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Should You Adopt Internationally?

Will You Get Accurate and Complete Medical Information?

The medical and genetic information that you receive on a U.S.-born child usually will be more comprehensive than the medical information you can obtain on many orphans from other countries. There are exceptions, however, and some countries, such as Korea, provide very good medical information on the children.

Often there is very little health information available on children living in overseas orphanages, particularly health data about their lives before they entered the orphanage. To complicate matters further, if a child does have medical records, the records may be in a foreign language and may use medical terminology with which U.S. physicians are unfamiliar.

As a result, children may have undisclosed illnesses or infections—some of which may be serious—when the child is adopted. With good medical care, many of the children thrive; however, some do not. Still, the overwhelming majority of intercountry adopters report that they are happy with their children and are glad that they adopted.

For those reasons, experts strongly recommend that you find a pediatrician or nurse practitioner who will advise you on the health issues that may be present in a child you are thinking about adopting. The person you choose to review medical information should be able to review screening information provided by the country for infectious diseases (including tuberculosis, hepatitis B, HIV, and intestinal parasites), blood disorders (anemia and lead poisoning), and growth problems such as rickets and growth delays.

It's best to have a local pediatrician lined up before you adopt your child. She should be someone who's willing to work with a child who may have illnesses that are not common in the United States.

Adopt International has developed forms to help prospective parents understand the possible health problems that a child adopted from another country might have.

Adoption Alert

Just because a child is from Eastern Europe doesn't mean that she'll be a blue-eyed blonde child. People of all races live in Eastern Europe.

How Important Is Race?

Many Americans who adopt children from Eastern Europe do so because they are white. Many Caucasian people in the United States state quite openly that they want to adopt a white child and they don't want to wait years to adopt—so they'll adopt a child from a European orphanage or hospital. What they might not realize is that the wait is not always years and years for healthy white infants in the United States. It's also true that thousands of Americans are adopting children of other races—and for them, race is not an issue.

Can Overseas Birthparents Change Their Minds?


According to many medical experts on international adoption, infants in orphanages lose one month of development and physical growth for every three to four months in the institution. Some studies, such as those done by Dr. Michael Rutter on 111 children adopted before age two from Romania, have shown that many children have significant “catch-up” growth. According to Rutter's study, reported in a 1998 issue of the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines, when they were first adopted, many children (51 percent) were below the third percentile in weight. This means that 97 percent of other children of the same age weighed more than them. However, when the children were re-evaluated at the age of 4, only 2 percent of them were at this low weight.

Another reason why people adopt from other countries is they don't like the idea of an open adoption—an adoption in which the adoptive parents and birthparents are in contact. In an international adoption, the child's custody usually has been transferred to the orphanage, and the birthmother and adoptive parents will not. Nor will she have any choice in the selection of the parents of her child.

Most foreign birthmothers don't change their minds about adoption because their rights have been terminated already by the time the child is adopted. However, it does happen occasionally, even in intercountry adoptions, that a birthmother has a change of heart and struggles to gain her child back.

Are Children in Overseas Orphanages Less Likely to Be Abused?

Some Americans believe that children don't get abused or neglected in overseas orphanages. Actually, abuse—both physical and sexual—and neglect do occur to children in many orphanages worldwide. Furthermore, the deprivation inherent in orphanage life is enough to be harmful to some children. It's hard to know which children are resilient enough to recover from early problems. It's also true that the longer a child lives in an orphanage, the higher the probability she will experience health or psychological problems later on.

Experts such as Dr. Dana Johnson of the International Adoption Clinic at the University of Minnesota consider institutionalized children to be a high-risk group. According to Johnson, “Over 50 percent of institutionalized children in Eastern Europe are low birth weight infants, many were born prematurely, and some have been exposed to alcohol in utero.” Dr. Johnson says that the effects may be lifelong.

More on: Adoption

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Adoption © 2004 by Christine Adamec. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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