View Full Version : WSJ Article on International Adoption

10-15-2003, 06:23 PM
Hello! The Personal Journal section from yesterday has an interesting article on this topic. But I only get the print version and don't subscribe to the on-line version - so I can't cut and paste it!! But just as an FYI............

10-17-2003, 05:08 PM
Here's the text of the article...there was also a table at the end of the article that I can't paste in that listed top countries where babies are adopted from, #s for 2002, cost, time to placement, time in country required, etc. If anyone wants to see the table and would like me to print and mail them the article, send me an email at [email protected]


Adoption's New Geography

Changes in Global Rules Make
Process Even Tougher, Costlier;
Bolivia, Brazil May Open Up
By JEFF D. OP****

For years, the face of adoption has been changing dramatically as American families increasingly adopt children from overseas. Now, it is set to change again.

The State Department last month proposed regulations for implementing a global treaty designed to curb abuses such as child trafficking that have long plagued overseas adoptions. The result is that adopting a baby overseas is about to get more expensive and complicated than it already is. In addition, there may initially be fewer adoptions from abroad as agencies adjust to the treaty.

Already, the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, as the treaty is known, has disrupted adoptions in Guatemala, one of the most popular countries for prospective U.S. parents. Concern about abuses has halted adoptions from Cambodia and Vietnam, leaving in limbo many U.S. parents in the midst of adopting children there.

The treaty is viewed by many as a necessary step to make overseas adoption more predictable and safer for everyone involved -- from children to natural and adoptive parents. When the treaty is implemented, expected to occur within a year or so, it will play a big role in determining which countries parents can go to for a child. One expected outcome: Countries generally not allowing adoptions by U.S. residents -- such as Bolivia, Brazil and Slovakia -- would likely open their orphanages to Americans.

The new rules underscore the degree to which undertaking an international adoption amounts to a crash course in geopolitics. India, for example, has begun more stringently adhering to a policy of placing children with overseas parents of Indian heritage. As a result, some non-Indian adoptive parents have had to switch countries mid-stream, some going to Nepal, which is relatively new to the world of adoption. In recent weeks, the Republic of Georgia closed its adoption program to recast its laws amid questions about child trafficking. Romania, a one-time adoption hotbed that shut down a few years ago, is said to be coming back into the fold, though no one is certain when.

The new guidelines come as international adoptions are exploding in popularity. While no definitive numbers exist, the best estimate is that adoptions overall in the U.S. have been running at about 120,000 a year for the past decade. But some of the fastest growth comes from international adoptions . The State Department last year processed more than 20,000 immigrant visas for orphans, nearly tripling 1990's level.

The U.S. adopts more foreign children than all other nations combined. Since the mid-1990s, the vast majority of those kids have come from the same four countries: China, Russia, South Korea and Guatemala. Last year alone, China, which provided 5,053 kids, and Russia, with 4,939, together accounted for nearly half of overseas adoptions.

U.S. parents increasingly are crossing borders to build families because domestic adoptions often are more restrictive, more time-consuming and costlier. Many of the would-be parents are older adults who have put off starting a family to focus on their careers. Now that they want kids, they've found they can't conceive. Unlike many countries, Russia, Guatemala and Kazakhstan all permit parents into their 50s to adopt toddlers, sometimes even infants. Increasingly, single and gay parents can adopt as well.

Generally, parents adopting overseas can expect to receive a healthy infant within about a year, sometimes in just a few months, depending on the country. The cost: between $15,000 and $25,000.

By contrast, domestic adoptions can drag on for years, and healthy Caucasian infants, where the biggest demand lies, are often hard to get. State laws in the U.S. generally allow natural parents to reclaim offspring in the first few months, adding an element of emotional risk that many prospective adoptive parents fear. Domestic agencies often stipulate that adoptive parents be no older than 40, and with demand from couples so high, singles often have little chance.

Certainly, domestic adoptions can be very cheap -- often free when you go through state agencies handing children who were abandoned or are in foster care. However, seeking an infant through a private adoption or a private agency, generally the best shot at getting a newborn, can cost between $15,000 and $50,000.

Still, people adopting overseas face a variety of dangers, ranging from sometimes murky financial transactions to the risk that a child wasn't legally obtained. Sometimes parents intent on adopting from one country get well into the process only to have the door shut. In late 2001, the U.S. suspended processing any requests for orphan visas from Cambodia due to mounting evidence of illegal baby-selling. Similar concerns have shut down Vietnam as well.

Even though international adoptions are increasingly predictable and routine, they remain a world "burdened by a Wild West atmosphere," says Adam Pertman, executive director of the New York-based Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute.

Countries routinely flow into and out of the system on a regular basis. Russia occasionally threatens to drop out of the adoption business, but hasn't. Guatemala earlier this year stopped all adoptions when local lawyers, who steer the process, challenged the country's implementation of the Hague Convention as unconstitutional. Now the process is moving again, albeit slowly, but dozens of families who were assigned children have been waiting months to claim their kids. The State Department Web site (travel.state.gov/adopt) provides detailed information on specifics affecting various countries.

The Hague Convention is ultimately expected to make the international adoption process more predictable and orderly. In general, the treaty requires that countries signing on must create a central authority to oversee international adoptions , and must enact measures to ensure children are legally adoptable and that there have been no illegal payments to obtain a child. Adoption agencies, meanwhile, must be non-profits to be accredited through the new authority, which in the U.S. will be run by the State Department.

Many of the rules, say adoption agency administrators, will add to the costs and administrative burdens domestically, since agencies will need to have a social worker on staff, operate out of an office space, carry insurance and be audited.

Agencies also will be responsible for the people they hire in the countries where they provide services, a new protection for consumers. Currently, agencies aren't responsible for their in-country contacts, and adoption specialists point to several cases in which prospective parents have lost thousands of dollars to crooked locals ostensibly helping shepherd the process.

Some developing nations that make children available for adoption in the U.S. could be pinched by the Hague Convention since many don't have an elaborate social-service network to create a necessary central registry of available children. For that reason, some nations may avoid the Hague Convention and either slow their adoption process while they retool their system, as Brazil did over a multi-year stretch in the 1990s, or, worse, could become magnets for the shady operators that plague the industry.

That ultimately could prompt the U.S. to keep Americans out of certain countries if, as in Cambodia, concerns mount that dishonest operatives are skirting the laws and are trafficking in children. There are no indications the U.S. will do that, but allegations, sometimes wrongful, routinely dog a variety of countries. Countries touched by such charges have included Georgia, Colombia, Ecuador, Costa Rica and Romania, among others.

Other problems are more mundane, though still challenging, such as comparing costs. Two of the biggest fees parents pay in an adoption are the agency fee and the so-called in-country fee, the dollars sent overseas for such things as mandatory orphanage donations and the legal services of local lawyers. But comparing one agency's fees against another is a consumer's nightmare.

Several agencies, for example, offer adoptions in Ukraine, at prices that are continents apart. One agency's in-country fee is $4,000; another charges $6,000. A third requires $13,500. The difference: "Some agencies are making a profit off their in-country fee, though they will never tell you that," says Lisa Novak, founder of One Light Adoptions, in Boulder, Colo., and an international lawyer.

Also, not all agencies are licensed to work in every country in which they arrange adoptions. Many, instead, work through another agency that is licensed. That is particularly the case with locations such as Russia, which suspended new license applications for several years. The upshot: The nonlicensed agency is paying the in-country fees charged by the licensed agency, but often marks up the price to the client.

Ms. Novak suggests that parents ask an agency if it is licensed in a given country or if it uses an intermediary agency and, if so, whether the costs are passed through or marked up. Also, she says, request an itemized bill of every expense, "though the agency may squirm."

The proposed Hague regulations seek to address costs to some degree by requiring a variety of financial disclosures and reporting requirements. Though much gray area will remain, prospective parents will have access to public records and will be able to gauge some of the itemized costs as well as measurements such as a particular agency's complaint history.

Don't assume, though, that a lack of complaints against an agency is a sign that all is well. In fact, many agencies, including most of the biggest, include clauses in their contracts that impose gag orders so that disgruntled parents can't publicize their gripes without facing fines.

Write to Jeff D. Op**** at jeff.op****@wsj.com