Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Change is. Most of us accept this fact as inevitable and move forward. But when the change hits close to home, when it affects us personally, it grabs our attention. Why is this happening to me while I was making plans?

Adoption has seen plenty of change in the past year. The United States finally implemented the Hague Treaty on International Adoption, and the rules of the game changed. The impact can be felt everywhere---by prospective adoptive families, by agencies specializing in international adoptions, by governments---both our own and those placing children with adoptive families. How and why did this happen?

When Russia and China opened their doors to international adoption in the early 90s, parents rushed to adopt and new agencies sprung up overnight to service those families. Loosely regulated states provided little oversite to these new agencies, and a long-established social work system that governed child placement was suddenly viewed as cumbersome and restrictive by eager prospective adopters. Over night, the client was the adopter, not the child, and the client wanted their child immediately, if not sooner.

Competition among agencies grew along with the Internet, which was quickly embraced by many new agencies. Beautiful websites promising expediency and parent selection of children were attractive to potential adoptive families who had no basic understanding of the complexity of the international adoption process. It came as no surprise, therefore, that by the end of the 90s, the rapid growth in the field, competition, and the shift to adoption-as-big-business was a setup for disaster.

Adoption professionals came together in Washington in the early 90s to address the potential for unethical practices and fraud in international adoption. The newly proposed Hague Treaty appeared to address many of the concerns voiced by the working committees, and agencies threw their support behind their efforts. Fifteen years later, however, the resulting law bears little resemblance to the vision as first articulated.

Fewer families qualify to adopt. The cost is exorbitant and the length of time discouraging. Fewer children are being vetted for adoption, even if they are legal orphans. That, too, is an expensive and time-consuming process in countries where children are not a high priority. Smaller agencies here, many with a long and reputable history of service to parents and children, have folded.

These changes have grabbed our attention. They are close to home for many---for children in need of a parent or two, for potential parents longing to hold a child in their arms, for professionals who hold firmly to standards of service that may have become too costly to maintain and still keep their doors open. Like everything, adoption is part of a cycle of ebb and flow. The ebb tide changes our plans as we wait for the return flow.

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