Donaldson Report Shows Changing Climate of International Adoptions

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International adoptions increasingly involve older children, rather than infants and toddlers. In a report released by The Donaldson Adoption Institute (DAI) last October 2013, results showed that more and more adoptions made internationally are of older children.

Entitled “A Changing World: Shaping Best Practices through Understanding of the New Realities of Intercountry Adoption”, the report explored the preparations adoption stakeholders (countries, adoption agencies and specialists as well as parents) need to do to help international adoptions succeed in the long term. The report also outlines the best practices that will help prevent disrupted adoptions arising from lack of information and preparation.

The 176-page report is a result of a two-year study conducted by the DAI, as well as scholars from Tufts University. The study surveyed some 1,500 adoption professionals and families. It also involved interviews with government specialists and policymakers in 19 countries.

Older Kids have Special Needs

Statistics from the US State Department show that of the 8,668 international adoptions, almost 25% involved children aged 5 to 12. Only 10% comprised infant and toddler adoptions, while roughly 60% were of children aged 1 to 4. The older the children and the longer they have remained institutionalized, the higher the risk of developing emotional and behavioral issues.

As Adam Pertman, executive director of the DAI and co-author of the report puts it. “The adoption world is changing and there are more and more kids entering adoption from difficult circumstances.” The report showed that among the families interviewed, 47% of internationally adopted kids had special needs.

Disrupted and dissolved adoptions

Recently, the failure to prepare for adopting a child with special needs was highlighted as news of re-homing practices broke out. This disrupted adoption involves families who went back home happy and excited about their new future with their child only to be caught unprepared for the demands of caring for a special needs child. In desperation, these families turned to the internet and essentially gave away their adopted children to people they hardly knew. The children were informally moved into these new families, without any oversight from child welfare specialists and without any professional guidance.

There are also reports of families seeking to “give the children back” and send them to their home country when they found that they were unable to cope with the child’s behavioral issues. As a response, countries have placed more restrictions on international adoptions. Other countries (Russia, for instance) have banned US adoptions altogether.

According to a June 2012 Adoption Disruption and Dissolution report of the Child Welfare Information Gateway, there is only a small percentage of dissolved adoptions (i.e. adoptions that were completed but the legal relationship between the parents and the child was severed). However, indicators show that a significant portion of dissolved adoptions involved international adoptions.

Roles of each stakeholder

Based on the DAI’s analysis of the results of the research, the DAI recommended that countries of origin should have more detailed records of each individual – including mental health and medical issues. However, this is next to impossible. However, the very circumstances of why the child is placed in an institution such as an orphanage often prevent a more comprehensive record of a child.  This is on top of the fact that countries of origin usually have less resources as well as less-developed adoption and child welfare systems as compared to receiving countries such as the United States.

The next important step is for the receiving country, through governmental entities and private adoption agencies, to work to increase awareness and provide more education and training to deal with the impact institutionalization would have on the child.

Prospective parents should also realize and be prepared for the increased possibility of parenting a child who has special needs. They should not simply think of the matter as an act of love adoption. Indeed, love is not all that matters. Insight, information and total commitment also help in building strong relationships between family members. This will help prevent factors that contribute to a dissolved adoption, which includes parents who have unrealistic expectations, lack of social support and the lack of training to cope with a special needs child.

Parents should get into the adoption process fully aware and informed, prepared to meet not just the promise, but potentially the challenges of making an intercountry adoption. Likewise, adoption practitioners and counselors should also receive training to support parents through post-adoption services.


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