Foreign adoption: a growing option

Date: 1986-08-03

Daily Breeze (Torrance, CA)
Author: Jim Brooks

It's a chilling statistic for those childless couples who want to warm their hearts through adoption.

Put simply, there are an estimated 2 million couples in the United States who want to adopt the 50,000 available babies -- or only one American baby for every 40 couples.

That's the assessment of William Pierce, president of the Washington, D.C.-based National Committee for Adoption. And it's the reason greater numbers are turning to other countries for an answer to their dilemma.

According to the Adoption Fact Book, put out by the committee, there were 8,327 foreign adoptions in 1984, the most recent figure available, up about 71 percent from 4,868 in 1981.

"Right now the advantage is they can get a baby sooner than they can domestically. That's the main reason most people go outside the country," says Julia Richardson, a program manager with the Children's Home Society of California, the largest statewide private adoption agency.

While a couple may wait from four to seven years for the domestic adoption of a healthy infant through an agency, by looking abroad, they may have a child in their arms within two years or even sooner.

"Some adoptions are coming within six months" of a couple's being ruled qualified, says AnnaMarie Merrill, with the 7-year-old International Concerns Committee for Children. "It depends on the country, the agency, the phase of the moon, how you're holding your mouth." In other words, it's a collaboration of factors that couples sometimes have very little control over.

The International Concerns Committee collects and dispenses information, putting out a 90-page booklet, Report on Foreign Adoption. "We're for folks who want to do a foreign adoption and don't know what the hell they're doing," Merrill says of the non-profit group based in Boulder, Colo.

Inter-country adoption is especially appealing to older couples, she says, painting a picture common to today's fast-paced world where dual-career couples often establish themselves in the workplace first and the home second.

"You're 35 and you've got your careers where you want them, and you've got your second car, and OK, it's time to start your family and nothing's happening. So then it's, OK, let's think about adoption," Merrill explains. But then then you're told, " `Well, honey, it's going to be five years,' and by that time you're going to be over the hill, and there's no way that someone is going to give you a baby.

The preference among foreign adoption agencies, and "it's not written in stone," says Merrill, is that the new parents not be more than 40 or 45 years older than the child.

Hemlata Momaya, founder, director and virtually a one-woman operator of the Bal Jagat Children's World Agency in Chatsworth that has brought 22 children from India to couples in the Los Angeles area, draws a similar scenario.

"People often get married at a later age, and then find out they can't have children," says the native of India. "But they are good people. They are healthy, they have money and they have a lot of love -- but they are left out because they are too old."

Foreign adoptions offer them another avenue, she says.

But experts in the field insist guidelines determining a couple's eligibility are just as stringent for a foreign adoption as they are for a domestic one.

"The only thing that is easier about it is when a couple makes a commitment to adopt from another country, their expectations for what that child must or must not be change," says Carol Roe, with Holt International Children's Services, considered a pioneer in the field of foreign adoption. "They're more willing to accept a child as a child, rather than saying, `No, I want a little baby with blue eyes and blonde hair and three toes on his left foot.' You know, you just can't be that specific when you adopt."

Holt International
, based in Eugene, Ore., with a Southern California branch in Lakewood, was founded 30 years ago by Harry and Bertha Holt, who adopted eight Korean children. Their efforts were started in response to the number of children fathered by American soldiers and left behind in the wake of the Korean War. The ties they forged with the Asian nation have made it by far the largest source of children for adoption today. According to Pierce's figures, 5,157 children came from Korea in 1984; the number dropped dramatically for the No. 2 supplier, Columbia, with 595.

Says Pierce, "Korea is a country that has done more than any other country, probably more than even the United States, to find homes for children who do not have homes. It will allow children to be placed outside the home, rather than have them rot in poor conditions in foster care, etc."

The cost of a foreign adoption ranges from about $4,000 to $7,000, depending on the agency and the country, which is more than the usual domestic adoption. For example, Richardson, with the Children's Home Society, says a foreign adoption might average about $6,000 while a domestic case would cost about $4,000.

Much of the process, such as the home study, is similar in both types of adoptions, but adopting overseas also entails what Merrill calls an "abysmal" amount of paperwork, much of which has to be translated into the source country's language, as well as transportation costs for the child.

Regardless, both fees are considerably cheaper than the cost of a private adoption through an attorney, which is where the bulk of white, healthy infants are to be found in the United States. Since young birth mothers often choose this route because, among other reasons, it usually means financial assistance, this is where the greater supply is, and hence the wait is shorter than the four to seven years at an agency. But consequently the cost is higher, sometimes as much as $15,000, Pierce says.

According to his statistics, the majority of children adopted from foreign countries are babies. In 1984, 5,062 of the 8,327 children were under 1 year old. The next largest category was 1- to 4-year-olds at 1,935.

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