International adoption is not for the faint of heart.
The rewards are immeasurable. But few would describe the mountain of paperwork and emotional roller coaster ride as easy. In some of the most popular countries it's about to get even harder. And in some important ways, better.
On May 10th at 5pm I'll be looking at some of the changes affecting adoptions in China and Guatemala in a special report we are calling Dreams on Hold. But I wanted to offer a little more detail about what's going on in those two countries.
First China. The China Center for Adoptions is swamped. While there is no "official" numbers but Internet sites that track these things speculate the backlog of adoption requests as high as 20-thousand. China is popular because for the most part the process works.
Ron Beazely of All God's Children International says he loves working with the Chinese because they are honorable. That more and more people want a Chinese adoption because they do it so well.
Ron says another reason for the slowdown is because more families in China are able to pay the extra fees to keep a second child. The economy is booming there.
So the wait for a referral of a healthy infant has gone from six months to as long as two years. The wait for a special needs child is much shorter.
In response to the demand China has also tightened it's requirements for adopting parents. Single parents and people with serious weight problems need not apply anymore. If that seems harsh you should know that many other countries have those same guidelines.
Susan Soon-Keum Cox of Holt International Children's Service is also concerned about what will happen when the bright spotlight of media arrives for the Beijing Olympics. She points to 1988 when the Olympics were in Seoul Korea. Many of the stories were predictably on adoption. Well, turns out this was the first time the Korean public became aware of how many of their children were being adopted by people from other countries. The response was negative. She expects the same thing will happen in China.
To make her point she reminded me of the alarm many Americans felt a few years ago when they first learned that Canadians and Europeans were adopting many children from the United States.
Things are more difficult in Guatemala, the second most popular country for U-S adoptions. The U-S State Department is no longer recommending that Americans adopt children from Guatemala. The advisory stops short of imposing a ban on adoptions from Guatemala but says there are frequent cases of birth mothers pressured to sell their babies and adoptive American parents targeted by extortionists. It's common for private attorneys to handle adoptions in Guatemala. And in the end the State Department concluded that money drives the adoption process more than a desire to protect children.
This of course does not apply to all adoptions from Guatemala. All God's Children has an amazing program there. It runs an orphanage, home and school for children as well as a facility for birth mothers. It's called Hannah's Hope. (Which is another great story all on it's own.)They know exactly where the babies are coming from and care for them until the adoption is complete. In addition, adopting parents often have a chance to meet the birth mother and get monthly video and medical updates on the child they are working to adopt.
Ron Beazely is optimistic that the Guatemalan government will take control of the adoption process to reduce or eliminate the corruption. The question is how soon?
Pressure is intense because of an agreement called the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoptions. It sets guidelines that protect children and birth families and adoptive families. It is expected to be ratified by the U-S later this year.
Guatemala has also agreed to those guidelines but hasn't been able to put them into practice. If it can't the U-S could cut off adoptions with Guatemala after ratification.
That has many U-S agencies ending their Guatemalan programs now .All God's Children remains committed to its program in Guatemala and is still accepting applications. Plus, Ron Beazely says if adoptions were to end they would continue to run and support the children and birth mothers at Hannah's Hope. It would just be a lot harder.
The Hague agreement may also have another impact on adoption. Agencies must go through a lengthy and expensive process of being accredited with the State Department after The Hague is ratified. Some are unable to do that and will go out of business. So if you are considering international adoption make sure you use an agency you can trust and that will be around a year from now. The rules are always changing and countries are opening and closing so experience counts.
Both All God's Children and Holt International absolutely support the Hague guidelines by the way. And as Susan Cox said so well " We have to remember that our objective is to find families for children, not find children for families."
In the spirit of full disclosure you need to know that I am deeply invested in international adoption. As many of you know my husband and I adopted both of our daughters from China through Holt.
Like most parents our children are our greatest joy. Their resilience and strength take my breath away. Their love humbles me. Everyday of my life I am grateful for the privilege of being their mother. And my husband loves them with equal intensity.
It's not always simple of course. I no longer notice the superficial differences between us but other people do. We are an interracial family. We stand out. We are often asked by well meaning strangers to validate our family as "real". That's hard for the girls especially. There will no doubt be more challenges to come.
And as Mother's Day approaches, I am very clear that my greatest joy comes from what is likely another mother's greatest sorrow. I wish I could thank them for the incredible gift they have given us and let them know their daughters, our daughters, are safe and well and so deeply loved.
Happy Mother's Day to all of you, and as always thank you for watching.