing a significant supply of children to the program. This can be seen by the orphanage submissions for Guangdong, Jiangxi, Hunan, and Guangxi, for example, which collectively supply 60% of the children for international adoption.

For 2006, Guangdong submitted on average 161 children per month. So far in 2007, the entire Province of Guangdong is submitting 124 per month (January through June 2007). Jiangxi submitted 200 children per month in 2006, and is down slightly to 192 so far in 2007. Guangxi submitted 75 per month in 2006, a number which has fallen to only 39 per month in 2007. Hunan has also seen substantial declines, falling from an average of 79 per month in 2006 to only 36 per month so far this year. Collectively, that means the last six months of referrals from these four Provinces was about 516 per month; in the next six months we can anticipate that rate falling to 390 children per month, a 24% decrease.

It should be obvious to families that these numbers don't bode well for a substantial increase of adoptable children becoming available in the short-term. In fact, it seems likely that the number of healthy children will not EVER increase, given the increasing domestic adoption rates, falling abandonment rates, and improved economic circumstances of millions of Chinese families.

Therefore, given the falling supply and the steady demand equation for the next 6 months, wait times will only be increasing.

Given the rate of increase, it is highly likely that the wait time will hit 36 months or higher in 2008. Unless something dramatically alters the supply-demand equation as is now seen, no other conclusion is tenable.