Adopt an Orphan

Attempting to adopt an orphan is difficult, either here or overseas. But providing a home for one of these children is an incredible thing.

Derek Williams May 01, 2019
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Want to adopt an orphan? Great! There are over millions of orphans worldwide. Many families have been blessed by their passion to adopt an orphan over the years. From the aftermath of the Korean War, the Vietnam War, or the Cambodian crisis in the 1970s to natural disasters in Indonesia or Haiti, there have been many opportunities for Americans to lend a helping hand to the world through the beauty of adoption.

What is adoption?

Adoption is the process of transferring legal custody of a child from one family to another. Adoption is a transformational process where the choice is made to bring a child without a parent into your home and make him a part of your family. It transforms the child’s life, who may be living in an orphanage overseas or a group home or foster home here in the States. It transforms the adoptive family’s life also because they have added another person to their family. It is truly a “win-win” situation for both parties involved.

What is an orphan?

According to UNICEF, the definition of an orphan is a child who has lost at least one parent to death as a result of disease, war, or poverty. Using that definition as a metric, there would be between 140 and 160 million orphans in the world. These children are not necessarily in need of an adoptive home. However, using a more conservative definition of orphan, where a child has lost both parents, the number of orphans turns out to be between 15-18 million orphans in the world, most of whom need a forever family. So, how do you adopt an orphan? Keep reading!

Different Types of Adoption

There are different types of adoption that people engage in depending on who the child is, where he lives and whether the child is currently a ward of the state.

  • International adoption

International adoption is one way to adopt an orphan. Countries that are most adoption-friendly are Ukraine, India, South Korea, Kenya, and Mexico. However, please keep in mind, it is getting considerably more and more difficult to adopt overseas. Rising costs, added restrictions, and ever-increasing regulations make international adoptions ever rarer. Due to those issues, international adoptions have decreased by 82 percent since 2004!

The process of adopting an international orphan is a lengthy one, but well worth it if you have the resources. First, you will have to search for an international adoption agency. They will take you through the application process, the home study process, the international paperwork process, and the legal process. Second, you will have to decide how to finance your adoption. International adoptions can cost upwards of $40,000! Whether it is through adoption loans or adoption grants or employer-funded grants, it is possible to fund your adoption without going bankrupt! Third, you will have to search and be matched to a child. Lastly, you will have to prepare to possibly travel out-of-country to meet the child.  The time it takes between the start of the application process to the finalization of your adoption may take a few years, but it may be time well spent. Remember, every long journey begins with a first step.

  • Private Domestic Adoption

If you want to adopt an orphan here in America, you may choose to go the private domestic adoption, rather than international. These children are born right here in the U.S. and need a forever home. The costs are a bit more manageable, though it will still cost thousands of dollars. The timetable is a bit more manageable also. Please keep in mind that there are no orphanages here in America, and most children who lose one parent go to live with the other parent. If there is no other parent to take custody, then the child usually goes to a relative. Here are the steps if you do not already have an identified child in mind:

  • Find an adoption agency. There are many foster-adopt agencies in every state. Choose the one that meets your needs and that most closely matches your principles and values. There are many different types of agencies including faith-based agencies, Native American agencies, agencies that serve developmentally disabled children, and those that serve youth with behavior issues. Depending on your experience and skills, your agency should be able to guide you in the right direction.
  • Get certified to adopt. The process to adopt a child varies from state to state, but it usually includes training, criminal background checks, home inspection, physician’s statements, references, and interviews. The time also varies but could take four to nine months.
    • Get matched with a child. In the past, if someone wanted to adopt an orphan, adoption agencies would use “Blue Books,” which were huge 3-inch binders that contained photos and descriptions of kids who were free for adoption. Now, prospective adoptive families can view photolistings online. A photolisting is a website of dozens of photos of children who need a forever family. People can view dozens of photos and profiles with the click of a mouse. These children are usually older, part of a sibling group or have physical or developmental disabilities. Adoption agencies list these children with a court-ordered release.
  • Kinship or relative adoption. This is when a family member goes through the process to adopt an orphan who is related to them. In many states, relatives are the first to be considered for adoption when a child’s parents are deceased. This may be grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, or even older siblings. This works the best, not only because the relative is blood-related to the child, but also because, in most cases, the child is already familiar with the relative home, customs, food, language, and religion. Though the trauma is still great, it is lessened by the fact that a member of the same family is caring for this individual, rather than a stranger.

The process to adopt an orphan who is related to you varies from state to state, but you may need to find an agency to license/certify you and to write your home study. A home study is an investigative report that summarizes how fit you are to adopt. The home study is then approved by the court or state authority. You will need to go through background checks, home inspections, physicals, references, and other requirements that non-relatives must go through.

You may or may not need to take the training. However, if free training is available, then take advantage of it. You may be a great grandma, however, you may be unprepared to handle the different emotions, behaviors, and attitudes that your grandchild is experiencing. Helping your child navigate the turbulent waters of grief and loss is essential during this troubled time.

Lastly, if you are a relative who wants to adopt an orphan who is a relative, please beware of the fact that you may be grieving at this time also. It may be difficult to balance the needs of a grieving child with your own. Your son, daughter, cousin, nephew or niece was important to you as well as the child who now resides with you. Don’t ignore your own emotions. You will not be able to take care of others if you cannot take care of yourself. Get help!

  • Foster care adoption

While there are not nearly as many orphans here in the U.S. as there are in the world, there is still a great need to adopt foster children here in the U.S. There are over 400,000 children in foster care and 100,000 of those are free for adoption. Something to keep in mind is that foster children come into care—through no fault of their own—due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment and, therefore, have suffered great trauma in their lives.

The process to adopt a child from foster care is like domestic adoption described above with one caveat: the cost to adopt a child from foster care is little to nothing! Foster care adoption may be the option for parents who are not able/willing to pay thousands of dollars to adopt. The good news is that foster care adoption is free because these children are wards of the state.

Orphan Issues

As stated above, orphans have suffered great trauma in their lives. Whether through death, imprisonment, or abandonment, they have lost a loved one. Whether they have been adopted overseas or here in the United States, they have seen and experienced things that “regular” kids have not. They may have been abused, neglected, or abandoned. They may have seen the ravages of war and poverty. They may have witnessed the death of a parent or witnessed the arrest and incarceration of a parent. Or they may have suffered silently alongside a terminally-ill parent who ultimately died. Whatever the case, these are special needs children and should be treated as such. Sometimes they have no words to express their grief. Therefore, their feelings come out in their actions and behaviors. Here are several issues you need to be prepared for if you want to adopt an orphan:

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD used to be called “shell shock” in veterans coming home from the Vietnam War. These veterans had experienced the horrors of war such as explosions, death, torture, and imprisonment. They suffered for years. Children who have witnessed the death of a parent have similar effects. It has often been said that a child’s mind may not remember the trauma but their body does. They may be afraid of a dog barking, a loud bang, shouting and yelling, a scary movie on TV, a certain smell, or a song on the radio. These things can trigger a memory that will cause moments of intense fear, sadness, or anger. The child will not know how to process these emotions. It is the responsibility of the adoptive parents to help them through this journey. Telling a child to “stop crying” or threatening them with corporal punishment when they are experiencing these emotions is not the answer.
  • Reactive Attachment Disorder. RAD is a diagnosis common in many foster and adoptive children. RAD is the inability to properly attach to their primary caregiver. This happens because their primary caregiver was abusive, negligent, or absent and did not provide them with proper attachment such as appropriate conversation, affection, and patience. So these children don’t know what proper attachment is really. Also, because the child grew up in an orphanage overseas or a group home, here in the States, they have had to deal with multiple caregivers who all have different ways of attaching. This causes a lack of trust and inconsistency that orphans so desperately need. Symptoms such as a lack of trust of adoptive parents, no “stranger danger,” and major power struggles are par for the course. Parents who have raised children with RAD have reported feeling like they are not loved, feeling like they are bad parents, and feeling like they want to give up.
  • Feeding Difficulties. Lastly, almost all foster or adoptive children have feeding issues of one kind or another. From hoarding food to over-eating to not eating enough, feeding issues come with the territory. Why? The first reason is most children who have experienced trauma have been hungry at one time or another. In their mind, they didn’t know where the next meal would come from. They have been placed in a “rich” home, they have more food than they could have ever dreamed of! Wouldn’t it be a good idea to hide some food away in case the food runs out? It happened before, so it could happen again! Food is all about survival. And if they experienced the death of a parent, they don’t want to end up that way. To them, food is life, and they will do everything in their power to have access to food. The second reason is food is one thing they can control in their life. They couldn’t control what happened to their parents, but they can control what they eat or how much to eat. Food is something they can control.

To be blunt, all the traumas don’t go away just because you choose to adopt a child. To quote Nancy Thomas, “Love is not enough.” So, what can you do to help these little ones? First, get counseling for your little one. The pain they experience cannot be rectified with just having a nice room full of toys. Second, provide consistency for your little one. If you provide a calm, safe, and loving environment, then over time your little one will learn to trust you. Third, don’t give up! Things will get worse before they get better especially during adolescence. Dr. James Dobson said that going through the teen years with your teen is like being in a boat through a terrible storm. It is the parent’s job to simply ride out those adolescent years without the boat capsizing. Be patient! Lastly, avoid power struggles—especially over food. Give choices and allow your child to make mistakes and to be responsible for their choices.

Attempting to adopt an orphan is difficult, either here or overseas. But rest assured, providing a home for one of these children is an incredible thing that only gives a forever family to a child in need. Do your homework! Take an inventory of your motivations, skills, and resources. Speak to other adoptive parents who have done the same. Take the plunge! Will it be hard? Will it be worth it? Absolutely!

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Derek Williams

Derek Williams is an adoption social worker and has been in the field of child welfare and behavioral health since 2006, where he has assisted families in their adoption journeys. He and his wife started their own adoption journey in 1993 and have 8 children, 6 of whom are adopted. His adopted children are all different ethnicities, including East Indian, Jamaican, and Native American. He loves traveling with his family and is an avid NY Mets fan! Foster care and adoption is a passion and calling for Derek and he is pleased to share his experiences with others who are like-minded.


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