By Lara Berendt
The Chinese government’s labyrinthine international adoption procedures, involving elaborate paperwork and hefty fees, have led an increasing number of Austin couples to explore a relatively new option for growing their families from China – adopting a child with special needs.
Today, according to local adoption specialists, couples applying to adopt healthy Chinese infants can expect to endure gruelingly long waits— up to five years. To bring a baby home sooner, some prospective parents simply turn to other countries; those who don’t may choose one of China’s special needs children, whose adoptions Chinese authorities are willing to expedite.
The result is more families in the Austin community raising special needs children from China, said Kim Goodman, president of Austin support group Families with Children from China. The category also includes healthy children over age six, who typically experience attachment and bonding difficulties, she said.
“In my personal opinion, China should just break down and say, ‘We no longer offer healthy children for international adoption, and exclusively offer special needs children,’” said Goodman. “Their actions certainly reflect this.”
Goodman said part of the problem is that there are 800 orphanages in China, but only 41 are designated for international adoptions. She said the Chinese government is taking steps to close China’s gender gap by encouraging more domestic adoptions and foster care.
In 2010, about 712,000 Chinese children were classified as orphans, but only 114,000 resided in government-affiliated orphanages, according to the latest figures from the Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs, as reported by China Daily and the Chinese Government’s Official Web Portal. The rest live with extended families, in foster care, or are unaccounted for.
Ten years ago, when international adoptions were quickly gaining popularity, the process took about a year, said Jocelyn Lai, spokeswoman for Austin agency Great Wall China Adoption. Chinese children were in high demand because of their general good health and a high rate of infant abandonment in the wake of China’s One-Child Policy. For years, abandonment, combined with a traditional preference for male heirs, had worked to swell the population of predominantly female orphans.
U.S. adoptions from China peaked at 7,903 in 2005, falling by 62 percent to 3,001 in 2009, according to the U.S. State Department. Similarly, Texas’ adoptions from China rose to 384 in 2005, and then dropped 61 percent to 149 in 2009. Still, most international adoptions to the U.S. come from China, with Russia and Guatemala ranking close behind.
Faced with a flood of adoption applications, the Chinese government imposed stricter requirements for couples in 2007. Applicants must be married, between 30 and 50 years old, have a net worth of at least $80,000, a combined minimum income of $30,000, and cannot be obese or suffer from any serious physical or mental health problems. Chinese authorities enforced the new restrictions to streamline the adoption process, Lai said. Nonetheless wait times remain painfully long.
“Many of these parents signed on in 2006, expecting the process to be finished within 3 years, so they are with us much longer and still unsure of when their referral will arrive,” Lai said.
The current wait time for adopting a healthy Chinese baby through Great Wall is 57 months, but it fluctuates. Lai estimates the organization has placed Chinese children with 250 Austin families since 2001.
The China Center for Adoption Affairs, a Chinese government agency, is responsible for matching children with “forever” families, a time-consuming project, Lai said.
“The supply is not lower—there are still plenty of children in the orphanages waiting to be adopted,” she said. “We are hoping that the CCAA will make the process more efficient so that these children will not have to wait as long.”