State of Adoption: How and why adoption is changing in Massachusetts

BOSTON — The National Council for Adoption found in 2007, 133,000 kids were adopted.

Ten years later, that number dropped more than 17 percent to 110,000.

How and why is the state of adoption changing in so many ways?

Take a drive down any street in Boston -- any neighborhood, any community. We're all surrounded by families putting their own stamp on life.

But behind it all are the stories that are rarely told; the stories that truly define some families.


The Delage Family 

The Delage family lives in Berkley, Massachusetts.

"We were in the process of buying our first home," Alisa Delage told Boston 25 News. "We decided to start trying and we got pregnant right away."

But after two miscarriages, they decided to explore adoption. They adopted Julian. He was barely three months old.

Alisa and her husband, Joe, picked the birth mother themselves.

"She loved him so much that she wanted him to be in a home where he could reach his full potential and she felt like we could give it to him and hopefully we can," Alisa said.

It once was taboo for people to even talk about adoption, but that's not the case anymore.

The adoption process can often be slow and painful, but the rewards can be endless.

While more people are willing to adopt these days, the overall number of adoptions has dropped recently.

The vice president of the National Council for Adoption, Ryan Hanlon recently spoke at Northeastern University on this very issue.

He told Boston 25 News fewer people are adopting largely because of the nose dive in international adoptions. Those are down 80 percent.

"A child shouldn't have to grow up without a permanent family," Hanlon said. "Our organization is very critical of the U.S. Department of State because we don't believe they engage well with other countries and they've set policies in place that very much restrict adoptions."

In Massachusetts, it's even more glaring.

Ten years ago, international adoptions were happening by the hundreds each year. In 2007, the council counted 584 international adoptions. By 2017, that number had dropped to just 49.

"It's very concerning when you think about the number of children who could have families," Hanlon said.

International adoption is just one aspect to the issue. The demand in the foster care program has never been greater, including the families willing to adopt and the children needing forever homes. The Massachusetts foster care program has 3,500 children waiting to be adopted.

While you can also opt for private adoption, the cost can range anywhere from $15,000 to $40,000. The average cost of a private adoption in Massachusetts is $40,000. Some say that high cost is driving too many families away from adopting.

Author's note

This is an issue that hits close to home. My children are adopted.

My husband, Johnathon, and I began the process in 2012. It started with an adoption profile that included a sonogram from a soon-to-be mother in California looking to have her son adopted at birth. Two weeks later, we were there in the delivery room as Zeke was born.

We spent days in California waiting to clear the legal hurdles and then came home.

Over the next few months, our family took shape. Then, it grew again with the adoption of our second child, Cash.

His mother, Chloe, made the brave choice to have her son adopted, picking Johnathon and me as parents.

Life now is like most typical families, racing each morning to conquer the day and heading off to school. Zeke and Cash are now 6 and 5 respectively. Both are aware of their special journey.

Our initial adoption involved several agencies across the country, making the match with Zeke's biological mom, Breann.

Johnathon always knew he wanted to have kids.

"I wanted to adopt kids because I have a lot of love to offer," he explained. "I will always say, that was the best and worst day of my life when we took those two boys. I'll never forgot leaving Bakersfield with Zeke and he's an infant and his mom was saying good bye. The heartache is real. We were excited because we were dads, but the pain that she was experiencing was real. And the same with Chloe. We drove to Virginia. It was late. It was Christmas time. It's supposed to be a joyous, happy time.  I'll never forget walking away and telling Chloe we love her and we're going to take really good care of Cash and her crying because she was giving a part of her away."

Like many adoptions these days, ours are open, meaning we have regular communication with the birth mothers. Last year, we saw Zeke's mom for the first time since he was born.

"The love that we have in this family is so special and it's a love because two moms chose to give us their children that forever will be special and our boys will never forget that," Johnathon said.

The urge to adopt

Many families adopt with few challenges, but there's another side to this that few are willing to share.

One look at the face of Ericka Bueno and you quickly see she has a story to tell.

It's a story that few can ever imagine.

She grew up in Colombia and moved to Boston 18 years ago.

Along the way, she had a dream. She wanted the life that so many have.

It was a family that Ericka wanted more than anything else.

"I was ready at 25, but it didn't happen until I was 36," she said.

While she was able to have children on her own, biologically, she says she never had the urge.

She always wanted to adopt.

"I always knew that I wanted to adopt from the time I was little. I don't really know why," Bueno said. "It wasn't something that I just decided one day, it was just always there."

Then, one day, it happened. She adopted two children in 2012: Genesis and Isaiah. Both were adopted through the foster care program.

The family lives in Winthrop. Genesis is 13, Isaiah is 11.

Ericka is a single mother with a full time job and a full live love for having kids.

"They are amazing kids because they, you know, came with their own personality and their own history and their own challenges and their own strengths and it wasn't like I molded them into what they are but rather they were already their own little people," Bueno explained.

In 2015, Ericka wanted to adopt again. This time, the child was older. She was in her teens and had been in and out of foster homes for years.

"So we wanted to foster, however, we were advised that it would have to be a very long transition because of the many placements she had before that had not been successful," Bueno told us.

She eventually decided to have the teen move in, taking another step toward adoption.

"It was a decision that we all made together. My children were involved in that decision too," she said. "They had met her at that point and they really liked her and they wanted her to have the same opportunities that they had been given."

"Everybody was happy, everybody was excited, everybody was testing, everybody was trying to see who's turf it was and what the limits were and all that stuff."

But it all changed when the new family started to struggle.

"Things deteriorated to the point that it became really difficult for my younger children to have her around. It wasn't, I mean -- I struggle talking about it because, she was just being a teenager and teenagers always think they're right," Bueno said.

In 2016, the teen moved out and Ericka realized she wouldn't be adopting her.

"I was devastated and the kids were devastated and I mean it wasn't just me, I think it was everybody. It's not just me. It's her, it's me, it's the kids, it's everybody around us," she said.

They had all lived together for a year before the transition failed.

When it comes to domestic adoptions, agencies estimate that 20 percent of them fail. That leads to deep heartbreak for everyone involved.

Ericka's family has since bounced back, accepting it wasn't the right time. Just recently, they've welcomed a new joy to the family. He's a young boy adopted from Ericka's former home in Colombia.

"We wanted a little boy who was significantly younger than my youngest and we wanted a little boy from Colombia because that's where I'm from," she said. "So we started that. It took a very long time. Much longer than what you see from adoption from foster care here. He's been with us ever since and he's been ours form the first day."

"In the end, children are children. It doesn't matter where they come from," she said.

The adoption process can sometimes take months to be approved and then years to be finalized. Ericka's youngest son is now 5 years old and she said at the moment, she has no plans to adopt again.

A panel discussion

When people think adoption, there are many questions that people are afraid to ask.

Recently, I sat down with a group of parents for a frank discussion about adoption: The good, the bad and everything in between.


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