Overseas Adoptions

Every year, thousands of Americans take a child into their home that was born in another country. I'm Steve Ember with Phoebe Zimmermann. International adoption is our report today on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.

Many husbands and wives in this country want a child, but may not be able to have one. Or, such married couples may want to add an adopted child to their other children. Single Americans may also want to become parents.

But since the nineteen-sixties and nineteen-seventies, the number of babies and young children who can be adopted in this country has greatly decreased. Today, many people are going overseas to adopt a foreign child.

East Asia, eastern Europe and Latin America have become adoption centers for Americans. For example, thousands of Americans have adopted children from China, Russia, South Korea, Guatemala or Romania. More than sixteen-thousand children were brought here from those and other countries during nineteen-ninety-nine. The next year, the State Department says more than eighteen-thousand foreign children were adopted and brought here from all foreign countries.

Thousands of children in America grow up in temporary family homes. Or, they live in group homes. Many are older children or children who have health problems.

But the public demand for children to adopt is mainly for healthy babies and very young children. Today, there are no longer great numbers of such children to meet that demand. About thirty years ago, American women got the right to choose to end their pregnancies. This has made changes in adoption in the United States.

American society also has changed beliefs about who will make a good parent. Years ago, few single people or couples older than about forty could adopt. Today, it is much more common for single people to adopt. Some couples of the same sex are adopting children. People who are no longer young also can adopt.

Laws about adoptions within the United States differ from state to state. Prospective adoptive parents -- people who want to adopt -- are asked to show that they can provide a safe and loving home. Then they wait until an adoption agency finds a child for them. Sometimes people wait years. Other adoptions happen much more quickly.

Costs differ greatly. Some estimates say the average may be about ten-thousand dollars.

Adoptions also take place without the services of an agency. In a private adoption, a lawyer or doctor connects a pregnant woman with people seeking a child. But sometimes this does not guarantee a baby to adopt. For a time after the birth, biological parents are permitted to change their decision to surrender their child. Sometimes people wait a long time for a baby. Then they learn that a birth parent has decided to raise the child after all.

Many adoption agencies in the United States also handle overseas adoptions. These adoptions often involve direct relinquishment. This means the biological parents may be dead. Or, they may have already surrendered their child to an orphanage. The new parents then may take the child directly home to the United States.

Like most adoptions within the United States, overseas adoptions take time. They may take many months, or more than a year. Adoption agencies and the Department of State have a number of requirements for people wanting to adopt overseas.

A social worker must make a home study of the prospective parents. The goal is to make sure the home and family will be good for the child. For example, the prospective parent must show ability to provide financial support. They also are investigated to see if they obey the law.

Many overseas adoption centers require prospective parents to make two trips. On the first, the people meet and spend time with a child. On the second, they complete the legal adoption process. Parents also are advised to repeat the adoption process in the United States when they return. Foreign adoptions can be costly. For example, some people have paid thirty-thousand dollars to adopt a Russian child. The total amount depends on travel expenses.

China has become the major source of foreign adoptions by Americans. China's population policy calls for only one child per family. As a result, many parents surrender children -- mostly daughters -- for adoption. Adoptions by foreigners became legal in China in nineteen-ninety-two. Americans adopt more than five-thousand children a year from China.

But there is a problem now because of the spread of SARS. By late last week more than two-hundred-seventy people had died of severe acute respiratory syndrome in China. More than five-thousand had become infected.

On May fifteenth, the China Center of Adoption Affairs postponed mailing documents to prospective parents to travel to China. It also said those who already have travel plans made should do their best to delay their trip. The center placed its notice on its Web site. The agency said it hopes to avoid the spread of SARS infection that might be caused by the flow of people.

Normally, Americans who want to adopt in China must visit the United States Consulate in Guangzhou. That city is in Guangdong Province, where SARS is believed to have begun in November. The consulate is the only American diplomatic office in China that processes travel documents for adopted children.

Many people wanting to adopt have gone to China even with the recent travel warnings to stay away because of SARS. Agencies said few prospective parents had cancelled flights to China for next month. Deep desire for a child urged many people forward. There were comments like, "There is no way I would not do everything I can to bring my child home."

But that was before the announcement last week by the China Center of Adoption Affairs.

An extended suspension on travel for foreign adoptions would hurt the Chinese as well as the prospective parents. China wants homes for the children. It also receives thousands of dollars in adoption costs. And, adoptive parents provide business for hotels and stores in Guangzhou.

Some children adopted overseas suffer from physical and mental problems. Experts say it is extremely important for adoptive parents to watch their children's health and development carefully.

The United States has about twelve centers established especially to meet this need. One such place is the International Adoption Center at the INOVA hospital in Fairfax, Virginia. It offers a number of services to adoptive parents.

Foreign agencies often present adoptive parents with medical records and videotape of a child. A Center doctor can meet with families before they go overseas to adopt. The doctor can study these records and discuss possible problems. The doctor also can examine the child after the adoption is completed.

Experts say children who have been in large orphanages often develop more slowly than others. Children in groups also have a bigger risk of infections. They may have diseases that children's doctors in the United States do not usually see or treat. For example, the children may have an intestinal disorder called parasites.

Clearly, adopting an overseas child demands loving parents who are willing to take some chances. Kevin and Edie McGee of Millersville, Maryland, are such a couple. They had been trying for ten years to have a baby. Then, a few weeks ago, they went to China. There they met their fourteen-month-old daughter. They adopted and re-named young Min An An. But, back home, Mrs. McGee developed a sickness that may have been SARS.

Now she has recovered completely. On May eleventh, the McGee family celebrated an American holiday with their adopted baby, Madeline. It was Edie McGee's first Mother's Day as a mother.

This VOA Special English program was written by Jerilyn Watson. It was produced by Mario Ritter. I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Phoebe Zimmermann. Join us again next week for another program about life in the United States on our VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.