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Many reasons to adopt U.S. kids

Considering adopting internationally? As a foster and adoptive parent, I urge you to consider domestic adoption through the foster care system. There are literally thousands of children, right here in Washington state, searching for forever families.

Most people don't even consider this option because of the stigma and horror stories about foster care. But the reality is, hundreds of people are building their families this way. Push past your resistance and learn more about domestic adoptions:

  • Adoption through foster care is free, plus there is a $10,000 tax credit available.
  • Kids adopted from foster care receive monthly financial support and free health care both before and after they are adopted.
  • An adoptive family receives the child's entire history. Parents can be sure they know everything about the child's background before they make such an important permanent decision. Knowing the history can be crucial to raising the child successfully; not knowing it can be disastrous.
  • Marital status, sexual orientation and religious preference do not matter. One can be straight or gay, of any (or no) religion, single or married to adopt.
  • Only domestic adoption affords the opportunity for an open adoption. If the birth parent is stable, this can be very beneficial for the well-being of the child.
  • Children available domestically are often physically healthier.
  • There is virtually no risk of corruption.

There has always been press coverage of domestic adoptions "gone wrong." We have all heard of at least one story of a birth parent showing up to reclaim a child. The reality is that this is very, very rare. It should not happen if the adoption is done with a reputable organization. And it only happens when an error is made.

Many adoptive parents fear the risks of prenatal drug exposure for children in foster care. The reality is that while alcohol exposure can cause life-long disability, exposure to other drugs seems not to present the problem once expected. "Drug babies" seem to be fairing fairly well.

Perhaps the greatest risk in adopting any child, domestically or internationally, is attachment disorder. Serious neglect of a child age 0 to 3 can affect brain development. If a child does not bond properly in these early years, he or she will have little empathy, little impulse control or little conscience (for example, stealing and lying will be very common).

This disorder is very evident in institutionalized children, as is the case with so many from other countries. It is simply impossible to meet individual needs in an institutional setting. At least when you adopt through foster care, you will have the information to make an informed decision.

There is much good news about kids in foster care. The research shows the eternal resilience of children. While most foster children are exposed to more than one risk factor, not all develop problems. With an older child in particular, it is very easy to know what issues exist before adopting. The majority of those children who do develop problems are very responsive to consistent, predictable and nurturing caregivers. When this care is combined with early screening, diagnosis and intervention, there is much hope for a healthy, happy and productive life.

Many, many wonderful children in our country need homes. These are the children we have put into foster homes through no fault of their own. When they are removed from their parents, they lose their home, family, siblings, toys, pets, teachers and friends. The effects are devastating. But the damage can be stopped. We know that permanency is the key to breaking the cycle of abuse and neglect.

So, what happens to these kids if they do not get permanent homes? At 18, they "age out," meaning the State no longer provides support. They are expected to make it on their own, find a job, get an apartment and become productive citizens. The statistics are grim, and the resulting costs to our society are staggering. Many of these kids become a part of our homeless population -- or worse, end up in prison -- and many will have their own children for whom the cycle is repeated. The solution is permanency: Every child needs a loving, "forever" home.

So, do you want to build your family and do something really good to help humanity? Look no further than the 120,000-plus children available right now for adoption in the U.S. Find out more about fostering at www.whyfoster.com (1-800-760-5340). And check out the kids who are available for adoption right now through the Northwest Adoption Exchange (www.nwae.org). You can find some real gems. And you won't be sorry.

Ann Lokey lives on Mercer Island. She is a foster and adoptive parent, Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer, foster parent recruiter and board member of the Northwest Children's Fund.

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