Adoption FAQ: “What is a “special need?’”


WACAP Information Specialist, Debbie

When I talk with families about the individual needs (or “special needs”) a child may have, I’m often asked a few recurring questions: “What is a ‘special need?’” “What do you consider ‘minor?’” “What can my family handle?”

Children’s needs may be age-related, medical, or may pertain to challenges in their past or present. What’s “minor” to one family may be more significant to another. In talking about these questions with families, it’s always been valuable to dig a little deeper, and I recently had the opportunity to do just that, sitting down with WACAP’s Family Finders manager Jo Reed.

Below, Jo expounds on what she shares with families considering these questions, and as an adoptive parent responding to her daughter, she leaves us with an important answer.

Please read on for Jo’s response to this frequently-asked question:

A “minor” medical need is one a family feels comfortable with; one they know they have the resources to care for and to parent the child effectively. Many families are open to conditions that are surgically correctable, such as milder heart conditions, cleft lip/palate, hernias, etc. Others are open to considering a need that is stable; if it doesn’t become worse—such as a limb difference or a missing eye—it’s easier to plan for what the child will need.

It’s important to know every type of medical need occurs in minor forms, significant forms and everything in between. A child with cerebral palsy may have a tremor in one hand or could be in a wheelchair, a child with a cleft palate may need one surgery or up to eight surgeries, a child who’s behind developmentally may do very well or need lifelong care. My colleagues and I encourage families to consider a child’s information on a case-by-case basis, with the help of a medical specialist, to determine whether they have the resources and comfort level to be a good fit for that particular child.

We provide guidance and help families learn about the various types of individual needs we see in children who need families. We can connect families with other families who have adopted kids with the types of needs they’re considering to give them perspective on how a medical need actually affects day to day family life.

We also see children who are school-age who may not have any known health conditions. The “special needs” of these children are their history of loss and inconsistent care. For these children, WACAP provides training and support for families to understand the effects of trauma on children who have lost their first families and tools to help their children heal.

I encourage families to talk to us about what they’re comfortable with, what their hopes and dreams are for the child they adopt. If you’re considering adoption—or have questions—WACAP staff can help you sort through it to figure out what “special needs” align with the support your family can offer a child. And we can help start you on the path that brings that child and your family together.

When my daughter asked me anxiously one day whether she had special needs, I had to smile. I told her “We all have special needs, honey.” As a family it’s our job to help each other when we can and love each other anyway.

I’m gratified every day to see families adopt the children we advocate for here. WACAP will do everything we can to help a family determine what needs are manageable for them and to prepare them to adopt the child waiting to become part of their story.

Jo Reed of WACAP's Family Finders Team smilesAbout WACAP’s Family Finders Program Manager, Jo Reed: Jo came to WACAP in 2004 and with her, an unyielding commitment to bringing children and families together. An adoptive parent of two girls herself, Jo is also a daily advocate for every child growing up without permanency. Through her work with WACAP’s Family Finders, she has helped share the stories of thousands of children who needed advocates and a family.  

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Strong Families Q/A: “Should I consider a heritage or family camp vacation?” [2017 listing]

First page listing of 2017 Adoption, Heritage and Family Camps - Compiled by Adoption Today/Fostering Families Today Magazine. A listing of 2017 Adoption, Heritage and Family Camps. From Adoption Today magazine - February 2017. Shared with permission.

Click for 2017 Adoption, Heritage & Family Camps Listing

“I can feel how supported I am, and even when things aren’t perfect, I see my kids accepting more and more how very loved they are.” These are the words one WACAP mom shared after returning home from a WACAP family camp.

A teen, who’d been adopted from India as a child, explains the feeling this way: “It’s nice,” he says,” … to not be judged, or looked at in a weird way because your family is white and you don’t fit in with them. Everyone is diverse and understands that family isn’t about the color of your skin or even blood, but the love that they have for you and you have for them.”

Why consider adoption, heritage, and family camps?

We often hear from families who attend family/heritage camps and activities together that their children feel more “normal,” talking with and spending time with so many other diverse families, and with children adopted from different countries. Many children become quickly (or immediately) comfortable, their parents share, and their kids seem to get a little confidence boost, which helps them engage with others successfully.

Behind it all …

A key aspect to this success is the support and participation of multiple family members, and when possible, the whole family.

Simply put, even if they have questions, kids want to fit in and need to be included, not separated from their family’s interest and participation because of their own background and culture. Heritage/family camps in particular can be excellent opportunities for parents and their children, biological and adopted, to build connections and grow together. As kids grow older, they may tend to move on to a separate path, independently learning about their culture and history, but the key will be that they’ve grown up with a family celebrating and supporting who they are.

Full 11-page listing from Adoption Today/Fostering Families Today Magazine

Listing shared with permission. Compiled by Adoption Today/Fostering Families Today Magazine. February 2017 Magazine Issue.

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Adopting from Thailand

When considering various options for adoption, families sometimes overlook smaller or lesser known programs, such as WACAP’s terrific Thailand program. Thailand is known as “The Land of Smiles,” and it only takes walking around for a day to understand why. The people are so friendly, welcoming and generous. This is a smaller program, with a smaller number of adoptions (47 to the U.S. in 2015, according to the U.S. State Department website). However, there are many reasons to adopt from Thailand:

  • The need is urgent. Thailand is a nation with its share of struggles, its population separated by a large wealth gap and that has felt the impacts of drug and alcohol addiction, prostitution, and poverty. These challenges, as well as the social stigma single mothers experience, have led to many children living in institutions. While there has been an increase in adoption within Thailand in recent years, it is still not enough for the number of children in need of permanent families.
  • There are children waiting for a family. There are a number of children who are currently waiting for a family to say, “yes” to them. Of these children, many have medical or developmental needs, such as heart defects, epilepsy, limb differences, cerebral palsy, deafness, HIV, vision impairment, or another need. There are also older children, age 10 and up, without known medical needs. For all of these children, their greatest need is a family.
  • Travel is short and easy to manage. Most families find Thailand easy to navigate, as the majority of people speak English, and they are friendly and eager to help. Only one trip of 10-14 days is required, and both parents must travel. The majority of children referred for adoption live in institutions located within Bangkok, and often families are able to have a day or two of visits at the start of their trip before taking custody of their child.

The most important quality in a parent adopting from Thailand is flexibility, so if you’re considering adoption from this country, this is a quality that will also serve you well when parenting your child. Timeframes for the various steps can be uncertain and information about your child limited, but WACAP’s staff will do their best to help you through the challenges, will be excited to celebrate when your child comes home, and will be there to support you in the years ahead.

To learn more about adopting from Thailand, contact our adoption information specialist at

LindseyGilbertAbout Thailand Program Manager Lindsey Gilbert: Lindsey became a member of WACAP’s China adoption team in 2011, after joining WACAP as a volunteer. She’s helped numerous families through their adoption process as a case manager, and she currently dedicates her time to both managing WACAP’s Thailand program as well as advocating for waiting children in China. When not at work, Lindsey can be found in the garden, on a hiking trail, or volunteering to help others … with husband Geoff and dogs Quincy and Ross by her side.

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The Waiting Game: “How long does it take to adopt?”

How Long Does it Take to Adopt?” Everyone wants to know. How long, really? Waiting is one of the most excruciatingly unpredictable pieces of the adoption process for prospective families. My answer? It can take a while.

waiting game.jpg

  • Much of it depends on the future adoptive parent or parents and your pace to submit the required documentation at each step.
  • Much is driven by regulatory guidelines, the unique requirements of an individual country, and a family’s identified child profile.
  • Most significantly, though, the time from application to homecoming is driven by our desire to thoroughly prepare a prospective family for this journey, and to make sure that we are doing everything possible to support the best match between a child’s needs and a family’s skills.

Like me, however, perhaps you a sucker for statistics, and you want to know what the numbers say. The fact is, there are too many variables, which end up ‘skewing’ our average wait times for families. And the numbers risk misleading inquiring minds. I’ve occasionally joked that the answer to every question about adoption begins with the phrase, “it depends.”

Frustrating, right?

Let that feeling settle. Allow it to wash over you, because your ability to manage frustration will serve you well as an adoptive parent. As any type of parent, really. Frustration, though, will become a frequent visitor for those who choose this path, so you might as well get to know each other.waiting image

Allow me to flip the narrative. Imagine yourself as a child in an orphanage or foster home. Most likely, it isn’t your first. You are living your life, growing and learning and developing into your unique identity. You are struggling to make sense of your reality and to grieve each loss. And you are waiting for what you’ve been told is a family, a concept you might not even understand.

How long has your wait been? How long should it be? How frustrating?

At WACAP, we care deeply about the process for prospective adoptive parents. We want you to be prepared, and informed, and to be ready as soon as possible to bring your child home. We work to minimize your wait, when possible. However, our main priority is to address the urgent needs of those children who have been waiting for years to meet the family who will ultimately say ‘yes’ to them. Without a family, none of us would reach our full potential. Let’s work together to end their wait. Adopt, donate, or help us find families.

Children are waiting for us to act.

*For specific information about wait times and adoption requirements for specific countries, please inquire online using WACAP’s contact form or contact WACAP’s Adoption Information Specialist at or 1-800-732-1887.

WACAP CEO at orphanage in Africa, children gather smilingAbout 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.

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Q/A: An Adoptee’s Perspective: “How do I feel about ‘adoption day?’”

Adoption Day. “Gotcha Day.” i Homecoming. It’s a day that many adoptive parents and their children celebrate the day they became a family. And as one WACAP adoptee shares here, it’s also a day that can bring more to the surface. Shedding light on her feelings of joy and loss, Emily tells an important story about adoption day, and her celebration of family alongside the questions about where she belongs.

The anniversary of my adoption—or as my family called it, my “gotcha day,”—I remember being somewhat like an extra birthday. My parents would have a little present for me and I would have cards from different family members. I would go out to lunch or dinner with my family and celebrate me! I LOVED THIS. If you know me, you know I love being the center of attention. But there were also things about the day that I did not share with my family.

As I got older I was better able to express the way I felt to my parents. But growing up, I never wanted to hurt their feelings or push boundaries with them due to feeling conflicted. I never wanted them to feel like I was ungrateful … because I loved them so much!

4-picture collage of post author as young child, one of which includes her adoptive parents.

As a child I remember the days leading up to my “gotcha day.” I was more aware of my adoption around those days. I started to think about my life more than any other normal time. I started to question things and wonder how I would be different if I never left India. I went through all the difficult questions: Why me? What did I do wrong? Will I ever be good enough? When will I feel like I fit in to this world? What would have happened if I weren’t adopted? Who are my biological parents and do I have any bio-siblings?

These questions radiated through my head.

The emotions I faced, and continue to face as an adult, were very hard to process, which is why it was so hard to express these while growing up. When I was younger I would sit in my room and cry. I had books and an Indian flag in my room. I would read the books, stare at the people and cry. I would hold my Indian flag in one hand and my American flag in another. I wasn’t sure what I identified as. I felt loss like no other. I was taken out of one culture and put into another.

My parents did a wonderful job giving me the option to participate in different cultural activities, and I was able to do traditional Indian dance. That experience was amazing, but as I performed for Diwali, I was also looking at all the Indian families and wondering how my life would be if I were with them. Even with this awareness, I was unable to process that loss: I did not have a birth family. I look like no one in my family. I am out of place, and I will always be out of place.

This was the day that I cried for my birth mother. I wanted answers. I wanted to see her and feel her. The way I dealt with this was by acting out and not explaining what was going on. I wanted my parents to understand how much I loved them, but I wanted them to know that I was missing my birth mother, too. I would go through a wave of emotions. (I hated my birth mother. I loved her. I wanted to see her. I wanted to meet her. I didn’t care if I ever saw her. I wanted an answer. I wanted to know if she missed me or thought of me.) These would run through my head on this day. Feeling so confused and conflicted is hard at any age, but imagine a child trying to process these thoughts? It was tough. And it was also something, I learned, I wasn’t alone in feeling.

I have attended WACAP’s family camp for 20+ years and during that time, I have made lifelong friends and family. I grew up with a group of kids that also attended, and we could talk about our experiences, including the complex feelings that came with adoption day anniversaries and celebrations.

From these conversations with my friends when I was younger, to today—as I’m starting to mentor and talk with different adoptees at WACAP’s family events—I know those feelings can remain.

Some adoptees I’ve spoken with did not like the word “gotcha” and the negative connotation it carries, which is true of many families I’ve talked to as well.  Some prefer different terms, like “adoption day” “family day, or have a different approach to celebrating being together.

Some adoptees I’ve asked about “gotcha day”—as they’re open to sharing—say that they too, felt some of the same ways that I did. They would act out and not know what to say to their parents. It was hard to find the right words to explain something so complex.

To this day, it is hard for me to even write about it.

The emotions that I feel continue to overwhelm me. I feel like there is something wrong with my feelings. I should not feel the way I feel because I SHOULD feel happy that I was brought away from a horrible situation. STILL, I cannot help but wonder what my life would be like if I stayed in India.

a selfie of the author, wearing a bright smile after good news

Emily’s selfie and smile spread the news of her acceptance to grad school!

About Emily:
Passionate about supporting adoptive families, Emily Seaborg, WACAP volunteer and adoptee, is currently pursuing her Master’s in Social Work. A long-time participant of WACAP’s family camp, she returns each year for what she calls the “best” weekend: “This is where I connect. This is where I can explain how I feel with others who know what it is like. These people do not judge, and I can share my experiences with others!” As a mentor for adoptees who need a listening ear, Emily also offers a voice of perspective for their parents, helping to bring families closer through understanding and empathy.

I. “Gotcha Day.” Short for the “the day I got you,” the term “gotcha day” is viewed among many in the adoption community to be offensive, while by some, it still used and incorporated into celebrations.“Gotcha Day” was referenced in the 2001 book “Primary Care Pediatrics,” which talked about the importance of a unique, celebratory day for adoptees. The term became more widespread after an adoptive parent working to increase adoption awareness helped establish September 15, 2005 as an international “Gotcha Day.”

With the negative connotations associated with the term “Gotcha Day,” phrases like Adoption Day, Family Day, Homecoming Day, Siblings Day – or celebrations of family that aren’t tied to a child’s adoption – have become more common and preferred.

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Guest Post: “What You Should Know About the Federal Adoption Tax Credit”

Kelly Ellison, adoptive mom and founder of Your Adoption Finance Coach, shares some key takeaways from her recent webinar on the Federal Adoption Tax Credit.

WACAP is committed to building strong families; partnering with Your Adoption Finance Coach, we offer adopting families coaching support and resources to help them become financially prepared for their adoption, and as a result, even more equipped to focus on the child waiting to be welcomed home.


Call it the eighth wonder of the adoption world, the Adoption Tax Credit has helped thousands of adoptive families recoup the costs of their adoption. Recently, we hosted a live webinar with Adoption Tax Credit expert Becky Wilmoth, who enlightened over 90 families on several important details about the tax credit.

Below is a list of takeaways that many of us heard for the first time:

Employer Reimbursement Programs can vary and have two different tax implications.

Reimbursements: While reimbursements are great, we have to watch out for whether or not these are considered taxable. Your human resources staff should know how they will disburse the funds and typically, it is after the fact and based on receipts/expenses. It will likely appear on your W-2 and if it’s taxed will have a code T next to the amount reimbursed.

Qualified Adoption Assistance Program: This is the best benefit if you are fortunate enough to have a company that offers it. Not to take away from the reimbursement benefit – (kudos to all who offer reimbursement support!) – but the qualified programs are extra-special and here’s why:

  • First, the company takes the steps to create this program with the IRS.
  • As a benefit of this action, they can allow the employee to withhold $13,470 (amount of the tax credit) from taxable income AND the employee can also take the adoption tax credit on their own taxes.
  • The only catch is that they cannot use the same expenses.

Creating the Best Plan

The bottom line, remember this important factor when considering adoption: While there is no silver-bullet, no one ‘thing’ that is going to cover the cost of all of your adoption fees and related costs, there are many ways to develop a plan for how you’ll come up with all the funds you’ll need to help bring your family together.

Some excellent resources are listed at the base of this article for how you can learn more about this credit.

Reasons to Advocate

Oh, and by the way, advocate, advocate, advocate. Even though the tax credit was made permanent as a result of past advocacy efforts, the credit still needs to be refundable. (When a credit is not refundable” families can receive back only as much as they have in federal income tax liability.)

Reach out to your senators and representative to let them know how important changing the Federal Adoption Tax Credit to a refund is to the future of so many families.

As an adoptive family, or as someone connected to the adoption community, you can make a difference by being an advocate for adoption. A way to do this, in addition to advocating for the tax credit’s becoming refundable, is to approach your employer and see if they have an adoption benefit. If they don’t, maybe you can volunteer to help them create one. It’s possible that other employees have gone through exactly what you may be experiencing, but didn’t ask.

A great resource for how to create an adoption-friendly workplace is the Dave Thomas Foundation. This website has a complete adoption-friendly kit that can be downloaded and shared with the right folks.

As always we recommend that you check with your accountant or CPA to verify the information provided in this article. We are NOT accountants or CPA’s and this information is not to be considered tax advice.

Below are some resources that you may find helpful:


adoption-finance-coach-wacap1About Your Adoption Finance Coach:
Your Adoption Finance Coach offers online resources, training and one-on-one coaching helping adoptive families create and implement a financial plan for completing their adoptions. Founder/CEO Kelly Ellison is also an adoptive parent, and understands the complexities of planning for an adoption and navigating the process. She holds an M.A. in Business Administration and has over 25-years of experience in nonprofit leadership, marketing and fund-development. An experienced speaker, facilitator and executive coach, Kelly brings her background and adoption expertise to over 1,200 families and professionals from over 30 adoption agencies across the U.S.

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For Children in Taiwan …

WACAP Adoption Program Manager Mei-Na Tien recently traveled to Taiwan, her home, where she celebrates the Lunar New Year with her family and friends each year.

During her visit, Mei-Na also arranged to spend a day with a Taiwanese agency that asked to learn more about foster care and adoption in the U.S. Throughout the day, she listened and answered questions the agency had about the first steps, the homestudy, and support after the adoption.

As she detailed the process for the agency staff, she thought of her family at home. She knew they would be waiting for her when the day was done.

With the warm faces of her family in mind, her thoughts turned toward the children in Taiwan who had no one waiting – many of them toddlers – and the need for committed families for these little ones.

If you have questions about adopting from Taiwan, or want to know more about the children currently waiting for families, please contact us at

smiling child wearing blue plaid shirt outdoors in grassy field; adjacent text reading

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Adoption FAQ: “How does WACAP decide where to work?”


WACAP Information Specialist, Debbie

How does WACAP determine which countries to work with … and what’s involved in partnering with a new country on international adoption?

This is a question that I often hear as I talk with families who want to learn more about adoption.

I recently had the opportunity to meet with Mary Moo, WACAP’s vice president of adoptions, about this question. Mary expanded not only on what guides our decisions, but also the upfront time, collaboration, and care that goes into establishing a new adoption program. This, of course, does not end once the program has been established: there’s ongoing communication, in-country visits, and attention given to ensure we support the children and our families according to the highest standards of service.

Please read on for Mary’s response to this frequently asked question.

close-up image of a globe, in antique shades and pastels, showing the equator near Indonesia

Why such a limited number of countries?
The world is full of children who live in institutional care, live on the streets or live in insecure and dangerous situations. No country has ended this age-old sadness. So, with so many children around the world who seem to be excellent candidates for adoption because of their apparent need for a family, why does WACAP only work in such a limited number of countries?

Difficult Realities
As many of you may know, doing adoption work correctly is hard work. First making sure that a child can’t stay or return to their birth family takes time and effort. In many countries, a majority of the organizations serving orphans and vulnerable children lack funding or systems and sometimes knowledge of best practices. Commonly circumstances surrounding children who could benefit from adoption are challenging due to the complicated nature of birth family situations, natural disasters and poverty. Furthermore, governments’ ability to see adoption as an ongoing, viable option for children can become clouded by domestic capacity challenges, foreign organizations’ pressure, or lack of funding, among other factors.

One Priority: Helping Children Ethically
Because of these difficult realities, finding countries that we can feel confident to work in is also difficult. That’s why — when we consider starting to work in a new country — the first priority for WACAP is identifying if we can be successful in helping children ethically.

While there are many countries that, unfortunately, have reputations for corruption, WACAP has found that finding the right colleagues makes all the difference. Finding organizations and people who are likeminded in their commitment to helping children in need of families is the key.

More than Paperwork and Processes: Finding Those Likeminded in Commitment
We find these likeminded organizations and people through friends, adoptive families, board members and other organizations. Commonly the process starts with exchanges of emails to get to know each other, the circumstances for children in need from that particular country, how the process works in both countries and exploring best practices that each agency feels strongly about. Increasingly, many foreign countries also require WACAP to become authorized or accredited by the foreign government. Trips are made to visit the organization, to talk with government departments responsible for adoption as well as meet with U.S. Embassy staff.

In the end, the decision to start working in a new country is based on collecting lots of information from different parties; our confidence in colleagues that we have identified in-country; the securing of necessary licensing; and the knowledge that the adoption process is functioning sufficiently to enable successful, ethical adoptions to happen.

Typically, this process takes at minimum a year, typically two, or sometimes three (as it did with Haiti) before we are able to welcome families to join us in helping children from a new country.

For Children
While it’s a lot of hard work, we know the smiles in the end make it all worthwhile.

About WACAP’s Vice President of Adoptions, Mary Moo: Mary has had the joy of bringing families and children together through international adoption since 1991. During these years she has coordinated adoptions in several countries including China, Cambodia, Ethiopia, India, Korea, and Romania. Her career in adoption has been supported by immediate and extended family who are also members of the adoption triad.

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Immigration, Adoption and Citizenship

This is not a political blog post. It is a blog post, however, that arrives in the midst of a political storm. I hope you will hear the intent. The immigration debate is far from over. Emotions are high, and understandably so. At WACAP, we want to take this opportunity to repeat a message we have, like many adoption professionals, addressed for decades: the importance of obtaining a Certificate of Citizenship for all foreign born adopted children. Below is information gleaned from our welcome home packet for all newly established adoptive families. The information is worth repeating at this time.

A U.S. Certificate of Citizenship (CoC) is one of the most important documents you can obtain to fully support your child’s future. The CoC is proof that your child is a citizen of the United States and, as such, is entitled to all benefits of citizenship.

Many have asked, “Isn’t our adoption decree, U.S. passport or birth certificate enough proof?”

Close-up on Statue of Liberty, face, crown, and uplifited arm, against blue sky

The answer, unfortunately, is “No, not for everyone.” While some adoptive parents assume their local court’s adoption decree and U.S.-issued birth certificate are all that is needed, these documents do not always provide their children with that extra layer of protection afforded to the children, and eventual adults, who can produce a CoC.

February 27, 2001 is a significant date, here. This is when the Child Citizenship Act of 20001 went into effect, for those adopted internationally under age eighteen. The law was not retroactive, however.

There is a blog post making its way around online adoption groups, posted in May of 2016, which states, “The passport is issued by the U.S. State Department. It is a proof of citizenship, allows one to travel, and can be used as a form of identification. It expires and must be renewed.”

WACAP regularly receives reports from adoptees or their parents advising that some offices (government and private) have not accepted the adoptee’s passport as sufficient evidence of citizenship. While the US government may intend the passport to be sufficient evidence of citizenship, the experience of adoptees in communities large and small throughout the U.S. attests that a passport alone isn’t always enough.

“The Certificate of Citizenship is issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. It never expires. It is the most definitive proof of citizenship that the U.S. offers.” 2

If social media posts, comments, and statuses are any indicator, there is a significant and vocal population of adoptive parents who do not view their children as immigrants. It is important, however, to understand that the United States Government has always viewed internationally adopted children as immigrants. Legal immigrants, mind you, but immigrants nonetheless. Some argue that there is evidence to support the notion that the U.S. Congress views adoptees as immigrants only, rather than family members, citing the lack of retroactive citizenship in the Child Citizenship Act as well as the fear many adoptees have over being deported.3,4,5

Our hope at WACAP is that you can feel confident in your child’s citizenship, and that you can instill that confidence in your child(ren) with accurate and relevant information. If you have any questions about CoCs or the process for getting one, please consult this website or contact WACAP’s post placement and finalization team at 206.575.4550 or 800.732.1887.



About WACAP’s Clinical Director, Zoila Lopez: Zoila joined WACAP in 2016 as Clinical Director. She is an adoptive mom, a former foster parent, and brings to her new role an extensive background of work as a therapist and adoption coach to support all members of the adoption triad.

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Reality, Not Romance

Yellow construction sign reading Last fall I met a young man adopted internationally. He had been home for one year, and I was taken by his maturity and language development. He is a young teenager, and I was getting to know him a bit before a WACAP event.

I must confess that I had this narrative in my head that I try to avoid, but as I tell true stories of lives transformed, I find that I slip into its familiar hold. When adoption happens, lives truly are changed for the better: both for the adoptees and the adoptive family. However, adoptees – in my experience – rarely need rescuing, and adoptive parents are neither saints nor saviors. I confess, however, that I get caught up in the romance of an orphan once lost, now found.

This young man, however, destroyed any idealistic narrative in a matter of seconds. As I was asking about his story, given that he is mature enough to give voice to his experience, I focused on the time he spent waiting. He remembered WACAP staff visiting him, yes. He remembered talk of adoption and work to find him a family, yes. So, when I asked what it was like for him when these “heroic” adoption professionals left the orphanage, motivated to find his family, his reply was firmly rooted in realism, rather than romance.

“What do you mean,” he asked. “I went to school. I had homework.”

He had no patience for my attempts to carve out a soundbite. There was no way he was going to entertain even the slightest amount of emotional manipulation. That wasn’t his experience. He loves his family, he is thriving in adoption, and he appreciates the turn his life has taken. He is not, however, beholden. His adoption experience, as most adoptees will confirm, is more complex than this. The beauty of it is folded in, among all the disorder. Like life, really. So normal.

We like to think of time suspended as children wait for adoption. But that’s not the case. They are living life, building relationships, and learning. Sometimes, in our misplaced messianic fantasies, we weave a narrative of a child’s life on pause, just waiting to begin. This idea fuels an infuriating portrait of children warehoused and pre-packaged for shipping. Just place your order.

I write this post because the concept is a prerequisite to success in adoption. Like any type of parenting, we must reject any notion that our children are lucky to have us, or that our children owe parents their endless gratitude. Adoption is far more complicated, which makes it much more interesting.

WACAP CEO at orphanage in Africa, children gather smilingAbout 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.

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