According to the U.S. Department of State, international adoptions are on the rise. In 2000, the number of visas issued to orphans entering the United States was 17,718. By 2003, that number increased to 21,616, with 6,859 coming from China.
With so many families choosing to adopt children from foreign countries, many factors come into play in keeping the adoptee’s birth heritage alive. Through interaction with organizations that post events and offer advice and social outlets, families are able to help celebrate cultural differences together with their children.
There are currently 2000 member families registered with the Greater New York chapter of Families with Children From China (FCC). David Youtz is chapter president; he and his wife, Mary, adopted their almost-10-year-old daughter, Sophie, from China. They are currently in the process of adopting another baby girl.
FCC’s goal, Youtz explains, is multifaceted. First, through its website and active list serve, the organization provides a wealth of information on the adoption process itself. It offers tips on how to be an adoptive family — from how to deal with issues such as racism, to how to embrace diversity with pride. Another focus is to act as a fundraising unit which sends money back to China’s orphanages —over $200,000 a year. Finally, through Web postings, links and the list serve, members have access to cultural information and happenings throughout their area.
"We’re a very diverse community," says Youtz of FCC, pointing out that members have different income levels, ethnic and religious beliefs. He says FCC provides families with the ability to "dive into" their children’s culture through music, dance or cuisine. Every year in May, the day before Mother’s Day, the organization holds Chinese Culture Day for its members.
Talking to children about their origins is important within the organization. Says Youtz, "We encourage our families to tell their children their own unique stories early on." Spending time in China before they return to the United States with their children benefits everyone.
As the children grow and their questions become more involved, FCC also has programs that help parents respond appropriately. Questions like, "Why did my mother abandon me?" need to be answered carefully by adoptive parents when children see the adoption process as a loss and/or direct abandonment.
Laurie Reynolds, director of the Adoptions from the Heart agency in Philadelphia, says she often sees parents deeply involved in their children’s culture in advance. “They want the child to have an easy transition, they buy international food and mementos from the country.”
Paula Scully, a Manhattan resident, just finished her home study process a couple of months ago. Her dossier (an extensive file required by the Chinese government) has already been reviewed and approved by Chinese officials.
Scully says her family’s support of her decision to become a single adoptive parent has helped her throughout the entire process. Referring to her six-month home study, she says, “I’ve had a lot of preparation.” She adds that patience is key.
Scully notes how the process can vary in length and intensity from country to country. One of her friends recently adopted a little girl from Ethiopia, and went from paperwork to parenting in a relatively short period of time.
Although the process has been lengthy, and Scully has been through “a lot of red tape”, she is excited about meeting her daughter, who is going to be “an American Chinese girl”.
Laurie Reynolds describes transracial adoptions as being layered. “You have one layer, first as an adoptive family; and then another layer, as a trans-racial family."
As with all adoptions, prospective adoptive parents undergo home studies; but those looking to adopt across racial lines may find themselves faced with more intense questions and soul-searching.
"We tell adoptive parents to look into their hearts and decide whether adopting trans-racially will work for them," Reynolds explains, adding that families should "incorporate birth history into the child’s life forever."
The agency offers classes on how to style Asian and African American hair, for example, and a plethora of language courses.
The age of the child directly influences the amount of preparation adoptive parents must make, Reynolds says. "You have to prepare yourself a great deal more if you’re adopting an older child rather than an infant. With an infant, it can be a learning experience for the whole family. With older children, I tell adoptive parents they have to start now."
Keeping all the challenges of trans-racial adoptions in mind, one also has to remember that, "In truth, every family is intercultural," says Gary Singer, a psychotherapist in Brooklyn. "If you scratch beneath the surface," differences in upbringing and emotional openness between parents also create families of all backgrounds and experiences.
Singer’s advice for adoptive parents? "They have to be prepared for identity questions early on. Nowadays, it happens sooner rather than later."
Singer also emphasizes the importance of building the vocabulary of culture and race with their children so they can prepare for "playground politics".
"Some may feel, ‘Let’s emphasize the similarities’, but let’s not go blind … it’s the parents who set the stage, set the tone," he says.
• For more information about FCCNY, visit www.fccny.org. • For more information on Adoptions from the Heart, visit www.adoptionsfromtheheart.org.
February event for Families The Greater New York chapter of Families with Children From China (FCC) is holding their annual Chinese New Year celebration, open to all, on Saturday February 5. The event runs from 10am-4pm at the New York Hall of Science in Corona Park. This year’s event will celebrate the Year of the Rooster and Chinese Fashion and Clothing, with a fashion show, martial arts displays and movies. $15 person (includes admission to the Hall of Science). To pre-register, go to www.fccny.org; for more info, call (212) 579-0115.
Great Guide for adoptive families Adoptive Families magazine has released its annual Adoption Guide for 2005. This year's guide includes an eight-page Adoption Planner (downloadable on their website: www.theadoptionguide.com) to walk adopting families through all the steps to a successful adoption. The Planner includes a decision matrix to help families decide which type of adoption is right for them, budgeting tools, a time line, and worksheets to help families select an adoption agency and/or an adoption attorney. The Guide also has information on the latest tax credit laws and post-adoption support service listings.