Why should you adopt internationally when many children in the U.S. need homes?

Well, the short answer to that question is, I’m not sure you should. It could very well be that adopting a child domestically is the better choice for your family. I don’t actually want to tell you which you should or shouldn’t do; instead, let’s compare the two. Every family is different.

Before we get into the details, though, let’s spend a moment and take a look at the divisive intent behind that question. I happen to know more than a few families who have adopted both internationally and domestically. I also know families who have only adopted domestically and families who have only adopted internationally, including my own. By and large, we are all on the same page. There are children out there who need families, and we are thrilled that there are people who discovered they needed a child and became those families. Children in families make us all happy.

But the guilt-laden questions and comments persist. We adoptive parents have all experienced moments of someone else implying that we could have made a better choice in our adoptions. We are told there were needier children somewhere… here, there, somewhere else… that we should have adopted instead. In very few words, our intentions, our actions, and the worth of our children are called into question, often by someone who has experienced neither international nor domestic adoption. It is tiresome.

I also realize that while some of the people who make these comments are unthinking bozos who don’t actually care why parents have made the choices they have, others truly are genuinely curious but do not have enough appropriate language to ask their questions. I’m happy to educate… when my children are not around.

Let’s pause here to define some terms when it comes to “adopt internationally.” Broadly speaking, domestic adoption is any adoption that occurs within the U.S. including both private infant adoptions and adoptions out of foster care. However, when curious questioners refer to “children who need homes right here,” they are generally referring to adopting older children out of the foster care system, which we’ll call Foster to Adopt. With that in mind, we can explore how Foster to Adopt and International Adoption is similar.

Foster to Adopt and International adoption is both the last resorts for the children involved.

Before a child can be adopted out of the foster care system, all avenues of family reunification have been tried. The foster system’s focus is to keep families intact, not to facilitate adoption. Adopting a child who has not had parental rights terminated can be a long and uncertain process. International adoption, when done ethically, is the third-best choice for a child. Ideally, the child is reunified with his birth parents, and some agencies do try to help families stay together. The second best plan is for the child to be adopted domestically, so as not to lose both culture and language on top of everything else. International adoption comes in third. It is always better to be in a family, but no one is naïve enough to think this doesn’t come at a price.

Foster to Adopt and International Adoption both have a high percentage of older and/or special needs children.

The average age of a foster child is 8 years old. In international adoption, older children and children with medical needs are also the norm. While ten years ago it might have been true that being able to adopt a healthy infant internationally was common, this is no longer the case. Currently, the populations of children who need families look very similar in both programs.

Foster to Adopt and International Adoption both need adoptive parents to be trauma-informed.

Adoption comes out of loss. There is no getting around that fact. The loss of biological parents is a traumatic event, regardless of the age of the child at the time of adoption. Each child will react to that trauma differently and be affected by it in varying degrees, but adopting a child without a trauma history is an impossibility. Neither program will allow you to escape from that fact.

Foster to Adopt and International Adoption have time limits for the children in care.

Children in foster care age out at 18, whether they are ready to be independent or not. In international adoption, when children leave care depends on the country in question. For example, in China, children as young as 14 can age out of the orphanage system and be on their own. This does not happen to every child, but it is a possibility. The future is bleak for each population, with the possibilities for trafficking, drug addiction, and suicide being very high regardless of the country.

As you can see, for the children involved, being without a family has few positives, no matter where a child lives, and no child is more worthy of needing a permanent family than another. There are a couple of things that can make a difference for parents in deciding which adoption road to follow.

 Travel and cost

International adoption is more expensive. To adopt internationally, there are several things to consider and plan for. Travel costs, immigration fees, and paying an agency to navigate between two different countries are just some of the reasons for the difference in cost. The money is not buying a child, but it is certainly paying for a lot of government paperwork and oversight.


Each country has its own requirements for adoptive families to adopt internationally, including the U.S. Families may qualify for one country’s program and not another’s. In our case, we did not qualify for domestic adoption due to our family size, but we did qualify for some other countries’ adoption programs at varying times. Where a family chooses to adopt from may be solely determined by the program for which they qualify.

Presence of birth families

For some adoptive parents, when they are first starting, international adoption has an appeal because often there is little, if anything, known about a child’s birth family. This can tip the scales in favor of international adoption for these parents. Too many news stories about children being ripped out of one set of parents’ arms to be given to another can make people fearful of domestic adoption. Yet, the lack of knowledge of birth parents is something that becomes challenging later on. I have yet to meet the parents of an older adopted child who doesn’t wish they had the answers to their child’s questions about their origins. It is a void in their children’s lives which most likely can never be filled, and it is hard. What seemed like a positive at first can become extremely negative.

Children need families regardless of where those children are from. There are not better children or more valuable children or more worthy children; all children, all people, have value. This also means that one adoption path is not better than another if a child ethically finds a permanent family.




Are you ready to pursue adoption? Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98 to connect with compassionate, nonjudgmental adoption specialists who can help you get started on the journey of a lifetime.