why adopt from there when there are children here?

The Orange County Register ran a story on our family this week.  They had contacted us a while back, wanting to do an update since Kembe's homecoming.  They ended up writing from the angle of us being together for our first holiday . . . a nice surprise, and echoing so many of my own thoughts.  I love the photos that Mindy Shauer captured.  She wanted to get snapshots of our everyday life, and I think she really did.  Especially the one of the three kids jamming on the coffee table.  And if you look closely, you can see my beans and rice cooking in the kitchen.  Just a typical day.  Aside from the tie Kembe is wearing.

(Also, as my luck would have it, our photo shoot was scheduled at the point when his braids had become more Coolio than cool, and without a three-hour time block to change that fact.  So now I can be forever memorialized in print as the white woman who neglects her son’s hair.  Yeesh. Since that day it has been cut and retwisted.  I promise.)  

months-kembe-haiti-togeth

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india-kindergarten-jafta-

play-howerton-sister-kari

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 Photos: Mindy Schauer, The Orange County Register

I have some ambivalent feelings about being in the media.  On the one hand, I like putting a face to adoption beyond the typical stories of parents returning their children.  It is usually adoptions gone wrong that make the headlines, so if our little slice of life brings some normalcy to the public perspective of adoption, then I think it’s a good thing.  At the same time, as an introvert in can be a little challenging in terms of privacy, and it also opens us up to random criticism.  Obviously, writing a blog does that as well, but typically speaking blog readers are a self-selected audience.  When your story hits the papers, it’s open season.

For whatever reason, one of the resounding comments we get when random people hear our story is, “Why do these people have to adopt kids from other countries?  Why can’t they take care of the kids here in the US?”  This question is so common that literally, before it went to print, I jokingly asked Mark how long he thought it would be before someone posed that question.  And, ding! ding! ding!  Within about an hour of the story going live, we had a winner. 

(There were also some digs about white people adopting black children, but those were deleted).

This question both angers and amuses me.  Amusing because it is so completely petty and almost always posed by people who are doing absolutely nothing about the “kids here in the US” that they are so indignant about. And angering because it is so ridiculous to assume that children born in other countries have less of a right to be adopted into a loving home than those born in the states.

I typically don’t feel defensive by this question (obviously, since we DID adopt a child from the US), but it does irritate me.  My friend Alida commented back and I really appreciate what she said.  She is a former foster child herself, an African American/biracial mom of five, and she is in the process of getting her fostercare license.  So I think she knows a little something something about all that.

“One thing to consider, at least here in the US we have foster care. The government sets aside money for each child to have the basics, food, clothing, shelter, medical care, education, developmental services, therapy, etc. In Haiti, Africa, places in S. America, Asia, there is NOTHING!  You are a FORTUNATE orphan if you have access to the few poor overcrowded orphanages available. Even still you are probably malnourished. Those not in orphanages are often forced into child traffic, slave labor, criminal activity, abuse, begging, uneducated sick, and expose to the elements. Having been in foster care myself, it wasn't pleasant but my basic needs were met. I have lived in group homes here and they were nice. It wasn't perfect but I never went to bed hungry. There are well over 153,000,000 worldwide and as many as 163,000 right here in the good ole US of A in need of adoption, 500,000 here needing foster homes. If you are concerned with US orphans, I'd encourage you, to sign up today. There is also a special need for domestic adoption of black or biracial infants not in foster care. I hope that the many folks that so quickly ask the "why adopt from there when there are children here " are the same ones I see in my foster/adoption classes.  Have you ever tried to adopt from the foster care system? It is difficult, time consuming and a VERY intrusive process. I should read you some of the homestudy questions! You'd blush! There are SO MANY REQUIREMENTS. You may or may not meet the requirements based on your family size, home size, views on birth control, parenting style etc. You could have a child or children in your home for YEARS and never be able to adopt that child and call them your own. You may have a child or sibling set that you have tenderly loved and cared for and have to return them (yes even years later) to the SAME drug addicted people that abused or neglected that child in the first place! We are trying to adopt a sibling set from foster care and the hoops I have to jump through to do it make international adoption look oh so appealing. It works for many and I hope we are successful. I pray each US child finds a forever family, but I can easily see why others chose international.”

I think so much of this is true.  Having worked in group homes for many years, I can say that there is truly no comparison between US fostercare and third world orphanage conditions.  And adopting from the US fostercare system is an excruciating process.  Most DCFS offices are understaffed, underpaid and incompetent.  Even with the best-intentioned staff, it is simply not set up to adequately care for the number of children in state care, and the permanency of children is what hangs in the balance.  I could complain all day about how poorly foster parents are treated by the system . . . but the real injustice here is to the children, who sit for years in a limbo between family preservation and adoption.  My friend Esther is experiencing this right now and reading her story is a painful reminder of all we went through with Jafta.  I don’t have easy answers, but I do know that the system is very broken, and it is failing children by making it so difficult for prospective parents to adopt kids in fostercare who need families.  If I wasn’t so exhausted from our own battle, I would pick up the torch and fight for reform.  Some day, I will.  Today, I have more important matters to attend to.  Like packing lunches for preschool tomorrow. And sleeping.

Anyways, as always, my response to the question of “why adopt from there when there are children here?” is:

Why don’t YOU?

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