Waiting Children: CAF Interviews Waiting Child Advocate Brooke Henningfeld for Global Adoption Day

November 9, 2017 – CAF is proud to celebrate Global Adoption Day today and National Adoption Month throughout the month of November! Our goals are to bring attention to the need for permanent families for children with thalassemia both in the U.S. and globally, to provide the greater community with resources and information on thalassemia adoption, and to share the stories and perspectives of adoptive families. We thank Waiting Child Advocate Brooke Henningfeld for sharing information about international adoption of children with thalassemia in this interview. We hope this information is useful to those considering adoption.

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your role as Waiting Child Advocate?

My name is Brooke and I am a Waiting Child Advocate for Madison Adoption Associates (MAA). My husband, Rick, and I have ten children, six adopted and four biological. I taught kindergarten for five years before becoming a stay-at-home mom. During that time, about seven years ago, I started advocating for orphans from China in need of a family. Shortly after coming home with our son with beta thalassemia major from China, Madison Adoption Associates (MAA), our placing agency for his adoption and our last two daughters’ adoption, asked me if I would like to become a waiting child advocate for them. As a Waiting Child Advocate, I advocate for waiting children with special needs from China, the Philippines, Colombia, and Bulgaria.

There are an estimated 153 million orphans worldwide, but we won’t really ever know exactly how many children around the world are waiting for a family because some children are on the street, some are involved in trafficking, some live in refugee camps, and many are in orphanages that are not paper-ready for adoption. Being “paper-ready” means that adoptions are legally compliant in an effort to protect the rights of the child, the birth parents, and the adoptive parents. One way to help end abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against children is to ensure that all adoptions are legal.

Many of the children waiting for families have special needs ranging from very minor to very complex or a combination of multiple special needs. Boys and children over 5 with a special need like thalassemia are at a unique disadvantage because the majority of prospective adoptive parents are hoping for a child 0-5, with minor needs, and girls are preferred to boys. There are often ten or less children with thalassemia who are paper-ready waiting at any given time. More families are stepping up to adopt children with thalassemia, which is awesome, but the ones who are older and the boys tend to wait and wait.

Right now, there are some amazing waiting kids with beta thalassemia who are 5-13 years old, mostly boys. They desperately need families. Lack of medical care, medical insurance, and cost in general is the likely reason so many children with thalassemia in other countries need to be adopted. Often these families are desperate and want to keep their children, but cannot afford to. In China, families are abandoning these children with the hopes that they will be adopted and get access to better medical care, thus being able to live a longer and healthier life. It is often a matter of life and death. To read more about children with thalassemia who are currently waiting for adoption, scroll to the bottom of this page.

What are the steps of the process for adoption of a child with thalassemia?

This will vary, depending on the country you decide to work with. As an advocate and adoptive parent familiar with China, I can speak to that process. A prospective adoptive family would either choose an agency they would like to work with first or search for their child by looking at waiting child lists on agency websites, searching for their child on Rainbow Kids, or by joining a China advocacy group on Facebook. A prospective adoptive family has the option to either identify their child from the many who are paper-ready and waiting to be matched or sign on with an adoption agency and wait to be matched by the agency staff via the agency’s designated list of children or from the shared list that all agencies with a China special needs program have access to. Once a child has been identified by the adoptive family or found for the family by their agency representative, a family would submit a letter of intent to adopt that specific child. China will review it and if they approve, they will give an initial approval, also known as pre-approval (PA). You can see what the general process would look like at this link.

The general timeline for a Chinese special needs adoption is 9-13 months, but it can vary depending on the timing of the home study, how long it takes the adoptive family to prepare their adoption dossier, and the speed of immigration and in-country approvals. A child with transfusion dependent thalassemia, as well as children with other complex medical needs, can often qualify for a medical expedite. Those adoptions can be completed in a significantly shorter amount of time, with the cooperation of all entities.

What questions should parents ask the adoption agency during the adoption process?

Many questions specific to the family and child being adopted will arise during the process. A good agency will be there to help answer any and all of an adoptive family’s questions throughout the entire process. Adoptive Families recently compiled a terrific list of questions adoptive parents should ask before choosing an adoption agency: see that list here.

Are there any resources to help families with financial planning and fundraising? What grants are available to these families?

One of the greatest concerns for many parents considering adoption is cost. Adoption can be very expensive, but there are also a lot of variances in fees depending upon what country adoptive parents choose to adopt from, placing agency and home study agency fees, number of people traveling to bring the child home, and time of year of travel, among other variables. There are many grant organizations out there doing amazing things to help families bring these children home. Many adoptive families also choose to fundraise and there are countless ideas and fundraising options for families who choose to do so.

MAA has compiled some information on adoption grants and funding at this link. MAA stands apart from other agencies in the grants we offer adoptive families. All waiting children with a special focus label are given a $1,000 agency grant. Males are given another $1,000 agency grant. Children 8 and older are given an additional $1,000 agency grant. All children with Down syndrome have a special $5,000 Bright Futures grant. MAA is currently offering an extra $1,000 agency grant, in addition to any of the above grants, for new families who sign on and contract with MAA for a waiting child between now and December 31st, 2017. Other grants may be available based on the adoptive family’s circumstances. Agency grants are awarded as agency fee reductions. MAA also partners with the Brittany’s Hope Foundation for matching grants, which are given out twice a year and to families that already have their letter of approval from China.

Do you have any advice for families who would like to adopt a child with thalassemia?

Thalassemia isn’t scary. Thalassemia is a very manageable medical condition. It can be a little overwhelming the first few months home, but becomes another part of routine life quite quickly. It is a marathon and not a sprint. Thalassemia is a medical diagnosis that doesn’t define our children that have it. The hemoglobin and iron levels kids with thalassemia come home to their families with is the worst they will ever be. It will get better with time and they will thrive with the love of a forever family, good nutrition, and optimal medical care. It’s amazing to witness the changes and a blessing to be the one they call mom or dad.

What are some good resources for parents considering adopting, and specifically adopting a child with a special need?

Some great resources are the websites for Rainbow Kids, No Hands But Ours, LWB Community and MAA Education Resources. These websites are listed below, along with specific articles on the subject of adopting a child with thalassemia.

Thalassemia specific adoption articles (from No Hands But Ours):

Would you like to share anything else with the community?

Right now, there are some very special waiting kids with beta thalassemia who are 5-13 years old, mostly boys. As I mentioned, boys, children over five and children with special needs are at greater risk of not getting the medical care they need to survive. These children desperately need permanent loving families. For more information, please email me at el_lauren@yahoo.com.

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