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Adopting against the odds


Adopting against the odds


Adopting against the odds

Becoming parents of a special-needs child internationally takes extra

preparation, experts say.

By T.J. Banes


March 4, 2004

The moment Sheri Stockman saw the face in the photo, she knew she wanted to

adopt the 2-year-old girl from China.

"As soon as I looked at her picture, my heart, soul, blood and air knew that

she was my daughter," 37-year-old Stockman said.

She and her husband, Michael, 35, of Columbia City also knew ahead of time that

Lucie, now 3, had special needs. They had carefully read through Lucie's

medical records to get the information, and had made arrangements for medical

care, including surgery for a birth defect.

Not everyone going into international adoption is prepared to handle the

children's special physical, psychological and emotional needs. Agency

officials say that, while failed adoptions are rare, parents with unrealistic

expectations can be blindsided if they don't learn, as early in the process as

possible, about a particular child's history.

Diana Lynn Groves, the guardian of several internationally adopted children,

recently was charged with three counts of felony child neglect after welfare

workers removed 13 children from her care.

Parents who placed their children in the Bloomington woman's custody said they

couldn't cope with the children's severe emotional and psychological problems.

There are no statistics on the number of international adoptions that don't

work out. Published reports spotlight abuse and neglect cases in the past

decade similar to the one in Bloomington involving adopted children in

Schaumburg, Ill.; Columbus, Ohio; and Lowell, Ind.

Families seeking international adoption, just like those seeking domestic

adoption, must undergo a home study. They also are encouraged to research the

child's country of origin, said Keith Wallace, founder of Families Thru

International Adoption, a not-for-profit state-licensed child-placement agency

in Evansville.

Prospective parents also specify whether they are willing to accept and care

for a child with special needs. However, Wallace said, there are no guarantees

about what families might face.

"I tell parents up front, 'If you want to adopt, the desire must be from a

desire to be a parent,' and that adopting is just like giving birth," he said.

"You never really know what the future holds."

Wallace, an attorney who has connected about 2,000 foreign-born children with

U.S. families, estimates that less than 1 percent of those adoptions failed.

When the agency learns that a family is struggling, it connects parents with

financial, emotional and educational support, he said. If necessary, children

are placed with other guardians.

For Sheri Stockman, adopting Lucie meant giving up a corporate job, becoming a

stay-at-home mom and cashing in retirement funds to provide for her daughter.

Through medical records, the Stockmans had learned that Lucie had been born

without an anus, and had undergone colostomy surgery. Even before they met her,

they had sent her records to the Children's International Adoption Clinic at

Riley Hospital for Children, and had been told that she would face more


Six hours after landing in the United States, the Stockmans took Lucie to

Riley. Doctors discovered that she had other problems, including a spinal

deformity and a urinary tract problem.

Since then, Lucie has had surgeries to improve her bowel and bladder function.

What lies ahead, no one can be certain.

"It's a heart-wrenching feeling. You knew you had one obstacle, and you knew

you could handle that, and then you learn of another," said Michael Stockman,

as he sat by his daughter's bedside after a recent surgery at Riley. "You just

want the best for your child.

"First, it's denial, then it's wondering why, then it's about how we can fix

it. This is no different than if we had a biological child. Once we hear those

words, 'Daddy or Mommy, I love you,' we know it's going to be OK."

The Stockmans accepted the news with concern and prepared themselves to meet

Lucie's challenges. But some prospective parents know there are limits to what

they are able to cope with.

Amy Windsor of Noblesville considered adopting a little boy in the registry of

a Ukrainian orphanage, but learned he had hepatitis C.

Amy, 36, and her husband, Mark, 35, chose instead to review the medical records

of another little blond boy who eventually became their son, Luke.

Their decision didn't mean that caring for Luke would be problem-free, though.

"Really, every child adopted internationally is a special-needs child," Amy

Windsor said. "Every month a child is institutionalized, he has developmental


"If you're going to adopt internationally, you have to be prepared to accept

everything that comes with your child."

The most common conditions are malnutrition, developmental delays, anemia and

infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and hepatitis B, said James Conway,

director of Riley's International Adoption Clinic. Many children also have

parasites, scabies or lice, and more than half have skin irritations.

Riley is a member of the Joint Council on International Children's Services, a

child advocacy and parent-support organization that assists with international

adoption issues. Members work with foreign governments to secure up-to-date

medical records.

Riley has a team of experts, including physical and occupational therapists,

said Conway, who estimates that 50 percent of the children evaluated by the

clinic need some type of specialized care.

Many children adopted from overseas also face emotional adjustments. Gregory

Keck, director of the Attachment and Bonding Center of Ohio and author of

several books on adoption, encourages parents to spend time with the child

before deciding whether to adopt him or her.

Look for signs of emotional detachment, Keck said, such as limited eye contact

or lack of interest. Some children come from a facility where there are few

caregivers, so they are unaccustomed to seeing new faces; others have never

been outside during the day.

Keck offers a 10-hour training course for parents considering international


"Parents should assume their kids have had bad beginnings, whether they've been

in an orphanage or have been in an abusive or alcoholic family situation," he


"If you don't think it feels right," he said, "it's best not to take the child,

because you may face an obligation beyond your lifetime."

2004 Mar 4