JENNIFER LUDDEN, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Jennifer Ludden.
The number of foreign children adopted into American families has tripled over the last decade. Now there's a trend in the other direction, people in other countries adopting American children, specifically African-American and mixed race babies. NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.
Ms. ALLISON DARKE (Adoptive Parent): OK, that'll be great. And I'm just going downstairs.
CHERYL CORLEY reporting:
It's a hot summer evening in Ottawa. Allison Darke is gathering iced tea and other drinks in her kitchen to take outside. The family is having a backyard picnic and taking turns playing with the latest addition to the family. Eleven-month-old Ethan is having a fine time, giggling and splashing in a small blue wading pool.
(Soundbite of Ethan giggling)
CORLEY: Allison's older children--teen-agers Sarah and Jonathan--take turns pouring water on Ethan and helping him down the pool's tiny plastic slide. Allison is 41 and her partner, Earl Stroud, is 53. Both are contractors. For five years they tried unsuccessfully to have children on their own.
Ms. DARKE: I know originally we had never thought of adopting because we just figured--I have two from a previous situation. Then if you want a second with--well, a third with your present partner, that--life should be good. But it plays interesting tricks on you sometimes, and--that's you. It's you, baby.
CORLEY: They adopted Ethan shortly after he was born. Everyone in the family, except Ethan, is white. Earl, Ethan's adoptive dad, is tall and slim with a shock of white hair and a reddish-blond mustache. He says it made little difference that the baby he's clearly smitten with is black.
Mr. EARL STROUD (Adoptive Parent): I lived in Halifax, Nova Scotia. And it's pretty well, you know, white and black. I always had growing up, like, in grade schools and--always had, you know, lots of black people. So it never crossed my mind. I mean, look at him. He's beautiful. Yeah.
CORLEY: Earl and Allison found Ethan through Adoption-Link, a private, non-profit adoption agency near Chicago that primarily places African-American infants. They turned to the agency after their attempt to adopt a French child in Canada fell through. Allison said they knew they had a better chance in the United States. More than a thousand couples were in line to adopt the 160 babies available in their province.
In her office, Margaret Fleming, the head of Adoption-Link, points to a map on the wall.
Ms. MARGARET FLEMING (Adoption-Link): We place many in Western Europe, one in England...
CORLEY: Colored stickpins show the agency has placed a number of children outside of the United States, in Germany, France and other countries. But the largest cluster of pins is in the various provinces of Canada.
Ms. FLEMING: They have been a number in Quebec, several in New Brunswick, a number in Ontario, Toronto.
CORLEY: Adoption-Link placed 68 children last year, and about a quarter went to families abroad. Fleming, who is white, has herself adopted eight children of different races. She says it's no surprise to her that couples outside of the US turn to America to adopt black, healthy newborns.
Ms. FLEMING: Because if anyone goes to China, if anyone goes to Vietnam, as I have, or Ethiopia or wherever, you don't get a newborn baby; you get a baby at the very least about six or seven, eight months old. And when families have never had a child, they want to be with that baby right from the beginning. So Adoption-Link--we place babies when they're three, four or five days old.
CORLEY: No one has a full count on the number of black babies from the US being adopted by foreigners. But Tom Atwood, the head of the National Council for Adoption, says it's still a fairly rare phenomenon.
Mr. TOM ATWOOD (National Council for Adoption): Maybe we're talking about somewhere in the neighborhood of a couple of hundred or so children per year. That's still a rather small number when you compare it to the 128,000 children that are adopted by Americans on average each year.
CORLEY: Most American black infants are adopted domestically, but there's still a need for adoptive black families. Adoption experts say African-Americans tend to informally take in family members--grandchildren or nieces and nephews--or they adopt from foster care often because there's no fee. Otherwise it can cost $10,000 and more to adopt a black child. White families have adopted black children in the US, but much more often they look to China, Guatemala and Russia to find a child.
Thirty years ago the National Association of Black Social Workers came out strong against transracial adoptions in the US. Since then, federal and state laws prohibit using race as a deciding factor. International adoptions involving American black children are typically transracial. Judith Jackson, current president of the Black Social Workers group, says there's still reason for concern.
Ms. JUDITH JACKSON (President, National Association of Black Social Workers): We would prefer that resources go into keeping families together. And if, in fact, the child can't remain with their biological mother or father, we would prefer that they look for an extended kinship network to rear that child. And if, in fact, that doesn't work, we would prefer that adoption be with families who look like them, who understand and appreciate their culture and can give them the support to grow into young men and women who appreciate their history and have healthy things about themselves.
CORLEY: The National Council for Adoption, Thomas Atwood says the experience with transracial adoptions has been fairly successful.
Mr. ATWOOD: It remains, though, the common practice to place children with parents of the same race whenever possible. Thankfully, however, it's not preventing children from having families to the extent it used to. Adopting parents are taught that they should be sensitive to the cultural differences, that they should teach the children about their heritage, that culture, and they do generally.
CORLEY: These days it's often the birth parent who makes decisions about who adopts a child. Typically they have an array of parents from which to choose, and an increasing number are selecting families outside the US. Last year Canada welcomed nearly 2,000 children from abroad, and Ethan was among the 78 children emigrating from the US. Ethan's adoptive mom Allison keeps in touch with his birth mother, who Allison says definitely wanted Ethan to live abroad.
Ms. DARKE: She knew very clearly--well, she felt she knew--that there's less racism and prejudice in Canada than there is in the United States. And for her, that was a huge influence on why she chose our family.
CORLEY: Although Canada's total black population is only about 2 percent, Ethan's teen-age siblings, Sarah and Jonathan, say Ottawa is diverse and includes small communities of blacks, Asians and other ethnic groups. There are also other kids of color in the neighborhood. Sarah, who is 17 with long, straight, brown hair, says even though Ethan, with his crinkly brown hair, may not look like her, he's her little brother.
SARAH: I show his pictures. We get pictures taken every month or so, and I just get the little wallet-size and I carry it around with me. And I show them to everybody. And nobody has ever once, like, looked at him and said, `Oh,' you know, like, `Oh!' They were just--they're always just so, you know, `Oh, he's so cute,' and my friends love him.
CORLEY: And Jonathan, an avid skateboarder at 13, says he may be ready, later, to take on the big brother task of teaching Ethan about sports.
JONATHAN: Yup, possibly.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. STROUD: Yes.
CORLEY: A little prodding from Dad always helps.
As most of the family goes back inside, Earl sits in a lawn chair with Ethan's small, deep-brown body nestled against his chest. And Earl says proudly that Ethan is now a Stroud.
Mr. STROUD: Nobody else has really carried on the family name, so--I have an older brother. And I think we need some black blood in our family, so we got it.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. STROUD: Yeah.
CORLEY: Earl finishes his chuckle, and then he and Ethan begin their game of mimicking each other's sounds.
Mr. STROUD: Hi.
ETHAN STROUD: Hey.
Mr. STROUD: Hey.
Mr. STROUD: How you doing?
Mr. STROUD: Hey.
Mr. STROUD: Hi.
CORLEY: Allison says despite the laughs and the affection, she knows that love will not be enough. And her family will work to meet the challenges that come with adopting a child of another race and from another country. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Ottawa.
(Soundbite of Ethan making noises)
Mr. STROUD: What's a snake say? What does a snake say? Huh?
LUDDEN: You can find more information about international adoptions at our Web site, npr.org.