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International adoptions: Kids older, have special needs


A new report says the climate has changed for international adoptions. Would-be parents need to be educated about kids who are older and likely have special needs to avoid "adoption dissolution."

By Sharon Jayson

October 30, 2013 / USAToday

Because a growing number of international adoptions involve kids who are older and have special needs, adoptive parents today need more support to avoid the kind of regret that can lead to abandonment, says a New York City think tank in a new report.

"The adoption world is changing and there are more and more kids entering adoption from difficult circumstances," says Adam Pertman, executive director of the Donaldson Adoption Institute. He is co-author of the institute's report, released Wednesday.

It notes that many countries are restricting international adoptions; recent news reports have pointed out cases of internationally adopted children in the USA being given away to strangers, or adoptive parents seeking to "return" adopted children to their home country after problems surfaced. Russia, for example, has closed doors to U.S. adoptions.

The report includes a survey of 1,034 parents who adopted internationally since 1983; 47% had a child with special needs. Pertman says that figure doesn't tell the whole story; many earlier adoptions were of younger and healthier kids, which he says skew the numbers.

"The more recent adopters are increasingly adopting children with special needs. That is the growing population," he says. "Very often, they learn about the special needs once they get back to this country or it develops later. Going into international adoption, the odds are pretty high you will be parenting a child with special needs."

Chuck Johnson, president of the National Council for Adoption, a non-profit adoption advocacy agency based in Alexandria, Va., agrees.

"They are getting older and that probably means they've been in the institutional system longer, which will increase their chances of special needs," he says. About 60% of recent adoptions from China are of kids with special needs, he adds.

The latest data from the U.S. State Department documents a rising number of older kids in international adoptions. Of the 8,668 total adoptions from all countries last year, just 10% were under age 1; 58% were ages 1 to 4. Almost a quarter (24%) were ages 5 to 12.

International adoptions have steeply declined from a peak of 23,000 into the USA in 2004. The adoption institute says costs also have risen; the cost of an international adoption sometimes exceeds $50,000.

Johnson says despite attention to adoptions gone wrong — termed "adoption dissolution" — he says those make up a very small number and most adoptions do work out.

"People are losing sight of the more successful adoptions," he says. "Even among families adopting those who are older and of the special needs population, families and children will end up doing really well.

"We have got to make sure families who are adopting these children are educated on the front end and go into the process with their eyes wide open and they know the promise and the risks of intercountry adoption."

2013 Oct 30