Bringing the children home

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THE adoption scene in the United States has changed radically over the past couple of decades, as Curtis J. Sitomer's series in the Monitor, concluding today, has pointed out. Easier access to abortion and greater acceptance of unmarried motherhood have meant that fewer infants are available for adoption. Both public and private agencies find they have almost no healthy infants to place - even as the numbers of older children and ``special needs'' infants (often handicapped or abused) in need of homes are becoming a national disgrace.

Exactly what those numbers are, however, remains unclear, because federal statisticians have kept no figures to speak of since 1975. As a result, the discussion on adoption policy depends on private statistics, often from groups with an ax to grind.

The primary focus, though, should be finding homes for babies and children who need them, not providing children to would-be parents. Part of what is troubling about ``surrogate motherhood'' is that it involves producing a child for someone else to raise.

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This is not to disparage the heartfelt desires of would-be parents for children to love and provide a home for. Nor is it to belittle the frustration and heartbreak of those who go through test after test to find out ``what's wrong,'' and then languish for years on agency lists, waiting for a child.

Surely, family is more than biology, and identity more than a gene pool. Decisions about having children, and about the motives for having them, must be worked out in individual hearts. But several steps can be taken to help better match children needing homes with would-be parents.

Adoptions independent of public or private agencies, typically involving informal ``networking,'' with would-be parents getting to know the expectant mother, can be encouraged, as long as the proper legal safeguards are maintained.

Agencies need to rethink some of their requirements for would-be parents, which effectively restrict agency adoption to the upper-middle class. Agencies should worry less about things like whether husband and wife are of the same religion. And insisting on two parents, rather than allowing adoption by a single parent, may not be in the best interest of a child with no parent at all.

Government aid to adoptive parents facing the considerable costs of bringing children into their homes can be a boon for those with more love than money, particularly minority families.

Concerns about placing children in families of other ethnic backgrounds are not to be dismissed out of hand, but even though transracial adoption may not be ideal, it is a vast improvement over no adoption.

And finally, painful though it may be, state agencies should move faster to terminate parental rights when necessary so that children can start new lives with parents able to give them the care they need.

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