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I came to Amara, a foster care agency serving Seattle and the surrounding region for nearly 100 years, with a few questions I’d stored on dusty shelves in the back of my mind.

My childhood friend, my cousin, my sister-in-law, and my mother: all adopted. The nature of their adoptions is personal—between parent and self—or, between self and self (in cases when adoptive parents never revealed their lack of biological connection.) Closed adoptions, lack of memory (infant adoptions), inaccessible birth certificates, and many other factors hinder what they can learn about themselves and about the adoption process in U.S. in general.

If I could compile every conversation I’ve had with them and their families on the subject of adoption, the collective narrative is, at best, confusing.

A few of their thoughts:

It’s so hard to adopt in the states these days, there just aren’t that many kids now with, you know, birth control and abortions and all.    

I can’t believe they were on a waitlist for only two years.  

Georgia [not the state, the country] is much, much easier.

A few of my thoughts:

Are there not over 100,000 kids in the U.S. foster care system? 

Didn’t international adoptions take just as long if not longer?  

What exactly makes domestic adoption so unappealing? Policy? Costs? Organization?  

Neither they nor I could lay these questions to rest.

At Amara, I’ve been combing through saved newspaper clippings, photographs, annual reports, vhs tapes, and more in anticipation of their 100th anniversary. Part spring cleaning, part curating; I’ve organized boxes of loose materials shoved in closets and dug up stories lost in the mix– stories they’ll spotlight in their “100 stories for 100 years” project. While doing so, I’ve learned about adoption and foster care through the lens of the Pacific North West. It has been an incredibly informative and engaging process. To share all that I’ve learned in these past few weeks would take pages…. and perhaps titles, subtitles, a table of contents, and footnotes. For the sake of brevity, I’ll address the three questions I had on my flight from RDU to SEA.

Yes, in fact, “On any given day, there are nearly 438,000 children in foster care in the United States. In 2016, over 687,000 children spent time in U.S. foster care.” Being in the US foster care system isn’t a qualifier for adoption (perhaps this is old news to some, but I had overlooked this fact.) Children are placed in foster care –temporarily (at least that’s the intention)—until they are either 1) returned to their parents in a stable home (as defined by CPS) or 2) parents are relinquished of parental rights and children are eligible for adoption. Sometimes neither of these terms are met as the child, legally bound to their parents yet withheld from their care, stay in foster homes until adulthood.

Other times, the child may become eligible for adoption years after entering the system, or in other words, too late. Too late? Yes. Most individuals or couples looking to adopt want an infant. Children past their cute, chubby toddler years are often considered “too far gone,” an awful stereotype (and excuse) that nevertheless persists.  Children of this age range, as I have found while rummaging through newspapers and annual reports, have historically been classified as “Special Needs Adoptions” along with sibling groups, minority races, children with mental illnesses (common as trauma and abuse are often precursors to entering the system), and children with physical or cognitive disabilities.

Does adoption take long? Depends on who you are looking for. If you’re in search for an infant who wouldn’t be historically classified as “special needs,” you’ll be on a wait list, likely for years. If, however, you are looking for a child or sibling group, regardless of age, race, trauma, or disability, they’re on a wait list for you.

Besides timelines and wait lists, another aspect of US adoption that can be considered unappealing are the costs. These vary from agency to agency, state to state. If the blame is to be put anywhere, however, it shouldn’t be on the agency, adoption specialists, or social workers (in my humble opinion.) They’re doing their best to do their job with the resources provided. If financial frustration should be directed anywhere, why not take a look at the federal funds, or lack thereof, that go to support foster and adoptive families. Such an observation should speak for itself and the value our government and society put on the often invisible, often ignored lives of 400,000+ children.