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Why International Adoption Isn't the Solution for Orphans

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International adoptions have dropped 60% since 2004. UN policies, government regulations and high costs are to blame. Millions of orphans suffer through life without a healthy family context. All these facts that Both Ends Burning, STUCK, and now Foster Friess are sharing are true. But you won't find my name on the STUCK petition at or my footprints in DC during the May 17 "step forward for orphans march." I've learned too much to believe international adoption is a scalable solution for a world full of orphans.

Now don't misunderstand me. International adoptions are not a bad thing. But they are not the best thing we can do. For every $30,000 spent on an international adoption, 200 more orphans are left in need. If policies change to double or triple international adoption rates, it hardly makes a noticeable difference compared to the size of the problem. The millions of orphans should move you to action, but smarter actions can be taken.

You can use $30,000 to care for multiple orphans in their own culture. You can support a small home of 10 orphans who have a house mother and receive everything they need to succeed in Zambia through Family Legacy. You can provide the same type of loving environment, food, clothing, education, mentors and assistance into adulthood for orphans served by LifeSong for Orphans. Instead of taking out a loan to pay Bethany Christian Services to work for 3 years to pay U.S. and Chinese middle men for one child from China, you can support dozens of children for less money through Bethany's in-country community-based care model. Or support Care for Children to continue building on a track record of facilitating 250,000 Chinese adoptions of Chinese orphans! Why not help more orphans sooner in a more culturally appropriate manner?

Now a concerned family might want to adopt regardless. No problem. Take a few classes and get certified to be a foster family. That's what my wife and I have done. Then foster-to-adopt. It will cost you nothing to adopt the child or children whose parental rights have been severed by the court. You can give all the money you save to fund orphan care internationally.

If you really care about creating a solution for the scope of the orphan problem, here it is. But please stop promoting movies and marches in DC that distract people and resources from a scalable solution.

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From: An Observer

Great read! All very valid points on why $30,000 is much better spent by helping a larger number of orphans in their native country as oppose to plucking one out from the group.

I was born in a third world country and at a very young age my family immigrated to another country where I was able to get an education , healthcare etc. Even today, my parents say that they have little to no desire to return to the country that they left behind because it's riddled with corruption. Someone like my parents if they were younger and had the means would not give $30,000 to a country hoping that the money would be spent to help the orphans there - because quite simply some government are just that corrupt that they will not see any shame in taking from charities or money meant for the needy in their own country.


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From: Kevin

I agree with so much of the money getting wasted when it can be better utilized. its the same for me with short term mission trips that could better serve those communities. I will caution you however to not make it seem like foster to adopt is "better", but instead different. I work in child protective services and am very familiar with the foster to adopt model as well. appreciate you taking on that responsibility though

From: Red

I understand that our main focus should be on strengthening the infrastructure of the developing countries with an orphan crisis. I also understand that there are countless children waiting for families in the US foster system.

However, I still disagree with those who say "get a child from foster care instead of overseas." The two should not be compared in my opinion. I don't think everyone who wants to adopt internationally is doing so to "save an orphan." Some people just want to be parents and either can't have children of their own or wish to adopt rather than procreating.

Keeping a child in their own culture is ideal, but it is not realistic in every situation. Some kids might have medical needs or deformities that deprive them of a future in their own country. I see absolutely nothing wrong with international adoption as long as it is done properly. I believe anyone who is welcoming a child into their home should be supported rather than criticized.

Re: Pam's Int'l adoption comments

From: Paul

Pam - Your comments moved me. Thanks for sharing your story. It is so difficult in life to move from good intentions to wise action. I wrote this short blog to share a tough reality with preferably those who are considering how to help orphans. I believe your comments contribute uniquely to that audience. I know from my personal experience as a foster parent that it is messy and complex to help kids in crisis. I've wrestled for years with how to advise philanthropic clients about the best investment they can make to help children in crisis around the world. My comments were intended to be simple and clear, but I can see how some interpret them as pompous or unthoughtful. I appreciated your heartfelt 46 years of experience.


From: Elizabeth

You write, "For every $30,000 spent on an international adoption, 200 more orphans are left in need...You can use $30,000 to care for multiple orphans in their own culture."

My question is this: Who is giving the extra $30,000 to care for these multiple orphans? You imply that adoptive parents will donate the money that they would otherwise use for adoption. Such a suggestion is naive and unrealistic.

The primary motivation of most adoptive parents is to build a family, not to "save a child." Saving a child might be an ancillary motivation. Adoptive families may choose international adoption because it does both. Make no mistake, however, their primary goal is to add to their family. If it weren't, they would choose one of the many other ways to help children.

If hopeful adoptive parents try to adopt internationally and fail, it is far more likely they will use that money for its original purpose - for their family - than for some purpose never before contemplated. They may use the money to adopt domestically. If they adopt from foster care, they may use that money for adoption and child related expenses, such as baby items, day care, etc.

How do I know? I am one of those adoptive parents. We saved $70,000 for our international adoption. It was a long process to save that much. Our selected country closed before we received a referral.

We did not donate the $70,000 to the country. Instead, we turned to the foster care system. We intended to put the $70,000 in a college fund for the child we adopted. Call us heartless, if you want. We felt we needed to stash away enough money to educate our own children before contributing a substantial portion of our savings to philanthropy.

We quickly learned that the goal of foster care system is reunification. The social workers did not look kindly on parents who wanted to be adopt more than foster temporarily. We used that $70,000 to adopt domestically.

We did not think about donating that money. We have a line in our budget for charity and we had a line for adoption savings. We thought of these as discrete "pots," if you will. We didn't lump them together.

Your theory is unrealistic. How do you propose to convince adoptive parents - who are already giving to various charities - to abandon their dreams of a family in favor of giving away huge chunks of money they scrimped to save? I don't think it will happen.


From: Claudia Corrigan D;Arcy

While yes, "adoption and philanthropy are two very different things' the problem is that huge numbers of churches, fundraising, and even well meaning adoptive parents look at international adoption to "save" orphans. And yes, then it is implied that the adoptee should be grateful.
Want to see the $$ behind these issues: It numbers are staggering!

international adoption

From: Pam McRae

I am the adoptive mother of a son born in Vietnam in 1973. He came to us at age 9 months, after suffering four separations from caregivers. The impact of this on his life is incalculable. I wanted to save a child and provide a loving family for a child who had nothing, but I can't support int'l adoption any longer. I'm glad to have my son, but he lost his family, his culture, and his identity. No amount of love can make up for that. I agree that philanthropy and adoption are two different things. I believe I confused them in my own mind forty years ago. I'm also a birth mother to a son I relinquished for adoption in 1968, and I can state unequivocally that babies should not be separated from their mothers, not unless the mother is a raving, coke-addicted lunatic. Children who are adopted have no say in what happens to them. We should do all we can to help children in their country of origin and help unwed mothers in our own country be the parents they are meant by nature to be. I am not a believer, but I cannot think a loving God would "call" a mother to give her baby away. That's not a beautiful gesture; it is a tragedy.

We Are the World

From: Mist

You might want to compare adoption costs with how much the "We are the World" song has made since its release in 1985. In 2009 USA Today estimated the song has made $20 million. Clearly there are better ways to help children.

Right on

From: Dana

Don't worry about the haters in the comments. You are absolutely right. I find it appalling that we are exporting American children to other countries, and people won't adopt American foster children because "they are too much trouble" but they don't think twice about plunking down $30k to import a child from elsewhere who will have even more problems than the American foster child.

We've got kids aging out of foster care and these people say they're getting "God's calling." I find it amazing that NO ONE in these children's home countries is getting a similar calling to take care of these kids. Plus, because their governments know they can "just" foist their problems off onto us, they don't bother solving them. If they couldn't use American adopters as a relief valve, they'd have to start treating their people better. The people themselves would eventually get fed up and make sure of it.

Cocky post

From: Annoyed Reader

This is the most ridiculous, unthoughtful post I've ever read on adoption. As if believing adoptive parents don't realize they're making a huge investment that could be used in other ways, yet obey God's call and receive a son or daughter. The pompous tone of this post is unbearable.

I'm also amazed you've placed yourself as the ultimate example as one whose name isn't on petitions, and one who's made the "right" choice to foster-to-adopt.

"If you really care about creating a it is". Wow, so you've figured it all out. Do you even read these before you post them?

I've never heard someone who'd adopted or been involved in foster care so arrogant or dismissive. This same concept could've been (and has been numerous times) approached with more honesty, humility, and understanding. But perhaps that's not as simple or self applauding.

From: A

Plus adoption and philanthropy are two very different things.

Adoption from a prospective adoptive parent's viewpoint is about parenting. The potentially adopted child should actually be in need of new parents for adoption to be ethical. This is where adoption starts to look like a charity project--which it is not. Adopted children are their parents' children and full members of the family. They are not "charity projects."

Being a parent is about doing what is best for a child. The best interest of children through well-established children's rights frameworks is to have their original families and cultures preserved *if and whenever* possible. All those called to be parents must acknowledge the best interest of a given child, whatever it may be. These frameworks are a guide that cannot be ignored in the quest to become a parent.

Philanthropy is about maximizing one's ability to help as many people as possible. Adoption does not fit this definition. If someone wants to be a philanthropist, absolutely, it is only logical that they do so in a way that makes the broadest impact possible. What it costs to adopt one child can buy tens of thousands of vaccines for other children, could establish a children's village, or could give dozens of families microloans to start sustainable businesses.

Adoption is not philanthropy. There needs to be a clear distinction between these concepts.

From: Dana

Besides, not all orphans are actually orphans. A significant number of these kids in orphanages have one or two living parents, but the orphanage is being used as a round-the-clock daycare center. And nearly all these kids have other extended family that they have a right to grow up knowing. I don't really care what anyone feels "led in their heart" to do. I felt "led in my heart" to marry my then-husband--but it was a huge mistake.

Solution for orphans

From: Dwyatt

There is no "the" solution for anything, including the care of millions of orphans in the world. It will be somewhat alleviated and never resolved by the individual responses of millions of people doing what each feels directed in their hearts to do.

Tags: Strategic Giving, Problem-Solving Philanthropy, Effective Philanthropy, International adoption

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