Why Adopt Abroad When There Are So Many Kids in Need Right Here?

Dawn Davenport


should you adopt abroad when there are kids in need in the US

Why adopt internationally when there are kids in need here in the US?

If you have ever adopted internationally or even thought about this option, you’ve probably heard: “Why go over there, when there are so many kids in need right here.” This raises one of the most difficult issues in adoption, at least for me. Why adopt internationally? Do we have an obligation to take care of our own first?”

The answer is complex and is individual to each family considering adoption. The greatest “need” for families in the US are for foster parents to all age children (especially over the age of 6) and for adoptive parents to the kids in foster care whose parental rights have already been terminated (average age is 8). There are many more families than there are babies for domestic infant adoption through an adoption agency or adoption attorney.

What is the Greatest Need in the US

While the greatest need may be for foster parents, fostering is not the same as adopting—you have to go in understanding that your role is likely to be temporary. That’s how it should be. Foster care should be in the business of healing families. But this temporary role is not for everyone, especially those who long for the lifetime commitment of parenting.

It is true that about 50% of the children in foster care will eventually be adopted, most of these kids are school aged children. Extended biological family are more likely to adopt a child under the age of 6, so, the greatest need for adoptive parents in the US is for school aged children in foster care.

What is the Greatest Need for International Adoption

Internationally, it somewhat depends on the country, but as a general rule in most countries there is a need for adoptive families for children aged three and up. There is also a need for families for children with what many would consider relatively moderate or correctable special needs—sometimes even for kids younger than 3 (although almost never under one). So, in a nutshell, age of available children is a major factor that draws adoptive parents to go look abroad.

While age is a valid reason to look to other countries for adoption, I worry that people have the notion that children from other countries will somehow be fundamentally different from children in US foster care. That somehow these children will have been spared what we euphemistically call “the baggage” of abuse and neglect. Let me set the record straight, in the vast majority of cases, children end up in governmental care the world over for the same reasons—abuse and neglect—regardless where they are born. And even in those countries where other factors play a significant role (special needs, disease, extreme poverty), once the child is in state care, they are exceptionally vulnerable to abuse and emotional neglect. Parentless children are just so darn vulnerable that it breaks my heart.

I read a great post at the Word from the Wallaces blog.  The Wallaces became foster parents in Kentucky while waiting for their international adoption from the Democratic Republic of Congo to be completed. I wanted to stand up and cheer when I read her wise words.

[Prior to me becoming a foster parent, a woman] asked me how I answer people who want to know why we are adopting from Africa and not “here”. Here being in the US.

I gave my wise Christian answer (insert sarcasm here) – we prayed about it and feel like God has our children in Africa… and then I told her the need is greater there. Kids in the US have roofs over their heads, clothes on their backs and food in their tummies. Their parents are not dying of AIDS at alarming rates and they are not dying themselves of dirty water. Simple. The need is greater. I. Spoke. Those. Words.

Friends, I was wrong. Hear me. I. WAS. WRONG.

…While they are not dying from poverty, disease or hunger, their needs are the same.

Do Boundaries Matter in Adoption?

The damage from abuse and neglect doesn’t respect boundaries. Children in Ethiopia, Colombia, and China are just as vulnerable as those in California, Texas, and New York. Children everywhere need parents to help heal this damage. They need someone to fight for them, discipline them, and expect great things of them and for them. Love is not the universal band aid to the scars from a hard life, but it sure as heck is a major step in the right direction regardless if that direction leads you to your state foster care system or someplace far far away.

First published in 2013. Updated in 2015.
Image credit: William Real

09/11/2015 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog, Fostering, Fostering Blog | 37 Comments

37 Responses to Why Adopt Abroad When There Are So Many Kids in Need Right Here?

  1. Avatar Lizzy says:

    It is just so much harder to adopt over here. I would love, Love, LOVE to adopt a child from here, but first and foremost I just want a child period. When weighing the differences it just doesn’t seem worth it. It takes much longer, doesn’t seem to be guaranteed, the risk of losing the child because the birth parents change their mind is greater, and then there is cost too (depending on where you decide to adopt from.) So first off if I want to adopt it is no ones business as to why we make our decisions. Secondly though I just want to give a child a better life and be a good parent to them, so I am going to choose the way that gives better results, unfortunately that is not here for us.

    • Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

      Lizzy, I agree that it is your choice and each person has to make the decision that is right for them. However, I wondered when I read your comment if you have considered adopting from foster care. The cost is minimal (or free) and the wait is usually fairly short, depending on what type of child you are open to. If you foster first rather than only considering children who are legally free, there is the very real possibility that the first child in your home will not ultimately be yours, so you may decide that that isn’t the right option for you, but there are 100,000+ kids who are legally free right now and there is almost no possibility of the birth parents regaining custody.

  2. Avatar Marwa says:

    It is a very great joy and blessing to my life, i and my husband have begin childless for 8years now due to my inability for me to give birth and it has resolves to problems everyday in my home,so i visited a female friend in Florida,and she came up with an idea of adopting a child which i never had in mind,and now i got no choice than to apply for a child and to my surprises everything went easily and today i am happy with the Hansom little boy(Wisdom)i adopted.

  3. Avatar narilynn says:

    Dawn could you not refer to people as ‘parentless’ ‘motherless’ or ‘fatherless’ just because their parents are absent does not mean they don’t have any. Even if they are dead they still have parents.

    • Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

      A child whose parents are not present, a child being raised in an orphanage abroad with no hope of reunification is parentless to me.

  4. Wendi Sundsted Lewis Wendi Sundsted Lewis says:

    I have never understood this question. Yes, there are kids who need help “right here” but that doesn’t make the needs of the kids “over there” any less real. I’m not sure why people feel the right to compare them. Why begrudge any child a home?

    We adopted internationally. It’s what seemed right for our family. I don’t feel like I owe anyone but my child an explanation for that decision. There are so many things that go into a decision like that.

    I do think as adoptive parents it’s okay and good to being honest about what we can and can’t handle. Each type of adoption has its unique stressors and for us the stressors in the program we chose felt like something we could handle. There were many, many other reasons of course but that weighed into it.

  5. Vera DiMartino Whittler Vera DiMartino Whittler says:

    Yes Monilka I do not want you to think I am picking a fight with you. You are right about having to consider all that is involved but it does seem that many uninvolved parties like to put their two cents in. It has unfortunately happened to me-I was even told I should not consider myself an expectant mother since I really am not “trying for a child” This from a “friend” who knew I had 2 miscarriages

  6. Catherine Tucker Catherine Tucker says:

    ^Which is why adoption requires the approval of a judge. Unlike fertility treatments.

  7. Robin Waterstradt Bridgeman Robin Waterstradt Bridgeman says:

    Vera, thank you. That’s exactly what I was getting at.

    Monika, I agree with you. Adoption always impacts more than just the child being adopted. One absolutely has to consider all those affected when one chooses to adopt and when making all of the choices and decisions related to adoption.

  8. Vera DiMartino Whittler Vera DiMartino Whittler says:

    Adoption is a personal choice in that it is how a person (or couple) decide to become a family. Some people choose to try fertility treatments, some decide to skip that and go straight to adoption. Some have children biologically and adopt. Yes when we adopt it involves the adoptive child’s biological family however it does not mean we have to justify our way of building a family to people who are not involved. If a neighbor starts grilling me on why we chose to adopt internationally or even why we chose adoption and not fertility treatments is it really her business? I think that is what Robin Waterstradt Bridgeman was getting at.

  9. Monika Zimmerman Monika Zimmerman says:

    Unfortunately adoption is NOT a personal choice as it affects more than just the family who is doing the adopting. If it didn’t affect an entire other family, then you could say that it’s a personal choice. Biological children are a personal choice because it affects only you and the people you know and love. Adoption is more than just a child affected. It’s that child’s whole biological family. When one adopts a child, one adopts a whole family whether they have contact with that child’s biological family or not.

    • Avatar Tina says:

      You’re right, adopting does involve more than just your own thoughts and opinions, however, choosing where and whether to adopt is a personal choice.

  10. Robin Waterstradt Bridgeman Robin Waterstradt Bridgeman says:

    I have to admit that when this type of question comes up, it tends to rub me a bit the wrong way. It is rarely simply a matter of curiosity; it is more often laced with some level of judgment that suggests that you should have made a different choice.

    For me it comes down to boundaries. Family building is a very *personal* decision. It often times comes down to a variety of reasons for a family. When a family chooses to have a child biologically, people don’t ask the family “Why didn’t you adopt?” Why then is it appropriate once a family has made a decision to adopt that people feel entitled to have an opinion on how that family building should occur?

    • Avatar narilynn says:

      Because assuming responsibility for a child you create is you obligation and assuming responsibility for someone else’s child is a choice that is more complex.

  11. Vera DiMartino Whittler Vera DiMartino Whittler says:

    most people that I know who adopted internationally including MYSELF did NOT adopt to avoid contact with the birth family. Our son is who he is because of his birth parents and we have a special place in our heart for them

  12. Holly Carman Holly Carman says:

    if it wasn’t for my daughter’s first mommy, I wouldn’t have my daughter 🙂 she looks like her, has these amazing long eyelashes and fingers and delicious brown skin like her — to avoid all that IS my daughter is the farthest thing from my mind.
    when I adopted my daughter — I also adopted the village that came with her. at that point, my village became richer than I could have ever imagined and I cannot imagine life without my eyes open to all of this.

  13. Monika Zimmerman Monika Zimmerman says:

    To anyone who adopts internationally to avoid contact with the birth family: You’ll have contact with the birth family whether you actually talk to them or not – in the form of that child. Adoption does not erase biology, and to pretend that it does only harms that child…and your relationship with that child.

  14. Vera DiMartino Whittler Vera DiMartino Whittler says:

    all children everywhere deserve a loving home and loving parents. I also feel that everyone has their own personal reasons for why they chose to adopt -domestic, internationally, ect…. and they have a right to do what they feel is right for them.

  15. Terrie Rauscher Terrie Rauscher says:

    We did foster adopt and were very lucky that the two children we fostered to adopt that with both we were blessed to become their forever parents. I have worked as a volunteer with families wishing to adopt older special needs kids or siblings etc and time and time again I hear of families be they single married etc soo upset with our system that talks of all the children that go without forever families. Sadly yes the system is broken and I also feel that thier are many families waiting to adopt but with so many cases on a single workers caseload and how things work to match and find familes for the children in need. Most states do not do the kind of outreach needed to find the right family for each child due to many factors we all know that with older and special needs kids the just right family might not be in that childs community but in the next state over etc. My heart does break for the children waiting for their Forever family to find them.

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Terrie, I try to understand how overworked the case workers are, but it does seem like sometimes the best interest of the child is not the top consideration. It’s an imperfect system!

  16. Marianne Milton Marianne Milton says:

    I love everything you’ve said here, Holly Carman! Wish I had said it myself.—Single foster/adoptive mom of one daughter, 18, who has been with me 10 years; pre-adoptive mom of another daughter, 13, who has been with us 18 months. No walk in the park, but my life’s work too.

  17. Whole Child Whole Child says:

    And I disagree with you. There are a lot of folks willing to take on older kids and kids with baggage and they are told no. I have seen it over and over again in my line of work. That is why people go overseas to adopt. They are told no here.

    • Avatar Tina says:

      I wanted to share my own experience here with regards to the foster care system. I get this question from people who don’t care what my reasons are and just want to make me feel bad about going overseas. I posted a response on my blog about what we chose international. You see, we applied for foster adopt. Almost 11 months ago. We went to PRIDE training had our background checks done, made improvements to our house, bought a fire extinguisher and locks for medicine and cleaner cabinets, etc. We have yet to hear from the foster care system. Eleven months our application has been sitting in DHHR’s office. After calling weekly for the first month and bi-weekly for the second month, I finally got a return phone call (but only because my message was given to the wrong person). They told me that because all of their social workers had quit, they were working with a skeleton crew and thus concentrating on kinship adoptions. So when people ask me why I don’t adopt out of foster care, I say don’t ask me, ask Berkeley County WV DHHR.

  18. Whole Child Whole Child says:

    As is said so many times here, every state and every county is different. I worked in foster care in my state, and yes, in my state they turn down dozens and dozens of people every year who apply to be foster parents even after those people attend all 10 weeks of classes. They even turn down dozens of people who are trying to foster their own relatives, such as grandparents trying to foster grandchildren. A lot of those people hire lawyers to fight the system and get temporary custody of the children so they don’t get lost in foster care. In my state you are also not allowed to “foster adopt” only. You take the classes and you are a licensed foster parent. Period. You can turn down a child whose parental rights have not been terminated, but if you only want to adopt you are told at the very beginning of the 10 weeks that you should look at private adoption as your best option. Over and over again an average of 10 couples/individuals will go through the classes and of those 10 maybe one or two will actually be approved to be foster parents. We have a horrible shortage of foster parents in our area, and it is not because of people not wanting to do it. It is because of the broken system and the people in charge of that system.

  19. Holly Carman Holly Carman says:

    I’m not sure the foster care system turns away folks as we would think — but, yes, the home study and credentialing of your home ARE harder (which is good!) because of the years of abysmal treatment of foster care youth.
    In FY 2009, for example, 29,471 children “aged out” of foster care without any family. ) that is an unconscionable number of our young people without a family.
    The part nobody wants to hear, though, is that foster care adoption is hard. Our country IS child focused and our system looks first and foremost at reunification. Foster care was NEVER meant to be an adoption agency — and as one, they rightfully stink at it. But for the 400,000+ children in their care annually, and that same number of children who are involved but not in care, those social workers and case workers and judges and CASA workers are trying their hardest.
    I lost over a dozen children in my home (and deep in my heart) over the five years it took me to meet my daughter. I know all too well the loss of a child placed in my care on an adoptive foster placement only to have a judge return them to their homes — with their families, where they should be.
    I am passionate about foster care and foster adoption. It is my heart song and I will sing it from the mountaintops until I draw my final breath. Foster care and foster adoption is not easy or for the weak of heart. But it’s about the children — and every year when we choose not to adopt another older child or sibling set, another almost 30,000 age out into the world. Those kids deserve a home – but it’s not that foster care turns folks away, it’s that there’s not enough folks willing to take on older kids who come with baggage.

    • Avatar Tina says:

      I’ve had my application in with DHHR for eleven months and have not received a call. If that’s not a turn down, I don’t know what is.

  20. Whole Child Whole Child says:

    A lot of people would like to foster adopt here in the US and are turned down for one reason or another so they go overseas and adopt children with the exact same issues or who came into orphanages for the exact same reasons and are successful parents to those children. Like every system, the US foster care system is broken and imperfect, and it turns away perfectly good parents who would provide great homes to children…so those people bring children from other countries into their homes and become parents that way.

  21. Elaine Makiej Elaine Makiej says:

    And my kids came into care for the exact reasons kids come into care in the US. However, their country of origin is “child focused” and gives a limited amount of time for bio parents to regain custody of thier children.

  22. Holly Carman Holly Carman says:

    thank you from this (single by choice) foster-adopt momma <3

  23. Elaine Makiej Elaine Makiej says:

    You need a love it button. I adopted from where I did, not because I wanted babies, (actually having one of my adoptees be under 4 year old was a super suprise for us) but because I knew that my family at the time (husband, myself, and bio son) were not emotionally ready to have legal risk foster to adopt child in our home. It takes certain type of braverly and fearlessness to do foster to adopt that we just don’t have.

  24. Avatar Vera says:

    To each their own I guess. We were on the waiting list for almost 3 years. We were expecting a child. It does not matter how it comes . I know I was not the only pre adopt who used that term.

  25. Avatar Monika says:

    Even if people mean well, they need to keep out (unless they’re specifically asked in). Though as a birth mom, I don’t like “expecting” from an adoptive mom’s perspective (hoping would be better in my opinion), she still shouldn’t have said that.

  26. Avatar Justin says:

    It may not be politically correct to say so, but I feel it is true for my wife and I, and from what I read on the Internet we are not alone. The major reason for us to choose international adoption over domestic would be to avoid any ongoing contact with birthparents. As it becomes increasingly more difficult to have a closed adoption of newborns and infants domestically, intended parents who wish for a close adoption need to find their child abroad.

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Justin, I appreciate your honesty, and I agree that others also often feel this way. I will say, however, that many folks I speak with after they adopt internationally wish they had some info and contact with their child’s birth parents both for more information and also because they would like to be able to give this info to their child if s/he ultimately craves this contact. It’s ironic, but after an adoption it is often the adoptive parents that value the open relationship more than the child, at least when s/he is young. Adoptive parents in open relationships report not feeling threatened by the presence of the birth parents and often feel very comfortable. However, I understand your reasoning.

  27. Holly, beautifully said. I will say, that I hear stories from folks that make you scratch your head about whether the decision is truly in the child’s best interest. But, I only hear one side, and the unfortunate fact is that in many jurisdiction, the caseworkers are horribly overworked. Again, thank you for your well stated response.

  28. Avatar Lindsey Marshall says:

    I think a lot of people who ask “why didn’t the ‘so and so’ family adopt from the US?” do not realize how difficult it is to adopt domestically – and specifically from foster care. I have done both. My oldest daughter was adopted from Vietnam (before the 2008 shutdown) and my second daughter was adopted from foster care. We just finalized the adoption of the second child and I started the foster care process almost four years ago! I had 4 other children in my house and all of them were reunited with their birth parents and that was so difficult. One of my foster children lived in my home from the time I took her home from the hospital until she was 15 months old! The day she left – I cried for days because I felt like I lost we lost a daughter and a sister! Even with the complex paperwork, the 20 month wait time and eventually the shutdown of Vietnam’s adoption program – international adoption to me was a cakewalk!

  29. Avatar Anon says:

    Yup, all reasons one might adopt internationally. Beyond just not getting how hard adoption is, I wonder if people that ask this question assume you adopt out of charity. After all, why not “help out” your own community, right? Ugh.

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