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If Madonna’s not permitted to bring home four-year-old Mercy James from Malawi, it certainly won’t be for lack of cash. The Material Mom’s got an unlimited budget for adding to her family through adoption.
But budget is a huge issue for frustrated non-celebs who are finding themselves increasingly pinched by the recession and unable to fulfill what for many is a longheld dream: a child to call their own.
“We’ve seen a surge of applications from people who need help, and they want to become parents so badly,” says Becky Fawcett, co-founder and executive director of Help Us Adopt, a non-profit grant organization that offers financial assistance to prospective adoptive parents. “The economy is affecting their ability to become parents because they can’t even go out and find the resources to borrow against. It’s heartbreaking.”
No one’s sure how many prospective parents have put their plans to adopt on hold, but adoption experts say it’s likely that the number of prospective adopters will drop.
“Even before the recession, adoption rates internationally were down a little,” says Victor Groza, Ph.D., a professor of parent-child studies at Case Western Reserve University and an adoption researcher who works with agencies in the U.S. and other countries. “It’s a pretty scary time. When the economy is good, parents can make a plan and leave a job to take a maternity leave when they adopt. But that’s gotten a lot harder, and there are all kinds of issues that are up in the air, which creates a lot of uncertainty. This has an impact on adoptions.”
He estimates that an international adoption can cost between $20,000 to $30,000, while a domestic adoption is even costlier. “If I had to predict, I think that what may happen is that some families trying to weigh the decision of whether to adopt may decide to look at the public child welfare system,” Groza says. “Whether a kid comes from a poor village in Ethiopia or a poor family in the Bronx, the issues are going to be the same.”
Many people looking to adopt, once they’ve started the paperwork, will do anything to complete the process, says Jeannette Boccini, executive vice president of a public relations firm and a single parent who waited three years to bring her adopted daughter, Emilia, home from Kazakhstan last November. She’s definitely feeling the pinch: day care alone sets her back more than $20,000 per year.
“It is financially challenging when you have to pay out that money during a recession,” Boccini says. “Yet I don’t know one parent who would consider not going through with the adoption because it would stretch them financially. They would give up something else before giving up on their dream of being a parent. Most people who are closing on their international adoptions now started the process long ago.”
Adopting through the public child welfare system unquestionably causes much less financial upheaval since it’s basically free. New York City, where about 800 children were adopted out of the foster care system last year, has a program through which qualified prospective parents can foster and then possibly adopt a child for almost no fee. The program, which is handled by the Administration for Children’s Services (www.nyc.gov/acs), starts with an orientation, a mandatory parenting program, and a home study.
Many families are reluctant to become parents through public adoption because they worry that the child might have long term problems due to his upbringing in the foster system, says Groza. They also perceive that if they adopt internationally they’ll never have to deal with the birth parents, Groza says.
Nationwide, in 2006, there were about 510,000 children in foster care and about 129,000 waiting to be adopted, according to the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System. Some 89 percent of the families adopting them received an adoption subsidy, according to Dr. Gerald P. Mallon, executive director of the National Resource Center for Family-Centered Practice and Permanency Planning at the Hunter College School of Social Work. Some 50 percent of the children who were adopted through the public system are age 11 or over, and 59 percent of all the children adopted from the public child welfare system were first cared for by a foster parent, he notes.
Mallon feels that celebrity adoptions by Madonna or by Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie bring much-needed attention to the plight of children around the world who are in need of stable homes and loving parents.
And though the adoption process can seem very slow, Mallon says there’s a good reason for this.
“It’s not about finding a really perfect child for this family or that family, but about finding families for children,” he says. “It takes time and it can be cumbersome, but we want to make sure that the match we make is a good lifelong match.”