NOTE: An updated version of this post appears as a chapter in my book. You can read it here.
If you adopt internationally, you will get asked why you didn’t adopt from foster care. I was reading a newspaper article profiling an adoptive family and I noticed a particularly ignorant comment at the bottom (never read the comments!):
there are THOUSANDS of children in the US of A that are in need of adoption… Yet this family paid $35k to adopt a child from a foreign country? This is what celebrities have done to America.. make it fashionable to adopt less fortunate children from other countries while drepriving children in the US of role models & a stable family… We need to take care of our OWN first! I dont’ have a problem with a family going outside the US to adopt.. IF.. they don’t claim the foreign child as a dependent & get a tax break from the govt that I pay my taxes to… When you do claim the foreign child as a dependent & get a tax break for it.. THEN it becomes MY business.. because MY tax dollars are then being used to support a child from another country when there are thousands of children in the US that need families or fostered…
I’m not offended by this because I know this person just has no idea. I had no idea about adoption before we started, and most people have no idea about adoption. This is a knee-jerk reaction that has no basis in reality. I thought I would take some time to break down the issues involved in how families choose whether to adopt from foster care or internationally.
Talking about Tax Money
First, while I am no expert, I don’t think you can claim a “foreign” child as a dependent. We couldn’t claim our son until he was adopted, and after he was adopted he became A US CITIZEN! He also is now legally our child, no longer a foreigner but as American as any other citizen, and as such we can claim him as a dependent.
Second, your tax dollars are not being used to support children who are dependents. Getting any tax deduction means that the amount of your income which you pay taxes on is reduced. It means the couple with a child pays less in taxes than those without. Why do we allow this sort of blatant discrimination? Because children are investments. They grow up to pay taxes, and will support people like the ones who wrote the comment above when they retire. Hear that buddy? My foreign child will grow up to pay your retirement.
What about the adoption tax credit? Isn’t that paying people to adopt foreign children? Nope. The adoption tax credit is also used to reduce your tax liability. It is not taking money from taxpayers and giving it to people so that they adopt. It is used to reduce the amount of tax owed by people who adopt.
So this commenter should be aware that his tax dollars are not subsidizing foreign adoptions. It is not a grant such as the Pell Grant, nor does it refund money to people who have no tax liability like the Earned Income Tax Credit. But the people who adopt internationally do pay taxes, and their tax dollars support children in foster care and other social services supported by taxes. Even if an adoptive couple paid no federal taxes the year of the adoption, they would still pay state and local taxes that year, and the federal taxes in all the years that they didn’t adopt.
(This section has been edited to take into account the many people who left comments pointing out that I was not correct. Math and taxes are not my strong point. In case I’m still wrong, here is a link to the IRS website on the Adoption Tax Credit).
Looking at numbers
There is certainly the perception that people are racing to adopt foreign children while American kids languish in foster care. This is not the reality. We keep statistics on this sort of thing, it’s easy to find.
- In 2012, there were approximately 400,000 children in foster care. Only 25% were targeted to be eligible to be adopted. The goal of foster care is family reunification.
- In 2012, there were about 100,000 children waiting to be adopted, and 50,000 who were adopted.
- Did you see that? 50,000 were adopted from the US. Know how many international adoptions there were in 2012? About 8600. The number of adoptions from foster care are increasing while the number of international adoptions is declining. Even when the number of international adoptions was at its highest, they topped out at around 20,000, well under the amount of children adopted from foster care.
The facts to note here are that there are more children adopted from foster care than there are adopted internationally in the US. Most children in the foster system are not eligible for adoption.
But why not foster care?
So now our irate commenter might be thinking, “Okay, but that’s still 20,000 more US kids who could have found families.” The people who adopt internationally have made the decision that it was a better fit for their family than adopting from foster care. Maybe some of them would have switched if they had more information on foster care, but many of them had already eliminated adopting from foster care and were actually deciding whether to adopt internationally or not at all. The person who wrote the comment was insulted that a couple used $35,000 and somehow deprived US kids. But they could have spent that money on a car or vacation, and then no child would have a found a family. Don’t all children deserve a family, not just American ones?
Here are some common reasons that people give for eliminating adopting from foster care as a choice:
- They aren’t eligible to adopt from foster care. The eligibility requirements can vary, but for larger families especially, state regulations regarding square footage or number of children in a bedroom can mean that they are not able to adopt from foster care but can adopt internationally. Military couples might find it too difficult to go through the process to become eligible to become foster parents, get a placement, and complete an adoption before they are moved to another state.
- They might have tried already. I’ve run into multiple families who tried unsuccessfully to adopt through foster care for a few years and then turned to international adoption.
- They have had their hearts broken and they feel international adoption has a certain outcome. For couples who come to adoption from infertility, they have endured the loss of control over their fertility and often have had many pregnancy losses. Some states require you foster children to be eligible to adopt and they don’t want to chance falling in love with a child and then having the child be reunited with their family of origin. Because the goal of foster care is family reunification. (Of course, couples will then learn that there are not actually thousands of cute healthy baby girls waiting to be adopted overseas either, but that’s another post.)
- They don’t want their children’s hearts to be broken. For families who already have children in the home, not only do they not want to spare themselves the pain of losing a child, but they also want to shield their children from that loss and uncertainty. Because the goal of foster care is family reunification.
- The age of children in foster care. Most people who adopt would prefer a young child. The median age of a child in foster care is 8.5. I could not find the median age of children who are legally free to be adopted but if you search waiting children at http://www.adoptuskids.org/ there were only 22 children listed under the age of 4 and almost all had major medical needs. For comparison, there were over 2200 children listed between the ages of 14 and 18, many of them in sibling groups. Few couples will wake up one day and decide to adopt teenage siblings.
- The perception that children from foster care are emotionally damaged. According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychology, about 30% of children in foster care have severe emotional or behavioral problems, but that means 2/3 of them do not. Many adoptive parents feel that they avoid a child with emotional problems by adopting internationally, but the reality is that children adopted from other countries can also have endured abuse, neglect, and trauma. Parents are becoming more educated about this, but this perception will play a part in many people rejecting foster care as an option.
- Related to the above, couples with children might have fears that children from foster care would pose a danger to the children they already have. They might also have concerns that their own children could be removed from their home if a foster child’s biological parents report them to CPS as a form of payback.
- The idea that things are worse there than here. Yes, some children in foster care need a family (but not the majority, as we discussed earlier). But children in US foster care receive food, medical care, an education, and the majority are in family homes rather than institutional care or group homes. Some families will chose to adopt internationally because they know that in some countries, children will grow up never leaving their crib in the orphanage. Many live on very little food. Few are given an education. Children die from lack of medical care or malnutrition. Some families will chose international adoptive over foster care adoption because the situation seems more dire to them.
I don’t kid myself that this little blog post will make a difference to those like the commenter above, but hopefully a few of my readers will find it informative. And remember, there is a great need for foster families, so if that is something that you care about enough to mention to adoptive families, maybe you should consider fostering!
Edit: Since I originally posted this, Dawn Davenport has posted on her blog considering whether adopting from foster care is the best fit for those wanting to become parents. It is a good read, and makes many of the same points on the complexities of trying to adopt from foster care.