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Understanding Adoption

by Jaki Ryan

It is estimated that there are at least 6 million adopted people in the U.S., and that 6 in 10 Americans have had a personal experience with adoption.

Adopting a child can be one of the most rewarding experiences of one's life. However, for those just beginning to explore adoption, the process can seem overwhelmingly complicated, time consuming, costly, and frustrating-especially if you are anxious to get started. Prospective adoptive families can feel vulnerable as they attempt to learn as much as possible in the shortest period of time to become informed of the adoption services available.

Adoption is viewed and spoken about much differently than it was thirty, twenty, or even ten years ago. The first step of the process is to become educated about adoption in general, the types of children available to adopt, and the various avenues to adoption. As you learn more, you will become better prepared to make the best choice for your family.

Families adopt children of all kinds, from newborns to teenagers, of every race and ethnicity, and from many countries around the world. Many prospective parents seek to adopt healthy infants, often of a background similar to their own. In the United States, a relatively small percentage of healthy, Caucasian infants are placed for adoption. Most Caucasian infants are placed through agencies and independent adoptions. African-American, Hispanic, and mixed-race infants are more frequently available through public and private adoption agencies. In addition, there are national "Waiting Children" lists, which consist of foster children that need a permanent home.

Many children with special needs are also available for adoption. These children may be older and have physical, emotional, or cognitive disabilities. Often brothers and sisters prefer to be adopted together. Usually, these children are in the state foster care system. In addition, both public and some private agencies place children with special needs.

In the case of special needs, or "waiting" children, national, regional, and state adoption exchanges will assist in linking prospective parents with children. Adoption exchanges and agencies usually have photo listings and descriptions of available children on the Internet. In many cases, financial assistance in the form of adoption subsidies is available to help parents with the legal, medical, and living costs associated with caring for a child with special needs.

Many children from other countries are available for adoption. Russia, China, Korea, India, and countries in Eastern Europe, Central America, and South America are countries that offer the most foreign-born children for adoption by Americans. More than 700 U.S. private agencies place children from foreign countries. A few countries allow families to work directly with attorneys rather than agencies.

There are strict immigration requirements for adopting children from other countries, as well as substantial agency fees and transportation, legal, and medical costs. It is important that you choose a licensed, knowledgeable organization as the international adoption process is lengthy and complex.

As a prospective parent, you should carefully consider the emotional and social implications of adopting a child of a different nationality. Just as in transracial adoption of an American child, you are adopting a culture as well as a child. Agencies seek families who truly desire to educate a child about their native culture, because it is a vital part of who he or she is.

Adoption is a solution. There are people all over the world who would like to be parents, but are not able to be biological parents. There are children all over this world who no longer have parents, or whose parents are unable to care for them. These people can be brought together to form a family.

Regardless of your adoption choice, all children need to be loved unconditionally. They must feel secure emotionally, know that adults will meet their needs, develop a positive sense of self, and a sense of place in this world.

Author's Personal Note:

My family was blessed to have adopted my youngest sister, Tracy, 32 years ago. She was 10 weeks old. She has brought immense joy to our lives.

More about Adoption: National Adoption Information Clearinghouse Special Feature:

Transracial Adoption

Adoptive Parents Presouces

International Adoption