Adoption Research–Evan B Donaldson Adoption Institute

http://www.adoptioninstitute.org/research/2013_10_AChangingWorld.php


A CHANGING WORLD: SHAPING BEST PRACTICES THROUGH UNDERSTANDING OF THE NEW REALITIES OF INTERCOUNTRY ADOPTION

Authors: Dr. Ellen Pinderhughes, Jessica Matthews, Georgia Deoudes and Adam Pertman Funded by: American Ireland Fund and the Donaldson Adoption             Published: 2013 October, New York NY: Donaldson Adoption Institute Document Type: Policy & Practice Perspective (176 pages) Availability: PDF Full Report | Executive Summary | Press Release

The          Donaldson Adoption Institute (DAI) today released a new study showing that a growing number of the girls and boys being adopted         internationally today are not the infants of adoption’s recent past but, instead, are older children with sometimes-serious special needs. As a result of this reality,         the study recommends that best practices be created and implemented to help all of their families to succeed and, for those with severe problems, to prevent the kind of         distress that leads desperate parents to seek radical solutions like         “re-homing” their adopted children.

The 176-page report, titled         “A Changing World,” represents the most extensive independent research to date into intercountry adoption, including the regulatory         framework/treaty called the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Inter-Country Adoption. The study – conducted over the past two         years by scholars at Tufts University and DAI – included surveys of 1,500 adoptive parents and adoption professionals in “receiving” countries and countries of origin,         as well as interviews with senior policymakers in 19 nations. Its key findings include:

  • Implementation of the Hague Convention has resulted in an increase in legal, safe and appropriate adoptions.
  • There is greater transparency and consistency in the international adoption process, as well as an increased focus on the best interests of and protections for children who need families.
  • More children are remaining institutionalized for longer periods, thereby incurring greater psychic and developmental harm and diminishing their prospects of ever moving into a permanent family.
  • Many countries of origin, including the largest ones such as China, are increasingly allowing intercountry adoption primarily or exclusively of children who have special needs.
  • Though many parents surveyed chose intercountry adoption to avoid children’s families of origin, a fast-growing number changed their minds – fueling a trend toward international open adoptions.

 

“The unfortunate reality is that too many current policies and practices do not adequately address the fast-changing realities of international adoption,” said DAI President Adam Pertman.         “Now that we have this research, the challenge is to make improvements that truly serve children and families.”

Based on its analysis of the research, DAI’s recommendations include:

  • When children cannot be raised by their birth parents, and when supports or extended family alternatives are ineffective, swift placement in family-based care leading to adoption is optimal.
  • To the greatest extent possible, countries of origin should provide more complete and accurate diagnoses/records regarding medical and mental health issues.
  • Receiving nations should offer more training/resources for countries of origin to improve their child welfare and adoption systems, thereby helping more children stay in or find families domestically.
  • All pre-adoptive and adoptive families should be educated about raising children with special needs and about openness in adoption, and should receive a continuum of support services.

 

The Institute’s new report, “A Changing World: Shaping Best Practices through Understanding of the New Realities of Intercountry Adoption” – elaborates extensively on the findings and recommendations cited above.         The research – funded by a generous grant from the American Ireland Fund – is being published at a time of steep declines in international adoptions, which have plummeted from a peak of 23,000 into the U.S. from         abroad in 2004 to fewer than 9,000 last year – and which have fallen globally from about 45,000 to just over 23,000 during the same period. Costs also have risen, with an international adoption today sometimes exceeding $50,000.

Conclusion

Intercountry adoption has changed comprehensively during the last few decades – and is still in the midst of its transformation from a robust but largely unmonitored process through which tens of thousands of infants and toddlers         moved into new homes annually, into a smaller but better-regulated system serving primarily children who are older and/or have special needs. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands (and probably far more) of boys and girls of all ages remain         institutionalized around the globe, many if not most with minimal prospects of ever living in a family or reaching their potential. The accumulation of greater knowledge about domestic and intercountry adoption is critical to shaping,         improving and implementing the laws, policies and practices that are ostensibly designed, first and foremost, to serve these children’s interests and to enhance their prospects for better lives.

 

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Executive Summary

A chilling story has been getting considerable attention in the news during recent weeks: Adoptive parents around the U.S.,             feeling unable to cope with the severity of their children’s problems, are using the internet to informally move them into new             families – without any professional guidance, support, monitoring, supervision or regulation. The process is called             “re-homing,”             and it clearly needs to be addressed (i.e., stopped) with targeted laws, policies and practices.

At the same time, this phenomenon needs to be viewed as more than a window into the struggles of a relatively small number of people.             Rather, it should be understood as a cautionary tale about what can happen when parents are not prepared for the needs of the children they             adopt, and don’t receive the necessary training, support or services to meet those needs (see             “Keeping the Promise“). It also should be seen             as the tip of an iceberg of unmonitored, unregulated adoption-related activities taking place on the Internet (see             “Untangling the Web“).

Finally and pointedly – in the context of this new study by the Donaldson Adoption Institute – the “re-homing” story should be             understood as an insight into the changing world of intercountry adoption, because nearly all of the children in the news being “re-homed” were             adopted from abroad.

The Adoption Institute study shows that a growing number of the girls and boys being adopted from other nations today are not the infants of adoption’s             recent past but, instead, are older children with sometimes-serious special needs. As a consequence of this new reality, the study recommends (among many             other things) that best practices be created, reshaped and implemented to enable all of their families to succeed and, for those with severe problems, to             prevent the kind of distress that leads desperate parents to seek radical solutions like “re-homing.”

“A Changing World” represents the most extensive independent research into intercountry adoption to date, including into the regulatory framework/treaty             called the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption (HCIA). The research – funded by the American Ireland Fund and the Adoption Institute – was             conducted over the past two years by scholars at Tufts University and the Institute; among its components are surveys of about 1,500 adoptive parents, adoption             professionals in the U.S. and other “receiving” countries and countries of origin, as well as interviews with senior policymakers in 19 nations.

Key findings in our study, based on the responses from parents and professionals, as well as an extensive literature review and additional research, include:

  • More children are remaining in orphanages for longer periods of time, thereby incurring the increased developmental and psychic harm that comes from being institutionalized, while also diminishing their prospects for ever moving into a permanent family.
  • Though many prospective parents (35% of our sample) chose intercountry adoption in order to avoid contact with children’s families of origin, a fast-growing number change their minds, often regretting their decisions, and seek connections for the sake of their children – which is leading to a large and growing increase in international open adoptions.
  • Many countries of origin, including the largest ones such as China, are increasingly allowing the intercountry adoption primarily or exclusively of  children who have special needs, are older, and/or are in sibling groups (to be adopted together).
  • While the overwhelming focus for children in U.S. foster care is finding permanency domestically, American officials are also endorsing adoptions for some of them into families abroad. Ninety-nine children were adopted out of the U.S. last year, most privately as infants but also some from the child welfare system.
  • There is greater transparency and consistency in the international adoption process, as well as an increased focus on the best interests of and protections for children who need families, though there is great variability from country to country.
  • Bribery and other corruption in some countries, according to a professional survey in our study – affirming other research – appear to be occurring at higher bureaucratic levels since the HCIA was implemented.
  • While the HCIA’s intention is to create a hierarchy in which the first priority is keeping children in their home nations, biological relatives in some countries sometimes cannot meet implementation standards, and are therefore excluded from adopting.
  • The ongoing changes in the world of intercountry adoption have contributed to a steep drop in numbers (from a peak of almost 23,000 adoptions into the U.S. from abroad in 2004 to fewer than 9,000 last year – and globally from over 45,000 to 19,500 during that period) and to rising costs (an international adoption today often exceeds $50,000).

Based on its analysis of the research findings, the Institute’s recommendations include:

  1. To the greatest extent possible, countries of origin should provide more-complete and accurate diagnoses/records regarding medical and mental health issues; the Institute’s study found these are often lacking, thereby making it more difficult for adopting families to prepare for and meet their children’s needs. Our findings in Chapter 3 on Special Needs Adoptions and in Appendix B: Additional Findings inform this recommendation.
    • All children have a human right to care that facilitates their healthy development. For children not being raised by their parents, this includes the provision of competent caregiving that meets global standards.
    • Children in out-of-home care should receive comprehensive, developmentally based assessments that can inform caregiving and limit risks for developmental delays. As a result, children’s well-being can be maximized, and the likelihood of adoptive placement – whether domestic or intercountry – is increased.
  2. Receiving countries should offer more training and resources to help countries of origin improve their child welfare and adoption systems, thereby helping more children while showing that their primary interest is not just increasing the number of intercountry adoptions. Because COOs overwhelmingly have fewer resources and less-developed child welfare and adoption systems – and because they often distrust the motives of adopting nations – the Institute recommends that                  agencies, NGOs and governmental entities in more-affluent receiving countries offer more training, education and other means of improving those systems, while also enhancing knowledge about the negative impact of institutionalization. Our findings in Chapter 3: Special Needs Adoption, Chapter 5, HCIA Implementation, and Appendix B: Additional Findings inform this recommendation.
    In addition to the specific adoptions in which they have engaged, receiving nations should provide meaningful support to countries of origin – particularly in the areas of education and training – to enhance HCIA’s implementation. Children’s human rights will be optimized when there is global support for maintaining them in their biological families.

    • In situations where it is untenable for children to live in safety and stability with their birth parents, and when supports or extended family alternatives prove ineffective, swift placement in family-based care leading to adoption is optimal.
    • Poverty should not be a reason for ICA, so receiving countries should work collaboratively on creative ways to offer support so that as many children as possible can be raised in families of origin. Possible pathways include developing a global collaboration that provides funds to support biological families, or bilateral collaborations between specific COOs and RCs, for example, in which adoptive parents might contribute to a fund that would provide services to families of origin.
    • Multiple areas of education and training – as well as equipment and resources – are needed for caregivers and support professionals on the effects of institutionalization and on providing developmentally appropriate assessments.
    • Receiving countries should create and provide a continuum of services and supports for pre-adoptive and adoptive families; the Institute’s study found that families too often do not know where to turn for help, and that the assistance they need sometimes is not available. Our findings in Chapter 3 on Special Needs Adoptions and in Appendix B: Additional Findings inform this recommendation.
    • Prospective adoptive parents (PAPs) should receive more and better preparation from adoption service providers. First, home studies should more explicitly address ICA issues. Second, preparation for dealing with special needs and openness is critical. Recommendations 5 and 6 address these in more detail.
  3. To the extent possible given their economic and social realities, countries of origin should develop and provide better adoption education and supports for domestic families who might consider adopting. The goal should be that more prospective parents view adoption as a positive option and, consequently, more children can be placed in families in their own communities. Our findings from Chapter 5: HCIA Implementation and in Appendix B: Additional Findings inform this recommendation.
    • A defining principle of the HCIA is “subsidiarity,” in which all efforts to create permanency for children in their homelands should be exhausted before ICA is considered. In order for countries of origin to be able to fully observe this principle, additional supports are needed for domestic adoption. Given the definitive findings on the negative impact of institutionalization and lack of permanency on children’s development, COOs should aim to set limits on the amount of time spent searching for a domestic placement.
    • Support for domestic adoption, through subsidies or other financial assistance – again, to the extent possible given their economic and social realities – would enable COOs to function more consistently with the subsidiarity principle of the HCIA, which calls for exhausting domestic options for permanency for children.
  4. Adoption practitioners should provide more and better information for prospective and adoptive parents about the prospects/realities of making and maintaining contact with families of origin, and about positive ways to navigate possible relationships. Our findings from Chapter 4: Birth Family Contact inform these recommendations.
    • For those children whose biological parents or other relatives are living, having contact is important. Even when the process is complicated, all parties to adoption stand to benefit from such arrangements. Contact after the decision to relinquish and just before or at placement has the potential to reduce adoption abuses. Post-placement contact over time also can provide important connections that aid adoptees’ identity development.
    • Agencies and professionals in receiving countries should improve structures and processes for supporting families who want or already have contact with their children’s birth families. These might include assistance in searching, providing information on drawing up agreements and helping families to communicate.
    • The lack of information on birth parents, and other aspects of children’s origins, not only makes it difficult for adoption professionals and adoptive parents to address children’s needs, but also is not consistent with the HCIA and does not meet children’s human rights. More consistent collection and better storage of such information is needed and should be a goal of all concerned.
  5. Practitioners should provide more and better information for pre- and adoptive parents about the realities of raising a child with special needs. Fewer than 25 percent of parents in our study planned to adopt such a child, but 47 percent wound up doing so. Our findings from Chapter 3, Special Needs Adoption and Appendix B: Additional Findings inform this recommendation.
    • All prospective adoptive parents must be educated about the fact that they may raise children with at least one special need – whether or not that was their intent and regardless of the content of the medical dossier. Adoption agencies, pediatricians and other care providers should offer a continuum of comprehensive services and supports for families over time.
  6. Improved implementation of the HCIA in countries of origin and in receiving countries will enhance the impact of this international treaty and ensure that children’s human rights are met. Our findings from Chapter 5: HCIA Implementation inform this recommendation.
    • Increasing the transparency of verification procedures would be an important step forward in reducing dubious practices. In addition, Children in need of permanency deserve careful and comprehensive verification of their availability for adoption, so more-thorough review of all forms of documentation is essential.
    • More consistent implementation of HCIA within both countries of origin and receiving nations will broaden the reach of sound intercountry adoption practices to more children in need. The principle of consistency also should be applied to receiving nations that collaborate with non-signatory countries of origin.
    • Policies should be developed for redress of anyone who is victimized by documented adoption practice abuses. In addition, designing these policies at the global, rather than bilateral, level could reduce the power imbalance that exists between receiving nations and countries of origin.

    Based on interviews with policymakers, the Institute offers these additional recommendations:

    • Increase oversight of Hague Convention implementation in order to identify and rectify country non-compliance.
    • Improve record-keeping on children in need, including on family connections and post-placement reporting.
    • Better define standards and definitions on key issues such as “subsidiarity,” informed consent and costs/fees/donations.
    • Identify and disseminate best practices through specific case studies.
    • Convene RCs and COOs to identify challenges and possible solutions.
    • Develop models and create international funding mechanisms to help nations of origin build/improve their adoption child welfare systems.
Conclusion

Intercountry adoption has changed comprehensively during the last few decades – and is still in the midst of its transformation from a robust but largely unmonitored process through which tens of thousands of infants and toddlers moved into new homes annually, into a smaller but better-regulated system serving primarily children who are older and/or have special needs. At the same time,             uncountable hundreds of thousands (and probably far more) of boys and girls of all ages remain institutionalized in countries around the globe, many if not most with minimal prospects of ever living in a family or reaching their potential. The accumulation of greater knowledge about domestic and intercountry adoption is critical to shaping, improving and implementing the laws, policies and practices             that are ostensibly designed, first and foremost, to serve these children’s interests and to enhance their prospects for better lives.