Plan A

A Bob Dylan song title comes to mind when I think about international adoption: The Times They Are a-Changin'. One thing has not changed, however, and that is that there are thousands of children who need families! Most of these children are older and/or have medical needs that range from mild/correctible to chronic/lifelong. The majority of these children live healthy productive lives, but needed an intervention to live life to its fullest. It is not unusual for me to speak to families who have started the adoption journey from a place of infertility. They begin down the path to adoption, whether domestic or international, only to have another barrier put on that path. Sometimes it is a country closing their doors to adoption. Other times it is a birth mother who changes her mind about placement. I will often hear someone say, "We are at PLAN Z right now because we have had to make so many changes!" As the sands shift, there is one piece of advice that I believe is critical. Always have a backup plan. That backup plan could be domestic adoption, surrogacy, or becoming more flexible about the child who comes into your family.

What PLAN are you on? I have a philosophy when it comes to the children than join our family. My philosophy is that each child that enters your family is PLAN A. We do not start at PLAN A and then move along the alphabet, we may start at PLAN C, but, when your child comes into your family. That child is always PLAN A!

The following is updated information and the countries that have placed the most children in the United States in 2010 according to the Department of State.

1. China, from the time the dossier is completed to referral in the traditional China program has continued to increase and is now over four and a half years. We do not expect the timeframe to decrease, but rather could increase to 8 or more years. Most families adopting from China are adopting infants and children with some known medical need or who are school aged. The CCCWA (China Center of Children's Welfare and Adoption) has a database of children with special needs which is updated regularly. There are many agencies throughout the United States approved to place children from this list. There are children with mild to severe medical issues, many of which are correctible. It is not unusual to see older, healthy boys wait long periods of time to find a family.

2. Ethiopia has been the fastest growing program for several years, however a recent announcement by the Ministry of Woman's, Children's, and Youth Affairs (MOWCYA) states they will reduce the processing of cases from approximately 50 cases per day to no more than 5 cases reviewed per day. MOWCYA reviews cases at two points during the process and it is uncertain at the time of this writing at which point the slowdown will occur. Either way, unless this decision is reversed, the numbers of adoptions will decline about 90%. The children from this program range from infants to older sibling groups. The children in Ethiopia often come into care malnourished.

3. Russia is continuing to place children, but the number of children coming to the U.S. dropped by 30% in 2010. As of this writing, the bi-lateral agreement between the United States and Russia has not been signed, but will most likely include additional responsibilities for placing agencies. The expectation is that the agreement will be signed in May 2011 and could change pre and post placement adoption documentation.

4. The number of children from South Korea has gone down by approximately 20%. Most adoption agencies agree that we do not expect an abrupt stop to adoptions, but we do continue to see an increase in domestic adoptions within Korea and more waiting children available to U.S. citizens. At this time, infants are being referred to families when they are approximately 6 months old.

5. On several occasions, a bill has been proposed to temporarily suspend adoptions in Ukraine so that the country can ratify the Hague Treaty. Each time, it has been postponed and currently there is no new date scheduled. Therefore, Ukraine continues to place children, though children are not referred to families until the family travels and meets with the State Department on Adoption and Children's Rights (Ukraine's central adoption authority). Most children are school aged and sometimes toddlers are available. The family meets with the child before making the decision to complete the adoption.

6. Taiwan has seen a slight uptick in the numbers of children placed into the United States. Most children are toddlers and older, with the greatest need for children with medical needs and/or over the age of five. Often the birthmother is involved in choosing a family.

7. Adoptions from India have slowed and most of the children being placed in the United States are older or children with medical needs. The good news for the children of India is that there are approximately 5000 citizens and residents of India who are waiting for children, so most younger, healthier children are being placed within the country. Central Adoption Resource Agency (CARA) is working on implementing an online system similar to China to help find families for waiting children.

8. Colombian adoptions stayed at the same level in 2010 and it is one country where we are seeing the time for adoption processing decrease. Most families who are non-Colombian will wait for 1-2 years for a referral of a young child. Colombia has many older children and siblings that need families immediately.

9. The Philippines has many older children and those with medical needs who are ready to be adopted. The wait for younger children (ages 2-5) is about two years.

10. We are seeing a few new African countries (Uganda, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo) begin to open their doors to adoptions from U.S. citizens. These tend to be smaller programs and require families to be more flexible with timing, travel, etc.

I wrote this in mid-March 2011, so already there could be changes. To get the most up-to-date information on every country, please refer to the U.S. State Department website or the Joint Council website

Last, but not least, remember PLAN A is not where you start, but where you end!

Susan Orban is works in Outreach and Education at Children's Home Society & Family Services and more importantly is the proud parent of four children from three different countries. She is passionate about children who continue to wait for families due to their age or medical condition.