Adoptions of foreign children by Americans tapered off by 60 percent between 2003 and 2012, according to data compiled by the United States Department of Homeland Security, which tracks the adoptions along with other immigration statistics.
Among the top three countries for adoption – China, Russia and Guatemala – in that 10-year period, adoptions fell by 59 percent, 85 percent and 100 percent, respectively. And these numbers do not take into account the current moratorium on American adoptions instituted by the Russian government.
Though, on a large scale, adoptions are trending down, those numbers don’t mean much to several Hanover families, who have either adopted internationally or are in the final stages of the process.
To these families, children overseas mean much more than statistics in a spreadsheet.
Michael Dennehy has a running joke that one day, he’s going to install a Web filter that blocks adoption websites.
That might just keep his wife, Sharon Dennehy in check, the couple quips.
The Dennehys have adopted nine children total, seven who hail from five different countries and two who were adopted domestically.
“When you start seeing what a difference you can make in the life of a child by just throwing one more potato in the pot, it’s just sort of an addictive thing to want to help kids,” Sharon said. “That’s why even though we didn’t plan it, we ended up with nine adoptions.”
The Ashland family’s journey began after their three biological children – now between the ages of 24 and 28, and starting families of their own – had reached school age.
“We kind of felt this calling to help a child that maybe no one else ‘wanted,’” Sharon said.
That’s when the couple came across a picture of their son George, now 20, in a Bethany Christian Services newsletter. The caption read that a little boy born without arms desperately needed a loving home.
This was 18 years ago. The Dennehys traveled to Romania to meet George’s biological parents, who Michael recalled had cold feet at the last minute in the adoption process. At the time, George was 18 months old and a pariah in Romanian culture.
“In Romania the majority of people thought that a handicap was a curse from God and that’s one of the reasons George’s parents couldn’t keep him,” Sharon said.
This came around the time when Romania was coming out of communism. The country had been under the control of a dictator and was struggling with the idea of being free. Though Michael said the country has come a long way, when they were there the orphanages were overcrowded, disorganized and overwhelmed.
This first experience, like the others to follow, opened up the Dennehys’ eyes in a whole new way.
“Going overseas has always been eye-opening because we have such a comfortable, easy life here and whenever you visit another country, especially a country where there are children who need homes and they have to go outside of the country to find homes, you see how a big part of the world lives,” Sharon said.
Their second adoption came from India. Michael remembers one night, Sharon was sitting at a computer looking at a picture of a boy, now their son James, 19, who, like George, was born without arms.
“Sharon said, ‘Oh, we can make them brothers, wouldn’t that be cool,’ and we started to investigate that, so that’s what led to adoption number two,” Michael remembered. “They have a fairly rare issue, so we were like, ‘What are the odds?’”
Next came American-born siblings Tom, 13, and Siovhan, 12. The Dennehys had been foster parents to Tom and adopted him out of that program in Connecticut. When the Dennehys were approached about Siovhan needing a home, too, she was a natural fit.
Then came Caris, now 17, who had a year left before aging out of the adoption system in China. Next, the Denneys went to Ethiopia, where they adopted three sisters, Tamer, 15, Kali, 11, and Andi, 9.
The Dennehys’ most recent adoption was Hope, now 9, born in Thailand without any limbs. Today, Hope gets around in a custom, motorized wheelchair, but it took five years from submitting the original adoption application for the Dennehys to get a call from Thai officials.
“Thailand really stretched the rules for us because the limit for Thai adoptions is a maximum of three [children] per family and we already had 11 at the time,” Michael said. “So they asked us to come over and visit and be interviewed and vetted to see if we would be able to handle it.”
Helping their situation was the fact that they had already adopted George and James, who had similar limb disabilities.
Also, making the Thailand situation “atypical,” according to Sharon, was that the princess of Thailand had met Hope and wanted only the best for her. As a result, the Thais were weary of families seeking to adopt the young orphan girl. This resulted in extra scrutiny when they were abroad as well as surprise visits from the Thai embassy after Hope had come stateside.
“I’m mister optimist though, I thought the extra attention was awesome,” Michael recalled, noting that while in Thailand, they received special treatment, including a VIP tour of the Thailand zoo and lunch with dignitaries. “They were scrutinizing us while they were entertaining us.”
Overall, Michael considers his family fortunate in that, for the most part, their international adoptions have gone smoothly. In addition to the issue with George’s biological parents, the Dennehys only had minor visa problems in Ethiopia, which were quickly resolved.
“We don’t have these tales of terror that some people have. I’ve heard enough of them to know they’re real, though,” Michael said.
Had they been pursuing adoptions now, though, the situation might be different. In Ethiopia, for example, the Dennehys adopted fairly early on in that country’s program. Sharon said that the government began to restrict the process because of the high volume of children being adopted out of the country and the emergence of corruption and fraud in the system.
When they adopted Andi, Kali and Tamer, Sharon said they only had to travel overseas once to bring their daughters home. Now, the government requires two or three visits.
“It’s gotten a lot harder and that eliminates a bunch of people that can’t make three trips overseas,” she said.
Michael added that the average wait for an adoption from China is now upwards of three years. In addition, international laws have also grown stricter.
“Lately the Hague laws have made everything a little more difficult for everybody on both sides of the coin and adoptions are way down,” Michael said.
That’s not to say that the Dennehys have totally ruled out future adoptions, though.
“We’re starting to have grandchildren now, so grandchild number two is due in July and that might keep us on our toes enough to feel like our family’s expanding without doing more adoptions,” Michael said.
“Let’s say we’re not actively pursuing it, if God hits us with a lightening bolt, we’ll probably listen,” Sharon said.