More than one in 10 adopted U.S. children born overseas

Friday, August 22, 2003

WASHINGTON -- More than one in 10 of the nation's adopted children was born overseas and the largest number come from Korea, the Census Bureau found in its first report on adoptions.

Experts say many American parents look abroad because the process of adopting foreign children usually is faster to complete. Also, the stigma once attached to parents who adopted a child of a different race or ethnicity has diminished.

Nearly 13 percent, or 200,000, of the country's 1.6 million adopted children, were born outside the United States. By comparison, 4 percent of the 59.8 million children living with a biological parent, or roughly 2.3 million, were foreign-born, according to data from the 2000 census being released today. There also are 3.3 million stepchildren.

Some people look overseas to avoid the legal wrangling that may arise if an adopted child's birth parents fight to reclaim custody, said Patricia A. Hill, executive director of ACTION Inc., an adoption agency in Dayton, Ohio, and mother of 20 adopted children.

"If they go international, they won't have that legal uncertainty," Hill said.

Administrative delays and roadblocks in the U.S. foster care system also can make a prospective parent search overseas, said Thomas Atwood, president of the National Council for Adoption in Alexandria, Va.

Adopting from a foreign country through a well-organized program generally takes a year, Census Bureau analyst Rose Kreider wrote in the 24-page report. Adopting through the foster care system can take several years.

There are indications the domestic adoption process has improved since a 1997 federal law gave states more financial incentive to find quality homes faster for foster children, Atwood said.

The vast majority of adoptions still involve native-born children. But the number of immigrant visas issued by the State Department to orphans coming into the United States for adoption increased dramatically from 1990 to 2000 -- from 7,000 to nearly 18,000.

More than one-fifth of all foreign-born child adopted came from Korea, 47,555, followed by China (21,053), Russia (19,631), Mexico (18,021) and India (7,793).

Adopted children live in homes with higher median incomes than children living with a biological parent ($56,000 versus $48,000) and are more likely to live in homes that are owned (78 percent versus 67 percent). Only 12 percent of adopted children live in poverty compared with 16 percent of the other kids.

Experts say adopted parents generally must show they can adequately provide for a child. Private agencies charge on average $10,000 for adoptions, though the cost can be as high as $40,000, Hill said.

Among other findings in the report:

  • Some 10 percent of adopted children have a mental disability, compared with 4 percent of the other kids.

  • The average age of the parent of an adopted child is 43 compared with 38 for the biological parent of a child. Adopted parents who have trouble conceiving a child naturally often wait until later in life before turning to adoption.

  • Girls were adopted more often than boys -- 835,000 to 750,000. The report said among the reasons are more single women adopt girls than boys.

    The findings are from answers to a question that asked, "How is this person related to the head of household?" Besides "adopted son/daughter," other answers included "husband/wife," "natural-born son/daughter" and "stepson/stepdaughter." The 1990 census did not separate "natural-born" and "adopted."

    The new report examines only children living with an adoptive, biological or stepparent.

    The Health and Human Services Department asked the bureau to add "adopted" as an option to keep better statistics of families.

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