International, nontraditional adoptions pose challenges to families

November 14, 2003

American families that adopt children from other countries, as well as same-sex couples who adopt, typically do so in order to create or enhance a family, as well as to provide a better life for the youngsters. Even with the best intentions, however, they face plenty of challenges and potential pratfalls, according to a Penn State researcher.

Lita Linzer Schwartz, distinguished professor emerita of educational psychology at Penn State's Abington Campus near Philadelphia, says those evaluating whether an international adoption is right for them first need to consider the question all potential adoptive parents must ask - 'will we be able to accept and love the child as our own?' Once the couple answers this question affirmatively, so begins the long and winding road that often is international adoption.

"First you have to understand who the intermediary is in the adoption process and make sure whoever you are going through to adopt is reputable," said Schwartz, co-editor of a new book titled, "Welcome Home! An International and Nontraditional Adoption Reader." "Then you want to have a pretty good idea of which countries are letting kids out to be adopted. A recent problem happened in parts of China, where many couples trying to adopt children had trouble getting children out of the country due to the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) epidemic. You also have to realize that some countries have residency requirements for those adopting native children."

Another step for parents is obtain medical records of the child dating back to birth, if possible, so they can identify potential problems the child might have, and provide vital information for a new doctor or pediatrician once the child arrives in the United States. Schwartz notes that, while adopting a child with serious medical issues may pose too great a challenge for some, children with minor health problems can often see vast improvement once they get good quality health care that is available in this country. "These kids often don't get good prenatal care or other care, which may leave them a bit behind with regard to motor skills, emotional and social development," she said. "It's important, however, for would-be adoptive parents to realize that there are no guarantees when you have your own that they are going to be free of these types of health issues."

"Welcome Home," which is co-edited by Florence Kaslow, director of the Florida Couples and Family Institute, includes a dozen stories as seen through the eyes of adoptive parents and/or children who have been part of international or nontraditional adoptions. From the 30-something single mother who wanted something more than her career, to the interfaith couple who jumped through assorted hoops on their way to adopting children, the stories - many of which Schwartz acknowledged tugged at her heartstrings - tell of the obstacles, determination, triumphs, and love that are typically part of international/nontraditional adoptions.

Despite all the challenges they face - or perhaps because of them - the Penn State researcher said that international and nontraditional adoptions tend to work out about as well as adoptions that do not include these components. This is supported in the book by a research team's findings based on 1,400 adoptions from overseas.

Those who choose to adopt an international child may have many reasons for doing so, said Schwartz: there are more children available globally than in the United States for various reasons, including the fact that being a young single mother with a baby here isn't the taboo it was 25 years ago; the probability that a birth parent will try to track down and retake their child is not as great; families of mixed ethnicity are more common and widely accepted than in days past; and finally, the idea that they can truly make a difference in the life of a child from an underprivileged country.

"Welcome Home! An International and Nontraditional Adoption Reader" is published by The Haworth Press. In addition, the book includes information on adoption resources available in the United States and beyond.

Penn State

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