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.