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.


Anonymous said...

You said that most parents who abandon their children at an orphanage do so because they believe the orphanage will provide the basic needs and schooling. Do these parents hope to eventually reunite with their children in adulthood? Have any gone back and been surprised to find their child was adopted out either domestically or internationally?

Research-China.Org said...

I have seen and experienced birth families who have changed their minds after bringing a child tot he orphanage, but have no data whether birth parents expect to return to recontact children when they have grown. I have never heard of something like that happening.


Anonymous said...

Do you know how long hospitals keep records before archiving them?

Research-China.Org said...

It would vary from hospital to hospital, but on average about a year.


Anonymous said...

What about police stations? Do you know how long police stations tend to keep records? When you refer to "archiving," where are archives usually kept, at the city/county level, or at the provincial level?

Research-China.Org said...

Hospital records are archived on site, in a basement or similar location. I don't know about police stations. The orphanage retains a copy of the police report, and it is much easier to get a copy from that file than from the police directly.


Anonymous said...

How much do you know about successful attempts to find Chinese Birthparents? I found the story below on the Adoptive Families website.

If there have been successful attempts, what types of risks do birth families face? What risk is there to the international adoption program and/or to adoption agencies? Do you have a prediction on whether or not searches for birth parents might be supported or accepted by the Chinese in the future?
In landmark search, Chinese adoptee finds her birthparents

In the first successful birthparent search in the China adoptive community, a couple in Holland has located their 10-year-old daughter's biological parents. Prompted by their daughter Eline's persistent interest in her birthparents, the couple, Jim and Wilma (who withheld their last names), told their story to the media in Chongqing, the city where Eline was abandoned. DNA tests confirmed Eline's kinship with a couple who came forward.
Jim and Wilma learned that Eline was the third child born to her birthparents. The couple had been heavily fined for their second child, and they knew they couldn't raise a third. In a January episode of a Dutch TV show, Spoorloos (watch it at, Eline's birthparents explained how they walked from their rural town to Chongqing, the nearest city, to ensure that no one they knew would see them. They also expressed a great amount of guilt. "They don't have to," says Wilma. "They could not have done anything else."
Child abandonment is illegal in China, but the law's five-year statute of limitations could mean that the groundbreaking reunion is the first of many others to come.

Research-China.Org said...

I have written an article for FCC New England that discusses methods of searching for birth parents. The Dutch story is hardly the first such experience, however.

I think that locating birth parents will become easier as families become better informed.


Anonymous said...

Do you have a copy of the article on your site? Is there a way to read a copy without joining FCC New England? I'm already a member of FCC Oregon.


Research-China.Org said...

It will be posted in a week or two on my blog.


Unknown said...

Our daughter's orphanage, DianJiang, was orginally just an old men's home. We were among the first to adopt. We were told that the orphanage was orginally closed to adoptions because it was small (at the time) and new. However, once it opened to American adoption, we were told by the orphanage that abandonments at the gate SIGNIFICANLY increased. They told us that word-of-mouth about babies going to the U.S. caused this. So, at least in this case, it would seem that the likelihood of adoption did seem to affect where and why the babies were abadoned.