- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Maggie Hassett, now 17 months old, is one of the lucky ones.

Born in China’s Chongqing municipality, which hugs the eastern side of Sichuan province, she was adopted by Buffalo, N.Y., speech pathologist Alicia Campbell and her husband, David Hassett, in September and was safe at her new home when the May 12 earthquake struck her native country.

Back in China, the courtyard at the orphanage where she used to live collapsed.

“Luckily, none of the babies or caregivers were injured, but the building sustained some significant damage,” Mrs. Campbell said. “It’s hard, unless you’ve been to China, to understand how dense the population is and the sheer number of people affected. That’s the thing that blew us away.”

Chinese-American adoption agencies say interest in adopting from the world’s most populous country, while already high, has jumped since the devastating quake, which left an estimated 4,000 children without parents.

However, Chinese citizens also have flooded the Internet with offers to adopt the new orphans, and some say interested Americans shouldn’t raise their hopes.

Joshua Zhong, co-founder and president of Chinese Children Adoption International, the largest China-only adoption agency in the United States, said the Chinese government will undertake a long process before it begins seeking foreign adoptive parents.

First, it needs to determine whether those thousands of children are, in fact, orphans, or whether they simply have been separated from their parents or have other relatives who will care for them.

Additionally, the government favors domestic adoption, Mr. Zhong said, especially as so many have expressed interest.

To this end, China yesterday suspended the standard one-child policy for families with a child killed, severely injured or disabled in the earthquake, according to the Associated Press, and families have no limits on the number of orphans they can adopt.

“Some children may be reported to the government for international adoption,” Mr. Zhong said, including older or handicapped children, “however, the number will be very, very small.”

On the other hand, he said, cultural differences might lower the number of domestic adoptions.

“It’s very hard to say” whether newly childless parents will adopt the orphans, Mr. Zhong said. “If a child dies, there’s a long period of mourning, and they may not adopt again. Or it may take a very long time.

“Even if they adopt, I don’t think there’s going to be that kind of urgency for them,” he added. “Going through the grieving process” is more important.

Foreign parents seeking to adopt certainly won’t be turned away if they are needed, said Wang Baodong, spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington.

While many Chinese have expressed readiness to adopt, “personally, I think that no possibility is excluded,” he said. “I think the most important thing is that relevant people must [pass] the strict adoption procedures in China.”

Tightened in late 2006, such restrictions bar prospective parents who are single, older than 50, obese or taking antidepressants.

The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, a policy and research organization, compiled a report after the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia examining “intercountry adoption in emergencies.”

The report found that “based on research on the negative affects of early childhood deprivation, it seems clear that permanent solutions - including intercountry adoption - must take precedence over temporary solutions such as foster care or orphanages.”

However, immediate adoption is not recommended: “Children who have experienced traumatic events, at least in the short term, generally should not be further uprooted and placed in new environments,” the report said.

It concluded that “priority should be given to adoption by relatives, wherever they live, with preference for in-country adoption when possible. However, intercountry adoption should be a viable and available option, along with other family-based permanent solutions, for children in need of permanent families.”

The children orphaned by the earthquake are unfortunate, Mr. Wang with the Chinese Embassy said.

“They are now suffering from the loss of their parents. It’s not a good thing,” he said. “But the Chinese authorities are planning … to make sure they do have the chance to recover quickly and have a happy life.”

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