The decision to adopt, whether domestically or internationally, usually comes at the end of a long process of increasingly intense efforts to create a family. Perhaps there have been years and countless dollars spent on doctors and in vitro fertilization. Now, the decision to adopt opens prospective parents up to a whole new vista of potentially overwhelming information, decisions and challenges.
First is the decision about where to adopt—domestically or internationally? If the decision is made to adopt domestically, will it be through a private or public agency? If the decision is made to adopt internationally, the agency will almost certainly be private since virtually no public agencies work in foreign adoption. If foreign adoption is being explored, there are a variety of things to consider.
While the first domestic adoption law was passed in Massachusetts in 1851, foreign adoption is a much more recent development. Post-war orphan-rescue missions in Germany, Japan and Korea brought foreign adoptees to the United States for the first time. In 1955, a devoutly religious couple petitioned Congress for the right to rescue abandoned and stigmatized children of Korean women and American GIs. Laws were passed and international adoption was founded. Since that time Americans have adopted children from Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America.
China’s One Child policy has made it the single biggest source of children for international adoption since the 1990s, although rates have been dropping in recent years as China has been sending fewer of its children abroad. Guatemala closed its doors to foreign adoption in 2008 in order to eliminate internal corruption. The U.S. Department of State reports that international adoptions fell from their highest number at almost 23,000 in 2004 to less than 10,000 in 2011.
There are many reasons why families may choose international adoption over domestic adoption: the family may not be able to meet domestic requirements for adoption but are able to meet foreign requirements; some families who have emigrated to the U.S. may wish to adopt children from their own country of origin; and, the expected waiting time and costs for inter-country adoption may be more predictable than in the case of domestic adoption.
Some families assume that the vast distances traveled for international adoption protects them from the risk of biological parents revoking their consent to adoption even years after the adoption has been finalized. In truth, once a U.S. court has finalized an adoption, whether foreign or domestic, the adoptive parents are the child’s permanent legal family. It is exceedingly rare for finalized U.S. adoptions to be overturned.
Some parents may be concerned about the quantity or quality of medical and social information available through international adoption, and domestic adoptions do tend to provide more complete background information on the child. With the quality of tests and evaluations available in American medicine, however, doctors usually have enough information for medical management and treatment without a detailed medical dossier on each child.