China’s Changing Orphan Situation

Two write-ups on orphans in China came across my radar today.  Both carry special significance for people with a heart for China’s orphans.

They also underscore a broader reality orphan advocates sometimes miss:  that the situation facing orphans in any given country can change markedly over time.  Drivers of change can range from more obvious factors like natural disaster or a jump in AIDS rates, to more subtle drivers like economic growth or decline.  As a result, the number of orphans, their typical characteristics, and the unique dynamics orphaned children face can shift dramatically, sometimes in short periods.

The first article describes a reality we’ve noted for some time:  the dramatic drop in healthy children available for international adoption from China.  It reads, “As China has prospered and government restrictions have increased… the number of U.S. couples being allowed to adopt there has dropped sharply, and experts say there’s little reason to believe the trend will reverse.”

The second piece—actually a blog recap of a talk given by Amy Eldridge on the changing dynamics of orphans in China—carries a deeply insightful view of the factors underlying the superficial “fewer-foreign-adoptions” trend.   (I can’t personally vouch for all the statistics shared, but the claims strike me as entirely consistent with things I’ve heard and observed as well.)  The blog post is a long read, but well worth it for people concerned about China’s orphans.  For those interested in a briefer read, below is a “Comment” posted by Amy Eldridge that synopsizes some of the key issues:

Amy Eldridge said…

As I mentioned to several people after the talk, the important thing for people to remember is that social issues around the world constantly change. We all know there was a time when there were thousands of healthy baby girls who needed homes from Chinese orphanages. Families from around the world sent in their files to adopt those babies. But with the decreased abandonment of healthy girls along with a marked increase in domestic adoption, the orphanage population has changed dramatically. Now when an orphanage gets in a healthy infant, it is the exception. And then there are many Chinese families in the cities who are willing to adopt a healthy child….so there are truly very few NSN children available for international adoption, except for older children.

The bigger issue is the increased number of children with special needs who need homes. More and more orphanages are willing to make their kids with SNs available to families through the waiting child path, but of course many families don’t feel they could commit to a SN adoption. That is why I believe education is so important, and why families considering Chinese adoption should educate themselves about the different special needs and the treatment required to see if it is a path they could handle. I think the important thing to remember, however, is that for most Americans who hear the label “special needs”, they are thinking of much more severe needs (often including mental retardation) than a lot of the kids waiting for homes today on the shared list. Almost all of the kids in our programs are classified as “special needs”, and they are these amazing, wonderful kids who would bless any family. And of course we need to keep encouraging people to at least consider a boy, as so many boys are never chosen, and they would be the most wonderful sons!

Everyone involved in Chinese orphan care is having to adapt. Orphanages are adapting to a changing population of kids and learning how to submit the files of kids with special needs. The government is adapting by increasing the per child stipend needed to provide for the essential needs of children and by introducing programs like the Blue Sky plan. Adoption agencies are having to adapt now that the NSN program has slowed and having to learn how to counsel parents considering children with medical needs. And charities are having to adapt as immediate access to health care has become such a critical need.

I am very happy for the changing attitudes that I see among so many young adults in China who now say it doesn’t matter at all to them if their child is a boy or a girl. But my heart is still burdened in a tremendous way for all of the children who have medical needs who AT THE MOMENT only have a real chance at a family through international adoption. I hope in the next ten years that we will see a marked increase in the number of Chinese families wanting to adopt through the SN path. But for now, finding families around the world is these kids’ real hope. And so anything that we can do to promote special needs adoption is very important. Even if a family decides they can’t personally take that path, they can continue to let other families know that the special needs program in China is a wonderful way to form a family.