Ask AW: “Things I Have Learned…”

Ask AWAs the international adoption community continues to grow and the research along with it, we see more and more how complex adoption is. There are a number of sources on the internet, each with a slightly different version of their “truth” adoption. It can be hard to separate the fact from the fiction when researching options. Here are some truths I’ve learned since starting to work at America World.

1. “Special needs” doesn’t necessarily mean what you think. “Special needs” is a designation put on an orphan’s file by their birth country’s government. While any “need” a child has is important to recognize, many times these terms scare families. I want to emphasize that many countries define “special needs” very differently than the U.S. Many of the needs we see are minor and/or correctible medical needs. The designation covers a wide range of needs, from the minor medical needs to severe medical and/or developmental. Also, a healthy child who is older may also be considered a special need case. The more moderate to severe needs are closer to what we consider “special needs” in the U.S. such as dwarfism, Down syndrome and autism. This would include significant developmental concerns or having a combination of medical needs. 

2. “Healthy” doesn't necessarily mean what you think. Every child that is available for adoption had a family at one point in their life–a family different than their forever family. When talking about international adoption, this means the child at some point has entered into the care of an institution. Institutional care affects children no matter if the child is there for 6 months or 5 years, and even if he or she has a “healthy” physical status. The lack of individual attention, not developing an attachment bond, as well as lack of proper nutrition, all have lasting effects on a child and manifest in various ways. Every child is different and every adoption is unique. Each child will come home with the lingering effects of his or her time spent in institutional care. Adoption is part of their story, not the beginning of it.

3. The “child request” can be an awkward topic. Inevitably when you start considering adoption, you have to ask and answer the questions about the child you are looking to bring into your home. This may feel awkward because it may feel like you are including one orphan and excluding others when, at the end of the day, the objective is to provide a family for a child that does not have one–any child. However, if you have 4 children in a rural community, it may not be realistic or wise to adopt a child who will need regular specialized care since your community may lack that resource. Forming a child request is more about knowing yourself, your family, and what you can realistically handle than the children available. America World, like many agencies, helps families determine not only their eligibility for certain countries, but also talks about what it takes to care for specific needs and the family’s capacity to meet them. In the home study, social workers will talk with families, observe their homes, and go over the family’s detailed application to help the family discern key factors, such as whether special needs is something the family can take on, or whether a country with stricter eligibility requirements is a good fit. Some of these conversations may feel uncomfortable but, they are necessary and worth having.

4. Adoption is an every day decision. It’s important to understand that adoption is not a one-time decision. It comes down to making that decision daily, especially when the child is in your home. Their behavior might not be what you expected, or the child comes home and has a medical need that was not diagnosed. Maybe it has been going great for 5 or 10 years and now the child is a teen and has a lot of identity questions. Recognize that adoption is a lifelong process; it is a lifelong thing–be ready for that. Your family will change as much, if not more, as when you introduce a biological child. It’s not about a child fitting into your little family; it’s about adjusting to the child as well. 

5. International adoption is not for everyone, and that’s okay. It is great to see the church step up and meet the calling in James 1:27. It is easy to hear the call to care for the vulnerable and the orphan and immediately think adoption is the answer. While adoption is a great response, it is not the only response to this biblical calling. Orphan care is a vast domain, and your individual calling may or may not specifically be adoption.  It may or may not be international adoption. There are so many ways to get involved: by giving financial support to help families so they can remain together, providing respite and supporting families who are called to adopt, helping in an after-school program, mentoring a young mother or student, even choosing to buy a more expensive coffee to help fund orphan care projects! 

One adoptive father summed up adoption this way,

She was born into a family, but all that fell apart. Adoption became the mechanism which gave her life a chance at healing and restoration. People on the outside see healing and restoration, and completely forget that adoption is born out of horrible, unspeakable loss. While adoption points to something beautiful, it also points to the fact that something already in her story went way, way wrong.”


This is one of the biggest truths I have learned working at America World Adoption Association. But instead of discouraging me, it brings me more joy and encouragement to know that we are asked and have the privilege to be His hands and feet (and arms that hug) to others. Through the strength of Christ, we are able to bring a little bit of the healing and beauty of heaven into our own little worlds and be a part of His grand restoration story.

– by Jennifer Van Ee,
Director of Intake,
America World 



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