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Born in America, adopted abroad

African-American babies are going to parents overseas even as US couples adopt children from other countries

By Dawn DavenportContributor to The Christian Science Monitor / October 27, 2004

Adrian Stokkeland, a 2-year-old in Canada, dances with his mom to the music of Elvis and sleeps with his most treasured possession, a box of toy cars. Emma Sonnenschein, an energetic 19-month-old in Germany, loves to "help" her mom around the house. Elisa van Meurs, a 5-year-old in the Netherlands, is a real girly-girl. Her favorite outfit is a Minnie Mouse dress, paired with a Snow White tiara and pink Barbie shoes.

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Adrian, Emma, and Elisa have more in common than their charm and being the apple of their parents' eyes. All are black children born in the United States and adopted as infants by parents in other countries.

They also are representatives of a little-known trend: At the same time the US is "importing" increasing numbers of adoptive children from Russia, China, and Guatemala, it is "exporting" black babies to be adopted in other countries.

Since 1995, US State Department records indicate that international adoptions by Americans have increased more than 140 percent. Couples often cite the lack of American babies as the reason for adopting from abroad.

But the US is now the fourth largest "supplier" of babies for adoption to Canada. Adoption by Shepherd Care, an agency in Hollywood, Fla., places 90 percent of its African-American babies in Canada. One-third of the children placed through Adoption-Link in Chicago, which specializes in adoptions for black babies, go to people from other countries.

The exact numbers are not available, but interviews with adoption agencies and families in Canada, Germany, France, and the Netherlands indicate that the US also sends babies to those four countries as well as Belgium and England. Most of the children are black newborns. Most of the adoptingparents are Caucasian.

Why is it happening?

There is no simple explanation for why many white Americans prefer to adopt from abroad rather than adopt the available black babies at home. Racism is one reason, says Cheryl Kinnaird of Adoption-Link in Chicago. But there are others, she adds.

Families might choose an international adoption because of an affinity for a particular country or a desire to help. Many couples want a child who resembles them so that their family will not stand out as an "adoptive family." Since most adoptive families are Caucasian, this might explain the rise in adoptions from Russia and other eastern European countries.

In 2003, 37 percent of all international adoptions to the US were from countries where the majority of children adopted were Caucasian.

White couples may also be concerned about how their extended family will react to a black child. And they sometimes worry they are not up to the task of raising a black child in America and are not sure it is in the best interest of the child to be raised in a white environment.

Then, too, whites often are uncertain whether they can provide the child with cultural exposure to the African-American community.

Most adoption professionals agree that, all other things being equal, it is best to place an African- American child with an African-American family. The National Association of Black Social Workers' position is that every effort should be made to place children with families of the same race and culture.

Most, but not all, birth mothers agree, if they have the choice. However, they do not often have the choice, since fewer African-American couples apply to adoption agencies. One reason is that babies are frequently available within their extended family or community, and they have no need to go through the expense of an agency to adopt. Also, the number of infertile black couples who can afford to adopt is simply not as large as the number of black babies available.

The word hasn't gotten out

Some speculate that African-American babies have lagged behind in adoption rates because many Americans don't realize they're available. Media coverage and popular culture have focused on Americans adopting internationally rather than domestically.

"When we started to think about adoption, we thought only of international adoption because that's all we were hearing about," says Lisa Malaquin-Prey of North Carolina, mother of an adopted Russian baby. "We thought it would cost too much and that we would have to wait for a long time if we adopted domestically."