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Crisis calls for a radical increase in international adoption of African orphans, BYU study finds

Despite the challenges faced by parents and children involved in international adoptions, new research by a Brigham Young University professor shows that the AIDS epidemic and African orphan crisis leave consideration of intercountry adoption as an imperative.

Jini Roby, an associate professor of social work at BYU, points out the problems and benefits of intercountry adoption in her article in the most recent issue of the journal "Social Work." Previous dialogue on the subject asserted that the extended family was adequately caring for orphaned children, patterned after African tradition. Roby's study, coauthored by BYU student Stacey Shaw, disputes these arguments and calls for further intervention.

Roby's earlier work found that kin adoptions were previously effective, but the kin system is now saturated and cannot adequately support the growing number of parentless children without external support. Abuse and neglect occurred in some instances. Furthermore, her more recent research indicates that in-country adoption is not likely to increase due in part to cultural and socio-economic factors. She asserts that strengthening the family and community is still the primary goal, but for some children with no extended family, intercountry adoption is a viable solution.

"I have read hundreds of books and articles on the plight of orphans," Roby said. "While there is a healthy discussion of the growing problem and possible solutions, no one wants to address international adoption as a small but powerful solution for some orphaned children."

According to the article, 12.3 million children in sub-Saharan Africa have lost one or both parents. That number is projected to grow to 18.4 million by 2010. Roby, who visited South Africa, Uganda and Mozambique earlier this summer, saw firsthand some of the consequences civil war, poverty, the AIDS epidemic and other diseases are wreaking on African children.

The growing number of orphans has created a need for Americans to examine and consider intercountry adoption, Roby suggests. In 2005, American families adopted 440 orphans from Ethiopia, compared to 7,906 from China. Although only a fraction of China's adoption rate, Ethiopia had more than all of the other African countries combined, according to U.S. State Department figures. Roby attributes Ethiopia's relative confidence in intercountry adoption to its proximity to Europe and the Middle East and the earlier intervention of international aid groups.

Roby summarizes several concerns that have been raised when considering transcultural, transracial adoptions. Psychologists and social workers are concerned with the effects of transracial adoption on children. Roby's previous research shows that although most adoptive parents prefer to adopt children of the same race, some parents seem to take pride in building a culturally diverse family. Roby, who was adopted from Korea as a young girl by white parents, identifies with the importance of racial and cultural identity for adopted children.

"Many experts have expressed concern about placing African children transracially," Roby said. "Although it may not be the ideal situation, a permanent stable home is still the better option."

The National Association of Black Social Workers, which formerly opposed transracial adoption, has since accepted transracial adoption as an alternative, while maintaining that same-race adoptions are preferable.

Another sensitive issue facing intercountry adoption is the number of children already in the U.S. child welfare system. Roby points out that international adoption has not affected domestic adoption rates, as both have increased since 1997. She also suggests that Americans may view the African situation as an international humanitarian crisis. Children in U.S. foster care have minimal guarantees of health care, nutrition and protection, while African orphans do not, Roby said.

"Jini has established herself as an international authority on intercountry adoption," said Kevin Marett, director of BYU's School of Social Work. "She has helped several countries develop and implement adoption laws."

Roby recognizes that intercountry adoption is a stopgap solution to the orphan crisis, but believes "each orphaned child has a story and a life" and deserves more than the international community is giving.

Writer: Noelle Nicolai

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