In essence, international adoption exists because children throughout the world are in need of families. Many children who are freed for adoption by their countries of birth are able to be matched immediately with a family who has been waiting for just such a child on an agency's list. Children for whom there is no current family become Waiting Children. Some wait simply because of their age. Some wait due to medical needs, though those range from mild to more severe. Some wait because they are part of a sibling group. By being designated a Waiting Child and having his or her information available to families, a child's possibilities for placement increase dramatically.
Who Adopts Waiting Children?
Families who adopt Waiting Children are all very different just like all adoptive families. What unites them is that they all ultimately were drawn by a particular child who felt right for their family and whose needs they felt comfortable meeting. Some families who adopt Waiting Children are experienced adoptive families who have parented multiple children adopted at different ages and with different needs. More often, they are first time parents who initially believed they would adopt an infant as healthy as possible. Some are already aware of the unique resources they might need for a specific child. Some are simply willing to research, to learn and to access support.
To Look or Not To Look?
Viewing Waiting Children can be a helpful tool in every family's adoption process. Considering various and real reasons as to why children may need extra help finding a family can reinforce any family's chosen adoption path. There is always the possibility that reviewing Waiting Child information will open your eyes to children outside the criteria you initially considered (age, gender, medical conditions) who may actually be a good fit for your family. After all, it can feel different to declare that you would consider a four-year-old than it is to say that you would consider THIS four-year old.
One family describes their decision to adopt siblings after reading about a sibling group: It wasn't until we saw the girls' information and learned more about their story that we realized we wanted to add to our family, and not necessarily parent a baby. We are adopting a family now and not just adding a baby to our lives. These girls may not necessarily be the children we adopt, but they definitely play a significant role in our process.
Some families prefer to look at Waiting Child information early in their process, with the understanding that particular children may not be available by the time their family is paperwork ready to adopt. Most families choose to wait to review Waiting Child information until all of their paperwork is complete and they can request to be matched immediately. Some families are most comfortable reviewing information without looking at photos of particular children.
During your wait to be matched you may receive a cold call from your social worker or program coordinator telling you about a child that WHFC is especially advocating for. Recognize that this call is our agency taking responsibility to advocate for children who may need some extra help finding a family, and not necessarily asking you to be that family. There are likely many families who are receiving similar calls and reviewing information on the same child.
Even if you receive a phone call or request information on a particular child, this is very different from a referral. When information flows this way it is often presented to several families and all families have the opportunity to come forward and ask to be matched. We know we have to cast a wide net in order to find the right family for some children. Declining to look at the information or not asking to be matched in no way means that you are turning down a referral, it simply means that you are making a decision about how to build your family. There can be great value in considering what your family is capable of handling. Ultimately, whether you decide to adopt a Waiting Child or not, by reviewing this information you are making a more informed decision.
Hearing about Waiting Children can lead to a variety of emotions. Hope and excitement are often experienced since there is the possibility of seeing the first glimpses of your children. One adoptive parent reports: When I saw Nate's picture for the first time it felt as though my heart strings were being tugged. Saying... hey don't pass me by I was meant for you.
However, there are also harder emotions. While it is widely-known that there are millions of family-less children throughout the world, there is something humbling about seeing actual children who are in need. Some moments can feel sad or overwhelming when viewing children. While this is a natural reaction, it is important to come back to a balanced perspective. The best outcome is to place children in families who are prepared for their needs and who are enthusiastic about what they know about the child. If adopting a child who is as young as possible and/or believed to be in good health is what is right for your family, then that is perfectly acceptable. You are actively preventing one child from becoming a waiting child, no matter who you adopt.
Similarly, there are many emotions experienced when a family develops interest in a particular child, but is not ultimately matched with that child. This sometimes happens when one family can bring a child home faster than another or when one family has priority due to their application date or unique expertise. There is no way to erase the sadness and disappointment that comes with this. It is important to honor the role that one child had in your adoption process and find ways to incorporate how he or she inspired you as you move on to adopt another.
How Will I Know If It's the Right Decision?
When considering adopting a Waiting Child it's important to use all the tools you typically use when decision making. Some families discuss at length and compile resources, others simply move by intuition. Talking with supportive family members, friends, clergy members, physicians and other adoptive parents can be helpful in sifting through your thoughts.
No matter what your decision making route involves, you should use the expertise of your social worker. Your social worker has undoubtedly worked with families in shoes similar to your own and his or her input and approval are necessary. He or she can provide plenty of information about what it is like to adopt an older child, a sibling group, or a child with medical needs. Your social worker will also assist you in identifying resources that will be helpful after you bring your child home.
Expectations: Reality vs. Visions
Whenever a family sees a photo and information about the child who is to be theirs, it is only natural to start to wonder about that child and who he or she may be. It is human nature to start to wonder and hope about certain personality characteristics and shared interests. It is necessary, however, to move into this process knowing that children bring a lot with them when they are adopted. The information available to adoptive families prior to arrival is limited and likely does not give a complete picture of who the children are and how they will adjust in a family. Your social worker can help you prepare for a wide range of possibilities. Ultimately, the most important part is a strong desire to commit to a child regardless of whether he or she is exactly like you imagined or very different! As one parent reflects on older child adoption: Love is not a feeling, it is a decision.
Once you decide to adopt a Waiting Child you may need to change gears and handle many logistics that were not an issue when pursuing an adoption through one of our country specific programs. Oftentimes your home study needs to be updated, you may need to notify Immigration of your change of plans, and sometimes you need to complete a whole new dossier. Adopting a Waiting Child can often shorten the time it takes to be matched, but it may increase the time and amount of work required to actually bring your child home. Know that WHFC is available to help with these steps. Ultimately, the small frustrations and logistics are well worth the joy of changing the life of a child.
When asked how he knew a particular sibling group was right for his family, one father reported: Something drew us to them. I did everything I could to stare into their little eyes in that stock photograph which had been xeroxed into oblivion to discern if they were the ones. I guess I saw something. His words resonate for most families who have pursued the adoption of a waiting child. In the aftermath of all the questions, decisions, exploration of resources, and conversations, something has simply felt right. In the end, a connection has been made that will last a lifetime.
Maryanne Ludwig, MSW, LICSW & Eleanor Hartzell, BSW are social workers at Wide Horizons for Children