When families gather for the holidays, it is naturally a time of rejoicing and giving thanks. As my father watched my children play, he remarked he recently read an article about the dramatic decline in the number of international adoptions. Both of my children were adopted from South Korea. Last year only 736 children were adopted internationally from South Korea (Foreign Adoptions by Americans Plunge Again, David Crary, 2011). I said that this trend makes my children even more special. He said that nothing “extra” is needed – my children are special just because of who they are.
Everyday I am thankful for my children. Watching the declining numbers of international adoption evokes very complicated feelings in me. I applaud countries for stepping in and addressing the terrible abuses in international adoption. I am strongly in favor of countries developing the systems to care for, and protect, children born into difficult circumstances. Domestic adoption and remaining within their culture are ideal for children and families.
My concern is that “reality” has not caught up with the “ideal.” While many countries have been working diligently to change the culture and promote domestic adoption, the reality is that the numbers of children in need have outpaced the social reform. For example, in South Korea, it is reported, “Out of 8,590 children in need of protective care in 2010, 55.9% of them are under facility-based protection (4,842 children) while 44.1% are being protected under family care (3,748 including foster care, child-headed family, adoption, etc.) (Ministry of Health and Welfare Press Release, 11-18-2011). While these numbers are heartbreaking, South Korea is fortunate to have a pre-existing and long-established foster care system. Many countries who participate in international adoption utilize orphanages as their primary means for caring for children in need.
My children have information in their health backgrounds and social histories that might be viewed with concern by some people (although they were not issues for us). At the current time, the relatively small number of Korean couples who are interested in adopting domestically are more apt to chose babies without special needs or significant social histories. Given the current social climate and attitudes toward adoption in Korea and many other countries, it is very possible that my children would have been among those children who ended up in “facility-based protection.” My beautiful, intelligent, loving, and joyful children may not have grown up in a family.
I realize I am on a “slippery slope,” in that my last statement could be interpreted as “adoptive parents as saviors.” My children saved me, not the other way around. Critics of international adoption often point out that within the United States we have many children available through foster care and domestic adoption. In building our family we already suffered great loss and heartache. We couldn’t face the laws or uncertainty of attempting to adopt domestically. For us, domestic adoption was not an option. We also were honest with ourselves, as first time parents we were not prepared to address the challenges of older, often traumatized children within the foster care system.
In short, international adoption is a good, humane option for some children and families. In an ideal world, all countries would have the resources and social structure to support their children in need. The Hague Convention is a start, in that it calls out into the open the abuses and need for reform within international adoption. Much work needs to be done, but abruptly ending the practice of international adoption prior to these reforms will result in many children growing up without families. That seems like a huge price to pay for rushing.