- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 6, 2001

After three years of trying to have a baby, "my husband and I decided to take a more serious look at adoption," Theresa Kwasny wrote in a 1998 e-mail message to an Internet adoption-support group.
But her first packet of information about adoption contained stunning news an estimated cost of adoption between $13,000 and $20,000.
"While we have boundless love in our hearts for a child, we do not have boundless cash in our pockets," Mrs. Kwasny wrote. "Can we have hope that we can have a baby without going to the poorhouse?"
Sticker shock has become a rite of passage in adoption.
The most common form of adoption of children from U.S. foster-care systems is the least expensive, often costing a few thousand dollars.
But adopting from state foster care, especially across state lines, can be time-consuming and frustrating. Moreover, not all prospective parents are willing to adopt children who are of a different race, school-age, disabled or part of a sibling group.
Parents seeking infants or toddlers typically turn to domestic private adoption or international adoption. Both types carry estimated price tags of $13,000 to $38,000, according to the National Council for Adoption (NCFA).
Children are priceless and many adoption expenses are certainly reasonable, several adoptive families say, but some expenses are questionable.
"Somehow, there's got to be a way to get this so that there's not so many people with their hands in the pot," said Tom Schwendeman, who estimates that he and his wife, Kirsten, have paid at least $52,000 to adopt four young children with Down syndrome.
The Battle Ground, Wash., couple, who have two teen-agers, adopted two children privately in the United States, and twin girls from Russia.
Each adoption was more costly than projected. The twins' adoptions, for instance, originally were estimated at $16,000. The Schwendemans estimated they paid closer to $35,000, because of costly international paperwork, Russian-required housing payments and surprise "last-minute" fees.
Expenses for the toddler they adopted from New Jersey and the baby from Pennsylvania $10,000 and $7,000, respectively also ran higher than expected because they were handled privately, without going through the public foster-care system.
"People like us, with a single income it's almost impossible to make it. We are strapped payday to payday and that should not be," said Mr. Schwendeman, who works for an airline.
"But it's the stay-at-home moms who have the time" to care for the children, said Mrs. Schwendeman. "We do it because we love the kids," she said, adding that she and her husband had long ago decided they would adopt children with Down syndrome.
Stuart Mac Lean, a Virginia adoptive father, rejoices in his three foreign-born children and has no complaints about his adoption attorney or the group that has helped make the adoption happen. But he questions several expenses like being fingerprinted repeatedly or the charge for a "green card" for a daughter who automatically becomes a U.S. citizen upon arrival here.
"When you're talking about an adoption that costs over $20,000 and you're adding several hundred dollars more to it, it adds up. There's so much rigamarole you have to go through," said Mr. Mac Lean.
NCFA President Patrick Purtill said adoption is a complex, delicate process that touches many people's lives and involves weeks of paperwork, home studies and legal counsel.
One reason many domestic private adoptions are expensive is because the costs of caring for unwed mothers including those who decide not give up their children for adoption are shared by adoptive families, he said.
The NCFA's Adoption Factbook III says "if the average cost of serving a pregnant client is $8,000, and if one of every three clients decides on adoption, the cost per adoption is $24,000." Birth mothers are not required to repay the costs of their care, so agencies recover some of these expenses by spreading them among adoptive families, the book said.
Still, the reason for high adoption costs basically is "supply and demand," said Peter Gibbs, director of the Center for Adoption Research at the University of Massachusetts.
Decades ago, religiously funded charities worked to find families for babies, usually at minimal cost to the families, said Mr. Gibbs. But with the advent of contraception, legal abortion, acceptance of single parenting and persistent biases against adoption, fewer infants now are in need of adoption.
As a result, adoption charities largely have given way to independent agencies and other professionals who sell their services mostly to find babies for families, said Mr. Gibbs.
Adoption reform has tended to focus on children who are in state foster care, including the 127,000 now free for adoption.
Federal law now forbids blocking adoptions because of race or keeping children indefinitely in foster care. This year, Congress raised the adoption tax credit to $10,000, so taxpaying adoptive families can recoup some of their adoption costs. State tax credits also may be available.
But adoption is largely state-run and filled with special-interest groups, which makes it hard to enact reforms such as universal standards, regulations or other cost controls, say adoption specialists.
Some corporate and private foundations have stepped up to help adoptive families with costs. Maureen Hogan, executive director of the National Adoption Foundation, which offers low-interest loans and grants of $400 to $4,000, says she gets "hundreds" of applications from families each week.
"Consumers need to rise up and demand transparency, consistency and accountability" in adoption, said Mrs. Hogan, who compared the adoption industry to the funeral-home industry in its ability to overcharge people at an emotional and vulnerable time in their lives.
Adoption doesn't have to be "big business," said Patty Anglin of Mason, Wis., whose Acres of Hope agency doesn't charge for its help in housing birth mothers or finding families for special-needs children. Acres of Hope has a $125,000-a-year budget, paid for by donations and grants, and a volunteer staff, said Mrs. Anglin, the author of a 1999 book about her and her husband's adoptions of eight disabled children. The agency has assisted in 159 adoptions to date.
Meanwhile, the Kwasnys, who live in Springdale, Ark., overcame their shock at the costs of adoption, opened a "baby fund" and last year paid $18,000 to adopt a 9-month-old girl from China.
"Adoption is a great thing, and we're glad there's babies out there," Mrs. Kwasny said, adding that they would like to adopt a little sister for Kate in a year or two. "But I still wonder why the costs have to be so high."

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