4 Stereotypes of International Adoption

Learn the truth about intercountry adoption before buying into these common misconceptions.

Susan Kuligowski November 22, 2017
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International adoption is complicated and often misunderstood. With ever-changing world political and social climates as well as evolving adoption regulations unique to different countries, it’s understandable that many people cling to broad brush stereotypes and myths rather than delving deeper into the complex realities. 

It’s corrupt.

You’ve probably read about or heard stories of a hopeful adoptive family that has traveled to a distant country to adopt a child only to find themselves caught up in a shady situation or coerced into accepting something they’d not bargained for in the midst of an already complicated and confusing – not to mention emotional – process.

Adoption scams are nothing new and, unfortunately, both adoptees and adoptive families are easy targets. On the other hand, the vast majority of international adoptions are done legally, safely, and with the best interest of the child and family in mind. There are countless articles, stories, and books showing the upside of international adoption.

The truth is, it could be argued that every system of everything is vulnerable to corruption–and within any system, you’ll find both ethical and unethical people and practices. In recent years, countries around the globe have gone to great lengths to ensure children and adopting families are protected. See the US Department of State website for more information on The Hague Convention, which was put in place to do just that.

In addition, government agencies such as the Bureau of Diplomatic Security work hard to ensure intercountry adoptions involving children or U.S. parents are legal and in the best interest of the child. Like anything else, adoptive families need to do their research in order to find reputable agencies and work with participating countries in order to protect the world’s most vulnerable children, as well as themselves. There are many many well-respected agencies whose main goal is to provide children with loving, forever families. Read this article for advice on choosing a reputable agency.

All children living in orphanages are neglected and abused.

There is much research to show that neglect and abuse does occur in orphanages (e.g., lack of food, clothing, proper shelter, healthcare, education, physical abuse, etc.). While no orphanage is perfect, they are a reality for millions of children around the world. For many children living in impoverished countries where the alternative might likely be to live and die in the streets, an orphanage is the only  solution to an overwhelming problem of how to care for those unable to care for themselves.

Despite the horror stories that hit the headlines, reputable orphanages do exist. Not all children living in orphanages are neglected and abused. In fact, orphanages exist where healthcare, education, play, and interaction are encouraged. Not only that, but in some cases, orphanages have evolved to reach out to local communities, sometimes opening their doors to locals to offer education and training otherwise not available, as well as temporary refuge for families experiencing domestic violence.

As a society, like them or not, we ought to focus on and promote the positive aspects that an orphanage can offer. Where the the best interest of children and community is apparent, we should encourage these success stories to serve as models for others. Where abuse is found, regulators and citizens alike need to treat abusers as criminals. International safeguards like the Hague (mentioned above) put countries on notice and do help to decrease incidents of maltreatment, but all involved in the adoption community need to be vigilant. Adoptive families should thoroughly research country policies as well as become familiar with an orphanage before pursuing adoption. Families entering into international adoption should recognize that an orphanage is not a substitution for a family and that many children who have experienced life in an orphanage–even under the best of circumstances–will need lots of love and support upon entering their forever homes. Read this article for more information about things you should know about how orphanage life affects children.

Your child will have special needs.

Not all children adopted internationally have special needs – in fact, many internationally adopted children exhibit no delays or special needs at all. Additionally, it should be noted that some countries where access to healthcare is limited, the classification of special needs is more prominent than in the U.S, where many of these health issues can be avoided, helped, or resolved more easily where medicine and technology is more readily available.

That said, as is the case with any child who does not have the benefit of having experienced a healthy pregnancy or of being born into a loving and nurturing family, the odds of an internationally adopted child having or developing special needs is greater, although not a certainty.

Studies have shown that the longer a child remains in an institutional setting (aka orphanage), normal development decreases or in extreme cases (where neglect or abuse may occur) may cease altogether. While this makes sense – be it a child having limited resources in an orphanage or a child being raised in a neglectful home situation – rather than focus on what has been, we need to focus on what we can do to limit prenatal risk as well as long-term institutional stays.

With the help of both government and private involvement, it is possible to provide healthy early development opportunities for children living in orphanages, including children with special needs. As a society, we need to demand this rather than accept the status quo. Sadly, international orphanages house many children with special needs deemed unavailable for adoption who will have a much harder time finding a forever home. Thankfully, there are many families who lovingly open their homes and hearts to children with special needs. Are you one of these? For more information on special needs adoption please read this article.

It’s more expensive than domestic adoption.

That international adoption is more expensive than domestic adoption is simply not true. While there are similar costs in the form of home studies and associated legal expenses, both have unique fees that can easily change the overall expense no matter which route a prospective adoptive family chooses. The thought of traveling to a distant country and having to pay living expenses for an unknown amount of time while being away from your job may seem unreachable for many; however, there are costs woven into domestic adoption that mirror these expenses in the form of medical expenses, networking, and agency fees that often prove just as costly. In addition, many of the same grants, loans, and tax breaks available to families who choose domestic adoption are available for international adoption. Before you make a decision of what adoption plan is better suited for your family, check out this overview of common expenses related to international adoption  and this overview of domestic adoption costs.

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Susan Kuligowski

Sue Kuligowski is a staff storyteller at Adoption.com. The mother of two girls through adoption, she is a proposal coordinator, freelance writer/editor, and an adoption advocate. When she's not writing or editing, she can be found supervising sometimes successful glow-in-the-dark experiments, chasing down snails in the backyard, and attempting to make sure her girls are eating more vegetables than candy.


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