Foreign Adoptions Growing
Author: Bernadette Pruitt
Four months ago, Tulsan Mike McKee, 38, and his wife Judy, 40, adopted Christopher, a Korean infant.
Quickly approaching the age limit for most adoption agencies and facing a domestic baby shortage, the McKees turned to foreign adoption.
"This child has been a blessing," McKee said.
The McKees are part of a growing trend. Adoptions and adoption inquiries by baby boomers nearing 40 are on the upswing.
The small number of adoptable American infants and the large number of aging would-be parents have contributed to a nearly 100 percent increase in foreign adoptions since 1980.
There were 5,139 foreign adoptions in 1980 compared to 9,120 in 1988, according to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. The number reached 10,097 in 1987.
In 1982, 55 foreign children were placed with Oklahoma parents. At the end of 1984, the number had grown to 223 for the three-year period, INS figures show. Numbers for earlier years were not available.
Between 1985 and 1987, 217 foreign children were placed in Oklahoma, making it 29th among states in intercountry placements.
Two new agencies and an attorney handling foreign adoptions have been licensed in Oklahoma in the last four years, bringing the total of licensed entities dealing with foreign adoption to four, according to the Oklahoma Department of Human Services.
Foreign adoption has grown not only because of an increase in abortions and an increased tendency of unwed mothers to keep their babies, but because young children in foster care are more apt to be returned to their natural parents, said Sherrell Goolsby, director of World Child, a Washington, D.C., agency affiliated with the Lutheran Church.
"The other reason is because baby boomers have just now reached their 30s and early 40s and many of them have put off having children and have suddenly discovered they're infertile," she said. "We've got a bigger group of people wanting babies and can't have them and of course, they can't find them in this country."
In addition, more single women in their mid-40s are adopting children, she said.
Margaret Orr, director of Small Miracles International, a 3 1/2-year-old Oklahoma City agency that has placed approximately 100 foreign children, said many Latin American countries have looser age requirements for parents.
"We place with a lot of people past 40," she said. The agency also allows singles to adopt.
Deniese Dillon, executive director of Dillon International, a nationally recognized Tulsa agency that has been placing South Korean children since 1973, said Dillon is seeing "more applicants without children of their own, more older `Yuppies' or second marriages and more older people expressing interest in adoption."
The Adoption Center of Northeastern Oklahoma, a 3-year-old Bartlesville agency that has placed children from South Korea, India and Latin America, also is seeing more older applicants.
Foreign adoption takes approximately a year, compared to five years or longer for an American infant, agency officials said. The supply of foreign infants from most countries is expected to remain good and some foreign regulations are more flexible.
"The restrictions here rule out a lot of perfectly good families, those nearing 40, those previously married, single parents and those with May-December marriages," Mrs. Orr said.
South Korea is the giant in intercountry adoptions, according to the National Adoption Information Clearinghouse. More than half the 10,095 foreign adoptions in 1987 involved Korean children. India ranked second with 807 placements, and Colombia third at 724. But supplies from the Far East are declining and Latin America is expected to become a growing source. Many foreign governments have tightened their adoption restrictions, making the adoption wait longer.
Mrs. Dillion said the number of Korean children available to her agency is declining to the point that Dillon plans to add children from India to its rolls. Dillon placed 600 Korean children a year in the '70s, but now places less than 100 a year, she said. More agencies handling Korean children have sprung up and tighter South Korean government restrictions have led the agency to narrow its focus from nationwide to Oklahoma and Texas.
In addition, the South Korean government, which Mrs. Dillion lauds for its "humanistic approach" to adoption, is trying to encourage in-country adoptions. Wider use of birth control is also having an effect, she said.
World Child director Goolsby said Latin American countries have tightened their adoption laws because of scandal and fraud. Political unrest also has complicated the process.
Many Latin American countries now require that adoptive parents travel to the country "to make sure that who is saying they're getting the baby is really getting the baby." As a result, the average foreign adoption costs $10,000 to $12,000, she said. Despite tighter restrictions, the supply of foreign infants is expected to meet the demand, she said.
"There's enough foreign children to meet the demand for people who can pay for it," she said. "But the jury is still out on how these kids are going to be accepted and what is going to happen to them later in life."
There are so many homeless foreign children, Mrs. Orr said, that "we'll never possibly make a dent in the situation." Foreign adoption, she said, is "full of unknowns."
"You may know nothing about the child, his family or medical history. You may not even know where a child was born. People who adopt internationally have to be comfortable with that. You have to be willing to say: `This is the first day of the rest of your life' and be comfortable with that."
Mike and Judy McKee enjoy a few moments with their 9-month-old adopted Korean son, Christopher. The McKees are part of a growing trend -- baby boomers adopting.