Last night, my daughter fell asleep on my chest. Maybe not all that notable, except that she’s not a baby, she’s six years old. She still needs my husband or I to stay with her until she falls asleep, but last night she crawled on top of me, stomach to stomach, head on my chest, and fell asleep. It was so very sweet (though difficult to escape from!), but mostly, it reminded me how very little she still is. I get at least one piece of artwork from her every day, usually a picture of our family. She loves to hold hands and snuggle. Her favorite outfits these days are too-big t-shirts from her dad’s childhood, paired with jeans so she can stick her hands in her pockets and proclaim “Look, I’m Daddy!” as she struts around the room. When her dad and I both join in a silly dance game with her, she positively beams up at us, so happy just to be with her family. I’m often struck by how much she’s growing up, but truly, six years old is still so little. Six is running in the sprinklers, building forts, playing with baby dolls and believing in magic.
When I talk with adoptive families, they often want to adopt
a younger child, and in many people’s minds “younger” seems to end at five
years old. But six-year-olds still very much need their mommies and daddies, and
there are so many six-year-olds who don’t have any. All these six-year-olds are
still waiting for families. Some have only been listed for adoption recently, but
many have been waiting since they were younger and still haven’t been chosen. Now
they are six- “older,” in the eyes of many, but with so much childhood still to
have. They just need a family to share it with.
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!
It’s a strange time to be alive, and a very strange time to be adopting internationally. At a time when everyone is drawing in, staying home, closing borders, you are longing to bring someone far away near.
I see you, family who is staring at a room prepared for a loved child when you don’t know when they will fill it. I see you, family who traveled across the ocean for the first adoption trip and now has the second trip postponed indefinitely. I see you, family who waited years to be matched to your child only to have travel cancelled at the last minute. I see you, family in-country who has held your child and may now have to make the heartbreaking decision to leave because there’s no end in sight. I see you because I am you.
We are in the midst of adopting our son from China, and have had our own process slow to a crawl, heading towards a standstill at the rate things are going. I’m feeling all the feelings you are. Frustrated and angry at the things out of my control. Guilty that I am upset about this when there are people losing loved ones to this disease. Embarrassed about the tiny baby clothes purchased that now probably won’t fit. Worried when our son had to go through urgent surgery a few weeks ago without parents there to be by his side. And mostly, just terribly sad about it all.
Lately, a new feeling has started to creep in: hopelessness. Seeing the outbreak finally dying down in China, a light at the end of the tunnel, only to have it explode around the world sending our timeline spinning out even further. A tiny voice whispering that we will never get to him, that we should just give up now.
But here’s the thing: that voice is a lie. I firmly believe we will get to our son. This outbreak will end. Families will be together. No, I can’t guarantee when it will happen. Adoption has never been the realm of guarantees. The only promise I can make is this: we will never get to our kids if we give up now.
They are still there, waiting for us. For those in Colombia, they are waiting for the families they know are coming, for the first time or returning to be reunited. For those in China, they’ve already survived the worst of this crisis there, and made it through. Surely we can do the same for them. So I beg you, don’t give up. Keep fighting. Hold onto hope.
–Lindsey Gilbert, MAA Family Engagement Coordinator and Waiting Mama