Experts on Declining International Adoptions: Do Them Differently

Laura Duvelius with daughter Ellie (Photo: Laura Duvelius)

When Laura Duvelius brought home Ellie, the 2-year-old girl she had adopted from the Ukraine in 2004, she noticed that the girl was hoarding food. Duvelius soon uncovered missing fruit, granola bars, and, in one smelly case, smoked salmon the toddler had stashed under the mattress and in a closet.

Perplexed, the 39-year-old logged on to a Yahoo group on adoptions looking for help and got the advice she needed. The solution: She had to take all nonperishable food in her pantry, place it on the bottom shelf and remove the door. That worked.

“Ellie just needed to know it was and there and that she was safe,” Duvelius tells Yahoo Shine, who notes that her daughter, who lives with Duvelius; her husband, Alex; and their 12-year-old son, Drew in Silver Springs, Maryland, is now a healthy 10-year-old who loves to cook.

That kind of parenting skill is not exactly intuitive, says Adam Pertman, president of the Donaldson Adoption Institute (DAI) and author of “Adoption Nation.” A recent report from the DAI suggests that parents of children from international adoptions need better support. “If we’re going to continue this process of international adoption, then we simply have to do it differently and we have to do more,” Pertman tells Yahoo Shine.

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Inter-country adoptions have decreased significantly in recent years, from a high of 23,000 in 2004 to fewer than 9,000 in 2012, Pertman says. Stricter regulation of cross-border adoptions and changes in other countries' polices explain some of the decline. And the profile of the typical child being adopted these days has also changed. “A growing number of the girls and boys being adopted internationally today are not the infants of adoption’s recent past but, instead, are older children with sometimes-serious special needs,” a report from the organization DAI report titled “A Changing World,” states.

“Given the changing demographic of the kids, what we’ve been doing all along is not going to be sufficient going forward,” Pertman says. "Love does not conquer all. We need to reshape our thinking about international adoption so that is very real. How do we enter it prepared for these children and families to succeed? That’s where we are."

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The DAI report also suggests that countries need to be more transparent in accurately diagnosing issues children who are being adopted; these can range from an inability to form emotional attachments (due to longer stints in institutions) to problems stemming from fetal alcohol syndrome and lack of prenatal care. Also important, it states, is preventing “the kind of distress that leads desperate parents to seek radical solutions like ‘re-homing’ their adopted children” with severe problems. Re-homing is a term used in cases when an adoptive family seeks new parents for the child they’ve taken in.

“The first challenge is making the adoption happen. The second challenge is raising the child,” Janice Goldwater, founder and executive director of Adoptions Together, tells Yahoo Shine. “In our organization, we have lots of services available. But nationally, there’s a real lack of understanding of the unique needs that our unique population faces. We totally need more.”

Goldwater understands this from a personal perspective as well as a professional one. In 2002, her family brought home a 10-year-old Russian child. The girl had been with another family who had put her back up for adoption. Goldwater said it took years for Elyana, who turns 22 in January, to believe that the Goldwater family, who have three other children, wasn’t planning to reject her.


Goldwater family, including Janice, far left, and Elyana, third from left (Photo: Janice Goldwater)
“Adoption is very romantic. Families feel like they’re going to save an orphan,” Goldwater says. “The truth is they are providing an opportunity for another human being to grow up in a safe and loving family and they have to have the resources to help this separate human being learn to trust again and heal."

In Goldwater's situation, she says she had to go back to "square one" as a parent. "Everything intuitively that I did with my first three didn’t work," she admits.

In a letter to her family for Thanksgiving that she agreed to share with Yahoo Shine, she writes, "It’s amazing it’s been a whole twelve years. Twelve long years of You, My family teaching me how to Love. How to trust. How to belong. Yet, we were all in it together. I wasn't on my own."

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