The Adoption of Boys

I wanted to add an extra day to this blog series because a reader asked about why there are so many more older boys available for adoption now than there were in the past.   Again, I don’t have any way to look at the entire adoption system as a whole and can only go off of the orphanages we have worked with for years, but I do have some thoughts on why more older boys are now available.

One important thing to remember is that when international  adoptions first began in China in the early 1990s, most (not all, but truly MOST) families wanted the youngest baby possible.  Back then, some families would even turn down the referral of a healthy baby girl if the child was over twelve months of age.  In my first adoption paperwork, I was encouraged to put 0-6 months down as age of child requested, and when my referral came in, my daughter was just five months old.  The reality is that Americans wanted infants and they wanted girls, and so those are the files that orphanages sent to Beijing  Of course there were some boys in the orphanages then as well, but the majority of boys in government care still had some sort of medical need.

It has always been rare for a completely healthy boy to be abandoned, though of course it does happen.   I remember when we first started working in China, many provinces had a limit on the number of children with special needs they would file on.  Back in 2003, one of the orphanages we worked with could send just nine special needs files a year, so they were very selective about which children they filed on as they wanted to make sure the children they chose would actually find families.  Age was classified as a special need for children ages six or older, and so orphanages had to decide whether they would file on an older child or whether they would file on a baby girl who had hearing loss or a missing limb, etc.   Even to this day there are still misconceptions about some special needs “not being adoptable.”  I remember pushing really hard for orphanages to file on kids in our programs with Hep B, for example.  And how excited were we all when children with Down Syndrome were finally allowed to have adoption papers done in China?   Which children foreigners are open to adopting is constantly evolving, and we have seen this reflected in the type of files which have historically been sent by the orphanages.

Alan, who has Down Syndrome and is currently available for adoption.

After putting together our Special Needs Manual five or six years ago, we did several provincial-wide trainings.  Our hope was to encourage orphanages to file on more children with medical needs.  In one province, there were about 100 nannies and directors in the room from around 50 orphanages.  During my talk, when I said that Americans were now open to adopting older boys, there was an audible gasp in the room.  After my talk I was mobbed by nannies telling me about boys in their orphanages whom they thought would never find a home.  Boys with microtia and repaired cleft and mild CP, etc.   I must have said 50 times, “Please file on them!” — and that was just in one province alone.   Afterwards when I was speaking with some officials, they said it was understood by most orphanages in China that foreigners didn’t want to adopt boys, and we all know that for years and years, very few families actually WERE open to this.

When I made the “Adopt a Boy” video, I wasn’t being facetious when I said that being orphaned and a boy was one of the most difficult special needs to overcome.    If an adoption agency got a new list with eight babies who had cleft (four girls, four  boys), the girls would be chosen first and the boys would need special cheerleading.  Thankfully we are seeing that slowly change.  How wonderful that more boys are finding families now!  But we shouldn’t kid ourselves into thinking that the majority of families even today are open to adopting boys from China.  Multiple times I have called an agency to advocate for a boy in our program only to be told, “We don’t have a single client right now open to boys.”

Another thing to consider is that China of course had orphanages way before foreigners became involved with adoption.  Most healthy children from orphanages were enrolled in local public schools.  These kids were often “off the radar” of charities working there because they would  be at school the entire day versus the babies and toddlers who were always right there in the institutions.   In all the orphanages where we initially worked, there were school-aged boys, but few were seriously considered for adoption since as I mentioned above, Americans wanted infant girls.  As the number of healthy baby girls began to decline in the last five to six years, then of course most people involved with adoption began to ask if the older kids could now have files sent.

David and his foster brother Hudson. Hudson was adopted this year, while David still waits.

John, the recipient of an Adoption Assistance Grant, has been waiting for a family for many years.

It is easy to look at the kids we see coming home in our small adoption circles and think vast numbers of older boys are finding families in the U.S.  But how many is it really compared to the entire population of China’s orphans?  There have been many statistics put out in the media in the last few weeks following the foster home fire in Henan.  Even if we go with the lower than expected number reported by China Daily this week — that there are 615,000 orphans in the country with 109,000 in govt orphanages — the international adoption numbers are very depressing.  Americans adopted just 2,500 children from China in 2011, which means that only 2% of all the children in government care that year were adopted to the U.S.   And since over 1,000 of those children were adopted  through the non-special needs path  – that means ALL the special needs adoptions, including the cute baby girls with repaired heart defects and club feet and other “minor” needs,  were only 1% of the total children in institutions.  So in reality, how many older boys aged 10-13 actually found homes in the U.S.?   Just a tiny drop in a huge ocean.  But with 2/3 of the children currently on the shared adoption list being boys, I am grateful for this question being raised, as it shows just how much both orphanage populations and adoption have changed in the last decade.

 ~Amy Eldridge, Chief Executive Officer

Tomorrow:  The rise of domestic adoption and its impact on orphanages.

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28 Comments to “The Adoption of Boys”

  1. Jacki 16 January 2013 at 9:36 am #

    I have two of these wonderful Chinese boys!! One cleft lip and palate, and one it turns out just small for his age! They both love their mama and are the sweetest boys in the world! Please open your hearts to BOYS!!!! They are just as awesome as little girls!!:-)

  2. Gail Daras 16 January 2013 at 10:00 am #

    What a great article about boys. We adopted a boy turning 8 with the special need of a limb difference in Dec 2005. He is now 14 in 7th grade and doing fantastic. I hope more people will read this article and consider boys.

  3. Amy Murphy 16 January 2013 at 10:44 am #

    The gender bias by the adoption community in our country makes me sick. Why? What is the reason no one wants boys? I wish I could go back again and again to adopt more boys. Our boy is the most amazing thing that has ever happened to us!!!

  4. Melissa 16 January 2013 at 10:50 am #

    I am absolutely in love with my very special older boy adopted 5 months ago. What a treasure we have recieved!

  5. Louise 16 January 2013 at 11:06 am #

    Little Boys Rock! I am the proud mom of two of the most affectionate, smart and charming little men to grace us. Every little one deserves to be loved, girls and boys alike!

  6. Kristina Schlecht 16 January 2013 at 11:39 am #

    I just returned from China last year with my little guy. He turns 5 next month and was a special needs child. I am single. He is my third child. My understanding of the current rules is that I can not adopt again from China. Are there any changes coming to increase single parent adoption of special needs children in China?

  7. Karen Wagner 16 January 2013 at 11:53 am #

    I have a China boy also and what a wonderful child. We adopted him when he was two and he was born with a club left foot that was repaired in China.
    I have had him to two different specialist and they both have told me he is in great shape for a club foot. He runs, plays, is the smartest little one I have seen, reading 5-6th grade level in 1st grade. He loves life and his family. He has always known he has a foster family and mentions them from time to time. I also have an adopted girl from Vietnam who is equally as great. Adopt!!! that is a great way to go.

  8. Beth Lux 16 January 2013 at 12:24 pm #

    We have 4 girls from china and 2 boys. We are waiting LOA for a third boy. We cannot afford any more children, and I regret not having more boys! They are absolutely a delight and they keep those stubborn little Chinese princesses on their toes! There is no drama with these guys: what you see is what you get. Our last son, adopted at almost age 11 gets his teacher laughing every day and she is so delighted to have him in her class. We can’t wait to see what our last son will be like.

  9. Linda 16 January 2013 at 12:31 pm #

    Oh my! I’d take that little John in a heartbeat! I am single and currently waiting pre-approval to bring home a 7 year old with a 12 year old girl. Waiting and hoping!!

  10. Jenna Heberle 16 January 2013 at 1:16 pm #

    I am the mother of 4 children, two of whom were adopted from China. One a healthy little girl adopted at 15 months of age in 2004 (and people thought I would be upset because she was over 12 months…I was NOT!), and one healthy little boy adopted at 2 years of age with a cleft palate in 2006. They are smart, loving, beautiful and perfect. Both of them! I am sad to hear of the low % of children being adopted but even more sad to hear that these wonderful boys are waiting and considered ‘special needs’. My son with a cleft was considered special needs as well but my goodness, no one told him that! He’s an amazing amazing child who charms everyone he meets. If I could go back and adopt an older boy, I certainly would…in a heartbeat.

  11. Yetta 16 January 2013 at 1:35 pm #

    9.5 years ago with I first asked about adoption at a local agency, single, never married female I was resigned to fact that I ‘had’ to adopt a girl. For some reason…no, because I had more experiences with boys, was a tomboy as a child, had a little brother to dote on, and a fear that somehow I would not be stylish or ‘girly’ oriented I would be a disappointment to any girl I adopted. Especially as I was drawn to kids ages 3-9 who I thought would have their princess mommy ideals. I was shocked to learn how many boys were out there! Now I have 2 sons (eldest from US foster and younger from Russia). I always go in willing to adopt ‘either’ but end up seeing so many many sons! I tell my friends and family that if I was had all the money in the world I’d have a soccer and a football team full of sons.

  12. Pam Krosley 16 January 2013 at 2:59 pm #

    Our family of 5 decided to adopt 8 years ago and make a conscious decision to not specify gender in our paperwork. We were referred a tiny little boy who changed our life! We are constantly asked how we “got a boy from China”. We recently worked in an orphanage in northeast China with Visiting Orphans and well over half of the children there were boys with special needs. We are now actually in the process of adopting our 5th child from that SWI- a 3 year old boy with clubbed hands. God led me to adopt from China by breaking my heart for the plight of the girls there and has taught me so much by breaking my heart again for the plight of the boys.

  13. Amie 16 January 2013 at 6:46 pm #

    We have been home 1 year with our little boy! He is WONDERFUL! Some people still ask me “How did you get a boy?” The common misconception is that girls are the only ones waiting in China. I am ashamed to say, I had the misconception as well at first. I would trade my boy for the world!

  14. grtlyblesd 16 January 2013 at 6:54 pm #

    We are currently waiting for the referral of a little BOY from China. We have 5 bio boys, so I know how great boys are, and although our first adoption from China was a girl (to the delight of her 2 sisters), I knew once we got there that I wanted a Chinese son, too.

  15. Elisa Criden 16 January 2013 at 8:30 pm #

    Our third child, our handsome and affectionate SON was adopted at nearly two years of age in 2006. He was born with CL/CP which was repaired in China before we met. Special need? Hardly. Special? You bet! I wish I could bring another little boy into our family.

  16. Peg Helminski 16 January 2013 at 9:31 pm #

    In 1997, we went to China with our son Nate who was then 7 to adopt Ben who we were told was three. We picked him from a waiting child list. Nate wanted a live-in best friend, so a boy was preferred, and unlike most people, I wanted to adopt a child who was past potty training. Families who already had one child were required to adopt a SN child. Ben’s stated special need was Strabismes which has now been surgically corrected. He had several other undisclosed special needs however, that cannot be repaired and he will need lifelong support. We also found out he is likely several years older and was severely malnourished–which likely caused some of his delays and his inability to speak. It was a very rough ride for a very long time. It still is not easy. But, he is the sweetest young man and has lived up to his name. Benjamin means, “Son of my right hand.” He is always eager to help, always has a smile and is very caring, always remembering to feed the pets, and always looking out for his parents and his siblings–especially the China princess we adopted two years after him. Every family should be Ben-blessed!

  17. Brooke Wilson 17 January 2013 at 6:21 pm #

    In 2011 we brought home 2 sons from Ethiopia, joining our son and 2 daughters at home. This year we have our dossier in China for a special needs infant son to be named Ben and an older son who is 10, Callahan. Our ET sons are delightful happy boys and we cannot wait to get to China for 2 more. Our agency was shocked when we told them we would only consider boys.

  18. Leslie 18 January 2013 at 9:22 pm #

    Proud Momma to two Chinese boys, adopted TOGETHER in 2010 at ages 10 and 5. One of them was blessed to be in a wonderful foster home. We still KIT with his foster family and were so fortunate to see them again in 2012 when we went back for our baby girl.

    I researched this greatly, Amy, after we brought the boys home. I was shocked to learn that unofficially 7 out of 8 APs, when specifying gender, request ONLY a girl. I contacted 25 well-known agencies with programs for China waiting children, and 10 of them gave me some basic figures from years 2009 and/or 2010. I hope the numbers have changed, but I don’t honestly think they have.

    I really don’t understand it honestly. I had two sons by birth before adopting and was thrilled to have them both. I really don’t understand but I talk to couple after couple who says they are not open to adopting a son. I really have a hard time understanding why a childless couple would not adopt a son, but what agencies told me is that people tell them: “we have always wanted a daughter” or “we already have daughters and that is what we know” or “we have 3 sons and now we want a daughter.”

    So sad. Especially for all the boys who wait.

  19. 2ChinaPearls 21 January 2013 at 6:32 am #

    I am the mother of two children from China, one girl and one boy. I am so lucky to have one of each! They bring med so much joy, each in their own way. Neither of my children are special needs. Being a single mother, my son was therefore a big surprise! I am so happy to be his mommy!

  20. RRR 25 January 2013 at 6:20 pm #

    Thank you for posting this article. It provided some great background and I enjoyed reading all of the comments people have left about their amazing children (BOYS! gasp!). My husband and I are in the process of adopting from China and are so excited to have received a referral for a little boy. We had no gender preference (though I will admit my heart’s desire was for a boy) and couldn’t believe it when our Family Coordinator told us we would receive a referal quickly because of the 70 families “in process” in their China program we were one of 5 who would take a boy. He will be our first child and we can hardly wait!!

  21. A Quay 26 January 2013 at 7:07 pm #

    Thank you so much for this post! It sheds light on a sometimes confusing subject. For our part, the gender bias for girls was not because of preference but because we believed it would be close to impossible to adopt a boy. At one of our post-placement visits for our daughter 3 years ago our social worker informed us to the contrary. We are now in the process of a second adoption and are looking forward to hopefully having a son.

  22. tina 30 January 2013 at 6:07 pm #

    This is a great article! We have 2 bio boys and looked into adopting from China in 2004 because we wanted a girl, and wanted to add to our family through adoption. We finally started the process to adopt from China in 2004-for a baby girl ayap. Then we decided to look into special needs. That’s how we found our 3 yr old boy with radial club hand! 2 years later we returned to bring our 4th son home who was born with no right hand. We are totally blessed!

  23. tina 30 January 2013 at 6:08 pm #

    Oops-first looked into adoption in 1994-not 2004!

  24. regina Blevins 4 February 2013 at 2:20 pm #

    Great set of Blogs! We have an 18y.o. son we adopted from Korea. He has been a wonderful son! We went on to have two birth daughters, and now are in the process of trying to round out our family with an older boy from China. He is 12 and on the waiting cildren’s list and it seems as if we can’t get through the process fast enough….We are so looking forward to growing our family. And trust me with three kids already I know there will be ups and downs but our hearts are ready for the challenge :)

  25. Toni 5 February 2013 at 8:18 am #

    I never could understand this, it just didn’t make sense to me. Still not sure I do.
    The only thing I could figure had to do with adopting an older boy, perhaps if a family has already adopted girls, and didn’t want risk adding a boy to the mix (and all that could ensue without having years of him thinking, “Ewww!… not her, she’s my sister” before the hormones hit).
    Anyway, we have 3 China princesses, the 3rd having a sn. After realizing sn’s weren’t so tough, we started thinking a boy would be nice. So along came our 1st son, then another, and just 1 year ago today :o), our 3rd and 4th sons.
    So I guess with 3 girls and 4 boys, we’ve helped the statistics a bit. I dunno… I just know we are SO blessed with the young lives God has entrusted to us.

  26. Valeria 17 June 2013 at 4:17 pm #

    We are considering adopting from China and we have set our preference to a boy. We were originally thinking about a girl as well, but only the only reason was that girls have it tougher. Depending what country you are adopting from girls are worth just as much as animals. They would never have the opportunity to grow to their full potential. They will always be considered less worth than a man. We changed our mind but I want to believe that most people want girls for that reason.

  27. gail 28 February 2014 at 11:37 pm #

    Good article. I immediately thought, as Valeria has, that people have picked girls because we have been told so many times in the media about the plight of girls in China. That must be a contributing factor. I wish I could adopt but I’m too disabled myself to do it. Great job to all who accomplish this!

  28. Nicole 4 April 2014 at 2:05 am #

    where do I find information about adopting a little boy?


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