By Venus Lee
December 22, 2007
For years, China has been the Asian superpower when it comes to adoptions, but Vietnam is becoming a viable option for Americans seeking to adopt a child. Nguoi Viet 2 has a four-part series looking at the history of Vietnamese adoptions, at the cost and the waiting time of the process, the experience of traveling to Vietnam to pick up a child, and then how the youngsters assimilate into American culture.
Earlier this year, Angelina Jolie’s adoption of a 3-year-old Vietnamese boy attracted mega media attention. While she was the most famous American engaging in a Vietnamese adoption at the time, she was not the only one.
With adoption regulations tightening in other countries and relations improving with Vietnam, more Americans are turning to the third-world country to add to their families.
”Adoptions from Vietnam are gaining popularity again because they are faster and easier,” said Hedy Lee, a coordinator for Dillon International, an adoption agency. ”In comparison to China, which primarily offers girls and has a wait time of nearly two years, Vietnamese adoptions offer boys and girls in about half the time.”
Meet the families
The process for adopting children from Vietnam was so appealing that Tim and Theresa Hack of Nebraska adopted all three of their children from there. Josh is 13, Emily is 10 and Nathan is 7.
Bob and Karen Calvert of Massachusetts also chose Vietnam to grow their brood.
”There are so many children already in the world, we thought we might as well give them a home,” Karen Calvert said. The couple welcomed two girls. Madison is 9 and Ally is 7.
Ally’s adoption took a mere six months from start to finish.
Vietnam’s adoption policies were especially attractive to Catherine Nelson of Chicago because officials there accepted single parents. Her dreams of becoming a mother came true in September 2001, when she brought home 4-month-old Grace.
Robert and Dorothea Kalatschan of California also selected Vietnam to expand their household. However, their hearts specifically looked at the country because they were searching for a sibling for their Vietnamese American son, Thomas.
In the summer of 2001, their trip to pick up Kristina changed their lives forever. Their experiences there inspired them to start a nonprofit organization called Giving It Back To Kids, which strives to provide the basic essentials to Vietnamese orphans.
”There was such a backlog of babies that there were two to three babies per crib,” Robert Kalats-chan remembered. ”I looked into the face of my own daughter and realized how lucky she was that we were rescuing her from a life of poverty and enormous need, unlike most of her orphan mates who may never have their basic medical, nutritional, educational and individualized attention needs met.”
Although adoptions from Vietnam trickled off since 2001, a new generation of families is renewing the movement. In 2006, Pete and Sunnie Frank of Indiana traveled halfway across the world to bring home two girls, Mikenzie and Mikayla.
The couple already had four biological children of their own — three boys and one girl — but was looking to balance the gender distribution in the family. The fact that the Franks already have a quartet of kids and a limited income disqualified them from adopting from many countries besides Vietnam.
The Franks adoption inspired Pete Frank’s sister, Paula Davis, who also lives in Indiana, to also adopt from Vietnam. She and her husband, Mark, are currently waiting for a travel date to pick up their two girls, Reagan and Riley, who were born three days apart.
Vietnam was an attractive option for her because the country accepts older couples. At ages 50 and 53 (with 50 being the usual maximum), they will become parents to two toddlers who will turn 1 in January.
”It is a little frustrating that others will criticize our age, but our attitude is who cares?” said Paula Davis, who has three biological children ages 22, 24 and 26. ”We’re going to make a difference for eternity.”
One of the most recently completed adoptions from Vietnam involved a couple from Arizona. Rick and Jules Nolte already had a diverse family with a son from India, a son from California and a daughter from China. After battling some legal issues with the U.S. government in Vietnam for more than a month, the pair finally was allowed to bring Matthew home last month.
Tracking the history
Although a Vietnamese adoption seems like a great option, Americans were not always eager to open their homes to these foreigners.
The first influx of Vietnamese children in the United States occurred in 1975, when President Ford initiated Operation Babylift to rescue thousands of orphans created by the Vietnam War. Thirty official flights were scheduled, but many smaller flights on chartered or borrowed planes assisted the evacuation. After the dust had settled, more than 2,000 youngsters were flown out of South Vietnam and resettled all across the United States.
More Vietnamese children were adopted by Americans during this short, dramatic interval than in the next 25 years. During the 15 years following war’s end in 1975, only 44 Vietnamese children were adopted by Americans.
Prior to 1993, fewer than 100 immigrant visas were issued each year.
Vietnamese adoptions picked up in the 1990s after President Clinton re-established relations between the two countries. Vietnam then emerged as one of the perennial powerhouses for international adoptions, and from 1994 to 2002, it was among the Top 10 countries sending children to the United States. Vietnamese adoptions peaked in 2002 with 766 immigrant visas issued that year, according to government statistics, right before the Vietnamese government suspended inter-country adoptions due to concerns of human trafficking and exploitation.
”Adoptions were held up because there were questions if the Vietnamese child was truly an orphan, or if the child had been taken from the birth parents’ home against their will to be sold on the black market,” said Lee, whose agency has a long history of working with Vietnam.
After 2003, pending adoptions were processed, but no new referrals were issued until the U.S. and Vietnamese government could reach an agreement on adoption policies.
In the summer of 2005, both governments signed the Memorandum of Understanding, which provided specific provisions safeguarding Vietnamese children: foreign adoption agencies must be licensed in the U.S. and Vietnam; adoption agencies must maintain offices in Vietnam supporting humanitarian projects; and a central authority, the Ministry of Justice, must process all international adoptions in Vietnam.
In the first half of 2007, Americans adopted more than 400 Vietnamese youngsters. Partial fiscal year statistics for this year indicate the number will at least double by the end of the year, with U.S. Embassy officials predicting as many as 1,000 American adoptions.
Making the choice
Deciding to adopt
-Balance the gender of children in the family
-Infertility-Love for children
-Love for humanitarian efforts
Deciding to adopt internationally
-Love for the country
Deciding to adopt from Vietnam
Adoptions from Viet Nam offer the following advantages:
-The waiting time is significantly shorter than for other international adoption programs.
-Boys are available for adoption.
-Historically, children are usually in good health and medical records are available.
-Single mothers can adopt.
-Couples up to age 50 are eligible for adoption.
-$20,000 to $30,000 depending on the agency and number of people traveling to Viet Nam. Fees are staggered over the course of the adoption process and collected in increments, with the majority of the costs due at the time of child assignment. Many agencies accept credit-card payments and offer payment plans.
-Irregular; ranges on average from nine to 18 months.
-One trip lasting on average two to three weeks, depending on the agency and time of year.
Qualifying to adopt:
-A candidate can be a single person or a married couple (at least three years).
-Married couples must have both candidates meet all of the requirements.
-Candidates must be at least 20 years older than the child they wish to adopt.
-Candidates in their late 40s and 50s may apply.
-Candidates must not have had their parental rights restricted by authorities.
-Candidates must be able to care for, support and educate the child.
-Number of other children — no restriction.
-Number of other marriages — no restriction, but agencies might require couples in their second or third marriage to demonstrate commitment to a longer relationship.
-Education level no restriction.
-At least one parent is willing to travel to Vietnam.
Profile of Vietnamese Children:
Children are in the custody and care of Vietnamese government orphanages. Most are abandoned by either unwed mothers or large families.
-Age: generally several months old to 4 years. However, children up to and including age 15 are available, but children above age 9 must consent to adoption in writing.
-Gender: in theory both girls and boys are available, but girls are in higher demand so the wait time for a boy is often shorter. But there are more boys awaiting homes than girls.
-Health: Historically, children are in good health and medical information is available. However, limited or no information about family medical history is available. There is little evidence of pervasive Fetal Alcohol Syndrome or attachment/bonding issues. However, children can have ailments such as malnutrition, scabies, mites, lice, diarrhea, parasites, colds, coughs, skin conditions, eye and ear infections and dental problems.
-Ethnicity: Children are usually full Vietnamese, however, occasionally AmerAsian (children of Vietnamese women and American men) are available.
-Multiple children: Adopting multiple unrelated children simultaneously is allowed, however, it requires additional training and paperwork.
Selecting an agency:
Vietnam’s Department of International Adoptions (DIA) advises parents to only deal with agencies licensed in the desired province to avoid complications with the process. This listing includes all American adoption agencies currently licensed by Vietnam’s DIA. Prospective parents should make sure the agency chosen is licensed in the province from which they desire to adopt. Recently, adoptions from the Phu Thoi and Thai Nguyen provinces have been under government inspection due an increase in irregularities appearing in orphan petitions and visa applications.
Sources: The U.S. Government, Joint Council on International Children’s Services, Hawaii International Child adoption agency and Dillon International adoption agency.
Part 2: To be continued on Dec. 27