Many-sided look at adoption

It is difficult to imagine a one-hour informational program on adoption being one of the most entertaining shows of the week. However, the fact is that "Cover Story: Adoption in America" (PBS, Wednesday, 9-10 p.m., check local listings for premiere and repeats) is not only informative, but thoroughly engrossing entertainment. It is such good family entertainment that I heartily encourage anybody searching for a rewarding hour of television viewing to turn to their local PBS channel and watch. Despite the seemingly specialized nature of its subject matter, it is a program for everybody -- but especially for families contemplating adoption of a child.

This is the third in a Newsweek-WQED/Pittsburgh series of informational programs, "Cover Story." The concept is so obvious and simple -- it is amazing that nobody else has had the foresight to do it before. Newsweek simply chooses an important topic, splits it up into several related stories, assigns a staff of producers, writers, reporters, and editors to follow up their segment, makes certain that enough experts as well as informed laymen are involved, then finds individuals caught up in the topic and willing to expose their feelings.

What results is not a complicated mishmash, as you might expect, but probably one of the best programs on all aspects of the adoption experience ever aired.

Under executive producer Al H. Perlmutter (remember his "American Dream Machine?") and several skillful project directors, "Adoption in America" sensitively investigates such varied topics as the search by adopted children for their natural parents and the problem of parentless black and/or handicapped children. The program delves into the future of those airlifted Vietnamese orphans, the question of whether such rescue missions are psychologically valid, the shocking new UN ruling which bars international resettlement efforts for orphans (that's why so many Cambodian orphans remain helplessly in refugee camps), etc.

In fact, just about anything you ever wondered about adoptive parenting is carefully handled with pinpointed information plus an added overview by experts with advice and opinions. There is no single point of view expounded throughout -- but there are many points of view fairly investigated by this thoroughly conscientious program.

"Adoption in America" is especially timely this week, since Nov. 23-29 is National Adoption Week. Many local PBS stations will be offering follow-up broadcasts. A help directory will be sent free to any viewer who requests it, and the program provides an address where anybody with questions about adoption can write for help.

There are more than 500,000 children in foster-care homes today -- probably 200,000 legally free for adoption. Most of these are either black, handicapped, or over 11 -- the categories most difficult to place in adoptive homes. While hundreds of thousands of Americans yearn to adopt children -- they tend to reject children in the "difficult" categories, hoping for a child who fits all their dream expectations. However, it is now estimated that 93 percent of those who bear illegitimate children plan to raise them themselves.

So, more and more would-be adoptive parents either turn to irregular means to find their babies or come to some compromise in their expectations. This program surveys just about every aspect adoption -- and comes up with down-to-earth, common-sense, often joyous solutions and conclusions.

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