I’ve heard them time and again. Questions about adoption can often come across as riddles, often leading to even more questions. Most often, I find that my answer invariably begins with the phrase, “It depends.” This question, however, has a specific answer, and it is one that guides our work at WACAP.“If there are so many children who are waiting for adoption, then why is it so hard to adopt, and why does it take so long?”
- Though there are indeed many, many children who need adoption, the children who wait aren’t infants. There are 13 million orphans worldwide who have lost both parents.1 In the U.S.A, there are just under 108,000 children in foster care waiting for adoption.2 In 2016, WACAP worked with almost 630 children from eight different countries, and 80% were age 3 or older. One third are age ten and older. While many families come to the adoption table with thoughts of younger children, the youth who wait don’t often fit that expectation. Closing the gap between expectation and reality can take some time.
- Not only are waiting children often older, they bring with them all of the trauma that has shaped their history. Abandonment, abuse, neglect, institutionalization, and multiple placements make for a rough start. It’s not a thought with which we are comfortable. But it is reality. But don’t be discouraged. Rather, be prepared. WACAP spends time educating our families on the impact of such trauma histories on a child’s development, and we have plans to incorporate more of trauma-informed care in our family education and support. We talk through parenting techniques and set up support systems for when children come home. Children from hard places will need a different type of parent. I will make a declaration here, and this may shock some readers: 100% of children placed for adoption have trauma histories. WACAP spends the time to help families prepare.
- Let’s talk special needs. I’m not a fan of that label, but it’s often more concise than a discussion of diverse medical diagnoses, treatments, and developmental delays. In 2016, 75% of children placed through WACAP had some identified special medical or developmental need. Add into that the unique aspects of older child adoption and developmental trauma, and the percentage jumps to 90%.
- Adoption doesn’t erase the years that have passed before a child comes home. Physical and emotional scars remain. Biological parents, foster families, and orphanage friends all exist. A child’s history, including habits, hobbies, traditions, smells, culture norms, language, climate, religion, race, gender and sexual identities, likes and dislikes, fears, resentments, anger, and unbelievable grief are all packed up in the suitcase that comes with you on that plane or car ride home. We spend the time to help you become ready to unpack it all and keep it safe.
- Children deserve our very best efforts. Initially, we want to reunite them with biological family members when possible. We hope for a child to remain safely and securely within their country of origin, state, or neighborhood. They’ve suffered enough losses by this point, haven’t they? We do our best to not do more harm when we are trying to redeem an untenable situation. WACAP firmly believes in and advocates for a priority in adoption: first, reunify. Second, seek relatives. Third, find a domestic option for permanency. And, finally, pursue intercountry adoption. A child should never “age out” of orphanage or foster care to no one. Neither should they be removed from biological family prematurely, or without merit. Children are worth the investment of time to make sure every adoption is legal, ethical and in the child’s best interest.
Yes, there are many children who need adoption right now. There is an immediacy, an urgency to their need that often implies a speedy process. After all, if the end result is the creation of a family, shouldn’t we should get to that place as quickly as possible? Well, yes, we should get there as quickly as is possible.
We must also remember that an adoptive placement is not the ending of the story. It is just the beginning. It is foundational, and both parent and child should come to that first meeting with eyes wide open, as thoroughly prepared as possible, because the goal is for the placement to not only be permanent, but to result in a healthy, strong family that will see the best in each other, love all the time, forgive when it isn’t easy, laugh and play together, and create a home that welcomes and celebrates differences. That is nothing short of a miracle, and it takes a little time.
What questions do you have, or would you like to see WACAP address, concerning foster care and adoption (both domestic and international)? Comment below or email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll blog answers throughout 2017.
About WACAP’s CEO, Greg Eubanks: Greg joined WACAP as CEO in December 2014. Serving children and families has been the focus and passion of his 20-year career in nonprofit executive leadership and business administration. With an extensive background in international adoption and foster care, Greg is committed to bringing hope to the children living without a family … and helping them home.