Adopting from Africa

Lisa Nicita, Arizona Republic (Phoenix), Feb. 25, 2007

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Adoption hot spot

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Of the more than 20,000 international adoptions in the U.S. last year, 732 of them were from Ethiopia, a 66 percent increase from 2005. The State Department monitors the number of immigrant visas issued to orphans to track the number of international adoptions.

International adoptions from Ethiopia have increased for a number of reasons, according to Tami Stewart, adoption program director for Dove Adoptions International.

Sometimes, it’s faster and less expensive compared with other international adoptions or domestic adoptions.

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“A lot of it is the age of families that are looking at adopting right now,” Stewart says. “These are the families that grew up with We Are the World, things like that. There is a sort of history with Ethiopia and the famine and starving.”

Stewart says the Hollywood adoptions have raised awareness about the plight of African orphans, but adoptive families usually take offense to anyone who may suggest they are looking to Africa because it’s trendy.

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“A majority of families are White, and a surprising number already have children,” Stewart says.

Just like the Stannards, who live in the Santan area of Pinal County southeast of Queen Creek. After trying unsuccessfully for a few months to conceive a third child, they looked to adoption. With an aunt living in Kenya, Jill Stannard says Africa was already in her heart.

Adoptions from Russia, Ukraine and Guatemala have made it tough to know if a child is adopted. And with China as the No. 1 destination for American adoptive families since at least 2000, White families with Asian children are becoming much more commonplace.

With the rise in Ethiopian adoptions, seeing White families with African kids will become more common. Mary Ostyn, an adoptive mother who blogs about Ethiopian adoptions, says she thinks tighter restrictions on Chinese adoptions, such as age, weight and income requirements for adoptive parents, also have contributed to an increase in Ethiopian adoptions. But she also thinks the trend speaks to a changing mind-set in America.

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Race concerns

Matthew Whitaker, an associate professor of history at Arizona State University, says the trend is curious. He says it’s wonderful when children who need homes find them, even if it means they may face certain societal challenges as a member of a mixed-race family.

But he says he worries about how those children are shaped and how that family goes about exposing the children to their heritage.

“It’s critical these people teach the kids about their African heritage,” Whitaker says. “They can’t raise them as a chocolate-covered White person. That’s what some folks try to do.”

Whitaker says he knows several White families who have adopted from Africa and have done a wonderful job raising the children by being proactive and making sure they understand their identity.

He says even if an open-minded family insists their eyes do not distinguish between different skin colors, the eyes of children at school will.

Whitaker says it’s important for adoptive families to recognize the differences.

“If that child is not equipped with a real sense of where they fit in the world . . . then problems can ensue,” Whitaker says. “Identity-type problems can ensue, and that’s dangerous.”

Going home

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