We need to take care of our OWN!

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.


28 thoughts on “We need to take care of our OWN!

  1. SS

    We have just started the adoption process for China and I have already had this said to me twice! “I wish people would adopt here in the US and take care of our own”… Some things you didn’t mention that I think are extremely important are… 1) The kids that are available in the U.S. for foster care are normally older and/or with significant special needs. That doesn’t mean they don’t need/deserve a home, but for a family that already has children, but wants to take in a child that needs a home… It just might be too much for them to take on… and 2) Adopting through the foster system seem much cheaper for a lot of families. We can afford to pay to go get an international child with minor special needs who will not have a home if we don’t adopt them. We also have the insurance and resources to take that international child and give them the medical care they need to live a normal life. We don’t want to compete with other U.S. families to get a child that will already get a great home… and 3) children adopted from China tend to be a bit older and we don’t mind that… Again we don’t want to compete for adopting a healthy newborn here in the US.

    1. j

      Keep on with your adoption!!! My husband and I just got home with our little gal from China two weeks ago. We endured a lot of the same comments over the past 30 months. Follow the path you are called to.

  2. Angela

    Thank you for taking the time to write this. My family initially set out to adopt through foster care but changed our minds after doing tons of research. We chose China instead. I had no clue how it all worked. I don’t blame others for wondering the same thing. By the way, we went to an informational afternoon with a social worker and were told that we would have to take a foster child to jail if that child’s parent was incarcerated and if that child’s parents had visitation rights. That stuck with us.

  3. lifewithkaishon

    This was a very good summarization of adoption statistics. Thank you for taking the time to share.

  4. onerebelheart

    Very well said! I’ve heard some of those comments in the nine years since we adopted our daughter from China. When someone asks me why we didn’t adopt in the US, I tell them that sounds like such a fantastic idea, THEY should do that. I tell them where they should start the process and that I’ll be right here cheering them on. Then they start hemming and hawing about why they can’t. It is so easy for people to question the choices of other people rather than examining their own motives.

  5. justjulie643

    Thank you for your words! I wonder if the article you reference was about our second adoption? I had someone comment exactly what you echoed here. You are right…NEVER read the comments! I wasn’t offended,(okay maybe I was a little) I know people just are not educated in the process.

    1. minefam Post author

      I believe it was, Julie! Aren’t our sons from the same orphanage? You posted recently on your blog and I clicked through to the newspaper article. It was too old to bother reply to but it turned into good blog fodder.

      1. minefam Post author

        Yes he is. We are both in the LYG facebook group. I believe you traveled just a little bit before us. We met our son in early September.

  6. TEC4

    I’m curious. Is there a difference in how age is handled in US Foster Care adoptions v. International adoptions? I’m past the point of having biological children of my own (couldn’t anyway) and have considered adoption. Could someone point me to some resources on this?

    1. minefam Post author

      Do you mean the age of the child or the age of the adopting parents? I believe in both foster and international adoption you can specify the age range you are interested in adopting. As far as the age of the adopting parent, each country sets their own criteria but many will allow parents to adopt well into their 50’s, especially for an older child. I think it varies by state in the US.

  7. Sarah B

    The whole premise of the “take care of our own” comment presumes that adoptions are acts of charity, and that those actions are best done in our own country. I take issues with this – children should be adopted for being wanted for who they are, not part of God’s mission to “save” children or some liberal agenda to cut back on population growth (although some of these ideologies certainly do play into why one chooses to build through adoption and not another way). Great response to this ignorant statement. I think many are still thinking this is the 1990s when international adoption was much, much more common than it is now.

    Don’t even get me started on the “my tax dollars” argument. There are plenty of things the federal government does with my money that I could gripe about, but I dutifully pay them anyway.

  8. Brooke

    Love this! This is one of the questions we’ve been asked a lot in the last 15 months we’ve been in the process of adopting our son from an Eastern European country. Because our son is 8 (7 when we started) and has some special needs, I think people wonder even more why we didn’t ‘just’ adopt from foster care since we wanted an older child. In 15 months my skin has gotten thicker and I’ve learned to answer the question with grace, using a lot of what you talked about above, though I still sometimes have to bite my tongue when someone is rude in how they ask. The truth is there is no or easy way to adopt. I’ve watched friends have their hearts ripped out by foster to adopt situations. I’ve watched another spend three years tied up in the legal system to make their daughters legally their’s (They are now though praise the Lord). My go to answer now is just “That’s where our son is, if God had put him in China or TX that’s where we’d be going!”

  9. MaryAnn Day

    great post, but a slight correction on the adoption credit. It is a tax credit so it is not just like a deduction taken for giving donations. You actually get your tax money back up to the amount you spent on the adoption. just a minor correction and yes, this questions is common and can be asked with grace or in a critical spirit. I have heard both.

    1. minefam Post author

      The tax credit was only refundable for a short amount of time, but either way it is your own tax money that you receive back, correct? I think people like the original commenter are thinking it works like the Earned Income Credit where you can receive more back than you pay in.

      1. Mike

        Yes, it was only refundable for 2010-11, meaning you could potentially get back more than you paid. However, a tax “credit” is still a significantly better benefit than a tax deduction, which was how it was described in the article. But regardless, you are still just getting to keep more of your own money, rather than taking “MY tax dollars” as the person claimed.

        I think it is also worth mentioning (to the anti foreign adoption crowd), that the credit is even more beneficial to those adopting domestically, because unlike for foreign adoptions it can be spread across multiple years, and be claimed even if the adoption is never finalized; you can claim it for just “trying” to adopt domestically. So it isn’t like this is some kind of unfair benefit going only to the people who “don’t take care of our own.”

        Blech! What a terrible phrase. We’ve gotten the “why didn’t you adopt from America” question MANY times. Thankfully we’ve never had to hear that atrocious “don’t take care for our own” phrase in person.

      2. minefam Post author

        I have edited the article to try and correct the tax information since I received several comments pointed out how I was explaining it incorrectly. Thanks for your comment!

  10. tara

    While I agree that adoption is a very personal choice I do disagree with some of your “facts” I am adoptive mom of four kids. Two adopted via domestic adoption and two from foster care. IF you go into foster care to adopt you have to educate yourself and be able to stick to what you want. We wanted a young child with VERY low legal risk that was going to be able to be adopted by us. Both of our kids were discharged right from the hospital to us and NEVER had any involvement with birthfamilies. ALL of the people that went through training and support group with us adopted infants and toddlers. Just as you feel a lot of people have misconceptions about international adoption there are a lot of misconceptions about foster adopt. And my youngest is Chinese! People are CONSTANTLY asking us where she is from and when I tell them what state she is from I get a look of confusion:)

    1. minefam Post author

      Hi Tara, I appreciate you taking the time to leave a comment. I hope if you look over the post again, you will see that I’m saying these are some of the reasons that people give for not choosing foster care. I used words like “perception” and “fears” so I am not saying that those things are facts. I specifically said that I disagreed that all children from foster care are emotionally damaged and that children from other countries somehow come with a clean slate. So I don’t think we disagree as much as you think we do.

  11. Holly

    Love this post. Although we are currently pursuing domestic infant adoption, I would like to someday also pursue international adoption. When people find out we are trying to adopt, the first question is “From where?” meaning from the US or international. I’m to the point where I’m ready to cringe when I tell them domestic (most likely in our state) because I know what’s coming next: “Good, I don’t understand why people go to a foreign country instead of taking care of our own.” I take offense to that. Yes, we chose domestic THIS TIME but I can guarantee you it IS NOT becuase we do not agree with or believe in international adoption as well. Don’t those children deserve homes as well?

    As for foster care, when we started discussing adoption, the first call I made was to our local DHR office and was told that in our state, there was no such thing as a Foster to Adopt program. There was no guarantee that a child would be eligible for adoption and we were afraid that it would be too hard on us and our son to get attached to a child and then it be reunited with its family. We were wanting an infant (at the time, our biological son was 3 years old) and were told that they were usually adopted by their foster parents.

  12. justjulie643

    When I hear this comment from Christians I always think “Really??? Where in the bible does it say ”
    take care of widows and orphans in your own country ONLY????”

  13. Michelle Johnson

    We’ve had the same questions and issues, and I have had to educate people on some of the realities of foster care in our state. We’ve adopted 5 kids from foster care and 1 child from China, and have fostered for 12 years. It is emotionally tough, especially when we have had kids for a year that we love and have cared for, and then you have to prepare those same kids to return to their bio families. Our state doesn’t have foster-to-adopt, only foster, so you have no assurances that the children you are parenting will be legally free. We feel that no matter how hard it is on us, it’s harder on these children, and it’s our responsibility as Christians to take care of these children.

  14. Nate

    This is definitely a familiar situation. I would definitely side with the age group thing. People don’t realize that every kid cannot go to every family. Moreover, every U.S. Foster kid will have access to food, shelter and care, but some foreign orphanages keep kids in diapers and on bottles until they are 4+. Finally, I have never had a foster parent ask me why I would want to dopt internationally over foster. They have nothing to prove.

  15. Annie

    Thank you SO much for this!!! You perfectly articulated my thoughts + more!! Bookmarking it for the next time I hear this. xoxo

  16. Lisa

    We DID try to adopt first from Foster care. We had more trouble with the other Foster Parents then the kids. We were placed with a foster son who was 6 and another foster family had his sister who was 2. We were appalled at the competitive nature of the little girls Foster Mom. She demanded to the social worker that when the kids were reunified she wanted both kids. She made a scene, as we just stood there shocked. She could care less about the boy and only wanted him to get the girl. Sadly, because the boy had difficulties in every prior foster home he was in and did exceptionally well with us, we would have been considered the first choice for both kids and we knew this would mean hell for us. We already had biological boys and loved boys so for us, it sickened us that she only wanted him to get her hands on the girl. We were open to both genders but preferred boys. I know for hubby and I, this completely turned us off, after two years we were done! And not to mention, in our state, they pushed fostering and really discouraged us adopting, even though we told them we only wanted to adopt. Their need was fostering and to go outside that was not what they wanted.
    People may think, oh just foster but getting attached to a child whom leaves or having a child with serious behavior issues is most peoples idea and why they don’t try it, but no one will tell you, Lots of foster parents prefer girls and it’s a blood bath, hornets nest to get in the middle of that. And foster care agencies WILL discourage you from adopting as the minute your home closes to fostering they have little families to call for future kids. The agency social worker was wonderful but the agency he worked for was awful. They used tons of mind games on us to try to get us to foster. Then people ask why don’t do foster care, because in most cases it’s all a bunch of chasing nothing and getting nowhere. Does that mean it’s impossible, no. But after we told the agency sternly, we just want to adopt again, we were treated as if we no longer were qualified. They eventually told us they no longer needed us. Which was funny, because we had already told them, if we can’t pursue just adoption we were done. Foster care families need to be open to a lot of junk which is why people want a definitive end in sight. We ultimately ended up choosing China, and are currently on our fourth adoption from there. So yes we’d love to adopt from the USA but in our case, it didn’t work. And in the end, we wanted to adopt and so we went the route that allowed us to do that.


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