Thursday, January 25, 2007

Beth N. Russell's New York Times Editorial

There is no doubt that we have entered an age where the Western Press is growing increasingly hostile to China and things Chinese. History might show that the Washington Post 2006 article on China's baby-trafficking problems will be the turning point for favorable press coverage of China's international adoption program. As China becomes a stronger economic, political, and military competitor, the coverage will probably grow increasingly critical.

The New York Times apparently seeks to lead the way. A letter to the editor in Tuesday's edition from an adoptive mother of two Chinese children is merely the latest in misinformed people given a stage to promote their ignorant, and often illogical, experiences and ideas. Beth Nonte Russell is like many adoptive families who have been to China once or twice, visited an orphanage or two, and feel that those experiences can be translated into a country-wide paradigm (and a book contract to boot). Her essay is filled with intellectual "leaps". One of the most blatant is in the first paragraphs: Thee are thousands of orphanages in China, "most of them full of girls". Having visited two orphanages, on what does she base this assertion? She bolsters her assessment with some very questionable math, concluding that if 10% (apparently taken from thin air) of China's 10 million apparently missing children end up in the orphanages, then there must be millions of children in the orphanages. Huh??? Long-time readers of this blog will recognize the holes in her analysis.

Russell laments the lack of verifiable information regarding the number of children in China’s orphanages, apparently unaware of or disregarding the statistics issued by the Chinese government in recent years. For example, the Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs, in cooperation with Britain’s “Save the Children Foundation” and the Beijing University, has revealed that there are 69,000 orphans living in China’s orphanages. Of those, more than 50% have special needs. Thus, at any given moment, around 35,000 healthy children are available for adoption, both domestically and internationally.

Additionally, a survey conducted by Research-China.Org in early 2005 of the orphanages involved in the international adoption program in China revealed that 93% of the directors indicated that there were no healthy children available for domestic adoption due to the demands of the international adoption program. These directors also indicated that the number of healthy infants being abandoned has been declining in recent years.

Just today, Amy Klatzkin of Families with Children from China (FCC) posted her recent conversation with an official of Hunan Province Civil Affairs. The official confirmed what our survey of directors showed: "that abandonments are way down and that most of the new arrivals at SWIs are now disabled." She then gives some personal observations confirming that assessment. But even Amy can't resist partaking of the "conspiracy bug" that Russell so freely embraces. Amy believes that China's officials "are greatly overstating the impact of domestic adoptions in order to mask the illegal increase in sex-selective abortions." Again, we must ask, is there any evidence to show that this is the case? In my rather frequent excursions into rural China, I see no evidence that ultra-sound technology enjoys widespread use in sex-selective abortions. In fact, my interviews with scores of new parents confirms that it is extremely difficult to determine the sex of an unborn child. Given no evidence other than our suppositions, are we to assume that millions of women annually are able to find out the sex of their unborn children?

Russell is motivated by a problem plaguing many adoptive families. Most of us adopted from China working under the assumption that China had hundreds of thousands of unwanted baby girls needing homes. It was this apparent need that motivated me in 1997 to adopt my oldest daughter. There were no hard statistics to refute that belief, and it became engrained in the Chinese adoption community. But as research begins to show that that situation is no longer valid, many adoptive families resist embracing the information that is now coming from China. Conspiracy theories abound: the Olympics, the paper-work process, etc., all designed to contradict the published statements of the Chinese government and the testimony of hundreds of orphanage directors.

Perhaps some families don't want to believe the "new reality" because the old reality was so legitimizing of the international adoption program, and the individual reasons for adopting by the family themselves. In other words, it is easier to discuss with our children our reasons for adopting them when there is a patent need (full orphanages), but it becomes harder when the evidence for that need is no longer there.

Given the Hague Agreements emphasis that children should remain in their birth countries whenever possible, China’s recent restrictions on international adoption make perfect sense. The reality in China isn’t that these new restrictions will result in more children remaining in orphanages, as Russell asserts, rather that families inside China will adopt more children.

The solution to China’s abandonment problem is not abolishing the one-child policy, a policy that has had remarkable results in decreasing China’s birth rate. Rather, the solution is to change the cultural preference for boys. This has already been largely accomplished among China’s younger generations, but pressure continues to be felt from the older generations, those now grandparents.

Infant abandonment in China is an unfortunate situation that is fortunately decreasing. China’s recent changes in adoption policy go a long way to insuring that the victims of abandonment find loving homes, with preference given to domestic families inside China.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Creating "Paper-Ready Children"

“More domestic families have adopted children from our center in recent years and economic and social development has meant that fewer children have been abandoned or orphaned.” (Lu Ying, director of the China Center for Adoption Affairs (CCAA))

With the recently announced changes by the CCAA, the adoption community has turned its attention to why the CCAA appears to be cutting back on the number of families that will be eligible to adopt in the future. Several China-adoption "resources" have continued to assert, contrary to the statements of the officials with the CCAA, that the problem is not in the number of children available for adoption, but in the number of "paper-ready" children available, as if there is some technical difference between the two classes.

What follows is the process employed by China's orphanages to produce the paperwork necessary to adopt a child internationally. It begins the day the child is found.

A child is brought to the orphanage by the area police. Sometimes the police phone ahead, usually not. Within days of arriving, the orphanage will have either a staff doctor (if they have one) or a doctor at an area hospital do a complete physical on the child to determine if he or she is healthy, or carries any communicable diseases. The findings of this first medical exam determine whether the child will be classified as "healthy" or "special needs."

Also within a few days to two months, depending on the province, a photograph will be taken by the orphanage and forwarded to the Provincial Civil Affairs Office with the finding information taken from the police report. The finding ad, which costs the orphanage around 450 yuan to publish, is a legal notice to the child's birth parents that legal custody of the child will transfer to the state should the child not be reclaimed within 60 days. The legal notice usually reads like this one from the Guangdong Civil Affairs Office:

"In order to locate the birth parents, we are issuing the public announcements for the 26 abandoned babies in Gaoming City Social Welfare Institute and other Social Welfare Institutes. The birth parents or other guardians can come to the Social Welfare Institutes to claim their babies within 60 days of the publication of the Public Announcements. Please bring identification cards, the employer’s certificate, or the certificate of the Residential Villager Committee, or the certificate of the Residents’ Committee. After that period, the Social Welfare Institute will consider them as abandoned babies and process their paperwork according to the law."

During the next 60 days, the orphanage will monitor and examine the child to make sure all of its health issues are known. It doesn't matter whether the foundling was a day old or a year old; all are observed for 60 days to make sure any problems the child may have are discovered.

Two months after finding, the formal paperwork is started to begin the process for international adoption. Completing the paperwork was described by one director as "requiring patience" due to the detail and comprehensive information that is required. Medical information, progress reports, photos and other details are laid out in a package that, when completed, is forwarded to the Provincial Civil Affairs Office. The Civil Affairs Office reviews the paperwork, according to one director, for 15 days, contacting the orphanage if there are any issues, and then forwards the files from the entire province to the CCAA in Beijing.

Every director interviewed clearly stated that dossiers are prepared for every child in their care, unless the child is determined to be unadoptable. Unadoptable children are those with debilitating mental or physical handicaps. The orphanages tend to be lenient in determining which children are unadoptable, and will sometimes submit dossiers to the Civil Affairs for children with questionable problems in an effort to get them adopted. The Civil Affairs, conversely, tends to reject the severe cases, sending the files back to the orphanages in order to avoid problems with disrupted adoptions down the road.

The orphanages are assessed no fee to submit files to the CCAA, and therefore have no incentive to hold files back. In fact, the incentive is for orphanages to submit as many files as possible, in order to have all the children in their care adopted. The alternative is that the child remains in the orphanage until they reach 18 years old, an outcome that is expensive for the orphanage and least preferred for the child.

Once the paperwork is forwarded to the CCAA for international adoption, the orphanage continues to monitor the child. If the child is placed in a foster family, follow-up visits are made at least monthly, with measurements being taken to insure the child is being well-cared for and is healthy. Although some orphanage directors will allow a child to be adopted domestically after the paperwork has been forwarded to the CCAA, many of those surveyed indicated that once the paperwork was submitted by the Civil Affairs Office to the CCAA, the child is no longer eligible for domestic adoption.

When the child has been referred to an international family for adoption, and that family has accepted the referral, the CCAA contacts the orphanage to alert them of the date and time the child is to be brought to the provincial capital for adoption. In most cases, this is the only contact the orphanage will have with the CCAA regarding the child after the dossier has been submitted. The orphanage will prepare the adoption paperwork prior to the family arriving, keeping copies of the completed paperwork along with a copy of the original police report transferring the child to the orphanage. The rest of the original dossier is kept at the provincial Civil Affairs Office.

Knowledge of the paperwork process invalidates the theory that the current wait times, rule changes, etc., are results of not enough "paper-ready" children. In fact, every indicator suggests that it is exactly as asserted by the CCAA, an imbalance between the number of families applying to adopt, and the number of healthy children in China's orphanages. The process itself, coupled with little or no financial disincentives (and significant financial incentives), results in paperwork being submitted by the orphanage for every adoptable child in their care. The declining abandonment rates of healthy children, coupled with an increase in demand from both domestic and international families, has resulted in China taking steps to curtail that demand, at least from the international arena.

For more detail on the number of children in China available for domestic and international adoption, see my article “The Hague Agreement and China's International Adoption Program”.