Currently there are more than 147 million orphans in our world today. Many of them reside in orphanages, foster homes, in mental institutions or on the street, living in extreme poverty. Despite these frightening statistics for this often ignored and marginalized group, most people still view adoption as a secondary choice when facing infertility, rather than a “humanitarian activity” (Roby and Ife 662) as it once was. Unfortunately though, children who remain in institutional care end up facing severe and unhealthy problems or are adopted by infertile couples and are often viewed simply as a product that meets the needs of wealthy purchasers in foreign countries who dream of fantasy children (McKelvey and Stevens 17). Although there is widespread corruption and unhealthy practices surrounding adoption, the well-being of orphans and children in need should be viewed as a social problem involving proactive solutions from society as a whole, rather than a supply and demand baby business for infertile parents-to-be.
Wikipedia defines adoption as a “process whereby a person assumes the parenting for another and, in so doing, permanently transfers all rights and responsibilities from the original parent or parents.” Once someone has decided to adopt, a person has several options. One of the most polular choices and sometimes even considered “trendy,” is international adoption. In 2004 the US adopted 22,884 children through international routes (Browne and Chou 2008). The majority of children who are adopted internationally come from orphanages or foster homes, with the exception of the United States, where newborn babies can be adopted directly from their birth parents in the hospital. International adoption, however, is extremely pricey, ranging from $15,000 to more than $50,000 and can sometimes take several years to get through the entire process.
The next option available to adoptive parents is domestic adoption. Domestic adoption is when a person adopts a child from their local area through a private agency, and usually involves a parent looking for a healthy newborn. Costs average around $10,000 in Canada for a domestic adoption, and the waiting game can vary anywhere from a day to virtually forever, due to the fact that adoptive families must wait until a birth mother and/or father chooses them. This is one of the most common routes for parents facing infertility who choose adoption as their next choice for building a family. There is, however, a large pool of adoptive parents waiting to be matched and a small pool of healthy infants being born that are then placed for adoption. A large reason for this downward trend in domestic adoptions is the fact that there is a “widespread availability of contraceptives and abortions” (Roby and Ife 662), meaning far less children are being born to birth mothers who do not want or cannot keep their infant.
Beyond the popular international and domestic adoption options lies the adoption of children in the foster care system. In Canada these children are known as Canada’s Waiting Children. The majority of children available through this route are usually three years old or older (up to the age of eighteen) and usually have some sort of special need; Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) ranking most common. These adoptions are free, with all costs covered by the government, and often include financal assistance afterwards; Known as post adoption assistance, help is provided for such things as speech therapy, special equiptment, specific assessments and supportive help. These adoptions are run through government agencies and operate on a matching system, reducing the waiting period for an adoptive family and child. Although this option is extremely accesible to the general public, it is one of the least utilized due to the special needs and traumatic pasts of the children in search of a home. Although FAS is one of the most prevelant special needs, they can also be included as special needs “because they are older, are members of a minority group, are members of a sibling group that must stay together or are in some way physically or mentally challenged” (McKelvey and Stevens 8). Special needs can also include infants that are drug exposed or HIV positive (8).
Where the problem lies in the adoption world is how many children are left unadopted and what ultimately becomes of them. Comparing the earlier statistic of
22, 884 children adopted internationally into the US in 2004 to that of the 147 million orphans in the world (including Canada and the US), the numbers just do not line up for children needing a forever family to children getting a forever family. Millions of children are instead left to be raised in foster homes or institutions such as orphanages, having a very poor quality of life.
In her report The Development of Romanian Orphanage Children Adopted to Canada, Elinor W. Ames conducted a “longitudinal study looking at children’s development over time” (2) from children adopted out of Romania in which 53% were adopted from orphanages, 33% from hospitals and 14% from private homes. She compared these numbers to “never institutionalized, non-adopted British Columbian children living with their birth parents” (5) as well as children who who had been adopted out of orphanages at an early age (under 4 months of institutionalization) and those who had spent at least 8 months in an institution (4).
Of the children studied in Ames’s report coming from Romanian orphanages, “75% of adoptive parents reported that their cihldren did not have enough to eat in the orphanage and 56% reported that their children did not have enough to drink […] and children younger than 1 ½ or 2 years old spent 18-20 hours a day lying quietly in their cribs (15). She continued to reveal that:
There was little for them to look at, and next to nothing to hear. Ames (1990), after oberserving for five hours in one orphanage unit for 15 children between 9 and 24 months of age, reported that there was a maximum of three children making noise at any one time. Even though all the children were awake, there were periods as long as five minutes where there was no sound at all. (Ames 15)
Furthermore Ames explains that social interactions were minimal, with children uninterested in reaching eachother, and when a child did touch another child, no response occurred (15). Ames’s research shows that 78% of the Romanian children adopted that resided in an orphanage for at least 8 months were delayed in 4 areas of development including: fine motor, gross motor, personal-social and language (18). By contrast, of those that were adopted before the 4 month mark, only 4% were delayed (19). Ultimately “time spent in an orphanage was positively related to the number of areas of delay” (23) and the “number of serious problems they had” (100) as a Romanian adoptee.
Children locally in the foster system face equally horrible outcomes. Coming up against social workers who are underpaid and overworkered as well as a shrinking pool of foster families who are qualified to care for their special needs (Mckelvey and Stevens 35), obstacle after obstacle is placed before these innocent children. As well, adoptive homes open to these children, especially those with special needs or of a minority group, are in short supply (36). In Canada there are more than 30,000 children waiting to be adopted out of foster care, and many more in the system waiting in limbo. In America, those numbers are even higher, reaching 423,773 in 2009, with almost 60% of them being part of a minority group (Adoption 2011). What is even worse is that of those staggeringly high statistics in the US, only 13% of the children in foster care are available for adoption (39), the rest are “suspended in a legal limbo by parents who make little effort to regain their children, but refuse to relinquish them fully” (39).
Foster children undergo their own range of issues, similar to those in foreign orphanges. An estimated 375,000 children in the American foster system have been exposed to prenatal drugs and alcohol and pay the price with developmental delays and low IQ (39). Beyond development delays, children in foster care also undergo abuse. Ironically the very homes that are set up to protect these children from a dangerous homelife, can often hand out the same damaging abuse, both physically and sexually (41). In Michael Harris’s Unholy Orders, he brings to light the horrifying case at Mount Cashel, where boys in a Newfoundland Catholic orphanage were being sexually and physically abused by their priests. Inside the orphange walls children were “dangled by their heels from a third story window […] and made to walk around the dorm stark naked” (34) as well as forced to engage in sexual relations with priests (218).
This startling information leaves the realization that adoption (among a great many other things) is vital in rescuing these children from such diar situations and that children living in institutions and foster care should be viewed as a social problem rather than merely a secondary option in family growing. Roughly 15% of women find themselves infertile. These women “want children-they crave children-but cannot produce them on their own” (Spar 1). In her book The Baby Business: How Money, Science, and Politics Drive the Commerce of Conception, Debora Spar reveals that in “2004 more than one million Americans underwent some form of fertility treatment, participating in what had become a nearly $3 billion industry” (3). Once a woman has “exhausted all other channels of child production” (160) many wander down the adoption route.
While there is nothing wrong with infertile couples choosing adoption, the problem arises when the only parents who are adopting are adoptive parents who are in the mind-set of purely building a family and wanting a healthy, normal child. This often “leads to a highly competitive market for healthy babies […] and domestic supply [is] not able to meet the demand in terms of quality or quantity” (Dickens 596-599). Demand for healthy infants can be so extreme that adoptive finders have been known to scour maternity wards offering cash to mothers (Roby and Ife 664). Of course there are healthy infants available for parents of this mind-set, however, since infertile couples looking for healthy infants make up the majority of parents in the adoption process, there are few people left to adopt the majority of children still waiting to be adopted: namely, the children with special needs.
The problem of waiting children, here in Canada, the US and around the world, needs to be addressed as a serious crisis. The astonishing 147 million orphans in our world today is a large number of children requiring homes and the much smaller percentage of infertile couples looking to adopt simply does not meet the current need. Governments need to step in and create a more accessible adoption process and increased education and awareness surrounding the need and addressing the two most common fears: finances and special needs.
One of the biggest hurdles families find when embarking on the adoption journey, in particular the international route is finances. With costs beginning around $15,000 and surpassing the $50,000 mark in some countries, many people feel they simply cannot afford to adopt. If governments covered the costs of international adoption, the same way they cover the costs of foster care adoption, more families would feel comfortable moving forward in the process. In addition, an increase in education on the various financial options currently available might ease some of the worry. Such options as grants, fundraising, adoption loans and tax credits are a few of the only options available to adoptive parents.
Education surrounding special needs is also extremely vital. Education would be best utilized if it was presented to high school and university students, the same way homelessness is currently being presented. Since this problem should be viewed as a social problem, it would not adequately address the problem if education was only directed towards those already in the adoption process. The goal would be to ultimately convince more people to adopt who had not previously considered it. Enlightening students as well as current prospective adoptive parents on the facts of special needs would give more people the confidence to move forward. Currently the average person knows very little about FAS, autism, severe trauma, cleft palates, or transracial child rearing. With the proper education, a well informed individual would know what to do and how to raise a child with such issues. Issues that may be challenging, but not impossible!
Once fears are broken down and education and government support is increased, only then can our society start to embark on a massive scale adoption plan, aimed at reaching out to the millions of children undergoing traumatic and unnecessary experiences in institutions and foster care around the world. The needy children of the world need to be viewed as a social problem, with adoption at the forefront of solutions and every day people leading the way. People need to alter their viewpoints, not seeing infertility as the only reason to adopt, and instead seeing a child, the future of our society, as the driving force behind any motivation to adopt.