Special Needs Adoption From China

The Chicago Tribune has a story today on China's Waiting Child program:
When Megan and Keith Nakamoto started the China adoption process in 2005 they knew they could be in for a wait. Three and half years later, the Lincoln Park couple decided to switch from the traditional Chinese adoption program and adopt a special needs child.

"Who knows? We probably still would have been waiting. It's almost like you see this goal and you want it so badly, but it gets harder and harder and you think it's not going to happen," said Megan Nakamoto, 48, who welcomed her daughter, Tessa, in 2010. "We switched to the special needs program, and then you have a new hope. Then, it's scary all over again because you're adopting a child with special needs."

Experts say more families are choosing to adopt special needs children through China's Waiting Child program, which releases children with minor and significant health issues in as little as a year. Adopting a healthy child from China took one year to 18 months in 2006. Now it can now take more than six years, straining both prospective parents' patience and pockets.

"I think now the biggest change we're looking at is that there are families who are willing to adopt special needs children. That really is the wave of international adoption," said Bob McNeill, an adoption worker at Sunny Ridge Family Center in Bolingbrook.
In China, international adoption for special needs kids is about the only option for permanent family.  Disabilities are considered curses on the family, and is the primary reason for abandonment of special needs kids.  They are, because of that stigma, highly unlikely to be adopted domestically in China. Sometimes, adoption to a Western country is the only way for the child to get needed medical treatment since China puts only limited funds for such treatment in the hands of orphanages. So it's a good thing, isn't it, when internationallly adopting parents choose the special-needs program over the non-special-needs program, right?

One of my perpetual concerns about special needs adoption from China is that folks might be more interested in getting a child quickly than in actually parenting a child with special needs. The desire to "jump the line" by switching to special needs may not be adequately thought out. Prospective parents might be overly optimistic about what special needs entail.  I'll hear prospective parents say things like, "It's just albinism;" or "It's easily corrected with surgery."  Really?  Did you know that albinism comes with an increased risk of congenital heart problems?  Did you know that cleft palate repair might involve a series of surgeries, not just one?  Did you know children with cleft palate often have hearing problems? Have you thought of how you will facilitate attachment when you immediately subject your newly-adopted child to painful surgery with a recovery period that will have you saying no to them frequently, preventing them from touching their mouths, denying them certain foods?

Of course, lots of parents handle special needs like champs.  But are the "line jumpers" really prepared? Does the family have the time, money, health insurance, ability to take off work, emotional wherewithal to handle special needs?  Consider this post about remarks Amy Eldridge of Love Without Boundaries made about unprepared special needs adopters:

Amy also said that adoptive parents need to be prepared before adopting. When they have seen disruptions of adoption in China -- where adoptive parents decide not to go through with a special needs adoption even before returning home -- it's usually because they have not been adequately prepared. She received a call from a family who had switched from the NSN program to the special needs program to adopt a cleft child who had been an LWB child. LWB had repaired her lip, though her palatte repair needed to be done when she was older. Amy knew the child was perfectly healthy, chubby, interactive -- everything you'd want from a institutionalized child. The dad said to her, "Do you know that when she drinks her bottle, milk comes out of her nose?" Duh, yes, Amy knew that and the family would have known that if they had read ANYTHING about cleft-affected children. 

I'm also bothered that those with potentially the least resources -- single parents -- only have the option of special needs adoption from China.  Yes, I'm a single mom and I'm handling two kids.  But given the fact that I'm the only wage-earner in the house, making it difficult to take off for long stretches of time to care for a special needs child; that I have lousy health insurance and don't have t he option of putting the kids on my spouse's plan; that my extended family in the area is only my mom who, as fantastic as she is, is still only one person; that I'm really bad about asking for help; I wouldn't be a very good parent for a special needs child.  That is often -- but not always, I know -- the case with single parents

And if adopting one special needs child would be difficult, how difficult would it be to adopt two at a time?  China used to restrict adoption to one child at a time, except in cases of twins/triplets/etc.  Now, for some hard-to-place special needs kids -- called Special Focus kids -- China allows adoptive parents to adopt a second child at the same time.  That second child can be healthy, special needs or special focus. Here we go again -- in the case of special needs children who potentially need the most support and attention, you're allowed to split your limited resources (EVERYONE has limits on their resources) between two newly-adopted kids, with all that that kind of transition entails. And I've heard prospective adoptive parents talk about this two-fer program as if a healthy child is the "reward" for taking a special needs child, as if the special needs child is the price you have to pay for jumping the line to get a healthy child fast.

Reactions?  What have I gotten wrong?  How to solve these problems?