38- that’s the number of children who came home to their adoptive families through MAA in 2020. Just half the number of children who came home the previous year. If that reduction were due to fewer children needing to be adopted, that would be good news, but unfortunately that is not the case. The reduction is due almost entirely to the coronavirus pandemic, mainly amongst families in the China program, where travel is still not open, though families adopting from every country were delayed, and many families are choosing not to start the adoption process during the pandemic, for understandable reasons.
So why even share the number when it’s so, well, small? Because it’s not just a number; it’s children.
22 siblings who were adopted together, keeping their connection.
14 children age 10 and older, when chances of adoption are so much lower.
12 children who were hosted, reunited with their host families.
38 children who had no permanency and stability for the future, now beloved sons and daughters.
When you see behind the number, the faces of the children whose lives are forever changed, it’s easy to celebrate 38. We would celebrate even one child gaining a family. So congratulations to the children and families who came together in 2020, and we look forward to celebrating all who come home in 2021.
Dear Friend, What a year it has been! We pray that you and your family have weathered this crazy COVID storm, and that this letter finds you and yours healthy. We surely are living through history, with the pandemic affecting every aspect of life, adoptions included. While many countries are allowing adoptive families to travel, others have not yet reopened, and our hearts break for the families and children waiting to be united. Despite the closures, despite the painful delays, and despite the unknowns, MAA remains dedicated not just to finding families for the children who wait, but supporting those families and children for life, and this is the reason I’m writing to you today.
We know that when an adoptive family finally meets their child, that’s not the end of the journey, it’s just the beginning. Attachment, culture shock, and challenging behaviors of all kinds are the norm for adoptive families, and the uncertainty of the pandemic has only exacerbated the challenges. Prior to the pandemic, we were already busy working behind the scenes to strengthen our post-adoption support for all of our families, and now that work is more needed than ever.
Over the past several years, we have recognized that the face of ‘the adopted child’ is changing. The children in need of adoption are almost all older, medically fragile, and/or sibling groups, all with histories of trauma, and families frequently need support and guidance to successfully emerge as a bonded family. Adriana Chaves initially joined the MAA team as the Hosting Coordinator, but as hosting became impossible this year due to covid, a new purpose emerged. Adriana has her master’s degree in Clinical and Family Psychology, so it was a natural fit for her to step into a new role as MAA’s Post-Adoption Wellness Therapist. She has been running virtual support groups for adoptive parents and adoptees, helping families identify needed resources in their area, and providing one-on-one post-placement support to families going through significant challenges. Additionally, she’s provided cultural education for families in our Colombia program, with 30 families attending her recent webinar on Colombian culture!
The Colombia Kids Group has been a great safe place for our daughter to socialize during these unusual times with kids just like her. She has been able to connect with children that she interacted with at her orphanage and has also been able to talk with other children with similar stories to her. It is a unique, friendly, no pressure group that she looks forward to participating in.
-Michelle, MAA Adoptive Mom
So on this Giving Tuesday, we are reaching out to ask for your help in supporting our mission to bring hope, love, and connection by serving children, individuals, and families in the areas of adoption, foster care, and support services. Thanks to a generous donation this summer, we were able to offer our post-adoption support groups to all families, whether they adopted through MAA or not, but for that work to continue and grow, we need donations to continue too. Visit our new donation page, and when you select “Post-Adoption Services” 100% of your donation will go to our work supporting post-placement families and their children. For those who can, please consider a recurring monthly donation, so we can consistently provide these essential services to any family who needs them!
From the bottom of my heart, and on behalf of adoptive families and children, thank you for your consideration. We are all ‘in this together’, in more respects than one.
Please stay safe and God bless!
Sincerely, Diana Bramble, MBA, LMSW Executive Director of Operations
Madison Adoption Associates has always focused on finding families for waiting children, so we were surprised when our NGO partner in Bulgaria encouraged us to have families submit their dossiers requesting referrals of children with Down syndrome, instead of requesting to be matched with a waiting child. But once they explained their reasoning, it made so much sense.
First, it’s important to understand what we mean when we say “waiting child”- a waiting child is simply a child who has been deemed eligible for adoption, but when adoption authorities in the child’s country reviewed families with completed dossiers, none of those families were open to a child of that age and gender, and with their particular medical or developmental diagnoses. So instead of being referred to a family, the child is listed with adoption agencies who will advocate and try to find a family who will start the adoption process in hopes of adopting that child. Nothing is inherently wrong in this process, but as our partner NGO explained, there are a couple reasons the referral process can be better for both families and children.
Waiting children with Down syndrome are periodically listed in Bulgaria, and usually pursued quickly by a family who steps forward and starts the adoption process from scratch, but when a family has already submitted their dossier before being referred a child, it’s a much shorter time until that child comes home. For families, this means less time between seeing your child’s face, and holding them in your arms. More importantly, for children, this means less time spent in an institution, and a quicker path to their family. In Bulgaria, for example, when pursuing a waiting child it takes about one year from the time a family starts their home study until traveling to complete the adoption, but for a family who has already submitted their dossier, after receiving a referral the first trip is done within one month, and the second trip to pick up their child is 3-4 months later.
So instead of families waiting until they see a child with Down syndrome on the waiting child list before they start the adoption process, MAA and our NGO partner hope to find families to submit their dossier to Bulgaria. Then we can see more children matched before getting to the waiting child list, and home with their families sooner. For young children with Down syndrome, those months saved mean they are in their families receiving medical care, physical and speech therapy, and devoted attention that much sooner, at a time that is so crucial for their health and development.
In some ways, this route is harder on families; you are taking a leap of faith without seeing a specific child, and waiting for the day you get the phone call that there is a child who needs you. But think of it this way- you are giving your child a gift. You are doing the waiting for them, so they don’t have to wait on you. If you are open to adopting a child with Down syndrome, consider whether this could be the path for your family to bring a child home, and take that first step forward knowing your child is out there, and you’ll be waiting for them when they need you.
For families who submit their dossier open to Down syndrome, our NGO will charge the waiting child fee (6600 Euros) instead of the typical fee for the traditional program (8000 Euro), and at time of dossier submission only 600 Euros are due. Families can expect to receive a referral approximately one month after dossier submittal. Couples, single women and men age 25 and older are eligible to adopt from Bulgaria. There are no specific criteria for marriage length, family size, finances or health. Email LindseyG@madisonadoption.org or complete our free Prospective Adoptive Parent form to connect with an adoption specialist!
Two weeks ago a Colombian children’s home contacted MAA, along with the other agencies they work with, with a desperate plea: to help find a family for a sweet fifteen-year-old girl who was running out of time. Maya was hosted in the US last year and had an adoptive family in process, but for reasons that had nothing to do with her, the family had dropped out. She needed a new family who could complete the homestudy, dossier, and file I-800 by November, or she would age-out of adoption eligibility. The iapa staff raved about what an amazing kid she was, saying she’s “100 out of 100,” one of the best kids they ever had!
We put out the plea, as did other agencies, and within 24 hours had multiple families inquiring! Thankfully a family at another agency stepped forward almost immediately and submitted Letter of Intent, and Maya should have a family in time. We were so relieved. When we told the families who had been interested in her they were all happy for her, but when we said we’d love to share about the other children in danger of aging out who still wait for families… no one was interested.
I understand how a particular child can grab your heart, and children are people, not replaceable or interchangeable, but Maya is just one of thousands of children waiting for a family, one of hundreds who will age-out of adoption eligibility in the coming months. If Maya’s story touched you, surely it’s possible that another child could too? Another face could call out to you saying “Are you my family?”
Maybe it’s Harriet, just a few months younger than Maya. She likes to play soccer, basketball, and swim at the pool, but also enjoys just watching movies- all things she should be doing with her own family! Even though she missed out on two years of school, she is motivated to study and learn. She was supposed to come to the US for hosting this summer, her best chance of finding an adoptive family, but due to the coronavirus hosting was cancelled, and Harriet continues to wait for someone to see her.
Or maybe it’s Edward, whose face we can’t even post here due to his country’s regulations, but who has the brightest smile. His heart is to help and serve, and he often spends hours in the kitchen helping the cooks prepare the food and serve the children their meals. He never complains about dishes or chores assigned to him and genuinely does his very best. A gentle soul, he would never hit another child, and there have even been instances where another child has picked a fight with him and he has stood quietly, without retaliation. He is amazing at Zumba and putting dance steps to any song or beat. He likes to have discussions and talk about life rather than play or fool around like other boys his age. The older he gets, the more anxious he is that he may not get a family, but he still has hope that he could have a mother and father that will love and value him. Though he has until April for a family to file I-800, his country process moves very slowly so a family must be found very soon, or he will run out of time.
Or what about Brennan? He helps younger children in the orphanage to get food and wash their bowls. Once he found a hurt sparrow on the way home from school and brought it to the orphanage medical staff to see if they could help. He was due to age-out of adoption eligibility in October, however, due to upcoming changes in China’s adoption laws he has likely gained two more years to find a family. But while we celebrate this news, we also acknowledge that he has already been waiting almost four years for a family. MAA has already advocated for him three times! Will more time make a difference for him? Or will it just be two more years of waiting only to still age out, without the permanency, stability, and support of a family?
Maya is a wonderful girl, but children shouldn’t need to be
a perfect “100 out of 100” to get a family. They don’t earn a family by being
good, they deserve a family because they are a child. Each of these kids will
bring their family joy and challenges, but first they need someone to take the
chance to bring them home- before it’s too late.
When we talk to families about the children who typically wait for adoptive families, there are some common themes: usually children with medical or developmental needs, lots of boys, older children, and siblings. Many families will reply that they are open to siblings, however, the majority of those families are only open to a pair of siblings. So when we learn of a group of three or more siblings who must be placed together… a lot of those raised hands go down.
This is understandable, adopting two children already means more than the double the adjustment, so bringing home three is not something to undertake lightly. That said, I wonder how many families say “no” immediately, without considering- could we really bring three home? It’s not for every family, and we never want families to delve into something they aren’t prepared for, but we hope to encourage you to think about whether you might be the family to keep three siblings together. And who better to help you think through if you could than the families who have already done it?!
Shane and Sarah were first time parents when they adopted. After having their niece stay with them for a couple years in high school and college, they felt prepared to adopt older children, and joined MAA’s hosting program in summer 2018. “Originally, we thought we were more suited for hosting/adopting one child because the thought of three was overwhelming at first,” says Sarah. “When we learned of three girls who needed a hosting family, we went on a whim and gave it a try! We felt an instant connection with our girls and had the space for three.” Shane and Sarah hosted when the twins were 9 years old and the eldest was 13, and they were able to travel to Colombia and finalize the adoption the following year.
Other families already have some parenting experience under their belt when they decide to bring home siblings, like Chelsea and Steven, who had one son adopted domestically when they brought home their daughters from Colombia at six, four and two years old. “We think it definitely helped. We had established our parenting style and knew (at least somewhat) what to expect from kids his age and younger.”
Richard and Leonardo also had experience parenting, having previously fostered a single child, and a pair of siblings, but never three at once. They knew they eventually wanted more than one child, but thought they would ease into it by adopting one child first. However, their views changed after a trip to Colombia and learning of the need for families willing to adopt larger sibling groups so that children could stay together. “We realized that we could keep these families together and do so much good from this while still keeping within our comfort level.” It was only a couple months into the process that they learned about the group of three children they would ultimately adopt, who were four, five and six years old when Rich and Leo brought them home earlier this year.
Bringing siblings home together has a lot of benefits and joys, for parents and kids! “Being able to see these beautiful children growing together in our home is hands down the most rewarding,” says Richard. “The children are so tightly bonded to each other that it made the transition emotionally easier on them.” Sarah agrees, “We are so happy they have each other to maintain some of their heritage and traditions. I think one child would get lonely at our house and we didn’t think we could afford to go through the adoption process multiple times.” Siblings are often the one biological familial connection an adoptee has left, so maintaining that by keeping children together has enormous emotional benefits.
That doesn’t mean it doesn’t come without challenges though! “The most challenging thing about adopting three children is of course building on each child’s strengths and improving their weaknesses without any of them feeling left out,” reports Sarah. “These children have deep hurt, and strong emotions come out when recognition, praise, or discipline is given to one child and not the other.” Meanwhile for younger children, Richard says the biggest challenge was “hands down the temper tantrums that they learned from being in an orphanage”- times three! “The three would feed off of each other which made for some challenging times.” However, he says it didn’t last long, and with consistent parenting and structure new, more appropriate behaviors emerged within a month.
So what’s the most important quality for families who are considering adopting a group of three? “Flexibility. Life is going to change like never before and it’s going to keep changing. It’s easier when you can go with the flow and adapt,” says Chelsea. Richard says the key for them has been a strong family foundation- physically, financially, and emotionally. “Having a strong bond between my husband and I has made this transition so much easier for us and the children.”
So as you consider the type of children your family is open to adopting, take the time to think about whether you could adopt three siblings together. It’s important to be realistic about your resources, but don’t let fear prevent you from saying yes to something hard but beautiful. “It has been the hardest thing we have ever done. I was honestly terrified the entire 6 months we spent preparing for this adoption. Terrified we would regret our decision. Terrified we would fail at parenting 4 kids under age 7,” says Chelsea. “But it has been the BEST thing we have ever done. My husband and I and our son have grown so much as a result of this experience and we love our three girls to the moon and back! It feels like they have always been a part of this family and we truly believe we were meant for each other.”
We are currently advocating for sibling groups of three in Colombia, Bulgaria, the Philippines, and the Dominican Republic. To learn more about these children who wait, fill out the free Prospective Adoptive Parent form today to connect with an Adoption Specialist!
In my role at MAA, I talk with families who are just starting to look into adoption, and often trying to determine the right path forward. An important first step when considering international adoption is to see which programs you are eligible for. You can view general eligibility guidelines for each country on our Country Comparison Chart, but to confirm which programs you qualify for, please fill out our free Prospective Adoptive Parent form so our program staff can review your information and clarify any potential issues in eligibility.
Sometimes you are only eligible for one program and so the choice is clear, but when there is more than one option, how does one choose? Here are some of the questions I ask families to help them think through which country is the best fit for their family:
1.What age, gender, and special needs are you open to?
While essentially all international programs today are considered “special needs,” each program varies slightly in what the common special needs are. This post goes more in depth about the types of special needs we see in each program. Most programs allow families to choose a gender, but families waiting for referral of a young child in the Philippines must be open to either gender. While we see children of all ages in all countries, in Bulgaria, young children in need of international adoption all have special needs that are usually considered more complex.
2. Do you want to adopt siblings?
We see siblings in four of our five international programs: Colombia, Bulgaria, the Philippines, and the Dominican Republic. While we very rarely see twins in China, it is so rare that China is not a good option for a family who has their heart set on adopting siblings.
3. What is your travel availability?
The length of travel requirements ranges from just one week in the Philippines, to 4-6 months in the Dominican Republic, so how long your family is able to travel will impact your program options. Bulgaria requires two trips, while other programs are only one. While MAA always encourages both parents to travel in order to experience their child’s country and culture, for families where that isn’t possible there are countries that allow just one parent to travel, including China, Bulgaria, and the Philippines.
4. What are your cultural resources?
If you live in an area with a large Chinese community, but almost no Spanish speakers, it may make more sense to adopt from China than Colombia. This isn’t to say that you can’t adopt from a country if you don’t have people of that heritage in your area, but if you do so, you need to commit to providing those cultural opportunities for your child. It may mean long drives to other cities where there is more diversity, or paying for a tutor who can teach your child their native language via Skype lessons. You’ll need to consider if you’re prepared to make those greater efforts to keep your child and your family connected to their culture. Remember, their culture is now your culture too!
5. What is most important to you?
Every country program is different, and the reality is there may not be a program that fits exactly what you are dreaming and hoping for, so you’ll have to consider what your priorities are. Is it adopting a child who is as physically healthy as possible? Then you may want to look at the Philippines, though the wait for a referral is around three years. Or is it more important to you to adopt a child more quickly? Then you may want to research special needs, find some you are open to considering, and adopt from a country like China or Colombia, where the process is often a year or less. Is it adopting from a country where there is a big need for adoptive families? Then you may want to consider the Dominican Republic, where the long travel requirement scares most potential families away.
These questions are personal, and the answers will be different for every family. It’s important to be honest with yourselves about your hopes and expectations so that you can choose a country where you are prepared for what the process will be like, and ultimately bring your child home.
Ready to get started considering international adoption? Call today or fill out our free Prospective Adoptive Parent form to connect with an adoption specialist and find the path for your family!
While nearly all international adoption is considered “special needs” these days, what needs we see varies widely country to country, depending on that country’s medical system, social services, and culture. Considering what special needs are common is one way to narrow down which adoption program is the right fit for your family, so read more below about each of MAA’s programs!
In the China program we see a wide range of medical needs. Typically medical care in China requires full payment up front before care is provided, so sadly many families place their child in institutional care so that they can receive the medical care they desperately need. There also continues to be cultural stigma around disabilities in China, especially visible disabilities, which plays a role in some children being abandoned. Thankfully, as resources grow more biological families are able to keep their children who have correctable conditions, and more and more domestic Chinese families are open to adopting young children with needs like heart defects and club foot, so there are fewer children with those needs in need of international adoption today.
In Colombia, some children are relinquished by their birth family, sometimes because they aren’t able to care for their medical needs. Other children have been removed from their birth families due to neglect or abuse. As a result, we see many older children who may not have any diagnosed needs, but have experienced trauma. Because we often have information about birth families, it’s sometimes known if a child had prenatal exposure to drugs or alcohol, or other risk factors in their background. Many young children referred for adoption have these risk factors and developmental delays, and need families who will help them meet their full potential, whatever that may be.
While the Philippines allows families to submit their dossier and request referral of a child considered “healthy,” families still need to be open to some concerns or risk factors in their child’s background, such as prematurity, speech delays, or corrected medical needs. There are also waiting children of all ages with a variety of medical needs, including many children who have developmental delays. We also see many older children, sibling pairs and groups who are medically healthy, but experienced neglect or abuse in their biological families.
Since there is now a robust domestic adoption program in Bulgaria, there are very few young children with needs families consider “minor” in need of international adoption, as those children are usually adopted within Bulgaria. Children under eight years old typically have neurological conditions like cerebral palsy, spina bifida, hydrocephalus, and epilepsy, or multiple diagnoses and risk factors in their background. There are also many older children and sibling groups who were removed from their biological families due to abuse or neglect. Families who are open to Down syndrome can receive a referral very quickly after submitting their dossier.
The Dominican Republic
Since the Dominican Republic is a small country, it’s also a small adoption program, but there are still many children waiting for adoptive families! We see a range of different medical needs, as well as many young children with broad developmental delay diagnoses who need families prepared for whatever their future may be. Many of the children came into orphanage care very young when their biological families were unable to care for them. Since it is a small program, it is best for families who are open to a variety of different needs if they have not identified a specific waiting child.
Though these are the specific medical and developmental needs we see in each country program, it’s always important to keep in mind that every child in need of adoption has experienced loss and trauma, regardless of where they live. The behavioral, emotional and attachment needs that result from those experiences may be not be diagnoses in their file, but will be some of their biggest needs. We encourage all our families to research how to meet all of their child’s needs to be as prepared as possible for when you finally bring them home!