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International vs. Foster Adoption- Can’t we all just get along?


I had a conversation with a pastor who was looking to start a ministry to recruit foster parents and support foster children and families in crisis within his church.  We were talking about the needs of these different groups and how he can be communicating to his congregation the realities of their situations.  He was telling me that he thought this should be pretty easy because the church had a number of families that had adopted internationally.  Surely if a group of people have been touched by the needs of an orphan across the world, they will readily jump at the chance to help a child in need down the street, right?  If only it were that simple.

Having done international adoption first and then adopting two kids from foster care, this is an issue I have seen from both sides.  I have spent time explaining the needs of international orphans to those experienced in foster care.  I have spent time explaining the needs of the foster children in our community to those who have adopted internationally.  I have had frustrating moments in those conversations where I see somebody minimizing the true, heartbreaking needs of a child.  That feels very personal to me, because whether they realize it or not, they are talking about my child.  They are explaining how one of my kids would have been fine without any intervention or how one of my kids isn’t their responsibility.

So here’s what I wish my friends in both communities could understand:

For my foster parenting friends:

We live in an amazing country.  When our society becomes aware of the needs of one of our children by their entry into the foster care system, a host of services become available to them.  They have access to a free and appropriate education, medical care, food aid, clothing and housing.  Obviously this is the ideal and sometimes the helps meant for a child do not go where they are supposed to, but as a society we strive to meet the needs of our neediest.  This is not true for the child waiting in a orphanage today.  I have often thought that my Liberian son so rarely gets sick and is such a survivor because those were the only kinds of kids who even survived long enough to be born in spite of a mother’s extreme malnutrition and lack of prenatal care, to make it out of a desperate home situation and into an orphanage, and to struggle through life in an environment where there were more children than there was food or arms to carry them.  That is the story of the child who made it into my arms.  He was blessed to be taken to a hospital when malaria nearly claimed his life.  Many other children weren’t so lucky.  There is no guarantee of food, clean water, safe housing.  An education may seem like a faraway dream for the orphaned child.

Yes, there are needs in our community that need to be met, but we can NOT begrudge the family who feels God’s call to  care for that child in Africa, or China, or Bulgaria whose very life hangs in the balance if a family doesn’t step up and bring him into their own family.  We need to offer support to those families who are entering into this form of ministry through family building.  The biggest support we can be before that child comes home is to offer financial help.  This kind of adoption is very expensive, but these kids are worth it!  After the child comes home, foster families have SO much wisdom to offer!  We had the benefit of knowing our kids and their issues before committing to their adoptions, so we can help coach, mentor and encourage those parents whose kids have come from hurting places and who may have brought with them issues their parents were unprepared to deal with.  If we cut ourselves off from those parents because we think they spent unnecessary time and money when they could have just helped a child in our neighborhood, we will be cutting off a support of understanding and education those parents will desperately need.  I don’t think the Bible gives us an option to take a pass on offering that encouragement just because we think they should have gone the same route we did.


For my international adoption friends:

It can be easy to look at the desperate situation your child was in and to think the needs of the foster child don’t hold a candle.  These American kids will get cared for, so why shouldn’t we pour all our resources into saving the lives of the children in orphanages?  But how does God see it?  Is the soul of the child in China more important than the soul of the child in Denver?  Yes, as a society we look to meet the needs of the kids who need help in America, but what about the needs you can’t pay anybody to meet?  The government can supply food, safe (hopefully) housing, education.  But what about love?  What about the emotional stability and safety a child can only get from loving, committed parents to help them meet their full potential?  What about an understanding of their worth in the eyes of God?  Is the government going to take care of that for the child down the block who is currently living with a foster family that is glad for the money, but not emotionally invested in this child?  We NEED quality foster parents and parents adopting from foster care to step up for these children.  When instead of a multi-thousand dollar investment, all it takes is a couple weeks of classes and a homestudy to be qualified to change the life of a child, what is the excuse for the family who says they take the needs of hurting children seriously?

I am especially concerned when I see a pre-adoptive family with a strong sense of sentimentality about international orphans.  This is a family that wouldn’t dream of bringing in an eight year-old foster child because of all the “baggage” they must surely have that could negatively effect the children already in their home, but they have no problem bringing in an eight year-old institutionalized child from another country.  Let’s be sure we are not contributing to the further stigmatization of foster kids by thinking international orphans are pure, innocent and grateful while foster kids are damaged goods.  Children from hurting places carry those scars and need our love and support to experience healing no matter what continent they come from.

If you are not called to foster parent, be supportive of those who are!  Do NOT fall into the temptation of minimizing this good work.  Realize that your experience taking on a child who came with a life history before you uniquely qualifies you to coach, mentor and encourage those parents adopting from foster care who are concerned about bonding or attachment or how to interpret negative behaviors.  You may have experience in dealing with the issues of being a multiracial family, or information on resources in the community to help kids connect to their culture or deal with grief.  You could be a valuable resource for the foster and adoptive parents around you if you are willing to invest in creating community.


Overall, I know God calls different families with different strengths to care for the needs of His children.  What a great example of community we can be if we stand together to strengthen our commitment to kids, whoever they are and whatever their needs.



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  1. Thanks, Maralee! I never did get why it had to be “either/or” – if everyone who heard God’s voice on the matter listened, this wouldn’t be an issue. As an internationally adoptive parent, I will do whatever I can (that God calls me to) to support foster families. And of all the foster parents I’ve run across…I’ve only had ONE say something in judgment over my family’s call to go overseas. Most have been very gracious and supportive.

    Honestly, I am getting tired of the “buy American” mentality that comes from those outside the adoption circle. It’s easy for them to cast stones at international adoptive families with “let’s take care of our own”…but I must ask…what are they doing?

    Need knows no boundaries…and children in Africa are no less worthy of love and family than children down the street. Let’s just take care of kids. Period.

  2. Well put. As a new foster family who has friends who have adopted “locally” and internationally, I guess I was too niave to realize that this kind of compitition was going on. Each of us are called to fulfill a part of God’s command and of His Kingdom. Why do we feel it our duty, our right to think our job is better than another persons. God has equipped each of us and each of our families differently to minister to a different group. We should celebrate the sameness in God’s calling and celebrate the diffences in where we are called to minister. Whether foster, adoption, mentor, supporter or something else.

  3. I also agree that it doesn’t need to be either/or. Most families pick one or the other due to fears or things that scare them about one of the processes. That is why education on both processes is important to successfully parent either. Before adopting internationally, we looked into foster to adopt, but didn’t believe our hearts could survive losing a child if the adoption would fall through – yep, fear. We adopted an infant first time, an older child second time and would consider fostering a teen domestically in the future. We have only reached our own emotional milestones through experience and research.

    There is no bad way to a love a child.

    Thanks for your insights 🙂

    • I love this, Nancy. I think there is a lot of fear that drives people away from foster adoption. I think it’s something that needs to be addressed when people are considering their options. There is no option that doesn’t require risk of one kind or another. I’m so glad you’ve been able to invest in the lives of kids that need you and you’re willing to consider the needs that still exist for older kids.

  4. My family is trying to adopt thru foster care. It has been six months of delays, frustration, classes, Dr. visits, paperwork, and prayer, and we still aren’t finished yet. While we may not be shelling out thousands of dollars and spending weeks over seas, we are still putting in our time. We are not called to adopt internationally, nor do we have the money. It is our opinion to adopt “locally”, but do not begrudge anyone who does.

    The biggest thing I have felt from people is from the fact that we have three bio kids already. Either people think we have too many kids already, or think we shouldn’t adopt if we can have more kids the more traditional way. I feel God has another child for us. I feel I have a daughter some where that I need to find. Is that so awful?

    What ever your choice in adoption try not to look down on others’ choices. It all boils down to a child that needs a home and a family willing to bring them home and love them. Infant, domestic, international are all children.

    • So true, Heidi! I’m so sorry your process has been so complicated! I know we were frustrated with the hang-ups in our process, but on the other side we can see how each one of those obstacles put is in the right place to be ready for our kids when they were ready for us. And I’m bummed you’ve felt pressure that you shouldn’t adopt because you have bio kids. That’s nuts. There is SUCH a need for families to adopt through foster care and so many waiting kids! I’m glad you’re pursuing this.

  5. Thank you! I hear this so often. I just wrote about it recently. http://grtlyblesd.blogspot.com/2012/11/our-adoption-story-why-not-adopt-here.html Our situation is a little different, but I feel like I have a foot in each camp. let’s support each other in RAISING the kids and quit snipping at each other over where they came from.

    • Thank you for sharing your story! It was great to see through your blog post how you were just open and ended up in China. It’s amazing how sometimes what we’re planning isn’t at all what ends up happening.

  6. Thank you for this post. Like others, I have found that 95% of the judgement comes from those who have never adopted or fostered at all. That judgement is easier to ignore. I think why we do what we do is hard to explain to others–mostly because it’s awfully personal, and really nobody’s business. My closest parenting friends are all facing their own struggles–no matter how those children came into their family. We just all need to give each other more slack.

    • Amen, Susan! We’ve got to take a lot of critiques about our personal decisions with a grain of salt, especially when it comes from people who haven’t experienced it or done the research yet. Those are the times we “get” to be educators 🙂

  7. I agree with almost all of what you said – both foster and international adoptive parents deserve our support. The only exception is this line about those adopting internationally:

    “The biggest support we can be before that child comes home is to offer financial help”.

    Yes, the costs of adopting from overseas are huge — but adopting is a privilege NOT a right. Hard working, middle class families without trust funds regularly save up $25k for things that are really important to them like down payments, money to allow for a 6 month maternity leave following the birth of a biokid, etc. $500/month for 4 years. If they really, truly wanted to adopt internationally, why aren’t they willing to pay for it themselves?? Giving these folks $$ just reinforces bad behavior for sooo many reasons, including:

    1. Responsible parents are prepared to care for their kids – that includes financially. And applies to adoptive parents just as much as bio or foster parents. Period.

    2. If anything, costs increase AFTER adoption. Even if you have great insurance, many if not most of the therapies internationally adopted kids need to thrive (really achieve their potential) aren’t covered – PT, OT, international adoption clinic, speech therapy, developmental pediatrician, audiologist, vision clinic, outpatient clinic (more times than I can count), feeding clinic, respite (so you and hubby can take a breather and save your sanity / marriage) and oodles of time off to take the kid to these appointments. Heck, even co-pays at $35 a pop add up quick if your “healthy” kid has 3-5 appointments a week for the first 4 months.

    My friend Rally’s unofficial rule of thumb is that whatever you spent on your international adoption, expect to spend the same over the next 5 years. If you are lucky and your kid doesn’t need $30k of services in the first few years home, you’ll have established a great college fund for him/her!

    (Yes, public school and early intervention will provide some PT, OT and speech therapy… but usually not enough to help your child achieve their potential. Early intervention typically gives 1 hour/week of PT/OT/speech. Ya think that’s enough to help a kid who spent 18 months in a crib to catch up??).

    Any PAP that needs donations to get a kid home does not have the resources they are more than likely to need to ensure the child has the very best chance of settling into a new family/culture/language.

    You cannot tell me that new APs who are in a position to get the services their new kid needs AND to be able to afford a bit of respite (to catch their breath is not more likely to have an adoption that succeeds.

    2. Any PAP who needs to fundraise risks being unable to complete their adoption – which isn’t fair to the kid stuck in limbo. (If the referral is official, said kid is no longer on a database… but isn’t any closer to getting a forever family).

    3. If the PAPs do manage to adopt a kid from abroad, well-meaning folks who donated to the “cause” are very likely to tell the kid “I gave your parents money to buy you!”. So so so awful. For years.

    • Sandee, I really appreciate your feedback. I can tell you’ve given this a lot of thought and you have some very valid points. If adoptive parents think other people should be responsible for paying the costs and aren’t willing to sacrifice, I’m not okay with that. I don’t like to see parents “fundraise” but still buy a new car or take a big vacation. I also agree if adoptive parents aren’t considering the costs of potential therapies and medical expenses, they are being foolish. I hope you didn’t read that sentence to say that the biggest help we can be is to fully fund the adoption of someone who doesn’t want to contribute and who isn’t fully thinking through the longterm ramifications of adoption.
      I can’t speak for every situation, but I can speak for mine. We were working a “ministry” job houseparenting at a children’s home. Our benefits included insurance, housing, and food, but as you can imagine, it paid very little. The final cost of our adoption was just about equal to our entire salary for a year. We would have no problem providing for our son once we got him home, but I can’t imagine how long it would have taken us to save up the money if we had to pay a lump sum up front. Some people we knew decided to help us fund our adoption without us asking. They believe they were obedient to God in “investing” that money in the life of a child. While I have spoken about this gift many times, they have asked me to never reveal their names. I have never once worried they would want my child to know they had helped “buy” him, although their gift will always be part of his story and someday we will tell him who they were. I absolutely take issue with you saying “Any PAP that needs donations to get a kid home does not have the resources they are more than likely to need to ensure the child has the very best chance of settling into a new family/culture/language.” My child has settled in quite beautifully in spite of our need for financial help in bringing him home. I’ll agree that there are some PAPs that may not have the necessary resources, but I think your statement is untrue in at least one situation I have pretty intimate knowledge of 🙂 Obviously it is ideal that parents have the money to fully fund their adoption, afford all necessary therapies, and also pay for respite, but that would eliminate families like mine from adopting. A child growing up in a financially challenged home in America is still MUCH MUCH better off than they would be in an orphanage.
      I know there are lots of other families like mine. I have friends adopting twin girls from the DRC while they are also in ministry in Jordan. How could they afford to adopt without some financial assistance? Does this mean they shouldn’t adopt or won’t be the perfect family for those babies once they get home? Are they not “willing” to pay for it themselves? They are sacrificing to make it happen, but they are going to need to have some level of dependence on others believing they are doing the right thing and being willing to financially support it.
      I have seen a positive development over the last couple years where people are providing services or hand-making products to sell to help fund their adoptions. I’m a big fan of this as a way to allow others to help while still sacrificing and investing yourself. As a Christian I feel it’s important for prospective adoptive parents to give opportunities for the Body of Christ to fulfill their obligation to help orphans by financially supporting adoption. We are not all called to adopt, but we need to be supporting orphans. This is a way that can be done, along with other orphan care ministries.
      I think it is wise to consider the cost of potential therapies, but I wouldn’t say that should keep someone from adopting. You’re right that many therapies can come through the public school system for free, which is what we have been blessed to use with success with one of our children adopted from foster care. Amazingly enough, our internationally adopted child has so far required no therapy other than a very involved and educated stay-at-home mom. Raising a child (bio or adopted) will always be a financially risky proposition and who of us is ever fully financially prepared to take that on? If we all waited to have kids until we could afford every possible unknown, I’m afraid childrearing would be left to only the very wealthy. I totally agree that responsible parents should be prepared to care for their kids, but we can’t always know what exactly that’s going to entail. I would hate for the potential costs of therapies or medical interventions to scare somebody away from adding to their family. We certainly don’t assume people are considering those potential costs when they decide to get pregnant and we wouldn’t dream of chastising somebody for birthing a medically expensive child that challenges their resources. We add to our family and then we do what we have to do to make sure our kids get the services they need. That’s the same for adoption or pregnancy. I have known a lot of families who have needed help to afford to adopt, but I can’t think of a single one that then couldn’t afford to feed that child or get them reasonable medical services or therapies. Maybe it’s because they had some help with the adoption costs that they’ve had the resources to afford the necessary services.
      I wish we could sit and dialogue about all this, Sandee. I bet we would find a lot of areas of agreement. It’s clear you have a lot of passion and education about this topic and I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts.

      • Maralee – You bring up many good points. It is great that you and your missionary friends who’ve adopted have had their new children integrate beautifully into their families without much in the way of additional assistance.

        I, unfortunately, regularly come across folks who adopted and find themselves unable to provide basic necessities to their new kid:

        This AP can’t afford a wheelchair for her new kid that uses one and is *fundraising* (she solicited donations for post-adoption *diapers* too):


        This family got home with a 14 yr old from China and immediately started fundraising to send her to an unlicensed “ranch” for international adoptees with attachment disorder:


        This AP was fundraising for medical expenses *before* she completed her adoption of a beautiful little Russian girl with DS and a serious heart defect:

        This family fundraiser for post-adoption reports (before the adoption was even completed) and continues to fundraise to cover basic *copays* and MRIs (basic medical care) for the boy’s she adopted over the summer:

        The list of well-intentioned but irresponsible APs seems endless. And it just plain breaks my heart to think of a little orphan-no-more girl, who now has a forever family…. That can’t take her places for lack of a wheelchair.

        • I see what you’re saying and I agree it’s sad if a family doesn’t have the finances to pay for necessities. The lady asking for diapers is particularly troubling. And of course it makes me a little bananas to think about a child coming home and immediately going to a “ranch” situation, especially as a former houseparent in that kind of a setting. I haven’t had a chance to read through all these links, but I plan on spending some time doing that tonight. There’s a chance reading the specifics could change my opinion, but I’ll tell you why I may not be as bothered about all this as you are.
          I am not going to adopt a child with Down Syndrome right now for a lot of reasons (or any other major medical issue, but we’ll use DS as an example). BUT I desperately want those kids who would otherwise spend their lives institutionalized to be able to have a family. I’m sure you’ve seen the sad, malnourished, uneducated kids with DS who will spend the rest of their lives in an orphanage/institution/hospital if they don’t find families. Because I believe these kids should be adopted, but I’m aware of the challenges (financial and otherwise) I want to be supporting families who believe this is their call since I know it isn’t mine right now. I believe even a poor, loving family in America is a better situation than the orphanage. The lists of waiting children are evidence that families aren’t lining up to take the kids with the major medical problems, so it’s not as though the options are a wealthy family or a family with less resources. It may be the family with less resources or no family at all. It’s sad if a family doesn’t have the money for a wheelchair, but is that really worse than her having no wheelchair AND still being institutionalized? If they don’t have the money for a wheelchair, what should they do? Is it okay for them to ask for donations?
          I have a friend who had a biological child who was diagnosed with CP and they were unable to afford the specialized wheelchair they were told would be best for him. They let people know about this need and friends and family jumped at the chance to help. I don’t think that makes them irresponsible. They were humble enough to ask for help and people wanted to contribute. So I don’t see this as just an adoption issue, but more about allowing people to be generous in situations where they can be a help when you’ve reached the end of your abilities. I don’t think by financially helping in that situation any of us were contributing to their financial irresponsibility, but easing some of the burden on a family already walking a really tough journey.
          Honestly, I don’t love the whole “fundraising” thing and it makes me especially irritable of it seems the family does have the money, but doesn’t want to spend their own money on the child. BUT I’m not willing to say it’s never okay or that parents should be financially prepared for every possible reality before adopting. I do appreciate you sharing your perspective about this and being willing to dialogue with me about it.

          • I agree, Maralee! unfortunately people will take advantage of the system, its true, but I have seen with my own eyes babies two to a crib who NEVER get held. they are fed and changed as quickly as possible and dumped right back in. There is NO way you would ever convince me that it is better they stay in that situation, than that they go to live with a loving family who may need to ask for help at times. I would LOVE to adopt; However, there is NO way that we can afford the incredible expenses and I find it offensive to hear that a baby would be better off suffering in an orphange or a string of foster homes or a shelter or wherever the circumstances dictate, than to be loved and cared for and have a place to belong forever. If you don’t feel called to help others financially, that’s your prerogative, but I think its very judgemental to say that you shouldn’t ask for help or that people shouldn’t give if they have the financial means and desire to help in that way. not everyone can or is willing to adopt, but they can still make a difference in the lives of children.

        • Sandee-

          Please take a look at this site: http://fundraisingcoach.com/free-articles/fundraising-in-the-bible/

          All of the resources in the world are God’s. Not mine, not yours, not hers, not his. If people wish to fundraise, I will gladly give what I can to fund one more child having a place to call home. It’s not my job to police the AP’s budgets and judge them for how they use the funds.

          Internationally adopted children often do have extraordinary medical needs that the institutions from which they came could not afford to treat. Their diagnoses may be minimized in order to place them with an overseas family who has greater access to medical care and yes, fundraising, whether those funds were raised through the AP’s own employment or otherwise. You have wasted a precious resource, your energy and the energy of those who read your post, on judging the kind efforts of others, efforts we to which we are all called.

  8. Maralee – In terms of an international adoption, the vetting of PAPs is in place to determine if they are able to care for an additional child. All that is examined is if the AMERICAN family can adequately care for an additional child. Not the best care in the universe, but adequate care. Period.

    The vetting process does not (and should not) take into account whether said kid would be better off with the American adoptive family than in an institution. (If the goal was to put each kid in the Best Famiky on Earth, then there’s an argument for taking each and every American newborn from their birthparents, assessing all the parents in America and assigning that kid to the empirically determined “best” family, even if it wasn’t the one that birthed him/her. Ummmm, NOoOOoo).

    So it’s a moot point, this kid in institution abroad vs kid with in adequately prepared US family.

    But it does come down to what is considered “adequate care” when approving a homestudy for a US family.

    To me, a family that’s adopting a kid in a wheelchair should be able to provide the basics – a wheelchair, a home that can accommodate the kid’s wheelchair and a car that can transport the kid and the chair. It doesn’t have to be a fancy wheelchair, the house doesn’t need an elevator (a wooden ramp into the house and a house with his bedroom, bathroom and the kitchen on the main floor would do fine). If the family owns a car and uses it to transport themselves, it’s pretty reasonable to expect them to be able to transport the new kid in a wheelchair – to me. These are basic requirements.

    To me, there’s also a difference between having a “homemade” kid with a disability and setting out to adopt one. There is NO requirement for bioparents to demonstrate they are capable of caring for the kid they “made”, regardless of whether the kid has disabilities or not. Adoptive parents are required by law to DEMONSTRATE they can adequately care for a kid with a specific disability.

    Chipping in to help a family buy a wheelchair (or an iPad as commutation device or extra speech therapy or whatnot) for their adopted or biological child is a lovely, thoughtful gesture – I’ve no issue with that (and have happily contributed money to friends to help them acquire something that will make their child’s life better).

    Giving money to well-intentioned PAPs who are unable to provide the basics to a kid (even if said child is in a bad institution abroad) is just reinforcing bad, irresponsible behavior.

    • Sandee, we’ll probably have to agree to disagree at this point. I realize the vetting process isn’t meant to determine if a child is better off in an orphanage, but MY motivation for feeling okay financially supporting has to do with the understanding that it’s better for the child to be in a loving family. If my money can help a child get into a family more quickly, I don’t mind contributing even if the family is less well-off than would be ideal. I agree that a family adopting a child in a wheelchair should be able to equip their home so it is wheelchair accessible, BUT I don’t have a problem if it’s their church body that comes out to the house and volunteers time and supplies to get the house ready.
      Ultimately, I feel like this is a debate between the difference between the ideal and the real. I think what you’re describing is absolutely the ideal. If every adoptive family could be in that financial position, that would be amazing. But the reality is that some families have the necessary tools to effectively parent an adopted child, but don’t have the money. Other families don’t have the necessary tools to effectively parent an adopted child, but they do have the money. It is humbling to ask for financial help, but if you have a community of people around you who believe in what you’re doing and want to support it, I don’t have a problem with that. I have specifically not chosen to financially support some families that I’m connected with that have pursued adoption because I’m not sure it is the right road for their family. (Of course, there are other families we haven’t been able to support not because we don’t agree with what they’re doing, but because we are not at this point independently wealthy.) Anybody can ask anybody else for money. Whether we respond by giving money is a reflection of our belief in the rightness of what they’re doing. Hopefully, families who are doing this for the right reasons will have the support of their community and those who are going into it unprepared will not get the financial help they need as people adequately discern the situation. Just like in everything else, people vote with their money. You don’t have to support anybody’s adoption that you don’t agree with and I totally support you in that. I might make different choices and I think that’s okay. Without the help of a generous couple we wouldn’t have been able to bring home our son, which I’m sure colors my perspective in all of this. I hope you can forgive them for reinforcing our “bad, irresponsible behavior” 🙂

  9. Look at the Reuters stories about rehoming children from international adoptions, one mother who admitted doing this actually said she hated her adopted child so much she didn’t care is the person she rehomed the child was with was a serial killer. People are adopting children where food is a scare commodity and then can’t cope with them having food issues, what else do you expect of a child who has starved all their live? Not to mention that a lot of children in orphanages are not orphans at all but are still in contact with their parents. Let’s also talk about these kids who are told they are going to america for an education who found out that they had been adopted when they got their changing their names against their will and expecting gratitude for the lie.

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