- The Washington Times - Friday, May 31, 2002

When Denise Dillon first became a grandmother several years ago, a verse came to her one morning at 3 a.m."A little child was born today," she wrote, about the birth of her granddaughter. Then the founder of Dillon International Inc., a Tulsa adoption agency, pictured an orphan who was not so fortunate.

"No one to kiss her fingers," she wrote. "No one to count her toes. No one is there to linger around this precious rose."

More and more Americans are trying to adopt their own "precious rose." International adoptions totaled 19,237 in the United States last year and show no signs of abating. The drama of personal adoption stories is the focus of a new cable-TV series, which premieres with specials at 8 p.m. tomorrow and Sunday. Produced by the Hallmark Channel, it simply tells compelling adoption stories in locales such as Vietnam, Romania, China, Russia and Guatemala.

However, several trends are shaping would-be parents' decisions, such as China's decision not to allow homosexuals to adopt.

"When an insurance company created an ad showing a lesbian couple with an Asian baby, people worried that would further inflame the situation," said Sharon Kauffman of the Joint Council on International Children's Services. Whether the Chinese actually saw the ad is unknown, she added.

A newer wrinkle with Chinese adoptions is that single applicants can be only 5 percent of any agency's applications. This move will drastically affect single parents, who were one-third of several agencies' clients. One reason: The world's most populous country is so swamped with dossiers, it will take the agencies three years just to process what they have now. The average wait is now two years.

"Last year, they got 14,000 applications and they processed 8,000," said Dwyatt Gantt, director of Children's Hope International in St. Louis. "If you want a child immediately, you can get a 7-year-old from Colombia. They are there and ready."

Adoptions in war-torn Colombia run between $12,000 to $14,000 much less than nearby Guatemala. In 2001, Guatemala, where adoptions are at least $18,000, supplied 1,609 children to the United States, more than double the 788 who arrived in 1997.

Eric Rogers, director of America-World Adoption Association in McLean, says adoptions from China were popular because they were comparatively cheap and there was almost no age limits.

"Thirty percent of our families there were single, but singles are getting squeezed out of a lot of these countries," he says. "Thailand doesn't allow singles at all, unless you are a woman wanting to adopt a special-needs child."

"Singles are calling agency after agency and asking what their status is," says Linda Brownlee, who directs the Adoption Center of Washington. "We also work with same-sex parents. A lot of males with partners are adopting. These children are so treasured; not only by their parents, but by their grandparents, because finally they have some grandkids."

Her agency is investing more in Vietnam.

"The children are very young and they come straight from maternity hospitals," she says. "They are in very good shape. They often get a lot of 'tummy time.' They are allowed to be on the floor and crawl around and play with each other so their developmental skills don't lag. Thus, they learn to crawl much faster and pull themselves up, more so than in Chinese orphanages, where the floor is considered dirty."

But Vietnam, like Russia, requires two visits from a parent. India, which is slowly increasing its adoptions, doesn't require any. Kate Powers, the business manager for Love Basket Inc., based in Hillsboro, Mo., says 90 percent of their Indian adoptions involve a child being escorted to the United States.

"A lot of kids are brought to our basket outside the orphanage," Mrs. Powers says. "Most of them are between 12 and 15 months when they get here, but we've placed up to 12 years old."

When Mrs. Powers found she was unable to conceive more than one child, she and her husband adopted a daughter, Parul, who they renamed Briana.

"It's a country that embraces its children, but then you have the dichotomy of infanticide," she says. "A lot of the baby girls are adopted in India by Indians. The problem is getting them from the villages to the orphanages. You are up against tribal cultures and a lack of communication."

International adoptions are a roller coaster of international and domestic politics.

"We are subject to all sorts of whimsy," one adoption agency head said. "Or there will be a change in the government and the person in charge will be anti-foreign adoption and pro-domestic care."

This is the current situation in Romania, one of the biggest suppliers of adoptive children, which shut down its operations in early 2001 after its adoption policies were criticized by the European Union. Last year, 782 children were allowed out of Romania, compared with 1,122 the year before. Very few have been allowed out this year, although there has been some effort toward placing children who have already been assigned.

One East Coast couple, who were assigned two children before their case was frozen last year, have had to raise money from friends to afford the extra foster care costs for their marooned offspring.

"Once we get them, our children will be one year older, making their adjustment a lot more difficult," said the father, who estimates he's paid out an extra $15,000. "To keep any child an extra year will hurt them temporarily, if not permanently. A lot of prospective parents have abandoned Romania because of these problems."

Some countries, such as Moldova, Afghanistan and Mongolia, remain closed to adoptions. Cambodia has been shut down because of problems with Immigration and Naturalization Services. Other countries, such as Kazakhstan, are wavering, Mr. Rogers says.

"They have a lot of public perception in some of these ex-Soviet countries against international adoptions," he says. "Certain groups feel they are losing their future and some of them are already hemorrhaging in terms of population decline."

Even China, which has millions of orphans, is uneasy about being the world's top "sending" nation, and thus only lets a trickle of its available children out through the China Center for Adoption Affairs.

"That is not a title they want," one agency head said. "It's got to be face-saving for them."

Ms. Brownlee says recent articles on women's inability to conceive past the age of 40 has spurred many would-be parents to eye adoption now.

"To adopt a child is to take that child out of poverty and loneliness and introduce him or her to a world of love, hope and possibility," she says, quoting former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. "There is no greater achievement."


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