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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

(Page 2 of 3)

"I think that more Americans would adopt these babies if they knew they were available," says Stacy Hyer, a white American living in Germany with two adopted black children.

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There is evidence of increasing adoption of black babies by white American families. But ingrained preferences still play a part in who is chosen for adoption.

The majority of couples seeking to adopt are white, but there aren't nearly enough Caucasian babies available in the US to meet the demand. Although exceptions certainly exist, American parents generally prefer babies to toddlers, girls to boys, and Caucasians to African-Americans, adoption professionals report. Other ethnicities fall in between, depending on their skin color. African-American boys are at the bottom of this "ranking" system, they say, which is why they're harder to place.

"We have to work much harder to find homes for our African-American babies," says Robert Springer of Christian Homes, an adoption agency in Texas.

No one is equating babies with commodities, but the principles of supply and demand apply. Adoption costs and waiting times in the US vary depending on a baby's ranking in the "desirability list."

The children who are in the greatest demand are also in the shortest supply. Those who want to adopt healthy white babies in the US may wait as long as five years, agencies say. In contrast, they add, the waiting for African-Americans is often measured in weeks and months, especially for baby boys.

The demand for biracial (black/white) babies falls in between, and the wait reflects this. The waiting period for a biracial girl can be more than a year.

It's also the case that adopting a white baby costs more than adopting a black or biracial one.

Adoption fees for healthy Caucasian babies can be as high as $40,000, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. For biracial babies, the cost is about $18,000. For African-American newborns, it ranges from $10,000 to $12,000, agencies say.

The costs to the adoption agency for each child also vary greatly, not because of race but due to circumstances. The agency may have paid all the prenatal expenses and living costs for one birth mother, for instance, and not another, who decided on adoption in her ninth month of pregnancy.

Why fees are less for black babies

But instead of passing along the actual costs to the new parents, many adoption agencies - most of which are nonprofit - charge a set fee that is determined by how difficult the baby may be to place. The agencies say this enables them to find homes for the children who are hardest to place.

Fees and waiting times for American families adopting internationally vary by country, but total costs, including travel, are usually about $30,000, with a waiting time of nine to 18 months.

Because of regulations and laws in the country of origin, most of the foreign children adopted from abroad by Americans are more than 1 year old when they arrive in the US.

In contrast, American babies can be adopted as soon as their parents relinquish them.

Families in foreign countries cite the availability of newborns as the primary reason they choose to adopt in the US. Canada and Europe don't have as many babies available for adoption. Therefore, "if you want a newborn, you go to America, " says Bart van Meurs, Elisa's dad. Families also cite the health of the babies, the short waiting time, and the availability of medical records as additional advantages. Race is seldom a consideration.

"Most of our families just want a baby as young as possible, and the US is the best place to go for a newborn," explainsLorneWelwood of Hope Adoption Services in Abbotsford, British Columbia. "They are not ignoring the race issues, but they don't think, like the Americans, that the less black the better."

"The families from abroad do not think of black babies as being second best, babies that they'll 'settle' for because white babies are hard to find," says Ms. Kinnaird.

Most adoption agencies encourage the birth mother to select the adoptive family for her child. Sometimes a black birth mother prefers having her child adopted overseas because she believes there is less prejudice there than in the US.