Road to Foreign Adoptions Gets Rockier
Tighter regulations, rising costs, and changing attitudes increase hurdles for those seeking children from other lands. FAMILY
SINCE World War II, many Americans and Europeans have looked abroad in their quest to adopt children. But while the practice remains a highly rewarding way to build a family, the source countries are shifting, regulations are tightening, and costs are escalating. The biggest factor is a changing attitude in South Korea, which has provided more than half the foreign children adopted by United States families. That country is gradually reducing foreign adoptions with the intent of bringing the rate to near zero (see chart). Reasons include a declining birthrate, increasing affluence, and a growing acceptance of adoption within the country.Skip to next paragraph
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``It's been a long time coming,'' says Susan Cox, director of development and public relations for Holt International in Eugene, Ore., the agency that pioneered Korean adoptions. ``Some agencies have ignored this all-too-apparent trend and made promises to clients that they couldn't keep. Now, they are facing a cold reality. But Koreans have nothing to be apologetic for. They've done a tremendous job of trying to ensure that every child has a family. In emphasizing national adoptions, they're on the threshold of a new era.''
``I don't think we'll ever see another country that facilitates inter-country adoptions like Korea did,'' says Susan Freivalds, executive director of Adoptive Families of America, a national support organization based in Minneapolis. ``For parents, the change will mean longer waits and stricter requirements: more scrutiny paid to applicants' ages, length of marriage, and income.''
In some cases, it will also mean more travel. Colombia, for example, is now one of several countries that require adoptive parents to make two separate trips while the paperwork clears, first to initiate the process and later to complete it. ``It's a wrenching process to meet your child-to-be, then relinquish him or her to a foster home for three more months,'' she says.
Although they are becoming more difficult, foreign adoptions remain an attractive alternative to their domestic counterparts. ``While parents can wait five or six years for an American adoption, the wait abroad is only about two years for a healthy baby girl,'' says Annamarie Merrill of the International Concerns Committee for Children, an agency referral service based in Boulder, Colo.
Mrs. Merrill believes that the changes in Korea will mean fewer ``physically perfect'' children available. ``In a way, it's a good thing. Children with birth anomalies - a missing finger, a cleft palate - will have a better chance of finding families,'' she says.
South Korea's policies have also increased the demand for available children from Latin American countries, and that is having unwanted repercussions.
``For the most part, these kids are being adopted legitimately, and the adoptions work out fine,'' says Francisco Pilotti, chief of the social affairs unit for the Inter-American Children's Institute in Montevideo, Uruguay, a specialized agency of the Organization of American States.
``But there are cases - their number is inexact - in which children are matched with inadequate parents or are sold outright. Undue pressure is sometimes placed on poor mothers to relinquish their children. Unfortunately, these incidents seem to be rising,'' Dr. Pilotti says.
Pilotti notes that intercountry adoptions can also tread on the sensitivity of the source countries, which see it both as a drain on their pool of young people and as an implication they cannot care for their own. ``Ironically, this controversy has had a positive effect by sparking interest in domestic adoptions, a practice that was not culturally accepted 20 years ago,'' he says.