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Current Issues Concerning International Adoption
Lingering Effects of American Slavery
In contrast, there are hopeful signs that racial relationships are improving over time. After a review of policies and attitudes between 1940 and 1978, Dovidio and Gaertner (1986) suggested that the United States had become more liberal and egalitarian by the late 1970s, noting that changes in mass-media stereotyping had increased race awareness. This positive trend continued into the late 1990s, when Bobo and Kluegel (1997) documented a decline in racial prejudice during the preceding three decades, although government policies intending to bring equality were met with mixed emotions. Other researchers confirmed that attitudes have continuously improved regarding principles of equal treatment, although views regarding government implementation of equal treatment policies and complete integration of neighborhoods and schools are improving at a slower rate (Schuman, Stech, Bobo, & Krysan, 1997).
Modern-Day Slavery and Child Trafficking
Children's Identity and Well-Being
International conventions also recognize the need for cultural continuity. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) (1989) stressed international adoption as an alternative, "if the child cannot be placed in foster or an adoptive family in the child's country of origin" [Art. 21 (b)]. In addition, the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (1993,hereinafter "the Hague Convention") requires member nations to give priority to in-country placement (para. 2) before considering international adoption (para. 3). Specific to this article, the question is to what degree African children adopted into the United States would be fostered in their cultural identity, receive acceptance, and enjoy a sense of belonging in their families. Owing to the recency of adopting African children, we were unable to find research data on African adoptees. Hence, we present the next most relevant research: transracial adoption within the United States, specifically white parents adopting African American children, which affords a large body of research data.
Some studies show that transracial adoptions may result in negative self-esteem and adjustment outcomes. DeBerry and colleagues (1996) found that as older children, African American adoptees displayed competence in a Eurocentric orientation, with 40 percent to 60 percent showing maladjustment despite their academic competence. Hollingsworth (2002) analyzed 93 media reports of interviews with transracial adoptees age 20 and older and found that 82 percent have had difficulty with ethnic identity development, and 97 percent have encountered racism. Other researchers point to racial identity confusion (McRoy & Grape, 1999) and advocate for policies that encourage same-race placements (McRoy, Oglesby, & Grape, 1997).
Others have reported that transracial adoptees overall are comfortable with their racial identity (Simon & Alstein, 1996), and that their parents want them to be proud of their racial background (Simon &• Alstein, 2000). Vroegh (1997) found that 88 percent of transracially adopted children consider themselves as black or mixed race. Researchers also found that transracial adoptees have secure ethnoracial identities (Brooks & Barth, 1999), satisfying adoption experiences, and normal self-esteem levels (Hoopes, Alexander, Silver, Ober, & Kirby, 1997). Their adjustment is comparable to other adopted children (Feigelman & Silverman, 1984), with 70 percent of placements having satisfactory outcomes (Rushton £ Minnis, 1997). Most people in the United States seem to approve of transracial adoption (Hollingsworth, 2000), but the need to educate families about the importance of child's racial identity continues (Vonk, 2001).
Children in the U.S. Foster Care System
The number of waiting U.S. children may seem ironic juxtaposed to the increasing number of children being adopted from foreign countries. In 2005 more than 22,000 children were adopted from outside the United States, with the top five countries of origin being Mainland China, Russia, Guatemala, South Korea, and Ukraine (U.S. Department of State, 2006). These numbers represent a steady rise over the past 10 years. Why, then, should we discuss adopting African orphans? Arguably, adoption efforts should be focused solely on U.S. waiting children and on culturally appropriate practices for African American children, such as preventive strategies and screening more same-race adoptive families "in" rather than "out" (McRoy, 2003; McRoy et al., 1997).
However, there may still be some plausible justifications for considering adoption of African children. First, the numbers of children adopted from U.S. public child welfare system and from foreign countries are both on the rise. A five-year (1997 to 2002) comparison of domestic public adoption and international adoptions shows that although international adoptions increased 58 percent, domestic adoptions of children in foster care rose by 64 percent during the same period. During the 2002-2004 period, the domestic rate decreased slightly (3.7 percent) while international adoptions increased by 13 percent. The 2002-2004 figures may indicate a new trend, but could also be a slight variation on the overall pattern.
Some Americans may adopt internationally for reasons different from those adopting from the U.S. public system. Some parents may adopt internationally because they are more open to working with private (rather than public) agencies. They may feel apprehension about children who become available for adoption as a result of abuse, neglect, or substance abuse by birth parents. The adoptive families may perceive that international adoptions offer advantages over domestic adoptions, such as ease of approval. In addition, although it is not our intent to promote a practice or policy of "locking out" birth families, some adoptive families may prefer to avoid the now-common practice of open adoptions (Pertman, 2000). Most adoptive parents prefer to adopt children of the same race (Freundlich, 2000). but some parents seem to take pride in building a culturally diverse family (Roby, Wyatt, & Pettys, 2005). Finally, and perhaps most significantly, Americans may view the African situation as an international humanitarian crisis. As in the wake of the Korean conflict (Wilkinson, 1995), the fall of Saigon (Zigler, 1976), and the demise of communism in Eastern Europe (Bartholet, 1993), U.S. families may be drawn to rescue children from an extreme crisis compared with children in the U.S. foster care system, who at least have minimal guarantees of health care, nutrition, and protection. Already, there seems to be a growing interest in adopting these children from Africa (Americans for African Adoptions, 2004; Carter-Shotts, 2003; personal communication with S. Tompkins, director, Journeys of the Heart Adoption Services, Hilsborough, Oregon, December 9, 2003).
However, international adoption is a legitimate option in the wider context of the orphan crisis (personal communication, with S. Hunter, independent consultant, UNICEF, Nairobi, Kenya, September 19, 2003). In addition, the African response cannot be generalized, as it appears to vary widely even within one country. On the first author's 2003 trip to Africa, many government and private-sector leaders expressed an interest in exploring the option of international adoptions. Some asked extensive questions about the adjustment of African American children in the United States, the legal and procedural safeguards in the international process, and the rights extended to adopted children. A Kenyan social worker and teacher who operates a day center for more than 120 orphans wrote:
We are hit by so much poverty, HIV/AIDS, and sometimes ignorance which we can't fight, and drought which makes it so difficult for our lives are cut short by lack of enough food and lack of human rights for especially women and orphaned children and widows. I will work with all my friends in the world to open more doors and create hope for all children. If adoption will be officially accepted [by my country], and get the right information and caring families who love life. I will be willing to help to make children orphaned and desperate bave a family and get education and freedom to choose their rights, (personal communication with D. Nzomo, September 25, 2003, emphasis in original).
In contrast, a difference between the national and provincial levels was noted in a 2004 visit to Mozambique, where there are 1.5 million orphans (UNAIDS et al., 2004) and, according to the UNICEF office in Maputo (personal communication with O. Perrais, chief consultant July 23, 2004), at least 280,000 of them are "double" orphans (both parents lost). Officials at one province had voiced support for international adoption, along with frustration with the inadequate resources to meet the medical, nutritional, and psychological needs of the orphans. However, national officials reported that orphans were being adequately cared for by kin and substitute families or in institutions and that adoption was not needed (personal communication with F. Lucas, deputy director, Ministry of Social Action, July 23, 2004, Maputo, Mozambique).
Protection of Children in the Adoption Process
Conclusion and Implications
Inter-country adoption is one of a range of care options which may be open to children, and for individual children who cannot be placed in a permanent family setting in their countries of origin, it may indeed be the best solution.
UNICEF (2004) cautioned that the best interests of the child must always be the guiding principle in international adoptions and that the process must provide secure regulations to avoid the risks involved. Although all of the concerns regarding international adoptions cannot be eliminated, there are substantial legal and procedural protections in the United States, and reciprocal protections can be developed bilaterally on the basis of best practice concepts provided in the CRC and the Hague Convention. Toward this end, dialogue should occur between governments, practitioners, and advocates in both sending and receiving countries.
Adoption can be a compatible part of the five-point action framework for orphans, provided that it is seen as only a small and temporary part of the overall plan. The option to place children for adoption may, at least temporarily, strengthen the capacity of families and communities to care for orphans. Pre-adoption education and efforts for same-race placements, as well as postadoption services, should be well defined and substantial. To assist in the retention and promotion of cultural identity and ease the trauma of adoption, open adoption arrangements could be considered. NGOs and international agencies engaged in adoption activities should provide other child welfare programs in the sending countries, such as supporting temporary foster care arrangements while families shore up their resources and increasing access to medical services, education, and nutrition. Such child welfare activities should concentrate on programs and practices that build long-term capacity; for example, hiring local leadership and using community networks for orphan care. Continuing collaboration among governments and child welfare leaders should be facilitated with ongoing reviews of adoption policies and practices. Research should focus on the cultural implications of adoption practices and outcomes of African international adoptions. Exchanges with African colleagues, joint conferences, and student internships would also provide channels for enhanced dialogue on this topic.
Throughout sub-Saharan Africa today, extended families are caring for more than 90 percent of orphaned children.
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