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Tighter rules, other factors lead some to look in new countries
If things had gone as planned, David and Theresa Holt would have a baby by now.
Around Thanksgiving last year, the Indianapolis couple submitted paperwork to adopt a child from Guatemala. They were hoping to get a referral before year's end and have a baby by the spring.
But like countless other couples who have turned to international adoption, the Holts' hopes are on hold.
A complex set of factors has hindered countries such as Guatemala and China -- once major sources for adoption to the U.S. -- from sending as many children, causing a four-year slowdown in international adoptions that has crescendoed in the past year.
New adoptions from Guatemala have been halted since roughly December 2007, when that nation's government enacted a law requiring the country to comply with the Hague Convention. The convention went into effect in the U.S. in April and requires member countries to regulate the international adoption process more closely. Guatemala has not yet met the new criteria, but adoptions in the works before December 2007 are still being processed.
In China, where some say the wait to adopt can be more than three years, increased acceptance of adoption among residents has decreased the number of children available.
As a result, families such as the Holts are finding daunting waits and uncertainty about the background of the children they adopt.
"It's a heartbreaking thing," said David Holt, who works as a vice president of operations for a statewide manufacturing initiative.
"You know there are all these kids sitting in these (foster) homes, and there are people like us who would take them in a heartbeat."
The Holts, both 38, are still trying to adopt. Next month, they'll travel to Russia to visit a 2-year-old boy they hope to adopt from an orphanage by spring. But after eight years of trying to have children, they're ready to hold him in their arms.
The process to adopt Russian children typically is less grueling, but that comes with concerns. All Russian children are adopted from orphanages, and many have mental and physical disabilities, often not disclosed.
Such concerns, in addition to the new rules in Guatemala and China, have curtailed international adoptions.
In Indiana, 477 children were adopted from foreign countries in 2008, down from 537 in 2007 and 635 four years ago.
Those numbers are reflected at agencies such as Evansville-based Families Thru International Adoption. The agency completed 331 adoptions this year, compared with 435 in 2007. Its applications to adopt were down, too, from 576 in 2007 to 275 this year.
"The number of countries available is less today than it was a year or two ago," said Keith Wallace, executive director at FTIA. "Some people come and we explain to them what's going on in the world of international adoption, and some parents get discouraged and say, 'I'm not going to go down that path.' "
Others pursue domestic adoption, but experts say that can be a scary experience because birth mothers can wait to consent to give away their child until after they deliver the baby.
"You have couples that were thrilled to go international, and now that's not available for so many people," said Julie Craft, founder of the Indianapolis-based Adoption Support Center.
The agency has seen its home studies -- preparatory work done before adoptions -- for international adoptions fall in the past year, while the number of domestic adoptions has doubled.
"There's fear because that's not the process they were expecting," Craft said. "It's like one more loss."
That's how the Holts felt. The couple have been trying to have children since 2000. They went through almost four years of fertilization treatments before deciding to try adoption in July 2007.
When they began the process to adopt from Guatemala, FTIA warned that new adoptions from the country could end, but they completed the paperwork quickly so they could get a referral before that.
When they found out in April no new adoptions would be initiated from the country, they were shocked. For a few weeks, they questioned whether they were destined to have children.
"I had totally fallen in love with Guatemala," said Theresa, a recruiter at a local hospital. "I just didn't know what to do. I thought -- another delay in the process to have a child."
But for the Holts and others, the greater sadness is thinking about children who are stuck in orphanages or foster homes in their home countries, while couples in the U.S. are longing for a child.
"Children are the ones who are paying," said Inna Pecar, director and owner of KidsFirst Adoption Services, an Indianapolis-based agency that specializes in international adoption.
State Department officials suggest the situation isn't as bad as some in the adoption community say.
One official speaking on background, common protocol for the State Department, said adoptions could increase as people seek to adopt in countries such as Ethiopia and Liberia.
The official also said the reforms in Guatemala will allow the country to address U.S. concerns about child-trafficking in the region.
The Holts have changed their mindset. Instead of expecting to adopt an 8-month-old, they've welcomed the idea of an older child and have accepted the risk that he could have some developmental delays.
They already have posted a picture of Aziz, the Russian child they plan to adopt, on the refrigerator of their Northwestside home. David says he talks to the picture every morning.
"We've had some blows, but in the end this is about a child having a good home," David said. "In the end, it's about him."